Pan Twardowski and the Devil, or the Art of the Deal

Dr. Faust was not the only alchemist to sell his soul to the Devil. While the character etched out by Marlowe and Goethe is among the most celebrated, other humans have also tried to bargain with the Father of Lies, with predictable results. However, it is possible that the Polish sorcerer Pan (lord) Twardoski got the last laugh: here is his story.

During the reign of the very real 16th century polish king Sigismund Augustus, Twardoski made a name for himself as a magician and astrologer. This eventually got the attention of the king, whose wife, (the also historically real) queen Barbara Radziwiłł, had died after just five months on the throne (her life was also filled with supernatural intrigue, including accusations of witchcraft). Visiting the palace in Kraków, Twardoski was able to do the impossible: he summoned the beautiful but very deceased Barbara in a magic mirror; the king was suitably impressed, and Twardoski was handsomely rewarded.

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Twardoski Summoning Queen Barbara

Enjoying his success, Twardoski went on to write two books, one on magic, the other, a dictionary – both allegedly dictated by the Devil. So what hold did Twardoski have on Satan? A contractual loop-hole…

Twardoski had sold his soul to the Devil, but he had added one line to the contract: the Devil had agreed that he wouldn’t take his soul until Twardoski visited Rome – a city he had no intentions of ever going to. And so Twardoski went about his years, using his ill-gained powers to acquire fame and wealth. There was only one catch: the Devil could demand an audience anytime he liked, within the city limits of Kraków.

And so it was, one fine day, that the Devil gave Twardoski an address to broker a visit. Being complacent by this point, Twardoski didn’t pay attention to the details, which is where the devil always hides: Twardoski found himself at the Rome bar and grill.

What happened next is questionable; Twardoski might have escaped in the nick of time on a giant magical rooster, or repented to the Virgin Mary enough to win Her Grace as the Devil was whisking him away. Either way, he fell mid-flight from the heavens, and landed on the moon. He’s still there, with a magical familiar, a spider who he sends down to Kraków every now and then to catch up on the latest gossip.

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Twardoski’s magical rooster

Today, there are several inns and pubs in Kraków named Rome (Polish: “Rzym”), some of which claim to be the Rome where the Devil came for Twardoski. A church in Węgrów purports to have the magic mirror Twardoski used to summon queen Barbara. The mirror was alleged to have oracular powers until 1812, when it was broken by an angry Napoléon Bonaparte, who was enraged over a vision of the downfall of his empire. Finally, in the city of Bydgoszcz, there is an animatronic Twardoski who comes out daily at 1:13 pm and 9:13 pm to ghoulish music and devilish laughter, takes a bow, waves his hand, and disappears.

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Pan’s Mirror, replica

Maybe Pan Twardoski really did get the last laugh.

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Animatronic Pan

Now, as previously mentioned, both king Sigismund and queen Barbara were real, flesh and blood people, which leads us to the first question: was there a real Twardoski? Some scholars have argued he was a German nobleman based on the etymology of his name. Others have connected him to the English alchemist John Dee, who was a court advisor to queen Elizabeth I, or spirit medium and Dee associate Edward Kelley, both of whom lived in Kraków for a while. Beyond those conjectures, we know nothing for certain.

The next question: if there was a mister Twardoski, was there a misses? Since we don’t know who he was for sure, nothing can be said about the real Mrs. T, but that hasn’t stopped her from being fictionalized.

In the 1883 musical ballad Pani Twardowska, Pan Twardowski agrees to go to Hell on one condition: the devil must live with his wife, Pani Twardowska, for a full year. Apparently, Pani (lady) is a mischievous as her husband; the devil flees from her, breaking his contract, and once again, Twardoski is saved from the flames of hell.

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That’s the Art of the Deal, courtesy of Pan Twardowski.

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