Bulgakov describes the appearance of the Archibald Archibaldovich (chief of the security of the MASSOLIT restaurant) in quite a peculiar way:

At midnight there appeared a vision in this hell. On to the verandah strode a handsome, black-eyed man with a pointed beard and wearing a tail coat. With regal gaze he surveyed his domain. According to some romantics there had once been a time when this noble figure had worn not tails but a broad leather belt round his waist, stuck with pistol-butts, that his raven-black hair had been tied up in a scarlet kerchief and that his brig had sailed the Caribbean under the Jolly Roger.
But that, of course, is pure fantasy--the Caribbean doesn't exist, no desperate buccaneers sail it, no corvette ever chases them, no puffs of cannon-smoke ever roll across the waves.

This is quite peculiar - maybe indeed the romanticised pirates akin to Jack Sparrow did not exist, but definitely there were pirates/privateers/bandits in the geographical region called "Caribbean" that anyone can find on the map. Was the existence of the Caribbean Islands somehow censored by the Soviet Union or was it Bulgakov's personal opinion?

To be honest, this whole paragraph of text is quite weird, because it seems that the narrator suddenly changed from the third to the first person:

Look at that scraggy tree, look at the iron railings, the boulevard. . . . And the ice is floating in the wine-bucket and at the next table there's a man with ox-like, bloodshot eyes and it's pandemonium. . . . Oh gods--poison, I need poison! . . .

What was the point of this strange outburst from the (until this time) impersonal narrator?

EDIT: TvTropes suggest that characters in the book (mainly Master, Woland and Berlioz) are meant to be the narrator. This would make sense if the author of the paragraph was Behemot or Korovyev goofing around...

2 Answers 2


Having read both the original version and a Latvian translation, I would say that the original tries to to say that the Caribbean does not exist in relation to Archibald Archibaldovich. Ie. It is a different way of saying that he isn't and never has been a pirate, to whom he is compared and the restaurant is not a pirate ship in Carribean. The idea of imagining restaurant as a Carribean pirate ship is reinforced slightly later when Archibald reprimands restaurant doorman, who in turn imagines seeing Archibald as a pirate and himself as having to walk the plank.

It might be possible to interpret this differently, as with any text, but there is really not much need.

Extended answer, to allow for some interpretation and to include also the second question (about the poison):

In general, Bulgakov in this work is very frequently overlaying the reality of Soviet-times Moscow with something else. In fact, you could say this is one of the core things about the novel. His characters are often seeing or imagining seeing additions to that reality which make the reader think of the other 2 "realities" described in M&M: (1) the time and place of the crucifixion of Jesus, and (2) the "addendum" of fantastic reality imposed on present-day Moscow by Voland and his entourage.

This device is used in this scene in restaurant, when the narrator asks us to imagine the reality of a Carribean pirate ship superimposed on the restaurant. He then proceeds to tell us that this superimposed reality is a myth and there is nothing but the Soviet-time Moscow, which (the narrator) finds unbearable, and thus asks for the poison.

This asking for poison is once more superimposing the reality of Pontius Pilates/Jesus time, where Pilates is the one dreaming of poison due to his unbearable headache, which he attributes partially due to smells and flavours of cypresses and palm trees, which mingle with the aroma of food, and all together can be imagined in the restaurant as well:

Прокуратору казалось, что розовый запах источают кипарисы и пальмы в саду, что к запаху кожи и конвоя примешивается проклятая розовая струя. От флигелей в тылу дворца, где расположилась пришедшая с прокуратором в Ершалаим первая когорта двенадцатого молниеносного легиона, заносило дымком в колоннаду через верхнюю площадку сада, и к горьковатому дыму, свидетельствовавшему о том, что кашевары в кентуриях начали готовить обед, примешивался все тот же жирный розовый дух. О боги, боги, за что вы наказываете меня?

The restaurant passage might be interpreted that the writer is asking us to disbelieve Carribean pirates as they are unimaginable in Soviet-time Moscow as any romantic and mystical things are. That could be a reasonable interpratation in line with the whole novel and with equating narrator to the writer. But, as I said, it is not absolutely neccessary, in my opinion.


There is no definite answer here, only interpretations are possible here. My thoughts:

  • your translation is really terrible. In Russian text there no "romantics", they are "mystics". This "black-eyed man" is definitely Archibald and some mystics even tell a story that once upon a time he was a pirate.
  • "But that, of course, is pure fantasy" - this is even worse. In original it is "These sweet-talking mystics are telling lie, there is no such thing as the Caribbean sea...". Here the narrator is taking the side of an average writer here, in Griboedov, who quickly dismisses all the nonsense those mystics are telling him. Of course, the narrator doesn't say that Carribean doesn't exist, these are words of limited mind: what Carribean? I don't know any Carribean, leave me alone, with the wine and good food.
  • "there's a man with ox-like, bloodshot eyes and it's pandemonium. . . . Oh gods--poison, I need poison!". "Pandemonium"? What? It's more like "here's a man with ox-like, bloodshot eyes and it's scary, it's really scary". Of course, it's scary, because narrator describes the hell to us (he even called it "hell" earlier, see the beginning of your quote). And "poison, I need poison" are the exact words Pilat said earlier (if this wasn't lost in your translation).

Hope it was helpful. I haven't found any reliable analysis of this scene, so, again, other interpretations are possible. (And I hope there are other translations, this one is being really cruel to Bulgakov).

Original Russian text for the passage in the question:

И было в полночь видение в аду. Вышел на веранду черноглазый красавец с кинжальной бородой, во фраке и царственным взором окинул свои владения.

Говорили, говорили мистики, что было время, когда красавец не носил фрака, а был опоясан широким кожаным поясом, из-за которого торчали рукояти пистолетов, а его волосы воронова крыла были повязаны алым шелком, и плыл в Караибском море под его командой бриг под черным гробовым флагом с адамовой головой.

Но нет, нет! Лгут обольстители-мистики, никаких Караибских морей нет на свете, и не плывут в них отчаянные флибустьеры, и не гонится за ними корвет, не стелется над волною пушечный дым. Нет ничего, и ничего и не было! Вон чахлая липа есть, есть чугунная решетка и за ней бульвар… И плавится лед в вазочке, и видны за соседним столиком налитые кровью чьи-то бычьи глаза, и страшно, страшно… О боги, боги мои, яду мне, яду!..

  • 2
    Got to disagree with you: the "black-eyed man" is definitely a description of Archibald, since he is described several times later as a "flibustier".
    – IMil
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 14:56
  • There's some good information in this answer, but it's a bit confusing with many different phrases in "quotes". Would it be possible for you to provide the original Russian text of the paragraph in question and a full translation?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 15:46
  • @Randal'Thor I added the original Russian text. And what do you mean by "full translation"? You want me to translate it?
    – DrTyrsa
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 16:52
  • Yes, I mean translating the whole passage for completeness. Even if only the bits you've quoted are relevant, your answer was a bit difficult to read because of all the quotes and the context of each quote not always being quite clear.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 16:56
  • @imil have to agree about black eye ld man being Archibald
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 18:45

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