Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dancing on the head of a pun

Besides being owning one of those surnames that just cries out for an application of the finest punmanship, which I will resist, weakly, ardent 19th-century pan-Slavist Vaclav Hanka, occasional translator of Serbian poetry and professor of Slavonic languages was something of an artful forger. Allegedly.

Back in 1817, while rooting among big piles of Very Old Stuff in the church tower of Dvůr Králové nad Labem, Mr. Hanka (aka. pan Hanka. Not Hanka panka. Oh no. Because "-ka" is the diminuative suffix in Czech. That would make him "little Mr." If this particular noun-tweaking is even allowed because I'm pretty sure Czech only uses this as a casual feminine form. Or a declension of the name "Pánek", which is a completely different kettle of carp. And besides, even though Czechs take a more relaxed approach to word order, they still tend to put the titles before the name. Just like they don't capitalise them either. So pan Hanka he is and shall remain.) discovered some dusty old manuscripts. Big woo. After all, a manuscript is better any day than a tin of bell-polisher and a dead spider.

Pan Hanka (allowed to capitalise on his title, since I'm starting the sentence) was even happier with his discovery since he was one of the pan-Slavists (this time not one of those Mr. Slavists, but using the Greek-derived prefix that comes in handy in English when you want to talk about people sticking to an idea) who littered the early nineteenth century Central and Eastern European intellectual scene and didn't much care for the Austro-Hungarian Empire's assumptions of Teutonic cultural and political superiority.

Pan-Slavists also didn't favour the Ottomans much either, but the House of Osman were doing their wobbly imperial thing a little further east and so loomed less immediately on the particular corner of Europe where pan Hanka and his cronies hung out wandering along ancient folkways. I'll also leave the sticky Russian/pan-Slavic issue well alone.

Being something of a poetry buff (he'd published Hankowy Pjsne a couple of years previously) after Vacky Vaclav dusted off the papers and squinted a bit at the faded and Very Old Czechish Writing he doubtless did a traditional Slavic dance that hearkened back to his primordial Bohemian ancestors and just like his own language, stressed the first beat of every bar. It seemed he had discovered fragments of medieval Czech poetry, which would later be immortalised as the Manuscript of Dvůr Králové, or Rukopis královédvorský.

Only a year later Josef Kovář was doing some similar rummaging in the attics of Chateau Green Mountain when he came across some manuscripts of a similar ilk and age. These became known as the Manuscript of Zelená Hora, aka Rukopis zelenohorský, aka the rather swingingly-titled The Judgement of Libuše. Eventually these two sets of medieval manuscripts dropped the extra "R" and became the conjoined literary twin and snappily-named, "RKZ". Along the way, they inspired a welter of nationalist feeling, as well as yet more poetry, and all sorts of other cultural and literary homage along the way.

The tricky bit for the Slavic medievalists, Czech nationalists and general admirers of very old fragments of poetry that feature battles, birds of prey and very dark and stormy woods is that they probably weren't exactly really genuine actual medieval poems. Allegedly. But no less a person than Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, first president of Czechoslovakia and ardent nationalist did some of this alleging.

Meanwhile although the consensus in most of the published material I've come across similarly alleges, others continue to fight the good, albeit ink-splattered fight.

More thoughts later, promise. This was in the nature of scene-setting.


LookSmart's FindArticles - The language of nationality and the nationality of language: Prague 1780-1920 - Czech Republic history

Past & Present, Nov, 1996, by Derek Sayer

No comments: