Lithuania Literature - From the Origins to 1918

Lithuania Literature – From the Origins to 1918

  • From the origins to the 18th century

Until the Reformation, a very rich folk literature of millenary tradition flourished in Lithuania, as well as in the entire pagan Baltia (Baltic cultural and linguistic area), consisting of songs (daĩnos), funeral songs (raũdos), narrations and legends (pãsakos), handed down orally. The centuries of greatest splendor, those of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, were poor in written literature; this can be understood keeping in mind the specific events of Lithuanian history and its complicated evangelization (1385); the conversion made some elements of Western culture filter through the Polish channel.

About two centuries later, in the midst of the Reformation, as elsewhere in Europe, also in Livonia, Estonia and the Lithuanian state began to preach and translate religious texts into the national languages. The spreaders of Protestant ideas in the Grand Duchy were also the first authors-translators of religious hymns in Lithuanian; active at the Albertine University of Königsberg, where they found shelter from persecution, were: S. Rapolionis (15th-16th century), A. Kulvietis, J. Zablockis, but above all M. Mažvydas (all 16th century), author-editor of the Katekismo prasti žodžiai(“Simple words from the Catechism”, 1547), the first Lithuanian printed book. Literary support for the Reformation also involved B. Vilentas, who translated the Enchiridion (1579) from the German, and J. Bretkūnas, author of a Postilla (1591) and a translation of the Bible (1579-90). The Counter-Reformation did not take long to make itself heard and departed from the territories of the Grand Duchy. In this era in which the nobles, while recognizing themselves in Lithuanian culture, wanted to extend the use of Polish to everyone while the people remained faithful to his own language, the bishop M. Giedraitis suggested to the canon M. Daukšà to print his sermons and a catechism; Daukšà wrote two prefaces (in Latin and in Polish) which are among the most important texts for the revival of Lithuanian.

While the confrontation between Protestants and Catholics continued, the linguistic and literary consciousness was refined: the Jesuit K. Sirvydas (16th- 17th century) printed in Vilnius a Dictionarium trium linguarum (Polish-Lithuanian-Latin), a grammar and a study of Lithuanian dialects; in the same years, in the Duchy of Prussia, D. Kleinas (17th century) published a Compendium lituanicum-germanicumand a Lithuanian grammar. The 18th century. it was characterized by a more pronounced German and Polish imprint in the Lithuanian territories. The treatise by P. Ruigỹs, written in German and focused on an analysis of the Lithuanian language, of its origin, essence and quality (1745), met with success in cultured circles as well as the first collections of daĩnos, appreciated by GE Lessing, JG von Herder and used by JW Goethe. The figure of K. Donelaitis remains isolated, a multifaceted personality who, precisely in the phase of the country’s most severe political subjection, composed Metai (“Seasons of the Year”), a masterpiece of all Lithuanian literature, in hexameters. For Lithuania 2006, please check

  • From the 19th century to independence (1918)

In the following period known as the spaudos draudimas (“prohibition of printing”), decreed by the tsarist authorities (1864-1904), bishop Valančius, to boycott the imposition of the Cyrillic alphabet, devised to have Lithuanian books printed in nearby Prussia and overseas ; books, magazines and newspapers were thus introduced into Lithuania by about 2000 knygnešiai (“book holder”), which became a literary topos of the Lithuanian Risorgimento. In the cultural panorama of this period, prose prevails over poetry. We remember S. Daukantas with his works Būdas senovės lietuvių… (“Costumes of the ancient Lithuanians…”, 1845) and Istorija žemaitiška (“History of Samogitia “, 1893-97); M. Valančius, pedagogue and moralist, author of pamphlets on educational and agricultural topics. Also worthy of mention are the writer D. Poška and the poet A. Strazdas ; the publicist Lithuania Ivinskis, the preacher and short story writer A. Tatarė. The transition to Romanticism was marked by the work Anykščių šilelis (“The grove of Anykščiai”, 1858-59) by A. Baranauskas, which celebrated the beauty of nature, the past and the aspirations of his homeland at the same time. The author of poems inspired by the daĩnos was A. Vienažindys. Polish-language authors such as A. Mickiewicz, C. Norwid and JI Kraszewski, who can also be traced back to the contemporary poet C. Miłosz. Meanwhile, in Lithuania Minor (East Prussia), subject to German influence, the Lithuanian national movement was organized around Keleivis («Il viandante», 1879), the first national newspaper, founded by F. Kurschat. Subsequently, a patriotic-religious and liberal tendency was distinguished around the review Aušrà («Aurora», 1883-86) and a positivist-realist tendency, on the left, linked to Varpas («La Campana», 1889-1905). The followers of the first current were led by the doctor J. Basanavičius, an expert in folklore; among the contributors of the Aušrà magazinewere J. Maironis-Mačiulis, professor of moral theology in Petersburg and Kaunas, patriot, idealist and romantic of European level, creator of the classical tradition in Lithuanian literature. At the head of the second literary current was the founder of Varpas, the publicist and translator V. Kudìrka, author of the Lithuanian national anthem. The following worked around this group: Žemaitė (pseudonym of the writer J. Žymantienė, 1845-1921), who represented the rural world with strong realism; G. Petkevičaitė (called Bitė “the bee”) and P. Vaičaitis. Two great personalities were strangers to the currents: J. Tumas-Vaižgantas, author of the novel Pragiedruliai(“Raggi di sole”, 1918-29) on Lithuanian ethnographic differences, and Vydūnas (pseudonym of the writer V. Storasta), author of wide-ranging interests in Indian mysticism and theosophy. In 1904 freedom of the press was restored and new magazines appeared such as Vilniaus Žinios (“Vilnius News”) founded in 1904 by P. Vileišis. Among the new names stand out J. Biliūnas and A. Vienuolis, both short story writers; among the poets: A. Herbačiauskas, M. Gustaitis, M. Vaitkus and Lithuania Gira, who was also a playwright and literary critic. Following the important political changes that took place, the cultural climate significantly changed, with repercussions in the literary field.

Lithuania Literature - From the Origins to 1918