31 October 2009

Sophia of Montferrat

 This faceless Byzantine queen will represent Sophia of Montferrat: it was Sophia's face that was supposed to be the problem.

The short version of the story says that Pope Martin V gave permission for the sons of Manuel II to marry women of the Latin rite. This would do wonders to promote the Papacy's goal of church Union on the one side, and on the other, produce military aid and money for the defense of Constantinople. The first brides, papal nieces, were shipped out in the fall of 1420: Sophia of Montferrat to Constantinople to marry John,  and Cleofe Malatesta to Mistra for Theodoros. 

Sophia had a huge dowry, a gracious manner, the body of a goddess, golden hair down to her feet, and apparently a face such that John refused to have anything to do with her after the wedding and coronation. She lived quietly in the palace with her Italian household and the friendship of her in-laws, Manuel II and Helena. After Manuel died, she "escaped" from Constantinople on a Genoese ship and returned to Montferrat where lived out her life in a convent.

There are problems with this story, though we can concede that he did not like her face. The first problem is that both of those brides, Sophia and Cleofe, were rejected by their husbands, and the stories of both rejections specify sexual rejection. John just ignored the marriage entirely and went on with his life, while Theodoros immediately took a six-year vow of chastity. There is a great deal of room for speculation, but the sexuality of neither man is in question. The specific area of speculation I will mention here is the fact that Manuel II had written a treatise on marriage, presented in the form of a dialogue between himself and his mother, in which he presents his reservations against marriage, and she argues for. Manuel worked on this treatise between 1417 until his death 1425, and it was widely circulated in the palace and among the 
literatiHis sons had read it and seen that the best reason their father could produce for marriage was that it was a good influence for the lower classes. He did grant the possibility of companionship, and an heir to the throne, but he clearly begrudged the necessity.

The second problem is the face. The degree of the problem has much to do with the reports, and the translations of the reports. The conventional report comes from Doukas, and this is how it goes in the conventional translation by Harry Magoulias:
Emperor John, however, was not pleased with his wife. The young woman was extremely well-proportioned in body. Her neck was shapely, her hair blondish with braids flowing down to her ankles like glimmering golden streams. Her shoulders were broad and her arms, bosom, and hands well proportioned. Her fingers were transparent. She was tall in stature and stood very straight -- but her face and lips and the malformation of her nose and eyes and eyebrows presented a most revolting composition. In general, she may be described in the words of the vulgar adage: "Lent from the front and Easter from behind." When Emperor John saw how she looked, therefore, he had no sexual relations with her nor did he ever sleep with her. Consequently, she lived alone in one of the apartments of the palace. 
Ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς Ἰωάννης ἦν μὲ στέργων τὴν σύνοικον, ἡ κόρη γὰρ τῷ μὲν σώματι καὶ μάλα εὐάρμοστος, τράχηλος εὐειδής, θρίξ ὑποχανθίζουσα καὶ τοὺς πλοκάμους ὡς ῥύακας χρυσαυγίζοντας μέχρι τῶν ἀστραγάλων καταρεομένους ἔχουσα, ὤμους πλατεῖς καὶ βραχίονας καὶ στέρνα καὶ χεῖρας ἐμμέτρους καὶ δακτύλους κρυσταλλοειδεῖς καὶ τὴν πᾶσαν ἡλικίαν τοῦ σώματος ἀνωῤῥεπη καὶ πολὺ εἰς τὸ ὄρθιον ἱσταμένη, ὄψις δὲ καὶ χείλη καὶ ῥινὸς κατάστασις καὶ ὀφθαλμῶν καὶ ὀφρύων σύνθεσις ἀειδεστάτη, παντάπασιν ὡς ἔπος χυδαῖον εἰπεῖν, "Ἀφ´ ἐμπρὸς τεσσαρακοστὴ καὶ ὄπισθεν πάσχα." Τοιαύτην οὗν ἰδὼν ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἰωάννης οὐκ ἐμιγε τούτην, οὐδὲ τὸ παράπαν σύγκοιτος ταύτης ἐγένετο, διὸ καὶ μονάζουσα ἦν ἐν ἑνὶ τῶν κοιτώνων τοῦ παλατίου.

I have underlined two words in the Greek, the ones Magoulias translates with "malformation" and "revolting." This is how Pierre MacKay and I translate that part: 
but her face and lips, the condition of her nose, and the arrangement of her eyes and eyebrows were extremely unpleasant.

"Condition" is not "malformation," "unpleasant" is not "revolting": we read an implication of aesthetic preference rather than of deformity.

One more example of translation, or paraphrase of Doukas, this from Sylvia Ronchey: 
Il viso di Sofia era veramente brutto. Fronte, naso, denti, occhi, sopracciglia, no si salvava nulla. ’La natura’ sospirò un cortigiano ’aveva rifiutato alla sovrana ogni bellezza.’ ’Spiacevole, per non dire disgustosa’ sentensiò un altro. Dopo una bambina russa di undici anni, Giovanni Palaeologo aveva avuto in moglie da suo padre Manuele una gigantessa dalla faccia di gorgone. 

Scholarship is corrupted to turn a phrase: a giantess with the face of a gorgon.

(A parenthesis here: both Sophia and Cleofe were described by contemporaries as tall. John, and probably Theodoros, was slight and below average height, like his father. We have strong evidence of John's concern for how he was seen in public, and he could not have tolerated a wife larger than he.) 

The section quoted above is from a longer paragraph by Doukas on the Sophia episode. Doukas was not a familiar at the court though Ronchey would make him so: he reports from what he has heard or read, and much of what he relates sounds like gossip. In his paragraph are two provable errors in terms of when events happened: there is no reason to assume that any other specific detail is accurate beyond the fact of the event itself. The wisecrack he quotes typifies Byzantine humor: personal and humiliating -- Mazaris is full of it if you like this sort of thing -- and this passage has been considered quite funny in my hearing by male Byzantinists. 

Sphrantzes, who was in the palace and with the family at the time, who knew Sophia, tells us nothing but the fact of the marriage, and the fact of her departure. He was incapable of writing critically about Manuel, or John, and I suspect that more accuracy would have required criticism. Chalcocondyles, who knew the family and knew people who knew Sophia, wrote a brief account. There is no general English translation of Chalcocondyles available, but we translate it this way: 
He [Manuel] brought him [John] as wife from Italy the daughter of the ruler of Monferrat. She was pleasant in manner, but not attractive in face. Crowned with the diadem, he was made high priest and king over the Greeks. As for her, as he did not live with her, he became hostile and disagreeable to her for a time, and the wife of the emperor [Helena] noticed that her husband was behaving disagreeably and that she was very hateful to her husband . . .
καὶ ἀπὸ Ἰταλίας ἀγόμενος αὐτῷ γυναίκα τοῦ Μονφεράτου ἡγεμόνος θυγατέρα, ἐπιεικῆ μὲν τὸν τρόπον, ἀηδὴ δὲ τὴν ὄψιν, διαδήματι ταινιώσας ἀρχιερέα τε καὶ βασιλέα ἐστήσατο τοῖς Ἕλλησι. ταύτην μὲν οὖν, ὡς οὔτε συνῴκει συνεγένετο ὲς ἔχθος ἀφικόμενος καὶ ἀηδῶς ἔχων αὐτῇ ἐπί τινα χρόνον, καὶ ἧ τε γυνή τοῦ βασιλέως ἐνεώρα ὲς αὐτὴν τὸν ἄνδρα ἁηδῶς ἔχοντα, καὶ ἀπεχθάνεσθαι τῷ ἀνδρὶ ὲς τὰ μάλιστα . . .

It is not a great deal different, but Chalcocondyles does not need to exploit Sophia for compare-and-contrast, or for amusement, and his emphasis is on John's unkindness, not on Sophia's appearance which to him was not much of a problem. Doukas emphasizes the reverse.

For almost any word, particularly adjectives, a translation can be selected from a spectrum of choices.  How does one choose? Does the translator decide in advance the meaning the words need to produce? Does the translator take the most sensational of dictionary alternatives? The most conservative? The one that will cover the most possibilities? How does the translator distinguish between Greek ideas of feminine attractiveness, and a medical condition? 

So we really don't know the problem with Sophia's face, beyond the fact that it was most unfortunate where the Greeks were concerned, but this suggests Chalcocondyles heard a version that finds more fault with John's behavior than with her face. And what Chalcocondyles tells us of Theodoros' behavior toward Cleofe in the first years makes it clear that the problem was his. Sons and daughters of rulers knew they would be sold off in one political arrangement or another: that was a given. There are too many questions about this one -- the first being: would the Marchese of Montferrat and the Pope have actually shipped out a genuinely deformed bride? Women with serious disfigurements, if upper-class, usually disappeared into some convent early on. 

What we do know is that Sophia was humiliated by her uncle, the Pope, by her father, by Manuel, and by John, for the sake of a political solution to a problem that was not a problem, and another problem that had no solution.

When she slipped away from Constantinople with the aid of a Genoese ship and a palace plot, she took with her a crown. In a Greek wedding, bride and bridegroom are crowned, and their crowns are exchanged. The day after the wedding, she was crowned queen. Whichever crown she took, that was all she had to show for her six years in the Queen of Cities. It was not enough. 

The fresco is of an Empress Helena from the monastery of Sopocani. I would be grateful for more information.

22 October 2009

When the Turks came to Davia

Aerial view of Tavia, now Davia, west of Tripolis, in the foothills of Mainalon

Among the resources for the 15th century Morea are the little chronicles called the Vracheachronika, or Kleinchroniken, depending on which edition you use. These are lists, mostly of one-sentence paragraphs recounting events as recorded by monks in various monasteries. Sometimes these are lists are taken from single events noted on the margins of a manuscript about something else. Sometimes they cover two or three pages in a codex.Some of them are fragmented collections of a few dates of Biblical history, a bit of Constantine, two incidents from the 1100s, a death of an abbot, and something about a despot. Often a chronicle is simply copied from another chronicle.

So we get staggeringly limited records such as:

1499, Naufpaktos.
1500, Methoni
referring to Ottoman conquests of Venetian-occupied Greek cities, and the copyist certainly wrote these down years after the events.

Page after page, the chronicles are, for the most part, frustratingly limited and reflect the dreary mindset where those who could be considered literate thought this was an adequate record of events:

1402. When they took Prusa.
1430. When they took Thessakoniki.
1430. When they took Ioannina.
1439. When the Emperor John went to Florence and there was the Eighth Synod.
1187. When they took Jerusalem.
1446. When they took the Hexamilion.
1451. When they took Karamania.
1453. When He took Constantinople.
1456. When they took Athens.
1458. When they took Serbia.
1458. When they took Corinth.
1460. When He took the Morea.

There are more in this series, but it suggests the copyist did realize the taking of Constantinople and the Morea were of possible significance to him. But what is Jerusalem doing in there? Did he see a notation of it elsewhere and think it belonged in the conquest list?

There are rare bits of useful information, particularly in two chronicles from the Nauplion area that report the collapse of the apse of a church as the result of a thunderstorm, and the miracle that happened when a Venetian bishop opened the tomb of Ag. Petros of Argos. Not enough is reported. None of them mentions the war in the Morea that lasted from 1463-1478. None of them mentions the Kladas revolt of 1480, which is what I was given an NEH grant to spend last year in Athens doing research for a book about.

But I was intrigued by this event at Davia (picture) in 1423, tracking it through the chronicles. Here are the various ways it was recorded:

They came to Tavia and killed the Albanians there on 5 July
They destroyed the Albanians at Tavia.
He slaughtered the Albanians at Tavia.
They cut down the Albanians at Tavia on 22 May.
He slaughtered the Albanians.
They killed the Albanians on 5 June.
The Ninth Death, when the Albanians came to Tavia.

They came to Lakedaimonia, also Leondari, also Gardiki, also Tavia where there they cut down the Albanians.
One copyist who was not paying attention wrote: "The Albanians killed them at Tavia." What was this about Albanians at Tavia?

In 1423, Turahan Bey, head of one of the Ottoman families that was allowed to remain independent for a promise of not contesting the sultan's authority, made a raid into the Morea. This allowed Turahan's soldiers practice and loot, and the sultan acquired half of the loot without the nuisance of war. Further, it contributed to weakening Greek resistance and discouraged any aid from being sent to Constantinople to oppose the sultan's attack there.

In May, Turahan broke through the Hexamilion which Manuel II had rebuilt eight years before with such fanfare, and then made a drive down through the Nemea valley, and into the passes of Mt. Lyrkeo, past Mantinea, and down past Tripolis, as far as Mistra. This raid was timed to take advantage of the barley harvest, and then the wheat. After raiding the Mistra area, Turahan started back north through the miserable passes of the Taygetos range and back up into the plain south-west of Tripolis where he assaulted two of the more important Greek cities in the Morea, Gardiki and Leondari. The choice of the Taygetos passes indicates that he knew there would be no opposition. One wants to know how Turahan knew about these various routes.

There was no opposition. The Despot, Theodoros II, who might have been expected to direct some sort of resistance, went into a panic and dithered about going into a monastery. Ioannis Frangopoulos, protostrator or general, of the Morea, but did nothing (though the next year he built the lovely Pantanassa at Mistra).

What happened is somewhat explained in the history of Laonikos Chalcocondyles. Or -candyles, depending on your edition. Chalcocondyles was from an important Athenian family, his father was a member of the court at Mistra, and he grew up knowing everyone who was anyone in the Morea, and with access to any written records he wanted.* He wrote two massive volumes covering Greek history from 1298 through 1463, and gave a paragraph to what happened at Tavia. This is his account -- there were at least 6000 Albanians in the Morea potentially available to bear arms.

The Albanians assembled around the center of the region, and they planned to break away from the Greeks in order to destroy the army of the Turks. Turahan, however, when he discovered that the Albanians were uniting against him in the one place, so that he could not escape them, arranged himself for battle, and the Albanians being assembled, came against him. When they came into confrontation, they could not withstand the Turks, and turned to flight. At that point, Turahan, coming out of formation and pursuing them, destroyed many, and those he captured alive, about 800, he executed, and made a tower of their heads.**
Well, it would happen, wouldn't it? The Turks were well-armed, trained, disciplined. The Albanians had little armor and were accustomed to independent, guerrilla-style tactics. But they tried. Possibly they had the thought they could also relieve the Turks of the loot they had acquired in the Morea.

Davia, twelve miles west of Tripolis, is now is a scattering of houses on a foothill of Mainalon (upper right) that slopes into a broad plain with a river (far left). In ancient times Davia was a substantial city with a fortress. It was sacked five years before this event, in 1418, by Centurione Zaccaria, Prince of the Morea. It is farming and herding country, though the fields tend to damp, as do all those upland Moreote plains. We drove through, to pay homage to the warriors of 1423, but it was snowing, mixed with rain, impossible to take photographs, and we did not stop.

It is an event of no significance in the overall history of the Morea, but it was as significant in the chronicles as almost anything else besides the Fall of Constantinople. It has shown up in a couple of modern Greek historians as an example of the Albanian penchant for revolt, rather than as an example of courage. The major Moreote historian gives one sentence, "A large number of Albanians met death at Tavia when they were attacked by the troops of Turahan."

George Seferis wrote:

No one remembers them. Justice.

* And of course, Chalcocondyles met Cyriaco when he was visiting there, twenty years after Tavia. Cyriaco wrote: "Also, I saw rushing to meet me in the palace, the gifted young Athenian, Laonikos." The next day, Laonikos took Cyriaco to look at the ruins of ancient Sparta.

** Thanks to Pierre MacKay for help with translation.

17 October 2009

Columbus, Pirate

[Readers should take note of the corrections added in the Comments to this post.]

In April 1485, Bartolomeo
Minio, who had managed not to die of malaria in Nauplion, or of camp fever in the Ferrara War, was elected captain of the trading muda to Flanders and England. This was the biennial sailing of four great trading galleys carrying 200,000 ducats worth of goods belonging to Venetian merchants and the state for trade in English and Flemish markets.

The galleys were transporting metalwork from the east, currants, molasses, spice, sugar, raw and spun cotton, lambskins and hides, wax, paper, silk, various kinds of eastern and Venetian fabrics, carpets, small luxury goods, and much else.
Minio's commission directed him to take presents for Richard III of England and Philip the Handsome of Burgundy. The commission detailed the ports where the galleys were required to stop, and the optional ports. It said how long the galleys might remain in each port, and specified when to send back couriers to Venice. It directed him to bring back, among other things, ordnance for the Venetian armory, and 120,000 weight of light goods and 80,000-weight of copper and tin on each galley.*
To be captain meant that Minio was responsible, not for the details of sailing, but for the military defense of the galleys from the pirates and privateers that littered the waters the whole way down the Adriatic, westward across the Mediterranean, through Gibraltar, and then up the Spanish and French coasts. Each galley had 30 crossbowmen, and everyone else was armed and expected to participate in defense. There is no indication that there was any ordnance aboard though some may have had personal firearms. The major pirate concern was a Columbo, from a family of pirates. This Columbo was variously known in Venetian records as Collombo, John the Greek, George the Greek, Nick the Greek, and Columbus Jr. This is confusing. Columbo primarily sailed as a privateer under the license of one king or another -- in this case Charles VIII of France -- and we find records of Venice making treaties with him not to attack her ships.

The muda of four galleys sailed 15 July, and stopped off in Messina and Famagusta. By late August, the convoy had reached the Atlantic. At night they sailed with lanterns on their masts to keep track of each other's positions, and used trumpets to signal. These, as you might expect, made them easy to track. A single candle can be seen 12 kilometers away on a clear night.

They were tracked. At dawn on the morning of 23 August they were attacked in the Bay of Biscay by seven ships (think Nina-Pinta-Sta. Maria-types) of Columbo's privateers. One of the privateers became really famous. This is his son's account:

The first cause of the Admiral's [Columbus] coming to Spain and devoting himself to the sea was a renowned man of his name and family, called Colombo [Nicolò Griego], who won great fame on the sea because he warred so fiercely against infidels and the enemies of his country that his name was used to frighten children in their cradles. . . . on one occasion he captured four large Venetian galleys of such great size and armament that they had to be seen to be believed. . . . . While the Admiral was sailing in the company of the said Colombo the Younger (which he did for a long time), it was learned that those four great Venetian galleys aforesaid were returning from Flanders. Accordingly Colombo went out to meet those ships and found them between Lisbon and Cape St. Vincent, which is in Portugal. Here they came to blows, fighting with great fury and approaching each other until the ships grappled and the men crossed from boat to boat, killing and wounding each other without mercy, using not only hand arms but also fire pots and other devices. After they had fought from morning to the hour of vespers, with many dead and wounded on both sides, fire spread from the Admiral's ship to a great Venetian galley. As the two ships were grappled tight with hooks and iron chains which sailors use for this purpose, and on both sides there was much confusion and fear of the flames, neither side could check the fire; it spread so swiftly that soon there was no remedy for those aboard save to leap in the water and die in this manner rather than suffer the torture of the fire. But the Admiral, being an excellent swimmer, and seeing land only a little more than two leagues away, seized an oar which fate offered him, and on which he could rest at times; and so it pleased God, who was preserving him for greater things, to give him the strength to reach the shore. However, he was so fatigued by his experience that it took him many days to recover.
The struggle lasted from about 6 in the morning to nearly 8 in the evening. Most of the oarsmen and crossbowmen were killed and two of the investors. Minio, the two surviving investors, the merchants, and a few oarsmen and crossbowmen were set ashore on the coast of Portugal in their smallclothes. King Joao II "The Perfect" of Portugal who had great affection for Venice provided them -->with appropriate clothes, money, and transportation home. In October it was learned in Venice that goods from the galleys had been taken to England and sold there, while more goods worth 100,000 ducats turned up for sale at Honfleur. A suggestion of the total value of the cargo comes from the fact that the Senato estimated the loss to Venice at 200,000 ducats, not counting the ships, and not counting the pensions to the widows of the dead sailors. This was potential bankruptcy for the Republic of Venice. A mound of documents in the archives tracks the various diplomatic efforts across France, England, and Flanders.
One of the major losses to Venice was the Flemish wools which should have been brought back: a great deal of the Venetian wool industry was involved in processing and weaving these wools, and their loss could mean industry-wide starvation. The king of France, Charles VIII, was eventually able to retrieve most of the stolen goods. He tried to protect his corsairs, but after some of them murdered a royal messenger, the king had to inflict "due and signal punishment." Columbo apologized.

Alan Hartley writes: "These figures are in pounds. ("Weight" is used in English in that sense in "hundredweight, " a variable measure of about 112 pounds.)

10 October 2009

Constantine Palaiologos

I was showing my grandson, Senan, the statue of Constantine Palaiologos in the plateia in front of the Athens cathedral.

This statue is reproduced in various places around the country and it shows him wearing an arm-confining cape, a crown that would fall off with the slightest exertion, and holding his sword in a position from which he cannot defend himself. This may be a metaphor.

A man at the next table leaned into the conversation and said loudly, "Konstantinos Palaiologos is the greatest emperor the Greeks ever had!" I thought to myself: Nikeforas Fokas? Basil II? Alexios I? Manuel II? Senan likes heroes and dragons, and I was trying to tell him that this was another kind of hero and another kind of dragon; that Constantine knew he was going into great anguish and sure death, but he chose to follow out his inherited fate with dignity and courage.

When his brother John VIII died, on 31 October 1448, the news reached him in early December. His brother Thomas, who had gone to Constantinople on his behalf, stayed to hold his place against their remaining brother, Demetrios. In January, two old friends arrived from Constantinople with the formal announcement and to escort him back to Constantinople, Alexios Philanthropenos Laskaris and Manuel Palaiologos Iagros. Constantine was crowned at Mistra -- the Empire had no single ceremonial crown and we know nothing about this Mistra ceremony -- in the little cathedral of Ag. Demetrios where this modern plaque marks the event. He was not able to leave the Morea until late February, presumably because of the problems of winter sailing, and he arrived in The City on 12 March.

The City was nearly deserted, the population a tenth of what the walls could contain. Sphrantzes was sent off to Trebizond and Georgia, and someone else went to Serbia, to find him a third bride, because an imperial marriage with its prospects of children would demonstrate hope for the future. None of these efforts came to anything. His mother died. Sultan Murad who was on reasonable terms of friendship with The City died. Presently the Patriarch, Gregorios Mamas, fled. Then Mehmed occupied the straits and began building a castle.

No one was surprised. It had been assumed for more than fifty years that the Ottomans would be unstoppable. His parents' close friend, Demetrios Kydones, had written them before 1400 about

this dark cloud which is closing in over the land of the Romans. . . this plague which does not let us catch a breath but is drawing us to death . . . little by little, like a consumption, weakening the body of our community . .
Constantine asked Sphrantzes to take a census of the resources available to them, and to keep the results private. Sphrantzes found 4,773 Greeks and about 200 foreigners, mostly Genoese and Venetian, for the 14 miles of walls around the triangle of The City. Constantine also had such men as the judge and priest, Giorgios Scholarios, who had trimmed his sails to every prevailing wind for the past 25 years. And he had the Grand Duke, Loukas Notaras who had been treating with the Turks for years.***

Mehmed had 200,000 men and 400 ships for those 14 miles of walls, and everyone knows how The City fell. Constantine disappeared into myth on the morning of 29 May 1453.

His father had written:
But a ruler’s and an emperor's duty is to accept any risk in order to save his people, and to regard dying a light burden, whenever freedom is at stake and whenever the risk concerns. . .Faith.
The time for great emperors had come to an end twenty-five years before Constantine got to Constantinople, but he gave evidence on the limited stage of the Morea that he could have been one. He was a successful military commander, taking Patras and then the territories of Carlo Tocco, and later a series of territories north of the Gulf of Corinth. Alone of the brothers, he left a record of long-term planning, such as when he exchanged territories with Thomas so he would be poised for his subsequent conquests across the gulf, or when he talked to Sphrantzes about his concern for justice, and his organization of the Moreote administration. He rebuilt the walls of the Hexamilion, and with Thomas took an army there to oppose yet another Ottoman invasion, but the army panicked and fled, and the brothers barely escaped alive.

For fifty years there had been regular protests from the small Venetian territories on the periphery of the Morea at the violent raids of the despotate's robber archons who raided and burned Greek farms. During Constantine's five years as Despot, there were no complaints, but within two months of his leaving for Constantinople the raids had begun again.

He is more difficult to grasp as a person than his brothers or father. He was probably, like them, a slight man, but unlike John, Andronikos, and Theodoros, physically tough, having ridden and hunted from childhood. Theodoros had described him in a poem as:

one who breathed war and slaughter in battle
eminent in appearance and the depths of thought,
the dread warrior, Constantine the despot.
This was a praise poem: not courtroom evidence, but as it was circulated among people who knew him, it has to have had some basis in fact. His self-control is always in evidence, and one myth of what happened to him after on 29 May calls him "The Marble Emperor." But there are glimpses of his enjoyment of hunting, of his courtesy to guests, and he took Cyriaco to watch an athletic contest in Sparta.

We have evidence for three Palaiologos brothers --John, Theodoros, and Constantine -- of deep, passionate attachments to their wives, and the single clue to Constantine's emotional life comes by way of the death of his wife, Theodora Tocco, who died in childbirth, When Constantine became Despot of the Morea, he had Theodora's body moved from its grave at Clarentza and reinterred in Ag. Sophia at Mistra. When he went to Constantinople as emperor, he had her body brought to Constantinople. He had another marriage, to Caterina Gattilusi, who died a year later from what Sphrantzes says were the results of a miscarriage, but he did not move Caterina's body.

A gravesite
in Constantinople has been suggested as possibly that of Theodora, the grave in the Kariye Djami with the richly-colored fresco above. Two elements together contribute to this suggestion. The first is that her supposed burial site at Mistra is marked with a ruinous fresco of the Virgin and Child -- appropriate for a woman who had died in childbirth -- and this site also has a Virgin and Child. The second is that the woman in this fresco is wearing a gown of Western fabric, and the style of painting is Western, with the pattern following the folds of the fabric instead of being painted flat as with other frescos in the Kariye Djami. But her grave, like his, is unknown.

Constantine was a just and rational despot,
a dedicated emperor, a good man.

Some small justice came, though. Notaras did not understand that in Mehmed's world, Mehmed ruled.: Mehmed despised traitors and Notaras was executed early on. Despite the portrait of her in the Kalomoiris-Kazantzakis opera, Constantine Palaiologos, Notaras' daughter Anna had left The City for Venice with a fortune in money and jewels, letting it be believed that she had been secretly married to Constantine, a belief that allowed her to dominate and squeeze the Greek community of Venice for years. Scholarios had trimmed successfully enough to be made Orthodox Patriarch.

02 October 2009

Ai Yanni at Lefkakia

Ai Yanni is a much-loved chapel across the road and up a hill from the village of Lefkakia. It nestles into its stones like Gulliver into a Brobdinagian bosom, stones whitewashed so many times that they look like a mound of Christmas cookies. The tumble-down house I remember has been built up, but forty years ago when Evangelitsa was trying to decide if she should defy her family and marry Yanni, she ran away from home and spent two days and nights in it (in sight of her own house). Their families had not spoken for generations. They married.

There is also an arch over the gate where it is said the Turks hanged the priest who once lived in the little house from the bell in 1821 when the Greeks revolted. The small yard is planted with pines and lilies

Ai Yanni has no architecture to speak of, and its very few dark frescos would be eminently forgettable were they properly visible, but it has a wonderful porch and the smell of pine and the murmuring of bees make you feel you have come home.

The eve of the August feastday in 1978, we walked up the hill in the dark, stumbling over loose rock and thorn, eyes fixed on the brilliant light provided by lights for illegal fishing. A priest in white stood before long tables covered with embroidered white cloths, crowded with baskets with great mounds of sweet bread heaped with powdered sugar. The chapel and stones had just been whitewashed and there seemed little difference between the stones and the bread.

During the service, people went into the chapel and the children and the older women climbed the ladder and went out through the window, for a healing or a blessing. Evangelitsa said that even the fattest could get through, though the children always stood around and hoped someone would stick.

After the service, we went back to the village and sat at long tables covered with brown paper on which cooks kept setting out bread and roast chicken and lamb and endless carafes of wine. People danced -- alone, in groups, a young girl with her grandfather, young men together, girls together, everyone mixed -- once two circles moving in opposite directions like on the shield of Achilles -- the women always keeping themselves quite vertical. It went quite late and happily, and Evangelitsa's children set their heads onto the brown paper like melting candles and slept.

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Across the bay from Nauplion, at the far edge of the plain, there is a pyramid known as Hellenikon -- Maybe not a proper pyramid but the walls slant inward and there is a capstone. An article from the Journal of Archaeology reports on tests in which optical thermoluminescence was employed to date samples taken from the pyramid. It was determined that the samples which had been tested had been quarried at about 2720 BC ± 580 years. This more or less works out to anywhere from 1300 to 160 BC and is not helpful. But there are many who like that 1300 because it makes the pyramid pre-Trojan War. The ancient Argolid and its myths claimed an Egyptian connection, and there is much evidence of a trade relationship between Mycenae and Egypt. [Re-reading this some time later, I see the arithmetic is way off.  I have no idea what I was thinking. It should be from 3360 - 1140 BC, but quarrying is not construction, & it still allows the pre-Trojan War claim.]

I don't have a horse in that race. But I would like to call attention to the style of stonecutting in the pyramid, and the style of stonecutting at Ai. Yannis.
And then I would like to call attention to the style of stonecutting at Nauplion. There are walls on Acro-Nauplion in this style, but there is also a good 20 meters of wall of the same style in the old city, starting behind the Hotel Leto and continuing along the vacant lot next door.

Aerial photographs make it fairly certain that this is the survival of a wall that enclosed a large area of a lower city that probably included much of the area that was gutted of important survivals by a Greek government agency to make a parking lot for the unspeakable overpriced government hotel above.

The walls at Nauplion are considered Hellenistic, which means, loosely, in the vicinity of 250 BC.
This was an insecure time: walls and watchtowers were needed. Hellenikon, as an outpost for Argos, could monitor the traffic on the three major passes into the Peloponnesos. Ai Yanni could communicate between Nauplion and the citadel of Asine.

Ai Yanni was a considerable construction in its day, a squarish structure with a surrounding ring wall, and another ring wall not far down the hill. In 1978 these rings were distinct. The construction of a house and roads, and use of more of the hill for agriculture has resulting in the destruction and moving of many of these great stones with
nicely-cut joins. At Ai Yanni massive stones from the original construction are used -- possibly in their original position -- to support the porch roof, and inside the chapel large stones are visible where the chapel was extended past the stones. This is clearly seen on that exterior photograph above.

In the aerial photograph, Lefkakia is unseen to the right, and a long range of very high and hostile hills begins at the left. There is, or was, a very ancient well below the hill on the left. This was a deliberately chosen, easily manageable site.

Aerial photographs of Hellenikon -- the Google World images were not clear enough to put here without too much explanation -- show that it, too, was a small rounded hill set out in front of very high and hostile hills. Too much damage has been done to the immediate area for that to be visible on the site -- a parking lot has been bulldozed out, roads cut through, lowland filled in. But from the base of Hellenikon on the south, the hill would have been seen to rise up to the pyramid which continued the angle of slope.

I look with the eye of an amateur, that is, with the eye of a lover. I would like someone who is smarter than the thermoluminescence people to take these sites as a unit and give me better dates. I can think of several explanations, but this is not my field. I have twice tried to take American archaeologists to look at Ai Yanni, in 1978 and 2008, only to be told that they were too busy.  

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This is an addition, nearly two years later.  When I wrote the foregoing, I had not particularly thought about the pictures of Ag. Adrianos-Katsingri, but on further consideration prompted by Cyriaco of Ancona's visit there, I want to include that little fortress which looks out over the broad Midea valley with these other three.