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Bulgarian literature is literature written by Bulgarians or residents of Bulgaria, or written in the Bulgarian language; usually the latter is the defining feature. Bulgarian literature can be said to be one of the oldest among the Slavic peoples, having its roots during the late 9th century and the times of Simeon I of the First Bulgarian Empire.

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Middle Ages

With the Bulgarian Empire welcoming the disciples of Cyril and Methodius after they were expelled from Great Moravia, the country became a centre of rich literary activity during what is known as the Golden Age of medieval Bulgarian culture. In the late 9th, the 10th and early 11th century literature in Bulgaria prospered, with many books being translated from Byzantine Greek, but also new works being created. Many scholars worked in the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools, creating the Cyrillic alphabet for their needs. Chernorizets Hrabar wrote his popular work An Account of Letters, Clement of Ohrid worked on translations from Greek and is credited with several important religious books, John Exarch wrote his Shestodnev and translated On Orthodox Christianity by John of Damascus, Naum of Preslav also had a significant contribution. Bulgarian scholars and works influenced most of the Slavic world, spreading Old Church Slavonic, the Cyrillic and the Glagolithic alphabet to Kievan Rus', medieval Serbia and medieval Croatia.

As the Bulgarian Empire was subjugated by the Byzantines in 1018, Bulgarian literary activity declined. However, after the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire followed another period of upsurge during the time of Patriarch Evtimiy in the 14th century. Evtimiy founded the Tarnovo Literary School that had a significant impact on the literature of Serbia and Muscovite Russia, as many writers fled abroad after the Ottoman conquest. Apart from Evtimiy, other established writers from the period were Constantine of Kostenets (1380-first half of the 15th century) and Gregory Tsamblak (1365-1420).

Medieval Bulgarian literature was dominated by religious themes, most works being hymns, treatises, religious miscellanies, apocrypha and hagiographies, most often heroic and instructive.

Early Ottoman rule

The fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire to the Ottomans in 1396 was a serious blow for Bulgarian literature and culture in general. Literary activity largely ceased, being concentrated in the monasteries that established themselves as centres of Bulgarian culture in the foreign empire. The religious theme continued to be dominant in the few works that were produced.

The main literary form of the 17th and 18th century were instructive sermons, at first translated from Greek and then compiled by Bulgarians.

The title page of Abagar, the first printed book in modern Bulgarian (1651)

A literary tradition continued to exist relatively uninterrupted during the early Ottoman rule in northwestern Bulgaria up until the Chiprovtsi Uprising in end of the 17th century among the Bulgarian Catholics who were supported by the Catholic states of Central Europe. Many of these works were written in a mixture of vernacular Bulgarian, Church Slavonic and Serbo-Croatian and was called "Illyric". Among these was the first book printed in modern Bulgarian, the breviary Abagar published in Rome in 1651 by Filip Stanislavov, bishop of Nikopol.

The Illyrian movement for South Slavic unity had an impact on the Bulgarian literature of the 18th and 19th century. Hristofor Zhefarovich's Stemmatographia of 1741 is thought of us the earliest example of modern Bulgarian secular poetry for its quatrains, although it was essentially a collection of engravings.

Bulgarian National Revival

A new revival of Bulgarian literature began in the 18th century with the historiographical writings of Paisius of Hilendar, Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya. In the period 1840-1875 the literature came alive with writings on mainly revolutionary, anti-Turkish themes. The noted poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev worked in the late 19th century and is nowadays regarded as arguably the foremost Bulgarian poet of the period. Among the writers who engaged in revolutionary activity was also Lyuben Karavelov.

A typical feature of the period was the formation of an interest in Bulgarian folklore, as figures like the Miladinov Brothers and Kuzman Shapkarev made collections of folk songs and made ethnographic studies.

After Bulgaria achieved independence (1878) the national literature lost much of its revolutionary spirit, and writings of a pastoral and regional type became more common. Ivan Vazov was the first professional Bulgarian man of letters. The poet Pencho Slaveykov brought other European literatures to the notice of Bulgarian readers. His epic Song of Blood (1911-13) dealt with the struggle against the Turks.

Modern literature

After the second World War Bulgarian literature fell under the control of the Communist Party and, particularly in the early years, was required to conform to the Stalinist style called "Socialist realism".

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