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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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Chapter I. Norwid reads Greeks

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1. The Hellenism of Norwid

Tadeusz Sinko writes about one fragment of Norwid’s “A Dorio ad Phrygium,” published by the National Library of Poland: “Indeed, the decline in knowledge about antiquity is appalling among Norwid’s commentators and, after all, without this knowledge he cannot be explained.”1 Once he justifies in such a manner this blameworthy ignorance of Norwid scholars, Sinko reviews the key works – in his opinion – in which antiquity is an inalienable element of the presentation of the literary world or it constitutes an important background, connected by means of cultural and political allusions with Norwid’s times.

A meticulous philologist, Sinko establishes as his goal the explanation of the majority of the key phenomena in Norwid’s oeuvre that should be associated with the world of antiquity. However, Sinko’s commentaries lack opinions that would allow us to associate Norwid’s perception of antiquity with the phenomena characteristic for nineteenth-century culture. Sinko avoids unambiguous conclusions and, thus, he deprives Norwid of the right to his own original views on ancient history, literature, and philosophy. In this optics, Norwid is presented as a derivative writer, in whose works antiquity – the Greek one in particular – is only a tool that enables the construction of intellectually surprising but entirely unjustified analogies. Thanks to such an approach, Sinko avoids answering the question whether Norwid leans more toward the Latin or Greek patterns. Sinko only suggests that the artistic imagination and temper of Norwid made him refer in a syncretic...

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