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Songs of the Serbian People

Songs of the Serbian People: From the Collections of Vuk Karadzic

Milne Holton
Vasa D. Mihailovich
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    Songs of the Serbian People
    Book Description:

    In the early nineteenth century, Vuk Karadzic, a Serb scholar and linguist, collected and eventually published transcriptions of the traditional oral poetry of the South Slavs. It was a monumental and unprecedented undertaking. Karadzic gathered and heard performances of the rich songs of Balkan peasants, outlaws, and professional singers and their rebel heroes. His four volumes constitute the classic anthology of Balkan oral poetry, treasured for nearly two centuries by readers of all literatures, and influential to such literary giants as Goethe, Merimee, Pushkin, Mickiewicz, and Sir Walter Scott.

    This edition of the songs offers the most complete and authoritative translations ever assembled in English. Holton and Mihailovich, leading scholars of Slavic literature, have preserved here the unique meter and rhythm at the heart of Serbian oral poetry, as well as the idiom of the original singers. Extensive notes and comments aid the reader in understanding the poems, the history they record and the oral tradition that lies beneath them, the singers and their audience.

    The songs contain seven cycles, identified here in sections titled: Songs Before History, Before Kosovo, the Battle of Kosovo, Marko Karadzic, Under the Turks, Songs of the Outlaws, and Songs of the Serbian Insurrection. The editors have selected the best known and most representative songs from each of the cycles. A complete biography is also provided.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8034-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction Vuk Stefanović Karadžić and Songs of the Serbian People
    (pp. 1-12)

    The oral poems translated herein are taken from a single work of collection undertaken by one man, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), a scholar and linguist living in the city of Vienna in the early years of the nineteenth century. He began his work in 1813, around the time of the collapse of the first Serbian insurrection against the Turks.

    Vuk Stefanović Karadžić was born in 1787 in the village of Tršić in Western Serbia, the son of a Serbian peasant. A sickly child, he was given the name Vuk (Wolf), supposedly to ward off evil spirits. As a youth...

  2. 1 Songs Before History
    (pp. 13-41)

    Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, when the Slavic tribes began their first westward stirrings, they presumably bore within their memory the patterned narratives or the formulaic verbalization to which the earliest poetry of the Balkan peoples might be traced.¹ The first Slavs recognized in the west established a habitat in the region between the Vistula and Dnieper Rivers with the Avars, a migrant central Asian people, settled among them. Together the two began to migrate south and west into the Pannonian plain, and there they were joined by other Slavic tribes, among them the Sorbs (or “Serbs”)....

  3. 2 Before the Battle of Kosovo
    (pp. 42-130)

    Many if not most of the poems in Vuk’s collection recount historical events, and of these many, especially the early songs, recount the deeds of the nobility in the years of grandeur of the Serbian feudal state of Sclavonia, or Rascia, in what is now southern Serbia and Macedonia, ruled by the Nemanjićes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and in Zeta to the west, today’s Montenegro.¹

    The area, protected from the Byzantines by its mountains, had long been occupied by Slavs, organized in collective families known aszadruge, who had flooded the area between the Danube and the Peloponnesus...

  4. 3 The Battle of Kosovo
    (pp. 131-158)

    After the battle of Marica in 1371, the Turkish armies inexorably advanced across the Balkan peninsula. In 1375 Murad I (who had succeeded his father, Orkhan, as sultan in 1362) took Niš, the crossroads of the Balkans and the birthplace of Constantine. As long as the Turks held Niš the Turkish presence in the Balkans was assured. Thus finally a recognition of the need for a united action on the part of the Christian princes seemed dimly to dawn in the minds of the jealous and independent south Slav lords. Lazar was able to join forces with Tvrtko of Bosnia...

  5. 4 Marko Kraljević
    (pp. 159-214)

    After the death of Prince Lazar on Kosovo field, the fate of the Serbian kingdom, and of the Serbs, fell into the hands of his extraordinary wife, Milica. Milica competed for hegemony in the Balkans with, among others, Vuk Branković. On the Serbian lands she ruled as regent for her son, Stefan Lazarević, until 1395, when Lazarević came of age. Then Milica retired to a monastery, and the dynasty was able to continue for around seventy years after the battle of Kosovo.

    But the entry of the Turks onto the European continent generated many social and cultural changes in the...

  6. 5 Under the Turks
    (pp. 215-244)

    The orthodox christians who remained on the lands south of the Danube and the Sava were an oppressed people, the object of economic and human exploitation. Therajawere subjected by their Turkish masters to the “blood tax.” Each year male children were taken, supposedly as young as the age of eight, were converted to Islam, enrolled for service in the “new army” orjanissary, the sultan’s elite infantry (where they could be called upon to discipline their own fathers), and forbidden to marry. Later, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, girls were also taken from Serbian villages to...

  7. 6 The Songs of Outlaws
    (pp. 245-273)

    In the seventeenth century, throughout Europe and the British Isles, but notably in the Balkans, there was a marked increase in highway robbery. This activity has been seen—although certainly not universally so—as a product of social conditions, for when other methods for the redistribution of wealth fail, robbery can serve. In the Balkans, even before the Turkish invasion, but particularly at the end of the seventeenth century, there was an extended period of peace, but a period when the land was occupied by idle former soldiers and by exploitive and largely independent janissaries, too dangerous and destabilizing to...

  8. 7 The Songs of the Serbian Insurrection
    (pp. 274-306)

    By the beginning of the eighteenth century many Serbs, especially from the cities and larger towns, had settled on Hungarian or Austrian lands. They formed communities there and began to generate a culture, to create a literature in a language of their own—Slavo-Serbian, which was a heavily Russianized reworking of the language of the Old Slavic texts—and to establish a consciousness of nationality, notably a “Serbian” nationality. But an overwhelming majority of the Balkan Slavs had remained behind on the Turkish lands south of the Danube, as peasants working the land and accommodating themselves as best they could...