European Fame and Forbidden Love of Marko Marulić

European Fame and Forbidden Love of Marko Marulić

When visiting some city, its monuments can tell you a story about it, or about some of its people, no matter of why they were merited with having a public monument. In Split, there are several of historical figures who deserved to be remembered with public statues. Although most visitors will stop at the Gregory of Nin statue near the Diocletian's Palace's northern gate, at least to touch its "lucky toe", there are some others worth of paying attention. One of them is the one showing Marko Marulić, the father of Croatian literature, another great public work by Ivan Meštrović. It stands at Trg braće Radić since 1925, but in case you have trouble finding this place, there is easier way than following Google Maps. Just ask any local where Voćni trg (Fruit Square) is, everyone will know it by its unofficial, but common name.

Guides like me usually pass by that monument with giving basic information about Marulić (1450-1524), but he deserves a lot more attention. Being declared as a father of Croatian literature in his case is understatement, his contribution to European renaissance is much bigger.

In time when Marulić lived, Split was under Venetian rule, as most of today's Croatian coast. He was born, and died in Split, and even signed some of his most important works as Marko Marulić of Split, or in Latin Marcus Marulus Spalatensis. Obviously, his feelings about the city were stronger than just a place of living. He was a nobleman, born in today's Papalić Street in the heart of Diocletian's Palace. His family's palace still stands there. Although we don't know much about his life, it's probable he was educated in Split and Padua, Italy, and later travelled to Venice and Rome. In Split, he practiced law, but also served as a judge, and that allowed him to enter a humanist circle in renaissance Split. In Croatia, his writing in Croatian brought him a title of "father of Croatian literature", but Latin written works made him popular and widely translated in 16th and 17th centuries Europe. There are two strong references about his influence. Marulić was the first who used term psychology, in his work Psichiologia de ratione animae humanae (Psychology of Foundations of Human Soul) published in 1524. Second important work was Evangelistarium, essay on ethical principles. British Library has a copy of this book that belonged to Henry VIII, with margin notes written by the famed English king. Judging from those notes, Henry VIII was particularly interested in discussing holly books, but also in - not really big surprise - religious views on choosing a spouse.

Unfortunately, except Evangelistarium and Biblical epic Davidiad, most other Marulić' works published in Latin vanished through centuries. It's a sad destiny for a writer who was so accepted in renaissance Europe, but not really unusual for humanists of that time.

Fortunately, his most important works in Croatian were preserved, and that's what brought him a title of Croatian literature founder. That goes especially for his Judita, based on Biblical Book of Judith, and published in Venice in 1521.

However, there are some interesting stories about Marulić which are more from this world. One of the most popular was that this great writer shared a mistress with his good friend and neighbour from Papalić family, whose palace is Split City Museum today. Two of them were parts of city's humanist circle, but obviously big philosophical issues were not the only they were interested in. According to local stories and rare records, they were completely aware about common affection, and whole affair ended in tragedy. Story says that girl was a daughter of city's commander, and they were taking turns in visiting her climbing through the window of her family's palace. One day Papalić allegedly asked Marulić to let him go to her bedroom, although it wasn't his turn. Marulić let him, but somebody caught this local nobleman and killed him. Furthermore, girl was punished by her father, who apparently walled her alive. Only years later her body was discovered. According to same stories, this was enough for Marulić to move to a monastery on island Šolta.

I wonder what Henry VIII would have to say about that.