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the memory of an independent Serbian state. The Church romanticized the Nemanjić tradition for the masses and, removing any negative feudal connotations, helped to cre- ate the image of a once glorious state.1 Lazar’ s death on Kosovo was the atonement for all of Serbia’ s sins—sins that had called the wrath of God upon them in the first place and caused them to lose their state.
When these mountain Serbs began to colonize other parts of the Balkan peninsula, they brought with them both their patriarchal ideas and the memory of an independent Serbia. This patriarchal society encouraged a feeling for jus- tice and social equality. according to the argument of Vasa Čubrilović, it was the democratic, patriarchal aspirations of the Serbian village which gave a social-revolutionary tone to the eventual wars for Serbian national liberation.2 in this society Serbs came to believe that there can be no free state without a struggle.
These democratic, patriarchal ideas are seen most clear- ly in the oral epic poetry that is an expression of Serbian society during the Ottoman rule. The epic poem is a chron- icle in verse through which the Serbs expressed their past at a time when they had no state of their own and when most of them were illiterate. Only those events that were important for them and for their fate became subjects of the epic tradition. The result is that the epic contains a peculiar periodization of history in which events that were viewed as turning points in the history of the Serbs became so impor- tant that earlier developments were all but forgotten.
it should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Serbs viewed the collapse of the medieval Serbian state as the central event in their history and sought an explanation for it in the Battle of Kosovo. indeed, the epic cycle of Kosovo became the longest, the most beautiful, and the most im- portant of all the Serbian epics.3 The roots of such a devel- opment were clearly established soon after the battle in the eulogies and sermons composed in the memory of Prince Lazar. The Church nourished the ideas in these writings during the centuries of Ottoman rule, and the patriarchal society accepted them and added its own visions, attitudes, and experiences to create the epic tradition of Kosovo.
in a most recent study of the epic Svetozar Koljević argues that the decasyllabic poems of the Kosovo cycle emerged among illiterate peasant singers in the culture of exile as Ottoman conquest brought about the collapse of feudal society.4 The poetic form of feudal society was known as bugarštice, poems in 14 to 16-syllable lines. Koljević sug- gests that Kosovo poems in this form did appear on the
1 See Vaso Čubrilović, Istorija političke misli u Srbiji XIX veka (Belgrade, 1958), pp. 26f.
2 ibid., p. 34.
3 The most recent and excellent english translation of the Kosovo
cycle is by john Matthias and Vladeta Vučković: The Battle of Kosovo (athens, Ohio, 1987).
4 Svetozar Koljević, The Epic in the Making (Oxford: Oxford Uni- versity Press, 1980), pp. 31–66.
Prince-Martyr Lazar’s Coat of Arms, around 1380
The coat of arms of Prince Lazar was cut in a shallow relief on a stone plate decorating the parapet under the window on the southern façade of the narthex in Hilandar. The narthex is an extension to the older church of King Milutin, built on the order of Prince Lazar. The helmet with horns is also decorating the but- tons of Prince Lazar’s vestment and his coins, as well as the coins of his son Despot Stefan Lazarević.
adriatic in the 15th century but that it was the decasyllabic poetry which became the primary medium for the Kosovo epic. The illiterate singers picked up fragments and themes of the story of Kosovo and shaped them in their new po- etic expression which was to last for centuries.5 On the adri- atic the oral epic would have an influence on written litera- ture, finding its way most importantly into the history of Mavro Orbini and the prose legend, Priča o boju kosovskom (Tale about the Battle of Kosovo).
5 th
in the early 19 century, at the time of the great Serbian upris-
ings, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić set about collecting the epic poems of Serbia, especially those of the Kosovo cycle. His love for his people led him to sacrifice much in order to travel throughout the lands of the South Slavs to collect the poetry and preserve it for generations to come. His work excited people all over europe and led to editions of the poetry in several foreign languages.

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