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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

A brief history of Basque literature

The beginnings of literature

The history of Basque literature is generally said to have three bases: Bernart Etxepare, Joannes Leizarraga and Pedro Axular. Recently a fourth has been added: that of Leizarraga.

The first book written in Basque was published in Bordeaux in 1545. “Lingua Vasconum primitiae” by Bernart Etxepare was the book which marks the start of the history of Basque literature.

The Council of Trent and subsequent councils and synods led to a gulf between public and private life. Bernart Etxepare’s poems nevertheless bear witness to another way of life, even though this scandalised many people, bearing in mind that he was a priest. Joannes Leizarraga, on the other hand, is known as “a man of the Reformation”. In a Calvinist meeting held in Pau in 1564 Leizarraga was commissioned to translate the New Testament into Basque. He was appointed minister of the Reformed Church in 1567 and sent to Labastide-Clairence. He lived there until about 1601.

Leizarraga’s three works were all published in La Rochelle in 1571. The titles were:

  • Jesus Christ Gure Jaunaren Testamentu Berria
  • Kalendrera
  • Abc edo Christinoen instructionea

When translating these works Leizarraga was aware of the difficulties of translating into Basque. As there was no standard Basque, Leizarraga tried to create a literary language. For this he used Labourdin mixed with Low Navarrese and Zuberoan (Souletin) dialects.

Leizarraga’s works are elaborate and very carefully done. As Villasante says, bearing in mind that he was the pioneer, what he wrote resembled a normalised, fully developed language. Axular was, however, to use a different language model from that learned language that Leizarraga had created and used.

Idazleak Ikastetxeetan
Liburuak Gozagarri 2018
Literatur Jarduerak
Gure Programak
2011 Euskal Idazleen Elkartea
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