26 September 2012

The Athens Plague of 1835

 Konstantinos Schinas in 1853 as Greek Minister to Munich

 In the summer of 1835, Athens was struck by an epidemic.  Bettina Schinas and her husband had recently moved there from Nauplion as he was prepared and waiting to be a member of the new government.  They had no income, which together with her homesickness, made Bettina increasingly worried and depressed, although they had ample savings and there was no danger of being poor.   Bettina was planning to build one or two houses, and was constantly looking for a good plot, being particularly interested in one next to the Kolettis plot above the Stoa of Attalos.

Meanwhile, they had rented a house outside Athens on the road to Piraeus.   It was isolated but their constant contacts in the city brought them the infection.  As usual, my gratitude to Brigitte Eckert for her patient translation of these letters. Schinas wrote Bettina's parents on 18 August:

* * * * * *
Dear precious parents!

You will be alarmed by not receiving some lines from Bettina’s hand now nor at the next occasion via Prokesch; as I resisted at least this time, and what could her trembling hand have written but a few words which would have weakened her even more and could not have pleased you, dear parents? Let me tell you now everything, believe me that I will not deprive you of the truth in any way.

In my last letter which was dispatched by Ms.  v. Lesuire I think, I told you Bettina has never before been as well and healthy, that she had gained weight, etc. This was the whole and real truth; she suffered sorrows, but physically she gained significantly and certainly she didn’t look as well in Berlin let alone in Ancona . . .

Recently an
epidemic descended on Athens and many other regions of Greece which might not not have been dangerous but obtained such a horrible commonality that in little time two-thirds [of Athens]  lay ill, and attendance and nursing became almost impossible, because the nurses were ill too. I was invited to the funeral procession of M. de Geouffre, père de M. le Prince de Comnène, close neighbours whose house is the only other one as far from the center of town as ours. Though I felt feeble, Bettina told me “you go and join a few minutes before the procession starts”, (which was according to the programme supposed to be at  4 o’clock) “and after the procession passes the corner of our garden you come back home.” I liked the idea so I went there before 4, but there was a delay until after 6 and I escaped the odour by standing on the balcony where I caught a bad sunstroke which turned into a remittent fever within 3 days, according to the symptoms of the year’s illnesses. 

Foreground, the Schinas house outside Athens, the de Geouffre house behind.

The 2nd day of my disease I was bled lying on the couch, walking to bed I fainted a little like always when I move after bleeding. I didn’t notice that loving Bettina was so alarmed she stayed all night awake in her dress, some time next to the window where she was writing a long time, some time next to my bed. The next day (a Friday) she felt a little unwell and went to bed, also to make up for the sleep she hadn’t got the night before.

Meanwhile Dr. Wibmer came to see me, found her in bed, and as she complained about an enduring costiveness he ordered a little rhubarb. (I think she already suffered a chill that day.) The medicine had no effect, the physician continued the treatment although she took little of the medicine he ordered, and she still was in good shape and lively but unfortunately spoke too much, and was too active off her bed, not only to the domestic helpers but also to the physician and several visitors who came to pay attention to her, specially Countess Saporta, Mr. v. Prokesch etc., which may have stimulated her too much. In addition I had 2 fierce, even alarming fever attacks and she heard from her room my involuntarily loud moans which made her of course suffer even more. 

Finally the doctor arrived Monday morning at 6 or 7 with Prokesch. Both explained we should leave the house for the healthier air in the upper part of  town, but also because of being in this remote area too far away from necessary human help. Prokesch offered 2 rooms which had been occupied before by his secretary, his kitchen and servants. The doctor said “Tomorrow I will come in Katakazi’s coach to get the gentleman and take him to his sister’s because his case is more urgent; in the meantime the rooms offered by Mr. v. Prokesch will be prepared and a bed arranged, the day after tomorrow she will be transported there.” 

So Wibmer came for me the following day, a Tuesday. Some minutes ago Christiane’s [the servant of the Savigny household whom B. had brought from Berlin] fever had started and she had gone to bed. This was the most disadvantageous circumstance: I, the husband, left or better became displaced, Bettina was suddenly deprived of nursing by her servant, and her noble but exaggerated humanity towards Christiane could endanger her own life. Thursday B.' fever was down, so the physician insisted on taking her to town in Prokesch’s closed coach this very day, though not to Prokesch’s rooms, but to the bigger, ampler building which Mr. Hill, an American, had offered to her. But Bettina didn’t agree, she didn’t want to leave Christiane without female aid though there were 2 helpers, a friend of our house and a physician, Dr. Weiss, to watch the night over the maid. This upset the plans. That night it was impossible to find a nurse and so Bettina stayed in the house of fever. 

The next day (Friday) Christiane was better, she could accompany her mistress to town, but B. was feverish again. The coach came with Madame Geraki. Bettina suffering fever and her menstrual period sat down with Christiane in the coach,  not considering the doctor’s order to make the journey only on a day without fever, and arrived exhausted at the above mentioned  house, where the loving Madame Hill and her sister were waiting for her to help her up the stairs and offer her any assistance. 

Since then B. kept the fever for 21 days from the first attack, then it ceased. These 21 days she was not allowed to ingest any food and did not long for it, after the fever stopped the doctor permitted a little chicken broth and she became much better, though the doctor had told us to expect an enduring convalescence. Then another calamity was ahead of us. Dr. Widmer became alarmingly ill. But my wife was in rather good shape and told me the 2nd day of Widmer’s indispostion “Tonight you’ll go to Prokesch to discuss this and this matter with him” so I was at Prokesch’s when I suddenly received Christiane's note: “Madame suddenly developed a very strong cough and is asking you  to send immediately for Dr. Ipitis” (whom Widmer recommended after getting ill).
I walked to him myself but he was suffering cold fever and therefore could not come this evening; tomorrow he would try his powers, so I sent the servant who had accompanied me with the lantern to Dr. Röser and went to see myself what was going on. I found Bettina very concerned about her cough. I advised her to sleep until the doctor would come but she didn’t want to, after an hour the servant came back and explained: he searched in vain a long time for Dr. Röser, when he finally found him and led him towards us, some military personnel fell into a lime pit before their very eyes, so the guard took him almost by force into the garrison to treat the injured, but he would follow here as soon as possible. As the doctor did not come until 1 o’clock after midnight I sent again for him; he had gone home and to bed; he had to dress again and visit us; he ordered something calming and told me, this is a slight pneumonia, in a day or 2 the cough would be somewhat over, but a so called subdelirium occured which quite startled him. He suggested a consultation with Dr. Ipitis and Dr. Treiber, but the last was ill, so that evening only Rösner and Ipitis met, which I preferred in Bettina’s sake, because Ipitis had been proposed by Wibmer but not Treiber. The two doctors ordered something and the cough soon stopped completely. 
But Ipitis now paid attention to her ranting from time to time suspecting it, together with a little fever, resulting in a bed-sore, a hard and painful abscess close to the anus after lying such a long time. At the time being this makes her suffering horribly  and prevents her of getting back her powers. She has lost a great deal of weight, though all symptoms are calming. This is our plan: if she revives soon, after the healing of the abscess we will travel to the Cyclades for a change of air, and as she is obviously also suffering homesickness we would come to Berlin even in autumn; but if it would prove not to be advisable, as the doctors think, for her weak thorax and after this serious illness to travel from a warm country into a cold at the beginning of winter, and her homesickness being enduring we might travel for her comfort to Ancona, where life is inexpensive and correspondence with you easier. The vicinity of Germany could be stimulating for her; in spring then, if essential, we could go to Berlin. But all this is in God’s hands. First of all the abscess must heal and Bettina gain strength again, so she can walk in her room. This is the true and pure report of the illness and our actual condition.

Everybody has behaved undescribably lovingly and compassionately towards us; physicians (the excellent Dr. Wibmer, the comparable competent and kind-hearted Dr. Röser, and the learned and experienced Dr. Ipitis) and individuals competed in helping Bettina; I hope she is on her way to recovery (though a long convalescence is ahead of her); but not humans, though they gave their most possible (also the servants, in particular Christiane and Stephan were like angels to my Bettina), only to Our Lord I owe the recovery of the most perfect of all wives: to him from whom all salvation is given I prayed a thousand times “Lord! I deserve your anger, castigate my own body, put me into the biggest misery, but give my Bettina soon recovery and stop her pain which she is baring with Christian patience.” This I hope from him in confidence.

Next time more comfort. I repeat: all I am telling you is pure truth, and don’t worry because she does not write herself, she wanted to write some words and even almost cried, but I didn’t give in, in particular because the doctors forbade it definitely.

Embracing you in childlike love
Sincerely, your son,
Athens, 6/18 August 1835 *


*old/new dating

Previous entries for  Bettina Schinas:
Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2012

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.

20 September 2012

On Vacation: Hesiod

Hesiod manuscript Milan (?) [Identification help needed.]

ll. 383-404) When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, are rising (May), begin your harvest, and  your ploughing when they are going to set (November). Forty nights and days they are hidden and appear again as the year moves round, when first you sharpen your sickle. This is the law of the plains, and of those who live near the sea, and who inhabit rich country, the glens and dingles far from the tossing sea, -- strip to sow and strip to plough and strip to reap, if you wish to get in all Demeter's fruits in due season, and that each kind may grow in its season. Else, afterwards, you may chance to be in want, and go begging to other men's houses, but without avail; as you have already come to me. But I will give you no more nor give you further measure. Foolish Perses! Work the work which the gods ordained for men, lest in bitter anguish of spirit you with your wife and children seek your livelihood amongst your neighbours, and they do not heed you. Two or three times, may be, you will succeed, but if you trouble them further, it will not avail you, and all your talk will be in vain, and your word-play unprofitable. Nay, I bid you find a way to pay your debts and avoid hunger. 
(ll. 405-413) First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plough -- a slave woman and not a wife, to follow the oxen as well -- and make everything ready at home, so that you may not have to ask of another, and he refuses you, and so, because you are in lack, the season pass by and your work come to nothing. Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work: industry makes work go well, but a man who puts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin. 
(ll. 414-447) When the piercing power and sultry heat of the sun abate, and almighty Zeus sends the autumn rains (October), and men's flesh comes to feel far easier, -- for then the star Sirius passes over the heads of men, who are born to misery, only a little while by day and takes greater share of night, -- then, when it showers its leaves to the ground and stops sprouting, the wood you cut with your axe is least liable to worm. Then remember to hew your timber: it is the season for that work. Cut a mortar three feet wide and a pestle three cubits long, and an axle of seven feet, for it will do very well so; but if you make it eight feet long, you can cut a beetle (for pounding clods) from it as well. Cut a felloe three spans across for a waggon of ten palms' width. 

Hew also many bent timbers, and bring home a plough-tree when you have found it, and look out on the mountain or in the field for one of holm-oak; for this is the strongest for oxen to plough with when one of Athena's handmen has fixed in the share-beam and fastened it to the pole with dowels. Get two ploughs ready work on them at home, one all of a piece, and the other jointed. It is far better to do this, for if you should break one of them, you can put the oxen to the other. Poles of laurel or elm are most free from worms, and a share-beam of oak and a plough-tree of holm-oak. Get two oxen, bulls of nine years; for their strength is unspent and they are in the prime of their age: they are best for work. They will not fight in the furrow and break the plough and then leave the work undone. 

Let a brisk fellow of forty years follow them, with a loaf of four quarters and eight slices for his dinner, one who will attend to his work and drive a straight furrow and is past the age for gaping after his fellows, but will keep his mind on his work. No younger man will be better than he at scattering the seed and avoiding double-sowing; for a man less staid gets disturbed, hankering after his fellows.

(ll. 448-457) Mark when you hear the voice of the crane (mid-November) who cries year by year from the clouds above, for she give the signal for ploughing and shows the season of rainy winter; but she vexes the heart of the man who has no oxen. Then is the time to feed up your horned oxen in the byre; for it is easy to say: `Give me a yoke of oxen and a waggon,' and it is easy to refuse: `I have work for my oxen.' The man who is rich in fancy thinks his waggon as good as built already -- the fool! He does not know that there are a hundred timbers to a waggon. Take care to lay these up beforehand at home.

(ll. 458-464) So soon as the time for ploughing is proclaimed to men, then make haste, you and your slaves alike, in wet and in dry, to plough in the season for ploughing, and bestir yourself early in the morning so that your fields may be full. Plough in the spring; but fallow broken up in the summer will not belie your hopes. Sow fallow land when the soil is still getting light: fallow land is a defender from harm and a soother of children.

(ll. 465-478) Pray to Zeus of the Earth and to pure Demeter to make Demeter's holy grain sound and heavy, when first you begin ploughing, when you hold in your hand the end of the plough-tail and bring down your stick on the backs of the oxen as they draw on the pole-bar by the yoke-straps. Let a slave follow a little behind with a mattock and make trouble for the birds by hiding the seed; for good management is the best for mortal men as bad management is the worst. In this way your corn-ears will bow to the ground with fullness if the Olympian himself gives a good result at the last, and you will sweep the cobwebs from your bins and you will be glad, I ween, as you take of your garnered substance. And so you will have plenty till you come to grey springtime, and will not look wistfully to others, but another shall be in need of your help. 
(ll. 479-492) But if you plough the good ground at the solstice (December), you will reap sitting, grasping a thin crop in your hand, binding the sheaves awry, dust-covered, not glad at all; so you will bring all home in a basket and not many will admire you. Yet the will of Zeus who holds the aegis is different at different times; and it is hard for mortal men to tell it; for if you should plough late, you may find this remedy -- when the cuckoo first calls (March) in the leaves of the oak and makes men glad all over the boundless earth, if Zeus should send rain on the third day and not cease until it rises neither above an ox's hoof nor falls short of it, then the late-plougher will vie with the early. Keep all this well in mind, and fail not to mark grey spring as it comes and the season of rain.

(ll 493-501) Pass by the smithy and its crowded lounge in winter time when the cold keeps men from field work, -- for then an industrious man can greatly prosper his house -- lest bitter winter catch you helpless and poor and you chafe a swollen foot with a shrunk hand. The idle man who waits on empty hope, lacking a livelihood, lays to heart mischief-making; it is not an wholesome hope that accompanies a need man who lolls at ease while he has no sure livelihood.

(ll. 502-503) While it is yet midsummer command your slaves: `It will not always be summer, build barns.' 

Trans. Hugh Evelyn-White, 1914.

14 September 2012

On vacation: Way down yonder in the valley

Horses in a valley: detail from a Chinese scroll.
DW collection.

This is a lullaby my mother, Martha Jordan, was sung as a baby in Ozark, Alabama, before 1920 -- a lullaby that she sang to me, that I sang to my daughters and to my grandchildren.  As happens with folksongs, it is a patchwork of other songs.  The "pretty little horses" are found in innumerable variants, especially in Kentucky and Tennessee; the "ol' black birds" are found in the "Twa' Corbies"; and a North Carolina variant was collected by the Library of Congress in 1947 (A8).  I have transcribed it with final consonants, but sometime she sang it with Ol' and singin' which is how I sang it three years ago at a Folklore Festival, and my preference -- it makes for a gentler sound.

* * * * * *

Go to sleep, little baby,
Don't the boogers gonna get you.
Ducks in the pond,
The geese are flying over
All the pretty little horses
Way down yonder in the valley.

Old black birds
A' picking out his eyes,  [edited sometimes to "singing all the day"]
Poor little thing cried "Mama!"
Mama went away
And told me to stay,
And take good care of the baby.
When she came back
She brought a piece of pie
And gave it every bit to the baby,
Way down yonder in the valley.


08 September 2012

What happened to the children?

Detail, icon of S. Georgio dei Greci, Georgios Klontzas, 16th C.
Istituto Ellenico, Venice
I have already written here about the ability of the Palaiologues to lose close members of the family, in this case the children of Manuel II's brother, Theodoros, Despot of Mistra, not to mention Manuel's own daughters.  There are more misplaced children, and Manuel's grandchildren, too -- the children of his son Andronikos.

That would be poor, sad Andronikos, Despot of Thessaloniki, who died young of leprosy. He was Despot from the age of 8, in 1408, until 1423 when he handed the city over to the Venetians with the hope that they might defend it better than Byzantine resources could.  He seems to have gone to the Morea for a while, then to Constantinople where, in the family tradition, he became a monk in the Pantokrator, and died at the age of 28, in March 1429.

A. Sideras, in "Neue Quellen zu Andronikos Palaiologos," in Byzantinische Zeitschrift 80 (1987) 3-15, has found more information on Andronikos than anyone imagined existed, and it isn't very much.  What interests me here is a footnote with a scrap from a manuscript in Moscow that says:  
. . . for your sons (παισὶ) this has been sorrowing loss, over your absence and their separation from one another as they were scattered here and there . . .
One of the children has been identified as John, and the John Palaiologos whom Cyriaco of Ancona met in Mani has been stated to be the son of Andronikos. Because of the ages and additional genealogy, I believe Cyriaco's John to be the son of Theodoros I.   But what happened to Andronikos' John and his brother?  Were there more than two children.  Why were the children scattered? 

It is not clear in that excerpt -- which is all Sideras gave me to work with -- whether the scattering was after Thessaloniki, or after the death of their father. Did no one in the family have any regard for them? Constantine probably did: he was the one for whom we have any record of family affection. It is certainly asking to much to wonder
what happened to their mother.  Or mothers.

No chronicler or historian thought any of this information important to record. We are told that Byzantines, like other people, loved their children.  Of course they did, but we have precious little evidence for it outside of the wonderful essay Psellos wrote on his daughter.  If we go by the pictures they left, the Byzantines for the most part thought children were short, deformed monsters, as in the Klontzas icon above.  Look at these two fresco details from the Pantanassa at Mistra: 

 Seldom do we find a child appropriately proportioned to an adult:  

Detail from Triptych, Georgios Klontzas, 16th C.
Istituto Ellenico, Venice

The more time I spend with the Palaiologos family, the more I see of civil war, to the end and well past the end, and the hiving-off of young children. The family models the history of the late Byzantine period.

Don't miss Mothers and Sons, Fathers and Daughters: The Byzantine Family of Michael Psellos, by Anthony Kaldellis (Notre Dame Press, 2006).

02 September 2012

Piri Re'is and the Candy-Colored Mountains of the Argolid

Map of the Argolid Peninsula by Piri Re’is.  Before 1540.
(You may need to click on the map to get the whole thing.)

This is Piri Re'is' lovely map of the Argolid. Pierre MacKay transliterated and translated the Ottoman Turkish for me.

Starting in upper left, going down the west coast, then up the east:

- The unlabeled river of Lerna, Arhos/Argos probably Stymphalia above by the pink mountain. 
- Kale-i Anabolu/Fortress of Nauplion on its peninsula.
- The blue-grey island is Ropolı/Romvi, the red Plateia.
- The coast to the right of the little green island is labelled Eski Anabolu/Old Nauplion= Asine. 

- The bottom-left island is Suluca (Water Island) Spetses, with three springs and two ships in port.
- Spetsopoula to the right, with Kavoiskilı/Cape of Dogs marked just above. 
- Up in the large central bay is Fanar/Phanari, below it Kastri.
- Termia/Thermissi the red castle above yellow Çamlıca (Pine Tree Island)/Hydra. 
- Dokos the blue to Hydra's upper left.
[Notice the little dots between the long cape and the little red island indicating shoals and reefs.]

- The square red island is Damala-ı-Venedig.
- Under the blue arrow, Pâtarina. 
- Pink island above the arrow, Satika. 
- Blue island inside circle, Porto Dina.
- In gulf, Atina Körfezi/Gulf of Athens.

Along the base of the mountains, Liva-ı-Mora Mensübdir/Attached to Province of Morea.
- Castle, Kale-i Piade
- On blue mountain to the left, Vilayet-ı Mora/Province of Morea
The double rectangle at the top of the coastline is the Hexamilion wall across the Isthmus of Corinth going up to the pinkish İnebahti Körfezi/Gulf of Nafpaktos.

Corrections and other identifications will be welcomed.

Nauplion and Argos, picture upside-down, text right-side-up.
The big blue island is
Ropolı/Romvi, known locally as "the tits of Aphrodite,"
as the image may suggest.  The red island is Daskalo.

 Nauplion and Bourdzi, right-side up.

 If anyone wants a larger copy of the main image, e-mail me.