Pan Twardowski (Polish pronunciation: [ˈpan tfarˈdɔfski]), in Polish folklore and literature, is a sorcerer who made a deal with the Devil. Pan Twardowski sold his soul in exchange for special powers – such as summoning up the spirit of Polish King Sigismund Augustus’ deceased wife – but he eventually met a tragic fate. The tale of Pan Twardowski exists in various diverging versions and forms the basis for many works of fiction, including one by Adam Mickiewicz.
According to an old legend, Twardowski was a nobleman (szlachcic) who lived in Kraków in the 16th century. He sold his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and magical powers. However, Twardowski wanted to outwit the devil by including a special clause in the contract, stating that the devil could only take Twardowski’s soul to Hell during his visit to Rome – a place the sorcerer never intended to go. Other variants of the story have Twardowski being sold to the devil as a child by his father.
With the devil’s aid, Twardowski quickly rose to wealth and fame, eventually becoming a courtier of King Sigismund Augustus, who sought consolation in magic and astrology after the death of his beloved wife, Barbara Radziwiłł. He was said to have summoned the ghost of the late queen to comfort the grieving king, using a magic mirror. The sorcerer also wrote two books, both dictated to him by the devil – a book on magic and an encyclopedia.
After years of evading his fate, Twardowski was eventually tricked by the devil and caught not in the city, but at an inn called Rzym (Rome in Polish). While being spirited away, Twardowski started to pray to the Virgin Mary, who made the devil drop his victim midway to Hell. Twardowski fell on the Moon where he lives to this day. His only companion is his sidekick whom he once turned into a spider; from time to time Twardowski lets the spider descend to Earth on a thread and bring him news from the world below.
Some German historians have suggested that Twardowski may have been a German nobleman who was born in Nuremberg and studied in Wittenberg before coming to Kraków. His speculative name Laurentius Dhur was Latinised to Durus and in turn rendered as Twardowski in Polish; durus and twardy mean “hard” in Latin and Polish respectively. There is also some speculation that this legend was inspired by the life of either John Dee or his associate Edward Kelley, both of whom lived in Kraków for a time.
The title Pan, used as a universal honorific and polite form of address in modern Polish, was reserved for members of nobility (szlachta) at the time the tale developed and was roughly equivalent to the English Sir (see Polish name). Twardowski’s forename is sometimes given as Jan (John), although most versions of his tale do not mention a forename at all. This, however, may have resulted as a confusion between Pan Twardowski and a Polish Catholic priest writer, Jan Twardowski.