One of Split’s most famous citizens can be seen in the Trg braće Radić or, as it’s better known locally, Voćni trg (Fruit Square). Standing high above the crowds, Marko Marulić is impressive in his long bronze robes, holding a large tablet on which he writes intently. The characterisation in this statue is wonderful, for this is the father of Croatian literature, a lawyer and judge by day, a leading Renaissance humanist, and one of the first authors in the Croatian language. He was also, apparently, the first to define and write a book about psychology. The statue, of course, is by the wonderful Ivan Meštrović, unveiled in 1925.
Marko Marulić (1450-1524) was born into an aristocratic Split family, at a time when the city was under Venetian rule. Connections and ideas from across the Adriatic were strong, including humanism and a growing interest in ancient culture and philosophy. Split was also, around then, under increasing threat from the Ottoman Empire, a big rival of Venice and a growing power in the inland areas. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Turkish army began moving north into Europe, while Greek scholars fled towards Italy.
Marulić was a very successful author around Europe for a couple of centuries. At the time, he was best-known for his works in Latin, which were published and translated into several other languages. His preferred topics were pretty much Biblical and lessons from the lives of the saints, as well as Greek and Roman classics. For example, “De institutione bene uiuendi per exempla sanctorum” (Instructions on How to Lead a Virtuous Life Based on the Examples of the Saints), was printed in Venice in 1507, and reprinted a further 15 times, quite a popular best-seller in its day!
That famous book collector Henry VIII of England had a copy of Marulić’s “Euangelistarium” (Evangelistary), which the king annotated with notes in the margin and added a drawing of a pointing hand to indicate a favourite passage of text. He was apparently much taken with Marulić’s ideas in this seven-book treatise on Christian ethics. That particular royal copy of the book is now in the British Library collection.
Although such works of moral instruction were extremely popular in their day, they are, let’s be honest, not much read since the 17th century. However, Marulić’s poetry is another story, and this is where his true importance and long-term legacy lies. He was the author of the first printed secular work in Croatian, the epic poem “Judita”, based on the Old Testament story of Judith slaying Holofernes. Written in 1501 and printed in Venice in 1521, Judita is in the local Split dialect for, as Marulić said, people who couldn’t understand Latin. The tale of a heroic widow fighting back against an invading force was intended to give heart to a people fighting against an encroaching enemy of their own.
Marulić was also an accomplished artist, as shown by the woodcut illustrations for the second edition of Judita published in 1522. In the image of the book above, we can see Judita having just cut off Holofernes head, while his cat looks on (nice touch, that!) Here’s a little closer look at another of his scenes from the book.
Other works in Croatian include the poem Suzana (the tale of a Babylonian woman accused of adultery), Poklad i korizma (Carnival and Lent), Utiha nesriće (The Comfort of Misfortune), Spovid koludric od sedam smrtnih grihov (Nun’s Confession of Seven Deadly Sins), Anka satir (Anka the Satyr) and secular poems dedicated to his sister Bira. In addition, he penned several laments and prayers about the Turkish invaders, including a letter to the Pope in 1522 requesting him to raise an army and lead a military campaign against them. Amazingly, some of his work has recently surfaced in the Glasgow University Library, showing that he also wrote satirical poetry and love sonnets.
For two years (1509-11) Marulić lived on the nearby island of Šolta, in the bay of Nečujam, where his godfather had built his home. Don Dujam had retreated there from Split to become a monk, building a retreat with a small harbour. The poet Petar Hektorović would later (1555) sail there from Stari Grad on Hvar, describing the journey in his book “On Fishing and Fishermen’s Tales“. He wrote that Marko Marulić was a great writer, the best of many intellectuals to have come from the city of Split.
The Marulić family house on Papalić St. is now the Marulus Library Jazz Bar. Meanwhile, just down the street in the Papalić Palace, was where the Split Humanist Circle used to meet in Marulić’s day, and today houses the Split City Museum. Among the exhibits, rather appropriately, you’ll find one of Marko Marulić’s books!
Photos are generally our own, except for the books, which are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons or the digital media of the National and University Library of Zagreb.
British Library European Studies Blog: Marko Marulic and the Croatian Latin Heritage
Digital copy of Judita at the National and University Library of Zagreb
Wikipedia article on Marko Marulić