Skip to content

Chronica Polonorum

Chronica Polonorum – Bishop Vincentius of Cracow also known as Kadłubek

Translated by Darius von Guettner

Prologue

[1]

There were three of them who for three reasons hated theatrical performances. The first one Codrus, the second Alcibiades, and the third Diogenes. Codrus was poor and covered with rags[1], Alcibiades was unusually handsome[2], and Diogenes was both well-mannered and wise.[3] The first of them, did not want to expose his poverty to wake laughter and general ridicule; the second did not want to expose himself to the danger of curses; the third did not want to waste the irreproachable majesty of wisdom on scurrilous disregard. Codrus preferred to avoid watching others rather than make a contemptuous spectacle of himself; because there is no cordial alliance between the purple and the rag. Also Alcibiades rather preferred to hide at home without receiving praise than to boast about his beauty and risk its loss; because nothing is by nature so glamorous that the look of blinded jealousy cannot bewitch it. Prudence ordered Diogenes to despise the company of plebs; because it is better to enjoy reverence in solitude than to experience contempt brought by familiarity.

[2]

The stern dryness of this small book and its barren austerity is a protection from the curiosity of Alcibiades. Equally, the fear of curses is a superstition that does not touch us as an ugly man has nothing to lose from an assessment of his looks. Diogenes’ opinion, albeit inspired, doesn’t trouble us, as wisdom has not favoured us with a droplet of its grace. It is Codrus only who frightens us, because our poverty, exposed to the open mocking of strangers, possesses not even a rag with which it could cover its indignity.

However, we are not supposed to frisk with maidens amongst muses in Diana’s[4] lively dances but face the judgement of the venerable senate.[5] We are not to blow into idyllic pipes made from the marsh reed, but we are asked to praise the golden foundation of our homeland. We are to recover from the depths of the oblivion, not clay figurines, but real images of our forebears and to carve them in ancient ivory. What’s more, we are summoned, in order to hang cressets of divine light in the royal castle and at the same time to bear the labours of war.

[3]

There is a difference between undertaking something under the influence of unreserved recklessness, from desire for showing off, from desire for profit, and the fulfilment of commanding demands of necessity. For me however it is not a passion of writing that prompts me, not desire for celebrity that incites me, nor a sudden eagerness to profit that emblazes me; that after experiencing this many delights at sea, after repeatedly breaking oneself on the shores and laboriously getting out to the shore, I felt again like breaking on the same shores. It is only for a donkey that the thistle tastes better than lettuce and only somebody completely naive is going to be lured by a tasteless sweetness.

[4]

It is unfair, however, to refuse the execution of a just order. The bravest of princes understood certainly that all evidence of bravery, all indications of goodness are reflected in examples of ancestors as if in mirrors.[6] It is safer to travel with a guide who leads the way, when the light is moving on before us, and the amiable customs of the past are full of examples to follow. Desiring so, in his generosity to allow posterity to participate in virtues of great-grandfathers, on me the scribe, on the feather as brittle as the reed, on the shoulders of a dwarf, the prince placed this burden of Atlas.[7] By no other reason he [the prince] was probably guided by than by the understanding, that the glitter of gold, the lustre of jewels isn’t losing value through the ineptitude of the artist [rendering them]; likewise the stars, pointed at with fingers of the hideous Ethiopians, are not dimed, because the thoroughness of a master is not required in order to clean up the iron of rust, to separate gold from clinker.

It would be a nonsense to struggle with the burden, from which one can free oneself.[8] I will be carrying it as far as I am able, provided that I am accompanied by those who from the beginning of this journey with an affectionate heart will favour me and who won’t be surprised if I stumble on a slope or slip. Thanks to their friendly inducement let the burden cease to be a burden and the toil cease to be a toil. For the reason that, good company is on the road as the travelling cart.[9]

In the end I am asking that not everyone be allowed to judge us before they thoroughly understand us, but only those who are recommended by the elegant mind or outstanding refinement. Indeed the ginger tastes only when chewed and nothing will captivate us if we will glance at it but casually because it would be uncivil to judge the matter without studying it accurately. Thus one who is frugal with praise let him be restrained in criticizing.[10]


[1] Codrus. Most likely reference to the poverty- stricken poet in the first Satire of Juvenal written in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD. The context suggests against Codrus the last of the semi-mythical Kings of Athens (r. ca 1089-1068 BC), although Vincentius will refer to him in II.27 Cf. Justinius, Epitome in Trogi Pompeii Historias, II.6.

[2] Alcibiades Cleiniou Scambonides (c. 450–404 BC). An Athenian statesman, orator, and general. Thucydides reprehended him for his political conduct and motives and for being “exceedingly ambitious”. Plutarch regards him as “the least scrupulous and most entirely careless of human beings”. Aristotle does not include Alcibiades in the list of the best Athenian politicians, but in Posterior Analytics he argues that traits of a proud man like Alcibiades are “equanimity amid the vicissitudes of life and impatience of dishonour”. Cornelius Nepos concluded that Alcibiades “surpassed all the Athenians in grandeur and magnificence of living”. Cf. Justinius, Epitome in Trogi Pompeii Historias, V.2.

[3] Diogenes the Cynic (c.412–323 BC). A Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy.

[4] Dione, in Greek mythology the mother of Aphrodite.

[5] sacer senatus. Cf. Juvenal, Satires, XI.29.

[6] Casimir II = Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy.

[7] Atlas = one of the titans. He supported the heavens with his shoulders. The phrase could be a reference to Bernard of Chartres (d. aft 1124), philosopher and scholar. “We are like dwarfs standing upon the shoulders of giants, and so able to see more and see farther than the ancients.”

[8] Seneca, De moribus 39: Stultum timere quod vitare non possis.

[9] Publilius Syrus, Sententiae 104: Comes facundus in via pro vehiculo est = An eloquent comrade shortens the trip.

[10] Seneca, De formula honestae vitae, 8: Lauda parce, vitupera parcius

;

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: