Serbian epic poetry

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Guslar singing of the death of Lazar, at an encampent in Javor, during the Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–78).

Serb epic poetry (Serbian: Српске епске народне песме/Srpske epske narodne pesme) is a form of epic poetry created by Serbs originating in today's Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro. The main cycles were composed by unknown Serb authors between the 14th and 19th centuries. They are largely concerned with historical events and personages. The instrument accompanying the epic poetry is the gusle.

Serbian epic poetry helped in developing the Serbian national consciousness.[1] The cycles of Prince Marko, the Hajduks and Uskoks inspired the Serbs to restore freedom and their heroic past.[1] The hajduks are seen as an integral part of national identity; in stories, the hajduks were heroes: they had played the role of the Serbian elite during Ottoman rule, they had defended the Serbs against Ottoman oppression, and prepared for the national liberation and contributed to it in the Serbian Revolution.[2]

History[edit]

The earliest surviving record of a Serb epic poem is a ten verse fragment of a bugarštica song from 1497 about the imprisonment of Sibinjanin Janko (John Hunyadi) by Đurađ Branković.[3][4] From at least the Ottoman period up until the present day, Serbian epic poetry was sung accompanied by the gusle and there are historical references to Serb performers playing the gusle at the Polish–Lithuanian royal courts in the 16th and 17th centuries, and later on in Ukraine and Hungary.[5] Hungarian historian Sebestyén Tinódi wrote in 1554 that "there are many gusle players here in Hungary, but none is better at the Serbian style than Dimitrije Karaman", and described Karaman's performance to Turkish lord Uluman in 1551 in Lipova: the guslar would hold the gusle between his knees and go into a highly emotional artistic performance with a sad and dedicated expression on his face.[6] Chronicler and poet Maciej Stryjkowski (1547–1582) included a verse mentions the Serbs singing heroic songs about ancestors fighting the Turks in his 1582 chronicle.[7] Józef Bartłomiej Zimorowic used the phrase "to sing to the Serbian gusle" in his 1663 idyll Śpiewacy (Singers).[7]

In 1824, Vuk Karadžić sent a copy of his folksong collection to Jacob Grimm, who was particularly enthralled by The Building of Skadar. Grimm translated it into German, and described it as "one of the most touching poems of all nations and all times".[8][9]

Many of the epics are about the era of the Ottoman occupation of Serbia and the struggle for the liberation. With the efforts of ethnographer Vuk Karadžić, many of these epics and folk tales were collected and published in books in the first half of the 19th century. Up until that time, these poems and songs had been almost exclusively an oral tradition, transmitted by bards and singers. Among the books Karadžić published were:

  • A Small Simple-Folk Slavonic-Serbian Songbook, 1814; Serbian Folk Song-Book (Vols, I-IV, Lepzig edition, 1823-8133; Vols. I-IV, Vienna edition, 1841-1862)
  • Serbian Folk Tales (1821, with 166 riddles; and 1853)
  • Serbian Folk Proverbs and Other Common Expressions, 1834.
  • "Women's Songs" from Herzegovina (1866) - which was collected by Karadžić's collaborator and assistant Vuk Vrčević

These editions appeared in Europe when romanticism was in full bloom and there was much interest in Serbian folk poetry, including from Johann Gottfried Herder, Jacob Grimm, Goethe and Jernej Kopitar.[10]

Gusle[edit]

The gusle (гусле) instrumentally accompanies heroic songs (epic poetry) in the Balkans.[11] The instrument is held vertically between the knees, with the left hand fingers on the neck.[11] The strings are never pressed to the neck, giving a harmonic and unique sound.[11] There is no consensus about the origin of the instrument, while some researchers believe it was brought with the Slavs to the Balkans, based on a 6th-century Byzantine source.[12] Teodosije the Hilandarian (1246–1328) wrote that Stefan Nemanjić (r. 1196–1228) often entertained the Serbian nobility with musicians with drums and "gusle".[13] Reliable written records about the gusle appear only in the 15th century.[12] 16th-century travel memoirs mention the instrument in Bosnia and Serbia.[12]

It is known that Serbs sang to the gusle during the Ottoman period. Notable Serbian performers played at the Polish royal courts in the 16th- and 17th centuries, and later on in Ukraine and in Hungary.[14] There is an old mention in Serbo-Croatian literature that a Serbian guslar was present at the court of Władysław II Jagiełło in 1415.[7] In a poem published in 1612, Kasper Miaskowski wrote that "the Serbian gusle and gaidas will overwhelm Shrove Tuesday".[7] Józef Bartłomiej Zimorowic used the phrase "to sing to the Serbian gusle" in his 1663 idyll Śpiewacy ("Singers").[7]

Corpus[edit]

The corpus of Serbian epic poetry is divided into cycles:

  • Non-historic cycle (Неисторијски циклус/Neistorijski ciklus) - poems about Slavic mythology, characteristically about dragons and nymphs
  • Cycle of Nemanjić (циклус Немањића)
  • Pre-Kosovo cycle (Преткосовски циклус/Pretkosovski ciklus) - poems about events that predate the Battle of Kosovo (1389)
  • Kosovo cycle (Косовски циклус/Kosovski ciklus) - poems about events that happened just before and after the Battle of Kosovo
  • Post-Kosovo cycle (Покосовски циклус/Pokosovski ciklus) - poems about post-Battle events
  • Cycle of Kraljević Marko (циклус Краљевића Марка/ciklus Kraljevića Marka)
  • Cycle of Branković (циклус Бранковића)
  • Cycle of Crnojević (циклус Црнојевића)
  • Cycle of hajduks and uskoks (хајдучки и ускочки циклус, Хајдучке и ускочке песме) – poems about brigands and rebels
  • Poems about the liberation of Serbia and Montenegro (циклус ослобођења Србије, Песме о ослобођењу Србије и Црне Горе) - poems about the 19th-century battles against the Ottomans

Poems depict historical events with varying degrees of accuracy.

Kosovo Maiden by Uroš Predić
Dying Pavle Orlović is given water by a maiden who seeks her fiancé; he tells her that her love, Milan, and his two blood-brothers Miloš and Ivan are dead.
—taken from the Serb epic poem

Notable people[edit]

Characters[edit]

Medieval era

Hajduk cycle

  • Pavle Pletikosa, hajduk, main character in Ženidba Pletikose Pavla.[16]
  • Srbin Tukelija, hajduk, main character in Boj Arađana s Komadincima.[17]

Many other heroes of Serbian epic poetry are also based upon historical persons:

Some heroes are paired with their horses, such as Prince Marko—Šarac, Vojvoda Momčilo—Jabučilo (a winged horse), Miloš Obilić—Ždralin, Damjan Jugović—Zelenko, Banović Strahinja—Đogin, Hajduk-Veljko—Kušlja, Jovan Kursula—Strina, Srđa Zlopogleđa—Vranac.[18]

Excerpts[edit]

Modern example of Serbian epics as recorded in 1992 by film director Paweł Pawlikowski in a documentary for the BBC Serbian epics; an anonymous gusle singer compares Radovan Karadžić, as he prepares to depart for Geneva for peace talk, to Karađorđe, who had led the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks in 1804:[20]

Quotes[edit]

Jacob Grimm

Charles Simic

Modern Serbian epic poetry[edit]

Epic poetry is recorded still today. Some modern songs are published in books or recorded, and under copyright, but some are in public domain, and modified by subsequent authors just like old ones. There are new songs that mimic old epic poetry, but are humorous and not epic in nature; these are also circulating around with no known author. In the latter half of the 19th century, a certain MP would exit the Serbian parliament each day, and tell of the debate over the monetary reform bill in the style of epic poetry. Modern epic heroes include: Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić and Vojislav Šešelj. Topics include: Yugoslav wars, NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and the Hague Tribunal.

Popular modern Serbian epic performers, guslari (Guslars) include: Milomir "Miljan" Miljanić, Đoko Koprivica, Boško Vujačić, Vlastimir Barać, Sava Stanišić, Miloš Šegrt, Saša Laketić and Milan Mrdović.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Dragnich 1994, pp. 29–30.
  2. ^ Edited by Norman M. Naimarkand Holly Case; Norman M. Naimark (2003). Yugoslavia and Its Historians: Understanding the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Stanford University Press. pp. 25–. ISBN 978-0-8047-8029-2. 
  3. ^ Matica Srpska Review of Stage Art and Music. Matica. 2003. p. 109. ...родовског удруживања и кнежинске самоуправе, а према механизму фолклорне рецепци^е садржаја званичне културе, српске епске јуначке песме, посебно бугарштице, прва је забележена већ 1497. године, чувају успомене и ... 
  4. ^ Milošević-Đorđević, Nada (2001). Srpske narodne epske pesme i balade. Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva. p. 10. Крајем XV века, 1497. године, појављује се за сада први познати запис од десет бугарштичких стихова, које је у свом епу забележио италијански ... Јанка, ердељског племића (чије је право име Јанош Хуњади) у тамници српског деспота Ђурђа Бранковића. 
  5. ^ Pejovic, Roksanda (1995). "Medieval music". The history of Serbian Culture. Rastko. 
  6. ^ Petrović 2008, p. 100.
  7. ^ a b c d e Georgijević 2003.
  8. ^ Alan Dundes (1996). The Walled-Up Wife: A Casebook. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-0-299-15073-0. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  9. ^ Paul Rankov Radosavljevich (1919). Who are the Slavs?: A Contribution to Race Psychology. Badger. p. 332. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Milošević-Đorđević 1995.
  11. ^ a b c Ling 1997, p. 87.
  12. ^ a b c Bjeladinović-Jergić 2001, p. 489.
  13. ^ Vlahović 2004, p. 340.
  14. ^ Pejovic, Roksanda (1995). "Medieval music". The history of Serbian Culture. Rastko. 
  15. ^ Pavle Ivić (1996). Istorija srpske kulture. Dečje novine. p. 160. Retrieved 9 September 2013. Бенедикт Курипечић. пореклом Словенаи, који између 1530. и 1531. путује као тумач аустријског посланства, у свом Путопису препричава део косовске легенде, спомиње епско певање о Милошу Обилићу у крајевима удаљеним од места догађаја, у Босни и Хрватској, и запажа настајање нових песама. 
  16. ^ Karadžić 1833, pp. 265–271.
  17. ^ Karadžić 1833, pp. 271–276.
  18. ^ Политикин забавник 3147, p. 4
  19. ^ Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West is the title of one of the best-known books in English on the subject of Yugoslavia.
  20. ^ Judah, Tim (1997). The Serbs - History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Audio