200 years since Slovenian poet Valentin Vodnik's death

Several events will be held in Ljubljana this month to mark 200 years since the death of poet, writer and linguist Valentin Vodnik (1758-1818). Vodnik was one of the first acclaimed poets to write in Slovenian. Vodnik is also considered to be the first Slovenian journalist, he is the author of the first grammar book in Slovenian (1811) as well as the first Slovenian cookbook and manual for midwives.

He was born into a wealthy family in the Upper Šiška borough in Ljubljana. In 1775, he joined the Franciscan order and became a monk but monastic life did not suit him so he became a priest and a teacher instead.

Along with several other important figures of the Slovenian Enlightenment era, Vodnik belonged to the intellectual circle around Žiga (Sigmund) Zois (1747-1819), a Carniolan nobleman, natural scientist and patron of the arts. They started a new movement in Slovenian literature, moving away from religious contents and focusing on national issues. Zois remained Vodnik's sponsor until his death.

He founded the first Slovenian newspaper, Lublanske Novice (1797-1800). He pushed for Slovenian to become the teaching language at schools when Illyrian Provinces were founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809, and also wrote textbooks for teaching foreign languages such as French and Italian. He also did important work in translating into Slovenian from German, French, Italian, Latin and Greek and from Slovenian to German and Latin. 

Vodnik was one of the first linguists to write letters to other intellectuals in Slovenian rather than German. Although he is rarely praised for being a deep or original poet, his poems convey honest sentiments, and his use of irony is noteworthy. As a member of Sigmund Zois' circle, he helped several younger talents, among whom also France Prešeren, the most important Slovenian poet. After Vodnik's death, Prešeren wrote two elegies in his memory.

In 1858, a memorial plaque was unveiled at his home in Šiška, dedicated to "the first Slovenian poet". He was the first to be celebrated after his death.

In 1889, a statue of Vodnik was erected in front of what was at the time a school at which he had taught. Celebrations accompanying the unveiling lasted three days and brought together thousands of people.

Source: STA

Photo: UKOM archive