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Dositej Obradović

Dositej Obradović
Доситеј Обрадовић
Dositej Obradović on a 2007 Serbian stamp
Dositej Obradović on a 2007 Serbian stamp
Born Dimitrije Obradović
17 February 1739
Tschakowa, Habsburg Empire
Died 7 April 1811
Belgrade, Principality of Serbia
Nationality Serbian


Dimitrije "Dositej" Obradović (Serbian: Димитрије Обрадовић, pronounced ; 17 February 1739 – 7 April 1811) was a Serbian writer, philosopher, dramatist, librettist, linguist, traveler, polyglot and the first minister of education of Serbia.[1] An influential protagonist of the Serbian national and cultural renaissance, he advocated Enlightenment and rationalist ideas while remaining a Serbian patriot and an adherent of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Founder of modern Serbian literature, he is commonly referred to by his mononym, first name alone. He became a monk in the Serb Orthodox monastery of Hopovo, in the Srem region, and acquired the name Dositej (Dositheus). He translated many European classics, including Aesop's Fables, into Serbian. He was a contemporary of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Jakob Engel, Carlo Goldoni and others.


  • Life 1
  • Traveling scholar 2
  • Publishing pioneer 3
  • Thought 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Works 6
    • Translations 6.1
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9


Dositej Obradović was born Dimitrije Obradović in 1739 to poor parents in the village of Tschakowa (Serbian: Čakovo; modern-day Ciacova, Timiş County, Romania), in the region of Banat, then part of the Habsburg Empire. His parents died when he was a boy and he began life as an apprentice in the town of Temesvar, not too far from his village. His passion for study was strong, and he spent his spare time reading as soon as the day's work in the shop was over. His reading was mainly restricted to lives of the saints and accounts of the miracles they performed. He became so engrossed in this literature that he considered living in the desert, becoming a saint, and working miracles himself. Once he tried to run away, but was dissuaded by a colleague. His desire for the saintly life was strong, however, and the next time he succeeded.

Obradović was certain he had found the ideal spot for his life of piety at the monastery in Hopovo, 60 miles (97 km) from Temesvar. A fellow-apprentice in his shop named Nikola Putin joined Obradović in his adventure. The two boys counted up their money; three grossi was all the capital Obradović possessed and Nikola had no money of his own. Three grossi worth of bread was enough for a two-day journey, but they spent four days on foot. In those days, travel such as this was not uncommon for young Serbians travelling in search of an education; writer and historian Jovan Rajić travelled on foot from Hungary to Russia, a distance of 800 miles (1,300 km). Obradović and Nikola took the road along the river Begej until they reached the monastery at Hopovo towards the end of July 1757.

At the monastery, Obradović became a monk on 17 February 1757 and was very happy. No more work in the shop; he was free to devote all his time to reading, and since the library was full of sacred books he found himself in the surroundings he sought. His passion for the lives of the saints and his desire to become a saint himself reached their climax at this time. The longer he was there, the more his aspiration gradually waned. Finally, the desire for a saint's halo seemed so preposterous that Obradović dismissed it from his mind altogether. The beautiful, pleasant surroundings of the monastery were very different from the deserts for which Obradović had desired. The other monks fell short of sanctity, and Obradović was unable to overlook their shortcomings; he discovered that his thirst for knowledge was greater than his desire for sanctity. Obradović now desired to leave Hopovo for the world where great libraries abounded and good schools could be found.

After more than three years at Hopovo (where he learned Old Slavonic and classical Greek), Obradović left the monastery. On 2 November 1760 he went to Zagreb, where he mastered Latin. From there he planned to go further afield—perhaps to Russia, where several countrymen had already gone to pursue their studies or to Vienna, where the schools and libraries better suited his needs. Obradović was advised to go to Venetian-occupied Dalmatia first, where he might obtain a position as a schoolmaster and save enough money for further studies abroad. On 2 November 1760 he left the monastery of Hopovo, bound for Hilandar, Mount Athos. He arrived in the Serb-populated region of inland Dalmatia in the spring of 1761, and was received warmly; Serb priests from the district of Knin offered him a post as schoolmaster in Golubić. Obradovic's life in this Dalmatian village was idyllic. He was beloved by the villagers and it was a serene, comfortable and kindly atmosphere in which he lived, similar to that which surrounded the Vicar of Wakefield. From Dalmatia he went to Montenegro where he spent several months living in Podmaine Monastery during his visits to Boka Kotorska in 1764.,[2] then to Albania, Greece, Constantinople, and Asia Minor; stage by stage, always earning a living as a private tutor, Obradović visited all these lands (especially Greece, which was the most prosperous). Ten years (1761–1771) passed since he began his travels.

Dositej Obradović, leaning on a table
Dositej Obradović

Obradović made great progress during this period. He learned Italian while in Dalmatia and acquired a thorough knowledge of Greek, both ancient and modern. He grew up bilingual (in Serbian and Romanian) and learned classical Greek, Latin, modern Greek, German, English, French, Russian, Albanian and Italian.[3] For forty years he travelled throughout the Balkans, the Levant, Imperial Russia, and Europe: Albania, Dalmatia, Corfu, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, Germany, Romania, Russia, Poland, Italy, France and England. He showed a liking for England and the English. Finally he went to Belgrade at the invitation of Karađorđe Petrović, to become Serbia's first minister of education in the newly organized government. But the issue which interested Dositej most was the Serbian language—the adoption of a national language for Serbia, distinct from the Russo-Slavonic (in which her literature had until then been written. His strong (and sometimes narrow) patriotism did not blind him to the risk of such a proposal, but his lectures and writings against the use of Russo-Slavonic did more than anything else to save the Serbian language. Dositej also gave an impetus to a new generation of Serbian scholars, who became ardent supporters of the Serbian vernacular as a literary language.

Dositej and a score of other well-educated Serbs from the territory of Austria-Hungary helped introduce Western knowledge to the Serbs living in the Turkish-occupied part of Serbia.[4] He and Vuk Karadžić (whom Obradović influenced) are recognized as the fathers of modern Serbian literature. Because the Serbian populace often suffered famine, Obradović also introduced potato cultivation to Serbia. He died in Belgrade in 1811.

Traveling scholar

In 1763 he headed to Greece to visit Mount Athos, but fell ill and went instead to Montenegro, where he worked for a time as a schoolteacher. It was at this time, while traveling among his own people and teaching in various institutions, that Obradović recognized his culture's need for development. Here he declared, "Write as you speak and read as it is written." Dositej believed strongly that orthography of the written language should conform to the spoken language. He felt his people were backward and he wanted to raise their awareness of literature and culture. He began translating great works of other cultures into conversational Serbian.

In 1765 in Smyrna, he studied theology, philosophy, Greek literature, rhetoric, and song as a pupil of the master teacher Hierotheos Dendrinos. This gave him a classical education that few of his countrymen could obtain.

In 1768 Obradović went to Hormovo, Albania, to study the Albanian language, built a school, worked in Corfu for a time, studied with Andreas Petritsopolos, and then returned to Dalmatia to continue teaching. He was a voracious reader, consuming books in Italian, Greek, and the Slavic languages while simultaneously writing and publishing his own moral works.

In 1771 he traveled to Vienna, and there for the first time he came into contact with the ideas and works of the Western Enlightenment movement. He supported himself by tutoring students in Greek and set about learning French, Latin, and German. He studied logic and metaphysics and tutored students in French and Italian once he had mastered those languages. He also studied French and English literature. In 1777 he took a position tutoring the nephews of Vidak, Archbishop of Karlovac, in Modra, near Bratislava.

Next, in 1779, he traveled to Trieste, continuing through Italy to the island of Chios. While there he taught Italian in a local school, then visited Constantinople briefly but had to leave because of plague outbreaks. He went next to Moldavia, where he spent a year tutoring for a wealthy Ghica family. By 1782 he had saved enough money to make a trip to Halle, Germany, where he enrolled in a university to study physics and philosophy. During this time he composed and published his autobiography, a manifesto for his intended educational program titled Pismo Haralampiju (1783), and the moral advice book Sovjeti zdravago razuma (Counsels of Common Sense, 1784). The morals book advocated coeducation for boys and girls.

Plaque on house where Obradović lived, near St Clement Eastcheap, City of London

In 1784 he spent a year in Europe translating fables and studying English literature. He tutored for the next few years and by 1787 had saved enough money to take his long-desired trip to Russia. He spent six months in Shklov, teaching at a military academy (founded by lieutenant-general Semyon Zorich), reading Russian literature and writing the second half of his autobiography.

In 1789 Obradović settled in Vienna. He stayed there for twelve years, writing and printing both original works and translations. In 1802 he traveled back to Trieste because a printing press there was publishing Serbian works. While there he heard of the Serbian uprising against the Turks, and Obradović raised money and donated funds of his own to the cause. He went to work for the victorious Karadjordje administration in 1806. He also wrote the first Serbian national anthem Vostani Serbije.

At more than sixty years of age, Obradović became a champion of the effort to educate his people. He settled in liberated Belgrade in 1807, and in September 1808 he opened the first Elite Schools or Velika škola (Grandes Écoles), later the University of Belgrade. His health started to decline in 1809, and he died on 28 March 1811, shortly after being appointed Minister of Education.

Publishing pioneer

Obradović's most substantial contribution to the education of his people lay in his dedicated use of the Serbian popular language. In his lifetime, the Serbs were divided into three linguistic camps: the educated few who spoke and wrote in Russian Church Slavonic (a language of prestige), other educated people who spoke and wrote in slavenoserbski (a hybrid of Russian Church Slavonic, Old Church Slavonic, Russian, and local Serbian vernacular), and the masses, mostly illiterate, who spoke the local Serbian vernacular. As the Dictionary of Literary Biography explains, "Dositej considered the introduction of vernacular elements into the literary idiom necessary because he believed that only one in ten thousand people understood slavenoserbski well, whereas the language of the people was understood by all, peasants and educated people alike. With minor dialectal differences, the spoken language was the same in all the areas populated by the Serbs. If books were printed in the language of the people, they would reach broad segments of [the] population."

His work consisted mainly of translations, the most famous of which were his 1788 translations of some of Aesop's Fables. Obradović included corresponding moral instructions with each of the fables, as well as Serbian folk proverbs and popular expressions to help the reader relate to the message of each fable. His goal was to help the Serbian public realize their need for significant cultural enhancement. He translated dramatic works of Lessing, Goldoni, Engel with Emanuilo Janković for the Serbian theatre.

During the Serbian uprisings he established the first Serbian school of higher learning. His most notable original work is his autobiographical University of California Press. It is believed to be the first book ever published in the Serbian popular language.

Cassell's Encyclopaedia of World Literature describes Obradović's writings as "permeated by enlightened common sense and sane patriotism, sincerity and integrity, keen intellectual curiosity and wide erudition." Cassell's states that Obradović's "influence on the development of Serbian literature has proved both far-reaching and constructive." He is considered the chief representative of the Serbian Age of Enlightenment. Through his work the Serbian literary world began to develop its modern literature and culture and to develop a sense of national consciousness.

To this day Obradović is seen as a champion of Serbian culture. In 1911, 100 years after his death, many essays were published in celebration of his life and works. One of the essays imagined Belgrade in the year 2011 with a cultural museum called the Dositej Building, "a magnificent palace, situated in the most beautiful spot in the city centre." Although less grand than imagined in that essay, the Dositej Museum in Belgrade was opened in an old, tiny Turkish home that preserved both Obradović's works and those of language reformer Vuk Karadžić (1787–1864). Obradović remains an admired and much celebrated figure in Serbian literary history.


Title page of one of Obradović's books
The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović, Who As a Monk Was Given the Name Dositej

Ideas from the ) in BelgradeVelika školafirst Grande École ( in 1808, and became the new country's first Minister of Education. His rationalistic, utilitarian philosophy was not original for the Enlightenment, but it was influential in Belgrade and parts of the Principality of Serbia (1804–1813) as well as among the Serbs who lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Old Serbia, Rascia, Montenegro and Dalmatia.

The liberation of Serbia and the creation of the first higher schools that taught philosophy encouraged a number of philosophers. Since they were educated abroad, however, their works were for some time looked upon as adaptations of German, French and English philosophers. The strong influence of Kant and Hegel was succeeded by the influence of positivism, thanks to Obradović. The authentic philosophical thought of this period is found not only in the work of the teachers of philosophy but also in poems, folk songs, scientific writings, and (later) in revolutionary political pamphlets. All these came to express ideas of national and social liberation. Banat-born Romanian political philosopher Dimitrie Tichindeal was greatly influenced by Dositej Obradović's writings.


Dositej Obradović was a forerunner of Vuk Karadžić, the central figure of reformation of Serbian language and literature and considered the best-educated Serb of his time. He founded the University of Belgrade—first named Grande École (Velika Škola) the oldest and largest university in Serbia—and other institutions. The Museum of Vuk and Dositej (Serbian: Музеј Вука и Доситеја) is one of the most important memorial museums in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Founded in 1949, it depicts the life, work and legacy of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), the Serbian-language reformer, and Dositej Obradović. The Dositej Obradović Award is given for special contributions in the translation of literary works, and for promoting Serbian culture.

Statue of Obradović in Belgrade park
Monument to Dositej Obradović at Studentski Trg, Belgrade

The house in which Obradović was born still stands today. It was owned by a Romanian family but with support from the Serbian corporation Hemofarm (in Vršac), the house was bought and later renovated. Hemofarm, together with Matica Srpska and the Institute for Literature and Art, established the Dositej Obradović Foundation in Vršac in 2004. The goals of the foundation are:

  • Studying the life and work of Obradović, and his influence on education and science
  • Transmission of Obradović's ideas, thoughts and message to Serbian youth
  • Organisation of meetings of young writers and gifted students from Serbia and the Serbian diaspora
  • Helping young, gifted writers and artists
  • Helping gifted students in Slavic, Serbian and Romanian studies
  • Connecting the local societies of Temišvar, Vršac, Čakovo and Sentmarton
  • Publishing the book Dositej, about Obradović's life and times
  • Bestowing the Dositej's Staff Award

He is included in The 100 most prominent Serbs.


  • Slovo poučiteljno Gosp. Georg. Joakima Colikofera, Leipzig, 1774, 31 pp.
  • Pismo Haralampiju, 1783
  • Život i priključenija D.O., Leipzig, 1783, 1788
  • Sovjeti zdravago razuma, Leipzig, 1784, 119 pp.
  • Ezopove i pročih raznih basnotvorcev basne, Leipzig, 1788, 451 pp.
  • Pesme o izbavleniju Serbije, Beč, 1789, 4 pp.
  • Sobranije raznih naravoučitelnih veščej, Pécs, 1793, 2 + 316 pp.
  • Etika ili filozofija naravnoučitelna, Venice, 1803, 160 pp.
  • Vostani Serbije, 1804.
  • Mezimac I Budim, 1818, 230 + 11 pp.
  • Ižica, 1830
  • Pisma Budim, 1829, 126 pp.
  • Prvenac Karlštat, 1930, 17 + 168 pp.
  • Jastuk roda moga (lost), 1813


  • Slovo poučitelno, 1784.
  • Istina i prelest, (short story), 1788.
  • Put u jedan dan, (short story), 1788.
  • Aesop's Fables
  • Hristoitija
  • Bukvica
  • Etika
  • Venac
  • Damon
  • Ingleska izrečenija

See also


  1. ^ "Biography (Serbian)". Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Stvaranje. Stvaranja. July 1960. p. 774. Retrieved 27 July 2013. У овоме манастиру провео је неколико мје- сеци Доситеј Обрадовић, кад је г. 1764 био дошао у Боку 
  3. ^ The south Slav Journal / "Dositey Obradovich Circle". – London : South Slav Research & Study Centre 1.1978 – 5. ISSN 0141 6146
  4. ^ vol. 1.3 (2001)spacesofidentityWladimir Fischer: The Role of Dositej Obradovic in the Construction of Serbian Identities During the 19th Century. In:

Further reading

  • Obradović, Dositej. The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. University of California Publications in Modern Philology 39. Berkeley; Los Angeles, 1953.
  • Ćurčić, N. M. J. The Ethics of Reason in the Philosophical System of Dositej Obradovic A Study of His Contribution in This Field to the Age of Reason. London: Unwin Bros. Ltd, 1976.
  • Petar Pijanović: Život i delo Dositeja Obradovića. Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva, Beograd 2000.
  • Wladimir Fischer: Creating a National Hero: The Changing Symbolics of Dositej Obradović. In: Identität – Kultur – Raum. Turia + Kant, Wien 2001, ISBN 3-85132-301-7.
  • Wladimir Fischer, "Dositej Obradović and the Ambivalence of Enlightenment". Heppner/Posch (eds.), Encounters in Europe's Southeast, Bochum: Winkler, 2012, ISBN 978-3-89911-190-3, ISBN 978-3-89911-205-4.
  • Jovan Skerlić, Istorija Nove Srpske Književnosti (Belgrade, 1914, 1921).
  • Fischer, Wladimir, "The Role of Dositej Obradovic in the Construction of Serbian Identities During the 19th Century," Spaces of Identity (1.3, 2001), 67–87.
  • Cassell's Encyclopaedia of World Literature Volume 2, Funk & Wagnalls, 1954.
  • Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Chambers Harrap, 1997.
  • Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1995.
  • Sutch Slavic Writers Before World War II-Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 147, Gale Research, 1995.
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