Oton Župančič

Oton Župančič (January 23, 1878 – June 11, 1949) was a Slovene poet, translator and playwright.

Župančič is regarded, alongside Ivan Cankar, Dragotin Kette and Josip Murn, as the beginner of modernism in Slovenian literature. In the period following World War I, Župančič was frequently regarded as the greatest Slovenian poet after Prešeren, but in the last forty years his influence has been declining and his poetry has lost much of its initial appeal.


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. 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. 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. 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.

In 1900, he returned to Ljubljana where he taught as a suppletory teacher at the Ljubljana Classical Gymnasium. He started to publish his poetry in the prestigious 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 travelled to Paris and settled in Germany, where he worked as a private tutor until 1910. In 1910, he returned to Ljubljana and worked as a stage director at the Drama Theatre 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. The following year, he got married. In 1920, he returned to his previous job as a stage director and later manager of the Drama Theatre.

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. During that period, he was dubbed the people's poet. He died in Ljubljana in 1949 and was buried in the Žale cemetery, in the same grave as his youth friends Ivan Cankar, Dragotin Kette and Josip Murn.

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

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 battlesong 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, pauperization and economic decay of the contemporary agricultural society. The poems Kovaška ("The Blacksmith's Song", 1910) and Žebljarska ("The Nailery 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 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 language, but he also translated authors as Dante, Calderón de la Barca, Molière, Goethe, Balzac, Stendhal, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Anatole France, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Knut Hamsun 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 led the Drama Theatre in Ljubljana.


Already during his lifetime, Župančič was frequently accused of being excessively pragmatic and a political opportunist. 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 "Adamic and the Slovene Identity", in which he claimed that the Slovenes shouldn't be too preoccupied about their language, since 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 language in the Drava Banovina and when even the name "Slovenia" was officially banned, caused a huge controversy and a split in the journal Ljubljanski zvon. 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. Already in September 1943, he published a poem named "The Apple of Freedom", which some have interpreted as an instigation for a ruthless revenge against the Slovenian Home Guard, an anti-communist militia that collaborated with the German army. 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.

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, Rumanian, 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, but also in the 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)



  • Janez Mušič, Oton Župančič: življenje in delo (Ljubljana: Mladika, 2007)
  • Boštjan M. Turk, Recepcija bergsonizma na Slovenskem (Ljubljana: Filozofska fakulteta Univerze v Ljubljani, 1995)

Further reading

  • France Bernik, Mladi Župančič med tradicijo in moderno (Ljubljana: Državna založba Slovenije, 1978)
  • Andrej Capuder, Bergson in Župančič (Ljubljana: Univerza v Ljubljani, 1983)
  • Jože Pogačnik, Ivan Cankar und Oton Župančič (Munich: Selbstverlag der Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft, 1991)
  • Matevž Kos, Župančič in Nietzsche (Ljubljana: Slavistično društvo Slovenije, 2000)
  • Dimitrij Rupel, Oton Župančič (Ljubljana: Delavska enotnost, 1978)
  • Josip Vidmar, Oton Župančič (Ljubljan : Partizanska knjiga, 1978)

See also

External links

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