Saturday, January 8, 2011

“The Chronicle of the Czechs”

Cosmas of Prague’s “The Chronicle of the Czechs” is a fascinating read. Like many medieval historical writings, this Czech foundational narrative, written in the twelfth century, fades seamlessly from myth to legend to history (Gregory of Tours’s “History of the Franks” is another excellent example, as is Ferdawsi’s “Shahnameh”).

Cosmas’s chronicle begins just after the flood and the fall of the Tower of Babel, when there were only seventy-two people on the planet (Noah’s sons’ descendants), each speaking a different language. There follow tales of Sibyls, the Eumenides, Amazons, and a new age of laws. Cosmas adapts and incorporates Horace, Statius, Juvenal, Ovid, Lucan’s “Pharsalia”, Terence, Livy, Sallust, and the fables of Phaedrus. He is particularly fond of Virgil’s “Aeneid” and the Bible. Translator Lisa Wolverton has done an excellent job in pointing out these references in her footnotes.
Those well-read in (or at least familiar with) the classics will especially enjoy “The Chronicles of the Czechs.” The journey from the flood to the (what was then) present day is filled with little-known legendary and historical stories from Moravia and Bohemia. Great stuff!

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