Wednesday, March 29, 2017
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Famous Poles: Chopin, Copernicus, and Curie

How many people of Polish origin are famous all over the world? Quite a few but we need to distinguish between these who are known all around the world and these who are known mainly in Poland.

There are few who are famous in Poland and abroad. Nikolaus Copernicus (in Polish Mikolaj Kopernik) was a famous astronomer and a creator of a theory of heliocentric system.

Maria Curie, nee Sklodowska was another Polish scientist with a significant contribution into understanding of modern physics. She and her husband discovered two new chemical elements, radium and polonium. The name "polonium" originates from the name of her beloved country, Poland of course. Maria was awarded by two Nobel Prizes. This is unusual both for a scientist and for a woman. Her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, continued a work started by her parents and was also awarded with a Nobel prize.

The other famous Pole was Frederick Chopin. He was born in Poland, he was influenced by Polish folklore music especially in his mazurkas, polonaises, ballades and preludes which he created. But his last years (he died before reaching 40, on tuberculosis) were spent in France.

These three famous people have something in common. They all were influenced by multiple cultures. Their magnificent work could probably be done for this very reason. Copernicus was growing up in Polish-German family, he was studying in Krakow (Poland) and in Italy and his work was all written in Latin. Maria Sklodowska went to France to study in Sorbonne and she married a Frenchman, Peter Curie. In that time she would be unable to study sciences at the Polish university (besides, Poland did not exist as an independent country). This just proves how different cultures are mutually entangled.

There are also some Poles who became more famous abroad than in their own country. Casimir Pulaski, a hero of the independence war in America. He was exiled for advocating independence in Poland. His military expertise made him the father of horse cavalry in the U.S. armed forces.

Bronislaw Malinowski was also a Pole, an anthropologist, who became famous after studying a life of native tribes in New Guinea. He held many positions at the university level including London, Cornell, Harvard and Yale Universities but he is the most famous by his books.

Joseph Conrad (Teodor J. Korzeniowski) although born in Poland spent most of his life abroad. No wonder since his mother died when he was seven and his father was sent to an exile by czarist authorities for translation of Hugo's and Dickens' stories into Polish. Conrad is the most famous for his sea stories like Nostromo, Lord Jim etc.

John Paul II, born as Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice near Krakow is not only famous because he is a pope. But he also created a papacy which is much closer to people. He is a charismatic person who contributed to the fall of communism. He traveled extensively visiting Catholics in almost all countries he could. He was chosen twice a person of a year by Time magazine. Lech Walesa, a Solidarity hero is another Polish symbol of fight for independence and a Nobel Peace Award winner.

At the end let me mention the names of Poles who influenced greatly Polish language, literature and art. They are not known abroad as much as in their home country. Jan Kochanowski, a poet of Renaissance contributed greatly to a development of a Polish literary language. Adam Mickiewicz is considered a biggest Polish poet of a Romantic epoch and a great patriot. Henryk Sienkiewicz's historical stories were an inspiration for Poles. He won a Nobel Price in literature. Jan Matejko was a great artist of historical scenes of glory in times of captivity. The link above would lead to some of his greatest work.

There are more names like than that. This article is just too short to list all of them.

In the future I would try to write more about people who were inspiration in their times. There is an extensive information on the Internet about many of these people (just click the name of the person and it leads to the link). So, I would try to cover some unconventional and little known information about some of the famous Poles or the foreigners who were somehow related to Poland. I would also try to write about these who are almost unknown or forgotten abroad but worth to learn more about because of their outstanding work or unusual activities.

Recommended reading(s):

Maria Curie I recommend a very interesting biography of Maria Curie by Sarah Dry Curie (Life & Times)

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