Sunday, 23 May 2021

James A. Notopoulos: looking for Homer in Greek folk song

Following in the footsteps of the Darwin of Homeric Studies, Milman Parry, who, in the 1930s, revolutionised Homeric studies by studying the oral poetry of Yugoslavia, renowned classicist James A. Notopoulos set out in the early 1950s to study the heroic folk music of Greece and Cyprus. 

Notopoulos collected hundreds of songs, which have been digitised by Panayiotis (Paddy) League and are available here

In the above video – taken from a symposium in Denmark on Patrick Leigh Fermor – League gives a fantastic talk about these songs, with an emphasis on the songs of the Cretan resistance and the Nazi occupation of the island, including a 90 minute epic song on the famous kidnapping of General Heinrich Kreipe. 

League follows the talk by giving a concert, dedicated to Leigh Fermor, in which a number of Cretan songs are recited. He provides useful context as to how these songs were originally composed and performed.

The song that League and his colleagues open the concert with is Χίτλερ, να μην το καυχηθείς πως πάτησες την Κρήτη, Hitler, don’t dare boast that you conquered Crete

The song reflects a widespread Cretan belief that if the Cretan Division had remained on Crete rather than been sent to Albania after the British had assured the Greek government that the Allied Expeditionary Force (composed of predominantly British, Australian and New Zealand units) would defend Crete from Axis attack or, if once the Cretan Division had, following the German invasion of Greece, left Albania and been given the opportunity to return to Crete – the Royal Navy refused to evacuate them to Crete from the Peloponnese – then the Battle of Crete would have been won and the island would not have fallen to the Germans.

Χίτλερ, να μην το καυχηθείς πως πάτησες την Κρήτη,
ξαρμάτωτη την ηύρηκες κ' έλειπαν τα παιδιά τησ,
στα ξένα πολεμούσανε, πάνω στην Αλβανία,
μα πάλι πολεμήσανε.

Hitler, don’t dare boast that you conquered Crete
you found her unarmed and its lads were away
fighting in foreign lands, high up in Albania
but they still fought.

Below is another version of the song.