European studies blog

13 September 2023

The Slovenian Age of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment in Slovenian lands was initiated by a group of like-minded people who advocated the change of the linguistic and cultural practices of the time, which relied exclusively on the use of the Latin and German languages. The Slovenian educators believed that the national language could be used equally for religious and secular purposes. Guided by this idea, they produced a critical body of literature that not only preserved the Slovenian language but also paved the way for the development of a modern literary language.

Grammars, dictionaries, histories, textbooks, translations of religious and secular texts from Latin and German, the first newspapers, original plays and modern literary adaptations were the main means to save the Slovenian language and raise national awareness.

In 1768, the priest, grammarian and lexicographer Marko Pohlin (1735-1801) published Kraynska grammatika (‘Carniolan Grammar’), which started off this cultural movement.

Title page of the 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov

The 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov = Das ist: das kleine Wörterbuch in dreyen Sprachen = Quod est: parvum dictionarium trilingue (Ljubljana, 1781). X.950/9786. The original can be seen in the Slovenian Digital Library

Title page of Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs

Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs (Nuremberg, 1796). BL 1437.e.11. This is the second edition of Linhart’s History of Carniola and Other South Slavs of Austria, which was originally published in two volumes in Ljubljana in 1788-1791.

Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756-1795) was the author of the first authoritative history of the Slovene nation. He was also the first Slovene playwright and theatre producer, author of Şhupanova Mizka (‘Micka, the Mayor’s Daughter’) and Ta veşsęli dan, ali: Matizhek şe shęni (‘This Merry Day or Matiček is Getting Married’), an adaptation from Beaumarchais’s The Marrige of Figaro

Title page of Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino

Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino (‘Trial Poems’) (Ljubljana, 1806.) Cup.401.a.15. 

Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819) a poet, journalist and linguist was the editor, writer, translator and technical designer of the first Slovene newspaper, Lublanske novize (‘The Ljubljana News’). Modelled on the Wiener Zeitung and used for promoting Slovenian language, culture and identity, it was printed by Janez Friderik Eger in Ljubljana between 1797-1800. Vodnik translated European news from German and he also published local news from Ljubljana and Carniola. Lublanske novize was first published as a semi-weekly and later as a weekly.

First page of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino

'A Song About My Countrymen', the title of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino. From Slovenian Digital Library

Title page of Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark

Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark. (Ljubljana, 1808) 829.e.12.

Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844) a Slavist and national revivalist was the author of a scholarly and influential Grammar of the Slavonic Language in Carniola, Carinthia and Styria printed by Wilhelm Heinrich Korn in Ljubljana in 1808.

Pohlin, Linhart, Vodnik and Kopitar, among other Slovenian writers and scientists, were part of the cultural group named after their patron, Baron Sigismund (Žiga) Zois (1747-1819), a large landowner, naturalist and enlightened person. The group was united by their shared values of education and the promotion of Slovenian language, literature and culture.

Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole

Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Ljubljana, 1811) 1488.bb.8.

Vodnik’s Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (‘Literacy or Grammar for the Elementary Schools’) contains an introductory part, and on eight unnumbered pages, a hymn entitled ‘Iliria oshivlena’ (‘Illyria resurrected’) in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte and the formation of the Illyrian Provinces as part of his French Empire from 1809 to 1814. During this period the Illyrian Provinces made economic and cultural advances felt long after the Austrians retook the territory in 1814. Vodnik’s Slovene language textbook also endured with the exception of its pro-French introductory parts.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

Slovenian Enlightenment literature from Slovenian Digital Library:

Geschichte des Herzogthums Krain, des Gebiethes von Triest und der Grafschaft Görz (Valentin Vodnik, 1809) 

Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Valentin Vodnik, 1811)

Dictionarium slavo-carniolicum. III partis a 1787/1798 manuscript by Blaž Kumerdej (1738-1805) a school teacher, philologist and educator 

Svetu pismu noviga testamenta, id est: Biblia sacra novi testamenti ... ( A 1784-1786 translation of the New Testament) 

Svetu pismu stariga testamenta id est: Biblia sacra veteris testamenti ... (A 1791-1802 translation of the Old Testament) 

Glossarium Slavicum in supplementum ad primam partem Dictionarii Carniolici (Marko Pohlin, 1792) 

Vadenje sa brati v' usse sorte pissanji sa sholarje teh deshelskeh shol v' zessarskih krajlevih deshelah (Reading textbook for schoolchildren, translation by Blaž Kumerdej, 1796) 

Navúk k' osdravlenju te pluzhníze s' shelesnato solno kislostjo (Treatment of lung disease, 1804) 

Mustertafel zur Aufsuchung krain : Wörter (Blaž Kumerdej, 1750-1800) 

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