A satisfyingly comprehensive page on the first Lithuanian book, Martynas Mažvydas‘s 1547 Catechism, or to be more precise Catechismusa prasty Szadei, Makslas skaitima raschta yr giesmes del kriksczianistes bei del berneliu iaunu nauiey sugulditas… At this page you can read the Foreword (in verse) and even hear the first two lines read aloud, and here is a lengthy discussion of the book (by Leonardas Vytautas Gerulaitis, from Lituanus). All this comes via the ever-industrious Mithridates, who has also put up some excellent links on Kyrgyz in two posts (1, 2).


  1. also of note:
    The Polish national epic poem
    Pan Tadeusz
    (which takes place in Lithuania,
    not surprisingly, given the meander of borders between the two countries)
    by Adam Mickiewicz
    I found it whilst searching for,
    and acquiring, epic poems
    (currently about 6 running feet
    of bookshelf space)
    a romance;
    feuding families;
    life among the Lithuanian and Polish gentry
    in 1811-1812
    and though it is in praise of Poland
    in its nearly 10,000 lines
    there’s only on sentence of direct glorification
    about Poland
    to the effect that
    Polish coffee is the best
    there is !
    first American edition 1992
    from Hippocrene Press

  2. Jagiello’s real name was Jogaila, you know, and the Jagiellonian University should really be called the Jogaillonian University.

  3. “Litwo, ojczyzno moja, ty jesteś jak zdrowie”
    Lithuania, my homeland, you are like health…
    The first line of Pan Tadeusz. By another irony of history, Mickiewicz’s home town is now in Belarus, not Lithuania or Poland. Lithuanian nationalists call him “Adomas Mickevicius”, though as far as I know he never spoke the language.
    Some other Polish epics:
    Waclaw Potocki (1621-1696): Wojna Chocimska (“The War of Chocim”) about Polish battles with the Ottoman Turks
    Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801): Myszeis (“The Mousiad”)
    Ignacy Krasicki: Monachomachia (“The Battles of the Monks”). Both mock epics.
    Juliusz Slowacki (1809-1849): Beniowski. Unfinished “digressive poem” about the nobleman who took part in an 18th century uprising against Russian influence in Poland, was exiled to Kamchatka, escaped by seducing the governor’s daughter, and became pirate-king of Madagascar. Influenced by Byron’s Don Juan

  4. “Lithuanian nationalists call him “Adomas Mickevicius”, though as far as I know he never spoke the language.”
    Kinda like Franz Liszt being called Liszt Ferenc in Hungary and being held as one of the greatest proponents of the Hungarian ethnicity, even though he didn’t speak Hungarian and kept a German-language circle of friends.

  5. my Lithuanian grndmother
    did this with anyone she liked:
    made them Lithuanian
    with a few changes in their name
    She loved to listen to Tom Mix on the radio
    “He’s Lithuanian you know.” She would say confidently
    “Tomas Michskas”
    (this is probably not
    how she would have spelled it
    but I’m sure you get the drift)

  6. And Hungary’s great national poet, Sandor Petofi (Petőfi Sándor), was the son of a Serb father (named Petrovics) and a Slovak mother, although they did speak Hungarian at home. Incidentally, I’ve just learned (while refreshing my memory about his parentage) that Petofi, long thought to have died in the battle of Segesvár in 1849, apparently was taken with other Hungarian prisoners of war to Siberia, where he may have died of tuberculosis in 1856. A Hungarian News Agency (MTI) story from October 20, 2003 (item 12 in pdf, HTML cache) says:
    In Hungary, the National Reverence Committee has denied a request to open the crypt of the Petofi family. The committee believes the request to open the crypt is scientifically unfounded and runs against the piety of the nation. Sandor Petofi (1823-1849) was one of the greatest Hungarian poets, who died during the 1848/49 Hungarian freedom fight. His body was never found, and in 1998 a theory surfaced that the poet had been taken to Barguzin, near Lake Baikal in Siberia. Researchers have discovered a skeleton there which could be that of the poet. They had hoped to take DNA samples from the remains of the poet’s mother for comparison.
    The 1998 date must be a misprint, because according to this detailed discusion (in Russian) of the case, the announcement was made in 1983 of the discovery of documents from the First World War attesting to Petofi’s death in Siberia, a 1989 international expedition to Barguzin discovered remains thought to be Petofi’s, and a group of experts assembled in New York (where for some reason the remains were sent) decided they were in fact his. But the whole thing is still in dispute.
    Incidentally, the WWI materials included the text of a poem allegedly signed by Petofi and dated 1853. I wonder if literary analysts have dissected it for likelihood of attribution?

  7. “Lithuania” can be used in more than one sense, which causes confusion. Narrowly speaking, “Lithuania” is the area roughly corresponding to that of the Republic of Lithuania, where Lithuanian has always been at least the most common rural vernacular. Broadly speaking, the term refers to the lands of, and conquered by, the Grandduchy of Lithuania from the 13th to 15th century — roughly speaking, Lithuania proper, the would-be Belarus and a large segment of the would-be Ukraine. Most of the Grandduchy’s population was Slavic-speaking and Orthodox Cristian — often referred to as “Ruthenian,” from Rus’. The Grandduchy joined Poland through the Union of Lublin in 1569, losing its independence and Ukrainian lands but retaining a separate administration and army. “Lithuania” continued to denote both Lithuania and Belarus. The Lithuanian nobility gradually assumed a Polish identity. Annexed by imperial Russia during the partitions of Poland, the Grandduchy’s land was often referred to as Severo-zapadny kray.
    In pre-1917 Russian usage, “Lithuania” normally referred to these areas, especially the Ruthenian part. Moreover, Litva was often used to denote all non-Muscovite Ruthenia except perhaps the Ukraine. The Litwa of Mickiewicz was, I believe, the same Great Lithuania descended from the Grandduchy. (Likewise, Austria used to mean the whole deal, not a small German-speaking piece of the Alps.) The language of its educated classes was certainly Polish, while Lithuanian, Belarusan and Yiddish were in use among the non-privileged. That old Lithuania no longer exists, although some Belarusan nationalists turn to it as the genuine source of Belarusan identity. (Yes, Mickiewicz was a Belarusan poet, they would tell you.)
    That modern Lithuanians call the poet Adomas Mickevičus is an indication not of nationalism but of the logic of the Lithuanian language. It needs endings in the nominative to make inflexion possible. Thus the president of the USA is Džordžas Bušas and his Russian counterpart, Vladimiras Putinas. (Ms. Rice is Kondoliza Rais.) Russian does the same, only it adds zero endings.
    Liszt is Ференц Лист in Russia — Ferenc Liszt, that is. Never Franz Liszt.

  8. Michael Farris says:

    And of course Czesław Miłosz (I’m not sure what his name in Lithuanian would be) came from the Polish speaking Lithuanian nobility and his later self-identification as Polish (to the extent that he self-identified as Polish) was language-based. After his death a handful farrightwing nutjobs did themselves no credit by protesting his interment in Wawel partly on that basis.

  9. There’s a good illustration of these conflicts in “Lithuanian” identity in Milosz’s novel The Issa Valley (translated by Louis Iribarne), set in Lithuania in the first decades of the last century around the time of independence. The hero of the book, young Thomas Surkont, from a Polonized Lithuanian landowning family, is sent by his grandfather to be taught by Joseph “the Black”, a Lithuanian villager:
    “[Joseph] belonged to that tribe on which our chroniclers of today have bestowed the name of ‘nationalists’; that is, he was dedicated to serving the glory of the Cause. And that was his downfall, the root of his undoing. For while his sympathies were clearly on the side of Lithuania, he was nonetheless obliged to teach Thomas how to read and write in Polish. That the Surkonts – the name could hardly be more Lithuanian – regarded themselves as Poles he took to be an act of treason. His hatred for Polish landowners (because they were landowners, because they had switched languages to distinguish themselves from the people), coupled with his inability to hate the man who had entrusted his grandson to him, and all that combined with his hope of opening Thomas’s eyes to the splendour of the Cause – such was the tangle of emotion implicit in the fit of coughing that overtook him every time the boy opened his reader in front of him.
    “Grandmother was not at all happy with these lessons, with this fraternizing with ‘country bumpkins’ (she had never accepted the Lithuanians, although her photograph might have served to illustrate a book on the country’s original inhabitants). But since hiring a tutor would have been too uppity, she finally consented to Joseph, grumbling they were bound to make a yokel of him. Thomas was ignorant of all these complexities and antagonisms, and when at last he did understand, he thought of it as something exceptional. Had he crossed paths with a young Englishman brought up in Ireland or with a young Swede raised in Finland, he might have found many analogies. But those lands beyond the Issa were enveloped by fog, and what little he knew came from his grandmother’s stories – how the English ate compote for breakfast (which may have explained his attraction to them), how the Russians had exiled Grandfather Arthur to Siberia, how one should love the Polish kings whose tombs were located in Cracow. To Grandmother, Cracow – ‘When you’re a big boy, you’ll go there’ – was the most beautiful city in the world. His grandmother’s patriotism for something so distant; the tolerance practised by his grandfather, so unconcerned with nationality; and Joseph’s constant invoking of the words ‘we’ and ‘our country’ nurtured in Thomas his later distrust whenever heated reference was made in his presence to any flags or emblems.”

  10. More, from Norman Davies’s God’s Playground: A History of Poland Volume 2, on the history of Lithuanian linguistic and political nationalism in the nineteenth century (I particularly like the conversation at the end):
    “For five hundred years, the Lithuanians had lived in political union with the Poles in a situation closely analogous to that of the Scots and English. Until 1793, their Grand Duchy had formed part of the united Republic of Poland-Lithuania. In the course of this long union, the Polish language had been almost universally adopted by the ruling and educated classes. The Lithuanian language, like the Gaelic language of the Scots in Scotland, had only survived in remoter rural areas, and in certain segments of the peasantry. It was not normally spoken by any significant group in the country’s capital Vilnius (Wilno), whose Lithuanian population at the last Tsarist Census in 1897 reached only 2 per cent. It had no settled written form, and no literature of note. Its only centres of study and publication lay across the frontier in East Prussia, in so-called ‘Little Lithuania’, where the districts of Klajpeda (Memel) and Tilża (Tilsit) were inhabited by a Protestant Lithuanian minority. Lithuanian nationalism developed in reaction on the one hand against the Polish assumption that Lithuania belonged to Poland, and on the other hand against the attempts of the Tsarist Government to impose Russian culture and Orthodox religion. The cultural revival was promoted in the first instance by the Catholic clergy, especially by successive bishops of Samogitia, Joseph Giedroyć (1745-1838) and Matthias Valancius (1801-75). The publication in 1841 in Polish, of a multi-volume ‘History of Lithuania’ by Teodor Narbutt (1784-1864), and later translations into Lithuanian of works by that famous Lithuanian poet ‘Adomas Mickievičius’, set the pace for native literary talent. Important cultural advances were provoked by the emancipation of the peasantry in 1861 and by the establishment of a Lithuanian orthography which, to spite the Poles, was based on the Czech alphabet. In the late nineteenth century, the Lithuanian national movement assumed an overtly political character, with its own loyalist, conciliatory and revolutionary trends, its own parties and its own emigré fundraisers. As a result, the scope for Polish-oriented politics was confined to the Polish-speaking section of the population, in particular to important segments of the land-owning class and of the urban bourgeoisie in Wilno, Grodno, Nowogródek, and elsewhere. The social and cultural situation was far more complex than either Polish or Lithuanian nationalists were willing to admit. Ethnographers who tried to investigate the area in a scientific manner encountered many baffling contradictions. An oral researcher, interviewing the local shoemaker in a village near Kaunas (Kowno) in 1885, recorded a most revealing conversation:
    -What tribe do you belong to?
    -I am a Catholic.
    -That’s not what I mean. I’m asking you whether you are a Pole or a Lithuanian.
    -I am a Pole, and a Lithuanian as well.
    -That is impossible. You have to be either one or the other.
    -I speak Polish, the shoemaker said, and I also speak Lithuanian.
    And that was the end of the interview.”

  11. Wonderful quotes — thank you very much!

  12. Roger Maris was Lithuanian-American. Also Johnny Podres, won the final game of the 1956 world series.
    As far as I can tell, the Lithuanians remained pagan as long as they did for similiar reasons — to spite the Poles and the Russians. Jagiello finally converted in 1386, not really very long before the beginning of the Reformation.
    It was a mistake, of course. After having ruled an empire reaching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Lithuania dwindled into obscurity.

  13. Ethnic Lithuanians were outnumbered in their own grandduchy, which was predominantly Slavic and Orthodox Christian; Jogaila’s mother was a Tver princess called Yuliania. Lithuanians would have converted anyway, whether to Orthodox Christianity — which would have been the most natural as Lithuania competed with Moscow for dominance over Eastern Slavdom, or Ruthenia — or to Roman Catholicism via Poland or the Teutonic Order. It was the 1569 union with Poland that permanently weakened Lithuania, much more than Jogaila’s marriage and conversion.

  14. I think the general consensus is that the Lithuanians overextended their empire and would probably have gone under had they not allied with the Poles. Here’s Adam Mickiewicz himself in the preface to his poem Konrad Wallenrod (in my rough translation):
    “History has not yet adequately explained how a people once so weak and a vassal to others were suddenly able to offer resistance and threaten all their enemies, on the one hand waging a long drawn out and murderous war with the Crusader Order, on the other raiding Poland, receiving tribute from Novgorod the Great and stretching as far as the banks of the Volga and the Crimean Peninsula. Lithuania’s most glorious era falls in the time of Olgierd [Algirdas] and Witold [Vytautas], whose power stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But this enormous state, by growing too quickly, was unable to develop the internal strength which might have fused and animated its disparate parts. The Lithuanian nation, spread over too extensive territories, lost its own particular character. The Lithuanians conquered many Ruthenian [ruskich] tribes and entered into political relations with Poland. The Slavs, long since Christians, stood at a higher level of civilisation; and although beaten or threatened by Lithuania, by their slow influence they won a moral preponderance over their strong but barbaric oppressor and absorbed him, just as the Chinese did their Tatar conquerors. The Jagiellons and the most powerful of their vassals became Polish; many Lithuanian princes in Ruthenia [na Rusi] adopted the Ruthenian [ruski] religion, language and nationality. In this way, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stopped being Lithuanian and the actual Lithuanian people was confined to its ancient borders; its language ceased to be the language of the court and the powerful and only survived among the common people. Lithuania presents the strange image of a people who vanished into the immensity of its own conquests, like a stream after being in spate which drops and flows along a narrower bed than before.”
    And Milosz’s Issa Valley again:
    “He asked no more questions, and they moved onto politics; that is, to the age-old debate of whether, given the choice of siding with the Poles against the Knights, or with the Knights against the Poles, the Grand Duke could have saved the country. A controversy not without relevance when one stopped to consider the consequences of the first alternative. Take only the case of Misia, who would have died rather than admit to being Lithuanian. Or Grandfather Surkont and the thousands of others like him. Such were the ripples of history, still spreading outwards centuries later.”

  15. theloniouszen says:

    Random question – Does everyone’s first and last name in lithuania culture end in an s? Is there some sort of noun-case reason for this?

  16. Yes, it’s the nominative singular ending. For masculine nouns, that is; female names often end in -a (Marija) or -ė (Angelė).

  17. Edward J. Schumann says:

    Adam Mickevicius was nighter Polish or Lithuanian but Jewish -Litvaks ,his family ancestry coverted to fit into Catholic Poland And Lithuania and came to lithuania from a Jewish area of Warsaw Poland . He was a lithuanian Jew that wanted to fit into the Polish culture of the times ,just like the Lithuanian nobility became Polish in language and cuture to fit in.

  18. Any evidence for this theory? The name certainly speaks against it; it’s neither Jewish nor Lithuanian but Belorussian, from Mitska, the diminutive of Zmitser (the Belorussian equivalent of Russian Dmitrii). Unbegaun, in his great book on Russian family names, says that “the name of the Polish poet Mickiewicz is undoubtedly of Belorussian origin.”

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