Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Serbia between Utopia and Dystopia(*)

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Serbia between Utopia and Dystopia(*)

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH JULES VERSE'S and H.G. Wells's works were translated into the Serbian language soon after their publication in France and England, respectively,(1) the majority of older utopian masterpieces, such as Plato's Republic, Aristophanes's plays, More's Utopia(2) or Swift's Gulliver's Travels were translated into Serbian as late as the first half of the 20th century. It would be wrong, though, to come to a conclusion that there was no utopia in Serbian literature and tradition prior to that time or that foreign influences cannot be traced in early Serbian utopias. Thus, Dorde Natosevic (18211887),(3) mentions Plato's Republic in his article "Mrav" ["The Ant"] (1857),(4) although the work itself was translated into Serbian much later. Just like Thoreau, Natosevic analyzes the everyday life of the ants. Moreover, Natosevic compares the ants' social organization to that of human race, concluding that:

   the social life of the ants is so purely republican that it never will be
   found in humans in such a pure form. Plato's ideal republic would have been
   achieved a long time ago if people could, like ants, cast away their
   selfishness and if they could become devoted to the concern for the whole,
   for the public welfare. (122)

The very fact that the the Serbs' conversion to Christianity, which began in the 9th century, coincided with the beginnings of Serbian literacy, the creators of which were learned monks, determined the predominantly Christian character and nature not only of the Serbian mediaeval literature but of their visions of the future. Thus, one of the first glimpses of a utopian future in written form was offered to the Serbs in the Holy Bible. Apart from the Bible, there were Apocrypha, which, according to Deretic "greatly influenced popular ideas and beliefs and left their mark both on oral tradition and written literature (...)" (Kratka istorija srpske knjizevnosti, 17). Among them certainly are Otkrovenje Enohovo [Enoch's Apocalypse], Otkrovenje Varuhovo [Baruch's Apocalypse], etc., which left a significant trace on the utopian visions of paradise and dystopian visions of Doomsday and hell.(5)

On the other hand, original Serbian contribution to Serbian utopian visions can be found in two mediaeval genres. Apocalyptic visions and visionary scenes of bliss reappear in saints' biographies or hagiographies. Saint Sara (born between 1171 and 1175, died in 1235) in Zitije svetoga Simeona Nemanje [The Biography of the Saint Simeon Nemanja(6)] (1208) after the death of his father depicts the beauties of the everlasting life in heaven as the choirs of angels sing, just as his brother Stefan Prvovencani (1165-1227) depicts Saint Simeon's rising to the City of Jerusalem in Zitije svetog Simeona [The Biography of Saint Simeon] (1216).(7)

The other genre, secular biographies of Serbian monarchs, represents, in Deretic's opinion "a continuation of the biblical `history'" (Kratka istorija srpske knjizevnosti, 17). Therefore, it is not surprising that Konstantin Filozof [Constantine the Philosopher] (first half of 15th century-?) in his Zitije despota Stefana Lazarevica [The Life of Despot Stevan Lazarevic(8)] (c. 1431) depicts despot Lazarevic's homeland as if it were an earthly paradise:

   This despot, thus, sprouted from Dalmatia, Dacia, the land of the Serbs as
   it is now known,(9) where many a one has flourished of lately, whose
   genealogy will be made. And in this land similarly to the promised one runs
   milk and honey (...) For in the whole universe there is no country that has
   all the goods assembled in one place and everywhere (...) We should firstly
   talk of the most important things, that is, of gold and silver, as well,
   and of their numerous and rich mines, constantly growing richer, the more
   they are exploited, just as the more you draw water from the well, the
   sweeter it becomes. And where in the east or west can such wealth be found? … 
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