20 February 2009

The Alikianos Horror

There is a stone hand on either side of a door in the Venetian town of Maroulas, south-east of Rethymon. The town has few inhabitants: mostly it is walls and carved arches, and two massive fortified towers with entrances that have to be reached by ladders. One dates from the 1300s, one from the early 1600s.

Venetian Crete is mostly seen by tourists, and seen as madly, charmingly picturesque. But there are other sides to this colonial culture, complex and often disturbing. The fact that some Venetians colonists felt they had, even in a town, to live as if under siege is in itself disturbing. The reasons why are far more disturbing.

Nothing is known about Maroulas, but the guidebook tells the story of what happened at Alikianos. The story comes from a Venetian chronicle and one can hope that at least some of it is untrue.

A group of towns in the province of Chania rebelled in the late 1500s and set up their own governor by the name of George Gadhanole. Gadhanole presently came to the tower of Francesco de Molin who held one of the Chania fiefs, and asked for a marriage between the de Molin daughter and his son Petros, "the best and the bravest of all my sons." He might have reconsidered had he been able to read Latin: over the de Molin portal was inscribed OMNIA MUNDI FUMUS ET UMBRA. Everything of this world is smoke and shadow.

The marriage was arranged. The de Molin guests arrived from Chania in droves. There were presents--fabulous fabrics the Chania patrician merchants had acquired in Egypt and Syria and Constantinople. Dozens of pigs and bulls were roasting. The Gadhanole family arrived with three hundred men. The celebrations began in the morning and continued into the evening.

Then they spotted a fire from Chania. This was the signal for the de Molin guests to turn on the Gadhanole guests. By the time the troops arrived from Chania, the rebel Gadhanole and his three hundred men were trussed for slaughter. At dawn the troops hanged George Gadhanole, his son Petros, and another son. Others of the family were shot. The three hundred were divided into four groups. One group was taken to Chania and hanged. Another group was hanged at Gadhanole's home village, Chrystogerako, which was then burned and flattened. The other groups were hanged at Apokorona and on a mountain near Lakki.

That was the first act of reprisals against the rebels. The Venetian chronicle recorded that this was greatly consoling to those who had been faithful to their God and their Prince.

The second act began with the appointment of a new governor for Chania, named Cavalli, with full authority to extirpate the rebels -- "l'estirpazione degli uomini seditiosi." Cavalli took troops at night to the nearby rebel village of Fotinakko and set fire to it. At dawn they hanged the twelve leading men, and to be sure the lesson was learned, ripped open four pregnant women and battered their infants. The chronicle said that this spread terror across the countryside, and that they deserved worse.

For the third act, Cavalli sent word to the rebel villages that anyone who wanted to make submission and avoid the same or worse was to bring him the head of his father, or son, or cousin, or nephew. In due time, a priest of the Pateri-Zapa family arrived with two sons and two brothers. They threw down five heads before Cavalli: one belonged to a son of the priest, one to a brother, one to his father-in-law, and two to his nephews. The identities were attested to by witnesses.

Cavalli cancelled his decree.

The story is from
Candia Veneziana, M. Buonsanti & A. Galla (Heraklion, 2004). Carvings from Francesco de Molino's Chania palace can be seen in the Byzantine/Post-Byzantine Museum in Chania.

12 February 2009

Ariadne's Brother

This is de Chirico's sleeping Ariadne, perhaps not perfectly appropriate, but a sleeping Ariadne is needed.

At some time in the 6th century, Ariadne's brother had a gravestone with an inscription carved for her in Constantinople and brought out to a basilica near a magnificent spring on the road near Argos. It was a magnificent spring for thousands of years, the spring of Kefalarion, and was magnificent until nearly thirty years ago when greed and the spirit of modern Greek progress required that it be pumped dry for irrigation purposes.

This basilica, carefully ignored since it was excavated nearly 40 years ago, was dedicated to the Apostle Paul, located near where Pausanias had seen the worship of Dionysios and Demeter. It must have been a splendid place, large enough--45.5 m long and 23m wide--and elaborate--with walls lined with coloured marble, gold tesserae, frescoes, stained glass, and carved sarcophagi--enough to have been an imperial or consular bequest.

Ariadne's brother was Doulkitios. A Dulcitius, proconsul in the sixth century of either Africa or Achaia, is commemorated in a sixth-century epigram by an unknown poet included in the Cycle of Agathias:
“At the high point of his life, the Powers led Doulkitios forth from excellence and glory as a proconsul to bliss.”
This Doulkitios can be dated, within a rather broad period. The writers included in the Cycle have been dated as writing between 530 and 565, which may then suggest the earliest and the latest reasonable dates for his death, and so for Ariadne’s.

Ariadne's Doulkitios provided--and very likely wrote himself--her metrical epitaph with echos of epic verse. It was the way the intellectuals wrote then. One fragment, in the Greek, seems quoted from Andromache in Book 6 of the Iliad: "You, Hektor--you are my father now, my noble mother, a brother too," while two other words seem taken from "willows whose fruit dies young" at the entrance to the world of the dead in the Odyssey--an image one would expect Christians to avoid, but the area of the basilica was thick with willows. "Sleeping Ariadne" itself makes reference to myths of Dionysios, whose worship had been expelled from Argos and Kefalarion about a hundred and fifty years before.

It is tempting to think of Ariadne as young and, naturally, lovely: no evidence compels us to assert that she was not, but she is more likely to have been a mature woman when she died. She had a strong connection to Argos -- the inscription calls her "of the Argeians." Her bones were buried elsewhere first, then moved to an osteotheke in the apse of the Kefalarion basilica.

I prefer to think, with no further evidence, that the proconsul Doulkitios was Ariadne's Doulkitios, and so proconsul of Achaia. Any proconsul had to know the area: going from Corinth to Sparta, which a proconsul would have to do, he would travel the road past the spring, and would certainly stop to cool off there, maybe visit friends. Remains of Roman villas have been found in the vicinity.

This is, in translation, what remains of Ariadne's epitaph.

† Blessed Paul, holy Apostle . . .
sleeping Ariadne [ - - - - - ]
of the Argeians destroyed . . .

taken by the ill fate
of a most noble family

even so her brother - - - - -]

Doulkitios [ - - - - - ]

those I[ - - - - - - ]

fruit of my[ - - - - - ]
] IAISS [ - - - - - - ]

[ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ]

04 February 2009

Pavane for a Dead Princess: Part Two

The story of Kleope Malatesta and Theodoros II Palaiologos has already been told here, a version of it with what the research had shown up to that point. It used a borrowed portrait to represent Kleope. The child here is Theodoros, painted when he was about six years old, in a formal family portrait. It is the only picture that has survived of him, but he tells us below that there was another, of him and Kleope together, at Mistra. It has been ravaged, as was so much else there, by time.

died on April 18,1433, the Saturday after Easter, following a long illness. They had been married just over twelve years. She was buried in the church of Agia Sophia just up the hill from the palace at Mistra.

There is a poem in the Bessarion manuscripts in the Marciana in Venice long thought to be a poem by him on the tomb of Kleope. This only shows that no one has ever paid any attention to the poem at all, and that the fact that it is in Bessarion's handwriting was considered by scholars who should know better an adequate reason to consider him the author. But it is impossible to read the poem and not think that it comes from her grieving husband.

It is a striking poem, if only because the Byzantines almost never wrote romantic personal poems, and this one is to a woman in heaven who is guiding the writer on earth, a woman whose body the writer knows. The poem is written on the Italian model--Dante's Beatrice, Petrarch's Laura are easy associations, and there is that famous poem by Petrarch supposedly written to be put into Laura's tomb, as this one surely was put into Kleope's.

Kleope's father was a well-known poet, Malatesta dei Sonetti, and his father had been a friend of Petrarch. Everyone in her family wrote poetry: it was what humanists did. Beyond that, this poem suggests that this Byzantine prince, known for his qualities as the quintessential geek, had been reading and writing poetry with his Italian wife. It suggests that the marriage reported to have been miserable had in reality developed into a union of intellect and body.

Theodoros had been reading Theocritus--she knew Greek as well, and the ending of the first section of his poem with its reflection that the one thing left for consolation in his heartbreak is song alludes to the opening of Theocritus' poem on Polyphemus, which is framed by a teasing remark to a physician that some diseases are beyond the healing power of medicine and for them the only remedy is the effort of composing poetry. (And one of the eulogies for Kleope had mentioned the failure of medicine, and her doctor had himself written a lament.)

Theodoros was a mathematician, and this poem makes quiet reference to that with its structure based on the number five, thinking of the five senses, identifying five ways he and Kleope could be together. Possibly he set out to write one example for each sense, but then after Touch, Hearing, and Sight, found himself unable to match the final ways and senses.

He gives us one other valuable piece of information: he tells us that her tomb is marked by a dual portrait. There are other such portraits of husband and wife on Mistra tombs, and the image used to stand for Kleope is half of such a portrait--but it was found in a church other than the one where Kleope was buried.

Before this poem was buried with her, the monk Bessarion, who was the same age and a fellow-scholar, and who thought she was lovely, must have asked to be allowed to make a copy for himself.

Here is Theodoros' poem for Kleope:

Although we were before, my dearest, brought together
being one flesh, the word of God says
that it is better now to be with the spirit,
as you, in pure intelligence, look down from Heaven
on my life, my words, and all my thought,
as it is right that you should
while I am torn apart, ah, painfully,
calling out for you with scalding tears,
one thing is left for me, one good thing, song.

In this way, picturing you in this image,
I have added myself to the image,
wanting to join myself with you in a third way.
so as to quench the terrible fire of longing
and to empty out the agony from my soul.

But, you who have died and live, as you deserve, with God,
when in the same tomb necessity brings
my bones together with yours in a fourth way
showing me what lies outside the five senses
join with me in a fifth and greater way
to share in the delights of Heaven and the sight of God.
My courage lies with you, who possess and indeed
give me, my fellow-poet, this song.

A scholarly discussion of this poem, written with Pierre A. MacKay, will be appearing later this year.

The Greek poem and the other primary sources for the Theodoros and Cleofe story can be found here.

 The narrative is continued in

Pavane for a Dead Princess, III

Pavane for a Dead Princess, IV 
Pavane for a Dead Princess, V

Pavane for a Dead Princess, VI

Glory Days

Theodoros II Palaiologos 
Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti