Lives Journal 5

Ivo Antich 




In the German-Slovenian anthology of treatises dealing (mainly) with Carinthian history: Karantanien-Ostarrichi: 1001 Mythos (Mohorjeva; Celovec-Dunaj-Ljubljana, 1997), Peter Shtih in his essay entitled Autochtonistic and similar theories concerning Slovenia and the Slovenians (as the third historian after Franc Kos and Bogo Grafenauer, the former in 1896, the latter in 1982) deals critically with Davorin Trstenjak, the most prominent of the early Slovenian supporters of the so-called autochtonistic theory. Below is an excerpt from Shtih’s treatise:

»Davorin Trstenjak stood out from the others due to the extent of his work, his perseverance and his renown (1817-1890) … (…) His complete academic dilettantism was evident from his poor etymology and also his mythologizing … (…) But despite the zeal with which Trstenjak defended the autochtonistic theory, in his later years he mustered enough courage and honesty to at least indirectly abandon it. In a discussion with Matija Murko, scholar of Slavonics, literary historian and classic of Slovenian ethnology, he said: You have language books by Mikloshich and others but what did we have when we started out?« (cit. n. d. pg. 30).

In Murko’s article entitled A Patriotic Book without Patriotism (Veda, 1911), which is an ironically destructive review of a book by the other »notorious« autochtonist Martin Zhunkovich (Die Slaven, ein Urvolk Europas, Wien, 1911), in which Trstenjak is also briefly mentioned, there is no mention of Trstenjak other than the already cited, purely anecdotic hint that Trstenjak »abandoned« the work to which he devoted his life. Lucijan Vuga in his book Veneti v Troji [Veneti in Troy] (2006), which is an in-depth, professional and exhaustive presentation of the main autochtonistic (hypo)theses, mentions the positive opinion France Bezlaj (known as the greatest Slovenian etymologist) had about Trstenjak and mentions some prominent contemporary foreign »autochthonists« (Alinei, Peshich, Renfrew, Semerano etc.), whose views could by no means be designated as »complete academic dilettantism« in the light of their faultless academic references.

It is true that already in Trstenjak’s lifetime he was respected (and even received with enthusiasm – especially for patriotic Slavophile reasons) but also criticised for his research work. The following example is particularly picturesque:


Trstenjak is mentioned by Fran Levstik in his satirical poem Slovenska literatura (1859), which on the whole is a fairly cruelly humorous, condensed overview of Slovenian literary history in verse. The following verses refer to Trstenjak (Levstik writes: Turstenjak – editor A. Slodnjak explains that he was thus renamed »because of his etymological somersaults, deriving his name from the word tur – aurochs«; cit. F. Levstik, ZD 2, 1952, notes, pg. 415; however, Slodnjak does not explain Levstik’s unusual word »sheststogubca«, which he nonetheless quotes; this is the so-called devetogub, part of the stomach of ruminants; i.e. Pletershnik, Slovensko-nemshki slovar: šestogbəc, -bca, m. der Blättermagen der Wiederkäuer, der Psalter):



 and famous Turstenjak presses the bellows /


From the rumen of an aurochs

Turstenják is cooking a story for Slavs;

we are falling before him on our knees,

but Kollár the Slovak is itching in his grave.


Let Mikloshich in Vienna laugh,

and Dezhman in Ljubljana look away,

our Turstenjak proves in his own way,

that once even Africa had its Slavs.




(cit. ZD, 2, pp. 206-207)


In the poem, some important names are shown to be opposed to Trstenjak. It is not clear why Kollár should be turning in his grave if Trstenjak is »cooking« a Slav story (history) from an aurochs’ stomach for this Slovak (a poet and professor of archaeology) was a famous supporter of so-called pan-Slavism (author of: Staroitalia slavjanska, 1853) and one of Trstenjak’s (chrestomathy) guides. Trstenjak probably first got the idea that Slovenians are autochthonous from his friend Anton Krempl, who had Kollár’s works in his library; later Trstenjak took over the unpublished opus of the late Matevzh Ravnikar Pozhénchan who was a researcher in a similar domain.

It could be said that Mikloshich, the giant of Slavonics, was professionally and academically a »product« of Jernej Kopitar who is considered to be the founder of Slovenistics (with a grammar which considers its subject to be one of the Slav dialects, albeit in a very truncated form – without word formation and syntax; in the introduction he copied Dobrovski and labelled the fourth group of dialects of the Slav language as follows: »Croatian with Slovenian in Carniola, Styria and Carinthia« [»Die Kroatische, mit dem Windischen in Krain, Steyermark und Kärnten«]; both were jurists by profession and therefore strictly speaking »amateur philologists«. Mikloshich was drawn from his legal profession to philology by Kopitar who fostered a kind of common Slav perspective, firstly on the basis of the common Latin orthography but he did not like Orthodoxy and Russia (in the final summary, Kopitar’s ideas about Austroslavism and Vienna as an – at least academic – centre of the Slav world appear like »fantasies,« the doubtfulness of which it seems he already felt himself; see: Patriotic fantasies of a Slav – Patriotische Phantasien eines Slaven, 1810). Neither Mikloshich nor Kopitar in their grand Viennese workplaces, using German as their working language, could support a more overt anti-Austrian pan-Slavism, which already had sinister if not alarming connotations for the Germans (it was not recommended to emphasise the fact that Slavs were the largest ethnic group in the Habsburg monarchy; the language situation in 1910: German around 12 mil., Hungarian around 10 mil., Slavonic languages around 20 mil.). The core of Mikloshich’s and Kopitar’s philology is the Pannonian theory (based on Old Church Slavonic), which was completely invalidated by Vatroslav Oblak, a linguist (he studied Slavonic languages and comparative linguistics and had a doctorate), with his Macedonian theory.

In Slavische Bibliotek II (1858), Mikloshich rejected Trstenjak’s views on Slovenian prehistory while the jurist Karel Dezhman rejected them in his written critiques and appearances at the Historical Society in Ljubljana (Dezhman being a Slovenian renegade and pro-German would have found it so much harder to agree with Trstenjak). Levstik’s level of formal education (he did not even pass his final grammar school exams) at least in some respects resembles what critics usually accuse Trstenjak and especially autochthonists and »venetologists« of: amateurism, dilettantism, fantasising. But in any case, Levstik’s satirical poetry remains outside the field of linguistics and within the field of literature, i.e. its content does not necessarily all conform to the author’s »real opinion«.

In connection with Trstenjak, the historian Franc Kos also mentions Africa in the treatise entitled: When did Slovenians arrive in their present-day homeland? (Izvestja muzejskega drushtva za Slovenijo, 1896; also: Franc Kos, Izbrano delo, 1982). He writes: »Anyone would have as much right to claim that the African Zuavi were once Slavs.« – However, this comment only mentions one example while Trstenjak writes whole lists of information for his (hypo)theses. Kos’ ad hoc idea is just a completely incomparable and superfluous »witticism«.

In connection with settlement theories one may very well ask oneself who the Slavs »ejected« in the 6th century? Perhaps the »Vlachs«, as they used to call the Romanised predecessors? Perhaps the »Illyrians« whose true descendants were supposed to be (according to the Albanian theory) Albanians? For Kopitar, the Serbs and Croats were an Illyrian insert amongst the originally densely settled Slavs who were supposed to be autochthonous on their territory from the source of the River Drava, along the Danube and as far as the Black Sea (in this he followed the Byzantine Porphyrogennetos and the Russian Nestor). Did Slavs (Slovenians) come to an empty territory or did they carry out a uniquely thorough genocide of the original inhabitants who were only partly Romanised by Roman rule? Franc Kos writes about the arrival of the Slovenians as follows: »Wherever they came they robbed, burned and murdered.« (From the already mentioned treatise When did Slovenians arrive in their present-day homeland?; ID, pg. 101). Further on he writes: »Soon after, southern Noricum was hit by a terrible disaster. Slovenians invaded this territory and seized the land by the rivers Drava and Mura. They destroyed Tiburnia and its diocese, and either murdered or took into slavery the inhabitants.« (ibid. pg. 79) He adds: »We can rightfully say that the Slovenians, when they arrived in Pannonia and Noricum, acted much more murderously and brutally than the Langobards, the Goths and other Germanic tribes.« (ibid. pg. 79, note 28). This portrayal of the Slovenians-Slavs as immigrants in the 6th century is obviously different from the fairytale image of good old Slavs who played zithers, sang and drank mead … (Kos also wrote about the Hungarians: »Wherever the Hungarians came they burned everything; they killed everything that crossed their path.« … ID, pg. 251).

Therefore, the question of the »arrival« or »non-arrival« of Slovenians-Slavs appears to remain an open matter – at least as a never-ending historiographical challenge. 



Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich




Slovenian (gajica)

Slovenian (bohorichica)