The history of Serbian literature begins with the independent works from the Nemanji? dynasty era. With the fall of Serbia and neighboring countries in the 15th century, there is a gap in the literary history in the occupied land. Serbian literature continued uninterrupted in lands under European rule and saw a revival and Baroque works published in the 18th century in what is today Vojvodina. Serbia gained independence following the Serbian Revolution (1804-1815) and Serbian literature has since prospered and several Serbian writers went on to achieve international fame.
The Old Church Slavonic literature was created based on the Byzantine model, and at first church services and biblical texts were translated into Slavic, and soon afterward other works about Christian life values (including Latin works) from which they attained necessary knowledge in various fields. Although this Christian literature educated the Slavs, it did not have an overwhelming influence on original works. Instead, a more narrow aspect, the genres, and poetics with which the cult of saints could be celebrated were used, owing to the Slavic celebration of Cyril and Methodius and their Slav disciples as saints and those responsible for Slavic literacy. The ritual genres were hagiographies, homiletics and hymnography, known in Slavic as ?itije (vita), pohvala (eulogy), slu?be (church services), effectively meaning prose, rhetoric, and poetry. The fact that the first Slavic works were in the canonical form of ritual literature, and that the literary language was the ritual Slavic language, defined the further development. Medieval Slavic literature, especially Serbian, was modeled on this classical Slavic literature. The new themes in Serbian literature were all created within the classic ritual genres.
Serbian medieval literature is very rich with the total of around 500 separate genres. Medieval works are mostly a mix of history, law theory, theology, writing, philology. While there are several works of poetry written in the Serbian literature of the Middle Ages, there are only few dramas and published novels were mostly adaptations and translations. The earliest writings in Serbian were religious in nature. Religions were historically the first institutions that persisted despite political and military upheavals, as well as the first organizations to see the value in writing down their history and policies. Serbia's early religious documents date back as we know to the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 12th century the art form of religious writing was developed by Saint Sava, who worked to bring about an artistic aspect to these writings, also based on earlier works.
This period has produces several great works and authors who have since become classics of the national literature.
Medieval literature has also influenced a number of modern poets, such as Desanka Maksimovi?, Miodrag Pavlovi?, Vasko Popa, Matija Be?kovi?.
Post-medieval Serbian literature was dominated by folk songs and epics passed orally from generation to generation. Historic events, such as the Battle of Kosovo in the 14th century play a major role in the development of the Serbian epic poetry.
Works of epic poetry are considered to be the best when it comes to Serbian folk literature and epic poetry is also a key component when it comes to National consciousness, identity and mentality. The influence of epic poetry continued even after the works were written down and printed. Noted gusle players and authors of epic poetry are old Milija, old man Ra?ko, blind ?ivana, Te?an Podrugovi?, blind Jeca and others.
The oldest known, entirely fictional poems, make up the Non-historic cycle; this one is followed by poems inspired by events before, during and after Kosovo Battle. The special cycles are dedicated to Serbian legendary hero, Marko Kraljevi?, then about hajduks and uskoks, and the last one dedicated to the liberation of Serbia in the 19th century. Some of the best known folk ballads are The Death of the Mother of the Jugovi? Family and The Mourning Song of the Noble Wife of the Asan Aga (1646), translated into European languages by Goethe, Walter Scott, Pushkin and Mérimée. One of the most notable tales from Serbian folklore is The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples.
During the period of Ottoman occupation of Serbia, several printing houses were active, such as Crnojevi? printing house, Vukovi? printing house, Gora?de printing house, Belgrade printing house and several other, mostly active outside modern-day Serbia and in Venice. These printing houses and individual publishers were the only sources of books in Serbian during the period without the national state.
Serbian literature in Vojvodina continued building onto Medieval tradition, influenced by Old Serbian, Russian baroque, which culminated in the Slavonic-Serbian language. Baroque has an important place in the Serbian literature as it reestablished the literature and made it prominent again, which was interrupted by the Ottoman invasion.
Notable Baroque writer from this period is Gavril Stefanovi? Venclovi? who wrote numerous work in several genres and started an early language reform. Other most important authors of the time are Dimitrije Ljubavi?, ?or?e Brankovi?, Andrija Zmajevi?, Vasilije III Petrovi?-Njego?, Mojsije Putnik, Pavle Julinac, Jovan Raji?, Zaharije Orfelin Simeon Pievi?, Gerasim Zeli? and others.
Having no institutions of their own during the foreign occupation, Serbs invited Russian authors and educators to help with the education of the nation. The influx of Russian authors made poems more prominent, rather than prose writing. Drama and theatre life were started as well. A gymnasium in modern-day Sremski Karlovci was a center of culture for several years in the 18th century, headed by Emanuel Koza?inski who wrote a notable Baroque work Traedokomedija in 1734.
During Enlightenment a new cultural model was formed, accompanied with the historical reforms undertaken by Maria Theresa. Authors of the age of Enlightenment include Dositej Obradovi?, Atanasije Stojkovi?, Jevstatije Mihajlovi?, Atanasije Nikoli?, Vasilije ?okrljan. Serbian age of Enlightenment did not produce a work of note on the European scale. The most important work of this period is considered to be ?ivot i priklju?enija by Dositej Obradovi?.
Classicism was introduced with the poems of Aleksije Vezili?, who also advocated the core values of the age of Enlightenment. The most notable dramatist of the period was Jovan Sterija Popovi?, although his works also contain elements of Romanticism, while the best-known Serbian classicist poet and the founder of the first Serbian poetry movement was Lukijan Mu?icki.
Before the start of a fully established Romanticism concomitant with the Revolutions of 1848, some Romanticist ideas (e.g. the usage of national language to rally for national unification of all classes) were developing, especially among monastic clergy in Vojvodina.
After winning the independence from the Ottoman Empire, the Serbian independence movement sparked the first works of modern Serbian literature. Most notably Petar II Petrovi? Njego? and his Mountain Wreath of 1847, represent a cornerstone of the Serbian epic, which was based on the rhythms of the Serbian epic poetry and the works by Homer.
Vuk Stefanovi? Karad?i?, an acquaintance of J. W. von Goethe and Leopold von Ranke, became the first person to collect folk songs and epics and to publish them in a book. Vuk Karad?i? is regarded as the premier Serbian philologist, who together with ?uro Dani?i? played a major role in reforming the modern Serbian language and alphabet. Following the language reformes made by Vuk, several authors like Sima Milutinovi? Sarajlija and Matija Nenadovi? published their works which went on to influence other authors.
Branko Radi?evi? was the initiator of Romantic poetry. He rejected the classicist norms, objectivism and focused on expressing the direct experience and feelings in his art. Poems ?a?ki rastanak and Tuga i opomena are considered to be his best works.
Romanticism is of great importance to the Serbian literature considering that the authors of the epoch have started using the newly reformed Serbian language and managed to write several works which are considered to be the masterpieces of the Serbian literature, such as ?uli?i uveoci and poetry for children by Jovan Jovanovi? Zmaj, Santa Maria della Salute by Laza Kosti? and several poems by ?ura Jak?i?.
Svetozar ?orovi? depicted his native Herzegovina, where the shift in the Moslem population during the Bosnian crisis and after was most acute. Simo Matavulj and Ivo ?ipiko penned a landscape of the south Adriatic not always sunny and blue. ?ipiko's lyrical writings warned the reader of the deteriorating social conditions, especially The Spiders. Notable realistic authors are also Janko Veselinovi?, Laza Lazarevi?, Milovan Gli?i?, Stevan Sremac, Radoje Domanovi?, Svetolik Rankovi?,Veljko M. Mili?evi?, and Borisav Stankovi? with his major works, Ne?ista krv (Impure Blood) and Ko?tana (drama). Impure Blood is now considered one of the most powerful Serbian novels of the period. based in the world of the town of Vranje. This place of merchants and landowners was on its way out together with the retreating Turks from the region, after the long struggle for Old Serbia from 1903-1911 and the Balkan Wars. Petar Ko?i? is well known for highly lyrical prose and the quest for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its unification with Serbia. In Ko?i?'s play "The Badger Before the Court", the Austro-Hungarian authorities are mocked for their proclivity to rule over other nations.
The legacy of Ragusan literature influenced Serbian literature, especially thanks to the members of the Serb-Catholic movement in Dubrovnik, such as Matija Ban, Vid Vuleti? Vukasovi? and Ivo Vojnovi?.
The literary trend of the first and second decade of the 20th century is referred to as Moderna in Serbian. Its influences came from leading literature movements in Europe, particularly that of symbolism and the psychological novel, but more through mood and aesthetic component rather than of literary craftsmanship. It was manifested in the works of Jovan Du?i? and Milan Raki?, the two poet-diplomats. The third leading poet at the time was Aleksa ?anti? whose poetry was less subtle but filled with pathos, emotion, and sincerity. They were popular for their patriotic, romantic and social overtones.
According to literary historian Petar Milo?evi?, Serbian moderna has produced several masterful poems, chiefly authored by Vladislav Petkovi? Dis, Jovan Du?i?, Milan Raki?, Sima Pandurovi? and the first half of Milutin Boji?'s "Ode to a Blue Sea Tomb".
Other poets such as Veljko Petrovi?, Milutin Boji?, Milutin Uskokovi?, Sima Pandurovi?, Vladislav Petkovi? Dis, Milorad Mitrovi?, Vladimir Stanimirovi?, Danica Markovi?, Velimir Raji?, Milorad Pavlovi?-Krpa, Milan ?ur?in, Milorad Petrovi? Seljan?ica, all took different paths and showed great sophistication and advancement not only in their craft but in their world view as well. Most of them were pessimistic in their outlook, while at the same time patriotic in the wake of turbulent events that were then culminating in the struggle for Old Serbia, the Balkan Wars and World War I.
All these writers were backed by Serbian critics educated in the West. For example, Bogdan Popovi?, Pavle Popovi?, Ljubomir Nedi?, Slobodan Jovanovi?, Branko Lazarevi?, Vojislav Jovanovi? Marambo and Jovan Skerli?. Skerli? with his chef-d'oeuvre, the historical survey of Serbian literature, and Bogdan Popovi?, with his refined, Western-schooled aestheticism, not only weighed the writers' achievements but also pointed out the directions of modern world literature to them.
In the 20th century, Serbian literature flourished and a myriad of young and talented writers appeared.
During the Interwar period a number of new literary movements, styles and ideas emerged. Milo? Crnjanski led the movement called Sumatraism, Hypnotism was headed by Rade Drainac and the international movement Zenitism was started by Ljubomir Mici?.
Surrealism lasted for 10 years in Serbian literature with "Belgrade group" being the leading literary group of the period, headed by Marko Risti? and Ko?a Popovi?.Stanislav Vinaver was a noted journalist, polyhostor and author of the avant-garde.Rastko Petrovi? and Mom?ilo Nastasijevi? are considered to be the most notable avant-garde authors.
The most well known authors are Ivo Andri? (he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961),Milo? Crnjanski,Me?a Selimovi?, Vladan Desnica, Oskar Davi?o,Borislav Peki?, Branko Miljkovi?, Danilo Ki?, Milorad Pavi?, David Albahari, Miodrag Bulatovi?,Radomir Konstantinovi?,Mihailo Lali?,Branko ?opi?,Igor Marojevi?, Miroslav Josi? Vi?nji?, Dobrica ?osi?, and many others.
Ivo Andri? created a great opus with works mostly set in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina. Crnjanski was an accomplished poet and prose writer. His works like Lament Over Belgrade, Migrations, A novel of London are considered to be the crowning achievements of the Serbian XX century literature.
Socialist realism was dominant in the period 1945-1948. In comparison with other communist states Yugoslavia dogmatic form of Socialist realism were short-lived. Several authors of the Serbian literature dealt with more complexities of life and the society and its morals during the Communist period. Some of the notable authors include Antonije Isakovi?, Mihailo Lali?, Me?a Selimovi?, Milovan ?ilas, Branko ?opi? and Dobrica ?osi?.
Starting with the 1970s there was a wave of experimental works, "trick novels" and "found manuscripts". These works were published by Milorad Pavi?, Borislav Peki?, Danilo Ki?, Slobodan Seleni?, Svetislav Basara, Bo?ko Petrovi?, Dragan Veliki? and Dobrica ?osi?.
Miodrag Pavlovi? was one of the most prominent authors of the World literature in the XX century.
After the death of Josip Broz Tito and the start of a crisis in Yugoslavia, Goli Otok became a new subject in literature. Vanredna linija by ?edo Vulevi? (1990) and Goli Otok by Dragoslav Mihailovi? were the prominent works dealing with the topic of Goli otok, which was previously deemed undesirable and controversial as a theme.
Some of the most notable authors includes Zoran ?ivkovi?, Vladimir Arsenijevi?, Vladislav Bajac, Igor Marojevi? and Svetislav Basara. ?ikovi?'s works have been translated to 20 languages and he was awarded World Fantasy Award.