Exiting the Drama of Disruption
It was necessary to dive out of the darkness of slavery and dispersion. To return culture to people and people to culture. The Serbian awakening in the XVIII century resembled a miracle. The first printed book of old Serbian literature was published, the first heraldic and calligraphic anthologies, the first Srbljak, the first alphabet book and grammar book, the first novel and autobiography, the first national history and encyclopedia of natural science, the first math book and first book for children, the first magazine… All that was built into the foundation of the uprising and resurrection of Serbia

By: Predrag R. Milovanović

Hristifor Žefarović’s Stemmatographia (Vienna, 1741) is considered the milestone of modern Serbian literature. After centuries of silence, the appearance of Žefarović’s book was particularly significant. Overlapping of Serbian interests and those of the Viennese court enabled the appearance of a book which was nominally a heraldic anthology of Illyrian countries, explained in verses, with added characters of Serbian rulers-saints, as well as the triumphal portrait of Emperor Dušan on a horse. Actually, it was a wise merge of the glorified Serbian past and Serbian political aspirations expressed through the stand of the Metropolitanate of Karlovci. The Austrian authorities recognized the danger in this book only many years later, during the First Serbian Uprising, when the Stemmatographia was banned and seized.
However, the appearance of the Stemmatographia, one of the most beautiful Serbian books, which wasn’t printed with mobile letters, but entirely engraved in copper, indicated that Serbs were still unable to get permission for founding a printing house.
The ”Illyro-Rascian universal painter”, Žefarović also engraved in copper a book, with contents of vital importance to Serbs in Austria. The luxurious edition of the Privileges appeared for the first time in ”Slavo-Serbian mother tongue” in 1745 in Vienna. It included the text of the document, with which, two years earlier, Maria Theresa confirmed the privileges of Serbs gained on several occasions during Leopold I, from 1690 to 1695, the legal basis of national-ecclesiastical autonomy and right to religion.
Žefarović crowned his luxurious three-volume book with the Description of the Holy Divine City of Jerusalem, another book-graphics of unusual beauty. It is entirely made of etchings, just like his previous books. It was a popular technique at the time, but, being very expensive, uncommon for printing entire books. Unexpectedly, the intransigence and suspiciousness of Viennese authorities regarding issuing permission for founding a Serbian printing house led to the earliest editions of Serbian books in the XVIII century being unusually luxuriously estheticized and lavishing, even comparing to the highest European criteria of the time.
One of the few, but very important literary achievements at the time of slavery under Turks was collecting services to Serbian saints in a book called Srbljak. It is a unique literary form, created for eight centuries, from Sava’s Service to St. Simeon to Kiprijan Račanin’s Sticheron to Prince Lazar. That work was amended later, beyond the tradition of old Serbian literature. According to the most complete manuscript of that kind, created in the Rakovac Monastery, Bishop of Arad Sinesije Živković compiled the Rules of Prayers of Holy Serbian Saints, published in 1761 in Rimnik, Romania, luxuriously illustrated with fourteen etchings on separate foils. The book was very significant because it represented a stand against both conversion to Catholicism and Russification.
Jovan Rajić’s Small Catechesis (Vienna, 1774) is the most important Serbian theological literary work in the entire XVIII century, as well as the first Serbian bestseller, by the number of editions.


Zaharije Orfelin began writing his chapter in golden letters in the history of Serbian culture in 1761, first on a single sheet, when he anonymously printed his poem Goresni Plač (Fierce Cry) in Venice. The only known copy of this first Serbian printed work of poetry was destroyed in the German bombing of Belgrade on April 6, 1941, but its copied text was preserved.
The following year, in the printing house of Dimitrije Teodosije in Venice, Orfelin published an amended version of the poem, closer to the vernacular, entitled Cry for Serbia, in a rebellious and patriotic tone. This time it was a booklet consisting of four foils, also printed anonymously and without an impressum.
As if Orfelin, perhaps the most versatile and talented Serb, wanted to take over the burden of the then cultural needs and circumstances of Serbs. Self-taught and self-educated, as if he wished to compensate everything missed out in Serbian culture, which was only beginning to uncertainly catch up with the already ended Baroque, missing entire epochs ever since early renaissance. His creative work was accompanied with ”iron chains of poverty and scarcity”, while his works largely surpassed the educational level of the audience they were intended for, an audience that almost didn’t exist. The number of Orfelin’s vocations corresponds with the number of his years; he was a poet, writer, biographer, lexicographer, historian, teacher, theologian, painter, graphic artist, calligrapher, cartographer, publisher, office worker, scribe, proof-reader, botanist, galenist, technologist…
In 1767, he printed the first Serbian Alphabet Book, as well as the Latin Grammar, the first works of their kind in Serbian literature. A year later, in 1768, he started the Slavo-Serbian Magazine, the first South-Slavic magazine. Again in Venice, in 1772, he printed his monumental work, the two-volume Hagiography of Peter the Great, dedicated to Russian Empress Katarina II, with over sixty etchings and geographic maps. It is the first biography of a Russian monarch in Cyrillic alphabet, a supreme achievement by all parameters, not only in the history of Serbian book. Orfelin printed his famous Calligraphy in his ”copper typography” in 1778 in Sremski Karlovci. The Viennese censors evaluated the template of this book as inappropriately luxurious, so Orfelin had to waive the most beautiful foils in printing. Near the end of his life, in 1783, already severely ill, he published two more voluminous works – Experienced Cellarer, the first Serbian book with practical advice about the technology of preparing wine, and the Eternal Calendar, with twelve etchings, where he first introduced many terms from natural sciences, especially astronomy.
Besides books, Orfelin made a large number of special graphics, therefore it is more mysterious how come not a single portrait of the most deserved Serbs of the XVIII century hasn’t been preserved. Orfelin’s work, too heterogeneous and outside of the main streams of interest in order to leave a stronger subversive trace from the point of view of history of Serbian book, especially bibliophile point of view, is the most interesting, together with Žefarović’s.


Pavle Julinac’s Краткое введеније в историју происхожденија славено-сербского народа (A Short Introduction to the History of the Slavo-Serbian People), published in 1765 in Venice, is the first comprehensive history printed in vernacular. The purpose of the work did not go beyond patriotic and educational ideas, so it is not considered a great historiographical achievement. The importance of this book is mainly in abandoning the medieval style of presenting the past. Ending with added fragments for Serbian Privileges issued by Austrian emperors, this small book was useful to Serbs for identifying themselves before Viennese authorities as a legitimate historical nation. Julinac indebted Serbian culture as translator of the first European literature novel into Serbian, when he published the translation of Marmontel’s novel from French in 1776, entitled Velizar.
The Novaja serbskaja aritmetika (New Serbian Arithmetic) written by Vasilije Damjanović could be taken as an example of a pioneer effort, which hadn’t left almost any trace in Serbian culture. The first book on mathematics, and exact sciences in general, in Slavo-Serbian language, was printed by Dimitrije Teodosije in Venice in 1767.
At the same time, Dositej Obradović printed his first and most important books in 1783 in Leipzig – Život i priključenija (Life and Travels) and Pismo ljubeznom Haralampiju (Letter to Dear Haralampije). Although two separate bibliographic units, all known copies have both titles bound together. They were printed in 300 copies, which couldn’t be sold for years.
The writings on the pages of those books will have a crucial influence on accepting Dositej’s eclectic ideas of enlightenment rationalism. In that sense, Letter to Dear Haralampije, in only sixteen pages, represents a small enlightenment manifesto of modern Serbian national thought. As basis for national determination, Dositej takes language instead of faith, calling it the Slavo-Serbian language. Life and Travels are the first entirely printed autobiographic work in Serbian language.
Aesop’s Fables, which Dositej printed in 1788 in Leipzig, are not mere translations from other languages, but a group of stories Dositej adapted to his own tone and view, accompanying each fable with an original didactic message, most often supported with examples from his own experience and education. This book marked Dositej as forefather of Serbian children literature and at the same time had an initial influence on forming a wider circle of readers.


Jovan Rajić’s Исторія разных славенских народов (History of Various Slavic Nations) printed in Vienna in 1794, is the first systematic work about the history of Serbs. It had a strong influence on the cultural atmosphere among Serbs and directly built itself into the spiritual foundations of Serbia prior to the uprising. From the very beginning, it became cultic and has remained so until the very day. The voluminous four-volume work brought an abundance of material in a new, rationalistic tone, which left an impression of credibility. Furthermore, it was very nicely printed and luxuriously equipped with etching portraits and maps. Since it was written in ecclesiastical language, it didn’t have too many readers, but it seems that it was inversely proportional to the number of people who respected this book, although they had never read it. Today, copies of Rajić’s history are most often found without traces of reading and are kept as relics.
The books were printed in Vienna by Stefan Novaković, the first Serb who had the privilege to become a printer and publisher. They had 440 subscribers for 646 copies.
Observed through the bibliography of published books, the history of Serbian culture in the XVIII century testifies that Serbs, mainly those in Austria, largely expressed a feeling for national priorities. Bishop of Pakrac Kiril Živković published Teodosije’s Житије свјатих сербских просветитељеј Симеона и Сави (Hagiography of Holy Serbian Enlighteners Simeon and Sava), wrongly considering it Domentijan’s text,in 1794 in Vienna, in the printing house of Stefan Novaković, observing the 200th anniversary of the burning of St. Sava’s relics. This is the first printed work of old Serbian literature.
A book which can be considered the first in drama literature was published by Jovan Rajić in 1798 in Budim. An unsuccessful adaptation of Emanuel Kozachinsky’s unsuccessful drama was printed entitled Трагедија сиреч печалнаја повест о смерти... Уроша Пјатога (Tragedy or Sad History on the Death of the Last Serbian Emperor… Uroš the Fifth).


Atanasije Stojković, Russian academician, enlightener with much more merits than given to him after his death, was the first in many literary affairs not only among Serbs, but also among Russians. Аристид и Наталија (Aristid and Natalija) is the title of the first original Serbian novel, published in 1801 in Buda, written in an idyllic-didactic manner. The first book of his famous three-volume work Фисика (Physics) was published the same year in Venice. It is a real encyclopedia of natural sciences, written in a unique poetic style.
Pavle Solarić, one of the most versatile Serbian enlighteners, published a two-volume Ново гражданско землеописаније (New General Geography) in 1804 in Venice, the first general geography in Serbian language. At the same time, in addition to his geography, he printed Пешїј землеписникъ (Geographic Atlas), the first and for a long time only atlas in Serbs.
Savo Mrkalj, monk and philologist, tragic hero of the attempts regarding Serbian language, published already in 1810 a discussion on the reformation of Serbian language, later very useful to Vuk Karadžić. Сало дебелога јера либо Азбукопротрес (The Fat of Chubby Jer or Alphabet Shock), printed in Buda in one and a half sheet, is an example of both a significant work and a kind of a hidden literary cornerstone.
Jevstahija pl. Arsić, born Cincić, patron of Joakim Vujić, is the first Serbian female writer, who published a book written in Cyrillic alphabet. Her Совјет матерни... (Advice to Mothers), published in 1814 in Buda, is an educational prose-poetic book in the spirit of enlightenment.
Мала простонародна славено-сербска пјеснарица (Small Folk Slavo-Serbian Poetry Book), the first book of Vuk Karadžić, was published in 1814 in Vienna. This booklet, containing about a hundred lyrical and eight ”male” poems, epic poems, presented in a simple, folk language, completed the centuries-long oral transfer and upgrading of folk literature and history, and at the same time the instigated work of the reformer of Serbian literary language, as well as a personality who left the deepest trace in Serbian culture with his entire work.
Писменица сербскога језика (Serbian Language Grammar), published only several months after the Poetry Book, is the first Serbian vernacular grammar, with which Vuk began the spelling and linguistic reformation.
Српски рјечник истолкован њемачким и латинским ријечима (Serbian Dictionary with German and Latin Words), published in 1818 in Vienna, written in his new alphabet, is Vuk’s main work and synthesis which announced his future work – literary, philological, ethnological and historical. With explanations of 25.000 Serbian words, the Dictionary is more of an encyclopedia of folk life than a common philological work.


Joakim Vujić was the first traveler who visited and described the entire Serbian territory liberated up to then, after which he published his Путешествије по Србији (Travels through Serbia) in 1828 in Buda. Although it includes sporadic descriptions of the country, people and customs, Vujić’s main assignment, further to the order of Prince Miloš, was to describe Serbian ”antiquities and rarities”. It is the first demonstration of the state project of cultural renewal of Serbs and belongs to one of the most beautifully equipped Serbian books of the time (lithographic portrait and manually colored etchings).
Лажа и паралажа (Liar and Paraliar), a small book of about sixty pages, written by Jovan Sterija Popović, is considered the first realistic work in Serbian literature. Sterija published his first comedy in 1830 in Buda.
Two hundred and eighty years after the first Belgrade printing house, Jovan Stejić published Сабор истине и науке (Convocation of Truth and Science) in 1832, the first book finalized in the Princely Serbian Printing House in Belgrade.
The swing of spiritual renewal, occasionally very turbulent in the field of literature, culminated in 1847, in the year representing a cornerstone of epochs, unique also for the number of published works of eternal value.
Njegoš’s Горски вијенац (Mountain Wreath) appeared that year from the Mehitarista printing house in Vienna, which many consider the most important literary work in Serbian language. There are only a few books which spread as quickly as Mountain Wreath and embedded themselves so deeply and so permanently into the national consciousness.
Vuk’s best disciple, young Đura Popović, forcedly entered the last act of Vuk’s fight with his book Рат за српски језик и правопис (War for Serbian Language and Spelling), where he first signed as Daničić, corresponding to Vuk’s Danica. Superiorly, versatile and scientifically explained, with that book, and later all others, he silenced his loudest opponent, Jovan Hadžić. The book was first banned in Austria, based on Meternih’s opinion and signature, and then approved in Buda and printed in the University of Buda printing house.
Daničić’s discussion scientifically contributed to the final victory of Vuk’s ideas, while, in another way, perhaps even more convincingly, it was the case with Vuk’s translation of Новu завјет господина нашег Исуса Христа (New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ) – ”the most wonderful Serbian monument of the literary language based on vernacular”. Without the blessing of the church and despite opposing of Serbian authorities, the book was reprinted in Vienna twenty-seven years after it had been translated and sent for printing to the Biblical Society in St. Petersburg. With his translation of the Bible, Vuk showed that the language he supported is capable of expressing both the abstractness and complexity of terms, measures of validity of a language in the world. However, the publishing of this Bible meant only the beginning of the battle in Serbia for its canonic recognition. A document from September 22, 1847 states an order of the ministry of education ”to take good care so that things such as Vuk’s translation wouldn’t be imported into the homeland”.
The end of a literary epoch was marked with another great novelty in Serbian poetry. Poems, the first of three books written by Branko Radičević with the same names, have been printed in the same printing house as Mountain Wreath. Đura Daničić wrote about Branko’s poetry enthralled: ”I personally think that not a single educated Serb has sung in such a manner as this Radičević, and he sings exactly as a Serbian poet should sing. (...) The language in this book as ”clean as a whistle”.
The famous 1847 will also be remembered for the establishing of the first Serbian scientific magazine – Гласника друштва српске словесности (Herald of the Serbian Educational Society).


Predrag R. Milovanović (Svilajnac, 1954 – Београд, 2015), expert in old and rare books, collector, one of the greatest bibliophiles in Serbian culture and supreme experts in old European publishing. He collected and left the biggest collection of old Serbian and Balkan books and the biggest collection of old Belgrade vedutas and maps. He returned some of the most precious books, such as the ”Dečani Chrysobull” or ”Dušan’s Code”, to Serbian treasuries. He founded the ”Orfelin” antique shop and managed it for a long time in Skadarska and Knez-Mihailova streets, so entire Belgrade knew him as Peđa Orfelin. He wrote ”Serbian Cornerstone Books” for ”National Review” and ”Princip Press” in October 2009 (”Meet Serbia” edition, book 22). If he hadn’t departed, he would have been sixty-five today.


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