Nowe Ateny (New Athens) is the abbreviated title of the first Polish-language encyclopedia, authored by the 18th century Polish priest Benedykt Joachim Chmielowski. The first edition was published in 1745–1746 in Lwów (Lviv); the second edition, updated and expanded, in 1754–1764.

Nowe Ateny – title page
Illustration of a dragon from Nowe Ateny. Commentary from Nowe Ateny: "Dragon is hard to overcome, yet one shall try"

The first part of the full title was: New Athens or the Academy full of all science, divided into subjects and classes, for the wise ones to record, for the idiots to learn, for the politicians to practice, for the melancholics to entertain issued... [note 1]

Organization and contentEdit

The first edition of the encyclopedia contains 938 pages. It has a subject (not alphabetic) organization. Chmielowski compiled data from a few hundred references, dating from antiquity to his contemporary.

Almost every sentence in the book is in-line referenced, frequently in Latin, a lingua franca in Poland among the educated classes as in most of Central and Western Europe of the 18th century. To the data from more than a hundred original authors, Chmielowski added personal annotations, for example, "Dragons existed for sure, I myself held, visiting Radziwills' castle, a rib of a dragon bigger than a regular sabre". Judging from the inclusion of numerous stories, anecdotes, and description of strange phenomena and exotic countries (like China, Japan), the encyclopedia was directed towards a rather popular audience and aimed to arouse readers' curiosity and desire for learning.


The encyclopedia was the object of harsh critique in the Enlightenment period. It was given as an example of ignorance, stupidity and superstition, contrasting with the Enlightenment thought.

Nowe Ateny is the source of a few memorable and amusing "definitions", often quoted in Poland to this day:

  • Horse: Everyone knows what a horse is.
  • Goats are a stinking kind of animal.

The humor was probably unintentional by the author.[citation needed] Rather, he did not see the benefit of defining the most common animals of the time and place for his intended audience. Furthermore, the entry for "Horse" does contain more detailed exposition beyond the initial "definition".[1]

In modern Polish, the above definition of the horse is sometimes used as a colorful equivalent of the statement "the concept is more obvious than it appears to be from its more technical definition".

In the last few decades, opinions about Nowe Ateny have changed for the positive. The quotations above are fragments taken from a broader context. For example, Chmielowski wrote more than 15 pages about the horses in his monumental, 3000 page encyclopedia (four volumes).[2][3][4]


  1. ^ Chmielowski, Benedykt (1745). Nowe Ateny [New Athens] (in Polish). Lviv: Drukarnia Pawła Józefa Golczewskiego. p. 476.
  2. ^ Paszyński, Wojciech (15 September 2014). "Czarna legenda Nowych Aten Benedykta Chmielowskiego i próby jej przezwyciężenia". Prace Historyczne. 2014 (Numer 141 (1)): 37–59. doi:10.4467/20844069PH.14.003.2197.
  3. ^ Paszyński, Wojciech (2014). "Czarna legenda Nowych Aten Benedykta Chmielowskiego i próby jej przezwyciężenia". Prace Historyczne. 141 (1): 37–59.
  4. ^ Paszyński, Wojciech (20 November 2014). "Czarna legenda Nowych Aten Benedykta Chmielowskiego i próby jej przezwyciężenia". Prace Historyczne. 141 (1).


  1. ^ Polish: Nowe Ateny albo Akademia wszelkiej sciencyi pełna, na różne tytuły jak na classes podzielona, mądrym dla memoryału, idiotom dla nauki, politykom dla praktyki, melancholikom dla rozrywki erigowana...


  • Wojciech Paszyński, Ksiądz Benedykt Chmielowski – życie i dzieło Diogenesa firlejowskiego, "Nasza Przeszłość" 2015/2, t. 124, s. 105–136.
  • Wojciech Paszyński, Czarna legenda "Nowych Aten" Benedykta Chmielowskiego i próby jej przezwyciężenia, "Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego. Prace Historyczne" 2014/1(141), s. 37–59.

External linksEdit