Avdo Međedović began to dictate the Ženidba Vlahinjić Alije on the 12th of July, 1935, the same day on which he finished dictating The Wedding of Smailagić Meho. Having already that day dictated the final 255 verses of the previous composition, he composed also the first 1,290 lines of the new story. The dictation continued through verse 2,979 on the 13th of July. The next day, 14 July, Parry intervened to defer the dictating work then in progress and have Avdo start the Wedding of Ali Vlahinjić all over again from the beginning, singing it this time for the recording microphone. That day and the next, 15 July, sufficed to complete the singing of the epic, and on 16 July the dictation of the same story, interrupted two days earlier, was resumed and carried forward a few hundred lines to verse 3,292.
Parry then again interrupted the dictation to have Avdo sing the rather different epic of Osmanbeg Delibegović i Pavičević Luka. This continued without interruption for four days, 17-20 July, and yielded 7,132 verses of text on the phonograph records. Except for a single day of rest (2 July), Avdo had by this time been dictating and singing between one and two thousand epic verses every day for twenty-three days, and Parry gave him a vacation on 21-23 July.
When Avdo returned to composing poetry on 24 July, he resumed the dictation of the Wedding of Vlahinjić Alija, which he had left in a slightly less than half-finished state a week ago. On 25 July he finally completed that tale, having been deliberately given every opportunity that distraction, fatigue, or the lapse of time could contribute to induce him to forget or to change the elements of the Vlahinjić Alija story, or to confuse it with other epics.
The Serbo-Croatian name of Avdo's epic Ženidba Vlahinjić Alije means exactly “The Wiving of Ali, the Vlah Woman's Son.” It belongs to a common class of epics in the Serbo-Croatian tradition that are conventionally called ženidbe, “wivings, weddings” by the singers and others, albeit in truth they have little to do with actual weddings or description of weddings. They concern rather the adventures, tribulations, and combats of heroes connected with their acquisition of wives. The expression ženidbe is a less than ideal name for such epics also because it is frequently confused in vulgar and uninformed usage with another expression, ženidbene pesme, “wedding songs,” which are short lyric or ritual songs actually sung at weddings. The latter are however sung to other tunes by other singers in other meters with different subjects altogether, and they have in reality nothing more in common with the so-called Wedding Epics than apples have with fried eggs.
Quite apart from the occasions and customary formalities of weddings, which were not their subject, the Wedding Epics were in a more profound sense concerned with the nature of marriage as an ideal institution, and with the means to overcome various obstacles to it. The first such obstacle in the case of Ali Vlahinjić is the fact that he is of illegitimate birth. Himself gotten outside the institution of marriage, he is not, as others are, automatically rendered a candidate for membership in it merely by his coming of age. Ali's bastardy is of a damning kind. Not only was he begotten out of wedlock; worse, the identity of his father remains a mystery. His name, Viahinjić, accordingly connects him only with his mother, a Vlah woman (i.e., a woman of the autochthonous non-Muslim peasant population of Bosnia) of the very poorest class (a shepherdess). He is landless, and without any rent-yielding properties of any kind. In all these respects -- family ‘connection,’ property, and social standing -- Ali Vlahinjić is the antithesis of young Smailagić Meho in Avdo's previous epic.
Ali (or Alija, as the name is in its Serbo-Croatian form) has in fact no worldly possessions of value except his warhorse and his arms, which are both of the very finest. He is only twenty years of age, but has twelve times fought victoriously in single ritual combats or duels as the military champion of various causes, including several times for the honour of the Sultan himself, the highest of all championships. Grudgingly, the other foremost warriors of Bosnia concede that Alija is the most valorous of them all, but this only adds personal envy to their other potent reasons for disliking and belittling him.
The Burden of the Dictated Version
A modest assembly of Bosnian worthies has gathered at Udbina in the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. They drink and loquaciously fall to gossiping among themselves about all the different things they enjoy in their several lives (vv. 1-60). Only Mujo Hrnjica is reticent, and Tale of Orašac reproachfully asks him why (61-104). Mujo briefly recounts how (somewhat buffoonishly) he came to steal and marry the sister of the Christian hero Zakarić Serdar, by whom he has since gotten two young sons (105-259). Only now he wishes he had not sworn an oath to his first wife, Zakarić's sister, not to cross her, else he would surely sue to marry as a second wife Zlata, the only daughter of the Muslim alajbeg (military governor) of Klis, a girl whom all the men of Bosnia covet, and even the Sultan himself (260-341).
Tale ridicules the middle-aged Mujo for his unseemly day-dreaming, but Vlahinjić Alija takes him more seriously and unexpectedly begs Mujo to forego the girl in his favour, for he loves her, and believes she loves him. Mujo, whose position in the matter is in any case untenable, graciously accedes, but another member of the assembly, the old Dizdar of Udbina, Osmanaga, heaps the opprobrium of bastardy and poverty on Alija, curtly narrating Alija's disgraceful origins to Alija in the hearing of all, and says that no one but himself, Osmanaga, will marry Zlata. Seven times previously married without issue, Dizdar Osmanaga still has hopes of getting children in his old age, and can in any case lap Zlata in such luxury as no woman could refuse, for he is a surpassingly wealthy man. But Alija Vlahinjić, whose ramshackle and poverty-stricken house stands on the Dizdar's own land, has not even food enough decently to feed his sole dependent, his old mother, not to speak of husbanding such a wife as Zlata (342-493).
With such contumely heaped upon him, Alija draws his sword and would use it to destroy the Dizdar but for the intercession of the others, who will countenance hard words but not murder in their assembly. Alija says that though the Dizdar is wealthy, it is only because he is a plundering parasite who cares nothing about the welfare of the Turkish Empire apart from what it can bring him in looted property and other unearned riches. But Alija, selfless in his devotion to the Faith, is the Sultan's strong right arm in the defense of the realm, and has more than earned a young man's right to happiness with a young wife whom he loves, and who can honorably love him (494-532). Ali's complaint against and contrasting of himself with the Dizdar is thus the same as Achilleus' toward Agamemnon in the first book of the Iliad.
Tale declares the whole of the commotion about Zlata of Klis a scandal disgraceful to everyone concerned, and says it must speedily be ended. It is Wednesday; let all who would be Zlata's husband prepare rings and tokens of gold against the Friday, when they should go together in a troop to Klis to have Zlata choose among them. They agree, and disperse each to prepare himself for the journey (533-573). All are well able to compete for Zlata's favour except Alija, who arrives home looking sick with anger over his altercation with the Dizdar, and with embarrassment that he has no gold to offer to Zlata as finger-rings or other tokens of betrothal. His mother implores him not to oppose the Dizdar, who is a traitor and will destroy him, but Alija makes the best preparations he can and finally goes with her blessing to join the company of heroes that will ride to Klis. Apart from his mother, Alija's only ally in the world is his special horse, which augurs his ultimate success in the enterprise ahead (574-850). Vlahinjić's horse in this tale -- as are also other horses elsewhere in Avdo's epics -- is specially noted for its prodigious ability to swim. Alija's long soliloquies to the horse are likewise a notable feature of the present story.
At dawn on the morning of the fourth day of their journey to Klis the suitors arrives on the field before the mansion of Zlata's father, the Alajbeg. All the household is still at matins except Zlata, who is combing her hair in the breeze at an open window in her bower. She sees the cavalcade of men, and supposes it is an Imperial Commission of Inquiry come unannounced from Istanbul to inspect her father's governorship. Lest he be unpleasantly surprised, she runs to report the matter to her mother, and sends her to warn her father. He however has only to glance from his own window to recognize the men as Zlata's suitors, who have come to Klis for a day of reckoning not with him but with his beautiful, rich, and headstrong daughter, who for too long has been the despair of the eligible men of the province. His own patience with her spent, he for his part welcomes their embassy, and sends to Zlata the message that she must now finally choose one of them for her husband (851-1,002).
Her father instructs her mother to tell Zlata about each man and his fortune while the suitors, as it were, pass in review on their way to the Alajbey's house. An amusing women's view of the Bosnian heroes is expressed in the dialogue between mother and daughter concerning each suitor. Zlata progressively exasperates the elder woman with her clear-headed, unromantic estimation of each suitor's personal qualities, while her mother pleads the case for each to her in equally calculating terms of wealth and social position. The suitors in the order of their passing are: Mustajbeg of the Lika, with his ensigns Ibrahim Vrcić, Mejrić, Memić, Desnić, Vilić, and lbričić; Bojičić Alija, Mujo Hrnjica of Kladuša, and Dizdar Osmanaga, with Ensigns Tanković and Arnautović; Halil Hrnjica, Kozlić Huremaga, Arap Mehmedaga, Šarac Mahmutaga, and Zorić Šabanaga; Kurtić Nuhanaga, Zukanaga, Kunić Hasanaga, and Alemkadunić; Hasan of Ribnik, Selim Velagić, Ramo of Glamoč, Tale of Orašac, and finally, Vlahinjić Alija. Zlata's mother tells her of all but the last, and Zlata rejects all but him, demanding to know what her mother can relate about him also (1,003-1,322). Compelled to so distasteful a task, her mother musters every damaging fact she can recall to disqualify Vlahinjić in Zlata's eyes, but Zlata says that if she must indeed choose a husband now, she will have only him. Her mother flounces out of the room in high dudgeon, but Zlata calls after her the promise that Alija will soon be the dearest of the family to them both (1323-1376).
The Alajbeg entertains his guests in a most aristocratic manner for two days and nights (1,377-1,458). Finally Mustajbeg of the Lika, acting as spokesman for the suitors, speaks to him with embarrassment about their reason for coming to Klis. The men of Bosnia have been foolish to let Zlata so preoccupy all their minds, but Zlata has been at fault too in so long deferring her choice of a husband, and the host agrees with his guests that the business should be ended forthwith (1,377-1,489). Lest she give umbrage to any of them, Zlata is to receive all the suitors' rings and baubles commingled on a pair of trays; she will return to them in the same way all but the tokens of the one she chooses to marry (1,490-1,525).
Alija Vlahinjić has nothing proper wherewith to represent himself on the trays of betrothal-tokens to be presented to Zlata, so he cuts a claw from his horse's bearskin saddle-blanket and sends it to her. She receives the trays, reviews all their contents, keeps nothing, and sends them back to the suitors with the announcement that she will shortly come to their assembly in person to parley with them (1,526-1,628).
The heroes fear a woman's words worse than battle. After a little while she comes among them and waits politely for any of them to exercise a man's right to speak first. When by their silence they all decline to do so, she reproaches them for probably wanting her dowry and the great wealth she shall inherit as her parents' only child more than they want her personally for a wife. She says that she would gladly have married long ago, but could not leave her father (1,629-1,684). To explain this remark, she relates to the suitors the tragic story of her two brothers.
They were twins, and only eight years old when they died; she at that time was only four. Their mother (like Alija Vlahinjić's, only wealthier) kept flocks of sheep, and used to go to the mountain pastures in the summer to collect the stores of cheese and cream that they produced, an exercise as much for her own pleasure as for profit. Once while she was there her two young sons missed her sorely, and set out unattended to go to her on the mountains. Not knowing the way, they were soon lost, and had the evil misfortune alone in the wilderness to meet one Ivan Višnjić, a Christian enemy of their father the Alajbey. Recognizing from the clothes and insignia they wore who the children were, Višnjić promptly killed them both and took the trappings from their dead bodies to his master the Ban of Aršam as proof of his bloody deed. For this infanticide the Ban rewarded him with a captaincy and command over a frontier garrison of three hundred men. Zlata will marry only the man who kills or brings Captain Višnjić to Klis in captivity, thereby (like the ancient Greek Alkmene's fiancé) avenging her father's loss of sons (1,685-1,762).
None will accept this hard quest but Alija Vlahinjić, and with appropriate ceremonies he takes leave of Zlata and the company of suitors. Since none of them will help him (such help is commonly given in similar situations to other heroes in the epos), it is agreed that all the other suitors will wait for him in Klis one week; should he not return during that time with Višnjić captive or with proof of Višnjić dead, they may hope for another chance for one of them to wed Zlata. But Zlata privately swears to Alija that she will either wed him when he returns from his mission of vendetta, or if he does not return, will remain celibate forever. She will care for his old mother all her days (1,763-1,941).
Višnjić's garrison lies across the Korava River, three days' and three nights' unbroken journey from Klis. The stockade that houses it is impregnable at any season when its drawbridge is raised, but it is springtime, and heavy rains have combined with melting snow to make the swollen, raging river itself an insurmountable defense. Alija's seafaring horse swims it nevertheless, and he finds the garrison's drawbridge negligently lowered and unattended. The garrison is, moreover, drunk with the alchoholic spirits that the Ban of Aršam has sent to Višnjić and his command so that they may celebrate the birth of the Ban's new son. Their own drunkenness and the river's torrent have made them unwary and unprepared for any possible Muslim attack (1,942-2,150).
From the dark hallway Alija fires his pistols into the crowded common room where the Christian troops are celebrating. The blast kills Višnjić's two lieutenants and puts out the lights in the room. Alija then noisily hones his sword, and calls in the dark to an imaginary troop of fellow Muslims to attack the garrison. Victims of drunkeness and panic, the Christians fight among themselves in the dark, and in two hours kill all of themselves except Captain Višnjić. Alija then grapples with him for an hour, and is about to be killed by him when Alija's horse, tethered at the foot of the stairs, begins to kick noisily. Alija again uses the ruse of calling to imaginary compatriots for help, and so distracts Višnjić long enough to push him downstairs. There the horse breaks two of his ribs with kicking, and Alija binds him for the journey to Klis (2,151-2,284).
Setting fire to the blood-drenched stockade (Avdo had been a butcher by trade, and so understood very well the ready combustibility of blood), Alija returns to Klis with his captive. He arrives at dawn on the appointed day a week after his departure, and has a tender reunion with Zlata. But he declines to awaken the rest of the Alajbeg's household, which is still asleep. Himself overwhelmed with fatigue after an entire week without rest, he lies down to sleep outdoors until the rest of the household comes to life (2,285-2,401).
Dizdar Osmanaga rises and looks out into the courtyard before the other inmates are awake. There he sees Alija asleep, and Zlata walking Alija's horse with Ivan Višnjić still tied to it. He descends and whispers to Ivan from behind a corner of the building, outlining a plan for Ivan to escape with both Zlata and Alija's special horse as prizes. Then, quickly cutting Ivan's bonds, Osmanaga helps Ivan to overpower Zlata and stop her mouth before she can call out for help. Forcibly mounting her on the horse behind him, Ivan gallops away unopposed to Aršam (2,402-2,466).
By violent struggling Zlata manages to scream only once as she is carried away at the gallop. Her mother hears the scream, and imagines that Zlata has defenestrated herself in despair over Alija's failure to return to Klis on the appointed day. She rushes to her window in time only to see Zlata disappear over the horizon, Alija still sleeping in the garden as though dead, and the wicked Dizdar loitering in the courtyard in an incriminating proximity to the disaster that is transpiring. She herself rushes downstairs, where with difficulty she wakens Alija and tells him what has happened. She chides him bitterly for not announcing himself directly to her when first he arrived with his prisoner. Alija manfully rises, assumes full responsibility for Zlata, and with dark imprecations against the Dizdar girds himself to do what he has never before had to do -- go trudging on foot in pursuit of a mounted foeman (2,467-2,592).
So he comes again to the Korava River and the still smouldering site of Višnjić's former garrison. The waters have fallen, and he is able to swim the river, whence he goes by night deep into Christian territory. At sunrise the next morning he stops on the road to rest, and is met there by a master carpenter who chances to pass that way. The carpenter is travelling homeward after a year's labor supervising the construction of a special apartment for the Ban of Aršam's eligible daughter, Angela. He tells Alija that the salutes of cannon they hear from the direction of Aršam are in celebration of both the Ban's newborn son and the installation of Angela in her new and secure apartment. But most of all, the cannon are saluting Ivan Višnjić's splendid coup in the capture of Zlata of Klis. In complete ignorance of his listener's identity, the carpenter then retails to Vlahinjić the whole story of Alija's suit for Zlata, his overcoming and capture of Višnjić, and the Dizdar's treason.
Sick with misfortune, Alija begs the carpenter to exchange with him his clothing and the instruments of his profession -- the carpenter's common tools for Alija's magnificent arms. But the carpenter refuses, and so Alija, whose patience with other men's disregard is exhausted, kills the carpenter where he stands, takes his trappings for a disguise, and hides the corpse together with his own weapons under a fallen tree-trunk (2,593-2,810).
Thus Ali is able to enter Aršam anonymously. He turns in at an elegant hostel vis-à-vis the Ban's palace, but the modish woman who keeps the place rudely declines to entertain a peasant. Angered by her insolence, Alija strikes her with the one piece of military equipment that he has kept with him, his riding crop. With an ill grace, she then serves him wine, but he drinks so heroically that she eventually begins to weep. Alija is softened by her tears, though she tries to conceal them from him, and he volunteers to go away without further annoyance to her. She explains that her tears come not from vexation with him but from the memories his heroic winebibbing brings to her mind. He reminds her, namely, of her long-lost fictive brother, poor Alija Vlahinjić, and his Muslim drinking companions whom she once knew in Bosnia (2,811-3,273).
She tells Alija (whom she does not recognize in his carpenter's disguise) how when she was a girl Alija captured her as a prize of war, and set her to serve himself and his old mother in their house in Bosnia. The place was so poor she had expected to die of starvation within mere days of her arrival, but instead she lived well there for four years. Alija, who owned nothing because he wanted nothing, was an unexpectedly good and generous provider. So she prospered and grew womanly until one holiday when Alija came home properly drunk. He noticed her maturation and led her away toward the stables with virile intentions toward her. But she protested, and man that he was, Alija (unlike his own father in a similar situation perhaps) desisted, and accepted her instead as a fictive sister (with all the attendant taboos against incest that status conferred). When the rest of the holiday had decorously passed, Alija asked her which she would prefer: to be given in marriage by him to a worthy Muslim with the same ceremony any Muslim girl of good family might enjoy, or else to be set free once again in her native Christian realm. She chose the latter (3,274-3,557).
Among her own people again, she went to a priest to be churched, but because she had been a captive and a servant among Muslims, he forbade her ever to marry. She might never be more than a household servant in Christendom, or at most an innkeeper. Thus denied any family of her own, she renounced further communion with the church, and labored only to gather the capital for the inn she now owns. The Ban's daughter Angela came of age about the same time she built her inn, and used to come to her to hear tales of Alija Vlahinjić, whose fame had spread throughout the Christian kingdoms. And so little by little Alija's quondam servant has made a Muslim of Angela in all but name. Both women have been sending letters to Alija for years asking him to come and steal them away to Bosnia, but no reply from him has ever reached them (3,558-3,682). The new apartment which has just been built for Angela is closely guarded, and she is fairly sick with vexation that Alija has contracted to marry another, a native Muslim girl, while Angela's own close confinement dims her hope of ever escaping to him (3,683-3,703).
Her identity thus revealed to him (he had not recognized her), Alija now reciprocally reveals himself to his fictive sister Ruža (Rose). She tells him that Ivan Višnjić's prize, the Alajbeg's daughter Zlata, is also confined in a room of Angela's new apartment, and Alija accordingly begs her to devise some way of insinuating him past the guards into Angela's and Zlata's presence. She therefore dresses him as a girl, tricks the twenty-seven guardsmen who keep watch over Angela by pretending that he is her maiden sister, and so introduces Alija among a party of sixty other aristocratic girls who are gathered in Angela's lodgings (3,704-4,040).
Alija, whom Ruža has cautioned not to betray himself by speaking, is subjected to much titillation and handling by the sixty noble daughters of Aršam in Angela's apartment. The new ‘girl’ in their midst is thought very fair, but Angela herself is too sick with frustration over Alija's seeming indifference to take any notice of ‘her.’ Ruža coaches him intentionally to break Angela's necklace, which heightens her vexation and leads to an end of the festivities. All depart save Angela and Alija-in-disguise, whom Ruža cunningly leaves behind to serve Angela as maid-in-waiting, to spread and warm her bed, and to watch over her through the night. There ensues a lengthy and delicious boudoir scene with Alija first doing his maidenly duty but then gradually yielding to his masculine impulses after Angela has fallen asleep (4,041-4,485).
Disturbed by his advances, Angela awakens in terror of an incubus and asks her ‘maid’ what is afoot? (S)he explains that the portrait of Alija which Angela has displayed upon the wall of her chamber has descended from its frame and made advances. Angela's explanation to her supposed maid-in-waiting of who is pictured in the portrait and why she keeps the portrait lead to Alija's revelation of himself and his pledge to steal her away to be his wife. They two then pass the rest of the night in a lovers' embrace, playing the intimate ‘games’ of the couch, “but most of all the game of ‘wolves among the sheep’” (4,486-4,726).
Next morning Angela presents her remarkably satisfactory maid-in-waiting in an audience with her noble father, who bestows a generous gratuity upon the ‘girl,’ thus unwittingly paying Alija for the latter's night of illicit pleasure with his daughter. The two then go to Zlata, who, unaware of all that has happened since her own capture in Klis, mourns her own perdition and Alija's in a separate room of Angela's apartment. There two women parley, and come easily to an understanding that both will be co-wives of Alija. The rhetorical device which Angela uses to parley with Zlata is a lovely parable of birds, a fictitious dream-sequence (an ornithoneiria) of striking beauty (4,727-5,122).
Angela deceives her father, who at her request sends all the girls -- Angela, Zlata, Ruža, and Alija-in-disguise -- to a monastery outside the city of Aršam to accomplish the conversion of Zlata to Christianity. There the four of them perform the due rituals, and make the monastery's inmates sleep with wine that Ruža has drugged. Alija thereupon kills all the clerics, but spares the horse-trainer Kuzman, from whom he recovers the horse that Ivan Višnjić had stolen from him in Klis. With rich treasurers in their saddlebags the four conspirators then flee together on horseback to the Korava River (5,123-5,315).
The rumble of artillery from the direction of Aršam warns the fugitives that their defection has been noticed and that they must expect pursuit. Alija's previous destruction of Ivan Višnjić's garrison however enables them to cross the river to the safety of Muslim territory unmolested. There they rest, and Ruža feeds the company a cold lunch which she has providently brought from Aršam. Meanwhile Tale of Orašac has also heard the thunder of the Christian cannon, and cries shame upon the Bosnians in Klis for their willingness to let Alija perish at the hands of Christian pursuers without any gesture of Muslim help. They take his reproach to heart, and rise in a body to go to Alija's aid (5,316-5,620).
Dizdar Osmanaga fears to go with them, but in the end thinks it better to face Alija's wrath in company with the other Bosnian men than wait to test it among the womenfolk of Klis. He asks Tale's assistance in being reconciled with Vlahinjić, but Tale refuses to intercede personally and only advises the Dizdar how himself to approach Alija. Osmanaga follows the advice, and offers Alija half his own rich estate to make peace with him. Seeing the three beautiful women with Alija, he cannot however resist asking for one of them as a bride for himself, and Vlahinjić instantly beheads him. As elsewhere in Avdo's epics, the deadliest sin is lechery on the part of an aging man (5,621-5,688).
A murmur passes through the company of Bosnian heroes, who are shocked by Vlahinjić's sudden violence and in doubt how to explain the Dizdar's demise to their master the Sultan. Tale invents a way, however, and Alija marries first Angela and then Zlata. Ruža is given in marriage to one Mehmed Sušić. Alija and his wives reside permanently thereafter in the house of the Alajbeg, who accepts him as his heir. The dead Dizdar's property is to be divided among the other Bosnian heroes. Ivan Višnjić remains at large in the Christian world (5,689-5,883).
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