31 December 2010

Time Is

Watch, Salvador Dali 

The New Year is a fluid concept if you live, as I do, mostly in the 15th century.  For the Byzantines, it is 1 September.  For the Venetians, it is 1 March.  When I am working on Cyriaco material, the New Year begins on Christmas Day.  The monomania of the media with its lists of bests and worsts and deaths for the year and the decade, and predictions for the next year, forces me to attend to the Roman calendar with 1 January.

This is the 147th entry in two and a half years, involving 177,000 words, and 500 or so pictures.  I have two different counters recording visitors which at the end of the year suggest an average of 120 a day.  I am recognizing quite a few of them -- of you -- now.  When there is a new post, the first readers to show up are usually a gracious woman in Texas or a correspondent from South Africa, followed very soon by correspondents in London and Athens. A few show up, briefly, almost every day.  Most visitors come briefly and never reappear.  Reasonably.  There are at least 112,000,000 blogs tangling the interwebs.

Ever since it was posted, The Lion in the Cloister has been the most-read entry. Readers in the Philippines -- with a single exception -- seem to read only Nick the Greek posted more than a year ago, and the picture of Magellan's ship has been downloaded more than any other this year. Otherwise, the most popular picture is of Byzantine trumpeters, and then one of the Magi -- the tracker counts the last 500 downloads.  A higher percentage of readers in Arabic-speaking countries than of readers in the West is interested in the post with a bare-breasted woman and links to other such.  Bosnians, Serbians, and Russians show a strong predilection for posts on the Palaiologues, and Albanians most often read entries mentioning stratioti.  The Villehardouin entries are most often read in France and Belgium.  I can tell when someone is planning a visit to Nauplion: the same IP address will show up through the thirty or so entries on aspects of Nauplion.  This summary is, of course, a simplification  of casual impressions. What puzzles me is when someone -- most recently from Slovakia on 21 December, is recorded as making 66 entries, over an hour and 15-plus minutes.  Something like this happens several times a week. I can only wonder: is there not something more enjoyable, more profitable, that someone could be doing in life?

The search terms that bring people here often seem unlikely: "Greek wemon," "forked beard after Exodus," "gold ark of the covenant Mycenae," "paintings of Apollo," "Pesaro caged cherubs" -- I am quite sure I have not used any of those phrases; "inside room" -- possibly the studioli in the entry on St. Jerome which has been the most read of all 148.  Whoever was looking for "Diana's Hats" or "Diana's Shoes" must have been disappointed, as were those who were looking for restaurants with various Greek and Albanian names.

This year, the largest percentage of non-American visitors have come from Greece, and a gratifying number of Greece-based blogs link to this one.  I am immensely pleased, and grateful, because Surprised by Time is in part the living out of a love affair with a city and country and culture.  Quite a few readers have written privately to ask questions -- a couple of these questions have forced new considerations in my own research, and several have sent me remarkable information, books, PDFs, and images I could not have found for myself -- thank you, Brigitte, Galo, Tim, Pavlos, Babis, Ersie, Voula, Tom, Keith, Nick.  The number of visitors in 2010 has doubled from 2009, with 15,889,  to the 32,333-plus for 2010, with more than 51,500 since I began in the summer of 2008. I have never been able to take the breadth of the internet for granted.  It is exciting to discover  readers in Kossovo, or Alexandria, Odense, Mumbai, Lamia, Jerusalem, Rawalpindi, Cape Town, Sarajevo, Tasmania, Costanta. Costanta is Ovid's Tomis.  I went around all day saying, "I have a reader in Tomis!"

When I am writing or researching or translating, Time Is, calendars dissolve, and I am present witness.  I finished translating the sack of Smyrna in tears, so closely did the event of 1472 and my visit there in May 1979 blend into a single present. Our first night ever in Turkey was in Izmir -- asking the taxi driver for a cheap hotel in the old city has always worked wonderfully for me, the weather was gentle, and the streets were lined with barrows heaped with plums and cherries.  We wandered through the streets of the old city, sticky with juice, saying "Merhaba," constantly as people handed my daughters more plums and cherries.  We bought water from the man who carried glasses and a tank of water on his back, and pastries from the pastry carts, rubbing the crumbs off on our jeans to enter yet another little green-painted mosque.  One evening we rode in a carriage up and down the waterfront.  First we saw cafes with old men smoking hubble-bubbles, and then after a certain street, the cafes had women in chic black dresses and cigarettes, and men with cigars.  The French and English and American fleets were in port, and the admirals of two were guests of the admiral of the third.  The ships were brilliant with lights, everyone was in white dress uniform, and as our carriage came abreast of the third flagship we saw the visiting admirals piped aboard.

We had to get up at four in the morning for our flight to Istanbul. There was a full moon and as we leaned out the window to look at this pearl-colored city held in the generous bowl of the hills, the calls to prayer began -- not perfectly synchronized -- so the moon-topped minarets called back and forth to each other, gently echoing in the great bowl.  I have always felt that if some power had said to me, "You will stay in Izmir for the rest of your life," I would have been perfectly content.

Thank you for coming here and spending time with me. I wish you a good year, an interesting one, one in which you will encounter joy, one in which you will be generous.

23 December 2010

Dionysos Encradled

Great night, mother-night among the nights of the ages, cradle of the Titans' offspring,
you who pour your snow swift and thick this evening
between me and the outside world, closing me
alone in my unviolated sentry box
(upright coffin where, my limbs frozen, I keep
unsleeping watch on the frontiers of time):

Mother-night, in Your silence, as I feel
my heart waning -- for everything sleeps: the earth beneath
my feet, the deep sky above me, and only
the Serpent of the Abyss seems to be awake,
and not even my breath's vapor rises
from my lips, which death waits ready to close --
suddenly I think I hear, low, wavering,
the cry of a baby, and I ask myself:
"Is God, eternal God, being born again
tonight as a young child?"

But, Mother-night,
in vain I strain my ears to catch, behind
this cry, perhaps the sound of dogs moving
in the fold at Bethlehem, and in vain
I strain my eyes to see the angelic host or,
lower down, shepherds' fires piercing the darkness.

But as clouds cover the clouds and everything
is wrapped silently in the snow's winding sheet,
I hear - - long, doleful, blood-curdling -- the howl of wolves
invade you, hear swift packs of wolves go by,
a whole long army climbing through the snow;
yet as once more your silence suddenly fills you,
again I put the same question to myself.

And in answer, as if a whirlwind's savage blast
shatters the wall of silence that enfolds me,
legions of the dead, their winding sheets the same
snow that covers up their tracks, throng all around me,
throng like hordes of prisoners who have smashed
their prison walls, like madmen who have found
suddenly that their asylum door has been burst
wide open by the storm, and pouring out
into the night, have scattered helter-skelter;
and all those dead, grieving, seem to say:
"Truly the eternal God is being born
again tonight as a young child . . . But tell us:
where are the sentinels to keep watch on the sacred
frontiers, to save the child from the wolves?"

This, Mother-night, is the harsh voice I seem to hear
inside me; and as suddenly the whole
world-creating sistrum vibrates in my heart,
I plunge, Night, cradle of the Titans' offspring,
inspired by Your hidden pulse, each beat an age,
into the darkness to summon the companions;
into the darkness I plunge, over snow and tombs,
and with these words I call them at the crossroads:

"My sweet child, my Dionysus and my Christ:
though You have come into the world today, a young Titan,
You have no mother's arms to keep You warm.
For You are the son of the night around us,
of this night, and son of our unsleeping hearts
which, spark of life in the frozen chaos,
fight now with death itself, with our own death
and that of the whole world. And we know,
young Titan, that if You fail tonight to fasten
onto our hearts, to drink their blood drop by drop,
tomorrow You too will be among the dead.
But we hold it better to stay buried
in the upright coffins that freeze our limbs
than for Your pulse to stop in the darkness,
along with all the rest that swell the herd
of indescribable violence, and for savage wolves
from far off to catch the scent of Your cradle.

But as Your cradle is the shield of shields,
so we, Corybantes, began to circle
around it, to dance our last dance, beating our swords
on our own shields to drive the wolves from You.
The whole night through we'll dance around You,
and however long the night, we'll dance until
the ghouls of the dark have fled, and Your voice --
God's voice that rises out of sleep, voice
of the "great intoxication" -- suddenly calls
the dead into the sun's warmth, while above Your cradle
bends the shadow of Your single mighty Vine,
sweet child, our Dionysus and our Christ."

               Angelos Sikelianos
               25 December 1941

Διόνυσος επί Λίκνω
Νύχτα μεγάλη, νύχτα μάννα μές των αιώνων
τις νύχτες, νύχτα κούνια των τιτάτων
βρεφών, π’ απόψε ρίχνεις κι΄ όλο ρίχνεις
το χιόνι Σου γοργό, πυκνόν, ανάμεσό μου
κι’ ανάμεσα του κόσμου, κλείνοντας με
μονάχο στην απάτητη σκοπιά μου
(όρθιο κυβούρι, που με μέλη παγωμένα
Βιβλίζω ακοίμητος τα σύνορα του χρόνου).

Νύχτα – μητέρα, στη σιωπή Σου, ενώ λογιάζω
πως πάει να σβήσει μες στα στήθη μου η καρδιά μου
τι υπνώσαν όλα, η γη στα πόδια μου αποκάτου,
βαθειά τα ουράνι’ απάνωθέ μου κι’ αγρυπνάει
θαρρώ, στα τάρταρα μονάχα ο Βύθιος Δράκων
και πια απ’τα χείλη μου μπροστά δεν αναφαίνει
μηδέ του χνώτου μου ο αχνός, μα να τα κλείσει
παραμονεύει ο θάνατος μου, αιφνίδια, λέω
μικρού παιδιού πως αγρικιέμαι κάποιο κλάμμα
αλαργινό, τρεμάμενο κι αναρωτιέμαι:
«Τάχα παιδί γεννιέται απόψε πάλι, νέο
ο από αιώνων θεός;»

Αλλ’ ώ μητέρα
Νύχτα, μάταια στηλώνω την ακοή μου
πίσω απ’ το κλάμμ’ αυτό μήπως αδράξω
στ’ αυτί μου βάδισμα σκυλιών μακρά σε στάνη
της Βηθλεέμ και μάται’ ανοίγω τη ματιά μου
μη ιδώ αρχαγγέλων σύναξη πυκνώ, ή πιο κάτου
φωτιά τσοπάντων να τρυπάει τα μαύρα σκότη.
Αλλ’ ως τα νέφη αποσκεπάζονται από νέφη
κι΄ όλα το χιόνι σιωπηλά τα σαβανώνει
λύκων ακούει ουρλιάσματα να Σε γεμίζουν.

Θρηνητικά, μακρόσυρτα, στριγγά, μεγάλα
λύκων ακούω γοργά κοπάδια να περνούνε
μακρύς στρατός που διασκελάει μες απ’ τα χιόνια
μα, ως ξαφνικά γυρίζεις πίσω στη σιωπή Σου
ξαναρωτιέμαι το ίδιο ρώτημα βαθειά μου.
Κι απάντηση μου ως να γκρεμίζεται το τείχος
που με κυκλώνει της σιγής, σ’ άγριου στροβίλου
το αιφνίδιο ξέσπασμα, ντυτοί για σάβανά τους
το ίδιο το χιόνι που το αχνάρι τους επήρε
μύριοι νεκροί τριγύραθέ μου, σ’ άμπως μύριοι
φυλακισμένοι που γκρεμίσανε τα τείχη
της φυλακής τους, σαν τρελλοί που ξάφνου βρήκαν
από τη θύελλαν ανοιχτή πλατειά μία θύρα
του έρμου σπιτιού τους κι’ όλοι ορμώντας προς τη νύχτα
εδιασκορπίσανε στο διάστημα, με θρήνους
πνιχτούς στο κρύφιο ξάφνου ρώτημα μου ετούτο
με μία φωνή λογιάζω τώρα να μου λένε:
«Παιδί γεννιέται απόψε, αλήθεια, νέο
ο απ’ αιώνων θεός μα που οι φρουροί ναι
που στ’ άγια σύνορα αγρυπνάνε από τους λύκους
να διαφεντέψουνε το θείο βρέφος, πέ μας που είναι;»

Τέτοια, λογιάζω, ακούω, μητέρα – Νύχτα,
στα βάθη μου άμετρη φωνή κι’ ως άξαφνα όλο
το κοσμογόνο ν’ αντηχάει βαθειά το σείστρο
μες στην καρδιά μου, νύχτα κούνια των Τιτάτων
βρεφών, ανεβασμένος στον παλμό Σου
το μυστικό, που κάθε χτύπος του κι’ αιώνας
στα σκότη ορμώ για να φωνάξω τους συντρόφους
στα σκότη ορμώ, πάνω από χιόνια κι’ από τάφους
και τέτοια λέγοντας στα τρίστρατα τους κράζω:

«Γλυκό μου βρέφος Διόνυσε μου και Χριστέ μου,
τιτάνας νέος κι’ αν ήρθες σήμερα στον κόσμο
μάννας δεν έχεις αγκαλιά να Σε ζεστάνει
τί είσαι της Νύχτας τούτης γιος που μας κυκλώνει,
της Νύχτας τούτης και της άγρυπνης καρδιάς μας
που σπίθα ζωής μέσα στο χάος το παγωμένο
παλεύει απόψε με το θάνατο του κόσμου!
Κι΄ά, το κατέχουμε, π’ άν ίσως, νέε Τιτάνα.
απ’ την καρδιά μας δεν πιαστείς τη Νύχτα τούτη
να της βυζάξει στάλα-στάλα όλο το αίμα
αύριο και Συ με τους νεκρούς θα να λογιέσαι.

Μα κάλλιο τ’ ώχουμε να μείνουμε θαμμένοι
στα ορθά κυβούρια, που τα μέλη μας παγώνουν
παρά ο παλμός Σου να σβηστεί μες στα σκοτάδια,
μ’ όλους τους άλλους που πληθαίνουν το κοπάδι
της ακατάγραφης οργής κι΄ οι άγριοι λύκοι
από μακράθε να ‘οσμιστούνε την κουνιά Σου!
Μα ως η κουνιά Σου είν’ η ασπίδα των ασπίδων
κι’ εμείς Κορύβαντες τριγύρα της κινάμε
για να ορχηθούμε τον πυρρίχιο το στερνό μας
στην ίδια ασπίδα μας τις σπάθες μας χτυπώντας
από κοντά σου ν’ αποδιώξουμε τους λύκους!
Ολονυχτίς θα να ορχηθούμε γύραθέ Σου
κι’ όσο κι’ αν είνε η νύχτα τούτη να κρατήσει
εμείς θα ορχιούμαστε ως την ώρα που τα σκιάχτρα
του σκοταδιοόυ θα’ χουνε φύγει κι’ η φωνή Σου,
φωνή θεού π’ ανασηκώνετ’ απ’ τον ύπνο,
φωνή «μεθύοντος ισχυρού» θα να καλέσει
στη ζέστα του ήλιου ξαφνικά τους πεθαμένους
ενώ από πάνω από την κούνια Σου θα γέρνει
η σκιά της μιας Σου παντοδύναμης Αμπέλου
γλυκό μας βρέφος, Διόνυσε μας και Χριστέ μας!»

Αγρυπνία των Χριστουγέννων
25 Δεκεμβρίου 1941
Άγγελος Σικελιανός

Translation by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard.
Thanks to Babis Tzouramanis for finding the Greek text for me.

17 December 2010

Lares and Penates

Many of the houses in my neighborhood have accompanying presences.  Here are some you might notice if you were walking past, though you would not see the Pan that belongs to this house as he is somewhat overgrown by ferns in the back yard.

However, the best are the little people on the other side of the bridge from us.  They have wardrobes.

11 December 2010

The Mocenigo War: Part Two

Continuing Coriolano Cippico's account of the war Pietro Mocenigo took to the Turkish coast in 1472.

The war had began in Greece in the summer of 1464, a Papal crusade with troops led by Sigismundo Malatesta.  The Pope died, Malatesta's troops died of plague while spreading it across the Morea, and there were several years of off-and-on war with disastrous effects on the Morea.  After several years and the disaster of the loss of Negroponte, with the Ottomans in control of the Morea, Mehmed turned his attentions elsewhere.  Venice built up her fleet, and accompanied by ships from the fleets of several other powers, took the war to the Turkish coast.

* * * * *
[After the hunt and the episode of the bear in Part One, while still on Samos] the commanders of the army discussed what they ought to do first, and all came to the opinion that they should immediately attack Satalia, a city of Panfilia which was built by Attalos Philadelphos, hoping that it might be assailed by surprise and without preparation, and that they might be able to acquire it without artillery and without ruin of the walls.  Satalia is the largest city with a marina in all the province of Asia, with a port fortified on both sides with many towers and closed with a chain. . . . The General ordered the sopracomiti that each galley should make two or three ladders and a "trellis" [for going up a wall]. . . . The number of galleys was 85: of these 19 had been sent by the Pope, 17 by the Kingdom [of Naple], 2 from Rhodes, the Venetians 47, of which 12 were from Schiavonia .  . . .

He directed Vettor Soranzo, provveditor of the fleet, to take the port with 10 galleys, and Stefano Malipiero, the other provveditor, that he should take the soldiers to assault the land side.  He directed the stratioti to occupy the hill near the city, to be able to come immediately to help.  He admonished everyone to return their weapons to their former virtue, since they had to fight against a vile, unprepared, and barbarian enemy, for the Christian religion and the majesty of the Venetian dominion; telling them the city was extremely rich in gold, silver, and precious goods.  If they took them, all would return home rich. . . .

The cavalry raided the coutryside and made great prey of men and animals, and put them on the hill.  Vettor Soranzo . . . broke the chain and entered the port.  The other galleys followed behind.  Our men immediately cut the defenders to pieces and took all the towers that were around the port.

There was, outside the city, a suburb, very well built, in which, for convenience of loading and unloading, the merchants lived. They, surprised and afraid, left their merchandise and fled into the city.  There were shops full of pepper, cinnamon, cloves, incense, carpets, and all manner of merchandise, which were sacked by our men and taken as booty to the galleys.  Then they set fire to the shops and burned everything.

[There was a tremendous battle for the walls of the city which was more difficult than they expected.]

The battle was atrocious on all sides.

There was in the city a Christian woman of Schiavonia, a slave for many years, who was seen on the wall, where she saw our men stop and proceed slowly to the attack.  She encouraged them and gave them heart, saying, "Why stop, soldiers? Do you want to abandon the attack, because of cowardice, to take this city so rich and full of every sort of barbarian possession.  I promise you that the major part of the defenders are already dead by your hand!"

Hearing this, a Turk started pulling at her and striking her, but she seemed unaware of her danger, intrepid in the face of what must be her fortune.  She settled her clothing and threw herself from the wall.  She was taken up by our men, half-dead, and commending her soul to Jesus Christ, she died in their arms.  . . . She was buried by our people. . . .

There were beautifully-built suburbs outside the city that appeared like another city.  The gardens were full, and cultivated with fruit-bearing trees, and bathed by many fountains of living water.  The next day our men set fire to the houses and burned them all, and cut down the trees, destroying everything all together.

* * * * *

The General had learned that Smyrna, the richest city of Ionia, was poorly guarded, for the reason that the greater part of the walls had disintegrated from age, and for a long time the citizens had not made the effort to repair them.  Because the city is situated in a long gulf and far from sailing routes, it has not suffered war, and its citizens live there secure and without fear. . . . one part of it is on a mountain, the other and large, in the plane, but the better houses are on the mountain.  So 16 of our galleys, without delay, drew up in a line around the city.  Many, by way of ladders, others through the ruined walls . . . passed into the city.  The people of Smyrna, shocked by such an unexpected attack, full of fear, did not know what to do.  Some took weapons and went to the broken-down city wall, and fought hand to hand with our men, who because of numbers and superior valor cut them to pieces.  Others mounted on the roofs of their houses and attacked ourmen with tiles and stones.  The women, as afraid, fled  -- hair disordered -- with their children to their mosques for refuge, embracing their altars and invoking their Prophet, Mohammed.  Many closed themselves with their little children in their houses.

Our men took the city, seizing everything, sacking everything.  Some tore the children from their mothers' arms, seizing also the mothers.  Others carried out of the temples [mosques] many women who resisted and called on their Mohammed, dragging them by their hair.  A widow passing near the tomb of her husband, embraced the tomb, almost as if it were alive, begging him to help her, saying, "Alas! no barbarian enemy will ever be able to separate us, while I live no force can ever part us!"  Not being able to pull her away, a soldier took his sword and cut off her head, she voluntarily extending her neck so he could do so, saying, "Go, now be with your husband!"  

Many did not concern themselves with prisoners, preferring to sack the houses, the precious ornaments of the women, the clothing of all sorts of colors, the damascened vases ornamented with gold and silver intaglio, and other possessions of great prices.  On every side weeping, from every direction one heard lamentations.  The whole city was full of tears and cries . . .    .

When they had sacked it all, and put fire in the houses, they burned everything.  So this city, ancient and adorned with many monuments, with its fortune changed in a few hours, was reduced to ashes.  I saw there many ancient monuments of fitted stone, and magnificently fabricated of marble.  Some of these were already in ruins, others still stood.  Among these were a monument of Homer with a statue and an inscription in Greek letters.  The territory near the city was well cultivated and bathed by the river Melos, and with many houses: everything was ruined by our men with fire and iron.

NOTE: My translations of Cippico have been made rapidly and without fine-tuning. If you need to make use of them, you will want to go over them carefully.

05 December 2010

Green Men

Pantanassa, Mistra

The Green Man -- or Wild Man or Woodwose --is a creature of European folklore and imagery, found frequently in churches.  He does not seem to appear in Greece without a special invitation.  I have been trying to spot Green Men, and I have found a very few. There is an enormous literature on Green Men in western Europe, which I would like to avoid here, and I will define a Green Man as an image of a face with leaves, usually coming out of its mouth.  I have these here for the pleasure of them, but this would be a fine topic for someone's formal study.

The first two Green Men in Greece -- that survive: surely there were others -- appeared in the 13th century, in monastic buildings built by Westerners.  This first is a finial in a corner behind the iconostasis of Ag. Pareskevi, in Halkis

Ag. Pareskevi, Halkis

This next was found in the ruins of the Cistercian monastery of Zaraka, built by monks from northern France, and has been removed to the museum of Chlemoutzi.  


He is strikingly like a Green Man found in the notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt, who drew several.  Villard also lived in the 13th century and was  from northern France.

 Villard de Honnecourt

Then there was a gap of nearly two hundred years before they appeared in 1428 in the Pantanassa.  Earlier they were faces in their own right.  Now in the Pantanassa, they are startlingly used as decorations for the evangelists in squinches under a dome.  Three groups have survived: one is shown at the beginning.  The groups were supposed to have three Green Men each, one on either side of the evangelist, and one beneath:

 Pantanassa, Mistra

Here the lower Green Man is badly damaged but he survives in the third cluster.

 Pantanassa, Mistra

Did these Green Men come from western influences, or had the painter seen the frescos in the Chora in Constantinople where they decorate the Virgin and child, and an angel, in a dome?

  Kariye Cami, Istanbul

In the picture below, where the Virgin is reversed, there is one Green Man just to the lower left corner of the picture, and then a whole line of them running down from the center.
Green Men, Kariye Cami, Istanbul
Finally, there is an unlikely trio of Green Men in Nauplion.  The first two, which can be dated exactly to 1708, appear at the top and the base of the carved shield of Francisco Grimani, Captain-General of the Fleet.  The shield has little cannon off the bottom corners.

Grimani shield, storage yard of Nauplion museum

The third, my favorite appears on a wooden door panel on the main street.  I have watched, over the years, thousands of people walk past and never look at this marvel of survival.

  Nauplion door

I would be delighted to know of sightings of more Greek Green Men.

Thanks to Henry Maguire who told me about the Green Men at the Kariye Cami.