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Literature and Writing

Czech Literature

John Amos Comenius, Latin writing, Czech translation, Maria Theresa, educational theory

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Czech Literature, writings in the Czech language or in the related Old Church Slavonic language. Czech literature, one of the oldest of the vernacular literatures of central and eastern Europe, may be divided into eight chronological periods.


Czech literature began with the introduction of Christianity into Moravia at about 863 by Saints Cyril and Methodius, the apostles of the Slavs. The earliest extant literary monument (11th century) is the hymn Hospodine, pomiluj ny (Lord, have mercy upon us).

Latin writing, including an important chronicle of Bohemia, by the monk Cosmas, prevailed during the next two centuries. At the beginning of the 14th century a Czech translation was made of the Latin Alexandreid, a life of Alexander the Great, by the 12th-century French poet Gautier de Lille. A rhymed Czech chronicle marked by strong nationalist feeling appeared about the same time, along with several religious legends in Czech verse, culminating in the great verse Life of Saint Catherine. A verse dialogue, The Groom and the Student, full of colorful details of medieval daily life, and a novel with a romantic plot, Tkadlecek (The Weaver), appeared at about 1400.


In 1620 the Czechs lost political independence, and in 1627 their new king, Ferdinand II, Holy Roman emperor, made Roman Catholicism the state religion of Bohemia. The outstanding writer of these times was John Amos Comenius, the last bishop of the Moravian Brethren. In exile, Comenius continued the suppressed Hussite tradition, also writing in Czech and Latin on a great variety of subjects from philology to philosophy. Most important were his works on educational theory and methods and his textbooks, including Janua Linguarum Reserata (The Gates of Language Unlocked, 1631) and The Great Didactic (1628-32; trans. 1896, 1931).

In Bohemia itself, under Habsburg rule, a “dark time” set in during which the use of the Czech language in writing and printing diminished greatly; Czech nationalist sentiment was almost totally repressed, and society became Germanized. In 1774 Maria Theresa, queen of Hungary and Bohemia, decreed the use of German as the language of instruction.

Article key phrases:

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