A reader asked a question about the so-called Opusculum contra Francos: is it true that the word Lechia appears there (meaning Poland) and is true that this is dated to the ninth century? Or, as someone told him, was this really written in 1101?
Ok… so the answer is “no one really knows”. Satisfied?
Well, there is one thing that is probably not true. It’s very unlikely that we can pinpoint the Opusculum to 1101 (any such precising dating should be immediately suspect).
But let’s start at the beginning…
The Opusculum is a Byzantine polemic against the version of Christianity practiced by the Roman Latin Church that is, the “Franks” (since the Franks had by then taken over what was left of the Latins and the Popes were anointing Frankish emperors). It is one of a number of such works and similar works also exist on the Catholic side directed against the Byzantines, of course.
The Opusculum has traditionally been ascribed to Photius and, if you believe that, then it is a work of Photius. If you do not, then it is a work of Pseudo-Photius (meaning “we don’t know who wrote it but it wasn’t Photius but may as well refer to Photius since people think he wrote it”).
Photius or Phōtios or Φώτιος (circa 810 – circa 893) was the Patriarch of Constantinople (who had a hand in a schism now called by his own name (!) the “Photian Schism” of 863-867.
Apparently, the Opusculum was translated from Greek to Latin by Hugo Etherianus in 1178 and again in 1252 by the Dominican Bartholomew of Constantinople, who appended it to his Tractatus contra Graecos. Presumably, the Latins needed to know what the Greeks’ arguments were in order to counter them effectively (the level of the polemic in the document itself is rather low with bitching about dress and hairstyle mascara ding as theological arguments).
In any event, this means that the Opusculum was written before 1178.
The “recent fame” of the Opusculum is due to Zachariae‘s edition of 1839 and then to Joseph Cardinal Hergenröther (1824 – 1890), Cardinal-Prefect of the Vatican Archives who was also, in addition to being an archivist, a church historian and canonist. Hergenröther was interested in the Schism with the Byzantine Church and in the role played in that by Photius. In addition to a number of articles he published the following on Photius:
- Photii Constantinopolitani Liber de Spiritus Sancti mystagogia (Regensburg (Ratisbonae), 1857)
- Photius Patriarch von Constantinopel, sein Leben, seine Schriften, und das griechische Schisma (3 volumes, Regensburg, 1867-69)
- Monumenta Græca ad Photium ejusque historiam pertinentia (Regensburg, 1869)
His work was also instrumental in helping Migne put together his version of Photius (P.G., CI-CIV) (1860).
So here is the Hergenröther version of the Opusculum from his Monumenta Græca ad Photium ejusque historian pertinentia:
As can be seen, Lechia does appear in argument 24 (dealing with how long one ought to fast – in the East they do better than in the West, etc.). What this actually says is:
“The forty day fast is undertaken in their countries and among the surrounding peoples unevenly: thus, Lechia fasts for nine weeks and among the others, some fast for eight and some for more whereas others fewer [weeks]. The Italians only six.”
(presumably their dolce vita puts limits on their piety)
Note also the mention of the Venetians/Veneti/Slavs? at the beginning of the Opusculum: germanikoi, molphinoi, benetikoi…
In volume 3 of Photius Patriarch von Constantinopel Hergenröther discusses the Opusculum and concludes that it is not a work of Photius because (among other reasons) Lechia must mean Poland and Poland was not Christianized until the second half of the tenth century so people in Poles can’t possibly have kept a Christian fast in the ninth century. Of course, we can’t use the same logic if the question on the table is instead when did Poland begin to be called Lechia without running into circular reasoning problems.
But we can say that Hergenröther’s logic is based on two crucial assumptions, of course:
- that Lechia must refer to Poland (likely but not entirely certain) or, for that matter, to all of Poland (that is very unclear), and
- that a country is either Christian or it is not (this is doubtful and, as we know from the “Life of Methodius” that the Byzantine Christians (Photius’ buddy Methodius) were already threatening conversion of the “duke in Visla” just as the Franks were threatening Slavic lands to the West).
Following Hergenröther a pamphlet was issued on the work by the Czech priest František Snopek (1853-1921) in 1908 and then a more extensive article was written by Teofil Modelski (1881-1967) under the title of “Pseudo-Photius’ Lechia” (Lechia Pseudo-Focyusza) in 1914.
You can read all the arguments in those works (no, we won’t translate it all – too much work). In the end, no one really knows. It’s certainly possible that Lechia had been used in the ninth century. But even if not, the use of the term (assuming it refers to Poland) is still one of the earliest uses of the term for Poland (predating Kadlubek).
The one thing that can be said is that the Opusculum probably started out in Photius’ “intellectual circle” – perhaps with Photius himself – and that it was likely not written in 1101. 1101 is an error by someone who misread the number to mean a year – instead it is the number of one of the manuscripts housing the Opusculum – Vat. gr. 1101.
Note that Hergenröther himself dated the Opusculum to somewhere in 1054-1100.
As regards the word lach the best idea on this that we’ve seen was Piotr Czarkowski’s and later Jan Karłowicz’s who said it just means a “large forest” (and so it more apt than pole meaning “field” since Poland was covered by forests back in the 10th century. For other examples of s > ch (or vice versa?):
- piasek > piach
- las(ek) > lach
- pas(ek) > pach
- laska > lacha
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