06 February 2011

Cyriaco's Kore

In the early spring of 1430, in Adrianople, Cyriaco of Ancona purchased Chaeonia who had been taken in an Ottoman raid.  Chaeonia may not have been what she thought her name was: it means "woman from Epiros" in a literary sort of way and that is exactly the kind of name Cyriaco was capable of making up. I am sure she was beautiful: he bought beautiful things. He had spent that winter in Adrianople and that is when he had his first lessons in Greek. He wrote that he began Greek with the Iliad, but he may have begun Greek with Chaeonia.

Later he renamed her Clara, but soon after he bought her, he took her to Gallipoli where in March he sent her to his mother in Ancona, along with bundles of skins and carpets, under the care of his cousin, Ciucio. (Cyriaco constantly writes "we" in his letters and diaries: might his cousin have been part of the "we"?)  Then he and his black freedman, Niccolino, went down to look at the lovely ruins of Philippi, and then Thessaloniki.

Freeing a slave in the medieval Mediterranean did not necessarily mean what we would like to assume it meant.  Often, documents have a condition: "You will nurse my child for three years." "You will stay with my mother until she dies."  "You will work for me for two -- or five -- years."  "You will stay with my daughter until she marries." One record of a woman's emancipation, at Methoni -- I treasure this one -- was followed on the next day by the record of her marriage to her "owner."

So what was Chaeonia/Clara in Cyriaco's life?  It is, I think, impossible to saturate yourself in his writings and then think of him in terms either of love or lust.  One biography of Cyriaco fills out this part of his life with several pages of discussion of the functions of slave girls in the medieval household, and calls her Cyriaco's concubine.  And it could well have been that way. He was 39 years old when he bought her.  He was a person to be kind, and he also -- let us take this a little further -- though not a handsome man, would have had better personal hygiene than most: he dealt in mastic from Chios, valued everywhere as a breath freshener.


Cyriaco, the man who collected epigraphs wrote one for the tomb in which he intended to be buried in Ancona.  He was buried instead in a plague grave in Cremona, but when he was able to plan ahead he wrote:

D. I. S.

Roughly translated, this reads:

To the immortal god(s).
[This is the tomb of]
Masiella Cyriaco,
daughter of the Silvaticai,
chaste mother,
Cyriaco  son
of Philippo Pizzicoli
 most pius parent
and his
kore, Clara, freedwoman.

Was he thinking in terms of a family tomb, and including Clara because she had become an integral member of their household?  Surely, if a man is planning on mingling his bones with his lover's in the tomb he does not include his mother . . . 

Kore. It means "maiden." Had Cyriaco collected a kore the way he collected manuscripts, damascened ware, and the occasional sculptured head, as a lovely possession among his other possessions? Or was she much more? Think: was possession of a kore -- one he had freed from the Turks -- in whatever way you interpret possession -- the way he could most truly possess his beloved Greece?

Was she actually buried in the tomb, with his mother long dead and after Cyriaco had died away from home?


  1. A bond that went not only beyond emancipation but even beyond death. A family tomb of two or three generations? A less archaic meaning of kore comes to mind -- daughter.

    Best regards,


  2. I considered that, & it was so used in the 15thC. I looked at the one thing he wrote about daughters -- these were dressed as Greek goddesses -- but he used Latin terms for daughters. Cyriaco uses Greek very rarely on his own account (mostly it is Agathi Tychi), but always in the most conventionally classical context. If Kore is daughter in the epitaph, why does he mention 'freedwoman' -- the L? And he has already used F. for his mother for 'daughter.' What would the readers he anticipated for his tombstone -- and I can't determine whether this was ever actually carved -- understand by Kore anyway? We don't even know that she outlived him. Possibly she simply died young & he intended for her remains to be transferred.

  3. I don't know how a previous owner would exercise his will on the remains of a freed slave ... Perhaps she remained financially depended on him, or his inheritance, to the end of her life. Or perhaps she was just his adoptive Greek daughter, whom he had saved from slavery, as well as his piece of living history, and the word kore could express it all.

    Best regards,


  4. Just as abusive people are so in almost every aspect of their lives, respectful people are similarly so. Ciriaco must have had as much respect for his kore as he had for the antiquities he so doggedly (net)worked to have respected and preserved.

  5. CORE in albanian (Chaonia is in North Epirus, in Albania) does it mean ICON.

  6. I don't know what Core would be in Albanian. I tried on on-line Albanian dictionary for it, but had no luck. In Greek it is 'maiden, girl, daughter.' Cyriaco named her Chaonia because he liked to use the classical Greek & Roman names, & then Core because he was so in love with anything Greek.


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