The Slovak Robin Hood In the Light of Documentary Evidence and Popular Legend
Authentic documents, with the record of Janosik's apprehension and trial, make him out to be an ordinary highwayman, similar to hundreds of his kind who roamed about the country and terrorized the gentry. He was considered to be a dangerous character, as were the others of his notorious profession. Nevertheless, the fact that his name has become an illustrious one in the legendary songs and stories of his people, is in sharp contrast with the official picture of this colorful, albeit lawless, personality. The question arises, why has he, alone, maintained his position as an idol of the Slovak nation? Obviously, he must have been different from all his companions and contemporaries, both in vice and virtue. Although the aura of glory and honor that surrounds his memory is no doubt the result, in some measure, of the people's rich imagination, yet, his deeds during his life are an argument in favor of some outstanding qualities in his makeup.
We cannot account for his tremendous popularity among the people, nor can we explain why his name is a symbol of virtue rather than vice, unless we attribute virtuous qualities to this youth who so fired the imagination of the old and the young that he has become the immortal hero of his native land. The areas known as the "Queen's Meadow," "Warm Springs," and many other regions in the Pohron and Malohont districts, abound even today in folk songs, ballads, and stories of his exploits in behalf of the poor and the oppressed. We can safely conclude that the official records suppressed much of the truth in regard to Janosik's actual personality and deeds. Since he was the selfconstituted champion of the oppressed everywhere, one can understand why his name should be simply put on the list as an ordinary criminal by the oppressors, who used their power to liquidate all those who were dangerous rebels against their form of society. But despite their precautions, Janosik's name, for almost two and a half centuries, has been the symbol of hope and courage to his people.
Unlike other parts of the Austrian Empire, which revolted from time to time (Magyar, Romanian, Croatian and Serbian outbreaks occurred intermittently in 1514, 1569, 1571, 1635, 1655, 1784, etc.), the Slovaks revolted only once. This uprising happened in the Potisie region when a rumor was spread throughout Eastern Slovakia that the nobility had poisoned their wells. It turned out, however, that the cause of wide-spread deilth was actually the cholera epidemic of that year, 1631. Historical facts make it evident that the Slovaks were a patient people who would not rise in rebellion except in defense of their life as a nation.
Passive endurance and resistance under the merciless system of political oppression was, however, accompanied by the active revolt of the more highly spirited Slovak youths, who rebelled against the existing order of things by taking the law into their own hands, and by retiring into their mountain strongholds from which they emerged at night to right the wrongs inflicted on their people. They paid for their daring and courage by their lives, sooner or later. But their spirit kept alive the spark of freedom and the love of justice in the hearts of the Slovaks. There were, to be sure, common felons and blackguards among the forest highwaymen, but Janosik was not one of them. He was the true embodiment of his age, wild and untamed but not ignoble and ruthless, not savage and unrestrained, but gallant, generous, honest, and honorable with his people.
The first attempts to trace the popular series of Slovakian poems, ballads, songs, and legends were made in the early 18th century. Tablic published a poem entitled "JdnosikJ lyptovsky loupeznik" (Janosik the Robber of Liptov) in his collection called Slovensti versovci (Vol. II, 1809). Jan Kollar discovered several poems about Slovak highwaymen and published them in his Narodnych Zpievankach (National Ballads) in 1834 and 1835. Slovak news-bulletins and almanacs contain poems and folk stories about Janosik. The Casopis a Sbornik Muzealnej Slovenskej Spolocnosti (The Periodical and Almanac of the Slovak Museum Association) also published a number of works on Janosik, based largely on early manuscripts found in the museums in Liptov and Ruzomberok. The Matica Slovenska (Slovak Institute) plans to continue its splendid task of collecting these old publications, which are rich in folklore. By the middle of the last century, the last of the outlaws in Slovakia had disappeared, but the stories of their daring exploits continued to interest the common people because of their highly imaginative appeal.
Janosik's fame is preserved for the ages in the many poems that have been a distinct contribution to his nation's literature. The following poems have immortalized his memory: Paul Safarik's "Janosik" in the Slaveni pacholu Slovanskych 1814; Absolon Mesko's "Pisen Janosikova," 1842, (Slavenske Pohl'ady, 1897, sqq.) ; Michal Hodza's poem in the Mator; Sava Pepkin-Mednasky's "Janosik" in his Poezi, Vol, II; Jan Botto's "Pisen Janosikova" in Zpevy, 1847, and "Smrt' Janosikova" in Lipa; Samo Chalupka's "Likavsky Vazen" in the Orol, 1846, "Na Kral'ovej Holi," 1862, and "Junak," 1860; August Lojko's "Janosikov Stol" and "Janosikova Podkova"; Jakub Graichmann's "Harni Chlapci" in the Sakol, 1860; William Pauliny-Toth's "Junosik s milou"; Jan Cajak's "Janosik" in the Orol, 1870, and "Janosikova Nahrada," 1875; Jonas Zaborsky's "Smrt' Janosikova" in the Slov. Pohl'ady, 1894.
Paul Beblavy wrote an interesting historical story about him in the Slov. Pohl'ady, 1889; Augustus Marschal-Petrovsky, a long novel, Janosik, Kapitun Horskych Chlapcov, in 1901, Samo Zdychavsky wrote a play, Janosik,. Jonas Zaborsky, a drama, Janosikova Vecera,. Michal Skackansky, a tragedy, Janosik, 1880; L'ud. Kubany, a play, Horni Chlapci; Jur Mahen, a moving tragedy, Janosik, 1910; Frances Svoboda-Goldman, a historical drama; John Porod, a play, Janosik, 1928, etc. Other articles and historical studies about him were written by the following: Gaspar Fejerpataky in Vlast. Kalendar, 1831; Stephen Hyros in his Zamok Lykava, 1876; Pavel Dobsinsky in Prosta-narodne obycaje, 1880; Rudolph Pokorny's Z potulek po Slavensku, 1883; Jan Bobula's Janosik, 1863; K. Salva-Cebradsky's Janosik, Julius Botto in his article "Leopold I and Francis Rakoczi II" in the Slov. Pohl'ady, 1904, mentions Janosik; Carl Kalal's Slavoci a Slovensko, 1905, and his Na Krasnem Slovensku, 1903; Carl Dubravsky's Janosik, 1911; Gregor Uram-Podtatransky's "Juro Janosik in the Sbor. Muz. Slov. Sp. VIII, 1908; Jaroslav Tuma's "Janosik," in 1911, Nase Slovensko; Michal Jiranek's "Zbojnici" in Slov. Citanka, 1911; Samo Czambel's "Janosik" in Parickov's Ruzombersky Kalendar, 1913; Joseph' Skultety's "Janosikova Doba" in Slov. Pohl'ady, 1913; Ignac Gessay in the Almanac of the Slovak v Amerike; Pavel Sochan's "Zbojnik Juro Janosik," 1924. Jan L. Bella put Botto's poem, "Svadba Janosikova" to music for solo, with piano accompaniment and orchestration. Vitezslav Novak also composed an original musical score on this subject called "Janosik," which is to be found in Mladi, op. 55.
Almost without exception the foregoing works presented, Janosik as the idol of his people, as portrayed in the folk songs and ballads which have become a rich heritage of the Slovak nation. In some he is a patriot, in others a young theologian who has been led away from his high calling by the cruel circumstances of his time, while in all of them, with one exception, he is depicted as a knightly highwayman who is devoted to his poor, oppressed people. The one exception is Pavel Sochan, who endeavors to debunk all the legendary glory surrounding the name of Janosik by basing his Zbojnik Juro Janosik, akym bol v Skutocnosti (The Real Janosik) entirely on the case records found in the County Court House of Liptov. But this is, perhaps, the passing fancy of the times, to smash all the traditional idols of the past, and Sochan is one of this class of modern iconoclasts. Despite his efforts and those of others to defame the character of the legendary heroes of yesterday, the fact remains that Janosik has been an influence in popular Slovak poetry, literature, and drama, and his name is imperishable in the history of his people. Botto's poems, alone, would make his fame immortal.
Not only did Slovak and Czech writers devote their talents to the singing of his praises, but we find that the Polish author, Przerwa-Tetmajer, wrote a whole series of ballads about him, as well as a beautiful, touching poem about his death. His collection of fables, folk stories, folk songs, and poems (Baje z Tatier) was very popular in his native Poland. Vlad. Hnatjuk, the famous Ukrainian ethnographer, wrote a treatise on Janosik in 1889, and included numerous Slovakian songs about this national figure in his collection of Russian, Slovak, Moravian, and Polish folklore.
Janosik has been the frequent subject of creative art in his native country. Thus, his likeness appears on glassware, in primitive paintings, pottery, etc., in which he and his gay mountain lads are shown dressed in green blouses, red and white breeches, shiny black boots, gaily colored hats with feathers in them, wide waistbands richly studded with gold, silver, and precious stones, and armed with muskets and hatchets. Janosik always has the place of honor as the leader, while Surovec is shown brandishing his hatchet; Hrajnoha shoots off the tip of a tall pine as he leaps high into the air in a playful mood; and Gajdosik is playing his bagpipe while the others dance to his mountain music.
The Slovak artists, Mikulas Ales, Martin Benka, and Jan Alexy, have made paintings of Janosik. The sculptor Franta Uprka made a number of figures of Janosik and his companions, the best of them being his sculpture of the entire group gathered around a bonfire on the mountaintop near the Tall Pine. L. Fulla executed a gorgeous linoleum design of the group. Vladyslav Skoczylas, a Polish artist, made several exquisite wood carvings of these Tatra mountaineers of long ago. Among them are one of Janosik, alone, another of Janosik and his sweetheart, one of his profile, and a fourth of his men on the march.
Janosik's buried treasure has engaged the popular imagination everywhere in Slovakia for centuries. The probable hiding places most frequently mentioned are: Kozia Skala, located in the Sutov valley in Turiec; Janosikova Pivnica a cavern near Balna in the Nem. Lupcianska valley; Biela Skala in the Sucha Valley near Liptov; and Zemsky Kl'uc. Belopotecky's Mss., 1835, now in the Liptov Museum in Ruzomberok, refer to all these places, besides Pod Jedlou near Trnovce in Liptov, the Baranec Meadow near St. Andrew's in Liptov county, and many others. Pavel Sochan's "Janosikove Poklady" in the Slov. Pohl'ady, 1922-23, and Jan Porod's "Poklad a ine povesti z okolia Bytce" also contain clues to the secret hiding places of gold, silver, and gems. Numerous articles have appeared in the official publications of the Sbornik Muz. SI. Spol. in recent years under the title of "Janosikov Poklad." Emma Bohuna wrote a fantastic novel on the subject.
The following places have been named after the famous outlaw: Janosikova Kolkaren (Janosik's Bowling Alley) ; this is located in Liptov. Janosikove Husle (Janosik's Fiddle) in Mala Smrekovice; Janosikova Jaskyna (Janosik's Cave) in the Prosiecka valley; Janosikov Stol (Janosik's Table) in Vazec; Janosikove Sedlo (Janosik's Saddle) in the Queen's Meadow; Janosikova Stupa (Janosik's Footprint) in the Gadierska valley, in Turiec; Janosikova Stolica (Janosik's Bench) in the Vratna valley near Tarchova; Janosikova Skala (Janosik's Rock) at Lisenik, near Polhora, Zvolen county; Janosikov Chodnik (Janosik's Path) and Janosikova Jaskyna (Janosik's Cave) near Tisovce; Janosikova Podkova (Janosik's Horseshoe) in the Rimavska valley under Zlamanecin Hill; and Janosikov Skok (Janosik's Leap) at Dunajec. These and many other names will preserve the name of Janosik even if all the poems and stories disappear.
Janosik's hat is in the Liptov museum in Ruzomberok. It is made of cloth richly embroidered with gold lace and decorated with mussel shells, and is high and cylindrical in shape. His hatchet is now in the national museum at Budapest, while his pipe is in the Slovak Institute's collection. The famous belt which had been given to him by a fairy and was said to have given the Slovak hero preternatural powers, is now in the Slovak National Museum in St. Martin-on-the-Turiec. A cane and two ancient pictures of his band depicted on glass are there also. Two pictures of him are in the collection of the Moravian Natural Museum in Brno.
The Liptov Museum at Ruzomberok has a photograph of his hatchet, a copy of the paintings in Brno, a copy of the original court records of the trial of Janosik, several paintings by Fulla and Skoczylasa, and a large number of literary works. In Rovno, Joseph Buchcar is the proud possessor of an artistic leather belt, filigreed lengthwise with goose quills, which was found in his old mill in the course of some repairs. Although it is said that this belonged to Janosik, it was more probably the property of Janosik's lieutenant, Surovec, as Rovno was Surovec's home town. The Tatransky Museum has six old Polish glass likeness of Janosik and his merry men, similar to the glassware in St. Martin-on-the-Turiec. One, however, shows the outlaws carrying a bag of ducats, another has the picture of his sweetheart. The collection there contains four pistols, ten knives, four powder horns, and a bag (empty) in which the robbers used to carry their stolen ducats.
Beneath the paintings of these colorful personalities of Slovak folklore there is a brief explanation of the initiation of new members to the robber gangs. They were required to prove their prowess in shooting off the tip of a tree with a pistol, or cutting it off with a throw of a hatchet, by drinking a bottle of brandy, and then by performing the difficult "Robber's Dance." The initiation took place in the evening around their bonfire. Each outlaw was armed to the teeth with a hatchet in his belt, a brace of pistols, and a musket. Of course there was the powder horn, the wide belt, the knapsack, a Hussar's hat, and the brightly colored shirt and trousers to make up the rest of their accoutrement. Janosik's breeches were said to have been red and white in color.
It seems incredible, in view of Janosik's fame, that no monument stands to honor his memory, or that no plaque marks his birthplace. But he lives in the hearts of his people, hence needs no image of iron or stone to remind them of his life and his deeds. No other record exists of the merry mountain boys who had been Janosik's companions. Most probably they disbanded and under assumed names followed peaceful and honorable professions until the end of their lives. Uhorcik, however, was caught and executed; and "Red" Ondras disappeared in the vicinity of Tesinka while Janosik was still at large.
The woodlands grew silent and peaceful with the passing of Janosik from the scene. The songs of, his merry men were silenced forever, and the forests were left undisturbed for the deer, bear, fox, and wild boar as they went about unchallenged. And high o'erhead, an eagle on swift and silent wings surveyed the glen far below, abandoned and cheerless, for the happy throng of Janosik's youths had dispersed ...and their chief was dead.
V. XLV, Nos. 1-2, 1929, by Cyprian Tkacik, O. S. B.
Go Back to Part One
Slovak Tales for Young and Old in English