On Cyprian Norwid. Studies and Essays

Vol. 4. Contexts

by Edyta Chlebowska (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 658 Pages


The book is the last volume of an extensive four-volume monograph devoted to the work of Cyprian Norwid (1821–1883), one of the most outstanding Polish authors. The impact of Norwid’s oeuvre does not fade, as he addresses fundamental and timeless issues, such as the moral and spiritual condition of man or his place in the world and history, and seeks to answer universal questions. The volume includes articles devoted to the analysis of selected sources and inspirations underlying Norwid’s work, as well as comparative texts tracing the manifestations of the commonality of thoughts and views connecting Norwid with the leading writers and artists of different periods. As a result, we received a multi-faceted image of an artist who, on the one hand, was strongly rooted in the tradition and modernity of Western European culture, and on the other, was characterized by great openness and sensitivity to otherness and cultural diversity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Editor’s Notes
  • Norwid as a Translator of Homer
  • Norwid and the Italian Renaissance
  • Norwid and Gautier
  • Norwid vis-à-vis Mickiewicz
  • A Dorio ad Phrygium by Cyprian Norwid and the “Apollo” Poems by Zbigniew Herbert. Parallels
  • Norwid’s Legend of Byron
  • About Norwid’s “Prematureness,” Two Modernisms and Miłosz
  • Salvator Rosa: Another Seventeenth-century Inspiration for Norwid
  • Norwid’s Opinion on Art Illustrated by his Allusions to Paul Delaroche’s Last Paintings
  • Album Orbis by Norwid vis-à-vis Voyage to the Orient by Nerval
  • Vade-mecum by Cyprian Norwid in the Context of Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire
  • Artists of Silence. Duties of a Poet-Symbolist: Rimbaud – Norwid
  • History from the Perspective of Norwid and the Romantics (Selected Issues)
  • The Poet’s Artistic Techniques vs French Symbolism
  • Norwid and the Landscape of Modernity: Around the Poet’s Paris
  • The Universe of Masterpieces: Critical Discourse in Norwid’s Letters
  • The Historical Prototype of Serionice from A Dorio ad Phrygium
  • Cyprian Norwid, Victor Hugo and John Brown – Why and How Norwid’s Poems on John Brown Were Translated into English
  • The Arab-Muslim World in Norwid’s Works. Inspirations and Sources
  • “A Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem” – a Rock Suite of Niemen Enigmatic
  • Norwid in Contemporary Poetry: Forms of Presence
  • Norwid’s Place in Culture
  • Text Sources
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Titles of Literary Works and Artworks of Cyprian Norwid
  • Series Index

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Salvator Rosa, Democritus in Meditation, 1650–1651, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Denmark, photo National Gallery.

Fig. 2. Salvator Rosa, Self-portrait with a Stone Tablet, ca. 1645, oil on canvas, The National Gallery in London, photo The National Gallery.

Fig. 3. Paul Delaroche, Good Friday, 1856, photograph of a painting (unknown photographer, ca. 1870–1890), The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, photograph https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/104DRH

Fig. 4. Paul Delaroche, L’évanouissement de la Vierge [The Fainting of Mary], 1856, The Louvre Museum, photography https://collections.louvre.fr/en/page/cgu

Fig. 5. Cyprian Norwid, Three female heads, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Warsaw, photo National Library.

Fig. 6. Cyprian Norwid, Doris and Ionis, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Warsaw, photo National Library.

Fig. 7. The march of the Arabs through the desert, engraving, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 8. C. Norwid, Karawana [Caravan], watercolour, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 9. C. Norwid, Arab, watercolour, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 10. The first page of the 19th-century French edition of Kitab alf Layla wa Layla, trans. A. Galland, Paris 1858.

Fig. 11. The first page of the French edition of Description of Arabia by K. Niebuhr, Amsterdam 1774.

Fig. 12. C. Norwid, Z Palmyry – dwa profile [From Palmyra – Two Profiles], pen drawing, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 13. The first page of the 1787 edition of Volney’s Voyage en Syrie et en Égypte [].

Fig. 14. Norwid’s note illustrating the Old Testament genealogy of Muhammad’s Quran, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 15. The sarcophagus of King Jan III at the Wawel Castle, engraving, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis III, Jagiellonian Library, photo Library.

Fig. 16. Le drapeau ottoman – the Turkish flag captured at Vienna from the Turks (believed to be the legendary “banner of Muhammad”) and presented to Pope Innocent XI, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis III, Jagiellonian Library, photo Library.

Fig. 17. Mount Hor, tomb of the prophet Aaron, brother of Moses, on the site of Arke – later Petra, engraving, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 18. The first page of Bibliothèque orientale (1777 edition).

Fig. 19. The title page of the Paris edition of Chrestomathie arabe […] of 1826.

Fig. 20. C. Norwid, a note about Averroes with reference to E. Renan’s treatise, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis I, National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 21. C. Norwid, a note based on G. de Nerval’s Voyage to the Orient, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis (I), National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 22. C. Norwid, Był kiedyś Farysem [He was once a Faris], pen drawing, 1855, Scientific Library of the Polish Academy of Art and Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences, photo Library.

Fig. 23. C. Norwid, Władysław Wężyk, ca. 1841, pencil drawing, The Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature in Warsaw, photo Museum.

Fig. 24. C. Norwid, Palmy daktylowe [Date Palm Trees], pen drawing, in: C. Norwid, Album Orbis (I), National Library in Poland, photo National Library.

Fig. 25. Niemen Enigmatic – front cover / first edition, 1969, photo P. Chlebowski.

Fig. 26. Niemen Enigmatic – inside of the gatefold / first edition, 1969, photo P. Chlebowski.

Fig. 27. Niemen Enigmatic – black labels: side A and side B / first edition, 1969, photo P. Chlebowski.

Fig. 28. Niemen Enigmatic – blue labels: side A and side B / first edition, 1969, photo P. Chlebowski.

Fig. 29. Niemen Enigmatic – back cover / first edition, 1969, photo P. Chlebowski.

Edyta Chlebowska Translated by Aleksandra Niemirycz

Editor’s Notes

The articles collected in this publication were written over a span of almost a century. Some of them were published prior to the publication of 8 out of the 18 volumes critically edited by Sawicki, as well as the complete edition of the poet’s Pisma wszystkie edited by Gomulicki. Up until the 1970s, researchers were using many different editions. If this status quo were continued, we would be dealing with chaotic textual criticism. Given this situation, the decision was made, for the sake of the contemporary readers’ (especially foreign readers’) convenience, to allow for bibliographical anachronism, in compliance with the binding rules of scholarly critical editing adopted by Norwidology. Thus the quotations have been adjusted – wherever it was possible – and based on the critical edition of Dzieła wszystkie prepared by the team led by Stefan Sawicki: Cyprian Norwid, Dzieła wszystkie, Vol. III: Poematy 1, ed. Stefan Sawicki, Adam Cedro (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2009); Vol. IV: Poematy 2, ed. Stefan Sawicki and Piotr Chlebowski (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2011); Vol. V: Dramaty 1, ed. Julian Maślanka (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2015); Vol. VI: Dramaty 2, ed. Julian Maślanka (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2014); Vol. VII: Proza 1, ed. Rościsław Skręt (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2007); Vol. X: Listy 1: 18391854, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2008); Vol. XI: Listy 2: 18551861, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2016); Vol. XII: Listy 3: 18621866, ed. Jadwiga Rudnicka and Elżbieta Lijewska (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe KUL, 2019) (hereinafter referred to as DW, a Roman numeral indicating the volume, and an Arabic one – the page). In other cases Norwid’s texts have been cited according to: Cyprian Norwid, Pisma wszystkie, zebrał, tekst ustalił, wstępem i uwagami krytycznymi opatrzył J. W. Gomulicki [Pisma wszystkie, collected, compiled, introduced and critically annotated by J. W. Gomulicki], Vols I–XI (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1971–1976) (hereinafter referred to as PWsz, a Roman numeral indicating the volume, an Arabic one the page). This decision, motivated by the present editorial status of Norwid’s literature, involves discrepancies in the graphic conventions used; particularly in the case of Norwidian emphases, which in PWsz were rendered in the form of so-called spaced-out print while in DW – with the use of italics.

The bibliographic records and notes have been unified in order to produce a synthetic entirety with a coherent and logical message. Concerning Norwid’s texts cited in the articles, besides the original (Polish) version, the philological English translations have also been given, their boundaries clearly marked by square brackets. Sometimes the existing translations of Norwid’s poems into the English language were quoted. In such cases, the source of the translation has been indicated in a footnote. Additionally, the volume has been provided with indexes of the names and titles of Norwid’s texts. It was also considered appropriate to list the sources of the printed texts.

Zofia Szmydtowa Translated by Agnieszka Gernand

Norwid as a Translator of Homer

Abstract: The article concerns Norwid’s unfinished attempt to translate Homer’s Odyssey. As the author points out after Gomulicki, work Norwid used an unidentified edition of the Greek text with French commentary and a prosaic French translation by J. P. Dugas Montbel (published in 1818). Assuming fidelity to the original, Norwid did not strive for philological accuracy; rather he wanted to give a symbolic interpretation of the original. Hence, he even consciously distorted the plot of Homer’s story, characterisation, imagery, and mood. The Polish poet translated the entire song I, one of the episodes from song VI, and a passage from song XI of the epic. The article analyses Norwid’s translation in terms of semantics and syntax, the choice of lexis, as well as imagery, the depiction of the characters, and the course of action. The poet definitely saturated the Greek epic with elements of his own artistry. He created a more complicated world than the original, people with deeper understanding, and he also included a number of reflections that were absent from the original text. The subjectivity of the poet transformed Homer’s original text, changing the mood of the poem, the pace of action, the characters, imagery, as well as the plot to some extent. This is a work that not only highlights the artistry of the Greek poet, but also highlights the strong mark of the translator: it is a subjective paraphrase of the text with flashes of astonishing accuracy.

Keywords: Cyprian Norwid, Homer, ancient poetry, symbolic interpretation of the Odyssey, paraphrase.

Fate did not favour Polish translations of the Odyssey. They appeared late, as fragments at first. Polish literature waited several centuries for the first translation of the epic. Finally, the year 1815 saw its translation by Jacek Przybylski.

Odyseja Homerowska ku czci Ulisa Laertowicza z Ytaki [The Homeric Odyssey in honour of Ulysses, son of Laertes, from Ytaka] adheres to the original so as to ridicule it. The prosaic course and quirkiness of the sophisticated phrases are combined with a peculiar interpretation of epithets and names. So, there are a numerous compound-words such as: cloud-bearing, copper-coloured, and names with Polish endings such as Uliszczyc, Agamemnończyc, Atrejczyc, Atlasówna, Jowiszówna [son of Ulysses, of Agamemnon, of Atreus, daughter of Atlas, of Jowisz], etc. Athena addresses Zeus with the words:

Czyliż cię, o Olimpcze wnętrzności nie bolą?

Czyliż się nie litujesz nad Ulissa dolą?

[Do you, Olympus-dweller, not hurt inside?

Have you no pity on the fate of Ulysses?]

During the feast, Telemachus expects:

Czy tu Uliss z jakiego nie wypadnie kąta

I rozproszonej zgrai krwawo nie posprząta.

[Shall Ulysses not appear here from some corner

To wipe the scattered lot out bloodily.]

Thirteen years later, Wincenty Smaczniński published (in Dziennik Warszawski) his poor adaptation of song VII. Artificial pathos and numerous amplifications of the translator marked the work with a stigma of ineptitude and miserableness. In 1846, a translation of the whole work was published, again inaccurate and careless, by Klemens Żukowski. The prosaic, miserable paraphrase of the original was of no use to anyone and was rightly forgotten. The mid-19th century was approaching.

A translation was still impatiently awaited. Two people undertook this effort almost at the same time, independently of each other: a philologist and a lover of ancient poetry. The scientist combatted the difficulties faster; in 1865, the translation by Antoni Bronikowski was published, unjustly disregarded and forgotten. The translation is precise, attempting to reflect both the content and the form of the original. An exact reproduction of the course of the story is connected with the reproduction of the verse form – the hexameter. Bronikowski followed in the footsteps of a copyist or photographer. His approach to the task was perhaps too simple, but clear and honest. He gave a translation that was not poetic but was close to the original and solved many technical difficulties.

Siemieński took a different approach to the Greek epic. He did not want to stop at the function of a photographer. He wished to emphasise the poetic element of the Odyssey in accordance with the spirit and literary tradition of his own nation. He wanted to recreate ancient times and the fairy-tale history of Greece in a language different from the ordinary one. Archaisms and Slavic words were used to emphasise the range of centuries, the distance of events, and the undoubtedly conscious connection with the mood of the Pan Tadeusz epic was intended to bring Polish readers closer to the Odyssey. Siemieński understood the significant difficulties and struggled with them for a long time. He grappled with the blank verse and pondered the hexameter until he switched to the rhymed thirteen-syllable verse he had started with.

The translation was published in parts in 1844, 1847, 1856, and 1866. The whole work was published in 1873–1874, sparking almost universal enthusiasm. Chlebowski called it “a masterpiece of a happy fusion of Polishness and Hellenism.”1 Bełcikowski found in it elements from Jan Chryzostom Pasek and the influence of the mood of Pan Tadeusz. While seeing some flaws in the work, Zathey wrote: “until 1874 we had no real Homer.”2 Ćwikliński gave the most complete critical assessment of the translation: “Although Siemieński’s translation is neither a masterpiece of translation, nor a translation at all, although it is only a fairly free adaptation, I do not hesitate to include it in the first place among our translations of the Iliad or the Odyssey – not counting fragments by Kochanowski and Słowacki.”3 Ćwikliński did not know the work of Norwid. It can be assumed with certainty that if he had known it, he would have distinguished it with honour because it was created out of reverence for the original and true inspiration of the poet.

Norwid made his translation under the spell of Homer’s epic. Fascinated by its simplicity, he wanted to create a translation that would justify the Greek cult of Homer. His intention was to evoke in the souls of Polish readers the same emotions that the piece evoked centuries ago. He decided to show his contemporaries the secrets behind the plot. For “Homer należał (w Grecji) do nabożnych ksiąg” [Homer belonged (in Greece) to religious books], explained Norwid, adding: “przyczyna tego leży w przymiocie osobnym, który nazwać tylko można by – pewną przezroczystością teologijną każdej karty Homera” [the reason for this lies in a separate attribute which could only be called – a certain theological transparency of each page of Homer]. Epithets like “divine” or “godlike” are understood by the translator as something more than hyperbolic expressions with an emotional tone; he sees in them evidence of faith in the divinity of human nature, a testimony to respect for human dignity. At the same time, the Homeric deity has a very human nature. Thus, in the naive presentation of the Odyssey author, both worlds directly connect: the human and the divine, so closely that it is difficult to draw a line between them. Norwid terms Homer’s approach to the two worlds natural and wants to recreate it in his translation.

The preface, in which he presents the essential motives and intentions of his work, comes from 1870. Norwid established his philosophy of life much earlier based on the interpenetration of divine and human qualities. The poet wrote about those matters on many occasions. An example might be the passage from the poem “Do Pani na Korczewie” [“To the Lady of Korczew”] (PWsz I, 351):

I stoi klasztor nasz na podwalinach

Po ludzku-Boskich,

Które po Bosku są ludzkimi w czynach

Tradycji włoskich!

[And our monastery stands on the foundations


Which Divinely are human in deeds

Of Italian traditions!]

The author of Promethidion found confirmation of his philosophy in the Odyssey.

He enthusiastically began to explain its essential, hidden content in Polish. Letters written to Kraszewski show that he translated from the original. One more thing can be stated, if Norwid had only the Greek text in front of him, he would not have used the Latin nomenclature for the deities. The possibility of being influenced by free translations, such as Pope’s, should also be rejected. Norwid clearly tried to be precise in depicting the images and phrases of the original. The influence of literal translations remains likely. Certain analogies, though few, seem to indicate the help of Mme Dacier.

The translator writes “Muse dis moi les aventures de cet homme fécond en ressources.” Norwid has it similar: “Śpiewaj, Muzo, płodnego w wynalazki męża.” [Sing, oh Muse, about a man prolific in inventions.] Elsewhere, Mme Dacier modernises the phrasing of the original, saying of Athene: “elle renverse les bataillons des héros,” which sounds analogous with Norwid: “łamie bataliony” [breaks battalions].

A reservation must be made, however, that Norwid seriously differed in his understanding of Homer from his presumed influence. He minds every Greek phrase, while even translators, who wish to literally reproduce the original, such as Dacier, Le Brun, Giguet, and Bitaubé, generally omit epithets. For example, everyone omits the word “νήπισι.” Norwid looks for an equivalent and finds it in the word “bezpomni” [mindless, thoughtless].

Therefore, it can be assumed that the Polish poet had the Greek text before him, although he probably helped himself with some literal translation, perhaps the prosaic transposition by Mme Dacier.4 Weighing every word of the epic, Norwid did not strive for philological accuracy; rather, he wanted to give a symbolic interpretation of the original, as he believed:

Co stało się już, nie odstanie chwilką…

Wróci Ideą, nie powróci sobą.

(“Post Scriptum,” PWsz I, 366)

[What has already happened will not be undone in a moment…

It will come back as the Idea, not as itself.]

Following that principle, he consciously distorted the plot of Homer’s story, character traits, imagery, and mood. It is not known whether the poet intended to translate the whole work. It is also difficult to argue that everything he wrote was published in print. A total of 611 poems were published in 1904, in Chimera:5 510 are from song I, translated in full, 52 from an episode from song VI, and 49 from a passage from song XI. Yet the mention of song XVII in the preface, and mainly the quotation, undoubtedly given in his own interpretation (“to gdy rzekł boski pastuch świń…” [when the divine shepherd of pigs said thus…]) allow us to assume that Norwid translated some fragment from this song, as well.6 However, those are only speculations; the published 611 lines of the translation correspond with 521 lines by Homer. Thus, the poet significantly extended the frame of the original by as many as 90 lines.

There are no maximum limits for translators, but the aforementioned numerical ratios testify to many amplifications of the text, the nature and meaning of which will be further determined in a detailed analysis. The published fragments were finished by the poet in 1870, that is, four years before the first edition of Siemieński’s Odyssey. Siemieński began his work much earlier. Both translations indicate a return to ancient poetry in the final years of Polish Romanticism.

Let us now follow the course of the Greek plot, noting the deviations in the translation. The invocation to the Muse foreshadows a partial picture of Odysseus’ journeys and the death of his companions. Homer states that in their stupidity they ate the bulls of Helios, for which they were punished by the god. The Polish translator presents it as if the matter concerned only one animal, the head of the herd. The Greek singer considers the guilt to be serious, and the punishment to be just; Norwid sees its essence in frenzy, in human madness. The god’s retaliation in that context turns cruel. There was enough food for one day, and for that one day Helios prevented the guilty from returning to their homes. While the result was the same, the crime was not.

All those who escaped death in battle returned home; only Odysseus wandered, persecuted by Poseidon, who continued to torment him although all deities felt pity for the wanderer. The course of events was somewhat complicated by Norwid. His translation shows that the gods began to favour Odysseus only after he came to Ithaca. The rest of the story, however, conforms to the Greek plot. When Poseidon went to Ethiopia, at a council of Olympic deities Athena raised the case of the unfortunate wanderer and won Zeus over, who allowed her to cooperate with Hermes. Athena went immediately to Odysseus’ castle, where she was first recognised by Telemachus, sitting alone among his mother’s suitors. Homer does not say why it was Odysseus’ son who noticed her; one can only guess that such a turn of events was in the deity’s plans and that the young man was not busy playing dice. Norwid gives his own explanation, based on the Homeric epithet “godlike.” The translator’s conclusion introduces a certain mysticism as a factor of the plot, which reverberates in the words: “Telemak, sam że prawie podobny do bogów, / Pierwszy boginię zoczył […]” (DW III, 297) [Telemachus, quite similar to gods himself, First saw the goddess…]. The young man welcomes the guest politely, away from the suitors who demand a song after the feast. He complains about his fate, but Athena foretells a happy return of his father. She also tells him to have a meeting of Ithacans, scatter the suitors away, send his mother to her family, and set out in search of his father.

Meanwhile, the singer recreates the events of the Trojan War to the sound of music. Penelope opposes the song because, according to Homer, it hurts her heart; according to Norwid, it is because it profanes one dear to her heart in the presence of a crowd of suitors. The Penelope from the Greek tale does not give a clear answer to her suitors, waiting for her husband’s return; Norwid’s heroine does not mark her position towards the intruders at all. Disregarding this detail, the translator omits one of the motives for action.

The changes in the plot are therefore usually quite insignificant; they mainly concern the motives of action, which Norwid sees in the words of the story, and only once they caused a gap in the story. Two short excerpts from songs VI and XI provided no differences in the plot. The episodes of washing the linen or giving a sacrifice to the dead are too small; they might have brought some differences in imagery at the most.

The general conclusion from the translation of song I can be drawn in favour of the translator who, by introducing his own psychological motivations into the plot, did not disturb its basic lines. But with this method, the figures of people and gods had to transpire differently.

Starting with Zeus’ judgement of the mortals: In Homer’s work, he turns against the stupidity which causes suffering contrary to destiny. Norwid’s Zeus accuses people of something else, as he claims they violate laws, professing them ostensibly, and in fact despising them. Thus, man acts hypocritically when he invokes laws that he does not plan to obey. And Zeus, who in the Greek story is a benevolent ruler of gods and people, who consults with the gods, is transformed by Norwid into a serious ruler, raised above the level of earthly and divine existence. He grows to the highest power “na zenitach / Człowieczeństwa i bóstwa władnąc jednakowo” (DW III, 294) [reigning equally on the zeniths of Humanity and divinity]. He speaks from a high position, seeing childishness in the words of Athena, and speaks with the solemnity of a mighty protector about the councils that he intends to have with other gods: “Atoli Olimpijskiej wyrokiem narady / Gdy się Ulissa poprze, on ujdzie zagłady” (DW III, 296) [Yet if with the judgement of the Olympus council / Ulysses is supported, he shall escape death].

The Polish reproduction of Pallas is also more serious. She holds a whole dispute with her father about the limits of divine justice and the duty to distinguish between good and bad. A supporter of consistency in judgements and actions, she demands consistency between decisions and deeds and calls for immediate implementation of ideas. For Telemachus, she is less of a kind adviser, as with Homer, and more of a professional educator. She delivers general sentences about the need for independent observations to stand out from the crowd. She wants to ensure that her pupil attains not fame among posterity, as in the original, but a place in chronicles, making sure, somewhat amusingly, that historians have something to do. “Niechże coś i przez ciebie latopis skorzysta” (DW III, 304) [Let the chronicler gain something through you], she tells Telemachus.

Presenting the events, Pallas returns to the topic twice. In Homer, she does it naturally; Siemieński gives a quite faithful translation: “Otóż słysząc, że ojciec twój wraca z podróży, tum zaszedł”7 [Hearing that your father is returning from his trip, I have come here]. Norwid has Pallas stutter and say something else. Instead of a sentence about the purpose of arriving in Ithaca, he gives an awkward reference to the main topic: “Słowem… coż mówiliśmy?… stanąłem więc na tym, / że Ojciec twój […]” (DW III, 300) [In a word… what were we saying?… So, I was saying that your Father […]]. The second time that Athena is afraid of saying too much; in the Greek tale she stops herself with the word “but.” Norwid emphasises the transition more strongly with the sentence: “Zmieńmy wszakże tok rozmów” (DW III, 301) [But let us change the course of the conversation].

Thus on one hand, Norwid’s Athena shows a tendency to philosophise, and on the other hand, she is more direct and less composed. However, the words of Zeus, which are incorrectly rendered in Polish, are wrong to deny her mental maturity. The Greek god calls Pallas his child and considers her speech inappropriate. In Polish, he disregards her words without reason or justification, saying: “Cóż to dziecinne usta twe seplunią?” [What is your childish mouth lisping?] Despite that inaccuracy, the general impression of seriousness of the philosophising goddess remains, contrasting with a certain impulsiveness attributed to her by the translator.

Poseidon is revengeful towards Odysseus, and all the gods must unite to destroy his vengeful schemes. But according to Homer, the god has grounds for revenge: his son had been blinded by the king of Ithaca. Poseidon is by no means evil or cruel in nature. He is sincerely familiar with the Ethiopians, taking part in their sacrifices, participating with the people in the hecatomb prepared for him. Norwid omits that direct participation in the ceremony, briefly mentioning that Poseidon left to Ethiopia where he soaked in the smoke of animals burned for his glory. Thus, He is less accessible to his followers. The translator did not make use of a motive that he should have particularly cared about; he did not indicate the simplicity in the relations of gods to people.

And Helios? He also becomes more severe in Norwid’s interpretation. Homer considers it natural to punish human stupidity; Norwid sees this as being overly severe. The ruthless god took cruel revenge on the people for their madness. They lost everything due to a moment of oblivion. Compassion for the comrades of Odysseus, compassion unknown to Homer who acknowledged the unquestionable divine right of retaliation, turns against Helios, against whom the reader may hold a grudge for his ruthlessness towards mortals. People also differ when seen through Norwid’s eyes. The portrait of Telemachus is the least similar. Homer portrays him as a young man, full of prudence and reason, who suffers both in distress about his father and with concern for his own fate. He, the king’s son, has to endure his mother’s suitors in his own house, robbing him of his fortune. Pallas stimulates and comforts him in his sorrow. Under the influence of the goddess, Telemachus announces his will to his guests, threatening them with the punishment of Zeus, and announces to his mother that, as head of the house, he takes all the worries for his father’s return on himself.

Norwid’s Telemachus is quite different. He is more cautious and careful with intruders; even his face is motionless when they look at him. He is close-lipped and does not like to dwell on his grievances and confesses his misfortune, not to ease his sadness, but only because of the goddess’ questions. When Homer makes him complain of poverty and regret the fact that he does not have a father who dies in old age among the riches he has accumulated, Norwid’s protagonist takes pride in his plight, and considers his father’s misfortunes to be a valuable inheritance. Proud that he is not the son of a rich man, he says haughtily: “Nie pochodzęć od męża, co gdzieś umarł z trwogi / O skarby swe – przeciwnie, dziedziczę zniszczenie: / Nieszczęsnego widoczne jestem pokolenie” (DW III, 301) [I do not come from a man who died somewhere of fear / For his treasures – on the contrary, I inherit destruction, / I am clearly of the unfortunate’s generation]. He even examines his own nature. “Któż wreszcie zna się z gruntu na sobie?” (DW III, 301) [Who then knows the truth about himself?], he says in a Socratic spirit.

In the original, the young man simply says that no one knows their own birth. Norwid’s Telemachus reveals a specific tendency to generalise, to abstract in the spirit of Stoic principles. Despising wealth, he rises above the whims of changeable fate and does not want to be a plaything of false hopes. He indicates to his mother the way of self-control as the only one in her life, wishing to instil in her a soul resistance to pain and disappointments. Homer awakens a longing for fond memories with his posterity in him. Norwid makes him almost a Renaissance man, passionately hungry for an honourable mention of himself in history. He is terrified by a nameless death. In life, he already looks at himself as a historical figure. He is not youthful blood fleeting melancholy but has the composure and deep pain of a mature man – such are the psychological features of Norwid’s Telemachus. The goddess’ arrival not only gives him strength and self-confidence, but also maintains the feeling of independence from suffering, which is so strongly visible in the advice given to his mother. That advice is not included in the original.

Penelope, when she visits the action scene, although for a short time, also becomes different in the Polish translation. In the Greek story, she cannot listen to a song about her husband, for tears are choking her, and she asks the singer to choose another subject for the performance; according to Norwid, she comes to the room to scold the singer because he is presenting an important object to people who barely condescend to pay attention. So, it is not about the painful renewal of wounds, as in the original, but about the wrong listeners. According to Norwid’s views, she believes that the greatest pain is expressed by silence. Hence, hearing the song about the Trojan heroes, she utters the characteristic words: “Lecz ów tren serce moje najostrzej przeszywa, / Żal mój głębiej go umie, choć słów nie używa” (DW III, 307) [But this lament pierces my heart most sharply, / My sorrow knows it more deeply, although it does not use words]. Even Penelope’s external appearance is translated differently. Norwid praises her beauty: “twarz z profilem czystym, / Miała przymgloną nieco owiciem przejrzystym” (DW III, 307) [a face with a pure profile / Was somewhat clouded with [her] transparent wrap]. Homer makes no mention of her features, or the charm of the veil that falls over her forehead.

In the Polish interpretation, Telemachus and Penelope are of composed minds, capable of profound experiences; they are secretive in nature, knowing the significance of speech and silence. It is visible that those elements were added to their characters by an adherent of frugal speech and silence deeper than speech. Laertes appears in Pallas’ brief account. Odysseus’ parent has withdrawn to the side-lines and lives a lonely life under the care of an old woman who cooks his food. In Norwid’s version, Laertes is much sadder. Not only does he walk through the vineyards away from the city and people but gives the impression of a wretched cripple: “Posępnie się wlekący śród drzew, które maca” (DW III, 300) [dragging himself gloomily among the trees, feeling them]. There are also changes to the psyche of the suitors; they are revealed in the dispute with Telemachus. Antinous from the Greek tale is afraid that Zeus will entrust the throne to the son of Odysseus but does not reveal the reasons for his dislike of the young man. The Polish translation changes the entire matter because Antinous gives the love of the motherland as his explanation. He does not reproach Telemachus, but he expresses his intentions clearly. “Jak patryjota jednak, drżę o wyspy berło” (DW III, 309) [As a patriot, however, I tremble for the island’s sceptre].

The suitor of Penelope is shown by Norwid in the cloak of hypocritical patriotism. Another suitor, Eurymachus, appears in the Polish translation as a hypocritical follower of democratic principles, which Homer does not mention in a single word. In the original, Eurymachus says that the deities have probably not conferred Ithaca to anyone yet; in the translation, he addresses Telemachus, the king’s son, scornfully saying: “mój arystokrato!” [my aristocrat!]. With that word, he threatens the privileges of hereditary power. Thus, the good of the homeland and the good of the social system are the slogans put forward by both suitors in the translation. As a result, they lose the feature of primordiality, donning masks of defenders of the public cause.

At Odysseus’ spell come the spirits of Hades. Homer calls them powerless heads. Norwid concretises the metaphor in the sentence: “Wezwę umarłych czaszki, delikatne kością” (DW III, 314) [I shall summon the skulls of the dead, delicate in bone], as if it was about the skeletal system and not the weakness of the dead. Norwid’s spirits are waiting for some test about which nothing is mentioned by Homer. Among the dead of different ages, there are old people, experienced in suffering: in Norwid’s works: “złamani bólem, cisi i szlachetni” (DW III, 315) [broken by pain, silent and noble]. That change in the characteristics was brought about by the translator’s favourite theory of silence.

In general, the gods and the people in Norwid’s version became more focused and serious, learned to think and abstract, and aligned their principles with the translator’s views. That intellectualism of the characters had to be reflected in their expression. Homer’s Zeus, through Hermes, threatens Aegisthus that his deed will be avenged by Orestes; in the Polish version, he speaks abstractly: “On uczył, że wyroki dojrzeją w Oreście”8 (DW III, 294) [He taught that the sentence would mature in Orestes]. When the ruler of gods and people assures Athena that Poseidon will yield to the decisions of all gods, Norwid’s Zeus discusses it in an abstract manner: “Skoro się bogów mnogie uznanie zespolni” (DW III, 296) [Once the gods’ multiple opinion unites]. Pallas speaks in the same manner. Outraged at Aegisthus, she wants the criminal to be punished in a similar way. In the translation, things are different. The concrete image of the villain is replaced by personalised concepts. “Podobną zbrodnię zemsta niech króci powtórna.”9 (DW III, 295) [Let repeated vengeance end a similar crime.] In the same style, Norwid’s Pallas adds a general sentence: “Sprawiedliwości wszelkiej jest granica” (DW III, 295) [There is a limit to all justice]; that conclusion is completely absent from the original.

When asking her father to send Hermes, Norwid’s Pallas again uses a detached style: “Niechże zbyt długa nie uwłoczy przerwa / Takowego wyroku, lecz stawa się czynem…” (DW III, 296) [Let a break delay not too long / Such a sentence, becomes a deed…], she insists, concerned about the fate of a wanderer. Caring no less for Telemachus, she wishes him recognition among people, when in Polish she resorts to an abstract conclusion, wishing that the young man: “własnego używszy rozumu, / Tej nabrał dostojności, co wyróżnia z tłumu.”10 (DW III, 296) [using his own reason, / gained that dignity which distinguishes one among the crowd.] Instead of an individualised image that Pallas sketches in the original, speaking of evil and cruel people who keep Odysseus away, there is a generalisation in the translation about the stay of the king of Ithaca “gdzie arcyczęsto potworni lub zbrodnie / Bohaterom uwłoczą” (DW III, 300)11 [where very often monsters or crimes / delay heroes].

People from Norwid’s interpretation use the same manner of speech. Thus, Homer’s Telemachus dreams of the arrival of his father, because then the intrusive guests would value the speed of running above all riches. In the translation, instead of those words, there is a periphrasis: “każdy! z onej rzeszy / Przeniósłby zyskać wawrzyn na gonitwie pieszej” (DW III, 299) [each one! from that crowd / Would have preferred a laurel in a race by foot]. Odysseus’ son does not trust the people who predict his father’s return; in Norwid’s approach, he expresses a general judgement about the matter in the words: “taka nadzieja… to – zdrada” (DW III, 299) [the hope of an executioner… it is – a betrayal]. He does not state, as in the original, that he is the son of the unhappiest of mortals, but he describes it in a detached style: “dziedziczę zniszczenie” (DW III, 301) [I inherit destruction]. In Greek, Telemachus brings words of simple consolation to his mother;12 in Polish, he speaks to her in the form of a moral: “Niech, owszem, serce twoje umężnia się bardziéj / I słuchać prawd pouczy, a duch bólem wzgardzi” (DW III, 308) [May your heart grow stronger / And teach you to listen to truths, and may your spirit scorn the pain]. Penelope changed her style in Polish, too. Concerning the object of the song, she speaks in accordance with Norwid’s theory of silence: “Żal mój głębiej go umie, choć słów nie używa” (DW III, 307) [My sorrow knows it more deeply, although it does not use words]. More passages and quotations could be cited to prove that Homer’s protagonists in Norwid’s version speak in a more abstract style, using sentences absent from the original.

The translator thus verbally attires the story given by the author. At the onset, there is a generalisation about a wave: “Co i jednego rzadko rozbitka ocali; / Rzadziej!… gdy się ów troszczyć rad o społeczeństwo” (DW III, 293) [Which seldom saves even one survivor: / Less often!… when the latter is willing to care for society]. In that same style, he writes further on the dominion of Jupiter “na zenitach / Człowieczeństwa i bóstwa” (DW III, 294) [on the zeniths of / Humanity and deity]; in a similar way, instead of simply mentioning singing, which ends the feast, Norwid gives his vaguely formulated conclusion that singing and dances for suitors: “Są uwdzięczeniem uczty mniej niźli jej szczątkiem” (DW III, 298) [Are less an embellishment of the feast than a remnant thereof].

Norwid’s stylistic distinctiveness may be the strongest in presenting the goddess’ influence on the only child of Odysseus. In the Greek tale, Telemachus was amazed to discover that he was speaking with a deity. In Norwid’s work, Pallas breathed courage into the young man “I myśl, którą Telemak natrafił zdziwiony, / Że to stało się z Boga” (DW III, 304) [And the thought that Telemachus found in amazement / That it happened from God.” The plot moves into the depths of the hero’s soul, who, by penetrating into himself, gets to know the divinity of the being that was talking to him a moment ago.

Overall, the translation style contains more abstract and idealising features than the original. It also presents an intensification of emotions and a certain emotional hyperbolic. So the deities who pity Odysseus become the embodiment of pity. Hermes announces the gods’ verdict to the nymph in one breath. With emotional fervour, Pallas repeats to Telemachus the assurance: “Nie będzie Uliss z dala ojczyzny – nie będzie” (DW III, 300) [Ulysses will not stay far from the homeland – he shan’t]; intensity of feelings is also visible in the apostrophe to Odysseus, which is not present in the original: “…o! jakże by przez ciebie, Ulissie! / Byli śmiałkowie owi smętnie poswatani…” (DW III, 303) [… oh, how might you, Ulysses! / Make those daredevils sadly matched…]. The emotional wave in the heart of Norwid’s Pallas is reflected by a stutter, absent from the original. Above the pain expressed verbally rises the quiet, deep suffering of Penelope, as it resonates with the song in the Greek text. This song, which proclaims the misfortune of the Greeks, is listened to by the suitors in silence. Norwid intensifies the impact of the Greek singer in the words: “A śpiewał im wieszcz taki, że aż ucichnęli…” (DW III, 304) [And such a bard sang to them that they fell silent…]. Whether the translator depicts the unfortunate fate of Odysseus’ comrades or paints the abodes of the Cimmerians, he always uses darker colours than Homer. He even adds his own similes, such as, for example, comparing the night to the sound of lamentation (DW III, 312).

All those differences in the presentation of spiritual suffering form a distinct emotional tone of the translation, an atmosphere of deeper sadness. The greater intensity of feelings is closely related to the increased pace of action. It flows more intensely in translation, thanks to numerous technical means, such as skilful use of the present tense, variety in recreating Homeric epithets and repetitions, stronger emphasis on mental and emotional transitions with the use of appropriate conjunctions, changing the type of sentences, etc.

There are also significant changes in imagery. Norwid omitted some of the scenes, but most of them he altered or added more detail. When, in Homer’s work, Hermes warns Aegistus not to kill Agamemnon and take his wife, the translator only mentions the warning without giving its content. In the original, Atlas’ daughter stops Odysseus with gentle and caressing words, while the translation mentions briefly: “żeńskiej sztuki używa wszelakiej” (DW III, 295) [she uses all female art]. Telemachus from the Greek story speaks of mourning and bewailing the death of his father, in the Polish version just briefly about his pain. He asks Pallas to accept the gift that friends usually give each other. Instead of that image, Norwid gives a laconic abbreviation, writing about a gift “który by jak spomnienie znaczył” (DW III, 304) [which would mean as much as a memory]. Norwid also leaves out some more drastic details about Toas and Eurycleia.

More often, however, the translator transforms the images of the original; not always with the best results. The ocean does not surround the island, but it tyrannises the land. Telemachus does not speak briefly about the suitors, as he does in the original: “they will eat my belongings and tear me apart,” but in lengthier and weaker wording: “naprzód dom zniszczą, potem w domu władzę, / I nareszcie mnie stracą – boć i ja zawadzę” (DW III, 302) [first they will destroy the house, then the power in the house, / And finally they will have me killed – because I will be in the way]. Penelope does not recognise the song but guesses its content from the tone of the melody. Nausicaä takes the oil to anoint herself after taking a bath, forgetting about her servants. Her mules, set free, chew not “honey” grass, but “golden” grass (DW III, 312), as if it was about a visual impression.

The spirits of the dead, wounded with spears in their lifetime, appear in the translation “z włócznią w piersiach miedzianą i sławną” (DW III, 315) [with a copper, famous spear in their chests]. Sometimes, the transformation of an image is highly artistic. From the fleeting words of Telemachus, who advises Penelope to do her usual work: loom and spindle, Norwid creates a beautifully finished description of the equipment: “Powróć w progi! gdzie cicho igła się nawleka, / Krosna są ówdzie, kłębek niecierpliwie czeka” (DW III, 308) [Return to the thresholds! where the needle is quietly threaded, / The looms are here and there, the [thread] ball waiting impatiently]. At (rare) times, he adds an image of his own, for example, in the description of a song “wzruszającej groby” [moving/touching the graves], or speaking about the waves: “Z szumem parte przeciwko brzegowi na skale” (DW III, 313) [Pushed with a rush against the rock coast], or creating an image of a debtor carrying his debt furtively.

Most often in the translation, Homer’s images are finished with details, using the possibilities not exploited by the author. “After years have passed, the year has come,” Homer states in his story. A completely different picture, derived from secondary sources, is given by Norwid: “Lecz czas kołem w bieguny zatoczył łaskawsze / I w te kresy […]” (DW III, 293) [But time’s wheel has turned to more gracious poles / And into the times […]]. The Ethiopians, who live on the outskirts of human settlements, live in a country “gdzie zapada firmamentu wieko” [where the firmament’s lid closes], according to the translation. Poseidon moves the king of Ithaca away from his homeland, and in Norwid’s words: “Między nim a Ojczyzną rozbałwanił morze” (DW III, 296) [he billowed the sea between him and his homeland]. The terrible spear of Pallas, crushing ranks of the combatants, in Polish takes on new, strange properties, because it “łamie bataliony grzmotem” (DW III, 297) [breaks the battalions with thunder].

During a feast in Odysseus’ palace, servants from the Polish translation work harder, setting “ponętnie” [alluring] snacks, where Homer only mentions cutting meat. After talking to Telemachus, Athena disappears like a bird. Norwid develops the simile: “Rzekła i jak ptak znikła, który lecąc wróży” (DW III, 304) [She said, and disappeared like a bird that augurs in flight]. The original has a phrase twice about things that still lie on the knees of gods. The translator finished the image, strengthening the personification and introducing a more lively emotional tone in the sentence: “Rzeczy te (jeszcze w fałdach szat i na kolanie) / Tulą się w dłoniach bogów” (DW III, 303) [Those things (still in the folds of their robes and on the knee) / Cuddle in the hands of the gods]. The suitors leave the hall, going to sleep. Norwid is interested in the appearance of the feasters, so he adds: “Aż się rozeszli z mętem lub gorączką w oku.” (DW III, 310) [Then they parted with a cloudy or fevered eyes.] There are also some changes to the linen-washing episode on the island. Laundry is not thrown from a wagon but is handed from one girl to another. The Polish poet also adds content to the disputes at work and has the girls take the ribbons from their heads whereas in the original only the head-dress is mentioned. Odysseus, invoking the spirits of Erebus, promises them a sacrifice of expensive items. In Polish, he details gold, emphasising its brilliance in the word: “rozświecę” [I will light [it] up].

Derived images constitute a considerable group in the translation. Thus, instead of the image of a blinding godlike Polyphemus, it says: “oślepił mu wielkie czoło Polifema” (DW III, 295) [He blinded the great forehead of Polyphemus]. Speaking of Poseidon, Norwid introduces the Trident as an alternative reference. Pallas follows Telemachus deeper into the palace. In the Polish metaphor: “stąpały kroki gościa, Minerwy-Pallady” (DW III, 298) [the steps of the guest, Minerva-Pallas, were treading]. Telemachus thinks that if the suitors saw Odysseus, they would have valued the speed of their feet above all riches. This opinion is shared by the Polish translator, but he paraphrases it, introducing an image of a race in which everyone wants to receive a laurel for being the fastest. Athena tells Telemachus about lacing the arrows with venom. Norwid enlivens them and defines the action of the poison, which serves “Ku usrożeniu grotów z miedzi przeciw wrogom” (DW III, 302) [to make copper arrowheads more ferocious against enemies]. Elsewhere, instead of a beautiful carriage, the translation speaks of its wheels.

Let us close that part of the review with Norwid’s paraphrase of Homer’s opinion about the divine word that makes people famous. It reads in translation: The word “Które od Jupitera samego pochodzi, / Ludziom wybrzmiewa sławą w ślad, i nie uwodzi” (DW III, 303) [Which comes from Jupiter himself, / Resounds with fame for people and does not lie]. The character of epic peace is created in the Odyssey by epithets. The translator treats them quite freely. Oftentimes, he omits them completely. He rarely tries to provide a literal translation; γλαυκῶπις – szafiroźrenica [of sapphire irises], εύπλοκχμος – obfitowłosy [of abundant hair] – are exceptions. Usually, he paraphrases the epithets with a few words or an entire sentence and not always accurately.

Next to a precise interpretation, like πολύτροπος – prolific in inventions, there is an erroneous explanation of Zeus’ nickname: “father of gods and people,” with an expression describing the reign of the god “at the zeniths of humanity and deity.” Norwid introduces quite a few such descriptive expressions or sentences replacing the short epithets. And so άργειφοντής – Argobójca [Argus-killer] is in translation is the one “co […] Argusa gromiąc, pierś mu przeszył” (DW III, 294) [who […] defeating Argus, pierced his chest]; νεφεληγερέτα – the one who gathers clouds, in the translation is the one “któremu chmury się piorunią” (DW III, 295) [to whom the clouds thunderbolt].


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (October)
Cyprian Norwid literary contexts reception of the Renaissance
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 658 pp., 5 fig. col., 24 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Edyta Chlebowska (Volume editor)

Agata Brajerska-Mazur conducts research on the translation and works of Cyprian Norwid and other outstanding Polish writers. She works at the Maria Curie University in Lublin, where she teaches translation. Edyta Chlebowska works in the Centre for the Study of Cyprian Norwid’s Literature at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. She has authored articles and books about the artistic creativity of Norwid including his catalogue raisonné.


Title: On Cyprian Norwid. Studies and Essays