Petar Zoranic 1508-1569 important Croatian Renaissance writer

Petar Zoranić is one of the pillars of Croatian Renaissance literature. The life of Petar Zoranic has in greater part remained a mystery up to the present day. In terms of themes and genre he had his inheritors but also contemporaries.

There are few archival data on Zoranić's life and education; some of the data were revealed by Zoranić himself in his novel Planine [Mountains], though whether they are authentic is questionable. It is assumed that he was born in the year 1508.

His ancestors were the noble family Telačić from Lika, and when the Ottomans attacked Nin at the end of the 15th century, the family moved to the fortified town of Zadar.

Zoranić returned to Nin when the Ottoman attacks lessened. He was born in Zadar to his parents, father Ivan and mother Elizabeta Medulla.

It is assumed that he was educated in Padua; most probably he received a lawyer’s education because he worked as a notary and also issued documents of public faith (fidem publicum) in the Latin, Italian and Croatian languages which as its prerequisite had the obligation of having studied jurisprudence.

In the dedication to Planine Zoranić called the Matej Matijević, the Canon from Nin, his teacher, so that he was almost definitely educated in the spirit of humanism. What remained preserved from Zoranić's literary work is only Planine, written in prose and verses, usually defined as the first Croatian pastoral novel. The work was dated as belonging to the year 1536 and printed in 1569 in Venice. Only a single copy of Planine has remained preserved. One could reconstruct the characters of his friends and family from Zoranić's novel. So the character referred to as "beautiful, noble and stylish Jele" could have been his mother Elizabeta, while the greatest mystery is Jaga to whom he dedicated a poem, and whose identity, if revealed, would mean figuring out the person on account of whom he was undertaking that journey.

From the novel Planine it is also made clear that there are two other works written by Zoranić - Ljubveni lov [Amorous hunting] and Vilenica [Fairy] - that are mentioned in the chapter Perivoj od slave [Gardens of glory]. The full title of Zoranić’s novel is rather long: Planine ke zd(a)rže u sebi pisni pete po pastirih, pripovisti i pritvori junakov i deklic i mnoge ostale stvari složene po Petru Zoraniću Ninjaninu [approximately: Planine that contains songs sung by shepherds, stories and transformations of heroes and young girls and many other things put together by Petar Zoranić from Nin]. The basic stimulus for his creation was a strong feeling of patriotism at the moment of the Ottoman attacks, but at the same time he was quite aware of the literary component.

Planine in 24 chapters describe and narrate the story of the journey of Zoran the shepherd, a character that obviously masked
the writer himself, travelling across the native land in order to get rid of his "amorous ailment". The journey of the main hero Zoran starts in Vodice near Nin, then continues in a seaward course to the present-day Starigrad, then it climbs Velika Paklenica reaching the Velebit peak, then it goes eastwards to the Dinara mountain range, then by the Krka river down to Šibenik and from Šibenik by sea past Zadar to Zaton before reaching Nin and finally by land to Nin. The plot of the novel is formed as a journey across real regions where the main hero meets numerous shepherds and fairies (the names are mostly female names, some of them with a definite meaning: Zorica, Milost [Mercy], Dejanira-Dinara, Latinka [Latin girl], Grkinja [Greek girl], Chaldean and Croatian [girls]). These girls have the function of guiding the hero not only into real but into the fictional regions, as e.g. the Gardens of glory with Latinka and the Chaldean, Greek and Croatian fairies. In the centre of this scene we find the sorrow that the Croatian fairy Hrvatica feels owing to the poor literary creation in the native, Croatian language: she rebukes the Croats for writing in foreign languages instead using their own.

Zoranić's Planine were the only novel written in the Croatian literature all through the 19th century. This work, as declared by Zoranić in his dedication addressed to Matej Matijević, except for the literal reading should also be read as an allegory whose meaning is that the grace of God leads the man through earthly evil to the final understanding of divine truth.

On its literal level the novel tells the story of the journey in the course of which the main hero professes his unhappy love in
the form of an autobiographic record, talks about his family or some other historical personages (e.g. the characters of Jerome and bishop Divnić were historical personages, and behind the character of the shepherd Marul the poet Marko Marulić is undoubtedly concealed). On the other hand, the novel is also mimetic because there are frequent occurrences when the national literature and language are quite explicitly discussed, as well as themes like the scattered heritage, threatening Ottoman danger - which was the reality of that time. All these are elements that define Planine as a pastoral, autobiographic and historical-social novel. From the novel Planine we can make out that Zoranić, while still young, knew literature extremely well, starting from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Vergil’s Bucolica or Eclogues, the medieval literature, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Cicero, classical rhetoric,... The main mostly mentioned stimulus for Zoranić's work is the classic Italian pastoral novel Arcadia written by Jacopo Sannazzaro (around 1456 - 1530), that is also structured as allegoric autobiography.

Zoranić took over the cyclical composition of fragments from Boccaccio and the influence of Dante's Divine Comedy can also be observed. The versified parts of Planine that celebrate love in rhymes, were written mostly in doubly rhymed dodeca - syllabic lines and in the manner of Petrarch, which further proves that Zoranić was a good connoisseur of the Italian Petrarchian and religious - reflective lyric poetry as well as of Marulić's opus (the character Marul, the shepherd, whose Prayer against the Turks Zoranić paraphrased).

Except for numerous themes, in the novel there is also the awareness about the Croatian language present as the crucial element of national literature, both as an individual theme and as a constituent part of his patriotism.

Undoubtedly, Zoranić has left an indelible trace in Croatian literary history by his distinct and singular appearance.


(D.H., 27.01.2009)