All over the Place: The Early History of the "Serbs/Slavs"

Article excerpt

All Over the Place: The Early History of the "Serbs/Slavs"

Ivo Vukcevich's book Rex Germanorum, Populos Sclavorum* contains an immense amount of data that it probably took thousands of hours to collect. It is written for a general audience interested in the origins of the Serbian nation. It has a long bibliography which contains the names of some serious scholars. There are many illustrations, some of which are rather decorative. These are the book's (potential) advantages. Now for its (actual) drawbacks.

The author never uses any quotation marks. The identification of his sources never includes page numbers and is very often missing completely. The book with its 25 "parts" does not seem to have any structure (e.g. there is neither an introduction nor a conclusion) so that it is hard to understand what the author is aiming at. The vast amount of collected data is completely unordered and therefore useless, as an index is lacking as well.

However, even more frightening than these methodological mistakes are the distortions of historical and linguistic realities, which are to be found on every single page of the book. Therefore this review can give only a superficial impression of the abundance of the author's absurd claims, all of which are indicative of a dangerous 'Great-Serbian' orientation. Some examples are needed here to understand what this means: Obviously trying to prove that Serbs are everywhere, Vukcevich derives the ethnonyms Serb, Croat, Slav and Suebi (cf. German Schwaben 'Swabia') as well as the Slavonic roots *jar- 'bright', *zar-'heat' and the name of the Slavonic god Khors from one and the same Indo-Iranian (!) root *svar-. In order to reveal such "vivid parallels in letter, sound, and meaning" (p. 34), he makes extensive use of unmotivated letter changes like Suebi-Svevi-Svovi-Svoven-Sloven (unbelievable but true, cf. p. 368). Obviously it is really "parallels in letter" rather than in sound that he is interested in, as can be seen from his isolation of the "Proto-Serb" (p. 51 ) root stri-: "In Serb, strias in strijela and strijeljati is the root of words connoting arrow, shaft, thunderclap, thunderbolt, shoot, and fire" (p. 24). On the other hand he sometimes deliberately changes Slavonic transcriptions to make them look more 'Indie' and vice versa. Thus, the Slavonic root *duch- becomes dhu: "In Hindu mythology Bhuh is one of three original breaths.... In Serb, dhu is the root of words connoting spirits, soul, blowing, breathing (dhu, dhuhovi, dhuvati)" (p. 27). The name of the Ancient Indian deity *Sribaya, which was indeed the probable source of the Slavonic theonym Stribogb, is given as "Stribaga" (p. 24).

As the book is written for a non-professional audience, all the material is deliberately given without diacritics, because "too many diacritical marks... have a way of terrifying a general reader" (p. xvii, a quotation from J.P. Mallory2). However, Vukcevich himself sometimes quotes long passages in Latin, Serbian and Croatian, German, Polish, Sorbian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian Church Slavonic (in a Bosancica-like Cyrillic type, with a mixture of transcription and translation into Modern Serbian) as well as Russian and Arabic (in transcription)-always without English translations or at least explanatory comments. Even the blurb on the last cover page contains no English description but texts in Latin, Old Serbian, Modern Serbian, and Sorbian-all without diacritics of course, in order not to "terrify" anyone!

While it may generally be a good idea to write for "a general reader," it is clearly a bad idea to write a book about something one does not know anything about oneself. (This is the difference between popular science and pseudo-science.) The very title reveals the level of the author's linguistic knowledge. The quotation "Rex Germanorum, populos Sclavorum" can be found in a chapter with the same title (p. 172): "Given the Slavic character of central and eastern Germany, it is not surprising that Gentian and foreign documents sometimes refer to German kings as kings of the Slavs, kings ofSlavorum [sic! …