Lemmas in the Old-Polish Armorial Poetry as a Manifestation of Genre Hybridization

Bartłomiej Czarski


One of the most popular panegyrical forms in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the so-called “stemmata”. Similar to emblems, these visual works consisted of an illustrated coat of arms and an epigram, often attached to the front matter of printed texts during the old-Polish period. This paper discusses select cases in which, influenced by emblems, lemma are incorporated into the stemma’s structure. The text explains how the lemma is introduced to the stemma and how it affects the latter’s meaning. Particular attention has been paid to cases in which mottos are treated as the title of a combination of a coat of arms and a poem.

The text also analyses “academic stemmata”, a sub-genre of a heraldic poem that consists of several features characteristic of emblems. The presence of lemma in the structure of stemmata is recognized as the consequence of a trend to liven up this visual form. Making the emblem more attractive was a way to draw the attention of readers, increasing the producer’s chance of communicating a panegyrical message. Not only the authors of stemma, but also their powerful patrons came to require this effect. The presence of lemma in the structure of heraldic poems also relates to the role of mottos in the Jesuit educational system. Mottos and verba aurea were treated by teachers from the Society of Jesus as a very useful medium for presenting moral and parenetic subjects and it was fairly easy for authors of stemmata to use them for panegyric purposes.

The lemma’s role within the stemma’s structure was twofold; it created a special connection between the stemma and the main text and simultaneously linked the fictional word of literature with the real one. The popularity of “classic stemmata” in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led to the creation and popularisation of other hybrid forms composed of a coat of arms and other textual elements. 

* Polish version: B. Czarski, “Lemmata w staropolskich konstrukcjach stemmatycznych jako przejaw hybrydyzacji gatunkowej”, Terminus 25 (2012).


Publication of this paper was financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education uder the grant 643/P-DUN/2018.

Słowa kluczowe: emblems, early modern literature, Polish literature, heraldics, stemma

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