That the most famous statue in all of Hungary commemorates a man whose name is not even known may seem strange at first. The lack of knowledge about the 12th-century monk now known only as "Anonymus" (not a misspelling of "anonymous"), however, may be what gives the statue its mystique and makes it so compelling.
Anonymus was the notary of Béla III, king of Hungary in the late 12th century, and actually referred to himself as "Master P." What brought him the fame that has lasted eight hundred years was his Gesta Hungarorum, or "History of the Hungarians." The Gesta was one of the earliest Hungarian history texts. It was written in Latin in the early thirteenth century, although the only known copy of it was not found until the eighteenth century in Vienna. The work depicts the events surrounding what is known as the "Hungarian conquest," or the settling of the Hungarians in the Carpathian basin which lies north of the Adriatic Sea and is where Hungary is today.
Anonymus's Gesta Hungarorum and many later works by other historians drew from an eleventh-century work, the Gesta Ungarorum. This earlier Gesta was written by an unknown author, and its text has never been found, but all other Hungarian histories until about the end of the thirteenth century were also given the title of Gesta Hungarorum.
The accuracy of Anonymus's Gesta has been called into question; descriptions of it vary from "a masterpiece of objective narration and description" (Wagner, 84) to the claim that "it was evident that Anonymus did not have the faintest idea about the real state of affairs in the Carpathian basin at the time of the Conquest. He was consequently forced to rely on his own imagination" (Engel, 11). Anonymus also made a case for the rule of Hungary by people other than those who were in charge at the time in his Gesta, which may have had something to do with its not being discovered for six hundred years (Engel, 88).
The statue of Anonymus, created by Miklós Ligeti in 1903, sits in front of Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest's Városliget (City Park). It is very much larger than life, unless people were bigger back in the 1200's than they are now. The great monk sits poor-posturedly but sublimely, resplendent in monkish robes, with a tome in his left hand and a stylus in his right. The cowl of the robe obscures his face, appropriate for a man about whom so little is known, and inscribed in the stone beneath his seat are the Latin words "ANONYMUS = GLORIOSISSIMI BELÆ REGIS NOTARIUS," which my poor knowledge of Latin tells me translates roughly to "Anonymus = most glorious notary of King Béla."
The statue's thighs are worn smooth from people sitting on his lap - a seat on the lap of such a stern-looking fellow is a fantastic photo op for Hungarians and tourists alike. Touching his stylus is supposed to bring good luck with one's studies.
Hungary's commitment to science and mathematics is exemplified by this most famous statue of a scholar, rather than of a ruler or a warrior; it's appropriate that it is this statue at whose feet Pál Erdős, himself exemplary of Hungarian mathematics, used to meet colleagues in the 1930s to talk politics and do math. If you ever get a chance to visit Budapest, be sure to make your way to Városliget to see Anonymus. You'll be in good company.
Engel, Pál. The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895-1526. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2001.
Hoffman, Paul. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth. New York: Hyperion, 1998.
Wagner, Francis S. Hungarian Contributions to World Civilization. Center Square, Pennsylvania: Alpha Publications, 1977.