If there ever was a most compelling Greek musical work of love and its torments then Erotokritos is definitely it. The Medieval masterpiece has stood the test of time and still soothes the wounds of the brokenhearted with as much gentleness as it did centuries ago.
Erotokritos is an epic poem written in the 17th century by Cretan poet Vitsentzos Kornaros. The 10,000-line poem penned in Cretan dialect in 15-syllable rhyming verse (mantinada) speaks of undying devotion and elevates love to the highest level as it unravels through the romance of Erotokritos and Aretousa.
Born in Crete’s Sitia in 1553 to a noble family, Kornaros is considered to be the island’s greatest poet and one of the country’s most influential.
A Saga of Love
The multiverse saga of love brings together influences from Greek mythology, the Renaissance and Cretan culture, which, through the centuries, has come to mould its lasting spirit. The first printed version of the poem was issued in 1713 in Venice.
Every Greek performer – musician or singer – who takes pride in his heritage has at least once in his career interpreted Erotokritos. The latest endeavor that highlighting the work’s timeless excellence features 77 Greek performers who from 40 locations in Attica leave their distinct mark on the epic poem. The goal of the multi-artist project was to demonstrate that music has the power to inspire and to unite people for a common cause.
Erotokritos (Cupid’s favorite) and Aretousa (the virtuous one) love each other but Aretousa’s father, the king, will have none of it. To cure his daughter of love’s blindness he sends her to prison and the love-stricken boy into exile. Verse upon verse, Kornaros employs the power of poetry to tell a tale of loss, longing and desperation. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Erotokritos comes to a fortunate close when the enamored re-unite and vow eternal happiness.
Erotokritos is undeniably the most far-reaching poem in Modern Greek literature, conveying through verse and music the timelessness of the virtues a culture holds dear.
Nature of the Cretan Soul
The haunting almost lamenting lyre is spellbinding. And the verse of courage, love, dedication and selflessness embodies the very nature of the Cretan and thus the Greek psyche (soul).
Cretan lyre player Georgia Dagaki is one of the younger generation performers delivering here a compelling rendering of the work and one of the few females to do so.
A striking delivery by the great Cretan lyre player, Kostas Mountakis, with Katerina Roukounaki
A powerful rendering by rocker Vassilis Papakonstantinou here with Dagaki.
On a final note, a very inspiring take on the tale was initially delivered by four Cretan musicians in the village of Anogeia during the Yakintheia Festival (dedicated to Agios Yakinthos, the patron saint of love). Yiorgos Koumentakis, Loudovikos ton Anogeion, Nikos Xydakis and Psarantonis delved into Erotokritos, dressing it with the sounds of their childhood dreams, adolescent desires and adult passions. The remarkable result? Erotokritos – Four Approaches to the Cretan Medieval Romance. Here featuring Cypriot singer Alkinoos Ioannidis.
Erotokritos has throughout time served as an undying source of inspiration for many a Greek poet including Kostis Palamas, Kostas Krystallis and George Seferis as well as Dionysios Solomos, who wrote the “Hymn to Liberty”, Greece’s national anthem.
I would like to conclude with a time-relevant note by Greek Nobel laureate Seferis, who says that true love, honor, friendship and courage – all praised in the verse of Erotokritos – have shaped the Greek character and …
“the fate of a nation. Always on the borderline of place and time, always preparing for a time of brilliance, always threatened by disaster…”.
♪ Theodore Stephanides (in verse) and Betts, Gauntlett and Spilias (in prose) offer a complete English translation of the work.