Dositej Obradović

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Dositej Obradović
Доситеј Обрадовић
Dositej Obradović on a 2007 Serbian stamp
Minister of Education of Serbia
In office
Prime MinisterMateja Nenadović
Preceded byPost established
Succeeded byIvan Jugović
Personal details
Dimitrije Obradović

17 February 1739 (1739-02-17)
Tschakowa, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Monarchy
(now Ciacova, Romania)
Died7 April 1811 (1811-04-08) (aged 72)
Belgrade, Rumelia Eyalet, Ottoman Empire
(now Belgrade, Serbia)

Dimitrije "Dositej" Obradović (Serbian Cyrillic: Димитрије Обрадовић, pronounced [dɔsǐtɛːj ɔbrǎːdɔʋitɕ]; 17 February 1739 – 7 April 1811) was a Serbian writer, philosopher, dramatist, librettist, translator, linguist, traveler, polyglot and the first minister of education of Serbia.[1] An influential protagonist of the Serbian national and cultural renaissance, he advocated Enlightenment and rationalist ideas while remaining a Serbian patriot and an adherent of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Founder of modern Serbian literature, he is commonly referred to by his mononym, first name alone. He became a monk in the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Hopovo, in the Syrmia region, and acquired the name Dositej (Dositheus). He translated many European classics, including Aesop's Fables, into Serbian.


Dositej Obradović was born Dimitrije Obradović in 1739 to poor parents in the village of Csákova (Serbian: Čakovo; modern-day Ciacova, Timiș County, Romania), in the region of Banat, then part of Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary. His parents died when he was a boy and he began life as an apprentice in the town of Temesvár (now Timișoara, Romania), not too far from his own village. His passion for study was strong, and he spent his spare time reading as soon as the day's work in the shop was over. His reading was mainly restricted to the lives of the saints and accounts of the miracles they performed. He became so engrossed in this literature that he considered living in the desert, becoming a saint, and working miracles himself. Once he tried to run away, but was dissuaded by a colleague. His desire for the saintly life was strong, however, and the next time he succeeded.

Obradović was certain he had found the ideal spot for his life of piety at the monastery in Hopovo, 60 miles (97 km) from Temesvár. A fellow-apprentice in his shop named Nikola Putin joined Obradović in his adventure. The two boys counted up their money; three grossi was all the capital Obradović possessed and Nikola had no money of his own. Three grossi worth of bread was enough for a two-day journey, but they spent four days on foot. In those days, travel such as this was not uncommon for young Serbians travelling in search of an education; writer and historian Jovan Rajić travelled on foot from Hungary to Russia, a distance of 800 miles (1,300 km). Obradović and Nikola took the road along the river Begej until they reached the monastery at Hopovo towards the end of July 1757.

At the monastery, Obradović became a monk on 17 February 1757 and was very happy. No more work in the shop; he was free to devote all his time to reading, and since the library was full of sacred books he found himself in the surroundings he sought. His passion for the lives of the saints and his desire to become a saint himself reached their climax at this time. The longer he was there, the more his aspiration gradually waned. Finally, the desire for a saint's halo seemed so preposterous that Obradović dismissed it from his mind altogether. The beautiful, pleasant surroundings of the monastery were very different from the deserts for which Obradović had desired. The other monks fell short of sanctity, and Obradović was unable to overlook their shortcomings; he discovered that his thirst for knowledge was greater than his desire for sanctity. Obradović now desired to leave Hopovo for the world where great libraries abounded and good schools could be found.

After more than three years at Hopovo (where he learned Old Slavonic and classical Greek), Obradović left the monastery. On 2 November 1760 he went to Zagreb, where he mastered Latin. From there he planned to go further afield—perhaps to Russia, where several countrymen had already gone to pursue their studies or to Vienna, where the schools and libraries better suited his needs. Obradović was advised to go to Venetian-occupied Dalmatia first, where he might obtain a position as a schoolmaster and save enough money for further studies abroad. On 2 November 1760 he left the monastery of Hopovo, bound for Hilandar, Mount Athos. He arrived in the Serb-populated region of inland Dalmatia in the spring of 1761, and was received warmly; Serb priests from the district of Knin offered him a post as a schoolmaster in Golubić. Obradovic's life in this Dalmatian village was idyllic. He was beloved by the villagers and it was a serene, comfortable and kindly atmosphere in which he lived, similar to that which surrounded the Vicar of Wakefield. From Dalmatia he went to Montenegro where he spent several months living in Podmaine Monastery during his visits to Boka Kotorska in 1764.,[2] then to Albania, Greece, Constantinople, and Asia Minor; stage by stage, always earning a living as a private tutor, Obradović visited all these lands (especially Greece, which was the most prosperous). Ten years (1761–1771) passed since he began his travels. It is considered that he was a Freemason.[3][4]

Dositej Obradović, leaning on a table
Dositej Obradović

Obradović made great progress during this period. He learned Italian while in Dalmatia and acquired a thorough knowledge of Greek, both ancient and modern. He grew up bilingual (in Serbian and Romanian) and learned classical Greek, Latin, modern Greek, German, English, French, Russian, Albanian and Italian.[5] For forty years he travelled throughout the Balkans, the Levant, Imperial Russia, and Europe: Albania, Dalmatia, Corfu, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, Germany, Romania, Russia, Poland, Italy, France and England. He showed a liking for England and the English. Finally, he went to Belgrade at the invitation of Karađorđe Petrović, to become Serbia's first minister of education in the newly organized government. But the issue which interested Dositej most was the Serbian language—the adoption of a national language for Serbia, distinct from the Russo-Slavonic (in which her literature had until then been written. His strong (and sometimes narrow) patriotism did not blind him to the risk of such a proposal, but his lectures and writings against the use of Russo-Slavonic did more than anything else to save the Serbian language. Dositej also gave an impetus to a new generation of Serbian scholars, who became ardent supporters of the Serbian vernacular as a literary language.

Dositej and a score of other well-educated Serbs from the territory of Austria-Hungary helped introduce state educational reforms in their respective territories as well as to the Serbs living in the Turkish-occupied part of Serbia.[6] He and Vuk Karadžić (whom Obradović influenced[7]) are recognized as the fathers of modern Serbian literature. Because the Serbian populace often suffered famine, Obradović also introduced potato cultivation to Serbia. He died in Belgrade in 1811. He was survived by his wife and 2 sons.

Traveling scholar[edit]

In 1763 he headed to Greece to visit Mount Athos, but fell ill and went instead to Montenegro, where he worked for a time as a schoolteacher. It was at this time while traveling among his own people and teaching in various institutions, that Obradović recognized his culture's need for development. Here he declared, "Write as you speak and read as it is written." Dositej believed strongly that the orthography of the written language should conform to the spoken language. He felt his people were backward and he wanted to raise their awareness of literature and culture. He began translating great works of other cultures into conversational Serbian.

In 1765 in Smyrna, he studied theology, philosophy, Greek literature, rhetoric, and song as a pupil of the master teacher Hierotheos Dendrinos. This gave him a classical education that few of his countrymen could obtain.

In 1768 Obradović went to the village of Hormovo, near Tepelene, Albania, to study the Albanian language, built a school, worked in Corfu for a time, studied with Andreas Petritsopolos, and then returned to Dalmatia to continue teaching. He was a voracious reader, consuming books in Italian, Greek, and the Slavic languages while simultaneously writing and publishing his own moral works.

In 1771 he traveled to Vienna, and there for the first time, he came into contact with the ideas and works of the Western Enlightenment movement. He supported himself by tutoring students in Greek and set about learning French, Latin, and German. He studied logic and metaphysics and tutored students in French and Italian once he had mastered those languages. He also studied French and English literature. In 1777 he took a position tutoring the nephews of Vikentije Jovanović Vidak, Archbishop of Karlovac, in Modor (now Modra, Slovakia), near Pozsony (today Bratislava).

Next, in 1779, he traveled to Trieste, continuing through Italy to the island of Chios. While there he taught Italian in a local school, then visited Constantinople briefly but had to leave because of plague outbreaks. He went next to Moldavia, where he spent a year tutoring for a wealthy Ghica family. By 1782 he had saved enough money to make a trip to Halle, Germany, where he enrolled in a university to study physics and philosophy (reading works by Leibniz, Spener, Francke and other great German minds). During this time he composed and published his autobiography, a manifesto for his intended educational program titled Pismo Haralampiju (1783), and the moral advice book Sovjeti zdravago razuma (Counsels of Common Sense, 1784). The morals book advocated co-education for boys and girls.

Plaque on a house where Obradović lived, near St Clement Eastcheap, City of London

In 1784 he spent a year in Europe translating fables and studying English literature, namely the 18th-century English moralists from Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury to Joseph Butler and Richard Price.[8] He tutored for the next few years and by 1787 had saved enough money to take his long-desired trip to Imperial Russia. He spent six months in Shklov, teaching at a military academy (founded by lieutenant-general Semyon Zorich), reading Russian literature and writing the second half of his autobiography. In Russia he became familiar with the eighteenth-century writings of Mikhail Lomonosov, Alexander Sumarokov, Vasily Maykov, and Alexander Radishchev.

In 1789 Obradović settled in Vienna, the same year Ernst Gideon von Laudon drove the Turks out of Belgrade, and Dositej greets this event as the beginning of the liberty of the Serbian nation in his poem Pjesma o izbavljeniju Serbije (Serbia saved). He stayed there for the next twelve years, writing and printing both original works and translations. In 1802 he travelled back to Trieste because a printing press there was publishing Serbian works. While there he heard of the Serbian uprising against the Turks, and Obradović raised money and donated funds of his own to the cause. He went to work for the victorious Karadjordje administration in 1806. He also wrote the first Serbian national anthem Vostani Serbije.

At more than sixty years of age, Obradović became a champion of the effort to educate his people. He settled in liberated Belgrade in 1807, and in September 1808 he opened the first Elite Schools or Velika škola (Grandes Écoles), later the University of Belgrade. His health started to decline in 1809, and he died on 28 March 1811, shortly after being appointed Minister of Education.

Publishing pioneer[edit]

Portrait of Dositej Obradović by Józef Peszka

Obradović's most substantial contribution to the education of his people lay in his dedicated use of the Serbian popular language. In his lifetime, the Serbs were divided into three linguistic camps: the educated few who spoke and wrote in Russian Church Slavonic (a language of prestige), other educated people who spoke and wrote in slavenoserbski (a hybrid of Russian Church Slavonic, Old Church Slavonic, Russian, and local Serbian vernacular), and the masses, mostly illiterate, who spoke the local Serbian vernacular. As the Dictionary of Literary Biography explains, "Dositej considered the introduction of vernacular elements into the literary idiom necessary because he believed that only one in ten thousand people understood slavenoserbski well, whereas the language of the people was understood by all, peasants and educated people alike. With minor dialectal differences, the spoken language was the same in all the areas populated by the Serbs. If books were printed in the language of the people, they would reach broad segments of [the] population."

His work consisted mainly of translations, the most famous of which were his 1788 translations of some of Aesop's Fables. Obradović included corresponding moral instructions with each of the fables, as well as Serbian folk proverbs and popular expressions to help the reader relate to the message of each fable. His goal was to help the Serbian public realize their need for significant cultural enhancement. He translated dramatic works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Goldoni, Johann Christian von Engel with Emanuilo Janković for the Serbian theatre.

During the Serbian uprisings he established the first Serbian school of higher learning. His most notable original work is his autobiographical Bildungsroman titled Život i priključenija Dimitija Obradovića, narecenoga u kaludjerstvu Dositej, n'im' istim' spisan' I izdat (1783), which was translated in 1953 as The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović Who as a Monk Was Given the Name Dositej by George Rapall Noyes, and published by the University of California Press. It is believed to be the first book ever published in the Serbian popular language.

Cassell's Encyclopaedia of World Literature describes Obradović's writings as "permeated by enlightened common sense and sane patriotism, sincerity and integrity, keen intellectual curiosity and wide erudition." Cassell's states that Obradović's "influence on the development of Serbian literature has proved both far-reaching and constructive." He is considered the chief representative of the Serbian Age of Enlightenment. Through his work the Serbian literary world began to develop its modern literature and culture and to develop a sense of national consciousness.

To this day Obradović is seen as a champion of Serbian culture. In 1911, 100 years after his death, many essays were published in celebration of his life and works. One of the essays imagined Belgrade in the year 2011 with a cultural museum called the Dositej Building, "a magnificent palace, situated in the most beautiful spot in the city centre." Although less grand than imagined in that essay, the Dositej Museum in Belgrade was opened in an old, tiny Turkish home that preserved both Obradović's works and those of language reformer Vuk Karadžić (1787–1864). Obradović remains an admired and much celebrated figure in Serbian literary history.


Title page of one of Obradović's books
The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović, Who As a Monk Was Given the Name Dositej

Ideas from the Enlightenment reached the Balkans more in the form of literature than as abstract philosophy. In the second half of the eighteenth century a number of Serbian writers (especially in ethnic Serbian territories in Hungary) were anticlerical, fought the primitivism and ignorance of the time, and advocated the expansion of knowledge and education outside the church. Dositej Obradović gave philosophical expression to the main principles of the Enlightenment in his writings and teaching. He was a young Serbian monk disillusioned by monastic life in his youth, but not with the church and certainly not its theological teachings. He travelled extensively in Europe and the Serbian-inhabited lands, then divided by Austria-Hungary and Turkey, and through his writings and teaching sought to reform the educational system in both empires. He was the first to establish a public school in Albania. After Karageorge's successful uprising against the Ottomans in 1804 Obradović opened the first Grande École (Velika škola) in Belgrade in 1808, and became the new country's first Minister of Education. His rationalistic, utilitarian philosophy was not original for the Enlightenment, but it was influential in Belgrade and parts of the Principality of Serbia (1804–1813) as well as among the Serbs who lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Old Serbia, Rascia, Montenegro and Dalmatia.

The liberation of Serbia and the creation of the first higher schools that taught philosophy encouraged a number of philosophers. Since they were educated abroad, however, their works were for some time looked upon as adaptations of German, French and English philosophers. The strong influence of Kant and Hegel was succeeded by the influence of positivism, thanks to Obradović. The authentic philosophical thought of this period is found not only in the work of the teachers of philosophy but also in poems, folk songs, scientific writings, and (later) in revolutionary political pamphlets. All these came to express ideas of national and social liberation. Banat-born Romanian political philosopher Dimitrie Tichindeal was greatly influenced by Dositej Obradović's writings.


Dositej Obradović on a 500.000 Yugoslav dinars banknote

Dositej Obradović was a forerunner of Vuk Karadžić, the central figure of reformation of Serbian language and literature and considered the best-educated Serb of his time. In 1808 he read an address during the inaugurating ceremonies of the University of Belgrade—first named Grandes écoles (Velika Škola) – the oldest and largest university in Serbia—and other institutions. The Museum of Vuk and Dositej (Serbian: Музеј Вука и Доситеја) is one of the most important memorial museums in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Founded in 1949, it depicts the life, work and legacy of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), the Serbian-language reformer, and Dositej Obradović. The Dositej Obradović Award is given for special contributions in the translation of literary works, and for promoting Serbian culture.

The house in which Obradović was born still stands today. It was owned by a Romanian family but with support from the Serbian corporation Hemofarm (in Vršac), the house was bought and later renovated. Hemofarm, together with Matica Srpska and the Institute for Literature and Art, established the Dositej Obradović Foundation in Vršac in 2004. which annually bestows the Dositej's staff award and helps young writers and artists in various ways.

He is included in The 100 most prominent Serbs.


  • Slovo poučiteljno Gosp. Georg. Joakima Colikofera, Leipzig, 1774, 31 pp.
  • Pismo Haralampiju, 1783.
  • Život i priključenija D.O., Leipzig, 1783.
  • Sovjeti zdravago razuma, Leipzig, 1784, 119 pp.
  • Ezopove i pročih raznih basnotvorcev basne, Leipzig, 1788, 451 pp.
  • Pesme o izbavleniju Serbije, Vienna, 1789, 4 pp.
  • Sobranije raznih naravoučitelnih veščej, Pécs, 1793, 2 + 316 pp.
  • Etika ili filozofija naravnoučitelna, Venice, 1803, 160 pp.
  • Vostani Serbije, 1804.
  • Mezimac, Budim 1818, 230 + 11 pp.
  • Ižica, 1830
  • Pisma, Budapest, 1829, 126 pp.
  • Prvenac, Karlštat 1930, 17 + 168 pp.
  • Jastuk roda moga (lost), 1813


  • Slovo poučitelno, 1784.
  • Istina i prelest, (short story), 1788.
  • Put u jedan dan, (short story), 1788.
  • Aesop's Fables
  • Hristoitija
  • Bukvica
  • Etika
  • Venac
  • Damon
  • Ingleska izrečenija

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Biography (Serbian)". Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  2. ^ Stvaranje. Stvaranja. July 1960. p. 774. Retrieved 27 July 2013. У овоме манастиру провео је неколико мје- сеци Доситеј Обрадовић, кад је г. 1764 био дошао у Боку
  3. ^ Radulovic, Nemanja. "Još jednom o Dositeju i slobodnom zidarstvu". Dositej u srpskoj istoriji i kulturi (Zbornik), urednik Dušan Ivanić.
  4. ^ "Ko su masoni u Srbiji i šta rade". BBC News na srpskom (in Serbian). Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  5. ^ The south Slav Journal / "Dositey Obradovich Circle". – London : South Slav Research & Study Centre 1.1978 – 5. ISSN 0141-6146
  6. ^ Wladimir Fischer: The Role of Dositej Obradovic in the Construction of Serbian Identities During the 19th Century. In: spacesofidentity vol. 1.3 (2001)
  7. ^ "Koliko (ne) znamo o Vuku Karadžiću". BBC News na srpskom (in Serbian). 6 November 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  8. ^ The Ethics of Reason in the Philosophical System of Dositej Obradovic: A Study of His Contribution in this Field to the Age of Reason. Unwin Bros. Limited. 1976.
  9. ^ Pillow of my grave on IMDB
  10. ^ Pillow of my grave on YouTube TV miniseries, 1 part
  11. ^ Pillow of my grave on YouTube TV miniseries, 2 part

Further reading[edit]

  • Cassell's Encyclopaedia of World Literature, Volume 2, Funk & Wagnalls, 1954.
  • Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Chambers Harrap, 1997.
  • Ćurčić, N. M. J. The Ethics of Reason in the Philosophical System of Dositej Obradovic A Study of His Contribution in This Field to the Age of Reason. London: Unwin Bros. Ltd, 1976.
  • Fischer, Wladimir, "The Role of Dositej Obradovic in the Construction of Serbian Identities During the 19th Century," Spaces of Identity (1.3, 2001), 67–87.
  • Fischer, Wladimir: Creating a National Hero: The Changing Symbolics of Dositej Obradović. In: Identität – Kultur – Raum. Turia + Kant, Wien 2001, ISBN 3-85132-301-7.
  • Fischer, Wladimir, "Dositej Obradović and the Ambivalence of Enlightenment". Heppner/Posch (eds.), Encounters in Europe's Southeast, Bochum: Winkler, 2012, ISBN 978-3-89911-190-3, ISBN 978-3-89911-205-4.
  • Javarek, Vera (April 1947). "Dositej Obradović and the English rationalists". The Slavonic and East European Review. 25 (65).
  • Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1995.
  • Obradović, Dositej. The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. University of California Publications in Modern Philology 39. Berkeley; Los Angeles, 1953.
  • Pijanović, Petar: Život i delo Dositeja Obradovića. Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva, Beograd 2000.
  • "South Slavic Writers Before World War II". Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 147, Gale Research, 1995.
  • Skerlić, Jovan, Istorija Nove Srpske Književnosti (Belgrade, 1914, 1921).
Government offices
Preceded by
Post established
Minister of Education of Serbia
Succeeded by