By Simas Suziedielis
Matthew Stryjkowski (1547-after 1586), author of the first printed history of Lithuania.
He was descanted from Masuria (Mazovia) and was educated at the University of Cracow. Serving in the Lithuanian army from 1565 on (with an interval of two years 1567-1569, spent in Cracow), he collected documentary material, travelled from town to town and castle to castle. And took part in the War of Livonia. While in the army he met the Italian officer and chronicler Alexander Gucasion to accuse of plagiarising his own major work, the Cronicle.
The Polish work, entitled Kronika Polska, Litewska, Zmudzka I wszystkiej Rusi (Chronicle of Poland, Lithuania, Samogitia, and all the lands of Russ, Königsberg, 1582) put events in Lithuania at the centre and then tied those in neighbouring countries around the former.
In 1578 Bishop Merkelis Giedraitis of Samogitia, an active supported of cultural activities in Lithuania, had appointed Stryjkowski, a member of the laity, to his diocesan chapter, thereby helping to support the writing of the Chronicle.
Stryjkowskis Chronicle begins with a versified biography of the author and a dedication to King Stephen Bathory (1576-1586).
Throughout the from the distant past to his own time , Stryjkowski includes a number of dedications to members of the aristocracy, particularly the Giedraitis family. He shows himself to be an adherent of the myth that the Lithuanians were descended from the Romans, even to the point of creating genealogies for a number of prominent families. In general, he did not consistently separate legend from fact, although he was more accurate in recounting events nearer to his own time. Still, he did not entirely refrain from making gratuitous additions to the testimony of his available sources and from occasionally inventing historical dates to give his chronology a more concrete appearance. On the whole, however, he based himself on Lithuanian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish chronicles and other records , consciously attempting to gather and to compare as many of these as possible. Out of Lithuanian chronicles he copied entire excerpts or at least provided an abbreviated account of them. Some of his sources have since to assess the reliability of a number of his claims. But the information he gives on his own times must certainly be deemed valuable, as many of his remarks concerning towns, castles, customs, traces of the ancient folk faith, and holidays are derived from personal observation. While living in Samogitia he had an opportunity to become acquainted with the local scene and, perhaps, even to learn Lithuanian: there are a number of Lithuanian expressions and bits of dialogue in his work. Indeed, Stryjkowski largely assumed the political attitudes of his Lithuanian hosts; he defended their determination to retain the independence of Lithuania within the context of its union with Poland; heaped praise on Lithuanian rulers and their deeds; rejected many tendentious explanations that he found in Polish chronicles; and sought instead to substitute a properly Lithuanian interpretation of certain events.
Strykowskis Chronicle remained the principal source of information about Lithuanias past until the beginning of the 19th century. Thus, Alber Kojalavicius, a Jesuit historian, made heavy use of the work in writing his own two-volume history of Lithuania (Historiae Litvanae, 1560 and 1669), of which Alber Ludwig von Schölzer made a German summary, 1789. The Chronicle itself was reprinted in its entirety in 1766 and 1846 and continued to be of use to Theodore Narbut for his Dzieje narodu Litewskiego (I-IX, 1836-1841) and to Simonas Daukantas for his Istorija zemaitiska (A Samogitian History, 1835).
Strykowskis partiality to Lithuania has brought him sharp criticism from Polish authors. They have generally held his work to be worthless, a judgement which goes beyond what can in fairness be held against him and other chroniclers writing under the influence of medieval and early Renaissance ideologies. Recently Polish writers have begun to pay more attention to Stryjkowski, but only as an exponent of polish Renaissance literature, not as a historian of Lithuania.
From the Encyclopedia Lituanica. V. Boston, 1972
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