Oton Župančič

Oton Župančič
Born (1878-01-23)January 23, 1878
Vinica, Duchy of Carniola, Austria-Hungary (now in Slovenia)
Died June 11, 1949(1949-06-11)
Ljubljana, SR Slovenia, SFR Yugoslavia
Occupation Poet, Translator, Playwright
Genre plays, epic poetry, lyrical poetry
Literary movement Symbolism, Modernism

Oton Župančič (January 23, 1878 – June 11, 1949, pseudonym Gojko[1]) was a Slovene poet, translator and playwright. He is regarded, alongside Ivan Cankar, Dragotin Kette and Josip Murn, as the beginner of modernism in Slovene literature. In the period following World War I, Župančič was frequently regarded as the greatest Slovenian poet after Prešeren,[2] but in the last forty years his influence has been declining and his poetry has lost much of its initial appeal.[3][4]


He was born as Oton Zupančič in the village of Vinica in the Slovene region of White Carniola near the border with Croatia. His father Franc Zupančič was a wealthy village merchant, his mother Ana Malić was of Croatian origin.[5] He attended high school in Novo Mesto and in Ljubljana. In the Carniolan capital, he initially frequented the circle of Catholic intellectuals around the social activist, author and politician Janez Evangelist Krek, but later turned to the freethinking circle of young Slovene modernist artists, among whom were Ivan Cankar, Dragotin Kette and Josip Murn.[6] In 1896, he went to study history and geography at the University of Vienna. He stayed in Vienna until 1900, but never completed his studies.[7] In the Austrian capital, he became acquainted with the contemporary currents in European art, especially the Viennese Secession and fin de siècle literature. He also met with Ruthenian students from eastern Galicia who introduced him to Ukrainian folk poetry, which had an important influence on Župančič's future poetic development.[8]

In 1900, he returned to Ljubljana, where he taught as a substitute teacher at the Ljubljana Classical Gymnasium. He started to publish his poetry in the liberal literary magazine, Ljubljanski zvon, where he clashed with one of its editors and the most influential Slovene author of that time, Anton Aškerc. In 1905, he traveled to Paris and settled in Germany, where he worked as a private tutor until 1910.[9][10] In 1910, he returned to Ljubljana and worked as a stage director at the Drama Theater of Ljubljana. In 1912, the national liberal mayor of Ljubljana Ivan Tavčar employed him as the director of the City Archive, a post previously occupied by Župančič's former opponent, Anton Aškerc.[11] The following year, he got married 1913 Ana Kessler (Ana Župančič), daughter of the socialite Marija Kessler and sister of the poet Vera Albreht, who was married to the author Fran Albreht. In 1920, he returned to his previous job as a stage director and later manager of the Drama Theater.

During the Italian Fascist and Nazi German occupation of Slovenian in World War II, Župančič sympathized with the Liberation Front of the Slovenian People and wrote poems under different pseudonyms for underground antifascist journals. After the end of the War in 1945, he was given several honorary positions and awards by the new Communist regime.[12] During that period, he was dubbed the people's poet.[13] He died in Ljubljana on 11 June 1949 and was buried with full honours in the Žale cemetery on 14 June, in the same grave as his friends from childhood Ivan Cankar, Dragotin Kette, and Josip Murn.[14]

His older son Marko Župančič was a renowned architect, and his younger son Andrej O. Župančič was a pathologist, anthropologist, and author.


Župančič published his first collection of poems in 1899 under the title Čaša opojnosti ("The Goblet of Inebriation"). The collection, published at the same time and by the same publisher as Cankar's controversial book Erotika ("Eroticism"), was a compendium of poems from Župančič's earlier periods, when he had been strongly influenced by the decadent movement.[15] The two books marked the beginning of modernism in Slovenian literature, caused a controversy. All issues of Cankar's Erotika were bought by the then bishop of Ljubljana Anton Bonaventura Jeglič and destroyed, while Župančič's Čaša opojnosti was condemned by the most renowned Slovene conservative thinker of the time, the neo-thomist philosopher Aleš Ušeničnik.[16]

Župančič's later poems showed little influence of decadentism, but remained close to a vitalist and pantheist vision of the world and nature. He gradually turned from pure subjective issues to social, national and political concerns. Already in 1900, he published the highly influential poem Pesem mladine ("The Song of the Youth"), on the occasion of the centenary of Prešeren's birth, written as a battle song of his generation. In his masterpiece, Duma from 1908, the visions of an idyllic rural life and natural beauty are mixed with implicit images of social unrest, emigration, impoverishment and economic decay of the contemporary agricultural society. The poems Kovaška (The Blacksmith's Song, 1910) and Žebljarska (The Nail Maker's Song, 1912) are a powerful lyrical glorification of the vital and moral strength of the oppressed manual workers.

The poetry collection which Župančič is best known for is the book of children's poetry Ciciban, published in 1915.

Župančič was also a prolific and talented translator. He is most famous for the translation of the majority of Shakespeare's plays into the Slovene, but he also translated other important authors including Dante, Calderón de la Barca, Molière, Goethe, Balzac, Stendhal, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Anatole France, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Knut Hamsun, G. K. Chesterton, and Rostand.

Župančič also wrote two plays, Noč za verne duše ("A Night for the Faithful Souls", 1904) and Veronika Deseniška ("Veronika of Desenice", 1924), which were staged during the time when he headed the Drama Theater in Ljubljana.

In 1940, Župančič collaborated in the production of the documentary O, Vrba that presented the Prešeren House, where the Slovene national poet France Prešeren was born, and his birth village of Vrba.[17] The film was directed by Mario Förster and published after the end of war in 1945.[18] The house was presented by Fran Saleški Finžgar, who led its arrangement into a museum, whereas Župančič read Prešeren's poem "O Vrba". This is a rare preserved record of his voice.[18]


Župančič in the 1930s

Already during his lifetime, Župančič was frequently accused of being excessively pragmatic and a political opportunist.[19] In the 1920s, he was a staunch supporter of the cultural policies of the Yugoslav monarchy, which were aiming to create a unified Yugoslav nation. After 1929, he supported the centralist dictatorship of King Alexander of Yugoslavia. In 1932, he published an article in the journal Ljubljanski zvon, entitled "Louis Adamic and Slovene Identity", in which he claimed that the Slovenes should not be too preoccupied about their language because they can keep their identity even if they lose the language. The article, published in a period when the Yugoslav authorities were sponsoring the official use of Serbo-Croatian in the Drava province and when even the name "Slovenia" was officially banned, caused a huge controversy and a split in the journal Ljubljanski zvon.[20] The literary critic Josip Vidmar rejected Župančič's views in his famous polemic book The Cultural Problem of Slovene Identity.

Although Župančič remained a monarchist and Yugoslav nationalist until the invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, he welcomed the new Communist regime after 1945.[21] Already in September 1943, he published the poem "Zlato jabolko" (The Golden Apple), which some have interpreted as advocating ruthless revenge against the Slovenian Home Guard, an anti-communist militia that collaborated with the German army.[22] The summary killings of around 12,000 war prisoners of the Slovene Home Guard in May and June 1945, perpetrated by the Communist regime, shed a sinister light on Župančič's war poem, although there are divergent opinions on its exact meaning.[23][24][25]

Influence and legacy

During most of his lifetime, Župančič was regarded as a great author. He enjoyed the status of the national poet second only to Prešeren. In 1931, the French linguist Lucien Tesnière published a book on Župančič (Oton Joupantchhitch: poète slovène. L'homme et l'oeuvre), which was important for the popularization of Župančič's poetry in France. During his lifetime, his works were only translated to French and Serbo-Croatian. Translations to German, English, Hungarian (by Sándor Weöres), Macedonian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Czech and Slovak have been published since.

Župančič has had relatively little influence on the younger generations of Slovene authors. Nevertheless, many of his verses and utterances have become catchphrases or common cultural references. Today, he is still very popular as an author of children literature. His collection of children's poetry, called Ciciban (also known as Mehurčki 'Bubbles') has been published in more than 30 editions since it was first issued in 1915.

Numerous streets, public buildings, and institutions in Slovenia as well as in Slovene-inhabited areas of Italy and Austria are named after him.


Poetry collections:

Čaša opojnosti ("The Goblet of Inebriation", 1899)
Čez plan ("Over the Plain", 1904)
Samogovori ("Monologues", 1908)
V zarje Vidove ("In the Vitus Dawn", 1920)
Zimzelen pod snegom ("The Evergreen beneath the Snow", 1945)

Children literature:

Pisanice ("Easter Eggs," 1900)
Lahkih nog naokrog ("Careless Wanderings", 1913)
Sto ugank ("A Hundred Riddles", 1915)
Ciciban in še kaj ("Ciciban and More", 1915)


Noč za verne duše ("A Night for the Faithful Souls", 1904)
Veronika Deseniška ("Veronika of Desenice", 1924)

See also


  1. Pogačnik, Jože. 1978. Parametri in paralele. Ljubljana: Partizanska knjiga, p. 115.
  2. Fran Erjavec, Slovenija in Slovenci (Ljubljana: Slovenska straža, 1940)
  3. Boštjan M. Turk, "Ob smrtni postelji: spregledani Oton Župančič", in Delo (September 4, 2004), 35
  4. Kajetan Kovič, "Dialog z Župančičem" in Sodobnost, vol. 46, no. 6/7 (1998), 491-498
  5. Janko Kos, Slovenska književnost (Ljubljana: Cankarjeva založba, 1982), 413
  6. Janko Kos, ibid.
  7. Janko Kos, Pregled slovenskega slovstva (Ljubljana: DZS, 1983), 267
  8. Janko Kos, op.cit., 269
  9. Janko Kos, ibid.
  10. Janko Glazer, "Spremna beseda" in Oton Župančič, Izbrane pesmi (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 1963), 113
  11. Janko Kos, op.cit., 267
  12. Janko Kos, Slovenska književnost, op.cit., 414
  13. Ženja Leiler et al., Slovenska kultura v XX. stoletju (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga - Delo, 2002), 114
  14. "Župančič, Oton, akademik (1878–1949)". Slovenska biografija. Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  15. Janko Kos, Pregled slovenskega slovstva, op.cit. 270
  16. Literature in Context. Oton Župančič: recepcija doma
  17. Marinko, Roman; Rau Selič, Marta (2007). "Bogatitev filmske slike in zvoka skozi čas – obnova filma O, Vrba" [Enrichment of Film Picture and Sound Through Time – Restoration of the Film O, Vrba] (PDF). Razmere v arhivskih depojih ; (Ne)znano v arhivskih fondih in zbirkah ; Medarhivsko sodelovanje: zbornik referatov [The Situation in Archive Deposits; (Un)known in Archive Deposits and Collections; Interarchival Collaboration: A Collection of Papers] (in Slovenian and English). pp. 208–211. COBISS 899445.
  18. 1 2 "Filmi iz okupirane Ljubljane" [Films from the Occupied Ljubljana]. MMC RTV Slovenija. RTV Slovenija. 9 May 2008.
  19. Janko Kos, "Prevrednotenje Otona Župančiča" in Nova revija, n. 198 (1998), 105-119
  20. Fran Albreht, Kriza Ljubljanskega zvona (Ljubljana: Kritika, 1932)
  21. Janko Kos, "Oton Župančič" in Slovenska kultura XX. stoletja, op.cit.
  22. Drago Jančar, "Temna stran meseca" in Konec tisočletja, račun stoletja (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 1999)
  23. Speech of Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša on the anniversary of the end of World War Two (May 2005)
  24. Article in the journal Mladina criticizing Janša's interpretation of Župančič's verses
  25. Janko Kos, "Oton Župančič" in Slovenska kultura XX. stoletja, op.cit.


Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oton Župančič.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/13/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.