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The Indians manifest their poetry in their huge temples; the Persians in their holy books; the Egyptian in pyramids, obelisks and the like; the Hellene in their magnificent statues; the Romans in their enchanting pictures; the Germans in their beautiful music—but the Slavs have poured out their soul and their intimate thoughts in ballads and tales. Herein are 33 Serbian superstitions and national customs, 12 legends of Prince Marko, a Serbian national hero, the epic poem of the hero knight Banovitch Strahinya, 3 epic Serbian ballads, the marriages of Maximus Tzrnoyevitch, Tsar Doushan The Mighty, King Voukashin,and of Stephan Yakshitch, each filled with drama and awe, plus 20 folk tales and 7 Serbian anecdotes. All-in-all a complete volume of Serbian folklore which includes 32 colour illustrations of the stories and events contained therein. So compelling are these stories and tales that in the first half of the nineteenth century various German poets transversified some of the Serbian national ballads into German. One of these, Jacob Grimm, of Grimm's Fairy Tales, learned Serbian so that he might acquaint himself with these Serbian literary treasures. So, we invite you to get yourself a hot toddy, download this book, then sit back in front of a roaring fire and read these tales. But be prepared to be pleasantly surprised for Serbian folklore is like none other. 10% of the publisher’s profit is donated to charities. ------- KEYWORDS/TAGS: Folklore, fairy tales, myths, legends, childrens stories, childrens book, fables, animals, legendary creatures, magical mountains, magic lakes, elves, fairies, imps, wizards, witches, forest, Coming of the Serb, Struggles, Internecine Strife, Doushan the Powerful, Prince Marko, princess, queen, king, Treachery of Brankovitch, Turkish invasion, Miseries of Turkish Rule, Serbian hero tales, King Peter I, Superstitious Beliefs, National Customs, Paganism, Religion, Peroon, Volos, Sun God, The Veele, Predestination, Immortality, Good and Evil, Spirits, Witches, Vampires, Enchantments, Marriage, Wedding, Slava, Krsno Ime, Feast, Christmas Eve, Dodola Rite, Whitsuntide, Palm Sunday, St. George, Ballads, Goussle, Prince Marko Bad Faith, Voukashin, Horse Sharatz, empire, Truth, Moorish Chieftain, Sultana, Dream, Moor, Istamboul, Istanbul, Sharatz, Bedevia, Bogdan The Bully, General Voutcha, Unfaithful Koom, Maiden, the vela, pursuit, turkish huntsmen, vengeance, moussa kessedjiya, sword, banovitch strahinya, falcon, faithless wife, tsarina militza, zmay of yastrebatz, tsar , tzar, vook, champion, maximus tzrnoyevitch, message, doge, deception, milosh, tsar doushan the mighty, theodor, ledyen, princess roksanda, koulash, test, balatchko, tsar lazarus, forebodings, trusty miloutin, captive, stephan yakshitch, sultan, tyoopria, novi bazar, vizier’s daughter, king voukashin, vidossava, winged horse, momtchilo, ambuscade, brother and sister, punishment, saints, treasures, bard, wrath of god, building of skadar, scutari, stepsisters, abduction, iconia, ram, golden fleece, youth, pavilion, sky, earth, dragon, perfidy, pepelyouga, marra, animals’ language, buried treasure, importunate, strange dwelling, justice, injustice, healing water, angel, bash tchelik, real steel, nine giants, hero, bash tchelik, secret of strength, golden apple-tree, nine peahens, quest, old woman, horses, bird maiden, wager, good deeds, perish, voyage, minister, council, magic carpet, three suitors, dispute, golden horse, hundred daughters, black giant the condition, golden-haired twins, anecdotes, st. peter, sand, gipsies, nobleman, priest
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Woislav M. Petrovitch
With a preface by
And thirty-two Colour illustrations
William Sewell & Gilbert James,
Originally Published by
George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London
Abela Publishing, London
Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians
Typographical arrangement of this edition
© Abela Publishing 2018
This book may not be reproduced in its current format in any manner in any media, or transmitted by any means whatsoever, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, or mechanical ( including photocopy, file or video recording, internet web sites, blogs, wikis, or any other information storage and retrieval system) except as permitted by law without the prior written permission of the publisher.
To that most Eminent Serbian
Patriot and Statesman
Nicholas P. Pashitch
This book is
by the author.
“O beauteous green lake! Thou art to be my home for evermore”
Serbians attach the utmost value and importance to the sympathies of such a highly cultured, great, and therefore legitimately influential people as is the British nation. Since the beginning of the twentieth century there have been two critical occasions—the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria and the war against the Turks—when we have had opportunities to note how British sympathies, even when apparently only platonic, can be of great practical importance for our nation. It is quite natural that we should desire to retain and if possible deepen and increase those sympathies. We are proud of our army, but we flatter ourselves that our nation may win sympathy and respect by other than military features of its national character. We wish that our British friends should know our nation such as it is. We wish them to be acquainted with our national psychology. And nothing could give a better insight into the very soul of the Serbian nation than this book.
The Serbians belong ethnologically to the great family of the Slavonic nations. They are first cousins to the Russians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Bulgars, and they are brothers to the Croats and Slovenes. Since the Church has ceased to be the discordant and disuniting element in the life of the nations, the Orthodox Serbians and the Roman Catholic Croats are practically one and the same people. But of all Slavonic nations the Serbians can legitimately claim to be the most poetical one. Their language is the richest and the most musical among all the Slavonic languages. The late Professor Morfill, a man who was something of a Panslavist, repeatedly said to me: “I wish you Serbians, as well as all other Slavonic nations, to join Russia in a political union, but I do not wish you to surrender your beautiful and well-developed language to be exchanged for the Russian!” On one occasion he went even so far as to suggest that the future United States of the Slavs should adopt as their literary and official language the Serbian, as by far the finest and most musical of all the Slavonic tongues.
When our ancestors occupied the western part of the Balkan Peninsula, they found there numerous Latin colonies and Greek towns and settlements. In the course of twelve centuries we have through intermarriage absorbed much Greek and Latin blood. That influence, and the influence of the commercial and political intercourse with Italy, has softened our language and our manners and intensified our original Slavonic love of what is beautiful, poetical, and noble. We are a special Slavonic type, modified by Latin and Greek influences. The Bulgars are a Slavonic nation of a quite different type, created by the circulation of Tartar blood in Slavonian veins. This simple fact throws much light on the conflicts between the Serbians and Bulgarians during the Middle Ages, and even in our own days.
Now what are the Serbian national songs? They are not songs made by cultured or highly educated poets—songs which, becoming popular, are sung by common people. They are songs made by the common people themselves. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the Serbian peasantry lived mostly in agricultural and family associations called Zadrooga. As M. Petrovitch has stated, the sons of a peasant did not leave their father’s house when they got married, but built a wooden cottage on the land surrounding the father’s house. Very often a large settlement arose around the original home, with often more than a hundred persons, men and women, working together, considering the land and houses as their common property, enjoying the fruits of their work as the common property too. All the members of the Zadrooga considered the oldest member of such family association as their chief, and it was the usual custom to gather round him every evening in the original house. After questions of farming or other business had been disposed of, the family gathering would be enlivened by the chieftain or some other male member reciting an epic song, or several such songs, describing historic events or events which had lately happened. At the public gatherings around the churches and monasteries groups of men and women would similarly gather about the reciters of songs on old kings and heroes or on some great and important event.
In Hungarian Serbia (Syrmia, Banat, Bachka) poor blind men often make it a lucrative profession to sing old or new songs, mostly on old heroes and historical events or on contemporary events. But in other parts of Serbia (Shumadiya, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Dalmatia) very often well-to-do peasants recite the hero songs to crowds of listeners of both sexes. It is a curious fact noticed already by Vouk S. Karadgitch that the reciters of the heroic songs are hardly ever young men, but generally men of middle age, and still more frequently old men. It is as if old men considered it their duty to acquaint the young generation with the principal events of the nation’s history and their principal heroes. You may find still many an illiterate person in Serbia, but you will not find one who would not be able to tell you something about Stephan Nemanya, the first king of mediæval Serbia, about his son St. Sava, Tsar Doushan, his young son Ourosh, King Voukashin, the Royal Prince Kralyevitch Marko, Tsar Lazar, and the heroes who fell in the famous battle at Kossovo (1389). It can be said that the Serbian peasants wrote their own national history by composing and reciting it from one generation to another in the rhythmical ten-syllabic blank verse. The gooslari and the monks kept the national political consciousness and the national Church fully alive through the five centuries in which they were only Turkish Rayah, a mass of common people doomed to be nothing better than slaves to their master, the Turk. We would to-day not have known anything about the persistent guerilla war, which the best and boldest men of the nation were relentlessly carrying on against the nation’s oppressor since the beginning of the sixteenth century until the first rising of Shumadia under Karageorge in 1804, if we had not the so-called Haïdoochke Pesme (the Songs on Haïdooks). Long before the history of The Resurrection of the Serbian National State had been written by Stoyan Novakovich, the learned President of the Serbian Academy, the bard Vishnyich described that resurrection in songs of great beauty and power. And the victories of the Serbian army over the Turks and Bulgars in the war of 1912–13 are already sung by the improvized bards in the inns and at the great gatherings of the people at the village fairs and around the churches on great church festivals. Of course, a Serbian who has heard on hundreds of occasions national songs recited learns to recite them himself, although he may not be able to accompany his recitation on the goussle. Nor does he find it difficult, by using many stereotyped lines of old and well-known songs, to tell the story of a recent event. When in 1873, as Minister of Finance, I was defeated in the Budget debate at the Skoupshtina, my defeat was recited to the people in blank verse the same evening, and the next day.
Besides the songs which relate, more or less accurately, actual events, many a national song relates a legend or a tradition. They have been created, no doubt, under the influence of the priests and monks, and are appropriate recitations to the crowds who come to the church festivals. I am glad to see that M. Petrovitch has included in his collection the song which is probably the oldest among all Serbian songs. It is called “The Saints partition [or divide] the Treasures,” and it gives expression to an evidently very old tradition, which remembers a sort of catastrophe which befell India, and which probably was the cause of the ancient ancestors of the Slavs leaving India. It is most remarkable to find an echo of an Indian catastrophe in the national songs of the Serbians.
That the Serbians had national songs in which they described the exploits of their national heroes was noted in the fourteenth century. Nicephoras Gregoras, sent by the Byzantine Emperor on a diplomatic mission to Serbia, relates having heard the Serbians sing their national songs on their heroes. The records of several diplomatic missions, going from Vienna or Buda to Constantinople during the sixteenth century, relate that the members heard people sing heroic songs. In that century we have the first attempt to reproduce in print some of those national songs, as, for instance, by the Ragusan poet Hectorovich. In the eighteenth century fuller efforts were made by the Franciscan monk Kachich-Mioshich and by Abbé Fortis. But it is to the self-taught founder of modern Serbian literature, Vouk Stephanovitch Karadgitch, that the greatest honour is due, as has been shown by M. Petrovitch in his Introduction and elsewhere.
M. Petrovitch must have experienced what the French call embarras de richesses. It was not so easy to select the songs for an English translation. But he has given us some of the finest Serbian epic songs as samples of what the Serbian national poetry is capable of creating. I regret only that he has not included a few samples of what the Serbian village women and girls are able to produce in the way of lyrical poetry. Perhaps on some other occasion he will make an amende honorable to our countrywomen.
I wish to add yet a few words to what M. Petrovitch has said about our greatest national hero, the Royal Prince (Kralyevitch) Marko. As he has pointed out, Marko is a historical personality. But what history has to say about him is not much, and certainly not of the nature to explain how he became the favourite hero of the Serbian people. He was a loyal and faithful vassal of the Sultan, a fact hardly likely to win him the respect and admiration of the Serbians. Yet the Serbians throughout the last five centuries have respected, admired, loved their Royal Prince Marko, and were and are now and will ever be proud of him. This psychological puzzle has stirred up the best Serbian and some other historical students and authors to investigate the matter. It is evident to all that most of the songs on Marko must have been composed under the mighty influence of his personality upon his contemporary countrymen. Dr. Yagich, Dr. Maretich, Professor Stoykovich and St. Novakovich all believe that his athletic strength and personal appearance were responsible for much of the impression he made. All agree that his conduct in everyday life and on all occasions was that of a true knight, a cavaliere servente, a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. Even his attachment and unfailing readiness to serve the Sultan was counted in his favour, as proof of his absolute loyalty of character. Probably that very loyalty was appreciated by the Sultan and enabled Marko not rarely to appeal to the Sultan in favour of his people, especially when some prisoners or slaves were to be liberated and saved. He was certainly the protector of poor and suffering men and women, and went to their rescue at all and every personal risk and cost. He must have given real proofs of his devotion to the cause of justice; that is what endeared him to his generation as well as to the generations which followed. He must have been known during his life for his fear of God and his respect and tender love for his mother. The Serbians painted him from the model which his own personality and his actual deeds offered to the nation. One of the most beautiful features of his knightly character as described by the national bards is his love of and pity for suffering animals. I regret that my friend Petrovitch did not give a sample of the songs which glorify that feature of our national hero, as, for instance, the song “Marko and the Falcon” (Vouk. ii. 53), or “Marko and the Eagle” (Vouk. ii. 54), in each of which it is described how when once Marko fell ill on a field, an intense thirst tormenting him and the scorching sun-rays burning his face, those birds out of gratitude for the kindness Marko showed them once, brought to him water in their beaks and spread their wings to shade his face against the sun.
By far the best study on the Serbian national hero has been written by the Russian professor M. Halanski, who explains the puzzle by the natural sympathy of the people for a ‘tragic hero.’ The historical Marko was certainly a ‘tragic hero.’ Nothing proves that better than his last words before the battle of Rovina began (1399), and which M. Petrovitch quotes in the text.
I ought to add that there is also a theory that the Serbian nation, so to say, projected itself in the Royal Prince Marko, depicting its own tragic fate, its own virtues and weaknesses, in the popular yet tragic personality of Marko. No doubt Marko must have been in some way the representative type of a noble Serbian, otherwise he could not have found the way to the soul and heart of his people. Yet that theory is hardly modest, for my taste.
It may interest our British friends to know that a relation of the dynasty of which Marko was the last representative, a certain Prince John Mussachi, in a historical memoir stated that Marko’s father, King Voukashin, was the descendant of a certain nobleman named Britanius or Britanicus! We should be proud if it could be proved that the ancestors of our national hero were in some way connected with the Britons.
Member of the Royal Serbian Academy of Sciences
June 28, 1914
1 This was written one month before an even more critical situation confronted the Serbian nation.
2 Mussachi’s memoir in Karl Hopf’s Chroniques Græco-Romaines.
Chapter I: Historical Retrospect
The Coming of the Serb
Doushan the Powerful
The Royal Prince Marko
The Treachery of Brankovitch.
The Final Success of the Turks
The Miseries of Turkish Rule
Serbia again Subjugated
King Peter I
Chapter II: Superstitious Beliefs & National Customs
Paganism and Religion
The God Peroon
The God Volos
The Sun God
Predestination and Immortality
Good and Evil Spirits
Classic and Mediæval Influence
The Spread of Christianity
The Wedding Procession
The Return from Church
Slava (or Krsno Ime)
The Slava Eve Reception
The Ceremony at Church
The Slava Feast
The Dodola Rite
St. George’s Day
Chapter III: Serbian National Epic Poetry
The Importance of the Ballads
Chapter IV: Kralyevitch Marko; or, the Royal Prince Marko
The Marko Legends
The Bad Faith of Voukashin
The Horse Sharatz
PRINCE MARKO TELLS WHOSE THE EMPIRE SHALL BE
Marko is Summoned
Marko tells the Truth
PRINCE MARKO AND A MOORISH CHIEFTAIN
The Entrance of the Moor
The Sultana’s Dream
The Princess appeals to Marko
Marko prepares to succour the Princess
Marko greets the Princess
The Moor in Istamboul
Sharatz and Bedevia
Marko and the Moor
PRINCE MARKO ABOLISHES THE WEDDING TAX
Marko visits the Moor
Marko pays for All
PRINCE MARKO AND BOGDAN THE BULLY
The Bully fears to meet Marko
PRINCE MARKO AND GENERAL VOUTCHA
The Arrival of Marko
Marko captures General Voutcha
PRINCE MARKO’S WEDDING PROCESSION
The Wedding Procession
The Unfaithful Koom
The Escape of the Maiden
PRINCE MARKO AND THE MOORISH PRINCESS
The Moorish Princess
PRINCE MARKO AND THE VEELA
The Pursuit of the Veela
PRINCE MARKO AND THE TURKISH HUNTSMEN
The Vengeance of Marko
PRINCE MARKO AND MOUSSA KESSEDJIYA
Marko is Sent for
Marko orders a Sword
Marko meets Moussa
THE DEATH OF PRINCE MARKO
Marko learns his Fate
The Finding of Marko
Chapter V: Banovitch Strahinya
The Falcon Banovitch
Banovitch seeks the Turk
The Faithless Wife
The return of the Falcon
Chapter VI: The Tsarina Militza and the Zmay of Yastrebatz
Militza tells the Tsar
Vook as Champion
Chapter VII: The Marriage of Maximus Tzrnoyevitch
The Message from the Doge
The Wedding Procession sets out
The Wedding Gifts
The Princess learns of the Deception
The Violence of Maximus
Maximus becomes a Turk
Chapter VIII: The Marriage of Tsar Doushan the Mighty
Doushan sends Theodor to Ledyen
The Princess Roksanda
The Procession Starts
Milosh Joins the Procession
The Leap of Koulash
The Fight for Koulash
The First Test
The Second Test
The Third Test
The Fourth Test
The Departure of the Serbians
The Contest with Balatchko
Chapter IX: Tsar Lazarus and the Tsarina Militza
The Tsarina’s Forebodings
News of Battle
The Trusty Miloutin
Chapter X: The Captivity and Marriage of Stephan Yakshitch
The Veela’s Warning
Stephan and the Sultan
Stephan at Tyoopria
Stephan at Novi Bazar
Stephan and the Vizier’s Daughter
The Ending of the Ballad
Chapter XI: The Marriage of King Voukashin
The Message to Vidossava
The Winged Horse
Brother and Sister
The Death of Momtchilo
The Punishment of Vidossava
Chapter XII: The Saints Divide the Treasures
The Bard begins!
The Wrath of God
Chapter XIII: Three Serbian Ballads
I. The Building of Skadar (Scutari)
II. The Stepsisters
III. The Abduction of the Beautiful Iconia
Chapter XIV: Folk Lore
I. The Ram with the Golden Fleece
The Youth finds a Friend
The Second Task
The Third Task
II. A Pavilion neither in the Sky nor on the Earth
The Prince slays the Dragon
The Perfidy of the Brothers
Marra goes to Church
The Prince’s Quest
IV. Animals’ Language
The Buried Treasure
The Importunate Wife
V. The Stepmother and her Stepdaughter
A Strange Dwelling
The Envy of the Stepmother
VI. Justice and Injustice
The Healing Water
VII. He Who Asks Little Receives Much
The Angel Returns
VIII. Bash Tchelik or Real Steel
The Princes set Out
The Nine Giants
The Sleeping Princess
The Hero Found
The Prince finds his Sister
The Second Sister
The Third Sister
The Prince finds his Wife
The Secret of Strength
IX. The Golden Apple-tree and the Nine Peahens
The Prince’s Quest
The Quest Resumed
The Prince finds his Wife
The old Woman and her Horses
The Prince’s Choice
X. The Bird Maiden
The Old Witch
XI. Lying for a Wager
The Boy’s Story
XII. The Maiden Wiser than the Tsar
The Tsar Sends for the Girl
XIII. Good Deeds Never Perish
The First Voyage
The Second Voyage
The Third Voyage
The Treacherous Minister
The Young Man’s Return
XIV. He Whom God Helps No One Can Harm
The First Quest
The Second Quest
The Third Quest
XV. Animals as Friends and as Enemies
The Animals’ Council
The Magic Carpet
The King makes War on the Animals
XVI. The Three Suitors
XVII. The Dream of the King’s Son
The Prince and the Veele
The Golden Horse
XVIII. The Biter Bit
The Hundred Daughters
The Wedding Procession
The Black Giant
The Old Woman
The Giant buys the Cow
XIX. The Trade that No One Knows
The Third Room
The Son Returns
The King Outbid
XX. The Golden-haired Twins
The Plight of the Young Queen
The King’s Sons
Chapter XV: Some Serbian Popular Anecdotes
St. Peter and the Sand
Why the Serbian People are Poor
The Gipsies and the Nobleman
Why the Priest was drowned
The Era from the other World
A Trade before Everything
“O Beauteous Green Lake! Thou art to be my Home for Evermore” Frontispiece
He is instantly pursued by a dense Fog
The Young Man shakes a Tree Three Times
The Children gleefully follow her
Voukashin was on the Point of getting within Reach of his Son
“But thanks to Sharatz I got farther and farther from him”
The Doge gallantly raised the Hanging at the Door
“I saw how Black her Face was and I shuddered with Horror”
In a few Moments Sharatz came up with the Veela
“There is the Sword and here is the Anvil”
He lamented loudly the Fate of Marko
A Tower had struck Maximus without doing him serious Hurt
The Rays shone upon the Maiden
The Mountain Shar where Milosh-the-Shepherd tarried with his Flocks
Two of them looked meaningly at their Companion
The Veela razing the Walls of Skadar
She wrung the Neck of Paul’s grey Falcon
“Why do you weep, my Brother?”
The Elephants came as was expected
Sitting with the sleeping Dragon’s Head on her Knee
Marra took off her Golden Dress
The Snake entwined itself swiftly round his Arm
The Veele came to the Spring to bathe
On that Spot instantly rose a beautiful Palace
He was horrified to see a Snake on the Wall
The Pea-hen instantly turned into a Maiden
The Old Woman was absorbed in playing with the Bird
“The whole Loaf is for Thee, and Beardless is to get Nothing
He could not find a Word to say
“Pray, give me your Hand that I may see your Ring!”
The Young Man strove earnestly in Prayer
He asked the Era where he had hidden the Thief
More than once in the following pages I have lamented my inability to translate into English verse the spirited ballads of our national bards; never until now have I realized the error involved in the dictum of my teachers of literature—true as it may be from one point of view—that beautiful thoughts are to be more freely expressed in prose than in a poetic form, which is necessarily hampered by rules of prosody and metre. Undoubtedly, good prose is worth more than mediocre verse, but how if the author be a master poet?
Serbian epic poetry undoubtedly deserves the attention of the English literary world, and I venture to express the hope that someday another English poet will be attracted as was Sir John Bowring by the charm of our ballads, and like him will endeavour to communicate to readers of English the alluring rhythmic qualities of the originals.
In the first half of the nineteenth century various German poets transversified some of our national ballads, and I cannot but boast that among the number was even Goethe himself. Alas! he was compelled to use Italian versions, for he was ignorant of the Serbian language, unlike his worthy countryman Jacob Grimm, who, after having learnt our musical tongue that he might acquaint himself with the treasures written in it, wrote: “The Serbian national poetry deserves indeed a general attention.... On account of these ballads I think the Serbian will now be universally studied.”
A Tcheque writer, Lyoodevit Schtur, speaking of the Slav poetry, wrote: “The Indo-European peoples express each in their own manner what they contain in themselves and what elevates their souls. The Indian manifests this in his huge temples; the Persian in his holy books; the Egyptian in pyramids, obelisks and immeasurable, mysterious labyrinths; the Hellene in his magnificent statues; the Roman in his enchanting pictures; the German in his beautiful music—the Slavs have poured out their soul and their intimate thoughts in ballads and tales.”
I think that it is not too much to claim that of all the Slavs, Serbians have most profusely poured out their souls in their poetry, which is thoroughly and essentially national. So much could not safely be said about their tales and legends, which, to my mind, seem less characteristic. Indeed, by their striking analogy with the folk lore of other nations they help to demonstrate the prehistoric oneness of the entire Aryan race. For example, it would be ridiculous for any nation to lay exclusive claim, as ‘national property,’ to such legends as “Cinderella” and certain others, which are found more or less alike in many languages, as is well known to those who have any considerable acquaintance with European folk lore.
From time immemorial the Serbian has possessed an exceptional natural gift for composing heroic ballads. That gift was brought from his ancient abode in the North; and the beautiful scenery of his new surroundings, and contact with the civilized Byzantine, influenced it very considerably and provided food for its development, so that it came to resemble the Homeric epic rather than any product of the genius of the Northern Slav. The treasure of his mental productions was continually augmented by new impressions, and the national poetry thus grew opulent in its form and more beautiful in its composition. The glorious forests of the Balkans, instinct with legend and romance, to which truly no other forests in Europe can compare; the ever-smiling sky of Southern Macedonia; the gigantic Black Rocks of Montenegro and Herzegovina, are well calculated to inspire even a less talented people than the Serbian inhabitants of those romantic regions for the last thirteen centuries.
The untiring Serbian muse pursued her mission alike upon the battlefield or in the forest, in pleasant pastures amid the flocks, or beneath the frowning walls of princely castles and sacred monasteries. The entire nation participated in her gracious gifts; and whenever a poet chanted of the exploits of some favourite national hero, or of the pious deeds of monk or saint, or, indeed, of any subject which appeals closely to the people, there were never lacking other bards who could make such poetic creations their own and pass them on with the modifications which must always accompany oral transmission, and which serve to bring them ever more intimately near to the heart of the nation. This characteristic of oral transmission explains the existence of varying versions of some of the most popular songs.
Through many centuries, and more especially during the blighting domination of the Turk, Serbian national literature was limited to a merely oral form, save that the untiring monks, inviolable within the sacred walls of their monasteries, spent their leisure, not in inscribing the popular ballads and lyric songs of their nation, but in recording the biographies of other monks or of this or that princely patron.
Those Serbians who could not endure the oppressive rule of the Ottoman, and who in the seventeenth century emigrated with their Patriarch Arsen Tcharnoyevitch to the level fields of Southern Hungary—there to adopt in the course of the two subsequent centuries the pseudo-classicism of the West—considered it infra dignitatem to write about such vulgar subjects as popular poetry and tradition. The gifted descendants of those lamentable slaves of the cunning Austrian and Pan-Russian influences wasted their talents in vain and empty imitation of pseudo-classic productions from Italy and France, and, by conjugating zealously the Serbian and Old-Slavonic verbs in the Russian fashion they created a monstrous literary jargon which they termed Slavyano-Serbski (i.e. Slavo-Serbian). And if any Serbian author should have presumed to write in the melodious and genuine Serbian as universally spoken throughout his fatherland, he would have been anathematized by those misguided Slavo-Serbian ‘classicists’ who fondly believed that by writing in a language hardly comprehensible even to themselves, because of its utter inconsequence and arbitrary changes, they would surely become distinguished in the history of their nation’s literature.
The ‘classicists’ received their deserts in the first half of the nineteenth century, when they were overwhelmed by the irresistible torrent of the popular movement headed by the self-taught Serbian peasant, Vouk Stephanovitch-Karadgitch, whose name will remain forever great in the history of Serbian literature. Karadgitch has been called justly “the father of Serbian modern literature.” His numberless opponents, who began by heaping upon him every opprobrious epithet which their pens or tongues could command, ended, after more than fifty years of fruitless resistance, by opening wide their arms to him.
Karadgitch framed a grammar of the popular Serbian language, banishing all unnecessary graphic signs and adapting his thirty-lettered alphabet to the thirty sounds (five vowels and twenty-five consonants) of his mother tongue—thus giving it an ideal phonetic orthography, and establishing the golden rule, “Spell as you speak and speak as you spell.” He also travelled from one village to another throughout Serbia, zealously collecting and inscribing the epic and lyric poems, legends, and traditions as he heard them from the lips of bards and story-tellers, professional and amateur.
In his endeavours he was powerfully seconded by the Serbian ruling princes, and he had the good fortune to acquire the intimate friendship of those distinguished philologers and scientists of the last century, Bartholemy Kopitar, Schaffarik, and Grimm. Helped by Kopitar, Karadgitch succeeded in compiling an academic dictionary of the Serbian language interpreted by Latin and German equivalents. This remains to this day the only reliable Serbian dictionary approaching to the Western standard of such books. His first collection of Serbian popular poems was published in Vienna in 1814. It contained 200 lyric songs, which he called zenske pyesme (i.e. ‘women-songs’), and 23 heroic ballads, and the book created a stir in literary circles in Austria, Serbia, Germany, Russia, and other countries. Seven years later Karadgitch published at Leipzig a second edition in three books. This contained 406 lyric songs and 117 heroic poems. From this edition Sir John Bowring made his metrical translation of certain of the lyric and epic poems, which he published in 1827 under the title Servian Popular Poetry. He dedicated the book to Karadgitch, who was his intimate friend and teacher of Serbian.
I have reproduced three of Bowring’s ballads in this book that English readers may have a better idea than they can obtain from a mere prose rendering of the original verse. As to the poetic merits of these metrical translations I will not presume to offer an opinion, but I may be permitted to say that I have not seen a more faithful translation of our national ballads and lyric songs in English or in any other language. Considering the difficulties to the Anglo-Saxon student of any Slavonic language (more especially Serbian) it is surprising that there should be so few defects in Bowring’s work. Sir John must have possessed an uncommon gift for acquiring languages, as he has also translated from each of the other Slavonic tongues with—so I am informed—similar accuracy and precision.
The third edition of Karadgitch’s work appeared in Vienna at intervals between the years 1841 and 1866. It had now grown to five volumes and contained 1112 lyric songs and 313 heroic ballads. It is from this edition that I have selected the hero-tales in this book; and if I should succeed in interesting a new generation of English readers in the literature of my country it will be my further ambition to attempt the immeasurably harder task of introducing them in a subsequent volume to our popular lyric poetry.
It remains only to tender my most grateful acknowledgment to my esteemed friend M. Chedo Miyatovich for his invaluable advice and encouragement, and for his generous willingness to contribute the preface which adorns my book.
W. M. P.
1 Tcheque is a better synonym for the solecism Bohemian.
2 In Serbian Pepelyouga, where pepel, or—with vocalized l—pepeo, means ‘cinder’ or ‘ashes’; ouga being the idiomatic suffix corresponding to the Italian one or English ella, etc.
3 See Servian Conversation Grammar, by Woislav M. Petrovitch, ed. Julius Groos, Heidelberg, 1914 (London: David Nutt, 212 Shaftesbury Avenue, W.C.), Introduction, pp. 1–8.
Prior to their incursion into the Balkan Peninsula during the seventh century, the Serbians1 lived as a patriarchal people in the country now known as Galicia. Ptolemy, the ancient Greek geographer, describes them as living on the banks of the River Don, to the north-east of the sea of Azov. They settled mostly in those Balkan territories which they inhabit at the present day, namely, the present kingdom of Serbia, Old Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Dalmatia, Batchka, Banat, Croatia, Sirmia and Istria. The ancient inhabitants of those regions, Latins, Illyrians, Thracians, Greeks and Albanians, were easily driven by the newcomers toward the Adriatic coast. Their Emperor, Heraclius (A.D. 610–641), unable to oppose an effective resistance, ceded to the Serbians all the provinces which they had occupied, and peace was thus purchased. The pagan and uncultured Serbian tribes now came into constant intercourse with the civilized Byzantines, and soon were converted to Christianity; for it is an almost invariable fact that when one people conquers or subjects another people, the more civilized of the two, whether the vanquished or the victorious, must necessarily impose its civilization and customs on the more barbarous. But the Serbians only embraced Christianity to any large extent with the beginning of the ninth century, when the two brothers Cyrillos and Methodius—the so-called Slavonic apostles—translated and preached the teaching of Christ in the ancient Slav language, then in common use among all southern Slavs of that time.
As the Serbians, during the seventh and eighth centuries, were divided into tribes, they became an easy prey to the attacks of the Byzantines, the Bulgars and the Francs, although they never were subjugated by any of those neighbours. The Serbians, however, were forced to realize that only by concentration of their power could they offer resistance as a nation, and a serious effort was made to found a State on the banks of the River Morava, with Horea Margi (now called Tyoupriya) as its capital, in the early part of the ninth century. Owing to Bulgarian hostility, however, this proved abortive.
A fresh attempt to form an independent State was made by the Djoupan (Count) Vlastimir, who had succeeded in emancipating himself from Byzantine suzerainty. This province was called Rashka and extended around the Rivers Piva, Tara, and Lim, touching the basin of the River Ibar in the east and that of Vrbas in the west. But in the very beginning of its civil life there were dissensions amongst the leaders which facilitated the interference of the Bulgarian Tsar Siméon. Tchaslav, the djoupan of another Serbian tribe, though he possessed no rights to it, claimed the throne, and was supported by Siméon, who successfully invaded Rashka. The Bulgarians retained possession of the country for seven years (924–931), when Tchaslav succeeded in wresting from them a new state which comprised, together with Rashka, the territories of Zetta, Trebinye, Neretva and Houm. After his death, great disorder reigned in this principality.
In the course of the next century the Byzantine Empire, having again brought the now enfeebled Bulgaria within its rule, also overpowered Rashka, whose Grand Djoupan fled. The ruler of Zetta, Stephen Voïslav (1034–1051), son of Dragomir, djoupan of Trebinye, took the opportunity of declaring himself independent of his suzerain the Grand Djoupan of Rashka, and appropriated Zahoumlye (Herzegovina) and some other regions. His son Michaylo (1053–1081) succeeded further in bringing Rashka under his authority, and obtained the title of king (rex Sclavorum) from Pope Gregory VII in the year 1077. Under the rule of King Bodin, the son of Michaylo, the Serbia of Tchaslav was restored; furthermore Bosnia was added to his state. But after Bodin’s death new disorder ensued, caused mainly by the struggles amongst the several pretenders to the throne.
Internecine strife is an unfortunate feature to be noticed throughout Serbian history, and constantly we see energy wasted in futile dissensions among various members of ruling families, who criminally and fatally neglected national interests, in pursuit by legitimate or illegitimate means of their personal ambitions. This has at all times hindered the Serbian nation from becoming a powerful political unit, although efforts were made by many of the rulers to realize this policy.
In 1169 a dynasty destined to rule Serbia for more than two centuries (1169–1372) within ever-changing political boundaries, was founded by the celebrated Grand Djoupan Stephan Nemanya (1169–1196) who was created Duke (grand djoupan) of Serbia by the Byzantine Emperor after he had instigated a revolution, the result of which was favourable to his pretensions. By his bravery and wisdom he succeeded not only in uniting under his rule the provinces held by his predecessors, but also in adding those which never had been Serbian before, and he placed Ban Koulin, an ally, upon the throne of Bosnia. Furthermore he strengthened the orthodox religion in his state by building numerous churches and monasteries, and by banishing the heretic Bogoumils.2 Feeling the weakness of advanced age, and wishing to give fresh proof of his religious faith to his people, the aged Nemanya abdicated in 1196, in favour of his able second son Stevan, and withdrew into a monastery. On his accession in the year 1217 Stevan assumed the title of King of Serbia.
When the crusaders vanquished Constantinople, Sava, Stevan’s youngest brother, obtained from the Greek patriarch the autonomy of the Serbian Church (1219), and became the first Serbian archbishop.
Stevan was succeeded by his son Radoslav (1223–1233), who was dethroned by his brother Vladislav (1233–1242), who was removed from the throne by his third brother Ourosh the Great (1242–1276). Ourosh increased his territory and established the reputation of Serbia abroad. In his turn, he was dethroned by his son Dragoutin (1276–1281), who, owing to the failure of a campaign against the Greeks, retired from the throne in favour of a younger brother Miloutin (1281–1321), reserving, however, for himself a province in the north of the State. Soon afterward Dragoutin received from his mother-in-law, the queen of Hungary, the lands between the Rivers Danube, Sava and Drina, and assumed the title of King of Sirmia. Dragoutin, while still alive, yielded his throne and a part of his lands to Miloutin, and another part remained under the suzerainty of the King of Hungary. Miloutin is considered one of the most remarkable descendants of Nemanya. After his death the usual discord obtained concerning the succession to the throne. Order was re-established by Miloutin’s son, Stevan Detchanski (1321–1331), who defeated the Bulgarians in the famous battle of Velbouzd, and brought the whole of Bulgaria under his sway. Bulgaria remained a province of Serbia until the Ottoman hordes overpowered both.
Stevan Detchanski was dethroned by his son Doushan the Powerful (1331–1355), the most notable and most glorious of all Serbian sovereigns. He aimed to establish his rule over the entire Balkan Peninsula, and having succeeded in overpowering nearly the whole of the Byzantine Empire, except Constantinople, he proclaimed himself, in agreement with the Vlastela (Assembly of Nobles), Tsar of Serbia. He elevated the Serbian archbishopric to the dignity of the patriarchate. He subdued the whole of Albania and a part of Greece, while Bulgaria obeyed him almost as a vassal state. His premature death (some historians assert that he was poisoned by his own ministers) did not permit him to realize the whole of his great plan for Serbia, and under the rule of his younger son Ourosh (1355–1371) nearly all his magnificent work was undone owing to the incessant and insatiable greed of the powerful nobles, who thus paved the way for the Ottoman invasion.
Among those who rebelled against the new Tsar was King Voukashin. Together with his brother and other lords, he held almost independently the whole territory adjoining Prizrend to the south of the mountain Shar.3
King Voukashin and his brother were defeated in a battle with the Turks on the banks of the River Maritza (1371), and all Serbian lands to the south of Skoplye (Üsküb) were occupied by the Turks.
The same year Tsar Ourosh died, and Marko, the eldest son of King Voukashin, the national hero of whom we shall hear much in this book, proclaimed himself King of the Serbians, but the Vlastela and the clergy did not recognize his accession. They elected (A.D. 1371) Knez4 (later Tsar) Lazar, a relative of Tsar Doushan the Powerful, to be the ruler of Serbia, and Marko, from his principality of Prilip, as a vassal of the Sultan, aided the Turks in their campaigns against the Christians. In the year 1399 he met his death in the battle of Rovina, in Roumania, and he is said to have pronounced these memorable words: “May God grant the victory to the Christians, even if I have to perish amongst the first!” The Serbian people, as we shall see, believe that he did not die, but lives even to-day.
Knez Lazar ruled from 1371 to 1389, and during his reign he made an alliance with Ban5 Tvrtko of Bosnia against the Turks. Ban Tvrtko proclaimed himself King of Bosnia, and endeavoured to extend his power in Hungary, whilst Knez Lazar, with the help of a number of Serbian princes, prepared for a great war against the Turks. But Sultan Amourath, informed of Lazar’s intentions, suddenly attacked the Serbians on June 15 1389, on the field of Kossovo. The battle was furious on both sides, and at noon the position of the Serbians promised ultimate success to their arms.
There was, however, treachery in the Serbian camp. Vook (Wolf) Brankovitch, one of the great lords, to whom was entrusted one wing of the Serbian army, had long been jealous of his sovereign. Some historians state that he had arranged with Sultan Amourath to betray his master, in return for the promise of the imperial crown of Serbia, subject to the Sultan’s overlordship. At a critical moment in the battle, the traitor turned his horse and fled from the field, followed by 12,000 of his troops, who believed this to be a stratagem intended to deceive the Turks. This was a great blow to the Serbians, and when, later in the day the Turks were reinforced by fresh troops under the command of the Sultan’s son, Bajazet, the Turkish victory was complete. Knez Lazar was taken prisoner and beheaded, and the Sultan himself perished by the hand of a Serbian voïvode,6 Milosh Obilitch.
Notwithstanding the disaster, in which Brankovitch also perished, the Serbian state did not succumb to the Turks, thanks to the wisdom and bravery of Lazar’s son, Stevan Lazarevitch (1389–1427). His nephew, Dyourady Brankovitch (1427–1456), also fought heroically, but was compelled, inch by inch, to cede his state to the Turks.
After the death of Dyourady the Serbian nobles could not agree concerning his successor, and in the disorder that ensued the Turks were able to complete their conquest of Serbia, which they finally achieved by 1459. Their statesmen now set themselves the task of inducing the Serbian peasantry in Bosnia, by promises of future prosperity, to take the oath of allegiance to the Sultan, and in this they were successful during the reign of the King of Bosnia, Stevan Tomashevitch, who endeavoured in vain to secure help from the Pope. The subjugation of Bosnia was an accomplished fact by 1463, and Herzegovina followed by 1482. An Albanian chief of Serbian origin, George Kastriotovitch-Skander-Beg (1443–1468), successfully fought, with great heroism, for the liberty of Albania. Eventually, however, the Turks made themselves master of the country as well as of all Serbian lands, with the exception of Montenegro, which they never could subdue, owing partly to the incomparable heroism of the bravest Serbians—who objected to live under Turkish rule—and partly to the mountainous nature of the country. Many noble Serbian families found a safe refuge in that land of the free; many more went to Ragusa as well as to the Christian Princes of Valahia and Moldavia. The cruel and tyrannous nature of Turkish rule forced thousands of families to emigrate to Hungary, and the descendants of these people may be found to-day in Batchka, Banat, Sirmia and Croatia. Those who remained in Serbia were either forced to embrace Islam or to live as raya (slaves), for the Turkish spahis (land-lords) not only oppressed the Christian population, but confiscated the land hitherto belonging to the natives of the soil.
We should be lengthening this retrospect unduly if we were to describe in full the miserable position of the vanquished Christians, and so we must conclude by giving merely an outline of the modern period.
When it happens that a certain thing, or state of things, becomes too sharp, or acute, a change of some sort must necessarily take place. As the Turkish atrocities reached their culmination at the end of the XVIIth century, the Serbians, following the example of their brothers in Hungary and Montenegro, gathered around a leader who was sent apparently by Providence to save them from the shameful oppression of their Asiatic lords. That leader, a gifted Serbian, George Petrovitch—designated by the Turks Karageorge (‘Black George’)—gathered around him other Serbian notables, and a general insurrection occurred in 1804. The Serbians fought successfully, and established the independence of that part of Serbia comprised in the pashalik of Belgrade and some neighbouring territory. This was accomplished only by dint of great sacrifices and through the characteristic courage of Serbian warriors, and it was fated to endure for less than ten years.
When Europe (and more particularly Russia) was engaged in the war against Napoleon, the Turks found in the pre-occupation of the Great Powers the opportunity to retrieve their losses and Serbia was again subjugated in 1813. George Petrovitch and other Serbian leaders left the country to seek aid, first in Austria, and later in Russia. In their absence, Milosh Obrenovitch, one of Karageorge Petrovitch’s lieutenants, made a fresh attempt to liberate the Serbian people from the Turkish yoke, and in 1815 was successful in re-establishing the autonomy of the Belgrade pashalik. During the progress of his operations, George Petrovitch returned to Serbia and was cruelly assassinated by order of Milosh who then proclaimed himself hereditary prince and was approved as such by the Sublime Porte in October 1815. Milosh was a great opponent of Russian policy and he incurred the hostility of that power and was forced to abdicate in 1839 in favour of his son Michel (Serbian ‘Mihaylo’). Michel was an excellent diplomat, and had previously incorporated within the independent state of Serbia several districts without shedding blood. He was succeeded by Alexandre Karageorgevitch (1842–1860) son of Karageorge Petrovitch. Under the prudent rule of that prince, Serbia obtained some of the features of a modern constitution and a foundation was laid for further and rapid development. But an unfortunate foreign policy, the corruption existing among the high dignitaries of the state and especially the treachery of Milosh’s apparent friends, who hoped to supplant him, forced that enlightened prince to abandon the throne and to leave his country. The Skoupshtina (National Assembly) restored Milosh but the same year the prince died and was succeeded once again by his son Michel (1860–1868). At the assassination of this prince his young cousin, Milan (1868–1889), ruled with the aid, during his minority, of three regents, in conformity of a Constitution voted in 1869.
The principal events during the rule of Milan were: the war against Turkey (1876–1878) and the annexation of four new districts; the acknowledgment of Serbian independence by the famous Treaty of Berlin; the proclamation of Serbia as a kingdom in 1882; the unfortunate war against Bulgaria, which was instigated by Austria, and the promulgation of a new Constitution, which, slightly modified, is still in force.
After the abdication of King Milan, his unworthy son, Alexander, ascended the throne. Despite the vigorous advices of his friends and the severe admonishments of his personal friend M. Chedo Miyatovich, he married his former mistress, Draga Mashin, under whose influence he entered upon a period of tyranny almost Neronian in type. He went so far as to endeavour to abolish the Constitution, thus completely alienating his people and playing into the hands of his personal enemies, who finally murdered him (1903).
The Skoupshtina now elected the son of Alexander Karageorgevitch, the present King Peter I Karageorgevitch, whose glorious rule will be marked with golden letters in modern Serbian history, for it is to him that Christendom owes the formation of the league whereby the Turk was all but driven from Europe in 1913. But, alas! the Serbians have only about one-half of their lands free, the rest of their brethren being still under the foreign yoke.
Brief as is this retrospect it will suffice to show the circumstances and conditions from which sprung the Serbian national poetry with which we shall be largely concerned in the following pages. The legends have their roots in disasters due as much to the self-seeking of Serbian leaders as to foreign oppressors; but national calamities have not repressed the passionate striving of a high-souled people for freedom, and these dearly loved hero tales of the Balkans express the ideals which have inspired the Serbian race in its long agony, and which will continue to sustain the common people in whatever further disappointments they may be fated to suffer ere they gain the place among the great nations which their persistence and suffering must surely win in the end.
1 The English language is the only one which, instead of the correct forms ‘Serbian,’ ‘Serbia,’ uses the solecism ‘Servia,’ etc. Suggesting a false derivation from the Latin root which furnished the English words ‘serf,’ ‘servant,’ ‘servitude,’ this corrupted form is, of course, extremely offensive to the people to whom it is applied and should be abandoned.
2 Protestants of the Greek Orthodox Church who later settled in Bosnia.
3 See the poem: “Tsar Ourosh and his Nobles, or, The Royal Prince Marko tells whose the Empire will be.”
4 This title corresponds to ‘prince.’
5 ‘Ban’ is the original title of the rulers of Bosnia.
6 Voïvode originally meant ‘leader of an army’ or ‘General.’ As a title of nobility it corresponds with the English ‘Duke,’ which, derived from the Latin, dux, possesses the same root meaning.
The Serbians inhabiting the present kingdom of Serbia, having been mixed with the ancient indigenous population of the Balkan Peninsula, have not conserved their true national type. They have mostly brown visages and dark hair; very rarely are blonde or other complexions to be seen. Boshnyaks (Serbians inhabiting Bosnia) are considered to be the most typical Serbians, they having most strongly retained the national characteristics of the pure Southern-Slavonic race. The average Serbian has a rather lively temperament; he is highly sensitive and very emotional. His enthusiasm is quickly roused, but most emotions with him are, as a rule, of short duration. However, he is extremely active and sometimes persistent. Truly patriotic, he is always ready to sacrifice his life and property for national interests, which he understands particularly well, thanks to his intimate knowledge of the ancient history of his people, transmitted to him from generation to generation through the pleasing medium of popular epic poetry composed in very simple decasyllabic blank verse—entirely Serbian in its origin. He is extremely courageous and always ready for war. Although patriarchal and conservative in everything national, he is ready and willing to accept new ideas. But he has remained behind other countries in agricultural and industrial pursuits. Very submissive in his Zadrooga1 and obedient to his superiors, he is often despotic when elevated to power. The history of all the Southern Slavs pictures a series of violations, depositions, political upheavals, achieved sometimes by the most cruel means and acts of treachery; all mainly due to the innate and hitherto inexpugnable faults characteristic of the race, such as jealousy and an inordinate desire for power. These faults, of course, have been most apparent in the nobles, hence the decay of the ancient aristocracy throughout the Balkans.
There is available but slender material concerning the pre-Christian history of the Southern-Slavonic races, and their worship of Nature has not been adequately studied. Immediately after the Slavonic immigration into the Balkan Peninsula during the seventh and eighth centuries, Christianity, which was already deeply rooted in the Byzantines, easily destroyed the ancient faith. The last survivors of paganism lived in the western part of the peninsula, in the regions round the river Neretva, and these were converted to Christianity during the reign of Basil I. A number of Croatians had been converted to Christianity as early even as the seventh century, and had established an episcopate at Agram (Zagreb). In the course of some thousand years Græco-Oriental myths and legends, ancient Illyrian and Roman propaganda and Christian legends and apocryphal writings exercised so great an influence upon the ancient religions of the Southern-Slavonic peoples that it is impossible to unravel from the tangled skein of such evidence as is available a purely Southern-Slavonic mythology.
Of Peroon, the Russian God of Thunder, by whom the Russian pagans used to swear in their treaties and conventions concluded with the Byzantines during the tenth century, only a few insignificant traces remain. There is a village named ‘Peroon’ near Spalato; a small number of persons in Montenegro bear the name;2 and it is preserved also in the name of a plant, ‘Peroonika’ (iris), which is dedicated to the god. There is hardly a cottage-garden in the Serbian villages where one does not see the iris growing by the side of the house-leek (Tchuvar-Koutchye). The Serbians say that the god lives still in the person of St. Elias (Elijah), and Serbian peasants believe that this saint possesses the power of controlling lightning and thunder. They also believe that St. Elias has a sister ‘Ognyena Maria’ (Mary the Fiery One), who frequently acts as his counsellor.
From the Russian God of Cattle, ‘Volos,’ the city ‘Veless’ has obtained its name; also a village in the western part of Serbia, and there is a small village on the lower Danube called ‘Velessnitza.’ But the closest derivative appears in the Serbian word ‘Vo,’ or ‘Voll’ (in the singular) ‘Volovi’ (in the plural) which means ‘Ox.’
Other phenomena of Nature were also personified and venerated as gods. The Sun god, ‘Daybog’ (in Russian ‘Daszbog,’ meaning literally ‘Give, O God!’), whose idols are found in the group of idols in Kief, and whose name reappears as a proper name of persons in Russia, Moldavia and Poland, is to the Serbians the personification of sunshine, life, prosperity and, indeed, of everything good. But there have been found no remains of idols representing the god ‘Daybog’ among the Southern-Slavonic nations, as with the Russians, who made figures of him in wood, with head of silver and moustache of gold.
The Serbian legends preserve to this day interesting traces of the worship of those pagan gods and of minor deities—which still occupy a considerable place in the national superstition. The “νύμφαι” and “ποταμὶ” mentioned by the Greek historian Procope, as inferior female divinities inhabiting groves, forests, fountains, springs or lakes, seem to have been retained in the Serbian popular Veela (or Vila—in the singular; Veele or Vile—in the plural). There are several fountains called “Vilin Izvor” in Montenegro (e.g. on Mount Kom), as also in the district of Rudnik in Serbia. During the Renaissance the Serbian poets of Ragusa and other cities of Dalmatia made frequent reference to the nymphs, dryads, and oreads beloved by them as “veele.” The Serbian bards or troubadours from the early fourteenth century to our day have ever glorified and sung of the veele, describing them as very beautiful and eternally young, robed in the whitest and finest gauze, with shimmering golden hair flowing down over snow-white bosoms. Veele were said to have the most sweet voices and were sometimes armed with bows and arrows. Their melodious songs were often heard on the borders of the lakes or in the meadows hidden deep in the forests, or on high mountain-peaks beyond the clouds. They also loved to dance, and their rings are called ‘Vrzino (or Vilino) Kollo.’ In Mount Kom in Montenegro, there is one of these rings which measures about twenty metres across and is called ‘Vilino Kollo.’ The Treaty of Berlin mentions another situated between Vranya and Küstandil, through which ran the Serbo-Bulgarian frontier. When veele were dancing nobody dare disturb them, for they could be very hostile to men. Like the Greek nymphs, veele could also be amicably disposed; and on occasions they assisted the heroes. They could become the sisters of men and of women, and could even marry and have off-springs. But they were not by any means invulnerable. Prince Marko, the favourite hero of the Serbians, was endowed with superhuman strength by a veela who also presented him with a most wonderful courser, ‘Sharatz,’ which was, indeed, almost human. A veela also became his possestrima (Spiritual sister, or ‘sister-in-God’) and when Marko was in urgent need of help, she would descend from the clouds and assist him. But she refused to aid him if he fought in duels on Sundays. On one occasion3 Marko all but slew the Veela Raviyoyla who wounded his pobratim (brother-in-God) Voïvode Milosh. The veele were wise in the use of herbs, and knew the properties of every flower and berry, therefore Raviyoyla could heal the wounds of Milosh, and his pierced heart was “sounder than ever before.” They believed in God and St. John, and abhorred the Turk. The veele also possessed the power of clairvoyance, and Prince Marko’s ‘sister-in-God’ prophesied his death and that of Sharatz.4
He is instantly pursued by a dense fog
Veele had power to control tempests and other phenomena of nature; they could change themselves into snakes or swans. When they were offended they could be very cruel; they could kill or take away the senses of any who threatened them with violence; they would lead men into deep waters or raze in a night magnificent buildings and fortresses.5
To veele was attributed also the power of deciding the destiny of newly born children. On the seventh night after the birth of a child the Serbian peasant woman watches carefully for the Oossood, a veela who will pronounce the destiny of her infant, and it is the mother only who can hear the voice of the fairy.
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