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King Svatopluk and the Three Sticks

IN THE late 800s King Svatopluk had founded the Greater Moravian Empire. It included Bohemia, the southern part of modern Poland, and the western part of modern Hungary. King Svatopluk governed with a strong hand, a stubborn will, and a wise head, and successfully defended his empire against enemies who wished to conquer it.

But a time came when Svatopluk grew old and sick, and he worried about the future of his country. One day he sent for his three sons, and they came to his bedside. He said to them, "My sons, my strength is failing. I fear that I may not live very long. And so I have sent for you to say what is in my mind. I have worked long and hard to build this empire. Soon it is you who will have the responsibility of defending it and keeping it united. We have enemies whose constant aim it is to destroy it. I implore you to protect our empire."

Svatopluk was silent then for a moment. He motioned for a servant to come to his bedside and spoke to him in a low voice. The servant went out of the room, while Svatopluk's three sons stood and wondered. In a few minutes the servant returned with three long flexible sticks, which he placed in the hands of the king. The three sons looked at the sticks uncertainly. King Svatopluk smiled and said. "As you may observe, these sticks are thin and can be bent easily by the pressure of the hands."

He then gave the sticks back to the servant and instructed him to bind them together. The servant bound them round and round with a cord, till they resembled one single stick instead of three.

"I fear for you, my sons," the king continued. "You quarrel among yourselves. If you continue to live in this way, you will lose the lands that are your inheritance. Only if you are united will our empire survive."

Svatopluk took the bundle of sticks from his servant and handed it to his sons. He said, "I want you each, in turn, to try to break this bundle of sticks."

So each son, in his turn, took the sticks and tried to break them. Not only did they fail to break them, they found it almost impossible to make the sticks bend.

"This is the lesson of unity," the king said. "If you remain bound together in peace and common purpose, you will be strong and invincible. Let us hope that."

He then ordered the servant to unbind the sticks and give one to each of the sons. The young men took their individual sticks, and the king said, "Now let me see you break the sticks you hold in your hands."

Each of the sons broke his stick in two without any difficulty.

"This is the lesson of disunity," Svatopluk explained. "If you do not work together, you will be weak and will be broken. This is my last warning to you. Live together in harmony and common purpose, and no power will be strong enough to defeat you. Face your foes together with courage, determination, and fearlessness. Govern with justice, mercy, and charity. Then neither corruption from within nor attacks from without can break your strong alliance."

This was King Svatophik's advice to his sons. It was not many days after that he died.

But they soon forgot their father's advice. They found it impossible to agree among themselves. They continued to quarrel, and one by one they were conquered and broken. Invaders came from the East and the West, split up the empire, and ruled over the people.

From the Czechoslovak region - The theme of being able to break sticks singly but not when they are bound together appears frequently in Western folklore, but is used to project different ideas also. In this case the theme is that "In unity there is strength." A similar idea appears in the Latin E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one). That motto appears in the Great Seal of the United States, where the "many" stands for Americans: many of them are of different tribes and nationalities.


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