Friday, August 20, 2010

Digenis Akritis

Digenis Akritis is the hero of a number of Greek ballads going back to the 13th century. His name means "Two-souled frontiersman," two souls because he was half Greek, half Turk. I just learned about these stories, and I was intrigued, wondering if he might be a good hero for a multi-cultural world.

I can't yet speak to the whole corpus of ballads, but the first one I found was not promising:
And look, a fearsome lion came out of the wood
and also began to attack the girl.
She let out a shriek, calling me to help.
I heard her and got up from my bed with all speed;
when I saw the lion I promptly leaped forward,
brandishing my stick in my hand, and charged at it immediately,
striking it on the head. It died on the spot.
When the lion, and the serpent too, had been flung far away,
my girl swore upon her life, saying,
'Listen to me, my lord, if you would give me pleasure,
take your kithara, play it for a while
and distract my soul from fear of the wild beast.'
As I could not disobey the girl. . . .
So he saves her life, slaying the wild beasts that had threatened her, and she immediately demands that he get out his kithara and play for her? Women!

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