The Poetical Map of Europe: Jan Kochanowski’s Ode II 24 and Its Cartographical Dimensions

Jakub Niedźwiedź


The paper deals with the problem of cartographic imagination in Polish Renaissance literature. The other problem discussed is the impact of cartographic reason on establishing the early-modern national and European identity of the Poles. The methodological approach of the paper is inspired mainly by critical cartography (J. B. Harley). The term ‘map’ is defined here in its relatively broad meaning. It is not limited only to material representations, but it is also understood as a performance, a gesture and a form of thinking (D. Woodward, J. Pickles). The main text examined here is Ode II 24 by the Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski (1530–1584). The poem concludes his lyrical cycle published posthumously in 1585 and it is a Polish imitation of Ode II 20 by Horace (Non usitata nec tenui ferar). In the first part of the paper the author describes the context of the 16th-century use of maps. The cartographic revolution of that time had a great impact on art, literature and philosophy etc. Renaissance humanists all over Europe lived within the maps and used them as a tool or as a means of expressing, defining and shaping their ideas. In this part of the paper it is shown when and where Kochanowski would have consulted or watched and read maps. The second part of the text compares the poem by Kochanowski and its Horatian model. The author recalls the conclusions of previous interpretations by J. Ziomek, L. Szczerbicka-Ślęk and others. Kochanowski’s version is almost a translation, but the Polish poet rewrote Horace’s ode in a specific way. He changed the ancient names of places and put in their place the names of the regions of 16th-century Europe. In the subsequent analysis, the author argues that this is not only an example of Renaissance metonomasy, but it also shows the more complex process of replacing one cartographical imagination with another. While the cartographic imagination of Kochanowski was based on the Ptolemaic tradition and its early-modern transformations, Horace’s ode evokes the tradition of maps similar to the Porticus Vipsania in Augustan Rome and copies the Tabula Peutingeriana. Therefore, the metacartographies of the poets should be seen as different. The final part of the paper shows yet another difference between the two poems. While the gaze of the Roman poet goes beyond the limina of the Roman Empire, Kochanowski is looking only at the European and not very distant Mediterranean regions. The author concludes with the hypothesis that this European orientation became typical for Polish poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries. This Europocentric focus is one of the distinct features of Polish literature that made it different from the literatures of the countries interested in overseas colonial endeavours.

* This work was supported by the National Science Centre (Poland) under the Grant The Relationship Between Polish Literature and Cartography in the 16th and the First Half of the 17th Centuries (Związki literatury polskiej i kartografii w XVI I I poł. XVII w.) UMO-2014/15/B/HS2/01104 (K/PBO/000337), DEC-2014/2015/B/HS2/01104. Polish text: “Humanistyczna mapa Europy Jana Kochanowskiego (Pieśń 24 Ksiąg wtórych),” in: Literatura renesansowa w Polsce i Europie. Studia dedykowane Profesorowi Andrzejowi Borowskiemu, red. J. Niedźwiedź, Kraków 2016, pp. 251–273.

Słowa kluczowe: Renaissance cartography, Jan Kochanowski, Horace, Polish Renaissance poetry, imitation, early-modern national identity, Europocentrism, cartographic reason

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