Br(u)no: The Mythology of Brno
Photo: Brno Days 2018. Credit: K. Xagorari.
Everybody likes a story. A beginning, a conflict, a resolution — it is hard-wired into all of us on a subconscious level.
That is why creation myths are so important. We naturally want to know about our beginning because we want to understand where we fit in the overall story and, although it is the biggest mystery of all, we want to know how it all ends.
Creation myths are everywhere. Families have them. Corporations have them. Projects have them. They provide the context through which we process information. They help to make sense of complex aspects of our lives and personalities.
Perhaps the most famous is that of the Bible. Genesis 1:3: Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
The city of Rome has the Capitoline Wolf. She nurtured the twins Romulus and Remus in the 8th century BC before they grew into adults and Romulus killed his brother. For some, the fact that Rome, founded by the survivor, began with fratricide explains centuries of violent political upheaval.
The United States tried to use its creation myth to end the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving — the happy-ending story of the Pilgrim Fathers celebrating their survival of the first winter on the new continent — as a national holiday in 1863. It was not considered a Northern story or a Southern story. It was an American story.
Here, in central Europe, Čech, one of three brothers who explored Europe, came upon Říp Mountain, which is south of present-day Litomerice. He looked around and proclaimed: “This will be the home for my people.” Similarly, the location for Prague was founded by Libuše when she stood on a hill over the Vltava River: “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.” She was a princess, so people started building.
So, what about Brno?
Our mythology will be celebrated this week.
* * *
Brno does not have a creation myth as much as it has the-city-is-saved myths. There are two important ones.
The first is about a dragon, which looks like an alligator, but that is not the point. The beast, which is hanging in the main entrance corridor of the Old City Hall, terrorized the residents and devoured their livestock. A visitor came and developed a plan: Trick the beast into eating an animal skin full of caustic lime. It worked. The beast died a painful death.
It is not an entirely unique story. Nevertheless, it is the reason Brno has athletic teams with mascots like the Draci and the Alligators.
The second story is based in history, with a little bit of legend thrown in. It, too, has a marker in central Brno: the Chronometer on náměstí Svobody. There are also various statues around the castle.
During the Thirty Years War, Brno found itself in the pathway of the powerful Swedish army. It was 1645 and the Swedes had gone through much of Europe. They stopped here to ransack the city. The Brno defense, however, was stiffer than expected. Days turned into weeks and then into months. The soldiers began to get tired and annoyed.
Finally, Field Marshal Lennart Torstensson, a mythical figure who was considered immortal and could only be killed by a magic projectile, decided for one more assault on the city. If the city did not fall by the noon bells, they would all move on.
Brnoan spies learned of the instructions and established a plan.
The battle raged through the morning, more fiercely than it had before. Then, as the Swedes were just about to breach the walls, the bells rang. . .
[I like to imagine this moment: Did all of the commotion of the battle suddenly stop? Did the soldiers on both sides, breathing deeply from excursion, stand around awkwardly counting the number of rings?]
. . . and the Swedes relented and retreated. Brno was saved.
Little did the Swedes know that the noon bells had actually run an hour early at 11.
And that is why Brno’s noon bells still ring an hour early.
* * *
Brno Days will be Thursday to Saturday this year. It is a great time to get out and image the city as it once was, including parades and costumes and reenactments of the battles.
* * *
Do you know of an interesting creation myths? Please share.
I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to email@example.com.