Early years

Mihail (as he appears in baptismal records) or Mihai (the more common form of the name that he used) was born in Botoșani [ro], Moldavia. He spent his early childhood in Botoșani and Ipotești, in his parents family home. From 1858 to 1866 he attended school in Cernăuți. He finished 4th grade as the 5th of 82 students, after which he attended two years of gymnasium. The first evidence of Eminescu as a writer is in 1866. In January of that year Romanian teacher Aron Pumnul died and his students in Cernăuţi published a pamphlet, Lăcrămioarele învățăceilor gimnaziaști (The Tears of the Gymnasium Students) in which a poem entitled La mormântul lui Aron Pumnul (At the Grave of Aron Pumnul) appears, signed "M. Eminovici". On 25 February his poem De-aș avea (If I Had) was published in Iosif Vulcan's literary magazine Familia in Pest. This began a steady series of published poems (and the occasional translation from German). Also, it was Iosif Vulcan, who disliked the Slavic source suffix "-ici" of the young poet's last name, that chose for him the more apparent Romanian "nom de plume" Mihai Eminescu.

In 1867, he joined Iorgu Caragiale's troupe as a clerk and prompter; the next year he transferred to Mihai Pascaly's troupe. Both of these were among the leading Romanian theatrical troupes of their day, the latter including Matei Millo and Fanny Tardini-Vlădicescu [ro]. He soon settled in Bucharest, where at the end of November he became a clerk and copyist for the National Theater. Throughout this period, he continued to write and publish poems. He also paid his rent by translating hundreds of pages of a book by Heinrich Theodor Rotscher, although this never resulted in a completed work. Also at this time he began his novel Geniu pustiu (Wasted Genius), published posthumously in 1904 in an unfinished form.

On April 1, 1869, he was one of the co-founders of the "Orient" literary circle, whose interests included the gathering of Romanian folklore and documents relating to Romanian literary history. On 29 June, various members of the "Orient" group were commissioned to go to different provinces. Eminescu was assigned Moldavia. That summer, he quite by chance ran into his brother Iorgu, a military officer, in Cișmigiu Gardens, but firmly rebuffed Iorgu's attempt to get him to renew his ties to his family.

Still in the summer of 1869, he left Pascaly's troupe and traveled to Cernăuţi and Iaşi. He renewed ties to his family; his father promised him a regular allowance to pursue studies in Vienna in the fall. As always, he continued to write and publish poetry; notably, on the occasion of the death of the former ruler of Wallachia, Barbu Dimitrie Știrbei, he published a leaflet, La moartea principelui Știrbei ("On the Death of Prince Știrbei").

1870s

From October 1869 to 1872 Eminescu studied in Vienna. Not fulfilling the requirements to become a university student (as he did not have a baccalaureate degree), he attended lectures as a so-called "extraordinary auditor" at the Faculty of Philosophy and Law. He was active in student life, befriended Ioan Slavici, and came to know Vienna through Veronica Micle; he became a contributor to Convorbiri Literare (Literary Conversations), edited by Junimea (The Youth). The leaders of this cultural organisation, Petre P. Carp, Vasile Pogor, Theodor Rosetti, Iacob Negruzzi and Titu Maiorescu, exercised their political and cultural influence over Eminescu for the rest of his life. Impressed by one of Eminescu's poems, Venere şi Madonă (Venus and Madonna), Iacob Negruzzi, the editor of Convorbiri Literare, traveled to Vienna to meet him. Negruzzi would later write how he could pick Eminescu out of a crowd of young people in a Viennese café by his "romantic" appearance: long hair and gaze lost in thoughts.

In 1870 Eminescu wrote three articles under the pseudonym "Varro" in Federaţiunea in Pest, on the situation of Romanians and other minorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He then became a journalist for the newspaper Albina (The Bee) in Pest. From 1872 to 1874 he continued as a student in Berlin, thanks to a stipend offered by Junimea.

From 1874 to 1877, he worked as director of the Central Library in Iași, substitute teacher, school inspector for the counties of Iași and Vaslui, and editor of the newspaper Curierul de Iași (The Courier of Iaşi), all thanks to his friendship with Titu Maiorescu, the leader of Junimea and rector of the University of Iași. He continued to publish in Convorbiri Literare. He also was a good friend of Ion Creangă, a writer, whom he convinced to become a writer and introduced to the Junimea literary club.

In 1877 he moved to Bucharest, where until 1883 he was first journalist, then (1880) editor-in-chief of the newspaper Timpul (The Time). During this time he wrote Scrisorile, Luceafărul, Odă în metru antic etc. Most of his notable editorial pieces belong to this period, when Romania was fighting the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 and throughout the diplomatic race that eventually brought about the international recognition of Romanian independence, but under the condition of bestowing Romanian citizenship to all subjects of Jewish faith. Eminescu opposed this and another clause of the Treaty of Berlin: Romania's having to give southern Bessarabia to Russia in exchange for Northern Dobrudja, a former Ottoman province on the Black Sea.

Later life and death

The 1880s were a time of crisis and deterioration in the poet's life, culminating with his death in 1889. The details of this are still debated.

From 1883 - when Eminescu's personal crisis and his more problematic health issues became evident - until 1886, the poet was treated in Austria and Italy, by specialists that managed to get him on his feet, as testified by his good friend, writer Ioan Slavici. In 1886, Eminescu suffered a nervous breakdown and was treated by Romanian doctors, in particular Julian Bogdan and Panait Zosin. Immediately diagnosed with syphilis, after being hospitalized in a nervous diseases hospice within the Neamț Monastery, the poet was treated with mercury. Firstly, massages in Botoșani, applied by Dr. Itszak, and then in Bucharest at Dr. Alexandru A. Suțu's sanatorium, where between February–June 1889 he was injected with mercuric chloride. Professor Doctor Irinel Popescu, corresponding member of the Romanian Academy and president of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Romania, states that Eminescu died because of mercury poisoning. He also says that the poet was "treated" by a group of incompetent doctors and held in misery, which also shortened his life. Mercury was prohibited as treatment of syphilis in Western Europe in the 19th century, because of its adverse effects.

Mihai Eminescu died at 4 am, on 15 June 1889 at the Caritas Institute, a sanatorium run by Dr. Suțu and located on Plantelor Street Sector 2, Bucharest. Eminescu's last wish was a glass of milk, which the attending doctor slipped through the metallic peephole of the "cell" where he spent the last hours of his life. In response to this favor he was said to have whispered, "I'm crumbled". The next day, on 16 June 1889 he was officially declared deceased and legal papers to that effect were prepared by doctors Suțu and Petrescu, who submitted the official report. This paperwork is seen as ambiguous, because the poet's cause of death is not clearly stated and there was no indication of any other underlying condition that may have so suddenly resulted in his death. In fact both the poet's medical file and autopsy report indicate symptoms of a mental and not physical disorder. Moreover, at the autopsy performed by Dr. Tomescu and then by Dr. Marinescu from the laboratory at Babeș-Bolyai University, the brain could not be studied, because a nurse inadvertently forgot it on an open window, where it quickly decomposed.

One of the first hypotheses that disagreed with the post mortem findings for Eminescu's cause of death was printed on 28 June 1926 in an article from the newspaper Universul. This article forwards the hypothesis that Eminescu died after another patient, Petre Poenaru, former headmaster in Craiova, hit him in the head with a board.

Dr. Vineș, the physician assigned to Eminescu at Caritas argued at that time that the poet's death was the result of an infection secondary to his head injury. Specifically, he says that the head wound was infected, turning into an erysipelas, which then spread to the face, neck, upper limbs, thorax, and abdomen. In the same report, cited by Nicolae Georgescu in his work, Eminescu târziu, Vineș states that "Eminescu's death was not due to head trauma occurred 25 days earlier and which had healed completely, but was the consequence of an older endocarditis (diagnosed by late professor N. Tomescu)".

Contemporary specialists, primarily physicians who have dealt with the Eminescu case, reject both hypotheses on the cause of death of the poet. According to them, the poet died of cardio-respiratory arrest caused by mercury poisoning. Eminescu was wrongly diagnosed and treated, aiming his removal from public life, as some eminescologists claim. Eminescu was diagnosed since 1886 by Dr. Julian Bogdan from Iași as syphilitic, paralytic and on the verge of dementia due to alcohol abuse and syphilitic gummas emerged on the brain. The same diagnosis is given by Dr. Panait Zosin, who consulted Eminescu on 6 November 1886 and wrote that patient Eminescu suffered from a "mental alienation", caused by the emergence of syphilis and worsened by alcoholism. Further research showed that the poet was not suffering from syphilis.