Mihai Eminescu

Mihai Eminescu

Mihai Eminescu as a student in Viena, 1869
Born:January 15 1850(1850--)
Botoşani, Moldavia (now in Romania)
Died:May 15 1889 (aged 39)
Bucureşti, Romania
Occupation:Poet
Influences:Arthur Schopenhauer


Mihai Eminescu (pronunciation in Romanian: /mi'haj e.mi'nes.ku/) (January 15 1850June 15 1889), born Mihail Eminovici, was a late Romantic poet, the best-known and most influential Romanian poet celebrated in both Romania and Moldova. Famous poems include Luceafărul ("Evening Star"), Odă în metru antic (Ode in ancient meter), and the 5 Scrisori (Epistles/Satires). Eminescu was active in the Junimea literary society, and served as editor of Timpul, the official newspaper of the Conservative Party.

Life

Family

His father was Gheorghe Eminovici from Călineşti, a Romanian village in Suceava county, Bucovina, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. He crossed the border into Moldavia, settling in Ipoteşti, near the town of Botoşani. He married Raluca Iurăscu, an heiress of an old aristocratic Moldavian family.

Early years

Mihail (as he appears in baptismal records) or Mihai (the more common form that he used) was born in Botoşani, Moldavia, Romania. He spent his early childhood in Botoşani and Ipoteşti, in his parents' family home. From 1858 to 1866 he attended school in Cernăuţi. He finished 4th grade as the 5th of 82 students, after which he attended two years of gymnasium.

The first evidence of Eminescu as a writer is in 1866. In January of that year Romanian teacher Aron Pumnul died and his students in Cernăuţi published a pamphlet, Lăcrămioarele învăţăceilor gimnaziaşti (Tears of the Gymnasium Students) in which a poem entitled La mormântul lui Aron Pumnul (At the Grave of Aron Pumnul) appears, signed "M. Eminovici". On February 25th his poem De-aş avea (If I were to have) was published in Iosif Vulcan's literary magazine Familia in Pest. This began a steady series of published poems (and the occasional translation from German). Also, it was Iosif Vulcan, who disliked the Slavic source suffix "-ici" of the young poet's last name, that chose for him the more apparent Romanian "nom de plume" Mihai Eminescu.

In 1867 he joined the troupe of Iorgu Caragiale as clerk and prompter; the next year he transferred to the troupe of Mihai Pascaly. Both of these were among the leading Romanian theatrical troupes of their day, the latter including Matei Millo and Fanny Tardini-Vlădicescu. He soon settled in Bucharest, where at the end of November he became a clerk and copyist for the National Theater. Through this period, he continued to write and publish poems. He also paid his rent by translating hundreds of pages of a book by Heinrich Theodor Rotscher, although this never resulted in a completed work. Also at this time he began his novel Geniu pustiu (Wasted Genius), published posthumously in 1904 in an unfinished form.

On April 1 1869 he was a co-founder of the "Orient" literary circle, whose interests included the gathering of Romanian folklore, and documents relating to Romanian literary history. On June 29, various members of the "Orient" group were commissioned to go to different provinces. Eminescu was assigned Moldova. That summer, he quite by chance ran into his brother Iorgu, a military officer, in Cişmigiu Gardens, but firmly rebuffed Iorgu's attempt to get him to renew ties to his family.

Still in summer 1869, he left Pascaly's troupe and traveled to Cernăuţi and Iaşi. He renewed ties to his family; his father promised him a regular allowance to pursue studies in Vienna in the fall. As always, he continued to write and publish poetry; notably, on the occasion of the death of the former ruler of Muntenia, Barbu Dimitrie Ştirbei, he published a leaflet, La moartea principelui Ştirbei.

Junimea

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The University's Central Library "Mihai Eminescu", Iaşi
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Eminescu's signature.
From October 1869 to 1872 he studied in Vienna. He was counted as an "extraordinary auditor" at the Faculty of Philosophy and Law. He was active in student life, befriended Ioan Slavici, and came to know Vienna through Veronica Micle; he became a contributor to Convorbiri literare (Literary Conversations), edited by Junimea (from Romanian june -"young"). The leaders of this cultural organisation, Petre P. Carp, Vasile Pogor, Theodor Rosetti, Iacob Negruzzi and Titu Maiorescu, exercised their political and cultural influence over Eminescu for the rest of his life. Impressed by one of Eminescu's poems, Venere şi Madonă (Venus and Madonna), Iacob Negruzzi, the editor of Convorbiri literare, traveled to Vienna to meet him. Negruzzi would later write how he could pick Eminescu out of a crowd of young people in a Viennese café by his "romantic" appearance: long hair and gaze lost in thoughts.

In 1870 Eminescu wrote three articles under the pseudonym "Varro" in Federaţiunea in Pest, on the situation of Romanians and other minorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He then became a journalist for the newspaper Albina (The Bee) in Pest. From 1872 to 1874 he continued as a student in Berlin, thanks to a stipend offered by Junimea.

From 1874 to 1877 he worked as director of the Central Library in Iaşi, substitute teacher, school inspector for the counties of Iaşi and Vaslui, and editor of the newspaper Curierul de Iaşi (The Courier of Iaşi), all thanks to his friendship with Titu Maiorescu, the leader of Junimea and rector of the University of Iaşi. He continued to publish in Convorbiri literare. He became a good friend of Ion Creangă, whom he convinced to become a writer and introduced to the Junimea literary club.

In 1877 he moved to Bucharest, where until 1883 he was first editor, then (1880) editor-in-chief of the newspaper Timpul (The Time). During this time he wrote Scrisorile, Luceafărul, Odă în metru antic etc. Most of his famous editorial pieces belong to this period, when Romania was fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and throughout the diplomatic race that eventually brought about the international recognition of Romanian independence, but under the condition of bestowing Romanian citizenship to all subjects of Jewish faith. Eminescu opposed this and another clause of the Treaty of Berlin: Romania's having to give southern Bessarabia to Russia in exchange for Dobrudja, a former Ottoman province on the Black Sea.

In June 1883, the poet fell seriously ill, and was interned in the hospital of Dr. Şuţu. In December 1883, his volume Poesii appeared, with selection of poems and with a preface by Titu Maiorescu.

Years of illness

In his last years, he suffered from manic-depressive psychosis. In 1883, in Romania, he was also diagnosed with syphilis. George Călinescu wrote in the poet's biography that he had the illness since he was 20; however, a different diagnosis, done in Vienna, also in1883, mentioned his depression but didn't mention syphilis. In 1884, he returned to Romania and looked generally healthy. From 1886, he was given mercury injections, the traditional treatment for syphilis at the time.

Eminescu died in hospital on June 15, 1889. His autopsy was poorly conducted, so the real cause of his death remains a mystery. He is buried in Bucharest at Bellu cemetery.

Recent sources, for instance [1], claim that the Romanian and Austrian authorities of the time staged the "illness" of Eminescu in order to marginalize a powerful political adversary of the Romanian-Austrian treaty that was signed at that time. The secret treaty required Romania to cease its support to Transylvanian Romanians (then under Austrian rule). It did so (for a time), which caused certain Transylvanian-born Romanians to leave Bucharest. Eminescu, too, was under constant surveillance, and the only (unconfirmed) syphilis diagnosis was given by Romanian doctors.

Works

Nicolae Iorga, the Romanian historian, considers Eminescu the godfather of the modern Romanian language. He is unanimously celebrated as the greatest and most representative Romanian poet.

The poet

His poems span a large range of themes, from nature and love to history and social commentary. His childhood years were evoked in his later poetry with deep nostalgia.

Eminescu was influenced by the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, and some have suggested that his most famous poem, "Luceafărul", includes elements of Vedic cosmogony. Eminescu's poems have been translated in over 60 languages. His life, work and poetry strongly influenced the Romanian culture and studying his poems is a requirement in Romanian public schools and often memorization and analysis of "Luceafarul" is mandatory for high school graduation exams.

His most famous poems are :
  • Doina (the name is a traditional type of Romanian song), 1884
  • Lacul (The Lake), 1876
  • Luceafărul (The Evening Star), 1884
  • Floare albastră (Blue Flower), 1884
  • Dorinţa (Desire), 1884
  • Sara pe deal (Evening on the Hill), 1885
  • O, rămii (Oh, Linger On), 1884
  • Epigonii (Epigones), 1884
  • Scrisori (Letters or "Epistles-Satires")
  • Şi dacă (And if...), 1883
  • Odă (în metru antic) (Ode (in Ancient Meter)), 1883
  • Mai am un singur dor (I Have Yet One Desire), 1883

The storyteller

Prose:
  • Făt-Frumos din lacrimă (Prince Charming, The Tear-Begotten)
  • Geniu pustiu (Empty Genius)
  • Sărmanul Dionis (Wretched Dionis)
  • Cezara (a proper name)
Collected edition:
  • Poems and Prose of Mihai Eminescu (editor: Kurt W. Treptow, publisher: The Center for Romanian Studies, Iaşi, Oxford, and Portland, 2000, ISBN 973-9432-10-7) contains a selection of English-language renditions Eminescu's poems and prose.

Eminescu within the Romanian culture

The genius

Eminescu was only 20 when Titu Maiorescu, the top literary critic in 1870 Romania dubbed him "a real poet", in an essay where only a handful of the Romanian poets of the time were spared Maiorescu's harsh criticism. In the following decade, Eminescu's fame as a poet grew continually thanks to (1) the way he managed to enrich the literary language with words and phrases from all Romanian regions, from old texts, and with new words that he coined from his wide philosophical readings; (2) the use of bold metaphors, much too rare in earlier Romanian poetry; (3) last but not least, he was arguably the first Romanian writer who published in all Romanian provinces and was constantly interested in the problems of Romanians everywhere. He defined himself as a Romantic, in a poem addressed To My Critics (Criticilor mei), and this designation, his untimely death as well as his bohemian lifestyle (he never pursued a degree, a position, a wife or fortune) had him associated with the Romantic figure of the genius. As early as the late 1880s, Eminescu had a group of faithful followers. His 1883 poem Luceafărul was so famous that a new literary review took its name after it.

The national poet

He was soon proclaimed Romania's national poet, not because he wrote in an age of national revival, but rather because he was received as an author of paramount significance by Romanians in all provinces. Even today, he is considered the national poet of Romania, Moldova, and of the Romanians who live in the Ukrainian part of Bucovina.

Romanian icon

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former 1000 lei bill
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500 lei bill


Eminescu is omnipresent in present-day Romania. His statues are everywhere; his face was on the 1000-lei bill issued in 1998 and is on the new 500-lei bill issued in 2005 as the highest-denominated Romanian bill (see Romanian leu); many schools and other institutions are named after him. The anniversaries of his birth and death are celebrated each year in many Romanian cities, and they became national celebrations in 1989 (the centennial of his death) and 2000 (150 years after his birth, proclaimed Eminescu's Year in Romania).

Several young Romanian writers provoked a huge scandal when they wrote about their demystified idea of Eminescu and went so far as to reject the "official" interpretation of his work. [3]

Political views

Due to his conservative nationalistic views, Eminescu was easily adopted as an icon by the Romanian right. A major obstacle to their fully embracing him was the fact he never identified himself as a Christian and his poetry rather indiscriminately uses Buddhist, Christian, agnostic, and atheist themes.

After a decade when Eminescu's works were criticized as "mystic" and "bourgeois", Romanian Communists ended up adopting Eminescu as the major Romanian poet. What opened the door for this thaw was the poem Împărat şi proletar (Emperor and proletarian) that Eminescu wrote under the influence of the 1870-1871 events in France, and which ended in a Schopenhauerian critique of human life. An expurgated version only showed the stanzas that could present Eminescu as a poet interested in the fate of proletarians.

References

  • George Călinescu, La vie d'Eminescu, Bucarest: Univers, 1989, 439 p.
  • Marin Bucur (ed.), Caietele Mihai Eminescu, Bucureşti, Editura Eminescu, 1972

See also

External links

Persondata
NAMEEminescu, Mihai
ALTERNATIVE NAMESEminovici, Mihail
SHORT DESCRIPTION19t century Romanian poet
DATE OF BIRTHJanuary 15, 1850
PLACE OF BIRTHBotoşani, Romania
DATE OF DEATHJune 15, 1889
PLACE OF DEATHBucureşti, Romania
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Aron Pumnul (November 27, 1818 - January 12th/24th, 1866) was a Romanian academic and revolutionary of Transylvania (then in the Habsburg Monarchy).

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