The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition

5. The historical lament for the fall or destruction of cities

Laments for cities are inspired initially by historical events. They do not belong essentially to the same group of ritual, functional songs as the laments for the dead or for gods which have been discussed so far. It would therefore be outside the scope of the present book to make an exhaustive study of all the available material, especially of the numerous literary thrênoi written in the vernacular language during the two centuries following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and of the vast wealth of folk songs lamenting historical events which have been recorded from many parts of Greece since the last century. Nor can I attempt to discuss in detail the diverse and complex problems which they raise, such as the historical accuracy of the modem folk songs referring to events as distant as the fall of Constantinople. What I hope to do in this chapter is to indicate that there has been an unbroken tradition of such historical laments in Greek, both learned and vernacular; and also to demonstrate something of their poetic technique and their significance and relevance within the tradition of lamentation as a whole.

The ancient lament for cities

In Aeschylus’ Persians, the news of the defeat of the Persian army is brought by the Messenger during the first episode. Four lines of lamentation spell out the extent of the disaster:

ὦ γῆς ἁπάσης Ἀσιάδος πολίσματα,
ὦ Περσὶς αἶα καὶ πολὺς πλούτου λιμήν,
ὡς ἐν μιᾷ πληγῇ κατέφθαρται πολὺς
ὄλβος, τὸ Περσῶν δ’ ἄνθος οἴχεται πεσόν.

A. Pers. 249-5 {83|84}

O cities of the entire Asian Land,
O Persian earth, and great haven of wealth,
how in one stroke is your great happiness
shattered, the flower of the Persians fallen and perished!

There follows a kommós in which the lyrical lament of the chorus is interrupted by the Messenger’s bald statement of facts in two lines of iambic trimeter (268-73). The theme is taken up in lyrical form in the first stasimon (532-97), in narrative form by the spirit of Dareios (759-86), by the chorus again (852-906), until the climax is reached in the closing kommós, where the chorus’ persistent questions about the fate of Persia’s heroes are answered by Xerxes (955-77). At the end of the play Persia’s glory is mourned as gone for ever—a fact which is emphasised by the recurrent use of the perfect tense:

Ξε. βεβᾶσι γὰρ τοίπερ ἀγρέται στρατοῦ.
Χο. βεβᾶσιν, οἴ, νώνυμοι.


Xe.: Gone, then, are the army’s leaders.
Cho.: Gone, alas, unnamed!

Ξε. Πεπλήγμεθ᾽ οἵα δι’ αἰῶνος τύχᾳ·
Χο. πεπλήγμεθ’ · εὔδηλα γάρ.


Xe.: We are stricken with misfortune through the ages.
Cho.: We are stricken—it is too clear.

The chorus in Euripides’ Trojan Women invoke the Muse to sing ‘a funeral song of new hymns’ for the fall of Troy (511-14). Later, Andromache and Hekabe weep together for their city’s destruction, reiterating the perfect tense as did the chorus at the end of the Persians , βέβακ᾽ ὄλβος, βέβακε Τροία (happiness has gone, Troy has gone!). [1]

Did this type of lament have any basis outside tragedy? Euripides wrote an epikédeion for the defeat of the Athenians at Syracuse, and another is said to have been written for the loss of some Spartans. [2] An anonymous tragic fragment lamenting the fall of Persia, and probably written not long after the event, contains the same formulaic structure of repeated questions with where?, and answered by the statement of the last line, as we used in Aeschylus’ Persians: [3]

Ποῦ γὰρ τὰ σεμνὰ κεῖνα; ποῦ δὲ Λυδίας
μέγας δυνάστης Κροῖσος ἢ Ξέρξης βαθὺν
ζεύξας θαλάσσης αὐχέν᾽ Ἑλλησποντίας;
ἄπαντ᾽ ἐς ῾Άιδην ἦλθε καὶ Λήθης δόμους.

Nauck 909.372 {84|85}

Where are those majestic things? Where is Kroisos,
great lord of Lydia, or Xerxes, who yoked
the deep neck of the sea of Hellespont?
All are gone to Hades and to Lethe’s halls.

This structure appears to have been traditional to the lament for cities. It occurs again in an epigram by Antipater of Sidon (second century B.C.) for the sack of Corinth by L. Mummius in 146 B.C.: [

Ποῦ τὸ περίβλεπτον κάλλος σέο, Δωρὶ Κόρινθε;
          ποῦ στεφάναι πύργων, ποῦ τὰ πάλαι κτέανα;
ποῦ νηοὶ μακάρων; ποῦ δώματα; ποῦ δὲ δάμαρτες
          Σισύφιαι λαῶν θ’ αἵ ποτε μυριάδες;
οὐδέ γὰρ οὐδ’ ἴχνος, πολυκάμμορε, σεῖο λέλειπται,
          πάντα δὲ συμμάρψας ἐξέφαγεν πόλεμος.

AP 9.151

Where is your much-admired beauty, Dorian Corinth?
          where is your crown of towers, where are your possessions of old?
where are the temples of the immortals, the houses, the wives
          of Sisyphian Corinth, and the myriads of people?
Not even a trace has been left of you, ill-fated town,
          but all has been seized and devoured by war.

Byzantine tradition and the laments for the fall of Constantinople

The chief problem connected with the vernacular thrênoi is that of their composition and sources. In the absence of any reliable external evidence for authorship and dates, some scholars have attempted to argue the derivation of one poem from another by comparing the language, content and style. [15] Discussion has centred in particular on the Ἅλωσις τῆς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως (Capture of Constantinople), a poem of 2,000 lines once wrongly attributed to Emmanuel Georgillas of Rhodes, and on the shorter Ἀνακάλημα τῆς Κωνσταντινόπολης (Lament for Constantinople), generally assumed Cretan until Kriara put forward his case for its Cypriot authorship. The problem lies in the lack of firm criteria for establishing these hypotheses: the language of these poems, which might have been a useful indicator, is a standardised form of the vernacular with a number of archaisms but without sufficient use of dialect words to prove beyond doubt their provenance from either Cyprus or Crete. [16] More crucial perhaps is the question of the interdependence of the two poems. Eight passages have been claimed to occur in similar form in both the Álosis and the Anakálema, which, taken separately, might each be described as traditional phrases, but taken together have been argued to point to the knowledge, at least, of the one poem by the author of the other. If the Álosis was written not long after May 1453, as is generally supposed, then the author of the Anakálema could have known and used it. Another possibility has been suggested: that both poems are based on a third ‘archetypal’ lament which has not survived. [17]

Such a distinction should not be too sharply drawn, however. The Anakálema, perhaps the liveliest of the surviving poems of its type, opens and closes with the usual tag, couched in uncompromisingly archaising language:

Θρῆνος, κλαυμὸς καὶ ὀδυρμὸς καὶ στεναγμὸς καὶ λύπη,
θλῖψις ἀπαραμύθητος ἔπεσεν τοῖς Ρωμαίοις.

Anakálema 1-2

Lamentation, weeping and wailing, tears and grief,
inconsolable sorrow has befallen the Romaioi.

Nor is the Álosis consistently learned. Demotic words and formulaic expressions common in folk poetry frequently break through, giving the classical allusions a lively and popular colour. [
21] In the following passage, Aphrodite weeps for the slaughter of the Christians:

Ἄρης ἐπερνοδιάβαινε τὴν Τρίτην βουρκωμένος
ἀπὸ τὸν ἅγιον Ρωμανόν, ὅλως αἱματωμένος, {88|89}
στὸ αἷμα τῶν Χριστιανῶν αἱματοκυλισμένος.
Ἡ Ἀφροδίτης ἔστεκε τὰ δάκρυα γεμισμένη,
νὰ κλαίη νέους εὔμορφους, κοράσια ὡραιωμένα.
Καὶ ὁ Ἑρμῆς τάχα θρηνῶν, παρηγορῶν ἐκείνην·
— τί ἔχεις, Ἀφροδίτη μου, καὶ εἶσαι χολιασμένη;
Καὶ ἡ Σελήνη ἀπὸ μακρεά στέκει καὶ οὐδὲν σιμώνει,
καὶ βλέπει καὶ θαυμάζεται, καὶ τρέμει ἀφ᾽ τὸν φόβον
καὶ τὰ στοιχεῖα τ’ οὐρανοῦ κλαίουν, θρηνοῦν τὴν Πόλιν.

Álosis 420-9

Ares came along with glowering looks on Tuesday
by the Church of St Romanos, all covered in blood,
bathed in the blood of Christians.
Aphrodite stood, her eyes filled with tears,
weeping for the fine young men, for the beautiful girls.
And Hermes, as if lamenting and comforting her, said:
— What is it, my Aphrodite, why are you sulking?
And the Moon keeps her distance and does not come near,
she sees and marvels, and she trembles from fear.
And the elements of Heaven weep and mourn for the City.

Similarly, the Θρῆνος τῶν Τεσσάρων Πατριαρχείων (Thrênos of the Four Patriarchates), which takes the form of an imagined discussion between Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch, draws on the literary tradition of the past for much of the content, but on popular poetry for its language and style. [

The reason for the apparent ‘confusion’ lies both in the general characteristics of vernacular poetry in the fifteenth century, and in the specific factors which contributed to the evolution and composition of these thrênoi. While a modified form of the vernacular was an accepted medium for verse of this type, the use of dialect was still only incidental, not yet part of a conscious attempt to create a new and consistent poetic language such as begins later in Cyprus and finds its culmination in Crete. Hence any poet, whatever inspiration he drew from folk songs which were familiar to him, would modify to a greater or lesser extent. This explains the mixture of archaisms and demoticisms which is found in all our texts. Further, as we have seen, laments on other historical themes in learned prose as well as in popular poetry were already part of a well established tradition by the time of the fall. [23] Some ideas, such as the tendency to view adversity as punishment from God for man’s own iniquity, run through all the laments of this type, learned and popular alike. Finally, with the {89|90} disruption of established cultural patterns subsequent to the fall, poets were in a favourable position to exploit and be influenced by popular tradition to a hitherto unprecedented extent. This would explain why many well-defined features of folk style, such as swiftly-interchanging dialogue, catechistic questions and incremental repetition, make their sustained appearance for the first time at this period. [24] But it is not until over a hundred years later, when Cyprus was lamented after its fall to the Turks in 1570, that we find more concrete evidence of the writing-down of oral laments in the form of an appeal from the poet of the Thrênos himself: [25]

Ὅστις ἠξεύρει γράμματα καὶ γράφει μὲ κονδύλιν,
κοντά μ᾽ ἂς ἔλθη νὰ σταθῆ γιὰ νὰ τοῦ παραγγείλω
νὰ γράψη μοιργολογικὰ ὅλοι νὰ λυπηθῆτε.


Whoever knows letters and can write with a pen,
let him come and stand by me, and I will recite
for him to write laments, so that you will all grieve.

Modern historical laments

Two historical works of particular interest to the present study are concerned with the Cretan Wars of 1645-69, one in 1,400 rhymed verses by Anthimos Diakrousis of Kephallonia, and the other in 12,000 rhymed verses by Marinos Tzanes Bounialis, of a noble Cretan family from Rethymnon. [28] Although they are chronicles of the war, not thrênoi, both poems are pervaded with the theme of lamentation, sometimes in the form of short, lyrical thrênoi—which, especially in Diakrousis’ poem, tend to be more conventional and archaising in language and style than the rest of the work—but more frequently and more forcefully in the form of comment upon the events which both writers witnessed at first hand. The traditional idea of man’s responsibility for the disaster is still there, but it is presented through a lively dialogue with God. Sometimes, Crete herself begs for mercy, asking what she has done to deserve such cruelty. [29] As the population of Rethymnon prepares to evacuate in November 1646, before the final battle, Rethymnon herself mourns, tearing her cheeks and pulling her hair:

— Στράφου, Θεέ, καὶ κοίταξε σήμερον τὰ παιδιά μου
πῶς ἔχουν νὰ μ᾽ ἀπαρνηθοῦ ὁγιὰ τὰ κρίματά μου.
— Μὴν κλαίης, μηδὲ θρήνεσαι, μηδέ μοιρολογᾶσαι
κι ὅλοι θὲ νὰ μισεύσουσι καὶ μὴ παραπονᾶσαι.
Ἐκτύπησε τὰ στήθια της καὶ βαρυαναστενάζει
καὶ ἄρχισεν ὅλους νὰ φιλῆ, νὰ τσὶ σφικταγκαλιάζη
καὶ ὅλους νὰ τσὶ παρακαλῆ, γιὰ νὰ μὴ τὴν ἀφήσου
μ᾽ ἂς πᾶσιν ὅλοι στὰ χωριά, ὁγιά νὰ κατοικήσου.

Bounialis 220.10-17

— Turn, Lord, and behold today my children,
how they have to abandon me for my sins.
— Do not weep, do not lament, do not sing dirges,
for they will all leave you, so do not complain.
She beat her breast and sighed heavily,
and began to kiss them all and to embrace them,
and to beg them all not to leave her,
but to go to the villages, that they might dwell there.

The horror of war is felt through the concrete detail of everyday life—the hunger of the women and children, the desecration of the churches monasteries—and there are moments of real passion, as when Bounialis takes leave of his native Rethymnon after its fall:

— Πατρίδα μου, μισεύγω σου, ψυχή μου καὶ καρδιά μου,
καὶ τ᾽ ὄνομά σου μοναχὰς θ᾽ ἀκούεται στ᾽ αὐτιά μου, {91|92}
γιατὶ δὲν στέκω νὰ θωρῶ, πατρίδα, τὸν καημόν σου,
καὶ ποιὰ καρδιὰ νὰ μὴ ραγῆ τὸν ἀποχωρισμόν σου;

Ibid. 229.13-16

— My home town, I am leaving you, my soul and my heart,
my ears will hear only the sound of your name,
for I cannot bear to behold, my home, your grief,
— and what heart would not break at parting from you?

At the end of Bounialis’ poem, the devastation and desolation caused by the war and by emigration of so many Christians are lamented by Kastro (modern Iraklion) in a series of questions with where? [

Ὄφου! ποὖν᾽ τόσος μου λαός; ποῦ τόσοι πλοῦσοι ἀνθρῶποι;
ποὖν᾽ οἱ δασκάλοι κι οἱ σοφοί; δάρσου, καημένη Εὐρώπη!
Ἔπεσαν οἱ ὀλπίδες σας στὸ μαυρισμένον ἅδη …

Ibid. 555.23-5

Ófou! where are all my people? where are all my rich men?
where are the teachers and men of wisdom? Beat your breast, wretched Europe!
All your hopes have fallen, gone to blackened Hades …

The thrênoi we have discussed so far are all literary compositions or redactions, however closely they may approximate in some respects to folk tradition. Actual folk songs lamenting historical events were first recorded in the nineteenth century, and the tradition continues to this day. How do they compare with the more literary laments of the past? The songs are of two kinds, those which appear to refer to events of the distant past, and those which belong to more immediate past or to the present.

It is the first group which raises the most complex problems. The authenticity of some of these songs has been questioned, and the collectors of the last century have sometimes been accused of ‘stitching together’ versions which were never actually sung in the form in which they are published, or even of inventing the songs altogether. But the case for complete fabrication can rarely be proved, and there is a sufficient number of songs of indisputable authenticity to establish beyond reasonable doubt the memory of events as distant as the fall of Constantinople in modern oral tradition. This does not mean, of course, that collectors have not been guilty of the kind of minor editing of texts to which Politis admits in the introduction to his collection of 1914. [31] As to the historical accuracy of these folk laments it can be stated at the outset that their value to the historian is almost {92|93} negligible, since they do not document events, but reflect what has remained in popular consciousness. History is seen not as it was, but as through a prism of the intervening centuries, so that the details of one disaster become fused with another, more recent, or only a dim sense of tragedy remains, as in the Song for Adrianople, which refers, according to Politis, not to the capture of the city by the Russians in 1829, but to its fall to the Turks in 1362: [32]

Τ᾽ ἀηδόνια τῆς Ἀνατολῆς καὶ τὰ πουλιὰ τῆς Δύσης
κλαίγουν ἀργά, κλαίγουν ταχιά, κλαίγουν τὸ μεσημέρι,
κλαίγουν τὴνἈντριανόπολη τὴν πολυκουρσεμένη,
ὁποὺ τήνε κουρσέψανε τὶς τρεῖς γιορτὲς τοῦ χρόνου·
τοῦ Χριστουγέννου γιὰ κηρί, καὶ τοῦ Βαγιοῦ γιὰ βάγια,
καὶ τῆς Λαμπρῆς τὴν Κυριακὴ γιὰ τὸ Χριστὸς᾽ Ανέστη.

Politis 1

The nightingales of the East and the birds of the West
weep late, weep early, weep at mid-day,
they weep for Adrianople, sacked so many times,
sacked upon the three festivals of the year:
at Christmas with the candle, on Palm Sunday with the palm,
and on Easter Sunday at the cry of ‘Christ is risen!’

A further cause of confusion in identifying the events referred to is the recurrence of a large number of formulaic expressions and phrases in songs of differing date and theme. It has been argued, with some plausibility, that of the songs stated by Passow to refer to the fall of Constantinople, two were in fact composed for the capture of Thessaloniki by the Turks in 1430: [33]

Πῆραν τὴν πόλη, πῆραν την, πῆραν τὴ Σαλονίκη.
Πῆραν καὶ τὴν ἁγιὰ Σοφιά, τό μέγα μοναστῆρι,
ποῦ ’χε τριακόσια σήμαντρα κι ἑξήντα δυὸ καμπάνες·
κάθε καμπάνα καὶ παπάς, κάθε παπὰς καὶ διάκος.
Φωνὴ τοὺς ἦρτ’ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἀγγέλων ἀπ’ τὸ στόμα·
— Ἀφῆτ’ αὐτὴ τὴν ψαλμωδιά, νὰ χαμηλώσουν τ’ ἅγια·
καὶ στεῖλτε λόγο στὴν Φραγκιά, νά ’ρτουνε νὰ τὰ πιάσουν,
νὰ πάρουν τὸν χρυσὸ σταυρὸ καὶ τ’ ἅγιο τὸ βαγγέλιο,
καὶ τὴν ἁγία τράπεζα, νὰ μὴ τὴν ἀμολύνουν.
Σὰν τ’ ἄκουσεν ἡ δέσποινα, δακρύζουν οἱ εἰκόνες.
— Σώπασε, κυρὰ δέσποινα, μὴν κλαίγης, μὴ δακρύζης
πάλε μὲ χρόνους, μὲ καιρούς, πάλε δικά σας εἶναι.

Passow 194 {93|94}

They have taken the city, taken it, they have taken Saloniki.
And they have taken Saint Sophia, the great monastery,
with its three hundred clappers and sixty-two bells,
for every bell a priest, for every priest a deacon.
A voice came to them from heaven, from the mouth of angels:
— Cease is chanting, and let them lower the sacred things,
and send word to the West to come and fetch them,
to take the golden cross and the holy Gospel,
and the sacred altar, lest it be defiled.
When our Lady heard it, the icons wept.
— Be quiet, our Lady, do not weep, do not mourn,
with the years, with time, they shall be yours again.

Apart from the specific reference to Thessaloniki, there is little to distinguish this lament from its better known counterpart for Constantinople. The note of optimism at the end of these laments, which stands in striking contrast to the fatalistic acceptance of the fifteenth-century thrênoi, should not in my opinion be taken as an expression of Greek expansionism, as a popular form of the ‘Great Idea’, but rather as an example of simple, deeply-felt faith that one day, Saint Sophia would be returned to the Christians.

A particularly good illustration of the poetic technique of these historical laments is a ballad from the Pontos preserved by Periklis Triandafyllidis in 1870. [34] Its form is lyrical, not narrative, and there is considerable confusion in the presentation of events. According to Megas, its subject is the fall of Trebizond in 1461, but there is nothing in the text to exclude the possibility that this, like other Pontic ballads of the same type, refers to the fall of Constantinople. [35] The last six lines are obscure and confused, and may have been incorporated from another ballad; this in no way diminishes the interest of the song, rather it indicates that transmission over a long period of time is dependent upon such a process of accretion, in which themes from one ballad are fused unconsciously with those of another. What is important is not the sequence of events, but the sense of tragedy imparted by the sympathetic reaction of nature, and the tension of the dialogue, which is maintained not, as in the literary thrênoi, by sententious appeals, but by the concentrated ellipse of every superfluous fact:

Ἀκεῖ ᾽ ς σὸ πέραν τὸ λιβάδ᾽ μέγαν φωνὴν ἐξέβεν·
“Σκοτῶθαν οἰ δράκ᾽ Ἔλλενοι καὶ μύριοι μθριάδες.”
Οἰ μαῦροι ἐχλιμίτιζαν ᾽ς σὰ γαίματα βραχμένοι.{94|95}
“Ποῦ πᾶς; ποῦ πᾶς; ἀιλὶ ποῦ πᾶς; ποῦ φέρεις καὶ τοὺς μαύρους;”
— Ἀιλὶ ἐμᾶς καὶ βάι ἐμᾶς, ’πάρθεν ἡ ἀφεντία!
— Ντ’ ἐποίκαμέ σε, νὲ Θεέ, ’ς σὰ γαίματα βραχμένοι;
Ντὸ ἔπαθες, τρυγόνα μου, ’κι πίν’ς ἂς τὸ νερόν μας;
— Ἐγὼ φαγὶν πὰς κ’ ἔφαγα, νὰ πίν᾽ ἂς τὸ νερόν σας,
Ἐμὲν κορώνα ’κ εἴπανε νὰ πίνω νερὸν κ’ αἷμαν,
ἐμὲν κορώνα ’κ εἴπανε νὰ τρώγω στούδ’ καὶ κρέας.
Ἐμὲν τρυγόνα λέγ’νε με στὰ ’ψηλὰ τὰ κλαδόπα·
τὰ γαίματα μ’ ἐτύφλωσαν τῶν δράκων τῶν Ἑλλένων.

Κάτ’ ’κι τερεῖς τὸν ποταμὸν πῶς πάγνε τὰ κιφάλια;
ἐκεῖ κιφάλια μοναχά, ὠτῖα καὶ μυτία.
— Γιὰ δεῖξ’τε με καὶ τὸ σπαθίν, ντ’ ἐντῶκεν καὶ τὸν γιοῦκα μ᾽.
— Μέρος πάγει ὁ ποταμὸς καὶ μέρος τὸ σπαθίν ἀτ᾽.
Οἱ Τοῦρκ’ ἀτον ἐκύκλωσαν ἀφκὰ στὴν φτεριδέαν.
Χίλιους ἐκόψεν τὸ πουρνόν, μύριους τὸ μεσημέριν
κ’ ἡ μάννα τ’ ἡ χιλιάκλερος στὰ δάκρυα εἶν᾽ βαμμένη.
— “Ἀιλὶ ἐμᾶς καὶ βάι ἐμᾶς, ἐλλάεν ἀφεντία!”

Laog (1957) 379-80

There in yonder meadow a great voice was heard:
‘The brave Greeks are slain, in tens upon tens of thousand!’
The horses whinnied, soaked in blood.
‘Where are you going? Where, alas? Where are you taking the horses?’
— Alas for us! Woe upon us! The empire has been taken!
— What have we done to you, Lord, that we are bathed in blood?
What is the matter, turtle-dove, that you do not drink our water?
— Do you think I have eaten food, that I should drink your water?
I am no crow that I should drink water and blood,
I am no crow that I should eat bones and flesh.
I am called the turtle-dove and I dwell in lofty branches,
and the blood of the brave Greeks has blinded me.

Why can’t you see how the river carries along the heads?
Only the heads are there, and ears and noses.
— Show me the spear that struck my child.
— On the one side flows the river, on the other side is his spear.
The Turks ringed him round down where the ferns are growing. {95|96}
He slew thousands in the morning, at mid-day tens of thousands,
and his mother, forlorn, is bathed in tears.
— ‘Alas for us! Woe upon us! The empire has changed!’

To turn now to the folk songs which refer to events of the more immediate past, some indication of their popularity is afforded by the number and variety of those collected from Epiros alone between 1786 and 1881. [36] Almost every year, there was something to lament, sometimes an intensive campaign, fought and lost, as in Souli from 1792 to 1803, and sometimes a particularly traitorous agreement, such as the sale of Parga by the British to the Turks in 1817-19. The ballad, already discussed in chapter 3, makes it clear that it was not so much the loss of Parga which aroused popular indignation, as the means by which it had been accomplished—the people had not been defeated in battle, nor had the city been razed by fire, but they had been sold like cattle and driven from their homes (Giankas 44.5-8). The universal, collective character of their lamentation is also emphasised:

Τραβοῦν γυναῖκες τὰ μαλλιά, δέρνουν τ’ ἄσπρα τους στήθια,
μοιρολογοῦν οἱ γέροντες μὲ μαῦρα μοιρολόγια,
παπάδες μέ τὰ δάκρυα γδύνουν τὶς ἐκκλησιές τους.

Giankas 44.10-12

Women pull their hair and beat their white breasts,
and old men lament with black dirges.
Priests strip their churches with tears in their eyes.

Similarly, the treaty of Berlin signed in 1881 by ‘eight royal powers’ was regarded by the people of Epiros as a betrayal, because it separated Epiros north of Arta from the rest of Greece and kept it in subjugation to the Turks. The note of anger is sustained by the formulaic reiteration of the past tense at the same point of a line or half-line:

Σ᾽ ὅλον τὸν κόσμο ξαστεριά, σ’ ὅλον τὸν κόσμον ἥλιος
καὶ στὰ καημένα Γιάννενα μαῦρο, παχὺ σκοτάδι
τὶ φέτο ἐκάμαν τὴ βουλὴ ὀχτώ βασίλεια ἀνθρῶποι
κι ἐβάλανε τὰ σύνορα στῆς Ἄρτας τὸ ποτάμι.
Κι ἀφήκανε τὰ Γιάννενα καὶ πήρανε τὴν Ποῦντα,
κι ἀφήκανε τὰ Γιάννενα καὶ πήρανε τὴν Ἄρτα,
κι ἀφήκανε τὸ Μέτσοβο μὲ τὰ χωριά του γύρα.

Ibid. 66 {96|97}

Clear skies and sun are upon the whole world,
and in wretched Iannina there is darkness, black and thick.
For eight royal powers have held council this year,
and they set the frontiers at the river of Arta.
They have left Iannina and taken Pounta,
they have left Iannina and taken Arta,
and they have left Metsovo with its villages around.

Other recurrent formulaic structures include the repetition of specific verbs, such as κλαῖνε (they weep) and πῆραν (they have taken) at the beginning of a line or phrase. This last device is common in all the folk laments, for more distant as well as for more recent disasters. [40] In one of the shorter laments for the fall of Souli, the news is conveyed by means of stichomythic dialogue, as in the Anakálema:

Ἕνα πουλάκι ξέβγαινε ἀπὸ τὸ κακοσοῦλι.
Παργιῶτες τὸ ρωτήσανε, Παργιῶτες τὸ ρωτοῦνε
— Πουλάκι, ποῦθεν ἔρχεσαι; πουλί μου, ποῦ πηγαίνεις;
— Ἀπὸ τὸ Σοῦλι ἔρχομαι, καὶ στὴν Φραγκιὰν πηγαίνω. {97|98}
— Πουλάκι, πές μας τίποτε, κάνα καλὸ μαντάτο;
— Ἄχ, τί μαντάτα νὰ σᾶς πῶ; τί νὰ σᾶς μολογήσω;
Πῆραν τὸ Σοῦλι, πήρανε, κι αὐτὸν τὸν Ἀβαρίκον,
πῆραν τὴν Κιάφαν τὴν κακήν, ἐπῆραν καὶ τὸ Κοῦγκι,
κι ἔκαψαν τὸν καλόγερον μὲ τέσσερες νομάτους.

Giankas 32

A bird was coming out from wretched Souli.
Men from Parga asked it, men from Parga ask it:
— Bird, where do you come from? My bird, where are you going?
— I come from Souli, and I am going to the west.
— Bird, tell us something, some good tidings!
— Ach, what tidings can I bring you? What can I tell you?
They have taken Souli, they have taken it, and Avarikos as well,
they have taken wretched Kiafa, they have taken Koungi too,
and they have burnt the monk together with four men.

Καράβιν ἐκατέβαινε στὰ μέρη τῆς Τενέδου
καὶ κάτεργον τὸ ὑπάντησε, στέκει κι ἀναρωτᾶ το ·
— Καράβιν, πόθεν ἔρκεσαι καὶ πόθεν κατεβαίνεις;
— Ἔρκομαι ἀκ τ’ ἀνάθεμα κι ἐκ τὸ βαρὺν τὸ σκότος,
ἀκ τὴν ἀστραποχάλαζην, ἀκ τήν ἀνεμοζάλην
ἀπὲ τὴν Πόλην ἔρχομαι τὴν ἀστραποκαμένην.
Ἐγώ γομάριν δὲ βαστῶ, ἀμμὲ μαντάτα φέρνω
κακὰ διὰ τοὺς χριστιανούς, πικρά καὶ δολωμένα:
Οἱ Τοῦρκοι ὅτε ηρθασιν, ἐπήρασιν τὴν Πόλην,
ἀπώλεσαν τοὺς χριστιανοὺς ἐκεῖ καὶ πανταχόθεν.

Anakâlema 6-15

A boat was coming down to the regions of Tenedos
and a galley met it, and it stops to ask it:
— Boat, where do you come from and where have you come down from?
— I come from the accursed and from the heavy darkness,
from lightning and hail, from storm and whirlwind,
I come from the city which is stricken with lightning.
I carry no cargo, but I bear tidings
evil for Christians, bitter and grievous:
When the Turks came, they took the City,
they annihilated the Christians there and everywhere!

Finally, Roumeli’s lament for John Kapodistrias, the President of Greece who was assassinated in 1831, uses the same formula in a {98|99} dialogue between a Greek and Roumeli as occurred in the dialogue between Hermes and Aphrodite in the Álosis:

— Tί ἔχεις, καημένη Ρούμελη, καὶ βαρυαναστενάζεις;
— Ἕλληνα, σὰν μ’ ἐρώτησες, θὰ σοῦ τὸ μολογήσω.

Giankas 55.2-3

— What is it, wretched Roumeli, that you groan so heavily?
— Greek, since you have asked me, I will tell you why.

This tradition has not died out, even today. A folk song from the village of Paramythia in Epiros laments the slaughter of forty-nine youths by the Germans during the Second World War in dialogue form:

— Ὠρέ, Παραμυθιά, γιατί φορεῖς τὰ μαῦρα;
— Οἱ Γερμανοί μοῦ σκότωσαν σαράντα-ἐννιὰ καμάρια,
ὠρέ, τοὺς πῆηραν ἀπὸ τὰ στίτια τους
χωρὶς νὰ ποῦν οὔτε μιὰ καλὴ νύχτα.

— Oré, Paramythia, why are you dressed in black?
— The Germans have killed forty-nine of my bravest men, {99|100}
oré, they took them from their homes,
they could not even bid goodnight.

In 1963, I recorded a group of such laments—some in Greek, some in Vlachic—from the village of Rhodia in Thessaly. The people who sang them to me claimed to know a sufficient number, all composed by themselves during the Second World War, to last for several days and nights. The first, in Vlachic, is called Lament for 1940, and stresses the importance of a united Balkan resistance to the Germans:

1940 was a very bad year. Lelé, lelé!
First came the Italians, then the Germans. Lelé, lelé!
Five aeroplanes came down and hid the sun. Lelé lelé!
Stand up, Balkan people, and do not submit! Lelé, lelé!
Arise, Balkan people, and resist the enemy! Lelé, lelé!

Another, in Greek, refers to the Italian occupation of 1940, and to the battles fought in western Macedonia near the Albanian border:

Ἐσεῖς βουνὰ τῆς Κόνιτσας κι ἐσεῖς βουνά τοῦ Γράμμου,
ποτὲς μὴν λουλουδίσετε, χορτάρι μὴ φυτρῶστε,
μὲ τὸ κακὸ ποὺ ἔγινε τοῦτο τὸ καλοκαίρι,
γέμισαν τὰ βουνὰ κορμιά, καὶ οἱ χαράδρες αἷμα.

You mountains of Konitsa, and you mountains of Grammos,
never burst into flower, do not grow grass,
because of the evil which took place this summer.
The mountains are filled with bodies, and the ravines with blood.

The same lines, with very slight variation, are found in a lament for the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922, recorded soon after the event. [

These formulaic survivals reflect a continuity of consciousness as well as of form. The villagers who sang the laments for the last war also recorded for me several laments in Kleftic style for heroes of the Greek struggle for independence from the Turks. The names of the heroes and their feats were a matter of passionate concern to them, because they saw them as part of their own history. One young boy of fifteen, employed in a small workshop in Larisa, after listening to the older historical songs and to the animated discussion which they aroused, remarked spontaneously, ‘when I hear such things, my eyes fill with tears and my hair stands on end.’ It is true that with the {100|101} passage of time, details are confused and forgotten, and that many longer ballads have become fragmented. But these laments are not unhistorical, because they are a poetic expression of a long chain of events throughout Greek history which have called for lamentation, the memory of recent events keeping alive and merging with the memory of older calamities. The tradition will die out only when it becomes historically and culturally irrelevant to the people in whose consciousness it is preserved.


[ back ] 1. E. Tr. 582, cf. 98ff., 600, 1317-32, A. Ag. 321-9, 1167-72.

[ back ] 2. ALG 1.76.1, Plu. Pel. 1.

[ back ] 3. A. Pers. 956-77.

[ back ] 4. Cf. Peek 1880 for the same structure. Kallimachos’ lament for Queen Arsinoe refers to dirges sung by the whole city: θρῆνοι πόλιν ὑμετέρ[αν κατέχοντι πᾶσαν∙] οὐχ ὡς ἐπὶ δαμοτέρων δ᾽ ὀλέθρῳ κέκοπται χθών … fr. ed. Pfeiffer 1 (Pap. Berol, 1.13417a.70).

[ back ] 5. 18.8 ed. Keil, cf. Philostr. 2.9.582.

[ back ] 6. Malalas, Migne 97.235, 243,419a-421c, cf. 486, 491.

[ back ] 7. Similar rhetorical figures, and even identical phrases, occur in Niketas Choniates’ rhetorical lament for the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and in Michael Doukas’ lament for its fall in 1453; yet both claim to be based on eye-witness accounts, see Choniates Hist. 763-7 (Bonn 1835) and Doukas Hist. Byz. 11.305d-311a (Bonn 1834).

[ back ] 8. Hist. 365.9-11.

[ back ] 9. Ibid. 763-7. The lament is preceded by an account of the pillage and massacre, and of the universal lamentation of the people, 757.18, 760.5-9.

[ back ] 10. Ed. Lambros 2.397-8, cf, 1.93-106. Similar phrases occur in Demetrios Kydones, Oratio de non reddenda Callipoli Migne 154.1013a-c.

[ back ] 11. Anagnostes, de Thessalonicensi excidio 481-528 (Bonn 1838). Two anonymous thrênoi in learned style for the fall of Thessaloniki are published by Lambros NE (1908) 372-91. Both belong to the fifteenth century, and, though independent, show common features. Another verse chronicle in politikòs stíchos but learned language is published by Sathas MB 1.245, see also BZ (1889) 421.

[ back ] 12. Lambros NE (1908) no. 1, 206.20, cf. Mich. Choniates ed. Lambros 2.398, 19-20: Ποῦ νῦν τὰ σεμνά, τλημονεστάτη πόλις; | ὡς φροῦδα πάντα καὶ κατάλληλα μύθοις.

[ back ] 13. Lambros no. 2, 219.20-226.9 and no. 6, 249. Cf. Politis Laog (1909) 127-9, LS 1.14-27.

[ back ] 14. For a catalogue of all thrênoi, learned and popular, see Zoras AK 157-283. For texts, see Lambros NE (1908) 190-271, Zoras BP 177-221, ED (1950) 851-62, SBN (1935) 239.

[ back ] 15. See Zoras SBN (1935) 239, Kriaras Anakálema 12-20.

[ back ] 16. On the provenance and authorship of the Álosis, see Hadzidakis BZ (1894) 581-98, Knös Ell (1967) 311-37; and on the Anakálema, see Kriaras 1-19, Morgan KCh (1960) 394-404. Other articles, and a complete list of editions of the two poems, are cited by Beck GBV 164-6, who considers both the Cretan and the Cypriot origin of the Anakálema hard to prove.

[ back ] 17. Kriaras 19.

[ back ] 18. Anakal. 96: τὴν Πόλην τὴν ἐξάκουστην, cf. Al. 668 (Kriaras 17-18). Other parallels, equally close, include Thrênos of the Four Patriarchates 59, Politis 5.10, 6.8, Giankas 27.12, 29.9, 24, 38.17. Anakal. 57-60: Ἥλιε μου, ἀνάτειλε παντοῦ, σ’ ὅλον τὸν κόσμον φέγγε | … κι εἰς τὴν Κωνσταντινόπολην … | … δὲν πρέπει πιὸ νὰ φέγγης, cf. Al. 406, 118 (Kriaras 18). This invocation is extremely common in historical laments, see Politis 3, Laog (1957) 381. Anakal. 3: ἐχάσασιν τὸ σπίτιν τους …, cf. Al. 134, 236, 644 (Kriaras 17). Anakal. 46: μὲ τὴν τρεμούραν τὴν πολλἠν …, cf. Al. 201 (Kriaras 17). Anakal. 89: Εἴπω καὶ τίποτε μικρὸν ἀλληγορίας λόγον, cf. Al. 5 (Kriaras 18). The formula is very common, especially in long poems. Anakal. 47: καὶ θέση πόδαν ἅτακτο εἰς τὸν ἐμὸν αὐχένα, cf. Al. 874. But the phrase ‘may Turks not trample upon you’ is a proverbial expression. A closer parallel to Al. 874, where the poet asks Venice to ‘lay her foot’ on the enemy’s neck, might be argued to be found in E. Tr. 1331-2, where the Trojan women beg Troy to lay her foot on the Achaians’ backs! Finally, the only parallel between Anakal. 90-1 and Al. 35, 37 is in the use of the second person indefinite (Kriaras 17-18).

[ back ] 19. 1019-25, 14-17, 441-9.

[ back ] 20. See Knös HLNG 159-65.

[ back ] 21. The language of the poem is predominantly, but not uniformly, archaising. For popular forms and words, see 215, 218, 278, 305-6. The use of rhyme is analysed by Krumbacher SBAW (1901) 329.

[ back ] 22. Ed. Krumbacher SBAW (1901) 329-61, reprinted by Zoras 204-7. Also in dialogue form, between Constantinople and Venice, is the Θρῆνος τῆς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως, ed. Papadopoulos-Kerameus BZ (1903) 267-72, cf. Zoras 200-3.

[ back ] 23. One historical lament in the vernacular which belongs to the beginning of the fifteenth century is the Θρῆνος περὶ Ταμυρλάγγου (Thrênos for Timur Lenk), ed. Wagner Carm. 28-31. Spyridakis considers it probable that the modern folk songs about Tataris refer to the same event, ELA (1953-4) 41-53.

[ back ] 24. See Anakálema 5-21, 57-60, 75, 87-8, Thrênos for Constantinople 34, 39-44, 108-11, 118-21, 123-4, Thrênos of the Four Patriarchates 21, 47, 59, 65.

[ back ] 25. Διήγησις εἰς τὸν θρῆνον τοῦ αἰχμαλωτισμοῦ τῆς εὐλογημένης Κύπρου, a long poem of 906 rhymed verses of unknown authorship, but written by someone who witnessed the events himself. It is edited in KyCh (1925) 56-82.

[ back ] 26. Ἀνάλωσις Ἀθήνας, ed. BZ (1903) 273-5, cf. Zoras 221-2; Μάλτας Πολιορκία by Cretan poet Antonios Achelis, ed. Pernot in Legrand, CM (1910); Λεηλασία τῆς Παροικίας τῆς Πάρου by anonymous Cretan poet, ed. Kriaras Ath (1938) 127; Θρῆνος εἰς τὴν Ἑλλάδος καταστροφήν by Corfiot poet Antonios Eparchos, in ancient Greek and elegiac couplets, and based in parts on Moschos’ Epitaph. Bion, see Kournoutos LT 4.150-4; Πόλεμος τῆς Κρήτης by Athanasios Skleros, again in learned style and archaising language, ed. Sathas EA 2; Θρήνος τῆς Κρήτης by Gerasimos Palladas, EEKS (1939) 348.

[ back ] 27. Georgillas, ed. Legrand BGV 1.203-25, cf. Zoras 223-35; Sklavos, ed. Wagner Carm. 53-61. Cf. anonymous Ποιημάτιον περὶ τοῦ ἐν ἔτει 1508 Σεισμοῦ τῆς Κρήτης in hexameters and pseudo-Homeric Greek, ed. Lambros NE (1914) 441-8.

[ back ] 28. Both poems are inscribed Διήγησις διὰ στίχων τοῦ δεινοῦ πολέμου ἐν τῇ νήσῳ Κρήτῃ γενομένου; Diakrousis’ work appeared in Venice in 1667, Bounialis’ in 1681. See edition by Xirouchakis KP.

[ back ] 29. Diakrousis 108.11-111.4; Bounialis 216.10-27, 220.1-25.

[ back ] 30. Cf. Bounialis 570.3-24, Diakrousis 112.3-14.

[ back ] 31. Introd. 7. The historian Kordatos argues in particular against the authenticity of the famous Song of Saint Sophia (Politis 2, Passow 196), suggesting that it was made up at the time of 1821 for propaganda purposes, INL 44-6. His reasons are as follows: the linguistic form belongs to the nineteenth century, not earlier, nor is the poem referred to in earlier sources; St Sophia is not a ‘large monastery’, and no Orthodox Christian, especially of the fifteenth century, would appeal to Franks to take away the sacred things, because of dogmatic differences between them; the Patriarch did not chant on the right, nor the Emperor on the left; the line ‘it is the will of God that the City should become Turkish’ derives from a prophecy of those monks who were most hostile to union, and it is therefore out of place in the context of an appeal to the Franks; finally, if this was the will of God, the Virgin should have known and had no reason to weep. Some of Kordatos’ reasons are plausible; but on the whole I do not think they are conclusive, and certainly they do not invalidate all the songs of this type which were first published in a variety of sources, see Passow 194-8.

[ back ] 32. Politis 1 (note) points out that the capture of the city by the Russians was regarded by the people as a liberation from the Turkish yoke, and that the song refers to its fall in 1362 and to the previous invasions, one of which in 1205 is known to have taken place during Easter Week. This is hard to prove.

[ back ] 33. McPherson JHS (1889) 86-8. Her argument is that the explicit reference to Thessaloniki, together with the fact that the Patriarchate was vacant in 1453 but not in 1430, points to its original composition for Thessaloniki (where there is also a church of St Sophia), and to the later transference of these lines to a lament for Constantinople. The only objection to her argument is that in folk poetry, so far as I am aware, ἡ Πόλη always refers to Constantinope. Perhaps the song can be understood as a reference to both Thessaloniki and Constantinople.

[ back ] 34. F 170. Again, the authenticity of some of the songs he published has been questioned, especially where the source given is not the original singer, but the school teacher who claimed to have collected it from his village.

[ back ] 35. Laog (1957) 379-80, cf. two other songs said to refer to Trebizond, 378-9, 381. In fact, they appear to lament the fall of Constantinople when news of the catastrophe was brought to Trebizond, as is more explicit in another related Pontic song published by Zoras, ED (1950) 851-62.

[ back ] 36. Giankas 19-66.

[ back ] 37. Cf. 22, 28, 39,45; other variations include ἕνα πουλάκι ξέβγαινε ἀπὸ ὸ κακοσοῦλι 32, cf. 41, 44, 57.

[ back ] 38. Cf. 38, Politis 16; other variations include Giankas 61, Laog (1915) 368.1.

[ back ] 39. See Zoras SBN (1935) 239.35: μαῦρα πουλιὰ ἐφάνησαν ἀπὸ τὴν ἑσπερίαν, and Politis 1.

[ back ] 40. Giankas 12.5-6, 49.4-5, 60.5-6, Politis 4.4-5, 6.33-4, 13.3-5, 15.12-13 (κλαῖνε); Giankas 21.7, 32.7-8, 38.5, 58.18, 66.5-6, Politis 13.1-2 (πῆραν). For the use of these structures in laments for earlier events, see Politis 1, Passow 193-6, Laog (1957) 379-80.

[ back ] 41. Some are analysed by Herzfeld (Herzfeld 1973).

[ back ] 42. See Laog (1957) 74.5, 1-4, cf. Giankas 63 (lament for Battle of Spelaion in 1854), and Thrênos for Constantinople 3-5, Zoras 200.