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Yugoslav Literature

The Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Hungarians, and other ethnic groups that constitute the population of former Yugoslavia all have their own distinct cultural traditions, and it is therefore merely for the sake of convenience that they are associated under the heading Yugoslav Literature. The earliest literary activity in the "land of the southern Slavs" (dating back to the ninth century) was the result of the educational and missionary work of Cyril of Salonika and his brother Methodius, Cyril having devised the Slavic (Cyrillic) alphabet still used, within Yugoslavia, by the Serbs and Macedonians (see *Bulgarian Literature).

Biblical and Hebraic Influences

The Bible has been translated and referred to by the southern Slavs since the beginning of their cultural history. The first translation of the Old Testament, by Cyril and Methodius, was intended for the Slavs of Macedonia and according to tradition was based on the original Hebrew. The earliest complete translation, however, was that of Primož Trubar, a Slovenian Protestant, in the late 16th century. Two versions of the Reformation period were a Croatian Lutheran Bible (1562–63) and Juri Dalmatin's Protestant Bible and Psalter (1584), which marked the beginnings of Slovenian literature. Among the translations of the 19th century, a period of national and cultural revival, were those of Matija Petar Katanić in Croatia (1813) and Djura Daničžć in Serbia (1865), both Orthodox. Two 20th-century versions are the (Orthodox) Bible of 1932–33 and Petar Vlasić's Serbo-Croatian Bible (1923–25). In Serbia, biblical tales (such as the "Book of Adam") and religious plays were written during the Middle Ages and until the period of the Turkish invasion in the mid-15th century. Biblical themes were also current in 15th-century Croatian literature. The Hebraic and Greek biblical traditions persisted in Old Slavonic literature and flourished under Byzantine influence among the southern Slavs. Biblical subjects were later popular during the Serbian literary revival in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 18th century, Gavril Stefanović Venclović of Srem translated some 20,000 pages of this old literature into vernacular Serbian.

However, original works on Old Testament themes have been traced to the Renaissance era, when the Croatian poet and humanist Marko Marulić wrote the allegorical Neo-Latin epic Davidiadis libri XIV and the first Croatian epic on a religious subject, Judita (1501), which was intended to arouse national feelings against the Turkish overlord. Another writer of the 16th century, the Montenegrin poet Mavro-Nikolo Vetranović of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), wrote an outstanding verse play about Abraham, Posvetilište Abraamovo, and the apocryphal drama, Suzana ćista. After a lapse of almost three centuries, the epic tradition was revived by the Serbian writer Milovan Vidaković, who published his Istorija o prekrasnom Josifje (1805) and the apocryphal Mladi Tovija (1825). Vidaković, who also wrote the epic Putešestvije u Jerusalim (1834), was followed by several other writers: Laza Kostić, a Serbian poet; Petar Petrović Njegoš, vladika (prince-bishop) of Montenegro, the greatest Montenegrin poet; and Silvije Strahimir Kranjčerić, a Croatian poet of Sarajevo. Biblical elements are prominent in the works of all three, Njegoš having composed the epic Luča mikrokozma (1845; The Rays of the Microcosm, 1953), which betrays the influence of Dante, Milton, and Byron, and Kranjčerić having written Mojsije, a poem about the Lawgiver. This interest in biblical subjects was maintained in the 20th century. Miroslav Krleža, the outstanding contemporary writer in Croatia, published dramas on Adam and Eve and Salome, while his colleague and fellow radical, August Cesarec, wrote "Israel's Exodus and Other Legends" on the eve of World War II. Old Testament themes have also inspired two studies of Moses (1932, 1938) by Aron Alkalaj; "King David," a drama by the Belgrade writer, artist, and stage director Raša Plaović; and Vreme čuda ("Time of Wonders," 1965), by the Serbian Borislav Pekić which was inspired by biblical legends.

There have been no Yugoslav translations of talmudic and later Jewish religious literature and these have therefore exerted no influence on the local culture. In the 16th century, however, Croatian humanism produced an outstanding scholar in Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Vlachich), a Protestant theologian and philologist who became professor of Hebrew at the University of Wittenberg in 1544. A violent controversialist and fanatical anti-Catholic, he published many scholarly works including a linguistic dictionary of the Bible, Clavis Scripturae Sacrae seu de sermone sacrarum literarum (Antwerp, 1567; Basle, 1623). The *Wandering Jew theme also appeared in Yugoslavia with the epic Ahasver (1946) by the left-wing Croatian poet and politician Vladimir Nazor. As to classics of modern Jewish literature, works by writers such as Shalom Aleichem and Sholem Asch have been translated from the Yiddish, as have other works by Jewish writers in other languages, notably Isaac Babel, Saul Bellow, Heinrich Heine, and André Schwarz-Bart, all popular among Yugoslav readers and critics.


N. Strunjaš, in: Gesher, 15:1 (1969), 74–84 (= Jevrejski almanah, 1965–67). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Palavestra, Jevrejski pisci u srpskoj knjizevnosti (1988); D. Katan Ben-Zion, Presence and DisappearanceJews and Judaism in Former Yugoslavia in the Mirror of Literatures (Heb., 2002).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.