January 8 – First Lithuanian Language Book, Ever!

Posted on January 8, 2018

Today is the anniversary of a long-ago event: the publishing (printing) of the first book in the Lithuanian language.

This occurred on this date in 1547. 

That's considerably after these other publishing milestones:

  • The first book ever printed by movable metal print technology was way back in 1377, in what is now Korea.
  • The first book printed in Europe with movable metal type was the Gutenberg Bible, published in 1455. This occurred in present-day Germany, but the Bible was written in Latin.
  • The first book printed in the German language soon followed, in 1461.
  • The first book printed in the Italian language - 1470.
  • The first book printed in the Spanish language - 1472.
  • The first book printed in the Valencian language - the language of Valencia, in what is now Spain - 1474.
  • The first book printed in the English language - around 1475.
I only show here the printing milestones up to English, but actually there was a steady trickle of "firsts," from 1475 to 1547 and beyond - first book printed in Dutch, Swedish, Armenian, etc., etc.

Nowadays popular books are commonly published in multiple languages. Actually, the number of languages a book has been printed in might be a good measure of just how popular that book is. For example, the first Harry Potter book has been published in at least 80 languages (English was first), Pippi Longstocking has been published in at least 70 languages (Swedish was first), and the Swiss classic Heidi has been published in more than 50 languages (German was first). From what I can tell, The Outsiders has been published in more than 30 languages, and A Wrinkle in Time has been published in over 15 languages. I'm sure there are plenty of not-such-big hits that have only been published in one language.

I thought to myself that The Bible has to be the most widely translated book of all time, so I looked it up - and I was right! According to one website I found, the Bible has been published in 469 languages! Wikipedia puts the number at 670 languages!!

Then I wondered which are the most widely translated children's books. From what I can tell, the top kids' books are:

Andersen's Fairy Tales - first published in Danish - 153 languages
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - first published in English - 174 languages
Pinocchio - first published in Italian - more than 260 languages 
The Little Prince - first published in French - 300 languages

Getting back to the first Lithuanian book...

The book was The Simple Words of Catechism, and it was Martynas Mažvydas who compiled and published the book. 

The book was published in Königsberg, which was a city in Germany before World War II but was pretty much destroyed during the war - and then was annexed by the Soviet Union. 

Presently it is a Russian city named Kaliningrad - BUT it is very unusual, because it is not located within the borders of Russia. Instead, it is an exclave - a bit of Russia entirely separate from the rest, surrounded by other nations - specifically, Poland and Lithuania - and the Baltic Sea.

In case you are uncertain about how far Kaliningrad is from Russia...
below is a map that makes it more clear:

Here are a few old pictures of Königsberg:

Here is a picture of Königsberg badly damaged by Allied bombing:

And here are some photos of Kaliningrad:

This is Rossgarten Gate. It looks to be an old structure, from the city's
Königsberg days, that is now being used as a restaurant.

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