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A bujdoso Balassitol a meggyaszolt Zrinyi Miklosig.

Gyorgy Gomori. A bujdoso Balassitol a meggyaszolt Zrinyi Miklosig. Budapest. Argumentum. 1999. 236 pages. isbn 963-446-099-2.

From the Exiled Balassi to the Lamented Miklos Zrinyi" would be the translation of the title of George Gomori's book, whose studies focus on approximately one hundred years of Hungarian historical contacts in terms of literary and documentary traces and fame, commentary, bibliography, philology. Gomori is known to the Hungarian literary public as a poet, as a teacher of Polish literature and language, and as a philologist cum literary historian. In researching and writing this handsome volume, he was wearing his third hat, one difficult to doff because it fits him. The nineteen studies - some of them originally book reviews - map a not sufficiently illuminated literary corner of Hungarian history, as received and recorded in Hungary or documented abroad, which was, on the whole, not uncharted territory before him.

What Gomori does in the course of his studies here is the work of a surveyor who adds new and valuable details to a relatively less known but existing map, thereby leading us to some modified or new discoveries, and to rediscoveries as well. The philologist Gomori is ably and demonstrably wearing his second hat too, that of a Polish literature scholar, since the first six of his essays tie Hungarian literature to Poland, specifically through the valiant figure of Balint Balassi, the tireless soldier-lyricist, lover extraordinaire, and rapacious nobleman - something of a Hungarian Philip Sidney and Walter Raleigh rolled into one, with the characteristics of a gentle Petrarch, a wild Benvenuto Cellini, and a studious Giovanni Botero. (The last less saintly than his patron, Borromeo.)

There are two types of interests (and perhaps two kinds of readers needed for them) in these essays: those of scholarly discoveries - e.g., the Balassi crest in Wroclaw - and the disputations with other literary interpreters concerning Balassi's lovers and muses. The two, Gomori surmises, are not always the same. His Poland research on Balassi's soldiers may modify the rough and ready judgment that he himself was a brave but foolhardy lieutenant. (Was he a captain, as Gomori states?)

"Literary exchange" is a modern concept, but it was one already present in antiquity, in the Renaissance, and in the late Renaissance as well. We are treated here with a new menu of delectable courses, whereby the reader's appetite is whetted by the many side dishes as the surveyor's eyepiece shifts from Polish to Hungarian soil, then to Czech land, to Transylvania, and so on, as far as England. This variety is justified by the Hungarianness of each topic, as each of the separate pieces is connected with the same tendency, the same underlying ideas: how much did the Hungarians know of their eminent contemporaries, and to what extent did others understand Magyar situations, Hungarian issues?

When Gomori draws a poetic portrait of Istvan Bathori, the Transylvanian king of Poland, or analyzes a Czech poem written to Gabor Bethlen, Transylvania's best ruler, our picture of these two great statesmen and commanders becomes automatically clearer, more complete. There is another aspect, half hidden yet half apparent, in the research and treatment of the Hungarian polymath and polyglot Albert Szenci Molnar. This Hungarian scholarly peregrine is justly most famous for his Bible studies, his translations and interpretations, his rare philological insights, his bibliographic awareness.

The figure of Szenci, in real life and in Gomori's treatment, is a corporeal and spiritual bridge between the poet Balassi of the late sixteenth century and the statesman Bethlen of the early seventeenth. The translations of the Psalms by Szenci could not have been accomplished in their ultimate poetic perfection without the antecedents of Balassi's religious poetry. Szenci's scholarly books, his final station in his homeland of Kolozsvar, and his conscious extending of the frontiers of Hungarian culture could not have been achieved without the farsighted support of the Transylvanian ruler, Gabor Bethlen. Dacia dat tumulum, "Erdely gives me the final rest," wrote Szenci in his diary.

Up to that point, and from his early youth, Albert Szenci Molnar was, despite his four returns to Transylvania, in voluntarium exilium. As a young man abroad, he had a curious dream. In Strasbourg he dreamed that he was back in Transylvanian Hungary wishing to be in Strasbourg. Such symbolic dreams persist in most places: in Rome, in London, on the Isle of Wight. Hugo had similar dreams, as did Thomas Mann in the USA, and Gomori (even after periodic returns) himself.

Szenci had an undoubted mission, even more difficult for him to define than to carry through. He wanted (using such means as books, travels, sermons, conversations, donations, and religion) to spread what was best in "Hungarianness" and to inject the best of "foreign culture" (including that of the Testaments) into what was "Hungarian." In his own way Gomori wants to do the same. I do not wish to compare cultural rank, only inner inspiration, in associating the psalmist Szenci with the poet Gomori.

The volume concludes with examples of the "Zrinyi cult" in England. Apart from his many good examples, Gomori may have looked into John Ryland's Zrinyi books. The Zrinyi manuscript (Sloane 1381) in the British Library is not as unknown as he thinks. This reviewer has also noted it but - fair is fair - has not published his translation. All in all, George Gomori has written an enjoyable and scholarly book, demonstrating that research need not be tedious and showing that poets, scholars, and humanists have always been transcending frontiers. "From Zrinyi" is a contribution to the cultural domain of comparative literary history.

Thomas Kabdebo

Maynooth University (Ireland)
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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