European studies blog

13 November 2013

Day of Montenegrin Culture: a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Njegoš’s birth

The 13th November, the date of the birth of Petar II Petrović NjegošPortrait of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, a poet and Prince-Bishop of Montenegro from 1830-1851, is the date of a new festival in Montenegro. From this year every November Montenegro will celebrate her national poet, spiritual leader and reformer who brought his country culturally closer to Europe. Njegoš, who was a literary genius, is credited as the author of the most significant and influential work ever created in Montenegro.

Petar II Petrović Njegoš,  Image from Wikimedia Commons

Njegoš’s most celebrated works, inspired by national folk ballads, are the epic poems Gorski vijenac (‘The Mountain Wreath’) and Luča mikrokozma (‘The Ray of the Microcosm’). The former (1847) tells in narrative style of the long national struggle for freedom, while the latter (1845), an epic poem complex in thought, is occupied with more general problems of the origins and destiny of humankind.

Njegoš’s Montenegro was first introduced to the British public in articles published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine: “Few nations of Europe have been less known than the Montenegrians, and the name even of their country is seldom found on maps” argued one writer, while another stated: “The Montenegrini alone of Europe follow the political model of modern Rome. Their political head is their ecclesiastical superior”.

  Engraving of the mountain pass to Montenegro above Cattaro
“Pass to Montenegro above Cattaro” from John Gardner Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1848). 10290.dd.16.

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797–1875), an Egyptologist, and Andrew Archibald Paton (1811-1874), a writer and diplomat, gave the most interesting accounts of the people of Montenegro, their customs, everyday life, government, history and the  contemporary state of the country.  For example, Wilkinson, who visited Montenegro in 1844, provided information about the origin of the name: “The name of Montenegro (Properly Montenero, but in the Venetian dialect Montenegro and the people are called Montenegrini), or the ‘black mountain,’ is supposed to be taken from the dark appearance of its wooded hills, which in former times were more thickly clothed with trees and bushes than at present.” Wilkinson took a close look at the attitudes and character of the people he visited: “The poverty of the Montenegrins is certainly a great bar to their civilisation; but notwithstanding this, they are neither mercenary, nor selfish; and while I was travelling in the interior of the country, poor people often ran out of their cottages to give me fruit, or whatever they had; and when on one occasion I offered them money, their reply was, ‘this is to welcome you; we are at home, you are a stranger; and had we known you would offer to pay us, we would not have brought it.’”
Engraving of Approach to Tzetinie & Lake of Scutari
“Approach to Tzetinie & Lake of Scutari”  from Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro

The first translation of Gorski vijenac into English was in 1930 by James W. Wiles (shelfmark 11758.r.31.), while Clarence A. Manning in 1953 (YA.1993.a.16018) and  Anica Savić Rebac  in 1957  (Ac.2692.bxa. ) produced the first English translations of Luča mikrokozma.  Other noted translators of Njegoš’s work into English were Dan Mrkić (his translation of Gorski vijenac as The Mountain Laurel in 1985), Vasa D. Mihailovich (Gorski vijenac in 1986 [YA.1990.a.21958]), Žika Rad. Prvulovich (Luča mikrokozma in 1992) and Michael Petrovich (Luča mikrokozma in 2007).

Njegoš and the literary, philosophical and religious aspects of his work have attracted scores of distinguished writers and scholars. Some of these writers published in English on Njegoš: Milovan Djilas, Njegoš; poet, prince, bishop (New York, 1966; X.909/16499.); Žika Rad. Prvulovich, Religious philosophy of Prince-Bishop Njegosh of Montenegro 1813-1851 (Birmingham, 1984; X.529/67671); Edward Dennis Goy, The sabre and the song (Belgrade, 1995; YA.1997.a.7338); and Zdenko Zlatar Njegoš’s Montenegro (Boulder, Colorado, 2005; YC.2007.a.1029), and in French: Krunoslav J. Spasić Pierre II Petrović-Njegoš et les Français (Paris, 1972; YF.2008.a.39301) and Michel Aubin Visions historiques et politiques dans l'oeuvre poétique de P.P. Njegoš (Paris, 1972; X.900/20932).

In December 1866 the British Museum Library acquired a copy of Gorski vijenac  published in Novi Sad in 1860 (11758.dd.11.), and in July 1869 a copy of the first edition of Luča mikrokozma, published in Belgrade in 1845 (11585.c.52.(1.)), was acquired for the library. 

These were the first books by Njegoš to arrive in the Library, but our collection of works by or about him began to grow a century later, especially from the 1970s, to over 150 works held at present. The collection includes critical editions, reprints, facsimiles, new and special editions, translations, bibliophile and jubilee editions, studies, bibliographies and conference proceedings, fiction and art and other works.

The online project Anthology of Serbian Literature includes modern editions of Njegoš’s two main works. For Njegoš’s collected works, see Celokupna dela Petra II Petrovića Njegoša (3rd ed; 7 vols. Belgrade, 1974; X.989/70225).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-Eastern European Collections

Charles Lamb, “A Ramble in Montenegro”, Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine 58 (1845), pp. 33-51. P.P.6202

Alexander Charles Fraser, “Visit to the Vladika of Montenegro” Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine 60 (1846), pp. 428-443. 

Andrew Archibald Paton, Highlands and Islands of the Adriatic (London, 1849). 10126.dd.19.


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