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Queen Helen the Glorious in Croatian historical novels

Ana Šimić orcid id ; Staroslavenski institut

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 6.311 Kb

str. 105-123

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Croatian queen consort Helen the Glorious (Croatian Jelena Slavna) is one of the most popular rulers from the era of native Croatian medieval rulers (9th – 11th c.). The Latin inscription on her sarcophagus (976), found in 1898 on Gospin Otok in Solin, surpasses in importance all the other Croatian medieval rulers’ inscriptions. Among other things, it states that Helen was the wife of King Michael (Mihael Krešimir II.) and the mother of King Stephen (Stjepan Držislav). Her
popularity is mostly grounded on the notion of her being also the mother of (the Croatian) kingdom as well as the mother of the poor and protectress of the widows. In addition to Helen’s epitaph, the other relevant historical mention of Helen can be found in Historia Salonitana (13th c.) by Thomas the Archdeacon. Thomas writes that Helen built the churches of St Stephen and St Mary on Gospin Otok in Solin with many kings and queens being burried in the atrium of the former. These relevant but scarce data were the foundation of the historical novels about Helen the Glorious. She is featured as a character in three of them: The first king (Croatian Prvi kralj, 1903) by Velimir Deželić Sr., Queen Helen. Novel from the native Croatian rulers era (Croatian Kraljica Jelena.
Roman iz doba hrvatskih narodnih vladara, 1935) by Lovre Katić and The queen’s knight. Novel from the queen Helen era (Croatian Kraljičin vitez. Roman iz doba kraljice Jelene, 1976) by Ivan Raos. All of them portray Helen as a pious, wise and righteous woman with initiative and will to act.
She is greatly respected by men of power in her surroundings. Moreover, Katić and Raos present her not merely as a queen consort but as an actual ruler of the Croatian kingdom due to the illness of her husband. Contrary to the historical mentions of King Krešimir II. that describe him as a «great» and «magnificent» ruler, Katić and Raos fictionalize him as a weak person unable to bear the burden of a kingdom in crisis. Therefore, Helen steps forward as the one who brings peace, stability and prosperity to her people. The price she is paying is having an unfulfilled private life, mostly in her marriage which is described as tolerable but neither happy nor satisfying. Not only is that due to Krešimir’s weakness but also due to the fictional fact that she loved someone else
first. Deželić and Raos are the ones pursuing the narrative of Helen never getting over her first love. Concerning historical context of the analyzed novels it is worth mentioning that all of them establish the presence of the Croatian Glagolites (representatives of the non-Latin, i. e. Church Slavonic liturgy in the West) in Helen’s entourage. They are described as her devotees while she is presented as their protectress. So far there is no direct evidence of Helen associating with the Glagolites. Their presence in the novels is grounded in the fact that they were inevitable participants of the ecclesiastical, cultural and social life in medieval Croatia. The fact that Deželić, Katić and Raos include them in their respective novels suggests that they may have presumed that hardly any important story about the Middle Ages in Croatia should (and could) be told without Glagolites having a part in it. In conclusion, all the analyzed novels propose an idea of Helen as a virtuous woman who made Croatian history with her abilities, diligence and willingness to prioritize duty towards the others, especially the less privileged others. She is described as the ruler under which a perilous inner crisis of the Croatian kingdom was resolved. Such a portrayal goes beyond the
so far known historical sources. Her story (particularly in Katić’s and Raos’ novels) serves as an inspiration and guidance for the current and next Croatian generations.

Ključne riječi

Middle Ages; Croatian (native) rulers; Solin; Glagolitism; Croatian literature

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