According to an old legend, Twardowski was a nobleman (szlachcic) who lived in Kraków in the 16th century. He sold his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and magical powers. However, Twardowski wanted to outwit the devil by including a special clause in the contract, stating that the devil could only take Twardowski’s soul to Hell during his visit to Rome – a place the sorcerer never intended to go. Other variants of the story have Twardowski being sold to the devil as a child by his father.
With the devil’s aid, Twardowski quickly rose to wealth and fame, eventually becoming a courtier of King Sigismund Augustus, who sought consolation in magic and astrology after the death of his wife, Barbara Radziwiłłówna. He was said to have summoned the ghost of the late queen to comfort the grieving king, using a magic mirror. The sorcerer also wrote two books, both dictated to him by the devil – a book on magic and an encyclopedia.
After years of evading his fate, Twardowski was eventually abducted by the devil at an inn called Rzym – the Polish name of Rome. However, while being spirited away, Twardowski started to pray to the Virgin Mary, who made the devil drop his victim midway to Hell. Twardowski fell on the Moon where he lives to this day. His only companion is his sidekick whom he once turned into a spider; from time to time Twardowski lets the spider descend to Earth on a thread and bring him news from the world below.
Some historians speculate that the legend was based on the life of a historical person in the 16th century. According to one theory, the real Twardowski was a German nobleman who was born in Nuremberg and studied in Wittenberg before coming to Kraków. His speculative name Laurentius Dhur was Latinised to Durus and in turn rendered as Twardowski in Polish; durus and twardy mean “hard” in Latin and Polish respectively.
The title Pan, used as a universal honorific and polite form of address in modern Polish, was reserved for noble persons at the time the tale developed and was roughly equivalent to the English Sir (see Polish name). Twardowski’s forename is sometimes given as Jan (John), although most versions of his tale do not mention a forename at all.
Pan Twardowski in literature, music and film
The legend of Pan Twardowski inspired a great number of Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and German poets, novelists, composers, directors and other artists.
One of the best known literary works featuring Pan Twardowski is the humorous ballad Pani Twardowska by Adam Mickiewicz (1822). In this version of the story, Twardowski agrees to be taken to Hell on the condition that the devil spends one year living with his wife, Pani (Lady) Twardowska. The devil, however, prefers to run away and thus Pan Twardowski is saved. Stanisław Moniuszko wrote music for the ballad in 1869.
Other works based on the legend include:
- Pan Tvardovsky, an opera by Alexy Verstovsky, libretto by Mikhail Zagoskin (1828);
- Mistrz Twardowski [Master Twardowski], a novel by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1840);
- Tvardovskiy, a ballad by Semen Gulak-Artemovskiy;
- Pan Twardowski, a ballet by Adolf Gustaw Sonnenfeld (1874);
- Mistrz Twardowski, a poem by Leopold Staff (1902);
- Pan Twardowski, a ballad by Lucjan Rydel (1906);
- Pan Tvardovsky, a film by Ladislas Starevich (1917);
- Pan Twardowski, a ballet by Ludomir Różycki (1921);
- Pan Twardowski, a film by Wiktor Biegański (1921);
- Pan Twardowski, czarnoksiężnik polski [Pan Twardowski, a Polish sorcerer], a novel by Wacław Sieroszewski (1930);
- Pan Twardowski, a film by Henryk Szaro, screenplay by Wacław Gąsiorowski (1936);
- Pan Twardowski oder Der Polnische Faust [Pan Twardowski or The Polish Faust], a novel by Matthias Werner Kruse (1981);
- Dzieje Mistrza Twardowskiego [The Story of Master Twardowski], a film by Krzysztof Gradowski (1995).
Pan Twardowski is also a popular character in the folk art of the Kraków region. He may be found, for example, in some of the famous Cracovian cribs (szopki). He is typically depicted as a Polish noble either riding a rooster or standing on the Moon.
Places associated with Pan Twardowski
Pan Twardowski is said to have lived in or near Kraków, the capital of Poland at the time. Different places in Kraków claim to be the exact location of Twardowski’s house. The sorcerer might have lived either somewhere in the city center, near the Rynek Główny or Ulica Grodzka, or across the River Vistula in the village of Krzemionki (now part of Kraków).
Across Poland, there are a number of inns and pubs called Rzym, all of which claim to be the one where Pan Twardowski met the devil.
In the sacristy of a church in Węgrów, hangs a polished metal plate claimed to be the magic mirror which once belonged to Pan Twardowski. According to a legend, it was possible to see future events reflected in the mirror until it was broken in 1812 by Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte of France when he saw in it his future retreat from Russia and collapse of his empire.