Medieval Literature

By Radmila Marinkovic
Before they accepted Christianity the Serbs had a unified culture with a long tradition whose strength was based on its equality and similarity with the culture of numerous other Slavic tribes.

Before they accepted Christianity the Serbs had a unified culture with a long tradition whose strength was based on its equality and similarity with the culture of numerous other Slavic tribes. There was one language and one poetic system, through which all needs of tribal life were expressed. During the migrations and settlement in the Balkans, a historical consciousness arose which gave birth to the oral epic, both in prose and in poetry.

The encounter with Christian culture introduced a completely different system of poetry, which had developed over hundreds of years on the basis of Hebraism-Hellenism, and which was expressed in a language considered to be holy. A cultural type came into being which had two aspects: the older, traditional and oral, and the tradition of the new Christian civilization which was written. Various forms of contact, mixing and permeation arose between those two aspects, until a new cultural structure came about which rested on both aspects of culture and their productive relationship. They did not come into conflict because each had clearly distinct functions in society.

archbishop_danilo_icon.jpeg Archbishop Danilo II with the Prophet, a composition of the founder in the church of the Holy Virgin at the Patriarchate of Pec

Written Serbian literature in the Middle Ages was a special literary system, in terms of typology, poetics and literary genres. That system was the continuation and further development of the Old Church Slavonic heritage, created for newly christianized Slavs on early Byzantine models, in the sacral Slavonic language - Old Church Slavonic. Old Church Slavonic was not confined to a national group nor was the literature written in it, and thus it spread quickly and easily among the Slavs. The church services and Biblical texts were translated first and soon after the other works necessary for a well- developed Christian life were as well, among them the great works of Christian poetry, rhetoric and dogmatics. Likewise, all the other knowledge from the science, history, geography, and medicine of the times found its place in this general Slavonic fund of knowledge, along with the meditative and entertaining literature of the Mediterranean and Asian worlds, such as the famous Book of Barlaam and Joasaphat, Stephanites and Ichnelates, and Physiologos. Here also were found the legends about Alexios the Man of God, about St. George, the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil, the story of wise Achiros, a cycle of stories about Solomon along with numerous other stories and a well-developed body of apocryphal literature. It included all the works, therefore, that were spreading throughout Europe in the common language - Latin. This introduced the Serbs and the other Orthodox Slavs into the broad spectrum of European- Mediterranean culture, and from this literature they were trained in Christian religiosity and attained all necessary knowledge in various fields at the time. This literature was "mediating literature" (as it is called by D.S. Lihachev) in the fullest sense.

However, this literature, which broadened the education of the Slavs and served as their reading material, did not have an overwhelming influence on their own original works. When they began working on their own Slavic themes, they used only a more narrow aspect of this literature, those genres and that poetics with which the cult of the saints could be celebrated, because the first heroes of Slav literature were those responsible for Slav literacy and for standard language, Cyril and Methodius and their Slav disciples, whom the young Slavonic church considered to be saints. Thus, the ritual genres are: hagiographies, homiletics, and hymnography, or according to their Slavic names: zitije (vita), pohvala (eulogy), sluzbe (church services). Effectively they are prose, rhetoric and poetry. The fact that the first works by Slavs were done in the canonical forms of ritual literature, and also the fact that the language of literature was the ritual, holy language of the Slavs, both defined the character of the further development of literature. It was spiritual literature, serious, abstract, ethical, and it asked essential questions about human existence. On the other hand, in treating actual events, that literature was responsible in a historical sense. Old Church Slavonic literature became the classics of the Slavs with a rich world of ideas, worked out in poetry and poetic language. It would be the model for Slavic national literature in the Middle Ages, especially in Serbian literature. Everything which was created originally in written Serbian literature remained in that system: within the context of ritual genres - extra-ritual subject matter, all new themes were created within the system created for religious use.

Through this system of literary genres, it was not possible to express individual human feelings or secular themes, so the genres of oral poetry, lyric and epic, along with oral narration, stories and legends all supplemented the system of written genres. Thus, in medieval written literature, love poetry did not emerge, in spite of the relations to western European literature where this genre was highly developed.

The poetic view of the past through the epic characters of folk heroes must have been quite well developed in the oral tradition, there must have been a great desire for the poetization of history, when written literature also took up such a notion. Saint Sava began a series of Serb biographies. He wrote about his father Stefan Nemanja, as the father of the nation, sketching the patriarchal relationship between the ruler and his subjects. Original Serbian literature dealt mostly with describing life and with the feats of famous people: they are given a saintly crown, and they became the model for moral living which did not exist to such an extent nor with such systematic consistency among other peoples. Thus, Serbian biography became the important characteristic and unique trait of Serbian medieval literature.

The formation of Serbian biographical literature was a process which took a long time. It began with the need of the dynasty for a holy lineage, which was meant to confirm their legitimacy in the Christian world. As among the other European peoples, the saintly ancestor was thereby established and a cult for him would be celebrated. The first such Serbian saint was, in fact, Prince Vladimir of Zeta, the ideal Christian ruler, who unjustly died in the dynastic struggle for the throne (1016). He can be classed as a "martyr prince", a type which appeared in the early Christian states of feudal Europe, during the conflicts between the old tribal way of life and the new Christian one. Among the Slavs, the other such princes were the Czech Prince V�clav (killed 922) and the Russian Princes Boris and Gleb (killed in 1015). The legend of Saint Vladimir, which has its origins in the mid- twelfth century, has been preserved only in the Latin translation. The story has been embellished with an episode about the love between the imprisoned Vladimir and the noble daughter of the emperor, Kosara, which was undoubtedly extracted from oral poetry.

The martyr prince model was used to construct the character of the prince victor. In the history of the monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi, the character of its founder, Stefan Nemanja, is presented; he is shown as tormented by his evil and unjust brothers because of his activities as a founder of monasteries. However, the patron saint of the monastery, Saint George, saves him and helps him to rise to the throne. This hagiographical war story was given in Nemanja's proclamation of 1171 as proof of the legality of his usurpation of the throne as the Great Zupan of the Serbian lands and coast lands.

kareja_typicon_icon.jpeg The Typicon of Kareja with the authentic signature of Saint Sava from 1199

A different portrait of the ruler is given in Nemanja's proclamation of abdication from 1196, which later entered the Charter of Hilandar (1198), where Nemanja's biography is presented. Here Nemanja primarily presents his theory of government as his God-given right and that of his predecessors to protect the Serbian nation. Thus, Nemanja's successors were ensured the throne, and this theory remained the dominant conception of the state for all rulers in the Nemanjic dynasty. In this dual composition, Nemanja lays out his achievements as a ruler by enumerating his successes in battle and his care of the church; he presents his moral achievements through a highly nuanced confession of his soul, and of his decision to become a monk under the name of Simeon. Thereby, the character of the ruler was presented as an indivisible composite of a successful warrior and a highly spiritual person, and from then on the accomplishments of the ruler were recorded as such.

Nemanja's autobiography is the basis for the literary presentation of his character by his two sons and biographers, Sava and Stefan, who attempted to establish the saintly cult of their father, each in his own way, as the central pillar of the nation and state. As ruler and Nemanja's successor, Stefan quickly proclaimed his father a saint and also received international recognition and the royal crown; he also reworked his father's autobiography into a biography and proclaimed him to be sacred (The Second Charter of Hilandar, 1200-1202). Meanwhile, Sava followed the monkish orders and slowly prepared the saintly cult of his father, first by writing a liturgy dedicated to him and then by working on all the other necessary documents. In Sava's great work, The Life of Lord Simeon (1208), Simeon-Nemanja is understood as a wise ruler, a noble father, a gentle man in his old age, but his saintliness is only hinted at. Sava was thus free in his choice of genres with which he described his hero, while Stefan wrote his The Life of Saint Simeon (1216) according to all the regulations of the hagiographic genre, the canonical form of a saintly vita.

In sculpting Nemanja's literary image as a ruler and monk, Sava used a large number of narrative models and literary types beside the images which Nemanja gave himself. Yet, it is Sava's sincere love and fascination for his father which makes Nemanja's image convincing and creates a vivid relationship to it, which is experienced even by the modern reader. The commandment of the father to his sons not to fight over the throne or for authority, but rather to live in brotherly love and harmony, seems like the testament of a prophet. In the final scene Sava comforts his brothers, Vukan and Stefan, over the holy relics of their father, and thus brings the fratricidal war in Serbia to an end, and this seems quite natural and calming.

Sava used various forms of then existent Serbian literacy, official documents, royal court and war stories, and the history of monasteries, including narrative genres which had not appeared in Serbian literature before then - journal entries, the moving of the holy relics, instructions for his sons. He introduced various forms of rhetoric, such as prayers, sermons, eulogies, citations and parallels from the Bible, and thus enriched his narration with rhetoric: in doing so he combined the vita and the eulogy, which remains one of the important characteristics of Serbian biographical literature. Sava formed this text as the combination of the history of two of Nemanja's monasteries, Studenica and Hilandar and, with his original conception of compositional structure as a succession of narrative and dramatic passages, he achieved depth of historical reflection and explicitness in emotional expression. Shaded as a hagiography and faithful as a historical account at the same time, coloured by the personality of the writer as well, Sava's work is a direct and unrepeatable autobiographical account of the most highly reputed Serbian intellectual of the Middle Ages, the founder of the independent Serbian church.

Stefan, the first crowned Serbian king, was assigned the task of presenting all of Nemanja's life and his posthumous deeds, according to the genre he was writing in. He was forced to seek for a variety of sources. For the account about Nemanja's rise to power, he took the history of Djurdjevi Stupovi. He added other characteristics to that one. He believed the apex of his father's activities to be in the establishment of the "true" faith in the lands of Serbia, thus shifting the historical significance of Nemanja's religious policy - Serbia had long been Christian, and Nemanja had been right to persecute the heretics. He is shown in his full glory at the state council which is discussing heretics, precisely following the example of Byzantine emperors who presided over ecumenical councils, giving the last word on the polemics of the faith. Thus, according to Stefan, Nemanja became an "isapostolic" ruler, who introduced Christianity into his country. This type of ruler is shaped after the model of Constantine the Great. The type also includes Rastislav the Moravian prince (ninth century), the Bulgarian prince Boris (ninth century) and Russian prince Vladimir (tenth century) among the Slavs.

Stefan attributed the role of saintly protector of the country to Simeon-Nemanja, according to the model of the cult of St. Dimitrios of Salonica. In an autobiographical account, appearing both as a witness and as a participant in the events, Stefan describes his own wars in great detail, in which he defeats his enemies thanks to Nemanja's miraculous intervention. Appearing in front of the Serb army on the occasion of war, Saint Simeon protects not only his country (as he had done while still living), but also his chosen heir, his son Stefan, supporting him in the struggle for the throne. Stefan created a new typology of religious fantasy, introducing war stories from the oral, and probably written, literature of the royal court. A well-educated man, Stefan enriched his harmoniously composed work with a refined rhetorical quality. He concluded it with a solemn eulogy which summed up the significance of Nemanja's life in a poetic way, and lifted him from the real-historical level to a higher spiritual sphere.

poetic_works_icon.jpeg The Poetic Works of Despina Jelena from 1368-1371, an expression of her sadness for her child; carved into a small silver diptych

Serbian biography, constituted by the works of Saint Sava and Stefan Prvovencani, as a poetization of history and its ideological interpreter, took its most complete form in the Life of Saint Sava by the hieromonk of Hilandar, Domentian (1243). Although he was writing by order of the royal court, Domentian was kept his distance from the authorities of the time and from the events which he was describing. He was thus able to approach many things as an objective historian who was in search of documentation and who wrote a comprehensive work on that basis. Almost everything that is known about Saint Sava is based on Domentian's account: dedicating himself from his youth to his holy calling, the young prince Rastko - the monk Sava - climbed all the ladders of moral edification and of a career in the church, and he became a significant person in the Orthodox East at a time when it was most endangered by the Catholic West. Above all, Domentian was an outstanding interpreter of history as higher, heavenly providence. Thus, history was more important than the individual even when that individual, like his own Saint Sava, is sent from God. Sava was predestined from birth to serve his homeland. In edifying himself, he edified his homeland to a greater state of spirituality: his raison d'etre was in fact to be a patriot. The basis of Domentian's view of Saint Sava basically expressed the relationship of a man to his homeland, probably unique in the European literature of the mid- thirteenth century.

The hero's predestination was a powerful medium for introducing numerous and varied poetic and rhetorical forms. In writing about Serbian history, Domentian unified all three basic genres of the Serbian literary system: poetry in the form of prayers serves as the motivation for certain actions; prose, both factual and fictional, was the basis for the narration as a whole; rhetorical eulogies sublimate the events and analyze the phenomena and people. The highly developed composition is unified by its anticipation of the events as a tie which binds the story together, organized on the basis of the symbolism of numbers in Christianity. Thus creating a grandiose history of the period of Nemanja, Stefan and Sava, Domentian expanded Nemanja's idea of the divine origin of his lineage to include the whole Serbian nation, edifying it to the level of the chosen people of God, the New Israel.

As a counterpart to this volume on the founder of the Serbian church, Domentian (again by order of the royal court) wrote his Life of Saint Simeon (1264), compiling his own earlier work and that of Stefan Prvovencani, and developing the rhetorical elements by borrowing from A Eulogy to Prince Vladimir by Ilarion of Kiev (from 1049). He thus authenticated his hero as a chosen "isapostolic" Serbian ruler.

Only when it ceased to be the ideological interpreter of events just passed could Serbian biography become an imaginative romanesque story which aroused sympathy in the reader. The Life of Saint Sava from the end of the thirteenth century is precisely that, written by a monk named Theodosius (Teodosije). In his conception of Saint Sava, he made a radical reversal. Everything which was abstract in Domentian's presentation of Sava's character, Theodosius transformed into something concrete. His writing is an example of medieval realism. However, Saint Sava is no less a saint because of that, rather he is somehow more approachable, closer to the reader who can thus sympathize with him and follow his example. Theodosius borrowed all of the compositional material from Domentian and did not have to solve difficult historical problems. This allowed him to masterfully develop the art of presenting the same materials in a different kind of language, a poetic one. He subordinated Domentian's rhetoric and poetry to pure narration and thus achieved unity of genre and stylistic uniformity. He created a broad narrative stream and vividly portrayed the life, the times, the people and their relationships. His work is a dynamic fresco of thirteenth century Serbia. It is the first real Serbian novel.

Theodosius' heroes are always in a state of heightened sensitivity, which is carried over to the readers. Theodosius exposes the souls of his heroes to refined psychological analysis. Because of that, the anchorite Petar of Mt. Korisa was perhaps even more suitable as a hero to Theodosius' writing talents. Theodosius' The Life of Petar of Korisa, a real Serbian hagiography (1310), offers a rich repertory of the plastically illustrated surreal life of the hermit's imagination; it also offers the possibility of penetrating deeply into the touching world of the anchorite's inner life. This is the best of psychological novels, surpassing medieval ideas and poetics. Theodosius unravelled Domentian's interweaving of all three literary genres. Apart from these narrative works, Theodosius also dedicated numerous works of religious poetry and a single rhetorical eulogy to his heroes, with all due respect to the model of ritual literary types.

stephens_signature_icon.jpeg The official signature of King Stefan Uros III Decanski at the end of The Charter of Decani in a scroll from the year 1330

The end of the thirteenth century brought a new kind of literature to the Serbian public, opening up a view into the world of knighthood and courtliness which was different from the one that had been offered before. These were illustrious novels about the Trojan War and about Alexander the Great, and they were adapted creatively through the use of highly developed epic poetry, which is a direct testimony to that poetry's qualities. The appearance of these novels was exceptionally productive, because they offered a model of a literary system which Serb writers could not ignore thereafter. On the contrary, the weak translations of novels about Tristan and Isolde, about Lancelot and about Beuve d' Hanstone, which appeared much later, did not leave a single trace on the literature of the Serbs.

At the time of the apex of the Serbian state, which included frequent, violent overthrows of rulers on the throne, Archbishop Danilo II wrote his works, relying heavily on Domentian's poetics. Using the traditional Serbian biographical form, he attempted to explain the complex destiny of people who were predestined at birth to the difficult task of ruling, a theme which had already been broached at the end of the twelfth century. Therefore, in Danilo's work, man and his relationship with good and evil is in the foreground, and history is the foundation on which the questions of personality, morals and ideas are answered. Danilo bore witness to his time through the biographies of three characters from the ruling family, all connected by emotive and conceptual ties. This offered him the possibility of constructing three powerful personalities and of making use of several points of view at the same time.

Queen Jelena was the ideal mother and ruler; in her declining years she was also a model nun. She was the literary counterpart of Nemanja (1316). Her elder son, King Dragutin, was not a negative hero even though he desecrated the Serbian throne through his transgression toward his father; he was truly penitent and through the strength of his will he gained esteem (1317). Danilo (after 1321) rewrote the autobiography of Dragutin's younger brother King Milutin (1317) in which his numerous successes on the battlefield are attributed to the heavenly protection of the Serbian saints, Sava and Simeon. Danilo liberated the biography of hagiographic additions and excessive rhetoric, of miracles and pathos; he was thus able to present Milutin's life as a real and coherent cycle of stories about wars, and the success Milutin experienced on the battlefield was attributed to his skill as a warrior. Danilo retained the traditional conception of the dual accomplishments of the ideal Serbian ruler, those of state and those of the faith, but he does not insist on Milutin's personal spiritual accomplishments, because the ideal man and ruler had come to be seen in Alexander the Great, who Danilo used as a comparison to his own hero. The Serbian ruler is no longer the loving father, like Nemanja, but is rather the powerful sovereign of a mighty state on the brink of becoming an empire. Gathered into one collection, these three biographies present a sweeping version of the history of Milutin's time, which was a significant step in the spread of historical concepts in Serbian literature.

Danilo's anonymous "Pupil" continued to write along the same lines. The Pupil described the life of his teacher (after 1337), but presented only the spiritual life and ecclesiastical career of Danilo. Danilo's profuse activity as a statesman was presented by expanding the role he played in the biographies of the rulers which Danilo himself had written, while in the biographies of King Stefan Decanski (after 1331) and his son Dusan as king (after 1335), of which the Pupil was the author himself, he gave Danilo a leading role from the very start. By uniting all these texts afterwards, adding to them a series of biographies of leaders in the Serbian church, texts by Danilo and other authors, the Pupil put together a great historical codex entitled Danilo's Annals; this volume represents the greatest degree of the development of narrative structure in Serbian medieval literature.

king_stephen_icon.jpeg King Stefan Prvovencani, a fresco from the monastery of Mileseva

At the same time, the Pupil's works represent the ultimate scope of Serbian biography as an original form which presents poeticized history in the form of hagiography. The Pupil's Stefan Decanski is a negative character, so the positive characteristics of the ruler's biography are assigned to the other heroes. Archbishop Danilo, the church leader of the time, is destined for spiritual accomplishments, while young King Dusan is destined for glory on the battlefield. The hagiographic model had to be left behind, and the main focus of the writer is dedicated to the events of war. In the Pupil's works, they occupy the central place. The model for this extensive war narration is to be found in A Serbian Novel about Alexander, the Serbian version of the famous novel, and with it the character of the ideal Serbian sovereign grows into the character of a warrior and knight. His unfinished biography suggests that he intended Dusan to be this character. Serbian prose was slowly moving toward the romance. However, the fall of the empire stopped the process of secularization in Serbian literature, and his successors did not have the time or ambition to elucidate his greatness as a sovereign in their literature. That is how the long stream of Serbian biographical literature came to its end as the poeticised chronicles of Nemanja's heirs.

The disintegration of the hagiographic form and the movement toward the romance, toward belles lettres, left the historical component of Serbian biography excluded. Already the last chapters of Danilo's Annals are nothing more than short historical notes. In the second half of the fourteenth century, the first Serbian historical genres will appear, chronicles and genealogies, and they became increasingly important with time. At the same time new forms appeared, in the search for new literary forms, liberated from the tasks of history, such as learned epistles, poetic records, artistic verse and other forms as well.

Under the auspices of the church, an enormous amount of literary activity took place. Priority was given to religious poetry, which accompanied the establishment of saintly cults. The short vita was an essential element of this. With the Turkish attacks in the second half of the fourteenth century, new themes and new tones appeared in Serbian literature. In records and other short genres, nostalgia and lamentation appeared, both individual and collective. This mood set the basic tone, and it produced the Kosovo cycle.

The exploits of Prince Lazar, the hero of Kosovo (1389) produced an entire cycle of poetic compositions. Lazar's heirs tried to maintain the organization of the state in Serbia, relying on the Nemanjic tradition. Thus, in the milieu of the court, just as before, documents were written which elucidated the position and conceptual foundations of the Lazarevic family through the character of a single hero. The new dynasty was creating its own saintly predecessor. Yet, he was a new kind of hero, he is a sovereign with only one exploit, only one battle. That battle is lost, but Prince Lazar fell as a true knight, defending European Christian civilization from a horde of barbarians of another race from another continent. He is the moral victor, and he can thus be the hero of a Christian epic. His theme is the identification of faith and patriotism, unbounded dedication to the Christian ideal, leading ultimately to conscious self-sacrifice, the theme of the importance of the spiritual over the material, of the heavenly kingdom over any earthly one. Yet, the prince is not the only hero. His loyal knights do battle and die with him. Sacrifice for Christianity is their choice as well. They are champions for the cause of loyalty to a sovereign, to feelings of honour and duty. The philosophy of duty is transferred from the sovereign to all the other participants in the battle as well. Nemanja's theory of sovereignty was thus extended - all those who belonged to the military and feudal order were obliged to defend the faith, their nation and their country.

These are all reasons why Lazar's entire life was not described, but just that one single exploit. The Christian accomplishment of Prince Lazar and the heroes of Kosovo is enough for them to be celebrated. A new form and a new model was being sought. The Kosovo exploit is very close to those of the early Christian martyrs, to the stories of the first martyrs, who were edified among the chosen, becoming saints through their martyrdom. The texts about Prince Lazar are written in the form of eulogies, coloured with the spirit of the epic-lyric and of emotional ecstasy. In place of the magnificence of the earlier biographies, here sensitivity prevails and there is empathy instead of enthralment; there is no glorification, all is sad and reserved, a quiet peacefulness which arises from the deep conviction that what had to be done was, in fact, done. This is noble poetry of sacrifice and of moral victory.

The basis of this poetry about Kosovo was the enchanting Historical Narrative which was written immediately after the battle (1392) by Patriarch Danilo the Third, in the cultivated style known as "pletenije sloves". His work contains all the elements of the Kosovo theme as found in the documents afterwards, and of the myth of Kosovo in the oral poetry. The Kosovo theme is the first preserved and completely clear example of the symbiotic relationship between the written and oral poetic systems of Serbia in the Middle Ages: the same theme with all the essential elements is cultivated simultaneously in both poetic forms. Among Danilo's followers, there were also other people from the royal court. This is, therefore, the literature of the royal court. Among them one finds Milica, Lazar's learned widow and the first Serbian poetess of sadness and suffering; Jefimija, the famous embroiderer, despina and nun; Lazar's son and heir, young Despot Stefan Lazarevic, statesman, soldier and poet of renaissance intoned love lyrics which are revealed in his poetic tract about love, The Word of Love, and elsewhere. Ten texts appeared in twenty years.

stephen_lazarevic_icon.jpeg Despot Stefan Lazarevic, a fresco from the monastery of Manasija from the year 1418

Refugees from the Balkans, fleeing ahead of the Turkish invasion, brought other literary trends into Serbia as well. Among them was Grigorije Tsamblak, who wrote, during his short stay at Decani, The Life of Stefan Decanski; he presented Stefan as a great martyr, completely within the tradition of the Bulgarian school of Trnovo, in a strict hagiographic style which was never cultivated in Serbia. Tsamblak was interceding, with his work and his life, on behalf of Slavic and Balkan spiritual unity against the Turkish threat; meanwhile, his compatriot Konstantin Filozof was searching for heroic warriors to take sword in hand and oppose the infidel invasion. He found that ideal in his protector, Despot Stefan Lazarevic, and he dedicated his extensive biography The Life of Despot Stefan (1433) to him. After many years and under quite different circumstances, Konstantin created the same kind of literary character in a sovereign as had Danilo's Pupil. To wit, the ideal sovereign is a successful warrior and noble knight, a refined artist and fearless fighter for Christian culture, a man of great moral strength which he draws from his dedication to his land and to the history of his nation. He is the hero of the new era because of that, and not because of any kind of heavenly protection. The new era is also seen through a different and more objective view of people and events. The Despot himself initiated the translation of the Byzantine chroniclers, the compilation of a Serbian genealogy, and the expansion of the chronicles. Apart from the interest in ancient history, the rational spirit of the epoch also appeared in the textual and linguistic studies of the Despot's court and its surroundings. Stefan Lazarevic and Konstantin Filozof introduced humanistic and renaissance trends in Serbian literary life, which had been cut short and cast into darkness by the terrible tragedy of the loss of Serbian national independence and the following centuries of slavery.

Even so, even under such conditions, the meagre literary activity was still dealing with the ideal heroes of the type which were created in the literature of the Middle Ages. The heroes became the last representatives of Serbian statehood, the Despots of Srem - the Brankovic family - to whom cultic texts, liturgies and short vitae were dedicated in the first half of the sixteenth century in the Krusedol school; this school cultivated an artistic style which lacked nothing in comparison to its excellent models in earlier epochs. Instead of developing along the lines of the renaissance which had already begun, Serbian literature remained where it had been when the foreign invasion occurred. The written word found support in the oral, traditional word, and thus Patriarch Pajsije did nothing other than to fill the old hagiographic framework with new oral tradition when he wrote The Life of Tsar Uros (1642). In the period when European culture was undergoing great revival, Serbian culture, separated from Europe by a cordon of Turkish weapons, attempted to revive itself from its own resources. Thus, written literature relied on oral poetry, which was acutely vivid, drawing on its own inspiration, ethical principles and a noble sensitivity taken from the testimonies of the medieval epoch, safeguarded in the libraries of the aging monasteries.

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