The Vision of Polycarp: Medieval Conversations of Man with Death

edited by A. Dąbrówka & P. Stępień

Publishing Office of the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, 2014

In the relatively small corpus of preserved medieval poetry in Polish a special place belongs to a dramatized dialogue between a teacher and personified Death. It stands out by its size (almost 500 lines) and artistic elaboration (fluent rhymed distichs and rich style). Its only known copy, now lost, was called De morte, and in critical editions  and scholarly usage it goes under the title “Conversation of master Polycarp with Death” (Rozmowa mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią). The Polish dialogue belongs to a rich Central European tradition of prose treatises, narrative poems, dramatic dialogues in different vernacular languages, mostly Slavic (Czech, Polish, Croatian, Russian, Ukrainian). Our book is the first monograph since the dissertation of Czesława Pirożyńska (1966), whose study accompanied a critical edition of the Latin source of the Polycarp tradition. Even older is the state of knowledge in the most extensive studies about he Polish and Chech Polycarp delivered by Vrtel-Wierczyński. As groundbreaking as both studies were, they became inevitably outdated, and with our monograph we want to give impulse for new research, by offering a review of our knowledge and unknowing about the work and its multifarious tradition and contexts. It could be a starting point for an international comparative research project that should result in a common critical edition of all language realizations. Only then a necessary fundament would be given for any responsible investigations. The monograph gives orientation in three problem fields which need necessarily to be accounted for in any analysis of such a prominent piece of cultural tradition: the background and soil of its origins (part I), the ways of its functioning in different areas of culture (part II), and (part III) its impact as a whole or the reception of its separated motifs.  Some of them (e.g. a death personification, a conversation with Death), are older than the dialogue itself, and have a life of their own, an afterlife included.   Part One  of the monograph gives a sketchy panorama around the Polish Polycarp drama, with three directions: Biblical context (Starowieyski), further vernacular neighborhood in Italian literature (Lenart), and the closest kinship of Slavic text family (Siatkowska, Dürrigl, Jiroušková). Marek Starowieyski in „Ezra’s controversy with God over soul’s leaving the body” (Spór Ezdrasza z Bogiem w sprawie wyjścia duszy z ciała) deals with Christian apocryphs around Ezra, originating in late Antiquity but popular in the Middle Ages, trying to reveal any links (substantial or contextual) between them and the medieval conversation of man with Death. Ewa Siatkowska’s „Some questions at issue in the research on the De morte prologus” (Kilka kwestii spornych w badaniach nad De morte prologus) points at the pressing necessity of thorough investigation of sources, style, authorship, place and  time of origin of the Polish Polycarp, as well as on the correctness of our understanding of the single preserved copy (lost after 1945), and on the relations between the Slavic adaptations of the Polycarp-matter. Lenka Jiroušková makes a first important step in this direction, taking under comparative scrutiny the relations between the medieval Latin, Czech, and Polish conversations between Death and man, and vice versa:  ,Rozmlúvanie Smrti s člověkem a člověka se Smrtí‘: Komparativní úvahy nad staročeským, latinským a staropolským zpracováním. Her thorough study could not answer the most urgent question of priority between the Czech and the Polish version, but they appear even more closely related to each other than they seemed earlier. With a new description of the Latin mss whose inventory she enriched, the students of the topic are helped to advance the further research more easily. Marija Ana Dürrigl in Some Features of the Croatian Text „Slovo Meštra Polikarpa” gives a review of the literary construction and style of the two 15th c. versions of the Conversation of Master Polycarp written down in Glagolitic script of the Croatian language, both in prose stylistically and semantically not far from the Latin source, but sharpening its irony and antithetic features in the structure of the dialogue. Mirosław Lenart turns to another vernacular stream of traditions – around the durée longue of the Italian conversations between man and Death („L’anima mia che con la morte parla”. Długie trwanie rozmów człowieka ze Śmiercią w literaturze włoskiej) spanning the 13th-19th centuries, and represented by literary, pictural, theatrical and paratheatrical sources documenting the multifariousness, popularity and longevity of the phenomenon in both elitary and popular culture. Part Two of the monograph consists of studies devoted to the Polish Polycarp (De morte), situating it in different cultural functional contexts and investigating new intellectual and esthetic dimensions, including them all in the interpretation of the circumstances of the early Russian adaptation in the 16th century. Tomasz Wojczak’s Dialog mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią” a średniowieczna kultura ludowa. Symbolika utworu i jej percepcja [Dialogue of master Polycarp with Death and the mediewal folklore] tries with help of the apparatus of historical anthropology (Geertz, Gurievich) to answer the question if and to what extent the Polish Polikarp can be useful as a source in research on medieval folklore and its awareness of death symbolism. Jacek Kowzan in „Miła Śmierci, gdzieś się wzięła”? Konteksty eschatologiczne „Rozmowy mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią” [„Beloved Death, where are you from?” Eschatological contexts of the Conversation between Master Polycarp and Death] points at the necessity of the research of theological traditions behind the Polish dialogue. In a case study he is situating the conversation’s ideas on the origin of Death in theological thinking. The context of medieval eschatological visions explains the reason for Death’s appearing to Polycarp in a church, and for the teacher Polycarp’s assuming the role of a schoolboy. For Witold Wojtowicz („Nie lękaj się mię tym razem”. Ciekawe spotkanie mistrza Polikarpa [Don’t be afraid of me this time. An interesting meeting of master Polycarp]) the topic of the Conversation is the metamorphosis of the learned Hero into a fool, aimed at reform and metanoia, turning the fool into a wise, penitent Christian. The chapter goes into details of the different faces and meanings of Polycarp’s  foolishness. Some topics of the dialogue are discovered in moralities of the 16th c. Andrzej Dąbrówka in Rozmowa Polikarpa [Polycarp’s conversation] examines the cognitive circumstances accompanying the origin of the Polish dialogue, putting it in the vicinity of some other central-European writings of the 15th century containing the motif of the conversation with Death: De duello mortis et vite, Ackermann aus Böhmen, Dyalogus vite et mortis, Leven und Dod, Lübecker Totentanz. Reading of those texts allows an insight into the skills of their authors and helps recognize the literary competence of the Polish writer. The latter’s skills are better visible thanks to the comparison of his Polish text with the qualities of its Latin source. Paweł Stępień („Czyż nie uczynił Bóg głupstwem mądrości świata?” {1 Kor 1, 20}. Mądrość mędrców i mądrość Boża w „Rozmowie mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią” [Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? {1 Cor 1:20}. The wisdom of the sages and Gods wisdom in the Conversation of master Polycarp with Death]) debates the status of the Polycarp figure as a biblical sage of whom Death – the teacher is prevailing intellectually, because her school is the ars bene moriendi developed and taught in scholarly writings since the Middle Ages until the modern time. Some important schools studying the art of good dying are presented in more detail, included the moral reform coming from the death dances including learned figures. Viviana Nosilia in the chapter Polycarp in Muscovy investigated the possible way the Polish Polycarp took to reach the Duchy of Moscow. The strategy of the anonymous  Russian monk of the Volokolamsk Cloister has been analyzed. He translated the Polish text reducing thoroughly all rhetorical effects, to adjust the result for the strictly religious circuit whose needs consisted only in reading. The study places the Polycarp matter in the Russian-Byzantine tradition of visionary literature. This may suggest that it was just this visio-dimension (we have put into the title of our monograph), that made the Polish text interesting for the Russian monk. On the contrary, the Czech version (as Jiroušková has shown it) removed all visionary signals from the Latin source and used the naturalistic (or fictional) convention of a meeting in natura, not in visione. In the third part of the book we leave the Middle Ages and consider some special cases: works (Gostomska, Gruntkowska, Rok) and genres  (Marciniak-Sikora and Žuromskaitė), whose topic is a form of man’s thinking about death images. Authors of the following chapters examine writings from the centuries 16-18. Anna Gostomska (Dziecko w obliczu spraw ostatecznych, czyli o «Rozmowie Panienki ze Śmiercią» Kaspra Miaskowskiego [The child facing the last things, or about the “Conversation of a young lady with Death” by Kasper Miaskowski]) asks the methodological question of plausibility of comparing a poem of the 17th c. with a medieval one only because they share a common topic, quite frequent also in death dances. Dominika Gruntkowska («Rozmowa Mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią» a «Nędza z Biedą z Polski precz idą». O oddziaływaniu dialogu średniowiecznego [The “Conversation of master Polycarp with Death” and «Nędza z Biedą z Polski precz idą». On the impingement of the medieval dialogue]) compares the structure of two dramas casting death, and examines mainly the aspects of origin, the mode of reception and the meaning of the motifs contributing to the composition of the personifications. Anna Marciniak-Sikora («Codzienna w całym świecie praktyka, nieuchronny wyrok Boski, iż kto się rodzi, umierać musi… ». Kilka uwag o arengach w staropolskich testamentach szlachty krakowskiej i sandomierskiej) reviews different attitudes towards the expected death hour, which have been identified by the Author in a vast corpus of wills. Brigita Žuromskaitė (Postać śmierci w XVI–XVII-wiecznych kazaniach pogrzebowych i testamentach rodziny Sapiehów [Death figure in the funeral sermons and wills of the Sapieha family from 16th-17th centuries]) worked through a substantial corpus of funeral sermons and wills of one of the most prominent families of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania could extract the modes of representing and looking at the death phenomenon. A general eschatological dimension prevails in the sermons, while the wills contain examples of authentic conceptualizations of the phenomenon and personal reflections on the end of one’s life. Bogdan Rok (Reformaci polscy czasów staropolskich wobec problemu przygotowania wiernych do śmierci [Polish observants in the face of the task of preparing the faithful for death]) examines two manuals for a preacher serving the last sacraments to the dying believers. Their authors were resp. Józef Dąbrowski and  Rajmund Tworkowski. Different in style, both convey a similar ars bene moriendi – not shy of practical hints, at times palliative. At the same time they induce thinking about the last things durign all life, not in the last moments. They teach priests to be mild towards the dying people, and to help them meditate rather than stirring up emotions. We close the book with a full bibliography of the editions of the Polish Polycarp (since it has been descovered in 1886), of its old and recent translations, and of secondary studies. The Aneks contains the most recent transcription of the Dialog mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią, by Roman Mazurkiewicz and Wacław Twardzik, printed with their kind permission.

dm_estonie01icon 

Widzenie Polikarpa

Średniowieczne rozmowy człowieka ze śmiercią

(red.) Andrzej Dąbrówka & Paweł Stępień

Spis rzeczy

 Wstęp

I

Ks. MAREK STAROWIEYSKI Spór Ezdrasza z Bogiem w sprawie wyjścia duszy z ciała EWA SIATKOWSKA Kilka kwestii spornych w badaniach nad De morte prologus LENKA JIROUšKOVá  Rozmlúvanie Smrti s člověkem a člověka se Smrtí‘: Komparativní úvahy nad staročeským, latinským a staropolským zpracováním MARIJA ANA DÜRRIGL Some Features of the Croatian Text Slovo Meštra Polikarpa MIROSŁAW LENART „L’anima mia che con la morte parla”. Długie trwanie rozmów człowieka ze Śmiercią w literaturze włoskiej

II

TOMASZ WOJCZAK Dialog mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią a średniowieczna kultura ludowa. Symbolika utworu i jej percepcja JACEK KOWZAN „Miła Śmierci, gdzieś się wzięła”? Konteksty eschatologiczne Rozmowy mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią WITOLD WOJTOWICZ „Nie lękaj się mię tym razem”. Ciekawe spotkanie mistrza Polikarpa ANDRZEJ DĄBRÓWKA Rozmowa Polikarpa PAWEŁ STĘPIEŃ „Czyż nie uczynił Bóg głupstwem mądrości świata?” (1 Kor 1, 20). Mądrość mędrców i mądrość Boża w Rozmowie mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią VIVIANA NOSILIA Polycarp in Muscovy

III

ANNA GOSTOMSKA Dziecko w obliczu spraw ostatecznych, czyli o Rozmowie Panienki ze Śmiercią Kaspra Miaskowskiego DOMINIKA GRUNTKOWSKA Rozmowa mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią a Nędza z Biedą z Polski precz idą. O oddziaływaniu dialogu średniowiecznego ANNA MARCINIAK-SIKORA „Codzienna w całym świecie praktyka, nieuchronny wyrok Boski, iż kto się rodzi, umierać musi…”. Kilka uwag o arengach w staropolskich testamentach szlachty krakowskiej i sandomierskiej BRIGITA ŽUROMSKAITĖ Postać śmierci w XVI–XVII-wiecznych kazaniach pogrzebowych i testamentach rodziny Sapiehów BOGDAN ROK Reformaci polscy czasów staropolskich wobec problemu przygotowania wiernych do śmierci

*

Rozmowa mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią. Bibliografia 1886-2011. Opracował PAWEŁ STĘPIEŃ ANEKS. Gospodzinie wszechmogący… [Dialog mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią]. Opracowali ROMAN MAZURKIEWICZ i WACŁAW TWARDZIK

Informacje o Andrzej Dąbrówka

Tenured professor, Institute of Literary Research (Polish Academy of Sciences), Warsaw.
Ten wpis został opublikowany w kategorii art, books, conferences, literature, medieval studies, personal, poetry, Poland, research, theatre. Dodaj zakładkę do bezpośredniego odnośnika.

9 odpowiedzi na „The Vision of Polycarp: Medieval Conversations of Man with Death

  1. We obtained a publishing grant from the Polish Ministry of Science and the book will be ready in a couple of months.

  2. My paper online, other authors are free to put theirs in other repositories. http://t.co/ZqE11GCIEB

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