Perhaps no one is more mysterious and mythic than Grigori Rasputin.
Born in an obscure Siberian peasant village in 1869, religious conversion and a career as a traveling saint and healer took Rasputin to the Russian royal court, where he became their closest confidant, chief adviser and one of the most powerful men in the empire.
But there was something fascinating and repulsive about a man as mysterious as Rasputin, even in his lifetime. As a result, the domestic and foreign media used him as a weapon to push their own agenda, leading to his becoming Russia’s most hated man and his assassination in 1916. Fictions have become so commonplace that they are still believed a century later.
Probably the most commonly accepted “fact” about Rasputin, even to those who know nothing about him, is that he was an evil man. Popular culture has played a big part in this, especially in the West, with Rasputin always playing the bad guy with evil powers and bad intentions.
But while indeed a flawed man, and certainly no saint, at heart Rasputin’s intentions were at best quite noble, and at worst self-serving (often for reasons of protecting himself). While visiting prostitutes and sleeping with the wives of the elite, he did so with the genuine belief that sin was a necessary step to bring one closer to God (an idea shared by the celebrated authors Tolstoy and Dostoevsky). He loved his fellow man (particularly the peasants) and wasn’t afraid to show it, which led to rumors of his indecency and affairs. He loved Nicholas’s and Alexandra’s children dearly, and they loved him. And while the nation spiraled toward inevitable war, he begged Nicholas to relent, grieving at the idea of generations of Russian men being slaughtered and children becoming fatherless.
He was certainly a complicated man, but to call him evil is to believe the propaganda from 100-year-old anti-monarchist Russian newspapers. This propaganda is the basis of all the modern-day Rasputin mythology, from a media who saw him as nothing more than a tool to bring down the establishment.