First handbook of Polish history, 1435

Commentum by John of Dąbrówka

on the Chronica Polonorum by bishop Vincentius

ed. by Andrzej Dąbrówka and Mikołaj Olszewski

Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, Warszawa  2015, pp. 350


During the Conference on the Chronicle of Bishop Vincentius (18th Medieval Meeting, held at the Institute of Literary Research in Warsaw, 4–6 June 2008) the idea has been expressed to further address the subsequent fate of this work. Coincidentally, in that year a critical edition of the Commentum in Chronicam Polonorum magistri Vincentii dicti Kadłubek by Ioannes de Dąbrówka, appeared as the vol. 14 of Monumenta Poloniae Historica, Nova Series. It has been prepared by a longtime researcher of this work Marian Zwiercan in collaboration with Anna Kozłowska and Michał Rzepiela. The news of this first medieval academic course of Polish history, and perhaps of historiography, has been delivered by Mikołaj Olszewski to the 18th Colloquium of the Société Internationale pour l’Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale (SIEPM), devoted to the theme What is New in the New Universities? Learning in Central Europe in the Later Middle Ages (1348–1500), and organised in Lodz, Poland 8–10 Sept. 2011. Discussion that ensued after his paper History at a medieval university? Remarks on John of Dąbrówka’s Commentary on Vincent Kadłubek’s „Chronicle of Poles”, has led us to the preparation of the present volume, which was preceded by the 26th Medieval Meeting carried out 12–13 June 2013 under the slogan „the first Polish history manual”. In the call for papers to take part in the Conference and in the invitation to contribute to the collective monograph, we asked a simple question about the Commentum by John of Dąbrówka: „what sort of book was it?” We received a set of papers examining various aspects that have to be grouped into three parts.

Part one discusses questions of historiography – first seen as a research environment for the work of Jan of Dąbrówka (Marian Zwiercan), then as a stream of historical writing, in which his Commentum occupies a certain place (Wojciech Drelicharz, Edward Skibiński), and finally as the area of John’s individual work (Piotr Węcowski).

It is obvious that this book opens with Marian Zwiercan’s Historia badań nad Jana z Dąbrówki „Komentarzem do «Kroniki polskiej» mistrza Wincentego

zwanego Kadłubkiem” [History of the research in John of Dąbrówka’s „Commentum to the «Polish Chronicle» by master Vincent called Kadłubek”], in which the author summarised his observations over the place of John Dąbrówka in in the work of different historians. Initially unfavorable, if not disrespectful opinions prevailed although already Zeissberg reported the need for a critical edition of this work, that then was not yet attributed to our author. Only the late 20th century brought more positive opinions, and finally the identity of the author has been confirmed. In the remainder Zwiercan presents closer the development of John’s workshop, by comparing the preserved copies with the rough draft („Brulion”, main part of the Lubin Codex, preserved at Warsaw’s National Library, shelf number 3002).

Wojciech Drelicharz in the study Miejsce „Komentarza” Jana z Dąbrówki w twórczości historiograficznej w Polsce pierwszych Jagiellonów [The place of John of Dąbrówka’s „Commentum” in the historical writing of Poland at the beginning of Jagiellonian rule] establishes a mindmap of the historiography of the 15th c. It shows the exceptional place of the Commentum, which came into being as a textbook for the yuniversity course of rhetoric and as such has been copied frequently. On the other hand its appearance was well prepared by the activity of scholars interested in Polish history. We read about the legacy of the Cracow historical school starting with an „opening balance” at the beginning of the Jagellonian times when immediately the three functional areas for historical knowledge become visible: the front of the relations with the Teutonic Knights, conciliarism and constitutional considerations (legitimacy of Royal power).

Edward Skibiński in the study „Komentarz” Jana z Dąbrówki do „Kroniki polskiej” mistrza Wincentego zwanego Kadłubkiem na tle polskiej historiografii średniowiecznej [John of Dąbrówka’s „Commentum” to the „Polish Chronicle” by master Vincent called Kadłubek on the background of the Polish medieval historiography] deals with the verification of the extent to which later chronicles have been used as a basis for his commentary. Mainly the Kronika wielkopolska [Chronicle of Greater Poland] and the Chronicle by Mierzwa served John to verify the data of Vincent. What we find here, therefore, is the beginning of modern scholarly criticism, although still not consequent enough.

Piotr Węcowski in the chapter „Opera minora” Jana z Dąbrówki [John of Dąbrówka’s minor works] completes the picture of John’s legacy with seven other historiographic works, which are only seldomly discussed, if they don’t remain unknown to some scholars at all. These are as follows: Rodowód książąt polskich [Pedigree of Polish Dukes], Poczet książąt i królów polskich [Guide to Polish dukes and kings], Genealogia książąt pomorskich [Genealogy of the Dukes of Pomerania], adaptation of the Rocznik małopolski [Annals of Lesser Poland], Katalog biskupów krakowskich [Catalogue of the bishops of Cracow], a legal-historical treatise (1464), and Oratio contra Cruciferos (1462–1464).

Taking them all into account allows you to better show the intellectual profile of the commentator, and informal leader of the group of royal experts in times of Casimir IV Jagiellon.

Piotr Dymmel in the analysis Editio princeps „Komentarza” Jana Dąbrówki do „Kroniki” Wincentego Kadłubka. Uwagi o tekście [First printing of John of Dąbrówka’s „Commentary” to the „Chronicle” by Vincentius. Remarks on the text] shows the composition of the first edition of John’s Commentary by J. S. Herburt (Dobromil 1612), which was not integral. He is enumerating all omissions and amplifications as compared with the new critical edition of 2008.

The second part of the book covers commenting as a kind of historiographic writing. First we look at the European area (Jakub Kujawiński), then we examine John’s Commentum in terms of its genre characteristics (Mikołaj Olszewski) – mainly by looking at its intellectual content, since its formal dependence from the accessus ad auctores is discussed by Marian Zwiercan and Mieczysław Mejor. We finally check the scholarly erudition of John, by comparing his and Vincent’s knowledge of the great poets of antiquity Horace, Ovid and Virgil (Katarzyna Chmielewska), and enumerating the sources he used in his interpretations (Dorota Gacka).

Jakub Kujawiński in the study Komentowanie historiografii w średniowiecznej Europie. Próba charakterystyki zjawiska na podstawie wybranych zabytków z obszaru romańskiego (XI–XV w.) [Commenting on historiography in medieval Europe. An attempt at the characteristics of the phenomenon on the basis of selected sources from the Romance countries (11th–15th centuries)] explores the glossatory origins and fluid nature of expounding historical writings. He shows how explaining single words or passages may develop into long excursus, amplifications, paraphrases and summaries and thus become germs of historical synthesis. By providing intratextual links to similar topics, glossators create potential repertories. When they establish analogies or generalizations and supply interpretation, they go beyond the realm of facts and a mere description of antiquities. Thus they weave a fabric of meanings and make a step towards historiography.

Mieczysław Mejor in the analysis Prolegomena „Komentarza” Jana z Dąbrówki do „Kroniki” Wincentego Kadłubka. Uzupełnienie do tekstu [Prolegomena of John of Dąbrówka’s „Commentary” to the „Chronicle” by Vincent Kadłubek] gives a typology of commentary literature and goes into depth of the structure of a scholarly commentary. He discerns an introductory part of it, called prolegomena, explaining methodological premisses which determine the content of the commentary proper. Having compared the prolegomena as they appear in the edition of 2008 with Commentum’s first incomplete printing of 1612 (based on other manuscript), Mejor finds a source of Johns inspiration for the explanatory content of his Commentum.

Mikołaj Olszewski in the study Dialektyka cnót jako motor historii. Kilka uwag nad „Komentarzem” Jana z Dąbrówki do „Kroniki” Wincentego Kadłubka [Dialectics of virtues as the engine of history. Some remarks on the „Commentary” of John of Dąbrówka to the „Chronicle” by Vincent Kadłubek] accomplished a reconstruction of basic principles of John’s philosophy of history, bringing out his thoughts on the causes of historical events and the general sense of history. The engine of history, but also the key to understanding its course turn out to be the moral transformations of outstanding actors of history.

Katarzyna Chmielewska in her chapter Gusta poetyckie mistrza Wincentego i mistrza Jana. Wincenty Kadłubek i jego komentator wobec twórczości Horacego, Owidiusza i Wergiliusza [Poetic tastes of master Vincent and master John. Vincent Kadłubek and his commentator as related to the works of Horace, Ovid and Virgil] focuses on the differences between John’s and Vincent’s way to use quotes from three great poets of ancient Rome – Ovid, Horace and Virgil. After comparing quotes and references to the classics in the Chronicle and the Commentum, she analyzes the methods applied by both Polish historians, and the objectives pursued by them.

Dorota Gacka in her contribution Lektury Jana z Dąbrówki w świetle „Komentarza” do „Kroniki polskiej” mistrza Wincentego zwanego Kadłubkiem [Readings of John of Dąbrówka apparent from his „Commentary” to the „Polish Chronicle” by Vincent Kadłubek] gives us two chapters from the Commentum in Polish translation: one predominantly devoted to literary matter (IV, 20) and the second on the subject of historiography (IV, 7); she is analysing their content looking for the sources of the author’s erudition. Further she looks at various places of John’s book, where the parenting guide Disticha Catonis, most popular at medieval schools, is used by John for moral commenting. The final part presents an inventory of the works referred to in the commentary which were identified by its editors in the 2008 volume.

Part three of our book collects a handful of observations on individual scholarly contributions of the commentator, inevitably random and far from complete. We are giving some thought to John’s knowledge of the poetics of the prologue (Witold Wojtowicz), we look at the differences in the image of the legendary Queen Wanda in Vincent and in John (László Tapolcai), we put his work in the area of mythography, other than mythology (Leszek Słupecki), we examine the extent of John’s geographical knowledge (Adam Krawiec), and finally we’re looking at a fancy concept of Slavic ethnogenesis situating their cradle in Pannonia (Ryszard Grzesik).

Witold Wojtowicz in the chapter Jan z Dąbrówki o Prologu „Kroniki” Wincentego [John of Dąbrówka about the Prologue of the „Chronicle” by Vincentius] is comparing reflections of John on the Prologue with recent opinions about it. The learning of the author of the Commentum in Chronicam
Polonorum is confronted with late medieval depictions of the poetics of a work’s prologue.

László Tapolcai in the study „Multe enim mulieres precesserunt viros in virtutibus”. Obraz królowej Wandy w „Kronice polskiej” mistrza Wincentego i w „Komentarzu” Jana z Dąbrówki [The image of queen Wanda in the „Chronicle” by Vincentius and in the „Commentary” by John of Dąbrówka] is discussing the reasons for the heroisation of Wanda’s character in John’s Commentary – was this rise in value caused by difference in personalities between the two writers, or did it respond to the changes in social circumstances over the two centuries?

Leszek Słupecki in the chapter Jan z Dąbrówki – polskie dzieje bajeczne i uzupełnienie mitu krakowskiego o kopce Kraka i Wandy [Polish legendary history and John of Dąbrówka’s addition to the Cracow myth with the tumuli of Krak and Wanda] starts with establishing the difference between mythology and mythography. Both share same contents, which differ however in their cognitive status: mythology is something people believe in, mythography not any more, although it gets still interest and reverence as monument of the past. Assessing John’s contribution to Polish mythography, Słupecki shows no esteem for the author of the Commentum. Only one element, important for the history of Cracow’s origins deserves his appreciation. It is the mentioning of the sites of ancient royal burials, absent from earlier chronicles. Going along with the association logic and the coherence of mythography Dąbrówka is identifying the tumuli of Krzemionki and Mogiła as respectively the burial sites of Krak and Wanda. By doing this John wrote the last chapter in their history and connected important legendary figures with real topography of medieval Cracow.

Adam Krawiec in the study Polska, Słowiańszczyzna, świat – problematyka geograficzna w „Komentarzu” Jana z Dąbrówki [Poland, the Slavdom, the world – geographic problems in the „Commentary” by John of Dąbrówka] is firstly assessing the way of reception of Vincentine historic-geographical idea of double ethno- and toponymy, to focus further on disclosing from the Commentum of the vision of Poland, its different inhabitants and neighbours.

Ryszard Grzesik in his contribution Jan z Dąbrówki a panońska koncepcja etnogenezy Słowian [John of Dąbrówka and the pannonian concept of the ethnogenesis of the Slavs] is investigating the sources of this concept, absent from other Polish, Czech and Hungarian chronicles of that time, with one exception of the „Slavic interpolation” in the Chronicle of Greater Poland. A possible source of that idea could have been a passage in an old Russian chronicle containing Great Moravian tradition.

Informacje o Andrzej Dąbrówka

Tenured professor, Institute of Literary Research (Polish Academy of Sciences), Warsaw.
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