Monday, May 28, 2018

The Battle of Kosovo (Following folktales around the world 67. - Kosovo)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Kosovo is a partially recognized state; those who do not recognize it claim it is a part of Serbia. Either way, it was hard to find folktales specifically from Kosovo, so I decided to look at some epic poetry instead.

The Battle of Kosovo
Serbian epic poems
John Matthias and Vladeta Vuckovic
Swallow Press/Ohio University Press Athens 1987.

This volume contains English transations of Serbian epic poems about the Battle of Kosovo (1389) against the Ottoman empire. Charles Simic notes in the Preface that it is unique in this epic cycle that it celebrates defeat, rather than victory. The poems are from the collections of Vuk Karadzic (we'll talk more about him later), who gathered them at the beginning of the 1800s from blind old women and old men who recited them as poems, instead of from the original tale-singers. The authors of the book tried to reflect the rhythm and language of the poems, and the Preface claims that they succeeded very well in capturing their authentic tone. The book comes with a long introduction, footnotes, and translation notes.

Fénypontok és kapcsolatok helyett:

The epic poems do have a unique tone and visual world. Supper in Krushevatz, for example, mirrors almost perfectly the Last Supper; the Tsar announces that someone will betray him on the battlefield the next day. He is seated at the table with his best warriors on his left and right; this fragment also serves as the enumeration of the epic cycle, listing all the famous heroes and their best features. On the other side, the Turkish army's overwhelming numbers are described very well in Captain Milosh and Ivan Kosanchich: "If all the Serbs were changed to grains of salt / We could not even salt their wretched dinners!" And yet, the superior numbers do not discourage the Serbian heroes. Both Sultan and Tsar died in the battle that day, but still, the Serbian army and kingdom were sorely defeated. It is a very touching moment in the ballad of Musich Stefan when the knight on his way to the battle encounters a peasant girl, who is carrying a Serbian helmet that she fished out of the river flooding with blood. The knight sees the helmet and weeps, but goes on to fight in the losing battle. The same girl also appears in another text as the Maiden of Kosovo: She goes around on the field after the battle, bathing the wounded and giving the bread and wine as communion. She is searching for the hero she was promised to marry. Similarly touching is the song of Tsar Lazar and Tsaritsa Militsa - the wife begs her husband to leave at least one of her nine brothers at home, so that he can ride to the battlefield and bring news later. The tsar agrees, but she is refused in turn by all nine of her brothers, and left home with a servant. Two ravens later bring news from the battlefield about the defeat. In fact, in several texts the battle is told through someone bringing news, rather than directly. In The Death of the Mother of the Yugovichi, the mother of the nine warriors grows wings herself and flies to the field to bring the bodies of her sons home, and then dies of heartbreak.
These poems really are heroic and somber in their tome. No wonder their collection became popular in the early 1800s, when Serbians began to revolt against Turkish rule. I would have loved to read more epic poems of this king. For those who are interested, I recomment Albert Lord's classic book "The Singer of Tales."

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. Tell me, how you see situation at serbian province of Kosovo-Metohija?