Medieval Macedonian Literature

The mediaeval Slavonic literature is the oldest in the culture to which the Macedonians belong and is the common source of the literature of all Slavonic people. The Slavs inhabited the territories that are today inhabited by Slavonic population living in their sovereign states. The old Slavs shared a common language, referred to as Old Slavonic. The Glagolitic script, created by St. Cyril, was of vital importance to the culture of the Slavs and a decisive factor in their reunion after their emigration from the old homeland. Moravian Prince Rostislav’s well-known initiative was, in fact, instigated by the fear of Germanisation and establishing German and Latin colonies. St. Cyril's work, which is of invaluable cultural significance to us today, was primarily motivated by this fear, but also by the Byzantine Empire's religious policy and hunger for power for its own policy, faith, and church.

The work of the Cyril and Methodius brothers is of exceptional importance to the Slavs and their culture. They created the Slavonic script in order to write (translate) the first Slavonic books. It was, thus, the dialect of the Macedonian Slavs around Thessaloniki (as the scholars Jagic and Oblak verified in their Macedonian theory) that was raised to the level of a standard literary language of the Slavs.

Methodius rendered the complete translation of the Bible. It is the most meaningful work of his translation activity as it is the first translation (the first edition) of the Biblical script into Slavonic language, and is fourth among the European integral Biblical texts, after the Greek, Latin, and Gothic translations.

The Ohrid Literary School is renowned for its consistent preservation of the tradition of Cyril and Methodius. This can be best seen in the fact that, at the same time, the Preslav School in the Bulgarian capital (then Preslav) categorically adopted the use of the new Cyrillic script (which, by Emperor Simeon’s initiative, became an official script). St. Clement of Ohrid, one of the most prominent disciples of Cyril and Methodius (Methodius had probably known him long before the Moravian mission), was loyal and faithful to his masters. His influence was felt in the entire Slavonic cultural world even after he had left the Centre. The oldest Glagolitic monuments from this Centre are the Gospel of Aseman, the Sinai Book of Psalms, and the Sinai Euchology; whereas the oldest Cyrillic monuments are the Gospel of Dobromir, the Bitola Triod, the Ohrid Apostle, the Bologna Book of Psalms (all with preserved properties of the language of Cyril and Methodius).

A number of other centres of cultural and historical significance are also worth mentioning. One of these is St. Jovan Bigorski, one of the best known monasteries in Macedonia, whose hand-written heritage has not been preserved. The Monastery of St. Jovan Preteca in Slepce was especially influential in western Macedonia. The Kratovo Literary School incorporated several monastery centres. The Lesnovo Literary Centre was most active in the 14th century. It was committed to maintaining a rich handwriting activity, thus preserving the national identity during the Turkish reign.

These literary centres were the only bright light in the medieval life of the Slavs in that region. They kept the Slavonic spirit alive, a spirit born and ignited in the age of Cyril and Methodius and re-kindled by the works of St. Clement of Ohrid and St. Naum of Ohrid. These cradles of culture in medieval Macedonia unyieldingly endured all hardships and preserved the written tradition of the few learned men -- clerics who were able to proceed with the mission of their predecessors within the relatively secluded premises of the monasteries. Owing to these men and their work, the flow of the creative literary work of Macedonia remained uninterrupted – since Cyril and Methodius to date.


Excerpt of the opening speech at London Foyle's book fair (on behalf of Tabernakul Publishing House, Skopje) by Jadranka Vladova