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Medieval Lithuania


Adam Mickiewicz
Course of the Slavic literature
The 15th lecture




(Lithuanian mythology. View to the Lithuanian history. – This nation is a branch of the Indian nation. – It's influences in the North. – The reasons of it's modern inactivity).

March 24, 1843


      The analysis of Slavic mythology we'll conclude with thoughts, grounded on the Lithuanian mythology; before us this way was followed by all modern ethnographers and mythologists, who undertook research on the Slavic mythology. Only having researched the Lithuanian antiquity and traditions, they are able to comprehend the entity of the Slavic religions. Therefore the least known tribe in Europe and the language, which has the poorest literature, became a key for solving so many problems anyway.
      You are well acquainted with the history of the Lithuanian nation. Being thrown to the shores of the Baltic Sea it resembles in some respects Brittany. It is surrounded by the Sea and the rivers - Wisla, Nemunas and Daugava, separated from the Finnish and Slavic tribes by the chain of woods, forests and lakes, it always remained alien to these neighbours; it was unknown for long centuries, and then suddenly became conqueror and lawgiver of the Slavic countries, now ally of Poland, now again ruler of many Ruthenian duchies, it is guarding its traditions and language and, as it seems, doesn't remember about its relations with Ruthenia and Poland at all. It is already recognised today that the Lithuanian language is one of the oldest languages, used in the European continent. Bopp, Klaproth and Bohlen established this truth undeniably in their research works. According to baron Eckstein it is the oldest language after Sanskrit, the least of all influenced by changes. But it has very few monuments of writing, and therefore Lithuanian traditions are being explained, using Slavic language. We meet a pristine way of thinking among the Lithuanians, the spirit of various traditions, and in order to understand it, we use the Slavic language. Such method is employed also by the scholars, already quoted and discussed by us - Hanusch and sometimes Dankowski.
      Thus invisible, incomprehensible deity, the universal Indian spirit Brahma, the Lithuanian Praamžimas, manifests itself and appears in its emanation as Dievai, what mean  dei-ties  in Lithuanian and what would be difficult to understand for us, if we wouldn't have a Slavic word  dziej, dziać, that is to act. (...)
      Visible deities of various levels have names and appellations in the Slavic language, which explain their activities and qualities; but only the Lithuanians preserved their history, kinship relations, their deeds and exploits. Nowhere religious images developed into so wide and so exhaustive entity. (...)
      According to the ancient Lithuanian religion a soul may acquire various forms after the death of a man: that of beasts, animals or plants, sometimes people - that depend on its moral value. However the most perfectly developed soul goes through the Way of Birds [Milky Way] to the heaven, and the residence of those chosen souls is among the stars, to the North from the Way of Birds. (...) Respect to the ancestors, respect to the dead is common to the Lithuanians and the other ancient nations, but nowhere else it was preserved so deeply rooted and so pure, except this tribe.
      Let us remind historical traditions of this nation in some words.
      First of all, it is strange, but it believes that it is not aborigine, it wasn't born in this land, which inhabits, that it is alien in Lithuania and originates from a certain unknown land, stretching somewhere in the East. The legend says that after the flood, when some people miraculously escaped, the oldest of them settled in Lithuania. (...)
      This nation lived for centuries unacquainted by the foreigners, when in about 1150 it was called for action. We don't know for sure, why it awoke so suddenly and became active. As somebody say, it was moved from its homesteads by the attacks from the West, the Knights of the Cross, or, perhaps later, prompted by the example of the Tartar attacks. Nevertheless it is obvious from all these actions of the nation that it is stimulated to act by religious element.
      We have expressed our opinion more than one time against the views of these scholars, who were explaining all attacks of the barbarians by greediness, desire to enrich themselves. (...) It is more difficult to grope the thought of the Lithuanian chiefs. It is not doubtful that they used to order to burn the prisoners of war on fire or drown, sacrificing them to the deities of water or fire. As it seems, the religious views of the warrior caste must have matured in the Middle Ages to give fruits, and this caste was suddenly inflamed by the wish to spread its beliefs, or at least to resist to the adversary nations. In the same way we will explain this giant power, which enlivened these people. They had small bands-retinues, consisting in the beginning of some thousands of the Lithuanians, and later supplemented by the Slavic folk and some Tartar hordes. With the help of these bands they used to conquer cities, Ruthenian republics, were attacking Poland and the Tartars, and didn't avoid penetrating the steppes of Asia. Rimgaudas, the ruler of some districts, who had ruled over no more than 200.000 people, conquers already large areas, and his successors Vytenis and Gediminas are ruling already over the whole North. Orienting by the celestial bodies they are wandering through the endless steppes stretched out between the Baltic and Black Seas. They are standing three times at the walls of Moscow, penetrating through the Tartar hordes, looking for the path through Perekop, devastating cities of Crimea and, detouring round Moscow, comes back to Lithuania. Their descendants up to Jagiellonians, were going through the ways of the ancestors and showed the same, desiring of adventures and self-confident, character.
      Among the Polish heroes we can't find any example of crime, massacres in family, while the history of the Lithuanian dukes is, on the contrary, a series of treacheries and massacres. They are cruel and merciless people, who don't feel affection to the land like the Polish dukes, they are people, who don't know fatherland. They are like the Norman rulers; they feel themselves at home everywhere, where they settle. Wherever they will drive a flag into the ground, they'll begin dynasty and history there. Instead of forcing their nationality upon the subjects, they are willingly accepting Ruthenian or Polish nationality, but are planting images of their power and bellicosity everywhere.
      Such is the history of the warrior caste of the Lithuanians. This country, I would say, is so small on the map, but is extremely important in history. The warrior caste of the Lithuanians settled their dukes all over the north: in Polotsk, Novgorod, Tver, Tula, Kiev, Volhynia. Finally it gave a dynasty for Poland. In Russia the dukes of this caste, pushed away by the Rurikids soon, established a political party. In the reign of Ivan the Cruel it vanished together with Glinski.
      On the other hand, Jagiellonians defined clearly limits of the policy desired by them. They gave new scope to the ideas of the Poles. They were the only, who managed to build existence of new Poland on the new fundaments. But the Lithuanian nation didn't enrich itself by its booty, didn't strengthen its might, and continue living in the same space. The Lithuanian nation in Prussia is leaving the scene - today remained hardly 400 or 500 thousands of its people. A tribe, surrounded by the Slavic domains and consisting of the Latvians, Lithuanians and Curonians, has no more than two millions of inhabitants.
      There mode of life, everyday life is very similar to that of the Slavs. But there are certain differences comparing external features of the both nations. (...)
      Home rituals, customs are common to the Lithuanians and Slavs, but the Lithuanians preserved them all untouched. (...)
      Besides, it is worth to note one exceptional feature, for which the Lithuanians merit a special respect. In the huge collections of their songs you will not find any not only vulgar, but also indecent or too free song. This language doesn't know even gross or disgusting sayings. Having inherited something from the high, sacral language of the priests, this language rejects these phrases, instead the Slavic words of this kind are borrowed, which are never used by a descent Lithuanian family.
      Having generalised all, what we said, we can clear up the origin and the role of this nation.
      Some of the ethnographers believe, as I have already said, that all European nations originated from India; that in a distant past a tribe of warriors was pushed away by the tribe of priests. Seeking to introduce a separate religious cult, it left the country and gave a beginning for a small, but glorious tribe - the Azes. A part of these Azes, or Aryans, stayed in the East, and was ruling over the lands of that world, having accepted the names of the Medians, Persians and Lezgians. The second part went through the Central Europe and settled there, calling themselves the Lechites and Czechs. In a distant North the other branch of this bellicose tribe is known under the names of Odin's sons and the Vikings. The magnates and nobles of Indo-Germanic clan originated from them.
      Besides, the same ethnographers are finding a lot of traces, testifying wandering of the other Indian castes - Shudras and even Parya. Very large community of the Gypsies has a lot of features common with the Indian Parya.
      And when we'll remember that the religious traditions of Indostan are exactly reflected in the traditions of the Lithuanian folk, when we'll notice astonishing ties between the both languages and also existing similar castes - excellently organised, developed hierarchy of the Lithuanian priests and a caste of knights vitings, then we'll be able to make a conclusion, that the Lithuanians are the exception in the northern history and that the Lithuanians are the colony of the Indians with the whole its structure. We know a lot of such colonies in history. The Brahmans settled near the Nile and began the caste of the Egyptian priests. The Greeks, as it is supposed, had separate castes as well – those of priests, or warriors, or farmers. Meanwhile the Lithuanians have not a separate caste, but the whole Indian  splinter with their own priests, warriors and farmers.
      This community, formed in such way, having all components of the organism, resisted various attacks better than any other did. Therefore it is keeping its own traditions until now, didn't cease to speak its own language, which was forgotten by the Indian nations themselves and may be found in their sacred books only. It preserved its own customs of social and family life as well.

Le peuple lithuanien tient, comme je vous l’ai déja dit, la clef de toutes les questions slaves.


      Because we are able to find origins of all European languages in the Sanskrit, it is clear, that the Lithuanian language had to have relationship with various European languages. It was thought for a long time that it was a mixture of Germanic and Slavic words; finally it was recognised that it is the primary element, which has nothing in common neither with the Finnic, nor Slavic, nor Germanic languages. But it is likely that Lithuanian has a lot of similarities to the ancient Gothic language, which was brought from the East by the warrior caste of the Goths. It has certain similarities with the Slavic language, and – as the most ancient – elucidates the problems of the Slavic philology. The Lithuanian nation, as I have said, has a key to explain the problems of all the Slavs. It has no feeling of national exclusiveness, has no its own statehood, doesn’t even foster such feelings; there is no notion of nation and homeland in its language. It knows almost nothing about the being of other nations. The Russians are named  gudai by it, and this name originates probably from the Goths, meanwhile the Poles are named lenkai, and this name seems to be brought from Asia; it seems to me that the Indians are naming the inhabitants of Ceylon so. However this nation already twice glanced brightly in the history by its internal life. It initiated the movement in the North, which lasted up to Ivan Grozny, and in Poland – until the death of the last Jagiellonian.
      It seems that the Slavs never had any higher castes. This nation - I was talking about that many times - couldn't create any political community; they were combination of separate, partial gatherings. The Lithuanians, on the contrary, united into one entity the castes of the priests, warriors and common people, and created very strong social-political organisation, filled with deep and developed religious life.
      Those, who know the history of the Slavs, will understand the reason, why this entire nation had to sink again to the total inactivity.
      Leaving aside here a discussion on the social and political questions, we'll say only that this nation could never interfere actively into the wars that flooded with blood the Slavic lands. It was acting for some time in order to seat two dynasties of the dukes from their clan on the thrones of Ruthenia and Poland. But when these two dynasties were denationalised, the Lithuanian nation began to treat them as strangers.
Ce peuple donc est un de ceux qui restent dans l’attente.

      Later it was active only in order to show its benevolence to the Polish nation. But how one can require efforts of this nation in defending the idea of monarchy, republic, one or other form of government? Lithuanian even doesn't have these words. Thus this nation is one of these, which are living in  waiting.

      Translated by Tomas Baranauskas according to the Lithuanian translation by Algis Kalėda in: Adomas Mickevičius, Laiškai, esė, proza, Vilnius, 1998, p. 185–194.
      Original text: Pisma Adama Mickiewicza, Paryż, 1860. T. 10: Cours de littérature slave, IV.

Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855) is the most prominent poet of the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Born in Novogrudok (now Belarus), three years after collapse of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, he was a fervent patriot of Lithuania. Being a descendant of a noble Lithuanian clan Rimvydai-Mickiewiczi, which moved to Novogrudok in the end of the 17th century from the ethnic Lithuania (Rodūnia Parish), he grew up in a Belarusian and Polish environment. He was writing in Polish, but all his thoughts and dreams were connected with the Lithuanian nation. He learned the Lithuanian language a little bit in order to understand the Lithuanian folk songs and was writing romantic poems about Lithuania's past. The modern Lithuanians, Poles and Belarusians treat Adam Mickiewicz as their poet. In the person of Adam Mickiewicz all cultural traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined to created a magnificent monument for the ancient period of the Lithuanian history.

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