31 July 2010

The Lost Sons

Fresco from the Church of the Holy Apostles, Peć.  

I have just come across a document that gives information to supplement a recent post about Demetrios Laskaris Asan.  Asan was an exceptionally unpleasant individual -- perhaps not exceptional among Moreote archons -- but this shifts the perspective.

In Lambros' Παλαιολόγεια καὶ Πελοπονησιακά, Vol. 1, I discovered excerpts from a letter of consolation by John Dokeianos to Asan, and find that he  had lost three sons, two of them fighting against enemies and infidels.  I haven't been able to work out a satisfactory date for this letter and would be grateful for any information or suggestions.

Dokeianos weeps for the loss of these splendid sons: for the first who shared every wonderful quality, for golden-souled Alexios, for the third and most beautiful whose name reflected the grace with which he was endowed.  The first two died contending for the fatherland. The third, who died in the prime of his life, martyr to a principled decision, left behind children and a widow: he will be added to the choir of martyrs.

It is a very short document.

27 July 2010

Lady of Nauplion

There are no pictures of Maria, or Marie, d"Enghein, or d'Enguino, or any of six other spellings, but a hundred years ago, the occasional writer on medieval Greece and Nauplion tried to make some sort of romantic picture of her as Lady of Nauplion, summering in a pretty tower across the bay.  That tower was built by the Turks,centuries later, and although she did "own" Nauplion and Argos for a few years, there is no direct evidence that she actually was ever there.  But she may have been.  Modern historians rush right past her as unimportant.

Except that without her signature on a document, Venice might not have acquired Argos and Nauplion.   

Maria was born in 1364, the only child of Guy d'Enghein, Lord of Argos, Nauplion, and Kiveri, and his wife, Bonne de Foucherolles, daughter of the Enghein governor of Argos.  So it is very likely that Maria spent her youth in Nauplion and Argos.  She was betrothed at the age of 7 to a John de Lluria, probably the son of the Navarrese ruler of the Principality of Achaia. This marriage would have united the western near-half of the Morea with the Argolid, and would have intensely antagonized the Venetians in the south, the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea, and the Florentine Duchy of Corinth.

There are no documents for the interval, but one has to assume that Venice which had merchants in Nauplion and Argos had noticed the excellence of its port and the fine fortifications of both cities.  At some point Guy acquired citizenship in Venice, and possibly a house.  Guy died in 1377.

It should surprise no one to learn that two Greek archons with houses in Nauplion, a Kamateros and a Kaloethos, petitioned Venice for her to marry a Venetian, specifically Piero Cornaro, son of Frederigo, the wealthiest man in Venice, who had an abiding interest in the security of his trade interests in Greece. The petition was brought to Venice by Giovanni Gradenigo, one of the Venetian merchants of Nauplion.  It explained that everyone there was concerned lest Nauplion be taken over by Theodoros I, Despot of Mistra, or "that cruel tyrant" Nerio Acciaiuoli.  A Greek chronicler tells us that Kamateros and Kaloethos received large gifts for their concern.

Maria was married to Piero that same year in Venice.  The senate kindly provided a galley to take Piero out to govern Nauplion on her behalf.  She presumably remained under the supervision of her father-in-law.  In November 1381, the senate kindly provided a galley to protect Nauplion against the frequent Ottoman pirate raids.  There is another seven years of no information.

In 1388 Piero died. Maria was a widow at the age of 24. Nauplion petitioned that Venice take the Argolid into her tender care, since a young and grieving woman could not possibly be expected to manage such responsibility.

We have the contemporary Venetian copies of two documents that Maria signed on 12 December 1388, "in the house of the late Frederigo Cornaro."  One transfers her castles, places, fortresses, districts, pertinences, and jurisdictions of Argos and Nauplion on behalf of herself and any heirs,  to Leonardo Dandolo, "noble and wise man, knight, honorable procurator of S. Marco," acting on behalf of Venice. 

The second document said that Maria would receive for this an annuity in perpetuity of 500 gold ducats for herself and her heirs (and since her husband had been away for years the chances of heirs were fragile), and an additional annuity of 200 gold ducats for herself for life, and should she not have heirs, the right to bequeath 2000 gold ducats to anyone she pleased, payable out of the Venetian treasury, in her will.  And she would forfeit all of this should she marry anyone not a Venetian patrician.

Now, both these documents say that she is "over the age of fourteen and under the age of twenty-five."  She was twenty-four and everyone knew it.  What that means is that she was old enough to be married, but not of an age to legally transfer property.  Twenty-five was the legal age for a woman to transfer property.  This has not before been noticed by anyone writing on the subject, and it seemed not to be an issue for the notaries present, or for Dandolo, or for the Doge and commune of Venice.  All these legalistic public servants managed completely to ignore the law, Nauplion and Argos came under Venetian control, and 1388 entered the list of important dates in Nauplion's history. 

A young woman with 700 gold ducats a year of her own was highly desirable as a wife, and she shortly was married to Pasquale Zane, about whom we know nothing other than that he died in 1392.  We do not know why, nor do we know the cause of her death in 1393 at the age of 29.  Nor do we know what happened to that 2000 gold ducats she could bequeath.

However, in 1388, upon hearing of Piero's death, Theodoros of Mistra immediately came up with troops and occupied Argos.  He probably learned of the death within four days, while it would have taken a month, even two, for the news to reach Venice.  Theodoros did not move on Nauplion, having no ships of his own which would have been needed for defense.  [Late correction: he apparently did try a siege of Nauplion but Venice was able to keep it supplied by ship.] There were several years of mild war and bickering on the matter, which is a topic for another blog.

The last item in Maria's story occurred in August 1393, when the Venetian senate received a letter from her uncle, Englebert d"Enghein of Bruges, who said that he was technically Maria's heir, and he would like to have Nauplion and Argos.  The senate replied mildly that he could have them, just as soon as he reimbursed them for the expense they had been put to in the acquisition and defense of the territory.
 The picture above is Ruskin's watercolor of Frederigo Cornaro's house in Venice, now Ca'Loredan which, with Ca' Farsetti, is now the seat of the government of Venice and the Veneto.  This is where Maria lived.
 * * * * * *

Late comment:  An anonymous commenter -- and I have asked that comments NOT be anonymous, complains about my spelling.  It is a meaningless comment under the circumstances: spellings in contemporary documents include, but are not limited to: d'Erigano, d'Anguein, d'Enghein, Dagyhein, Daghein, Enquien.

21 July 2010


Five Greek poppies, three varieties

This blog began two years ago today.  At the time, I had no conscious intention as to where it was going, but I would have been quite certain that I couldn't have found 121 topics to write about.  I began the first in a garden, and I returned to the garden a year ago.  This year it is less a garden than a war zone.  I was unable to keep up with it for the most important two months of the growing season, what with Byzantine conferences in Australia and at Dumbarton Oaks, a new grandson, and two cataract operations, and now it is daily hand-to-hand combat.  It is profoundly disturbing to be aware that all the time I am weeding, the weeds are growing just beyond my reach.

It is quite obvious why God put humans into his garden, when you see what happens to a garden without them, and a garden is a poor place on which to base one's theology, if you consider the preponderance of strangling plants. That must be where the idea of the snake came from, though the person who made up the story knew little about gardening or snakes, either.  The best thing you can say about garden theology is that much of the real work is done on one's knees, and I am always fascinated with how respectful passers-by are of me when I am down there in the dirt communing with the weeds. And the tiny yellow-bellied spiders. And the beetles.  There was a magnificent beetle this afternoon in many-sectioned silvered armor.

This spring and early summer were unusually chill and wet, superior for the strangling plants, but very poor for almost everything else, and especially too cool for sitting under the grape arbor.  Most of the small cherry crop spoiled on the tree before it ripened. Nine-tenths of the iris failed to bloom at all. Several dozen large buds on the Abraham Darby roses aborted. The Pat Austin produced of two roses, neither of which could hold her head up. On the other hand, I thought the Tradescants had been ruined by black spot  but they have pulled themselves back splendidly.  The rugosas have been great -- especially the pale yellow that was up for eviction for non-production, and the weebly white rose that has looked like fainting for four years abruptly threw out half a dozen blooms before settling in to produce three new canes.

And the poppies! The poppies have been spectacular.  Glimpsing the small patches of poppies is like hearing laughter.  They have gone about their business, unaffected by the chill and the damp.  There are new ones this year -- large dreamy things like girls in floaty dresses -- mixed in with the cornflowers, each in a different shade of red, pink, orange, yellow.
But the faith and the love and the

The giant poppies, both up by the house and down at the sidewalk, have been stupendous.  After several years of three or four begrudged blooms, they have erupted into dozens.

We have identified three varieties of poppies resulting in the seeds brought back from Greece over the years, and here I have learned a profound lesson.  I had noticed in Greece that poppies tended to grow in land that had been turned over and I have been careful to dig up their patches every fall.  The poppies grew up full of tall grass and weeds, so I carefully over several days weeded between their slender stems and untangled their necks from the tall grass.  Weedless, the poppies lay down on the ground and declined to stand.  I carefully staked each one.  Staked poppies look like prisoners in the stocks.  

Then the Eureka! moment.  Greek poppies often grow in grain -- which of course needs the land turned over -- or tall grass.  As you can see in the picture below, the buds hang completely down (unlike the buds of the giant poppies above) and hook if they can onto whatever is nearby.  Thus they have the support of the grain or grass that is also growing up.  When they are ready to bloom, the heads have got up to the surface of the field, nicely propped, and then the hook straightens out for the full bloom.  Poppies need their weeds.  I will know this next year.  As with tomatoes and children, you cannot get lovely results by insisting on your own way.

The color of the poppies changes as they age, or even as they move against the light.  We have little space in the yard, really, and I cannot help comparing my small patches with the fields  I saw last 16 April near Midea.

Some poppies photograph with more success than others.  We also have the lemon Icelandic poppies that appear individually in odd places, such as beside the posts of the arbor:


or the so-called California poppies (not really poppies) that bunch in corners like piles of tangerines. 

The best picture, I think, is this that shows the extraordinary beauty, magnificent with spots like the great cats, of poppies that have been surprised by time.


. . . there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy . . .
From T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets:East Coker

15 July 2010


Fletcher is missing. There is no picture of William Fletcher.

Two hundred years ago this July, George Gordon, Lord Byron (left), and John Cam Hobhouse, Lord Broughton (right), were starting their travels in the Morea.

If you want the interesting things, read Hobhouse --it would make a great buddy-movie. Byron's reports in his diaries and letters are infuriatingly brief.  But something they both wrote about was Fletcher.  Fletcher was Byron's valet, but only in a technical sense.  What he was was their scapegoat.  Here is Hobhouse:

"We had only one English servant with us, who was my friend's valet; for I was fortunately disapointed the day before I left London, of the man who was to have accompanied me in our travels: I say fortunately, because English servants are rather an incumbrance than a use in the Levant, as they require better accommodation than their master, and are a perpetual source of blunders, quarrels, and delays. Their inaptitude at acquiring any foreign language is, besides, invincible, and seems more stupid in a country where many of the common people speak three, and some four or five languages."  

And here is Byron (he had finally sent Fletcher back to England): 

"I cannot find that [Fletcher] is any loss, being tolerably master of the Italian & modern Greek languages, which last I am also studying with a master, I can order and discourse more than enough for a reasonable man. ----Besides the perpetual lamentations after beef & beer, the stupid bigotted contempt for every thing foreign, and insurmountable incapacity of acquiring even a few words of any language, rendered him like all other English servants, an incumbrance. ----I do assure you the plague of speaking for him, the comforts he required (more than myself by far) the pilaws (a Turkish dish of rice & meat) which he could not eat, the wines which he could not drink, the beds where he could not sleep, and the long list of calamities such as stumbling horses, want of tea!!! &c. which assailed him, would have made a lasting source of laughter to a spectator, and of inconvenience to a Master. ----After all the man is honest and in Christendom capable enough, but in Turkey--Lord forgive me, my Albanian soldiers, my Tartars & Janizary worked for him & us too as my friend Hobhouse can testify."  

They had started out with "a Tartar, two Albanians, and interpreter, besides Fletcher," but it was Fletcher who received the abuse: "Fletcher too with his usual acuteness contrived at Megara to ram his damned clumsy foot into a boiling teakettle." "That timber-headed Fletcher. . .." "Fletcher is fat and facetious."  Byron was not a very nice person in those years -- "I have kicked an Athenian postmaster" -- not that Athenian postmasters, or the postmistress at the Kolonaki postoffice in particular, don't on occasion trigger such an impulse.  But read Hobhouse again and see what Fletcher was up against:

"Our baggage was weighty; but, I believe, we could not have done well with less, as a large quantity of linen is necessary for those who are much at sea, or travel so fast as not to be able to have their clothes washed. Besides four large leathern trunks, weighing about eighty pounds when full, and three smaller trunks, we had a canteen, which is quite indispensable; three beds, with bedding, and two light wooden bedsteads. The latter article some travellers do not carry with them; but it contributes so much to comfort and health, as to be very recommendable. We heard, indeed, that in Asiatic Turkey you cannot make use of bedsteads, being always lodged in the khans or inns; but in Europe, where you put up in cottages and private houses, they are always serviceable, preserving you from vermin, and the damp of mud floors, and possessing advantages which overbalance the evils caused by the delays of half an hour in packing and taking them to pieces.

"We were also furnished with four English saddles and bridles, which was a most fortunate circumstance, for we should not have been able to ride on the high wooden pack-saddles of the Turkish post horses; and though we might have bought good Turkish saddles, both my Friend and myself found them a very uncomfortable seat for any other pace than a walk.

"Whilst on the article of equipage, I must tell you, that as all the baggage is carried on horses, it is necessary to provide sacks to carry all your articles. These sacks you can get of a very useful kind in the country. They are made of three coats; the inner one of waxed canvas, the second of horse-hair cloth, and the outward of leather. Those which we bought at Ioannina were large enough to hold, each of them a bed, a large trunk, and one or two small articles; and they swing like panniers at each side of the horse.

"Some travellers prefer a large pair of saddle-bags, and to have a large chest or trunk, which they send round by sea to meet them, or leave at one fixed spot; but this is a bad plan: the saddle bags will not carry things enough for you; and then to have your wardrobe at any fixed spot, binds you to one route, and prevents you from taking advantage of opportunities."  

So if you are fortunate enough to be traveling in the Morea this summer, take a moment of silence for Fletcher.

09 July 2010

Nauplion: Spolia

Spolia mean "carvings from previous periods patched into later buildings," and you would think that there would be a lot to find in Nauplion -- it has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times. I have spent a lot of time looking for spolia in Nauplion and I think I have located very nearly everything in the old city that can be seen by the normal visitor, though I suspect there may be a few pieces embedded in private residences.  (Note: I didn't find them all.  Here are more.)

This is a catalog of my twelve public finds, not counting one whose photograph has gone missing. The first, and best, is the Byzantine lintel of the garden entrance you see above, at the right of the top of the stairs to Akro-Nauplion.  
You can see a similar usage of two pieces, one classical and one Turkish, over the door of the house under the platan tree on the plateia.  The initials of the builder of the house, and the date, 1878, have been added to the Turkish slab.

At the other end of the plateia are the four late-antique capitals of the columns of the little mosque built soon after the Turks acquired Nauplion in 1540.
A few doors down the main street from the mosque, you will find this small Turkish piece on the right: 
One I particularly like -- this is the picture I don't have -- is a house on the main cross-street where a Turkish block with carved rosettes has been sawn in half length-wise and the halves used to support windows.  The halving was not done at perfect right angles and the slight slant to each piece is beguiling. At the top of the the stairs on the hillside in the little neighborhood above the bus station is this classical lintel. It does not quite cover the whole space that it should, but the piece was more important than correct construction. The capitals are confusing.

On the north side of the Panagia church, beside the red cafe, a classical door step has been used for the lintel of a window, unattractive but significant -- significant building elements have been left uncovered all over the outside of Panagia.  You can see in this lintel the holes for the pivots of the doors. 

Behind Panagia, among the graves, is a stone I am unsure about, but it seems to be a Venetian shield to which Turkish cypress trees have been added.
Finally, two shields once used for fountains, one Turkish, one Venetian. The Turkish one has a little turban, and what appears to be a most remarkable smiling sun rising over clouds or rocks.  The Venetian dates from around 1700 and the surface has been uniformly chipped to remove any images.  I think the blue works well.

Should you find other spolia, please let me know.  A reader has sent his spolia collection and you can see them here.

03 July 2010


Because one of our finest poets, W. S. Merwin, has just been appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States, I want to take the opportunity to print one of his finest poems, Piere Vidal. I have had it on my website for the last eight years. Piere Vidal was a troubador (d. 1205) and the text is based on his vida, his own account of his life.

Ezra Pound wrote another version of the Vidal text (p. 16 here), and although it retains some of the spirit of the original, it has Pound's typical self-indulgence, and nothing of Merwin's controlled fire.  It is worth comparing the simplicity of Merwin's vocabulary with Pound's use of the thesaurus.  Interestingly, it was Pound who told the young Merwin that he needed to study the troubadours.


I saw the wolf in winter watching on the raw hill
I stood at night on top of the black tower and sang
I saw my mouth in spring float away on the river
I was a child in rooms where the furs were climbing
and each was alone and they had no eyes no faces
nothing inside them any more but the stories
they never breathed as they waved in their dreams of grass
and I sang the best songs that were sung in the world
as long as a song lasts they came by themselves to me
and I loved blades and boasting and shouting as I rode
as though I was the bright day flashing from everything
I loved being with women and their breath and their skin
and the thought of them carried me like a wind
I uttered terrible things about other men
in a time when tongues were cut out to pay for kissing
but I set my sail for the island of Venus
and a niece of the Emperor in Constantinople
and I could have become the Emperor myself
I won and I won and all the women in the world
were in love with me and they wanted what I wanted
so I thought and every one of them deceived me
I was the greatest fool in the world I was the world’s fool
I have been forgiven and came home as I dreamed
and have seen them all dancing and singing as the ship came in
and I have watched friends die and have worn black and cut off
the tails and ears of all my horses in mourning
and have shaved my head and the heads of my followers
I have been a poor man living in a rich man’s house
and I have gone back to the mountains and for one woman
I have worn the fur of a wolf and the shepherd’s dogs
have run me to earth and I have been left for dead
and have come back hearing them laughing and the furs
were hanging in the same places and I have seen
what is not there I have sung its song I have breathed
its day and it was nothing to you where were you.

Both images here are manuscript "portraits" of Piere Vidal.  The original music and text of Vidal's vida can be heard on "Troubadors" by the Clemencic Consort (also from Amazon). Another Vidal song, "Pos tornatz sui em Proensa," is performed on Paul Hillier's Proensa. Both CDs contain the original texts.  W. S. Merwin has an elegant small book of essays on Provencal and the troubador Bernart de Ventadorn in particular,  The Mays of Ventadorn.