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Literature / Serbian Epic Poetry

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Serbian epic poetry is a form of epic poetry written by Serbs originating in today's Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Macedonia. The main cycles were composed by unknown artists between 14th and 19th century (although some of the later poems are commonly attributed to Filip Višnjic). They are mostly concerned with historical events and personages, though with varying degree of accuracy. The performers usually played gusle (a single-stringed musical instrument) while playing.

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Serbian epic poetry is divided into several cycles:

  • Non-historic cycle - this one is mostly concerned with Slavic Mythology.
  • Pre-Kosovo cycle - poems about events that predate Battle of Kosovo, taking place mostly during the reign of the Nemanjić dynasty. The most famous poems from this period are Wedding of Tsar Dušan, Banović Strahinja and Wedding of King Vukašin.
  • Kosovo cycle - this cycle covers poems that take place immediately before and after battle of Kosovo, but no poem deals with the battle itself (outside of flashbacks). The battle of Kosovo took place in 1389 and crushed the last hopes of a strong Serbian country. Thus, this cycle is darker and more tragic in tone compared to its precursors.
  • Cycle of Kraljević Marko - a cycle about of adventures of titular character. While not very important historically, the poetry turned him into a Chuck Norris level Memetic Badass. These poems cover a very long time span (Marko was said to be several hundred years old in the poem Death of Kraljević Marko), and are action-oriented and over-the top.
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  • Post-Kosovo cycle - covers the period between battle of Kosovo and the final collapse of Serbian Despotate in 1459.
  • Cycle of hajduks - deals with hajduks (a term for outlaws that got romanticized into freedom fighters due to them attacking Turks, who were the rich at the point). Notable characters include Stari Vujadin, Deli Radivoje and Mali Radojica.
  • Cycle of uskoks - uskoks (meaning ones who jumped in) were irregular army of the Habsburg Empire, who lived in the Austrian territory but occasionally crossed Turkish border and engaged guerrila warfare.
  • Poems about liberation of Serbia and Montenegro - these poems are generally considered to be mostly historically accurate (due to being written by their contemporaries), although still heavily romanticized. The most famous out of these poems seem to be based around the events of First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813).
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The majority of these poems are saved thanks to efforts of linguist and philologist Vuk Karadzic, who took the time to collect them and publish them in several tomes.

These poems contain examples of:

  • Badass Moustache: One of Kraljević Marko's more iconic traits.
  • Big Eater: Marko Kraljević can consume unhealthy amounts of food. And alcohol.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Discussed in Stari Vujadin, where a captured hajduk describes the ways they will be tortured to his sons, and urges them to resist said torture and not give up any information.
  • Combat Breakdown: Duels often start with both combatants using spears, then go through maces and swords in some order, before ending up using their bare hands (and, on at least one occasion, teeth).
  • Combat Pragmatist: Marko Kraljević might be the most badass character in these poems, but in Marko Kraljević and Musa Kesedžija he isn't above using help of his Fairy Godmother and a hidden knife to get himself out of a pinch.
  • Cool Horse: Rather common, but special mentions go to Duke Momčilo's Jabuchilo, and Kraljević Marko's Šarac, who used to drink wine with his master.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In Mali Radojica, the captured hero pretends to be dead in order to escapes. The villains torture him to check whether he is truly dead, but only getting a bunch of girls to dance around him managed to produce a reaction.
  • Downer Ending: Kosovo cycle ends with Serbian empire crushed and all the major characters dead.
  • Elemental Powers: The three-headed villain of Wedding of Tsar Dušan has powers of fire, ice and wind.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Mali Radojica and Dijete Grujica mean 'Little Radojica' and 'Child Grujica', respectively, and they are both badass hajduks.
  • Off with His Head!: Villains often suffer this fate.
  • One-Man Army: Most heroes are able to defeat much larger groups of enemies.
  • Villain Protagonist: King Vukašin in Wedding of King Vukašin. He falls for the wife of Duke Momčilo, and proceeds to plot to murder him.
  • World of Badass
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