Mihai Eminescu (Romanian pronunciation: [miˈhaj emiˈnesku] ( ); born Mihail Eminovici; 15 January 1850 – 15 June 1889) was a Romantic poet, novelist and journalist, often regarded as the most famous and influential Romanian poet. Eminescu was an active member of the Junimea literary society and worked as an editor for the newspaper Timpul ("The Time"), the official newspaper of the Conservative Party (1880–1918). His poetry was first published when he was 16 and he went to Vienna to study when he was 19. The poet's manuscripts, containing 46 volumes and approximately 14,000 pages, were offered by Titu Maiorescu as a gift to the Romanian Academy during the meeting that was held on 25 January 1902. Notable works include Luceafărul (The Vesper/The Evening Star/The Lucifer/The Daystar), Odă în metru antic (Ode in Ancient Meter), and the five Letters (Epistles/Satires). In his poems he frequently used metaphysical, mythological and historical subjects.
His father was Gheorghe Eminovici from Călinești, a Moldavian village in Suceava county, Bucovina, which was then part of the Austrian Empire (while his father came from Banat). He crossed the border into Moldavia, settling in Ipotești, near the town of Botoșani. He married Raluca Iurașcu, an heiress of an old aristocratic Moldavian family. In a Junimea register, Eminescu wrote down his birthday date as 22 December 1849, while in the documents Cernăuți Gymnasium, where Eminescu studied, his birthday date is 14 December 1849. Nevertheless, Titu Maiorescu, in his work Eminescu and His Poems (1889) quoted N. D. Giurescu's researches and adopted his conclusion regarding the date and place of Mihai Eminescu's birth, as being 15 January 1850, in Botoșani. This date resulted from several sources, amongst which there was a file of notes on christenings from the archives of the Uspenia (Domnească) Church of Botoșani; inside this file, the date of birth was "15 January 1850" and the date of christening was the 21st of the same month. The date of his birth was confirmed by the poet's elder sister, Aglae Drogli, who affirmed that the place of birth was the village of Ipotești.
Mihail (as he appears in baptismal records) or Mihai (the more common form that he used) was born in Botoșani, Moldavia. He spent his early childhood in Botoșani and Ipotești, in his parents' family home. From 1858 to 1866 he attended school in Cernăuți. He finished 4th grade as the 5th of 82 students, after which he attended two years of gymnasium.
The first evidence of Eminescu as a writer is in 1866. In January of that year Romanian teacher Aron Pumnul died and his students in Cernăuţi published a pamphlet, Lăcrămioarele învățăceilor gimnaziaști (The Tears of the Gymnasium Students) in which a poem entitled La mormântul lui Aron Pumnul (At the Grave of Aron Pumnul) appears, signed "M. Eminovici". On 25 February his poem De-aș avea (If I Had) was published in Iosif Vulcan's literary magazine Familia in Pest. This began a steady series of published poems (and the occasional translation from German). Also, it was Iosif Vulcan, who disliked the Slavic source suffix "-ici" of the young poet's last name, that chose for him the more apparent Romanian "nom de plume" Mihai Eminescu.
In 1867, he joined Iorgu Caragiale's troupe as a clerk and prompter; the next year he transferred to Mihai Pascaly's troupe. Both of these were among the leading Romanian theatrical troupes of their day, the latter including Matei Millo and Fanny Tardini-Vlădicescu. He soon settled in Bucharest, where at the end of November he became a clerk and copyist for the National Theater. Throughout this period, he continued to write and publish poems. He also paid his rent by translating hundreds of pages of a book by Heinrich Theodor Rotscher, although this never resulted in a completed work. Also at this time he began his novel Geniu pustiu (Wasted Genius), published posthumously in 1904 in an unfinished form.
On 1 April 1869, he was one of the co-founders of the "Orient" literary circle, whose interests included the gathering of Romanian folklore and documents relating to Romanian literary history. On 29 June, various members of the "Orient" group were commissioned to go to different provinces. Eminescu was assigned Moldavia. That summer, he quite by chance ran into his brother Iorgu, a military officer, in Cișmigiu Gardens, but firmly rebuffed Iorgu's attempt to get him to renew ties to his family.
Still in summer 1869, he left Pascaly's troupe and traveled to Cernăuţi and Iaşi. He renewed ties to his family; his father promised him a regular allowance to pursue studies in Vienna in the fall. As always, he continued to write and publish poetry; notably, on the occasion of the death of the former ruler of Wallachia, Barbu Dimitrie Știrbei, he published a leaflet, La moartea principelui Știrbei ("On the Death of Prince Știrbei").
From October 1869 to 1872 Eminescu studied in Vienna. Not fulfilling the requirements to become a university student (as he did not have a baccalaureate degree), he attended lectures as a so-called "extraordinary auditor" at the Faculty of Philosophy and Law. He was active in student life, befriended Ioan Slavici, and came to know Vienna through Veronica Micle; he became a contributor to Convorbiri Literare (Literary Conversations), edited by Junimea (The Youth). The leaders of this cultural organisation, Petre P. Carp, Vasile Pogor, Theodor Rosetti, Iacob Negruzzi and Titu Maiorescu, exercised their political and cultural influence over Eminescu for the rest of his life. Impressed by one of Eminescu's poems, Venere şi Madonă (Venus and Madonna), Iacob Negruzzi, the editor of Convorbiri Literare, traveled to Vienna to meet him. Negruzzi would later write how he could pick Eminescu out of a crowd of young people in a Viennese café by his "romantic" appearance: long hair and gaze lost in thoughts.
In 1870 Eminescu wrote three articles under the pseudonym "Varro" in Federaţiunea in Pest, on the situation of Romanians and other minorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He then became a journalist for the newspaper Albina (The Bee) in Pest. From 1872 to 1874 he continued as a student in Berlin, thanks to a stipend offered by Junimea.
From 1874 to 1877 he worked as director of the Central Library in Iași, substitute teacher, school inspector for the counties of Iași and Vaslui, and editor of the newspaper Curierul de Iași (The Courier of Iaşi), all thanks to his friendship with Titu Maiorescu, the leader of Junimea and rector of the University of Iași. He continued to publish in Convorbiri Literare. He became a good friend of Ion Creangă, a writer, whom he convinced to become a writer and introduced to the Junimea literary club.
In 1877 he moved to Bucharest, where until 1883 he was first journalist, then (1880) editor-in-chief of the newspaper Timpul (The Time). During this time he wrote Scrisorile, Luceafărul, Odă în metru antic etc. Most of his notable editorial pieces belong to this period, when Romania was fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 and throughout the diplomatic race that eventually brought about the international recognition of Romanian independence, but under the condition of bestowing Romanian citizenship to all subjects of Jewish faith. Eminescu opposed this and another clause of the Treaty of Berlin: Romania's having to give southern Bessarabia to Russia in exchange for Northern Dobrudja, a former Ottoman province on the Black Sea.
Later life and death
The 1880s were a time of crisis and deterioration in the poet's life, culminating with his death in 1889. The details of this are still debated.
From 1883, when Eminescu's crisis and deviant behaviors became evident and until 1886, the poet was treated in Austria and Italy, by specialists that managed to put him on his feet, as testified by his good friend, writer Ioan Slavici. In 1886, Eminescu suffered a nervous breakdown and was treated by Romanian doctors, in particular Julian Bogdan and Panait Zosin. Immediately diagnosed with syphilis, after being hospitalized in a nervous diseases hospice within the Neamț Monastery, the poet is treated with mercury. Firstly, massages in Botoșani, applied by Dr. Itszak, and then in Bucharest at Dr. Alexandru A. Suțu's sanatorium, where between February–June 1889 he was injected with mercuric chloride. Professor Doctor Irinel Popescu, corresponding member of the Romanian Academy and president of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Romania, states that Eminescu died because of mercury poisoning. He also says that the poet was "treated" by a group of incompetent doctors and held in misery, which also shortened his life. Mercury was prohibited as treatment of syphilis in Western Europe in the 19th century, because of its adverse effects.
Mihai Eminescu died at 4 am, on 15 June 1889 at the Caritas Institute, a sanatorium run by Dr. Suțu and located on Plantelor Street Sector 2, Bucharest. Eminescu's last wish was a glass of milk, which the attending doctor slipped through the metallic peephole of the "cell" where he spent the last hours of his life. In response to this favor he was said to have whispered, "I'm crumbled". The next day, on 16 June 1889 he was officially declared deceased and legal papers to that effect were prepared by doctors Suțu and Petrescu, who submitted the official report. This paperwork is seen as being ambiguous, because the poet's cause of death is not clearly stated and there was no indication of any other underlying condition that may have so suddenly resulted in his death. In fact both the poet's medical file and autopsy report indicate symptoms of a mental and not physical disorder. Moreover, at the autopsy performed by Dr. Tomescu and then by Dr. Marinescu from the laboratory at Babeș-Bolyai University, the brain could not be studied, because a nurse inadvertently forgot it on an open window, where it quickly decomposed.
One of the first hypotheses that disagreed with the post mortem findings for Eminescu's cause of death was printed on 28 June 1926 in an article from the newspaper Universul. This article forwards the hypothesis that Eminescu died after another patient, Petre Poenaru, former headmaster in Craiova, hit him in the head with a board.
Dr. Vineș, the physician assigned to Eminescu at Caritas argued at that time that the poet's death was the result of an infection secondary to his head injury. Specifically, he says that the head wound was infected, turning into an erysipelas, which then spread to the face, neck, upper limbs, thorax, and abdomen. In the same report, cited by Nicolae Georgescu in his work, Eminescu târziu, Vineș states that "Eminescu's death is not due to head trauma occurred 25 days earlier and which had healed completely, but is the consequence of an older endocarditis (diagnosed by late professor N. Tomescu)".
Contemporary specialists, primarily physicians who have dealt with the Eminescu case, reject both hypotheses on the cause of death of the poet. According to them, the poet died of cardio-respiratory arrest caused by mercury poisoning. Eminescu was wrongly diagnosed and treated, aiming his removal from public life, as some eminescologists claim. Eminescu was diagnosed since 1886 by Dr. Julian Bogdan from Iași as syphilitic, paralytic and on the verge of dementia due to alcohol abuse and syphilitic gummas emerged on the brain. The same diagnosis is given by Dr. Panait Zosin, who consulted Eminescu on 6 November 1886 and wrote that patient Eminescu suffered from a "mental alienation", caused by the emergence of syphilis and worsened by alcoholism. Further research showed that the poet was not suffering from syphilis.
Nicolae Iorga, the Romanian historian, considers Eminescu the godfather of the modern Romanian language. He is unanimously celebrated as the greatest and most representative Romanian poet.
Poems and Prose of Mihai Eminescu (editor: Kurt W. Treptow, publisher: The Center for Romanian Studies, Iași, Oxford, and Portland, 2000, ISBN 973-9432-10-7) contains a selection of English-language renditions of Eminescu's poems and prose.
His poems span a large range of themes, from nature and love to hate and social commentary. His childhood years were evoked in his later poetry with deep nostalgia.
Eminescu's poems have been translated in over 60 languages. His life, work and poetry strongly influenced the Romanian culture and his poems are widely studied in Romanian public schools.
His most notable poems are:
- Doina (the name is a traditional type of Romanian song), 1884
- Lacul (The Lake), 1876
- Luceafărul (The Vesper), 1883
- Floare albastră (Blue Flower), 1884
- Dorința (Desire), 1884
- Sara pe deal (Evening on the Hill), 1885
- O, rămai (Oh, Linger On), 1884
- Epigonii (Epigones), 1884
- Scrisori (Letters or "Epistles-Satires")
- Și dacă (And if...), 1883
- Odă în metru antic (Ode (in Ancient Meter), 1883
- Mai am un singur dor (I Have Yet One Desire),1883
- La Steaua (At Star),1886
English language anthologies
- Testament – Anthology of Modern Romanian Verse – Bilingual Edition English & Romanian – Daniel Ioniță (editor and translator) with Eva Foster and Daniel Reynaud – Minerva Publishing 2012
Eminescu was only 20 when Titu Maiorescu, the top literary critic in 1870 Romania dubbed him "a real poet", in an essay where only a handful of the Romanian poets of the time were spared Maiorescu's harsh criticism. In the following decade, Eminescu's notability as a poet grew continually thanks to (1) the way he managed to enrich the literary language with words and phrases from all Romanian regions, from old texts, and with new words that he coined from his wide philosophical readings; (2) the use of bold metaphors, much too rare in earlier Romanian poetry; (3) last but not least, he was arguably the first Romanian writer who published in all Romanian provinces and was constantly interested in the problems of Romanians everywhere. He defined himself as a Romantic, in a poem addressed To My Critics (Criticilor mei), and this designation, his untimely death as well as his bohemian lifestyle (he never pursued a degree, a position, a wife or fortune) had him associated with the Romantic figure of the genius. As early as the late 1880s, Eminescu had a group of faithful followers. His 1883 poem Luceafărul was so notable that a new literary review took its name after it.
The most realistic psychological analysis of Eminescu was written by I. L. Caragiale, who, after the poet's death published three short care articles on this subject: In Nirvana, Irony and Two notes. Caragiale stated that Eminescu's characteristic feature was the fact that "he had an excessively unique nature". Eminescu's life was a continuous oscillation between introvert and extrovert attitudes.
That's how I knew him back then, and that is how he remained until his last moments of well-being: cheerful and sad; sociable and crabbed; gentle and abrupt; he was thankful for everything and unhappy about some things; here he was as abstemious as a hermit, there he was ambitious to the pleasures of life; sometimes he ran away from people and then he looked for them; he was carefree as a Stoic and choleric as an edgy girl. Strange medley! – happy for an artist, unhappy for a man!
The portrait that Titu Maiorescu made in the study Eminescu and poems emphasizes Eminescu's introvert dominant traits. Titu Maiorescu promoted the image of a dreamer who was far away from reality, who did not suffer because of the material conditions that he lived in, regardless of all the ironies and eulogies of his neighbour, his main characteristic was "abstract serenity".
In reality, just as one can discover from his poems and letters and just as Caragiale remembered, Eminescu was seldom under the influence of boisterous subconscious motivations. Eminescu's life was but an overlap of different-sized cycles, made up of sudden bursts that were nurtured by dreams and crises due to the impact with reality. The cycles could last from a few hours or days to weeks or months, depending on the importance of events, or could even last longer, when they were linked to the events that significantly marked his life, as such was his relation with Veronica, his political activity during his years as a student, or the fact that he attended the gatherings at the Junimea society or the articles he published in the newspaper Timpul. He used to have a unique manner of describing his own crisis of jealousy.
You must know, Veronica, that as much as I love you, I sometimes hate you; I hate you without a reason, without a word, only because I imagine you laughing with someone else, and your laughter doesn't mean to him what it means to me and I feel I grow mad at the thought of somebody else touching you, when your body is exclusively and without impartasion to anyone. I sometimes hate you because I know you own all these allures that you charmed me with, I hate you when I suspect you might give away my fortune, my only fortune. I could only be happy beside you if we were far away from all the other people, somewhere, so that I didn't have to show you to anybody and I could be relaxed only if I could keep you locked up in a bird house in which only I could enter.
He was soon proclaimed Romania's national poet, not because he wrote in an age of national revival, but rather because he was received as an author of paramount significance by Romanians in all provinces. Even today, he is considered the national poet of Romania, Moldova, and of the Romanians who live in the Ukrainian occupied part of Bucovina.
Eminescu is omnipresent in present-day Romania. His statues are everywhere; his face was on the 1000-lei banknote issued in 1998 and is on the 500-lei banknote issued in 2005 as the highest-denominated Romanian banknote (see Romanian leu); Eminescu's Linden Tree is one of the country's most famous natural landmarks, while many schools and other institutions are named after him. The anniversaries of his birth and death are celebrated each year in many Romanian cities, and they became national celebrations in 1989 (the centennial of his death) and 2000 (150 years after his birth, proclaimed Eminescu's Year in Romania).
Several young Romanian writers provoked a huge scandal when they wrote about their demystified idea of Eminescu and went so far as to reject the "official" interpretation of his work.
A monument jointly dedicated to Eminescu and Allama Iqbal was erected in Islamabad, Pakistan on 15 January 2004, commemorating Pakistani-Romanian ties, as well as the dialogue between civilizations which is possible through the cross-cultural appreciation of their poetic legacies. In 2004, the Mihai Eminescu Statue was erected in Montreal, Canada.
Due to his conservative nationalistic views, Eminescu was easily adopted as an icon by the Romanian right. A major obstacle to their fully embracing him was the fact he never identified himself as a Christian and his poetry rather indiscriminately uses Buddhist, Christian, agnostic, and atheist themes.
After a decade when Eminescu's works were criticized as "mystic" and "bourgeois", Romanian Communists ended up adopting Eminescu as the major Romanian poet. What opened the door for this thaw was the poem Împărat și proletar (Emperor and proletarian) that Eminescu wrote under the influence of the 1870–1871 events in France, and which ended in a Schopenhauerian critique of human life. An expurgated version only showed the stanzas that could present Eminescu as a poet interested in the fate of proletarians.
It has also been revealed that Eminescu demanded strong anti-Jewish legislation on the German model, saying, among others, that "the Jew does not deserve any rights anywhere in Europe because he is not working." This was not, however, an unusual stance to take in the cultural and literary milieu of his age.