30 April 2009

Ag. Petros the Wonderworker of Argos

Peter of Argos, whose feastday is May 3, was born in Constantinople in 855 and died in Argos at the age of seventy. He came from a generous and loving family, and was early offered high advancement in the church. He refused, came to Corinth where his brother Paul was serving as bishop, and took up his preferred life as a hermit.

He was a good and generous hermit, and word got around. Argos was in need of a bishop, and after much persuasion -- and threats -- Petros agreed to go to Argos. One of his many acts of generosity and intelligence there was not only to provide free public education for the children, whether of Argos or of foreigners, but when they were through with school he made sure they had the tools necessary to earn their living.

He was much-loved, as his miracles below might suggest, and when he died the men of Nauplion came over and fought with the men of Argos for possession of his body. Argos kept it, but in time the remains were moved to the Agia Moni, a monastery outside Nauplion, as his Greek church was taken over by the Latin church from the conquests of the 4th crusade. In 1425, Segundo Nani, Venetian bishop of Nauplion, ordered the tomb opened -- he was claiming the monastery as part of his private fief. When the tomb was opened, a great light exploded from it, and thunder and lightening, and the scent of myrrh. Nani's reaction is not recorded, but at some point Petros' relics were removed to Italy.

In the 1990s, monks from Argos began a methodical search of records and churches in Italy, and found Petros' relics in a monastery near Rome. Those monks graciously agreed to return them, and in January 2001, Petros of Argos was brought home.

There are four surviving miracle stories of Ag. Petros, translated below. The author of his vita, his disciple the Blessed Theodosius (whose tomb and miraculous spring are not far from Argos) said there was no point writing things down because everyone knew all about them.
1. A great famine befell the Peloponnesos. The inhabitants try to sustain life with roots and grass; they barely have the strength to bury their dead who fill the roads and footpaths. In that difficult tragic time, the Saint remains firm. He kneels and raises his hands to Heaven. He beseeches mercy and help for his flock. At the same time, he collects wheat, grinds it, fills great storage jars, and instructs the backers to bake and share out the bread with the people in town and from the villages. O! The miracle! With the prayer and blessing of the Saint, the flour does not run out. The amazed bakers want to proclaim the deed but he does not permit them. The storage jars, however, which do not run out at all, show forth the miracle which is much greater than that of the Prophet Elijah who fed only the household of the widow.
For this, the hymn praises him: "He speaks to God and he lives by faith, the most blessed one, storing the left-over inexhaustible flour in the jar, nourishing those suffering famine, his starving people, of godly mind in the midst of famine and death, praising his Christ unto the ages."
2. In those years, the barbarian Saracens [Spanish Arabs] attack from Crete, which they had seized, making raids, pillaging towns and villages, taking with them hordes of prisoners. Learning of the generosity of the Saint, they come often to the shore of the Argolic gulf. They scatter calamity and catastrophe but they sell their slaves to his men.

One day, the Saracens arrive very early with their pirate ship. The representatives of the Bishop give money and ransom a number of slaves. The barbarians, however, do not give up one woman, a young virgin. They want her for their commander. They become angry at the insistence of the representatives, return to the ship with all of them, and remain there. The Saint is deeply saddened. Tears pour down his face. He goes to his room and kneels in prayer. He will not rise if the ransomed girl does not come back to his grieving Christians. That afternoon comes the joyful news: the pirate ship is stuck on a reef and a coastal patrol ship encounters it. The next day, in the moming, the coastal patrol come back triumphantly and, having tied up the Saracen pirates, immediately disembarks the freed prisoners.

The Saint weeps again, this time from holy emotion at the answer to his prayer and from the satisfactory solution to so many difficulties. He kneels, he gives thanks and he praises.

3. One day, a terrified young girl, crying heartbreakingly, takes refuge with the Saint. An officer is after her. She asks the protection of the Saint. He questions her. The officer bursts in cursing loudly. The holy Petros turns to him: "If we have no fear of God, neither will we have shame before men." The officer flees. Then frightful shuddering and violent fever seize him. He sends to ask pardon from the Saint and gives the order to free the girl. With forgiveness, the fever and shaking goes away and he returns to health. The girl is saved.
For these miracles of the Saint. the hymn-writer sings of him: "Our Father never failing, fifty come back from the pillagers, censuring the unjust, inhibiting the mind in its evil at hand."
4. One day, with tears in his eyes, a distraught father falls at the feet of the Saint and askes his help. His daughter, possessed since the day of her wedding, cannot face her husband at all. When he approaches her, she falls rigid and foaming.
The Saint calls his priests immediately, they prepare the blessed oil, and he gives the instruction to the father to anoint her with the oil for seven days. The seventh day, the daemon fled from the woman, and she became a good wife, a mother and mistress of a household.
This miracle the hymn-writer relates: "Just as her father in the spirit freed the dead girl of her pain, prayer unceasing, anointing with oil, freeing singing from suffering, 0 God of our fathers, be praised."

23 April 2009

The Villehardouin Granddaughters

The name of the young woman who posed for this 1310 fresco is unknown, but she stands in here for her contemporary, the younger Isabelle Villehardouin. The chronicler Muntaner who knew Isabelle said: "It was no wonder if he [Prince Ferdinand] was enamoured of her, for she was the most beautiful creature of fourteen one could see, the whitest and rosiest and the best. And she was the most learned damsel, for her age, of any in the world. What shall I tell you?"
What I shall tell you is that it was not a good thing to be a princess in the medieval Morea.

When William Villehardouin, Prince of Achaia died in 1278, he left two daughters, Isabelle, whose story was sketched
here, and Marguerite, Lady of Akova. Each named a daughter for her sister. Isabelle's Marguerite has no story, only a long life in Flanders and a good marriage, but Isabelle's older daughter Maud had enough story for several.

There are a lot of names in this story.

First, Maud. Maud was married at the age of 12--she was legally an adult--to the young Duke of Athens, Guy II de la Roche, uniting the dynasties of Athens and the Morea, at least on parchment. Her mother Isabelle and step-father Philippe left the Morea in disgrace because of Philippe. Because of William Villehardouin's treaties, the Principality of Achaia now belonged to Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples who needed its wealth to finance his attempt to regain Sicily. He sent over his own governor and gave possession of the Principality to his brother, Philip of Taranto.

Philip appointed Guy as governor, but Guy and Maud made formal claim to the Principality in their own right, with the support of most of the feudal lords who wanted a Villehardouin. Guy died in 1308 after a long illness and Maud was a widow at the age of 15.
Philip betrothed Maud to his son Charles who also died, and when she was 20, Philip married Maud off to Louis of Burgundy, an Angevin relative. Maud and Louis were jointly rulers of the Principality of Achaia but as he was a teenager and they mostly lived in Burgundy, Achaia was still under Angevin-Neopolitan control.

Meanwhile, Maud's aunt Marguerite had been widowed twice. She and her daughter Isabelle had their own lives, troubled because of Marguerite's step-son. But when Marguerite's sister and Maud's mother, Isabelle Villehardouin, died in 1312 or 1313, Marguerite began her own efforts to lay claim to the Principality of Achaia. She had considerable support in this from the feudal lords who still resented the Angevin-Neopolitan adminstrators and who still wanted Achaia back under a Villehardouin. The Villehardouins had been popular ever since the first one had landed more than a hundred years earlier.

Parallel with the lives of the Villehardouin granddaughters, and intersecting with them, were the adventures, lootings, slaughters, and conquests of the Catalan Company -- a narrative much too long and unpleasant to relate here which you can read in the terrific chronicle by one of its captains, Muntaner -- but its members had by 1311 managed to take over most of Thessaly, eastern Greece, Thebes, Athens, Attica, Megara, and Aigina. Frederick, the Spanish king of Sicily, and one of the Catalans' backers, sent his cousin, the Infante Ferdinand of Majorca, to Greece to take over. He didn't, but during the next two years he had terrific adventures and made a splendid reputation for himself.

[Just a reminder here: when the Sicilian Vespers overthrough Charles I of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily, back in 1286, they invited in Peter III of Aragon to take over Sicily, though the right of inheritance of his wife, Constance of Hohenstaufen. Charles I had taken Naples and Sicily from the Hohenstaufens. So now the Spanish-Sicilian empire controled half of Greece, and the Angevin-Naples empire controlled the Morea. You can see what was bound to happen.]

When Marguerite began looking for support, it was the year the Infante Ferdinand was particularly heroic in battle against the Moslems of Spain. He was apparently as charming a swashbuckler as anyone ever met, but Marguerite did not know this when she proposed to Frederick of Sicily that her daughter Isabelle marry his Ferdinand, and that they be Prince and Princess of Achaia under Frederick.

The ladies were invited to Messina, and Ferdinand was absolutely smitten. Remember what Mutaner wrote:

It was no wonder . . . she was the most beautiful creature of fourteen one could see, the whitest and rosiest and the best. And she was the most learned damsel, for her age, of any in the world.
Isabelle came from a family of at least four generations of splendidly-educated, multi-lingual women. She was swept off her feet. Everyone was enchanted by the couple's delight with each other. Marguerite transferred all her rights to Ferdinand and her lands to Isabella. Of course the Neopolitan Angevins were furious and when Marguerite returned to the Morea, their agents imprisoned her in the castle of Chlemoutsi which her grandfather had built, and confiscated her lands.

Isabelle became pregnant almost immediately and that was a signal to Ferdinand to make his plans to conquer as necessary in the Morea. Marguerite died in captivity: we do not know why, but there were many reasons to die in a medieval prison without needing to suspect underhanded action. Isabelle's pregnancy was in the seventh month and Ferdinand, wanting to protect her, did not tell her the news. Mutaner, delighted with the pregnancy, presented Isabelle with two bales of carpets, assorted garments, worked leather, and jewels. Then he rode up to Messina to help Ferdinand prepare their soldiers to embark for the Morea.

Two weeks later, they received word that Isabelle had given birth to an Infante on the first Saturday of April 1315. Ferdinand came down for a grand ceremony and they baptized him Jaime. Then Isabelle contracted a fever and dysentery. Ferdinand had returned to Messenia to complete plans for conquest but he hurried back. She recovered briefly when she saw him, but then she died when Jaime was 32 days old. Mutaner was directed to take the Infante Jaime to his grandmother, but that is a story for another time.

Ferdinand continued with his plans -- what else was he to do?-- and sailed for the Morea in June, landing near Clarenza which he attacked. Clarenza and several fortresses surrendered easily, and it looked as if Ferdinand was gathering a great deal of support from Moreote fiefholders and cities, including those who had held Marguerite in prison. When the situation looked stable, he arranged a marriage with Isabelle of Ibelin, of Palestine, a cousin of the King of Cyprus.

Meanwhile, opposition was building to the north in Patras and south in Messenia, and Maud who had been with Louis in Burgundy arrived with troops which she led into battle. Ferdinand won. Then Louis arrived with French reinforcements. The great lords from the islands came to the north-western Morea in support of Ferdinand, while the Greeks at Mistra sent two thousand troops to Maud and Louis. Ferdinand was expecting reinforcements by ship from Sicily.

They met in battle at Manolada, in a field not far from the sea, beside a small church of the Virgin. [More on that here.] Maud and Louis rode with their troops. Ferdinand's reinforcements remained off-shore, whether from contrary winds -- and they do blow from the land out to sea at mid-day, or from fear. Ferdinand's forces were completely crushed and he was beheaded on the field.

Two months later Louis died.

A new king, Robert of Naples, decided Maud should marry his brother, John of Gravina. Maud had had it with arranged marriages and said that she had secretly married one of the Burgundian knights, Hugues de la Palisse.

Robert, to no one's surprise, announced that he had discovered that Hugues was plotting against him, and Hughes was executed. Maud was imprisoned in the Castello dell'Uovo at Naples for 14 years (for marrying without permission) and forgotten. She died there in 1331. Her mother's aunt Helena, had been imprisoned for years and had died in prison, after Charles I of Anjou defeated her husband in 1266.

It was not a good thing to be a princess in the medieval Morea.

14 April 2009

Glory Days

In September or October of 1429, Despot Theodoros II wrote a poem to his parents, who are shown here in a manuscript portrait from about 1403. This is the earliest of three poems by Theodoros in the handwriting of Cardinal Bessarion and attributed to him, but the author was Theodoros. The third of these poems was discussed here.

This autumn poem of Theodoros was to accompany an elaborately-embroidered panel with two double portraits of his parents, to cover their tomb, something like the Mistra fresco of his uncle Theodore.. His father, Manuel II, had died four years before and was buried in the Church of the Pantokrator in Constantinople (now Zeyrek Djami)..; his mother, Helena, had retired to a convent, which was almost like being dead except for the times she acted as regent

The panel was splendidly worked in gold -- Theodoros wrote, "I describe here in gold as being golden . . . with this torchlight" -- and very probably with pearls and other gems, something like this small portrait of his brother John and his bride, but larger, perhaps like this covering for an altar door. Six years later, a chronicle recorded that it had been sent to Constantinople, but whether Mistra was very short of workers with the needed skills, we cannot know. It might have taken a while to make the necessary gold thread -- Theodoros refers to the "gold hammerings showing what is within."

It is obvious from the poem that these were the glory days of the Despotate of Mistra. The brothers Palaiologos -- John, Theodoros, Constantine, and Thomas -- were at the top of their game, all accomplished without their father.

Theodoros' mood had reversed itself recovered from his own panic of the previous year about becoming a father, a panic that had made him desperately want to retreat to a monastery and left his wife and brothers at loose ends. Here he writes with pride of himself as "purple-born from admired stock" -- an awkward phrase, and continues:

Therefore you selected us, the children of your loins,
to rule the cleruchies of the Ausonians.
Theodoros is showing off his education here, but he had had a great deal of it: Ausonians was a literary way to refer to Italians, but cleruchies is more to the point, because it refers to lands held in another country. The brothers had, as of September 1429, acquired the Italian cleruchies in the Morea (except for a negligible amount of territory held by Venice), doubling both the territory and the income of the Despotate:

  • Constantine and Thomas had taken the city of Patras, long a private fief of a series of Italian archbishops, the last one Theodoros' brother-in-law.
  • The brothers had taken enough land from Carlo II Tocco that he could not continue holding on, and a marriage was arranged between his niece, Maddalena, and Constantine, with the great castles of Chlemoutsi and Clarenza as part of the dowry settlement. Maddalena, her name now changed to Theodora, was pregnant and due to give birth in the late fall.
  • The brothers had defeated Centurione Zaccaria, Prince of Achaia, and the settlement of that war was a marriage arrangement between the youngest brother, Thomas, and Katharina Asanina Zaccaria, with the lands of Achaia as part of the dowry settlement.
So there was a great deal in the way of cleruchies for the brothers to celebrate and money to pay for gold and pearls and skilled embroiderers. Gold runs through the poem to describe the moral qualities of Manuel and Helena:

Each of us in different ways, and I joyfully
honoring you with these fine-worked fabrics,
so may you extending your hands from above
through many days guarding the strengths of empire,
appear as defender, foundation, and power.

A gracious tribute, and it makes one wonder exactly how Manuel was portrayed. It suggests he might have been shown in armor and, if so, this is exceptional: when Byzantine rulers are portrayed with their wives, they both wear court dress. Was he shown somewhat in the position of the Virgin and Child in the image here, with his wife below?
Then the poem shifts to the images of Manuel and Helena wearing monastic dress, "the dark, black cloths of shrouds." It was very common, particularly in that family, for individuals to retire to a monastery or convent, partly out of religious devotion and discipline, partly because it was a congenial retirement and nursing home. Theodoros makes the point, and then says again, that his parents rejected earthly desires out of pure rationality. The embroidery must indicate that they are praying for their children:
she, near at hand with words of intercession he in with prayers on high showing us, your dearly loved, the way where one must lead.
The brothers Palaiologos must have regarded the prayers of their mother quite seriously, and we learn later, after the Document of Union of 1439 that she refused to pray for her son John who signed the document, and then when Constantine came to the throne in late 1448, accepting Union, she refused to pray for him. This was all in the future, though, and this poem is a powerful tribute from Theodoros who had not seen his mother for twenty-two years, because he had been sent to the Morea at the age of 10 to learn from his dying uncle how to be a Despot.  
  More research has found information which requires a shifting of the dates mentioned here.  This will be included in a forthcoming scholarly discussion of this and the other poems, jointly authored with Pierre A. MacKay. Translation Pierre A. MacKay and DW.    
Continue "Glory Days" with "The Palace of Mistra." 

09 April 2009

Anything but your dull maps and measures

William Gell was not perfect. In his Itinerary of the Morea (1817) He heard Merbaka as Mebacca, Chonika as Phonika, and identified as a well at Tiryns what is a large grinding mill. He mentioned the bridge of Karitena (left) half a dozen times, but because his interests were not in medieval Frankish, Byzantine, or Turkish building, he said nothing more than "bridge of Karitena.")*

Richard Burgess, following Gell's route from Leondari to Mistra in 1834 (which would have taken 8 hours and 48 minutes if he followed intructions precisely), wrote, "the details given of this route by Sir William Gell are most accurate," and that is all one could want.

Because of the lady who asked for "anything but your dull maps and measures," and "the events which are at this moment occurring in the Turkish empire," Gell took the opportunity of working up his travel notes into which indicates that he was noticing a great deal besides maps and measures, and what was mentioned by Pausanias and Strabo, and in Journey in the Morea (1823) he gave the bridge a whole sentence:
The bridge, though a wretched specimen of the art of masonry, is not wanting in picturesque beauty, having a sort of chapel against one of its piers, which would seem to give it a Venetian origin.
The chapel is not Venetian but Greek, and very damp, and Gell did not actually climb down in the gorge to visit the chapel where there was at the time of his visit a carving with the name of Manuel Rallis Melikes who built it in 1440. Melikes was descended from a Turk who came into the Morea in the 13th century to fight for the Greeks. Gell did not know this but he would have been pleased: he liked Turks.

Gell altogether preferred the company of Turks to Greeks, and generally traveled with a Turkish interpreter or janissary, and Turkish servants.
No people on earth ever equalled these peasants of Greece, in this unwelcoming species of sullen and ill-natured, as well as ineffectual spite . . . it can never have happened that an European has rested at any house in the country, without leaving the inhabitants the richer for his visit. It is only fear, or interest, which have any effect in opening the doors of an Albanian Greek to a stranger . . .
When an upper-class Greek suggested to him that he might have a different experience were he to go about unaccompanied by a "Musselman," he found
I met with no change in the manner of reception, but a striking difference in the results; and was once compelled to remain in the street an hour, in the snow, at a town where the inhabitants were numerous, and independent enough to venture on such incivility.
Mentioning this situation to the cogia bashi of Kalavyita, DelliGeorge, he was assured that
all Greek archon as he was, and cogia bashi in addition, he never went to any of the villages without being compelled to lay his stick on the backs of some of its inhabitants, in order to obtain the most common necessaries for his money.
The complex and difficult history of the Morea begins to suggest itself in passages such as these. It is not easy to read his criticisms of Moreote Greek ethics and religion -- although he is as often accurate as not, even less easy to read of his bullying of Doctor Zane or the gatekeeper of Tripolis, or of his sneering at
the man who, on looking through a telescope, thought he was seeing a ghost. He is contemptuous about the generosity of Gligorasko of Tripolis who exchanged money for him, saying that it was only because Gligorasko thought he was a person of importance from Constantinople. Gell is a prime example of the "wogs start at Calais" school of ethnicity.

This attitude is disappointing when the rest of his work is so thorough and so useful. He was, despite himself, a noticing sort of person, and there is evidence in Journey in the Morea that all the times he measured for his routes in Itinerary were not recorded in unbroken sequence. While he was measuring the distances from Mistra to Sparta and surrounding villages, he was also noting every broken piece of marble he could spot, and recording inscriptions, short ones such as STEPHEN CHAIRE (Farewell, Stephen), and longer ones to demonstrate the style of lettering under the Roman emperors, as well as commenting on regional variations in letter usages. (Has anyone looked to see if any of his inscriptions duplicate any of Cyriaco's?)

At Gargagliano he observed that the local swine,
though not absolutely wild, have longer legs, and backs well arched and fringed with long bristles, presenting the appearance of the boars on antique gems.
In Leondari he observed "the mosque was once a Greek church." In Patras he noted
the great cypress tree that Evliya saw in 1668:
at the distance of about a mile from the town, is a most magnificent cypress, which as assumed the form of a cedar: Spon and Wheeler measured it, since which time [1680s] it has much increased in bulk.
In Dimistsana he visited "a library containing some old editions of the classics." You can see these now under glass in a dimly-lighted room, but he must have noticed the 1590 Photius from Augsburg; the 1532 Demosthenes, the1538 Ptolemy, and the1544 Souidias from Basel; the beautiful Greek 1499 Libanius or the 1506 [my handwriting illegible] published by Manutius in Venice.

He was also able to give an account of bandit ethics:
By day there was infinitely less danger for a Frank in his proper dress, as the thieves, who always retire to the Ionian islands when hard pressed by the Pasha, imagine that they would neither be received nor foriven in those pious and moral societies, if they should be known to have molested a foreigner. If it be asked how a traveller can be acquainted with details, which regard the internal government of the robbers of the Morea, I may answer, that I learned them sitting in perfect safety in a drawing-room, with many other particulars, from one of the most daring leaders of banditti, through whose hands, as he expressed it himself in the Greek idiom, I had often passed in the course of my rambles on the mountains in search of antiquties, and positions for geographical observations, my knowledge of which recesses seemed to inspire him with that sort of confidence, which we would have felt for one of his own profession.
Surely the lady who complained about maps and measures was persuaded to think better of them when she read this passage.

* Three weeks ago I fell at the foot of the stairs in the photograph, damaging my right knee and left hand. I wanted to commemorate that event here.