“When you love what you do and are aware of what can honour Bulgaria in the eyes of the world in any way, you are so enthused that neither time, nor efforts matter.”
Mihail Petrov Arnaudov is one of the brightest, most active and productive guardians and champions of the Bulgarian culture over the centuries, who devoted his life to Bulgaria and to the Bulgarian science. A scientist and a public figure, he spent decades on preserving the cultural and historical heritage of the nation by studying and describing the lives of a number of prominent Bulgarians; researching, collecting and publishing materials that keep alive the Bulgarian folklore; exploring and presenting traditions of ethnic Bulgarian societies. Mihail Arnaudov is a folklorist, literary historian and critic and ethnographer, who became a regular member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the Petyofi Hungarian Literary Academy and a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universities of Heidelberg and Munster.
Mihail Arnaudov was born in Rousse on October 5, 1878. His father was a Macedonian from Tetovo, who moved to Ruse and worked as a grain trader. He got married to his partner’s daughter, who died when Mihail was eight years old. His younger brother is the composer and operatic conductor and director Ilia Arnaudov. Mihail often accompanied his father in his trade tours in Northern Bulgaria and in this way got closely acquainted with the mindset of he village people who are the creators of folk poetry.
In 1895 he graduated the prestigious Kniaz Boris High School for boys in Rousse, where Nikola Bobchev was his teacher in Bulgarian language and literature. He awakened in Mihail the passion for literary studies, folklore and scientific research. In 1895 Mihail enrolled for the Slavonic philology specialty at the College of Sofia, where he attended classes lead by Ivan Shishmanov, Alexander Teodorov-Balan, Lyubomir Miletich and others. Ivan Shishmanov offered Mihail a scientific job and suggested to him to continue his studies at Leipzig University in Germany. Mihail spent 1898-1899 at Leipzig University, where he specialized in national psychology, Sanskrit and Lithuanian languages. In 1899 he enrolled at the University of Berlin. Until 1900 he attended classes in Indian literature, Indo-German comparative linguistics, Russian and Polish literature, and then returned to Rousse for a short period of time.
Professional Development and Scientific Research
In 1901 Mihail became a high school teacher in Sofia. He published articles in the Misal (Thought) magazine and came across the elite of Bulgarian writers who were extremely active and had established the Misal Literary Circle. In 1903, he went to Prague to take a doctoral exam on Slavic philology, philosophy and Indian philology and defended his dissertation based on his book Bulgarian Folk Tales.
He returned to Bulgaria and became a high school teacher, then a Deputy Director of the National Library and an Associate Professor at Sofia University. In 1910 he went to Paris to continue his scientific research and, there, he met and later became friends with one of the most acclaimed Bulgarian poets of all times, Peyo Yavorov. That same year he went to London for three months to study English. On the following year he returned to Bulgaria and held lectures at Sofia University. Shortly after that, he met his future wife, Stefanka, then got married to her in 1915 and later they had their three children.
From 1914 he was a visiting Professor and since 1919 a regular Professor at Sofia University. In 1921-1922 he was the Dean of the Faculty of History and Philology and in 1935-1936 he was a Rector of the University. In 1922 he was elected president of the Writers’ Union. In 1925, the publication of Bulgarian Misal magazine began, and in 1923 he became one of the main initiators for the establishment of the Macedonian Research Institute. In 1926 he became the Director of the National Theater. From 1918 he was a member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and in 1929 he became a regular academician. He was elected a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, of the Petyofi Hungarian Literary Academy and was awarded the Honorary Doctor title at the Universities in Heidelberg (1936) and Münster (1943).
His favorite field of study was folk art. In 1905 he published Collection of Bulgarian Folk Tales and in 1913 the study Folklore from Elena (a Bulgarian town in the mountains). He consistently published works, studies, researches, and various other materials. He traveled by himself and became directly acquainted with folklore. In 1916 he visited Macedonia, his father’s home land for yet another folklore research.
He published more than 50 monographs about Neofit Bozveli, Vasil Aprilov, Miladinovi brothers, Georgi Rakovski, Lyuben Karavelov, Paisii Hilendarski and other Bulgarian Revival enlighteners. He also helped publish some works by Revival writers such as Georgi Rakovski, Neofit Bozveli and Grigor Parlichev, and published research papers on the lives of Peyo Yavorov, Kiril Hristov, Yordan Yovkov, Ivan Vazov, Ivan Shishmanov.
He is a member of the Svetlina (light) Masonic Lodge in 1928-1929. In 1929, Mihail Arnaudov joined the intellectuals who appealed for stopping the killings during the Macedonian internal disagreements within the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO). He was an editor of the Zarya magazine and Narodnost newspaper, where he was an open supporter of the idea that the population in the Vardar region was Bulgarian. From November 1932 he was a guarantor of friendship with the Great Masonic Lodge of the then Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia).
Public and Political Activity
In May 1944 Ivan Bagryanov invited Mihail Arnaudov to take part in his government with the words “Come to save Bulgaria”. Bagryanov‘s government lasted only 93 days, but made the decisions which helped stop the bombing of Sofia. As the Minister of Enlightenment (now Ministry of Education), Mihail Arnaudov made enormous efforts to restore the lessons in the schools which were cancelled due to the bombings. After the Ninth of September Coup lead by the communists in the same year, he was removed from all his academic positions, was then arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by the so called People’s Court.
While he was behind bars, his book Psychology of the Literary Genius was translated into Russian and published in the Soviet Union. The book represents a unique scientific work which was highly regarded and recognized throughout Europe even since the time of its publication. At the end of 1945 a fellow Russian academician who specialized in Bulgarian literature and culture, Nikolai Derzhavin, arrived in Bulgaria. Upon realizing that the author of this psychological study was in prison, he contacted the Communist authorities, blamed them for ruining such a genius and, in the end, with his cooperation and after having spent two and a half years in prison, Mihail Arnaudov was released. While in custody, he continued to work – he translated French classics and prepared yet another edition of Ivan Vazov‘s essays.
After the amnesty, at the age of 68, Mihail Arnaudov found himself in the dire situation of having been deprived of his home by the Communists, with no job, deprived of income and with all his academic and scientific awards withdrawn by the totalitarian regime. Yet, he didn’t stop exploring and publishing scientific materials for the rest of his life, backed in the last 20 years by his daughter-in-law and personal assistant, Iskra Arnaudova.
Mihail Arnaudov died on February 18, 1978 in Sofia at the age of 99 years and 5 months.
Some Prominent Publications
- Bulgarian Folklore Holidays (1918)
- Krali Marco in the Folk Poetry (1918)
- Studies on Bulgarian Orders and Legends (1920-1924)
- Introduction to Literary Science. Tasks. History. Contemporary State. (1920)
- Psychology of the Literary Genius (1931)
- Excerpts on the Bulgarian Folklore (1934)
- Artists of the Bulgarian Revival (1940)
- The Life and Poetry of Ivan Vazov (1958)
- Yavorov. Personality, Creativity, Destiny. (1961)
- Poets and Heroes of the Bulgarian Revival (1965)
- Verkovic and Veda Slovena (1968)
- United Grand Lodge of Bulgaria
- Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
- Sofia University
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