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Encyclopedia > Digenis Acritas

Digenis Acritas (Greek: Διγενής Ακρίτας) is the most famous epic poem that emerged out of the 12th century Byzantine Empire, following the Acritic songs tradition. The Arab incursions into Byzantine territory are the context within which the first part of the tale unfolds, the events in the part of the narrative concerning the family history of the central hero seem to be located beyond a climate of conflict. The reconciliation of the two peoples through the marriage of the leading figures of the tale and the triumph of Christianity over Islam, achieved through the conversion and reception of the emir and his people into Byzantine society, is the key theme of the first part. The rest of the story unfolds against a background of peaceful coexistence of the two peoples. Written in Medieval Greek by an anonymous author, it marks together with the other acritic poems the beginnings of Greek vernacular literature. In mathematics, see epic morphism. ... (11th century - 12th century - 13th century - other centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 12th century was that century which lasted from 1101 to 1200. ... Byzantine Empire (Greek: ) is the term conventionally used since the 19th century to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. ... The acritic songs, ακριτικά τραγούδια or frontiersmen songs, is the heroic or epic poetry that emerged out of 10th century Byzantium and was inspired by the almost continuous state of warfare with the Arabs in eastern Asia Minor. ... The Arabs (Arabic: عرب Ê»arab) are a large and heterogeneous ethnic group found throughout the Middle East and North Africa, originating in the Arabian Peninsula of southwest Asia. ... Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus, the Christ, as recounted in the New Testament. ... Islam (Arabic: ; ( (help· info)), submission (to the will of God)) is a monotheistic faith, one of the Abrahamic religions, and the worlds second-largest religion. ... Medieval Greek (Μεσαιωνική Ελληνική) is a linguistic term that describes the third period in the history of the Greek language. ... Vernacular literature is literature written in the vernacular - the speech of the common people. ...

Contents


Manuscript

The Digenis Acritas is an extensive narrative text, although it is not in a pure epic-heroic style. It survives in many manuscripts and versions, the oldest two being the Escorial (=E, 1867 lines) and Grottaferrata versions (=G, 3749 lines), from the names of the libraries in which the respective manuscripts are held. While it should be noted that the form (or forms) in which it has survived is not the product of oral composition, it has nevertheless retained a considerable number of features of its oral origins. The common core of the two versions preserved in the E and G manuscripts goes back to the twelfth century. The text of E appears to be closer to the original composition while G represents a version that is heavily marked by learned reworking. Both texts give enchanting descriptions of the life of the martial societies of the border regions of the empire, while in the figure of Digenis are concentrated the legends that had accumulated around local heroes. The Escorial version is the superior of the two in respect of the power and immediacy of the battle scenes and austerity of style. The epic descriptions of the mounted knights and battles are marked by drama, a swift pace and lively visual detail. The facade of the chapel, in the baroque style of Jesuit churches, is integrated with the palatial facade El Escorial is an immense palace, monastery, museum, and library complex located at San Lorenzo de El Escorial (also San Lorenzo del Escorial), a town 45 kilometres northwest of Madrid in the... Grottaferrata is a town with a Basilian monastery near Rome, sometimes said to occupy the site of Ciceros Tusculanum and situated on the lower slopes of the Alban hills, in the Diocese of Frascati, two and a half miles from the town itself (41°47′N 12°40′E...


Storyline

The Byzantine - Arab conflicts that lasted from the 7th century to the early 11th century provide the context for Byzantine heroic poetry written in the vernacular Greek language. The acrites of the Byzantine Empire of this period were a military class responsible for safeguarding the frontier regions of the imperial territory from external enemies and freebooting adventurers who operated on the fringes of the empire. The work is comprised of two parts. In the first, the "Lay of the Emir", which bears more obviously the characteristics of epic poetry, an Arab emir invades Cappadocia and carries off the daughter of a Byzantine general. The emir agrees to convert to Christianity for the sake of the daughter and resettle in Romania (Byzantine, Roman lands) together with his people. The issue of their union is a son, Digenis Acritas. The second part of the work relates the development of the young hero and his superhuman feats of bravery and strength: like his father, he carries off the daughter of another Byzantine general and then marries her; he kills a dragon; he takes on the so-called apelates, a group of bandits, and then defeats their three leaders in single combat. No one, not even the amazingly strong female warrior Maximu, with whom he commits the sin of adultery, can match him. Having defeated all his enemies Digenis builds a luxurious palace by the Euphrates, where he ends his days peacefully. Cypriot legend has it that he grabbed hold of the Pentadaktylos (Five Fingers) mountain range in Arab occupied Cyprus in order to leap to Asia Minor (Present day Turkey), the mountain range, as the name suggests, resembles five knuckles sprouting from the ground. // Overview Events The Roman-Persian Wars end. ... As a means of recording the passage of time, the 11th century was that century which lasted from 1001 to 1100. ... Greek (Greek Ελληνικά, IPA — Hellenic) is an Indo-European language with a documented history of 3,500 years. ... The term acrites (frontiersman) is the transliteration of the Greek word ακρίτης, deriving from άκρα meaning edges - frontiers, being the Greek rendition of Latin limitaneus. ... Byzantine Empire (Greek: ) is the term conventionally used since the 19th century to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. ... The Arabs (Arabic: عرب ʻarab) are a large and heterogeneous ethnic group found throughout the Middle East and North Africa, originating in the Arabian Peninsula of southwest Asia. ... Cappadocia in 188 BC In ancient geography, Cappadocia (spelled Kapadokya in Turkish) (Greek: Καππαδοκία; see also List of traditional Greek place names) was an extensive inland district of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). ... Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus, the Christ, as recounted in the New Testament. ... Byzantine Empire (Greek: ) is the term conventionally used since the 19th century to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. ... Saint George versus the dragon, Gustave Moreau, c. ... Man and woman undergoing public exposure for adultery in Japan, around 1860 Adultery is generally defined as consensual sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than their lawful spouse. ... The Euphrates (the traditional Greek name for the river, Arabic: الفرات; Al-Furat, Old Persian: Ufrat, Syriac: ܦܪܘܬ/ܦܪܬ; Prâth/Frot, Turkish: Fırat, Assyrian Akkadian: Pu-rat-tu, Hebrew: פְּרָת) is the westernmost of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia (Beth Nahrain in Syriac), the other being the Tigris. ...


Digenis continued to be read and enjoyed in later centuries, as the text survives in various versions dating to as late as the 17th century. The epic tale of Digenis Acritas gave rise also to a cycle of Acritic songs, some of which survived today. In the later tradition Digenis is eventually defeated only by Death, in the figure of Thanatos/Charos, after fierce single combat on "the marble threshing floors". Thanatos had reportedly already wrestled with Heracles. (16th century - 17th century - 18th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 17th century was that century which lasted from 1601-1700. ... The acritic songs, ακριτικά τραγούδια or frontiersmen songs, is the heroic or epic poetry that emerged out of 10th century Byzantium and was inspired by the almost continuous state of warfare with the Arabs in eastern Asia Minor. ... The Grim Reaper with a scythe. ... For the Freudian concept of Thanatos, see: Death instinct To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Hercules, a Roman bronze (Louvre Museum In Greek mythology, Heracles, or Heraklês (glory of Hera, Ἡρακλης) was a divine hero, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, stepson of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus. ...


Form

Digenis Acritas is written in the demotic medieval Greek and is composed in fifteen syllable blank verse. Rhyming occurs rarely. Medieval Greek (Μεσαιωνική Ελληνική) is a linguistic term that describes the third period in the history of the Greek language. ... Blank verse is a type of poetry, distinguished by having a regular meter, but no rhyme. ...


The poem does not diverge from the standard political verse of popular Byzantine literature. Each line holds its own and every hemistich is carefully balanced. The poem flows, is cadential, with no cacophonies with very scarce sound repetitions.


Below is an excerpt from the translation of the Escorial manuscript, lines 32-54, by Elizabeth Jeffreys (Digenis Akrites, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 241-2):

Line Original Translation
[32] Ευθύς εκαβαλίκευσαν, 'ς τόν κάμπον κατεβαίνουν. They mounted at once and they came to the battlefield.
[33] Ώς δράκοντες εσύριζαν και ως λέοντες εβρύχουντα They hissed like serpents, they roared like lions,
[34] και ώς αετοί επέτουντα και εσμίξαν οι δύο. They soared like eagles, and the two clashed.
[35] Και τότε να ειδής πόλεμον καλών παλλικαρίων And then you could see a fight between fine brave youths.
[36] και από της μάχης της πολλής κρούσιν διασυντόμως In the heat of the battle they struck continuously,
[37] και από τον κρύπον τον πολύν και από το δός και λάβε and from the great clashing and the cut and thrust
[38] οι κάμποι φόβον είχασιν και τα βουνά αηδονούσαν, trees were uprooted and the sun was darkened,
[39] το αίμαν εκατέρεεν εις τα σκαλόλουρά των Blood flowed down over their horse-trappings
[40] και ο ίδρος τους εξέβαινε απάνω απ'τα λουρίκια. and their sweat ran out over their breastplates.
[41] Ήτον γάρ του Κωνσταντή γοργότερος ο μαύρος, Constantine’s black horse was speedier,
[42] και θαυμαστός νεώτερος ήτον ο καβαλάρης. and its rider was a marvellous young man.
[43] κατέβηκε εις τον αμιράν και κρούει του ραβδέα He charged at the emir and struck him a blow with his stick,
[44] και εχέρισεν ο αμιράς να τρέμη και να φεύγη. and then the emir began to tremble and flee.
[45] Σαρακηνός ελάλησεν τον αμιράν της γλώσσης: A Saracen addressed the emir in his own tongue:
[46] "Πιάσε, μούλε, τον άγουρον, ταχέως να τον νικήσης, "Seize the youngster, my lord, and grab a quick victory,
[47] μή εις σύντομόν του γύρισμα πάρτη κεφαλήν σου. so that he doesn’t take your head off with his sudden turn.
[48] Αυτός καλά σ'εσέβηκεν τώρα να σε γκρεμνήση. He has made a fine attack on you and now he might finish you off.
[49] Εγώ ουδέ τον εγνοιάζομαι να τον καταπονέσης, I don’t think, my lord, you are going to do him much harm,
[50] αλλά μή το καυχάσεται ότι έτρεψε φουσάτα." but don’t let him boast that he routed an army."
[51] Και ο αμιράς ως το ήκουσεν, μακρέα τον αποξέβην, When the emir heard this, he withdrew some way from the youth,
[52] έριψεν το κοντάριν του και δάκτυλόν του δείχνει he threw away his spear and showed him his finger,
[53] και μετά του δακτύλου του τοιούτον λόγον λέγει: and with this gesture said these words:
[54] "Να ζής, καλέ νεώτερε, εδικόν σου είναι το νίκος." "May you live and rejoice, young man, for victory is yours."

References

  • Émilie Legrand, Recueil de chansons populaires Grecques, Paris, 1904, pp.23
  • D. C. Hesseling, Le roman de Digenis Akritas d'après le manuscrit de Madrid, 1911-1912, pp.537
  • John Mavrogordato, Digenis Akrites, Oxford, 1956

  Results from FactBites:
 
Digenis Acritas - Ancient Roman Empire Forums (373 words)
Whilst reading through some notes today, I come across a reference to a 12th century poem called "Digenis Acritas", a Byzantine epic poem.
It's about the fighting on the borders between Christians and Muslims, between the Byzantines on one side and the Arabs or Turks on the other -- and not just fighting, but marriages and alliances across the border too.
Digenis is 'twice born' (a strange nickname) meaning that he had parentage on both sides -- he came from one of these Christian-Muslim marriages.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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