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Serbian epic poetry


Drowsy Emperor

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It occurred to me that anyone who loved the poems that Tolkien (or tales of King Arthur and other European epics from the middle ages) so often created for his works would enjoy these, because, even though they aren't fantasy, they are of the sort of inspiration Tolkien might have used in the first place.

 

The first one is "The Fall of the Serbian Empire", created and retold through the oral tradition after the battle of Kosovo in 1389 until it was collected among other such works and published in the 19th century. The battle itself was a military draw as both the Serbian prince (tsar in the poem) and the Ottoman Sultan lost their lives along with most of their men. However, the Turks could replace these losses and the Serbs could not. Therefore the poem rationalizes the death of the Tsar as a deliberate form of Christian sacrifice in order to attain the "Kingdom of Heaven" and blames his defeat on treachery - although there likely was none, with the battle simply being fought to the bitter end. The Serbian medieval state would cease to exist and become incorporated in the Ottoman empire shortly afterward.

 

The Fall of the Serbian Empire


From Jerusalem, the holy city,
Flying came a swift grey bird, a falcon,
And he carried in his beak a swallow.


But behold and see! ’Tis not a falcon,
’Tis the holy man of God, Elias,
And he does not bear with him a swallow,
But a letter from God’s Holy Mother.
Lo, he bears the letter to Kossovo,
Drops it on the Tsar’s knees from the heavens,
And thus speaks the letter to the monarch:
“Tsar Lazar, thou Prince of noble lineage,
What wilt thou now choose to be thy kingdom?
Say, dost thou desire a heav’nly kingdom,
Or dost thou prefer an earthly kingdom?
If thou should’st now choose an earthly kingdom,
Knights may girdle swords and saddle horses,
Tighten saddle-girths and ride to battle—
You will charge the Turks and crush their army!
But if thou prefer a heav’nly kingdom,
Build thyself a church upon Kossovo,
Let not the foundations be of marble,
Let them be of samite and of scarlet....
And to all thy warriors and their leaders
Thou shalt give the sacraments and orders,
For thine army shall most surely perish,
And thou too, shalt perish with thine army.”


When the Tsar had read the holy letter,
Ponder’d he, and ponder’d in this manner:
“Mighty God, what now shall this my choice be!
Shall I choose to have a heav’nly kingdom?
Shall I choose to have an earthly kingdom?
If I now should choose an earthly kingdom,
Lo, an earthly kingdom is but fleeting,
But God’s kingdom shall endure for ever.”


And the Tsar he chose a heav’nly kingdom,
And he built a church upon Kossovo,—
Did not bring foundation stones of marble
But he brought pure samite there and scarlet;
Summon’d there the Patriarch of Serbia,
Summon’d there with him the twelve archbishops.
Thus he gave the warriors and their leaders
Holy Sacrament and battle orders.


But no sooner gave the Prince his orders
Than the Turkish hordes swept on Kossovo.
And the Jug Bogdan leads there his army,
With his sons, the Jugovitch—nine brothers,
His nine sons like nine grey keen-eyed falcons,
Each of them commands nine thousand warriors,
And the Jug Bogdan commands twelve thousand [1].


With the Turks they fight there and they struggle,
And they smite and slay there seven pashas.
When the eighth advances to the battle
Then doth Jug Bogdan, the old knight, perish,
With his sons the Jugovitch—nine brothers,
His nine sons like nine grey keen-eyed falcons,
And with them doth perish all their army.


Moved their army three Mernyachevichi:
Ban Uglyesha and Voyvoda Goïko,
And the third, the mighty King Vukáshin;
And with each were thirty thousand warriors,
With the Turks do they there fight and struggle,
And they smite and slay eight Turkish pashas.
When the ninth advances to the battle
Then there perish two Mernyachevichi,
Ban Uglyesha and Voyvoda Goïko;
Many ugly wounds has King Vukáshin,
Turks and horses wade in blood above him,
And with him doth perish all his army.


Moved his army then Voyvoda Stefan;
And with him are many mighty warriors,
Many mighty warriors—sixty thousand.
With the Turks do they there fight and struggle,
And they smite and slay nine Turkish pashas.
When the tenth advances to the battle,
There doth perish the Voyvoda Stefan,
And with him doth perish all his army.


Then advances Tsar Lazar the Glorious,
With him moves a might host of Serbians,
Seven and seventy thousand chosen warriors.
They disperse the Turks upon Kossovo,
No time had the Turks to look upon them,
Still less time had they to stem the onslaught;
Tsar Lazar and all his mighty warriors
There had overwhelm’d the unbelievers,
But—the curse of God be on the traitor,
On Vuk Brankovitch,—he left his kinsman,
He deserted him upon Kossovo:
And the Turks o’erwhelmed Lazar the Glorious,
And the Tsar fell on the field of battle;
And with him did perish all his army,
Seven and seventy thousand chosen warriors.


All was done with honour, all was holy,
God’s will was fulfilled upon Kossovo.

Edited by Drowsy Emperor
  • Like 3

И погибе Српски кнез Лазаре,
И његова сва изгибе војска, 
Седамдесет и седам иљада;
Све је свето и честито било
И миломе Богу приступачно.

 

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"The Maiden of Kossovo" , from the same period, is a much more personal affair - describing an unnamed maiden's search for her betrothed husband among the wounded and the dead on the field of the aforementioned battle. The scene of the poem would be portrayed by a Serbian painter in 1919 Kosovo_Maiden%2C_Uro%C5%A1_Predi%C4%87%2

 

The Maiden of Kossovo


Early rose the maiden of Kossovo,
Early rose she on a Sunday morning,
Rose before the brilliant sun had risen.
She has rolled the white sleeves of her robe back,
Rolled them back up to her soft white elbows;
On her shoulders, fair white bread she carries,
In her hands two shining golden goblets,
In one goblet she has poured fresh water,
And has poured good red wine in the other.
Then she seeks the wide plain of Kossovo,
Seeks the noble Prince’s place of meeting,
Wanders there amongst the bleeding heroes.
When she finds one living midst the wounded
Then she laves him with the cooling water,
Gives him, sacramentally, the red wine,
Pledges with her fair white bread the hero.


Fate at last has led her wand’ring footsteps
Unto Pavle Orlovitch, the hero,
Who has borne the Prince’s battle-standard.
From his gaping wounds the blood is streaming,
His right hand and his left foot are severed--
And the hero’s ribs are crushed and broken,
But he lingers still amongst the living.
From the pools of blood she drags his body
And she laves him with the cooling water,
Red wine, sacramentally, she gives him,
Pledges then with fair white bread the hero.


When at length his heart revives within him,
Thus speaks Pavle Orlovitch, the hero:
“Oh dear sister, Maiden of Kossovo,
What great need compels thee here to wander,
Thou, so young, amongst the wounded heroes?
What dost thou upon the field of battle?
Dost thou seek a brother’s son, or brother,
Dost thous seek perchance an aged father?”
Answered him the Maiden of Kossovo:
“Oh dear brother! Oh thou unknown warrior!
None of my own race am I now seeking,
Not a brother’s son nor yet a brother,
Neither do I seek an agéd father.
Wast thou present, oh thou unknown warrior;
When for three whole weeks to all his army
Prince Lazar the Sacrament was giving
By the hands of thirty holy fathers,
In the splendid church of Samodreha?
When Lazar and all the Serbian army
There the Holy Sacrament have taken,
Three Voyvodas last of all did enter:
First of them was Milosh, the great warrior,
Ivan Kossanchich was close behind him,
And the third, Toplitza Milan, followed.


“I by chance stood then within the doorway
When there passed young Milosh, the great warrior,
In the whole world no more splendid hero;
On the ground his clanking sabre trailing,
Silken cap with proudly waving feathers,
Many-coloured mantle on his shoulders
And around his neck a silken kerchief.
Then he gazes round and looks upon me,
He takes off his many-coloured mantle,
Takes it off, and gives it to me, saying:--
‘Here, oh Maiden, is my coloured mantle,
By it thou wilt keep me in remembrance,
By this mantle shall my name live with thee.
Now, dear Maid, must I go forth and perish
There where camps the noble Prince’s army;
Pray to God for me, dear Maid, my sister,
That I may come back again in safety.
And that all good fortune may attend thee
I will marry thee to my friend Milan,
Him whom God has given me as brother,
My friend Milan who is my sworn brother.
In God’s name and good Saint John’s, I promise
I will be a groomsman at they wedding.’


“Ivan Kossanchitch was close behind him,
In the whole world no more splendid hero;
On the ground his clanking sabre trailing,
Silken cap with proudly waving feathers,
Many-coloured mantle on his shoulders
And around his neck a silken kerchief,
On his hand a golden ring is shining.
Then he gazes round and looks upon me,
Takes the golden ring from off his finger,
Takes it off and gives it to me, saying:--
‘Here hast thou my ring of gold, oh Maiden,
By it thou wilt have me in remembrance,
By this gold ring shall my name live with thee.
Now, dear maid, must I go forth to perish
There where camps the noble Prince’s army;
Pray to God for me, dear Maid, my sister,
That I may come back again in safety.
And that all good fortune may attend thee
I will marry thee to my friend Milan,
Him whom God has given me as brother,
My friend Milan who is my sworn brother.
In God’s name and good Saint John’s, I promise
I myself will give thee to the bridegroom.’


“Then Toplitza Milan follows after,
In the whole world no more splendid hero;
On the ground his clanking sabre trailing,
Silken cap with proudly waving feathers,
Many-coloured mantle on his shoulders
And around his neck a silken kerchief,
On his hand a golden ring is shining
And upon his arm a golden bracelet.
Then he gazes round and looks upon me,
From his arm he takes the golden bracelet,
Takes it off and gives it to me, saying:--
‘Here, oh Maiden, is my golden bracelet,
By it thou wilt have me in remembrance,
By this gold ring shall my name live with thee.
Now, dear maid, must I go forth to perish
There where camps the noble Prince’s army;
Pray to God for me, dear soul, my darling,
That I may come back again in safety;
Then, dear Maid, that good luck may attend thee,
I will take thee for my true belovéd.’


“And then went away these mighty leaders,
And to-day I seek them here, oh brother,
Seek them here, upon the field of battle!”


Pavle Orlovitch then makes her answer:
“Oh dear sister, Maiden of Kossovo,
Dost thou see, dear soul, those battle-lances
Where they lie most thickly piled together?
There has flowed the life-blood of the heroes;
To the stirrups of the faithful horses,
To the stirrups and the girths it mounted,
Mounted to the heroes’ silken girdles,
And the three have fallen there together.
Now return thee to thy fair white castle
Lest thy skirts and sleeves with blood be spattered.”


To the hero’s words the maiden listens,
Down her white face are the fast tears falling;
She returns then to her fair white castle.
From her white throat pour her lamentations:
“Woe is me, what fate I bear within me,
I but touch the young and tender sapling
And the fair green pine must surely wither.”

  • Like 3

И погибе Српски кнез Лазаре,
И његова сва изгибе војска, 
Седамдесет и седам иљада;
Све је свето и честито било
И миломе Богу приступачно.

 

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Shouldn't be using one of your alts to be making weird threads?

 

I can never remember the login details

И погибе Српски кнез Лазаре,
И његова сва изгибе војска, 
Седамдесет и седам иљада;
Све је свето и честито било
И миломе Богу приступачно.

 

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I only knew Remove Kebab.

 

It took us a couple of centuries to write up that one, but once we got that ball rolling, we were pretty thorough. 

 

The other day I learned that at one point Belgrade had 170 mosques. There is one now.

Edited by Drowsy Emperor

И погибе Српски кнез Лазаре,
И његова сва изгибе војска, 
Седамдесет и седам иљада;
Све је свето и честито било
И миломе Богу приступачно.

 

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Ignore the barbarians at the gate... ;)

 

I noticed the painter did a bit of self censorship. Cleverly hiding the guys right hand and left foot (which were supposedly severed) behind him and his rib cage doesn't look particularly crushed (I guess people only wanted so much blood and gore in a painting) :p

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.” - Albert Einstein

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Quite so. The English translation took some liberties with the translation in order to keep the text flowing - the original text is slightly more gory with his "white liver" showing (perhaps not included because its sexual slang in English?).

 

With these sort of pictures I always wonder how much authenticity the artists could portray. Some clothing and items were still available in the XX century but a lot of things had to be a "creative interpretation".

 

Jovanovich's "Crowning of Tsar Dushan" barring some details, looks like a scene from Western Europe to me, but then there is no reason it couldn't have looked like that either.Paja_Jovanovi%C4%87-Krunisanje_Cara_Du%C

И погибе Српски кнез Лазаре,
И његова сва изгибе војска, 
Седамдесет и седам иљада;
Све је свето и честито било
И миломе Богу приступачно.

 

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Shouldn't be using one of your alts to be making weird threads?

 

I can never remember the login details

 

I keep a notepad file with all of mine, maybe if you where more organized we would be having this conversation...at least not with our current alts.

I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

village_idiot.gif

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Here's another translation, that seems better to me: http://www.kosovo.net/history/battle_of_kosovo.html there's an index after the intro. Actually I wanted to find "Dream of the King" from Pushkin's version of La Guzla, but it does not seem to be available in English. Supposedly Google Translate's new version is almost as good as a human translator, but is only available for Chinese for now, so we'll have to wait for the Russian version.

Edited by Wrath of Dagon
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"Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity." Marshall McLuhan

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Shouldn't be using one of your alts to be making weird threads?

I am.

Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it. - Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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Here's another translation, that seems better to me: http://www.kosovo.net/history/battle_of_kosovo.html there's an index after the intro. Actually I wanted to find "Dream of the King" from Pushkin's version of La Guzla, but it does not seem to be available in English. Supposedly Google Translate's new version is almost as good as a human translator, but is only available for Chinese for now, so we'll have to wait for the Russian version.

 

Wow, the flow is indeed much improved! The versions I posted are more burdened by old English than yours.

И погибе Српски кнез Лазаре,
И његова сва изгибе војска, 
Седамдесет и седам иљада;
Све је свето и честито било
И миломе Богу приступачно.

 

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