Monday, April 20, 2015

Q: by Quartering (26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary)

"So, what are your plans for the future?"
"Well, everyone in the region hates us, so we'll take on this love religion thing, and whoever doesn't want it will be quartered."
- Belga: Ló rider

This quote comes from a genius historical nerdcore rap song full of completely untranslatable puns, about the Hungarian Conquest and our hazy 10th century history. And the event it refers to is probably the most famous religious civil war in the history of Hungary.
We even have a rock opera about it.

Remember István I, the first Christian king of the brand-spanking-new Hungarian kingdom? Well, he's back again.
István's father, Géza, was the chief of the Hungarians. He himself was not big on Christianity, but was wise enough to recognize that the only way to survive in Europe was to become a Christian kingdom. He raised his son, Vajk, to be a king after him, and he was baptized with the name István. When  Géza died in 997, however, there was a bit of a dispute. According to eastern nomadic traditions, the oldest male member of the family was supposed to inherit, and marry Géza's widow - that was a man named Koppány. According to western customs of inheritance, the rule went to the first-born son - to István, that is. Since these two views were impossible to reconcile, a war broke out soon after Géza died.
István was aided by western knights (mostly Germans, brought to his support by the relatives of his wife, Gisela). Koppány is usually remembered in legend as a pagan, although it is very likely he was baptized as Greek Orthodox. Whatever the case, the conflict went down in history as the deciding moment between Christianity (and becoming a European kingdom) and the old ways (and probably disappearing like the Huns and the Avars did).
The war ended with Koppány's defeat. He was captured, quartered, and the four parts of his body nailed to the gates of four cities - Győr (my hometown!), Veszprém, Esztergom and Gyulafehérvár - as a warning, and as a sure-fire way of reminding people that István was the boss now. His rule was not contested again for decades after this.

The single most famous rock opera in Hungary (István, a király - István the King, 1983) is based on this story. It pictures Koppány in a favorable light who fights for the freedom of his country from the rule of the Pope (look at the year, this was made at the tail end of the communist regime), and István as religious, but conflicted about fighting his own people. It is a classic that pretty much everybody knows (and most people can sing from memory).
So, yeah. We have a musical about people getting quartered.

Here is Koppány's famous "freedom" song:


And here is Koppány and István's duet, "too late for peace" (where István offers to hand over the throne if Koppány takes on Christianity, which he refuses):

24 comments:

  1. Ugh, how gruesome to be quartered! I suppose it's not the first time this kind of butchery has happened in the world. I have to say that seeing things through your eyes and listening to the rock opera (very cool) makes me feel I know Hungary better. Thanks so much for sharing your culture with us. This really has been a fascinating series.
    Inventions by Women A-Z
    Shells–Tales–Sails


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  2. We watched a series called The Tudors, about Henry VIII and there was a quartering scene, or maybe it was a guy being dragged behind horses. Anyhow, it was pretty nasty. Those times seemed pretty brutal, but maybe our times are only look more sanitized on the surface.
    Maui Jungalow

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  3. You can't really argue with having a rock opera about your struggle and death really can you? What a monument :). Of course winning and not dying might have been more favourable at the time ;)
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  4. ha ha, I did not know you were even here! Impressive and great theme.

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  5. Does quartering (a word which my barbaric spell check just corrected for me) actually work how it's intended? I picture three of the four guys being like 'all I got was a hand / foot' while the last guy is all jacked up that his 4th is essentially complete (minus a foot and some hands).

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    1. Depends on how you do it I guess. The one with horses is probably messy, but I am sure there was some other way to get each city a more or less equal portion...

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  6. OMG those songs are AMAZING! :D

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  7. Damn, even without the untranslatable puns, that quote was brilliant.

    On an unrelated non sequitur, I can't help but think of quarter chicken dinners right now...

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    1. Hah :D
      The entire song is brilliant. I always wanted to make a translation, but it would probably need a couple of hundred footnotes...

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  8. A rock opera? Those sounds neat! Those songs were awesome. Thanks for sharing them!

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  9. It's not the Middle Ages until someone gets quartered. ;) And I'm loving the rock opera. Hungary is seeming pretty badass right now.

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  10. As a Russophile, quartering immediately makes me think of rebel leader Stenka Razin. That's an ugly, macabre fate for anyone.

    That's awesome that you're from Győr! It's been one of my favorite Hungarian cities since I became a Magyarphile 20 years ago, and was also the topic of my G post last April. The Laurel-Esterházy family of my Atlantic City books are originally from Győr.

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  11. Quartering, I can't believe i did not foresee that, terrible way of dying. The opera sounds remarkable, maybe one day I can get to see it, but I'll certainly google it.

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  12. I had the honor of seeing this musical in Szeged. It was 1990 and the production was outside in front of the double towers of the church. I loved it.

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  13. Now that's an unusual subject for a musical. They had interesting ideas about decorations back then too!

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  14. Ah, quartering. The classic and ever popular way of doing someone in. I wonder if he had all the extra added attractions done to him before or if those were later additions.

    I'm learning so much about Hungarian history through this.

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  15. Dead by quartering. Can't wait to see what you come up with for Z

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  16. You win the fun post today! Quartering and a rock opera? Come on. Awesomely gruesome followed by awesome. Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie

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  17. Now I wish I spoke Hungarian, so I could listen to rock opera. :D

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    1. There is a video on Youtube with English subtitles. The translation is awkward (google) but it is better than nothing.

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  18. A musical about people getting quartered. Now I've seen it all! xD

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  19. Such a violent way to go... At least we can guess his religion wasn't a passing fad. Yikes!

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  20. I knew and loved the Hungarians when I listened to this rockopera. But I have a question: Koppány's daughter implores for her father's body to give it a decent burial but Sarolt denies and sends her off. Was Koppány captured (and quartered) alive or dead?
    The Middle Ages were the worst era to live; here where the Byzantines ruled there was impalement as a means of punishment. Later when the Ottomans came there was skinning alive.

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