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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter I. Cultural modernization: Institutionalization of “national sciences”

Living antiquity

Dimitar Marinov
Traduction de Alena Alexandrova

Texte intégral

1Title: Жива cтарина (Living antiquity)

2Originally published: Rousse, 1891

3Language: Bulgarian

4The excerpts used are from the original, Preface, pp. iii–v and from Димитър Маринов, Избрани произведения, vol. I: Народна вяра и религиозни народни обичаи (Sofia: Наука и изкуство, 1981), Introduction to Book VII of Living Antiquity: ‘Popular Faith and religious popular customs’ (originally published in the Almanac of folklore and ethnography [Cборнк за народни умотворения], vol. XXVIII, 1914), pp. 33–35.

About the author

5Dimitar Marinov [1846, Armaluj, present-day north Bulgaria – 1940, Sofia]: ethnologist and historian. Born in the village of Armaluj, he was adopted by a rich burgher family from Lom, the period’s most important northwestern Bulgarian town on the Danube. He studied first with Neofit Rilski at the Rila Monastery (1863), and later at the military medical school in Constantinople (Tur. Istanbul) (1867–1871). Following that, he graduated from the classical gymnasium and studied philosophy in Belgrade. Imprisoned for revolutionary activity before the proclamation of Bulgarian autonomy in 1878, he became deputy in the Constitutional Assembly (1879), and following that, a judge (1879–1882) and teacher. He was also the director of the National Library (1894) and the first director of the Ethnographic Museum (1906–1908), both in Sofia. In the last years of his life, he withdrew from active social life. He received a clerical rank and continued his ethnographic work. Apart from his ethnographical research, Marinov is also the author of the first history of Bulgarian literature written by a Bulgarian author (‘History of Bulgarian literature’). Also important are his memoirs of the Stambolov period (‘Stefan Stambolov and our contemporary history’).

6Main works: История на българската литература [History of Bulgarian literature] (1887); Как е създадена българската екзархия [How the Bulgarian Exarchate was created] (1898); Жива старина [Living antiquity] (vol. I–VII, 1891– 1914); Стефан Стамболов и новейшата ни история [Stefan Stambolov and our contemporary history] (1909).


7If ethnographic research and the humanities in general represented a mixture of often incompatible tendencies in the period of Bulgarian ‘national revival’ (such as Enlightenment-styled collections of folklore material along with philological and historical analyses), the period after the establishment of the autonomous Bulgarian principality saw the rapid institutionalization and normalization of research. This implied a progressive marginalization of non-professional scholarship. In this context, the place of ethnography is particularly complex, and in this respect, the work of Dimitar Marinov is exemplary.

8Marinov was one of the leading figures of folklore studies before the establishment of the modern Bulgarian state. From a scholarly point of view, Marinov’s work does not provide impressive results—the interpretation of the material is in general sporadic and not very consistent. The declared intention of emulating the tradition of the German mythological school remains practically unfulfilled. In general, his work represents a symbiosis of positivism and Romanticism, which was characteristic of turn of the century scholarship, not only in ethnography, but also in history. This was, incidentally, replicated in literature by a similar blend of realism and Romanticism.

9Nevertheless, it is clear that his ‘Living antiquity’ is important not so much as a theoretical and interpretative endeavor, but as a vast empirical collection that aims at retrieving or reifying a supposedly autochthonous and original ‘Bulgarian worldview,’ the natural embodiment of which is to be found in the traditional way of life. Marinov combined these folkloric texts into a homogeneous narrative, creating the image of an overarching vision of the world. At the same time, he focused on various traditional patterns of thought and rituals, thus providing for Bulgarian literature and philosophy raw material and figures for later developments, which undoubtedly constitutes the greatest impact of his work. The very title of the collection, ‘Living antiquity,’ contains a strong ideological message: it stresses the continuity and the persistence of tradition, becoming a main tool for legitimizing proper Bulgarianness. In this way, in Marinov’s scholarly project, we come across the embodiment of the National Romantic notion of the ideal, uncorrupted, patriarchal, organic entity of the Bulgarian people. A very important emphasis in this respect is Marinov’s focus on the popular forms of Christianity, mixed with pagan Slavic and Thracian legacies, which Marinov calls ‘popular faith.’ In fact, the entire seventh volume of the collection is dedicated to “popular faith and popular religious customs.” Popular faith is defined not only as the result of the peculiar circumstances of historical and cultural development, but also as an emanation of the singular soul of the Bulgarian people, undoubtedly considered to be the foundation for promoting an original national ontology.

10Marinov worked in direct contact with the literary historian and ethnographer Ivan Shishmanov, close collaborator of Ivan Vazov and paradigmatic figure of the institutionalization of humanities in Bulgaria. Besides serving as Minister of National Education, Shishmanov founded the Ethnographic Museum with the active support of Marinov, who was appointed as its first director. Shishmanov believed in the great value of Marinov’s work, and in 1892 arranged for copies of it to be sent to leading Slavists and institutions specialized in Slavic studies. The literary historian and ethnographer Mihail Arnaudov, professor at Sofia University and influential figure of Bulgarian humanities, considered Marinov to be a transitory figure between the collector of folkloric material of the Enlightenment type and the modern researcher. Arnaudov published a first review of Marinov in 1915 and the study ‘Dimitar Marinov and Bulgarian ethnography’ in 1942. This study had a decisive role in creating the image of Marinov as a key figure in the field of Bulgarian ethnography.


Living antiquity


12It is needless, in my opinion, to discuss the importance of ethnographic exploration and research or even the usefulness of the ethnographic material collected in this way. I only feel I have to add this: the issue of our national unity and the boundaries of the Bulgarian homeland would have looked differently had the works of folklore from all over our homeland been collected; our language, in orthographic and syntactic terms, would have enjoyed a situation other than that of today had the treasures of the various dialects within the entirety of our language been collected; the language and terminology used in our textbooks would have been closer to the pure Bulgarian language had we collected the diverse names and terms which are to be found in the language of our peasants, whether they were of objects or of acts and phenomena; the history of our Revival would have been planted in a different, more independent and familiar soil, much unlike its subordinated position today, had all the plentiful facts about the life and deeds of our historical personalities been collected, instead of having these facts die out together with our elderly people.

13Indeed, the few ethnographic materials that have been collected, by ourselves or by foreigners, are found in ethnographic collections or are scattered in various magazines and journals, and I think that we are still miles away from our goal and that much work is still required. What is more, I think that in collecting these ethnographic materials, we have not taken the one and only proper course.

14We collect songs, stories, proverbs, riddles and other such things, and publish these, thinking that with this we have studied our people.

15I do not know what the others may say, but it seems to me that we shall have essential ethnographic records, valuable for science and ethnography, only when we come to know in what rites, customs, cases and circumstances our people sing these songs, tell these stories and use these proverbs; when we come to see how the peasant eats, in what is he dressed, what his beliefs are, how he is born and married, how he enjoys himself, cures himself, and dies; when we come to see and know the peasant woman inside and outside her home as a housekeeper, wife, mother and worker; when we come to see our peasant in his community and family as a property owner, husband and father, and out in the fields as a worker; that is, in short, when we come to know all aspects of the life and daily labor of our peasant.

Introduction to book VII: Popular faith and religious popular customs (1914)

16In this book XXVIII of the ‘Almanac of Folklore and Ethnography,’ I am publishing book seven of my ethnographic material with the approval of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. That book has already been published with the title ‘Living antiquity.’ In the books of ‘Living antiquity’ that have already been published, I included only ethnographic material collected in West Bulgaria (in the regions of Vidin, Kulata, Belogradchik, Berkovitsa, Lom, Vratsa, Oriahovitsa, i.e. in the old province of Vidin). With the seventh book, I am starting the publication of the ethnographic material which was collected throughout our entire kingdom with a supplement consisting of those materials collected in the regions of Odrin and Macedonia, which has already been published in our almanacs and specifically in the ‘Almanac of Ethnography, Scholarship and Literature.’

17I entitled that material ‘Popular faith and religious popular customs.’ It consists of two closely related parts.

18Part one: ‘Popular faith’ includes the notions, the beliefs, the views and the people’s cult of the visible and the invisible world, atmospheric phenomena, fauna, flora and material culture.

19Part two: ‘Religious popular customs’ contains the material which presents and gives explanations of the rituals, the festivities and the customs performed to honor those creatures which popular belief created in the visible and the invisible world.

20I entitled this material ‘Religious customs’ to differentiate it from the other social customs which constitute our common popular law, civic and penal and which were published in my previous works: books four and six of ‘Living antiquity.’

21I divided the first part in two: ‘The visible’ and ‘The invisible’ world.

22In the first part, i.e. in the visible world, are presented the concepts, the views and the beliefs of the people about the distant unreachable world: the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars and the different atmospheric phenomena—wind, rain, snow, etc., i.e. the popular astronomy and meteorology, to the extent that these objects and phenomena could be included in the field of popular beliefs. Furthermore, in the same part are presented the notions, the views and the beliefs related to the proximate visible world, the environment in which man lives and the objects which are close to him, including plants, animals, the home and the household as well as the tools which are used in everyday work, i.e. the popular flora, fauna and the popular material culture.

23In the second half of the first part, i.e. in the invisible world, I introduced the material, which comprises the notions, views and the beliefs related to God and the good and the evil spirits (angels and devils); the invisible creatures, both good and evil, who govern the destiny of man and intervene in each step of his everyday life; the diseases embodied in living invisible and super-human creatures; the soul, the after life and the notions of sin, and, similar to these, the notions which belong to the field of the spiritual and the invisible.

24All aspects of the spiritual world of our people are presented. In the notions and the beliefs related to diseases, which are represented as living beings, I present the popular remedies, but only to the extent that they are an element of popular belief.

25The second part, ‘Religious customs,’ includes our popular calendar, because it is ordered according to the popular Orthodox festivities throughout the year, but does not include those which are performed according to the timetables of stock-breeding and agriculture or any other domestic and female occupations, or even around birth, marriage and death, since those customs which are of entirely religious nature will be described subsequently in my other works.

26Part of the material is included in the first and the third book of ‘Living antiquity,’ but only in a very abridged version, because that material was collected only in West Bulgaria, while the material presented in this book is very detailed and, as I noted, has been collected in the whole kingdom with the addition of the material collected in Macedonia and the region of Odrin, to the extent it has been published in our almanacs.

27I have collected directly and in person the entirety of this material from the people competent in such matters, i.e. the elderly women and men whose names I mention on every occasion. […]

28Critics may notice one deficiency—the melodies of the songs are missing. I am aware myself of this incompleteness, and in the future it will become even more evident. This is first because the melodies thus far recorded have not been registered entirely correctly and those minute details and nuances which are characteristic of our folk melodies are missing, and second because the old musicians and singers are dying out. It was not possible to correct this incompleteness, because I was forced to resign from the museum while I was traveling for the purpose of recording both these songs with the help of a gramophone as well as the wonderful and beautiful dances—the rachenitsa and other chain dances—with a cinematograph. With only my own personal resources, the collecting of this material was absolutely impossible.

29I would like to ask the management of our ethnographic museum not to spare any expense in the collection of these precious materials, which are threatened by extinction.


Alena Alexandrova (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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