Kristijonas Donelaitis
Kristijonas Donelaitis was a Prussian Lithuanian
Prussian Lithuanians
The term Prussian Lithuanians or Lietuvininkai refers to a Western Lithuanian ethnic group, which did not form a nation and inhabited a territory in East Prussia called Prussian Lithuania or Lithuania Minor in contrast to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later the Republic of Lithuania .Unlike most...

 Lutheran pastor and poet. He lived and worked in Lithuania Minor
Lithuania Minor
Lithuania Minor or Prussian Lithuania is a historical ethnographic region of Prussia, later East Prussia in Germany, where Prussian Lithuanians or Lietuvininkai lived. Lithuania Minor enclosed the northern part of this province and got its name due to the territory's substantial...

, a territory in the Kingdom of Prussia, that had a sizable minority of ethnic Lithuanians
Lithuanians are the Baltic ethnic group native to Lithuania, where they number around 2,765,600 people. Another million or more make up the Lithuanian diaspora, largely found in countries such as the United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Russia, United Kingdom and Ireland. Their native language...

. He wrote the first classic Lithuanian language poem, The Seasons
The Seasons (poem)
The Seasons ' is the first Lithuanian poem written by Kristijonas Donelaitis around 1765–1775. It was published as "Das Jahr" in Königsberg, 1818 by Ludwig Rhesa, who also entitled the poem and selected the arrangement of the parts. The German translation was included in the first edition of the...

, which became one of the principal works of Lithuanian poetry. The poem, a classic work of Lithuanian literature
Lithuanian literature
Lithuanian literature concerns the art of written works compiled by Lithuanians throughout their history.-Latin language:A wealth of Lithuanian literature was written in Latin, the main scholarly language in the Middle Ages.-Lithuanian language:...

, depicts everyday life of Lithuanian peasants, their struggle with serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

, and the annual cycle of life.

Early life

Donelaitis' parents were free peasants who owned the land that they cultivated. His father died in 1720, leaving seven children (4 sons and 3 daughters). One of his three brothers, Friedrich, became a goldsmith in Königsberg
Königsberg was the capital of East Prussia from the Late Middle Ages until 1945 as well as the northernmost and easternmost German city with 286,666 inhabitants . Due to the multicultural society in and around the city, there are several local names for it...

. Another brother, Michael, inherited the father's farm. His third brother, Adam, became a blacksmith
A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal; that is, by using tools to hammer, bend, and cut...

 and innkeeper.

In 1731, Donelaitis began attending the cathedral school in Kneiphof
Kneiphof was one of three towns in the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights that became the city of Königsberg . Kneiphof was originally Knypabe , meaning 'area flushed by water' in Old Prussian.As other members of the Prussian Confederation, Kneiphof rebelled against the Teutonic Knights in...

, a section of Königsberg. He lived in a pauper's dormitory and often went hungry for days. After graduation, he received a scholarship in 1736 to study at the University of Königsberg
University of Königsberg
The University of Königsberg was the university of Königsberg in East Prussia. It was founded in 1544 as second Protestant academy by Duke Albert of Prussia, and was commonly known as the Albertina....

. For four years he studied Lutheran theology. His world view was shaped by the classical curriculum, required Lithuanian studies, and the Pietism
Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century and later. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to...

 movement. He learned the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, Latin, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 languages, and studied the writings of classical authors such as Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

, Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

, and Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

. After graduation, he was appointed as a cantor
Cantor (church)
A cantor is the chief singer employed in a church with responsibilities for the ecclesiastical choir; also called the precentor....

 in Stallupönen (now Nesterov, Kaliningrad Oblast
Nesterov is a town and the administrative center of Nesterovsky District of Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. Population: -History:In the Middle Ages, the area in Old Prussia had been settled by the Nadruvian tribe of the Baltic Prussians. It was conquered by the Teutonic Knights about 1276 and...

). After the school rector died, Donelaitis took over his position. In 1743, he passed the required examination to became a pastor in Tollmingkehmen (now Chistye Prudy, Kaliningrad Oblast
Chistye Prudy, Kaliningrad Oblast
Chistye Prudy ; ) is a rural locality in Nesterovsky District of Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. The settlement is located fifteen kilometers from the Russian border with southwestern Lithuania....


Life in Tollmingkehmen

Donelaitis lived in Tollmingkehmen from 1743 to his death in 1780. At the time, the parish of Tollmingkehmen had around 30 villages with around 3,000 residents. The population was about two-thirds German and one-third Lithuanian. In 1744 Donelaitis married Anna Regina Ohlefant, widow of the school rector in Stallupönen. In 1747, he worked to restore the rectory
A rectory is the residence, or former residence, of a rector, most often a Christian cleric, but in some cases an academic rector or other person with that title...

, and built a new brick church in 1756. In 1757, during the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

, Donelaitis and his parishioners retreated to the Romincka Forest
Romincka Forest
Romincka Forest or Krasny Les , a palaearctic ecoregion in the Taiga and boreal forests Biome, is located in Russia and Poland....

 to hide from Russian invaders. When he returned to the town, Donelaitis refused to preach praises to the Russian Tsar. After the war he rebuilt a burned school and sponsored construction of a shelter to widows. His hobbies included building thermometers and barometers, and constructing piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

s and clavichord
The clavichord is a European stringed keyboard instrument known from the late Medieval, through the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras. Historically, it was widely used as a practice instrument and as an aid to composition, not being loud enough for larger performances. The clavichord produces...



None of Donelaitis' works were published during his lifetime. Donelaitis wrote at least three poems in the German language (An der Amstrath Donalitius nach dem Verlust seiner Gattin, Der Gott der Finsterniss, and Unschuld sei mein ganzes Leben). His Lithuanian works consist of six fable
A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized , and that illustrates a moral lesson , which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.A fable differs from...

s and the poem The Seasons
The Seasons (poem)
The Seasons ' is the first Lithuanian poem written by Kristijonas Donelaitis around 1765–1775. It was published as "Das Jahr" in Königsberg, 1818 by Ludwig Rhesa, who also entitled the poem and selected the arrangement of the parts. The German translation was included in the first edition of the...

. Donelaitis' publisher, Ludwig Rhesa
Ludwig Rhesa
thumb|Bust of Rheza at [[Vilnius University]]Ludwig Rhesa, also known as Martin Ludwig Rhesa, Ludwig Jedemin Rhesa, Liudvikas Rėza , was a consistorial councilor and a professor at the University of Königsberg in East Prussia.He was born as Ludwig Rheese in the village of Karwaiten on the Curonian...

, believed that the fables, based on Aesop's Fables
Aesop's Fables
Aesop's Fables or the Aesopica are a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and story-teller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BCE. The fables remain a popular choice for moral education of children today...

, were written for his students in Stallupönen. Their language and poetic rhythm are not as well-developed as in his later works.

His major work, The Seasons, was titled by Rheza. It consisted of four idyll
An idyll or idyl is a short poem, descriptive of rustic life, written in the style of Theocritus' short pastoral poems, the Idylls....

s, totaling 2,997 hexameter
Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter...

s. The work was a long-term project, often revised and rewritten, without a clear beginning or ending. Only two, original idylls survive. The other two were destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

. The full work is known from a copy made by Pastor Hohlfeldt after 1794. Between 1809 and 1818, Rheza collected Donelaitis' works, edited and translated them, and finally published it as Das jahr in vier Gesängen. It was a heavily edited and censored edition, containing only about one sixth of the original poem. In 1824, Rheza also published the fables. A fuller publication of The Seasons was prepared by August Schleicher
August Schleicher
August Schleicher was a German linguist. His great work was A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages, in which he attempted to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language...

 in 1865, but this edition was criticized by Georg H. F. Nesselmann, who prepared an edition in 1869.

External links

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