The Croat Revival, beginning in the late eighteenth century, was an attempt at fashioning a program for South Slavic cultural and political unity. Led by the energetic Ljudevit Gaj (1809-1872), the revivalists were persuaded that the ancient Illyrians, who inhabited the Western Balkans before the Roman conquest, were the forefathers of all the South Slavs. As a result, Gaj's followers called themselves Illyrians, hoping that a neutral identity would be successful at winning all the South Slavs to a common political program and literary standard. This solution ultimately proved attractive only to the Croats, who were unified under this outdated name. After the disappointments that accompanied the defeat of the “springtime of nations” in 1848, the Croat national leaders abandoned the Illyrian nomenclature and, under the leadership of Ante Starčević (1823-1896), asserted their purely Croat identity. Nevertheless, a segment of Croat intelligentsia never abandoned a common South Slavic program. Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1815-1905) was the leader of this group, which underwent a modified revival in the 1860s under the Yugoslav appellation.
Marko Marulić, poet and humanist, is known as the father of the Croatian Renaissance. He was educated in Split and then studied law at Padua University. He was inspired by the Bible, Classical writers and Christian hagiographies and created a vast opus in Latin and Croatian languages.
His European fame rests mainly on works written in Latin, which were published during the 16th and 17th centuries and translated into many languages. The major Latin works of Marulić are: De institutione bene vivendi per exempla sanctorum, Venice, 1506; Evanglistarium, published in 1516; and in 1517, Davidias.
Marulić is the father of Croatian literature because of the works written in his native tongue. Besides the epic poem, Judita, his other works in Croatian are: Suzana (Susan), Poklad i korizma (Carnival and Lent), Spovid koludric od sedam smrtnih grihov (Nun's confession of seven deadly sins), Anka satir (Anka the satire), Tuženje grada Hjerosolima (Jerusalem's Lament), Molitva suprotiva Turkom (Prayers asking to be saved from the Turks).
Marulić’s “Molitva suprotiva Turkom” is the most patriotic poem of the Croatian Renaissance. It is not a prayer but rather a cry for help addressed to the deaf ears of European statesmen. He pleads for aid against the constant incursions by the Ottoman Turks.
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The first classic work of Croatian literature, Marko Marulić’s “Judita,” was published in Venice in 1521. The subject of the epic poem is the Old Testament story of Judith and Holofernes. The drama of Judith does not follow the medieval examples of suppressed femininity but to the contrary, Marulić affirms Judith’s beauty and glorifies her mature womanly charms. The epic’s actuality derives not only from the fact that Holofernes represents the Ottoman Turkish menace, which raged right behind the walls of Split, but also because of the masterly interplay of eros and tanatos present in verses throughout the epic.
Nikola Gučetić, born and educated in Dubrovnik, was the central person of cultural and intellectual life in Dubrovnik in his time. Elected Duke of Dubrovnik seven times at the turn of the 17th century, he devoted his life to the prosperity of the city. Gučetić was highly regarded for his works related to philosophy, politics and sociology, so much so that Pope Clement VIII awarded him an honorary doctorate of philosophy and theology. In his main work, written in the form of a dialogue, Dello stato delle republiche secondo la mente di Aristotele, 1591, Gučetic expounded the main elements of his political philosophy, based upon Aristotle’s doctrine of statesmanship. He attempted to create and formulate a new synthesis of classical and modern ideas regarding socio-political harmony and order. Gucetic’s Dialogo d'amore detto Antos, secondo la mente di Platone, 1581 and Dialogo della Bellezza detto Antos, secondo la mente di Platone, 1581, were also written as dialogues between his wife, Mara Gundulić, and her friend, the renowned Dubrovnik poetess, Cvijeta Zuzorić. These two works, important Renaissance tracts, offer significant insights into the evolution of early modern views on love and beauty. In Gucetić’s analysis the classical definition of beauty and love is reconciled with the Christian ideal of religious and moral perfection.
Gundulić, born in Dubrovnik, is the most celebrated Croatian Baroque. His work embodies central characteristics of the Catholic Counter-Reformation: religious fervor, insistence on "vanity of this world" and zeal in opposition to "infidels." Gundulić's major works, the epic poem Osman, the pastoral play Dubravka, and the religious poem Tears of the prodigal son (based on the Biblical motif) are examples of Baroque stylistic richness.
His greatest work, the epic poem Osman (1626), concerning the Polish wars against the Turks, reveals early Slavic nationalism and shows the influence of ancient native song. Osman was not printed during Gundulić’s lifetime. Nevertheless, it was the most read work of old Dubrovnik. Possessing great lyric ability, Gundulić was considered the foremost figure of the South Slav literary renaissance.
His play Dubravka, is a pastoral written in 1628, where Gundulić cherished the former glory of Dubrovnik and used contrasts like freedom/slavery, beauty/ugliness, truth/lies. It contains some of the most famous verses in Croatian literature:
Verses in Croatian
O lijepa, o draga, o slatka
O beautiful, o beloved, o sweet
The first verse is often considered as the unofficial motto of Dubrovnik.
Gundulić wrote Suze sina razmetnoga ("Tears of the Prodigal Son") in 1622, composed of three "Cries": "Sagriješenje" (Sin), "Spoznanje" (Insight) and "Skrušenje" (Humility). In this poem he presented the three basic categories of Christian faith: sin, repentance and redemption through contrasts such as death/life, sin/purity, Hell/Heaven. Suze sina razmetnoga is a triumph of Baroque individualism.
“Hrvatska mlada lirika” marked the end of the Croatian “Moderna.” After the publication of this anthology the poets who had appeared in it went their separate ways. In spite of this, they had all taken part in the creation of a happy moment in Croatian literary history, founding a short-lived Parnassus and, on the very threshold of the first mass European slaughter, uniting the voices of Andrić, Ujević, and other Croatian writers. In the covers of this anthology at least, the year 1914 was the year of a happy union of poets.
Matoš was a poet, short story writer, journalist, essayist and travel writer. He is considered the champion of Croatian modernist literature, opening Croatia to the currents of European modernism. At the turn of the 20th century many writers believed that the struggle for cultural and literary emancipation was complete, and that it was now possible to concentrate on artistic achievement.
Matoš brought a combination of lyrics, fantasy, irony and the bizarre in short stories. He was a prolific author: from too much writing he developed a very painful cramp in his right hand and had to write the rest of his life with his left. Matoš wandered as a bohemian exile from Belgrade to Vienna, Geneva, Paris and Rome. He fashioned a supple lively prose enriched by “unpoetic” words.
Matoš made his debut in Croatian literature in 1892 with a short story called "Moć savjesti" (The Power of Conscience, displayed here). Its publication is considered the start of Croatian modernism.
This journal was the foremost Croatian publication on cultural and intellectual life in the newly founded state of Yugoslavia after World War I. Miroslav Krleža and August Cesarec were the main editors of the journal and several prominent writers published their novellas, essays and poems in Plamen.
August Cesarec, along with other renowned Croatian leftist writers, Božidar Adžija, Otokar Keršovani and Ognjen Prica, was executed by the fascist Croatian government in 1941. What was Krleža's feelings when the news reached him of the shooting of his friends? What did he think when his comrades were lined up in front of the firing squad? Of the absurd deaths of these Croatian writers of the left riddled with shots?
Tin Ujević is considered to be one of the greatest Croatian poets of all times. He was born in Vrgorac, a small town in the Dalmatian hinterland. He wrote more than ten books of essays, poetry in prose and meditations — but his enduring strength lies chiefly in the monumental poetic opus.
Ujević has created a poetic oeuvre of inimitable flavor and inescapable grandeur. His poetry is a polymorphous vision of life, a blend of often conflicting traditions ranging from the Mediterranean ideal of harmonious beauty to the modern existentialist sensibility expressed in verses of unmatched virtuosity and profundity.
Author’s presentation inscription to Mrs. Antonija Bujas, neé Benišek, dated 12 March 1928. Original paper wrappers. Lelek sebra ("The Wail of the Slave") was published in 1920, the first individual collection of his poetry.
Andrić was born of Croatian parentage on 1892, in the village of Dolac near Travnik, Bosnia, then part of Austria-Hungary and today part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He studied philosophy at the Universities of Zagreb, Vienna, and Cracow. Andrić started his literary career as a poet. In 1914 he was one of the contributors to Hrvatska mlada lirika (Young Croatian Lyrics). His first novella, Put Alije Djerzeleza (The Trip of Alija Djerzelez), published in 1920, early manifests a dominant trait of his creative process. Andrić takes his stories from the life of Bosnia, but through this local material he presents universal human problems. During the Second World War Andrić wrote his three major works, all of which were published in 1945: Na Drini ćuprija (The Bridge on the Drina), Travnička hronika (Bosnian Story), and Gospodjica (The Woman from Sarajevo). In Prokleta avilija (Devil's Yard), 1954, Andrić returned to his favorite milieu and described the experiences of a Bosnian Franciscan, Fra Peter, who is put in an Istanbul jail, being wrongly accused of plotting against Ottoman rule. Andrić was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961.
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Novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer, and playwright, Krleža was a central figure in modern Croatian literature. He was among Croatia's most prolific writers for almost seven decades.
Miroslav Krleža, born in Zagreb at that time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, started his literary career in 1914. He was an idealist and a romanticist but the war had shattered his illusions. Krleža’s embittered prose and poetry reflected his strong antiwar feelings. He opposed the monarchist régime of Yugoslavia and in 1919 he founded Plamen, a left-wing review. Krleža was also in constant conflict with freemasons, nationalists and clerics. Deeply impressed by the Soviet revolution he became attracted to Marxist ideas. Krleža was a member of the Communist Party from 1918 until 1939, when he was expelled.
Krleža's early dramas, Legenda (1914), Kraljevo (1918), and Adam i Eva (1922), reveal his transformation from a young idealist into a socially conscious artist. The dramatic trilogy, Gospoda Glembajevi (1928), U agoniji (1928), and Leda (1932), which depict the disintegration of the Glembay family and the downfall of bourgeois society, are considered his best plays.
Krleža produced most of his best work during the period from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s. For instance, Povratak Filipa Latinovicza (1932), (The Return of Philip Latinovicz), was a story of a Croatian artist, Filip, who returns from Paris to his small native town on Croatia's Danubian plain. He realizes that corruption and dishonesty reign and gradually fades into oblivion. The unfinished novel Zastave is a social narrative of 20th century Croatia. “Paris had its Balzac and Zola; Dublin its Joyce; Croatia its Krleža... one of the most accomplished, profound authors in European literature," wrote The Saturday Review.
Throughout his life Krleža stood in the forefront of the struggle against petit-bourgeois attitudes and backwardness in general. He wrote with enormous creative energy and defended his views fiercely and fearlessly. Krleža’s style was baroque, he had a keen eye for color and his characters were sketched masterfully with delicate nuances. Even though Krleža was a Marxist himself, he expressed his disdain for Stalinism and all totalitarian systems. Krleža died in Zagreb on December 29, 1981.
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"Whether human folly is the work of God or not, it does not diminish in practice," he wrote in On the Edge of Reason (1938). "Centuries often elapse before one human folly gives place to another, but, like the light of an extinguished star, folly has never failed to reach its destination. The mission of folly, to all appearances, is universal."
Krleža’s Balade Perice Kerempuha ("Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh") is a visionary compendium of Golgotha Croatica, spanning more than five centuries and centred around the figure of plebeian prophet Petrica Kerempuh, a sort of Croatian Till Eulenspiegel. This sombre and highly complex multilayered poem evokes reminiscences on Bruegel and Bosch paintings and is written in a unique hybrid language based on the Croatian kajkavian dialect interspersed with Latin, German, Hungarian and archaic Croatian. The ballads radiate universal dark verities on the human condition epitomized in the Croatian historical experience.
In his most remarkable collection of short stories, Hrvatski bog Mars ("Croatian God Mars"), of which the conver and frontispiece of the first edition are displayed, Krleža depicts the miserable condition of the Croatian soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I.