BIERNAT OF LUBLIN (Lubelczyk, Lublinius, Bernardus Lubliniensis)—writer, poet, translator, regarded as the first Polish paremiographer (expert in proverbs) and fable-writer, b. around 1465 in Lublin, d. around 1529.
From the hand-written note Biernat made in A. Borromaeus’s work De Christiana religione contra Hebraeos around 1516, we know that from 18 years of age that he was in service in the Lublin area and in Rogóźno (near Grudziądz) under G. and M. Bystram, the bookseller Łazarz in Lublin, F. Kallimach, and others. From 1492 to 1516 he was chaplain, secretary, and physician in the court of John Pilecki in Pilcz. In 1516 he left the Pilecki court, perhaps because of a widely read letter criticizing the principles of the Catholic faith and the papacy that he had written to Szymon, a bookseller in Kraków. We have no certain knowledge of the remaining years of Biernat’s life. Possibly he was for a time a professor of law at Jagiellonian University and spent time in the land of the Czechs and in Germany. At the time he maintained relations with printers in Kraków, especially with F. Ungler who printed his works: a prayer book Raj duszy [Paradise of the soul] (Kr 1513), reworked from a Latin text, regarded as the oldest presently existing Polish book (8 pages have been preserved), and a collections of fables, Ezop, to jest opisanie żywota tego to mędrca obyczajnego [Aesop, which is a description of the life of this sage of customs] (Kr 1522), and we know of the publication of Żywot Ezopa Fryga [Life of Aesop the Phrygian] (Kr 15782). Aesop’s fables were known in medieval Latin literature, but Biernat provided them in a Polish version and made them a part of Polish literature. Besides a biography of Aesop, Ezop contains 210 fables and around 270 proverbs. These compositions are set to verse, of a philosophical and moral character with a pedagogical and social accent, and full of allusions to those times.
As for the rest of Biernat’s works, we are uncertain who is the real author of many of them. A reworked version of Pseudo-Lucian’s Dialogue of Palinurus with Charon is ascribed to him. He is also said to be the author of Sprawa a lekarstwa końskie przez Conrada królewskiego kowala doświadczone [Equine matters and medicines experienced by Conrad the royal blacksmith] (Kr 1432, 1564), O różnych rzeczach i gadaniach w Sarmacji [On various things and sayings in Sarmatia] (1529), a loose translation of the Czech treatise Historia o szczęściu [Story of happiness] (1522), known as Fortuny i cnoty różność w historii o niektórym młodzieńcu ukazana [The difference of fortune and virtue shown in the story of a certain youth] (1524), a translation of books from St. Augustine’s O żywocie krześcijańskim [On Christian life], and Kroniki Janczara [Chronicles of Janczar] (1522).
Biernat wrote much, but most of his writings have perished. A factor in their disappearance was probably the inquisitorial action of the Church, which was an enemy to his views, especially his political views. His philosophical thought was connected with the epoch in which he lived, with the social-political situation and economic changes in Poland. They were tendentiously presented by the Marxists who saw in him a precursor of the Reformation and an adherent of the ideas proclaimed by Marxism.
Biernat was a moralist and presented his views in the form of verse and metaphor. He had confidence in popular wisdom, and so he looked to popular lore and morality. He was one of the first writers to write in the national language (he is regarded as the father of Polish literature), but his works possess literary, linguistic, and intellectual value, hence his esteemed place in the history of Polish literature.
J. Malarczyk, Doktryna społeczno-polityczna B. z Lublina [Social-political doctrine of Biernat of Lublin], Annales UMCS, Section G. Jus 1 (1954) n. 6, 333–402; idem, Elementy naukowe twórczości Biernata z Lublina [Scientific elements of the work of Biernat of Lublin], Studia i Materiały z Dziejów Nauki Polskiej [Studies and materials from the history of Polish science] 4 (1956), 111–134; S. Świrko, B. z Lublina, pierwszy paremiograf i bajkopisarz Polski [Biernat of Lublin, the first paremiographist and fabler-writer of Poland], Literatura ludowa [Popular literature] 3 (1959) n. 5–6, 12–23; S. Grzeszczuk, Sporne i niesporne problemy bibliografii B. z Lublina [Disputed and undisputed problems of the bibliography of Biernat of Lublin], in: Ksęga pamiątkowa ku czci Stanisława Pigonia [Remembrance book in honor of Stanisław Pigoni], Kr 1961, 1 143–152; J. Krzyżanowski, Dzieje literatury polskiej [History of Polish literature], Wwa 1979, 44–46; J. Ziomek, Literatura Polska (przewodnik encyklopedyczny) [Polish literature (encyclopedic guide)], Wwa 1984; I 85; S. Grzeszczuk, Opowieść o karierze błazna—“Ezop” B. z Lublina [Story of a clown’s career—Biernat of Lublin’s “Aesop”], in: Arcydzieła literatury polskiej [Most important works of Polish literature], Rz 1988, II 5&nash;27; J. Abramowska, Polska bajka Ezopowa [Polish Aesop’s fable], Pz 1991, 107–115; T. Michalowska, Średniowiecze [The Middle Ages], Wwa 1996, 640, 653, 783–784.