Slavic antithesis

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The Slavic antithesis is a stylistic device used in Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Macedonian epic poetry. It is usually implemented at the beginning of the poem and consists of three parts: a question is asked, then a negative answer is given, and finally the real explanation is provided. The first two parts of the Slavic antithesis are usually similar, while the last verse (the explanation) differs. The first two parts (a question and a negative answer) are descriptive and are simply there to increase the power of the third part (the explanation). Many poems use the same descriptive lines while only changing the last line.[1]


This is an example of the Slavic antithesis from the beginning of the Serbian epic poem "Mali Radojica":[2][3]

Mili Bože, čuda golemoga,
ja li grmi, ja l' se zemlja trese,
ja se bije more o mramorje,
ja se biju na Popina vile?
Niti grmi, nit se zemlja trese,
ni se bije more o mramorje,
ni se biju na Popina vile;
već pucaju na Zadru topovi.

English translation:

Oh, dear God! A great Wonder!
Is it thunder, is it the earth quaking?
Is it the sea which clashes 'gainst the coastland?
is it the vilas fighting over Popine?
It isn't thunder, nor is the ground shaking,
nor is the sea clashing against the coast,
nor are the vilas fighting over Popine;
It is the cannons, fired at Zadar.

The final line is explanatory and supported by the previous descriptive lines, which give it impact on the audience. However, in other poems the descriptive sound of the first three lines (similar to waves breaking on seashores or earthquakes) may speak of the hoof-beats of the hero's horse, the clash of armies or the power of God.

The Slavic Antithesis is also exemplified by one of western pop culture's most iconic lines: "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No...It's SUPERMAN!"[4]


  1. ^ Similarity of "Jablan na Konju" with "Mali Radojca" and "Svetci blago dijele"
  2. ^ See: Wikisource:Mali Radojica
  3. ^ Yugoslav Epic Preambles, by Eugene E. Pantzer. 1959
  4. ^ Sims-Williams 2010, chap. 4.

Sims‐Williams, Patrick (2010). "Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature". Oxford University Press.

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