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The history of Serbian literature begins with two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius (815-885), who invented a Slavic alphabet based on Phoenician alphabet and ancient Greek characters, which in its final Cyrillic form is now being used as the official alphabet in Serbia, Republika Srpska, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldavia, and Russia. The brothers also translated the Bible into Old Church Slavonic. Their students continued to produce theological works from the 10th- and 11th centuries, developing in the 13th century by Saint Sava and his disciples. With the fall of Serbia and neighbouring countries in the 15th century, there is a gap in the literary history in the occupied land, however, Serbian literature continued uninterrupted in lands under foreign European vassalge. Revived in the 18th century by writers in Vojvodina, then under Austro-Hungarian rule. Serbia gains independence following the Serbian Revolution (1804–1815) and Serbian literature has since prospered.
Early modern period
Post-Medieval Serbian literature was dominated by folk songs and epics passed orally from generation to generation. Historic events, such as the "Battle of Kosovo" (Serbian: Бој на Косову / Boj na Kosovu) in the 14th century play a major role in the development of the Serbian epic poetry. The epic and lyrical poetry, the drama, and the prose of every class, all alike sound those notes, and the melody is triumphant or despairing according to the period of the nation's struggles against its many invaders. Less perhaps than any other European literature has Serbian literature been influenced by the literature of other lands. It mirrors throughout the simple, unsophisticated feeling and thoughts of men and women who love their country wholly, sincerely, faithfully, and are ready to lay down their lives to preserve its freedom. Here, if ever, the soul of a people is revealed in its most challenging time in history while attempting to extricate itself from centuries of Eastern (Turkish) and Western (Austrian, Hungarian, Venetian) oppression.
Serbian literature in Vojvodina continued building onto Medieval tradition, influenced by Old Serbian, Russian baroque and Serbian baroque of Vojvodina, which culminated in the Slavonic-Serbian language. Most important authors of the time are Dimitrije Ljubavić, Đorđe Branković, Vasilije III Petrović-Njegoš, Gavril Stefanović Venclović, Mojsije Putnik, Pavle Julinac, Jovan Rajić, Zaharije Orfelin, and many others.
Before the start of a fully established Romanticism concomitant with the Revolutions of 1848, some Romanticist ideas (e.g. the usage of national language to rally for national unification of all classes) were developing, especially among monastic clergy in Vojvodina. The most prominent representative of that is Dositej Obradović, who gave up his monastic vows and left for decades of wandering, occasionally studying, teaching, or working in the cultural field in countries as variegated as Russia, England, Germany, Albania, Ottoman Turkey and Italy, and ending up as a Minister of Education in the Principality of Serbia.
One of the first countries to win independence from the Ottoman Empire, the Serbian independence movement sparked the first works of modern Serbian literature. Most notably Petar II Petrović Njegoš and his Mountain Wreath of 1847, represent a cornerstone of the Serbian epic, which was based on the rhythms of the folk songs.
Furthermore, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, an acquaintance of J. W. von Goethe, became the first person to collect folk songs and epics and to publish them in a book. Vuk Karadžić is regarded as the premier Serbian philologist, who together with Đuro Daničić played a major role in reforming the modern Serbian language.
In the 20th century, Serbian literature flourished and a myriad of young and talented writers appeared.
The most well known authors are Ivo Andrić, Miloš Crnjanski, Meša Selimović, Borislav Pekić, Branko Miljković, Danilo Kiš, Milorad Pavić, David Albahari, Miodrag Bulatović, Igor Marojević, Miroslav Josić Višnjić, Dobrica Ćosić, Zoran Živković, Vladimir Arsenijević, Vladislav Bajac and many others. Jelena Dimitrijević and Isidora Sekulić are two early twentieth century women writers. Svetlana Velmar-Janković and Gordana Kuić are the best known female novelists in Serbia today.
Milorad Pavić is perhaps the most widely acclaimed Serbian author today, most notably for his Dictionary of the Khazars (Хазарски речник / Hazarski rečnik), which has been translated into 24 languages.
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- English translations of some of the important pieces of modern Serbian literature
- Andric, Ivo, The Bridge on the Drina, The University of Chicago Press, 1977.
- Andric, Ivo, Damned Yard and Other Stories , edited and translated by Celia Hawkesworth, Dufour Editions, 1992.
- Andric, Ivo, The Slave Girl and Other Stories, edited and translated by Radmila Gorup, Central European University Press, 2009.
- Andric, Ivo, The Days of the Consuls, translated by Celia Hawkesworth, Dereta, 2008.
- Bajac, Vladislav. Hamam Balkania, translated by Randall A. Major, Geopoetica Publishing, 2009.
- Kis, Danilo, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, translated by Duska Mikic-Mitchell, Penguin Books, 1980.
- Pekic, Borislav, The Time of Miracles, translated by Lovett F. Edwards, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1976.
- Pekic, Borislav, The Houses of Belgrade, translated by Bernard Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1978.
- Pekic, Borislav, How to Quiet a Vampir: A Sotie (Writings from an Unbound Europe), translated by Stephen M. Dickey and Bogdan Rakic, Northwestern University Press, 2005
- Selimovic, Mesa, Death and the Dervish, translated by Bogdan Rakic and Stephen M. Dickey, Northwestern University Press, 1996.
- Ivić, Pavle, ed. (1995). The History of Serbian Culture. Edgware: Porthill Publishers.
- Jovan Deretić (1995). "Literature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries". The history of Serbian Culture. Rastko.
- Radmila Marinković (1995). "Medieval literature". The history of Serbian Culture. Rastko.
- Popović, Tatyana (1988). Prince Marko: The Hero of South Slavic Epics. New York: Syracuse University Press.
- Novica Petković (1995). "Twentieth century literature". The history of Serbian Culture. Rastko.
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- Selected Literatures and Authors Page - Serbian, Montenegrin, and Yugoslav Literature
- A brief overview of Serbian Literature
- Slavic Literature Resources from the Slavic Reference Service, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign[permanent dead link]
- Istorijska biblioteka: Serbian Medieval Literature
- A Quick Guide to Serbian Literature (in English)