On Krak of Cracow

The original (or at least as original as we think) story of Krak was put to pen by Master Vincentius (Wincenty) aka Kadlubek in his Polish Chronicle.  We have previously explored the origin of the Krak name/persona but did not delve into the actual Krak legend.  Given that we’ve already given space to the legend of Piast, it seems fitting that we should also finally get to Krak. This then is that story.  (We will also get to the Czech Krok, of course!)

(The chronicle is in the form of a dialogue between Matthew and John, Polish clergymen that Master Vincentius greatly respected.  For the duration of the Krak tale, Matthew is the one telling the tale while John chimes in with philosophical observations (usually taken from the Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus of Marcus Junianus Justinus).  Since the latter are not relevant to the story of Krak, we’ve left them out and only have Matthew speaking).

The Legend of Krak

“It is said too that at time it was the Gauls who had taken control of almost all of the world.  Our legions killed a great number of them in many a battle.  The ones that remained, a long time harassed, our men compelled to an agreement that stated that, whether by fortune or by bravery, either side should gain something from others, each side should get an equal share.  The Galls received all of Greece and we got the lands running from, on the one side, the country of the Parthians, on the other side all at the way to Bulgaria and on the third side to the borders of Carinthia.  Then after many a battle with the Romans, after braving many a danger of war, they took over cities, setting up regional governors and elected a duke by the name of Gracchus.  But eventually they [it appears that here the author is talking about the Galls] grew indolent in their profligacy, slowly losing their mettle by the debauchery of [their] women [or women running things].  The most noble of this tribe died poisoned and the others bent their heads to the yoke of the locals.  And so those, who could not be defeated by a force of arms, were brought down by the sloth of the few.”


Galls being brought down by women

“From then on many a man was beguiled by a desire to rule.  For that reason, Gracchus, returning from Carinthia, for he had the gift saying deep things, calls a council of the whole troop, has them all face him, gets their support and unites them in obedience [to him].  He says that a headless man like a wounded animal is pathetic.  The same is a body without a soul, the same a lamp without light, the same a world without the sun – as too a country without a king.  For a soul refuels the spirit of bravery, light makes seen the nature of things, the sun too spreads to all its beneficent rays.  With these rays, as with jewels, is encrusted a diadem on a kingly head such that from the brow there shines magnanimity, from the back restraint and from both sides there sends its munificent radiance a garnet of enterprise.  He promises that should they elect him such, then he will not be a king but rather a partner in the kingdom.  For he believes that he was not born for himself but for the whole world [see Lucan].”


Krak explaining his concept of partnership through teamwork

“And so they all greet him as the [new] king.  And he lays down laws and enacts statutes.   And so there arises the seed of our civil law and there takes place its birth.  Because before him freedom had to give way to servitude and right to walk step by step behind injustice.  And that was just which brought the biggest advantage to the wealthiest.  Nevertheless strict justice was not to rule right away.  But from then on it did not yield to great violence, and justice was called that which benefitted that one who can do the least.”

“Poland flourishing thus wonderfully under Gracchus’ leadership would most assuredly recognized his offspring as the most worthy heir to the throne had not the second of his sons been disgraced by the crime of fratricide.”

Of the Dragon 

“For there was in the cracks of a certain rock/boulder a terribly cruel monster, that some used to call ‘whole-eater’ [holophagus, in other writings also draco].  To sate his hunger based on the number of days he was to be given a certain count of cattle.  Should the inhabitants fail to deliver the same offerings they would be punished by the monster through a loss of a commensurate number of their own heads.”


Another victim of the whole-eater about to be eaten whole

“Gracchus, unable to suffer this shame – for he was a more affectionate son of the fatherland than a father to his own sons – secretly called his sons and presented his plan and gave his advice: ‘Cowardice is the enemy of bravery, foolishness of wisdom, indolence of youthful vigor.  For it is no bravery if it is cowardly, it is not wisdom if it is foolish and it is not youth if it is indolent.  What’s more when there is no opportunity to practice courage, so must one create one.  Who then should avoid glory when it presents itself on its own, unless he be someone inglorious!  Yet the good of the citizenry, defended and preserved, becomes an eternal triumph.  For one should not  care about his own safety whenever a common danger arises.  It is for you, you who are our favourites, who, one as well as the other, we have raised according to our abilities, to arm yourselves so as to kill the monster, it befits you to join battle with him but [also] not to risk yourselves too greatly for you are one half of our life, those who deserve to inherit this kingdom.‘”

“And they answered thusly: ‘Truly one could count us filled with the hatred of [as if we were treated as mere] stepsons, should you withhold from us so glorious a task!  To you belongs the power of commanding and to us the necessity of obedience.‘”


One of Krak’s sons confronts the holophagus

“And so when they have experienced many a time an open manly combat and futile tests of strength, they were forced to rely on their guile [instead].  For in lieu of placing cattle, they put in the usual place only hides filled with burning sulphur.  And when the greedy whole-eater greedily gulped these down, he choked on the flames blazing through his innards.”

“And right after this took place, the younger of the brothers attacked and killed the older, his partner in victory and in the kingdom, [treating him] not as a companion but as a rival.  He follows his [brother’s] body [during the funeral procession filled] with crocodile tears.  He lies saying that [his brother] had been killed by the monster but the father welcomes him back happily as a victor.  For it is often the case that grief becomes overcome by the happiness of triumph.”


Once his crime was discovered, the younger Krak agreed to banishment

“And so in this way, the younger Gracchus takes the rule after his father, a criminal inheritor!  Yet he was longer branded by the fratricide than decorated with power.  For when the deception soon after was revealed, as penance for his crime he was sentenced to eternal banishment: ‘for it is the most justice law that those who commit crimes should be [slowly] killed by the same.

And of Wanda

“Soon thereafter, on the rock [perhaps, crag? interesting, is that Celticism where the name of the city comes from!?] of the whole-eater, a famous city was founded, from the name of Gracchus named Gracchovia.  And the funeral rites were not concluded but with the completion of the building of the city.  Some called it Cracow from the crowing of crows that gathered there to feast on the corpse of the monster.”

“And so great a love of their departed ruler filled the Senate, the magnates and all of the people that they entrusted his only daughter Wanda with the rule of the country after her father.  She so exceeded all others by her beautiful person as also by the allure of her grace that you would have thought that nature, when rewarding her [with its gifts], not only generous but even extravagant was.  For even the most prudent of the wise were astounded by her advice and the most cruel amongst the enemies relented at her sight.”

“Thus, when a certain Lemmanic [Alemannic? but see here] tyrant raged forth with the intent of destroying this people, thinking to take the throne seemingly free [i.e., because there was no male king], he yielded to her unspeakable charm rather than the force of [her] arms.”

A FISH CALLED WANDA, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, 1988, (c) MGM

Wanda denies the Alemannic tyrant

“For the moment his armies saw in front of them the queen, they fell as if touched by some sort of a ray of light – and all of them as if commanded by some god, purged themselves of all hostile feelings and stood aside from the fight.  They claimed then that they did not balk at battle but rather at sacrilege.  They said that they were afraid of no man but in [this wo]man they venerated a godly majesty.  Their King touched by the torment of love or perhaps of outrage [at his soldiers refusing to fight], or both, proclaims:

Wanda, the sea,

Wanda, the Earth,

the clouds, let Wanda command,

to the immortal gods, let her give herself as sacrifice for her own people

and I for you, oh my lords, make this solemn sacrifice to the gods of the underworld, that you as also your successors forever should grow old under this womanly rule!‘”

He said thus and then threw himself onto his sword giving up his spirit, and so his angry life, with a complaint, amongst the shadows escapes.”

“From her name, they say, is the name of the River Wandal[us] [meaning Vistula] derived, for that [river] was the center of her kingdom; so too all those who were under her rule became known as Vandals.  Because she desired no one marry and even virginity she thought of higher than marriage, she left the world without an heir.  And for a long time did the kingdom teeter without a ruler.”


Interestingly, it was Isidore of Seville that first suggested in his Etymologies that the Vandals got their name from the River  “Vindilicus” or “Windilicus” though he placed it in Gaul.  Kadlubek was probably aware of Isidore’s works though whether he got this idea from the Etymologies is unknown.


The River Vindilicus springs from the far frontier of Gaul and people maintain that the Vandals lived by it and got their name from it

It was only much later that Jan Dlugosz gave name to the “tyrant”, i.e., Rytygier or Ruediger.  Interestingly, in the so-called Dietrich of Bern sagas, Ruediger is also the emissary of Etzel/Attila  to the king of the Wilzi/Veltabi who tries to get the king – Ossantrix – to give the hand of the king’s daughter – Helke – to Attila/Etzel.  As if that were not enough, Dlugosz, at least in some manuscripts, also states that Popiel’s name in German was Osserich – presumably, deriving that from Ossen – ash.  On the Asciburgian mountains we wrote already here.  Whether this Ossantrix has anything to do with the ancient Ossi of Tacitus’ Germania – which Ossi lived in the neighborhood of the Veltae/Veltabi in Ptolemy’s Geography – and whether either of those have anything to do with the land of Ossum that the Goths entered from Gothiscandza in Jordanes Getica is a matter for another time.

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2015, All Rights Reserved

May 29, 2015

8 thoughts on “On Krak of Cracow

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