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The Literature of Montenegro Before 1918

The oldest literary work in Montenegro,  the famous "Kingdom of Slavs" (Kraljevstvo Slavena) also known as 'Regnum Sclavorum' and sometimes called 'Chronicle of Father Doclean' (Ljetopis Popa Dukljanina) was written in the 12 century in Bar, by the unknown Doclean Benedictine priest (Pop Dukljanin).

Detail from 'Miroslav's Gospel' - The St Peter Church in Bijelo PoljeSt Peter Church - Bijelo Polje - It was built by the Prince Miroslav of Hum (Stevan Nemanja's brother) between 1195 and 1199representative testimony of literacy , illustrated with exquisite miniatures - characteristic of the Zeta/costal painting tradition, is the 'Miroslav's Gospel' (Miroslavljevo Jevandjelje) named after Count Miroslav and also written in the 12th century (around 1190), in the St. Peter church in Bijelo Polje by the 'sinful' deacon Gregory. 'Miroslav's Gospel' is the oldest known Cyrillic illumination in these parts of the world and it is no surprising that both Montenegrins and Serbs  claim that it is a part of their own written heritage exclusively.

One of the most impressive examples of the culture of the times are the Cyrillic incunabulas 'Oktoih Prvoglasnik', 'Oktoih Petoglasnik', 'Psaltir', 'Trebnik', and 'Cvetni Triod' printed in Cetinje between 1493 and 1496 during the rule of Djurdj Crnojevic. In the Orthodox Church, the Oktoih is a book of liturgical hymns, intended to be sung in eight parts.

The Crnojevic print-shop was the first in Southestearn Europe and first among the South Slavs. The print-shop had enormous role in the diffusion of books and literacy, as well as in spreading the culture well beyond the local area
'Oktoih' (book of Psalms) - the oldest printed Cyrillic book in Southestern Europe (printed in 1494 in the Crnojevic print-shop)Vasilije PetrovicSince the fall of the Crnojevics' state, until Vasilije Petrovic's 'History of Montenegro' (Moscow 1745) the literary activities in Montenegro were reduced to, mainly, rewriting of the old manuscripts and noting down chronological remarks. Soon after the Vasilije's work (1774) a memorandum was sent to the Empress Maria Teresa by an unknown Montenegrin. In the memorandum, apart from the short history of the Old Montenegro, the major battles of XVIII century were described 'lively and with some details'. The author disapproved the Petrovics dynasty, as well as the monks and the theocracy in general. He requested an introduction of a civil government and building of the new schools for the Montenegrin youths. This text was partially printed in the Serbian journal 'Srpska pcela' (1838-1839). 

Petar I Petrovic Njegos (St. Petar of Cetinje) At the end of XVIII century, Petar I Petrovic Njegos was continuing the past histographic activity, making use of the narrative historic tradition. Petar I did not manage to finish his 'History of Montenegro' but his work was published in Cetinje's almanac 'Grlica', in 1835, by D. Milakovic. Since Petar I used rimes extensively and emphasized the historical dimension in his writing, it is reckoned that he was under influence of Andrija Kacic-Miosic's works. Poetry of Petar I, as well as his epistles, is permeated with the tendency to unite all the tribes and clans into the state nucleus of the Old Montenegro, so that they can in harmony and fraternity, resist better the penetrations of the Ottoman forces. 

Petar II Petrovic NjegosSimo Milutinovic SarajlijaDuring the last years of Petar I, Simo Milutinovic Sarajlija came, lived, and worked in Montenegro. The time spent in Montenegro was the most fruitful one of the Milutinovic literal career, during which he produced, apart from 'History of Montenegro two of his best dramas; tragedies 'Obilic' and 'Dika Crnogorska'. In addition, he gathered material for the collection of the folk songs 'Pjevanja Crnogorska i Hercegovacka'. Most importantly, Milutinovic is believed to have had a great influence on the greatest Montenegrin poet of all times, Petar II Petrovic Njegos

The Cover Page of the First Edition of Mountain Wreath published in Viena in 1847Njegos is often said to be not only the greatest Montenegrin poet but also a philosopher. His religious philosophy, inspite of some inconsistencies, is widely acclaimed. Njegos' most famous works include The Mountain Wreath (Gorski Vijenac) , The Ray of the Microcosm (Luca Mikrokozma-a), The False tzar Stephen the Small (Lazni car Scepan Mali), Slobodijada, and Hermit of Cetinje (Pustinjak Cetinjski). His most famous work, The Mountain Wreath, was printed in 1837, in Vienna in a printhouse of the Armenian monastery. The Mountain Wreath, written in the Montenegrin vernacular, has synthesized much of the wisdom of the people and became a key literary symbol of the nation's long struggle for freedom. There is hardly any Montenegrin who could not quote a proverb or passages from the Mountain Wreath.

Unsurprisingly, Petar II (Njegos) was a magnet for the number of the literal South Slavs among whom the most prominent were: his cousin Djordjije Petrovic (poetry), Djuko Sredanovic (poetry inspired by the folk songs; he also recorded the folk songs for the Serbian scholar Vuk Karadzic); Djordje Srdic (from Dalmatia); Petronije Lujanovic (from Vojvodina); Dimitrije Milakovic (Herzegovian who came to Cetinje and became editor of the literal annual 'Grlica' and wrote, one more, 'History of Montenegro'). The members of that literary clan were also a poet Vuk Vucetic and Njegos' nephew Stevan Perovic-Cuca

King Nicholas I PetrovicAfter the short pause (1851-1860) caused by the desperate defense of Montenegro from the Turkish attacks, the Montenegrin literary activities were revived, in early 1860s, by the very Prince Nicholas I (Nikola) Petrovic, who turned out to be very fruitful writer. His folk inspired songs were written with ease and fluency and were known, sang, and recited by many ordinary folks. Some of his songs like 'Onamo onamo' are alleged to had been known to the all South Slavs. The most praised and famous drama of Nicholas I was one named 'Balkanska carica'. Nicholas I had aspirations to be a literary patron for Montenegro, at least, and peculiarly enough, was favoring non-Montenegrin writers. 

At the end of XIX and the beginning of XX century, the literal and cultural lives were booming. Apart from Nicholas I, the most prominent poets of the time were Mirko Petrovic and 'stotinas' Savo M. Martinovic

'Crnogorac' - The First Newspapers in MontenegroSome progress in the individual poetry was made in the numerous songs of the 'Serbian student' Maksim Sobajic - Immortal hero (Besmrtni junak) 1871, The Revenge of Kosovo (Osveta Kosova) 1879, Slavic Harmony (Slovenska sloga) 1880 and others. Such and similar decasyllable's songs were foundations of the poetry of the Vojvodian journalist Simo Popovic. He came to Montenegro in 1871 and promptly took over editing of the first Montenegrin political papers, 'Crnogorac'. In the two Popovic's epic poems, ('Conquering of Niksic' and 'Conquering of Bar') he got into a romantic singing mood, sincerely delighted with the victories against the Turks. 

The whole series of epic poems inspired by the national narrating tradition were written by Jovan Sundecic, who was Bosnian by origin, but was particularly meritorious for the organization of literal work in Montenegro. Among the epic poets of the XIX century the best known are: Nikola Musulin (The Song about Grahovo), Jovan Lipovac, Radoje Roganovic, Filip Kovacevic, and others. The late epilogue of the epic poetry was given at the beginning of the XX century by Rad. Krivokapic-Orlinski in the ample and spread poems 'Herojida' and 'Slobodijada', written with 'far more ambitions than talent.' 

Montenegrin lyric poetry in the second half of the XIX century was as much abundant as the epic poetry. Lyric poetry was, however, printed in papers and magazines with only few edited and printed in collections of poems. 

The best protagonists of lyric poetry, inspired most often by the patriotism, were: Nikola Periodic, Jovan Sundecic, and Jovan Lipovac. At the beginning of the XX century, Micun Pavicevic wrote the 'Old Motives' which echoed with the popular neo-romanticism inspired by the national epic poetry. 

From the XVIII and early XIX century, historicism gave a way to memoirs. Examples of this were the descriptions of Njegos' life by Vuko Vrcevic and Milorad Medakovic. Njegos' time was also encaptured by unskillful but informative notes of Duke Petar F. Vujovic, and similarly unskillful but interesting 'memoirs dictated by Savo M. Martinovic but published in 'Memoirs' by Maksim Sobajic. Most of that literature, however, has remained unpublished. 

More organized and more literal are the memoirs of Simo Popovic which are only partly published. Not surprisingly, the King Nicholas I wrote and told memories to his last secretary Pero Bogdanovic from Vojvodina. 

Memoirs' texts usually contain one or more anecdotes from patriarchal society of Montenegro. The best examples of those were recorded in the ethnographic texts 'The Life and Customs of Arbanas' (Zivot i obicaji Arbanasa) and 'Tribe Kuci' (Pleme Kuci) by Marko Miljanov Popovic, who had learnt reading and writing in his 50s. Despite this peculiarity Miljanov managed to write several works in which he described the shocking pictures of life in his tribe Kuci as well as in Montenegro and Albania. His best known work 'Examples of....and Bravery' (Primjeri cojstva i junastva) was written with an intimate feelings of the patriarchal moral in Montenegro. Similar anecdotes were also written by Ljuba Nenadovic in his 'Letters about Montenegrins'. In this context, it may be worth mentioning the work 'Razgovor bezazlena svijeta sa Crnogorskih posjedaka' by Mihailo Vukcevic

Partly different, but of the similar archaic structure, are the anecdotes censured and arranged by Stevan Mitrov Ljubisa in his unfinished 'Pricanjima Vuka Dojcevica'. Supplement to Ljubisa's work was given by Joso Ivanisevic, but it was below Ljubisa's standard. 

Higher level of development of artistic short stories, based on the people's narration was attained in the short story 'Pripovijesti' written by S. M. Ljubisa, who was the first writer to include the motives from the life of Montenegrin Highlanders (Brda). 

In the 80s of the last century, Simo Matavulj became the most fruitful writer and the most talented 'painter' of the Montenegrin life. His short stories 'Uskok' and others, were based on the national anecdotes as Ljubisa's were. Although these short stories were Matavulj's firstborn, they, by the sharpness of perception, and the power of shaping, represent the highest artistic attainment in the narrative prose of Montenegro before 1918. 

The first writers after Matavulj (e.g. Luka Jovicevic) were a step back. Only at the beginning of this century, did Montenegro get the prominent writers (e.g. Savo Vuletic -'Proste duse'). A considerable success, particularly among the opponents of the King Nicholas, was enjoying Milutin Tomic with his satirical texts 'Djetici u parlamentu' and 'Djetici van parlamenta'. A lot of artistic feelings, warm humanity, and the sense for realistic details, was shown by Simo Sobajic, whose short stories and notes, written in the first decade of this century, were collected and published in the collection 'Iz krsnog zavicaja' after his death.

The roots of a literary critics (Jovan Pavlovic, Lazo Tomovic, and others) started spreading in the 80s of XIX century with the birth time of the literal journals in Montenegro.


Petar Petrovic Njegos - Gorski Vijenac
Borislav Pekic (
Mihailo Lalic (
Excerpts from Montenegrin Literature  (prepared by Savic Rasovic-Sasa)
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