Saturday, July 29, 2006

Polish legends


today I would like to present to you some of the most beautiful Polish legends and myths cause I think each nation has such stories and we should know them and remember them. Some legends are similar in every nation - compare Polish British king-Arthur-like-legends and Robin-Hood-like legend.The other has several movie versions. The first is very unclear. Other famous Polish legends come from Cracow city. You can check where Cracow is situated on maps of Poland that I left in my blog last summer. Time flows so fast...
Enjoy reading please:)

Polish Legends, Folklore, Myths and Stories

Poland like every other nation has its own traditions, and an integral part of these traditions are countless myths and legends. These stories constitute an important aspect of national heritage.
These legends initially oral, then written stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Many of these legends have been around for a thousand years or more.

These legends, myths and stories recount the meaning behind Poland's national symbol and flag, about several of its early rulers and first king, and the dragon of Krakow. Many of the legends take place in actual places that one could visit today.

1. Boleslaw and his Knights

When King Boleslaw died, Poland lost a very able and brave ruler, one who had united her and made her into a really great country.
One legend claims that Boleslaw, and his Knights who fought with him for he was a great warrior and earned his title of the Brave, by routing Poland's enemies he went into a mountain called Giewont. This mountain forms part of the Tatra mountain range, and its shape, if seen from a certain angle, is like the head of a sleeping Knight.
Within the mountain is a huge dark cavern and there sleeps King Boleslaw and his Knights.
They are mounted on horses, with their swords, bow and lances beside them. And if Poland ever needs them, then some one must awake them, and they will ride forth to serve the Polish nation.
But once they have gone forth, they will never return.

This story is very similar to the English legend about King Arthur, who supposedly sleeps under Glastonbury Tor in England.

2. The Dragon of Krakow ( Cracow )

Long ago in Poland’s early history, On the River Vistula, there was a small settlement of wooden huts inhabited by peaceful people who farmed the land and plied their trades. Near this village was Wawel Hill. In the side of Wawel Hill was a deep cave. The entrance was overgrown with tall, grass, bushes, and weeds. No man had ever ventured inside that cave, and some said that a fearsome dragon lived within it. The young people of the village didn’t believe in the dragon. The old people of the village said that they had heard their fathers tell of a dragon who slept in the cave, and no man must dare waken it, or there would be dire consequences for them all.
Some of the youths decided to explore the cave and put an end to such foolish talk. They thought that they knew better and dragons were just old stories from the past. A group of these young people took some torches and went to the cave. They slowly entered the cave until they came to a dark mass of scales blocking their way and the sound of heavy breathing. The boys ran as the dragon awakened and roared. Fire came from it’s mouth warming the boys heels and backs.
When they were far enough away, they looked back and saw the dragon at the entrance of the cave, very angry being awakened from it’s sleep. From that day on, the people knew no peace. Every day the dragon appeared and carried off a sheep or preferably young virgins. The populace made many attempts to kill the dragon but nothing succeeded and many of those that attempted were killed. The hero in this part of the story differs. In the village lived a wise man, or a shoemaker or a shoe makers apprentice named Krakus or Krac.
He got some sheep and mixed a thick, yellow paste from sulfur. Krakus smeared it all over the animals. Then led them to a place where the dragon would see them. The dragon came out as expected, saw the sheep, roared, rushed down the hill and devoured the sheep. The dragon had a terrible fire within him, and a terrible thirst. It rushed to the River Vistula and started drinking. It drank and drank and could not stop. The dragon began to swell, but still it drank more and more. It went on drinking till suddenly there was a great explosion, and the dragon burst.
There was great rejoicing by the people. Krakus, was made ruler of the village, and they built a stronghold on Wawel Hill. The country prospered under the rule of Krakus and a city grew up around the hill which was called Krakow, in honour of Krakus. When Krakus died, the people gave him a magnificent burial, and erected a mound over his tomb which can be seen to this day. The people brought earth with their own hands to the mound, and it has endured through all the centuries as a memorial to the person that killed the dragon of Krakow.
The large 200-foot-long cave in Wawel Hill, Krakow, which has been known for centuries as the monster’s den, now attracts thousands of visitors each year. Whatever the truth of the dragon legend, the Dragon’s Cave (Polish ‘Smocza Jama’) is Cracow’s oldest residence, inhabited by man from the Stone Age through the 16th century.

3. Janosik - The Polish Robin Hood

Juro (George) Janosik was a robber, who with a group of friends, plundered, robbed, and burned the houses of the rich. And was said to operate on those on both sides of the Tatra Mountains, Polish and Slovak, and hide out in the forests at the foot of the Tatra mountains. However, according to legend he never harmed the poor in any way; on the contrary, he gave them money and gifts.
Hence, the story circulated that Janosik robbed the rich to feed the poor, and the comparison with Robin Hood. Folk tales present Janosik as a hero who had supernatural powers; a magical resistance to arrows, bullets and wounds achieved with the help of a herb he carried in his pocket, an ability to move from one place to another quicker than any other human being; and was able to leave the impression of his palm in a slab of stone.
One of the many legends surrounding Janosik claims that his powers were given to him by three witches whom he had met when he was young. Once, seeing his extraordinary courage, they decided to make him the most famous robber in all of history, and they gave him three magical objects: an alpenstock, a shirt, and a belt. Janosik always had the three gifts of the witches with him, and, for this reason, he escaped all traps. However, he was betrayed by a girl whom he often visited, and was captured. She was tempted by a promised reward. She craftily destroyed the gifts of the three witches and then denounced the helpless Janosik to the soldiers.
Many folk tales exist in Poland and Slovakia concerning Janosik and several films have been made about his life. As with Robin Hood, no-one can be certain which of the many stories about Janosik have any basis in fact.

Some films about Janosik include:

  • Janosík (1935) – a black and white Slovak film
  • Janosík I (1962) and Janosík II (1963) - a popular Slovakian action film
  • Janosik (1974) – Polish film
  • Janosik (1975) – Polish TV series, a long running Polish TV series.
4. The Polish White Eagle

A thousand years ago, or maybe even more, there lived three brothers, Lech, Czech, and Rus. For many years they had been content in their villages, but the families grew larger and they needed more room to live.
The brothers decided to travel in different directions to search for new homes. Lech, Czech, and Rus traveled with their troops for many days. They rode their horses over mountains and rivers, through forests and wild country. There were no people to be found anywhere, not a town or tiny village. On the crest of a mountain top, they separated, each going in a different direction. Czech went to the left, Rus went to the right and Lech rode straight ahead, down the mountain and across vast plains.
One day Lech saw a spendid sight. He and his troops had come to a place where a meadow surrounded a small lake. They stopped at the edge of the meadow as a great eagle flew over their heads. It flew around in great swooping circles, then perched on its nest, high on a craggy rock. Lech stared in awe at the beautiful sight. As the eagle spread its wings and soared into the heavens again, a ray of sunshine from the red setting sun fell on the eagle's wings, so they appeared tipped with gold, the rest of the bird was pure white.

"Here is where we will stay!" declared Lech. "Here is our new home, and we will call this place GNIEZNO ... (the eagle's nest).
He and his people built many houses and it became the center of his territory. They called themselves Polonians, which means "People of the Field". They made a banner with a white eagle on a red field and flew it over the town of Gniezno, which became the first historical capital of Poland.
And, now you know how Poland began . . .

5. The Trumpeter of Krakow ( Cracow )

In Cracow (Krakow), the ancient capital of Poland, there is a Church in the Market Square. It is a tall, graceful building built of brick, in the Gothic style, with a richly adorned interior. It had two towers, one of which is a little higher than the other and more ornate. From the taller tower a fanfare is played by a trumpeter, every hour. It is repeated four times, but always ends abruptly, on a broken note. Here is the legend behind this tradition:
One day in the 13th century, an old watchman, keeping watch over the city of Cracow saw in the distance a cloud of dust which grew bigger with every passing moment. It was a large army of Tatars galloping towards the city. These invaders from the east had more than once advanced to Krakow and even farther, and they had pillaged and burned, looted and murdered and carried off the people to be slaves.
There was only one thing the trumpeter watchman could do. He must play the Hejnal, over and over. That would surely arouse the citizens, they would certainly be aware of approaching danger. So he played, again and again. At first the people of Krakow were puzzled. But eventually they realised that an attack was imminent.
Away on the far meadows the Tartar warriors were mounting their horses and drawing their swords. But already the old watchman could see the Polish archers arriving.
The archers took up their positions along the battlements as the tartars galloped towards the city. But by now the Polish arrows were flying. They rained down on the tartar invaders, wave after wave. Eventually the Tartars were forced to retreat, and Cracow was saved from the Mongols!
When the joy over the victory died down they realised that the trumpeter who had warned them was nowhere top be seen. So one of his friends went to look for him. Howevr, when he reached the tower he found that disaster had struck. A single Tartar arrow had pierced the old watchman' s throat and he had died. The trumpet was still clasped in his hands ready to blast out a final note.
The Cracovians would never forget the act of the old trumpeter watchman, and it was decreed that a bugle call should be played each day in memory of the hero. And so for hundreds of years the 'hejnal' has rung out over Cracow's rooftops for the noble watchman who saved the city.


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