Original Characters
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Original Characters
The Old Translation
The New Translation
So what?

Henryk Sienkiewicz's series of historical romances, published between 1883 and 1888, is set in 17th-century Poland. Each of the parts deals with a different war of this period of turmoil. The political plot blends with the private plot; the latter always revolves around an Eternal Triangle of the male Polish protagonist, the maid in distress, and the more or less foreign and/or fascinating villain.

Let us see if this model is reflected in the Polish original of the Trilogy. The characters whose "idiolects" have been plotted in the figure below include:

Ogniem i mieczem 
(Part One)
  • Skrzetuski, the gallant Polish noble

  • Helena, the beautiful Ukrainian

  • Bohun, the romantic Cossack warrior

(Part Two)
  • Kmicic, the flamboyant Polish cavalry commander

  • Olenka, the beautiful Polish Lithuanian

  • Prince Boguslaw, the cynical Polish cosmopolite

Pan Wołodyjowski 
(Part Three)
  • Wolodyjowski, the diminutive yet brave Polish swordsman

  • Basia, his beautiful Polish tomcat wife

  • Azja, the merciless Tartar leader

As can be seen above,  Sienkiewicz presents a very uniform group of idiolects of ethnic Poles and stresses the national difference of three protagonists. Any differences between the Polish characters are insignificant in comparison with those of the three outsiders. Other differentiating elements (gender, hero/villain, part of series) are not visible; in fact, of the three villains, the Polish one remains with his countrymen.

What is more, placing your cursor over the diagram you will observe that the foreign villain is also very different from the other two characters in "his" part of the Trilogy; when the villain is Polish, all three main personae of the "private" plot speak the same language. It is easy to see that Sienkiewicz did the best job of differentiating his characters' idiolects in Ogniem i mieczem, the first novel of the series (marked in red in the diagram).

Let us now see if this layout at all translates into English.

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© Jan Rybicki 2003