Meshari (The Missal) by Gjon Buzuku, published by him in 1555, is considered to date as the first literary work of written Albanian. The refined level of the language and the stabilised orthography must be a result of an earlier tradition of writing Albanian, a tradition that is not known. But there are some fragmented evidence, dating earlier than Buzuku, which indicate that Albanian was written at least since 14th century AD. The first known evidence dates from 1332 AD and deals with the French Dominican Guillelmus Adae, Archbishop of Antivari, who in a report in Latin writes that Albanians use Latin letters in their books although their language is quite different from Latin. Of special importance in supporting this are: a baptizing formula (Unte paghesont premenit Atit et Birit et spertit senit) of 1462, written in Albanian within a text in Latin by the bishop of Durrës, Pal Engjëlli; a glossary with Albanian words of 1497 by Arnold von Harff, a German who had travelled through Albania, and a 15th century fragment from the Bible from the Gospel of Matthew, also in Albanian, but in Greek letters.
Albanian writings of these centuries must not have been religious texts only, but historical chronicles too. They are mentioned by the humanist Marin Barleti, who, in his book Rrethimi i Shkodrës (The Siege of Shkodër) (1504), confirms that he leafed through such chronicles written in the language of the people (in vernacula lingua). Despite the obstacles generated by the Counter-Reformation which was opposed to the development of national languages in Christian liturgy, this process went on uninterrupted. During the 16th to 17th centuries, the catechism E mbësuame krishterë (Christian Teachings) (1592) by Lekë Matrënga, Doktrina e krishterë (The Christian Doctrine) (1618) and Rituale romanum (1621) by Pjetër Budi, the first writer of original Albanian prose and poetry, an apology for George Castriot (1636) by Frang Bardhi, who also published a dictionary and folklore creations, the theological-philosophical treaty Cuneus Prophetarum (The Band of Prophets) (1685) by Pjetër Bogdani, the most universal personality of Albanian Middle Ages, were published in Albanian.
Bogdani's work is a theological-philosophical treatise that considers with originality, by merging data from various sources, principal issues of theology, a full biblical history and the complicated problems of scholasticism, cosmogony, astronomy, pedagogy, etc. Bogdani brought into Albanian culture the humanist spirit and praised the role of knowledge and culture in the life of man; with his written work in a language of polished style, he marked a turning point in the history of Albanian literature.
During 18th century, the literature of Orthodox and Muslim confessional cultural circles witnessed a greater development. An anonymous writer from Elbasan translated into Albanian a number of sections from the Bible; T. H. Filipi, also from Elbasan, brings the Dhiata e Vjetër dhe e Re (The Old and the New Testament). These efforts multiplied in the following century with the publication in 1827 of the integral text of the Dhiata e Re (The New Testament) by G. Gjirokastriti and with the big corpus of (Christian) religious translations by Konstandin Kristoforidhi (1830-1895), in both main dialects of Albanian, publications which helped in the process of integrating the two dialects into a unified literary language and in setting up the basis for the establishment of the National Church of the Albanians with the liturgy in their own language.
Although in opposite direction with this tendency, the culture of Voskopoja is also to be mentioned, a culture that during the 17th century became a great hearth of civilization and a metropolis of the Balkan peninsula, with an Academy and a printing press and with personalities like T. Kavaljoti, Dh. Haxhiu, G. Voskopojari, whose works of knowledge, philology, theology and philosophy assisted objectively in the writing and recognition of Albanian. Although the literature that evolved in Voskopoja was mainly in Greek, the need to erect obstacles to Islamization made necessary the use of national languages, encouraging the development of national cultures. Walachian and Albanian were also used for the teaching of Greek in the schools of Voskopoja, and books in Walachian were also printed in its printing presses. The works of Voskopoja writers and savants have brought in some elements of the ideas of the European Enlightenment. The most distinguished of them was Teodor Kavaljoti. According to the notes of H.E. Thunman, the work of Kavaljoti, which remained unpublished, in most part deals with issues from almost all branches of philosophy. It shows the influence of Plato, Descartes, Malebranche and Leibnitz.
A result of the influence of Islam and the culture of the invader was the emergence, during 18th century, of a school of poetry, or of a literature written in Albanian language but by means of an Arabian alphabet. Its authors such as N. Frakulla, M. Kyçyku, S. Naibi, H.Z. Kamberi, Sh. and D. Frashëri, Sheh Mala, and others dealt in their works with motifs borrowed from Oriental literature, wrote religious texts and poetry in a language suffocated by orientalisms and developed religious lyric and epic.
National Renaissance, nurturing the Albanian as a language of culture, the organization of national education and the establishment of a national literature on the cultural level as well as the creation of the independent state – these were the goals of this movement which gave birth to the school of Albanian Romanticism. It was imbued with the spirit of national liberation, with the nostalgia of the émigré and the rhetorical pathos of past heroic wars. This literary school developed the poetry most. Regarding the motifs and poetical forms, its hero was the ethical man, the fighting Albanian, and to a lesser degree the tragic man. It is closely linked with the folklore tradition.
The pursuit of this tradition and the publications of Rapsodi të një poeme arbëreshe (Rhapsody of an Arbëresh Poem) in 1866 by Jeronim De Rada, of Përmbledhje të këngëve popullore dhe rapsodi të poemave shqiptare (Collection of Albanian Folk Songs and Rhapsodies of Albanian Poems) in 1871 by Zef Jubani, Bleta shqiptare (Albanian Bee) in 1878 by Thimi Mitko, etc., were part of the cultural programme of the National Renaissance for establishing a compact ethnic and cultural identity of Albanians.
Two are the greatest representatives of Albanian Romanticism of 19th century: Jeronim De Rada (1814-1903), and Naim Frashëri (1846-1900), born in Albania, educated at Zosimea of Ioannina, but emigrated and deceased in Istanbul. The first is the Albanian romantic poet brought up in the climate of European Romanticism, the second is the Albanian romanticist and pantheist who merges in his poetry the influence of Eastern poetry, especially Persian, with the spirit of the poetry of Western Romanticism.
De Rada wrote a cycle of epical-lyrical poems in the style of Albanian rhapsodies: Këngët e Milosaos (The Songs of Milosao), 1836, Serafina Topia 1839, Skënderbeu i pafat (Unlucky Skanderbeg) 1872-1874 etc. with the ambition of creating the national epos for the century of Skanderbeg. Following the traces of Johann Gottfried Herder, De Rada raised the love for folk songs in his poetry and painted it in ethnographic colours. His works reflect both the Albanian life with its characteristic customs and mentalities, and the Albanian drama of the 15th century, when this land's indomitable folk fell to the Ottoman yoke. The conflict between the happiness of the individual and the tragedy of the nation, the scenes by the riversides, women gathering wheat in the fields, the man going to war and the wife embroidering his belt, all represented with a delicate lyrical feeling.
Naim Frashëri wrote a pastoral poem Bagëti e bujqësia (Shepherds and Farmers) (1886), a collection of philosophical, patriotic and love lyrics Lulet e verës (Summer Flowers), (1890), an epical poem on Skanderbeg Histori e Skënderbeut (The History of Skanderbeg) (1898), a religious epical poem Qerbelaja (1898), two poems in Greek O Eros (i.e. O Love) and O alithis pothos ton skipetaron (i.e. The True Desire of Albanians), some lyrics in Persian Tehajylat (The Dream) and many erudite works in Albanian. He is recognised as the greatest national poet of Albanians. Naim Frashëri established modern lyrics in Albanian poetry. In the spirit of Bucolics and Georgics of Virgil, in his Bagëti e bujqësia (Shepherds and Farmers) he sang to the works of the land tiller and shepherd by writing a hymn to the beauties of his fatherland and expressing the nostalgia of the émigré poet and the pride of being Albanian. The longing for his birthplace, the mountains and fields of Albania, the graves of his ancestors, the memories of his childhood, feed his inspiration with lyrical strength and impulse.
The inner experiences of the individual freed from the chains of medieval, Oriental mentality on one hand and the philosophical pantheism imbued with the poetical pantheism of the European Romanticism on the other hand, give to the lyrical meditations of Frashëri a universal human and philosophical dimension. The most beautiful poems of Lulet e verës (Summer Flowers) collection are the philosophical lyrics on life and death, on time that goes by and never comes back leaving behind tormenting memories in the heart of man, on the Creator melt with the Universe. Naim Frashëri is the founder of the national literature of the Albanians and of the national literary language. He raised Albanian to a modern language of culture, evolving it in the model of the popular speech.
The world of the romantic hero with its vehement feelings is brought to Albanian Romanticism by the poetry of Zef Serembe. The poetry of Ndre Mjeda and Andon Zako Çajupi, who lived at the end of Renaissance, bears the signs of disintegration of the artistic system of Romanticism in Albanian literature.
Çajupi (1866-1930) is a rustic poet, the type of a folk bard, called the Mistral of Albania; he brought to Albanian literature the comedy of customs and the tragedy of historical themes. Graduated from a French college in Alexandria and the Geneva University, a good connoisseur of French literature, Çajupi was among the first to bring into Albanian language La Fontaine's fables, thus opening the way to the translation and adoption of works of world literature into Albanian, which has been and remains one of the major ways of communication with the world culture.
Distinguished writers of this period are: Naum Veqilharxhi, Sami Frashëri, Pashko Vasa, Jeronim de Rada, Gavril Dara (i Riu), Zef Serembe, Naim Frashëri, Dora d'Istria, Andon Zako Çajupi, Ndre Mjeda, Luigj Gurakuqi, Filip Shiroka, Mihal Grameno, Risto Siliqi, Aleksander Stavre Drenova, etc.
Gjergj Fishta (1871-1940), wrote a poem of national epos breadth Lahuta e malësisë (The Highland Lute) in 17.000 verses, in the spirit of Albanian historical and legendary epos, depicting the struggles of Northern highlanders against Slav onslaughts. With this work he remains the greatest epical poet of Albanians. A Franciscan priest, erudite and a member of the Italian Academy, Gjergj Fishta is a multifaceted personality of Albanian culture: epical and lyrical poet, publicist and satirist, dramatist and translator, active participant in the Albanian cultural and political life between the two Wars. His major work, Lahuta e malësisë (The Lute of the Highlands), is a reflection of the Albanian life and mentality, a poetical mosaic of historic and legendary exploits, traditions and customs of the highlands, a live fresco of the history of an old people, which places on its center the type of Albanian carved in the calvary of his life along the stream of centuries which had been savage to him. Fishta’s poem is distinguished by its vast linguistic wealth, is a receptacle for the richness of the popular speech of the highlands, the live and infinite phraseology and the diversity of clear syntax constructions, which give vitality and strength to the poetic expression. The poetical collections Mrizi i Zanave (The Fairies’ Mead) with patriotic verse and Vallja e Parrizit (Paris’s Dance) with verses of a religious spirit, represent Fishta as a refined lyrical poet, while his other works Anzat e Parnasit (Parnassus' Anises) and Gomari i Babatasit (Babatas' Donkey) represent him as an unrepeatable satirical poet. In the field of drama, Juda Makabe and Ifigjenia n’ Aulli may be mentioned along his tragedies with biblical and mythological themes.
The typical representative of realism was Millosh Gjergj Nikolla, Migjeni (1913-1938). His poetry Vargjet e lira (Free Verses), 1936, and prose are permeated by a severe social realism on the misery and tragic position of the individual in the society of the time. The characters of his works are people from the lowest strata of Albanian society. Some of Migjeni’s stories are novels in miniature; their themes represent the conflict of the individual with institutions and the patriarchal and conservative morality. The rebellious nature of Migjeni’s talent broke the traditionalism of Albanian poetry and prose by bringing a new style and forms in poetry and narrative. He is one of the greatest reformers of Albanian literature, the first great modern Albanian writer.
Lasgush Poradeci (1899-1987), a poetical talent of a different nature, a brilliant lyrical poet, wrote soft and warm poetry, but with a deep thinking and a charming musicality Vallja e yjeve (The Dance of Stars), 1933, Ylli i zemrës (The Star of Heart), 1937.
Fan Stilian Noli (1882-1965) F.S. Noli is one of the most versatile figures -- he was a distinguished poet, historian, dramatist, aesthete and musicologist, publicist, translator and master of the Albanian language. He wrote the plays The Awakening and Israelites and Philistines; he published articles and translated in Greek Sami Frashëri’s work Albania -- her Past, Present and Future. In 1947 he published in English the study Beethoven and the French Revolution. He translated into Albanian many liturgical books and works of major writers such as Omar Khayyám, William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Miguel de Cervantes and others. With his poetry, non-fiction, scientific and religious prose, as well as with his translations, Noli has played a fundamental role in the development of the modern Albanian. His introductions to his own translations of world literature made him Albania’s foremost literary critic of the inter-war period. Fan Noli also led the democratic revolution that ousted King Zog’s regime during the middle 1920's, though his peaceful governing was short-lived.
Albanian literature between the two Wars did not lack manifestations of sentimentalism (Foqion Postoli, Mihal Grameno) and of belated classicism, especially in drama (Et'hem Haxhiademi). Manifestations of the modern trends, impressionism, symbolism, etc. were isolated phenomena in the works of some writers (Migjeni, Poradeci, and Asdreni), that did not succeed in forming a school. Deep changes were seen in the system of genres; prose (Migjeni, F. S. Noli, Faik Konica, Ernest Koliqi, Mitrush Kuteli, etc.) drama and satire (Gjergj Fishta, Kristo Floqi) developed parallel to poetry. Ernest Koliqi wrote subtle prose, full of coloring from his town of Shkodër, (Tregtar flamujsh, (Trader of Flags), 1935. Mitrush Kuteli is a magician of the Albanian language, the writer that cultivated the folk style of narration into a charming prose, Net shqiptare (Albanian Nights) 1938; Ago Jakupi 1943; Kapllan aga i Shaban Shpatës (Kapllan Aga of Shaban Shpata), 1944.
Faik Konica is the master who gave Albanian prose a modern image. He was born in Konitsa, a small Albanian town, which following the decisions of the London Conference of 1913 that shrank the Albanian state to the present borders, remained with Greece. Coming from a renowned family, inheriting the title of Bey and the conscience of belonging to an elite, which he manifested strongly in his life and work, he discarded Oriental mentality, inherited from the Ottoman occupation, with a joking smile that he translated into a cutting sarcasm in his work. He attended for one year the Jesuit College of Shkodër, then the Imperial Lyceum in Istanbul, studied literature and philosophy at Dijon University, France, and completed his higher studies at Harvard University, where, in 1912, got a Master's degree (Master of Arts). Erudite, knowledgeable in all major European languages and some Eastern ones, a friend of Guillaume Apollinaire, called by foreigners “a walking encyclopaedia”, Konica became the model of Western intellectual for the Albanian culture. Since his youth he was dedicated to the national movement, but contrary to the mythical, idealising and romanticising feeling of the Renaissance, he brought in it the spirit of criticism and experienced the perennial pain of the idealist who suffers for his own thoughts. He established the Albania magazine (Brussels 1897-1900, London 1902-1909), that became the most important Albanian press organ of the Renaissance. Publicist, essayist, poet, prose writer, translator and literary critic, he, among others, is the author of the studies L’Albanie et les Turcs (Paris 1895), Memoire sur le mouvement national Albanais (Brussels, 1899), of novels Një ambasadë e zulluve në Paris (An Embassy of the Zulu in Paris) (1922) and Doktor Gjilpëra (Doctor Needle) (1924), as well as of the historical-cultural work Albania -- the Rock Garden of South-Eastern Europe published posthumously in Massachusetts in 1957.
The literature of the Albanians of Italy in the period between the two Wars continued the tradition of the romanticist school of the 19th century. Zef Skiro (1865-1927) through his work Kthimi (Return), 1913, Te dheu i huaj (In Foreign Soil), 1940, wanted to recover the historical memory of Albanians emigrated since the 15th century after the death of Skanderbeg.
The most elaborate type of novel was the novel of socialist realism of ethical and historical character, with a linear subject matter (Jakov Xoxa, Sterjo Spasse), but novels with a rugged composition, open poetics and a philosophical substratum issuing from association of ideas and historical analogies (Ismail Kadare, Petro Marko) as well as the satirical novel are not lacking (Dritëro Agolli, Qamil Buxheli).
The short story and novel were developed by Dhimitër Shuteriqi, Naum Prifti, Zija Çela, Teodor Laço, Dhimitër Xhuvani, Nasi Lera and others; poetry by Ismail Kadare, Dritëro Agolli, Fatos Arapi, Xhevahir Spahiu, Mimoza Ahmeti and others. Drama (by Kol Jakova, Toka jonë (Our land), 1955) and comedy (by Spiro Çomora, Karnavalet e Korçës (The Carnival of Korça), 1961) developed to a lesser degree.
The literature of this period developed within the framework of socialist realism, the only direction allowed by official policy. But beyond this framework, powerful talents created works with an implicit feeling of opposition and with universal significance.
The dissident trend in literature was expressed in different forms in the works of Kasëm Trebeshina, Mehmet Myftiu, Ismail Kadare, Dritëro Agolli, Minush Jero, Koço Kosta, etj, who either tried to break out the canons of the socialist realism method or introduced heretic ideas for the communist totalitarian ideology.
Albania’s best-known contemporary writer is Ismail Kadare, born in 1935 whose 15 novels have been translated into 40 languages. With the poem Përse mendohen këto male (What Are These Mountains Musing On?) 1964, Motive me diell (Sunny Motifs) 1968, Koha (Time) 1976, and especially with his prose (Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur (The General of The Dead Army) 1963, Kështjella (The Castle) 1970, Kronikë në gur (Chronicle in Stone) 1971, Dimri i madh (The Great Winter) 1977, Ura me tri harqe (The Three-Arched Bridge) 1978, Piramida (The Pyramid) 1992; Spiritus 1996 etc., Kadare defied the limitations of the time and revived Albanian literature with forms and motifs which integrate it into the modern streams of world literature.
The work of Kadare represents an artistic encyclopaedia of Albanian life, historical and contemporary events, experienced with a philosophical attitude, sometimes expressed openly and at other times in Aesop’s speech. The philosophy, beliefs, dramas and historical and cultural traditions of Albanians, filtered through the artistic thinking of the writer are represented in Kadare’s work as an expression of the national identity and the vitality of the spiritual culture of his own people and as a factor in the people’s historical resistance and survival. Kadare creates a modern prose making wide use of historical analogies, parables and associations, national legends and mythology. His work has an open poetics, which emanates from the intertwining of times, levels of artistic speech and the real with the unreal, and from the uneven mosaic nature of composition. Kadare's work brings to European literature a characteristic flavour, enriching it with the coloration of an area typical for its ethno-cultural distinctness. Starting from the epical world of medieval legends and ballads, the prose of Kadare overcomes time distance and brings to resonance the medieval artistic conscience and mentality with those of our time. The message of Kadare’s prose and poetry simultaneously gains historical depth and a universal humane note through a deep creative elaboration of the richness of ancient folk traditions.