05 February 2014

Manoli Blessi: the man who never was

I Fatti e le Prodezze di Manoli Blessi, Strathioto
by Antonio Molino, 1561.

Having seen two blogs in the past month that went on at some length about Manoli Blessi, stratiote and poet/song-writer, I find it necessary to say that Manoli Blessi never existed.

This Manoli Blessi is a character invented by Antonio "Burchiella" da Molino who wrote a very long account in verse of Blessi's life and writings (Sathas 8: 78 pages of 8-line stanzas in double columns, and who also created an extremely long marching-song by him (Sathas 9: 82 pages of 6-line stanzas in double columns.)

These are written in greghesco, a 16th-century stage impression of the Greek-Venetian dialect. We cannot know how closely this represents the normal expression of second- or third- or fourth-generation Greek-Venetians, but it is great fun.

Unde è thora el gran Clemende,
capettagno del Strathia,
e chel Gerbessi valende
chie tremar feva ’l Turchia,
con chel Gigni del Fraschia
pien de inzegno, e del secretti?
          O Strathiotti puveretti.

Dovè e1 Stigni, e chel Canacchi,
Mexsa, Lopossi, et Berbatti,
con Andruzzo dal mustacchi,
Petro Bua, com Stamatti,
chie andama como ’l gatti
al buscade andavan stretti?
          O Strathiotti puveretti.

What is particularly striking to me here, is that these are all names of individuals (and villages) from the Nauplion area (and mostly from the period of Bartolomeo Minio), and it is fascinating to find a work by a Venetian in 1561 that remembers Petro Bua who died about 70 years earlier. These names certainly suggest something about Molino's informants.

What is also striking is that Sathas (8: 471-2) prints the dedication of Molino’s book which makes it very clear that Manoli Blessi is his creation. Very few have noticed that. Sathas didn't notice it (4: lvii-lix; 7: liv-lxiii, which includes the image above). The Ελληνική Βιβλιογραφία (Athens, Grafeio dimosievmato tis akadimias Athenon, 1984-86) didn’t notice it.

The dedication of Molino's book seems to have been written by a Lodovico Dolce.  It assures the Magnifico e Valorosissimo Signore Giacomo Contarino, who probably paid for the printing, that Molino is a most honored citizen of Venice, ornamented with many virtures, and that since boyhood he has endeavored to master all the abilities of a civilized man.  Molino has spent much of his life as a merchant, and while in Corfu and Candia he became interested in comedy.  On his return to Venice, he started an academy of music, and to finance the academy, he took up writing comedies.  There is more, about art purifying the soul, and the importance of Petrarch, Virgil, and Homer, and such, but that really has nothing to do with the life and works of Manoli Blessi.

This entry has made use of Marc D. Lauxtermann, "Linguistic Encounters: The Presence of Spoken Greek in Sixteenth-Century Venice," in Renaissance Encounters: Greek East and Latin West, edited by Marina S. Brownlee & Dimitri H. Gondicas.

The volumes of Sathas are downloadable here.

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