The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition

7. Antiphonal structure and antithetical thought

So far we have considered the lament for the dead both in relation to the funeral ritual of which it is still an integral part, and in relation to other kinds of ritual laments and songs to the dead. The similarities between the ancient and modern material may be explained partly in terms of the common cultural basis of all such ritual beliefs and customs in all parts of the world, irrespective of geographical and national boundaries, but partly also in terms of the cultural and linguistic continuity of the Greek people from antiquity to the present day. By examining in more depth the parallels in structure and thought, poetic conventions and imagery, which are to be found in the scient and modern laments, I hope to define more precisely in this final section first, the nature and extent of this continuity as reflected in our material, and second, the interaction of traditional forms and poetic originality, which enabled the poets to draw on a living vernacular tradition, itself continually enriched by what it had absorbed from a long literary past.

Form and structure

In ancient literature, the lament is presented in a variety of forms: with a soloist, accompanied by chorus only in the refrain; with a chorus alone; with one or more soloists and a chorus, singing antiphonally; and finally, in the form of an imagined dialogue between living and dead. What was the relation between these different forms, and how was each developed in ancient tradition?

It is of course impossible to retrace this process in detail. But an analysis of the actual use of these forms in the ancient laments will serve to confirm their common origins, and at the same time to indicate how the subsequent growth of each contributed to the shaping of the basic forms of lamentation in Greek tradition. Taking the solo lament first, an analysis of the three laments for Hector at the end of the Iliad reveals that they not only conform to a similar length and type, but that each is built up on the same three-part form: {132|133}

Andromache (24.725-45)
A 725-30: Direct address and reproach to Hector for having died so young, ἆνερ, ἀπ’ αἰῶνος νέος ὤλεο …
B 731-9: Narrative, in which her own and her son’s future is imagined.
A 740-5: Renewed address and reproach to Hector for having left her such grief, ἄρρητον … γόον καὶ πένθος ἔθηκας, | Ἕκτορ.

Hekabe (748-59)
A 748-50: Direct address to Hector as the dearest of all her sons, Ἕκτορ, ἐμῷ θυμῷ πάντων πολὺ φίλτατε παίδων.
B 751-6: Narrative, how Hector and her other sons were killed.
A 757-9: Renewed address and lament for Hector, now lying dead, νῦν δέ μοι… | κεῖσαι.

Helen (762-75)
A 762-4: Direct address to Hector as the dearest of her husband’s brothers, Ἕκτορ, ἐμῷ θυμῷ δαέρων πολὺ φίλτατε πάντων.
B 765-70: Narrative, her own past and Hector’s kindness to her.
A 771—5: Renewed address for Hector and for herself, τῶ σέ θ’ ἅμα κλαίω καὶ ἔμ᾽ ἄμμορον ἀχνυμένη κῆρ.

The mourner begins with a preliminary address to the dead, then remembers the past or imagines the future in a predominantly narrative section, and finally renews her opening address and lament. This is ternary form, ABA, in which the opening section, an address or appeal, is reinforced and modified by the intervening narrative of the second section. While by no means every lament conforms to this pattern, there is a sufficient number of examples, early and ate, to establish its traditional basis beyond doubt. [

In contrast to the hýmnos, enkómion and epitáphios, the development of the three-part form did not in the thrênos lead to the total disappearance of the refrain. The lament was always in some sense collective, and never an exclusively solo performance. There seems to be no example in Greek antiquity of a lament which has lost all traces of refrain. Is there any evidence about the nature of its contents which might help to determine its function and significance? First, the word epodé means not simply after-song, but a song sung over someone, a désmios hýmnos (binding song) or magic incantation, designed in the dirge to bring the dead man back to life. That is perhaps why it disappeared in many of the hymns and odes, but not in the dirge. Its magical function was never quite forgotten.

This is confirmed by the use of both epodoí and ephýmnia in the choral odes of tragedy. The epodós usually comes at the end of the ode (AA BB CC x), while the ephýmnion may be placed either between the antistrophic pairs (AAx BBx CCx) or between strophe and antistrophe (Ax Ax Bx Bx Cx Cx). Both are formal refrains, metrically distinct from the rest of the ode. One of the most striking features of their use is that they occur most frequently in odes which are laments or invocations, at the moment when the dramatic tension within the ode has reached its highest pitch. The three ephýmnia in the párodos of Aeschylus’ Suppliant Women all follow an invocation (or reference) to Zeus and culminate in an incantation cursing their enemies (117-21, 128-32, 141-3, 151-3, 162-7, 175a-f). In the Persians, the chorus conclude both their invocation to Dareios and their final ecstatic lament with epodoí (672-80, 1066-77). In the Seven Against Thebes the antiphonal lament that has been attributed to Antigone and Ismene is interspersed with choral ephýmnia and concluded with an epodós (961-1004). The kommós at the end of the Agamemnon is an angry exchange between the chorus an Clytemnestra, in which the chorus interrupt the second, third and fourth strophes and the third antistrophe with four ephýmnia, crying out in the fate of their murdered king in lamentation (1455-61, 1489-96, 1537-50). In the Eumenides, the Furies leap and {134|135} dance round Orestes chanting an ephýmnion after the first strophe and antistrophe which bear all the characteristics of a magic incantation (328-33, 341-6). These and other examples suggest the conscious use of the formal refrain to heighten the impact of an invocation or lament. [10] What were its contents?

Besides the metrical refrain of the choral odes, traces of refrain structure may also be found in the repetition of certain lines throughout a lament, whether choral or solo in form. The third strophe and antistrophe of the invocation to Dareios both end with the same command: βάσκε πάτερ ἄκακε Δαριάν, οἴ (Come, guileless father Dareios, οí!) 663, 671. Similarly, the chorus of Euripides’ Elektra open both strophe and antistrophe of their lament with the call: σύντειν’—ὥρα—ποδὸς ὁρμάν·ὤ  ἔμβα, ἔμβα κατακλαίουσα ·  ἰώ μοί μοι (Press on—it is time!—with speed of foot. O go onward, onward, weeping bitterly! Alas for me!) (112-14, 127-9). And in Bion’s Epitáphios, the lines αἰάζω τὸν Ἄδωνιν· ἀπώλετο καλὸς Ἄδωνις  ὤλετο καλὸς Ἄδωνις, ἐπαιάζουσιν Ἔρωτες (Alas for Adonis, I cry, the fair Adonis is dead! The fair Adonis is dead. Alas! cry the Loves in answer) are repeated eight times with slight variation at regular intervals throughout. Finally, in Moschos’ Eptáphios, the appeal Ἄρχετε {135|136} Σικελικαί, τῶ πένθεος ἄρχετε Μοῖσαι (Begin, Sicilian Muses, begin the dirge!) is repeated at short and regular intervals. All these refrains contain or refer to a cry of lamentation.

The main contents of the refrain, as it has survived in tragedy and in later poetic laments, would therefore seem to include the reiteration of cries, statements of death and appeals by name. Its function was to rouse the spirit of the dead and establish contact, and therefore in keeping with the essential meaning of the word epodé. Further, as we {136|137} have seen in chapter 6, the etymology of both thrênos and góos suggests that this refrain of cries—which, far from being meaningless, was probably a kind of incantation—many once have formed the of the lament. It was only after the role of éxarchos had been developed, with the separation of leader from chorus, that the refrain became subordinate. Even so, its function was not forgotten, and has left important traces both in the choral laments of tragedy, where it was deliberately exploited for dramatic effect, and in Alexandrian poetry, where there are signs that it was beginning to form structural divisions of a new, almost stanzaic type.

If it is correct that the simple solo and refrain grew out of an originally antiphonal tradition, then antiphony may be expected to have left some impact on later development. Some evidence for this is suggested by the use of stichomythic dialogue, which finds its most concentrated and highly developed expression in tragedy, where it is frequently used as prelude or interlude to the laments to heighten tension. In Sophokles’ Trachiniai, the news of Deianeira’s death is not told as a simple statement of fact, but revealed gradually, point by point, in a prolonged series of statement and counter-statement, question and answer:

Τρ. βέβηκε Δῃάνειρα τὴν πανυστάτην
ὁδῶν ἁπασῶν ἐξ ἀκινήτου ποδός.
Χο. οὐ δή ποθ’ ὡς θανοῦσα; — πάντ’ ἀκήκοας.
— τέθνηκεν ἡ τάλαινα; — δεύτερον κλύεις.
— τάλαιν’, ὀλεθρία· τίνι τρόπω θανεῖν σφε φής;
— σχετλίῳ τὰ πρός γε πρᾶξιν. — εἰπὲ τῷ μόρῳ, γύναι, ξυντρέχει

874-80 (cf. 881-95)

Nurse. Deianeira has gone on the last
of all roads, without stirring a step.
Chorus. You mean she is dead?—You have heard all.
— Is poor Deianeira dead?—That is the second time you hear it.
— Poor ruined soul! How did she die?
— It was a dreadful deed.—Tell us, woman, how she met her death.

This technique of catechistic questions is an integral part of the structure of many tragic laments. [
16] In the Persians, the ghost of Dareios appears in answer to the chorus’ invocation, and questions Atossa, in a tense passage of stichomythia in trochaic tetrameters, point by point {137|138} about past and present; then, after his intervening lament for Persia’s fate, they question him in turn about the future (702-38, 787-800). Stichomythia is here the medium of expression for the dialogue between living and dead.

Had it any basis in Greek tradition outside tragedy? In epigrams and funerary inscriptions from the fifth century on, the use of dialogue is extremely common, usually in the form of a swift exchange of question and answer, through which the interlocutor learns step by step of the dead man’s family, his life and manner of death, as in the following terse couplet attributed to Simonides: [17]

— Εἰπόν, τίς, τίνος ἐσσί, τίνος πατρίδος, τί δ’ ἐνίκης;
          — Κασμύλος, Εὐαγόρου, Πύθια πύξ, ῾Pόδιος.

ALG 2.115.149

— Say, who are you, who is your father, what is your country, where were you victorious?
          — Kasmylos, son of Euagoras, Pythian boxer, from Rhodes.

It is true that developed stichomythic form is not found in non-literary inscriptions before tragedy, and literary influence cannot therefore be excluded; but the imagined dialogue between living and dead, on which its use in he lament was based, can be traced much further back. The statement to the passing traveller by the dead man or his tomb is found in some of the earliest extant inscriptions from the seventh century, and became increasingly common during the sixth century. [
18] Sometimes the address is reversed, and it is the traveller who speaks to the dead man, or probably even to Charon himself, as in the following inscription from Phokis (c. 500 B.C.):

χαῖρε, Χάρον· | οὐδὶς τὺ κακος | λέγει οὐδὲ θα|νόντα,
          πολὸς | ἀνθρόπον λυ|σάμενος | καμάτο.

Peek 1384

Hail, Charon. No one speaks ill of you even in death,
          for you freed many men from pain.

In general, the use of the formulaic greeting χαῖρε (hail) and of the vocative [
19] indicate that these two modes of address were in fact complementary aspects of an imagined dialogue, in which the dead man or his tomb informed the passer-by of who he was and of his death, and the traveller in turn gave an assurance of his pity and concern. After, the relaxation of the austere brevity of the archaic style, both {138|139} addresses are found together in the same inscription, and the interlocutor is no longer an impersonal passer-by but a relative or friend. [20]

In the fifteenth book of Nonnos’ Dionysiaka (fifth century), there are two short laments for the dead Hymnos. First the bulls, cows and heifers weep for their dead herdsman in a lament of eight lines, with the repetition of a refrain at the first and fifth lines, ‘the fair herdsman has perished, slain by the fair girl’ (15.399, 403). Then follows the lament of the wild animals—wolf, bear and lion—with a similar refrain at the first and sixth lines and half-line echoes at the third and eleventh. Nonnos, modelling himself perhaps on Bion’s lament, is carrying the incipient stanza-refrain one stage further towards a regular pattern. By the eleventh century, Christophoros of Mytilene has completely regularised this structure in his planctus for his sister Anastasia, which although formal, is not without a touching sincerity:

῾Pοδοεικέλην γυναῖκα
θάνατος μέλας κατέσχεν,
ἐπὶ τῆς κλίνης δὲ κεῖται
ἀποτμηθὲν ερνος οἷα·
ἀρετῆς δ’ ἄσυλον ὅρμον
περικειμένη καθεύδει
ἀνακειμένη δὲ λάμπει
νενεκρωμένη περ οὖσα.
Νεφέλαι ὀμβροτόκοι, δάκρυα χεῖτε,
ὅτι καλλίστη ἄφνω ἔσβετο κούρη.

Cantarella 156.6,1-10

A woman fair as a rose has been snatched by black Death, and lies on her deathbed like a severed shoot. She sleeps, wreathed with a garland of virtue, inviolate; she shines forth, though she lies dead. You rain-bringing clouds, shed tears, for the fairest girl has suddenly been quenched.

The poem contains four eight-line ‘stanzas’, each followed by two longer lines of invocation, like a refrain. The metre is Anacreontic, one of the more popular of classical metres among Byzantine poets, perhaps because it permitted them to adhere to the rules of classical prosody while maintaining a regular number of eight or twelve syllables in each line, thereby combining quantity with stress. Some of the later Anacreontics are almost indistinguishable from the stressed eight- and twelve-syllable metres of modern folk song. [
27] Christophoros’ Anacreontic planctus therefore provides an important link with Byzantine popular and religious poetry. {141|142}

In striking contrast, the religious laments of the early church show considerable experimentation with form. Many of the kontákia, kanónes and tropária begin and end with an invocation, although the three-part form is no longer basic to the structure as it was in the ancient hymns. Structurally and poetically among the most exciting compositions of this type is Romanos’ kontákion, Mary at the Cross, whose strophic and melodic construction is a koukoúlion of four lines followed by seventeen tropária of the same elaborate metrical pattern, forming the acrostic TOY ΤΑΠ[Ε]ΙΝΟΥ ΡΩΜΑΝΟΥ (by the humble Romanos). Each tropárion ends with a refrain. Without attempting to enter into the controversy about the origins of the kontákion, it is worth pointing out that not all these features were entirely new. There are several examples of both linear and strophic acrostic from the pre-Byzantine period, in pagan hymns and secular songs, thus suggesting that even if the immediate origins of the kontákion are to be sought in Syriac religious poetry, one of its most prominent features had already existed in Greek tradition before the advent of Christianity. [29] Similarly, the elaborate strophic construction finds a general parallel in the choral odes of tragedy, and coincides with some tendencies already noted in the archaising poetry, where eastern influence is negligible. Thus, even if the particular combination of forms in the kontákion was new, its immediate assimilation into Greek may be explained in terms of the history of Greek verse forms.

Further, a closer analysis of Romanos’ kontákion reveals that there is more to its structure than the melodic or strophic pattern. Besides the invocation of the poem and final tropárion, with the intervening dramatic dialogue between Mary and Christ, both Mary’s first lament and Christ’s reply show traces of artistically balance three-part form:

A Proem: Invocation to all to join Mary in praising Christ
     1-16: Dramatic dialogue between Mary and Christ {142|143}
     1-3 Mary: A Address and reproach, Ποῦ πορεὺῃ, τέκνον; (Where are you going, child?)
           B Frustration of past hopes, injustice of Christ’s death and failure of his disciples to help, Οὐκ ἤλπιζον, τέκνον (I did not expect, my child … )
           A Renewed address and lament, θνῄσκεις, τέκνον, μόνος … (You are dying, child, alone … )
     4-6 Christ: A Address, Τί δακρύεις, μήτηρ; (Why do you weep, mother?)
B        B Crucifixion is fulfillment of past prophecies
           A Renewed address, μή ούν κλαΐης, μήτερ (Do not weep, mother)
     7-8 Mary: Why die to save mankind?
     9-10 Christ: For salvation of man’s soul, not his body
     11 Mary: Shall I see you again?
     12-14 Christ: At the Resurrection, which will reveal the true meaning of the Crucifixion
     15 Mary: Renewed lamentation
     16 Christ: No cause to weep, μὴ κλαύσῃς, ὦ μῆτερ (Cease weeping, mother)
A        17: Praise of Christ, who sacrificed himself for the salvation of mankind

After Mary’s opening lament and Christ’s reply, both three strophes in length, the pace quickens, as in answer to his Mothers protests that Christ has no need to die to save mankind, having performed so many miracles in the past, Christ points to the past sins of Adam and Eve and their present misery as proof of the necessity of man’s redemption through the Crucifixion (7-10). Then, in answer to Mary’s single strophe of short, anxious questions, he assures her that she will see him again after he has risen from the dead, and describes the future joy and hope of the Resurrection (11-14). The dialogue ends with a short, dramatic exchange, in which Mary’s grief is contrasted with Christ’s hope in a series of parallel antitheses (15-16).

In a single kontákion, Romanos has exploited all available forms, strophe-refrain, dialogue and three-part form. Nor is his artistry ever static, developed for the sake of form alone. At every stage it reinforces the depth of insight with which Mary’s gradual and painful realisation that her son must be crucified is described. As in the best of the ancient laments, the three-part form reflects a dynamic change: the {143|144} final strophe is a reappraisal of Christ in the light of Mary’s suffering, described in the central section. The refrain at the end of each strophe, ὁ υἱὸς καὶ θεός μου (my son and God), itself a terse expression of Mary’s conflicting emotions for Christ, who is at the same time her son and God, is used in a variety of ways—questions, statements, appeals—and with a wide range of feelings—affection, despair, triumph. It is never purely perfunctory. But it is above all the dialogue which sustains the dramatic tension, swiftly moving as it does from the personal to the universal, from despair at Christ’s death to hope in the future life of mankind. And it is through his use of dialogue that Romanos achieves the interweaving of corresponding planes of time and place—past, present, future, Hades, earth, Paradise—which both widens and deepens our whole conception of the theme. This close integration of form and content, typical of the best of Romanos, is not an abstract convention, but a poetic response to the diversity of forms actually current in Greek liturgical singing of the time. [30]

The Virgin’s lament and the thrênoi for the fall of Constantinople provide a useful link between Byzantine and modern popular tradition; but they are not folk songs, and it might therefore be argued that the signs of formal structure we have noted are due to literary influence. In order to determine whether the old forms had survived independently, and what their function was, we must look at the modern moirológia. There are two types of lament which show traces of three-part form. First, in a historical ballad from Karpathos about the earthquake which ravaged the island on 26 June 1924, the poet begins with an appeal to his mind and heart to prove equal to the task of telling the terrible story—which he proceeds to relate in detail—and concludes with a brief prayer to God to avert such catastrophe in the future and a strengthened appeal to his own mind and heart (Michaelidis-Nouaros 317A). Although presented in a more lively manner, this technique is not essentially different from that of numerous Byzantine historical and religious laments. Among the ritual laments, however, there are several which show a more dynamic use of this form. A Maniot woman opens her lament by addressing the dead directly, ‘Yiannaki, tell me, what shall I do with my love for you?’, then goes on to elaborate in the central, narrative section the theme of her grief for her dead son, returning at the end to a direct address, more passionate than the first, ‘Yiannaki, water of life, my royal ship …! (Theros 686). This structure is not fortuitous, since it can be paralleled elsewhere, and the divisions are further emphasised by a change in metre from the fifteen-syllable politikòs stíchos to rhyming couplets in eight-syllable verse. [35]

Unfortunately, a complete analysis of the refrain in the modern moirológia is at present precluded by the usual practice of editors, which is to print texts without music and to omit all cries and repeated syllables and phrases which are extra metrum. When sung, each fifteen-syllable line of these laments may be followed by a refrain of eight or five syllables. Usually the number of syllables in the refrain is constant throughout, while the actual phrase may be varied, as in the following verse from a narrative lament from the island of Astypalaia in the Dodecanese, recorded by Baud-Bovy—one of the few collectors of Greek folk songs to have published the music as well as the texts in full:

Ἐχτὲς βραδὺν ἐμπρόβαλα ἀπό τὸ παναθύρι
          (ὄχου τὸ μαῦρο Χάροντα) —
θωρῶ τὸν κάμπο πράσινο, καὶ τὰ βουνὰ σπαρμένα
          (ὄχου πράμα ποὺ τὸ πάθαμε) —

Baud-Bovy 2.102

Yesterday evening I looked out from the window
          (Óchou, black Charondas) —
I see the green plain, and the sown mountains
          (Óchou, what we have suffered!) —

Frequently, short cries and appeals by name are inserted within the line, sometimes dividing words, or one or more syllables of the same word may be repeated. This kind of flexible melismatic decoration is still indispensible to certain types of lament, where variety is achieved not through the melody (which to the unaccustomed ear at first resembles a monotonous drone), but through the skillful manipulation of ornamentation and refrain.

But the most significant and characteristic feature in the structure of the modern folk laments is use of dialogue and antiphony. Often, the lament takes the form of an imagined dialogue, in which the {146|147} mourner asks the dead when he will return, and the dead replies that he cannot, begging the mourner not to weep excessively but to accept his departure, as in the ancient funerary inscriptions. [38] Rarely, he may promise to return in the spring, as in this lament from the Peloponnese:

Σώπα, μανούλα, καὶ μὴν κλαῖς καὶ μὴν παραπονιέσαι,
κι ἐγὼ τὸ Μάη θὲ νὰ᾽ ρθῶ μὲ τὰ χελιδονάκια …
νὰ ἰδῶ ποιὸς μὲ χλίβεται καὶ ποιὸς κλαίει γιὰ μένα.

Tarsouli 210

Be quiet, mother, do not weep and do not complain,
for I will come back in May with the swallows …
to see who grieves for me, who weeps for me.

Sometimes the mourner may address the tomb or the black earth, instructing them to care tenderly for the dead, or telling them in which order to rot his limbs and features. [
39] Or it may be a more general appeal to the whole company of dead in Hades, and, especially to kinsmen, to look after the newcomer. [40] Nor do the dead speak only in reply to persistent questions and lamentation; sometimes they and their tombs address the casual passer-by, and reproach him for trampling upon him. [41] It may even be the dead man’s weapons which tell the passer-by the story of his bravery:

— Καλὴ μέρα σας, ἄρματα. — Καλῶς τους, τοὺς διαβάτες.
— Ἄρματα, ποῦ ’ν’ ὁ ἁφέντης σας καὶ ποῦ ᾽ναι ὁ καλός σας;
— Ὁ Χάρος τὸν ἐγύρεψε παιδὶ γιὰ νὰ τὸν κάνη.

Laog (1909) 264.57

— Good day to you, weapons. — Welcome to you, passers-by.
— Weapons, where is your master and where is your fine one?
— Charos sought him out to make him his child.

Sometimes a macabre scene takes place within the tomb itself, as the dead man pleads with the two-headed snake which threatens to eat away his flesh. [

The variety is infinite, showing how vital the belief still remains in the intercourse between the world of the dead and the world of the living. But the dialogue is not restricted to this type of dirge. It may involve two mourners, like the following version of a well-known Epirot lament which I recorded from Alexandra Tsipi in 1963, in which a mother urges her daughter, five days a bride and then widowed, to stop weeping and marry again, and receives an angry refusal in reply. The concise antitheses give expression to a situation so commonly found in the ancient inscriptions: {147|148}

Πέντε μέρες παντρεμένη, χήρα πάει στὴ μάνα της.
Μὲ τὰ τέλεια στὴν ποδιά της, ἔκλαιγε τὸν ἄντρα της.
— Σώπα, κόρη, καὶ μὴ κλαῖς, μὴ παραπονεύεσαι.
Εἶσαι νέα καὶ ὡραία, καὶ ξαναπαντρεύεσαι.
Τί μοῦ λές, μωρ’ μαύρη μάνα, πῶς νὰ ξαναπαντρευτῶ;
Ἔχασα τὸν πρῶτο μ’ ἄντρα, σὰν τὰ μάτια μου τὰ δυό.

Five days married, she goes, a widow, to her mother.
With the ritual garlands in her apron, she wept for her husband.
— Be quiet, daughter, do not weep and do not complain.
You are young and fair, and you can wed again.
— What are you saying, wretched mother, how can I wed again?
I have lost my first husband, dear as my own two eyes.

Α common means of expression in these dialogue laments is stichomythia. It may also be used to vary the narrative of a long ballad, or to increase the dramatic tension. In the ballad The Young Girl and Charos, Kostandis, riding to the house of his betrothed, sees a crowd gathering as if in funeral procession outside her house, and suspects bad news. Passing the churchyard, he sees the grave-digger, and asks whose grave he is preparing. The news that it is Evgenoula’s has to be extracted point by point, first in riddling phrases, and finally in grim reality: [

— Νὰ ζήσης, πρωτομάστορη, τίνος εἶν’ τὸ κιβούρι;
— Εἶναι τἀνέμου, τοῦ καπνοῦ καὶ τῆς ἀνεμοζάλης.
— Γιὰ πέ μου, πρωτομάστορη, καθόλου μὴ μοῦ κρύψης.
— Ποιὸς ἔχει γλώσσα νὰ στὸ πῆ, στόμα νὰ σοῦ μιλήση,
τούτ᾽ ἡ φωτιὰ μοὺ σ᾽ ἄναψε, ποιὸς θὲ νὰ σοῦ τὴ σβήση;
῾Η Εὑγενούλα ἀπέθανε νἡ πολυαγαπημένη …

Politis 217.32-7

— Long life to you, master craftsman. Whose is the coffin?
— It belongs to the wind, to the smoke and to the whirlwind.
— O tell me, master craftsman, do not conceal it from me.
— Who has the tongue to tell you, lips to utter it?
Who will quench for you this fire which has engulfed you?
Evgenoula, your dearly beloved one, has died …

Sometimes, stichomythia takes the form of catechistic questions, which may be asked and answered by the mourners themselves. It is a {148|149} popular technique, serving the same ritual function of counting the dead and assessing the loss as was found in Aeschylus’ Persians: [

— Γιὰ κάτσετε, σιγήσετε, νὰ ἰδοῦμε ποιὸς μᾶς λείπει;
— Μᾶς λείπει ὁ κάλλιος τοῦ σπιτιοῦ κι ὁ πρωτονοικοκύρης.

Politis 186.8-9

— Sit down, be silent, and let us see who is missing.
— It is the pride of the house, the first man, who is missing.

Finally, in a Tsakonian lament already referred to in chapter 6, of penetrating quality and power, we find a rare combination of antiphony and choral refrain. One woman takes the part of the girl, another the part of the mother, while the rest form the chorus; they enact a kind of drama at the girl’s wake. Each line is followed by a refrain of cries, wailed by the whole company in unison:

Κόρη. Κρσζοῦψέ μι, μάτη, κρσζοῦψέ μι, νὰ μή με ἄρζη ὁ Χάροοο.
Χορός. Ὀνώβω σι! ὀνώβω σι!
— Φκιάσε κουϊδὶ τζαὶ βάλε μι!
— Ἐναίβαι σι! ἐναίβαι σι!
— Σεντοῦτζι τζαὶ κλείδουσέ μι!
— Οὐνούβου σι! οὐνούβου σι!
— Βάλε μι τ’οὺ βασιλικού!
— Ὀνώβω σι! ὀνώβω σι!
— Βάλε μι τ’ού βαρσάμου!
— Ἐναίβαι σι! ἐναίβαι σι!
— Βάλε μι, μάτη, κρσζοῦψέ μι!
— Οὐνούβου σι! οὐνούβου σι!
Μητέρα. ῏Ωνι βάνα ντι, τοῦ Χάρου ντ᾽ ἔν συνοϊδάζα!
Χορός. Ἐναίβαι σι! Οἰμαὶ ἁ κακομοίρα! οὔ! οὔ!

Laog (1923) 40

Daughter: Hide me, mother, hide me, so that Charos cannot me!
Chorus: Woe to you, woe to you!
— Make a cage and put me in!
— Woe to you, woe to you!
— Make a chest and shut me in!
— Woe to you, woe to you!
— Put me among the basil!
— Woe to you, woe to you!
— Put me among the balsam!
— Woe to you, woe to you! {149|150}
— Take me, mother, hide me!
— Woe to you, woe to you!
Mother: I will not hide you, I give you to Charos as company!
Chorus: Woe to you! Alas, what an evil fate! Ού, ού, ού!

Antiphony, dialogue and refrain, among the oldest structural features of the Greek lament, are still vital and dynamic elements of the modern moirológia. They have survived, not because they have been consciously preserved—in the archaising laments of Byzantine learned poetry they were almost extinct—but because antiphony is still imbedded in the ritual performance, with more than one group of mourners, sometimes representing the living and the dead and singing in response to each other. The collective rather than individual performance also explains the continued importance of the refrain; and why the three-part form, as belonging primarily to the soloist, is the least universal today. Continuity has been strongest and most spontaneous in popular tradition.

Antithetical style and antithetical thought

Antithetical style is a fundamental and integral part of the structure and thought of the lament, though by no means exclusive to it. A study of its use and function will provide an opportunity to trace developments through a cross-section of archaising, religious and popular laments both in poetry and prose, and thereby to determine to what extent it became a literary affectation, and to what extent it remained rooted in the vernacular language and popular tradition.

In an antiphonal lament at the end of the Seven against Thebes, it is possibly Antigone and Ismene who together weep for the fate of their brothers, Eteokles and Polyneikes, each slain by the other. While the following lines illustrate all the most characteristic qualities of Greek antithetical style, antithesis is not a mere stylistic affectation, but is determined both by the antiphonal structure and by the underlying thought:

Αν. Παιθεὶς ἔπαισας. Ισ. σὺ δ’ ἔθανες κατακτανών.
— δορὶ δ’ ἔκανες. — δορὶ δ’ ἔθανες.
— μελεοπόνος — μελεοπαθής
( — ἴτω γόος, — ἴτω δάκρυ,)
— πρόκεισαι, — κατακτάς.
Antigone: Stricken, you struck. Ismene: Killing, you were killed.
— With the spear you slew. — With the spear you were slain.
— Wretched in your deed. — Wretched in your suffering.
( — Let forth the dirge, — Let forth tears,)
— You lie prostrate, — You, who killed.

A. Th. 961-5 {150|151}

Such contrast of thought, sometimes expressed antiphonally, is extremely frequent in the tragic laments. [
45] In a highly inflected language like Greek, the result is inevitably alliteration, assonance and homoioteleuton. Far from being avoided, these devices are exploited to the full, and the rhythm is further intensified by the use of parallelism and asyndeton, as in the chorus’ opening lines from the kommós in the Persians, ἄνι᾽ ἄνια κακὰ νεόκοτα  καὶ δάι᾽. αἰαῖ, διαίνεσθε, Πέρ-  σαι, τόδ’ ἄχος κλύοντες (Grievous, grievous disaster, distressful and destructive! Alas, Persians, weep at the news of this calamity!) (A. Pers. 256-8). [46] A similar effect is achieved by the repetition of an emotive word in different cases, as in the kommós sung after the suicide of Ajax, where the chorus sing πόνος πόνῳ πόνον φέρει (tοil upon toil and trouble upon trouble) (S. Aj. 866). In Aristophanes’ Frogs, Aeschylus is made to ridicule Euripides for abusing this device; but the point is hardly a fair one, since it is extremely common in the laments of tragedy, not excluding Aeschylus’ own. [47] Another favourite technique is the allusive play on the tragic associations of proper names. [48] Further, antithesis may coincide with metrical diaeresis, dividing the line into two contrasting and balancing kôla. [49] Their cumulative impact, when reinforced with incremental repetition, may best be illustrated from the lines which open the first strophe and antistrophe of the first stasimon from the Persians: Ξέρξης μὲν ἄγαγεν, ποποῖ,  Ξέρξης δ᾽ ἀπώλεσεν, τοτοῖ,  Ξέρξης δὲ πάντ᾽ ἐπέσπε δυσφρόνως  βαρίδεσσι μοντίαις … (Xerxes led forth, alas!, Xerxes laid low, alas!, Xerxes managed all things rashly with his sea-faring ships), νᾶες μὲν ἄγαγον, ποποῖ,  νᾶες δ’ ἀπώλεσαν, τοτοῖ,  νᾶες πανωλέθροισιν ἐμβολαῖς … (the ships … led forth, alas!, the ships laid low, alas!, the ships, under the fatal attack) 550-3, 560-3. [50]

All these stylistic features find more formalised expression in the rhetorical funeral oration and in the later prose laments. A fragment from a funeral oration by Gorgias of Leontinoi (fifth century B.C.), who is regarded as the founder of Greek rhetoric, is almost entirely composed of antithetical clauses, which, although elaborated for the sake of form rather than content, give the piece distinctive rhythm and shape. Even more flamboyant are the stylized planctus in Achilles {151|152} Tatius’ prose romance Leukippe and Kleitophon (second century A.D.). Charikles’ father is mourning his son’s death in a riding accident, developing and repeating the antitheses of love and death, marriage and funeral rites:

Οἷος ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ προελθών, οἶος ἐπανέρχη μοι, τέκνον·
ὢ πονηρῶν ἱππασμάτων, οὐδὲ κοινῷ μοι θανάτῳ τέθνηκας·
οὐδὲ εὐσχήμων φαίνῃ νεκρός …
… ἡ μὲν γὰρ ψυχή σου πέφευγεν·
οὐχ εὑρίσκω δέ σε οὐδὲ ἐν τῷ σώματι.
πότε μοι, τέκνον, γαμεῖς;
πότε σου θῦσω τοὺς γάμους, ἱππεῦ καὶ νυμφίε;
νυμφίε μὲν ἀτελές, ἱππεῦ δὲ δυστυχές.
τάφος μέν σοι, τέκνον, ό θάλαμος,
γάμος δὲ ὁ θάνατος, θρῆνος δὲ ὁ ὑμέναιος,
ὁ δὲ κωκυτὸς οὗτος τῶν γάμων ᾠδαί.
ἄλλο σοι, τέκνον, προσεδόκων πῦρ ἀνάψαι·
ἀλλα τοῦτο μὲν ἔσβεσεν ἡ φθονερὰ τύχη μετὰ σοῦ
ἀνάπτει δέ σοι δᾷδας κακῶν.
ὢ πονηρᾶς ταύτης δᾳδουχίας·
ἡ νυμφική σοι δᾳδουχία ταφὴ γίνεται.

1.13, ed. Vilborg

How different you were when you left me, and how different you are now you have come back, child! Ah, wretched sport of riding horses! You did not even die an ordinary death. Nor has death preserved your fine looks … Your soul has departed, and I cannot find you in this corpse. When, my child, will your wedding be? When shall I arrange your wedding, horseman and bridegroom? Bridegroom without a wedding, horseman without fortune. Your bridal chamber, child, is the grave, your wedding hymn the funeral dirge, your nuptial songs these wailings. I hoped to kindle a different fire from this, my child, but envious Fortune has extinguished it and you together, lighting instead for you torches of evil. Ah, what a cruel torch-bearing is this! Your marriage torches have become a funeral.

This kind of rhetorical display, characteristic of Greek prose style in late antiquity, has led E. A. Norden to conclude that the principal distinction between antithetical style in Greek and Hebrew is that in Greek, the form is the most important factor, and that clarity of thought is frequently sacrificed for the desired stylistic effect, whereas in Hebrew, there is a real contrast of ideas—Gedankenparallelismus {152|153} rather than Satzparallelismus. [
51] While it is true that the antithetical style of the New Testament, which influenced the style of the liturgy and of Byzantine religious poetry, conforms more to Hebrew than to Greek type, it should be pointed out that earlier, in the writings of Herakleitos, antithetical style is inseparable from the essence of his thought: the unity of opposites and the opposition of unities find perfect expression in antithetical clauses, where words and phrases opposite in meaning but similar in sound are juxtaposed. [52] The same is true of the laments from tragedy, where the conflicting emotions of the mourner are expressed and developed by means of a series of antitheses.

If we turn now to the prose style of the early Paschal homilies, of the Byzantine funeral oration, and of the liturgy, we shall see that it owes much to the rhetorical style of the classical and late antique periods. Gregory of Nyssa has preserved for us a lament for the death of Makrina, performed by the holy sisters at her wake, where the sense of bereavement is conveyed by antitheses which are sharpened by the use of parallelism and asyndeton: [53]

Ἐσβέσθη … τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἡμῶν ὁ λύχνος· ἀπήρθη τὸ φῶς τῆς τῶν ψυχῶν ὁδηγίας διελύθη τῆς ζωῆς ἡμῶν ἡ ἀσφάλεια· ἤρθη ἡ σφραγὶς τῆς ἀφθαρσίας· διεσπάσθη ὁ σύνδεσμος τῆς σωφροσύνης· συνετρίβη τὸ στήριγμα τῶν ἀτονούντων, ἀφρρέθη ή θεραπεία τῶν ἀσθενούντων· ἐπί σοῦ ἡμῖν καὶ ἡ νὺξ ἀντὶ ἡμέρας ἦν, ἐν καθαρᾷ ζωῇ φωτιζομένη· νῦν δὲ καὶ ἡ ἡμέρα πρὸς ζόφον μεταστραφήσεται.

Migne 46.988A

The lamp of our eyes has been quenched. The light of our souls’ guidance has gone. Our life’s assurance from danger has been sundered. The seal of incorruptibility has been broken. The bond of moderation has been tom apart. The support of the weary has been shattered, the treatment of the sick taken away. When you were with us, even night was as good as day, under the spiritual light of pure life. But now, day itself will be turned into darkness and gloom.

In the Paschal homilies and in the liturgy, Christ’s victory over Hades and the triumph of life over death are acclaimed with antitheses hardly less striking than Herakleitos’ own: [

Θάνατος ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἐλαύνεται, καὶ ᾅδης τὴν πολυετῆ δυναστείαν ἀποτίθεται … Ἡ γὰρ τοῦ βίου παρουσία τοῦ θανάτου τὴν βίαν ἐνίκησεν.

S. Athanasii Sermο in sanctum Pascha, Migne 135.1025C {153|154}

Death is being driven out from among men, and Hades is laying aside his age-old dynasty … The presence of life has vanquished the force of death.

Κύριε Θεέ μου, ἐξόδιον ὕμνον καὶ ἐπιτάφιον ᾠδήν σοι ᾄσομαι, τῷ τῇ ταφῇ σου ζωῆς μοι τὰς εἰσόδους διανοίξαντι, καὶ θανάτῳ θάνατον καὶ ᾍδην θανατώσαντι.

IS 424

O Lord my God, I will sing to you a funeral hymn and a burial song, for by your burial you have opened to me the gateway of life, and by your death you have put Death to death.

Ἀθάνατοι θνητοί, θνητοὶ ἀθάνατοι, ζῶντες τὸν ἐκείνων θάνατον, τὸν δ’ ἐκείνων βίον τεθνεῶτες.

Hklt. 62

Immortals are mortal, mortals are immortal, living their death and dying their life.

Of the early Christian hymns, Wellesz has remarked that ‘it is the frequent use of antitheses, characteristic of Semitic poetry, which adds a new element to that of Greek thought’. [55] But, as we have seen, there seems little evidence to support his suggestion that Greek thought as not expressed by means of antitheses before the influence of Semitic. The most sustained and perhaps the finest example of antithetical style in Byzantine hymns is to be found in the Akáthistos Hýmnos, of uncertain date and authorship but tentatively attributed by Wellesz to Romanos, where it is a perfect expression of the apparently profound contradictions inherent in the mystery of Christ’s birth, and complementary to the complex structure of the hymn as a whole. [56] In the context of the Virgin’s lament, it is again by means of antitheses that Christ’s greatness through the sufferings of the Virgin is expressed:

Yἱὲ τῆς παρθένου,          θεὲ τῆς παρθένου
     καὶ τοῦ κόσμου ποιητά,          σὸν τὸ πάθος, σὸν τὸ βάθος τῆς σοφίας·
     σὺ ἐπίστασαι ὂ ἦς          καὶ ὂ ἐγένου·
σὺ παθεῖν θελήσας          κατηξίωσας ἐλθεῖν          ἀνθρώπους σῶσαι·
     σὺ τὰς ἀμαρτίας          ἡμῶν ἦρας ὡς ἀμνός·
     σὺ ταῦτας νεχρώσας          τῇ σφαγῇ σου, ὁ σωτήρ, ἔσωσας πάντας·
σὺ εἶ ἐν τῷ πάσχειν          καὶ ἐν τῷ μὴ πάσχειν·
     σὺ εἶ θνῄσκων, σῴζων·          σὺ παρέσχες τῇ σεμνῇ
     παρρησίαν κράζειν σοι·          “ὁ υἱὸς καὶ θεός μου.’’

Romanos 19.17 {154|155}

Son of the Virgin, God of the Virgin,
and creator of the world, yours is the suffering, yours the depth of wisdom.
You know what you were and what you have become.
You accepted suffering, and you deigned to come to save mankind.
You have borne for us our sins, like a lamb;
you, by putting them to death by your sacrifice, Saviour, have saved all mankind.
You exist, both in suffering and in the absence of suffering;
you exist by dying and by saving; you granted to the Holy Lady
the freedom to cry out to you, ‘My son and my God!’

It is true that parallels to this style can be found in the poetic homilies of Ephraem (A.D. 306–73), and in Melito’s Homily on the Passion (second century), which is thought to have been written originally in Syriac and then translated into Greek. [
57] At the same time, antithetical style is no less important a feature of some pagan hymns as well as those of Apollinarios and Gregory Nazianzen, both of whom were writing before the significant influence of Syriac on Byzantine hymnography. [58] It would therefore be more cautious to conclude that the style of Byzantine hymns in the period of their maturity (sixth to seventh centuries) is neither exclusively Semitic nor exclusively Greek in origin. The contribution of Hebrew and Syriac was to restore the seriousness of thought and content which was in danger of becoming obscured in some of the learned and rhetorical Greek writers; that is why the style is at its best in the religious and not in the archaising poets. But its poetic treatment is essentially Greek, as is shown by the untranslatable quality of the closing strophe of Romanos’ Mary at the Cross quoted above.

The independent survival of antithetical thought and antithetical style in a different context, associated with a more popular tradition of lamentation, is attested by the funerary inscriptions. Contrasts are expressed antithetically: especially common are the topoi ‘instead of the wedding chamber, the tomb’ and ‘not marriage, but death …’. [59] In a late inscription from Teos, the fate of a girl who died in childbed is emphasised by a series of balancing, antithetical kôla, further heightened in the final couplet by the use of the same formula to introduce contrasting ideas: [60]

Ἐννέα καὶ δέκ’ ἐτῶν ἤμην ἔτι παρθένος, εἶτ᾽ ἐγάμησα·
εἴκοσι δ’ ἐκτελέσασα χρόνους ἔγκυος οὖσ᾽ ἔθανον {155|156}
κεῖμαι δ᾽ ἐν τύμβοις ἔνβρεφος οὖσα, ἄλαλος,
ἡ τὸ πάλαι σεμνὴ Πρόσοδος, μείνασα χρόνον.
Ἦλθε δὲ Κύπρις καὶ ζεῦξεν Ζωσίμῳ ἐς εὐνήν·
ἦλθε δὲ Μοῖρα καὶ λῦσεν τὴν ἀτελῆ Πρόσοδον.

Le Bas-Wadd. 116

At nineteen years I was still a virgin, then I married.
When I completed my twentieth year, I was with child, then I died.
Ι lie in the tomb, speechless, my child within me,
the once revered Prosodos, having awaited my time.
Love came and joined me to Zosimos’ bed.
Fate came and released the unfulfilled Prosodos.

Sometimes, an emotive word is repeated, with cumulative impact, either within the line or at the beginning of successive lines, as in the following inscription from Rome (second to third century A.D.): [

Κλαίει μέν σε τέκνον, κλαίει δ’ Ἀγαθάνγελος ὡνήρ,
          μυροόμενος φιλίην τερπνοτάτην ἀλόχου·
μύρονται δ’ ἀδελφοὶ Μηνᾶς καὶ Δάψιλος ἄμφω
          ἠδ᾽ ὅσσοι σ’ ἐφίλουν κἠπόθεον δι’ ὅλου.

Peek 1981.1-4

Your child is weeping for you, your husband Agathangelos is weeping for you,
          lamenting the joyful affection of his wife.
Your brothers, too, Menas and Dapsilos, are both lamenting,
          and all those who loved you and longed for you always.

Finally, the use of assonance, alliteration and word-play is no less prominent a feature of this style in the inscriptions than in the laments of tragedy. [

In Byzantine secular literature, some of the most remarkable laments are to be found in Eustathios Makrembolites’ prose romance Hysmine and Hysminias, written in the second half of the twelfth century. Although closely dependent on the love novels of the late antiquity in structure, theme and tone, it stands out among the Greek romances, ancient as well as Byzantine, both for its bold eroticism—which, conveyed largely through the dream sequences of the narrator, Hysimias, has the effect of overshadowing the conventional intricacies of plot—and for its extravagant imagery, which has flashes of brilliance not unlike the imagery of the folk songs. In particular the dual antitheses of death as marriage and marriage as death are interwoven in the dreams and in the laments throughout the romance, matched by {156|157} powerful and rhythmic, if rhetorical, use of antithetical style. Hearing of the marriage planned for Hysmine by her parents, Hysminias vows that he will kill himself and wed in Hades. He embraces her, then laments his fate: [63]

… Καὶ σὺ μὲν εἰς Αὐλικώμιδα, πατρίδα τὴν σήν,
ἐπὶ λαμπρῷ νυμφίῳ παλινοστήσεις νύμφη λαμπρά·
καὶ σοὶ τὸν ὑμεναῖον βασιλικῶς κατεπᾴσονται,
ἐγὼ δ’ ἐς Ἅιδου φοιτήσω, καὶ ὄλον χορὸν Ἐριννύων συναγαγών,
ὅλον κατατραγῳδήσω μου τὸ δυστύχημα·
καὶ σοὶ μὲν ὁ καλὸς Σωσθένης ἐπιθαλάμιον ᾄσει,
ἐμοὶ δ᾽ ὁ πατὴρ ἐπιτύμβιον·
ὁ μὲν σὸς πατὴρ ἐπὶ σοί, γλυκεῖα νύμφη, καὶ γλυκὺ μελῳδήσει μελῴδημα,
ὁ δ᾽ ἐμὸς ἐλεεινὸς Θεμιστεὺς ἐπὶ νεκρῷ παιδὶ γοερὸν ἀνακρούσεται·
ὁ μὲν ᾆσμα χορεύσει γαμήλιον, ὁ δ’ ἐμός ἀθλιωτατος πάντων πατὴρ ἐλεεινὸν μονῳδήσει καὶ πικρὸν ἐξιτήριον.


You will return to Aulikomis, your homeland, a splendid bride for a splendid bridegroom. Royally the marriage hymn will sound forth for you. But I shall make my way to Hades; leading the Furies’ dance, I shall sing out against my whole misfortune. Your good father, Sosthenes, will chant the nuptial lay, mine the burial song. Yes, while your father sings you a sweet melody, sweet bride, my father, wretched Themisteus, will strike up the dirge for his dead son. Your father will dance the wedding song, while mine, unhappiest of all fathers, will sing alone the bitter, plaintive funeral hymn.

The same style, although less rhetorical and effusive, is evident in some of the later vernacular laments in politikòs stíchos, as in the following lament for absence from home preserved in a manuscript of the seventeenth century, where each line divides into two balancing or contrasting parts. Here, as in the funerary inscriptions, the effect is frequently achieved by the repetition of emotive words at key points in the line: [64]

[Θ]λίβει με τοῦτος ὁ καιρός,          λυπεί με ὁ χρόνος τοῦτος.
Οί μῆνες ὅλες πταίγουν με          κι ὅλες οἱ ἑβδομάδες.
Τί νὰ γέν᾽ ὁ ταπεινός,          καὶ τί νὰ ποίσ᾽ ὁ ζένος;
Γυρεύω φίλον γκαρδιακὸν          νὰ μὲ παρηγορήση, {157|158}
καὶ δὲν εὑρίσκω ’δὲ τινάν,          καὶ τί νὰ γέν’ ὁ ξένος;
Ἐπῆρα στράτα τῆς αὐ[γ]ῆς          καὶ (ἡ) στράτα ὁδηγεῖ [με] …

Bouvier I, p.10

This season gives me grief, and this year gives me sorrow.
All the months vex me, and all the weeks.
What is to become of poor me, and what am I, the stranger, to do?
I seek a friend close to my heart to give me comfort,
but I find no one, and what is to become of me, the stranger?
I took the path of dawn, and the path leads me …

In a modern lament from Epiros, the conflicts and tensions of a mother’s attempt to measure her grief for her son’s death in terms of nature’s universal lamentation, and his reply that it is only her grief which concerns him, are lyrically sustained by the repetition of a traditional formula, similar to the one found in the second/third-century inscription from Rome discussed above: [

— Ἀκριβέ μ’, σὲ κλαίγ’ ἡ ἄνοιξη, σὲ κλαίει τὸ καλοκαίρι,
σὲ κλαῖν καὶ τἄμορφα πουλιὰ κι οἱ δροσερὲς βρυσοῦλες.
— Γιατί μὲ κλαίγ’ ἡ ἄνοιξη, γιατί τὸ καλοκαίρι,
γιατί μὲ κλαῖν καὶ τὰ πουλιὰ κι οἱ δροσερὲς βρυσοῦλες;
Μένα μὲ κλαῖν ἡ μάνα μου κι ἡ δόλια μου ἡ γυναίκα
μὲ πόνο, μὲ παράπονο καὶ μὲ καημὸν μεγάλο.

Giankas 896.1-6

— My dear one, spring is weeping for you, summer is weeping for you,
and the fine birds and cool springs are weeping for you too.
— Why is spring weeping for me, why is summer weeping?
Why are the birds and cool springs weeping for me too?
It is my mother who is weeping for me, and my wretched wife,
with pain, with complaint, and with bitter grief.

Another common technique of the modern laments which was also found in the inscriptions is emphasis by contrast, as in the following Kleftic lament, where the harsh freedom afforded by the mountains is contrasted with the easy, but subject, life of the plains: [

Κλαῖνε τὰ μαῦρα τὰ βουνά, παρηγοριὰ δὲν ἔχουν.
Δὲν κλαῖνε γιὰ τὸ ψήλωμα, δὲν κλαῖνε γιὰ τὰ χιόνια {158|159}
ἡ κλεφτουριὰ τἀρνήθηκε καὶ ροβολάει στοὺς κάμπους.

Politis 57.1-3

The black mountains are weeping, they cannot be comforted.
They are not weeping for their height, they are not weeping for the snow;
the Klefts have deserted them and are stalking the plains.

In a lament from Athens mourning the death of a husband, the effect is sharpened by simple contrasts rather than by prolonged repetition: [

Ὅλα τὰ δέντρα ἀνθίσανε, κι ἕνα δεντρὶ ξεράθη,
ὅλα τὰ ταίρια σμίξανε, καὶ τὸ δικό μου χάθη.

Theros 726

All the trees have blossomed, and one tree has withered,
all creatures have mated, and my own mate has died.

A Maniot mother laments the death of her only daughter in terse antitheses, with little external connection or sentence construction, heightened by internal assonance and alliteration as well as by the rhyme:

Σαρανταπέντε λεμονιὲς στὸν ἄμμο φυτρωμένες,
δίχως νερό, δίχως δροσιά, καὶ πάλι δροσισμένες.
Καὶ μιὰ δική μου λεμονιὰ
καὶ μὲ νερὸ καὶ μέ δροσιά,
καὶ πάλι μαραμένη.
Ἄκου το, ἄκαρπο δεντρί,
μέλισσα δίχως μέλι …

Pasayanis 82.1-6

Forty-five lemon trees planted in the sand,
without water, without coolness, yet they are cool and fresh.
And a single lemon tree of mine,
with both water and coolness,
is parched and withered.
Listen, tree without fruit,
bee without honey …

These few examples, while far from exhaustive, serve to illustrate that antithetical style remains a dynamic feature of the folk laments; as in the best of the ancient and Byzantine literary laments, it is not external to, but dependent upon, the structure and thought. At the same time, the close stylistic affinities of the folk songs with the funerary {159|160} inscriptions suggest the possibility that the inscriptions were drawing on a living vernacular tradition as well as on an established literary technique. Certainly, the long history of artistically developed antithetical style in Greek, together with the interdependence of literary and popular tradition (which can be attested in some detail from the late Byzantine period), has ensured not merely its survival, but its poetic quality.


[ back ] 1. Il. 18.51, 316, 23.12, 17, 24.721, 723, 747, 761. See Thomson AA 185, Nilsson UT 76, Reiner RTG 30. Thomson points out that the same word is also used for leading the dithyramb, Archil. ALG 1.233.77, Arist. Po. 4.14.1449a, Ath. 145a (AA 169).

[ back ] 2. Il. 24.723-46, 747-60, 761-76. See Thomson AA 185, SAGS 1.467

[ back ] 3. ALG 2.279-81, Page PMG 871.

[ back ] 4. See Reiner RTG 71-100.

[ back ] 5. Examples include Aj. 974-1039, El. 1126-70, E. Tr. 740-81, 1156-1208; cf. El. 54-81.

[ back ] 6. See Thomson SAGS 1.465, and OA 1.34-6 for an analysis of the complex structure of the kommós in A. Ch. 315-479.

[ back ] 7. See chapter 1, pp. 11-12 and Il. 19.287-302, 315-39. In answer to Briseis’ lament for Patroklos, which is followed by a refrain of cries from the women, comes Achilles’ lament, which is also followed by a refrain of cries from the old men; but the cries of the women, as those of the men, should not, I think, be seen as merely perfunctory, nor as a pretence to conceal their real feelings, but as a spontaneous expression of their own grief, touched off by the laments of Briseis and Achilles. For comparable sentiments expressed by the strange mourners today, see chapter 3, pp. 40-1.

[ back ] 8. These divisions in the Homeric laments were first noted by Peppmüller, who compared them with the ἀρχή, ὀμφαλός and σφρηγίς of the nómos, see Leaf’s edition of the Iliad, 2.589n. Other laments which show a similar construction include Il. 19-287-300, 22.477-514, A. Pers. 532-97, 852-906, Ch. 306-478, S. Aj. 992-1039, El. 86-120, 1126-70, Ant. 891-928, E. HF 451-96, IT 143-235, 344-91, Ph. 1485-1538, Med. 1021-80.

[ back ] 9. See Thomson SAGS 1.452-5 for an analysis of the structure of this ode and of its function and significance.

[ back ] 10. ibid. 467-8. In Theokritos’ second idyll, the epode is repeated by the deserted girl like a magic incantation, designed to make her loved one return: Ἶυγξ, ἕλκε τὺ τῆνον ἐμὸν ποτὶ δῶμα τὸν ἄνδρα.

[ back ] 11. Il. 18.315, 22.429, 515, 24.722, 746, cf. 6.499, 18.65-6, 23.14, 24.760, 776.

[ back ] 12. A. Supp. 114-15/125-6, Pers. 268/274, 550-2/560-2, 568-73/576-81, 651/656, 663/671, 931/941, 955/967, 974-7/987-91, 985/1000, 1002-5/ 1008-10, 1019/1031, 1043-5/1051-3, Sept. 875/881, 966/978, 994-9/1000-4, Ch. 382/396, S. Aj. 891-914/937-60, El. 134-6/150-2, OT 1313-16/1321-4, Ant. 839-44/862-9, 850/869, 1306-11/1328-32, E. Tr. 159-73/182-93.

[ back ] 13. The first three strophic pairs contain only three cries, Orestes’ initial ὦ, balanced by Electra in the first antistrophe and the chorus in the third (315, 332, 372). As the tension rises, cries are used to reinforce the appeals of Orestes and Elektra (382, 396), until Orestes calls on the Curse of the House of Atreus with repeated cries (405-9). The metrical stretto of the seventh to ninth strophes, analysed by Thomson (OA 1.36-7), is combined with a further increase of cries (429-33, 434-8, 461-2), until the climax of three cries within a single strophe, as the Curse is once more remembered and appealed to (466-70). A similar technique is used in part of the final kommós from the Persians, 931-1077.

[ back ] 14. A general address, like ‘my child’, is frequently preferred, see Il. 19.315, 22.431, 725 et passim. At Hector’s wake, the name is three times repeated, once by each mourner (742, 748, 762). Among primitive peoples, it was believed that mention of the dead man’s name would cause the return of his spirit, and it was therefore avoided, see Frazer TPS 349-58.

[ back ] 15. Cf. Pers. 251-2, 590, 1002-3, S. Aj. 979, El. 1150-2, E. Supp. 1139-40, HF 880, 1187, Tr. 173, 289, 582, 1071, 1084, 1294-5, Alk. 394, Rh. 747.

[ back ] 16. Cf. Ch. 106-64, S. Aj. 866-78, 891-914, Tr. 863-95, E. Alk. 86-111, Supp. 598-633.

[ back ] 17. For the use of this type of dialogue in verse inscriptions, see Peek 1831-72, 1881-8.

[ back ] 18. Geffcken 17-18 (seventh century), Peek 1831 (sixth/fifth centuries). See Lattimore TGLE 131-2.

[ back ] 19. Kb. 120, MAMA 6.138, Peek 755, 1214, 1399, 1871 et passim. See Lattimore TGLE 50, 57, 236.

[ back ] 20. Peek 1873-80.

[ back ] 21. Peek 1214, 1389, 1486, 1561, IPE 4.317, 5.

[ back ] 22. GPL 211.

[ back ] 23. TGLE 230-1. On the antiquity of the dialogue between living and dead, see ARW 24, Rohde 257, 366, 381, Boehm NGT 37. Nilsson cites evidence from Rome, thought not from Greece, of mimetic dialogues between the ancestors and relatives of the dead, and emphasises the antiquity of the dialogue form in the lament, UT 101-10.

[ back ] 24. Reiner RTG 35.

[ back ] 25. 1.13, 3.16, 5.7.

[ back ] 26. Cantarella 28-9, 31-2. It occurs, perhaps fortuitously, in Quintus’ Fall of Troy, 1.100-14, 3.435-50, 5.532-57, and it survived in somewhat more structured form in the epitáphios logos, as in Eustathios’ elaborate funeral oration for the Emperor Manuel Komnenos, Migne 135.974-1032.

[ back ] 27. See Maas GM 25. For hymns in this metre, see Cantarella 94-5, 123-4.

[ back ] 28. See Cantarella 58.4, 65.4, 175.1-5.

[ back ] 29. AP 9.524, Abel Orphica 284, Powell CA 199.37, Dieterich RM 56 (1901) 77-105. For a summary of the objections to the theory that the kontákion was derived exclusively from Syriac forms, see Zuntz JTS (1965) 512-13.

[ back ] 30. See Wellesz BMH 124-25. Interesting evidence of antiphonal singing in the sixth century in Greek and Latin is cited from the Vita of St Caesarius of Arles (†c. 542) by Dronke, BGDSL (1965) 54-5: in order to put a stop to the gossip of the congregation during the liturgy, he made the congregation take part by learning psalms and hymns, and by singing proses and antiphons, alternating a versicle in Greek with one in Latin, S. Caesarii episcopi Arelatensis Opera omnia 2.303 cap. 19 (ed. Morin).

[ back ] 31. Zoras 60-2: A. 1-6 (proem), B. 7-111 (Virgin’s lament), A. 112-24 (epilogue). Virgin’s lament: A. 7-19 (address), B. 20-60 (predominantly narrative section), A. 61-111 (renewed address and lament). For the use of the cry ‘my son and God in the Stavrotheotókia, see MMB 5.168.4.

[ back ] 32. Runciman FC 113, 161.

[ back ] 33. Zoras 200.3

[ back ] 34. Ibid. 204.5, cf. AP 9.28, where Mycene contrasts her present obscurity with her past greatness.

[ back ] 35. Cf. Theros 687: A. 1, B. 2-8, A. 11 = 1, Pasayanis 135: A. 1-8, B. 9-49, A. 50-4, Petrounias B 15b: A. 1-5, B. 6-30, A. 31-5. In the latter, the intervening narrative describes the manner of death, and so reinforces the cry for revenge in the final appeal. Petrounias defines this structure as characteristic of the vendetta ballad, p. 15.

[ back ] 36. Reiterated cries and commands: Baud-Bovy 2.171, Giankas 867, 868 (the opening three commands are balanced by three commands at the end), Pasayanis 115, 98, 101, Tarsouli 227, 232. Appeals by name: Pasayanis 97.8-9, 98.3-10, 100.6-9, 171.1-8, Giankas 868, 907, 910, 914, Laog (1912-13) 7, (1953) 33.54. See also the Cretan tragedy Erofile 5.525.

[ back ] 37. μερζανένιος = κοραλλένιος. I am indebted to D. Vayakakos for the interpretation of this word.

[ back ] 38. Cf. Tarsouli 232, Psachos 150, Theros 686, 694, 707, 713, 728, 730, 733, 745, Politis 184, 185, 205, 209.

[ back ] 39. Theros 700, cf. 726, 743, Pasayanis 35, 53 et passim.

[ back ] 40. Politis 183, Theros 776.19-22.

[ back ] 41. Laog (1909) 229.18, (1911) 489.6 (dead to the sun), (1929) 27.90 (dead to coffin), (1953) 281.26 (dead to his departing good looks), Theros 705.

[ back ] 42. Tarsouli 249, cf. Pasayanis 109, Laog (1912-13) 182.6.

[ back ] 43. Cf. Politis 214.9-12, 221.15-19, 222.16-22, Theros 678.5-10, 679.3-5, 680.15-18.

[ back ] 44. See A. Pers. 955-73; cf. Thebaid fr. 5 ed. Evelyn White (Loeb 1936) 486.

[ back ] 45. Examples include A. Pers. 550-3, 560-3, 800, 1023, Th. 876, 884-5, 933-6, Ch. 319, 398, 436-7, 461, Ag. 441-4, 1504, S. Aj. 394, El. 1158-9, Ant. 916-20, 1344-6, Tr. 950-2, OC 1670-6, E. Alk. 141, Supp. 778-83, 826-7, 972-4, 1125-6, 1130-1, Hel. 185, 198-9, Ph. 1290-2. See Thomson SAGS 2.134-5, Reiner RTG 26-7.

[ back ] 46. Alliteration and assonance: A. Pers. 227, 280-1, Th. 961-74, Ag. 1485-6,1494-5, Ch. 43, 152-6, 423, 425, S. El. 129, 849-63, Aj. 866-87, Ant. 1261-6. Parallelism and asyndeton: A. Pers. 861-3, 865-7, 925, Th. 917-20, Ag. 1410, S. El. 164-5, 850-2, OT 1312-15, E. Tr. 1186, Or. 1405-6, IA 1327-9, IT 220. Oxymoron: A. Th. 941, Ag. 1545, Ch. 42, S. El. 1144-5, Ant. 923-4, OC 1692-3, E. HF 1060-1, Tr. 1223, 1316, Hipp. 821, 868.

[ back ] 47. Ar. Ra. 1331-55.

[ back ] 48. A. Th. 975, 829-31, Ag. 687-90, 1080-2, S. Aj. 904, 923 E. Ba. 367.

[ back ] 49. For the importance of the kôlon in Greek metre, see White VGC 664.

[ back ] 50. Cf. A. Ch. 327-8: ὀτοτύζεται δ’ ὁ θνῇσκων, | ἀναφαίνεται δ᾽ ὁ βλάπτων, S. El. 197: δόλος ἦν ὁ φράσας, ἔρος ὁ κτείνας, A. Pers. 694-6, 700-2, Th. 989-99, Ch. 436-7, S. OT 1320, 1340-1, E. Supp. 833-4, Alk. 141, Or. 1404-6, Tr. 102, 502. Sometimes a similar, if more rhetorical effect is achieved by the repetition of pronouns and conjunctions, as in E. IA 1327-9: τοῖσι δὲ λύπαν, τοῖσι δ᾽ ἀνάγκαν. | τοῖσι δ᾽ ἐξορμᾶν, τοῖσι δὲ στέλλειν, | τοῖσι δὲ μέλλειν, cf. A. Ch. 436-7, E. Supp. 777. For antithetical kôla in the rhetorical epitáphios lógos, see examples analysed by Thomson JHS (1953) 80. Other examples in mystic fragments, popular songs and the early philosophers are cited by Norden AK Anhang 1.

[ back ] 51. Norden AK 816-19, cf. AT 3.2b.

[ back ] 52. See Thomson JHS (1953) 79-81, Ioannidou HGS.

[ back ] 53. For a similar style in the funeral oration, see Migne 135.1026c, 46.884b-c, 114.216c-217d.

[ back ] 54. For antithetical style in the liturgy, see Lit. Alex. cod. Ross. 49b, ed. Swainson 33-4. It is interesting that most of the the surviving fragments of Herakleitos have been preserved by Hippolytos of Rome (late second/early third centuries A.D.) in his Elenchos 9.7-10; in spite of his polemic against Herakleitos, his own doctrine of truth is formulated by means of antitheses, ibid. 10.32-3 (CGS 242-3, 288-92).

[ back ] 55. BMH 151.

[ back ] 56. See especially 15.8-11, 16-19 (ed. Wellesz, MMB 9 p. LXXV): χαῖρε θεοῦ ἀχωρήτου χώρα∙ | χαῖρε σεπτοῦ μυστηρίου θύρα∙ | χαῖρε τῶν ἀπίστων ἀμφίβολον ἄκουσμα∙ | χαῖρε τῶν πιστῶν ἀναμφίβολον καύχημα∙ | … A brilliant analysis of the complex structure of this hymn, and of its relation to the double cursus, is given by Dronke BGDSL (1965) 62, 65-8.

[ back ] 57. Ed. Bonner, Studies and Documents (1940), cf. Wellesz JTS (1943) 41-52, Kahle ibid. 52-6.

[ back ] 58. See Hymn to Physis, Cantarella 31-2.8-9, 15, 27, Apollinarios ibid. 10.84-94, Greg. Naz. ibid. 14.2. Further, a striking parallel to the lament in Achilles Tatius 1.13, quoted on p. 152, can be found in one of the funeral services: Ἀλλ᾽ ὁμοῦ ὁ γάμος ὁμοῦ καὶ ὁ τάφος, | ὁμοῦ ζεῦξις ὁμοῦ καὶ διάζευξις, | ὁμοῦ γέλως ὁμοῦ θρῆνος, Pitra AS 1.257.

[ back ] 59. ἀντὶ μὲν ἱμερτοῦ θαλάμου τάφον, ἀντὶ δὲ νύμφης | στήλην, ἀντὶ γάμου δ᾽ αἰνὸν ἄχος γενέταις, Peek 710.5-6, cf. 1263.9, 1330.5-6, 1437.5, 1584.5-6, AP 7.649. Οὐ γά[μον] οὐδ᾽ ὑμ|έναιον ἐσέδρακον, | ἀλλά με Μοῖρα | ἅγαγε …, Peek 1826.1-2, cf. 658.9, 667.3, 683.3-5, 804.5-6, 811.5-6, 1162.7-8, 1243.5-6, 1810-30, 1833.7-8, 1853.1, 2026.9-13, 2038.12-13, 19.

[ back ] 60. Cf. Peek 1113.1-8, 1416, 1785-1801, 1913.5-6. For the repetition of the same formula to introduce contrasting ideas, cf. Peek 1759, 1988, AP 7.371.

[ back ] 61. Cf. Peek 1249 (θνῄσκει 19, 20; θνῄσκω 30), 1508 (ὤλετο 3, 5), 1576 (ἄρτι 5, 6), 1584 (που; 1, 2), 1680 (κλαύσατε 13, 16), 2038 (ἄρτι 1, 3), 2039 (ἄρτι 7, 8), 2040 (αὐτη μοι … αὐτὴ καὶ … 27-8), AP 7.476 (δάκρυα 1, 3; αἰάζω, αἰαῖ 6, 7, ἅρτασεν 7, 8).

[ back ] 62. Peek 120: αὐτὴ ἡ γενήσασα καὶ κηδεύσασα ἐπέγραψα, cf. 789, 1016, 1264.4.

[ back ] 63. De Hysmines et hysminiae Amoribus, ed. Le Bas in Hirschig ES 556, cf. 558, 564, 566.

[ back ] 64. Ed. Bouvier DTMI 5-6 no. 1.

[ back ] 65. Cf. Giankas 73, 878, Passow 395, 415, Politis 1. Variations of this formula include Giankas 912, Passow 351, 362, 399; they can also be found in ancient poetry, see Moschos 3.26, 37-44, 58, Bion 1.32-5, 68.

[ back ] 66. Cf. Peek 1810-30.

[ back ] 67. This device is also common in the historical laments, as in the Cretan song for the siege of Rhodes of 1520: Οὖλες οἱ χῶρες χαίρονται κι οὕλες καλὴν καρδιά ’χουν, | μὰ ἡ Ρόδο ἡ βαριόμοιρη στέκει ἀποσφαλισμένη (Kriaris 44). For a discussion of its frequency and variability in both historical songs and moirológia, see Herzfeld 1973. Word play on the name of Charos is found in the form Πές μου, Χάρε, νὰ χαρῆς, with which we may perhaps compare Ar. Ra. 184: Χαῖρ’ ὦ Χάρων, χαῖρ’ ὦ Χάρων, χαῖρ’ ὦ Χάρων.