Juliusz Słowacki

an outstanding poet of the Romantic period
one of Poland’s Three Bards together with Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński

4th September 1809

Słowacki’s birth in Krzemieniec; after the death of his father Euzebiusz Słowacki (a literary historian, poet and pedagogue) in 1814, he’s raised by his mother Salomea Słowacka née Januszewska, later the wife of August Bécu, a professor at Vilnius University, whom she marries in 1818; he grows up in the intellectual circles of Krzemieniec and Vilnius


law studies at Vilnius University


he’s hired by the Diplomatic Office of the National Government. He goes to Dresden, and continues on to Paris and London as a diplomatic courier


he publishes his Collected Poems, full of allusions to Shakespeare, Byron and Mickiewicz

December 1832 – February 1836

he stays in Geneva, where his intense meditations on his nation’s history and the role of literature result in the drama Cordian (1834)

24th August 1836

together with Zenon Brzozowski he sets out on a journey to the East, travelling from Naples to Otranto, then on to Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon; in Lebanon he visits Beirut, Baalbek and the monastery of St. Anthony in Ghazir (the Betcheszban monastery), where he stays from ca. the 20th of February till the 1st of April 1837, working on his prose poem Anhelli. From Beirut he returns to Livorno via Tripoli, ending his trip on the 16th of June 1837; his peregrinations in the East followed in the footsteps of other European Romantics before him: François-René de Chateaubriand, Alphonse de Lamartine


the prose poem Anhelli, written during his stay at the Betcheszban monastery, is published in Paris. Its structure reflects Słowacki’s fascination with Dante and his Divine Comedy: the poem depicts a journey of the master (the Shaman) and his apprentice (Anhelli) through the circles of Hell, symbolised by Siberia – the hell of Polish exiles; another result of his Eastern tour is the poem A Journey from Naples to the Holy Land

3rd April 1849

he dies in Paris; in 1927 his ashes were removed from the cemetery in Montmartre and laid to rest in the Wawel Castle next to Adam Mickiewicz

Salomea Słowacka-Bécu
an oil painting by Bonawentura Klembowski
ca. 1820, the Museum of Literature in Warsaw

Euzebiusz Słowacki
an oil painting by Józef Pitschmann
early 19th century, the National Museum in Warsaw

Słowacki’s home in Krzemieniec
an aquaforte etching by Józef Pieniążek
1927, the Museum of Literature in Warsaw

Jordan Naples Otranto Corfu Zante Argos Corinth Athens Tripoli Livorno Syros Alexandria Sais Gaza Jaffa Ramla Arish Asyut Dendera Thebes Karnak Luxor Medinet Habu Armant Edfu Latrun village Cairo Philae Island Patras Vostiza (Aigio) Jerusalem Jenin Tiberias Damascus Beirut Tripoli Ghazir (the monastery of St. Anthony) Ghazir (the monastery of St. Anthony) Nafplio (Napoli di Romania) the Dead Sea Mar Saba Monastery Mar Saba Monastery Bethlehem Bethlehem Jericho Bira Nablus the Sea of Galilee (Genezareth) the Sea of Galilee (Genezareth) Nazareth Nazareth the Anti-Lebanon Mountains the Anti-Lebanon Mountains Baalbek the Megaspileon monastery the Megaspileon monastery


I daresay you will be surprised upon receiving this letter, which I am writing just as I’m about to set out. I’m going east to Greece, Egypt and Jerusalem; this endeavour, long in the making and more than once discarded on account of being too terrifying, has finally come to fruition. […] The Fils attempted to dissuade me, but just as I was trying to decide whether I should undertake the voyage or not, I opened my Bible at random and fate swayed me with the following verse: “The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings”. Perchance, dearest, you’ll consider it superstitious, but in this verse I have put my trust and it shall guide me in my long journey… Tonight at midnight I shall leave Naples for Otranto — then on to Corfu — from Corfu to Athens — from Athens to Alexandria. […] I expect this voyage to be of much benefit to myself, if only in fortifying that strength of character which is required for the undertaking and completion of any strenous plan; indeed, this would be profit enough. I shall see new lands and new people; I shall live among them; I shall ride camels and travel in caravans; I shall ponder death by the Tomb of Christ, and I shall pray there for all those I hold dear. And then, with a heart full of memories and images, I shall return to a quiet solitude somewhere in Europe.

A letter by Juliusz Słowacki to his mother
24th August 1836, Naples

The opening page of Słowacki’s Eastern Notebook (the Russian State Library in Moscow)

Słowacki’s travel notebook reflects his creative process: the first drafts of his works, loose notes, sketches. The opening page includes the first lines of the journal, a shopping list and a drawing of his travel clothes.

Travel Journal

Otranto, 29th August 1836, Monday

I have finally set out on my godly journey, via Greece and Egypt to Jerusalem; and here I am now, on the Adriatic shore. I could but lift my foot and step into any of the waves that come crashing on the sandy beach, and thus send my farewell to Italy. At present I’m waiting for the ferry, which arrives weekly at Otranto and then returns to Corfu, by which manner I intend to get to that Anglo-Greek city. I daresay, my dearest, you won’t be able to comprehend what persuaded me to undertake such a journey… truly, I cannot explain even to myself why, with such sad abandon, I throw myself into a strange world full of dangers, just as Greece is overrun with strife, and Egypt – with plague.    

A page from the Eastern Notebook with the opening verses of Song I from The Journey from Naples to the Holy Land (the Russian State Library in Moscow)