Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Once were Greeks

The other day I got chatting to a guy from Lecce (Ἀλήσιον) in south-east Italy, who, when I pointed out to him meant he was from the Greek part of that country, told me that, indeed, his grandfather spoke Griko, the Greek dialect of Kato Italia. I didn't press the guy on whether he knew Griko or considered himself Greek, but my impression was that he didn't speak Griko and saw himself as Italian. A pity. The Greeks in Italy are few and far between and constantly diminishing in numbers, and it is just as sad to see the demise of these Greeks and this part of Hellenism as it is to see Hellenism routed in Constantinople, Pontos, Asia Minor and so on. Anyway, Stavros at My Greek Odyssey has a good piece on the Greeks of Italy, I've uploaded in Radio Akritas some very emotive Griko songs and below is Cavafy's poems Poseidonians, which has meaning not only for the Greeks of Italy but for all Greeks in the diaspora.

These are the songs in Radio Akritas:

1. Άντρα μου πάει;
2. Ώρια Μου Ροντινέdda;

3. Καληνύφτα; and

4. Νανούρισμα – Ταχτάρισμα.

The first song is sung by Haris Alexiou, while the others are by Eleni and Souzana Vougioukli. I first heard the sisters on the Nostos blog; Nostos has good taste in Greek and Middle Eastern music. The sisters' album, containing these and other songs, can be downloaded from here – if you don't mind downloading music for free and depriving the sisters of much-needed income – and the password is: evrenselmuzik. The video above is of the sisters performing songs from Epiros and Thrace.

[We behave like] the Poseidonians in the
Tyrrhenian Gulf, who although of Greek
origin, became barbarized as Tyrrhenians
or Romans and changed their speech and
the customs of their ancestors. But they
observe one Greek festival even to this
day; during this they gather together and
call up from memory their ancient names
and customs, and then, lamenting loudly
to each other and weeping, they go away.

Athenaios, Deipnosophistai, Book 14, 31A (632)

The Poseidonians forgot the Greek language
after so many centuries of mingling
with Tyrrhenians, Latins, and other foreigners.
The only thing surviving from their ancestors
was a Greek festival, with beautiful rites,
with lyres and flutes, contests and wreaths.
And it was their habit toward the festival’s end
to tell each other about their ancient customs
and once again to speak Greek names
that only a few of them still recognized.
And so their festival always had a melancholy ending
because they remembered that they too were Greeks,
they too once upon a time were citizens of Magna Graecia;
and how low they’d fallen now, what they’d become,
living and speaking like barbarians,
cut off so disastrously from the Greek way of life.

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