There is a wide range of legends and myth connected to the origins of Hungary and to Hungarian folklore. We already wrote about several aspects of Hungarian culture, for example, the famous Turul bird and some animals our culture regards with special significance. Today we will introduce you to the strongest of Hungarian people, some of them only exist in myths, while others were historical persons, but time elevated them to legendary heroes who are often called ‘vitéz’ – a word dedicated to the biggest heroes – in Hungarian.
Our first candidate is Botond, whose legend dates back even before the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin.
The Hungarians could not rest, their fighting spirit has not been broken even after the calamity in German land. They rallied their forces and did not stop until the doorstep of the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor got frightened by the sight of the Hungarian army and closed all seven of his doors to stop them from entering. He advised them to spare the lives of both the Greek and Hungarians. The Emperor recommended the sending of champions from both sides. He said that if the Greek win, the Hungarians must leave but if the Hungarians win, they will pay whatever tribute the Hungarians demand. “Deal” – said one of the Hungarian leaders – “Let that champion come!”
Not even a full hour has passed when a giant came out the gate of the city. He proudly shouted to the Hungarians: “Who dares to take the fight with me?” The Hungarians looked at each other and their gaze filled with rage. A hundred shouted that they will take on the fight, but the boldest among them was Botond. A stubby and husky man stepped forth from the crowd. He said to the Greek champion: “Hear me, you Greek giant, Botond is my name. The smallest ’vitéz’ among Hungarians. You should have two other Greek help you in the fight against me.”
Botond seized his mace, span it above his head twice and threw it with such force that the gate was cracked in half. The weapon made such a huge gap that a five-year-old could easily go in and out. “It is a pity that you threw your mace.” – said the giant. “I need no mace, nor sword” – Botond answered and threw himself at the champion bare-handed. Botond grabbed the giant and smashed him to the ground with such a force that if the Greek had seven souls, all of them would have been torn out of him.
The Greek Emperor was ashamed. They sat on top of their castle and thought that their giant could defeat any of the Hungarians, yet he was unable to overcome the smallest. The Greek withdrew into their castle and paid as much tribute as the Hungarians liked, just to be left in peace by the Hungarians.
The second ‘vitéz’ on the list is Toldi, who became a major part of Hungarian literature thanks to the works of János Arany.
His person was believed to be fictitious for a long time because only a few information survived about his life. With the help of awards, they proved that Miklós and Görgy Toldi lived in the era of Lajos the I. What is certain is that he was an intellectual person as well, he probably learned Latin. He served under Meggyesi and, as he took part in Lajos Nagy’s campaign in 1351-52, it is probable that Toldi was part of his entourage.
He soon became the familiar of Miklós Váradi, archbishop of Esztergom. Toldi’s duty was specifically military duty here. As the vassal of the archbishop, he was often in the proximity of the king. In 1359 he was tasked with fetching two lion cubs from Florence. He spent years in Italy in several military missions and lead mercenaries that joined forces with other nations.
From 1366 he was part of the king’s court and was awarded the highest titles in quick succession. He became vassal of Lajos Nagy.
The earliest and most detailed source is Péter Ilosvai Selymes’ fine history: History of the renowned deeds and championhood of the famous Miklós Toldi (Debrecen, 1574)
In folktales, the legend of Toldi survived the longest in Nógrád and Bihar county. They emphasized his immense physical power, but they say that he lived during Mátyás’ reign. The famous story goes as Mátyás’ retinue asked Toldi once which way to go to Buda. Toldi gripped a giant tree log with one hand and used it to show the direction to the knights and they immediately hired him as a soldier and he became a‘vitéz’.
Probably the most famous literary works concerning Toldi’s life is the Toldi-trilogy of János Arany (Toldi, Love of Toldi, Toldi’s Night)
The last candidate for this article is Mátyás’ renowned ‘vitéz’ and captain, the historical Pál Kinizsi.
Pál Kinizsi is the most well-known general of Hungary. He is a hero, whose superior army leading and fighting skills, as well as his immense power and consecutive triumphs, have elevated into a person of legends. As a general Kinizsi never lost a fight while he lived.
The name Pál Kinizsi is first mentioned in the footnote of one of Mátyás’ decreed from 1467. His exact day of birth is unknown, however. According to historians, he was of aristocratic origin, he was probably the offspring of a minor noble family in Bihar. It is known that his father fought against the Turks alongside János Hunyadi. In 1472, Kinizsi was gifted the castle of Vázsony for his loyalty.
Kinizsi, alongside István Báthory Transylvanian voivode, have achieved a major victory over the Turks at Kenyérmező. The following can be read in Antonio Bonfini’s contemporary report about the battle: “Pál Kinizsi grabbed two swords, one in each hand and waded in blood wherever he stepped, wherever he went. He unstoppably trampled over his foes, he reaped them in wide rows and ruthless bloodshed was left in his wake.”
In 1494 he saved Nándorfehérvár from treason. He tortured those soldiers who tried to give the fortification up for the enemy. Kinizsi eventually found his end during the siege at Szendrő.
If you are interested in other Hungarian folklore elements, you can read about the famous Turul bird in one of our previous articles. If this does not quench your thirst for our mythology, then this article about the sacred animals of Hungarians might give you what you need.
Source: Daily News Hungary