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Polish Myths and Legends

Katarzyna Raburska

The Legend of Smok Wawelski
(the Dragon from Wawel)



Every nation has its own traditions, and an integral part of these traditions are countless myths and legends. Even though they are considered only partially true they still constitute an important aspect of national heritage. At first oral, then written stories are handed down from generation to generation. Despite changing times and cultural trends the great national value of these stories remains intact across the centuries, enriching the national culture and identity of the people. Just as England has its legends about King Arthur and Camelot, so Poland has its own legends about kings, princesses and dragons. The most famous dragon, well known to every Polish child, is the legendary Smok Wawelski who inhabited a cave near the Wawel Castle in Kraków.

“Once upon a time there was an awful dragon that kept threatening the people of Kraków. He slew the innocent, devoured their domestic animals and plundered their belongings. Nobody could prevent his hideous deeds. The King of Kraków, desperately worried by the tragic situation in the city, promised the hand of his daughter to anyone who could defeat this terrible creature and free the inhabitants of Kraków from his tyranny.

One day, a poor shoemaker hit upon a clever idea. He stuffed a sack with sulphur and planted it close to the dragon’s cave. The dragon, thinking this to be a nice titbit, gobbled it up in the twinkling of an eye. Very soon he started to feel enormously thirsty. He was forced to drink half of the Vistula River, and as a result, his stomach kept swelling and swelling and eventually it exploded, killing him!  Thus the idea of a simple boy saved the lives of the whole of the city of Kraków. As promised the boy married the king’s daughter and the pair lived happily ever after.”

People say that dragons do not exist and they are merely the products of human imagination.....but I would not be so sure about Smok Wawelski! If ever you happen to visit Kraków, go to the dragon’s cave at the Wawel Castle and listen carefully to the whispers and voices of the old walls....perhaps they will tell you the truth about their notorious companion!


  • QUESTIONS:
  1. Some stock words and phrases routinely occur in legends and fairy stories. Below are three of these phrases in English. Can you find Polish equivalents?

    Once upon a time….
    …in the twinkling of an eye….
    …they lived happily ever after.

    Can you add any other stock phrases (in English or Polish) to this list?

  2. The legend of Smok Wawelski contains many of the typical elements of a good fairy story…. the evil enemy (in this case, the dragon), the terrorised citizens, the worried king, the beautiful princess and the poor, but clever and brave hero. Can you identify other typical elements of this genre? Is it possible to identify any elements that are unique to Polish or British legends, or do all the themes have a more universal application?


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