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.