On Line Library of the Church of Greece
Τhe Ballad- Poetry of Modern Greece
Greek Miscellany. A collection of essays on medieval and modern Greece,
The strolling minstrels who wandered from village to village recited their patriotic odes in the cafιs or beneath the shade of the giant plane-trees where the people fore-gathered οn Sundays and feast-days. Up in the distant mountain villages the population was exclusively Greek, and it was possible to speak and sing freely, for few Turks ventured up into the highlands, except for an occasional tax-gatherer or police official.
Ιn all these folk-songs we find constantly recurring certain poetical conventions of language and expression, such as are characteristic of the Homeric rhapsodies. For instance, in those days when there was neither post nor telegraph, news and rumours were supposed to be conveyed from place to place by the birds. Thus many of these ballads have a conventional opening, with three little birds telling the tale.
Τρία πουλάκια κάθουνταν ψηλά στη Χαλκουμάτα,
τόνα τηράει τη Λειβαδιά και τάλλο το Ζητούνι,
το τρίτο το καλύτερο μοιρολογαει και. λέει:
"Πολλή μαυρίλα πλάκωσε, μαύρη σαν καλιακούδα.
Μην ο Καλύβας έρχεται, μην ο Λεβεντογιάννης;"
"Ουδ' ο Καλύβας έρχεται, ουδ' ο Λεβεντογιάννης,
Ομέρ Βρυώνης πλάκωσε με δεκοχτώ χιλιάδες."
Three little birds sat high οn Chalkomata,
One looks towards Livadiΰ, the other towards Zeituni,
The third, the best one, keens and says:
"A black cloud approaches, black as a raven,
Is it Kalyvas coming, or Leventoyannis?"
"Neither Kalyvas, nor Leventoyannis,
Omer Vrionis2 is upοn us, with eighteen thousand men."
As in the Iliad, the opposing parties in a fight defy each other from a distance with insulting epithets.The Turks call the klephts "Giaours !" (Infidels); the latter return the compliment with the word "Mourtates" (Dirty Dogs). The women, who not infrequently fought by the side of their menfolk, were not a whit behind the men in defiance.
"Κόρη, για ρίξε τάρματα, γλύτωσε τη ζωή σου."
"Τι λέτε, μωρ' Παλιότουρκοι, και σεις, παλιοζαγάρια!
Εγώ μαι η Λένω Μπότσαρη, η αδερφή του Γιάννη,
και ζωντανή δεν πιάνουμαι εις των Τουρκών τα χέρια."
"Maid, throw thy arms away and saυe thy life!"
"What say you, vile Turks, and you, vile dogs!
Ι'm Lena Botzari, John's own sister,
Neυer shall Ι fall aliυe into Turkish hands!"
Favourite subjects are: the death of the veteran Klepht, immortalized in the well-known ballad of "Ο Γερο-Δήμος πέθανε, ο Γερο-Δήμος πάει"; ("Yerodimos is dead, Yerodimos is gone!")
the παλληκάρι or valiant young klepht; the βλάμης or bloodbrother; the ψυχογυιός or klepht's adopted son; and the hero's mother, the μάννα.
Μάννα, σου λέω, δεν μπορώ τους Τούρκους να δουλεύω,
θα πάρω το τουφέκι μου, θα πάω να γίνω κλέφτης.
"Ι tell you, Mother, Ι'll neυer be the Turks' slave;
I'll take my gun and turn klepht!"
Ιn the bitter struggle between Christian subjects and Moslem masters the Arnauts or Albanians are just as much an object of hatred as the Turks.
The Albanians, living on the northern marches of Continental Greece, were often called in by the Ottoman Porte to put down insurrections and restore order in the Greek provinces of the South. Fierce bands of warlike Ghegs from the mountains of Northern Albania or treacherous Tosks and Liaps from the South were let loose on the unfortunate villages of Central Greece and the Morea. "Οι Αρβανίτες πλάκωσαν" (The Arnaouts are upon us!) was a common cry in those days, the sound of which spread terror far and wide throughout the countryside.
Many of the early 19th century ballads deal with episodes from the Ali Pasha Cycle. Ali Pasha, by his meteoric career, had captured the romantic imagination of his times.
This Albanian petty chieftain from Tepeleni, who succeeded in establishing himself as a semi-independent potentate at Yannina, a terror to Christians and Moslems alike, is the hero of a large number of ballads. His wars against the intrepid mountaineers of Souli; the tragedy of the drowning of his son's mistress, Kyra Frossyni, in the lake
of Yannina; and many other like incidents supplied the popular bards of the period with ample material. Here is part of the "Dirge of Kyra Frossyni", one of the best-known of these ballads:
Τ'ακούσατε τι γίνηκε στα Γιάννενα, στη λίμνη,
που πνίξανε τις δεκαφτά με την Κυρά Φροσύνη;
Αχ, Φροσύνη παινεμένη,
Τι κακό'παθες, καϋμένη!
Άλλη καμιά δεν τό'βαλε το λιαχουρί φουστάνι,
πρώτ' η Φροσύνη τό'βαλε και βγήκε στο σιργιάνι.
Αχ, Φροσύνη παινεμένη,
και στον κόσμο ξακουσμένη!
Δε σ'τό'λεγα, Φροσύνη μου, κρύψε το δαχτυλίδι,
γιατί αν το μάθει ο Αλήπασας,θε να σε φάει το φίδι;
Αχ, Φροσύνη μου καϋμένη,
τι πολύ κακό θα γένει!
Φύσα, βοριά, φύσα, θρακιά, για ν'αγριέψει η λίμνη,
να βγάλει τες αρχόντισσες και την Κυρά Φροσύνη.
Αχ, Φροσύνη, παινεμένη,
μεσ'στη λίμνη ξαπλωμένη!
Φροσύν', σε κλαίει το σπίτι σου, σε κλαίνε τα παιδιά σου,
σε κλαίνε όλα τα Γιάννενα, κλαίνε την
Have you heard what befell at Yannina, οn the lake,
Ηοw they drowned Kyra Frossyni and the seventeen?
Alas, fair Frossyni,
What a cruel fate was thine!
None other dared don the Cashmir skirt,
Frossyni was the first to wear it οn parade.
Alas, fair Frossyni,
Didn't I warn thee, Frossyni, to hide the ring,
For, if Ali Pasha heard of it, the snake would swallow thee?
Alas, poor Frossyni,
For the woe that shall befall!
Βlοw, North wind, blow, East wind, lash the lake,
So that it may throw up those fine ladies with Kyra Frossyni.
Alas, fair Frossyni,
That liest deep in the lake!
Frossyni, thy home and children mourn for thee,
All Yannina mourns thee and thy beauty!
Alas, Frossyni, my partridge,
Thou hast burnt my heart!
Apart from the historical ballads, there were also others which dealt with various aspects of Greek life. A favourite subject, for instance, was the "Ξενητεμένος" -the Greek who has left his village to go abroad and seek his fortune either in some distant foreign country or else in some other part of the vast Ottoman Empire: in Anatolia, in Egypt or the Danubian Principalities.
One must remember that, in those days, the Turks owned most of the land -in any case, all the good land down in the plains and valleys- while the mass of the Christian rural population lived up in the mountains where land was both poor and scarce. Hence it was a very common thing for the men to emigrate in order to seek a living as craftsmen or traders elsewhere, leaving their women-folk behind. They might not return for years and, in those days, when postal communications with the outside world were practically non-existent, years might go by without any news of the absent one. Here is one of the popular ditties which deals with this favourite subject -the lament of mother or sweetheart for the absent one:
Ξενητεμένο μου πουλί και παραπονεμένο,
η ξενητειά σε χαίρεται κι εγώ 'χω τον καϋμο σου.
Τι να σου στείλω, ξένε μου, τι να σου προβοδήσω;
Μήλο αν σου στείλω σέπεται, τριαντάφυλλο μαδειέται,
σταφύλι ξερογιάζεται, κυδώνι μαραγκιάζει.
Να στείλω με τα δάκρυα μου μαντήλι μουσκεμένο,
τα δάκρυα μου 'ναι καυτερά και καίνε το μαντήλι.
Poor little bird οf mine, stranded in foreign lands,
Some foreign land enjoys thee, while Ι pine.
What can Ι send thee, my stranger, to speed thee οn thy way?
if Ι send thee αn apple, it will rot; if Ι send thee α rose, it will wilt;
Α bunch of grapes will dry, a quince will grow sour.
Let me send thee α handkerchief, drenched in my tears-
My tears are hot and will burn the handkerchief.