31 December 2010

Time Is

Watch, Salvador Dali 

The New Year is a fluid concept if you live, as I do, mostly in the 15th century.  For the Byzantines, it is 1 September.  For the Venetians, it is 1 March.  When I am working on Cyriaco material, the New Year begins on Christmas Day.  The monomania of the media with its lists of bests and worsts and deaths for the year and the decade, and predictions for the next year, forces me to attend to the Roman calendar with 1 January.

This is the 147th entry in two and a half years, involving 177,000 words, and 500 or so pictures.  I have two different counters recording visitors which at the end of the year suggest an average of 120 a day.  I am recognizing quite a few of them -- of you -- now.  When there is a new post, the first readers to show up are usually a gracious woman in Texas or a correspondent from South Africa, followed very soon by correspondents in London and Athens. A few show up, briefly, almost every day.  Most visitors come briefly and never reappear.  Reasonably.  There are at least 112,000,000 blogs tangling the interwebs.

Ever since it was posted, The Lion in the Cloister has been the most-read entry. Readers in the Philippines -- with a single exception -- seem to read only Nick the Greek posted more than a year ago, and the picture of Magellan's ship has been downloaded more than any other this year. Otherwise, the most popular picture is of Byzantine trumpeters, and then one of the Magi -- the tracker counts the last 500 downloads.  A higher percentage of readers in Arabic-speaking countries than of readers in the West is interested in the post with a bare-breasted woman and links to other such.  Bosnians, Serbians, and Russians show a strong predilection for posts on the Palaiologues, and Albanians most often read entries mentioning stratioti.  The Villehardouin entries are most often read in France and Belgium.  I can tell when someone is planning a visit to Nauplion: the same IP address will show up through the thirty or so entries on aspects of Nauplion.  This summary is, of course, a simplification  of casual impressions. What puzzles me is when someone -- most recently from Slovakia on 21 December, is recorded as making 66 entries, over an hour and 15-plus minutes.  Something like this happens several times a week. I can only wonder: is there not something more enjoyable, more profitable, that someone could be doing in life?

The search terms that bring people here often seem unlikely: "Greek wemon," "forked beard after Exodus," "gold ark of the covenant Mycenae," "paintings of Apollo," "Pesaro caged cherubs" -- I am quite sure I have not used any of those phrases; "inside room" -- possibly the studioli in the entry on St. Jerome which has been the most read of all 148.  Whoever was looking for "Diana's Hats" or "Diana's Shoes" must have been disappointed, as were those who were looking for restaurants with various Greek and Albanian names.

This year, the largest percentage of non-American visitors have come from Greece, and a gratifying number of Greece-based blogs link to this one.  I am immensely pleased, and grateful, because Surprised by Time is in part the living out of a love affair with a city and country and culture.  Quite a few readers have written privately to ask questions -- a couple of these questions have forced new considerations in my own research, and several have sent me remarkable information, books, PDFs, and images I could not have found for myself -- thank you, Brigitte, Galo, Tim, Pavlos, Babis, Ersie, Voula, Tom, Keith, Nick.  The number of visitors in 2010 has doubled from 2009, with 15,889,  to the 32,333-plus for 2010, with more than 51,500 since I began in the summer of 2008. I have never been able to take the breadth of the internet for granted.  It is exciting to discover  readers in Kossovo, or Alexandria, Odense, Mumbai, Lamia, Jerusalem, Rawalpindi, Cape Town, Sarajevo, Tasmania, Costanta. Costanta is Ovid's Tomis.  I went around all day saying, "I have a reader in Tomis!"

When I am writing or researching or translating, Time Is, calendars dissolve, and I am present witness.  I finished translating the sack of Smyrna in tears, so closely did the event of 1472 and my visit there in May 1979 blend into a single present. Our first night ever in Turkey was in Izmir -- asking the taxi driver for a cheap hotel in the old city has always worked wonderfully for me, the weather was gentle, and the streets were lined with barrows heaped with plums and cherries.  We wandered through the streets of the old city, sticky with juice, saying "Merhaba," constantly as people handed my daughters more plums and cherries.  We bought water from the man who carried glasses and a tank of water on his back, and pastries from the pastry carts, rubbing the crumbs off on our jeans to enter yet another little green-painted mosque.  One evening we rode in a carriage up and down the waterfront.  First we saw cafes with old men smoking hubble-bubbles, and then after a certain street, the cafes had women in chic black dresses and cigarettes, and men with cigars.  The French and English and American fleets were in port, and the admirals of two were guests of the admiral of the third.  The ships were brilliant with lights, everyone was in white dress uniform, and as our carriage came abreast of the third flagship we saw the visiting admirals piped aboard.

We had to get up at four in the morning for our flight to Istanbul. There was a full moon and as we leaned out the window to look at this pearl-colored city held in the generous bowl of the hills, the calls to prayer began -- not perfectly synchronized -- so the moon-topped minarets called back and forth to each other, gently echoing in the great bowl.  I have always felt that if some power had said to me, "You will stay in Izmir for the rest of your life," I would have been perfectly content.

Thank you for coming here and spending time with me. I wish you a good year, an interesting one, one in which you will encounter joy, one in which you will be generous.

23 December 2010

Dionysos Encradled

Great night, mother-night among the nights of the ages, cradle of the Titans' offspring,
you who pour your snow swift and thick this evening
between me and the outside world, closing me
alone in my unviolated sentry box
(upright coffin where, my limbs frozen, I keep
unsleeping watch on the frontiers of time):

Mother-night, in Your silence, as I feel
my heart waning -- for everything sleeps: the earth beneath
my feet, the deep sky above me, and only
the Serpent of the Abyss seems to be awake,
and not even my breath's vapor rises
from my lips, which death waits ready to close --
suddenly I think I hear, low, wavering,
the cry of a baby, and I ask myself:
"Is God, eternal God, being born again
tonight as a young child?"

But, Mother-night,
in vain I strain my ears to catch, behind
this cry, perhaps the sound of dogs moving
in the fold at Bethlehem, and in vain
I strain my eyes to see the angelic host or,
lower down, shepherds' fires piercing the darkness.

But as clouds cover the clouds and everything
is wrapped silently in the snow's winding sheet,
I hear - - long, doleful, blood-curdling -- the howl of wolves
invade you, hear swift packs of wolves go by,
a whole long army climbing through the snow;
yet as once more your silence suddenly fills you,
again I put the same question to myself.

And in answer, as if a whirlwind's savage blast
shatters the wall of silence that enfolds me,
legions of the dead, their winding sheets the same
snow that covers up their tracks, throng all around me,
throng like hordes of prisoners who have smashed
their prison walls, like madmen who have found
suddenly that their asylum door has been burst
wide open by the storm, and pouring out
into the night, have scattered helter-skelter;
and all those dead, grieving, seem to say:
"Truly the eternal God is being born
again tonight as a young child . . . But tell us:
where are the sentinels to keep watch on the sacred
frontiers, to save the child from the wolves?"

This, Mother-night, is the harsh voice I seem to hear
inside me; and as suddenly the whole
world-creating sistrum vibrates in my heart,
I plunge, Night, cradle of the Titans' offspring,
inspired by Your hidden pulse, each beat an age,
into the darkness to summon the companions;
into the darkness I plunge, over snow and tombs,
and with these words I call them at the crossroads:

"My sweet child, my Dionysus and my Christ:
though You have come into the world today, a young Titan,
You have no mother's arms to keep You warm.
For You are the son of the night around us,
of this night, and son of our unsleeping hearts
which, spark of life in the frozen chaos,
fight now with death itself, with our own death
and that of the whole world. And we know,
young Titan, that if You fail tonight to fasten
onto our hearts, to drink their blood drop by drop,
tomorrow You too will be among the dead.
But we hold it better to stay buried
in the upright coffins that freeze our limbs
than for Your pulse to stop in the darkness,
along with all the rest that swell the herd
of indescribable violence, and for savage wolves
from far off to catch the scent of Your cradle.

But as Your cradle is the shield of shields,
so we, Corybantes, began to circle
around it, to dance our last dance, beating our swords
on our own shields to drive the wolves from You.
The whole night through we'll dance around You,
and however long the night, we'll dance until
the ghouls of the dark have fled, and Your voice --
God's voice that rises out of sleep, voice
of the "great intoxication" -- suddenly calls
the dead into the sun's warmth, while above Your cradle
bends the shadow of Your single mighty Vine,
sweet child, our Dionysus and our Christ."

               Angelos Sikelianos
               25 December 1941

Διόνυσος επί Λίκνω
Νύχτα μεγάλη, νύχτα μάννα μές των αιώνων
τις νύχτες, νύχτα κούνια των τιτάτων
βρεφών, π’ απόψε ρίχνεις κι΄ όλο ρίχνεις
το χιόνι Σου γοργό, πυκνόν, ανάμεσό μου
κι’ ανάμεσα του κόσμου, κλείνοντας με
μονάχο στην απάτητη σκοπιά μου
(όρθιο κυβούρι, που με μέλη παγωμένα
Βιβλίζω ακοίμητος τα σύνορα του χρόνου).

Νύχτα – μητέρα, στη σιωπή Σου, ενώ λογιάζω
πως πάει να σβήσει μες στα στήθη μου η καρδιά μου
τι υπνώσαν όλα, η γη στα πόδια μου αποκάτου,
βαθειά τα ουράνι’ απάνωθέ μου κι’ αγρυπνάει
θαρρώ, στα τάρταρα μονάχα ο Βύθιος Δράκων
και πια απ’τα χείλη μου μπροστά δεν αναφαίνει
μηδέ του χνώτου μου ο αχνός, μα να τα κλείσει
παραμονεύει ο θάνατος μου, αιφνίδια, λέω
μικρού παιδιού πως αγρικιέμαι κάποιο κλάμμα
αλαργινό, τρεμάμενο κι αναρωτιέμαι:
«Τάχα παιδί γεννιέται απόψε πάλι, νέο
ο από αιώνων θεός;»

Αλλ’ ώ μητέρα
Νύχτα, μάταια στηλώνω την ακοή μου
πίσω απ’ το κλάμμ’ αυτό μήπως αδράξω
στ’ αυτί μου βάδισμα σκυλιών μακρά σε στάνη
της Βηθλεέμ και μάται’ ανοίγω τη ματιά μου
μη ιδώ αρχαγγέλων σύναξη πυκνώ, ή πιο κάτου
φωτιά τσοπάντων να τρυπάει τα μαύρα σκότη.
Αλλ’ ως τα νέφη αποσκεπάζονται από νέφη
κι΄ όλα το χιόνι σιωπηλά τα σαβανώνει
λύκων ακούει ουρλιάσματα να Σε γεμίζουν.

Θρηνητικά, μακρόσυρτα, στριγγά, μεγάλα
λύκων ακούω γοργά κοπάδια να περνούνε
μακρύς στρατός που διασκελάει μες απ’ τα χιόνια
μα, ως ξαφνικά γυρίζεις πίσω στη σιωπή Σου
ξαναρωτιέμαι το ίδιο ρώτημα βαθειά μου.
Κι απάντηση μου ως να γκρεμίζεται το τείχος
που με κυκλώνει της σιγής, σ’ άγριου στροβίλου
το αιφνίδιο ξέσπασμα, ντυτοί για σάβανά τους
το ίδιο το χιόνι που το αχνάρι τους επήρε
μύριοι νεκροί τριγύραθέ μου, σ’ άμπως μύριοι
φυλακισμένοι που γκρεμίσανε τα τείχη
της φυλακής τους, σαν τρελλοί που ξάφνου βρήκαν
από τη θύελλαν ανοιχτή πλατειά μία θύρα
του έρμου σπιτιού τους κι’ όλοι ορμώντας προς τη νύχτα
εδιασκορπίσανε στο διάστημα, με θρήνους
πνιχτούς στο κρύφιο ξάφνου ρώτημα μου ετούτο
με μία φωνή λογιάζω τώρα να μου λένε:
«Παιδί γεννιέται απόψε, αλήθεια, νέο
ο απ’ αιώνων θεός μα που οι φρουροί ναι
που στ’ άγια σύνορα αγρυπνάνε από τους λύκους
να διαφεντέψουνε το θείο βρέφος, πέ μας που είναι;»

Τέτοια, λογιάζω, ακούω, μητέρα – Νύχτα,
στα βάθη μου άμετρη φωνή κι’ ως άξαφνα όλο
το κοσμογόνο ν’ αντηχάει βαθειά το σείστρο
μες στην καρδιά μου, νύχτα κούνια των Τιτάτων
βρεφών, ανεβασμένος στον παλμό Σου
το μυστικό, που κάθε χτύπος του κι’ αιώνας
στα σκότη ορμώ για να φωνάξω τους συντρόφους
στα σκότη ορμώ, πάνω από χιόνια κι’ από τάφους
και τέτοια λέγοντας στα τρίστρατα τους κράζω:

«Γλυκό μου βρέφος Διόνυσε μου και Χριστέ μου,
τιτάνας νέος κι’ αν ήρθες σήμερα στον κόσμο
μάννας δεν έχεις αγκαλιά να Σε ζεστάνει
τί είσαι της Νύχτας τούτης γιος που μας κυκλώνει,
της Νύχτας τούτης και της άγρυπνης καρδιάς μας
που σπίθα ζωής μέσα στο χάος το παγωμένο
παλεύει απόψε με το θάνατο του κόσμου!
Κι΄ά, το κατέχουμε, π’ άν ίσως, νέε Τιτάνα.
απ’ την καρδιά μας δεν πιαστείς τη Νύχτα τούτη
να της βυζάξει στάλα-στάλα όλο το αίμα
αύριο και Συ με τους νεκρούς θα να λογιέσαι.

Μα κάλλιο τ’ ώχουμε να μείνουμε θαμμένοι
στα ορθά κυβούρια, που τα μέλη μας παγώνουν
παρά ο παλμός Σου να σβηστεί μες στα σκοτάδια,
μ’ όλους τους άλλους που πληθαίνουν το κοπάδι
της ακατάγραφης οργής κι΄ οι άγριοι λύκοι
από μακράθε να ‘οσμιστούνε την κουνιά Σου!
Μα ως η κουνιά Σου είν’ η ασπίδα των ασπίδων
κι’ εμείς Κορύβαντες τριγύρα της κινάμε
για να ορχηθούμε τον πυρρίχιο το στερνό μας
στην ίδια ασπίδα μας τις σπάθες μας χτυπώντας
από κοντά σου ν’ αποδιώξουμε τους λύκους!
Ολονυχτίς θα να ορχηθούμε γύραθέ Σου
κι’ όσο κι’ αν είνε η νύχτα τούτη να κρατήσει
εμείς θα ορχιούμαστε ως την ώρα που τα σκιάχτρα
του σκοταδιοόυ θα’ χουνε φύγει κι’ η φωνή Σου,
φωνή θεού π’ ανασηκώνετ’ απ’ τον ύπνο,
φωνή «μεθύοντος ισχυρού» θα να καλέσει
στη ζέστα του ήλιου ξαφνικά τους πεθαμένους
ενώ από πάνω από την κούνια Σου θα γέρνει
η σκιά της μιας Σου παντοδύναμης Αμπέλου
γλυκό μας βρέφος, Διόνυσε μας και Χριστέ μας!»

Αγρυπνία των Χριστουγέννων
25 Δεκεμβρίου 1941
Άγγελος Σικελιανός

Translation by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard.
Thanks to Babis Tzouramanis for finding the Greek text for me.

17 December 2010

Lares and Penates

Many of the houses in my neighborhood have accompanying presences.  Here are some you might notice if you were walking past, though you would not see the Pan that belongs to this house as he is somewhat overgrown by ferns in the back yard.

However, the best are the little people on the other side of the bridge from us.  They have wardrobes.

11 December 2010

The Mocenigo War: Part Two

Continuing Coriolano Cippico's account of the war Pietro Mocenigo took to the Turkish coast in 1472.

The war had began in Greece in the summer of 1464, a Papal crusade with troops led by Sigismundo Malatesta.  The Pope died, Malatesta's troops died of plague while spreading it across the Morea, and there were several years of off-and-on war with disastrous effects on the Morea.  After several years and the disaster of the loss of Negroponte, with the Ottomans in control of the Morea, Mehmed turned his attentions elsewhere.  Venice built up her fleet, and accompanied by ships from the fleets of several other powers, took the war to the Turkish coast.

* * * * *
[After the hunt and the episode of the bear in Part One, while still on Samos] the commanders of the army discussed what they ought to do first, and all came to the opinion that they should immediately attack Satalia, a city of Panfilia which was built by Attalos Philadelphos, hoping that it might be assailed by surprise and without preparation, and that they might be able to acquire it without artillery and without ruin of the walls.  Satalia is the largest city with a marina in all the province of Asia, with a port fortified on both sides with many towers and closed with a chain. . . . The General ordered the sopracomiti that each galley should make two or three ladders and a "trellis" [for going up a wall]. . . . The number of galleys was 85: of these 19 had been sent by the Pope, 17 by the Kingdom [of Naple], 2 from Rhodes, the Venetians 47, of which 12 were from Schiavonia .  . . .

He directed Vettor Soranzo, provveditor of the fleet, to take the port with 10 galleys, and Stefano Malipiero, the other provveditor, that he should take the soldiers to assault the land side.  He directed the stratioti to occupy the hill near the city, to be able to come immediately to help.  He admonished everyone to return their weapons to their former virtue, since they had to fight against a vile, unprepared, and barbarian enemy, for the Christian religion and the majesty of the Venetian dominion; telling them the city was extremely rich in gold, silver, and precious goods.  If they took them, all would return home rich. . . .

The cavalry raided the coutryside and made great prey of men and animals, and put them on the hill.  Vettor Soranzo . . . broke the chain and entered the port.  The other galleys followed behind.  Our men immediately cut the defenders to pieces and took all the towers that were around the port.

There was, outside the city, a suburb, very well built, in which, for convenience of loading and unloading, the merchants lived. They, surprised and afraid, left their merchandise and fled into the city.  There were shops full of pepper, cinnamon, cloves, incense, carpets, and all manner of merchandise, which were sacked by our men and taken as booty to the galleys.  Then they set fire to the shops and burned everything.

[There was a tremendous battle for the walls of the city which was more difficult than they expected.]

The battle was atrocious on all sides.

There was in the city a Christian woman of Schiavonia, a slave for many years, who was seen on the wall, where she saw our men stop and proceed slowly to the attack.  She encouraged them and gave them heart, saying, "Why stop, soldiers? Do you want to abandon the attack, because of cowardice, to take this city so rich and full of every sort of barbarian possession.  I promise you that the major part of the defenders are already dead by your hand!"

Hearing this, a Turk started pulling at her and striking her, but she seemed unaware of her danger, intrepid in the face of what must be her fortune.  She settled her clothing and threw herself from the wall.  She was taken up by our men, half-dead, and commending her soul to Jesus Christ, she died in their arms.  . . . She was buried by our people. . . .

There were beautifully-built suburbs outside the city that appeared like another city.  The gardens were full, and cultivated with fruit-bearing trees, and bathed by many fountains of living water.  The next day our men set fire to the houses and burned them all, and cut down the trees, destroying everything all together.

* * * * *

The General had learned that Smyrna, the richest city of Ionia, was poorly guarded, for the reason that the greater part of the walls had disintegrated from age, and for a long time the citizens had not made the effort to repair them.  Because the city is situated in a long gulf and far from sailing routes, it has not suffered war, and its citizens live there secure and without fear. . . . one part of it is on a mountain, the other and large, in the plane, but the better houses are on the mountain.  So 16 of our galleys, without delay, drew up in a line around the city.  Many, by way of ladders, others through the ruined walls . . . passed into the city.  The people of Smyrna, shocked by such an unexpected attack, full of fear, did not know what to do.  Some took weapons and went to the broken-down city wall, and fought hand to hand with our men, who because of numbers and superior valor cut them to pieces.  Others mounted on the roofs of their houses and attacked ourmen with tiles and stones.  The women, as afraid, fled  -- hair disordered -- with their children to their mosques for refuge, embracing their altars and invoking their Prophet, Mohammed.  Many closed themselves with their little children in their houses.

Our men took the city, seizing everything, sacking everything.  Some tore the children from their mothers' arms, seizing also the mothers.  Others carried out of the temples [mosques] many women who resisted and called on their Mohammed, dragging them by their hair.  A widow passing near the tomb of her husband, embraced the tomb, almost as if it were alive, begging him to help her, saying, "Alas! no barbarian enemy will ever be able to separate us, while I live no force can ever part us!"  Not being able to pull her away, a soldier took his sword and cut off her head, she voluntarily extending her neck so he could do so, saying, "Go, now be with your husband!"  

Many did not concern themselves with prisoners, preferring to sack the houses, the precious ornaments of the women, the clothing of all sorts of colors, the damascened vases ornamented with gold and silver intaglio, and other possessions of great prices.  On every side weeping, from every direction one heard lamentations.  The whole city was full of tears and cries . . .    .

When they had sacked it all, and put fire in the houses, they burned everything.  So this city, ancient and adorned with many monuments, with its fortune changed in a few hours, was reduced to ashes.  I saw there many ancient monuments of fitted stone, and magnificently fabricated of marble.  Some of these were already in ruins, others still stood.  Among these were a monument of Homer with a statue and an inscription in Greek letters.  The territory near the city was well cultivated and bathed by the river Melos, and with many houses: everything was ruined by our men with fire and iron.

NOTE: My translations of Cippico have been made rapidly and without fine-tuning. If you need to make use of them, you will want to go over them carefully.

05 December 2010

Green Men

Pantanassa, Mistra

The Green Man -- or Wild Man or Woodwose --is a creature of European folklore and imagery, found frequently in churches.  He does not seem to appear in Greece without a special invitation.  I have been trying to spot Green Men, and I have found a very few. There is an enormous literature on Green Men in western Europe, which I would like to avoid here, and I will define a Green Man as an image of a face with leaves, usually coming out of its mouth.  I have these here for the pleasure of them, but this would be a fine topic for someone's formal study.

The first two Green Men in Greece -- that survive: surely there were others -- appeared in the 13th century, in monastic buildings built by Westerners.  This first is a finial in a corner behind the iconostasis of Ag. Pareskevi, in Halkis

Ag. Pareskevi, Halkis

This next was found in the ruins of the Cistercian monastery of Zaraka, built by monks from northern France, and has been removed to the museum of Chlemoutzi.  


He is strikingly like a Green Man found in the notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt, who drew several.  Villard also lived in the 13th century and was  from northern France.

 Villard de Honnecourt

Then there was a gap of nearly two hundred years before they appeared in 1428 in the Pantanassa.  Earlier they were faces in their own right.  Now in the Pantanassa, they are startlingly used as decorations for the evangelists in squinches under a dome.  Three groups have survived: one is shown at the beginning.  The groups were supposed to have three Green Men each, one on either side of the evangelist, and one beneath:

 Pantanassa, Mistra

Here the lower Green Man is badly damaged but he survives in the third cluster.

 Pantanassa, Mistra

Did these Green Men come from western influences, or had the painter seen the frescos in the Chora in Constantinople where they decorate the Virgin and child, and an angel, in a dome?

  Kariye Cami, Istanbul

In the picture below, where the Virgin is reversed, there is one Green Man just to the lower left corner of the picture, and then a whole line of them running down from the center.
Green Men, Kariye Cami, Istanbul
Finally, there is an unlikely trio of Green Men in Nauplion.  The first two, which can be dated exactly to 1708, appear at the top and the base of the carved shield of Francisco Grimani, Captain-General of the Fleet.  The shield has little cannon off the bottom corners.

Grimani shield, storage yard of Nauplion museum

The third, my favorite appears on a wooden door panel on the main street.  I have watched, over the years, thousands of people walk past and never look at this marvel of survival.

  Nauplion door

I would be delighted to know of sightings of more Greek Green Men.

Thanks to Henry Maguire who told me about the Green Men at the Kariye Cami.

30 November 2010

I Wish I Could Have Enjoyed it With You

Bettina Schinas née von Savigny

Brigitte Eckert has contributed a section from her translation of Bettina Schinas' letters from Greece in 1834-1835.  Bettina was the daughter of Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779-1861), prof. of Roman Law at the Berlin University and one of the developers of the new (Humboldt) university, and Gunda Brentano, from the Brentano family. She married one of her father's students, Konstantinos Schinas, who later became, among other things, the first director of the Athens university. Bettina went with her husband to Nauplion in 1834, where they lived in a house at Ag. Giorgios, and then moved with the government to Athens in 1835.  She wrote almost daily letters to her family, telling about the mud, the cost of food, the problems of finding medical care, poor mad Staikopoulos in Palamidi, the stress every evening of having to get in or out of the city before the gates were closed.  From Athens, she wrote about the difficulties in finding adequate housing, the smell of the dead in the ruins, the gossip at Otto's courts, and much much more.

Bettina Schinas arrived in Nauplion on 9 October 1834.  She died in Athens on 24 August 1835.  Her Schinas letters were published in Germany, edited by Ruth Steffen. Brigitte Ekert is preparing an English translation from the manuscripts which are kept in Muenster.  Future entries here will have more contributions from Brigitte and Bettina.

* * * * *

To her parents, May 7-18, 1835. Athens.
At 5 in the morning with S. [her husband] to Greiner, where the party gathered, having coffee there. She, Prokesch, is going to give birth soon so she doesn’t ride anymore, he, Greiner, went with her in the coach and me. On the box, young Mr. Beeg, a guitar at his neck. On horseback the daughter Greiner, the two oldest Armannspergs, Prokesch, S. and 8-10 young gentlemen. The weather was heavenly, everywhere people who were enjoying walks on the feast day of May 1st.  After half an hour we were at Ampelokipia, a place with many olive- and other trees, water and even laid-out gardens. Katakasi has bought there, building now a little garden house, next year a summer house. We rode on 1-2 hours,  though finding no path, and got out two times. Finally we reached Kephisia at about 10. We had a long walk and breafast at 1, walked again from 2 to half past 3, were back in Athens at 5. At 6 we all had lunch at Prokesch’s.  At half past 8 S. and I and the two Armannspergs went home in Prokesch’s coach. The excursion successful as possible, everyone was cheerful, the weather splendid not too hot nor too cold.

The village of Kephisia lies on a low hill in the middle of olive-trees which spread further along the sides. In between single poplars, big mulberry trees high up climbed by grapevines, figs, vines, gardens (not our kind, but vegetables, some flowers, grass with wild flowers, trees, vines.). The houses are ruins to a great extent. A big beautifully-vaulted mosque serves as stable to 4 cows, but without doors. We mounted the minaret by the steps outside. The view is celestial; one sees the gulf, the mountains around and the islands grouping splendidly. In front of the mosque is a small grass plot surrounded by a wall, a wide marble staircase leads down to a rather big place entirely shadowed by one of the biggest and most beautiful mulberry-trees I ever saw and a huge plane-tree which has a little square wall around its stem as a seat. At a corner of the place crystal water flows out of two little pipes, at Turkish times probably not as thin as a little thread.

Where ever one walks are springs, wells, flowing waters. At first we went through marsh, gardens, crossing creeks etc., where you would turn being conscious there’s no getting on; several times between two walls enclosing gardens with clear water flowing out of Turkish wells, watering the place as a brook as the old drain does not exist anymore, until it finds some way out. In these brooks we walked on top of prominent stones, led by the gentlemen who stepped into the water, sometimes waiting until they put stones or shrubs where we could not have gone further. I myself,  in rubber boots, was waterproof. We reached the well of nymphs, a square walled low place, the wall 3 feet built of marble slabs, open at the side where the water streams out as a creek of 2-3 feet and about the same depth. I don’t remember I ever saw a water so clear, the room was about 9 feet deep and each very little stone at the ground was surrounded all the way down by a colourful rainbow, which was refracted and multiplied amazingly often by circles in the water produced by swimming beetles; beautiful flowers grow at the borders of the creek and bend over it, on them innumerable golden beetles  and dragon-flies of manifold colours, the ground was covered by tendrils. All shadowed by olive-trees. Only the well with its marble wall in front of the trees in full sun.

We were there at about 12 without suffering the heat at all. Ruins of columns were liing about. The people still believe in the existence of Nereids. A woman had told one of the gentlemen who were with us: I had a daughter but the Nereids took her away. When she was 13 years old she went once to the mountains where many springs are and stayed away several days, came back, but sad and didn’t retrieve her peace of mind, again and again she had to go to the springs, we urged her, it didn’t help, her yearning was violent, it gnawed her until she finally died. All this happened because she had seen the Nereids. . .

An old water pipe crosses the main street on a wall 12-15 feet high, you pass it through a vaulted door opening. On the other side the path which leads to the mosque and plane-tree follows a long way this wall. I don’t know if the door has been surrounded by stalactites on purpose or if it was built by the waters, I think the latter because they happen to be at several places. The door is thick with jagged stalactites, on top of it grow little trees like the red acacia, covered by blossoms, ivy from an old stem twines around and grows through the wall which produces little fig-trees at some places. The bank of the brook is grown over with the most lovely flowers and the wall with flowers of all colours . . .

After breakfast we walked around the village through a shallow valley to a little hill on the other side. We sat in the shadow of an evergreen oak-tree which is now full of young leaves. On top of the highest branch sat a black headed golden-yellow bird which seemed to be pleased by the company because it was looking down and started to sing most lovely again and again. In front of us the shallow valley with it’s beautiful vegetation covering the hill of Kephisia around the houses, the village sitting prominently in the green, backwards we saw in the distance the mountains behind Argos; in the foreground the cut in the mountains where the way to Eleusis runs; on the left above the olive-trees near and distant mountains; on the right the sea, Salamis, Aigina etc., this all felt like a dream to me. I wish I could have enjoyed it with you.

 Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2010

Ruth Steffen: Leben in Griechenland 1834–1835. Bettina Schinas, geb. von Savigny. Briefe und Berichte an ihre Eltern in Berlin. Verlag Cay Lienau, Münster 2002.   ISBN 3-934017-00-2.

24 November 2010

The Winter Voyage: Going Over

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter. 
This is the account Sylvestros Syropoulos gave of the Greeks' journey to Italy for the Council of Union which began on this day in 1437, 25 November.  It was probably the worst journey anyone ever had to endure:

It was a Monday. John VIII embarked on a Venetian galley from the Kynegos shore close to the Blachernae palace.  The Patriarch, Joseph, had embarked the day before from the main harbor, the Eugeniou, and sailed up to wait for the Emperor.  The Venetians had provided three galleys.  John's brother, Demetrios, had the third.  All three galleys were crowded with delegates to the Council, servants, hangers-on, and people wanting a free trip to Italy, not to mention the extra ropes and oars, and the cages of animals on deck for food. 

Ordinarily, none of these people would have dreamed of sailing the Aegean in winter, but accumulated pressures, including a general shortage of funds and the expense of the chartered galleys, made it necessary for them to leave.  One should bear in mind that the Patriarch was quite elderly and had heart trouble, and that John suffered a great deal from gout and various psychosomatic ailments.  Neither would have been a good sailing companion at the best of times. Neither wanted to go on this trip and neither expected any good out of the results.  Many were grieving, but it was a last desperate attempt to get aid for the tiny empire. 

As soon as they were all on board, there was an earthquake.  This was taken as a bad omen, but the trumpets sounded, the people on shore shouted "Cronia polla!" and the ships sailed around the horn. Then they anchored for a couple of days, so the 600 or so passengers could get accustomed to the crowding and the spaces of galleys designed for freight and not for passengers.  

It was not until the 27th that the ships, accompanied by another galley belonging to John, three freight galleys, and a Florentine ship, actually left Constantinople.  There was a calm and the oarsmen made little progress.  That night there was a storm "and darkness became tangible."  They were afraid of shipwreck on one of the Marmara islands, but when daylight came, they saw they had been blown past the islands.

When they reached Gallipoli, the Turks shot arrows at the ships and hurled stones with a catapult.  Stopping just beyond, at Madytos on the right-hand shore, there was another earthquake.  The Patriarch sent word to the Emperor that he wanted off, but John told him to wait.  Then while the sailors were off refilling the water jars, they were attacked by a band of Turks.  The sailors dropped their jars and ran back to the ship.  John sent an emissary to the local subassi and asked permission to get water, which was granted.  They spent the night anchored there, or tried to, except that Turkish troops encircled the small harbor, lit fires, and ululated all night.  Then when they tried to sail, the Turks refused to let the Patriarch's galley release the mooring ropes.  The sailors had started chopping at the ropes with axes, before they were finally allowed to sail.

It was that kind of trip, the whole way, except for the two-day stop at Lemnos, where Demetrios Palaiologos had been governor, so the galley crews could loot the island.  [There is nothing about Demetrios' role in this, no comment that John protested this abuse of his subjects.]

It took a week to sail from Lemnos to Negroponte, which they reached on Saturday morning, 7 December.  Venetian officials welcomed them warmly and invited them in to rest.  The Patriarch was anxious to get off the ship and into a real bed, but John said it was unsuitable.  So he had a tent pitched on the shore and rested there for two days, while the island residents brought him gifts of fruit, wine, and food.  John stayed on his galley.
The ships set sail for the Morea on Monday, helped by good winds.  On the second day, the winds turned violent, the ships became separated, and the Patriarch's ship ended up at Sykea, on the coast of Lakonia.  After two more days, when the Emperor's ship failed to appear, they sent a boat up to Kenchreai, at the Isthmus, to see if there were any information.  There was: the Emperor's ship had stopped at Gaidouronessos -- Donkey's Island, near Piraeus, to wait out the storm, and then gone to Kenchreai.

But Donkey's Island could not be taken for granted, either.  There were two Catalan boats and two other boats also waiting out the storm on the island. The Catalans, discovering what was being delivered into their hands, decided to capture the Emperor, but cooler heads prevailed and this was thought unwise. Nearly a year and a half later, in Florence, a man from Rhodes who had been a prisoner of the Catalans and escaped, showed up and told the Emperor's attendants what had nearly happened.

They sailed from Kenchreai to Methone without too much excitement. [This was the Patriarch's galley, and the other galleys, but John and Demetrios and their suites had got off at Kenchreai and rode down the full length of the Morea.  John hated sea travel and you can understand why.] 

When the galleys docked at Methone, Venetian officials, and the Latin and Greek church officials all came out to greet them.  The Latins wanted to bring the Patriarch into the city in procession, holding him on either side according to their custom.  The Patriarch was upset at having to process with Latins, but several of the court officials told him it would be simpler to go along with it.  He was led by the Bishops of Corone and Portugal [I have no idea at all what the Bishop of Portugal was doing there], the Greek clergy carried their icons, and it was all very fine until they processed the Patriarch to a very old house which belonged to the Latin church.  Pigs lived on the ground floor.  There was a bed for the Patriarch upstairs, with a filthy pillow.  He was given an inedible meal.  It was the pigs grunting during the night that particularly disturbed him.

The Bishop of Corone went to the house of the Venetian governor -- Giovanni Cornaro -- and asked him to invited the Patriarch there.  Cornaro did, and the Patriarch stayed for 13 days.  They celebrated Christmas together, and things went fairly well.

The question of leaving became an issue.  Quite a few people were refusing to go further because of the crowding and discomfort on the ships.  There were suggestions of hiring another ship from Nauplion, and objections about the delay that would cause.  Then someone suggested that the galleys off-load the slaves they were carrying -- this is the first we have heard of the slaves -- which would give more room.  After slaves were loaded onto another boat for Venice,, plague broke out among them: all died and were buried at sea.  None of the Greeks or Latins was affected.

They galleys sailed from Methone up to Navarino-Pylos to meet John and Demetrios who arrived with a large suite of people from Mistra, including Plethon, Scholarios, and Bessarion.  This made for nearly 700 Greeks [at papal and Venetian expense] in the three galleys. They set sail, and then the sails on two of the galleys ripped.  By the eve of Theophany -- 5 January -- they had reached Kefphalonia and stopped in at the harbor of Pitzkardo.  There was much protest at this, because the winds were so perfect for sailing, but with the exception of one galley that went on to Corfu they all stayed.

That was when the bora started blowing, five days and nights, with such intensity that they were not even able to get out to fill the water jugs.  At the first opportunity, they set out again, and sailed into another storm. The rigging that supported the yardarm tore, it was swinging back and forth, they were sailing in total darkness in winds and waves so hard that most of the sailors could not walk on the deck.  Then the wind swung around and the waves were stronger.  They were pushed back to Pitzkardo where they anchored for three days while the storm continued.  Everyone on the ship was flat out, exhausted and sick.

They were finally able to start out again on a night with a clear moon.  The Patriarch's galley had not cleared the harbor before a gust of wind drove another boat into its side, shattering the oars like reeds.  But they managed to get to Corfu the next day where they stayed for eleven days.
In the gulf of Ragusa there was another storm that scattered the ships, but they all managed to regroup at Corsola.  Here the Emperor and the Patriarch disembarked and had a private conversation, as they had not seen each other since they left Constantinople two months earlier.

They sailed for two days, then the Emperor was so ill that they had to stop at a deserted island.  It snowed. The Emperor was carried ashore to a tent, and nearly everyone was freezing.  They sailed to Zara where they rested for three days.  Setting out again, they ran into another storm and the yardarm snapped.  They repaired the yardarm at Ruvini.  When they got to Parenzo a storm kept them in port for three days.

The rest of the way to Venice was fine, but that was only a day's sail.  A later post will report the winter trip back to Constantinople, two years later.

  Both images are of panels from the doors of St. Peter's in Rome made by Filarete.  Notice the double-headed eagle.

18 November 2010

The Necessitous Inhabitants of Greece: Part One

House on Aigina where Miller was based
"The ancient houses in this island are now all cleared from the dirt
and rubbish which filled them, and the earth is again peopled
with inhabitants, but in the most wretched condition."

In August 1828, Col. Jonathan P. Miller of Vermont published a book with the title The Condition of Greece in 1827 and 1828; Being an Exposition of the Poverty, Distress, and Misery to Which the Inhabitants Have Been Reduced by the Destruction of Their Towns and Villages, and the Ravages of their Country by a Merciless Turkish Foe.

Miller had been what he called "an unruly dissipated youth."  After a religious conversion while in the army, he left and went to the University of Vermont to study Greek classics. Coincidentally with the college buildings burning down and destroying his books, he learned of the death of Byron. He volunteered to fight for Greek independence, with the backing of the Boston Greek Committee, and arrived at Missolonghi in November 1824, the first American Philhellene. 

He learned Greek quickly, and acquired a reputation as the "Yankee Dare-devil," fighting Ibrahim Pasha at the Battle of the Mills near Nauplion in June 1825. After the fall of Missolonghi in 1826, he returned to the States where he actively campaigned for Greek independence, lecturing and raising funds for civilian relief.  In 1827, he was sent by the Greek Committee to take a relief ship to Greece, one of 8 the States sent in 1827 and 1828.  Seventeen more embarked from Ancona in 1826 and 1827, sent by a Swiss banker, Eynard, and the Paris Greek Committee.

Miller's book reports the donations for which he was responsible. The donations of cash amounted to $36,209.30, the largest individual donations being for $100.  Many donations were in change, many were for 1, 3, or 5 dollars. It is impossible to calculate a modern equivalent.  Miller's donors include: John J. Astor, A Friend, A Friend to religion and humanity and a friend to the Greeks, A Lady, several identified as A Gentleman,A Mechanic's weeks work ($5), A Soldier of the American Revolution, and someone from a previous relief ship giving back the remains of his expense money.  Collections came from churches, schools and other institutions, including the NY High School, Eighth Presbyterian Church, German Reformed Church Christie Street, Pupils in a Select Male School, Proceeds of a Ball at the Park Theatre, Master Stone Cutters' Society, New York Typographical Society, and West Point Cadets.

Most interesting are the donations of goods.  A very partial list of individual gifts:
  • 20 pair men's shoes
  • 25 "   ladies    "
  • 12 pair drill trowsers
  • one bundle clothing
  • 15 vests
  • 4 blankets, 4 sheets, 2 pillows & cases, 1 counterpane
  • one piece of flannel
  • 53 caps
  • 1 barrel of beef [there were many barrels of food and flour]
  • 3 casks of hams
  • 1 barrel Indian meal
  • 1 "         "         " and 25 chemises
  • a chest and assortment of medicines
  • 28 barrels of flour and 1 of pork
  • 1 barrel mackerel, and 1 of smoked meat
  • provisions and clothing
The Greek Committee's letter of instructions said, more than once: "You are aware that this cargo is the result of contributions made by benevolent individuals and associations . . . to the sole object of feeding and clothing the necessitous inhabitants of Greece.  . . . these are not designed to supply the garrisons . . . but are intended for the relief of the women, children, and old men, non-combatants of Greece."

Miller and his ship Chancellor arrived at Nauplion on the night of 23 May, and in the morning, discovered with delight that the US frigate Constitution was in the bay. [This lovely ship still sails, and can be visited in Boston harbor.]  After unloading some 160 barrels of bread and flour at Myloi, 60 for the Greeks in the hills, and 100 for the women and children who had escaped Missolonghi, Miller received a letter signed by Makryannis and several others ordering him to come to Poros to the current seat of the Greek government.  He left a large selection of supplies in Nauplion with Samuel Gridley Howe [much more about Howe in another entry] to distribute there.

Miller went to Poros, met with members of the government, and was warmly welcomed.  He set about discharging his cargo, which was not easy, as there were no wharves, and everything had to be off-loaded onto small boats and rowed in from the Chancellor out in the bay. Makryannis immediately introduced Miller to families in need of help to whom he gave barrels of flour and pieces of cloth.

In contrast, Howe wrote to Miller that Kolokotronis and Grivas had tried to seize the supplies in Nauplion for their soldiers.  It took the authority of the Captain of the Constitution to force them to return the keys of the storehouse to Howe.
Theodoros Kolokotronis

The efforts to distribute food and clothing to the needy with some fairness was constantly interrupted by attempts of one captain and another to commandeer supplies for his soldier or his family.  Miller was armed, known as a fighter, and did not hesitate on occasion to use force to keep control of the decisions.  His reports of his distributions are, for the most part, short and unemotional, but the cumulative effect is shattering:

  • Gave cloth to six girls and four small boys, sufficient to make them all suits of clothes.  Gave also to six women, a pair of shoes to each.
  • Commenced delivering out the flour to the poor widows and orphans at Poros, collected from various places.  To those of Poros I gave seven barrels of flour, which were divided equally among ninety-seven souls: to the others I delivered one hundred and twenty barrels of flour, to be divided among one thousand eight hundred and two souls.  Sent the half barrel to Spetzia for the suffering family of eleven individuals.  Also delivered about one thousand yards of cotton and woolen cloth to the naked.
  • In the evening I took a long walk on the Peloponnesian side of the Island. . . . I found a family under a tree, the mother of which was sick of a fever, with four children around her.  Having nothing else with me, I gave the mother two dollars, at the same time telling here that it was a donation from the ladies in America.  The poor creature was overwhelmed with joy.  She called upon God to bless the souls of those who had so liberally supplied her wants.
  • Gave to the refugees from Thebes and Athens fifty-five garments, out of the box sent from New Haven, in Connecticut; also six pair of shoes.
  • In the evening I saw upon the Platine [plateia] a man whom I thought I knew, though he was disguised in a Hydraote dress.  It proved to be one Allen, from Kentucky, a man whom I am ashamed to acknowledge as a countryman.  Any thing further concerning this person, will not be necessary for those who have been in the Levant for the last three years.
  • There arrived at this place last evening six females, who had just escaped from the Arabs.  Early this morning they were brought to my quarters. . . . A girl of eleven or twelve years of age stood before me, with her nose cut off, close to her face, and her lips all cut off, so that the gums and jaws were left entirely naked.  All this had been done more than a year ago, and the poor creature was yet alive.  Her refusal to yield to the embraces of an Arab was the cause of this horrid and shocking barbarity.
  • We called upon the gallant Canaris, having previously selected from among the dry goods a fine piece of light-coloured cassimere.  We thought it advisable to make him a present of it, in the name of the benevolent citizens of our country, as it is well known that he is poor, and notwithstanding his services, often straitened in his means of supporting his family. [Canaris was regarded as a hero in the United States for his fireships. The cadets of the US Constellation, sister-ship of the Constitution, had been thrilled to be introduced to him, and Herman Melville included the fireships in Moby Dick.]

Konstantinos Kanaris

To be continued.

The pictures here by Bavarian artist Karl Krazeisen  were used for the more familiar etchings.  The nuances of character which he conveys, and the youth of many of the participants, are lost in the etchings. They are from the collection of the Ethniki Pinakothiki-Mouseio Alexandrou Soutzou of Nauplion.

The Condition of Greece in 1827 and 1828; Being an Exposition of the Poverty, Distress, and Misery to Which the Inhabitants Have Been Reduced by the Destruction of Their Towns and Villages, and the Ravages of their Country by a Merciless Turkish Foe can be downloaded from Google books.

13 November 2010

The Mocenigo War: Part One

In 1470, after Nicolò da Canale helped lose Negroponte to Mehmed II, Venice replaced him as Captain General of the Fleet with Pietro Mocenigo.  In 1474, after a series of military and diplomatic successes along the coast of Asia Minio and Cyprus, Venice elected Mocenigo doge.  One of the sopracomiti -- ship commanders -- Coriolano Cippico, a Dalmatian in his 50s, wrote an account of these ventures for Marcantonio Morosini, Venetian ambassador to Burgundy,.  Burgundy was theoretically an ally of Venice in this war that Pius II had got going -- he called it a crusade against the infidel but he died before the ships sailed -- and this document was most likely intended to encourage Burgundian participation and financing by reassuring them about the Venetian leader.

The document is printed in the 7th volume of Konstantine Sathas' invaluable collection of Venetian documents for 15th-century Greece which you can download here. Cippico's description of the stratioti seems to be the basis of the famous description Sanudo gave later.  Cippico writes:
The Venetians, in all the cities of the Morea that are under their dominion, have hired many Albanians on horseback, who are called by the Greek name stratioti.  These with their swift raiding have so wasted the part of the Morea that is under the Turks that is is almost a desert and a solitude.  These people are by nature intensely rapacious, and more apt to raid than to give battle.  They use a shield, sword, and lance; few have breastplates; the others wear a bombazine cuirass as protection against the blows of an enemy.  The most valorous of all are those from Nauplion.

Mocenigo's tactics were exceptional for that time: he took took the stratioti with the fleet, and not in roundships and towed hulks, but on the war galleys, carrying ten horses on each galley.  Depending on how many allies were sailing with him, this allowed him 400 mounted stratioti.  Without heavy, slower ships, he was able to attack with exceptional speed, which was increased by his having the fleet sail to its target by night so the attack could begin dawn.  Cippico describes that over and over in this account.  Mocenigo had certain principles: he would not attack Greek islands held by the Turks, because the residents were Christians, but only sites on the Turkish mainland.

After a brief description of an attack on the mainland opposite Lesbos.  Cippico describes the division of the spoils, a few comments in parentheses:
The stratioti brought the General the heads of their dead enemies, to have a ducat each, as the General had promised them: this has always been their custom.  The General loaded the galleys with the spoils, and came to a deserted island with good landings, between Chios and the mainland, which is now called Panagia.  Here were put all the spoils. Three arbitrators were selected from the sopracomiti, two Venetians and the third a Dalmatian, which is the custom always used in such circumstances.  The arbitrators, according to ancient Venetian custom, gave one tenth of all the spoils to the Captain General. (1/10)  The stratioti for their part kept two-thirds (6/10), and the arbitrators one-third (3/10).  The General had promised them this.  All the prisoners were consigned to the arbitrators: these were sold at auction.  (It appears from various reports in Cippico that slave dealers followed the fleet.)  The money was divided in this way.  First, all the soldiers who had brought in an enemy prisoner were given three ducats.  Then, the sopracomiti were paid for the expense of the stratioti's horses. The rest was divided equally among the galleys.  The galley of the provveditori was given double what was given to the other galleys.  The sopracomiti kept one third, and distributed the rest among the soldiers and oarsmen, according to rank.
The next division of the spoils was made on Delos, where Cippico noted columns, statues, remains of temples, an amphitheater, and a colossus of 15 cubits with the inscription
                                  ΝΑΞΙΟΙ ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙ
The people of Naxos to Apollo
The next island episode was on Samos, :
Samos at present is a deserted island and has always been celebrated for its fertility.  Now it is full only of all sorts of animals, an abundance of woodland honey which one can find all around in the forests, and springs of sweet and living water that rise in all parts.  The horsemen and soldiers were disembarked to drill and refresh themselves.  The soldiers and others went hunting and while they were taking various prey, a youth of the Dalmatian nation and language encountered a bear of marvelous size.  The bear avoided his blow, went behind the boy and knocked him to the ground.  The boy, without losing spirit, jammed his fingers into both the bear's eyes and held its head so that it would not lacerate him, long enough for another youth of the same nation to kill the bear from behind with a sword.  On all sides there was a great killing of animals, and the whole army was employed in the hunt.  Several days were spent  in festival, with a great deal to eat and drink.  More than anyone else, the Schiavoni, of whom there were a great many among the oarsmen, sang drinking songs.  After everyone was sated, they boasted about the great deeds they had done, and how they had prospered so successfully against such vile men.
More from Cippico in another entry.

The top image is a detail from a Genoese tapestry of the Battle of Lepanto; the bear is from a medieval bestiary, and is actually licking her cub into shape rather than eating something.