The Languages of Berkeley: An Online Exhibition

Cover of Poezii Complecte (188?) by Mihail Eminovici

Mihail Eminescu, pseudonym of Mihail Eminovici, (1850-1889), was a poet who transformed both the form and content of Romanian poetry, creating a school of poetry that strongly influenced Romanian writers and poets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eminescu was educated in the Germano-Romanian cultural centre of Cernăuţi (now Chernovtsy, Ukraine) and at the universities of Vienna and Berlin, where he was influenced by German philosophy and Western literature. In 1874, he was appointed school inspector and librarian at the University of Iaşi but soon resigned to take up the post of editor in chief of the conservative paper Timpul. His literary activity came to an end in 1883, when he suffered the onset of a mental disorder that led to his death in an asylum.

Eminescu’s talent was first revealed in 1870 by two poems published in Convorbiri literare, the organ of the Junimea society in Iaşi. Other poems followed, and he became recognized as the foremost modern Romanian poet. Mystically inclined and of a melancholy disposition, he lived  in the glory of the Romanian medieval past and in folklore, on which he based one of his outstanding poems, “Luceafărul” (1883; “The Evening Star”). Eminescu’s poetry has a distinctive simplicity of language, a masterly handling of rhyme and verse form, a profundity of thought, and a plasticity of expression which affected nearly every Romanian writer of his own period and after. His poems have been translated into several languages, including an English translation in 1930, but chiefly into German. Among his prose writings, apart from many studies and essays, the best-known are the stories “Cezara” and “Sărmanul Dionis” (1872).[1]

Romanian, or Rumanian, is one of the Romance languages that is spoken in Eastern Europe, principally in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. It evolved in very different circumstances from its western sister languages such as Spanish and Italian, and was profoundly affected by the Orthodox Church, the Greek and Slavonic languages, and the Ottoman Empire. It has a lexical affinity with Old Church Slavonic.[2] For the latter half of the 20th century, UC Berkeley had a very active program in Romanian. The Russian-born Romance etymologist and philologist Yakov Malkiel, who taught at Berkeley for over 55 years, mentored students who specialized in Romanian linguistics. In 1947, he became founding editor of the prestigious journal Romance Philology which is still published today. ProQuest’s Dissertation & Theses lists more than 227 doctoral dissertations from UC Berkeley that are related in one way or another to Romania and the Romanian language.[3] However in light of funding cuts, Romanian has not been taught at Berkeley in over two years. Graduate students in the interdisciplinary Romance Languages and Literatures (RLL) program may choose Romanian as one of their languages.[4]

The pictured “Poesii” volume from 1883 was the only one published during Eminescu’s lifetime, arranged by Titu Maiorescu. There is evidence that Eminescu died from mercury poisoning over six years, likely due to political reasons involving Austrian secret services. Multiple Romanian researchers have investigated his death. Nicolae Iorga was another important Romanian thinker who was assassinated. The commonly given birthdate of January 15, 1850 for Eminescu may be incorrect. According to his father, Eminescu’s actual birthdate was December 20, 1849. The baby was registered in January 1850 after the 1849 register was closed, so the 1850 date was assigned. The date of January 15, 1850 has been traditionally celebrated due to long-term confusion among biographers.

Contribution by Liladhar Pendse
Librarian for East European and Central Asian Studies, Doe Library

Sources consulted:

  1. “Mihail Eminescu: Romanian Poet” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (accessed 5/1/20)
  2. Price, Glanville. Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998.
  3. Proquest Dissertations & Theses  (accessed 5/1/20)
  4. Romance Languages and Literatures, UC Berkeley (accessed 5/1/20)
Additional Sources:
On the matter of the “Poesii” volume being from 1883: very well-known fact. Possible reference:
  • Cimpoi, Mihai (coord.), 2020, Eminescu—Opere (vol. I-VIII), Editura Gunivas.On the matter of the assassination and those involved:
  • Lepuş, Miruna, 2021, Dosarele de interdicţie ale lui Mihai Eminescu, Editura Cartex.
  • Barbu, Constantin, 2008, Codul invers, Editura Sitech.
  • Georgescu, Nicolae, 2014, Boala şi moartea lui Eminescu, Editura Floare Albastră.
  • Georgescu, Nicolae, 2011, Eminescu: ultima zi la Timpul, Editura ASE.
  • Vuia, Ovidiu, 1997, Despre boala şi moartea lui Mihai Eminescu—studiu patografic, Editura Făt-Frumos.

On the matter of the birthdate:

  • Marin, I.D., 1979, Eminescu la Ipoteşti, Editura Junimea.
  • Ştefanelli, Teodor V., 1983, Amintiri despre Eminescu, Editura Junimea.

Poezii complecte
Title in English: Complete Poems
Author: Eminescu, Mihai, 1850-1889.
Imprint: Iași, Editura librărieĭ frațiĭ Șaraga [188-?].
Edition: n/a
Language: Romanian
Language Family: Indo-European, Romance
Source: HathiTrust Digital Library (Harvard University)

Select print editions at Berkeley:

  • Poezii / M. Eminescu ; antologie, prefață și tabel cronologic de George Gană ; ilustrați de Dumitru Verdeș. București : Editura Minerva, 1999.
  • Poezii / M. Eminescu ; ediție critică de D. Murărașu. București : Editura Minerva, 1982. v.1-3

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