Pranas Skardzius: MIKALOJUS DAUKSA (Biography)


Mikalojus Dauksa



By Pranas Skardzius


Mikalojus Dauksa (?-1613), Roman catholic priest, the first known writer from Lithuania Major. Hardly any authentic information about his life, date of birth or education has survived. Besides his own published works, in which there is no biographical material, the more important sources which help to acquaint us with him to same degree as a man and priest are the description of the official visitation of the Samogitian bishopric in 1579, and official, mostly judicial, documents. From these we known that he was born between 1527 and 1538 in Babenai, near Kedainiai, and that he was descended from the petty nobility. In 1570 he was appointed rector of Krakes; in 1572 he became a canon and moved to Varniai. In 1580 he was appointed to chaplaincy of Kraziai as priest emeritus (receiving a benefice from the parish but not serving it). From 1585-1592 he filled the office of diocesan official to the Samogitian bishopric. In 1592 he changed parishes and moved from Krakes, of which he had been in charge only indirectly through helpers, to Betygala. With the death of Bishop M. Giedraitis in 1609, Dauksa was elected administrator of the Samogitian bishopric. He lived to see the appointment of a new bishop, made his will on Feb. 13, 1613 and died a few days later.


Dauksa’s first work, and at the same time the first known Lithuanian book to appear in Lithuania Major, was a translation of a catechism by J. Ledesma, the title of which was Katechismas arba mokslas kiekwienam Krikszczionii privalus (A Catechism or Study Indispensable to Every Christian), published in Vilnius in 1595. This catechism was not translated from the Spanish original bur from a Polish translation which in its turn was translated from Italian. The Polish translation was aimed at children, while Dauksa in translating the work changed the title and dedicated it to all. E. Volteris published a new edition of Dauksa’s catechism under the Russian title Litovskii katikhizis N. Daukshi. E. Sitting put out the same publication together with the Polish original and another anonymous Lithuanian translation of the same catechism in 1605 with the following title in German: der polnische Katechismus des Ledezma und die litauischen Katechismen des Daugsza und des Anonymus vom Jahre 1605 (Giottingen, 1929.)

Another, far larger and more wellknown work by Dauksa, is his translation of the small postil by the Polish Jesuit Jakub Wujek (1541-1597), namely, Postilla catholicka, tai est: Isguldymas Ewangeliu kiekvienos nedelos ir szwetes per wissus metus (Catholic Postill, that is, An Explanation of the Gospels for Every Sunday and Holiday Throughout the Year, Vilnius 1599). This was quite a thich book (644 pp.) printed in folio. The Lithuanian text was printed in the Gothic alphabet, but some places are in antique. There are two prefaces at the beginning – one in Latin and other in Polish. The Latin preface is dedicated in the first place to Bishop M. Giedraitis, Dauksa’s patron, and collaborator, to honour him for his various services, particularly in publishing the Lithuanian translation of the postil. The preface written in polish, dedicated to the gracious reader (Pol. Przedmowa do chytelnika laskawego), can be considered in a sense a patriotic manifesto. Here Dauksa raised as of the utmost importance the natural right of all peoples, and so of the Lithuanians, to use their native language, and acknowledged the equality of all languages, emphasising the importance of the native language in social life. Further on he expresses the wish that the Lithuanian language should be used everywhere: in the church, the chancery, among the nobles and priests, and so on. In both of these prefaces he holds the Lithuanian translation to be his own work, but certain philologists (k. Began, E. Tangle, E. Sittin and others) have been inclined to consider it to be the work of several translators. Later, when Dauksa’s place of birth was determined and the language of his translation was compared to the speech of the people of that area, it was concluded that the catechism and the postill were translated by Dauksa alone.

 The Language of Dauksa’s Translations

The language of Dauksa’s translations differs from other Lithuanian writtings. Many very old words are used in them but not found anywhere else, e. g. siutilme (fury, rage), sokoras (sugar), unguras (Hungarian). Many Slavic loan words were changed to Lithuanian ones, e. g. in place of griekas (sin), pekla (hell), zivatas (womb), the following are used: nuodeme or nuodzia, paragaras, iscia. Particularly abounded use is made of synonyms or parallelisms, e. g. mirimas, mirtis, martuve, giltine (death). We find a wealth of archaic grammatical and especially morphological features in dauksa’s language. Finally, the whole text of the translations is accented, and there are many archaisms in his accentuation not to be found any longer in the modern dialects, or only occasional traces remain here and there. For this reason the language of Dauksa’s writings is of great importance for the study of Lithuanian, in particular with reference to the history and accentuation of the language.

The importance of the language of Mikalojus Dauksa’s writings increased to a marked degree with the publication of his principal work, the translation of the Postill, in a photocopied edition by the University of Lithuania in Kaunas in 1926. The earlier edition by E. Volteris, published by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1904-1927, was of limited importance, since only three fascicles (456 pp.) came out, and, furthermore, these were not in the original orthography but transliterated into the Latin alphabet.

From the ”Encyclopedia Lituanica”. II. Boston, 1972 

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Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
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