The beginnings of the Slavs: Lech, Czech and … Pech[1]

The story of The Babel Tower is rather well-known in our culture. I am writing rather   because, as I will show in the entry which I will post in a second, there can still be some interesting points in this myth. For the sake of today’s entry I will just shortly describe the story according to chapter 11 in Book of Genesis.[2]

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How do you stack up the perpetual challenge of searching of own beginning?

After the Big Flood people were wandering through the World looking for places where they could settle down. All of them were Noah’s descendants and spoke one language. During their journey they came across a plain on which they decided to build a city and a tower called The Babel Tower, which was to touch the sky and thus make it possible for them to be closer to God. They learned how to make bricks and pitch. They were fast house builders as they all spoke one language and the Tower got higher and higher. They were really proud when they looked at their work. God saw the city and the Tower. He knew that people had started forgetting about their creator and were becoming more and more conceited. Because of this sacrilegious idea God punished them by “mixing-up” their languages. People started using different languages which made it impossible to finish the work as they did not understand one another. According to the story, right after the mix-up there were exactly 72 languages.

And here starts the interesting part of the story and nationalistic language hypotheses connected with it…

Thanks to the Chronicles of Kosma and Dalimil a thought appeared that the Slavs came around right after the Babylonian “mix-up” of languages. What is more, the chronicle writer Přibík Pulkava from Radenín said that the Czech language appeared just after the Babylonian “mix-up”. According to him the name of the Czech Republic – Bohemia comes from the Slavic word Boh, which is a word coming directly from the word God.

At the time of the Czech Hussites’ reformation there was a complete Czech messianism. German monks and Hussites such as Felix Fabri or Johannes Butzbach created more and more theories about the Babylonian etymology of the Czech language and the Czechs themselves.[3]

It is difficult to define in any way whether the beginnings of the Czech language were rooted in The Babel Tower or if this is just a sheer myth created over centuries to make The Czech Republic more important in value. Personally, I reject such a hypothesis. Especially when I remember the Czechoslovakian cartoon Pat and Mat. It is difficult to believe that people using the same language, especially the Czechs, could finish any building not to mention finishing it after the “mix-up” of languages.

And this is why I will not solve the mystery and I will mention another legend, undoubtedly the most important for the Polish state. I mean the legend about Lech, Čech and Rus, which is the beginning of the Slavs. There are some controversies which arise because of the convergence of stories of these characters in chronicles, which came about through turn of different centuries. Let me have a closer look to single out a few theses and answer the question if the three brothers really existed or if it was just a fabrication of our Slavic imagination.

All three brothers appear for the first time in the oldest Polish chronicle – the Greater Poland chronicle[4], written at the end of 13th century. However, there are some discrepancies here. Firstly, there are two versions of the legend.[5] According to the first one, Lech, together with his offspring, was wandering through forests where the Polish country now is. When he finally got to a beautiful place where there were very fertile lands, a lot of fish and game he put up tents. He wanted to build the first settlement to ensure safety for him and his people and he said: “Let’s build a nest!” And this is why the first capital still has the name Gniezno (nest) now. The second version, more varied, says that wandering Lech stopped in Poland because he was mesmerized by an eagle in the sky. This version of the legend has its grounds as the Polish coat of arms has an eagle as its symbol. Lech himself decided to settle down in the country and his brothers spread. Čech went to the West and Rus to the East and thanks to these journeys the Czech Republic and Russia appeared.

The Czech chronicle of Dalimil [6]does not give any information about Rus. It seems more credible, as the Greater Poland Chronicle was written by several editors and Rus could be simply added later on. What is more, Čech is described here as Lech, which is a former ruler, master, statesman. Lech, just like the Latin word rex[7], meant a ruler or king. And thanks to Czech revelations, out of a story about the three brothers there appeared somehow an only child!

A Russian source, which is ,, Повесть временных лет” by Nestor says that the creator of Russia was Kij, who ruled the lands along with his two brothers Szczek and Chwyr. There is no doubt that Nestor’s legend was borrowed from an Armenian story of a monk, Zobi Glaka, from XI/VII century. The characters of the story are Kuar, Meltej and Chorean. [8]

Another Czech source, Pribik’s chronicle, mentions information about two brothers: Lech and Čech. Here again Rus was keenly omitted[9].

Kosma claimed that Čech was the forefather of Bohemia. He does not describe events connected with Lech, and even more with Rus. What is more, Gall Anonym omits Rus entirely. Another Polish chronicle writer, Jan Długosz, mentions Rus, not as one of the brothers, but Lech’s grandson.

Again, Kadlubek does not mention Rus. What is more, he does not talk about any brotherly relationship. He creates a several-layered generation of Leszeks and Lestks and he popularizes a word – Lechita, which is a term used to call a person living in Lech’s country, which is Poland. An interesting thing to mention is that the names which have similar variations still exist in the countries which were pagan at the time of the creation of the first chronicles, Hungary, Turkey and Lithuania. Even though these countries accepted Christianity, they did not change the terms to their European counterparts and they still use them now. It creates an illusion that Lech really did exist, as the names Lenkas, Lechistan or Lengyelorszag are strongly associated with the mighty ruler. Another interesting story says that even during the Polish partitions and the factual non-existence of the country on the world’s map, Turkey still upheld a spot for a deputy from Lechistan. Turkey did not accept the partitions, and thus, the disappearance of Lechistan that is Poland.  [10]

Jan Amos Komensky also differentiates only two brothers: Lech and Čech. Let us assume then, that Rus did get lost somewhere or that he was born some time later.

As we can see, the convergence of the stories and chronicles is entirely different. One can claim that Rus was someone completely made up. And here arises a question – why did the chronicle writers want to popularize this character as the first Polish legend? Was all this for political reasons or was it just a detail which embellished and embroidered this entire story?

I will leave our Eastern neighbour without a clear answer. Maybe one of the readers will try to find one for himself/herself. However, I will dwell for one moment on Lech himself and his cause-reason connections.

European nations had been competing since the Middle Ages to find out which is the oldest. It helped to gain prestige and glory among other nations if one could place the first settlements or state system in a somehow remote historical background and thus make it possible to broaden tradition circles with cultural legacy. This is why the noblemen used the chronicle writers to confirm their theses. The writers were to prepare long and credible situational letters so that their chronicles were even more convincing. This is why, as I have mentioned, the first Polish historical ruler appears in every Polish chronicle.

Even though the Czech chronicles claim that Lech related only to a given position, occupation or social status, it is impossible for a part of the Polish people to rule him out of historical-cultural circles. It is not because of martyrological reasons or not to create patriotic feelings in students who read this legend along with learning the alphabet or numbers but for a great amount of the product given below:

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Poznan brewery prides itself on its product and the gourmets of this drink are growing in numbers year by year. It is difficult to rule out other patriotic-cultural connotations.

Below I want to post one of the commercials with historical background of one of the most popular Polish beers.

Apart from the popular brewery, the slogan of Lech, Čech and Rus is used in other commercial copywriter actions. During the last European football championships there was a funny situation as in one group there were the national teams of Poland, Czech Republic, Russia and Greece. This situation was called a duel between Lech, Czech, Rus and Zeus. Then, after the group phase, it was renamed as Lech, Czech and … well pech as only the Czech Republic and Greece advanced to the next round. This fact might prove the hypothesis that the Czech genesis could be traced to ancient times. Or, even more probably, the Czechs are simply much better than us at football.

To sum up, I can undeniably say that Rus did not exist, which confirms the thesis that Russia is not a country but a state of mind. Zamoyski calls Poland a country from moon[11]; it is difficult then to verify the thesis of Lech’s life. It is known, however, that it is a shaky and wobbly thesis – just the same as the Babel Tower was. Personally, because for patriotic and consumer reasons I accept Lech and believe that he was the founder of Poland and its first legal nobleman, but my Dear reader – the choice always belongs to you..

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This is how Lech, Czech and Rus were imagined a few centuries ago

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The contemporary visualization of Lech, Czech and Rus

[1] Pech In Polish means bad luck

[2] “Book of Genesis, Chapter 11”. Mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2011-06-18.

[3] http://www.czech-press.cz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3400:kde-se-vzali-ei

[4] http://www.poselska.nazwa.pl/wieczorna2/historia-starozytna/kij-szczek-i-chorw-czy-lech-czech-i-rus-indyjskie-korzenie-sagi-o-lechu

[5] http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kronika_wielkopolska

[6] http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kronika_Dalimila

[7] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Rex

[8] https://www.google.pl/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=kij+szczek+i+chovyr

[9] http://www.nm.cz/Knihovna-nm/Exhibitions-NML/Ancient-Czech-Legends.html?xSET=lang&xLANG=2

[10] http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/maps/new.html

[11] Zamoyski, Adam. 1993. The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture. p.1-19,  Hippocrene: New York.

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Over raskolmonikov

just Monika, for more information just do not doubt and go ahead straightly with your questions. Briefly, live long fight with chocolate, so far.. Damn it! Let's call it a draw! What I’m doing with my life? briefly, swing it away. But if you would known what this life is doing with me in return!!! I guess, so it goes. I have to admit, I am really good with: - pancakes, although victims had been never found, the same for pancakes, probably I should scratch them sometimes off from the celling, - terrorizing my neighbours and tourists while singing and going into city with my bike, - making tea, well after all I am not so good, but LET'S uncover it - I am fabulous! - knowing not relevant facts - wearing the best unpaired socks, - getting lost in the new city and getting lost in well-known city, - making the same mistakes over and over, hey when I think deeper over it I guess I am quite champion with it, all the stupid things I have said and people I've hurt in my time. I hope it's not my fate to keep defeating my own self and keep repeating yesterday... - getting troubles with my absurd dreams, - loosing keys, mobiles, bikes, - stealing my own bikes, because of loosing keys..., - meeting random people and having small talks, - making brownie, but hey this is reserved only for good friends, so better count for some pancakes instead of - scrabbling letters and word, or world, - sending bottles in the messages and messages in the bottles, - watching all poor films in pathe, as I can not wait for the better one - sleeping during first screening; no, nothing is wrong with me, it is just dark enough and after all first film it is not so important, - oke, even more, it is not j-oke, but it is good day for me so let's r-oke it and maybe later on some kara-oke, - I am good with the deadlines, just deadlines are not good enough with me, but I like questions and answers as well, so let's converse once or two or all stars as well. Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food and etc. Books: - All that ever was written by Kurt Vonnegut and ever might be still published! - Hero of our times! - Dostoevsky (mostly Plaeyer, Crime & Pnishment and of course Brothers Karamazov!) - Kundera - Gogol - Bulhakov - Zajdel - Zosjenko - Astrid Lindgren - Annie M.G. Schmidt -D. Kharms movies: - Kyss mig - Equillibrum - Prestige - Silver linings - Ladri di Biciclette - Volchok

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