The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition

Introduction to the Second Edition

Margaret Alexiou’s The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, first published in 1974, has long since been established as a classic in several fields. Even in the wake of a large number of studies on Greek lament since then, Alexiou’s book remains what it was at its original publication twenty-five years ago: the only generic and diachronic study of learned and popular lament and its socio-cultural contexts throughout Greek tradition in which a great diversity of sources—literary, archaeological, historical, and anthropological—are integrated to offer a comprehensive and penetrating synthesis. Its interdisciplinary orientation and broad scope have rendered The Ritual Lament an indispensable reference work for classicists, byzantinists, neohellenists, anthropologists, and folklorists.

It was not long after 1974 that the first edition of this book went out of print. The present editors had just completed a Greek revised edition of The Ritual Lament when we were asked by Margaret Alexiou and Gregory Nagy to prepare a second revised English edition of the book, largely based on the Greek version. We happily agreed and proceeded to embark on our second interaction with The Ritual Lament. The task was demanding but highly rewarding; we learned a great deal in the process. We decided to adopt an archaeological approach to Alexiou’s acknowledged classic, which would preserve its original scholarly and ideological framework: the methodology and almost all the interpretations proposed in the first edition have remained unaffected by our revision, despite frequent rewordings that clarify points in the 1974 edition. Several passages have been reworked, and a few omitted. Many of our editorial interventions involve corrigenda and addenda that, although sometimes reflecting the state of scholarship {xiii|xiv} since 1974, have by and large been made after a dialogue with primary and secondary sources employed in the first edition. All the changes are incorporated into the text without special indication. Only very rarely have we felt the need to modify references by the author to the contemporary Greek cultural context of the first edition; the changes in traditional Greek society after 1974 have not drastically affected the original discussion on “Modern Survivals” undertaken primarily in Chapter 3, and sporadically in other parts of the book that largely draw on Alexiou’s fieldwork conducted in the 1960s. A large-scale revision of the book in the light of recent scholarship would have resulted in considerable expansion, without, however, having a significant effect on the scope and the overall argumentation of the original.

Instead, an extensive up-to-date Bibliographical Supplement appended at the end of the present edition offers the reader guidance to the vast bibliography published from 1974 through 1998 on the ancient, medieval, and modern Greek lament, and on comparative, ethnographic, and ethnomusicological material. The Bibliographical Supplement has been written by Dimitrios Yatromanolakis; at a later stage the sections on Byzantium and modern Greece were amplified by Panagiotis Roilos, while the sections on ancient Greece and ethnographic and comparative material were further elaborated by Dimitrios Yatromanolakis.

For this edition it was necessary to optically scan the original text—with all the difficulties that this entailed. We thank Gary A. Bisbee for his expert work on the technological preparation of the volume, and for entering the Greek into the scanned text of the original edition.

For their advice on a variety of matters we extend our warmest thanks to Michael Herzfeld, Peter J. Parsons, Charles Segal, and Katerina Zographou-Korre. Our profound debt throughout has been to Gregory Nagy for his unstinting support; this project owes much to a most creative exchange with him. Finally, we reserve our deepest gratitude for Margaret Alexiou, who entrusted us with this challenging undertaking; without her invaluable insights, encouragement, and φιλία, the preparation of this edition would not have been possible. We hope that making The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition again available to a wide range of readers will secure its lasting importance.

Dimitrios Yatromanolakis
Panagiotis Roilos
Cambridge, Mass., November 1999