The Mountain Wreath (Serbian: Gorski vijenac) is a poem and a play, a masterpiece of Serbian literature, written by Montenegrin Prince-Bishop and poet Petar II Petrovic-Njegos.
Njegos wrote The Mountain Wreath during 1846 in Cetinje and published it the following year after the printing in an Armenian monastery in Vienna. It is a modern epic written in verse as a play, thus combining three of the major modes of literary expression.
Set in 18th-century Montenegro, the poem deals with attempts of Njegos's ancestor Danilo to regulate relations among the region's warring tribes. Written as a series of fictitious scenes in the form of dialogues and monologues, the poem opens with Metropolitan Danilo's vision of the spread of Turkish power in Europe. Torn by inner conflict he sees that the struggle is inevitable, but dreads the issues.
Starting as a poetic vision it develops into a political-historical drama that expands into a wreath of epic depictions of Montenegrin life, including feasts, gatherings, customs, beliefs, and the struggle to survive the Ottoman oppression. With a strong philosophical basis in its 2819 verses The Mountain Wreath depicts three distinct, opposing civilizations: the heroic-patriarchal classic Montenegro, the oriental-islamic Ottoman Empire and the west-European Venetian civilization.
The poem is constructed around a single, allegedly historical event, that took place on a particular Christmas Day in the early 1700s, during Metropolitan Danilo's rule: the mass execution of Montenegrins who had converted to Islam, known as "The Inquisition of the Turkicized" (Istraga Poturica). Despite the difficulty of proving that an event of such magnitude and in such manner as described by Njegos ever took place in Montenegro, the poem's main theme is a subject of significant political and ideological debate. Recently published History of Montenegro tells us that such an event initiated by Metropolitan Danilo occurred in 1707, but was highly localized in character, happening only in Ceklici clan, one of over twenty tribes of Old Montenegro.
The fact that Njegos used this event only as a general framework, without bothering about the exact historical data, underscores his concern with an issue that preoccupied him throughout his entire life and which was in line with Romantic thought: the struggle against Ottoman domination. He subjects the entire plot and all characters to this central idea.
Oko jednog događaja nevelikih razmera i neprivlačnog za pesničku obradu, kakva je bila istraga poturica, Njegoš (1813-1851) je u svom pesničkom vencu ispleo čitavu crnogorsku istoriju, opevao najvažnije događaje iz prošlosti, od vremena Nemanjića do početka XVIII veka, naslikao svakodnevni život Crnogoraca, njihove praznike i skupove, opisao narodne običaje, verovanja i shvatanja. To je pesnička enciklopedija u kojoj su obuhvaćene sve pesničke forme i svi vidovi crnogorske stvarnosti i istorije. On spada u one izuzetne pesničke tvorevine u koje kao da se sleglo sveukupno iskustvo, istorijsko, pesničko i filozofsko, čitavih epoha u životu pojedinih naroda i civilizacija. "Gorski vijenac" je veliko delo koje se čitalo i proučavalo, bilo široko poznato u narodu, pojedine stihove ili veće celine iz njega znali su i ljudi bez ikakvog književnog obrazovanja, pa čak i nepismeni... Ovaj ep spada u one izuzetne tvorevine poezije u koje kao da se sleglo sveokupno iskustvo, filosofsko i pesnicko, čitavih epoha u zivotu pojedinih naroda i civilizacija.