Per Jacobsen (København)

The Doctors of Travnik


The main part of Andrić's work, from his first short story Put Alije Djerzeleza to the unfinished prose fragment Omerpaša Latas is one long tale about Bosnia after the Turkish conquest in the middle of the 15th. century.

His point de départ is the confrontation between the Eastern and the Western world in Bosnia, where many cultural systems have met and mingled in the course of time. The melting pot of nationalities, religions, orthodoxy and heresy that made up Ottoman Bosnia was so accommodating and the forms of existence so manifold that the oppositions are perceptible in many different areas.

In the description of the little world of nationalities and religions, Bosnia itself becomes an emblem of the connection between the East and the West. Andrić's message is man's mythical need to leave his mark and that good works are the bridge between human beings. This is seen in the chronicle Na Drini ćuprija with its centuries long and slow development of a small Bosnian community, in the myth Prokleta avlija, the tale of the jail somewhere on the border between Europe and Asia, in fact a model of Bosnia, or in the novel Travnička hronika, which, with its very limited span of years, like a photographic snap is taken out of the long diachrony for a careful and thorough examination of phenomena and interpersonal relations .

Travnička hronika is one of Andrić's most complex and complicated texts. Typologically it is a mixture of myth, chronicle, historiography and fiction. The basic thematic structure of the narrative about Travnik, the viziers' town, is opposition. There are very strong emphases on general and universal oppositions such as light and darkness, growth and decline, health and disease, youth and old age. The strongest and most carefully worked out opposition, though, is the cultural opposition between the East and the West, between Europe and Asia.

In the middle of a dualistically organized world lies Bosnia, Andrić's Third World, cursed because it stands between two opposed systems or principles and carrying the burden of reconciling the two.

The characters of the novel, regarded as a collective as well as individuals, form part of the fundamental structure, which might be called polyvalent because one and the same element forms part of several oppositions. Thus the local Travnik Moslems are in opposition not only to their Christian countrymen, but also to the Westerners and to the representatives of Ottoman state authority. The French are in opposition not only to the majority of the local population, but of course also to the Austrians, their political and military adversaries, and to the Turks in the vizier's residence, the Konak. On the other hand they are, together with the Austrians a part of the Western world which is in contrast to the Eastern.

On a personal level individuals are opposed to each other with regard to psychological characteristics, differences in generation or views, or they are just "sušte protivnosti" - 'absolute opposites', as Andrić puts it.

The present paper will focus on four characters of Travnička hronika, César d'Avenat (Davna), Mordo Atijas, Giovanni Mario Cologna (Kolonja) and Fra-Luka Dafinić. They have been chosen because they all work as doctors in Travnik and because it is of interest to examine the way in which they fit into the fundamental structure as physicians and scientists; not least because attitudes to health and disease exemplify the fundamental contrast between the Eastern and Western world:

Bezbrojna su i raznovrsna iznenađenja koja očekuju čoveka sa Zapada, koji je naglo bačen na Istok i prisiljen da tu živi, ali jedno od najvećih i najmučnijih iznenadjenja javlja se u pitanjima zdravlja i bolesti. (p. 262) [1]

(Innumerable and manifold are the surprises which await an occidental who is suddenly plunged into the East and obliged to live there, but one of the greatest and most painful surprises discloses itself in questions of health and disease).[2]

Finally, it is interesting to investigate whether by including medicine in his chronicle, Andrić adds a new dimension to his work.

César d'Avenat is the first of the doctors in Travnik to be described. As the interpreter for one of the principal characters, the French consul Daville, he is described in some detail, since he appears in many other connections throughout the book. His work as a doctor is in fact an episode which adds new evidence to our general understanding of him as a character. His medical education and skills are dubious and his interest in science and his devotion to his patients are modest:

"Izgleda da je u mladosti studirao nešto medicine u Montpeljeu ... ali za lekarsko zvanje sve mu je nedostajalo. Nije imao ljubavi za ljude i poverenje u prirodi." (p. 263)

(It seemed that he had in his youth studied medicine a little at Montpellier but very little medical knowledge remained with him. He had no love for people and no confidence in Nature).

In the very short characterization of d'Avenat as a physician and in the depiction of his attitude to nature and to his patients, Andrić has indicated a clear distance from old medical principles, known from ancient Greek medicine. To Hippocrates and the ancient tradition nature was fundamental in medical practice. To the Greeks nature was the great physician in whom one should have confidence because nature was the powerful guardian and defender of the body. According to Hippocrates the doctor's dealings with patients should be guided by kindness and sympathy: "The honest physician must speak encouragingly to the sick. The neccessary encouragement shall be given with kindness and ease and all that might worry the patient shall be kept away from him".

D'Avenat is not of Bosnian origin. He is a vagrant Westerner, who, after many years in the Orient has assumed most if not all of the negative characteristics of the ruling Turkish class; he is an
ethnic renegade with the renegade's psychology, which is abundantly shown in many connections. When he is first introduced we are told:

Bezgranično pokoran i do podlosti malen pred silom, vlasti i bogatstvom, bio je drzak, svirep i nemilosrdan prema svemu što je slabo, siromašno i nesavršeno. (p. 46)

(Before power, authority and wealth his submission knew no bounds and he was humble even to abasement: with the weak, the poor, the immature he was brazen, cruel and merciless).

and as a doctor: "Grub i bezobziran sa većinom ljudi, on je svu svoju pažnju i svaku reč štedeo za moćne i velike", (p 264) (Rough and inconsiderate with the great majority of people, he kept his whole attention and all his kind words for the influential and the great). And his attitude to health and disease conforms completely to the Oriental way of thinking: a strong dualism mixed with pessimism and a permanent distrust of one's surroundings; man is born to be either sick or healthy, just as he is born to be either rich or poor. If you are born to- be sick, there is no possibility of a permanent recovery:

Zdravo i bolesno čovečanstvo za njega su dva sveta bez stvarne veze. Ozdravljenje je smatrao samo privremenim stanjima, ali ne prelaskom iz bolesnog čovečanstva u zdravo, jer takvog prelaska, po njegovom shvatanju, nema. (p. 263)

(Sick men and sound men were for him two worlds with no practical link between them. Convalescence he looked upon merely as a temporary condition, not as a transition from human sickness to human health, since according to his ideas no such transitional stage existed).

This firm belief in predestination and distrust in man's ability to change what is determined for once and for all is an orthodox Moslem perspective. Allah has from the beginning laid down every single person's actions and fate. This is the last article of faith and, of course, it diminishes the scope of medical science. With such a view there is no room for Western optimism or belief in progress. D'Avenat's attitude is strongly opposed to the classical Greek medical tradition and its continuation, the later European scientific tradition. D'Avenat represents a type of medical profession which is thoroughly corrupted by orthodoxy and intolerance, characteristic of the later phases of the Ottoman Empire. He is a victim of his surroundings; he has adopted the negative traits and ignored the good gualities of the regime:

Ti stranci, koji ovako kao Davna ostanu da žive na Istoku, u većini slučajeva prime od Turaka samo rdjave, niže strane njihovih karaktera, nesposobni da uoče i usvoje ijednu od njihovih dobrih, viših osobina i navika. (p. 46)

(Those foreigners who, like Davna, stay on in the East, take from the Turks, in most cases, only the worse and lower sides of their character; they are unable to see and assimilate any of their better and higher qualities or habits).

But d'Avenat's attitude towards medicine and his view of its potential would be an incomplete and unjust testimony to Moslem culture and science. In the description of the second physician in Travnik, Mordo Atijas, the significance of Arab medicine and its influence on European science are hinted at. The description of Atijas' work as a doctor is shorter than that of d'Avenat, but its significance should not be measured by its length. On the contrary, this short passage about the Jewish physician and pharmacist is essential not only to Travnička hronika but to all Andrić's work, because it hints at the close connection between Western civilization and Graeco-Roman Antiquity. It also shows that our cultural heritage was both preserved, and passed on by the Arabs ie. by the Moslem world. In general there is very little evidence in Andrić's works about the origin and true nature of Western civilization but the passages about the physicians in Travnička hronika reveal that Bosnia too, this remote and uncultivated corner of Europe, is European soil and connected to the ancient world.

The Atijas family are the oldest of the Spanish Jews who settled in Travnik after their expulsion from Spain and after years of wandering. There has always been a physician or a pharmacist in the family who has used and preserved some old and precious Arab and Spanish medical texts. Just as these old books, for centuries in the possession of the Atijas family, wandered from Arabia via Spain to Europe, so medical science travelled, thanks to Arabic translations of Hippocrates and Galen via Alexandria to Moorish Spain, where they were translated by Christian students into the European language of science - Latin - and then spread to the rest of Europe.

The Jewish element in Arab medicine and in the spread of ancient science is, so to speak, embodied in the figure of Mordo Atijas. He is described, not as an individual, but as an emblem of his persecuted people:

Šta da se kaže o čoveku koji ništa ne govori, nigde ne ide, ni sa kim se ne druži, ništa ne traži, nego gleda svoj posao i svoju kuću. (p. 265)

(What indeed can be said of a man who never says anything, never goes anywhere, never makes any friends and never asks for anything, but simply looks after his business and his home?)

With Cologna, the third of the doctors in Travnik, European universities and their medical schools first enter into Andrić's history of medicine. Cologna is described as an unquiet and curious spirit searching for knowledge within the whole range of human intellectual activity, from astronomy to theology and from chemistry to military science and diplomacy. With his eager desire to find a meaning or even a system behind human thought he is a fitting medium for the display of medicine as a science. His relation to medical treatment and to patients is purely academic; his science is more an intellectual game than a real concern for the life and health of other people, and all his medical efforts consist, not in curing patients, because he has none, but in endless discussions about medical science; these discussions take the form either of monologues or, as when he speaks to his colleague d'Avenat, of quarrels about the superiority of Italian or French medical schools. In these discussions d'Avenat, who is in favour of the French universities, states as his last argument that the medical school of Montpellier had already centuries ago defeated and surpassed the famous school of Salerno, a historical fact which actually occured about 1200 A.D.

As a former student of the university of Milan, Cologna speaks indefatigably in favour of Italian medical science. His source of medical wisdom is the "Salernitan Guide to Health" Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum and his whole view of health and disease derives from the Regimen:

Veran svojim učiteljima, Kolonja je smatrao da je život "stanje aktivnosti koje stalno teži ka smrti i primiče joj se lagano i postupno; a smrt je rešenje te duge bolesti koja se naziva život". (p. 290)

(Faithful to his teachers, Cologna considered that life is "a state of activity which tends continually towards death and will by slow degrees arrive there: and death is the final resolution of the long illness known as life").

The physician's task is, according to this view, to relieve pain; man can live long if he sticks to the physician's prescriptions about moderation in all respects of life:

Tri su lekara čoveku potrebna, govorio je Kolonja: mens hilaris, requies moderata, diaeta. (p. 290)

(A man needs three doctors, Cologna used to say: mens hilaris, requies moderata, diaeta [a cheerful mind, moderate rest, diet])

- which is in fact a hidden quotation from one of Arnald of Villanova's well known couplets form Regimen, which in its English translation reads:

Use three physicians still, first Doctor Quiet

Next Doctor Merryman, and Doctor Diet.

Cologna's close connection to the Salerno school reaches beyond the scope of the history of medicine, because it conforms with the overall function in Travnička hronika. Cologna, Andrić's Homo bosnicus, is more than any other character a personification of the fate of Bosnia as a border land, as the meeting point of different cultural systems. He is the one who speaks about the curse of being divided by two opposite worlds, but he believes at the same time in the reconciliation of all antagonisms:

Na kraju, na pravom i konačnom kraju, sve je ipak dobro i sve se rešava harmonično. Iako, ovde, zaista sve izgleda neskladno i bezizlazno zamršeno. Un jour tout sera bien, voilá notre espérance, kako je rekao vaš filozof. A drukčije se ne da ni zamisliti (p. 331)

(Still, in the end, the real, final end, all is for the best, everything works itself out in harmony. Here, it's true, everything does seem out of joint and hopelessly tangled up. 'Un jour tout sera bien, voilá notre espérance', [One day everything will be all right, so we hope] as your philosopher said).

According to legend the Salerno school of medicine, the first profane medical school in Europe, was founded by four masters, a Jow, a Greek, an Arab and a Salernitan, i.e. by representatives of the main cultural trends of that time; the same cultural trends as In Andrić's Bosnia: the Jews, the Moslems, the Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church. The school was founded at a time when Arab medicine was at its summit, and it drew scholars from near and far as i.e. the famous Constantine the African, "magister orientis t occidentis" who after years in the East sought refuge in Salerno.

It is indicative that Cologna believes in the reconciliation of what seems 'neskladno i bezizlazno zamršeno' (out of joint and hopelessly tangled up) in Bosnia, and that he defends the Salerno school which for so many years had been a mediator between Arabia and Europe . Also the fact that Cologna has adopted the title "ilirski doktor" shows a wish for reconciliation of the South Slav - the Illyrian - peoples.

The Franciscan monk Fra-Luka Dafinić from the monastery Guča Gora differs distinctly as a physician from his three colleagues. Although it is not stated explicitly it is obvious that he is a disciple of Theofrastus Bombastus Paracelsus, the renowned Swiss Renaissance physician who was the first significant opponent of the authority of Hippocrates and Galen and of the humoral pathology. This strange man was a professor of medicine at the university of Basel but gave up his academic career in favour of the unquiet existence of an itinerant physician. He rejected the old authorities and maintained that medicine should be rebuilt on the basis of experience, and that all proof should be based on "experimenta ac ratio" and not on statements in old books. In his search for experience he listened to the counsel of the common people. This aspect of his activity made him the father of modern folk medicine and has apparently attracted Andrić's interest. Fra-Luka is a true folk doctor and, as probably all Andrić's Fransiscans are, a preserver and practitioner of folk tradition; he is called likar with the local Bosnian form of the word for doctor instead of Andrić's standard lekar. When the four doctors are gathered to cure the French consul Daville's son, they.all act in an absolutely indicative way: d'Avenat and Cologna start a quarrel about the diagnosis and the cure, Mordo Atijas remains silent, but Fra-Luka sets off for his monastery to get some special herbs and we are also told that he always has a pot with various herbs boiling and that his cell is full of precious sorts of wood, stones and minerals and skin and horn from various animals.

In his belief in the appropriateness of nature, Fra-Luka is continuing Paracelsus's principles as they are expressed in his works: "Just as you recognize the female by her forms, you can recognize the medicaments. As God created all diseases he has created a remedy for each of them. They are everywhere in nature, for the whole world is a pharmacy and God is the supreme pharmacist". Fra-Luka's version of this conception does not really diverge from it. In the passage qouted below, the sentences about the close connection between disease and remedy may even be interpreted as if Fra-Luka also believes in Paracelsus's signature-doctrine. At any rate their conviction that there are healing forces in herbs and minerals is identical.

Fra-Luka je tvrdo verovao da se u prirodi nalazi onoliko lekovitih snaga koliko bolesti ima medju ljudima i životinjama. I jedno se sa drugim tačno podudara u dram i u nokat. To su veliki računi kojima nema rešenja ni mere, ali isto tako ne može biti sumnje da su tačni, bez ostatka, tamo negde na nedoglednom kraju. A te lekovite snage nalaze se, kako su stari učili, "in herbis, in verbis et in lapidibus". U sebi, fra Luka je smelo verovao, iako to nije ni sam sebi priznavao, da se svaka zla promena na ljudskom telu da suzbiti, bar u teoriji, jer bolest i njen lek nastaju i žive istrovremeno, iako daleko, često nedostižno daleko jedno od drugog. (p. 272-73)

(Fra Luka firmly believed that there are as many varieties of healing force in nature as there are diseases among men and animals. And the one exactly corresponds with the other down to the least particular. These are high calculations, beyond proof or measurement, but there can nevertheless be no doubt that they are accurate and that they work out, somewhere yonder in that land beyond human sight. And these healing forces are to be found, as the ancients taught, "in herbs, in words and in stones", in herbis, in verbis et in lapidibus. Privately, Fra Luka had the boldness to believe - although he never admitted this even to himself - that every hurtful change in the human body can be countered, at least in theory, since the sickness and its cure both exist and dwell together in the world, though they may lie far, often inaccessibly far, from each other).

We find another basic Paracelsian principle in Fra-Luka's belief that everything in the world is either growth or decline. According to Paracelsus there is a constant struggle between two opposed forces inside the body: one anabolic, health-preserving the other destructive, health-destroying and the individual's state of health depends on which of the two forces predominates. This conception is very easy to recognize in the description of Fra-Luka as a physician:

Posmatrajući iz dana u dan, iz godine u godinu, trave, rude i živa bića oko sebe i njihove promene i kretanja, fra Luka je sve jasnije otkrivao da u svetu, ovakvom kakvog ga mi vidimo, postoje samo dvoje: rastenje i opadanje, i to usko i nerazmrsivo povezani, večito i svuda u pokretu. Sve pojave oko nas samo su odvojene faze te beskrajne, složene večne plime i oseke, samo fikcije, prolazni trenuci koje mi proizvoljno izdvajamo, označavamo i nazivamo utvrdjenim imenima, kao što su zdravlje, bolest i umiranje. A sve to, naravno, ne postoji Postoje samo rastenje i opadanje, u raznim stanjima pod raznim vidovima. I sva je lekarska veština: upoznavati, hvatati i iskorišćavati snage koje idu u pravcu rastenja "kao mornar vjetrove", a izbegavati i odstranjivati sve one koje služe opadanju. Onde gde čovek uspe da uhvati tu snagu, ozdravlja se i plovi dalje; onđe gde to ne pođje za rukom, tone se prosto i nezadržljivo; a u velikom i nevidljivom knjigovodstvu rastenja i opadanja prenosi se jedna snaga sa prve strane na drugu. (p. 271)

(By dint of considering day in and day out, year in and year out, the herbs, minerals and living creatures about him, their changes and their movements, Fra Luka has come more and more clearly to the conclusion that in the world as we see it two things alone exist - growth and decay - and that they are intimately and indissolubly bound up with each other and are eternally and everywhere in action. All phenomena around us are merely different phases of this endless, complex, perpetual ebb and flow; they are merely illusions, transitory moments which we arbitrarily detach and distinguish and call by definite names, such as health, sickness and death - all of which, equally, do not exist. Only growth and decay exist, at different stages and under different aspects. The whole art of medicine consists in recognizing, seizing and turning to advantage the forces making for growth, "as the sailor makes use of the winds" and in eluding and diverting all those forces which serve decay. Wherever a man manages to catch hold of this force, he recovers and sails on: wherever it escapes his grasp, he founders, simply and past holding; and in the great invisible account of growth and decay one force is transferred from one side of the ledger to the other).

Fra-Luka should be seen as a representative of the Fransiscan element in Bosnia, which seems quite important since Andrić writes about Fransiscans again and again and always in some way or another as preservers of a national or a popular tradition.

At any rate, there is at clear opposition between the academic medical tradition, represented by d'Avenat and Cologna and the folk tradition represented by Fra-Luka. This opposition should of course be seen in the light of the general oppositional structure of Travnička hronika .

The passages about the doctors of Travnik are all short but very concentrated in their descriptions of their medical background and general conception of health and disease. Apart from the text about Mordo Atijas,. they all end in the same way: "Takav je lekar bio César d'Avenat" (p. 264), ('Such was César d'Avenat's way as a doctor'). "Takav je bio fra Luka Dafinić, likar" (p. 273), ('Such was Fra-Luka Dafinić, the doctor'). "Takav je, ukratko, bio 'ilirski doctor'" (p. 291), ('Such, briefly, was the "Illyrian doctor"'). Such sentences challenge the reader to compare the doctors to each other. This paper is a response to that challenge. As physicians they fit into the general pattern of Travnička hronika, but their mutual oppositions are elaborated by means of their medical concepts, and there characteristics as bearers of certain cultural traits are deepened in a very subtle way. Finally, a new trend, the connexion with the ancient world is introduced in Andrić's work.


  1. Page references are to Sabrana djela Ive Andrića, Knjiga druga, Sarajevo 1981.
  2. English quotations from Kenneth Johnstone's translation, London, 1958.

Per Jacobsen, The Doctors of Travnik, Svantevit. Dansk tidsskrift for slavistik, X/1-2, 1985, p. 93-103.

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