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The oral tradition

Nada Milošević-Đorđević

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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The Serbian oral tradition was the product of a combination of factors. The people naturally brought traditions with them from their ancient Slavic homeland to the lands where they settled on the boundary of the civilizations of East and West. This was combined with the tradition they encountered in the new land, which was in direct contact with the classical heritage. Later on, it developed further as it defended itself from oriental influences, while accepting elements of those influences at the same time.

From the period up to the fifteenth century, there are mentions and records of orally transmitted process and poetry. They functioned within the bounds of the poetics of written literature, at times surfacing as independent entities and giving testimony to the high level of development in the system of orally transmitted art.

The fifteenth century saw the unveiling of an abundance of facts about the existence of practically all kinds and types of the oral tradition, along with an evaluation of them. From the end of the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century, collections of songs appeared, along with collections of stories and other creative forms; some of these works are the very epitome of artistic perfection. Entire collections of written material indicate the great metrical and thematic development of the oral tradition in poetry and a wide variety of prose forms as well. A special kind of song sung in long lines of fifteen to sixteen syllables (the so-called "bugarištica") contained mainly epic themes, including the oldest known recorded epic poem, written down in the fifteenth century. Still vital even today, the decasyllable poem was the most widespread. The epic decasylable has a caesura after the fourth syllable and the symmetrical lyric verse a caesura after the fifth syllable.

From the manuscript collections of the second half of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth century, the famous Serb legal historian Baltazar Bogišić published a volume entitled Songs from the Older, Mostly Coastal Manuscripts. They were in bugarištica, and came out in 1878.

The first large collection of folk songs in decasyllable, again mostly epic songs by local singers, was copied down at the beginning of the eighteenth century by an unknown Austrian officer somewhere along the Military Border which was under Austrian control at that time. It was published in 1925 under the title The Erlangen Manuscript by the German Slavist, Gerhard Gesemann.

At the beginning and in the middle of the nineteenth century, the first systematic collections of Serbian folk songs, tales, riddles and proverbs were published. They had been collected by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić "fresh from the lips of the people". They were: A Small Simple-Folk Slavonic-Serbian Songbook, 1814; Serbian Folk Song-Book (Vols, I-IV, Lepzig edition, 1823-8133; Vols. I-IV, Vienna edition, 1841-1862); Serbian Folk Tales (1821, with 166 riddles; and 1853); Serbian Folk Proverbs and Other Common Expressions, 1834. Next was a book of "Women's Songs" from Herzegovina (1866), which was collected by Karadžić's collaborator and assistant Vuk Vrčević, and Vuk Karadžić prepared them for publication just before his death.

Serbian folk poetry was given a marvelous reception, as it appeared in Europe when romanticism was in full bloom. This poetry, which appeared in Karadžić's anthological collections, met the "expectations" of the sophisticated European audience, becoming a living confirmation of Herder's and Grimm's ideas about the oral tradition. Jacob Grimm began to learn Serbian so that he could read the poems in the original. He wrote minute analyses of each new volume of Serbian folk songs. He ranked them as being equal to the Song of Songs, as did Goethe somewhat later. Thanks to Grimm, moreover to the initiatives of the well-educated and wise Slovene Jerner Kopitar (the censor for Slavic books, Karadžić's counselor and protector), Serbian folk literature found its place in the literature of the world.

Serbian folk songs (and tales) were translated into German practically as quickly as they were published, sometimes even beforehand, coming directly from Karadžić's manuscripts or dictations. Kopitar translated the entire first volume of the Songbook for Grimm, followed by a series of other poems in his review of the Leipzig edition. Grimm himself began to translate them as well. Therese Albertine Luise von Jacob-Talvi translated two hundred and fifty lyric and epic poems by 1825. In her comparative study of Karadžić's books in 1833, she claimed that the publication of collections of Serbian folk songs was "one of the most significant literary events of modern times".

On the basis of her translations, others were done in other languages. To mention only some of the earliest, there were translations into English (John Bowring), into French (Elisa Voilar), into Swedish (Johan Runeberg) and into Russian (Pushkin). The poems were translated into all Slavic languages. The famous mystification of Serbian folk songs by P. M‚rim‚e - La Guzla (1827) had far-reaching consequences in European literature. Special course was held on Serbian folk poetry by Claude Fauriel at the Sorbonne (1831-1832) and at the College de France by Adam Mickiewicz. In America, the husband of T.A.L. von Jacob-Talvi, Edward Robinson, the famous professor of theology, held lectures on Serbian folk songs in New York.

The fresh and resonant decasyllable of the folk songs, called the "Serbian trochee", became not only an object of study but also a model for the composition of poetry. Goethe "wrote his own love poetry in trochee". Thus, trochee "became a significant poetic from in German literature", and in other literature as well. The period of "classic" folk poetry ended eight the days of Vuk Karadžić, when it had already reached its peak.

Those phenomena which directly preceded Vuk Karadžić's day were not all that contributed to the artistic depth of Serbian folk poetry. It was rather generated through the existence of a highly developed oral-traditional grammatical system in poetry, which had come into existence through a process lasting for centuries. That process included the shaping and carving of artistic oral expression and its transferal from artist to artist, from generation to generation.

This is confirmed by the earliest known record of epic poetry that has been found to date, from the year 1497. It was hidden between the stanzas of the Italian epic Balzino. The author of that poem, Rogiero de Pacienca, recorded lines of poetry with precision and interest in the historical and social context, as if he were a folklorist himself. He heard the poetry from members of a newly settled colony of Slavs near Naples. Miroslav Pantić only recently identified them as being in bugarštica.

Those lines describe the actual imprisonment of Janko Sibinjanin (the Transylvanian Duke, Janos Unyady) in the prison of Smederevo. They do so in the perfectly polished model of the enslavement of a wretched man who is searching for someone to talk to, a mediator, from the depths of his prison cells a common theme in epic poetry. Đurađ Branković locked up Hunyady to make him pay war reparations for the damage which Hunyady's army had done in Serbian lands as it retreated from a battle in Kosovo in 1448. In a refined symbiosis of the traditional and Christian, an eagle appears - Homer's heraldic bird "who has the greatest of strength" as a messenger.

This song, written in the long lines of the bubarštica, apparently came about immediately after the event and near its actual location in the north territories of the Serbs, according to the rules of the formation of the historical epic. The poem was carried to Naples by a migration of the Serbian population, as proven by the archival and historical clarification given by Francesco Severio Perillo.

The bugarštica was used as a poetic form of the "Serbian style" in Transylvania even a century later, as indicated by the Hungarian writer Sebestyen Tinody in his Chronides, 1554 ("There are many gusle players here in Hungary, /but none is better at the Serbian style than Dimitrije Karaman..."). That the bugarštica was widespread is evidenced by data from the West, from the island of Hvar. The Renaissance poet and educated nobleman, Petar Hektorović, wrote down six folk songs of exceptional beauty in 1555, while he was on a three day excursion at sea. He published them in his travelogue in verse Fishermen and Fishermen's Conversation (Venice, 1568). His rowers, fishermen, turned out to be skilled singers, and at their leisure - "in their free time" they offered him their bugarštica " the Serbian way...", and judging from the explanation given by the fisherman Nikola Zet - "as I have always done among my triends", in a way quite common in public presentation.

All of these alluslons to folk literature and the records of the texts in the fefteenth and sixteenth century are characterised by a weilth of rorms and a wide variety of themes. They are accompained by a unique epic theme related to events at the Battle of Kosovo (1389), "little themes" focused on the battle and combinations of motifs in correlation to it, and all related to one another. Two sovereigns died at the battle, one a Serb and one a Turk (Prince Lazar and the Sultan Murad), as did one of heirs to the throne (Jacub, the Sultan's son). The Ottoman invasion into the Christian lands was halted, albeit temporarily, thanks to the Serbian army.

From a literary standpoint, from the perspective of Hegel's theory of the epic, the battle is an ideal event for the formation of epic poetry, "an extraordinarily complex event for the life of an entire nation and for and epoch". For the Serbs this battle was the most important and central event of their history, the transition from their existence as a free nation into the epoch of their slavery under the Turks, a turning point which marked a new way of calculating time - before and after the Battle of Kosovo.

The epic of Kosovo appeared at a time when every individual had become conscious of his country, of belonging to that country, and of his knightly duty toward the state. At the same time, the epic was a historical recollection of the people in terms of heroic idealization. Although there are no exact records of the songs arising just after the Battle of Kosovo, but only epical stylized fragments of the theme in the written sources, those fragments show how historical facts are transposed into poetry through the forms of motif, language and style, aided by the very universality of the theme.

The murder of the Turkish Sultan Murad, committed by the Serbian knight Miloš Obilić was an actual historical act, but at the same time it was also a poetic fact. The act itself was motivated by Miloš's internal need to sacrifice himself for his nation. It was fitted into the motif formula of the chivalrous epic with its cause-effect relationship between the stander of Vuk Branković and the Miloš's desire to remove it from himself and thus to prove his loyalty to his sovereign. The one who slandered Miloš (Vuk Branković, the historical and epic son-in-law of Prince Lazar) became a traitor by the rules of the same epic formula, as the last link in the chain in justifying the unavoidable tragic outcome of the battle.

All the events are stylized in the correlation of the emotive-personal and heroic-epic-from the dramatic feast before the battle (which was modeled after both the Last Supper and the rituals of the Serbian slava which is dedicated to the family saint among the Serbs), to the search for dead heroes on the battlefield at Kosovo. The feudal atmosphere is emphasized to a greater degree in the bugarštica renditions. The decasyllable poetry collected and published by Vuk Karadžić is to some extent even personal, familial and universal; in harmonious resonance with the ceremonial tones, a kind of proximity between the singer and the noble and sovereign characters is established. Objective historical events are identified with personal destiny, so that every, character, every individual is completely subjected to the demands of the greater, ethical order.

The idea of the Heavenly Kingdom, which the Serbian Prince chose (over his earthly one), is the conceptual foundation of all this poetry. The idea is evangelical, but it is also the fundamental idea of every heroic epopee, in which death on the battlefield is the only way for the warrior to ensure eternal life in the next world, and everlasting remembrance and glory in this world. Lazar's decision is a decision for the moral survival of the nation and its continuance in the timeless world of the epic. This decision obtains the epitome of its form in the free personal choice of sacrifice by Miloš Obilić as he carried out the oath he had won to his prince.

Two poems (The Death of the Jugovićs' Mother and Fair Maiden of Kosovo) are dedicated to the moments immediately after the battle. Both poems are epilogues to the cycle of events, transpositions of the communal to the personal, of the patriotic to the familial, of the epic view of the events to the lyric. This has made many, especially foreign scholars, view the poems as ballads, many traits of which these poems do contain. On the other hand, many thematic domains of the European ballad are powerfully rendered by the epic impulse of Serbian poetry.

The poem about the Jugović's mother is the heroic tragedy of a mother who bravely faces the death of her husband and all of her sons. She does so up to the moment when her emotional pain becomes physical pain, when her suffering reaches threshold, and when her built-up, suppressed anguish overwhelms her entire being. With a detailed formulation, the singer connects that moment with the appearance of black ravens that drop the hero's right hand into the mother's lap. The singer first allows one of the young widows to recognize the hand by its wedding ring as the hand of her husband, Damjan; then the poet formulates the long, tortuous moments of the mother's recollections. (She turns it around and over,/she whispers to the hand:"/My hand, O green apple fair,/ where did you grow, who has plucked you?"). The singer allows her to reflect on the past, to look at her son's hand in his childhood and to interweave her happy memories and the tragic situation: "You grew here on my lap,/you were plucked on Kosovo bare!"

The oral tradition about the period after Kosovo presented the ever greater penetration of the Turks into the interior of the country as a historical inevitability which the Serbian despots and dukes resisted with all their might. They offered their tragic lives to safeguard the oaths sworn at Kosovo.

With the demise of the Serbian medieval state, the historical traditions and epic poetry became the only integrating factor for the Serbian people, the most important elements of the communication system in the culture, and a means of spiritual survival and resistance to assimilation. The organization of artistic expression into verbal metrical forms or picturesque images-motifs ensured the continuation of collective memory. Various travelers who transversed the south Slavic lands, coming mostly from Vienna and Istanbul, gave particular attention to this phenomenon in their invaluable records of the life and customs of the population. Benedikt Kuripečić, a Slovene by birth, was travelling these parts between 1530 and 1531 as an interpreter for an Austrian emissary. In his Travelogue, he narrates a part of the Kosovo legend, mentions the epic songs about Miloš Obilić in places which were from the actual events (in Bosnia and Croatia), and he even noted the creation of new songs. In a time when the Turks were occupying the major towns of the Serbian lands, Kuripečić produced documentation about the poetry and legends as a from of defense against the pressure of the Ottoman invasion.

An epitaph on the tombstone of Duke Radosav Pavlović in Rogatica, was carved "in Serbian letters and in the Serbian language", and it is not known whether Kuripečić actually copied it down himself or recorded it according to the interpretation of his Bosnian translators, including their own epic idealization. It represents a kind of confession and an oral, epic way of thinking, that is, the Weltanschauung of the epic: "I, Duke Pavlović Radosav, lord and knight of this land, lie here in this grave. While I was alive, the Turkish Tsar could not force me from my lands nor defeat me, not with any kind of heroism, nor with gifts, nor in battle. I would not even consider renouncing my faith..."

The whole period from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries was filled with the constant revival of the epic recollections concerning the existence of the once great and powerful Serbian medieval state. It was accompanied by constant liberation movements within the possibilities of the territories where the Serbs had settled, in two particular fashions. The haiduks ("outlaws") battled within the interior of the occupied lands. The uskoks ("border raiders") fought in the peripheral territories, all along the military border from Varadin and Karlovac in the North, in Senj, Udbina, Kotari, Makarska and Gabela in the South all the way to Boka Kotorska and Montenegro. Later, the Military Border would stretch all along the Sava, Tisza and Muresul, up to north Banat. A special army was formed along the borders. The commonplace heroism of the two types can be differentiated in its effects, a fact, which is clearly seen from the poems.

Left entirely to their own devices deep in the interior of the occupied lands after the Turkish occupation of Serbia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, the haiduks organized themselves into troops of ten to forty guerrillas. They could remain up in the mountains from Spring to Autumn ("They left on St. George's Day,/They were gone until St. Dimitrios' Day/The leaves were falling, the snows began"). They would attack and rob the Turkish caravans. From time to time the haiduks would show up in their own villages or in the neighboring villages. The entire population was involved in protecting them: their accomplices were those who would put them up for the night, or even waitresses at the roadside taverns where they would meet to exchange information. The maintenance of the conspiracy within a small group was main factor in their survival.

On the other hand, the accomplices of the uskoks were the Christian states of Venice and Austria, which included Krajina. The uskoks lived in the territory of Krajina as a kind of professional army. Their duty was to protect the border, to safeguard against Turkish invasion, and also to carry out small-scale attacks on the Turks. Ever ready for battle, having predated their lives for Christianity, the uskoks saw the battle against the Turks as an opportunity to liberate their own people as well.

The archive materials offer data about the difficulties they faced, about their recalcitrance and fierce independence, and about the sufferings of their families. The archives also indicate that the Catholic clergy was constantly trying to Catholics the uskoks, and how their position was dependent on the political relationships of the great powers. The materials also indicate that the greatest of all the uskoks in Kotari, Stojan Janković was in communication with the patriarch Arsenije Čarnojević.

In the countless battles between these famous Christian heroes and the equally famous heroes among the Moslems of Krajina, praise is rendered to both camps. However, the victory in the epic is delegated according to whose song is being sung. (In time, the Moslem epic songs were picked up by professional singers and obtained a special compositional form that is much longer).

Weddings and kidnappings, conversions and disguises gaol themes and liberation from gaol - these are the essential elements of the songs of the uskoks. They are generally based on international motifs, but they have an exceptionally expressive local and national hue to them. Thus, the song The Captivity of Janković Stojan, was inspired by actual historical events, set in the international model of the homecoming of the long-lost husband on the day when his wife is about to remarry (the most famous rendition of which is found in Homer's Odyssey). "Janko the knight, known throughout the world for his heroic deeds in Dalmatia", as he is characterized by a contemporary German historian, was actually imprisoned in Istanbul and saved himself by escaping and returning to his fortress in Ravni Kotari.

The song from Karadžić's collection is quite vivid, a synthetic depiction in which the singer creates, transmits and records the entire social and moral system of Serbian civilization. A series of brilliant metaphorical scenes, in which the idyllic harmony of the patriarchal family triumphs, is crowned with an open ethical codex which is satisfied by the outcome of the song - Stojan gives his sister away to the groom-to-be who has lost his bride. Thus, the would-be groom is not murdered as he was in The Odyssey.

Haiduk life was present in the Balkanseven before the Slavic tribes arrived, as it was in many other countries and epochs, as a from of outlaw life, in the sixteenth century, after the Turkish conquest of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, it became a common phenomenon. One of the best, most convincing and precise wyplanations of the social and historical-political phenomenon of haiduk life was given in the song of the most famous haiduk chieftain - the epic character Starina Novak. He protests against the slave labor and heavy taxes imposed by the Turks ("I was just a poor man"), and he shows that haiduk life was a necessity in the purest of series ("I was driven to it by the worst of troubles"), as a from of self-defense from the recalcitrance of the Turkish lords. Thus, the peasant became a haiduk, the head of the household became a protector of the nation, and the family man became homeless. For such men, "the sword and rifle were father and mother,/ their brother and sister were two small guns,/ their faithful love a sharpened sword,/ a hard rock was a soft pillow to them,/ their coats became their constant home". The oppressed man became a hero "able to strike and escape, and to endure the most horrid of places."

When the cruelty of the Turks is described in detail, it functions as a direct magnification of the heroics and honor of the outlaws. This is especially seen in the song about Starac Vujadin, who endures the greatest of pain; he not only does not betray his compatriots, but also encourages his sons to be brave.

A famous song in Karadžić's collection is one about the revenged taken on Bećir-Aga and his wife. Revenge is invoked in the introductory scenes of the torture of the young haiduk Mali Radojica: the Turks build a fire on his chest, threaten him with a viper, and drive splinters under his nails. In all of that, the value of the song is as much in his deep male weakness for feminine beauty as it is in the praise of his heroic endurance. It is that beauty which he cannot resist. When "fair Hajkuna" appears, he stops pretending to be dead, forgetting that it is the only way he will be saved - to be carried "dead" from the goal and then escape. Humor brings relief to the scene. The haiduk "peaks out of his left eye,/ a smile comes to the corner of his mouth2, and the girl covers him with a scarf and persuades her parents to cast him into the sea. Then, while Bećir-Aga and his wife sit down to a quiet dinner for the first time in nine years, talking endlessly about how he has finally disposed of the haiduk who had been causing him so much trouble, the young attacker is listening beneath the window. He bursts into the room and takes a bloody revenge, then frees his comrades from the dungeons and marries the beautiful young woman.

Folk epic songs present the haiduks as the protectors of the people's rights. They were seen as avengers who aroused unrest among the Turks; the haiduks lived outside the law, but that law is depicted as being foreign, the law of the Turkish occupation.

The most popular Serbian hero, Prince Marko, contributed greatly to the creation of such depictions, for his fame spread among all the South Slavs. Alive in the epics for more than three hundred years, mostly under the Turkish rule during the time when the haiduks were most active, he was inevitably ascribed all the characteristics common to those outlaws ("Marko agitated all the Turks"). Historically speaking he was the son of the most powerful regional ruler, King Vukašin Mrnjavčević, who also shared the rule of the empire with Uroš Nemanjić. Marko became a Turkish vassal after the Ottoman victory at the Battle on the Marica in 1371. He died as a vassal at the Battle of Rovine in 1394, fighting against the Christians who were led by Duke Mirčeta of Wallachia. Two facts indicate how the Serbian prince obtained his role as an epic figure, a protector of the people, through the performance of his duties as a vassal. The first comes from the archives: Marko's territory was protected from attack by the Turkish cavalry. The second fact is literary-historiographic: at the beginning of the fifteenth century, a well-informed writer, Konstantin Filozof, presented Marko as an unwilling vassal of the Turks who stated just before his death "I..Pray to the Lord that he help the Christians, and may I be the first among the dead in this war."

From there it was possible for certain motifs to appear in the epics: Marko abolishes the tax imposed by the Turks on the marriage of young Serbian women: likewise, the motif of the hanging of the oppressor of the people. Džemo Brdanin, shared the same origins. Marko also ploughs the rods of the empire so that the Turkish army cannot traverse Serbian lands. He defies the regulations imposed by the Sultan for the observance of Ramazan, and does everything quite to the contrary; when the Sultan reprimands him, he justifies himself by saying "If I drink wine during Ramazan, /If I drink/, it is because my faith allows me to". Thus, in the bugarštica, Marko again remains loyal to his faith, and goes first to be the best man at an Orthodox wedding, on his mother's advice ("The young Prince first goes there to the church of St. Petka"), before answering the Sultan's call to wage war against the Arabs; he is completely aware that, as a vassal, the Sultan needs him there.

With his character, this great temperamental renegade links together various periods of Serbian history. In the period of the Nemanjić dynasty, young Marko appears as a protector of the legitimacy of the emperor's lineage, the guardian of "Uroš the infant Tsar", the son of Tsar Dušan. In a famous song about Uroš and the Mrnjavčević family, he opposes his own father and nudes, who are squabbling over the empire, and he obeys his mother, Jevrosima, whose honorable advice takes on a proverbial function ("My son, do not speak untruths,/ Not even if your father or uncles tell you to,/ But do what is right according to the God of truth!/ Do not lose your soul, my son:/ It is better for you to lose your head,/ than to sin against your own soul!).

In the folk tradition, Marko joins all the other important epic heroes of various periods, or else he opposes them and his presence becomes the measure of importance for those heroes and events, all the way up to the wars of liberation. He appears in all kinds of oral folk traditions, lyric poems and ballads, in epics and in mythical or historical narratives, proverbs and expressions. Marko's biography in poetry is a kind of framework for the psychological profile of the entire nation, a synthesis of the myth experienced through song, along with history and everyday reality. Ultimately, he is like a magnetic field for international motifs, on which such biographies are based in the first place.

Epic poems of rebellion were preceded by poems about the battles for freedom in Montenegro, and they recount Serbian uprisings for liberation from the Turks at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They are contiguous with the haiduk epics, but they are founded on the conceptual framework of the poetry about the Battle of Kosovo. They were mainly formed by a folk singer in Karadžić's time, a witness to those very events, a blind gusle player named Filip Višnjić. Placing the real heroes of his time in epics, he also managed to produce a life-giving poetic form dealing with peasant princess and prince peasants, who feel called to establish a new state as soon as the Serbs are liberated from the Turks. This new state was to be a continuation of the old one, separated four centuries from it by the Turkish occupation. This is no coincidence, for, as the great Serbian anthropologist-geographer Jovan Cvijić once said, every Serbian peasant felt himself to be the direct descendant of the nobility who died at Kosovo. This proximity with the Kosovo epic was consistently realized in the stylistic-expressive approaches. A good example of this is in the description of the enormity of the Turkish forces ("Horse after horse, hero after hero,/ Spears like a forest on a black mountain,/ All around the battlefield the banners are waving,/ like clouds they darken the heavens"). This proximity is also preserved in the motif forms, in the biasing to the uprising of Miloš from Pocerje, who bears the same name as the famous knight of Kosovo Miloš Obilić ("Be joyful, Miloš of Pocerje,/ Your right hand has achieved glory/ by killing Meho,/ The chieftain of all the Turks"). The poems are also linked into a unified whole, but the epics of the uprisings are an epopee of optimism, even with the ultimate self-1sacrifice of the heroes, with their vision of the final liberation of the Serbian lands. The Bosnian singer Filip Višnjić modeled their highly aroused hope in inspired verses which he placed on the lips of Karađorđe: "O Drina waters, O noble boundary,/ Set between Bosnia and Serbia,/ The day will soon come when a shall cross you at last/ to visit glorious Bosnia!"

Into the monumental poem called "The Beginning of the Revolt against the Dahijas", (a "dahija" was an officer of the janissaries) Filip Višnjić poured the immediate cause behind the uprising - the killing of the district chiefs and the revelation of the plan of the dahijas to decapitate all the Serbian leaders and afterward to "put to the sword" all Serbian males above the age of fifteen. Višnjić had an excellent knowledge of the historical facts. The poem contains the whole conception of the uprising relentlessly true to life, with all of its cruel and even its lighter scenes. Achieving even that which is most difficult in Serbian poetry, Višnjić created a panorama of events, and he portrayed the general and unstoppable movement of the masses in a remarkable comparison with nature ("The masses arose like grass springing from the soil"). He characterizes the moment of truth in verse pregnant with associations ("Because the blood boiled up from the very ground").

The rest of the songs also make up a chronicle of the uprising with their own type of epic. They faithfully render the topography of the battles and their events. They are a memorial to the Serbian warriors, but the epics also present their convincing psychological portraits, beginning with Karađorđe and including one of the most noble characters in Serbian history and in Serbian epics - Prince Ivo of Semberija, who bought back slaves from the Turks, and died in poverty because of it.

Although the rebellion epic is a cruel picture book of bloody scenes at times, it is not as much vengeful delight in the Serbian victory as it is a philosophical abstraction beyond the events, a comprehension of the suffering of one's opponent because of one's own bitter experience. That is the greatness of the song "Battle on Mt. Mišar", in which recognition is given to the fallen Turkish chieftains together with the sympathy shown to Kulin's widow.


Lyric folk poetry is a very complex oral art form. Only through careful reading does one discover the hidden layers of a very ancient weltanschauung which, being relics, underwent artistic reworking and continued to live along with newer motifs.

It is characteristic of the Serbian oral lyric point that it expresses emotion through external events, usually in an indirect way. In the earliest periods it expressed the wishes, requests, joy and sadness of the collective, and later in included individual emotions well. Always linked with other forms of art - music dance, movement, mime, or with all those art forms together, the folk lyric is a part of everyday life.

It was created as a function of the magic of herdsmen and farmers, linking the elements and divinity, connecting those present with their predecessors. The lyric was also the emotional expression of the life cycle of each individual from birth to death, the expression of erotic desires and love. That it why it also appears in so many different forms: ritual lyric, family lyric, mythological and Christian lyric work songs and love songs.

Ritual songs, which have died out for the most part, were set to the agrarian calendar, according to planting and harvest seasons. They followed the natural cycle and are related to the position of the Sun, its birth, growth and death.

According to the modern classification, family ritual songs follow the same cycle from the human standpoint - birth (lullabies), maturation (wedding songs9, and death (laments). Within that cycle, there were songs for the various events, which dealt with events in everyday, historical and social events.

The classic Serbian folk lyric poem, in the form in which it has come down to us, is above all a peasant folk song. It is an expression of various aspects of patriarchal culture, which survived for centuries in the Balkans.

The patriarchal extended family, which is the framework for the events of most of the lyric songs, limits the possibilities of female presence. "Women's songs" express the demands that are placed before women with proverb like consciences. However, these demands are always exclusively ethical and never material in nature. The bride is to bring only good into her new husband's home "and the dearest blossom of all/ is tranquillity in the house where she is". "Be good, daughter,/ that is the greatest gift of all", is the demand which the groom's family repeats in the wedding songs. On the other hand, the groom accepts his indigent bride's belief that "if they are noble men/ they will take a simple flower from me as a gift".

Although some of the songs speak of poverty, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with amusing sarcasm, there is not even a trace of class subjugation in them, or of dependence on the noble lord. Even the forced, strenuous work, which is mentioned in the Serbian medieval documents, did not find its way into lyric poetry. It was sung about as being difficult only it if were done as forced labor for the Turkish overlords. Social troubles are completely obscured by national ones.

The work songs dual mostly with companionship, with doing volunteer work as part of the extended family - volunteering to help for the good of all. Work within the collective is thus turned into an amusing kind of competition, into the competition at the harvest by young men and women, into the praise of the young women's productivity and endurance ("The young man and the young woman complete at the harvest,/ the young man reaps twenty-three sheaves,/ and the girl does twenty-four/ The next morning at dawn,/ the boy is still in bed, does not even raise his head,/ and the girl is already embroidering her fine needle work!").

The indirect, objective means of expression in the Serbian lyric poems (which has been noted many times in the past), manifests itself in the complete saturation and unity of its content and form. In lyric songs the events are only a tool for the expression of emotions, thus demanding of the singer that he search for the most suitable parallel event or description which will express that emotion.

In a song from the manuscript of an unknown citizen of Perast "The little girl is picking absinthe... she avoids the tiny rose", the double symbols - the action and its meaning - reveal the state other soul. Losing her love in a war, she is forced to marry another who is not so dear to her.

Even the monologue in the folk lyric, which should be the most suitable form for the direct expression of feeling is often just a means of expressing imaginary events within which feelings are objectivised: "I'd rather walk with my love in the mountains,/ eating autumn beries, drinking water from the leaves,/ to put a cold stone under my head for a pillow,/ than to work in the garden with someone I don't love,/ to eat sugar and sleep in silk").

In the mass of motifs in Serbian folk lyrics, several should be mentioned because of their constant recurrence. These are the love a sister has for her brother, the gentle relationship between the bride and her husband's brother, the elevation of virginal purity, all of which shed light on the clearer side of patriarchal culture.

Although the melancholic tends to be predominant, there are songs of overwhelming passion, of the soulful rivalry and spiteful teasing of boy and girl, of the rebellion against convention. The joy of living predominated in many of the songs. The songs depend not only on the period when they were created, but also on the place where they were created (the songs of south and eastern Serbia are more sensual, those of the towns are more dauntless in terms of expression).

The Serbian lyric poem appears in a wide variety of forms from tetrasylabic verse to verses sixteen syllables in length. There are three basic structural types: the monologue, the dialogue, and the narrative description. These three are used interchangeably or complement one another, and this determines whether a song will be a single part, double part or triple part composition. The socialized "bećarac" is a special kind of lyric song which is made up of two decasyllable verses of a lucid, recalcitrant and mocking tone ("The lad is walking along and looks up/ sticks his nose right into a mulberry branch").

Inseparable from nature or from the Balkans, or from the culture, the religion and history of the Serbian nation, the Serbian lyric poem "unifies the advantages of the oriental and occidental lyric poems", as Grimm noted. "Its being is completely European", said Grimm, "and merely by its refinement and conceptual relationship... It reminds one of the orient, but does not enthrall one. It has the scent of a rose, but not of rose oil."


The oral prose tradition's basic characteristics fit into the international system of genres and can be divided into two basic categories - the category of narratives (animal stories and fables, fairy tales, religious stories, novellas, funny stories and anecdotes) and the category of traditions (mythological, etiological, historical and cultural-historical, and legends - examples of folklore, apocryphal, or canonical biographies of the saints). The rich repertoire of forms accepted in recent folklore scholarship should also be added, having significantly contributed to bringing the very process of narration to the forefront; this scholarship also includes all those forms which can be found within the boundaries of repetitive syntactic and compositional structures.

Fairly close to the concept of the genre as an "ideal" model of the kind because they were formed over centuries within a continual literary-poetic system, the oral forms followed that model, with some modifications, overlapping with one another and behaving like a dynamic construction. The characteristic of almost all the forms of narratives is the tendency toward realism and historicism, even in those forms, which emphasize the artistically fictitious, such as the fairy tale.

In that way, for example, in the fairy tale of Cinderella, the encounter with the prince occurs in a village church during the liturgy. The type structure of the fairy tale about the departure of the central hero into the wide world, where he is to accomplish "impossible" feats, are objectivised in a story about a Serbian border guard who has to deliver "three of the devil's hairs" in order to liberate himself from eternal guard on the boundary between Austria and Turkey, between Christianity and Islam.

The Serbian version of the departure into the world of adventure in the familiar international story type about an animal which flies from its cruel master, joined by other tortured creatures, is a story of animals taken by the haiduks as the only possible form of protection from evil.

The supernatural power, which tests people's behavior in the religious tales, meets up with them in this world and rewards them or punishes them according to the Christian and national codex, also appears frequently in the form of a national saint, Saint Sava for example. For Serbian oral literature, it is characteristic that many typical prose forms are expressed in epic verse. Likewise, the hero-epic component obtains its own concentrated, sometimes paradoxical, expression in the warrior-patriarchal anecdote. Humorous verbal rivalry, decelt, wise answers to the questions asked, which often lead the action in the novella, are the basic motif fabric of the humorous story.

The humorous story appears in a series of flexible forms, from humorous word games to scenes where the humor of the very situation, of human nature, and of character come to the foreground. As the representative of national psychology, but as the bearer of only one generally human character, (whether it is wisdom, stupidity, evil or something else), and the type character appears in pregnant situations, in which those traits appear in the best form of expression. The most famous national character type is Clever Era, a peasant who defeats his opponent (usually a Turk, but there are also other representatives of government) with his wit and tough resistance.

The realistic, and sometimes "surreal", humorous corpus includes a large number of various forms of story which are still being created even today (anecdotes, jokes, stories from life).

The traditional stories are a special form of the oral history of the human and natural spirit. They clarify and interpret everything that has come about and remained both the spiritual and material. They attempt to be convincing, mentioning specific places and rely upon eyewitnesses who are to confirm the truthfulness of the stories themselves. The basis of the traditions - that their authenticity is not to be doubted either by the storyteller or by the audience - demanded a special form of artistic modeling.

These narratives communicate by means of topical forms, by means of pictures with an emotional hue. Their motifs have been adopted into the tradition by which the people's beliefs about a historical event or character are presented as authentic, cultural-historical fact. Those beliefs become figurative, thus surviving and being transferred from generation to generation. They become one with the form used for their transmission. The historical narrative brings the listener closer to his ancestors with its definite emotional hue and with elements of the mythical, who commonly occur, in it. The historical narrative is highly developed in the Serbian tradition, and it plays an important role in safeguarding national identity and self-consciousness. The legends of Prince Marko are such, his supernatural powers, his attainment of strength, his choice of horse, and the traces he leaves over the length and breadth of the land, all of which "prove" the truth of the narratives about him. The stories of St. Sava and St. Simeon are similar for they appear in battle before the army like the ancient gods or Christian angels, protecting the warriors of their people and making their victory possible. On the other hand, there are also similar narratives about negative heroes. Once a story is introduced about the treason of a character, or of his attempt to usurp the throne, if it is said that he is a murderer or traitor, the story takes such deep root in the tradition that it almost completely suppresses the naked historical truth. Thus Vukašin Mrnjavčević, remains the murderer of "infant Tsar" Uroš who was Dušan's son and the heir to the throne of the Serbian empire. Vuk Branković is forever labeled a traitor.

Demonological narratives in brief scenes dramatize the belief in supernatural beings (from the international or national stock), offering their depiction and behavior as they encounter people; within the framework of the international type, those narratives concretize the setting. The demonological narratives contribute to the re-mythologization of the heroic world (which is mostly historical in the Serbian tradition) through the intermingling of historical and cultural-historical narratives with epic poetry.

The basic function of many narratives is the interpretation of phenomena and "things" in nature and society, whereas the very existence of phenomena serves as evidence of the "historicity" of the narrative. To a certain extent it also depends on historical narratives. Thus, in a series of different variants, the cuckoo bird originated due to the sisters of Prince Lazar, who inconsolably moaned ("cuckooed") for him after the Kosovo massacre.

It should be mentioned that the narratives were separated from the category of tales by the brothers Grimm, who emphasized that tales (M„rchen) were more poetic and that the narratives (Sagen) were more historical. It was not until the middle of the present century that they became the nucleus of interest for European and American scholars, and that an international categorization was not done for them before 1963. However, Vuk Karadžić had anticipated such a classification more than a century earlier. In a work which he never published in his life time, The Life and Customs of the Serbian Nation, Karadžić had a chapter entitled "Beliefs in Things Which Don't Actually Exist" which corresponds to the demonological traditions of the European classification, a chapter "About the Origins of Sundry Thins" to a group of etiological narratives, and a chapter entitled "Heroes and Their Horses" includes the historical and culture-historical narratives. Vuk Karadžić was exceptionally familiar with the material and had a feeling for its from and function. He outdid the international scholarly team by an entire century by describing these categories terminologically.

Karadžić considered folk prose, like the other oral forms, to be an expression of the folk spirit, but he also cared about the language which expresses that spirit and shapes those forms. His life goal of establishing a literary language based on the vernacular greatly influenced his attunes toward the kinds of oral tradition. As early as the Dictionary of 1818, Kardžić published more than twenty humorous tales and narratives in order to explain certain words, in order to "show what the people think and say about a given word". In the preface to the collection of tales which was published in Vienna in 1821, in a fueilleton of the first Serbian literary paper, he expanded his thoughts: "The songs, riddles and tales (proverbs) are practically a folk literature which need nothing more than that one fatefully, purely and honesty gather them; but in the writing of tales one must think and carefully place the words (but again not according to one's tastes but according to the essence of the Serbian language..."). In that sense, Karadžić undertook the stylization of stories. The difficulty involved in that undertaking can already be seen in the Dictionary.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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