Hungarian literature

Hungarian literature

Hungarian literature. Until the 19th cent. Latin was Hungary's literary language. The Funeral Oration (c.1230) is the oldest surviving work in Magyar; some 14th and 15th cent. chronicles also exist. The Reformation prompted various translations of the Bible. The poets Bálint Balassa (late 16th cent.) and Miklós Zrinyi and István Gyöngyössi (17th cent.) were succeeded in the 18th cent. by Vitéz Mihály Csokonai and Ferenc Faludi. In the last quarter of the same century, Hungarian literature was given fresh life with the work of György Bessenyei, while Ferenc Kazinczy led a reform of the Hungarian language. The establishment of a national theater and the founding in 1825 of the Hungarian Academy of Science assured the development of a national literature. The leading literary figures in the 19th cent. were the poets Károly Kisfaludy (also a noted dramatist), his brother Sándor, János Arany, Mihály Vörösmarty, and Sándor Petőfi, and the novelist Mór Jókai. Endre Ady and Attila József were the outstanding early 20th cent. poets; the dramatists Ferenc Herczeg and Ferenc Molnár achieved international fame. Between the two World Wars, novelists were divided into three groups—the Horthy regime defenders; the Populists, who sought improvement of the peasants' lot; and the Communists. The most eminent Populist was László Németh. After World War II, Hungarian literature fell under Soviet influence, and the Communist party exercised rigid control over writing and publishing. Writers who adhered to the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism included the poet György Somlyó and the prose writers Géza Hegedűs and József Darvas. Diverging from this doctrine were the poet László Mécs, published only outside Hungary, and the novelist Tibor Déry, who was imprisoned for his nonconformity. The revolt of Oct., 1956, whose participants included a number of prominent writers, was followed by a gradual easing of censorship; with the collapse of the Communist regime, censorship ended.

See histories by F. Riedl (tr. 1906, repr. 1968), T. Kloniczay and H. H. Remak (1982), and L. Czigány (1984); J. Reményi, Hungarian Writers and Literature (1965); L. Degh, ed., Folktales of Hungary (tr. 1965); M. Vajda, ed., Modern Hungarian Poetry (1977); T. Kloniczay, ed., Old Hungarian Literary Reader (tr. 1985).

Hungarian literature is literature written in the Hungarian language, predominantly by Hungarians. Hungarian literature may also include literature written in another language than Hungarian (mostly Latin) which is significant due to its Hungary-related topic or if it includes fragments in Hungarian. While virtually unknown in the Anglosphere for centuries, Hungary's literature gained renown by the end of the 20th century thanks to a new wave of internationally accessible writers like Antal Szerb, Sándor Márai, Imre Kertész and Magda Szabó.

Middle Ages and before

The beginning of the history of Hungarian language as such (and so the proto-Hungarian period) is set to 1000 B.C., when – according to current scientific understanding – it separated from its closest relatives, the Ob-Ugric languages.

In the earliest times Hungarian language was written in a runic-like script (although it was not used for literature purposes in the modern interpretation). The country switched to the Latin alphabet after being Christianized under the reign of Stephen I (10001038). There are no existing documents from the pre-11th century era.

The Old Hungarian counted from 896 A.D., when the Hungarians occupied the Carpathian Basin, settled down and started to build their own state. Not long after followed the creation of the first written extant records.

The oldest written record in Hungarian is a fragment in the founding document of the Abbey of Tihany (1055) which contains several Hungarian terms, among them the words feheruuaru rea meneh hodu utu rea, "up the military road to Fehérvár" (referring to the place where the abbey was built). (This text is probably to be read as Fehérü váru reá meneü hodu utu reá with today's spelling and it would sound as a Fehérvárra menő had[i] útra in today's Hungarian.) The rest of the document was written in Latin.

The oldest complete text is the Funeral Sermon and Prayer (Halotti beszéd és könyörgés) (1192–1195), a translation of a Latin sermon. (See also Funerary text and the links below.)

The oldest poem is the Old Hungarian Laments of Mary (Ómagyar Mária-siralom), also a (not very strict) translation from Latin, from the 13th century. It is also the oldest surviving Finno-Ugric poem.

Both the Funeral Sermon and the Lamentations are hard to read and not quite comprehensible for modern-day Hungarians, mostly because the 26-letter Latin alphabet was not fit to represent all the sounds in Hungarian language, as diacritic marks and double letters had not been developed yet.

During the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissace the language of writing was mostly Latin. Important Latin-language documents include the Admonitions of St. Stephen, which includes the king's admonitions to his son, Prince Imre.

Among the first chronicles about Hungarian history were Gesta Hungarorum ("Deeds of the Hungarians") by the unknown author usually called Anonymus, and Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum ("Deeds of the Huns and the Hungarians") by Simon Kézai. Both are in Latin. These chronicles mix history with legends, so historically they are not always authentic. Another chronicle is the Képes krónika (Illustrated Chronicle), which was written for Louis the Great.

Renaissance and Baroque

Renaissance literature flourished under the reign of King Matthias (14581490). Janus Pannonius, although wrote in Latin, counts as one of the most important persons in Hungarian literature, being the only significant Hungarian Humanist poet of the period. The first printing house was also founded during Matthias' reign, by András Hess, in Buda. The first book printed in Hungary was the Chronica Hungarorum.

In the 1526 most of Hungary fell under Ottoman occupation, which date is where the beginning of Middle Hungarian Period is set, in connection with various cultural changes.

The most important poets of the period was Bálint Balassi (1554–1594) and Miklós Zrínyi (1620–1664). Balassi's poetry shows Mediaeval influences, his poems can be divided into three sections: love poems, war poems and religious poems. Zrínyi's most significant work, the epic Szigeti veszedelem ("Peril of Sziget", written in 1648/49) is written in a fashion similar to The Iliad, and recounts the heroic Battle of Szigetvár, where his great-grandfather died while defending the castle of Szigetvár.

Among the religious literary works the most important is the Bible translation by Gáspár Károli, the Protestant pastor of Gönc, in 1590. The translation is called the Bible of Vizsoly, after the town where it was first published. (See Hungarian Bible translations for more details.) Another important religious work is the Legend of Saint Margaret, copied by Lea Ráskai around 1510 from an earlier work that didn't survive.

Enlightenment and the language reform

The Hungarian enlightenment delayed about fifty years compared to the Western European enlightenment. The new thoughts arrived to Hungary across Vienna. The first enlightened writers were Maria Theresia's bodyguards (György Bessenyei, János Batsányi and so on). The greatest poets of the time was Mihály Csokonai Vitéz and Dániel Berzsenyi.

The greatest figure of the language reform was Ferenc Kazinczy. The Hungarian language became feasible for scientific explanations this time, farther a lot of new words were coined for describing new inventions (for example, mozdony, which means locomotive. Previously the term lokomotív was used.)

Romanticism and Reform period

20th century


See also

External links


Specific sources

Literary chapters from the Encyclopaedia Humana Hungarica (1–5)

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