Jan Kochanowski

Illustration from the digital collections of the National Library’s Polona website

Jan Kochanowski

Epigrams and Apophthegmata

Read by Piotr Czarnota, recorded by Radiofonia Association
English translation: Teresa Bałuk-Ulewicz
I.79 The Spanish Doctor

Our good friend the Doctor is off to his bed,
Not caring for supper and scared of bad ‘ead.
“Let him go, let him go: let’s give him his snooze,
“Stop wasting your time and get back to the booze.”
“Supper is over, let’s go find the Spaniard!”
“Right you are, but remember to bring a full tankard!”
“Up! Doctor, up! And let’s in, good friend!”
The Doctor’d not open, but the door did – in the end.
“One won’t hurt you! Here’s to you!” they cried.
“If ‘twere one only,” the poor Doctor replied.
And so from the one they all went to nine,
The Doctor’s poor brain started swimming in wine.
“Alas! Good my comrade – my will ye have shrunk,
“I went to bed sober – ye’ll see me up drunk!”
From the Apophthegmata

A Patient Memory

King Sigismund had the habit of taking the rings off his fingers and entrusting them to a courtier while he washed. One day as he sat down to table he forgot to ask the courtier to whom he had given them to hand them back, and the courtier forgot, too. A year later, when he was again taking off his rings before washing, the same courtier put his hand out to hold His Majesty's rings. But the King pulled his hand away, saying, "First return the ones I gave you  to hold for me last year."
English translation: Teresa Bałuk-Ulewicz

Jan Kochanowski

(1530–1584) was the greatest of the poets of the Polish Renaissance. For a certain time, he studied in Krakow, yet made a permanent bond with the city only after having returned from his studies in Italy in the early 1560s. Kochanowski worked in Krakow as a secretary to a number of dignitaries. Later, he was given a job in the chancellery of King Sigismund Augustus. He would come to Krakow once he had settled for good in his estate in Czarnolas. It is here that his friend and publisher, Jan Januszowski, printed Kochanowski’s key poems in a printing press at today’s 20 Gołębia Street. They included Treny (Laments), Pieśni (Songs), Fraszki (Epigrams), and Psałterz Dawidów (Psalter of David).

Some of his works, certainly some of the epigrams and the Apophthegmata (short stories), Kochanowski wrote in Krakow. They speak of events in the royal court, as does e.g. the famous one about a professor of law from the Academy of Krakow, Piotr Rojzjusz, also known as the Spanish Doctor, and an anecdote about the rings of King Sigismund the Old.(jn)

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