Bugarštica (pronounced [bûɡaːrʃtitsa] or [buɡǎrʃtitsa]) is a form of epic and ballad poetry, which was popular among Serbs and Croats until the 18th century, sung in long verses of mostly fifteen and sixteen syllables with a caesura after the seventh and eighth syllable, respectively. They include the oldest known recorded epic poems, written down in the 15th century.
It is considered to be older epic layer of South Slavic oral tradition which existed probably before the 15th century, and disappeared by the middle of the 18th century. The earliest known poem classified as bugarštica was recorded in 1497 by Italian poet Rogeri de Pacienza di Nardò. He was present when it was sung by refugees from the Serbian Despotate who had settled in the village of Gioia del Colle, southern Italy. During the 16th–17th centuries they were collected in Dalmatia and the Bay of Kotor, on the Adriatic Coast and islands, by learned poets and priests (Petar Hektorović, c. 1555; Juraj Baraković, Nikola Ohumućević, Jozo Betondić, Djuro Matijašević etc.), about 85 bugarštica songs in total. They were published in the late 19th century by Franz Miklosich, Alexander Hilferding, and most completely by Valtazar Bogišić (1878).
Although some bugarštica's content is closely related to historiography, especially to the history of Ludovik Crijević Tuberon and Mauro Orbini's Il regno de gli Slavi (1601), they are generally deemed to be oral songs, transmitted orally. The bugarštica's themes vary not only in the scope of this type, but also in respect of decasyllabic songs. They sing about prominent battles (Kosovo 1389, 1448; Varna 1444 etc.) and Serbian, Hungarian, Croatian, Bosnian feudal lords 14th-16th centuries, and local battles in Perast and Boka Kotorska in the 17th century. They conserved archaic customs, manners, etiquette, descriptions of attire, weapon, etc., and have specific composition, narration and poetics. They integrate different cultural and ethnic layers and represent significant monument of South Slavic folklore.
According to the ethnographer Krste Misirkov the style of this songs is a result of the Bulgarian musical influence during the Middle Ages over the Serbian and Croatian epic songs. This hypothesis is hard to verify, as there are no records of medieval Bulgarian epic songs. Maurice Bowra, however, argued that the sixteen-syllable line of bugarštica was of Bulgarian origin "since the Bulgarians still use eight-syllable lines, which may be the two halves of an old sixteen-syllable".
The term bugarštica was first recorded in 1566 by Petar Hektorović, in his reference to two songs he collected from Croatian fishermen from the Adriatic island of Hvar. There are two predominant theories regarding the etymology of bugarštica. Researchers such as Vatroslav Jagić, Tomo Maretić, and Matija Murko, posit that it was derived from the root bugar "Bulgarian", indicating the direction of spread of bugarštica from a contact area between Bulgaria and Serbia towards the Adriatic coast. Other names, such as pjesan bugarska "Bulgarian song", were applied to these songs, also referred to as the "Serbian manner [of singing]".
According to scholars Ivan Slamnig, Ilya Golenishchev-Kutuzov, Nada Milošević-Đorđević, and others, the term developed from the Latin vulgaricus or lingua vulgaris "common people's language", or carmen vulgare "folk song", denoting ballads composed in the spoken Slavic vernacular in Dalmatia, as opposed to those composed in the literary Latin. The change of the initial v into b could be due to folk etymology, associating vulgare with the similarly sounding Slavic root bugar. Slamnig also points out that vulgare was alternatively spelled as bulgare, when it referred to the Slavic language of the Adriatic Coast.
- Bošković-Stulli (1991)
- The Bugarštica: a bilingual anthology of the earliest extant South Slavic folk narrative song, Miletich, John S. Univ. of Illinois Pr., 1990.
- Bugaršćice: starinske hrvatske narodne pjesme, Kekez, Josip. - Split : Čakavski Sabor, 1978.
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- Maja Bošković-Stulli (2004), "Bugarštice", Narodna umjetnost 41 (2), Zagreb.
- Orbini, Mauro (1601). Il Regno de gli Slavi hoggi corrottamente detti Schiavoni. Pesaro: Apresso Girolamo Concordia.
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- Kekez, Josip (1991), "Bugaršćice: A Unique Type of Archaic Oral Poetry" (PDF), Oral Tradition (6/2 3): 200–224
- Bošković-Stulli, Maja (1991), "Balladic Forms of the Bugarštica and Epic Songs" (PDF), Oral Tradition (6/2 3): 225–238
- John S Miletich, The Bugarštica : a bilingual anthology of the earliest extant South Slavic folk narrative song, Urbana : University of Illinois Press, ©1990.