The Chronicle of the Czechs

The Chronicle of the Czechs

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813215709
Publisher: Catholic Univ.of America Press
Publication date: 02/01/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 294
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Lisa Wolverton is associate professor of history at the University of Oregon, coauthor of Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet, and author of Hastening toward Prague: Power and Society in the Medieval Czech Lands.

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By Cosmas of Prague
The Catholic University of America Press
Copyright © 2009

The Catholic University of America Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8132-1570-9

Chapter One BOOK ONE

Prologue Addressed to Provost Severus

To Lord Severus, provost of the church of Melnmk, endowed with both literary knowledge and spiritual understanding, from Cosmas, dean in name only of the church of Prague, who after the contest of this life will have his reward in the celestial kingdom. I submit myself to your paternity with so much love and devotion of my mind that-I call God as my witness-I cannot speak, just as human reason cannot comprehend a love so great. True love can in no respect be kept one's own, private or hidden; it should be expressed to the one whom it loves with sincere affection. If true love had not been present, I would by no means have presumed to offer these, my senile delusions, to a man of such authority. Seeking something to offer you, I truly sought something pleasant or idle, but I find nothing as laughable as this little work of mine. If we laugh gently when we see someone dash his foot against a stone, you will see so many of my stumblings in this work and so many errors of the grammatical art that if you wished to laugh at every one, you would be able to do so beyond what is fitting to a human being. Farewell. Whether these senile trifles please or displease you alone, I ask that no third eye see them.

Preface to the Work that follows, Addressed to Master Gervasius

To Archdeacon Gervasius, fully imbued with the pursuits of the liberal arts and anointed with the wisdom of every kind of knowledge, from Cosmas, a servant of the servants of God and saint Vaclav (though he is hardly worthy to be so called): a gift of owed prayer and a pledge of mutual love. When you receive this little sheet, know that I have sent you a chronicle of the Czechs. I resolved to send it, although polished by no charm of grammatical art but arranged simply and scarcely in a Latin manner, to be examined by your singular prudence so that by your wise judgment it might either be rejected altogether, so that no one reads it, or if it is judged worthy of reading, it might be smoothed to perfection by the file of your examination. What I especially ask is that, through you, it might be explained afresh in better Latin. For the only value I calculate in my work is that either you, on whom God conferred wisdom, or others who are more knowledgeable, might make use of my work as the material for demonstrating their own knowledge to posterity, thus making a great monument to their own names forever (just as Virgil used the fall of Troy and Statius the Aeacidae).

Therefore I have taken the origin of the narrative from the first inhabitants of the land of the Czechs. The few things that I learned from the fabulous stories of old men, I set out for the love of all good men, so far as I know and am able, not from the ambition of human pride but lest the tales fall altogether into oblivion.

I always burn to please the good and the skilled, and I am not afraid to displease the ignorant and the unschooled. I know several rivals exist and that they will die of laughter and scorn when they have seen the form of this work. Such men are only taught to disparage others and know nothing good per se to bequeath themselves. Concerning such people, the prophet sings: "They are wise in doing evil, but do not know how to do good." They only look at things with the eyes of Lynceus and fix in their hearts by memory, as if in stone, which phrases were improper or where my drowsy mind faltered. What's to wonder at, when even good Homer nods? I am neither frightened of their envious disparaging nor am I flattered by ironic fawning. Let those who want to, read it, and those who don't, cast it aside. But you, dearest brother, if you love me as your friend, if you are touched by my prayers, gird the loins of your mind and take into your hand a scraper, an ink bottle, and a pen, so that you can scratch off what is superfluous and insert over it whatever is missing. By changing improper phrases to their proper ones, your skill should mitigate my stupidity. I am not embarrassed to be corrected by a friend, and so I beg to be improved by my friends with great affection.

This first book contains the deeds of the Czechs, so far as it was permitted me to know them, set in order until the time of Bretislav I, the son of Duke Oldrich. Because I was unable to uncover a chronicle, and thus to know when or in whose times the deeds took place that I will now relate, but I did not wish to invent the dates at the beginning of this book, I began to order the years of the lord's incarnation only from the time of Borivoj, the first Catholic duke. Farewell. By your command I will either gird myself to disclose the rest, or I will halt my step on the spot and put an end to my silly undertakings. Live, be well, and may you not reject my wishes, but fulfill them.

This chronicle was composed when Henry IV [V] reigned as emperor of the Romans and Pope Calixtus governed the holy church of God, in the time of Vladislav, duke of the Czechs, and also of Hermann, bishop of the church of Prague. So too, it is given in what follows to all those wishing to know, in which years of Christ or indictions the events occurred.

Here Begins the First Little Book of the Chronicle of the Czechs, Which Cosmas, Dean of the Church of Prague, Composed

1.1. After the effusion of the Flood, after the confusion of evil-minded men building a Tower, in divine revenge for such illicit and audacious deeds, the human species, which then consisted in about seventy-two men, was divided into as many diverse kinds of languages as there were heads of men-as we learned from the historical account. Each and every man a fugitive and a wanderer, they roamed throughout various regions of the earth, dispersed far and wide. And even while weakening in body from day to day, they multiplied, in generations and generations. Whence the human species, with God arranging everything according to his will, was so dispersed throughout the sphere of the earth that after many ages it came even into these regions of Germania. For this whole region, located under the north pole, extending from the Thanay [River Don] and into the west, is called by the general term "Germania" (although each of the places in it has its own name). We mention these things so that we might better be able to accomplish what we declared as our intention. In the meantime, before we come to the beginning of the narrative, we will try to explain briefly the location of this Czech land and whence it was assigned its name.

1.2. In the division of the globe according to geometricians Asia comprises half of the world and Europe and Africa half. In Europe is situated Germania, in whose regions, across the northern plain, is a place spread very wide, girded everywhere by mountains in a circle. They are stretched in a marvelous way around the whole land, so that to the eye, it is as if one continuous mountain circles and protects all that land.

At that time great solitudes of forest prevailed on the surface of the land, without human inhabitants, but very loud with swarms of bees and the singing of birds. Flocks of animals wandered through the lonely places of the land, terrified by no one. Almost as innumerable as the sands of the sea or the forests, as many as there were stars in the sky, the earth hardly sufficed for them. Beasts of burden could hardly be compared to the number of locusts jumping through the fields in summer. The waters there were very clear and safe for human purposes; likewise, the fish were sweet and healthy to eat. It was a wonderful thing, and you might well consider how high this region sits: such that no outside waters flow into here while so many streams, small ones and large, originate from different mountains and are received by the larger river called the Elbe, to flow north to the sea. And since at that time this region lay untested by the plow, and the man who would try had not yet entered it, it seems better to keep silent concerning its fertility or sterility than to speak in ignorance.

Seeking places suitable for human habitation, whoever the man was (it is uncertain with how many souls) who later entered these solitudes, he surveyed with keen sight the mountains, valleys, and wastes and, so I think, located their first settlement around Mt. Rmp between two rivers, namely, the Ohre and the Vltava. He established their first dwellings and rejoiced in the guardian deities that he had carried with him on his shoulders, now erected on the ground. Then the elder, whom the others accompanied as if he was their lord, spoke thus to his followers (among other things): "O comrades, you who have endured with me heavy burdens through lonely forests, halt your step. Offer a thankful libation to your gods, through whose wondrous work you have come to your fatherland, as once foreordained for you by destiny. This is it. This is that land which you often reminded me I promised you, a land subject to no one, filled with wild animals and fowl, wet with nectar, honey, and milk, and, as you yourselves see, air delightful for living. The waters are abundant on every side and full of fish beyond measure. Here nothing will be lacking to you, because no one will hinder you. But since a region such as this, both beautiful and great, lies in your hands, think what name might be fitting for the land." Immediately they said, as if moved by a divine oracle: "Since you, O father, are called 'Bohemus,' where might we find a better or more fitting name than for the land to be called 'Bohemia'?" Then the elder, moved by the divination of his comrades, began to kiss the ground for joy and, rejoicing, named it from his own name. Rising and stretching both hands palms upward to the stars, he thus rose to say: "Greetings, fated land, sought by our thousand prayers, once widowed of man in the time of the Flood. Now, as a kind of monument to men, keep us safe and our offspring plentiful from generation to generation."

1.3. The men of that time were so honorable in their mores, so simple and righteous, so loyal and merciful to one another, so moderate, sober, and continent, that if anyone tried to describe them to present-day men, who thoroughly represent the opposite qualities, he would be met with considerable irritation. Therefore, we omit these things and desire to say a few true things about the quality of that first age. How happy was that age, content with moderate expense and not puffed up with swollen pride. They hardly knew the rewards of Ceres and Bacchus, which were not available. They made their evening meal with acorns and wild game. Uncorrupted springs provided healthy drinks. Like the brightness of the sun and the moisture of the water, so the fields and the forests, even their very marriages, were held in common. For in the manner of cattle, they tried new lovers on various nights and, with dawn rising, broke the tie of the Three Graces and the iron shackles of love. Wherever and with whomever they had spent the night, there they caught sweet sleep, spread out on the grass under the shade of a leafy tree. The use of wool or linen, even of clothing, was unknown to them; in winter they used the skins of wild animals or sheep for clothing. Nor did anyone know to say "mine" but, in the likeness of monastic life, whatever they had the word "our" resounded in their mouth, heart, and deed. There were no bars on their stables, nor did they close their gate to the poor, because there was no theft or robbery or poverty. There was no crime among them more serious than theft or robbery. They saw the weapons of no people and themselves had only arrows, which they carried for killing wild animals. What more can be said?

Oh, alas! Prosperity gave way to the contrary, and communal goods to private ones. They avoided and fled secure poverty, once beloved, as if it were a muddy wheel, because in all of them lust for gain burned fiercer now than Etna's fires. With these and similar evils emerging, they patiently endured from day to day worse and worse injury, which no one had ever incurred before, inflicted by one man upon another. And they had no judge or prince to whom they could appeal their grievance. Later, they turned to someone in their tribe or generation, someone considered better in character and more distinguished by virtue of wealth. Without a tax collector, without a seal, of their own free will they came to him and, with their freedom whole, debated uncertain cases and injuries incurred.

One particular man had arisen among them, called Krok, after whom a castle is known to have been named, located in the forest adjacent to Ztibecna and now overrun by trees. He was a man absolutely perfect in his generations, exceptional for his wealth in secular things, discreet in considering lawsuits. Like bees to their hive, so everyone, both from his own tribe and from the common folk of the whole province, flocked to him to sort out their lawsuits. such a great man lacked manly offspring. Nevertheless, he fathered three daughters, to whom nature gave riches of wisdom no fewer than she was accustomed to give men.

1.4. The eldest of them was named Kazi, who surpassed Medea of Colchis in herbs and song and the Paeonian master in medicinal art, because she often made the Fates themselves cease their unending work and oracles follow the commands of her song. hence the inhabitants of this land, when they lose something and despair of its recovery, say the following proverb about her: "Even Kazi herself cannot get it back." Like the place where the daughter of Ceres was abducted by a tyrant, her burial mound can still be seen today, heaped up very high by the inhabitants of the land in memory of their mistress, on the bank of the River Mze near the road which leads to the province of Bechyne, over the mountain called Osek.

Worthy of praise though second by birth, Tetka was a woman of keen discernment lacking a husband. She built a castle on the river Mze, named Tetmn after herself, well fortified by the nature of the place, with rocks reaching steeply to the summit. She taught the stupid and senseless people to adore and worship Oreads, Dry-ads, and Hamadryads, and established every superstitious sect and sacrilegious rite. Like many villagers up until now, just like pagans, this one worships waters or fires, that one adores groves and trees and stones, another sacrifices to mountains or hills, and still another beseeches and prays to the deaf and dumb idols he has made himself, so that they rule both his home and his own self.

Younger by birth but older in wisdom, the third was called Libuše. She built a castle, the most powerful then, next to the forest which reaches to the area of Ztibecna, and called it Libušmn after her own name. She was truly a woman among women: cautious in counsel, quick to speak, chaste in body, upright in character, second to no one in resolving the lawsuits of the people. Affable, even lovable, in all things, she adorned and glorified the feminine sex while handling masculine affairs with foresight. But because no one is altogether blessed, this woman of such quality and of so great praise-alas the terrible human condition!-was a prophetess [phitonissa]. Since she predicted many proven futures for people, that whole people took common counsel and set her up as judge over them after the death of her father.

At that time not a small litigation arose concerning the boundaries of a contiguous field between two citizens, both among the more eminent in wealth and birth, men who considered themselves leaders of the people. They erupted to such a degree into mutual conflict that one flew at the thick beard of the other with his fingernails. Exposing the sounds of their confrontation and confounding each other disgracefully with a finger under the nose, they entered the court raving. Not without a great din, they approached the lady and asked humbly that Libuše resolve the undecided case between them by reason of justice. She, meanwhile-as is the wanton softness of women when they do not have a man whom they fear-reclined very softly deep in a painted coverlet, propped on an elbow, as if she had just given birth to a child. Walking on the path of justice, not respecting men's persons, she brought the cause of the whole controversy that had arisen between them to a state of rectitude.


Excerpted from THE CHRONICLE OF THE CZECHS by Cosmas of Prague Copyright © 2009 by The Catholic University of America Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents List of Maps, Figures, and Tables....................ix
THE CHRONICLE OF THE CZECHS Book one....................29
Book Two....................109
Book Three....................182

What People are Saying About This

David Mengel

"The book's clear introduction, well-drawn maps, and generous notes serve as gentle but essential guides for students and scholars alike. Cosmas's medieval masterwork deserves no less than this impressive and accessible translation."--(David Mengel, Xavier University)

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