The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition

6. The classification of ancient and modern laments and songs to the dead

The difficulties involved in making a satisfactory classification of ancient types of lament arise from the conflicting nature of the evidence. Classical and post-classical poetic usage tended to treat the various terms as synonymous, with few real distinctions. In an attempt to impose order, Alexandrian and later scholars neatly divided and defined, but with such variety of criteria that it is impossible to know what to accept as genuine archaic and classical usage, and what to reject as subjective theorising. [1] Confusion in the terminology is inherent in the classical literary tradition, but we should not therefore infer that there had never been any distinct types of ancient lament. The problem of poetic forms and their origins cannot be solved in isolation, without an investigation of their relation to ritual and official practice. For this reason, I shall attempt in this chapter to indicate only the more basic distinctions, and to trace which types of lament have survived in Greek tradition and how they were transmitted.

The ritual lament of the women: thrênos, góos, kommos

From the classical period onwards, then, there was a tendency to treat as synonymous the different terms for a poetic lament, which had originally denoted distinct aspects of the ritual lamentation of the women. The explanation may lie partly in the fact that the most usual forms of official lamentation were no long primarily musical or poetic, but rhetorical. Their origins and development are quite distinct. {103|104}

The men’s part: praise of the dead

Features agreed to be common to the early extant élegoi are the use of alternating lines of hexameter and pentameter, and the concise, commemorative and proverbial style. How can these be reconciled with a hypothetical origin in some kind of lament? First, just as there is some connection between the Homeric thrênos and the thrênoi of Pindar and Simonides in their unemotional character, so the later thrênos and élegos share a reflective, gnomic and consolatory tone. [12] There is therefore no need to postulate a complete change in the development of the élegos, only an extension of theme. Further, there is some evidence to suggest that elegiac poetry evolved and developed its particular functions and characteristics within the archaic institution of the common meal, known as syssítion or andreîon. Like the sk ólion (drinking song), the élegos was an after-supper song, but its purpose was to educate, exhort and inform, not merely to entertain, and hence the early extant élegoi, though not funereal, have a comparable seriousness of purpose. [13] Such an origin would explain both the peculiarity of the metre, which as a self-contained couplet was ideally suited to a song passed round the table from one improviser to another, and the sympotic, commemorative tone. If the ancients are right and the first élegoi were funereal, they may well have been improvised couplets commemorating a man, hero or event, and {104|105} hence easily adapted to incorporate wider political and social themes. Finally, if they were originally performed at the common meal, they were restricted to the men, and praise was therefore more appropriate than lamentation, which was traditionally left to the women. [14]

The epigram was a dedicatory inscription written on tombstones or on votive offerings. Since it presupposes literacy, it cannot have been widely current before the end of the seventh century, but similarities of style and metre point to its relation to the élegos. Elegiac inscriptions begin at the end of the seventh century and continue throughout antiquity. The tone of the archaic examples is detached and impersonal, almost serene, and in no sense like a lament. Their purpose was purely functional, to mark a grave, as is shown by the following inscription from Attica (sixth century):

σεμα Φρασικλείας· | κόρε κεκλεσομαι | αἰεί,
          ἀντὶ γάμο | παρὰ θεον τοῦτο | λαχοσ’ ὄνομα.

Peek 68

Phrasikleia’s grave. I shall always be called maiden,
          for the gods gave me this name instead of marriage.

With the development of the literary epigram which began with Simonides, a more personal note appears, although conciseness was {105|106} still the rule. Gradually epigrams were written on themes other than the commemoration of the dead, and their composition became the elegant parergon of many fifth- and fourth-century writers. The same relaxation of restraint is perceptible in the non-literary funerary inscriptions of the late fifth century and after, perhaps as a result of the changes in ritual and lamentation already discussed at the end of chapter 1. The growing importance of the scene at the tomb, illustrated by its prominence on later fifth-century Attic vase-paintings, is also reflected in the elaboration and popularisation of the funerary inscription. The disintegration of archaic ritual forms like the thrênos and góos may have created a demand for the expression of a more intimate contact between mourner and dead than was possible in the formal and rhetorical epitáphios lógos. Dialogues, reproaches, sentiments of grief, begin to replace mere statements of death, as can be seen in the following inscriptions, the first from Halikarnassos (fourth century B.C.), the second an extract from a long inscription from Kotiaion (fourth century A.D.):

.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .         
          I lie hidden in this foreign dust of Thouriea.
Eukleitos died first, a boy of eighteen years,
          and his mother beat her breast for him;
after him she wept for twelve-year-old Theodoros.
          Alas for those who are gone beneath the earth unjustly!

Ἀμμία, θυγάτηρ πινυτή, πῶς θάνες ἤδη;
τί σπεύδουσα θάνες ἢ τίς (σ)ε κιχήσατο μοιρῶν;
πρίν σε νυνφικὸν ἰς(σ)τέφανον κοσμήσαμεν [ἐ]ν θαλάμοισιν,
πάτρην σε λιπῖν πενθαλέους δὲ τοκῆας·
καὶ θρήνη]σε πατὴρ κ(αὶ) πᾶσα πατ[ρὶς] κ(αὶ) πότνια μήτηρ
τὴ[ν] σ[ὴν] ἀωροτ[ά]τ[η]ν κ(αὶ) ἀθαλάμευ[τον] ἡλικίην.

Kb. 372.26-31

Ammia, wise daughter, how is it you died so soon?
Why did you hasten to die, or which of the Fates overtook you?
Before we decked you for the bridal garland in the marriage chamber {106|107}
you left your home and your grieving parents.
Your father, and all the country, and your mother lamented
for your most untimely and unwedded youth.

These inscriptions are an invaluable source of evidence for the present study, since they are probably the closest reflection of popular language, style and thought in antiquity that we possess, although we cannot be sure of the exact manner of their composition. The vast majority are anonymous, written for a wide range of people from differing social classes from the whole of the Greek-speaking world. The large number of common ideas and formulae, many derived from classical literature, others found also in the epigrams of the Anthology, points to a degree of standardisation. It has even been argued that the stone-cutters used manuals of stock formulae from which the bereaved might choose their themes, and that the inscriptions are therefore minimally creative. [
16] But in the absence of any specific evidence for the use of such manuals in Greek, it would surely be a mistake to dismiss them as entirely derivative: within the bounds of the convention, ideas, language and style vary considerably according to the time and place of composition, and according to the status of the deceased. The inscriptions afford us a unique insight into a complete cross-section of society; and it is frequently the more humble, semi-literate examples which offer the most valuable evidence. Finally, the striking similarities of formulae and style in these inscriptions and some of the modern moirológia, discussed in Part III, may throw some light not only on the origins of the modern laments, but also on the traditional nature of the inscriptions themselves.

Both the epitáphios lógos (funeral oration) and the epikédeion have their origins in the literary rather than the popular tradition of the classical period. The epitáphios lógos was the spoken oration delivered at the funeral in praise and commemoration of the dead. [17] With the rise of rhetoric, it tended to replace the earlier poetic forms, at least in the more developed urban society of Athens. Both composition and delivery belonged to the men. In the post-classical period, epitáphios was extended to refer to a poetic lament. The epikédeion presents rather more problems. In Homer, kêdos is used only for the practice of mourning, while Pindar uses it for the actual lament (Il. 4.270, 5.156, Pi. P. 4.112). Its adjectival form epikédeios is used with odé by Euripides for the Muse’s lament for Troy, and by Plato in the strictly ritual sense the funeral songs of the Carian women (E. Tr. 511, Pl. Lg. 800e). [18] The substantival form epikédeion gained wide currency towards the end {107|108} of antiquity, and is defined somewhat tortuously by Alexandrian and Roman scholars as a kind of elegy, epigram and thrênos, containing a moderate expression of grief and considerable praise, not circumscribed in time or place, and public rather than private in character. [19] Its history indicates that it was a later literary development, not an archaic ritual lament, differing from the epitáphios lógos in that it was written in verse, not prose, from the thrênos in that it contained praise rather than lamentation, and from the élegos and epigram in that it was concerned with public events rather than with ordinary individuals.

The main distinctions between the two categories so far examined appear to be that while the thrênos, góos and kommós were based on a ritual act or cry of lamentation, performed by the women often to a musical accompaniment, the epigram, élegos, epitáphios lógos and epikédeion grew out of the social and literary activity of the men, developing the elements of commemoration and praise, which had been present in the archaic thrênos. This second group tended gradually to replace the first recognised form of honouring the dead; and at the same time the changing emphasis from lamentation at the wake to lamentation at the tomb weakened still further the older distinctions within the first group. The archaic terms ceased to correspond to ritual custom or to official practice. And since lyrical laments flourished chiefly in poetry, it was natural for later poets to exploit the rich inheritance of terms for poetic variety—a tendency which is incipient in tragedy and which reaches its peak in the Hellenistic period, thereby precipitating a total confusion of usage in the ancient terminology.

The growth of a new terminology

Since the old terms were dependent for survival on written tradition alone after the end of antiquity, when the literary composition of ancient forms was purely derivative and imitative, they were bound to disappear from the spoken language of the people. A few have lived on in modified and restricted form. Today, the Epitáphios Thrênos denotes the Holy Week lament for Christ, an important part of the ritual of the Orthodox Church. An exceptional survival of thrênos and kommós was found in the annual lament for Zafeiris, deeply rooted in seasonal ritual of pagan character. Góos has been forgotten, but its Homeric equivalents stenagmós and odyrmós are still common in the spoken language and in the folk laments, although they refer to act of weeping rather than to the lament itself. {108|109}

Did the disintegration of ancient terminology necessarily entail a disappearance of the old ritual forms of lament among the people? The question is impossible to answer without much more evidence or popular tradition in antiquity than we possess. But there are a number of modern Greek terms associated with lamentation of sufficient antiquity to indicate some interesting connections. One of these is the use in Cypriot dialect of the verb ἀνακαλιέμαι (to call upon). In ancient Greek, the verb ἀνακαλεῖσθαι is used of the persistent calling of the dead by name during the supplication at the tomb, usually accompanied by offerings and libations. Its function was to raise the spirit of the dead from the grave. It is used in this specific sense by Aeschylus for the invocation of Dareios’ spirit in the Persians, by Euripides, and also in one of the later epigrams: [20]

Πολλάκι τῷδ’ ὀλοφυδνὰ κόρας ἐπὶ σάματι Κλεινὼ
          μάτηρ ὠκύμορον παῖδ’ ἐβόασε φίλαν,
ψυχὰν ἀγκαλέουσα Φιλαινίδος, ἂ πρὸ γάμοιο
          χλωρὸν ὑπὲρ ποταμοῦ χεῦμ’ Ἀχέροντας ἔβα.

AP 7.486

Often at this girl’s tomb has her mother Kleino
          in tears cried out for her dear short-lived child,
invoking the soul of Philainis to return, who, before wedlock,
          passed across the pallid stream of Acheron.

But it was not restricted to literature. The verb ἀνακαλεῖν, as we have seen in chapter 4, was commonly used for the refrain invoking the dying god by name to rise again, an indispensable element of the ancient lament for gods. Its importance may be judged by the use of the cognate forms ἀνακλήθρα and ἀνακληθρίς for the stone on which Demeter is said to have sat when she invoked Persephone. The ritual enactment of this anáklesis was continued by the women of Megara until Pausanias’ day. [
21] The verb form is used for the Virgin’s invocation to the dying Christ, and the noun form anakálema later denotes the lament for the fall of Constantinople. [22]

The use of ἀνακαλιέμαι is therefore a striking example of continuity in a specific type of lament, the ritual invocation of the dead at the tomb. It begins to appear in fifth-century literature, just when vase-paintings and funeral inscriptions point to the growing importance of lamentation at the tomb. Its popular character is further confirmed by its survival today, not in the religious tradition, where its meaning is less specific, and not at all in learned tradition, but in popular speech and in folk song. It suggests that ancient terminology was preserved most strongly when associated with ritual practice.

The song to Fate—origin of the modern moirológi?

A solution to the problems of the etymology of moirológi, the general word today for the lament for the dead, would afford concrete information about the origins of the modern popular lament, and at the same time provide linguistic confirmation of the continuity already indicated by so many survivals of ritual and ideas. Two points may be made at once: first, both elements, moiro– and –lógi, are of ancient origin; second, the word belongs to demotic. In the learned and religious language, thr ê nos is used. The word is ancient, but popular.

Korais’ sole support for his derivation from m ý romai is Hesychios entry 1883: μυρᾳδεῖ· θρηνῳδεῖ which he connects with the separately entered μυρομένη· ὀδυρομένη. From this, he argues the existence of a verb μυρῳδεῖν (to lament). But there are several difficulties. First, μυρᾳδεῖ cannot stand. Nor is emendation to μυρῳδεῖ entirely convincing, because the a is protected by the word order of the Lexicon and hard to dismiss as a mere slip. Other attempts at emendation are even less acceptable (see 1883 app. crit.). Such a dubious text cannot be used to prove the existence of μυρῳδεῖν. But even if it were accepted, it does not take us far, since Hesychios enters μυρᾳδεῖ separately from μυρομένη, so that in view of the frequent confusion of spelling, from which the text of Hesychios is by no means immune, it would be impossible to determine whether the true form was μυρῳδεῖν or μοιρῳδεῖν.

Schmitt demonstrated also that a compound form μυρῳδία or μυρολόγι could only be formed from a noun form mȳ́ron = lament, not from the verb mȳ́romai, and that there is no certain evidence for such a noun in ancient or Byzantine sources. The case may be put more strongly: first, compounds ending in –odía, –lógion, –logé, –logía are all formed with substantival, adjectival or prepositional prefixes, never with verbal prefixes; second, throughout the history of the Greek language, mýromai has produced no other compound form, whereas compounds with my̆ro– (= smell), myrio– and moiro– have been common since antiquity, and are still being formed today.

Decisive evidence in favour of derivation from moîra comes from a passage in the Life of Alexander, attributed to Pseudo-Kallisthenes (c. 300 B.C.), although none of the versions which have come down to us is earlier than A.D. 300. Alexander taunts the astrologer-prophet Nektanebos for aspiring to interpret the stars when he does not even know how he will meet his death. Nektanebos replies that he already knows that he will be killed by his own son. Attempting to prove him wrong, Alexander strikes him to the ground, mortally wounding him. Nektanebos then reveals that he, and not Philip, is Alexander’s true father, and that the fate which he had prophesied for himself is now fulfilled: Φοβερῶς εἴληφα τὸ πρᾶγμα ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδένα θνητὸν νικῆσαι τὴν εἰμαρμένην … ὡς γὰρ ἐμοιρολόγησα ἐμαυτόν, ηὗρον εἱμαρμένον μοι ὑπὸ ἰδίου τέκνον ἀναιρεθῆναι οὐκ ἐξέφυγον οὖν τὴν μοῖραν, ἀλλ᾽ ὑπὸ σοῦ ἀνῃρέθην. V. Alex. 1.14 (ed. Kroll). The word moirolog ô means here, ‘I prophesy my own fate, tell my own doom’. The prefix moiro– is protected not by the spelling, but by the meaning. Is there any evidence to suggest that the idea had any connection with lamentation?

In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Cassandra, as a prophetess, knew the fate in store for her before she entered the fatal palace. As she waited to go in, she cried out against her ill-starred fortune, lamented her own moîra, then, calling on the sun to help avenge her death, she sang her own dirge, extended at the end into a general lament for the tragedy of human life:

ἀλλ᾽ εἶμι κἀν δόμοισι κωκύσουσ᾽ ἐμὴν
Ἀγαμέμνονός τε μοῖραν. ἀρκείτω βίος.

A. Ag. 1313-14

ἅπαξ ἔτ᾽ εἰπεῖν ῥῆσιν, ἢ θρῆνον θέλω
ὲμὸν τὸν αὐτῆς. ἡλίου δ᾽ ἐπεύχομαι
πρὸς ὕστατον φῶς τοὺς ἐμοὺς τιμαόροις
ἐχθροὺς φανεῖσι δεσποτῶν τίνειν ἴσα {112|113}
δούλης θανούσης, εὐμαροῦς χειρώματος.
ἰὼ βρότεια πράγματ’ · εὐτυχοῦντα μὲν
σκιά τις ἂν τέρψειεν εἰ δὲ δυστυχοῖ,
βολαῖς ὑγρώσσων σπόγγος ὤλεσεν γραφήν.

Ibid. 1322-9

It is true that Cassandra’s position was a peculiar one; but her protest against fate and farewell to life, both essential parts of her lament for herself, are themes which constantly recur in tragedy. Further, the lament of the tragic hero or heroine for his own fate or death accounts for a high proportion of the laments in Greek tragedy. Other tragic figures who sing their own dirges include the Suppliant Women in Aeschylus, Ajax, Jokasta, Oedipus, Antigone, Deianeira and Philoktetes in Sophokles, and Alkestis, Hekabe, Polyxena, Medea, Phaidra, Andromache and Iphigeneia in Euripides. Their laments contain a striking number of common formulae and themes; and in all, moîra and týche are of the utmost importance. [
29] This suggests a basis in popular belief outside the confines of tragic drama.

The idea of the inevitability of man’s fate finds particularly varied expression in the funerary inscriptions. A detailed investigation by Mayer has yielded no fewer than 230 different formulae used with moîra, selected from only the more striking examples. In the dedicatory and consolatory inscriptions, on the other hand, only six could be found. Of these formulae, forty are used of moîra in the impersonal sense of a man’s allotted part, either in life or death, while the rest describe the goddess Moîra, usually as she brings death, as in Homer. [34] The formulae, stock epithets and verbs which are appropriate to this destructive moîra are sometimes Homeric; but this does not mean that they can be dismissed as literary borrowings, rather that the Homeric formulae continued to express popular feeling and belief. [35] These traditional attitudes explain why Moîra is directly addressed an reproached in so many of the inscriptions, as in an inscription from Ilion in the first to second centuries A.D., ὢ Μοίρης πικρὰ λογιζομένης … (O Moîra, who calculates bitter things!) (Peek 1350.16). [36] The mourner first reproached Moîra for having caused the death of a loved one, then lamented his own moîra, deserted and grieved. Moirologô would be exactly appropriate to such a practice. Even if the word is a hapax legomenon in ancient Greek, it is rooted in ancient traditional beliefs. Finally, the evidence of the funerary inscriptions suggests that the protest to fate or lament for oneself, elaborated in drama to the highest point of tragic art, continued to flourish in popular tradition. [37]

It is over a thousand years before our word reappears, this time in the noun from moirológema, but the main steps of its transmission are clear. In the Greek novels of love and adventure, where Fortune’s cunning tricks and reverses lead to innumerable escapes and imagined deaths, ample opportunity is provided for heroes and heroines to indulge in lamentations and protests to Fate. [38] In The Fall of Troy, Quintus of Smyrna (third century A.D.) takes up the story of the Trojan War where Homer left off, and relates in each of the fourteen books the terrible fate which befell one hero after another. Much of the epic is composed of lamentation and accounts of funerals, and in every lament the idea of Fate in connection with death is emphasized. [39] Then, in the Byzantine prose and verse romances of the twelfth century, which constitute to some extent a learned revival of the earlier Greek novel, Fate has taken over many of the functions of the ancient Olympians, and plays a dominant role. Some of the phrases in which she is reproached incorporate formulaic expressions from the funerary inscription. [40] That the importance of Fate and Fortune was not {114|115} merely a learned extension of earlier usage, but also owed much to the popular tradition of the Byzantine period, becomes clear with the emergence of the anonymous romances in politikòs stíchos and popular language in the fourteenth century and after. In Kallimachos and Chrysorrhoe, for example, Týche appears, just as she does in the modern folk tales, in the guise of a woman dressed in black (1329-46). Besides the idea of the woven thread of Fate the Spinner, we find the decree of Fate, written down by Moîra herself at the birth of a child, and closely linked with the child’s prospective marriage—a theme central to the stories of Belthandros and Chrysantza and Lybistros and Rhodamne, where it gives rise to many new epithets, verbs and compounds. [41]

It is in this wider literary context that the occurrence of the word moirológema in Kallimachos and Chrysorrhoe should be viewed. Chrysorrhoe, having been rescued from the Castle of the Drakos by Kallimachos, is snatched away from him to become wife of a king. While the king is away on campaigns, Kallimachos finds his way to the royal palace and takes on work as a gardener’s boy in order to be near his loved one. As he toils and sweats, he curses Fate: [42]

Στενάζει, βάλλει τὸ νερόν, ποτίζει καὶ τὸν κῆπον,
μοιρολογεῖ τραγώδημαν, τούτους τοὺς λόγους λέγει·
(Ἰδοὺ τὸ μοιρολόγημαν τοῦ ξένου Καλλιμάχου
τοῦ μισθαργοῦ, τοῦ κηπουροῦ, τοῦ νεροκουβαλήτου.)
—Στῆσον ἀπάρτι, Τύχη μου, πλάνησιν τὴν τοσαύτην …


Τύχη, καὶ τί τὸ σ’ ἔπταισα, Τύχη μου, τί σ’ ἐποῖκα
καὶ τί παράλογον πρὸς σὲ ποτέ μου ἐνεθυμήθην …;


He groans, he fetches water, he waters the garden,
he sings a lament, and says these words:
(Behold the lament of Kallimachos, far from home,
the labourer, the gardener, the water-carrier.)
—Cease now, at last, my Fortune, such great deceit …
Fortune, how have I wronged you, my Fortune, what have I done,
and what unreasonable thought have I ever entertained against you?

The connection here between lamentation and Fate could not be more plain. Its popular character is further demonstrated by similar reproaches in the modern folk laments: [
43] {115|116}

Παρακαλῶ σε, Μοῖρα μου, νὰ μὴ μὲ ξενιτέψης,
κι ἂν λάχη καὶ ξενιτευθῶ, θάνατο μὴ μοῦ δώσης.

Passow 385

I beg you, my Fate, not to send me into foreign parts,
but if it is my lot to go, do not let me die there.

In modern folk tradition, moirológi is not the lament for oneself or protest to fate sung at any angry moment; it is specifically the ritual lament, sung usually at death, and avoided on other occasions as ill-omened. Far from being a recent development, the reason lies partly in the survival today of many of the oldest and most fundamental associations of moîra. [44] In the Byzantine romances, Moîra, together with Éros, recorded in a book at a man’s birth the decree which was to decide his future love—a relatively late and literary conception. But in folk tradition, the three Moîres decide above all the time and manner of a man’s death. Nor do they always record their decree in a book; their use of spindle, distaff and scissors is reflected in many proverbs, sayings and paradóseis, while the grapsímata are not letters written with pen and ink, but marks left by the Moîres on the face in infancy. [45] As recently as 1966, Photeine Papageorgiou, aged 77, from Berko in Naupaktos, recalled how she used to lay out the bones of the dead in the churchyard together with other women, as was the custom, and on examining the unusual ραφές (seams) on the forehead of the skull, they would murmur to each other, Νά, ἐδῶ τὰ ἔγραφε ἡ Μοῖρα του! (‘Look, this is where Moira wrote his fate!’). This fusion of writing and weaving is used of the Moîrai as early as the Greco-Roman period, again, significantly, in the inscriptions: Μοῖραι … ἐκλώσαντο … γραψάμεναι … (The Fates, having written … wove) (Peek 1029.3-4). [46]

One more problem remains. Attention has so far been directed only to moiro-; but the ending –lógi presents some difficulties. Is it a popular form of –lógion, and if so, can it bear the meaning of song, word, as is usually assumed? While compounds in –logô, –logía, –lógos and –lógema are all classical, the neuter form –lógion first appears in Hellenistic Greek. Its compounds, when formed with substantival prefixes, give the meaning collection of or instrument for. Further, most nouns in –lógion are technical or literary terms, not popular words.

Moirológia for departure from home, change of religion, and marriage

Until recently, laments for those who leave their country formed an important and distinctive group, especially in Epiros, where emigration had been a part of the life of the people for many generations. They usually take the form of an address by the bereaved family to the absent person, or to Xenitiá (distant parts), who is personified. Occasionally there is a dialogue between them in which the washing of the travel-stained handkerchief is made into a striking poetic symbol of the bond with home. [59] Their mood is one of harsh complaint, their melody and style strident and undecorated, like the following example I recorded in 1963 from Alexandra Tsipi, an Epirot girl now living in Larisa:

Ἄχ, ξενετεμένα μου παιδιά, αὐτοῦ στὰ ξένα ποῦ εἶστε·
ἄχ, ἡ ξενετιὰ σᾶς χαίρεται τὰ νιάτα τὰ γραμμένα·
ὄχ, ἀνάθεμά σε, ξενετιά, ἐσὺ καὶ τὰ καλά σου,
ἄχ, μᾶς πῆρες ὅλα τὰ παιδιὰ μέσα στὴν ἀγκαλιά σου!

Ach, my children far from home, there where you are in foreign lands.
Ach, foreign lands enjoy your allotted youth.
Och, a curse upon you, foreign lands, you and your good things!
ach, you have taken all our children into your embrace !

One reason for the peculiar intensity of these laments is the fear of death in foreign lands, which is also known to have existed in antiquity: [

Νὰ κλαῖτε τοὺς κακότυχους, τοὺς κακοπεθαμένους,
ὁποὺ πεθαίν’ν στὴν ξενιτιὰ καὶ στὰ νοσοκομεῖα.

Laog (1960) 376

Weep for those of evil fortune, for those whose death is bad,
who die in foreign lands and who die in hospitals.

Closest to the laments for the dead in structure and form are those sung for the bride as she leaves her father’s house. The similarities are due not to lack of originality, but to the sustained parallel in the ritual of the two ceremonies of wedding and funeral: the solemn ablutions of bride and bridegroom, the anointing with nuptial oils and perfumes, the elaborate dressing, the wearing of the marriage garland and the use of torches—all can be matched remarkably closely in the ritual preparation of the dead as he was about to depart on his last journey. [62] Further, a deliberate fusion is indicated by the custom, ancient as well as modern, of dressing those who died young in wedding attire. [63] Popular belief viewed death and marriage as fundamentally similar occasions, signalling the transition from one stage in the cycle of human existence to another. The bride leaves home to start a new life, and as she steps over the threshold for the last time as a girl, her family take leave of her as they do for the dead, while she replies with complaints similar to those made by the dead in the laments. The structural and formulaic correspondences between the wedding and funeral laments may be illustrated by two examples, the first a funeral lament from Olympia, the second a wedding lament from Crete. In both the sense of bereavement is intensified by an allusion in the first line to the lament of the Virgin:

Σήμερα μαῦρος οὐρανὸς κι ἀραγνιασμένη μέρα,
σήμερα ξεχωρίζουνε ἀιτὸς καὶ περιστέρα,
σήμερα ξεχωρίζουνε παιδάκια ὀχ τὸν πατέρα.
Τέσσεροι στύλοι τοῦ σπιτιοῦ, ἔχετε καλὴ νύχτα,
καὶ πέστε τῆς γθναίκες μου, δὲν ἔρχουμαι ἄλλη νύχτα.
Τέσσεροι στύλοι τοῦ σπιτιοῦ, ἔχετε καλὸ βράδι,
καὶ πέστε τοῦ πατέρα μου δὲν ἔρχουμ᾽ ἄλλο βράδι.

Laog (1912-13) 183 {120|121}

Today the sky is black and the day is gloomy,
today the eagle and the dove take leave,
today children take leave of their father.
Four columns of the house, I bid you goodnight,
tell my wife I’ll come at night no more;
four columns of the house, I bid you good evening,
tell my father I’ll come at evening no more.

Σήμερο μαῦρος οὐρανός, σήμερο μαύρ’ ἡμέρα,
σήμερ’ ἀποχωρίζεται μάνα τὴ θυγατέρα.
Ἄνοιξαν οἱ ἑφτὰ οὐρανοὶ τὰ δώδεκα βαγγέλια,
κι ἐπῆραν τὸ παιδάκι μου ἀπὸ τὰ δυό μου χέρια.
Μισεύγεις, θυγατέρα μου, καὶ πλιὸ δὲ θὰ γελάσω,
Σάββατο πλιὸ δὲ θὰ λουστῶ οὐδ’ ἑορτὴ θ’ ἀλλάξω.

Vlastos 74

As the bride makes her ritual farewells, her mother breaks down, calling out, as if at a funeral, ‘You are leaving—my eyes have gone, my comfort has gone, the keys of my breast and the pillar of my heart has gone!’ (Vlastos 51). When the priest arrives, it is the bride’s turn to lament and hang back. Sometimes she requires force:

— Σέρνε με κι ἂς κλαίω,
κι ἂ κλαίω ποιο πειράζω;
—Σέρνε με κι ἂς κλαίω κιόλας.

Vlastos 51

Drag me away, though I am weeping.
If I weep, whom do I harm?
Drag me away, though I weep still.

Or at the last moment she begs her mother to hide her. This resistance, suggesting, beneath the convention, her real fear of leaving girlhood, brings her mother to her senses:

Ἄσπρη κατάσπρη βαμβακιὰ τὴν εἶχα στὴν αὐλή μου,
τὴ σκάλιζα, τὴν πότιζα, τὴν εἶχα γιὰ δική μου.
Μά ’ρθε ξένος κι ἀπόξενος, ἦρθε καὶ μοῦ τὴν πῆρε. {121|122}
— Κρύψε με, μάνα, κρύψε με, νὰ μὴ μὲ πάρη ὁ ξένος.
— Τί νὰ σὲ κρύψω, μάτια μου, ποὺ σὺ τοῦ ξένου εἶσαι·
τοῦ ξένου φόρια φόρεσε, τοῦ ξένου δαχτυλίδια,
γιατὶ τοῦ ξένου εἶσαι καὶ σύ, κι ὁ ξένος θὰ σὲ πάρη.

Politis LS 3.281

I had a pure white cotton plant growing in my courtyard;
I weeded it, I watered it, and it was all my own.
But a stranger, yes a stranger came and took it from me.
— Hide me, mother, hide me, so the stranger cannot take me.
— How can I hide you, dear one, now you belong to him:
wear the stranger’s clothes, wear the stranger’s rings,
for you belong to him, and he will take you.

Similarly, in a funeral lament from Tsakonia, the dying girl sees Charos approach, and begs her mother to hide her in a cage, in a chest, among the basil and balsam plants; but her mother replies sternly that he will not, that she gives her over to Charos (Laog (1923) 40). The allusive quality of these songs, where the imagery of the funeral laments, especially for those who died young, is imbued with the imagery of the wedding songs, may owe something to the antiquity in Greek tradition of the theme of death as marriage, which can be richly illustrated from tragedy, from the epigrams of the Anthology, from rhetorical and narrative works, and, most abundantly, from the funerary inscriptions. [

All three types of lament, for departure from home, for change of religion and for marriage, are deeply rooted in ritual beliefs. They are interesting not only in themselves, but also for the range and depth of poetic response which they have inspired in the whole tradition of funeral lamentation.

Moirólgia for the dead

Let us turn now to the different types of moirológia for the dead, since it is here that the closest parallels to ancient forms are to be found. First, there are the laments sung by women at the laying-out and at the tomb. At the laying-out, both kinswomen and strangers, but more especially the latter, concentrate on praising the dead in a series of formal and well-ordered verses in the third person, drawing from a common fund of conventional topoi: [66]

Ἐδῶ σὲ τούτ᾽ τὴ γειτονιά, ἐδῶ σὲ τοῦτ᾽ τὸ σπίτι
ἦταν βρυσούλα μὲ νερὸ καὶ δέντρος ἰσκιωμένος,
ποὺ κάθονταν στὸν ἴσκιο του ἀδέρφια καὶ ξαδέρφια, {122|123}
κάθονταν καὶ ὁ ἄντρας της μαζὶ μὲ τα παιδιά της.
Τώρα ν ἡ βρύση στέρεψε κι ὁ δέντρος ξεριζώθη.

Laog (1960) 367.1

Here in this neighbourhood, here in this house,
there was a fountain with water and a shady tree,
where brothers and cousins would sit in its shade,
where her husband would sit and with him her children.
Now the fountain has dried up, and the tree is uprooted.

In Mani, the mourner may begin with a stereotyped, proverbial opening in fifteen-syllable verse, and continue with a direct address, improvised in eight-syllable rhyming couplets:

Ποιὰ μάνα Τούρκα τό ’λεγε τ’ ἀδέρφια δὲν πονιοῦνται;
τ’ ἀδέρφια σκίζουν τὰ βουνά, ὅσο ν’ ἀνταμωθοῦνε.
          Ἔ, ἀδερφούλι μου χρυσό,
          γι’ ἄνοιξε τὰ ματάκια σου …

Laog (1960) 385.7,1-4

What Turkish mother said that brothers feel no mutual pity?
Brothers rend mountains asunder until they meet again.
          É, my golden brother,
          open your eyes now!

The improvisations at the laying-out are usually long, lyrical reproaches from the next of kin, which follow a traditional pattern according to the person addressed, whether a mother, father, husband, brother or child (Laog (1960) 366-74, 379). Sophia Lala of Samarina, well known as an expert mourner, complained to me in 1966 that many women did not bother to observe the correct distinctions in their laments, and would sing the first thing that would come into their heads, whereas if she was invited to lament at a funeral, she would always think carefully before she started what type of lament was proper to the occasion. In Mani, where the custom of lamentation is particularly vigorous, the mourner introduces into her improvisation many specific details from the past: in a lament for a young girl who died of leukaemia after graduating in Greek literature, her aunt recounts to her in detail how many doctors were consulted, and how many friends came to give blood, in a vain attempt to save her life (Laog (1960) 396.3, 5-10).

The function of the ritual lamentation of the women is the same as in antiquity. It soothed wrath in cases of cruel or untimely death; or, alternatively, like the góos éndikos (just lament) of Orestes and Elektra, it roused the spirit of revenge (A. Ch. 327-31). This is the purpose of {124|125} the long, narrative vendetta ballads from Mani: in one, entitled The Blood, a mother relates how, one Easter morning, she prepares for the revenge of her husband’s murder eighteen years before. Returning from church, she lays an extra place at the Easter meal, telling her five children that it is for their father, and instructing them to avenge his death by seeking out the enemy clan and making sure to kill the leader that very Easter Day, or else her black curse will pursue them everywhere. They ask her solemn blessing, which is given over the ritual tasting of the lamb, and then go out. Greeting their return at evening when the deed is done, she acclaims them as worthy at last, and gives thanks to Fortune (Pasayanis 146).

Another important type in this group is predominantly historical. Like their ancient counterparts, these songs were concerned less with lamentation for the dead than with praise of a hero. Their function was not ritual, but educative, to inspire the present generation to the same heroic feats as the last. Many of the historical and Kleftic songs fall into this category, some being specifically addressed by the old men to the young, bequeathing to them their skill and experience in battle, others recounting exploits and heroic deaths ‘while we eat and drink’. [72] Once more, some distinctive songs for heroes come from Mani. During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, news reached Pachianika near Mount Tainaron that the soldier Dimitrios Livanas had been killed in battle. It was Christmas Day, and all gathered in his family’s house to honour his memory. First to speak was a woman from a neighboring village whose son had also been killed in battle: beginning with the Balkan Entente, and Venizelos’ decision to fight the Turks, she recalls how, when their sons were called up, all the women sent them off with exhortations ‘to slay the Turk, and if they do not defeat him, not to come home again’. She asserts that it is an insult to the dead to weep, commenting that the ancient Spartans likewise refused to lament those slain in battle. In conclusion, she tells Livanas’ relatives not to make cowards of their son by singing dirges, but to pray instead to the Virgin to keep a watchful eye on Venizelos, now in London, lest he be deceived by ‘the strong and … unjust powers’. She is answered by the dead man’s nurse, who claims that neither the Spartans nor the Mavromichalaioi were ashamed to lament, but agrees that it is not fitting at present: ‘You men, who have weapons, leave for Iannina! Help our children to defeat the Turk!’ (Laog (1912-13) 3-11). [73] This is not a lament, but a passionate discussion on patriotic themes, interspersed with political commentary on current affairs. At the same time, it is a solemn tribute to the dead.

This brief classification of modern moirológia suggests that while the ancient terms have disappeared, a high proportion of similar features have survived in each type. Among the women’s ritual laments, the gnomic, consolatory and laudatory tone balances the passionate, informal addresses at the laying-out; while at the tomb, terse distichs are performed as well as long and sometimes inflammatory dialogues. At the same time, to praise and commemorate the dead there exists the tradition of men’s heroic songs and ballads sung after meals to educate and inspire the younger generation. Belonging to the whole community are the gnomic distichs, similar to riddles and proverbs in form and content, which serve the vital social function of helping the bereaved adjust themselves to the world of the living. Finally, that this modern popular tradition of laments for men and songs to the dead has its roots in antiquity is supported by the history of its terminology. {128|129}

Figure 1. Black-figure loutrophóros amphora by the Sappho Painter, c. 500 B.C. Próthesis: the dead man is laid out on a bier, his head resting on a pillow. A child is standing at the head. To the left are six mourning women in varying attitudes of lamentation, the first with her right hand on the dead man’s head, the others with their left hands to their heads and their right arms outstretched. {129|130}

Figure 2a. Panel-painting by an unknown Cretan artist, early seventeenth century. Thrênos: Christ has been taken down from the cross. The Virgin holds Christ’s head with both hands. John is in the centre, and probably Joseph of Arimathaea at the feet; behind stands Nikodemos, holding the ladder. Behind are six unidentified mourning women. The black triangles beneath the eyes of all figures except for Christ, indicating grief, are a typically Cretan detail. Beneath Christ is a bag with the nails and an ointment vessel.

Figure 2b. Panel-painting, dated 1699. Thrênos: Christ has been taken down from the cross. The Virgin holds his head and weeps, comforted by two women, while a third pulls her hair with both hands. There is no cross in the background, but the presence of the moon, stars, and dimmed sun is probably an intrusion from the Crucifixion scene. {130|131}

Figure 3a. Elderly women at the tomb lament antiphonally for a child, probably at a memorial after the funeral, since the cross has been erected. On the grave are placed fruit and food, which are shared out among the women after the lament is finished.

Figure 3b. Three women lament at the tomb, which is covered with fresh flowers, after the burial. The bereaved widow is at the head of the tomb, and two relatives on the left. {131|132}

Figure 4a. Women at the cemetery lament during the memorial held on the fortieth day after the death of a young man, killed by lightning. The whole village took part in the memorial, buy only the women entered the cemetery for the lament, which lasted for over an hour.

Figure 4b. Same occasion as 4a. A women hands round wine, fish, meat and sweetmeats to the mourners after the lament is finished.


[ back ] 1. See Wilamowitz TGL 7, 42, 57-8, Smyth GMP cxx-cxxv, Harvey CQ (1955) 159-62.

[ back ] 2. Frisk GEW s.v.

[ back ] 3. Maas argues that before Attic tragedy, the thrênos was ‘die unliterarische teilweise vielleicht sogar unartikulierte Totenklage, die als barbarisch … galt’, RE s.v. But his view is not in accordance with evidence cited by Nilsson UT 76-85 and by Reiner RTG 4. Two important instances of thrênos as a more formal lament are dismissed by Maas as exceptions (Od. 24.60 and Pi. I 8.63-4).

[ back ] 4. Od. 24.60, Il. 24.720, Plu. Sol. 21.5, Pi. I 8.63-4, P 12.6-8, Pl. R. 388d, 398e.

[ back ] 5. Thrênos: Pi. fr. 114-23 ed. Bowra, Simon. Page PMG 520-31. See Harvey CQ (1955) 169-70. Góos: see chapter 1, n. 68, and Reiner RTG 8-18.

[ back ] 6. A classification of the use of thrênos and góos in tragedy indicates that some distinctions were sometimes made, but that there was a tendency, more perceptibly in the plays of Euripides, to treat the terms as synonymous. Thrênos is found (1) as the ritual lament for the dead: A. Th. 863,1064, Ag. 1541, Ch. 335, 342, S. El. 94, 1469, OC 1751, 1778, E. El. 215, Tr. 609; its formal character is suggested in S. Ai. 924, El. 88, E. Rh. 976 and perhaps A. Ag. 992; (2) together with other words of lamentation, including góos, apparently without distinction. S. El. 103, 232, E. Andr. 92, Supp. 87-8, IT 144, 182, Hel. 164-6,174, Hek. 297-8, 434; (3)_as a general term for lament, not necessarily for the dead: A. Pr. 388, Ag. 1322-3, E. Or. 984; (4) in the verbal form in proverbial phrases expressing the idea of fruitless lamentation: A. Ch. 926, S. Aj. 852, E. Ph. 1762. Góos is found (1) as the ritual lament for the dead, usually passionate and ecstatic: A. Th. 854, 967, Pers. 541, 545, 947, 1050, 1077, S. El. 81, 139, 243, 291, 870, Ant. 427, 1247, OC 1609, 1622, 1668, E. Andr. 1159, 1198, El. 1211, Supp. 71, 79, 977, Tr. 316, HF 110, 488, Ion 769, 1459, Or. 1121, Rh. 260; and more specifically, with the function of rousing the spirit of the dead: A. Pers. 687, 697, Th. 917, 964, Ch. 321, 330, 449, E. Supp. 1143, El. 59, 141, 144, 125; (2) in phrases of a set type, such as ‘cease lamentation’ or ‘leaving lamentation for kinsfolk’: A. Pers. 705, Aj. 579, 973, 319, El. 353, 375, 379, Tr. 1199, E. Supp. 287, 111, Hel. 321, Ph. 883, 1309, 1057, Med. 59, 1211, Or. 1022 Hi. 1181; (3) with the implication of being ill-omened for the living: A. Supp. 116, Th. 657, S. Ant. 883, E. Hel. 339; (4) together with other words for weeping and wailing, apparently without distinction: S. OT 30, E. Alk. 88, HF 1026, Or. 204, 320, 959, IT 860; (5) in a more general sense, as being characteristic of women, or opposed to joy: E. Supp. 82, Alk. 922, Ph. 1672, IT 832.

[ back ] 7. Aristokl. ap. Ammon. Diff., p. 54 ed. Valck.: θρῆνος δ’ ἐστὶν ᾠδὴ τῆς συμφορᾶς, οἰκεῖον ὄνομα ἔχουσα∙ ὀδυρμὸν ἔχει σὺν ἐγκωμίῳ τοῦ τελευτήσαντος … τὸν θρῆνον ᾄδεσθαι παρ’ αὐτῇ τῇ συμφορᾷ πρὸ τῆς ταφῆς καὶ μετὰ τὴν ταφὴν καὶ κατὶ τὸν ἐνιαύσιον χρόνον, Prokl. bibl. Phot. 321a: (in contrast to the epikédeion) ὁ δὲ θρῆνος οὐ περιγράφεται χρόνῳ. For glosses in the Lexica, see Hsch., EM, Suda s.v. góos.

[ back ] 8. RE s.v. kommós. For the iálemos in tragedy, see A. Supp. 115, E. Ph. 1033, Tr. 1304, Or. 1390 Rh. 895. The kommós is discussed in detail by Nilsson UT 85-7.

[ back ] 9. See Bion 1.97. The lexicographers appear more familiar with kommós as a ladies’ hair style, although it is stated in the Suda that the word is also thought to mean the lament of hosts of women. In view of this apparent decline in usage, its survival in Epiros today for the lament of Zafeiris is the more remarkable, see Kyriakidis EL 37.

[ back ] 10. E. IT 146, EM 327, Didymos ap. Orion 58.7, Prokl. Chr. 6, Dionys. Thrax in Bekker Anecdota Graeca 2.750. From the fifth century, it was used in poetry as a synonym for thrênos, E. Hel. 185, Tr. 119, IT 146, 1091, A.R. 2.780, AP 11.135.3, see also Page GPL 206-9. Bowra has suggested a possible derivation of élegos from Armenian elegn = flute, EGE 6; but the antiquity of the connection between the aulós and elegiac couplets and the soundness of his evidence are disputed by Campbell JHS (1964) 63-8.

[ back ] 11. Paus. 10.7.5-6; see also Page GPL 206-30, who contrasts Euripides’ elegiacs in Andr. 103-16 with non-funereal elegiacs. But these verses contain no ‘storm of passion’, or even an address to the dead; on the contrary, they are remarkable for their careful structure. The difference between them and other elegiacs is not therefore so great as he suggests.

[ back ] 12. See Harvey CQ (1955) 171-2.

[ back ] 13. In his paper Wisdom and the Common Meal in the Seventh Century, kindly made available to me by the author, J. S. Morrison suggests that the common meal was a widespread institution of archaic life with important political, social and educative functions for the whole community (Sparta: Hdt, 1.65, X. Lac. 5.2; Crete: Arist. Pol. 1271a. 21), surviving in classical times as a private institution among aristocratic families (PI. La. 179b, Smp. 176a, Ar. fr. 153), with the exception of Sparta where it remained public (Hdt. 1.65). Basing his discussion on an examination of the extant work of elegiac poets in the archaic period, and of the evidence of later writers about them, he argues that the elegiac couplet was one form through which the traditions and wisdom of the common meal were handed down, and that this is indicated by the common purpose, tone and method of early elegiac poetry, despite differences in time and place of composition. Finally, there is evidence in Homer for the significance of songs and speeches at meals, Il. 1.473, 2.404, 9.65, 22.492, Od. 1.325; cf. X. Lac. 5.6. On the general significance of after-supper songs, see Thomson SAGS 1.494-8.

[ back ] 14. Poll. 6.202: εἴποις δ᾽ ἂν ὅτι τὸ γυναικείον γένος ἐστὶ θρηνῶδες καὶ φιλόθρηνον, cf. Plu. Sol. 21.5, Thuc. 2.34.4. For elegiac couplets improvised at table, see Ar. Ve. 1219, Pl. G 451e.

[ back ] 15. Cf. Zen, 5.28: εἰώθεσαν οἱ παλαιοὶ ἐν τοῖς περιδείπνοις τὸν τελευτήσαντα ἐπαινεῖν, καὶ εἰ φαῦλος ἦν.

[ back ] 15a. Punctuation uncertain.

[ back ] 16. Cagnat RP (1889) 51-65 and Armstrong AELΙ 239-42 put forward a strong case for the existence of such manuals in Latin. More recent opinion is summarised by Lattimore TGLE 16-17, cf. 19-20.

[ back ] 17. See Thuc. 2.35-46, Gorg. Epit., Pl. Mx. 236b. For the epitáphios épainos, see Plu. 2.218a; and for the epitáphios sophists, the man who composed such speeches, see Ach. Tat. 3.25, Luc. Luct. 20.

[ back ] 18. Cf. ALG 1.76.1, Ael. NA 5.34, D.S. 17.115.

[ back ] 19. Plu. Pel. 1.6, Mor. 1030a, Prokl. bibl. Phot. 321a = EM 454.48, Et. Gen. AB, Serv. on Ecl. 5.14 (Reiner RTG 2). Plutarch mentions an epikédeion for the loss of Spartans (Pel. 1) and another on the death of Pindar (ibid. 1020a).

[ back ] 20. A. Pers. 621, 657-63, E. Hel. 966, HF 717, cf. Pi. fr. 119 ed. Bowra, Plu. Rm. Qu. 23: τοὺς κατοιχομένους ἐπὶ τὰς χοὰς ἀνακαλοῦνται.

[ back ] 21. EM s.v., Paus. 1.43.2. For a full discussion of this verb in ancient and modern Greek, see Romaios KR 374-5.

[ back ] 22. MMB 5.168.4: ἡ Παρθένος σὺν δάκρυσιν θερμοῖς ἀνεκαλεῖτο. Romaios suggests that the word Anakálema, as used in the fifteenth-century lament for the fall of Constantinople, implies, in addition to the meaning lament, the people’s invocation to their Emperor to rise and save them from the enemy, KR 385.

[ back ] 23. Hist Lex. 2.51, B3 s.v. This and the previous example are cited by Romaios KR 371.

[ back ] 24. IGF (1901) 6-13. The spelling myrológi still persists, however, see Dimitrakos. The form moiriológi, widely current today, can be traced back to the fourteenth century, see Belthandros and Chrysantza 128.

[ back ] 25. Stephanus s.v. cites μοιρογένεσις vox haec perperam degeneravit ap. Firnicum in μυρνογένεσις in quo nempe tractabat de genituris partilite collectis. Under mýromai, he cites: aeque vitiosa forma school. Hom. Il. A L. 2, 8: μυρία, τινὲς θρηνητικὰ παρὰ τὸ μυριᾶσθαι, καὶ ἐπίθετον αὐτὸ τῶν ἀλγέων ἥκουσαν, ἐφ᾽ οἶς μυριᾶσθαι καὶ τὸ κλαῦσαι. The scholiast is mistaken, but his comment implies the existence of a verb μυριᾶσθαι = κλαῦσαι. In the Suda we find: μυρομένη∙ ὀδυρομένη, θρηνοῦσα.

[ back ] 26. Buck GD 24. In Attic, there are signs of confusion from the fourth century B.C., cf. Danov BIAB 11.2 (later).

[ back ] 27. Buck GD 29, Hatzidakis ENG 28, Bachtin ISMG 20-30.

[ back ] 28. I have followed the text and translation of George Thomson.

[ back ] 29. See A. Supp. 116, Ag. 1136-46, Pr. 637, S. Aj. 823-65, OT 1241-50, 1307-66, Ant. 806-82, 891-943, Tr. 917-22, Ph. 796-8, E. Alk. 244-72, Med. 96-8, 111-14, 143-7, Hipp. 669-79, Andr. 384-6, Hel. 212-13, Or. 1537-9, Ba. 1368-97, IA 1279-1337, 1505-8, Rh. 728. That this tradition had some connection with the popular belief that the dying swan sang her own lament is suggested by Aelian, NA 5.34.

[ back ] 30. Il. 4.517, 19.409-10, 13.119.

[ back ] 31. Il. 19.287-302, 315-39, Od. 4.722-34, 7.213-14. See also Dieterich DFG 72 ff.

[ back ] 32. Ibid. 77 ff., cf. Mayer MGI Anhang, from which most of the inscriptional evidence quoted in this context is taken.

[ back ] 33. Kallin. ALG 1.3.1, Mimn. 1.39.1, A. Pr. 103-5, IG 12.7.396, 401.13.

[ back ] 34. Mayer MGI. For moîra in impersonal sense, see Peek 1695, AP 7.472. It is found also as wretched fate, death, see Peek 9, 2039.9.

[ back ] 35. Mayer cites Kb. 511b: ἀλλά με Μοῖρ’ ἐδάμασσεν, 714: ὤλεσεν … θανάτῳ Μοῖρα κρατανή, ibid. suppl. 479a = IG 5.2.178: Μοῖρ’ ἐπέδησε λυγρά. Other examples include Wilhelm GEK x, Peek 232, 546, 774, 935, 945, 1282, 1300, 1374, 1576, 1664, 1698, 1783, 1981, 2035.7-8.

[ back ] 36. Cf. Peek 1555: Τίς μοιρῶν μίτον … ἐκλώσατο;, Kb, 372c: Τίς (σ)ε κιχήσατο Μοιρῶν;, 7.439: ἄκριτε Μοῖρα, | πρώιον ἐξ ἥβας ἔθρισας …, ibid. 468: ἰὼ κακοπάρθενε Μοῖρα …, ibid. 602: … ἆ μέγα νηλειής … (Μοῖρα), Peek 684: ὡς ἀδίκως Μοῖρα τόδ᾽ εἰργάσατο, ibid. 1122: Μοῖρα … ἄγε με βαμέναι εἰς Ἀΐδαν.

[ back ] 37. An interesting parallel is the old English popular song Fortune my Foe, first referred to in written sources in 1565, and alluded to by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor 11.3, also by Beaumont and Fletcher, Jonson and many others. One reason for its popularity was that ‘the metrical lamentations of extraordinary criminals have been usually chanted to it for upwards of two hundred years’, and it was therefore known as the hanging tune, since criminals would sing their stories to it on their way to the gallows. It gained wide currency in this form through the Broadsides, especially those of the Roxburghe Collection, where ballads to this tune are all founded on murders, dying speeches or grievous misfortunes, Chappell PMOT 1.162-4. The parallel is significant because it provides independent evidence of the inherently popular character of the theme, and of its relation to literary tradition, especially to drama and tragedy.

[ back ] 38. See Ach. Tat. 1.13, 5.7, and Greene Moîra 331-98.

[ back ] 39. Books 1-4, 7, 10, 14; and for Moîra, see 1.492-3, 7.75, 10.97, 109, 14.97-100.

[ back ] 40. Eugenianos Drosilla and Charikles 6.207: ὡς γὰρ μοῖρα μέλαινα δυσώνυμος ἀμφεκύκλωσεν …, ibid. 214-15: τόν ῥα φάους ἀπέμερσε, κακώνυμος, αἰὲν ἀτειρὴς | Μοῖρα μέλαινα, φέραλγος, ἀπ᾽ ἔγχεος Ἀραβίοιο, Manasses Aristandros and Kallithea 3.9: Ἂν ζῶντα γάρ τινα καλῶς ἡ Μοῖρα προαρπάσῃ, in Hercher ESG. Cf. AP 7.574.3-5: Μοῖρα…ἁρπάξασα…ἤμερσε θεμίστων.

[ back ] 41. μοιρογράφημα: Kallimachos and Chrysorrhoe 250, 735 et passim, Belthandros and Chrysantza 438, μοιρογράφος: ibid. 442, μοιρογράφομαι: ibid. 732.

[ back ] 42. Cf. 615, 703-22, 841-2, 1443, 1665-8, 2043-54, 2366-7, Belthandros 36, 738-9, Florios and Platziaflora 400-32, 465-84, 998-1037.

[ back ] 43. Note the preservation of Moîra’s traditional verb λαγχάνειν, cf. Peek 2035.7-8. Moîra was associated with absence from home from as early as the fifth century B.C., see Peek 1209.23. Other instances of addresses to Moîra in the modern laments include Laog (1911) 266.5, ibid. (1921) 543.94, Giankas 210, and a lament from Mandraki, Nisyros, recorded in April 1972 from Maria Kapite by M. Herzfeld, and kindly made available to me: ὄχου μοῖρα μου καμένη, ὄχου μοῖρα μου κακή, | τὸ παιδί μας ἐσκοτώθη κάτω στὴν Ἀμερική. For an appeal to one’s own moîra in connection with marriage, see Politis LS 3.106-8.

[ back ] 44. Many instances, primarily connected with the division of property by lot, have been collected and discussed by C. Alexiou STC 73-81.

[ back ] 45. Schmidt VNG 212, 216, Schmitt DIEE 3.291-308, Politis Parad. 916-22, Loukatos KG 1271, 1272. A particularly striking example quoted by Schmidt is the following proverb, τἄχ᾽ ἡ μοῖρα στὸ χαρτί, πελέκας δὲν τὰ κόβει.

[ back ] 46. Cf. Peek 716, 1029, 1098, 1374, 1667, 1555, Kb. 372, Geffcken 214. The concept can be traced back to Homer, Il. 20.128, 24.210, Od. 7.198. See Mayer MGI C2.

[ back ] 47. Od. 7.496-7, cf. 10.368. See Schmitt IGF (1901) 11: μοιρολογῶ: λέγω τὴν μοῖραν μου, κλαψομοίρης = κλαίω τὴν μοῖραν μου (Dossius 55).

[ back ] 48. Od. 19.119, Il. 18.234, Hes. Sc. 132, Theok. 16.31, Bion 1.68, Mosch. 3.90, 4.605, Peek 1704: μὴ μύρου … με. The same formula is expressed with a different verb, however, in Cumont Syr. 15.298: μὴ θρήνει με, and in Samm. 6133: μὴ στέναζε.

[ back ] 49. Hsch. 728, 1753, 642. The verb is not frequent in Byzantine literature, but it does occasionally appear in the modern laments, see Passow 336.3: Κ᾽ ἐγὼ σὲ κλαίω, σὲ μύρομαι, στὰ μαῦρα φορεμένη.

[ back ] 50. Καταλέγω = recount, recite: Od. 7.496-7, 10.368, Hdt. 4.50 et passim. In Attic, it occurs only once in the specialised sense of recite, X. Smp. 6.3. Καταλογή = recitation (as opposed to singing): IG 9.2.531, 12, Hsch. s.v. Numerous examples of κατάλεγμα = lament in ecclesiastical and early Byzantine sources are cited by Stephanus s.v.

[ back ] 51. Καταλογή = love song: Lybistros and Rhodamne 1541, 2870, 3397; καταλέγω = μοιρολογῶ Kall. 2378. See Schmitt IGF (1901) 11, Korais At. 2.182. For modern usage, see Kyriakidis IADNP app. II, Hatzidakis MNE 2.65.

[ back ] 52. See Bachtin ISMG 48-9, Browning MMG 79-81. Examples of variant forms in the romances include τραγοῦδιν (Lyb. 1529), τραγούδημαν (ibid. 3497), κατάλογος (ibid. 2870), καταλόγιν (ibid. 1543), καταλογίτσιν (Achilleid 1222), καταλόγιασμα (ibid. 969), μοιριολόγιν (Belth. 128), μοιρολόγημαν (Imberios and Margarona 187). A modern analogy is the coexistence in one village of Chios of two forms, περλόγι and περιλογή, Pernot ELNH 2.124.2.. ..

[ back ] 53. See Kyriakidis IADNP II. The antiquity of the form paralogé is suggested by the text of Ath. 636.6: Φοίνικες … ἐν οἷς δὲ παρελογίζοντο ((παρακατελογίζοντο) Hermann) τοὺς ἐν τοῖς μέτροις κλεψιάμβους. Athenaios also refers to the Ionikológos or kinaidológos as among the most popular singers of his time, 620e. They performed Ionikà ásmata, obscene pieces recited rather than sung, which, although without much literary merit, formed part of a distinctively Ionian minstrel tradition of considerable antiquity, see Wilamowitz NGWG (1896) 2.209-32.

[ back ] 54. Kyriakidis IADNP II.

[ back ] 55. See Joannidu UFNK 45, 60-8.

[ back ] 56. Od. 4.718-20, cf. 707-10, 1.231-48, 2.363-70, 13.219-20, 14.121-30, 16.142-5, 19.361-74. Returning home after ten years of absence to announce the safe arrival of Agamemnon, the Herald greets his native Argive soil, glad that his bones can be laid there to rest, and addesses the palace as φίλαι στέγαι, A. Ag. 518.

[ back ] 57. The poet begins with an address, full of praise, to his home, then he takes leave: Τούτοις ὅλοις με, πατρική, θέλγεις, στέγη∙ | τούτοις με κάμπτεις καὶ κατακλᾷς, φιλτάτη (32-3, cf. 43), calling her his second mother: Ὅμως δὲ χαῖρε, χαῖρε, μῆτερ δευτέρα (45). Finally, he bids farewell to the neighbourhood and to his neighbours: Σῴζου δέ, σῴζου καὶ σύ, πιστὴ γωνία, | … Ὑμεῖς τε, χρηστοὶ γείτονες, σῴζοισθέ μοι … (52, 54), Cantarella 162-5. A similar formula of farewell to house and family is found in the modern laments for absence from home (Politis 166), for the departure of a bride (Giankas 760, 761, 763), and for the dead (Laog (1938) 183.8).

[ back ] 58. Cod. Vindob. th. gr. 244 (ed. Sathas Pand (1872) 472-8 and Wagner MGT 203-20), cod. Athen. 701 (ed. Bouboulidis KL 31-4), cod. Athen. 535 (ed. Zoras NEst (1943) 913-19), cod. Iberon 751 Athous 4871 (Lambros CGM 2.219), cod. Iberon 1203 Athous (Bouvier DTMI 10, 16-21), cod. Berolin. 263. The last is discussed by Bees BNJ (1937) 57-66, who concludes from the name and other details that it is Epirot in origin and not Cretan, as Krumbacher supposed, GBL 817-18. See Beck GBV 191-2. For comparable laments in the vernacular romances, see Belth. 129-33, Fl. 1042-8.

[ back ] 59. Giankas 648, Passow 324a.

[ back ] 60. Giankas 659, 660.

[ back ] 61. Modern examples include Aravantinos 218, Politis 6, Laog (1938) 488, Giankas 12. On the origins of the practice of paidomázoma, see Finlay HG 3.476-8, Runciman FC 34-5.

[ back ] 62. See Lawson MGF 554-60, Politis LS 3.232-362.

[ back ] 63. E. Tr. 1219-21, Peek 1238.3. The custom is frequently referred to in modern laments for the unmarried, as in Politis 217.14-20. See also van Gennep RP 133, 152.

[ back ] 64. This line must refer to the twelve extracts from the Gospels read during Holy Week, and to the Apocalypse, see also Sakellaridis 185.5-6. Other bridal farewells include Giankas 760-5; for their relation to funeral laments, see Joannidu UFNK 111. I am grateful to the folklorist A. L. Lloyd for providing me with much valuable information on comparable parallels between bridal farewells and funeral laments in the folk tradition of other Balkan countries, notably Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania: in Romania it is still customary in many parts to erect at the grave head of a young unmarried person a pine tree similar to those erected outside the house of newly-weds. One of the oldest motifs found in some versions of the pastoral ballad Miorita (The Little Lamb) concerns the marriage in the other world of a young shepherd to a ‘shining bride of the sky’. In a funeral lament for a young girl, the mourner asks: ‘Who in the world has seen | a great wedding without a tree? | a wedding with a black crowd? | a wedding without gipsy minstrels, | and a bride in a coffin?’ (Gulian SVFR 232, reference and translation kindly provided by A. L. Lloyd). The ritual function of the death-and- marriage imagery and the simulation-wedding funeral is, in essence, one of appeasement: by creating the illusion that those who die unmarried have married in the next world, the grief of the mourner is allayed and the wrath of the dead averted. The motif is general; what appears to be characteristically Greek is the idea of death as marriage in the Underworld, to Hades or Charos in the case of a girl, and to the earth or the tombstone in the case of a man. See also Muşlea, MM 3-32.

[ back ] 65. For a fuller discussion of the evidence in ancient Greek, and of its influence on later tradition, see Alexiou and Dronke SM (1971) 819-63.

[ back ] 66. See Politis 186.8-12, 187, 195.4-6, 204.1-5, Laog (1911) 267.12, (1917) 573.6, (1929) 23.81, 26.86, (1934) 275.1 Some ‘set openings’ are listed in Laog (1960) 385-6, cf. Pasayanis 66-70, 80-2, 87-9.

[ back ] 67. Cf. Laog (1912) 183.8, 4-7, (1917) 573.8, 1-12, (1953) 276.5, (1960) 370.12, Pasayanis 85.

[ back ] 68. See Peek 1590, 1599, Kb. 371: ἀπλήρωτ᾽ Ἀΐδα, τί με νήπιον ἥρπασες …;, AP 7.671: πάντα Χάρων ἄπληστε, τί τὸν νέον ἥρπασες αὔτως …; Modern couplets of this type are frequent, see Laog (1934) 190.5: Ἀνάθεμά σε, Χάροντα, σὰν ἔβγης τσαὶ (γ)υρίζης, | ἕξι μηνῶν ἀντρό(γ)υνο νὰ πάης νὰ χωρίσης , Sakellaridis 185.199, 25-7.

[ back ] 69. Cf. Il. 23.10, E. El. 125-6, A. Pr. 637-9. Further examples of the same sentiment in modern laments include Laog (1911) 490.8, 1-2, 269.33, 1-2.

[ back ] 70. On the modern distich and its possible relation to the ancient elegy, see Soyter Laog (1921) 379-426. Frequently competitive, it may be improvised by each of the company in turn after the meal is over, see Romaios KR 386-417. Many of the longer Underworld ballads are explicitly stated to be sung in the context of a meal, Politis 215, 214, 217, Passow 426-33. Sometimes, Digenis is named as the hero whose exploits are recounted, Politis 78b. The relation of the ballads on the death of Digenis to other folk songs is discussed and illustrated by Politis Laog (1909) 169-275.

[ back ] 71. Motifs from the Underworld ballads (Politis 207, 213, 217-22) are sometimes found in women’s ritual laments from many parts of Greece, see Laog (1929) 21.82, (1960) 369.8, 10, 19.

[ back ] 72. Giankas 96, 98, 220, Politis 39.

[ back ] 73. Cf. Laog (1921) 547. The Maniot tradition that the Spartans did not lament those fallen in war is correct (X. HG 6.4.16, Plu. 241b), although of course it proves nothing about their alleged descent from the Spartans.

[ back ] 74. Cf. Laog (1911) 268.17-33, (1921) 542, (1926) 192, (1934) 184-8, 190, (1953) 275, 291, 443-4, (1957) 185, (1960) 383-6, Sakellaridis 164.1-2.

[ back ] 75. See Mimn. ALG 1.50-1.2, Alk. 38, 347 L-P, AP 11.56: ὡς δύνασαι, χαρίσαι, μετάδος, φάγε, θνητὰ λογίζου· | τὸ ζῆν τοῦ μὴ ζῆν οὐδὲν ὅλως ἀπέχει, Peek 1367. φρόντιζ’, ἕως ζῇς, πῶς καλῶς ταφήσεε, | καὶ ζῆσον ὡς ζήσοις∙ κάτω γὰρ οὐκ ἔχις | οὐ πῦρ ἀνάψε, οὐδὲ διπνῆσε καλῶς.