Matija Murko’s correspondence in the Manuscript Collection of the National and University Library in Ljubljana

In its Manuscript collection, The National and University Library (NUL) in Ljubljana holds the largest part of the philologist Matija Murko’s legacy. The material is contained in two large units, “Correspondence” (catalogue number MS1119) and “Legacy” (catalogue number MS1392). The former, as its name suggests, consists of correspondence received by Murko and comprises 56 folders, or over 9,000 letters from more than 1,700 correspondents, both individuals and institutions. The second collection is even more extensive, comprising, in eleven sections, not only Murko’s works, notes, and other materials (which constitute the bulk of the contents of this unit), but also some of his letters, smaller correspondence, and foreign correspondence, as well as personal documents and other paraphernalia. This unit comprises more than 100 folders.

In this article, we would like to introduce the correspondence briefly. That unusual part of a scholar’s legacy steers away from the strict discursive forms required in scientific practice. Written in a first-person narrative, it differentiates significantly from the usual research work, where there is supposed to be no room for subjective experience. The letters as a whole form a very heterogeneous body of writing; family correspondence, that is, the most intimate correspondence, for example, is at least as substantial as the correspondence of his academic colleagues. Moreover, the latter is again not a homogeneous unit, since Murko’s research interests ranged from the more classically linguistic, and philological, literary historical to ethnographic and folkloristic ones. They are even less similar linguistically, with letters written (at least) in Slovene, Serbo-Croatian, German, Czech, Russian, French, and English. It is not uncommon for the same correspondent to have written a letter in one language and later another letter in another language, usually in a relationship between the minor language and the major language, German, in the imperial lands. The reasons for this are probably mainly to be found in imperial censorship.

A letter sent to Matija Murko by literary historian Ivan Prijatelj. (Source: Manuscript collection, Catalogue No.: MS1119, NUL, Ljubljana.)

Murko corresponded with individuals and institutions from various local and regional milieus. While he was institutionally anchored in the Central European academic milieu throughout his life, Murko was also in touch with university professors, school teachers, magazine editors, etc. from Russia, the whole of Yugoslavia, Northern Europe, and elsewhere. A mapping of the letters would probably reveal Murko’s strong ties with political and academic centres in German-speaking countries, as well as his strong involvement in intellectual exchanges with the Southern and Eastern (semi-)peripheries of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy, or with the Slavic countries that emerged thereof.

It is perhaps not surprising that the most extensive single correspondence is, composed of 346 letters, the one with his brother Miha Murko. However, here we are more interested in his academic colleagues with whom he shared research interests. Thus, among Murko’s correspondents, we find a number of interesting scholars who have historically helped shape the humanistic landscape, both in what is present-day Slovenia and across Europe. Among the more extensive correspondence is that of the Slavist Vatroslav Jagić, the successor of Fran Miklošič at the helm of the Slavic Studies at the University of Vienna. An important contribution to understanding the pre-history of Slovenian comparative literature is to be found in the correspondences of some literary historians, in particular Ivan Prijatelj and France Kidrič. The correspondence with the literary historians Fran Ilešič and Fran Levec, important figures associated with the Slovene Society (Slovenska matica), is also worth mentioning. As many as 155 letters were sent to Murko by the Indo-European philologist Rudolf Meringer, a professor at the University of Graz from 1899 to 1930 (Murko was his colleague there from 1902 to 1917), who became famous for his pioneering research into speech disorders. His famous and controversial contemporary Sigmund Freud based his own psychoanalytic research on speech disorders or »slips« on Meringer’s research. Even a few more letters, 164, were written to Murko by the Slavic philologist Vatroslav Oblak, whose research interest was rooted in South Slavic dialects. Oblak, whom Murko held in high esteem, died at the age of only thirty-one, shortly before his appointment as associate professor of Slavonic philology at the University of Graz. In the years between the First World War and its immediate aftermath, Murko received several letters from his student in Graz, the Russian linguist and philologist Nikolai Preobrazhensky, an interesting figure in the academic milieu in Slovenia. In the wake of the First World War, he tried to obtain a professorship at the newly founded University of Ljubljana but was rejected. Nevertheless, from 1922 onwards, he was a lecturer in Russian there, and later also lectured on modern Russian literature. The correspondence of the Croatian Slavist, classical philologist, and literary historian Milivoj Šrepel is also extensive. The twelve letters sent to Murko by the philologist, literary historian, and translator Camilla Lucerna are also noteworthy, as she was one of the few women scholars (especially if one does not take into account his kinship) with whom he corresponded. In addition to the individuals with a larger number of letters, there are quite a few correspondents in Murko’s correspondence, represented only by a letter or two, who deserve special attention. Murko often corresponded with linguists, historians, and philologists from the entire South Slavic region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In these letters, we find interesting reports on the state of oral epic in various local environments. Murko was involved in the project ‘Das Volkslied in Österreich’ [Folk Song in Austria] initiated by the Austrian government, which began in 1901 but remained unfinished (and largely unexplored) after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is worth noting that Murko’s correspondence contains thirty letters from the linguist, Slavist, and collector of Slovenian folk songs Karel Štrekelj, who was the head of the Slovenian working committee of the above-mentioned project (after Štrekelj’s death Murko succeeded him in this position).

The NUL catalogue of the manuscript unit “Correspondence” is deficient in a few places, as it does not contain the names of all the correspondents who actually appear in the folders. Thus, in the catalouge we do not find Anton Funtek, the editor of the Ljubljanski zvon magazine, who, with eighteen letters, is not the most modestly represented of Murko’s correspondents. In one place, however, there is a major omission. Thirty-two correspondents are missing from the list, between the names Viktor Halcker and Friedrich Heide (all of them in the fifteenth folder).[1]

The entire archival unit “Correspondence” (MS1119 ) has been digitised as part of the research project “Matija Murko and his international collaborators” and will soon be freely available to the interested public on the Digital Library of Slovenia (dLib) portal. This step is necessary if we do not want archives – paradoxically – to remain the places where both the preservation of historically accumulated knowledge and the organisation of its oblivion are condensed, as archived materials often live an isolated life, alienated even from the research community.

[1]   Missing names include Karl Hadaczek (1 letter), Jovan Hadži (2 letters), Risto Hadži-Ristić (2 letters), Frieda Hager (1 letter), A. Halban (1 letter), Albert Halbe-Wagner (2 letters), Jakob and Anna Hameršak (2 letters), Karel Hameršak (1 letter), Martin Hameršak (3 letters), Gustav Hanausek (8 letters), Handelshochschule Munich (14 letters), E. Hanisch (2 letters), Erwin Hanslik (12 letters), Josef Hanus (2 letters), Johann Haring (2 letters), Wilhelm Hartel (2 letters), Count Harrach (5 letters), Otto Harrassowitz (4 letters), F. Hartmann (1 letter), Fritz Hartmann (1 letter), Lude Meritz Hartmann (2 letters), Richard Hartmann (3 letters), Karl Hassack (10 letters), Berthold Hatschek (1 letter), Adolf Hauffen (2 letters), Edmund Hauler (7 letters), Fr. Hauptmann (6 letters), Johann Sebastian Hausmann (1 letter), Miecislav Havel (1 letter), Rudolf Heberdey (3 letters), Max Hecker (1 letter), Franz Heger (8 letters).

Call for Papers: International Conference “The History of Comparative Literature in Central Europe”, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 5-7 September 2024

Slovenian Comparative Literature Association, in collaboration with the University of Ljubljana and the research group “Towards a History of Comparative Literature in a Global Perspective: Matija Murko and his International Collaborators (J6-4620),” welcomes submission for an international conference entitled The History of Comparative Literature in Central Europe. The conference will be held during the Vilenica literary festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, between 5 and 7 September 2024. 

Anyone interested in presenting a paper on the topic should send their abstract (up to 500 words) in English or Slovenian to or

The deadline for submission is 15 July 2024.

A small amount of funding is available to help cover travel expenses and accommodation.


Comparative literature has a rich and long history in which Central Europe has always played an important role. From Johann Gottfried Herder’s explorations of folk poetry to Hugó Meltzl’s journal Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum, Central European comparatists have paved the path for the newly emerging discipline. Considering how influential comparative literary studies were in the socio-political region known as Mitteleuropa, it is surprising that its history remains a largely unexplored topic and therefore underrepresented in academic debates in the discipline. 

Central Europe was historically shaped into a region of its own by various economic, political, and ideological structures. While we intentionally leave the geographic and cultural concept of the area undefined, it is unquestionable that its regional identity was shaped both from within and from the outside. From within, the Central European region always negotiated between its ethnically, linguistically, and culturally heterogeneous communities. This has produced various internal centres and relegated other areas to the position of the periphery. From the outside, Central Europe had to define its position in relation to other global players and transnational associations. These political and cultural circumstances played a crucial role in all areas of intellectual production, including academic research. Comparative literature was no exception and the discipline was often tasked with expanding or subverting established discourses. For instance, Central European comparatists had to acknowledge the rich history of multicultural and multilinguistic literary traditions in the area while at the same time establishing themselves in relation to other academic centres such as the French and the American schools of comparative literature. Despite its relevance for understanding Central European comparative literature, disciplinary self-perceptions and their relation to the internal and external exchange of knowledge have thus far remained unexplored.

An important forerunner of comparative literature was the Slavic philologist Matija Murko who offers a paradigmatic case study for addressing many of the questions raised above. Murko has built a long and successful academic career and has had an immense influence on the development of literary studies in Central Europe and elsewhere. After finishing his studies in Slavic philology at the University of Vienna, he travelled to Russia, became a professor in Graz and Leipzig, and later moved to Prague where he co-founded and headed the Slavonic Studies Institute at a time when the influential “Prague Linguistic Circle” was flourishing there. Both in his academic life and in his research, he has been moving between the academic centres and semi-peripheries of Central Europe, breaking academic barriers (for instance, with his comparative Slavic literary studies) and influencing younger scholars (such as Frank Wollman or Roman Jakobson). His work was appreciated both inside and far beyond Central Europe, so much so that his research on South Slavic oral literature is still considered referential today. Murko’s scholarship thus offers an excellent opportunity to explore topics, questions, methods, international collaborations, and the politics of knowledge prevalent in the history of Central European comparative literature.

We welcome all papers exploring topics related to comparative literature in Central Europe, but especially those that address any of the following questions:

  • The history of comparative literature in Central Europe: Which scholars, schools, topics, or methods have been most influential in Central European comparative literature? Have any been historically overlooked? Why has Central European comparative literature remained under-represented in academic debates on the history of comparative literature? 
  • Academic connections between Central European comparative literature and other regions of the world: To what extent has the French littérature comparée influenced the development of comparative literature in Central Europe, and vice versa? What can be said about the interaction between Central European and Russian literary studies? What have Central European comparatists contributed to the pre- and post-Second World War American comparative literature? 
  • Relations between centres and (semi-)peripheries within Central European comparative literature: What has led to the emergence of asymmetries in the development of comparative literature within Central European academia? How did inequalities in intellectual exchanges between different regions emerge? How were Central Europe’s multilinguistic literary traditions reflected in the field of comparative literature?
  • Matija Murko as an overlooked Central European comparatist: What is the significance of Murko’s scholarship for the development of Central European comparative literature? What was Murko’s role in the development of comparative Slavic studies? How did Murko envisage philology as a humanistic discipline and what place does his research on oral literature occupy in contemporary literary studies?

Matija Murko on the first Slavic Sanskritist Majewski

Dr. Nina Petek

Among the Slavs that significantly influenced the beginnings of the formation of the scientific research of Indian literature and languages in Slavic countries, Murko emphasized the Pole Walenty Skorochód-Majewski, an archivist of the Kingdom of Poland, and his work O Slovenima i braći, which was published in 1816 in Warsaw. Murko[1] commented that the title of the work makes it hard to anticipate that the work is, virtually in its entirety, dedicated to the study of Sanskrit and Indian literature. Murko valued highly Majewski’s efforts; he described him as a person “deserving of the glory of being the first Slavic Sanskritist”,[2] since Majewski’s work established firm foundations for the further scientific research of the linguistic and literary worlds of India. Namely, Majewski did not merely string together cognates in a superficial manner, but also composed a grammar of Sanskrit, relying especially on the work of Johann Philipp Wesdin Bartholomeo, an Austrian missionary and orientalist of Croatian origins. Majewski even translated two books of the epic Rāmāyaṇa, together with a list of Sanskrit words to make reading easier.[3] In addition to this, he also translated the work Brahmavaivartapurāṇa with the added Latin translation of Adolphus Fridericus Stenzler.[4]

Walenty Skorochód-Majewski (1764–1835)

Majewski’s work was characterized by a passion for seeking comparisons between Indian and Slavic gods, beliefs and customs. In addition, his tireless search for sources – namely, he acquired all the works on the languages of Indians and Persians,[5] among others also the discussions of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, reviews of Schlegel’s work Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier, and Bartholomeo’s Sanskrit grammar – eventually led to the theory of “the origin of Slavs on Ganges”.[6] Between 1813 and 1815 he gave many lectures on Sanskrit and Indian literature, with the common thread of Slavs and Indians originating from the same tribe. In his desire to prove the Indian ancestry of Slavs, he sacrificed all of his possessions,[7] and his studies contributed to intensifying the research on Slavic identity and nationality[8], especially in Poland. This, as Murko wrote, was not surprising, since Poles, after losing their country, idealized their history and national past[9] and leaned on the romantic image of the noble ur-nation of Slavs.

In his study, Murko added that despite the importance of Majewski’s research, the nature of the reception of India in his works was typical of Europe, namely that “in the romantic spirit, he desired to create an impression of a dark Slavic antiquity and ancient Slavic national culture”,[10] especially on the basis of linguistic relatedness. But the latter does not diminish the value and significance of his research. Namely, Murko did not only describe him as the first Pole, but also the first Slav who “included in his studies the farthest nations for his purposes”.[11]


Herling, Bradley L. The German Gita: Hermeneutics and Discipline in the German Reception of Indian Thought. London: Routledge, 2016.

Murko, Matija. »Prvi uspoređivači sanskrita sa slovenskim jezicima.« CXXXII. knjiga Rada jugoslavenske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti, str. 103–115.

Petek, Nina. Bhagavadgita: onkraj vezi, tostran svobode. Maribor: Založba Pivec, 2022. Sharpe, Eric J. The Universal Gita: Western Images of the Bhagavad Gita a Bicentenary Survey. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co., 1985.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid., 107.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 108.

[5] Ibid., 107.

[6] Ibid., 108.

[7] Ibid., 107.

[8] Ibid., 108. Majewski’s research also influenced the intellectuals in Prague, where some of his theories were also negatively received. Josef Dobrovsky was especially critical of Majewski, negating his hypotheses of the common origin of Slavs and Indians. But Dobrovsky, in Murko’s words, “had no romantic sensibilities” (ibid., 106).

[9] Ibid., 105.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 105, 106.

Davorin Trstenjak

Dr. Jan Ciglenečki

As part of the project “Matija Murko and his collaborators”, Dr. Jan Ciglenečki (Department of Philosophy, FF UL) studies Matija Murko’s views on the so-called autochthonist theories, according to which Slavs were the first inhabitants of their present-day homeland. Murko thus began his discussion “Prvi uspoređivači sanskrita sa slovenskim jezicima” (1896) by remarking that the development of Indo-Germanic linguistics met with a strong response among Slavs, who began to develop romantic notions about the ancient origin of Slavs in ancient India, based on the linguistic similarities between Slavic languages and Sanskrit.

In Slovene lands, certain amateur linguists associated the assumption of Slavic antiquity with the patriotic theory that Slovenes are autochthonous on their current territory. This theory gained a great national awakening potential at the time of cultural tensions between Germans and Slovenes. The most prominent advocate of this pseudo-scientific theory was the belletrist, mythologist, etymologist, historian, liberal Catholic publicist, and the founder and first president of the Slovene Writers’ Association, Davorin Trstenjak (1817–1890), who Murko mentioned with respect multiple times in his memoirs. In the Manuscript collection of the National and University Library, there are 21 letters from Trstenjak to Murko.

Davorin Trstenjak (1817–1890)

An interesting analogy to Murko’s study of Homeric epic poetry are Trstenjak’s interpretations of the High German epic “Parzival”, composed by the Bavarian minnesänger Wolfram von Eschenbach at the beginning of the 13th century. In this poem, considered to be one of the greatest monuments of German literature, historically well-known places in what is today Slovenian Styria are mentioned in key parts, which particularly attracted Trstenjak’s attention.

The decisive turn on the spiritual path of the main character Parzival occurs when he visits the hermit Trevrizent on a Good Friday, and the hermit teaches him about his origins and the mysteries of the Holy Grail. In a long conversation with Parzival, Trevrizent reminisces about his knightly travels, which led him across three continents in the service of love (minnedienst). Although we learn little of his sojourns in Africa and Asia, the final leg of his journey is described in unusual detail. The latter led Trevrizent to Sevilla, where he met Parzival’s father Gahmuret, and then through Friuli to Aquileia. From there, he continued his journey to Celje and then Hajdina near Ptuj via Rogatec, where the description of the journey ends.

Concerning the toponyms associated with Southern Styria in Wolfram’s work, the river Drava (Trâ) and the stream Grajena (Greian) are mentioned among the watercourses, and Celje (Zilje), Rogatec (Rôhas), and Hajdina (Gandîne) among the place names. The explicit mention of the land of Styria can be added to these geographic designations. However, they are not the only testimony to the links with places in Southern Styria; there are also the personal names of certain protagonists with important roles in Wolfram’s poem. These are primarily, Gandîn, Parzival’s grandfather, who was named after the town Gandîne (Hajdina), and Parzival’s aunt  Lammîre, who Wolfram describes as “the mistress of Styria”. In this context, Ither or “the Red Knight”, popular in Styria because of his intimate relationship with Lammîre, must also be mentioned.

The unexpected mentions of Styrian places and the literary characters associated with them stirred Trstenjak’s imagination. He vehemently interpreted certain places and characters through the lens of autochthonist theories and attempted to explain them on mythological and etymological grounds that were supposed to confirm their indisputably Slavic origins.

The personal name Gandin, used by Wolfram for Parzival’s grandfather, Trstenjak thus explained as an Old Slavic solar god and bard. The town Gandîne, said by Wolfram to be located on the confluence of the stream Grajena and the river Drava, is on the basis of this very information not placed in present-day Hajdina by Trstenjak, but rather on the left (northern) bank of Drava, close to contemporary Budina, a small village east of Ptuj. It was at this place, Trstenjak assumed, that the natives worshipped a sacred bowl, called the Holy Grail by Romance nations. Furthermore, his interpretation of the character Lammîre, Parzival’s aunt, described by Wolfram as “the mistress of Styria”, is also interesting, since Trstenjak associates her with the folk tradition of Lama Baba. His theories thus represent the first known interpretation of the parts of Wolfram’s epic that refer to the region of Southern Styria. Further research will clarify how Trstenjak’s scientifically naive, but nevertheless pioneering attempts at explanations influenced researchers after him.

Matija Murko and study of South Slavic literature

Dr. Alen Albin Širca

At the centre of my “Murkological” interest is his treatment of South Slavic literature, especially the older Serbian and Croatian literature. One of the primary components of Murko’s research is undoubtedly both his field (the collection of material) and theoretical work on South Slavic folk epic poetry. In this sense, my research will be focused on what was the literary-historical, but also general methodological contribution of Murko’s study of oral poetry in the Balkans in the context of analogous literary studies of his time. In addition to this, as a sort of a control and corrective measure, I will also tackle Murko’s study of Early Modern Croatian literary corpus, especially the renaissance and baroque texts of Dubrovnik and Dalmatia, which have so far not been the subject of in-depth scholarly thematizations. The analysis of thus delimited Murko’s literary studies will enable shedding light on Murko’s general literary history method (including the differences with his Slavist predecessors, e.g. F. Miklošič and V. Jagić) and its significance in the framework of general literary historiography at the end of the 19th and in the first decades of the 20th century, as well as its potential present-day relevance. 

“Guslar” is a traditional folk singer, performing long narrative tales and accompanying himself on a one- or two-stringed instrument, known as a gusle (gusla).

Matija Murko and Homeric Scholarship

Dr. Blaž Zabel

It is less known that M. Murko was not particularly fond of Homer and wary of classical studies. In his memoires, he remembered how disappointed he was when he first read Homer as a high school student (Murko 1951a:29), which perhaps influenced his later conviction that classical philology was unjustifiably valued above other national philologies. As a student at the Vienna University, he insisted that his doctoral exam (rigorosum) in “Germanistik” included Slavic philology instead of then mandatory classical philology, for which he went as far as to change the University rules (Murko 1951a:49).[1] In his later academic career too, he objected to the prevalence of classics in the linguistic departments (see Gantar 2020). At the University of Leipzig, for example, he opposed the suggested appointment of Paul Kretschmer[2] to the chair of comparative philology, which resulted in a long-lasting dispute with the rector of the university, Erich Bethe(Murko 1951a:165–6). All these episodes paint a picture of a man who wholeheartedly cherished Slavic philology and objected to the privileged position of classical studies in academia.

Nevertheless, being averse does not equal being ignorant. M. Murko knew ancient Greek and Latin well, read ancient literature, studied the Iliad and the Odyssey, and, as I show here, was relatively well acquainted with concurrent Homeric scholarship—at least for someone not working in the field. This becomes clear when M. Murko’s personal papers archived in Ljubljana, containing around 30 folios of notes about Homeric epic and Homeric scholarship, are inspected.[1] The notes are hard to read, written in a highly cryptic handwriting, and the collection is clearly fragmentary,[2] but it is clear that they are personal study notes on Homer and Homeric scholarship. Some of the folios also include transcriptions of specific verses from Homer and two folios contain a comparison of the number of verses from the Iliad and the Odyssey with what are presumably (no titles are given) a number of verses from several South Slavic epic poems.[3]

Classicist Milman Parry (1902–1935) revolutionized the theories of Homeric studies.

The existent study notes were taken from several publications on Homer. The most extensive collection (10 folios in Ms 1392, III. 7.) is about Erich Bethe’s Homer, Dichtung und Sage (1929), one of the most influential contributions to the so-called “analysis school” of Homeric scholarship (Tsagalis 2020:130). In Homer, Dichtung und Sage Bethe advanced Gottfried Hermann’s argument that at the kernel of the Iliad lies an original poem about the wrath of Achilles by adding to it the idea that the poem must have been heavily expanded by a sixth century redactor. He also argued that ancient Greek folksongs must have been incorporated into the Iliad in the process. The 10 folios reveal that M. Murko devoted utmost attention to this book, outlining Bethe’s argument page by page.

In another batch of personal notes, probably from an earlier period (Ms 1392, III. 4.), one can find notes on another representative of the analysis school, Georg Finsler, and his book Homer. M. Murko read at least the first part which was subtitled “Der Dichter und Sein Welt” and was published in 1914. In it, Finsler argued that Homer was the author of the Iliad only, and that the poem was later reworked. Another book M. Murko took study notes from was Engelbert Drerup’s Homer (1915), a well-known contribution to the “unitarian school,” in which the author criticized the analytic approach and argued for unity of the two Homeric epics (see West 2011). The two scholars were clearly in academic dialogue, because Drerup considered M. Murko’s phonographic recording[1] of South Slavic epic (see Drerup 1920:265–70; 1921:48–57), and M. Murko occasionally responded to Drerup’s research in his own publications (e.g. Murko 1919:280, 283–4, 292, 296). Finally, M. Murko took notes from Thaddaeus Zielinski’s substantial article “Die Behandlung gleichzeitiger Ereignisse im antiken Epos” (1901), in which the author presented the so-called “Zielinski’s law.” As is well known, the applicability of Zielinski’s law, which “states that Homeric narrative always moves forward and so cannot depict two simultaneous actions,” has been heatedly discussed in oral literature research (Scodel 2008:107; cf. de Jong 2017; Danek 1998).

Albert Lord (1912–1991), a professor of Comparative Literature, conducted extensive fieldwork on oral tradition in the former Yugoslavia.

These study notes were probably taken as part of M. Murko’s preparation for the research of South Slavic oral traditions, where he regularly compared South Slavic epic with Homer and even speculated about the oral social context of Homeric society. Such comparisons featured prominently in “Neues über südslavische Volksepik” (1919), in which he mentioned both Drerup and Bethe, La poésie populaire épique en Yougoslavie au début du XXe siècle (1929),[1] and Tragom srpsko-hrvatske narodne epike: putovanja u godinama 1930 do 1932 (1951), but appeared also in other publications, such as “Die serbokroatische Volkspoesie in der deutschen Literatur” (1906) or “Kod Meštrovića i njegovih—Ivan Meštrović kao pjevač epskih narodnih pjesama” (1933).

[1] A good half of La poésie populaire épique en Yougoslavie au début du XXe siècle (1929) is in fact a revised translation of “Neues über südslavische Volksepik” (1919).

[2] M. Murko’s recordings from his early expeditions (1912–1913) were published on Compact Discs. See M. Murko 2017.

[3] Murko, Matija. Personal papers. Ms 1392. National and University Library, Manuscript Collection, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The materials about Homer are located under III. 4., “Concepts and excerpts,” and III. 7., “Materials about Homer.”

[5] Since most of the notes were numbered by M. Murko himself, it can be concluded that only a few folios were preserved.

[6] M. Murko also compared the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey with particular guslar performances in his publications (see Murko 1929a:14–5).

[7] Interestingly, this story closely resembles Friedrich August Wolf’s insistence that he be matriculated as a ‘Student of Philology,’ then an inexistent faculty.

[8] Paul Kretschmer (1866–1956) was at the time widely known for his work on pre-Greek elements in ancient Greek.

Matija Murko and the French Slavic philology

Dr. Varja Balžalorsky Antić

My study of Matija Murko’s work concerns his relationship with the French academia. I am mostly interested in Murko’s intense contacts, cooperation and mutual enrichment with Western Slavic philology, especially French Slavic philologists and comparative linguists such as A. Meillet, E. Denis, L. Leger, P. Boyer, and A. Mazon. It was precisely the support of the French Slavists in Prague that enabled Murko to establish a leading centre of Slavistic studies in Central Europe. As its president, he did not rely on Austrian examples for his vision of the centre’s future, but on the newly-formed institutions in France, such as Institut d’etudes slaves, established in 1919 by Ernest Denis. In my study of archives and correspondence, I am especially interested in his contacts with A. Mazon and A. Meillet. The first one concerns methodological and organizational approaches, while the second involves content and touches on the connection and potential mutual influence of Matija Murko and Antoine Meillet during the research of oral poetry.

Antoine Meillet (1866–1936)
André Mazon (1881–1967)

André Mazon was the vice president and later president (1937-1959) of the Institute of Slavic Studies. When Murko sought to popularize the approaches of French Slavistics, he often turned to his western colleague for help, and the latter informed the Czech public about the activities of the French institution. The sizable correspondence between the two scientists testifies to the intense contacts and exchange of opinions; the Prague archive of the Slavic Institute keeps no less than 59 letters of A. Mazon to M. Murko. To describe their vision of the character of international and national Slavistics, their championship of the apolitical nature or political neutrality of the organization must be stated. This principle was also adopted by Murko when he took the helm of the Prague Slavic Institute in 1932. Methodologically Murko and Mazon also agreed on the wider conception of Slavic philology, a position which Murko also took in the Proposal of Statute of Slavic Philologists in 1919 (Pospišil and Zelenka 2020: 69). In this document, he did not conceive of Slavic philology in the narrow sense, limited by the principles of the Prague linguistic circle with its structuralist direction, but rather as an intersection of literary history, folklore studies, linguistics, and cultural history. Based on a thorough examination and study of archives, especially in Prague and the Institute of Slavic Studies in Paris, my research will provide a more accurate insight into the prolific correspondence between the two Slavists and attempt to outline the methodological premises which they sketched out for the development of Slavistics. 

The second branch of my research will deal with the study of Matija Murko’s contacts with Antoine Meillet, one of the most influential comparative linguists of his time, as well as the teacher of key figures of the French contemporary linguistics, E. Benveniste, G. Dumezil, and A. Martinet. It is less known that Meillet also had an important role in the development of oral poetry research. It is interesting that he was linked to many researchers of oral poetry just when the theory of orality was coming into being; in addition to Matija Murko, also Jean Poulhan, Marcel Granet, Marcel Jousse, Pëtr Bogatyrev, and, of course, Milman Parry. Three of those – Paulhan, Jousse and Parry – were also his students in various periods. In 1923, Meillet published his book Les origines indo-européennes des mètres grecs, in which he put forward the oral-formulaic hypothesis. M. Parry certainly relied on it when he was writing his dissertation under Meillet’s mentorship. Based on the examination of the correspondence, Blaž Zabel (Zabel 2020) portrays Parry’s relationship with Murko in detail in his article. In my research, I intend to illuminate the link between Parry and Murko, that is, A. Meillet, his work, and the events in the field of orality research, connected in various ways with A. Meillet as an author, mentor and reviewer of milestone contributions in the field of the theory of orality. I will be especially focused on the nature of the contacts between Murko and Meillet. Five years after the publication of his study on Greek metrics in 1928, Meillet, as the president of the Institute of Slavic Studies, invited Murko to Sorbonne in Paris to give lectures on the South Slavic heroic epic poetry. As is known, Murko in his lectures, which were then published as the prominent monography La poésie populaire épique en Yougoslavie au début du XXe siècle, often compared Greek rhapsodes to South Slavic guslars. With his findings, he also made a name for himself in the field of Homeric scholarship (Gantar 107). What is the relationship and connection between the works Les origines indo-européennes des mètres grecs and La poésie populaire épique en Yougoslavie au début du XXe siècle and their authors? Was there a mutual influence? Was Meillet – like Parry a few years later – already familiar with Murko’s first studies on the South Slavic oral tradition, presented in the 1919 article »Neues über südslavische Volksepik«? And how did Meillet influence Murko’s work?


Bader, Françoise. 1988. »Meillet et la poésie indo-européenne« Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure 42: 97125.

Gantar, Kajetan, 2020. »Odmevi Murkovih raziskav v homeroslovju« M. Jesenšek (ur.) Matija Murko – slovanski filolog v najširšem pomenu besede. Ljubljana: SAZU. 101– 112.

Jousse, Marcel, 1925. Études de psychologie linguistique. Le style oral rythmique et mnémotechnique chez les Verbo-moteurs. Pariz: Beauchesne.

Lamberterie, Charles de, 1997. »Milman Parry et Antoine Meillet« Françoise Létoublon (ur.) Hommage à Milman Parry. Le style formulaire de l’épopée homérique et la théorie de l’oralité, Amsterdam : Gieben. 122.

Meillet, Antoine. 1923. Les origines indo-européennes des mètres grecs. Pariz: Presses universitaires de France.

Meillet, Antoine. 1925. »Marcel Jousse. Études de psychologie linguistique«  Bulletin de la société de linguistique 26: 5.

Meillet, Antoine. 1928. »Milman Parry. L’épithète traditionnelle dans Homère et Les formules et la métrique d’Homère« Bulletin de la société de linguistique 29(2): 100102.

Murko, Matija, 1919. »Neues über südslavische Volksepik« Neue Jahrbüchner für das klasiches Altertum Geschichte und Deutsche Literatur 22, 273-296. 

Murko, Matija, 1929. La poésie populaire épique en Yougoslavie au début du xxe siècle. Pariz: Champion.

Pospišil, Ivo, Zelenka, Miloš, 2020. »Češko-slovenski projekti s področja zgodovine slavistike in teorije literature (Matija Murko kot povezovalna osebnost češko-slovenske in evropske literarne vede v medvojnem obdobju)« M. Jesenšek (ur.) Matija Murko – slovanski filolog v najširšem pomenu besede. Ljubljana: SAZU. 6480.

Testenoire,  Pierre-Yves , 2023. »Les recherches sur la poésie orale autour d’Antoine Meillet: Jean Paulhan, Marcel Jousse, Milman Parry« Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 44 (2) 79100.

Zabel, Blaž, 2020. »Matija Murko, predhodnik Milmana Parryja?«  M. Jesenšek (ur.) Matija Murko – slovanski filolog v najširšem pomenu besede. Ljubljana: SAZU. 113– 130. 

Matija Murko visits Ivan Meštrović, the sculptor

Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962) is today praised as one of the greatest Croatian artists and an internationally recognised sculptor. He was born in Slavonia, grew up in Dalmatian, and then lived and worked around the world. From 1947 he was a Sculptor in Residence and Professor of Sculpture at Syracuse University and from 1955 a Sculptor in Residence at the University of Notre Dame. Some of you might know him from his two sculptures The Bowman and The Spearman from the Congress Plaza at the entrance to Grant Park in Chicago (pictures below). 

As you can see easily from the two statues, Meštrović’s style is unique, mixing Secession and Expressionism. For those who are interested in his art, I suggest you look at the special issue of Sculpture Journal (see link) devoted to the artist.

Immediately relevant for comparative literature and Matija Murko is Meštrović’s profound interest in folklore which informed his artistic production. Moreover, as a boy he learned to sing traditional Dalmatian folksongs, which became his regular habit. It comes as no surprise then, that he depicted the poet and priest Andrija Kačić Miošić playing on gusle:

One of the songs Meštrović knew by hearth was Hasanaginica. This poem is perhaps the best-known poem of the Dalmatian oral tradition, because it was published in 1774 by Alberto Fortis, later translated by Goethe as “Klaggesang von der edlen Frauen des Asan Aga” (1775), published in Herder’s collection Volkslieder (1778), and translated into English via Goethe by Walter Scott (1798). This poem and Matija Murko’s recording of a female singer who still knew the song will be the topic of one of our future posts. It should be mentioned, however, that Meštrović still remembered a version of the song unknown from other sources (see Milan Ćurčin and R. W. S.-W., “Goethe and Serbo-Croat Ballad Poetry”, The Slavonic and East European Review 11, no. 31 (1932): 126–134).

Due to Meštrović’s profound interest in Dalmatian oral tradition of which he knew “fifty or sixty” songs, Matija Murko visited him in Zagreb to conduct an interview in 1931 and in 1932. Here is a photo of them: Murko is sitting down, dressed in white, and Ivan Meštrović is beside him on his right.


The visit resulted in the publication of an article in 1933 (Matija Murko, “Kod Meštrovića I njegovih – Ivan Meštrović kao pjevač epsih narodnih pjesama”, Nova Evropa 26, no. 8 (1933): 345–350). As Murko reported, Meštrović learned Hasanaginica from his grandmother who was singing it to his younger brother. He described to him how he learnt the songs and why he believes folklore is for him so important. Murko concluded his report by describing how they visited their family mausoleum in Otavice, speculating about the influence of Meštrović’s cohabitation with “lyric and epic folksong” on his art. 

The story reveals how important it is to overcome disciplinary boundaries if we are to understand past scholarship, literature, and art. This is why our project seriously considers the transdisciplinary approach in studying comparative literature’s history.