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A.A. Pallis

Τhe Ballad- Poetry of Modern Greece

From Greek Miscellany. A collection of essays on medieval and modern Greece, Athens 1964
© A.A.Pallis

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The creative period of Greek folk-poetry comes more or less to an end with the termination of the War of Independence which marks the beginning of Greek literary poetry. 

Modern Greek poetry, in its literary form as opposed to folk-poetry, began in the Ionian Islands. 

The reason is easy to explain. Ιn Continental Greece, under the Turks, there was nο scope whatsoever for literary production in the proper sense. There were hardly any schools, and the level of education, even among the upper classes, was extremely low. Very few, except among the higher clergy, or a few schoolmasters like Rhighas Pheraios, had read the Greek classics; even fewer were those who knew foreign languages and Western literature; most of the people, even among the upper classes, were illiterate. There were no printing-presses and hardly any books, except for a few printed in Venice or Vienna which found their way into the country. But the Ionian Islands were fortunate enough never to have been under Turkish rule. Until 1797 they were under the Venetians, then for a short time successively under the French and Russians, and from 1815 onwards they became a British Protectorate. 

The Ionian aristocracy and bourgeoisie were people of culture and refinement. While under Venetian rule, the young Ionian nobles used to frequent the University of Padua, where they studied the ancient classics, Dante, Ariosto and the other Italian poets. After the establishment of British rule in 1815, Lord Guilford, a distinguished philhellene and scholar, founded the Ionian Academy at Corfu, which did a great deal to promote education among the Ionian upper classes. 

The first literary poets of Modern Greece -Solomos, Marcoras, Calvos, Valaoritis-were all from the Ionian Islands. They were influenced by the Romantic School of Western Europe -Byron, Shelley, Lamartine, Chateaubriand- but they also drew inspiration from the Greek popular ballad-poetry, and both their language and style were much influenced by these ballads. Valaoritis in particular drew most of his material from that source. 

Solomos, a cultured Ionian aristocrat from Zante who was a contemporary of the Greek War of Independence in the first quarter of the 19th century, is principally known as the author of the "Hymn to Liberty" which has been adopted as the Greek National Anthem. His masterpiece, however, is the short ode commemorating the destruction of the heroic island of Psara by the Turks in 1823.

Στων Ψαρών την ολόμαυρη ράχη

περπατώντας η δόξα μονάχη

μελετά τα λαμπρά παλληκάρια

και στην κόμη στεφάνι φορεί

γεναμένο από λίγα χορτάρια

που είχαν μείνει στην έρημη γη.

Over Psara's dark ridge

Glory, striding alone,

Meditates οn the fallen heroes

And in her hair wears α wreath

Woven of the straggling herbs,

All that was left οn that deserted shore.

Valaoritis, another Ionian, from Lefkada, who wrote in the latter half of the 19th century, drew his inspiration from the Ali Pasha Cycle as well as from the stirring events of the Greek War of Independence. He was a man of great eloquence and lively poetic imagination, and his verses vibrate with romantic passion. 

His masterpiece, in my opinion, is the "Vrykolakas" or "Vampire", which describes the sad fate of the widow of Thanassi Vayias, one of Ali Pasha's principal henchmen,

represented by Valaoritis as as traitor who, after his death, was turned into a vampire. The story, however, is fictitious, and the poet's version is unjust to the memory of Vayias who, as has been proved since, was a perfectly good patriot and was rewarded by Capodistria with a pension. 

The following are two passages from Valaoritis' works, one from "Kyra Frossyni" and the other from "Athanassios Diakos", a poem which celebrates the death of one of the most sympathetic heroes of the Greek War of Independence: 


Επέσανε τa Γιάννινα σιγά να κοιμηθούνε,

εσβήσανε τα φώτα τους, εκλείσανε τα μάτια.

Η μάνα σφίγγει το παιδί βαθειά στην αγκαλιά της,

γιατ' είναι χρόνοι δύστυχοι και τρέμει μη το χάσει.

Τραγούδι δεν ακούγεται, ψυχή δεν ανασαίνει.

Ο ύπνος είναι θάνατος και μνήμα το κρεβάτι,

κ' η χώρα κοιμητήριο κ' η νύχτα ρημοκλήσι.


All is still as Yannina slumbers,

The lights are out, αll eyes are closed.

The mother clasps the child tight to her bosom,

For these are eυil days and she trembles lest she lose it.

Not α song is heard, not α soul breathes,

The land is α cemetery, the night like α deserted church.


Λαλούν οι πέρδικες γλυκά κι ο ήλιος, στη χαρά του,

απλώνει μιαν αχτίδα του και ψηλαφίζει ο κλέφτης

τα παρδαλά τα στήθια τους, κι αυτές αναγαλλιάζουν.

Κατάκορφα στον ουρανό πετιέται κι ο πετρίτης,

τ' αητού πρωτοπαλλήκαρο, να βάψει τα φτερούγια

μέσ'στον αιθέρα της αυγής πριν έβγει στην παγάνα.

Πλένουν τα φύλλα στη δροσιά χαρούμενα τα ρείκη,

και στο ελαφρό το φύσημα του αγέρα που διαβαίνει

συναπαντούσε φιλικά με τον ανασασμό του

το θρούμπι την αλισφακιά, το σφελαχτό η μυρτούλα.

Δακρύζουνε τ' απάρθενα τα χιόνια στο λιοπύρι,

ακούοντ'οι νεροσυρμές από εγκρεμό σε βράχο

να παραδέρνουνε γοργά, και λες με τη γαργάρα

π' ανάκραζαν την κλεφτουριά και την αποζητούσαν.

Εκυματίζαν τα σπαρτά, χαρά του ζευγολάτη,

και κάπου-κάπου ανάμεσα ξεπρόβαιν' ένα στάχυ

κ έγερν'εδώ κ έγερν'εκει το τρύφερό κεφάλι

ωσάν να παραμόνευε να ιδεί κι αυτό το Διάκο.


Sweetly chirp the partridges, while the Sun in his joy

Throws out α ray, and the Κlepht strokes

Their striped breasts and makes them cluck.

Down from the sky darts the peregrine,

The eagle's henchman, to refresh his wings

Ιnη the morning air before starting οnη his hunt.

The joyful heather washes its foliage in the dew,

While in the passing breeze's light breath

Savory and horehound, gorse and myrtle

Consort in friendly fashion, blending their smell.

The virgin snows drip tearfully in the blazing sun.

One hears the waterfalls leaping swiftly

From precipice to rock and, with their murmur,

As it were calling for the Klephts and seeking them.

The corn fields, the farmer's joy, billowed,

And here and there an ear of corn projected

Waving its tender head now here, nοw there,

As if it too was οn the look-out for Diakos.

Ιn the middle and latter part of the 19th century we have a good deal of learned poetry, written in the pedantic Kαtharevousa of the period, which had been adopted as the οfficial language of the new Greek State. 

Poets like Rangavis and Soutsos wrote a lot οf tasteless romantic poetry which hardly anybody reads today, since the Dimotiki -the vernacular- has become established as the sole vehicle of poetic expression.

There is one late 19th century poet who certainly must always rank high in Modern Greek literature, and that is Crystallis. Crystallis comes straight from the people and uses the language of the people. By origin a poor shepherd-boy, he had spent the whole of his youth among the mountains of his native Epirus in the society of the "τσέλιγκες"- the nomad shepherds of the mountains. Pastoral life is one of the most picturesque and characteristic features of the Greek and, indeed, of the whole Balkan countryside.

Those who happen to be familiar with the Greek mountains around Parnassus know the attraction of the sights and sounds of the mountainside -of those flocks of sheep and goats browsing among the scrub, their bells tinkling gently as they move up and down the steep stony slopes in charge of a little shepherd-boy who occasionally throws a stone to divert any odd animal that may have strayed away from the main body. Not so far away will be the "στάνη"- the shepherd's settlernent consisting of small straw huts.

Crystallis, in one of his most famous odes, describes the life of the στάνη with a wealth of language that only one born and bred to those surroundings could command. 


Ήθελα νά'μουν τσέλιγyας, νά'μουν κ' ένας σκουτέρης,

να πάω να ζήσω στο μαντρί, στην ερημιά, στα δάσα,

νά'χω κοπάδι πρόβατα, νά'χω κοπάδι γίδια

κ'ένα σωρό μαντρόσκυλα, νάχω και βοσκοτόπια

το καλοκαίρι στα βουνά και τον χειμώ στους κάμπους.

Νά'χω από πάλιουραν βορό και στρούγγα από ροδάμι,

νά'χω και σε ψηλήν κορφή καλύβα από ρουπάκια,

νά'χω με τα βοσκόπουλα σε κάθε σκάρο γλέντι,

νά'χω φλογέρα να λαλώ, ν' αντιλαλούν οι κάμποι,

νά'χω και κόρην όμορφη, στεφανωτήν μου νά'χω,

να μου βοηθάει στο σάλαγο, να μου βοηθάει στα γρέκια,

κι όντας θα τα σταλίζουμε τά δειλινά στους ίσκιους,

στης ρεματιάς τη χλωρασιά μαζί της να πλαγιάζω,

να με κοιμίζει με φιλιά στους δροσερούς της κόρφονς.


Would that Ι were a shepherd, even α shepherd's help,

That Ι might live οn the ranch amid the lonely forests,

Το haυe my own flock of sheep and goats,

And sheep dogs galore, and pastures,

Το spend summer in the mountains and winter in the plains,

Το have a pen hedged with thorn, a sheep-run with prickly oak,

Το haυe α rough stone hut, somewhere on α high hill-top,

Το play with the shepherd-boys οn eυery slope;

Το have a pipe to play, so that the plains may echo;

Το haυe α pretty girl, too, for wife,

Τo help me with the rounding up and in the pens,

And, when we put them to rest in the eυening under the trees,

Το lie with her, in the fresh grass of the gully,

So she may kiss me to sleep against her cοοl breasts.

The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century sees a great development of Greek poetry, which was a branch of literature especially cultivated by the Δημοτικιστές -the champions of the vernacular- in their struggle against the Καθαρευουσιάνοι or upholders of the pseudo-classical literary tradition, still powerful in official circles.

Ι may mention among the followers of Psycharis, who was the leader of this School, my father whose semi-humorous lyrics, published in "Κούφια Καρύδια" (Empty Nutshells), are still popular, Lavrentios Mabilis, Miltiadis Μalakassis, Drossinis, Polemis, Gryparis and the great Palamas, who were all contemporaries. Here is one of my father's lighter ditties, the "Ρουμελιώτισσα" or "Girl from Rumeli".


Ζουλεύω εκείνο το χωριό,
στον κάμπο κάτου
με τ'αψηλό καμπαναριό
στην εκκλησιά του
πού'χει την Ιlαναγιά χρυσή
κι άσημωμένη,
και να
την ασπαστεί η Ρηνιώ
Ζουλεύω εκείνο το χωριό,
στον κάμπο κάτου,
με τα χωράφια τα βαθιά,

με τα δεντρά του

που, φορτωμένα τις ελιές,

τη γης φιλούνε

και σαν τα μάτια της Ρηνιώς

Ζουλευω εκείνο το χωριό,

στον κάμπο κάτου,

π' άνθίζουν και μοσκοβολούν
τα κλήματά του,

πόχει σταφύλι ρόδινο
το κάθε αμπέλι

σαν τα χειλάκια της Ρηνιώς
που στάζουν μέλι

Ζουλεύω εκείνο το χωριό,

στον κάμπο κάτου,

με τις καθάριες του πηγές,
τα ρέματά του.

Ζωή σκορπούνε τα νερά...
Ρηνιώ, να

με λίγη αγάπη έλα, κ' εσύ,
να μ'αναστησεις.


Ηοw Ι envy that village, down in the plain,

With the tall steeple of its church,

With the gold and silυer Virgin,

Which Renio so often goes to kiss!

Ηοw Ι envy that village, down in the plain,

With its deep-ploughed fields and its oliυe-trees,

Whose branches laden with fruit bow to the ground,
Black as the eyes of Renio!

Ηοw Ι envy that village, down in the plain,

With the vines in full, flower
Giving out their sweet scent,

Where each vineyard bears rosy grapes

Like those honey-dripping lips of Renio's!

Ηοw Ι envy that υillage, down in the plain,

With its pure springs and its water-courses!

The waters scatter life about them.

Renio, long may you liυe!

Come, give me α little lουe, to revive me!

One of my father's best is his short ode to Canaris. Canaris, the intrepid sailor of the Greek War of Independence, is shown defying the opinion of the notables of Psara who wanted to defend the island on land instead of following Canaris' advice and taking to the ships -those wooden walls which, ever since ancient times, had been Greece's surest defence. 


Όλη η βουλή των προεστών, στο μώλο συναγμένη,

είπε πως όξω στη στεριά τους Τούρκους θα προσμένει.

Τότε έβγαλα το φέσι

και να μιλήσω θάρρεψα προβάλλοντας στη μέση:

"Τίποτα, αρχόντοι, δε φελά· μονάχα το καράβι!"

Σα μ'άκουσε ένα απ'τα τρανά καλπάκια μας ανάβει

και το φαρμάκι χύνει:

"Ποιος είναι αυτός, και πώς τον λεν, που συβουλές μας δίνει;”

Να τα Ψαρά πώς χάθηκαν. Κ'εγώ φωτιά στο χέρι

πήρα και πέρα τράβηξα, κατά της Χιος τα μέρη,

κ' είπα από κει -δε βάσταξα- με χείλια πικραμένα:

"Να πως με λεν εμένα!"



The Assembly of notables, gathered οn the pier,

Announced they would wait for the Turks οn land.

Then, doffing my fez,

Ι stood up in their midst and dared to say:

"Gentlemen, all else is useless save the ships!"

Incensed at my words, one ο f those mighty, high-

bonneted gentlemen, poured out his venom:

"Who is this fellow who dares to give us advice,

and what's his name?

"That's how Psara was lost!

Ι seized the torch and, crossing over to Chios,

From over there -'twas more than Ι could bear-

shouted with bitter lips:

"That is how they call me!3

Mabilis, whom Ι met as a boy at Corfu, was a very sympathetic figure, one of the last representatives of the Ionian School which has given so many eminent poets to Modern Greek literature. Mabilis was killed during the First Βalkan War, in 1912, at Driskos near Yannina.

He has written some charming verse, of which the following, dedicated to his beloved island of Corfu, is a specimen:


Πάλε ξυπνάει της άνοιξης τ'αγέρι,

στην llλάση μυστικής αγάπης γλύκα,

σα νυφ'η γη, πόχει άμετρα άνθη προίκα,

λάμπει ενώ σβηέται της αυγής τ'άστέρι.

Πεταλούδες πετούν ταίρι με ταίρι,

εδώ βουΐζει μέλισσα, εκεί σφήκα·

τη φύση στην καλή της ώρα εβρήκα,

λαχταρίζει η ζωή σ'όλα τα μέρη.

Κάθε μοσκοβολιά και κάθε χρώμα,

κάθε πουλιού κελάηδημα ξυπνάει

πόθο στα φυλλοκάρδια μου κ ελπίδα

να σου ξαναφιλήσω τ' άγιο χώμα,

να ξαναϊδώ και το δικό σου Μάη,

όμορφή μου, καλή, γλυκιά πατρίδα.



Once more the breeze of spring awakes

With all the charm of Nature's mystic lοve,

The country, α bride dowered with countless fiowers,

Glows in the Morning Star's uncertain light.

Butterflies here and there flitter in pairs,

Here buzzes α bee and there α wasp;

Nature greets me at her most gracious hour,

There is α throb of life οn every side.

With every scent, with every shade of colour,

With every bird which twitters οn the wing,

There stirs within me longing and hope

Once more to kiss thy sacred soil,

Once more to gaze upon thy month of May,

Loveliest, sweetest, country of my birth!

Malakassis, like most of the poets belonging to this School, was a writer of short lyrics. His best known poem is called "Batariΰs". (Batariΰs is the name of a popular minstrel whom Malakassis had known in his early days at Missolonghi, his home town.) Those who have lived in~ Greece, and have known the charm of the small seaside tavern where the παρέα -the jolly company of friends- foregathers οn the moonlit summer-nights, will appreciate the eminently Greek atmosphere of this delightful poem.


Ο Μπουκουβάλας ο μικρός κι ο Κλης του Τσαγκαράκη

κι ο Νίκος του Βρανά,

Σάββατο βράδυ, κάποτε, τό 'ριχναν στο μεράκι,

στου Βλάχου κουτσοπίνοντας κρυφά.

Κι ως ήσανε αρχοντόπουλα κ' οι τρεις, στο κέφι απάνω

στέλναν για τα βιολιά,

και μέσ' σέ λίγο βλέπανε τον Κατσαρό τον Πάνο

και πίσω το Θανάση Μπαταριά.

Κι αμέσως με το βιολιτζή και με το λαουτέρη,

και μ' έναν πιφιρτζή,

για το βιλούχι κίναγαν του Κώστα Καλιαντέρη,

που σίγουρα τον εύρισκαν εκεί.

Κι ο Κώστας, λαγοκοίμητος, πάντα με την ποδιά του,

τους δέχονταν ορθός,

και το τραπέζι ετοίμαζε προς τ'αρμυρίκια κάτου,

στης άπλας λιμνοθάλασσας το φως.

Κι ως να στρωθή και να σιαχτή, και να συγκαιριστούνε

τάργανα, σιγαλά

τα λιανοτράγουδα άρχιζαν, τα γιαρεδάκια, οπού'ναι

καθώς τα προσανάμματα στη στιά.

Μα στο τραπέζι ως κάθουνταν, κι άνοιγεν η φωνή σου,

μεγάλε Μπαταριά,

στο τρίτο κρασοπότηρο πουλιά του Παραδείσου

ξυπνούσανε κι αηδόνια στα κλαδιά.

Και λίγο-λίyο ως γύριζες μέσ' στο τραγούδι -ω θάμα!-

παλληκαριές, καημούς,

τ'αρματολίκι ανέβαζες, και την αγάπη αντάμα,

στ' αστέρια, στο φεγγάρι, στους θεούς.

Κ εκείθε που δεν έφτανε κανένας, κ η ανάσα

πιάνονταν ως κι αυτή,

κ' εκείθε αλέγρα, παίζοντας σκαλί-σκαλί τα μπάσα,

κατέβαινε η γαλιάντρα σου φωνή.

Μα εκεί που πέλαγο η φωνή σάλευε πια τα φρένα,

κι ο πλανταγμένος νους

πού πήγαινε δεν ήξερε, με τα φτερά χαμένα

σ' αναθυμιές και πόθους ωκεανούς,

καθώς η νύχτα εθάμπιζε και της αυγής η χάρη

σπίθιζ' αντικρινά,

ξάμωνε ο Μπαταριάς μεμιάς και πέταε το δοξάρι,

με το στερνό του βόγκο, στα νερά.



Young Boukouvalas, Clis Tsangarakis and Niko Vranas

From time to time, of a Saturday evening,

Would foregather at Vlachos' taυern for α drink or two.

And, being all three of them young men of good family,

As they got merry they would call the fiddlers

And, before long, you would see Panos Catsaros

Followed by Thanassis Batariάs.

Then straight away, accompanied by α fiddler,

Α luteplayer and α piper,

They would start off for Costa Calianteris taυern

Where they were always sure to find him.

Costa, half asleep, always wearing his apron,

Would stand up and greet them,

And would lay the table, down by the salt-flats,

Ιn the light of the wide lagoon.

And while all was being prepared,

And the instruments were tuning up,

Slowly the snatches of song would begin,

Which are like the kindling-wood

Before the fire gets well alight.

And, as they sat at table, thy υoice would open out,

Immortal Batariάs,

And, at the third glass, the nightingales would awake,

True birds of Paradise.

And, as thou gottest going, oh, marυel!

Thy tales of valour and woe,

Of Klephts and Loυe, rose high

Το stars and moon and Heaven.

And at its highest point,

When breath itself began to fail,

Joyfully down to deepest bass

Thy limpid voice would gradually descend,

And, as the voice stirred the soul to its depths

And the dazed mind, like α bewildered bird

Lost itself in α sea of sighs and plaintive cries,

As nights began to wane and Dawn's

First glimmer lighted up the skies,

Suddenly Batariάs would pause and,

With one final moan,

Would fling his viol's bow into the sea.

Although my preference goes to the poets of the Ροpular School, who are the lineal descendants of the anonymous bards of the 18th century, Ι must mention one poet who, both from the point of language, style and subject, belongs to a more academic school -Ι mean Cavafis. Cavafis was an Alexandrian Greek; he learnt his Greek abroad, and his style and outlook are much more scholastic than those of the other poets Ι have mentioned who were born and bred in Greece itself and drew their inspiration direct from the soil.

Cavafis, like the French poet Hιrιdia, whom he somewhat resembles, prefers historical subjects, more especially those connected with the Alexandrine or Roman period. The language he employs is somewhat of a jargon in which he mixes up classical and modern forms in a manner which is often unaesthetic. Nevertheless some of his poems have an undoubted quality, although their appeal is to a much narrower circle owing to their scholastic flavour.

His poem, "Οι Βάρβαροι" (The Barbarians), which describes the weary fatalistic atmosphere in the last days of Imperial Rome, when the Germanic invaders were hourly expected to arrive and extinguish the Empire, is one of his most characteristic and effective productions.


Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Eίvaι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

Γιατί μέσα στη Σύγκλητο μια τέτοια απραξία;

Τι κάθοντ' οι συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.

Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι συγκλητικοί;

Οι βάρβαροι, σαν έρθονν, θα νομοθετήσουν.

Γιατί ο Αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωί σηκώθη,

και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη

στο θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα,

κι ο Αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί

τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε

για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί

τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς κι ονόματα.

Γιατί οι δυο μας ύπατοι κ' οι πραίτορες εβγήκαν

σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες·

γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,

και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα,

και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπώνουν τους βαρβάρους.

Γιατί κ'οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα

να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα,

κι αυτοί βαριούντ' ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

Γιατί ν' αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία

κ' η σύγχυσις; (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που εγίναν.)

Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ' οι πλατείες,

κι όλοι γνρνούν στα σπίτια των πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ' οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν,

και μερικοί έφθασαν απ' τα σύνορα

και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους;

Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.


"Why do the people wait, assembled in the Forum?"

"Because to-day the Barbarians will be here."

"Why all this listlessness in the Senate-House?

Why don't the Senators start to legislate?"

"Because to-day the Barbarians will be here-

Why should the Senators bother to make laws

When in α little time the Barbarians will be here?

When they arrive, 'tis they will make the laws."

"Why has our Emperor risen so early,

Why does he sit before the city-gate,

Seated upon his throne, wearing his crown?"

"Because to-day the Barbarians will be here,

And the Emperor must needs be there

Το receive their Chief. Indeed for him

He has prepared α parchment

Conferring οn him all sorts of names and titles."

"Wherefore have both the Consuls and the Praetors

Sallied forth clad in their scarlet gold embroidered togas?

Why do they wear their amethyst-studded bracelets

And their splendid emerald mounted rings?"

"Because to-day the Barbarians will be here,

And such-like baubles dazzle the Barbarians."

"Why are the learned rhetors absent here to-day,

They who are trained to plead with eloquent words?

"Because to-day the Barbarians will be here,

And they are bored to listen to all this talk."

"But why this sudden murmuring and fuss?

See how serious all the faces have become!

Why are the streets and squares emptying all at once,

And all the people going home with puzzled looks?"

"Because night has fallen, yet the Barbarians have not arrived,

And somebody coming from the frontier has brought the news

That the Barbarians have vanished!"

"And what is to become of us now that there are no Barbarians?

After all, they'd have been some sort of α solution."

Κosti Palamas, the doyen of Greek poets of the Demotic School, who died only recently during the German occupation, was the last link with the generation of poets of the 19th century who form the main theme of this essay.

Volumes have been written about Palamas and he really deserves a chapter to himself in order to do justice to the varied character of his genius. The limits of this essay do not allow me to quote more than a single extract from his best known work- the "Δωδεκάλογος του Γύφτου"-(Τhe Law of the Gipsies). It is called "Το Πανηγύρι της Κακάβας" (The Fair of Kakava) and describes a Gipsy gathering somewhere in Thrace.



Γύφτισσες ήρθανε ντυμένες

φανταχτερά γιορτής φουστάνια,
γύφτισσες ήρθαν και κρεμάνε

χοντρά, γυαλιστερά γιορντάνια,

με κόκκινα φορέματα ήρθαν,
με κίτρινα μακριά μαντίλια·
ω λάγνα
μάτια, ω κόρφοι, ω χείλια!
Κ'ήρθαν ανθοστεφανωμένες
μ' όλα τα λούλουδα
του Μάη,
κι άνθια κρατώντας και στα χέρια,
ντέλφια χτυπάνε και κουδούνια,
και κύκλους πλέκουν και χορεύουν
και τραγουδάν το Μάη, το Μάη.
Κι ανάμεσό τους αρχινάει,
ξεχωρισμένη από τις άλλες
τρικυμισμένο ένα χορό,
λυγιέται, σέρνεται, πετάει
κορίτσι δεκοχτώ χρονώ
στο μανιωμένο το χορό,
και του χορού βασίλισσα είναι,
κι άφρισμα, λάγγεμα, τρεμούλα,
η γυφτοπούλα, η μαγιοπούλα!


Gipsy women are there, all dressed up
Ιn showy festiυe skirts,
Gipsy women come and hang up
Thick, bright coverlets,
Clad in their scarlet dresses,
With long yellow kerchiefs
Lascivious eyes, breasts, lips!

They come, their heads garlanded
With all the flowers of May

And holding nosegays in their hands,
Shaking their tambourines and bells,

And round and round they move and dance,
And sing of May, of May!

Into their midst there bounds,
Breaking away from the rest,

Αη eighteen year-old girl who starts
Α wild hurricane-like dance.

She twirls, she crawls, she leaps,
Ιη her furious dance,

And she is Queen of the Dance,
Αll froth, desire and tremour,

The Gipsy Maiden, Maiden of the May!

Ι should like to finish with a short poem dedicated to the hero of the Pindus Gorges - the immortal Evzone. It is taken from a short collection of verse, by Nicolas Lelis, entitled "Epinikion" and inspired by the epic of the Αlbanian Front in November 1940.



Όπως τ'αλόγατα γρικάν

τον άξιο καβαλάρη,

και περπατούν περήφανα
με ζηλευτό καμάρι,
έτσι οι κορφούλες των βουνών, σαν γάντζωνες απάνω,
εσένα νιώσανε, Τσολιά,
αθάνατο τσοπάνο,
εσένανε και Νικητή
και Δόξας Καπετάνο.



Just as horses will obey
The horseman who knows how to ride them,
And proudly go through their paces,
The enυy of all who see them,
So did the mountain summits,
When thou didst scale them,
Acknowledge thee, O Euzone,
Immortal shepherd,
As their conqueror
And glorious Captain!



* Α celebrated Greek guerilla leader who distinguished himself during the Greek War of Independence and was captured at the battle of Alamana (April 24, 1821) by Omer Vrioni and roasted alive οn a spit.

1. Α lecture delivered at Greek House, Upper Grosvenor Street, London W.1, οn March 20, 1946. The lecture has been expanded to include a short review of literary Modern Greek poetry.

2. Α famous Albanian general who commanded the Albanian troops against the Greek insurgents in the war of 1821.
3. The reference is to the blowing-up of the Capudan Pasha's flagship in Chios harbour by Canaris, who was famous for his daring use of fireships.


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