We thought it interesting to produce an English translation of some of the more popular stories and myths of Slavic countries without analysis, interpretation and paraphrasing (something different this time). To give you what’s there – literally – in the old chronicles. We will start with the earliest versions but, to the extent we think there is interesting stuff in subsequent iterations of the tale, we will include those as well. We will start this series with the tale of Piast (with Popiel) but have plans for other stories as well.
With regards to Polish sources, we have the Anonymous Chronicle as the most ancient source, then Master Vincent Kadlubek’s Chronicle, then Dzierzwa and then the Greater (Old) Poland Chronicles. Finally, there is Jan Dlugosz who is hardly an ancient source but whose versions are always entertaining – for that reason we will include him as well. Subsequent tales and myths of Miechow, Kromer, Bielski or Guaginin/Stryjkowski we will not include in these series as they are more modern and, we think, do not add much worthwhile material in this respect.
Gallus Anonymous Chronicle
About Duke Popiel [called Choscisko]:
There was namely in the town of Gniezno, whose meaning in Slavic is simply “nest”, a duke by the name of Popiel, who had two sons; according to pagan custom he prepared a great feast for their postrzyzyny [hair cutting ceremony wherein the boy became admitted to adulthood – aka First Communion or Pole-mitzvah], to which feast he invited a ver many of his magnates and friends. It happened, however, from God’s mysterious will, that there arrived two guests , who were not only not invited to the feast but were even in hurtful ways turned away from city gates.
And they, outraged at the cityfolk’s inhumane treatment of them, went straightaway to the burbs [i.e., the area around the city walls where poorer people dwelt], where they fortuitously happened upon the little house of a ploughman of the aforementioned duke who was arranging the feast for his sons [this “who” seems to refer to the duke’s feast, rather than to the ploughman].
This poor man full of compassion, invited the strangers to his house making it available [to them] in all of its poverty. And they, grateful to be so invited upon entering the friendly house, said unto him: “Be happy indeed that we have come and perhaps our arrival will bring unto you a wealth of all good things, and from your offspring pride and fame.”
About Piast the Son of Choscisko:
[note that this section has caused much confusion as it suggests, given the title of the preceding section, that Piast was the son of Popiel – as far as we know that is an unresolved issue and people have lived with this problem and, absent new sources, will have to continue to so live; incidentally, Choscisko seems to mean someone with out of control hair]
“Those who lived in this friendly house were one Piast, the son of Choscisko and his wife by the name Rzepka; and both of them with all their heart tried to tend to the needs of their guests, and seeing their prudence/wisdom, they got ready to run secret plan they had concocted by the guests [?]. When sitting down and according to custom they talked about various things, and the visitors asked, what is there to drink, the hospitable ploughman answered: “I have a barrel of fermented beer which I have prepared for the postrzyzyny of my only son but what does such a small barrel mean? Drink it should you will so!” The poor man decided namely at a time when his duke and master was hosting a feast for his sons – for at another time he could not do so because of his poverty – to prepare a slightly better meal for the postrzyzyny of his little one and to invite a few of his likewise poor friends to this feast but rather for a modest snack; and so he’d been fattening a pig for this occasion.
Strange things will I say but who can understand the mind of the Lord? Or who would dare to question the goodness of God who in this life not once elevates the humbleness of the poor and does not hesitate to reward hospitality even among the pagans? Calmly the guests thus ask Piast to pour the beer because they well knew that the amount of beer will not be lessened by drinking it but rather will only increase. And so the there was more and more beer until all the borrowed cups were filled while those that feasted with the duke found their cups to be empty. They order then to kill the afore mentioned pig whose meat – aching unbelievable – was to fill ten vessels known in Slavic as “cebry” [singular, ceber].
Piast and Rzepka when seeing these miracles that were happening, sensed in them an important augury for their son and almost intended to invite the duke and his guests but they dared not do so without first asking the travelers. Why wait? Thus, at the guests’ counsel and with their encouragement, their lord the duke and all his revelers are invited by the peasant Piast, and the invited duke certainly did not see shame to come to his own peasant’s house.
For at that time the Polish dukedom was not so great, nor did the duke of the country have yet so much pride and did not go about so richly surrounded by a procession of vassals. So when the customary feast was organized and all the foods were aplenty, the guests cut the boy’s hair and gave him the nama Siemowit [or Siemovit] as an augury of future occurrences.”
About the duke Ziemowit, the Son of Piast:
“After all this, the young Siemowit, son of Piast Chosciskowiec [i.e., Piast son of Choscisco, with Chosciskowiec being a patronymic] grew in strength and in years and each day grew also in virtues until at last the king of kings and duke of dukes with the common agreement of all made him a duke of Poland and Popiel, together with his descendants, he [i.e., God] removed completely from the duchy. Wise men also say that this Popiel once thrown out of the kingdom was so greatly pursued by mice, that for this reason he was brought by his people to an island, where he was long defended in a wooden tower against these enraged animals who swam there, until he was finally abandoned because of the great stench that arose from the many killed [mice? men?] and died there in the most shameful way, for he died being torn/bitten apart by these monsters…
But let us leave the histories of people, the recollection of whom has been lost in the forgetfulness of centuries and who were sullied by the errors of idolatry, and mentioning them only briefly let us move on to herald those matters which have been solidified by exact memory.
Siemowit thus, having obtained the duke’s honors, passed his youth not on pleasures and fleeting entertainments but rather, devoting himself to hard work and knightly service, his respectability became well-known and so did his worthy fame and he expanded the borders of his dukedom further than anyone before him. After his passing, his place was taken by his son Lestek who by his knightly deeds equaled his father in his respectability and courage. After Lestek’s death there came Siemomysl, his son, who multiplied threefold the memory of his ancestors both through his birth as by his honor.”
[the next story in the Chronicle is the story of Mieszko]
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