21 December 2015

Nauplion Christmas

This was our Christmas in Nauplion 38 years ago, when my children were younger than my grandchildren are now, and when Greece was an endearingly different world: when most people had little money instead of being attacked by incompetent government, when the old town was full of homes instead of little pink hotels, when the ringing we heard was the hourly bell instead of cell phones, when the voices of children were heard in the streets, and when we met neighbors taking their lunches to be cooked in the bakery ovens. It is a world that has disappeared more completely than Dicken's London, because that world is good for seasonal merchandise and Nauplion of the 70s has had no literary genius.  Greeks will remember a different Christmas: this was ours seen from the culture of Washington, DC.

* * * * * * * *

It rained relentlessly for the first three weeks of December, and during those same three, there was no mail. We felt abandoned.  There were no Christmas carols played in Nauplion stores, no crass commercialization, no blatant attempts to blackmail us into buying presents we did not need, no cranberries, no cider, no fireplaces. No anticipating the Christmas Eve party where the grownups wore evening dress, or Vespers at the cathedral, no driving around the North Capitol Street neighborhood to look at lights. And no Christmas trees.

As far as we had been able to learn, Christmas trees were available only in Athens and there at high prices. Then the younger girls ran up the stairs crying out that one of the tourist hotels had just brought a tree in its front door. At the hotel, the desk clerk said the tree had come from the florist shop in Argos opposite the bus stop. We were on the next bus to Argos. The florist said to come back after 2:30, when his tree delivery was to arrive. We had lunch in one of the venerable old restaurants on the town square, a cavernous grey room, hung with enormous fading photographs of stern Greek royalties. The other patrons seemed to all be very old men who smoked a great deal and watched us closely. We ate hurriedly and went out to see the newest diggings.

It is the misfortune of the residents of Argos to live on a site inhabited without interruption for six thousand years, and given special attention by the Romans. Every time someone wanted to build a house, add an extra room or storage shed, or do something to the garage, they dug up another Roman relic. Legally, all such discoveries were to be reported to the Ephor of Antiquities and the site properly investigated before any more building. A proper investigation might not come for years, and the land could then be appropriated by the government at its own evaluation. Anyone with any sense at all, of course, followed the advice of the Duke of Wellington and buried the damn thing immediately. Still, it did happen that something was embroiled in official attention, and every visit to Argos turned up a dig or two worth looking at.

Just after 2:30, the florist had a load of trees, each of them perfect, each bearing a lead government seal. Christmas trees in Greece came from government plantations. Those approved for sale were marked, and possession of an unmarked tree could mean a year in jail. The previous Christmas, Jorn and Erika, from South Africa, had  suggested we go in their van to a tree plantation and liberate our own trees. We went to a ski resort down in the Peloponnesos on the slopes of Menelaion. It was a splendid day, the snow was knee-deep and the children raced about throwing snowballs with Erika, and watching for approaching traffic. Jorn and I, stumbling with saws and implements hidden in our boots and sleeves, slid into snow-covered crevices looking for trees. Sawing through tree trunks was more difficult than we had anticipated, and after we had slipped into more crevices taking the trees back to the road, we crouched behind rocks until Erika signaled that it was safe to dash to the van with our trees. Crossing the plain of Tripolis coming home, we bought large sacks of potatoes and walnuts. That was last year.

In Argos we selected an elegant silver fir which cost three times what I had ever paid for a tree, and walked it to the bus stop where it waited in line with us for tickets. The other passengers and the passers-by admired it so generously that we began to feel we were performing a social service. The bus driver, however, adamantly refused to put the tree into his empty luggage compartment. Should I have had any doubts on the matter, he explained that he had never transported trees and never would. I shoved the children on the bus where two of them immediately began to cry with a moderate degree of sincerity. In those days Greeks could not abide seeing children cry, especially blond children. The passengers on the bus began shouting at the driver. He shouted at the bystanders on the sidewalk and pointed at me and the tree. I fancied I bore a certain resemblance to Joan of Arc carrying her own stake. The bystanders shouted at each other and the tree and the bus, and I had the hopeful impression that the driver was very close to being lynched. He must have had a similar impression, for he abruptly decided the tree could ride in the luggage carrier on top of the bus.

For the twenty minutes back to Nauplion, I watched the shadow of the tree in the low afternoon light ripple along the side of the road. The shadow rippled over the reed thatch on the roadside stands hung with bunches of oranges, it rippled across the great stones of Tiryns, and it rippled over the yellow prison walls. In Nauplion, we walked our tree home, supporting it with arms through the branches as if it were an unsteady friend, pausing constantly for it to be admired. 

We have always collected decorations, each decoration bearing a memory to be recounted every year during the decorating: a china bell from Irene's godmother; the gold birds from the Christmas I was pregnant with Kathleen; the straw stars made by my father's German POWs; a glass unicorn made one Midsummer's Eve on the Boardwalk at Ocean City; a Robert Kennedy button, Jan's red paper dolls from Denmark (the last remnants above). We added tiny Greek dolls and icons, and Diana Stravouradis brought a dozen sugar mice from Wales. Elias, Arete, Apostolos, Evangelitsa,Yannis, Sophia, Michaelis, Costas, Maritsa, all saw the lights from the street and came up to admire. "Afto inai oreio. Inai kalo." It is beautiful, it is good. Strangers knocked on the door and asked if they might bring their children who had never seen a Christmas tree before. The next day we cycled to the far side of Palamidi – now gnawed up by roads and houses – to collect armfuls of heather, narcissus and pine. We put tall beeswax candles and crêches in the window alcoves – Irene's from Nigeria (still with us this Christmas), Kathleen's from Mexico, Rosalind's from Germany.

Abruptly, Nauplion prepared for Christmas. Soldiers from the local army base set up a life-sized crêche with Byzantine-style figures in the main square, in front of the Venetian armory. Beside it they put a fishing boat hung with colored lights: there was always a competition to have one's boat chosen. Agios Vasilios brings gifts at New Year's in his boat. The windows on the main streets were heaped with sweets in shiny colored papers and boxes. The dark, narrow shops on the side streets smelling of chocolate and oranges – now all become boutiques – were crammed with shiny things piled on the counters and hanging from the ceiling like stalagtites.

The hunchbacked fiddler from across the bay strolled up and down the main streets, fiddling a carol over and over. We went over to him, he said the children were beautiful, then spat to protect them from the Evil Eye. The gypsies came to town.  An aged woman sat near the post office asking for contributions, her grown idiot son sprawled inertly across her lap, the two making a hideous pietà, . A man led a muzzled bear cub about on a rope. When he bashed its feet with a stick, it lifted them up and down: this was dancing. When poked with a stick, it growled: this demonstrated ferocity, and observers squealed. A teen-aged gypsy boy leaned against a pillar of the church porch under our window. He played "St. James Infirmary" on his clarinet in a dozen styles and variations. He was an artist. I wanted to know his name, to hear him play more, but the old man near him spoke sharply and set him to playing a proper carol The old man talked to me for a bit, anxious that I know him to be a "real Christian," that is, one baptized in church, unlike most gypsies. He said the boy was rebellious, and did not know his place.

On December 23, the mail finally arrived. It took three trips to the post office to retrieve all the packages. Phillipa, a graceful Australian, came up the stairs and asked if she could visit. She had been traveling alone for a month and wanted to see someone at Christmas who spoke English. The morning of Christmas Eve, we were awakened by the fire house band, composed mostly of drums, clarinets and tubas. Rosalind ran down to join the horde of small children who danced behind, up and down all the streets of the old town collecting contributions of small change and candy. More packages arrived. The children went out to deliver fruit cakes – I had brought bourbon and pecans for this, and we baked them in the bakery oven next to Evangelitsa's shop (now a bank) – and small gifts to our friends. They returned with more cakes and gifts than they had taken. We made tablecloths from lengths of blue and white material, and set out the silverware, and blue and white china we had brought with us.

The silver had nearly got us into trouble. When we packed to come to Greece, I put household supplies in containers that were carried in the ship's hold, but the sterling I put into my hiking boots in one of the suitcases, thinking we might want to use it before we had access to the containers. We arrived at customs with six suitcases, a trunk, two musical instruments and assorted bags. With stunning intuition, the customs inspector only opened the suitcase with the hiking boots stuffed with silver. No one at customs spoke English, nor did any of us speak Greek. After a long period in a smoke-filled room where several men shouted at each other and at me, I tearfully managed to get one of them to notice the scratches, bent tines and tarnish that might indicate the silver had been in our possession for a while.

We hadn't enough plates to set out all we had cooked, and when guests began arriving with their contributions, there wasn't enough room for all the food, either. Everyone we had invited had found a foreigner who wanted an American Christmas -- two Australian families in the campground, an Irishwoman camping on the beach, an American schoolteacher, a German couple, two Englishwomen who had married Naupliots, several Greeks who had lived in America, and they all brought bottles of drinks and more food. As soon as the first guests appeared, the kitchen sink detached itself from all of its pipes and fell off the wall. We tried to ignore this.

We were interrupted several times by shouts from the Hotel Otto across the street for phone calls from the States, and at the hotel we acquired two solitary salesmen morosely watching television. At midnight, the church bells rang and the ships blew their whistles.
Christmas morning we woke to the bells and incense of Panagia and the warm tones of the priest's chanting. Phillipa breakfasted with us on leftover ham and Roquefort, and then we took the bus to Argos.

Argos has a conical hill crowned with a castle, described in a medieval chronicle as spreading down into the plain like a tent. We climbed up the long way and sat in the arched casements and looked over the snow-covered mountains deep in the Peloponnesos. A troup of merry little boys joined us. They found great amusement in snatching at sweaters and purses and Kathleen's long hair. It seemed best to go back down, but we were looking for what the Blue Guide said was a carving of a Thracian horseman. We had no idea of where to look or what a Thracian horseman might look like. Phillipa asked the boys, but we were saying hippos, which was classical, when we should have said alogos. Phillipa tried sketching a series of men-on-horseback. One of the boys pointed to one and showed us, not ten feet away, a disappointingly small, grubby bas-relief of a man on a horse with a snake. The church on the hill above is a Ag. Georgios. Ag. Georgios is always shown with a dragon. Centuries ago someone thought this carving of a horseman and serpent was he. Bored with archeology, the boys threw stones at us the rest of the way down the hill. Back home at dusk, there was just enough time to start the Franklin stove before we wrapped in blankets and lay across the bed in the firelight to listen to the Queen's Christmas message. We cried a lot and said it was the best Christmas we had ever had. The next morning we were up at six to begin two weeks of being migrant workers picking mandarinis.


29 October 2015

The Rev. Hartley views the Morea

From Researches in Greece & the Levant by the Rev. John Hartley, M.A., 1833. 
The Rev. Hartley's route in 1828 from Napoli to Kakovouni, then Napoli to 
Tripolitza, Mistra, Leondari, Karitena, Demitzani, Megaspelaion, and back 
to Napoli are shown by a very pale dotted line.

From the Rev. John Hartley, English missionary to Greece and Asia Minor.

March 29, 1828 – for the second time, I find myself in this celebrated fortress. We sailed from the Port of Kranidi at eight o'clock, and in six hours arrived here.
March 30 – I have distributed several copies of Lord Lyttleton on St. Paul, and of Bishop Porteus's Evidences – books which I find of great value in the present crisis.
March 31 – Since I was in Napoli, our Agent has sold all the Scriptures with which he was entrusted: viz. 30 small Testaments, 17 large, and one Hellenic; and he has paid me, deducting the per-centage, 124 piastres, 30 paras. I hope soon to send him a much larger supply. Visited with much pleasure the Lancasterian School: it has 170 scholars, and is in excellent order: many Boys repeated, at length, passages of Scripture History. . . . Valled on N. Skuphas and conversed with his sisters. They shewed me the “Pilgrim's Progress” . . . which their father had sent them from Smyrna.
April 1 – I presented a supply of books, for the School of Demitzani, to Niketas Kallas, one of the Managing Committee; and others for the Lancasterian School in Napoli.

            I extract from a former Journal the following Narrative:

Oct. 17, 1827 – I have been highly interested by a visit, which we have just paid to Griva, Commandant of the Palamidi. This Chief, after having held possession of that important fortress for more than a year, found himself unwilling to give it up; and, impelled by his vindictive feelings, actually wged war on his countrymen. About two months ago he commenced firing on the lower castle and on the town, and even proceeded to throw bombs. No less than one hundred and fifty persons became the victims of this outrage.

On reaching the summit of the remendous rock on which the fortress is built, I was surprised to find Griva himself, waiting to receive us. He is a fine-looking young man; and, apparelled as he was in a magnificent Albanian dress, he presented such a noble and warlike figure as I had never before seen. After receiving us with a friendly Greek welcome, he introduced us to his quarters; where his wife, a young lady of elegant appearance, arrayed in a handsome Turkish costume, exhibited herself for a few moments, and then suddenly disappeared; -- this Mussulman retirement of females still existing among some of the Greek Clans. With Griva we had much conversation. I told him, as I do many others, the history of the Bible Society; and left with him, for the use of the Garrison, two copies of the New Testament. Judge of our surprise at his answer: --”they are a good thing for those who can read: but I do not know how to read.” . . . I was thunder-struck, to fina a man, so prince-like in demeanor, and Commandant of the famous fortress of Palamidi, making such a discovery. He expressed, however, his regret --”His father had never profided such an advantage for him.” Our conversation turned chiefly on the politics of the day: he threw out hints, which he evidently meant as a justification of his recent conduct: “Men,” he said, “who possess no merit, who have never fought for their country, are preferred to offices of importance; while those who have distinguished themselves to the utmost are passed by with disregard.” He also intimated, that he waiting the coming of Count Capo d”Istria, in order to give up the fortress to him.

After accompanying us, with one of his brothers, to the various works of the fortification, he introduced us to another brother, who was laid up with sickness. They described to us the warlike habits of the family. They told us that they never lived on the three articles of bread, meat, and win together: if they had bread, they had no meat: if they had meat, they had no bread. For months in succession, they never changed their dress: they were accustomed to heat, cold, rains, and snows-- to wade rivers up to the neck – and to encounter many other appalling hardships. If they were tow months without an expedition, they grew sick. They had never paid tribute to the Grand Signor: -- when they could not find Turks to fight, they attacked their own countrymen!

More to come from Rev. Hartley.

02 September 2015

Time ages in a hurry

Μετὰ τὴν σσιάν τάχιστα χρόνος. After the shadow time ages in a hurry.

Time Ages in a Hurry is the title of a marvelous book of short stories by Antonio Tabucchi, published by archipelagobooks.org. The line, attributed in the book to the Critias, is from a late antique commentary.

Time surprises. Time ages in a hurry. I have never been so aware of time. I am currently making plans for moving in December from Seattle -- after twelve years in this wonderful house, back to Washington, DC.  I will be going back to the apartment where I have lived longer than any place in my life, taking it over from the daughter who took it over when I moved here.

This will be my 15th move as an adult, and the first I have not wanted. This house is full of light: it faces due east and on sunny mornings, I begin my day by coming down the stairs into pools of liquid light. I have never before lived where I could have a garden but I have grown roses here, and developed my own garden.  There is a grape arbor -- I've mentioned that before.  And there have been the birds!  The smaller ones follow me around the yard and when I go on walks. The crows track me from room to room in the house, and a member of the third generation I have fed informs me quietly when their food pan is empty. His parents below -- a pairing that lasted only for a year -- would come sit near us when we would sit in the yard.   This small corner lot is overflowing with gratitude.

Meanwhile, I find I am not able to maintain this blog reliably.  There will be erratic posts while I try to decide what to do about it.  I am grateful for my readers -- there have been nearly half a million individual looks at material here, and especially for you who have taken the trouble to comment or write me. If Time permits, I would love to continue writing.

18 August 2015

On vacation: Marietta's Song

 "Marietta's Song", sung by Anne Sofie von Otter, 
from Die tote Stadt by Erich Korngold, 1920.

Glück, das mir verblieb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Abend sinkt im Hag
bist mir Licht und Tag.
Bange pochet Herz an Herz
Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts.

Wie wahr, ein traurig Lied.
Das Lied vom treuen Lieb,
das sterben muss.

Ich kenne das Lied.
Ich hört es oft in jungen,
in schöneren Tagen.
Es hat noch eine Strophe—
weiß ich sie noch?

Naht auch Sorge trüb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Neig dein blaß Gesicht
Sterben trennt uns nicht.
Mußt du einmal von mir gehn,
glaub, es gibt ein Auferstehn.

Joy, that near to me remains,
Come to me, my true love.
Night sinks into the grove
You are my light and day.
Anxiously beats heart on heart
Hope itself soars heavenward.

How true, a sad song.
The song of true love,
that must die.

I know the song.
I heard it often in younger,
in better days.
It has yet another verse—
Do I know it still?

Though sorrow becomes dark,
Come to me, my true love.
Lean (to me) your pale face
Death will not separate us.
If you must leave me one day,
Believe, there is an afterlife

08 August 2015

On vacation: Oranges

Wrapped Oranges, William J. McCloskey, 1889.
12” x 16”. Amon Carter Museum, Ft. Worth, TX

31 July 2015

On first looking into Chapman's Homer

In recent weeks I have been sorting through Pierre MacKay's boxes and drawers and shelves and desks. The last project so far was the heavy glass-fronted bookcase beside his bed full of, he said, his father's poetry books. Most of these were late 19th-century and early 20th-century editions of all the English poets, perhaps not as interesting to me as they should be. One book stood out, and its photograph is above.

There are several thousand books in this house, quite a few of them important. I have rarely been interested in an old book or a first edition. Books to me are primarily tools. I read with a pencil, fold down corners, make notes, break spines (though not intentionally). A beautiful edition is very nice to look at, but otherwise useless. So nothing in my life had prepared me for the thrill of this book. The blackening along the top edge has a very faint charred smell, souvenir of its surviving a fire in Princeton.  This book that touched fire was, is, Chapman's Homer. This is the book Keats wrote about.

When George Chapman began translating Homer, he issued it in installments beginning in 1598.  It was not until 1616 that he issued his complete Homer -- the first complete translation in English -- with copious marginal notes, fulsome dedicatory poems and prefaces, and remarkable etchings.

Wikipedia has an excellent article about Chapman, a prolific playwright, and possible the rival poet mentioned in Shakespeare's Sonnets.  When Chapman was reissued in 1998 and 2001, the London Review of Books published an eloquent discussion of the man and his work. I will not try to repeat them here, but I urge you to read the LRB because it so well explains how magic happens.  Chapman translated the Iliad in iambic heptameter and rhyming couplets.  Take this of Phoenix from Book 9 -- the spelling takes getting used to:

O thou that like the gods art fram'd: fince (deareft to my heart)
I us'de thee fo, though lov'dft none elfe; nor any where wouldft eate,
Till I had crownd my knee with thee, and caru'd thee tendrest meate,
And given thee wine for much, for love, that in thy infancie,
(Which ftill difcretion muft protect, and a continuall eye)
My bofome lovingly fuftain'd; the wine thine could not beare;

Here is a view from the Odyssey, this in iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, Odysseus speaking to Nausicaa: 

 And here, John Keats describes what happened to him when he read Chapman's Homer, and what happened to me when I found it in that dark corner of the bookcase:

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
   And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
   Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
   That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
   Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
   When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
   He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
   Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
                                                           John Keats

24 July 2015

Cheilas' Cleofe

Mistra in shrouds. Photo by Stella Chrysochoou.

The monody by Nikiforos Cheilas is the last of the four monodies delivered at the mnemosyne for Cleofe in late May of 1433. I have used them frequently in entries here for information, and have looked individually at those by Plethon, Pepagomenos, and Bessarion. This by Cheilas was the third delivered that day, and the one that probably would have been most remembered by those who heard him. On first reading, it appears to rush from one high point of emotion to the next, at times almost near hysteria, but it is the most literary of the four, and demonstrates the most concern for rhetoric.

Cheilas begins, and ends, with a justification for mourning (and includes a dig at Plethon and Pepagomenos, accusing them of showing off), both times bringing the mourning directly home by listing the mourners: the godly despot, the despots, his relatives, her most dear daughter, the priests, the monastic orders, the senators, the others, and the cities and villages.  These at the beginning are all present at the mnemosyne, while at the conclusion, he gives a shorter and different list, more poetic and more poignant: all kingdoms, groves and meadows, the Graces, widows, orphans, captives, the impoverished, and your subjects.

This identification with the listeners carries throughout as he talks about Cleofe and their grief in ways that they would wish they could have thought of, moving back and forth between factual statements about her life, and then rhapsodical images of what they have lost.  The image of light is preeminent: it is one of the oldest and most persistent of the topoi of Greek mourning. "The land of Hesperia sent her, a light flowing out from a golden race, but she shone back with a radiance that made all the brilliance of that race seem less." "O ornament of queens, or rather, queen among all queens, as you shown out, surpassing them in all your virtues."  (Here he used βασιλὶς βασιλίδων in a graceful recognition of the Palaiologos βασιλεὺς or βασιλέως βασιλεων.) "You, our sun, have set." Then inverting the metaphor he says, "What a change has come to hide away what was sweetest and best, igniting the entire flame of griefs and wretchedness."

Earlier he inverts a metaphor to great effectiveness: "You gave us then a celebration, showing us all something new, a reason to sing sweetly, songs worthy of your goodness and of the good fortune that came to us from you, . . . But now you set us to deep grieving, to uttering long cries of pain, to weaving a tragic song, antiphonal to our former hymns, singing farewell to the hopes we had in better times."

He inverts another metaphor, working with κιβωτὸς, ark: "O, bitter ark, that made away with such beauty. The psalmist of old even danced before the ark, when it was returning whence it came, but before this bitter ark which carries off our great queen to the tomb, it is entirely right for us to stand and wail continuously, and to mourn, and do everything short of trying to exhume her from it."

Cheilas reminds his listeners of Cleofe's intelligence, of her quiet and effective assistance in council, of her diligence in Bible study, and her self-discipline.  He indicates a more intimate knowledge when he tells of her standing in prayer all night, and that she had said quietly to a few that she would not live through this childbirth. He is the source for the information that she died on Good Friday at noon, and was buried almost immediately.  He confirms and supplements information in Pepagomenos and Bessarion.

Towards the end, Cheilas lets loose a cascade of metaphors: "She departed leaving behind amazement . . . O, shell of our common existence, what a change has come to hide away what was sweetest and best . . . O, who was it that did not spare this loveliest and most beautiful eye for us, cutting it out? Who was it that made this loveliest object and image of all the virtues and graces vanish? O, what a thing has been looted from us in her beauty, what loveliness has been destroyed? What light is now hidden under the bushel? O, what a sun has abruptly gone down into the tomb and is now miserably concealed? What a tongue full of grace has been imprisoned in final silence. Where has such loveliness ever before been extinguished? When has a flower so utterly withered, how has that precious gem been shattered?"

His conclusion is quiet, gentle, after the summary of the mourners: "Accept these words offered by us to you, O, in all things for us best and most holy, and most regal lady, they are entirely insufficient, but we could not mourn our loss in silence."

Just before his conclusion, Cheilas said: "Therefore I think that for all time and among all nations, this account, both as a written and as unwritten message will be sent out, and you will be remembered among all men until day and night yield to one another." As far as survivals are concerned, they never mentioned her again.

Translation by Pierre A. MacKay.

17 July 2015

The black saint of the Holy Roman Empire

St. Maurice (detail) 1520-25.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently published a monograph about an addition to the collection, a panel by Lucas Cranach the Elder (and his workshop) showing St. Maurice who is wearing the most gorgeous clothes in the whole world.

Here is the whole St. Maurice panel, and below, a second St. Maurice whose panel is still attached to his altarpiece in the Marktkirche, Halle.

Both of these panels are based on this drawing of a reliquary statue of St. Maurice.

Both drawings from the Liber ostensionis, 1526/27.

According to an account written about 450 AD, St. Maurice was a member of the Egyptian Theban Legion which was composed of Christians. Sent to France and ordered by the Emperor Maximian (ca.250-ca.310) to persecute Christians, they refused, and eventually were all executed. Another version of the story written a little later says that they were martyred for refusing to worship the Roman gods.

By 515 the ruler of Burgundy built a basilica and monastery in Valais for the throngs of pilgrims who were coming to visit Maurice's relics. In the 10th century Maurice's cult was promoted by Otto the Great who ultimately pronounced Maurice patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire.

Statue of St. Maurice, ca.1240-50.
Cathedral of St. Maurice and St. Catherine. Magdeburg.

St. Maurice and the Theban Legion. 

South German Master (early 16th C).
Private collection, NYC.

This panel painting of the Theban Legion dresses them in the spirit of the Vatican's Swiss Guards. The feathered headdresses look as if the painter knew of the tradition that produced. Ag. Alexandros from Kastoria in northern Greece.

The Meeting of St. Maurice and St. Erasmus.
 Matthias Grünewald, ca. 1520-24. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Finally, this Grünewald panel of St. Maurice who gives him the most extraordinarily luminous armor.

10 July 2015

Evliya's sea battle

The Ottoman Fleet of Tarik-y Bayezid (ink and gold leaf on vellum) 
16th century, which is early for Evliya.

This week, a section from Evliya Çelebi's Setyahatname, about a famous pirate and a battle at sea off Clarentza in 1668. The translation is by Pierre MacKay.  The bolded headings in the   text represent Evliya's red-ink marginal comments on the original manuscript
                                                                        * * * * * *
Departing from [Vostitza], I went for 3 hours southwards to the Kamenítza river, which comes down from the Kalâvryta mountains and flows into the gulf at this spot. It is a small river, and crossing it on horseback, I came to the village of Mustafa Paşa. This is a great bequest trust for the mosque of Mustafa Paşa in Gebze, which is a day's journey away from Üsküdar. The tributary populace is all Albanians. Another 3 hours from there is the
village of Mertéza, which is a zeamet-class fief of the Commander of the Levy for Morea. It tributary populace is all Greeks. This village is at the skirts of the "Black Mountain" of Morea, where all the infidel frigates have little landing places in the forest. They hide here and capture travellers and passers-by, and then sail away. From this village we went into the limitless plain of Gastúni and passed by prosperous villages with mosques,
inns and great houses, and through gardens and orchards like the gardens of Irem, and so came to Glarénza).

Description of the entire castle of Glarénza
It was founded by the Bundukani Venetians. In Greek, Glarénza (Larence) means . . ., and that is the reason for the name.

In the year . . ., it was a conquest of Sultan Beyazid the Saintly, but the conquest was made with great toil and suffering, and since the castle was largely useless he demolished it in several places. Since Patras and Chlemútsi are both close by, he left this castle in ruins although, when it was still standing, the saying goes that on the whole island of Morea there was no stronger nor more thickly populated | fortress. There are huge great pieces of the wall fabric lying about in many places, and it could easily be repaired if there were any occasion for it. It was a stout, five-sided fortress on the seashore with freshwater sources and two harbors where one may lie safe from all eight winds without fear or apprehension. The Algerian privateers, when they are cruising at sea looking for a prey, come in to cast anchor and lie at this harbor of Glarénza whenever they perceive the hill of Chlemútsi.

Witness of a seafight, in a tale worthy of future remembrance
Your poor and humble servant hid my horses away in the hills and came back on foot with two of my servants to Glarénza, where the three of us concealed ourselves in a corner of the great field of ruins, and inspected the island of Cephalonia, out in the gulf, with a telescope.This island is under the domination of the Venetian Franks, and while we were making a survey of all the details that were clearly visible through the telescope--the towers and wallsof the castle, the landing places, and the infidels themselves, both great and small--eight Muslim frigates appeared, flying green standards, with pennants waving in the wind.  
It happened that certain of our warrior heroes from Naupactus, namely Dorak Bey and Mısırlı Oğlu, were bringing their ships back from an expedition when ten frigates emerged from the harbor of the afore-mentioned infidel castle of Cephalonia and fell unexpectedly on Dorak Bey's squadron. The ships of Islam came into close engagement with the infidel frigates all across the face of the sea, and there was a huge battle. Your humble servant could not endure the rain of spent cannon and rifle shot falling in the ruins of Glarénsa castle, and retired to hide in a corner, but certain it is that our brave heroes made a fine, vigorous fight of of it.

Now our ships were returning from an expedition, and all eight of them were crammed full of infidel captives and loaded down with immeasurable amounts of tightly packed booty acquired as the spoils of war. The crews themselves were battle-ready, but the ships were not properly loaded for an engagement. The ten galleys of the enemy, on the other hand, were first-rate ships, fully armed and not loaded down. Moreover they had caiques and rowing boats coming up behind to help. Our ships of the Muslim fleet, therefore, | became apprehensive about the close-packed cargo of infidel prisoners, fearing that they might have a chance to raise their heads against us in the course of the fight. As a result, all eight Muslim frigates broke off from the engagement and as soon as they were free cried, "Full speed ahead!" and pulled on the oars with all their strength, heading in to shut themselves up in the harbor of Glarénza castle, from which we had been watching them.

When they saw my poor self there, the heroes were delighted, and in the twinkling of an eye they had unloaded all the booty, the heavy cargo and the infidel prisoners with their hands bound behind their necks. They turned this all over to me, and I brought down my slaves and my horses, and mounted my own horse to stand guard over the infidel captives while | I sent one of my slaves up to a village in the hills to tell the tributary populace to come down here fully armed. As soon as they arrived, we massed the infidel captives into the middle of our party, loaded them up with all the heavy cargo and marched them up away from the castle ruins and into the hills where we left them safe. 

Meanwhile, Dorak Bey, with his eight frigates now free and unencumbered, selected five hundred of the youngstalwarts who were gathering round from all four sides to look at the battle and tumult, and filled his ships with them. Then he sailed back out of Glarénza harbor again and pulledahead at full speed against the infidels. The noise and tumult of the close-fought melée and the exchange of fire was heard all the way to Patras and Chlemútsi, and young warriors rushed along the roads to get into ships in time to bring aid to the hero, Dorak Bey. He then took up a position in the middle of the ten enemy frigates, and filled the gun-crews tending the infidel cannon with so much lead and cannon-shot that he made prizes of eight of the enemy ships all at once. The other two turned about and ran back into the harbor of Cephalonia.

Glory to God--Dorak Bey had now conquered eight more ships with his eight and had madeprisoners of all their infidel crews, as well as capturing a proportional amount of cargo, weapons and ordnance materiel. He turned back into Glarénza harbor, therefore, and whenhe dropped anchor, I brought back the prisoners and booty that were up in the hills and turned them over once again to Dorak Bey. At this, the hero Dorak Bey, Mısırlı Oğlu, and the other officers and sea-captains gave me three prisoners in payment for my services, along with two European boy-slaves and a purse of silver thalers. Then the whole expedition reboarded the sixteen ships and after turning the crucifix idols upside down on all he eight infidel ships, they fired a joyous salute of cannon and rifle fire, let out their sails and set out straightaway with the day's prizes for the castle of Naupactus.  

So your humble servant was accidentally the witness of such a sea-fight, and God, in His Greatness, presented me with five captives and a purse of silver. For it was God who rewarded me thus, in that I, a traveller by land, was granted a present of booty taken at sea. Actually, I sent the five captives I had been given to accompany the remaining prisoners of Dorak Bey and the other heroes who were going to Naupactus, and directed one of my slaves to send them on from there to Zekeriya Efendi in Corinth, along with a letter telling him to sell them. So they went off to Naupactus and I went on southwards, and in three hours climbed up to Chlemútsi.

03 July 2015


In the Venetian “house of the bailo,” Halkis, during restoration. 
 If it was the house of the bailo, justice might have happened here.

I have been looking for information about justice in the Morea. I have a number of examples where people, like Bartolomeo Minio, acted justly, but I have been trying to get an idea of the process. As usual, there is little information, and what there is is almost entirely about the Venetian system.

In the Venetian città in the Morea, justice was to a large extent determined by custom, with decisions made by the governor and his councillors. The governor was to hold a court every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Friday, with fines over a certain amount and imprisonments (other than for soldiers) dependent on the majority vote of his councillors. However, the one surviving personal account of Venetian judicial action is a narrative of -- from the anonymous Greek narrator's point of view -- prejudicial and arbitrary actions.

The anonymous Greek narration concludes with his waiting for the sindici.  Venetian justice provided for two sindici to visit each città every two years to hear complaints that locals might have against the governor and his officials.  This worked a little better than you might think: Michele Salomon served a time in prison and paid a stiff fine for overcharging two stratioti on a horse sale, for engaging in trade with a Turk from Athens in wartime, and for cheating a Naupliot woman in a business deal. Another governor spent six months in jail for adultery with the wife of a Greek citizen of Nauplion.  I can identify no other decisions by sindici for the Morea.

A peasant, hired to murder Giovanni Catello by his brothers, only managed to wound him five time. The governor sentenced the peasant in absentia to be hanged at "the forks", after his hand was amputated. We don't know if the sentence was ever carried out, but this is the only judgment I have found for Nauplion.  I wrote about this in more detail here at "The Forks."

We have a few actual records from the court at Patras, possibly a continuation of the court structure there when Patras surrendered to Constantine. Zakythinos points out that in the surviving records of the court, four of the seven members have Italian names: he sees this as an example of decentralization of judicial authority. This is much more likely to be a factor of wealth and status and in fact, the decentralization of judicial authority is better seen in the judicial control of the archons over their people. There are three surviving records of Patras court actions for the fifteenth century. One shows Thomas Palaiologos as Despot giving a decision about land in 1436 against the Jew Salomon on behalf of Nikolas de Leonessa. A second decision in 1438, again involving Nikolas de Leonessa, was signed jointly by Ioannis Kantakuzenos Palaiologos and Theodoros Erastopulos on behalf of Thomas when he went to John VIII in Florence on behalf of Constantine in Constantinople. In 1440, Nicholaos Neapolites who was also notary of Patras, had the position of judge.

Sphrantzes' instructions as governor of Mistra were "to stay here and 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." But Sphrantzes says nothing about what he did. Governors held their own courts and we have no information as to whether there was a distinction between a despot's court and that of a governor when a city had both. When Constantine gave Sphrantzes those instructions, he was leaving to tend to the Hexamilion and then the rest of his territories, exploring options. Constantine had created several large administrative divisions in the Morea: Corinth under Kantakouzenos, Patras under Alexios Laskaris, and Mistra under Sphrantzes. Monemvasia must have accounted for another division, although it is not named. Constantine also left a Ioannis Eudaimonoioannes as intermediary, mesazon. Perhaps Sphrantzes and Eudaimonoioannes conducted the Mistra court in Constantine's absence, as Palaiologos and Erastopoulos did for Thomas. But there is no specific information. Theodoros sat in the court at Mistra and was complimented by Scholarios:
[Theodoros was] naturally inclined to treat others well, a generous giver, very eager to praise virtue in those who pursue it, and to crown them, but very severe in dismissing those who tended the other way, and astute in exacting penalties against those caught in any sort of evil-doing, decreeing them rather in a sense of reason than of anger, looking more to aid than to deal out to a wrong-doer extremes of punishment for extreme crimes . . .

  "Looking more to aid than to deal out to a wrong-doer extremes of punishment for extreme crimes" was a concept dear to Gemistos and is a point where we can probably identify a very specific influence. In the section of his Laws on sexual misconduct, he calls for a court, συνέδριον, to vote on such matters, and though he writes with approval of burning for those found guilty of pederasty, bestiality, and rape, he wants the court to consider the circumstances of the accused, his education, and whether a period in prison might instead bring about a desired correction. Gemistos is said to have been a judge at Mistra, but we have no evidence for it. Nor do we have any evidence for any action of Theodoros as judge.
It may be a subtle comment on Byzantine justice in the Morea that Mazaris has this to say about the judges in Hades:

Don't be afraid of the judges because they are pagan. For they are genuinely devoted to justice. It is precisely for that reason that they were elevated to the supreme court.