Life and Legend of Juro Jnok:

The Myth and the Truth

 

This article is from the RSI, Radio Slovakia International, website.  www.rsi.sk   Remember to click on the English (Great Britain) Flag for the English website. Their email is englishsection@slovakradio.sk

There's a fire flickering at the King's hill. Who has lit the fire? Twelve falcons. The twelve falcons, all white, a human eye has never seen such magnificent youth. The twelve falcons, the falcons of Tatra, seem to have been born to the same mother.

 

This is a rough translation of the very first lines of one of the best-known Slovak romantic poems, written by Jan Botto. It depicts the very last days of the life of one of the most influential figures in Slovak literature and folk art - Juraj Jnok.

 

Their captain is a great lord. When he walks down the hill, he's like the glow of dawn. When he sets foot in the woods, the whole world trembles (with fear).

 

In my opinion, two elements are necessary for creating a legend - historical background and an author. A good historical background includes real facts that can give rise to possible fiction. And then a real person is needed to create a legend out of these true facts.

 

Jnoks story is of a man who used to rob the rich and give the booty to the poor. One day the young student came back home for a holiday. When walking into his parents' house he was stopped by neighbors. The people sent him to their landlords field where the noble man was whipping his father. Jnok managed to break the whip but it was already too late. His father died. The young man called for revenge. That's why he allegedly became a thief.

 

"Whoagh there!" Ten men leap out of the woods. "Whoagh there, we demand your money or your life."

 

He became renowned among the local nobility. None of their manor houses withstood the attacks of his band of thieves. Nobody could defeat him. Nobody knew the secret of his power. He would probably have remained free until now if a young maid hadn't been there and betrayed him. His enemies drew Jnok to a local pub full of policemen. There, an old woman sprinkled peas under his feet. He fell and the guards were able to overpower his strength, concentrated in his thick belt.

 

An old hag yells from the top of the fireplace: "Cut into his waist, there lies his strength!"

 

The famous death of the famous man sounds terrifying. After dancing a popular national dance under the hook of a gallows, Jnok jumped and hung himself on the hook by his seventh ribbon. His last words were

 

Now you've caught me, you can have me.

 

The historical truth is, once again, completely different. Mr. Pavel Dvorak, a historian:

 

Jnok wasnt a student. He was a soldier who became a thieves captain. When I studied historical documents, I discovered that Jnok was a European character as he was a mercenary of Count Rakoczi. This noble leader of the anti-Habsburg rebellion was, besides other things, offered the Polish throne by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. So, Jnok was in fact a small part of the far-reaching anti-Habsburg movement.

This rebellion united all the nations living on the territory of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It united Catholics with Protestants and the poor with the rich.

And now, back to Jnok. He identified himself with these ideas to such an extent that he continued to be a rebel even after the revolt was repressed. It is proved that he stole and gave some jewelry to local beauties. What is, however, far more interesting is the fact that all the confiscated weapons and accoutrements were handed over to an unknown noble rebel.

Till now, nobody knows the name of the noble man.

Although he had been brutally tortured, Jnok did not reveal the name of his master. By the time they hanged him, he must have been half dead if not completely dead.

It is unbelievable that this young man endured such horrifying methods such as bone breaking on a wooden wheel or burning skin. Still, the only names he revealed were the names of dead people or people who were safely too far from the place of the conflict.

This really is a remarkable fact. Especially when compared to the behavior of the former captain of his band of thieves, Tomas Uhorcik. After being subjected to cruel violence, Tomas revealed everything.

It seems that this very fact gave rise to the fame of the Jnok legend. He died a hero.

The myth of Jnok is present in all forms of Slovak folk art. All Slovak writers of the second half of the 19th century were strongly influenced by folk songs, pictures painted on glass or tales about this brave young man. The most popular modern version of the famous story is presented in the musical Painted on Glass. It was written by two Polish authors, Katarzyna Gartner and Ernest Bryll. For some time, it revived old disputes over the origin of the national hero. Although the Polish believe he was part of their history, it is undisputable that the brave soldier was born in Terchova, a small village in the north of Slovakia. Following the American way of thinking, the Slovak director Eva Borusovicova has already prepared a script for a movie which should present the true story about Jnok and Uhorcik. This should be directed by the Pole, Agnieska Holland.

[23. 03. 2006]