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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 IV. The Birth of Memory

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1. Norwid and Greek Memory

The issue of memory plays a particularly important role in the works of Norwid. The poet refers to it both in his literary and critical texts. From the perspective of studies on the role of memory in culture, Norwid’s view on history and the presence of the human element therein becomes significantly more complicated. It is for this reason that we should turn our attention to two pieces: Epimenides and the tragedy Kleopatra i Cezar (Cleopatra and Caesar). Each expresses a different approach to the subject of memory which, in Norwid’s work, is responsible both for the construction and deconstruction of the sense of community. In Epimenides, Norwid focuses on memory understood as a cumulative collection of experiences,1 useful in critical, decisive moments. Kleopatra i Cezar touches upon the issue of memory that we may instrumentalize and use in a certain ideologization of society. We may use this instrumentalized memory to construct an artificial understanding of the past, which determines the views of a nation or a state on its present position in history.

As Aleida Assmann concludes, there exist two methods of approaching the subject of memory in literary studies. The first is memory as an art; she defines the other one as “identity-forming character of memory.”2 Interpreted with the use of the first model, memory is best illustrated by the metaphor of storage: one collects the necessary information and recalls it at any given moment....

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