Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Croatia Online - King Henry VIII's Croatian Muse?

Croatia Online does not pretend to be an in depth cultural resource on Croatia. There are plenty of experts better suited to disseminate its considerable wealth in this respect. However we have learnt that when the Croatian Embassy in London organises a cultural event that coincides with a trip to the UK, it’s worth making an effort to attend.

Tonight’s enlightening symposium at the British Library was on the subject of Marko Marulić, commonly referred to as the father of Croatian Literature. He was certainly an eminent and prolific literary pioneer and, in a letter to his friend, Hieronymus de Cipcis (see below), he alludes to himself as the Slavonic Dante. Being the first Croatian to translate Dante from Latin this was perhaps a suggestion more based on knowledge than ego.

The symposium coincided with the British Library’s Henry VIII exhibition and we learnt that not only was Henry VIII one of the most intelligent and widely read monarchs of the Renaissance period, but that Marulić’s Evangelistarium is one of the most annotated books emanating from the King’s library, in the British Library collection. That suggests it was much consulted and a frequent source of reference.

In the late 1520’s and early 1530’s, Henry’s extensive library underwent something of a transformation as he researched and gathered evidence for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the eventual split from Rome. The book entered Henry’s library in 1529 and the notes, in the King’s own hand, focus on passages about vice, virtue, sin, morality, wisdom, faults of the clergy and many other subjects that might have informed the king in his path towards divorce and the formation of the doctrine of the new Church of England. Marulić may indeed have guided Henry in his future marital choices in the passages which relate to the virtues of marriage and how to choose a wife. Marulić suggests that a good choice of wife is neither too beautiful nor too ugly – acceptable to the eye of the husband but not too acceptable to the eyes of others!

Marulić was born in Split in 1450 and lived to the then ripe old age of 74. Regular readers will be aware, from our recent postings about the island of Šolta, that he also lived in Nečujam for a few years later on in life. The first son of a noble family, he never married and his body lies in Split’s Franciscan church. He is Croatia's most translated author and his books were written in Latin, Italian and Croatian. He is referred to as a humanist and Latinist and was originally best known for his work on morality and theology. Later discoveries of his more erotic work revealed a slightly darker side.

The British Library catalogue of Marko Marulić records 86 titles in its collection. Many of these have been discovered in the last twelve years though approximately 25% of Marulić’s work remains to be found. There are some interesting theories on whether some may yet be uncovered on Šolta or the island of Zirje, in the Šibenik archipelago.


Marulić - The Slavonic Dante?
In his letter to Hieronymus de Cipcis, Marulić wrote "I have written a small piece of poetry in our mother tongue, divided in six books, depicting the history of Judith and Holofernes. I finished it last Lent and dedicated it to our dean. It is conceived in a poetic manner. Come and see it and you will say that the Slavonic language also has its Dante."

The above brief notes do not do the symposium or the expert speakers justice, but it’s a start. Links between Croatia and the UK span many centuries and, it’s evident that many more are yet to be unveiled. Apart from the interest of the subject itself and the way in which it has been so thoroughly researched and put into context, tonight’s event was a great excuse for, embarrassingly, a first visit to the British Library and to sample, once more, the generous hospitality of the Croatian Embassy. Good to see a Croatian news TV crew there as well.

Many thanks to Flora Turner, Cultural Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, for organising the event with her usual aplomb. Also, of course, to the British Library for providing such an excellent venue and display, and to all the speakers:
Ronald Milne - Director of Scholarship and Collections, British Library
HE Dr Ivica Tomić - Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia
Milan Grba - Curator of Southeast European Collections, British Library
Flora Turner - Cultural Counsellor, Embassy of the Republic of Croatia
Neven Jovanović - Professor of Classical Philology, Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb
Iva Kurelac - Research Fellow of the Institute of the Historical and Social Sciences of the Croatian Academy in Zagreb
Andrea Clarke - Curator of Early Modern Historical Manuscripts, British Library

Today’s photo is of just one of the British Library’s collection of Marulić’s books, a sample of which were displayed for us this evening.