Women on the Verge of History: Libuše and the Foundational Legend of Prague

Alfred Thomas

in Prague Palimpsest

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780226795409
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226795416 | DOI:
Women on the Verge of History: Libuše and the Foundational Legend of Prague

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This chapter deploys the textual metaphor of the palimpsest—rather than the painterly image of the pentimento—to explore the constant revision of the foundational legend of Prague from the late tenth to the late nineteenth century. Prague has always been haunted by the spirit of its founder, Princess Libuše. The fact that this mythic founder of Prague is a woman complicates the way medieval writers respond to the legend. On the one hand, they acknowledge Libuše's primacy as the matriarch who prophesies the rise of the city; on the other hand, this authority clearly conflicts with the standard medieval misogynistic perception of women as inferior to men. Although this ancient legend is often presented as timeless and transcendental, it has in fact been rewritten numerous times to accommodate the ideological interests of medieval rulers, Renaissance antiquarians, and nineteenth-century nationalists. Paradoxically, this myth of origins is a narrative without an origin, its teleological prophesies of a glorious future for the city frustrated by the fragmented nature of its telling. The chapter explores this constant reinvention of the legend of Libuše from its earliest shadowy attestation in the tenth-century Legenda Christiani (The legend of Kristián) to the fin de siècle.

Keywords: Prague; central Europe; Princess Libuše; late nineteenth century; Kristián

Chapter.  12214 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature

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