25 February 2012

On Vacation: There were four youths

This song by Nikos Gatsos was meant to be for the name-day of Theodoros Kolokotronis, but I have not been able to learn which Ag. Theodoros it was -- February 17 or March 3.


There were four youths
Yiassou, Old Man of the Morea
You wrestled like a wild goat
teaching them constantly.

Swallows and swords
strung up in their hearts
high up over Karitaina
with the sun their neighbor.

There were four youths
Yiassou, Old Man of the Morea
no house held them
and time was on the march

Dark bitter years
on the bald heights
blood ran down
in the gorges.

When Easter came
they dressed like bridegrooms
and Death, the winged horseman,
rode behind.

There were four youths
Yiassou, Old Man of the Morea
no place held them
and time was on the march.

Road, road, and roads
it's written in the cards
they planted chrysanthemums
above the curse.

But when the time of orders came
like lightening on the earth
the ill-fated boys fell
like pine cones.

There were four youths
Yiassou, Old Man of the Morea
tell us if you saw them
 if you comforted them.


Εἴταν τέσσερα παιδιὰ
γειά σου γέρο τοῦ Μοριᾶ
σάν ἀγρίμι πάλευες
κι ὅλο τὰ δασκάλευες.

Χελιδόνια καὶ σπαθιὰ
στὶς καρδιές τους ἀρμαθιὰ
πάνω στὴν Καρύταινα
μὲ τὸν ἥλιο γείτονα.

Εἴταν τέσσερα παιδιὰ
γειά σου γέρο τοῦ Μοριᾶ
σπίτι δὲν τά χώραγε
κι καιρὸς προχώραγε.

Χρόνια μαῦρα καὶ πικρὰ
στὰ βουνὰ τὰ φαλακρὰ
κι ἔτρεχαν τὰ ἅιματα
μέσ᾿ στὰ κλεισορέματα.

Κι ὅταν ἔφτασε ἡ Λαμπρὴ
στολιστῆκαν σὰ γαμπροὶ
πίσω τους κι ὁ θάνατος
καβαλάρης φτερωτός.

Εἴταν τέσσερα παιδιὰ
γειά σου γέρο τοῦ Μοριᾶ
τόπος δὲν τὰ κράταγε
κε ὁ καιρὸς περπάταγε.

Στράτα στράτα καὶ στρατὶ
ἔτσι γράφει τὸ χαρτὶ
πάνω ἀπὸ τ᾿ ἀνάθεμα
σπείραν χρυσάνθεμα.

Μὰ σὰν ἄστραπψε στὴ γῆ
τῶν καιρῶν ἡ προσταγὴ
πέσαν τὰ κακόμοιρα
σὰν κυπαρισσόμηλα.

Εἴταν τέσσερα παιδιὰ
γειά σου γέρο τοῦ Μοριᾶ
πέσ᾿ μας ἂν τὰ γνώρισες
κι ἂν τὰ παρηγόρησες.

Trans. DW.
Italian translation
Music, page 8.

 Drawing of Theodoros Kolokotronis  by Karl Krazeisen. 

For nearly all the poetry of Gatsos in Greek and English, go here.

19 February 2012

When the Palaiologos family visited Monemvasia

Dying child, fresco of King David
Voronet Monastery, Romania  

In 1400, Manuel and Helena Palaiologos left Constantinople on a Venetian galley.  Married in 1392, they now had five children and she was pregnant again. Manuel was on his way west to get aid for Constantinople, under desperate threat from Beyazid.  Manuel had come to terms with his nephew, John VII, and had left him in charge of the City, but unwilling to take the chance of his family becoming hostages, he had decided to take them to the Morea to stay with his brother Theodoros, the Despot.

There were rumor that John had already come to terms with Beyazid, that he had 10,000 Turkish horsemen, that he would give the Turks Constantinople in exchange for the Morea. Theodoros, fearful of another Turkish invasion -- there had been two in the past four years, had sold off Corinth, Kalavrita, and Mistra to the Knights of Rhodes, and had moved his administration to Monemvasia.

So when Manuel and his family arrived in the Morea -- it was a Venetian galley so they had to bypass Monemvasia which would, of course, have been a convenient stop and go on to Methoni -- Helena and the children and her suite had to travel back to Monemvasia.  I hope there was a ship they could travel on, rather than have to make that miserable trip by land, but the famous Monemvasia shipping disappears from the record in the 15th century whenever you need a ship.

These were the children: John, aged about 7; Constantine; Theodoros, aged about 3, and two sisters.  Sphrantzes tells us about the sisters, but no Byzantine -- or anyone else -- managed to write down the names of Helena's mother or of her daughters.  We know nothing about where they stayed in Monemvasia: I have climbed up that sun-blasted rock to the citadel three times in my life, though never pregnant, and I hope Helena was able to stay in the lower city.  A few people had great wealth in Monemvasia, but we know nothing of anyone's relationship to the imperial family at this point.  It would have been a fine city for small boys to explore, with swimming off the rocks, and perhaps the occasional day on a fishing boat.

Helena gave birth to a son whom she named Andronikos.  This means that she not only named him for Manuel's grandfather, Andronikos III, but she named him for the only emperor to have visited Monemvasia. Manuel's biographer, John Barker, who has an extraordinary taste for prurience, begins on Andronikos like this:
For Manuel's third son, however, we know no precise date of birth. Since Andronicus is not mentioned among the children left behind in 1400, assuming Ducas did not overlook him, he was presumably not born at that time. As there is no evidence to warrant suspecting Helena of misconduct during her husband's absence, there would thus be two possibilities for his birth date: either Helena was pregnant with him when Manuel left.
Well, duh.

Two years earlier, in 1398, the Eighth Death, as the chronicles called it, had broken out in the Morea.  In 1401, plague erupted again.  It is recorded in ports, in Methoni and Koroni.  It was still raging in 1402, so that the Venetians, planning for Manuel's return trip, would not take the responsibility of letting him stop in Methoni.  Manuel's return was delayed, and delayed again, so that it was well into 1403 before he left Venice and by that time, Methoni was clear of plague and his ship was free to stop there.

Plague had also appeared in Monemvasia.  Three of the Palaiologos children died -- Constantine, and the two little girls.  Plague is identified first of all by its devastating high fever, and their deaths would not have been clean and tidy like that of the child in the picture above. The children were buried in a church in Monemvasia. Despot Theodoros established a fund for liturgies and Manuel later gave the Metropolitan of Monemvasia the territory of Helikovounos so the income could provide  two liturgies each week -- on Thursday and Saturday -- for the children's souls. Plague would be a commonplace for the two older sons -- two of John's wives would die of plague, and so would Theodoros.

In any mention of Manuel's daughters, the subject of illegitimacy has to come up.  Barker cannot let the topic alone: "Manuel apparently had several other illegitimate children," and continues with a breathtaking sequence of assumptions about these dead daughters for which he can offer no evidence: "Whatever our ignorance about these children, however, it is still plain that they must have been illegitimate, though by whom is not known, and that they were sired by Manuel before his assumption of the throne and his marriage."* Sphrantzes is the way we know about these daughters, and nothing he says or does not say can be twisted to justify this twaddle.

Helena had to travel back to Methoni to meet Manuel, this time with three children.  The Venetians had agreed to transport a suite of 25-30 people along with Manuel, though by the time Helena and Manuel met up in May, they had a suite of 58 people. They then apparently sailed to Vasilopotamos, near Elos, at the end of the Eurotas River, and then traveled up to Mistra where Manuel and Theodoros discussed how Manuel was going to repay the Knights of Rhodes after the people of Mistra flatly refused to let them into the city.

In Feburary 1404, there was a new son who was named Constantine in place of the one who died.

The next time you are in Monemvasia, light candles for the unnamed daughters.

* No one should write me about Manuel's illegitimate daughters who has not read Thierry Ganchou's meticulous study on the subject:  “Ilario Doria, le gambros Génois de Manuel II Palaiologos: beau-frère ou gendre?" Études Byzantines 66 (2008): 71-94, which should put paid at least to the Zampia question.

14 February 2012


I have been sickened by events in Athens, and Agrinion and Lamia and Thessalonike and elsewhere. 

I remember a conversation with my grandfather, Eugene Crawford Jordan, of Birmingham, Alabama, in the late 1960s.  We called him Papa. You must understand that Papa was handsome and courtly, the consummate Southern gentleman, but being a Southern gentleman did not exclude an intense racism.  

The conversation moved to "7415" which was the number of the house where he had raised his ten children, and to which I was brought with my mother after I was born.  He recalled 1926 when he was having the house repainted.  That year people in Birmingham were joining the Ku Klux Klan in large numbers.  The neighbor in the house to the right joined, and invited my grandfather to join.  Mr. Bell, in the house to the left, joined, and invited my grandfather to join. The house painters said pressured my grandfather to join and added, "We'd sure hate for anything to happen to those purty lil' chirren."*

Now, a late justice of the Supreme Court, Hugo Black, Harvard graduate, was practicing law in Birmingham in 1926, and he joined the Klan. He more than made up for it many years later on the Supreme Court, but he was highly educated, Harvard yet, and he still found it possible to rationalize the Klan.

Papa had to drop out of school as a teenager to help support his family and he always nursed a bitterness at the deprivation of education.  So what with Justice Black and Papa's racism, I didn't know what to think.

I said, "Why didn't you join, Papa?"

He said, "Sugar," -- Southerners used to, some still do, speak in Shakespearean mode, as Othello when he said, "Honey, you shall be well desired in Cyprus."

He said, "Sugar, a man does not have to cover his face."

Ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων, you murderous attackers who beleaguer a city, glykoi mou, a man does not have to cover his face.

* This is Southern for "pretty little children."

12 February 2012

8 ducats for aromatics

Two hundred and eighteen blogs ago, I wrote about the unfortunate situation of the Minio brothers. Alvise, Almoro, and Francesco Minio had been sued by their brother-in-law, Leonardo Malipiero, for the 8,000 gold ducats they owed their sister Lucretia from her dowry. Lucretia's mother, Maria de Molin, had left this to Lucretia in her will, and in Venetian law, the dowry was sacrosanct.

The Minio family was extremely wealthy in property, but not in cash, so 31 years after the original suit, after Lucretia had died, her second husband was collecting interest payments on the debt.

The original suit seems to have been brought when the father of the three brothers and Lucretia, Lorenzo Minio, died in July 1532 An inventory was made of his personal possessions. This is my translation of the inventory. The several occurrences of beds suggests that this inventory was made room by room, starting with the "best" room.  I found it interesting that it was easiest to find more contemporary images for the first of the list, more difficult the further I went down the list.

Two used beds
Three bolsters

Two pillows
One bedspread of yellow and rose cloth, old

One fox coverlet backed with rose wool
One red canopy

One pair of sheets
One cushion and one chamberpot
6 rugs, various

Three painted wall panels, 19 x 8 braza
One round table with bone inlay
One bedside chest
One painting of Our Lady, gilded, with a damascene lamp 

One gilded dressing-mirror
Two paintings on cloth with gold frames

One black gown, man’s, old-fashioned with sleeves, trimmed with vair

One gown of black cloth with sleeves, trimmed with fox
One velvet belt.

Two beds
Two feather bolsters
Two pillows
One bedspread of green &yellow cloth (old, torn).
One pair of cotton curtains with trim
Four wall-hangings painted with greenery of various kinds, 19 x 6

Seven carpets of various kinds, baled
Seven painted chests

One bed
One bolster
One panel painted with a figure, 9 braza square
One gilded dressing mirror

One small painting of Our Lady, gilded.

One gilded mirror
One black camel’s hair, gown, lined with black cloth
One black camel’s hair gown
One reddish-brown silk quilt with trimming
Three small cases
Four painted chests

 One walnut bench
Six chairs (in pieces)
One wooden dining table with base

 One clothes’ mannequin

One bed
One wool-stuffed mattress
One figured cloth
One brown bedspread

One white cotton bedspread
Seven wooden chests with the Minio coat-of-arms

One small bed for the servant

Four copper pots
One copper pot
Three copper pots
One copper water box

One copper box
One pair of iron fire dogs
One water basin

Five bowls
Two frying pans
Two graters and other kitchen item of little value

One copper bed-warmer

Four pewter bowls
One pair of brass fire-dogs with iron rounds

Three copper bowls
One brass basin
8 chairs

All these goods were estimated by Ser Alvise Brochetti
personally at D105, that is 105 ducats.
Note that from the above 105 ducats 21 ducats is subtracted
for the tomb of Ser Lorenzo D21, that is 21 ducats.

Item: for aromatics and aromatic wax, in total D8 —

Computed for the above-said dowry ducats seventy-six,
that is 76 ducats remaining.

Tranquillus Bivilaqua C. transcribed personally

* * * * * *

Seventy-six ducats would not have made much of a dent in the 8,000
ducats owed.  Recall that Lorenzo Minio died in July.  They were
going to need a lot of aromatics and aromatic wax for the funeral candles.

06 February 2012

The pitiful First Lord of the Imperial Wardrobe

Constantine Palaiologos and Georgios Sphrantzes
Fotis Kontoglou, Town  Hall, Athens

There is no surviving contemporary portrait of either Constantine or Sphrantzes, but this modern one seems quite convincing, and though I would not opt for a flowered silk for battle, it does appear that Sphranzes is wearing the green gown he was given by Constantine when he was rescued from prison at Patras.

At the beginning of his wonderful account of his life, he identifies himself as "the pitiful first lord of the imperial wardrobe" -- πρωτοβεστιαρίτης. He was seventy-six or so then, living as a monk, and suffering miserably from rheumatism. The last of his book speaks of death: Demetrios Palaiologos, his daughter Helene, his wife Theodora.  Cardinal Bessarion. Thomas Palaiologos' daughter Helene.  His friend from childhood and spiritual brother, Joseph. He himself was so ill in his last two years as to have been given last rites three times, and even though "I escaped death, I remained deaf for a long time; I could not even hear bells tolling next to me." 

He wrote a book to record his world forever lost,  a world where wardrobes were important.  So Kontoglou's green gown is important.   The title of protovestiaritis had little to do with being a valet and much to do with indicating that the bearer was physically close to the emperor, essentially all the time. Sphrantzes was close to three of them.   When he was sixteen and a half, Manuel  had put him in charge of his chamber. Sphrantzes had grown up at court, his father was Thomas' tutor, his uncle was Constantine's, and he and his cousins had been the imperial playmates and aides.

While we nowhere get a sense that Manuel was affectionate to his sons, we do see -- in Sphrantzes' telling -- a great deal of fondness for the boy.  In fact, Manuel was easier with the young Sphrantzes than with his own sons, and Sphrantzes could get favors for Contantine that Constantine could not get for himself.  Manuel had a chest Sphrantzes coveted, one that had belonged to his own father, John V.  Manuel had said he wanted to give it to his son John, but then, when he gave Sphrantzes the robe lined with fur, he gave him the chest, too. When Manuel was ill and making provisions for his will, he spoke to his wife and sons specifically directing them to care for Sphrantzes and reward him has he had not been able to.

Sphrantzes liked clothes, paid attention to them, at least where he himself was concerned.  The clothes of others are unmentioned. Manuel gave him a caftan -- kavadi -- a dark one lined with fur, and directed that he be given a green robe.  The "new empress" Sophia of Montferrat, sent it to him, saying it was for his future wife.  The position in Manuel's chamber allowed him to become knowledgeable about fabrics, if he had not been already.  When he describes his gifts from Constantine at Patras, he identified the "expensive double green tunic lined with fine green linen" as from Lucca, the red cap embroidered with gold with a silk lining from Thessaloniki, and the heavy gold-colored caftan from Brusa.  There was also a green coat, but its fabric is unspecified. 

He presents himself as Constantine's confidant, but I suspect Constantine never confided completely in anyone.  He doesn't specify his abilities, but the long list of embassies -- and entrusting him to select a wife -- indicates Constantine's estimation of him  It is significant that each place Constantine ruled, Sphranzes was given the highest administrative position: when Constantine was despot in the Morea, Sphrantzes was governor -- κεφάλη -- of Patras; when Constantine was despot in Selybria, Sphranzes was κεφάλη of Selybria; when Constantine was despot of the Morea at Mistra, Sphrantzes was κεφάλη of Mistra.  His job description was put succinctly by Constantine: "You are to govern your command well.  You are to put an end to the many instances of injustice and reduce the power of the numerous local lords.  Make it clear to everybody here that you are in charge -- μόνον ἀρχὴν -- and that I am the lord --μόνον αὐθεντην."

Constantine gave him the highest title in the court, after those given within the imperial family, that of μεγασλογοτθέτης -- but it is not the one he uses to identify himself.  A certain touching jealousy about his dignity and titles can be read in a telling three-way exchange he had with Constantine and Loukas Notaras.

Sphrantzes was a serious little man, and, I think, lonely.  His book is erratic in what it tells and what it doesn't tell.  He is deeply respectful of women, so respectful, that he does not expose them to our common gaze, except that he does say that Constantine's wife Theodora was really lovely.  But he knew Sophia of Montferrat, he knew Cleofe Malatesta, and he might have left us something about them.  Or about Helena, wife and mother of emperors. Or about his wife. Or about a lot of other things.

A few times his senses break through his dignity and repression, and he gives us memorable images that allow you to slip into a different story entirely.  Like the tower where he was imprisoned at Patras:

"I was taken prisoner; I had sustained multiple wounds and was thrown into the dark tower of a house, full of ants, weevils, and mice, as it was located in front of the grain storage.  I was put in secure irons and my leg was held by a strong chain, which was attached to a big post."

Or the time Mehmed I asked permission to pass through Constantinople on the way to Asia Minor.  There was a formal escort to whom Mehmed talked all the way.  Then:

"The holy emperor and his sons were waiting with a boat . . . When Mehmed embarked they greeted each other from their respective boats and carried on a conversation until they reached Skoutari . . . Mehmed landed and went to the tents that had been pitched for him.  The imperial family ate, drank, and sent food to each other on the boats until they sailed home early in the evening . . ."

And one last from Corfu where he had retired:

"On January 15, 1470, so much snow covered the whole island of Corfu as no local inhabitant had ever seen.  It was even possible to catch foxes and hares by hand."

Most of the quotations are from Marios Philippides, The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes (Amherst, 1980).