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Cyprian Norwid and the History of Greece

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Maciej Junkiert

Ancient Greek history holds a special place in the works of many 19th-c. writers. The same goes for Cyprian Norwid, one of the most eminent poets in the history of Polish literature, a thinker, and an artist. This book scrutinizes Norwid’s fascination with Greek history and culture, especially his peculiar synthesis of Greek thought and Christianity. It focuses on the key themes of the relationship of Platonism with early Christian writings and their presence in Norwid’s contemporary culture, the opposition of memory and history in 19th-c. literature and social life, and the image of the artist and its influence on social life in modern everyday. The book analyzes Norwid’s oeuvre in a broad comparison with representatives of French, German, and British literature and the humanities.

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Preliminary Remarks

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1. Norwid and History

In 1909, Cezary Jellenta compared the mind of Cyprian Norwid, the most important Polish poet of the second half of the nineteenth century, to “a greedy museum, which desires to own all treasures of ruins and excavations.”1 The author of this short synthesis focuses on Norwid’s relationship with the heritage of classicism, comparing his lyrics and dramas to the Pompeian frescos or Phidias’ Parthenon friezes. Moreover, Jelenta emphasizes that what interested Norwid were “the ancient, classical, marble souls of nations with their wisdom, poetry and statuesque movements.”2 Jellenta accentuates Norwid’s tendency to exploit themes from the antique world by claiming that in this way Norwid was able to communicate with the classical beauty of a world long gone, thanks to which this world illuminates Norwid’s works with the past glow of ancient civilizations, depicted in the moments of their crisis or fall. For Jellenta, the greed with which Norwid attempted to gather the knowledge about the ancient world and the people of that time, representing various cultures, was proof that Norwid aestheticized the stories he described so that one could read from the past the message of the eternal beauty and the classical, universal constancy of human nature.

The relentless depiction of glorious civilizations is perhaps Norwid’s most pleasant activity. He wanders among their statues for the sake of their beauty and richness, whereas the fictional and dramatic plot is only a guise. First, Norwid creates a costly...

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