Přzibislav of Maghrebinia.

Slavomír Čéplö aka bulbul posted on Facebook (reposted from Johannes Preiser-Kapeller):

In the Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit (PmbZ), one can find an entry on a certain Prince Přzibislav of #Maghrebinia, who had intensive diplomatic contacts with #Byzantium in the 9th century.

As already Alexander Beihammer pointed out in his contribution to “Prosopon Rhomaikon”, this and some connected entries (such as the one on a certain “Chuzpephoros”) are based on the “Maghrebinische Geschichten”, a collection of short stories by the author Gregor von Rezzori (1914-1998), which take place in the fictitious (!) country of Maghrebinia in Southeastern Europe.

Ralph-Johannes Lilie, the initiator of the PmbZ, used these collections of satirical stories like a historical source and smuggled the resulting entries into the prosopographical database. Thus, unfortunately, you will not find #Maghrebinia among the adressees of the #Byzantine Emperor in De cerimoniis…

I shake my head in wonderment. It would be one thing for an easily distracted blogger like myself to mistake a fictional kingdom for a part of actual Byzantine history, but for the Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit to do so should be deeply embarrassing, if not humiliating, for that presumably august institution. I wonder if they’ve noticed? As Slavo said, “it’s the -řz- that gets me.”


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    One reason to be suspicious, it seems to me, is that “Maghrebinia” (with its obvious echo of the Maghreb) does not even try to sound like a Balkan toponym. Some interesting tidbits about the author from wiki auf Englisch. His full name was Gregor Arnulph Herbert Hilarius von Rezzori d’Arezzo. He grew up in the Bukovina, descended from an ethnic-Italian family who had been relocated there by his father’s assignment in the Hapsburg civil service. “He was fluent in German, Romanian, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish, French, and English; during his life, von Rezzori was successively a citizen of Austria-Hungary, Romania, and the Soviet Union, before becoming a stateless person and spending his final years as a citizen of Austria.”

    Also this, noting that he was quite a well-known and popular writer in West Germany circa 1959 but by the time of his death some decades later had faded into obscurity. https://www.dw.com/en/gregor-von-rezzori-memoirs-of-an-anti-semite/a-45087837

    Some but not all of his books have been translated into English, but alas apparently not the intriguingly-titled _Idiotenführer durch die deutsche Gesellschaft_

  2. David Marjanović says

    I’m out of words.

    Idiotenführer durch die deutsche Gesellschaft

    Intriguingly-titled indeed.

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    Chuzpephoros is transparently “bearer of chutzpah”, but I don’t get przhtsibislav. Just funny consonant cluster with standard name ending?

  4. Following the link, Přzibyslav’s second name is given as “Křziwousty” (Wrymouth), so at least they are consistent in the use of “řz”, even though they apparently had harder time deciding whether to write v or w.

    As the z in older Czech (or modern Polish) rz plays the same role of a palatalisation marker as the caron over ř, using both in řz is a bit overkill. Yet this double marking (and the inconsistency in v/w use too) is reminiscent of some 19th century German transcriptions of Czech names, such as using čz instead of č in “Přitočzno” (standard “Přítočno”) on this map. On the other hand, that they did not do the same thing with ř despite having the opportunity (Přibyslav is rendered as PŘIBISLAW on the same map); also there’s some logic behind the čz [tʃ] spelling, as c [ts] was sometimes spelled cz.

    Another possible explanation is that řz is a typo for rž, which was a way of writing ř (alongside cž for č) in some versions of Czech orthography in 16th century prints, typically in Fraktur-like fonts.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    I have some vague recollection of other fictional characters making their way into supposedly factual reference works, but actual instances escape me at present. I may be thinking of news reports, where the bar is lower (one supposes.)

  6. Just funny consonant cluster with standard name ending?

    Přibyslav is real name which actual people can bear even today, even if few choose to. And it is a small town as well, as linked in my previous comment. Interestingly enough, the -slav ending words are masculine when used as personal names, but feminine when refering to settlements, such as Boleslav or Vratislav (the latter temporarily occupied by various foreign powers since 1740).

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    temporarily occupied by various foreign powers

    Like Llundain!

  8. Make Llundain Cymraeg Again!

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    Unfortunately it seems as if the various Silesian autonomist/irredentist/independentist movements over the last century or so have generally been limited to Upper Silesia, so they may hope for the liberation of Katowicy (not Katowice or Kattowitz, please), but Vratislav may be outside the scope of their (current?) ambitions.

  10. Stu Clayton says

    I have some vague recollection of other fictional characters making their way into supposedly factual reference works

    There is much ado about devils and angels in the Christian bible. In order to minimize cognitive dissonance, many prefer to take it as an entertaining Disney production that points a moral. Even those who take it seriously work as script rewriters and pitch their own versions.

  11. I don’t think Von Rezzori has „faded into obscurity“ in the German speaking world, or at least not in Austria. I read his „Memoiren eines Antisemiten“ a few years ago (the twist – he is not actually anti-Semitic). He is must reading for anyone interested in the vanished world of Central Europe between the wars, and a good writer to boot.

  12. Stu Clayton says

    There exist editions of what seems to be the same book under the title Denkwürdigkeiten eines Antisemiten. I suppose that’s to avoid scaring off potential bien-pensant buyers.

  13. Stu Clayton says


    No obscurity here, only a copy-editor flub-up:

    # Von [einem Journalisten in Hamburg] zum gerade gegründeten Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunk vermittelt, arbeitete Rezzori (bis 1948) als Journalist und Hörfunkautor in den Ressorts Politik, Kultur, Unterhaltung und Musik. Als Reporter berichtete er von den Nürnberger Prozessen.[4] So ist er (mit Andreas Günther) in einer Übertragung aus dem Gerichtssaal während der Urteilsverkündung gegen die Nürnberger Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher am 1. Oktober 1946 zu hören.[5] Später war er freier Mitarbeiter des NWDR. Im Nachtprogramm erzählte er die ersten seiner Maghrebinischen Geschichten. Diese witzigen, mitunter tolldreisten Anekdoten und Legenden aus dem balkanischen Phantasieland Maghrebinien begründeten Rezzoris Welterfolg als Schriftsteller. #

  14. Is it reasonable to assume von Rezzori means D’Arezzo? Were both part of his name, or did it vary with his current location or audience?

    We had a local politician here in Chicagoland with a name presumably related or cognate to Přzibyslav, a certain Mayor Przybylo. His power base was ownership of one of the primary wedding/banquet halls for the Polish community.

  15. I like the cautious statement in the German Wikipedia article: “Die Ahnentafel blieb bei einer Prüfung in den 1950er Jahren durch das Deutsche Adelsarchiv teilweise unbelegt.”

  16. Stu Clayton says

    Yeah, you don’t want to destroy the repute of someone’s great-great-granny. But great houses are sometimes built on great stable boys and strapping barmaids.

  17. Stu Clayton says

    I just looked up the etymology of “morganatic”.

    # Morganatic, already in use in English by 1727 (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), is derived from the medieval Latin morganaticus from the Late Latin phrase matrimonium ad morganaticam and refers to the gift given by the groom to the bride on the morning after the wedding, the morning gift, i.e., dower. The Latin term, applied to a Germanic custom, was adopted from the Old High German term *morgangeba (modern German Morgengabe), corresponding to Early English morgengifu. The literal meaning is explained in a 16th-century passage quoted by Du Cange as, “a marriage by which the wife and the children that may be born are entitled to no share in the husband’s possessions beyond the ‘morning-gift'”.[7][8] #

    Dower and dowry are counterparts !!

  18. Vanya is right: Rezzori definitely did not “fade into obscurity”. He was quite well known in the German speaking world. He appeared on television. I think it was in the early 1990s that I read one of his essays where he speculated on connections between Lolita and On the Road.

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    It appears to have been imprudent of me to trust Deutsche Welle on the trajectories of authorial prominence in the German-speaking world. Maybe their piece was written by a 20-year-old intern who’d never personally heard of him and generalized?

  20. David Marjanović says

    I’ve never heard of him either, and I remember the early 90s – though the only literature-related TV figure I noticed at that time was Marcel Reich-Ranicki.

  21. January First-of-May says

    One reason to be suspicious, it seems to me, is that “Maghrebinia” (with its obvious echo of the Maghreb) does not even try to sound like a Balkan toponym.

    Yeah, I thought the same thing. “Maghrebinia sounds like an African place, why’d they have anyone with that kind of name there?”

    And yes, Przibislav does appear to be an authentic Slavic name, though indeed the -řz- spelling is quite unwarranted.

  22. Another possible explanation is that řz is a typo for rž, which was a way of writing ř (alongside cž for č) in some versions of Czech orthography in 16th century prints, typically in Fraktur-like fonts.
    I think the most likely answer is that Rezzori chose the spelling for increased weirdness in what are, after all, humorous stories.
    I have some vague recollection of other fictional characters making their way into supposedly factual reference works
    The best-known German example is the Stone Louse.

  23. I have just learned, from Johannes Preiser-Kapeller at Facebook, that it was a deliberate “joke”:

    These entries were done by the initiator of the Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit himself – as a “practical joke”, like the entry on “Apopudobalia” (a – fictitious – ancient form of soccer/football) in the “New Pauly” Encyclopedia of ancient studies.

    As I responded there: “Not my kind of joke, though; people rely on such databases.”

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    Heestory of early medieval Balkans eez no laughing matter!

  25. Hans: Speaking of weird names, I’d never have guessed that Pschyrembel is for real.

  26. It very much is, we even have a Pschyrembel in our home library 🙂

  27. Trond Engen says

    In current news: Proxima salsicii.

  28. @Trond Engen: I sent that link to a friend yesterday. His response:

    It makes a pretty good star. Modern art opportunity:

    A series investigating which sausages best represent celestial bodies.

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