A Survey of Polish Literature and Culture

By Manfred Kridl; Olga Scherer-Virski | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
EARLY LITERATURE AND CULTURE

THE TENTH THROUGH THE THIRTEENTH CENTURIES

The conversion of Poland to Christianity in 966 was of fundamental significance in the development of its culture. Mieszko I, the first historic Polish prince, embraced Christianity when he married the Bohemian princess, Dubrawka. Thus the young Polish state immediately gained access to the European family of Christian nations, enjoying with them equal rights at least in the moral sense. Furthermore, by adopting Christianity of the Latin or Roman rite in preference to the Greek, Poland came under the influence of the West rather than the East, in contrast to Russia and some of the South Slavic peoples. This was decisive for the growth of Polish culture, which is Western European in character; it does not mean, however, that the Poles did not absorb any eastern or northern characteristics. Such elements began to appear particularly after Poland had begun to expand toward the east and the north and to include into its political and social organism both Ruthenian, White Russian and Lithuanian peoples. There resulted the traditional and considerable differences between the Polonism of the Wielkopolska (Great Poland) and Małopolska (Little Poland, the southwestern part of the republic) regions on the one hand and Masovia (Central Poland) and the Lithuanian and Ruthenian territories on the other. National unity created through the centuries was in no way endangered by those differences, but this unity was always a 'unity in variety,' characteristic for Poland, and a source of great interest to foreigners who have known Poland closely.

Conversion to Christianity was relatively smooth in Poland, without any of the violent shocks or struggles which occurred among other pagan peoples. But the peasantry long preserved many of its ancient beliefs and ideas and translated the old attitudes into the new Christian forms. The spread of Christianity was made difficult by the fact that the clergy was, at first, necessarily foreign -- chiefly Czech and German. Further, this

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