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Petar II Petrović-Njegoš

Petar II Petrovic-Njegos
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Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (Serbian Cyrillic: Петар II Петровић Његош, pronounced [pêtar drûɡiː pětroʋitɕ ɲêɡoʃ]), was a Serbian Orthodox Prince-Bishop of Montenegro (Metropolitan of Cetinje), who transformed Montenegro from a theocracy into a secular state.[citation needed] However, he is most famous as a poet. Among his notable works include The Mountain Wreath (Горски вијенац / Gorski vijenac), the Ray of the Microcosm (Луча микрокозма / Luča mikrokozma), the Serbian Mirror (Огледало српско / Ogledalo srpsko), and False Tsar Stephen the Little (Лажни цар Шћепан Мали / Lažni car Šćepan Mali).

He belonged to the House of Petrović-Njegoš, the Prince-Bishops of Cetinje since 1697. 

 

Birth and early life

Radivoje "Rade" Tomov Petrović was born on November 13 [O.S. November 1] 1813 in the village of Njeguši, the capital of the Montenegrin district of Katunska Nahija. He was the son of Tomo Markov Petrović and Ivana Proroković Petrović. He had two brothers, Pero and Jovan, and two sisters. He was part of the noble House of Petrović-Njegoš, Prince-Bishops of Montenegro for over a century. At the time of his birth, Montenegro did not exist as a state. The borders were undefined and Montenegro was recognised as part of the Ottoman Empire, while its de jure ruler was a Venetian Governor. Power actually lay with the squabbling, disunited clan chiefs, who variously recognised the authority of the Austrian Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Ottoman Empire or the Cetinje Metropolitan (Prince-Bishop).

Education and nomination

Njegoš spent his early years in Njeguši. In 1825, his uncle Prince-Bishop Peter I sent him to the Cetinje Monastery to be tutored by a monk, Misail Cvetković, and the Prince-Bishop's secretary, Jakoov Cek in preparation for his succession as Prince-Bishop. He wrote his first poems there to entertain the local chiefs and monks. The most famous of them were satirical. In the middle of the year, Radivoje was sent to Topla monastery, near Herceg Novi, where he was taught Italian, mathematics, ecclesiastical singing, the Psalter and other subjects by the monastery's hieromonk, Josip Tropović. He often attended the ecclesiastical services in the nearby Savina monastery, dedicated to Saint Sava. He remained in Tople until the end of 1826, when he returned to Montenegro's capital, Cetinje. 

On 20 January 1827, Prince-Bishop Petar I named Radivoje as his successor instead of Đorđije Savov, who went to Russia to become a cavalry officer. Petar wanted to send Njegoš to Russia, but he lacked the needed funds, so he decided to educate Rade himself. He taught him Italian, Russian, German, English and French. Petar also gave Rade access to his extensive library. The Prince-Bishop assigned one of the foremost Serb writers of the time, Sima Milutinović Sarajlija of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to be Radivoje's new teacher. He was taught the Classics, art, history, philosophy and literature. 

In 1829, Rade gave Sima numerous nationalist poems he collected. The most famous was the song of the National Spirit about the war between the Russian Empress Catherine II and the Ottoman Sultan.

Ruler of Montenegro 

Rade became the Bishop of Cetinje and Viceroy Metropolitan of Montenegro on 19 October 1830 at the age of 17 upon his uncle's death. His uncle Petar I wrote in his will:

I make and pronounce my nephew Rade Tomov Perović my heir, governor and guardian of everything mine and Church's, who I hope shall be a man of work and wisdom, as much as blessed Heavenly Father wished to grant him with, and whom to God, our Emperor and to Montenegrins and Highlanders I recommend with all my heart and soul.

The next day, on 20 October, Radivoje buried his uncle. The same day, Rade became a monk under the Archimandrite of the Monastery of Vranjina and took the cloak of his deceased uncle. Two days later, Rade himself became an Archimandrite, becoming the unofficial supreme ecclesiastical ruler of Montenegro. On 30 October the same year, he sent a letter to Jeremija Gagić declaring his assertion to power:

It seems to me I have cried all I could. Only because I realised that of crying there is no use, but only damage and peril to my eyes, but still my dolorous heart does not let my stop the tears I am shedding for my father and benefactor. Firstly, because I lost the benefactor's gracefulness, secondly, because the people have lost its pastor and defender who was an unshaken bastion of Christian faith and freedom, and a loyal fatherland's defender and a hesitant ally to the Russian throne up to his last words, which he spoke to me on his death bed. I asked him: "Lord, I see you are dying, but what shall I do now?" And he sat up on his bedding, and began talking to me: "I can not help you with anything now, but hear these last words from me: pray to God and stick to Russia."

Prince-Bishop Radivoje took over the leadership over the Serb clans of four districts: Katunska Nahija, Lješanska Nahija, Riječka Nahija, and Crmnica, as well as four Highland tribes: Bjelopavlići, Piperi, Rovčani, and Moračani. He was only the ecclesiastical ruler over Boka and the Skadar. He was still young, so his father Tomo and his uncle Captain Lazar Proroković assisted him as well as some major Chiefs.

At the end of 1830 and beginning of 1831, Governor Vukolaj Radonjić moved against Radivoje wishing to end the House of Njegoš's dominance over Montenegro.

At the National Assembly held on 17 November 1831, Vukolaj Radonjić was deposed from his office as the Governor of Montenegro and replaced by Sima Milutinović Sarajlija, Rade's old teacher.

On 31 January 1831 on the island of Kom in the Monastery of Vranjina, the Archbishop of Rascia-Prizren declared him as the official Archimandrite. Radivoj received the name Petar II in his predecessor's honour. Prince-Bishop Petar II invited two Serbian envoys in the Russian Empire to come and assist him in his reign: Mateja Vučićević, Montenegro's viceroy in Russia and his uncle, Ivan Vukotić, a subofficer in the Russian Army.

The two arrived to Montenegro in September the same year and on 27 September brought the decision on assembling the governmental infrastructure in Montenegro. A Senate was formed, headed by the Prince-Bishop and composed out of 16 Senators - the most prominent Montenegrin Chiefs. The Senate's duty was to act as a Government and the Supreme Court. A Guard was formed that acted as the Executive branch of the government that had 164 members that served as the Police and travelling judges in minor conflicts. On 6 December 1831, Peter II wrote to Jeremija Gagić regarding these reforms (in Serbian):

...imam čest Vama objaviti kako se Crnogorci nahode u soglasiju među sobom isti kako su bili ovoga prošloga vremena od kako je blaženopočivšeg mitropolita zavješčanije proglašeno, ali sada je suviše stavljeno upravlenije narodnje, koje upravlenije sostovlja 180 ljudih, iz kojijeh su 16 sovjetnici (senatori), a 164 ispolnitelji (polizia), koje sluša narod dobro i kako je dužnost narodnja svoje starije slušati i sobom odabranima povinovat se. Mene se raduje srdce i duša kada ja viđu moje otečestvo tako složno i kada viđu toliko njihovo počitanije k našemu carju i blagodjetelju i k njihovijema starješinama i glavarima, ali kakva će mi jošt i ovo radost biti kada viđu moje otečestvo đe napreduje u naukama i procvjetava prosvješčenijem i kada ga viđu da počne izlezati svoje prosvješčene i vjerne sinove, koji će ga umjeti braniti ne samo oružjem nego i perom umnim.

....I have the privilege to inform you how Montenegrins are coming to a mutual consensus with one another just as they did during the time when the recently-departed Metropolitan's elevation into sainthood was announced, though since then we have established a national governing body of 180 people, of whom 16 are senators and 164 enforcers (police), who are compelled to listen to the will of the people, always respecting the aged and having incumbants themselves obeying the law. It warms my heart and soul to see my constituents so united and with such reverence and respect towards our tsar and benefactor and towards their elders and leaders, but what a greater happiness will I feel when my people begin to advance in the sciences and bloom intellectually and when all this bears fruit and their sons will not only be able to defend themselves with arms but with the might of their pen, too.

Ivan Vukotić became the first President of the Senate, while Mateja Vučićević became its first Vice-president. The Senate's seat was in Cetinje, while the Guard's Headquarters were in Rijeka Crnojevića. Petar II was present on every assembly of the Senate except judgments of capital sentences, in which he was forbidden to participate by the canon law. Prince-Bishop Petar II later named captains to monitor the Serb clans in his domain and to act as his representatives to the clans, and he as well also created the Grenadiers (Perjanici) - the Prince-Bishop's personal elite guard. He also formed a special Border Militia (Serbian: Panduri or Пандури) to patrol the borders of Montenegro.

Up to 1832, Petar fully cancelled governorship, therefore affirming full power over Montenegro. Petar II renamed the Praviteljstvo suda (institutional court) into Praviteljstvujušći sovjet (institutional council), expanding its powers from just courtial to also management.

The inauguration of taxes followed suit—in 1833.

Prince-Bishop Petar II wanted to raise Montenegro's international prestige. In order to achieve that, after a brief stop in Vienna, he visited the Russian Czardom in 1833, where he was accepted into Ecclesiastical service as Prince-Bishop of Montenegro in Saint Petersburg, the Empire's capital. In 1833, just before his journey to Serbia, Serbian Orthodox Christian Bishop of Užice gifted him Danica of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić from 1826.

Peter II has contributed greatly to education by founding the first public Elementary School in Cetinje, Montenegro's capital in 1834. Before that, priests and monks taught school in monasteries benefitting privileged children rather than the whole community. That year, he also opened a printing press in Cetinje specifically for printing scholastic textbooks, his works - the same year it printed the Hermit of Cetinje-- and for other Serbian authors as well. In 1835, the Montenegrin forces captured a cannon in Žabljak.

In February 1837, he paid another visit to the Russian Empire, again making a short "courtesy" stop in Vienna before leaving for St. Petersburg. During his second trip there Njegoš visited the Sviatohirsk Lavra and the cemetery where the remains of Alexander Pushkin were buried in January of that year. The same year, 1837, he published The ABC of The Serbian Grammar. He also re-printed the school textbooks originally printed by his uncle Petar I Petrović-Njegoš The Serbian elementary reading book.

The conflicts with the neighbouring Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were insignificant - except the epic struggle with The Death of Smail-aga Čengić in 1840 on Mljetičko. Peter could not achieve the high statehood of his predecessor - the Serbian Orthodox Christian monasteries of Maina[disambiguation needed] and Stanjevići were bought by the Empire of Austria, while Vranjina and Lesandro were seized by the Pasha of Skadar. Although Peter II always supported rebels against the Ottoman authority and gladly went to openly fight the Ottomans, Russia's peaceful policy towards the Ottoman Empire meant that no larger martial success could be undertaken.

In 1842, Prince-Bishop Peter II constructed another elementary school - in Dobrsko Selo—near Cetinje. On the 11 June 1842, the Prince of Serbia Mihailo Obrenović and the Serbian Literature Society elected him as an "Honorable Member" as a reward for his merits in literature and education of the Montenegrin people. Later, in 1845, he was declared the Metropolitan of Cetinje. The same year, 1845, Peter II published the Ray of the Microcosm, an impressive, masterfully written philosophical work. In 1846, Peter wrote a collection of Montenegrin national poems - the Serbian mirror in honor of one of the greatest Russian writers - Pushkin.

In 1846 and 1847, Peter II was in Vienna, the Austrian Imperial capital. There, he published in 1847 The Mountain Wreath - his most famous work. The same year, 1847, Njegoš wrote the Pseudo Tsar Stephen the Small, where he described the life of the first uniter and ruler of modern Montenegro - Tsar Stephen the Small from the 18th century. In 1848, the government of the Principality of Serbia sent him the proposal of unification of Serbs, Croats and Bulgarians. Petar agreed but said:

Serbdom has to unite first. I will, then, to my Patriarchate of Peć and Serbian Prince to Prizren. Spiritual authority to me and secular to him, over the nation free and united.

In early 1848, Prince-Bishop Peter II offered a force of two thousand men to assist in the Revolutionary fights of Croatian Ban Josip Jelačić but the latter refused the offer. In mid-1849 Njegoš offered the Russians four to five thousand men to fight in Hungary. He knew himself that the Serbs of Montenegro were a irregular army, good for mountain warfare. "Northern Hungary is a mountainous region, and our army consist only of experienced mountaineers," he wrote in June 2 to General Aleksei Fëdorovich Orlov chief of the Imperial secret police. But not even the Russians accepted his offer. throughout the 1949-1849 Revolution Njegoš maintained close ties with the Principality of Serbia, particularly with Ilija Garašanin. Although Peter II's outer policy completely relied on Russia, Russia maintained good relations with the Ottoman Empire - so nothing more than a reconciliation with the Ottomans could be achieved.

In 1851, Prince-Bishop Petar II minted a Montenegrin currency: Perun. Petar named it by the supreme Slavic mythic god.

In 1851, Peter II caught tuberculosis. He paid a visit to Italy the same year, 1851, attempting to find a cure, but to no avail. Then he hurried to Vienna—hoping to anticipate Omer Pasha's invasion of Montenegro. He wished to go to the Russian Tsar. However, he was refused. The Russians made an execuse that the trip would be strenuous in view of his health—a transparently insulting affront to the sick Sovereign of Montenegro. Njegoš did not live to see his invasion of Montenegro in 1853, the dread year of Omer Pasha, but he foresaw as early as 1851 all the horrow that it held in store for a hungry, poor, unprepared land. Montenegro was to be saved from destruction by the intervention of the Great Powers, an intervention that did not come too late thanks only to the heroic resistance of the Montenegrins and Prince Danilo.

Njegoš failed to accomplish anything in Vienna. While waiting for the inane and ambiguous replies of the slow Russian bureaucracy and the inconsiderate consideration of Vienna, he was overtaken by the sultry summer and the rapid worsening of his illness.

He remained in Vienna nearly two months and met Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja, Branko Radičević himself ill with tuberculosis (he was to outlive Njegoš by one year). Also in Vienna were Vuk Karadžić, Anastas Jovanović, Ludwig August Frankl and jurist Francesco Carrara, who all came to pay their respect. In Vienna he was treated by Dr. Joseph Škoda, a renowned physician in his day. The same year, 1851, he managed to publish his last major work - Pseudo Tsar Stephen the Small. Peter II Njegoš died in Cetinje of tuberculosis on October 31 [O.S. October 19] 1851 - exactly 21 years after his accession to the throne; he was buried in a small chapel on top of Mount Lovćen where his mausoleum was built. During the period of Communist rule in Yugoslavia it was demolished for ideological reasons by the authorities to make way for a secular monument.

Letters

Among the principal delights of Njegoš's life were his friendships—especially those with politicians, writers, and poets (among whom Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja was one), if we judge by the number of letters he wrote them. Many of these letters he probably would not have minded seeing in print, for they reflect the same literary genius as his published works in other genres. His letters have the cadence and colour of his imaginative verse because he gave to all types of writing the full force of his creative genius. In this he was unlike other writers, who use up their primary strength in plays, poems and novels, and turn in a weary manner to the task of correspondence in some spare corner of a day. But to Njegoš both official and personal communication was a necessity that involved his whole being. And although his letters are astoundingly abundant, particularly for a man who died so young, most of them display the imagination of a poet, the challenge of a wise seer, and the strength of a man implicated religiously in a struggle for freedom and independence.

On April 14, 1849 Njegoš wrote to Alexander Karađorđević, Prince of Serbia, what he thought of the 1848 Revolution in the Austrian Empire:

The Serbian Duchy (Vojvodina) is standing on weak legs, and even were it to become entirely free of the Magyars, there would be in it no advantage whatever for Serbdom inasmuch as the Serbs are not fighting for themselves but for someone else.

On October 5, 1851 Njegoš replied to Vuk Stefanović Karadžić that he had received Ludwig August Frankl's Gusle and Branko Radičević's Pesme (Poems) with his letter, and then suddenly he added:

I would write a fine answer to your letter if death would let me, but in view of the condition I am in, even this much is enough, for when the body suffers and groans, the soul is tempest-tossed.

His thoughts

Njegoš's main themes were man's destiny, marked by struggle and suffering, and freedom, which he understood as partly the struggle for national liberty. The elaboration of these themes led him to many philosophical thoughts and meditations. Being predominantly a poet, he presented these thoughts in poetic images and visions. The philosophical conception implicit in these images is a Platonic dualism. God and matter are coeternal. Mind and body are opposed principles both ontologically and axiologically. Mind originates in heaven, whereas body belongs to the "realm of decay." The body is "the physical shackles of the soul"; passions "lay man below the beast," whereas mind makes him "equal to immortals" (Canto 1: 199-200). In Luca Mikrokozma Njegoš interpreted the union of mind and body as a consequence of sin and the Fall. The first man, Adam, was once pure spirit, but he joined Satan in his rebellion against God, although he soon repented. He was then "clad in a body" and cast upon the earth, which was created by God as a place of expiation after man's sin. Thus, Njegoš's Adam, unlike Milton's or the Adam of official church doctrine, sinned prior to his bodily creation.

Njegoš, therefore, showed the necessity for human struggle and suffering in his epic religious poem Luca mikrokozma ("The Ray of the Microcosm," 1845) and made them profoundly meaningful in his other great poem. Gorski Vjenac ("The Mountain Wreath," 1847) is a mighty hymn to the national struggle for liberation and to the struggle against evil in general. To justify this struggle he elaborated a dynamic and basically dialectical conception of the world. The world is made up of opposed and dangerous forces at permanent war. Through this struggle, order emerges out of chaotic disorder, and spiritual power triumphs over great confusion. Struggle and suffering are not mere evils but have a positive, creative aspect as well. The spark appears only after the flint is struck hard, and the soul that has endured temptations "nourishes the body with internal fire." Heroism is the master of evil, and human life has an aim only if it contributes to the realization of liberty, honour, and dignity. His ethics were essentially derived from his people and, in turn, had a powerful influence on them in all trying moments of their history.

According to Njegoš, difficulties and suffering help to forge the human soul. Without effort and sacrifice nothing really great can be accomplished; even a good song cannot be created without pain. So man should not hesitate to fight against evil and tyranny and to overcome any fear. This heroic philosophy corrsponded to the attitudes of all Serbs in difficult situation and set forth a moral ideal which enormously influenced their behaviour.

Major works

The Ray of the Microcosm

Njegoš wrote The Ray of the Microcosm in 1845 as an original, free and independent version of Milton's Paradise Lost, which he probably knew from a French translation; and while this did not garner the popularity of The Mountain Wreath, it is just as great and easily the finest philosophical poem in the Serbian language. The premise of The Ray is the myth of man's first sin. Njegoš's Adam is a fallen angel while Milton adheres to the Bible with all his Puritanical puritanism.

Veselin Čajkanović was successful in recording folk tales about how God had created men with wings. There is a fable in Montenegro about the evil Tsar Dukljan—the Serbian name for Diocletian -- who had enslaved men and rebelled against God, defeating even his blessed servants. According to the tale, Dukljan, like Njegoš's Satan, was immortal, and only God was capable of disciplining him—by placing him in fetters. This tale, though it clearly deals with primeval life of man, may have had an influence on Njegoš because his motifs of evil and the kingdom of darkness are more clearly defined and more profound, harkening back to the primeval cosmic struggle between light and darkness.

The German scholar Alois Schmaus, on the other hand, arrived at the conclusion that Njegosh differed from Milton in something fundamental: Milton's Adam violates God's commandments as the first man, while Njegoš's Adam is a fallen angel who had existed in heaven, but who, because of his participation in Satan's rebellion, was cast upon the earth to atone for his transgression. Schmaus traced Njegoš's influences to the East—to Plato and to those earliest Christian teachings which were still under the influence of the Greek Idealist philosophy.

Proceeding from a different standpoint, Njegoš's religion, Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović was the first to point out the originality of The Ray of the Microcosm while Isidora Sekulić confirmed the poetic-philosophical independence of Njegoš's poem.

The Ray, set in the framework of a Homeric story told with Biblical characters, though written in the early nineteenth century, transcends time. Both Greek myths and Biblical stories generally have been better known to Eastern European readers through Njegoš than through any other ancient source. Njegoš confronts the myth of man's original sin and the main issue of Christianity, which raises the question, can man account for his actions? Njegosh views (as stated before) draw from the early church fathers of the East, and, still earlier than them, the father of philosophy (Plato). As Njegoš tells it, Adam is a fallen angel who revolted along with Satan and then abandoned the latter on the third day of the War in Heaven, while the battle was still in doubt. In other words, Njegosh conceives of man as having existed before the Fall, so that ideas preceded man and goodness preexisted as well. God regards Adam as too black for Heaven and too white for Hell, and so creates Earth as a purgatorial prison for him—a world combining elements of both Heaven and Hell—in which he may work out his punishment and purification. Man's tšragic lot on earth is thus not due to the eating of a forbidden fruit but rather to the misbehavior of an angelic Adam before the Earth was ever created. In Njegoš, there is scarcely any idealization of Satan, as with Serfino della Salandra (Adamo Caduto) and John Milton (Paradise Lost), and his portrayal of God is much less clearly anthropomorphic. After all, Njegoš found man, not God, to be historically evolving. Though Milton descried himself as a believer, his beliefs, however were suspect; and it is clear that a number of Gnostic beliefs had crept into his religious system. Unlike Milton's Paradise Lost and Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Njegoš's apocryphon is an unusual one and deserves to be better known. Njegoš's importance in the world in general, and in world literature in particular, also beckons to be recognized.


Serbian Mirror

Also, in the year 1845, Njegoš published a collection of sixty-one folk poems in the style of an anthology, entitled Serbian Mirror (Ogledalo Srpsko). This anthology is about the "heroic feats and battles for liberation" fought by the Serbs of Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Kosovo and Macedonia. Serbian Mirror was the first deliberate attempt to preserve in their pure form the traditional domestic folk songs of the Serbs everywhere in the Balkans in general, and Crngagora (Montenegro) in particular. The stories published in the volume of 1845, revised in successive editions, was collected by Njegoš chiefly from the mouths of anonymous peasant guslars. With undisguised voice and in many moods we hear Serbia speaking for herself. Human strength and weakness, love and hate, nobility and baseness, are set forth with primitive simplicity. They represent the anonymous product of a whole nation. "Here is something of us, whatever we may be, both good or bad," said Pavle Popović, our literary critic.

The result of his labours, extending through long stretch of years, was twofold: he produced one of the most remarkable epic poems, and he preserved for literature and history a mass of invaluable material which was even then beginning to disappear. Furthermore, in the discussion and classification of variant forms of these 61 poems, gathered in Montenegro, Njegos advanced notably the rich poetry and unique literature of his Serbian race. In fact, the sixty-one poems collected from his wanderings amongst the villagers of his mountain country, remarked that what to his mind was most noteworthy in the poetry of his people—the Serbs—was its spontaneity and unity, its evidence of collective inspiration.

The folk-songs from Serbian Mirror have a unique place in Serbian literature because of their historical character. The battles fought between the Serbs and the Turks are an education in Serbian culture and customs, conveyed with excitement and colour. Through them, we are vaulted over the mountain ranges in Montenegro and allowed to peek through crevices in sacred caves, and where Ostrog monastery is placed against an almost vertical background, high up in the large rock of Ostroška Greda, near Danilovgrad; learn what the word "freedom" really means to the Serbs, and become intimately acquainted with a people whose customs, language, and attributes have changed remarkably little in the centuries that they carried a relentless battle against Asiatic Islamic hordes and the Latin encroachment on their territorial sovereignty.

The Serbian National Poems as they were called, then and now, are the songs of the Serbian race through centuries. Europe had scarcely found respite from the campaigns of Napoleon when Vuk Stefanović Karadžić first reduced them to writing, rescuing the pesme (national songs) from that state of oral tradition in which they had remained for ages. Njegoš, likewise, sought to preserve the same oral tradition in the Serb land of Montenegro.

The verse dedicated to "The Shade of Alexander Pushkin" opens the collection of folksongs Serbian Mirror, which also contains several of Njegoš's best patriotic poems.


The Mountain Wreath

The Mountain Wreath is, indeed, his most popular work, though some may argue the greatest. It is a form of poetic drama, a succession of fictitious scenes describing, after a dedication to the liberator of the Serbs, Karageorge, the efforts of the Montenegrins in the beginning of the eighteenth century to wipe out those Muslim converts who were menacing the integrity of the Montenegrin Christians. The so-called massacre provides the conflict between Montenegrins and the Turks and its resolution, while behind it echo centuries of woe and the struggle of the Serbian nation to free itself not only from Ottoman rule but from all foreign domination. Moreover, through poetic license, "the massacre" becomes a real expression, a reflection of the fundamental cosmic struggle and the laws of that struggle which hold relentless sway over the world of men. The concrete events are Montenegrin, the backdrop and the cause are Serbian, but in everything and over everything are the absolute laws. Njegoš describes all the different types of his common mountain people. There is Bishop Danilo, more a man of thought than of action, the aged and blind monk Stephen with his wisdom of experience, the various heads of the different clans, and in contrast to them the representatives of the Muslim Montenegrins and the Turkish vizier, all formerly Christians. Yet it is more than a fabricated tale of a mountain feud culminating in a Christian victory, for Njegoš knew how to merge it in a truly Shakespearean sense with the highest aspirations and thoughts of humanity. The pictures of the celebration of the Serb name-day, the Slava, the dancing of the kolo, and the frequent allusions to the battle of Kosovo, all make it in a broad panorama of the times.

Historian Ilarion Ruvarac was the first to prove that the so-called massacre as described in The Mountain Wreath had never taken place.

It was historian, Vladimir Ćorović, who definitively explained Njegoš's verse.

In the decasyllabic line of folk poetry, almost without exception the ninth syllable, that is, the first syllable of the fifth foot, is either a long accented syllable or an unaccented one, as in the following cases:

I shall take thee now for mine own darling... To the tsar thou shalt give salutation...

This is natural: the chanter lets his voice drop on the ninth syllable in order to take breath for the next verse he must sing. In the folk decasyllabic line trochaic meters predominate over the dactylic.

In the poem Baranović Strahinja the ratio between them is, according to Ćorović, 74:26, and this is approximately the same with the other poems of the guslars. Besides, the folk poetry as a rule has neither imagery nor Leonine verse. 


The False Tsar Stephen the Small 

Irritated by the phenomenon of pretenders in his day, and their acceptance, Njegoš considered it his mission as an enlightened ruler to instruct some of his unenlightened and credulous folk by writing this poetic drama. It was a harmful feature of Montenegrin life then, just as it is today (Antonije Abramović and Miras Dedeic). It also hurt Njegoš as a ruler who had to organize all forces toward liberation from the Turks and others. Njegoš kept in mind such pretenders who found fertile soil in a Montenegro caught between myth and the concrete exigencies of the struggle against the Turks and the West as he wrote Stephen the Small. The result was one of the greatest trilogies of the early nineteenth century, full of the fury and dark passion from which emerged the mysterious historic figure known to so few as Scepan Mali. Spanning the years from 1767 to 1774, the epic poem begins with the false Stephen who usurped the reins of government from Bishop Sava II Petrović-Njegoš, Petar II's uncle. Stephen, whom the Montenegrins accepted as the murdered Russian Tsar Peter III, is not an unscrupulous, ambitious person whose lust for power is so compelling that, in order to achieve his ends he would betray his country to enemies. Instead, the impostor attempts to create a civil government in Montenegro. That attempt would bring down on Montenegro a Turkish and Venetian campaign, which served only to point up the significance of both his personality and his work. Njegoš perceived Stephen's ambivalence: a fraud, yet a sensible one who spoke wisely and gave counsel beneficial both for the people and for the cause of Serbian and Slav emancipation.

Somewhere in 1851 Njegoš placed at the head of his Stephen the Small the well-known verses:

Do not ask how one doth cross himself, Rather ask which blood doth warm his breast, Whose the milk upon which he was fed.

Njegoś's desire, at that very time, was to stress the vital idea of the unification of the South Slavs. For him this idea was something higher and deeper than a political aim; it was the union of people ordained to share the same fate, nurtured with the same milk, and warmed by the same blood, as he put it.

It is interesting to note that Njegoš was helped in his research for documents which he used in Stephen the Small by Niccolò Tommaseo, who was himself suspected by the Austrian authorities to be one of the leaders of the democratic and anti-Austrian movement in Venice at the time.

References

  • Translator Michael M. Petrovich, The Ray of the Microcosm by Petar II Petroviċ-Njegoš. Prometej, Novi Sad, 2007. 
  • Ksenija Atanasijević, Jedan pogled na Njegoševo mislilaštvo, Srpski kniževni glasnik, XLII (1934), p. 18-25. An analysis of Njegoš's philosophical thought by a leading Serbian philosopher. 
  • Ivo Andrić, Njegoš kao tragični junak kosovske misli, Belgrade: Biblioteka Kolarečvog narodnog univerziteta, Book 12, 1935. A study of Njegoš's outlook by the Nobel Prize laureate. 
  • Ljubomir Nenadović, Pisma iz Italije, (Belgrade, 1907, also 1946 and 1950). A collection of Letters from Italy by a well-known Serbian writer who was at Njegoš's side during the latter's last days in Italy and who left a description of Njegoš which has become a classic of Serbian literature. 
  • Jovan Skerlić, Istorija Nove Srpske Književnosti (Belgrade, 1921) pages 175-187.