Monthly Archives: July 2016

On Cutlery

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We’ve spoken about some interesting and apparently “inexplicable” names in France here.  How did Perunnes become Perunnes?  But here is another interesting fact.  The word for “fork” in Italian is forchetta.  But in Venetian it is piron.  This is supposedly derived from Greek where fork is πιρούνι (piroúni).  Even if that is the case, isn’t it strange?


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July 29, 2016

The Slavic Princesses of the Book of Marvels and Opposites

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The Kitab al-mahasin wa’l-addad (The Book of Marvels & Opposites) was written by an anonymous author at the end of the 9th century (between 860 and 910).  It has traditionally been attributed to Al-Jāḥiẓ but contains information that indicates a later author.

The most relevant critical edition is G van Vloten’s Le Livre des Beautes et des Antitheses published by the famous Brill publishing house.

Regarding the passage below, “Aparvēz” (the Victorious), was the nickname of king Khosrow II (or Chosroes II) (590-628) the last great Sassanid ruler of the Persian Empire. Bahram Chobin is a Persian general who in 590 rebelled against the new Persian ruler, that is, Khosrow II. Khosrow  fled Persia to Byzantine territory.  The “King of Rome” refers to the Byzantine Emperor Maurice (the author of the Strategikon).  By 591, Khosrow with the help of Maurice took back his throne while Chobin fled to the Turks where he was assassinated by Khosrow’s agents.  His troops came back to Persia where they joined another rebellion (by Vistahm).  Presumably, Maurice helped the Persian monarch in exchange for some territory.  Once Phocas took over and had Maurice executed in 602, Khosrow II renewed hostilities.  These did not end until Phocas’s successor Heraclius defeated Khosrow, who was then executed by one of his own sons (who made peace with the Byzantines).  A few years later Persia was conquered by the Muslims.


“Among the gifts that no one had heard about till now, there was the gift of Aparvēz [to] the king of Byzantium to incentivize  him to fight against Bahram Chobin… He sent him an envoy asking for help… Aparvēz’ envoys delivered this present to the king of ar-Rum [Rome, i.e., Byzantium], who then helped him [Aparvēz] and sent him twenty thousand riders armed from head to toe, and he also sent him two million dinars to feed this army, as also a thousand woven garments and twenty maidens, the daughters of Slavic kings, wearing silk dresses with flower patterns.  In their ears they wore golden earrings with pearls and rubies/saphires, and on their heads they wore precious stone tiaras.”

The Slavic princesses were no doubt slave girls, perhaps hostages taken by Mauritius in his Slav wars.  Some authors believe that these maidens were taken only in the years 600-601 when the Avars and Slavs were defeated by the Byzantines.

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July 25, 2016


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Let’s make Brückner useful.

Wesoła = feminine adjective for “happy”.

Wiesioła = older form of the same.

Wiesiola = if that “ł” was really an “l” before.


Wießel/Wiessel = Low German name for the River Vistula (which led to Wissel which led to Weichsel).


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July 23, 2016

The Trouble with Slavic Slaves

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Al-Jāḥiẓ (776 – 868/869) (the “Bulging-eyed”) was an Arab translator, writer and, apparently, a pigeon scholar working out of Basra and Baghdad.  He famously declared that black people coming north become whiter just within three generations (whether the reason for this was that he, apparently, had one black grandparent and used himself as the sample size, is unclear).  He wrote a number of books on various topics and, also, on the Slavic slaves wherein he justified their castration as releasing the Slavs’ secret slave potential.   According to legend he died in his library, crushed by a pile of his own books.  (The legend is unclear as to whether these books dealt with pigeons, castration or skin color).  Here are some Slavic excerpts:


from a modern Syrian stamp

“So it happens that when among two Slavic brothers, who come from the same mother and father, even if one should be a twin of the other, one only should be castrated, so the eunuch becomes a superior worker, cleverer, more dexterous and better suited for all manners of service and manual labour. You will also note him to be more intelligent in conversation.  All these become his qualities.  His brother, however, retainshis inborn ignorance and stupidity so common to Slavs.  He won’t understand well a foreign language.  The arm of this man will be clumsy and unfit for work as it won’t be guided by knowledge.  And his tongue won’t be free nor eloquent and he won’t find words easily…”

“The first that beneficial effect that castration has on a Slav is the increase in his intelligence, the sharpening of his wits, the polishing of his character and the invigoration of his soul.  When he learns wisdom, intelligence will guide his motions and his strength will fully reflect his potential…”

“As regards Slavic women and young boys, there is absolutely no known method for changing their character and transforming their nature so that it should acquire acute perspicacity, restraint in movements and ability to focus their work upon the desired goal…”

“And this is what we can say generally about their women: during intercourse they do not give pleasure; they are also incapable to perform any trade for they lack understanding of services and intelligence for manual labour”

“[As regards the aforementioned Slavic] eunuchs, even if they possess quality tools  and despite having acquired [as a result of the above-mentioned castration presumably] the capabilities to engage in all kinds of labours, and the balance of character necessary for a servant, you won’t find among them one who’d be capable of effectively performing any task requiring a degree of skill or any deeper contemplation.  An exception to this is what is told of the achievements of Dama in the art of playing the strings, an art that he was the best at and gained fame thereby.  Likewise, a eunuch castrated in his youth knows well the art of catching [?] with glue.  They are excellent at luring forest pigeons and in lesser arts.  The Basrans [inhabitants of Basra] claim that the eunuch Hudayg, the slave of Mutanna Ibn Zuhayr excelled even his master Mutanna in understanding pigeons…”

“That is all that is said of Slavic eunuchs…”

“As regards what is said of Abyssynian, Nubian and other types of black eunuchs, castration takes away their abilities, without offering any improvements, it lessens them, and does not improve them, and it degrades them in comparison with their tribesmen.  Whereas, [castrated] Slavs are more capable than their [uncastrated] countrymen…”

“Slavic men claim, both eunuchs and uncastrated ones, that a snake in their country would come to cows, coil itself around its legs and knees until it reaches the hooves, and then raises its front towards the mammaries of the udder and devours the mammary and the cow cannot make any sounds.  Then for a long time the snake sucks the milks and the cow weakens.  And when the cow is near death it [the snake] uncoils itself.  They state that she will either die or her a large ulcer will appear on her udder, which is hard to heal…”

“We saw already that the Slavs are more miserly than the Byzantines…, whereas according to your opinion the Slavs ought to have more open minds and more generous hands than these other ones…”

“They say: For it is the case that a black stone comes from paradise and copper the darker it is, the more expensive and better.  He holds the black color as objectionable [should realize] how repulsive and ugly among the Franks, Byzantines and Slavs straight hair and sensitiveness, as also the blonde color or the red of the hair on their head or of the beard, as also the whiteness of the eyelashes and of their roots…”

“Tell me, since the time when men were one nation and their speech was the same, after how many generations did the Zang become black and the Slav white?…”

“I contend that the difference between a Turk and a Khorasani is not the same as the difference between a Persian and an Arab or the difference between a Byzantine and a Slav on the one hand and a Zang and an Abyssynian, on the other…  It is similar to the difference between a denizen of Mecca and one of Medina or between a Bedouin and a settled Arab…”


“I’m here to make a few improvements”

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July 19, 2016

Wipo’s Champions

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One on one combat appears as a solution to wider bloodshed in a number of places.  As per Gregory of Tours we know that the Vandal champion fought the Suevi-Alemann champion and lost (the Vandals then left Spain, as per the story).  In the Slavic area there was the duel at Agrimeswidil between Burwid and a Slav champion as reported by Adam of Bremen.

But there was another (or was it?) duel of the champions – this one between a Saxon Christian and a Slav heathen.  And this time the advantage was the Slav’s.  The story is told by Wipo of Burgundy (circa 995 – circa 1048) in his “The Deeds of Conrad II” (Gesta Chuonradi II).  The champion’s duel takes place in the broader context of the Empire’s war against the Lutizi in 1035 or so.  As Wipo observes, the Slavic champion prevailed because, notwithstanding being a pagan, “truth” was on his side.  (As in his book, he also discusses Piasts and other Slavs, we will return to Wipo later).



note: King (at the beginning of the story, actually Duke of Bavaria) Henry is Henry III or Henry the Black or the Pious who was emperor in the years 1046 – 1056.  Conrad II was his father and was emperor from 1027 to 1039.  After his death, Henry ruled as king and then, startin in 1046, as emperor.

Chapter 33
How King Henry Subdued the Slavs
Quod rex Heinricus Sclavos subiugavit 

(about 1033 or 1035)

“In the meantime, while the Emperor [Conrad II] was in Burgundy, engaged in the matters in the matters discussed above,  his son King Henry [the future Henry III], though still in his childhood years, oversaw matters of state in Bohemia and other Slavic countries; and he subjugated strenuously Udalrich the duke of Bohemia and many others who had resisted many emperors; and he returned to meet his father, the double victory bringing double joy to the people.”

(Interea, dum haec quae superius dicta sunt imperator in Burgundia faceret, filius suus Heinricus rex, licet in puerilibus annis, non segnius rei publicae consuluit in Bohemia et in caeteris regionibus Sclavorum; ubi et Uodalricum ducem Bohemiae et reliquos quam plures caesari adversantes strenue subiugavit, et redeunti patri occurrens, de duplici victoria duplex gaudium populis effecerat.)

“Then he assembled Saxon troops against those who are called Liutizi who were once almost Christian but now through the wickedness of apostasy are all pagans [but] the emperor came and miraculously stopped the conflict.  At that time there were many conflicts and incursions between the Saxons and the pagans.  When the emperor came he began to inquire as to when the peace that had been inviolate for so long [among them] had been destroyed.  The pagans claimed that it was the Saxons that first breached the peace and that, if the emperor were to permit it, they would show it in a trial by combat.  And so too the Saxons (though their claim was unjust) to refute the pagans likewise accepted single combat in front of the emperor.  The emperor consulted their leaders and, acting incautiously, permitted this trial by duel.  At once two fighters met, each chosen by his own [men].  A Christian supported by faith alone (but without any good works is dead, to be honest, for he has not seriously considered that God, who is the truth, decides all in the true court, he, who lets his sun rise over the good and the evil, who lets it rain over the just and the unjust) began the combat bravely.  The heathen, though, who had before his eyes only the consciousness of truth for which he fought, resisted strongly.  At the end the Christian was wounded by the heathen and fell.


The Slavic champion came better prepared that day

(Deinde collectis copiis de Saxonia, super eos qui Liutizi vocantur, quique olim semicristiani, nunc per apostaticam nequitiam omnino sunt pagani, imperator venit, ibique conflictum implacabilem mirabiliter diremit.  Inter Saxones enim et paganos fiebant ea tempestate multae dissensiones et incursiones.  Cumque caesar veniret, coepit quaerere, ex qua parte pax, quae diu inviolata inter eos fuerat, prius corrumperetur.  Dicebant pagani, a Saxonibus pacem primitus confundi, idque per duellum, si caesar praeciperet, probari.  Econtra Saxones ad refellendos paganos similiter singulare certamen, quamvis iniuste contenderent, imperatori spondebant.  Imperator, consulentibus principibus suis, licet non satis caute ageret, hanc rem duello diiudicari inter eos permisit.  Statim duo pugiles congressi sunt, uterque a suis electus.  Christianus in sola fide, quae sine operibus iustitiae mortua est, confidens, et non diligenter attendens, quod Deus, qui veritas est, omnia in vero iudicio disponint, qui solem suum oriri super bonos et malos facit, qui pluit super iustos et iniustos, audacter pugnare coepit.  Paganus autem solam conscientiam veritatis, pro qua dimicabat, prae oculis habens, acriter resistebat.  Postremo christianus a pagano vulneratus cecidit.)  


Confirmation of same events from the Chronicon Suevicum Universale

“As a result of this the pagans became so haughty and audacious that, had the Emperor not been there, they would have immediately attacked the Christians; but the Emperor built the castle Wirbin in order to prevent their incursions and he garrisoned the same and he obligated the leaders of Saxony to unanimously resist the heathens [both] through an oath and the imperial command.  Then he returned to Francia.”

(Ex qua re pagani in tantam elationem et audaciam venerunt, ut, nisi imperator adesset, continuo irruerent super christianos; sed imperator ad compescendas incursiones eorum construxit castrum Wirbinam, in quo praesidia militum locabat, et principies Saxoniae, ut unanimiter resisterent paganis, sacramento et imperiali iussione constringebat.  Deinde reversus est in Franciam.)

“But in the following year, that castle was taken by the heathens through trickery and a great part of our men [garrisoned there] were killed.  Angered by this, the Emperor returned with an army to the Elbe River.  But since the pagans were defending the passage, the Emperor had a part of his army cross the river at a different ford.  And after the enemies were forced to flee, he invaded the country from the now freed up river bank and humbled them so greatly, by [causing] immense destruction and devastation everywhere, with the exception of those places that were impregnable, that from then on they paid the Emperor Konrad the tribute imposed on them by the prior emperors and even more.”

(Sequenti vero anno idem castrum a paganis dolo captum est, et plures nostrorum qui in eo erant ab eis occisi sunt.  Hinc commotus imperator, iterum cum copiis usque Albim fluvium venit.  Sed cum pagani transitum prohiberent, imperator per aliud vadum fluvii partem exercitus latenter transmisit; et ita fugatis hostibus, ipse per ripam liberam regionem ingrediens, immensis devastationibus et incendiis ubique, nisi in locis inexpugnabilibus, sic humiliavit eos, ut censum ab antiquis imperatoribus propositum et iam auctum Chuonrado imperatori postea persolverent.)


Conrad on the throne

“The Emperor Conrad struggled much [both] before and at that time with the peoples of the Slavs; about which one of ours had created a kind of summary [breviarium] which he later presented to the Emperor.  There, one reads, how the Emperor, from time to time, stood up to his waste in these swamps, where he himself fought and urged his warriors onwards, and how he, after his victory over the heathens, and on account of their unspeakable superstition, massacred the same [heathens] terribly.”

(Multum enim laboravit Chuonradus imperator prius et tunc in gente Sclavorum; unde quidam de nostris quoddam breviarium versifice fecit, quod postea imperatori praesentavit.  Ibi legitur, qualiter imperator interdum in paludibus usque gemora stabat, pugnans ipse et exhortans milites ut pugnarent, et victis paganis nimis acriter tucidabat eos pro quadam superstitione illorum nefandissima.)

“For it is told that the heathens had, at one time, lampooned a wooden crucifix of our Lord Jesus Christ in unspeakable ways, for they spat on it and hit it with a fist; eventually, they ripped out his eyes and ripped off his hands and feet.  In order to punish this, the Emperor had a great deal of the captured heathens, just for this one figure of Christ, mutilated in similar ways and in killed in various ways.  It is for this reason that the Emperor is called in this poem the Avenger of the Faith and compared with the Roman Emperors Titus and Vespasian, who in order to avenge the Lord [!], exchanged thirty Jews for one gold piece, just as the Jews exchanged the Lord for just as many coins.  The Emperor returned [to Francia] and, to the extent he found any, he dispersed all the remaining obstacles in the Empire with his imperial might.  In the same year Adalbert, the duke of the Carinthians, who fell out of favor with the Emperor, lost his duchy and was banished ”

(Nam fertur, ut quodam tempore efficiem ligneam crucifixi domini nostri Iesu Christi scelerato ludibrio habuissent pagani, et in eam spuerent atque colaphis caederent; ad extremum oculos eruebant, manus et pedes truncabant.  Haec ulciscens imperator, de captis paganis maximam multitudinem pro una effigie Christi simili modo truncavit et varia morte delevit.  Idcirco in eisdem versibus caesar ultor fidei vocatur, et Romanis principibus Tito et Vespasiano comparatur, qui in ultionem Domini triginta Iudaeos pro uno nummo commutaverant, cum Iudaei Christum pro totidem denariis vendiderint.  Reversus imperator, quicquid obstaculi in regno invenit, imperiose disiecit.  Eodem anno Adalbero dux Carantanorum imperatoris gratiam perdens, ducatum amisit et in exilium misss est.)

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July 17, 2016

Searching for Brests

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Here is a map with cities/towns that have Brest in the name (red) and variations, e.g., Briest, Brzesc, Berestok, etc.:


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July 16, 2016

Just Three Gods

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The various Polish Gods listed by Lucas from Great Kozmin come in three lists.  You can see the entire passages here but, the bottom line, the following names appear in the respective passages:

  1. ‘Lado, Yassa‘ et attendere [?]
  2. LadoYassaNia
  3. Non Lada, non Yassa, non Nia

However, we have been told that there was also another name mentioned – Quia or Qui or Kiy.  Of course, the immediate connection drawn would be with Kyiv.  The name supposedly appears in the second passage between Yassa and Nia.

However, as we have already mentioned before, in the manuscripts that we have seen, no such name appears.  See for example:




We have not examined the other manuscripts but so far it does not look promising…  This is not to say that the Poles only had three Gods – Lucas does say “and others” – but it does mean that there is simply no mention of Kiy.

So where did the idea of a Kiy come from?  This fragment from LofGK was first noticed by Maria Kowalczyk.  She does mention Quia based on a manuscript from the Jagiellonian Library (BJ 1446) so an examination of that manuscript would seem to be in order.

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July 13, 2016


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There has been some recent discussion (again) about the authenticity of the famous Światowid from Zbruch or just the Zbruch idol.  We’re not going to get into that but thought we’d do a visual comparison with another figure – the so-called Warrior from Hirschlanden (Krieger aus Hirschlanden) near Stuttgart (Swabia) which has been classified as Celtic:


Well, the arms are reversed, he’s got a penis (we think), a waist and the hat is pointier…  Nevertheless, there are some similarities.  This is obviously of great importance.  Now we can safely conclude that Celts lived as far as Zbruch river in the Ukraine.  Who would have thought!?

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July 12, 2016

On Długosz & Brückner – Part II

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So what did Brückner think about the “misunderstood” names were?



Regarding Jesza his judgment was that it was an old expression meaning, roughly, “let it be” or “please let it happen.”  He stated that it existed in Old Church Slavonic.

The first issue with this is that Brückner, as is symptomatic of his writing more generally, offers no proof showing how we came to this conclusion.  He makes his assertion without any citations or references.  Thus, the erudite exercises his prerogative no.1 – take me at your word as I know more than you do.

The second issue here is that, assuming arguendo, that Brückner were right as to the existence of such a word in OCS, we have to ask what difference does that make for the occurrence of the word in Polish?  The relevance, we suppose, would be present if Polish were somehow derived from OCS.  However, whether OCS is the “oldest” (whatever that may mean) Slavic language is debatable.  Old Slovenian also shows signs of antiquity and an entire separate debate could be had about that topic.  As it stands, the word Jassa, appears in a whole host of sources across most of the ancient world where Slavs or Veneti touched foot and in some places where, to our knowledge, they did not:

  • It was the word for “law” under Genghis Khan;
  • It appears to mean “flowing” as in the Polish jazda or jechac and is found as the name or as part of the name of numerous “Old” European rivers;
  • It was, arguably, the name of the hero Jason and the Greek (Dardanic) demi-god Jasion;
  • It may be related to the word jazyk, as in tongue (but perhaps that too is by reason of flowing (saliva? words):
  • we mentioned many other appearances of similar names all over the world and know of many others (including in India);

There is thus not much reason to assume that the OCS version – from whatever time (Brückner, of course, does not say) should be relevant for the Polish usage. Or, put differently, the fact that the word had a particular meaning somewhere in Russia does not mean that it had the very same meaning in other Slavic countries.  In fact, one might ask whether the older appearance is not the one from Poland?  Of course, we can’t even begin to discuss which was earlier because Brückner gives no cites for the OCS usage or for the time of the alleged usage (are we repeating ourselves here?).  It is also notable that the Czechs mention the same God as Chasson which sounds much as Jasion.  However, the Czech writers identify the same with the Sun, i.e., Chasson Sol.

Third, even if in fact such usage did exist somewhere and sometime in OCS lands and even if we were to assume that the usage was similar to the version promoted by Brückner, one has to ask, so what?  In other words, we do know of mentions of an East Slavic God – Dadzbog – whose name means as much as “God give” or, in more prosaic words, “let it be” or “let it happen”.  If we’re going to dip into Eastern Slavic folklore for Jesza then it’s only fair that we should be able to dip into it for Dadzbog too, it seems.


“Lado” Brückner states is a vocative of Lada.  But then notes that the word also appears in masculine form as lado.  Thus, it could be either it seems.  No problem there but what of it?

Brückner explains lada as a favored female, “my love,” “my dearest”, etc.  For this proposition he cites  two appearances (though there may have been others) of the word in the Tale of Igor’s Campaign (only manuscript from the 16th century)*.  One has to assume that that work is genuine, of course, but let’s assume that.  Separately, he notes the appearance of the word in the Life of Saint Catherine and notes that in Dalimil’s Chronicle the same means a pretty girl (presumably lado would then be the masculine equivalent).  He even notes a use of the word in 1562 in Poland (but does not provide a specific citation).

Then Brückner claims that Długosz was inconsistent in that, a few years earlier, he stated that Lada was a local Mazovian Goddess rather than a God of War, Mars (as he claimed later).  The two, however, need not be inconsistent and the fact that Herodotus and others spoke of women who catheterized their cut off breasts and served as warriors, i.e., the Amazons, leaves a tempting solution to this conundrum.

In any event, what Brückner really claims is that the later Polish usage should be determinative of the earlier Polish usage.  Alternatively, he seems to suggest that the non-Polish usage should be determinative of Polish usage.  There is, however, no reason to prefer either such interpretation.  In any event, Lada as a goddess also appears outside of Poland (more on that later).


Brückner says nothing regarding Nia other than to note that Jakub Parkoszowic did not show where the Nia he mentioned (in 1440 so before Długosz) was supposed to have come from.  The fact that Parkoszowic chose not to delve into the origin of Nia may suggest that the Deity was well-known at the time, or it may suggest that Parkoszowic did not feel the need to explain himself since he was writing a treatise on orthography, not theology.

Brückner notes that Długosz simply defaulted here to Pluto but says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the Deity by that name.


What of Dilela? Brückner argues that this is made up from  the words leli, which Długosz misunderstood from the peasants’ songs of yleli (where the y just meant “and”).  Note that Lel & Polel do not appear in Długosz’ pantheon.  In this respect, there probably is a connection between Leli and “Dilela”.  They were likely the same.  But so what? Brückner does not say.

He rambles on without really explaining the origin of all these names.  He talks of drinking songs and proverbs of “LelumPolelum” but does not answer the fundamental question of the source of these “sayings.”  He notes that the name also appears in other places as the name of a Deity but then suggests that maybe the name Leli has something to do with an old Polish verb indicating swaying or wiggling.  Because why precisely?  Brückner does not say.

Where does this leave us?

Well, first, to be anal about this, the Długosz formulation is actually Dzidzilela  (a note on one of the manuscripts also has Dzydzylyna).

Second, the prefix dzidzi (though dzi perhaps as well) suggests Persian daevadeitas or deus.  In fact, depending on the case it could be cognate with a number of these.  As an alternative, it is also possible that the invokers really meant the children of Lela, i.e., Didi Leli.  If so, this can explain the connection with Castor & Pollux.  Further, as the mother of Dioskouri was Leda, this can establish a connection to Lada or Lyada.  

In any event, all of this suggests a connection to divine names rather than, as Brückner would have it, a purely made up construct.

But there are other names in the Długosz pantheon.


Here Brückner claims that Długosz needed to fill the roles of Ceres and Diana.  Why?  Because Poland was the land of forests and meadows so sylvan or agricultural deities were absolutely necessary.  For Ceres, Długosz allegedly found inspiration in the Marzanna being carried out by villagers and thrown into water at the end of winter.  This, so Brückner implies, was a natural “fit” because Marzanna was also (Marynia) the name of a plant.

Note that Brückner himself does not question the village custom.  He just calls Her a “goddess”.  But surely, Marzanna’s divine status cannot be disproven – as against the word of Długosz – solely by putting the word “goddess”, as Brückner does, in quotation marks.  In fact, later Długosz himself explains the custom of “drowning” Marzanna as a restaging of the even surrounding the Polish “baptism” when the local Divinities were broken or tossed in the waters (a practice also known from Russia if are allowed to draw parallels).

So for all of Brückner’s derision, all that he may have shown is that the Długosz did not explain the connection between Ceres and Marzanna.  On that, Brückner is, of course, right but neither was that the goal of Długosz (see below).


Here Brückner notes that there was a plant by that name (or, rather, by a similar name) (which is true) and that using a plant name for a required (as per Brückner – see above) parallel for the Roman goddess of nature just made sense.  Add to that, he says, that both the plant name and the the Roman goddess name ended in the same suffix –ana and the connection was perfected.

Well, the name of the plant was actually slightly different (Brückner can’t help himself but admit that – presumably to show off his botanical erudition).  And we will give Brückner the benefit of the doubt and assume that he hadn’t heard of the Goddess Tāfanae  (which, however, some (particularly German) writers insist on writing as Tanfana or Tamfana).

But more importantly, Brückner’s “critique” is nothing but speculation.  He has, of course, no proof or knowledge as to how exactly Długosz came upon his names but neither does he have very strong reasons to doubt Długosz who did not say anything extraordinary regarding Dziewanna.  The fact that a plant could be named after a Goddess is hardly shocking and that the memory of the latter may have faded while the name of the former endures is also unsurprising (more on the plant later).

We note too that one of the glosses to the Mater Verborum has Diana as Devanna.  If Hanka forged that he forged either being aware of Długosz’s pantheon or independently coming up with the name for Diana.

Pogoda & Zywie

Brückner discusses Pogoda and Zywie and asserts that Długosz must have simply “Slavicized” the names Podaga and Siwa – known from the Helmold chronicle (though Brückner seems astounded that Helmold’s Chronicle somehow managed to find its way into the hands of Długosz).  However, he says nothing about these Deities’ existence or nonexistence.  And weren’t they supposed to have been Deities of Polabian Slavs (even if an Indian connection seems present at least with Siwa – remember Veneti =?= Vindi) so what’s their to Slavicize (perhaps Helmold got them wrong in the first place?).


Boda was not part of Długosz’ pantheon but Brückner mentions Her (?) when discussing the passage regarding “Lada, Boda, Leli“.  All he says is “I don’t know where this came from.”


Why Does Brückner Think He is Right?

The why is quite simple. Brückner states that there could not have been any pagan rituals left in the 15th century because by then Poland was throughly Christianized.  In other words, all of the past customs that had not been incorporated into Church practice were forgotten.  Five hundred years after the “baptism” of the country, the entire pagan culture must have been lost.

A number of observations are in order.

First, despite the words that Brückner uses to describe Marzanna (“some sort of Marzanna”) surely he must have known exactly what the ritual was about.  After all, the ritual has survived to this day in many places in Poland and a scholar like Brückner would have been intimately familiar with it in the 19th century.  So why so dismissive?  It’s difficult not to suspect that Brückner does not wish to discuss Marzanna because, if that ritual survived from the 15th to the 19th century, it sure as hell could have survived from the 10th to the 15th.  In other words, to this day we have all kinds of rituals that date years in the past and while the maintenance of such rituals in a preliterate society would no doubt have been harder (and more variations would likely have accrued), it, by no means would have been impossible.

Second, notwithstanding the baptism of the court of Mieszko, the reality was a bit more complicated.  We know that a number of partly-pagan rebellions took place in Poland in the first half of the 11th century.  We know that paganism survived as official state religion in several Slavic dukedoms into the 12th century.  We know that the nearby Prussians remained pagan as late as the 15th century.  We know that church penetration was fairly weak initially – one parish per 100 miles or so (this is partly because evangelists – then as now – claim success when they have converted the rulers; they know that, over time, the rulers, using state power, will convert the commoners).  We know that Church attendance and mindless repetition of a few prayers was all that was  required of the lay villagers back then (back then?).  We know that Poland suffered from a Mongol invasion as well as invasions by various other pagans (Prussians, Pomeranians, Jatvingians, Lithuanians, etc).  We know that the country was split apart in 1138 and did not recover (and then only in parts) till 1320 or so.  Thus, in effect, the state preoccupied with other matters, was unable, except locally, to conduct a Christianization campaign for almost 200 years.  The Polish state did not emerge in a more or less stable state until the 14th century.  That in 1405 the dean of Cracow university should remember pagan rituals (as he claimed) and that, perhaps, a Cracow priest like Długosz could later in the same century have some notion of the same is certainly not beyond the realm of decent possibility. Brückner is right to raise doubts but he is wrong to be wholly dismissive.

Third, Brückner assumes that the only kind of Polish paganism that may have survived till the 15th century was the “original” pre-966 paganism.   Given that assumption it is easier for him to then argue how hard (or impossible as he would have it) it would be for pagan beliefs to survive 500 years of Christianization.  To be fair to Brückner, this is partly driven by the fact that Długosz placed his information about paganism right at the beginning, i.e., prior to discussing Poland’s Christianization.  However, it is also entirely possible that the Polish Gods of Długosz have nothing or little to do with 10th century Polish divinities (whatever they may have been).  And yet Długosz’ Gods may well have been worshipped in the 14th or 15th centuries.

Although Długosz may have been reluctant to admit that pagan practices were still going on in his time in a work of the type that he was writing (Annals of the Kingdom, etc), as we noted before, there is plenty of evidence (for example, from the various internal Church documents) that pagan rituals were, in fact, continuing into the 15th century.  That said, religious practices change over time and the ones of the 15th century may have been very different from the ones of the 10th.  Poles may have worshipped Jessa in the 15th but not necessarily in the 10th century.

And if that is true then we do not need any pagan practices to have “survived” five centuries of Christianization.  Such pagan practices may have evolved over time or, perhaps, they may have been stopped by the Church and then restarted anew in an entirely different way.

Overall, one can’t help but note that Brückner’s article is set up in a rather strange way.  Normally, one would expect to see a thesis and then a careful analysis of the pros and cons.  Instead, Brückner strives very hard to show that there was nothing to the Polish Olympus and only then, when he thinks he is done, in a manner of a magician that reveals the secrets of some trick to gullible children, he tells us why this has to be so.  Although writing formats of the 19th century may have differed from today’s so some slack may be cut, the overall inescapable conclusion seems to be that Brückner already knew his “conclusion” before he wrote most of his paper and that the paper’s body is merely designed to “prove” that a priori conclusion.

So Where Are We?

Brückner’s theorizing leads him to conclude that:

1) although Długosz did not make anything up out of thin air, nevertheless his Gods are not worth much, and that

2) Długosz simply made up connections to Roman gods.

As regards 1), we have shown that there does not seem to be a reason to question Długosz on a number of the above names or their variants (Jesza, Lada, Didi-lela).  Others yet, Brückner himself does not really address other than, perhaps to say that they are Polabian Slav Deities (Pogoda, Zywie) but, again, what of it?  Others he says nothing about (Nia) or admits that they existed, whether as divinities or not, at least as part of village ritual (Marzanna).  As to the non-Długoszian Boda, he says nothing other than to acknowledge its mention in one source.

When all is said and done, the only Divinity that suffers – perhaps – from all of the Brücknerian sneering seems to be Dziewanna.  And even there, we have shown it is really Brückner’s word against Długosz’.

Again, scholars are free to criticize but they have to establish their case.  While one can express doubt about some of Długosz’ claims (he, like Brückner, does not cite anything but Długosz can, perhaps, be excused as he wasn’t writing a scholarly article!), he does state his case and there is nothing in what Długosz wrote that strikes us as improbable or outright crazy.

Thus, in the end, Brückner asks us to accept his word over Długosz’ as to what the situation with Polish paganism was in the 15th century.   Or, to put it differently, he asks us to accept that he, Brückner, knows the customs of the 15th century Polish villagers better than a 15th century Polish high church official.  Of course, stranger things have happened but Brückner fails to convince us that this is one of them.

Further, Brückner seems affected by two trends of 19th century Germany.  One was the already mentioned 19th century perception of Catholic priests as backwards and one of the cause of the collapse of the Polish state (as compared with Prussian protestantism).  The second was the resuscitation of Germanic paganism as something pure and original (along with Germania, etc).  This led to the resuscitation of various Slavic antiquities as almost a response.  Underlying all of this was the notion that original paganism was good because it was national in character.   Brückner seems to transfer the motives of 19th century folk chroniclers onto the 15th century Długosz.  How valid is that?  Why does Brückner think it would have been important for Długosz to have shown Poland’s pagan roots at the level of detail that he did?  Długosz may have been a patriot but he was a churchman of the 15th century and any notion that he was trying to bolster national pride by listing Roman-like deities seems a projection back in time of Brückner’s perceptions of Brückner’s own present.  Długosz may have taken secret pride in “rich” pagan beliefs but if so he gives no hint of this in his matter-of-fact writing on the subject.

And what of 2)?

Here Brückner does have a point. Długosz does not say why the various Polish Gods must correspond to their respective alleged Roman counterparts.  But, that said, Brückner’s point is a bit of a “so what?”

In other words, we have to ask why did Długosz strive for his interpretatio romana.  The answer is likely to be simple. Długosz was writing – in Latin – to explain (very briefly) Polish paganism to an audience which may or may not have been familiar with it but would certainly have been familiar with Roman paganism.  Hence the usefulness of parallels, even if imperfect, from Roman mythology.  And that’s it.  If it turns out that Jesza did not have the exact attributes of the Roman Jupiter, so what?  Maybe it’s enough that He was the head of the pantheon as the “Main God” – a portfolio similar to Jupiter’s.  Even if Devanna was not Diana, so what?  From Długosz we still learn that She may have been a “forest lady” type.  If Nia was not Pluto but was, nevertheless, a God (Goddess?) of the underworld, would that make much of a difference?  And Lada may have been both a guardian of Jesza – in the form of a war god – as also an Amazon-like female.  If, as we are told, women can do anything men can do, then certainly Goddesses should be able to do anything Gods can.

So what’s up with Brückner?  We’ll have more to say about that later.

P.S. In a similar vein Brückner criticized the Baltic Pantheon – criticizing shows how smart (and entirely not gullible) you are.

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July 11, 2016

On Długosz & Brückner – Part I

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One of the more peculiar persons in Slavic historiography was the erudite Teuton Aleksander Brückner.

An erudite enjoy certain privileges.  For one, his command of facts allows an erudite to dominate discourse to the point that – should he choose to make something up – he is more likely to go unchallenged (prerogative no. 1).  After all, if someone is right 99 times in a row, are you really going to question the next fact that he posits as truth?  See, for example, the BS written by well-known (welll-known among historians – fame’s relative) historians such as Karl Müllenhoff or, more recently, Herwig Wolfram.

Another benefit of being an erudite is that an erudite just sounds smart.  In other words, all too frequently, an erudite’s audience is likely to mistake his command of facts for intelligence and wisdom (prerogative no. 2).  But being able to memorize lots of things does not mean you can process them equally well.  As the story of John Nash shows, sometimes too many facts/neurons firing can also lead to information overload and the result is, well, crap.

Which brings us back to Brückner – the erudite.


Brückner seemed happier in his youth

Brückner, was considered the preeminent Prussian Slavist of the late 19th century.  He was not only a walking encyclopedia but also a workaholic (the latter, no doubt, leading to the former).   He had, however, also a number of less attractive qualities.  For purposes of this entry, let it suffice to say that he was not half as smart as he thought himself to be and he could also be a rather unpleasant individual.

Specifically, Brückner’s particular form of “stream of consciousness” writing appears at times to lack any basis in fact and any logic in its conclusions.  He tosses facts into a verbal stew that is his writing through mere assertions, not troubling to document them (fact creation – erudite’s prerogative no. 1) and then builds his sand castle theses in the thinnest of air usually based on overactive criticism of anything that does not fit his, obviously, preconceived notions of historical truth (making sweeping conclusions that sound “smart” so long as they are not carefully scrutinized – erudite’s prerogative no. 2).

In addition, and more concerning, was Brückner’s seeming eagerness to obviously pleasure himself by mocking, belittling and deriding his opponents – real or imagined – current or past.  Of course, no man – great or otherwise – should be exempt from criticism.  On the other hand, few things are as nettlesome as a great man being mocked by an overweening mediocrity who, to top it off, is not even witty.

Therefore, it bugs the proverbial **** out of us that nearly five hundred years after he wrote his Polish Annals, the Polish chronicler Jan Długosz became yet another target of Brückner’s ridicule.  While some of what Długosz wrote could be (and was) subjected to healthy criticism, Brückner’s variant of such criticism appears notable not for its astuteness but for its boorish mean-spriritedness.

The Cantankerite in Action 

Specifically, Brückner took it upon himself to describe, “Polish Mythology” devoting less than eighty pages to the task in his rather derisive pamphlet of the same name.  The title of the first chapter, “The Birth of the Alleged Polish Olympus” sets the tone for the rest of it and the first contemptuous words bring to mind a flehming Brückner:

“Deeply did the Cracovian canon Jan Długosz fall into his thought, in his room* cluttered with manuscripts and parchments: he felt on his shoulders the weight of the task placed upon him by his spiritual father Zbigniew,* the Cracow bishop.  It was for him that he undertook to write the histories of the fatherland, from the beginning till that day even but then got stuck right at the beginning.  Having completed the physical topography of the land as well as the moral topography of its inhabitants, it behooved him to say something with respect to the pagan times and their primeval idolatry: what kind of idols* did the old Poles worship?  The complete picture of this prehistory could not be written without this detail, which seemed to be both rather easy and rather hard all at the same time.  Easy, since all idolatries were, after all, the works of the same satan who traps humans in his snares; for everywhere it was the same; Greek idols were the same as Roman: Athena-Minerva, Ares-Mars, and so too among the Poles there must have been the same Mars, Pluto, Venus, Jupiter as among the Romans and only their names were local, Polish. That was easy and simple but where should these names be found?  After all, the scrupulous scholar knew how futile it would be to ask these of the common folk who, Christian now for five centuries, gave up all such idols.  It was thus not without reason that the canon did fall so pensive; but his brow suddenly cleared, for he recalled now that he’d read somewhere the names of these pagan idols.  And indeed, after a long search, he did locate the above-mentioned note… But what was this note?  We too have it in our possession.”

* While the above lengthy introduction makes for good reading it’s hard to fully convey the condescension in Brückner’s voice.  Thus, the text is filled with diminutives – a typical Polish (though not only) derisive device; the form “room”  Brückner refers to as izdebka, a diminutive of izba as if Długosz – the parchment nerd – were locked in some rathole the size of a standard Japanese hotel room, sweating on how to please his clerical boss – the bishop Zbyszko (a diminutive of Zbigniew) – more than the miller’s daughter sweated trying to figure out how to spin straw into gold.  Also, the word bożki – “idols” – is, in Polish, in effect, a diminutive of “God” (Bog).


Perhaps Brückner drew inspiration from the Matejko painting of Długosz

The royal “we”, Brückner proceeds to tell us, “too have” this note in “our possession” – referring to the Statuta provincialia breviter discussed here.  He then continues his harangue:

“all the mentions of the Polish idols can be derived from this single source… So finally Długosz found what he was looking for: pagan idol names… all that was left was to provide a classification of these which he took on the responsibility of doing himself.  In the front he placed JesseJassa because the name reminded him of Jove; perhaps he heard somewhere about gardzina – a hero when he also heard lado and so he designated the latter one as Mars; in rather than ileli [reference to yleli in Sermones per circulum anni Cunradi – see here] he’d read somewhere about some dzileli and threw in Venus/Aphrodite and Nya… became Pluto.  And so, all four main Roman gods did he happily place on the ‘Polish Olympus.’ But what sort of names were these?”

Put aside the fact that it is rather untrue that Venus and Pluto were part of the “four main Roman gods” as Brückner claims. (Where is Juno/Hera?  Where is Minerva/Athena?  If Mars is part of this, where then is Quirinus?)…

Put aside the derisive tone of the whole thing.

Let’s focus on other things such as the fact that Brückner offers statements that are either false or completely baseless.  As regards the latter, Brückner had, of course, no idea how Długosz found the names he mentioned. Brückner had as much information about what Długosz read or “perhaps… heard” as he had about the size of the room that Długosz wrote in.

Why did, according to Brückner, Jassa remind Długosz of Jove? Brückner implies this is because of the name similarity.  But that seems a major stretch.  If anything, the name Jassa should have reminded Długosz of the Greek demigod Jasion.  Długosz did apply an interpretatio romana but Jassa likely became Jupiter/Jove not by reason of any name similarities but rather because in all the documents that Długosz may have come across (or at least that Brückner claims, Długosz came across) the name Jassa appeared and, usually, appeared first.  The notion that Długosz heard something about a gardzina (basically, “guardian”) and therefore made Lado equivalent to Mars is silly.  The primary function of Ares was as God of War, not as a guardian of Jupiter.  Brückner’s argument regarding how Didilela became Venus/Aphrodite, is unintelligible (to us).  Moreover, he does not explain how or why Nya became Pluto.

Of course, one can question Długosz but the problem is that Brückner has no idea so he lets his imagination run wild for a moment in much the same way that he accuses Długosz of having done.  When Brückner tires of this mental masturbation, he basically, stops pretending to make any arguments and, basically says, “Długosz just made it up and I won’t spend time on this any further.”

There is also the fact that Brückner was wrong about the variety of sources available to Długosz.   The canon may well have relied on Statuta provincialia breviter but we now know that there were earlier* sources such as the Pentacostal Postillas.  Moreover, those postillas (written by the rector of Cracow University) are quite explicit that they discuss heathen Gods and, again, name the names of the same in much the same way as three of Długosz’ names.

More importantly, none of the various sources mentioned shows any indication of being derivative of the Statuta.  The only reason for this claim in Brückner’s mind seems to be that the Statuta were the earliest source known to him.  However, it is illogical to suggest, without more, that, each written source must be derivative of an earlier written source.  If the Postillas came before the Statuta, Brückner’s logic would suggest that the latter must be derived from the former simply because the former preceded the latter.  The discovery of a yet earlier source wouldn’t matter either as, based on this line of thought, we’d just be discovering the “real” autograph (until an earlier one still were found and so on).

To claim that a work is derivative of another one has to show dependencies.  Here, however, no such dependencies are evident.  For one thing, the Statuta only discuss two names – Długosz has a number of others.  Moreover, the Statuta do not mention Nya who was mentioned by the earlier Postillas.

So why did Brückner say what he said?

Brückner’s Spelunking

Brückner’s basic argument is that these Names meant all kinds of things except what the numerous authors claimed them to be, i.e., pagan Divinity Names.

How is then that all the scribes were mistaken about them?  Brückner’s argument here is that priest in the 14th and 15th century were all superstitious morons who saw the devil plotting everywhere and any kind of dance or frolic was interpreted as some form of idolatry by these primitives.  To support this claim he gives an example of a Czech priest – Jan from Holešov – who, apparently, misinterpreted “vele” in an old Czech carol “Vele, vele, stojí dubec vprostřed dvoru” (apparently, the oldest Slavic carol) as being a reference to the Mesopotamian deity Baal.

A number of things come to mind.

First, as regards the Czech example, it is hard not to note that the refrain “vele, vele” appears very similar to the East Slavic God Veles (who, albeit by later writers, may also have been mentioned among Czech Deities, as Hecate, in the form Wyla).  While, Veles is obviously not Baal, he was a pagan divinity and Brückner’s objection can hardly be merely that Jan from Holešov misidentified the idol.  In fact, if one thought that the reference was to a non-Christian divinity but one had not heard of Veles, it would be not altogether unnatural to try to make sense of this by referring to Baal about whom Jan was no doubt well informed by reason of his Bible Study and all.  And that’s before we even note that the oak (the dubec above) was certainly often associated with various pagan Gods.  The fact that the song was a carol does not necessarily change its roots.  While all of this is supposition, so are Brückner’s fancies regarding the astuteness of Jan from Holešov’s observations.

Second, even if one priest in Bohemia could have been mistaken, a whole host of priests being repeatedly mistaken seems a bit much.  While priests, like all people of that time, were obviously limited in their education and outlook, they were, nevertheless, the most educated caste among the people.  It seems it is for this reason that Brückner needs all his God mentions to be derivative from the Statuta.  Then only the first priest would need have been mistaken.  (Of course, that priest would have to have been someone writing the Statuta at a synod (so not just some local parish priest)).  Nevertheless, as we’ve shown above, there is no basis for concluding that the various sources for the existence of Polish (Venetic? Slavic?) Gods are in any way interrelated.

Third, given Brückner’s tone in his introduction and given some of his other writings, it is difficult to escape the impression that Brückner’s perception of the priest class was coloured by the time that he was living in.  Recall that he was a citizen of a reborn Germany, driven by its main engine – Protestant Prussia.  Poland, on the other hand, had been partitioned as a failed state.  In the narrative justifying partition, the Prussian occupiers stressed the backwardness of the Polish nobility and of its (Catholic) clergy (of course, it was that nobility and clergy that also were, to a large extent, the carriers of the national spirit – something that the Prussians and Russians did not fail to notice – hence another reason for the official disparagement of them).  Based on his style, it seems that, to a not insignificant extent, Brückner was influenced by that narrative and transplanted his perceptions of the present to help himself in making a point about the past.

But what of these Names!?


We’ll be back to that.

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July 9, 2016