Wawel Dragon

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Wawel Dragon
Smok Wawelski
Munster wawelski.jpg
The Wawel Dragon, in Sebastian Münster's Cosmographie Universalis (1544)

The Wawel Dragon (Polish : Smok Wawelski), also known as the Dragon of Wawel Hill, is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. His lair was in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill on the bank of the Vistula River. Wawel Hill is in Kraków, which was then the capital of Poland. It was defeated during the rule of Krakus, by his sons according to the earliest account; in a later work, the dragon-slaying is credited to a cobbler named Skuba.

Polish language West Slavic language spoken in Poland

Polish is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group. It is spoken primarily in Poland and serves as the native language of the Poles. In addition to being an official language of Poland, it is also used by Polish minorities in other countries. There are over 50 million Polish-language speakers around the world and it is one of the official languages of the European Union.

Dragon a large, serpent-like legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures around the world

A dragon is a large, serpent-like legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures around the world. Beliefs about dragons vary drastically by region, but dragons in western cultures since the High Middle Ages have often been depicted as winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire. Dragons in eastern cultures are usually depicted as wingless, four-legged, serpentine creatures with above-average intelligence.

Kraków City in Lesser Poland, Poland

Kraków, also spelled Cracow or Krakow in English, is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life. Cited as one of Europe's most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



The dragon's cave Krakow - Wawel - Smocza Jama - inside.jpg
The dragon's cave

The oldest known telling of the story comes from the 13th-century work attributed to Bishop of Kraków and historian of Poland, Wincenty Kadłubek. [1] [2]

Wincenty Kadłubek Polish bishop

Wincenty Kadłubek was a Polish Roman Catholic prelate and professed Cistercian who served as the Bishop of Kraków from 1208 until his resignation in 1218. He was also a noted historian and prolific writer. His episcopal mission was to reform the diocesan priests to ensure their holiness and sought to invigorate the faithful and cultivate greater participation in ecclesial affairs on their part.

The inspiration for the name of Skuba was probably a church of St. Jacob (pol. Kuba), which was situated near the Wawel Castle. In one of the hagiographic stories about St. Jacob, he defeats a fire-breathing dragon.[ citation needed ]

Wawel Castle castle in Kraków, Poland

The Wawel Castle is a castle residency located in central Kraków, Poland. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, it consists of a number of structures situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard. The castle, being one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally significant site in the country. In 1978 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Centre of Kraków.

Polish Chronicle (13 c.)

According to Wincenty Kadłubek's Polish Chronicle , the Wawel dragon appeared during the reign of King Krakus (lat. Gracchus). The dragon required weekly offerings of cattle, if not, humans would have been devoured instead. In the hope of killing the dragon, Krakus called on his two sons, Lech and Krakus II. They could not, however, defeat the creature by hand, so they came up with a trick. They fed him a calf skin stuffed with smoldering sulfur, causing his fiery death. Then the brothers argued about who deserved the honor for slaying the dragon. The older brother killed the younger brother Grakch (Krakus), and told others that the dragon killed him. When Lech became king, his secret was revealed, and he got expelled from the country. The city was named in recognition of the brave and innocent Krakus. [3]

<i>Chronica seu originale regum et principum Poloniae</i> chronicle

Chronica seu originale regum et principum Poloniae, short name Chronica Polonorum, is a Latin history of Poland written by Wincenty Kadłubek between 1190 and 1208 CE. The work was probably commissioned by Casimir II of Poland. Consisting of four books, it describes Polish history.

Lech II

Lech II was a legendary ruler of Poland mentioned by 15th century chronicler Jan Długosz. He was the son of the alleged founder of the City of Kraków, Krakus I, and he was the brother of Krakus II.

Krakus II

Krakus II was a ruler of Poland. He was the successor of and son of the alleged founder of the City of Kraków, Krakus I, and he was the younger brother of Lech II, according to Wincenty Kadłubek. He ties the family to the national story of the dragon of Wawel. In this, their father Krak sent them to defeat the dragon, which they managed, after an unsuccessful battle, by stuffing the tribute animals with straw which suffocated the dragon. After this, Krak threw himself upon Lech and killed him, though their father pretended that the dragon was responsible. Eventually the story was found out, and Krak II was overthrown and replaced by his daughter Wanda.

Late Middle Ages

Jan Długosz in his 15th-century chronicle wrote that the one who defeated the dragon was King Krakus, who ordered his men to stuff the flesh of a calf skin with flammable substances (sulfur, tinder, wax, pitch, and tar) and set them on fire. [1] The dragon ate the burning meal and died breathing fire just before death.

Jan Długosz Polish archbishop

Jan Długosz, also known in Latin as Johannes Longinus, was a Polish priest, chronicler, diplomat, soldier, and secretary to Bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki of Kraków. He is considered Poland's first historian.

Another version by Marcin Bielski from the 16th century gave credit to the shoemaker Skuba for defeating the dragon. [4] The story still takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city's legendary founder, and a calf's skin filled with sulfur was used as bait to the dragon. The dragon was unable to swallow this, and drank water until it died. Afterwards, Skuba was rewarded handsomely. Bielski adds, "One can still see his cave under the castle. It is called the Dragon's Cave (Smocza Jama)" [5]

Marcin Bielski Polish writer and historian

Marcin Bielski was a Polish soldier, historian, chronicler, renaissance satirical poet, writer and translator. His son, Joachim Bielski, royal secretary to king Sigismund III Vasa, was also a historian and poet. He was born of noble parentage on the patrimonial estate of Biała, Pajęczno County, in the Polish province of Sieradz. His alternate surname Wolski derives from his estate at Wola. One of two Polish writers of the same name, he was the first to use the Polish language, hence his designation as the father of Polish prose.

The most popular, fairytale version of the Wawel Dragon tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city's legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes, and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. [6] A cobbler's apprentice (named Skuba [7] ) accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb [7] [6] with sulphur and set it outside the dragon's cave. The dragon ate it and became so thirsty, it turned to the Vistula River [6] and drank until it burst. The cobbler married the King's daughter as promised, and founded the city of Kraków. [7] [6]

Attempts to explain the legend

A purported dragon bone hanging outside of Wawel Cathedral Bone of Wawel Dragon.JPG
A purported dragon bone hanging outside of Wawel Cathedral

Legends of the Wawel dragon have similarities with the biblical story about Daniel and the Babylonian dragon. [8] Similar stories are told about Alexander the Great but it is believed that the Krakow story has its own pre-Christian origins.

In addition to attempts to explain the legend of the Wawel Dragon simply as a symbol of evil, [8] there might be some echoes of historical events. According to some historians, the dragon is a symbol of the presence of the Avars on Wawel Hill in the second half of the sixth century, and the victims devoured by the beast symbolise the tribute pulled by them. [9] There are also attempts to interpret the story as a reference to human sacrifices and part of an older, unknown myth. [10]

Wawel Cathedral and Kraków's Wawel Castle stand on Wawel Hill. In front of the entrance to the cathedral, there are bones of Pleistocene creatures hanging on a chain, which were found and carried to the cathedral in medieval times as the remains of a dragon. It is believed that the world will come to its end when the bones will fall on the ground.

The Wawel Cathedral features a statue of the Wawel dragon and a plaque commemorating his defeat by Krakus, a Polish prince who, according to the plaque, founded the city and built his palace over the slain dragon's lair. The dragon's cave below the castle is now a popular tourist stop.

Modern times

Wawel Dragon sculpture by Bronislaw Chromy Krakowdragon.jpg
Wawel Dragon sculpture by Bronisław Chromy

Dragon in culture

See also

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  1. 1 2 Sikorski, Czesław (1997), "Wood Pitch as Combat Chemical in the Light of the Jan Długosz's Annals and Some of the Old Polish Military Treatises", Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Wood Tar and Pitch: 235
  2. Wincenty Kadłubek, "Kronika Polska", Ossolineum, Wrocław, 2008, ISBN   83-04-04613-X
  3. Michał Możejko (2007). "Legenda o Smoku Wawelskim według Wincentego Kadłubka (The Legend of Wawel Dragon according to Wincenty Kadłubek)". Legendy i Baśnie (Legends and Stories) (in Polish). GMF. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  4. Kitowska-Łysiak, Małgorzata; Wolicka, Elżbieta (1999), Miejsce rzeczywiste, miejsce wyobrażone: studia nad kategorią miejsca w przestrzeni kultury, Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego [Scientific Society of the Catholic University of Lublin], p. 231, Gdy w w. XVI projektodawcą sposobu uśmiercenia potwora kreowano krakowskiego szewca Skubę (Bielski) [When, in the 16th century, the architect of the means for killing the monster became the Krakow shoemaker Skuba (Bielski), the implausible tale was made to seem true.]
  5. Rożek, Michał (1988). Cracow: A Treasury of Polish Culture and Art. Interpress Publ. p. 27. (translation of the paragraph from Bielski)
  6. 1 2 3 4 Gall, Timothy L.; Hobby, Jeneen (2009). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life: Europe. Gale. p. 385.
  7. 1 2 3 McCullough, Joseph A. (2013). Dragonslayers: From Beowulf to St. George. Osprey Publishing. p. 66.
  8. 1 2 Jerzy Strzelczyk: Mity, podania i wierzenia dawnych Słowian. Poznań: Rebis, 2007. ISBN   978-83-7301-973-7.
  9. Jerzy Strzelczyk: Od Prasłowian do Polaków. Kraków: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1987, s. 75-76. ISBN   83-03-02015-3.
  10. Maciej Miezian. Smok wawelski. Historia prawdziwa i wbrew pozorom całkiem poważna. „Nasza Historia. Dziennik Polski”. 12, s. 10-13, listopad 2014. ISSN   2391-5633
  11. Marcin Bielowicz (2011-01-03). "Smok Wawelski :. infoArchitekta.pl" (in Polish). . infoArchitekta.pl . Retrieved 2018-05-14.