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© 2014 Adam J. Goldwyn
Ingela Nilsson & Paul Stephenson (ed.), Wanted: Byzantium. The Desire for a Lost Empire.
Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis: Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia 15. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet 2014, 93–108
“I come from a cursed land and from
the depths of darkness”: Life afer
death in Greek laments about
the fall of Constantinople

n May 29, 1453, Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Emperor of Rome, fell
while defending his capital city, Constantinople, from the Ottoman Turks
under Mehmet the Conqueror.1 Unlike afer the previous conquest in 1204 by the
Latins, the city would never again come under Greek rule. And, unlike the centu-
ries-long conquest of Byzantine territory by the Ottomans which began with the
Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the fall of Constantinople was as unprecedented in
its scope as it was in its suddenness: in addition to tremendous human sufering
(four thousand are said to have died, with as many as ffy thousand captured), the
conquest also eviscerated the political, economic and cultural center of the Greek
world.2 In addition to the tangible aspects of defeat, the conquest also had power-
ful symbolic signifcance: “Te Byzantines had always regarded Constantinople as
the ‘God-guarded city’ and as the seat of the rightful emperor of all Christians.”3 In
terms both practical and ideological, then, the Greeks who survived the conquest
found themselves an exiled people in a new and uncertain world, a world in which
the practices and beliefs that informed and anchored their lives were entirely gone.4
Constantinople was neither the frst nor the last Byzantine city to fall to the
Ottomans. As the Ottomans encroached upon and conquered various Byzan-
* Te author would like to thank Ingela Nilsson and Dimitra Kokkini for their many suggestions. All
mistakes, of course, remain my own.
1 For the contemporary historical sources themselves in bilingual Italian translation, see La Caduta di
Constantinopoli (ed. Pertusi) and Testi Inediti (ed. Carile).
2 Harris 1995, 12. On the fall vs conquest of Constantinople, see the contribution by Heilo in the present
3 Harris 1995, 12. In fact, by the time of the conquest, Constantinople was already a shell of her former
glory, for which, see Inalcik 1969/70, 231.
4 For a book-length study of the fate of the Greeks in the West, see Harris 1995. For studies of specifc
places, see Croskey 1988 for Russia and Browning 1975 for England. For the fate of those Greeks who stayed
in the city, see Inalcik 1969/70 and in the greater Aegean, Vacalopoulos 1980. For more specifc case studies
of individual locations, see Bryer & Lowry 1986.
Adam J. Goldwyn
94 Adam J. Goldwyn
tine territories, Greeks wrote lamentations for a variety of lost cities and leaders,5
“[b]ut perhaps for no other single event in history were so many laments composed
in Greek as for the fall of Constantinople.”6 Indeed, in the immediate afermath
of the conquest, the survivors turned to the genre of poetic lament – the elegy,
the monody and the threnody – to mourn the loss of the Queen of Cities.7 Tese
laments, moreover, reinterpreted the City’s symbolic meaning in the Byzantine
imagination by using this highly stylized and formulaic genre, practiced since an-
tiquity,8 to salvage what they could of their existing personal, religious, and po-
litical ideologies and to fuse them with an emergent ideology forged from their
experience of the sack and its afermath.
In her taxonomy of lamentation in Greek literature, Te Ritual Lament in Greek
Tradition, Margaret Alexiou identifes several elements which shape and defne the
genre. She identifes, for example, “gods, cities, and men” as the three subjects of
lamentation in ancient and medieval Greek in general.9 For lamentations about
the conquest of Constantinople in particular, these themes are represented in, for
“gods”, descriptions of the destruction of religious sites, relics and clergy; for “cit-
ies”, Constantinople; and for “men”, the emperor himself, Constantine XI Palaiolo-
gos. In addition to these thematic concerns, the lament comes with a specifc set of
structural conventions as well: common forms such as the “solo lament” and the
“imagined dialogue between the living and the dead” are attested in the laments
about Constantinople.10 Te various poems which comprise the sub-genre of lam-
entation about Constantinople share many other rhetorical, thematic and symbolic
elements. But the poems are much more than simple amalgamations of convention-
al forms and themes. Rather, it is through the sophisticated manipulation of these
generic constraints in their laments that the authors express their own personal an-
guish and ofer an individualized interpretation of the events themselves and their
ramifcations in the lives of the frst generations of post-Byzantine Greeks.
Te Death of Constantine Dragases (Ὁ θάνατος τοῦ Κωνσταντίνου Δραγάζη), for
example, demonstrates this skillful manipulation of generic conventions to repre-
5 For examples of poetic lamentation for the cities of Trebizond, Palaiokastro, and Cordylos, see Recueil
de chansons (ed. Legrand), 77–79.
6 Alexiou 1974, 86. Nor were these lamentations confned only to Greek; for an analysis of lamentation
in Slavic languages and Romanian, see Dujčev 1953 and Grecu 1953; for a translation and analysis of two
lamentations in Armenian, see Sanjian 1970. Many of the laments in Greek are collected in La Caduta di
Constantinopoli 342–403, Μονῳδίαι καὶ θρῆνοι (ed. Lambros) 190–269, 190–271, and Testi Inediti 321–337.
For a taxonomy of the diferent types of these laments, see Beaton 1980, 95–102.
7 For the roots of these genres in classical literature, see, for elegy, Garner 2011, and, for monody, Kirk-
wood 1974.
8 Indeed, Beaton 1980, 96, notes that the formulae for laments are so universal that they may or may not
have been originally composed about the city they depict. For a similar example, Pertusi 1976, 490, notes
that a lament depicting Constantine wandering in the west originally used the names of John V Palaiologos
and Manuel II Palaiologos. It was only afer the fall that Constantine’s name was substituted for theirs.
9 Alexiou 1974, viii. 10 Alexiou 1974, 131.
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 95
sent the worldview of those Greeks who survived the fall. Drawing on the laments
for Hector at the end of Te Iliad, Alexiou identifes a conventional tripartite struc-
ture in solo laments in the Greek tradition: “Te mourner begins with a prelimi-
nary address to the dead, then remembers the past or imagines the future in a pre-
dominantly narrative section, and fnally renews her opening lament.”11 Te Death
of Constantine Dragases seems to follow this structure; indeed, it begins with just
such a direct address:
Lament, Christians of the East and West,
lament and cry for this great loss.12
Te convention suggests that the address be directed at the dead;13 here, instead,
the author directs it at Christians of the east and west, thus playing on the very
notion of death: though they are still alive, the poet suggests, without Constanti-
nople, they are essentially the dead to whom the poem is dedicated.
Te poem then narrates the past by describing the last heroic deeds and death
of Constantine Palaiologos (in this poem referred to by his maternal surname),
concluding with the lines:
Tey cut of his head, planted it on a spike,
and buried his corpse beneath a laurel tree.14
In ending so abruptly, the poem does not complete the ring composition with the
conventional closing imperative of mourning. Instead, the suddenness of the con-
clusion stylistically re-enacts the subject matter of the poem: the end of the poem is
as sudden, unexpected and fnal as the fall of the city and, indeed, even the cutting
of of the head itself. Much as Hector is a metonym and symbol for all the citizens
of Troy, and as his death presages the fall of the city, so too does Constantine’s
death represent the death of the city’s inhabitants, even the metaphorical death of
its survivors.
But the lack of an ending serves yet another purpose, for the poem ends not on
the severing of the head, but on the laying of the body beneath a laurel tree. Te
inconclusiveness of the poem, therefore, may also be an allusion to the legends sur-
rounding Constantine Palaiologos: that he would rise again in the future to free the
Greeks from the Ottomans.15 Te lack of an end to the poem thus suggests that the
story it is telling – of the fall of Constantinople, of the death of the emperor – is not
11 Alexiou 1974, 133.
12 Recueil de chansons 75: Θρηνήσατε, Χριστιανοὶ Ἀνατολῆς καὶ Δύσης / θρηνήσατε καὶ κλαύσατε τὸν χαλα-
σμὸν τὸν μέγαν. All translations are my own.
13 See Alexiou 1974, 133, for the references to Te Iliad. For Byzantine examples, see, for instance, Recueil
de chansons 78.
14 Recueil de chansons 76: Τὴν κεφαλήν του ἔκοψαν, στήνουν την στὸ κοντάριν, / καὶ τὸ κορμίν του ἔθαψαν
στὴν δάφνην ὑποκάτω.
15 See Nicol 1992, 95–108, for an outline and sources of the various myths about his resurrection. For
modern poetic iterations, see, e.g., George Zalokosta’s Tὸ σπαθὶ καὶ ἡ κορώνα (Te Sword and the Crown)
in Zalokosta 1903, 207; Vizyenos’ Ὁ τελευταῖος Παλαιολόγος (Te Last Palaiologos) in George Vizyenos
1967, 57; Odysseas Elytis’ Θάνατος και Ανάστασις του Κωνσταντίνου Παλαιολόγου (Death and Resurrection
96 Adam J. Goldwyn
necessarily over.16 In form and content, then, the lament manipulates the conven-
tions of the genre to refect the writer’s mindset: shock at the stunning suddenness
and fnality of the conquest mixed with the hope of a future renewal that would
sustain him in the uncertain period during which the lament was composed.
Another lament, the Invocation of Constantinople (Ἀνακάλημα τῆς Κωνσταντι-
νόπολης),17 also plays with the structural conventions of the lament to refect the
particular circumstances of the work’s composition. Tis poem falls into the cate-
gory of the “imagined dialogue between the living and the dead” and describes the
landing at Tendeos of a ship of survivors feeing Constantinople meeting those who
have not yet heard the news. From a historical perspective, the poem is an interest-
ing example of the way news – both good and bad – traveled in the pre-modern
period: chance meetings, word of mouth and rumor.18 As a work of imaginative lit-
erature, the poem fuses this historicity with the conventions of the literary lament
to depict life for the Greeks afer the fall of the city as a form of life afer death.
Rather than a dialogue between the living and the dead, the dialogue is between a
ship of survivors, who stand in here for the dead, and those who have not yet heard
of the fall, who stand in for the living.
Indeed, the language used to introduce the ship suggests this very theme: the in-
terlocutors at Tenedos ask the ship of survivors: “Ship, from where have you come
and from where do you descend?” to which the ship of survivors replies: “I come
from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness.”19 Tough καταβαίνω is a nav-
igational word in the context of sailing, it also means to die or to descend to the
underworld. Both ἀνάθεμα and σκότος are similarly related to death; the former as
something “separate” and thus generically evil, but also, in a Christian context, as
“someone separated from Church in either life or afer death, and so devoted to per-
dition”20 and the latter as literally “darkness,” but with a metaphorical connection
of Constantine Palaiologos) in Elytis 1997, 277); Kostis Palamas’ Η Φλογέρα του Βασιλιά (Te King’s Flute)
in Palamas 1967.
16 Similarly, Beaton 1980, 102, argues that “part of the songs’ function is to deny the fnality of a historical
event”, though he claims that, rather than a literal hope for the city’s recovery, they “express the lasting
belief of singers in the value of their culture, to which the historical loss of the capital, and the actual pos-
sibility of its future recovery, are of secondary importance. … Tis helps to explain how the songs of the fall
of Constantinople have remained part of the tradition, and were sung at least up until the beginning of this
century – not as a slogan for a political ideal, nor out of nostalgia for a lost golden age, but as an afrmation
of the changelessness of current attitudes and values”. While this may be true of the poems’ reception, the
original authors (and audience), holding a more Biblical view of historical causation, may have been speak-
ing more literally.
17 Of either Cypriot (according to Kriaras) or Cretan (favored by Pertusi) origin (Pertusi 1976, 485).
18 Alexiou 1974, 144, notes that “[a]lthough the dialogue conforms to a formulaic pattern common in
Greek folk song, there is evidence that the meeting of the ships was a historical event”. Pertusi 1976, 484,
ofers a more detailed analysis of the probability of this historical meeting and the primary source upon
which this reading is based.
19 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 366: Καράβιν, πόθεν ἔρκεσαι καὶ πόθεν κατεβαίνεις; / ἔρκομαι ἀκ τ’ ἀνάθεμα
κ’ ἐκ τὸ βαρὺν τὸ σκότος. 20 PGL, sv. ἀνάθεμα.
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 97
to death, Hades, and the aferlife. Te poem, therefore, suggests that life afer the
fall of Constantinople is a form of death.
Rather than beginning with imperatives, as the previous poem did, the Invoca-
tion of Constantinople begins with a diferent rhetorical convention, which Alex-
iou describes as “initial hesitation”, a traditional beginning for a lament in which
“the speaker … begin[s] by expressing anxiety lest he should fail to fnd words
adequate for the occasion. Tis initial hesitation is most frequently expressed by
means of questions.”21 Afer opening by describing the subject of the lament, that
is, the sorrows that have fallen upon the Greeks because of the city’s fall, the poet
writes: “Who said it? Who sent the message? When did the news come?”22 Te
poem then provides the answers to these questions by using stock images and de-
scriptions to describe frst the death of Constantine, then the fates of the city’s in-
habitants, and, lastly, the fate of Hagia Sophia.23 Both Te Death of Constantine
Dragases (Ὁ θάνατος τοῦ Κωνσταντίνου Δραγάζη) and Te Invocation of Constanti-
nople (Ἀνακάλημα τῆς Κωνσταντινόπολης), then, manipulate the conventions of the
lament and employ classical diction and rhetorical techniques to metaphorically
represent life afer the fall of the city as a form of death also worthy of lamentation.
Where these poems achieved their pathos through the sophisticated manipula-
tion of convention and rhetoric and through the polysemous usage of metaphorical
language, Andronikos Kallistos’ Monody on Wretched Constantinople (Μονῳδία ἐπὶ
τῇ δυστυχεῖ Κωνσταντινουπόλει), one of the few works in the genre of certain au-
thorship and relatively certain date,24 achieves its pathos through its directness and
lack of fgurative language. Tis is not to say that the work lacks artifce; indeed, the
careful structuring of ring composition, the juxtaposition of opposite imagery and
pessimistic irony are the main vehicles for the author’s expression of his despon-
dency (which, by extension, comes to represent the despondency of his generation
21 Alexiou 1974, 161. See 161 for an analysis of this theme in Greek tragedy and 235, n. 3–4, for a list of
examples drawn from elsewhere in ancient literature. Te use of questions in lamentation is not limited to
the Greek tradition; for an analysis of questions as a rhetorical device in Jeremiah, see Brueggemann 1973.
22 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 366: τίς τό ’πεν; Τίς τὸ μήνυσε; Ποτ’ ἦλθεν τὸ μαντάνο;; A similar formula is
employed for greeting strangers in Te Odyssey, for which see 1.170 and 3.71, 7.238, 9.252 and 10.325, etc. for
similar formulae. For a more elaborate use of questions as an introductory rhetorical move, see La Caduta
di Constantinopoli 344.
23 For laments about the fate of Constantine, see Te Death of Constantine Dragases (Ὁ θάνατος τοῦ Κων-
σταντίνου Δράγαζη, in Recueil de chansons 74) above, and Trenody for Constantinople (Θρῆνος Κωνσταν-
τινουπόλεως , in Testi Inediti 326) below. Te one added detail omitted from the Te Death of Constantine
Dragases but included in Invocation of Constantinople is that in the latter poem, Constantine, in direct dis-
course, specifcally refuses to surrender, lest, afer torturing him, they “cut of my head and plant it on
a stake (νὰ κόψουν τὸ κεφάλιν μου, νὰ μπήξουν εἰς κοντάριν, La Caduta di Constantinopoli 370), which is
almost what, according to the former poem, indeed happens. For similar descriptions of the fates of the
city’s inhabitants, cf. Manuel Chrystonymos’ Monody on the Sack of Constantinople (Μονῳδία ἐπὶ τῇ ἁλώσει
τῆς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως, in Testi Inediti 322); for the destruction of Hagia Sophia, cf. Christonymos and
About Hagia Sophia (Τῆς Ἁγιὰ Σοφιᾶς, in La Caduta di Constantinopoli 396).
24 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 354.
98 Adam J. Goldwyn
of exiles): the frst half of the work praises the city’s virtues, while the second part
demonstrates how each of these virtues becomes a liability during the conquest and
its immediate afermath.
Te lament begins with a description of the city:
In size, the City simply surpassed all those of the east, in beauty those of the west also. It had walls
so strong and unyielding against enemies that one could never fnd [walls] that compare to them.
Τhe moat was wide and deep and fortifed with baked bricks, it seemed like another river to those
passing by. Tere was another strong wall beyond that…much greater still.25
Te focus in the poem’s opening lines is the glory and strength of the city; the mea-
sure by which this is expressed, however, is the strength of the city’s defenses, which,
given the context of the lament, suggests an irony of false optimism, since those
very walls which are depicted as so strong and powerful are, ultimately, unable to
defend the city and its inhabitants in the events described later in the poem.26
Kallistos then describes some of the city’s other wonders, its churches, public
baths, and hippodrome, before describing its geographical position between the
For only this one you would see greeting both continents. Europe had her, but Asia was very close, it
was as far away as the width of the strait, and she was almost sufering and cursing the strait greatly
for causing this separation. But it was happy to see again the City, so well located, and it made its
pleasure its own. And there were two seas, the Propontis and the Pontos, which provided the City
with not few of its products, and the region is wealthy and fertile like no other. Te whole country-
side is fat, surrounded by mountains and drawing water from rivers and decorated from full lakes
that there was abundance everywhere in the City.27
Again, Kallistos uses irony to ofer a false optimism about the city. One should not
curse the geographic division of the city between the continents, he suggests, but
should rather celebrate it, since this valuable geostrategic position is the very source
of the wealth which he described earlier. So, too, in his description of the land and
waters “which bring abundance to the City from everywhere”, Kallistos presents a
glorious and laudatory depiction of the city.
25 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 356: Μήκει μὲν οὖν ἡ Πόλις πάσας τὰς ἑῴας ἁπλῶς ὑπερεῖχε, κάλει δὲ καὶ
τὰς τῆς ἑσπέρας. Τείχη δ’ οὕτως ἰσχυρὰ καὶ τοῖς ἐναντίοις ἀνένδοτα οὐκ ἂν εὕροιτό τις συγκρινόμενα πρὸς αὐτά.
Ἦν μὲν γὰρ ἡ τάφρος εὐθὺς καὶ πλάτει καὶ βάθει καὶ πλίνθοις ὀπτοῖς κατωχυρωμένη, ποταμός τις ἄλος τοῖς
παριοῦσι δοκοῦσα, τεῖχος δὲ εὐθὺς μετ’ αὐτὴν ἰσχυρόν, εὔρει τε καὶ ὕψει στερρόν, ἕτερον δὲ μετ’ αὐτό, μεῖζον
τοῦτο πολύ, ὥστε καὶ θαυμάζειν ποιοῦν τοῖς ἀτενίζουσι πρὸς αὐτό.
26 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 483, notes that at the time of the conquest the walls “non erano in buone
condizioni”. Tis could either be the refugee’s nostalgic view of his lost home or another moment of pessi-
mistic irony.
27 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 358: Ταύτην γὰρ μόνην ἀμφοτέραις ἄν εἶδες δεξιουμένην ἠπείροις. Εἶχε μὲν
ἡ Εὐρώπη, ἐγυτάτω δ’ ἦν ἡ Ἀσία καὶ τοσοῦτον αὐτῆς ἀπεῖχεν ὅσον τὸ πλάτος ἐστὶ τοῦ πορθμοῦ μονονουχὶ δὲ
καὶ πάσχουσα ἦν καὶ τοῦ πορθμοῦ, καταβοῶσα μεγάλως ὡς διείργοντος ταύτην ἐκείνης∙ πλὴν ἥδετο πάλιν τὴν
Πόλιν ὁρῶσα μᾶλον οὕτως εὖ διατιθεμένην, καὶ τὴν ἡδονὴν ἐκείνης καὶ ἰδίαν ἐποίει. Καὶ μὴν καὶ τὰ διττὰ πε-
λάγη, ἥ τε Προποντὶς καὶ ὁ Πόντος, οὐκ ὀλίγην παρεῖχον τῇ Πόλει τὴν ἀφθονίαν, καὶ ὁ τόπος παμφόρος τις καὶ
εὔγεως ὡς οὐδεὶς ἄλος. Πεδιὰς γὰρ ἅπαν ἐστὶ τὸ χωρίον, ὄρεσί τε περιεχόμενον καὶ ποταμοῖς ἀρδευόμενον καὶ
λίμναις πλείσταις πεποικιλμένον, ὥστε πανταχόθεν ἀφθονία παρῆν τῇ Πόλει.
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 99
Kallistos then moves away from this more conventional praise of the city to de-
scribing the emotions and psychology of travelers approaching and leaving the city:
One thing I will say to everybody: that everyone coming into the city who had spent time ofen
there or anyone born and raised there who was satisfed with its goods, when he lef the city for
some reason, he immediately missed her as though he had never wholly tasted it, and was com-
pelled to turn around and look towards her again as long as the place allowed it; the place allowed
it for a long time. Someone coming towards the city, but still quite a distance away, asked everyone
[about her], and the story they all told was the goods of the city and there was a competition
among them making it a point of honor to know or tell the most [goodly things] until they arrived
in the city and its beauties were evident and sadness and anger disappeared and happiness flled
their senses and excited them, and chains of joy entangled them.28
Kallistos’ praise of the city concludes with the formulaic image of the city as mirror
image of the cosmos and a description of the citizens’ piety:
One would, comparing the city with the heavenly spheres, say that the sun had taken possession of
the most beautiful temple of God’s Sophia, that the moon [had taken possession of ] the church of
the Holy Disciples, and the stars [had taken possession of ] the other holy churches, other parts he
matched with other parts of heaven, in which both the true God was celebrated in hymns and the
faith was undiluted and there was no godly dogma which was not followed well by them.29
Kallistos frst praises the physical nature of the city – its monuments, buildings
and environs – and then its spiritual virtues. Afer depicting it as the mirror of the
heavens and its people as extremely devout, though, the tone of the poem shifs
But these things are long gone and a slave, alas, the empress has become. How could one sing trag-
ically about this pain? It was day but darkness and clouds came over the City, harsh war came [was
fowing] to the City by land and sea, the infdel’s war machines struck the walls and it fell upon the
earth in many places.30
Tis transition undermines each of the city’s virtues, in turn demonstrating how
each in fact contribute to the city’s fall – a reversal metaphorically represented by
the day which turns dark and cloudy at the poem’s transitional moment. Te praise
28 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 358: Ἓν δ’ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ἐρῶ, ὅτι πᾶς τις ἐλθὼν ἐν ταύτῃ καὶ χρόνον διατρίψας
συχνὸν ἢ καὶ παιδιόθεν τραφεὶς ἐν ἐκείνῃ καὶ τῶν ταύτης ἐμπλησθεὶς ἀγαθῶν, ὅτε του χάριν τῆς Πόλεως ἐξῄει,
εὐθὺς ἐν ἐπιθυμίᾳ ταύτης ἦν, ὥσπερ μηδὲ γευσάμενος ὅλως, καὶ στρέφεσθαι λοιπὸν ἦν ἀνάγκη καὶ ὁρᾶν πρὸς
αὐτήν, μέχρις ἂν ὁ τόπος ἐδίδου∙ ἐδίδου ‹δὲ› ἄχρι πολοῦ. Ἐρχόμενοι δέ τινες πρὸς τὴν Πόλιν, ἔτι σταδίους
ἀπέχοντες οὐκ ὀλίγους, ἐζήτουν μὲν ἀπὸ πάντων, μία δὲ κοινὴ διήγησις πᾶσιν ἦν τὰ τῆς Πόλεως ἀγαθά, καί τις
ἦν ἀγὼν ἐν ἐκείνοις φιλοτιμουμένοις τίς ἂν εἴποι πλείω θατέρων μέχρις ἂν εἰσιοῦσι τὴν Πόλιν καὶ τοῖς ἐκείνης
κάλεσι φαιδρυνθεῖσιν ἅπαν μὲν λυποῦν καὶ σκυθρωπάζον ἀπῆν, ἡδονὴ δέ τις πλείστη τὰς αἰσθήσεις αὐτῶν
ἐνεπίμπλη, ἡδίσταις δεσμοῦσα τούτους σειραῖς.
29 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 358–360: Εἴποι δ’ ἄν τις, αὐτὴν παρεικάζων πρὸς τὴν οὐράνιον σφαῖραν,
ἥλιον μὲν τὸν περικαλῆ νεών, τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ κεκτῆσθαι Σοφίαν, σελήνην δὲ τὸν τῶν ἱερῶν φοιτητῶν, ἀστέρας δὲ
τοὺς λοιποὺς θείους νεὼς καὶ τἆλα πρὸς ἄλο τι μέρος αὐτῆς ἐφαρμόζων, ἐν ᾗ καὶ Θεὸς ἀληθὴς ὑμνεῖτο καὶ τὸ
τῆς πίστεως ἦν ἀκραιφνὲς καὶ οὐδὲν ἦν θεῖον δόγμα, ὃ μὴ παρ’ αὐτῶν διῃτᾶτο καλῶς. For similar examples, see
Pertusi 1976, vol. 2, 374.
30 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 360: Ἀλ’ οἴχεται ταῦτα πάντα, καὶ δούλη, φεῦ, ἡ βασιλὶς ἐγεγόνει. Ὢ πῶς ἄν
τις ἐκτραγωδήσοι τὸ πάθος; Ἡμέρα μὲν ἦν, σκότος δὲ καὶ ζόφος τῇ Πόλει, πόλεμος δ’ ἔρρει τῇ Πόλει σφοδρὸς ἔκ
τε τῆς ἠπείρου καὶ τῆς ὑγρᾶς, ὁ δ’ ἀσεβὴς μηχαναῖς βάλει τὸ τεῖχος καὶ πίπτει κατὰ γῆς πολαχόθεν.
100 Adam J. Goldwyn
of the mountains and the expansive plains surrounding the city and the praise of the
straits and the seas which bring the city its prosperity become inextricably linked
with the invasion itself, which came “by land and by sea”. Te city walls, whose
power, height, grandeur, and unequaled ability to repel invaders were the subject of
the poem’s opening eight lines, are torn to the ground in a single line. Te “chains
of joy” which envelop the traveler as he enters the city are re-contextualized here as
the chains of slavery for all those who are “taken as booty and enslaved”; ultimately,
the lively conversation about the goodness of the city is itself transformed into a
lament and threnody for the city.31
Te moment of greatest pathos occurs in the poem’s concluding section, which
begins and concludes with the poet’s wish for his own death. In between he asks:
“What will you do, poor Andronikos? Where will you go? To which city?”32 Te
middle section of the poem detailed the joy of travelers as they enter the city,
talking animatedly among themselves. In the concluding section, though, Kallistos
demands silence: “Alas, be silent; there really is no hope for us any longer.”33 Most
potently, Kallistos inverts the meaning of the previous verses about the travelers. In
the earlier section, they eagerly walked towards the city; here, in contrast, Kallistos
laments his life in exile: there is no city to go back to. In the earlier section, the
departing traveler gazes back as long as he can, trying as long as he can to remember
the city. Tis, too, is, metaphorically, what Kallistos is doing when he memorialised
the city in prose. But, unlike the departing traveler, who is “compelled” to turn
back, Kallistos has no choice; he is doomed to walk, an exile, always apart from his
Tus, Kallistos ironically inverts all the tropes of his praise of the city to demon-
strate the culpability of each in the city’s destruction. From a metatextual perspec-
tive, moreover, Kallistos inverts the ideology of living death that was evident in the
poems discussed previously . Kallistos is all too aware of his status as a survivor, is
all too aware that he is alive. Unlike the previous poems, which represented the sur-
vivors as dead, Kallistos focuses on how alive he really is, and how much he regrets
that fact:
Now one must ask to die, and I above all seek this out. What will you do, poor Andronikos? Where
will you go? To which city? Under which master, vexing your own and dear ones? Of which masters
of oratory will you make use? O my ill-fated life. O bitter orphanage.34
31 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 360.
32 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 360: Τί γὰρ καὶ δράσεις, ὦ τάλας Ἀνδρόνικε; Ποῦ πορευθῇς, εἰς ποίαν πόλιν;
33 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 360: Φεῦ σιγᾶτε∙ ὄντως τοιγαροῦν ἡμῖν ἐλπὶς οὐδεμία τυγχάνει.
34 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 360: Νῦν οὖν αἰτεῖν χρὴ θανεῖν, κἀγὼ πρὸ πάντων τοῦτο ζητῶ. Τί γὰρ καὶ
δράσεις, ὦ τάλας Ἀνδρόνικε; Ποῦ πορευθῇς, εἰς ποίαν πόλιν, ὑπὸ ποίῳ κυρίῳ παρατείνας ἰδίους καὶ φίλους, τίσι
χρήσῃ καθηγεμόσι τοῦ λόγου; Ὢ δυστυχοῦς ἐμῆς βιοτῆς. Ὢ πικρᾶς ὀρφανίας.
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 101
Kallistos focuses on the practicalities of life as a refugee: fnding a new home, a new
job. Indeed, his focus on life is found in these last two sentences: the frst lamenting
his life of misfortune, the second lamenting being a survivor when one’s parents
(and city) are dead.
Tis focus on the misery of life is emphasized in the work’s conclusion, which
takes the form of a conventional “gnomic lament,” which provides “consolatory and
proverbial wisdom about life and death” using “antithetical similes, which compare
and contrast the world of nature with the world of man … without referring to the
actual fact of death.”35 Kallistos’ gnomic lament, though it uses such contrasting
imagery, opens with a direct address to death before moving on to an otherwise
typical gnomic statement:
O death, death, now fnd me quickly. For it is a blessed fate, who did not come to the fortunate ones,
but who immediately came to the unfortunate mortals when called. O how he turns away from the
despised with deaf ears, he does not want to hear their sorrowful tears.36
Rather than referencing death obliquely, as the convention dictates, Kallistos ad-
dresses it with two vocatives. Kallistos follows the oppositional imagery of the
conventional gnomic lament by juxtaposing the blessed and good fortune with
the unfortunate and despised, deafness with hearing. But through the content of
the gnomic statement and by preceding it with a direct address to death, Kallistos
sharpens the pain and hopelessness of his survival.
Kallistos inverts the generic conventions of the lament to articulate a pessimistic
and ironic view of the city’s fall and the future of its exiles. Tese structural inver-
sions mirror Kallistos’ inversion of traditional Biblically-derived theories of histor-
ical causation. Te exile from Eden and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
in Genesis and the prophetic writings of Jeremiah and, to a lesser extent, Jonah, all
ofer examples of societies destroyed by God as punishment for the sins of the in-
habitants. Te sins of the inhabitants bringing about divine wrath and, ultimately,
the destruction of cities, was a powerful idea in the Byzantine world-view. Constan-
tinople could be thus seen as one more example of this kind, and this is refected in
the central moment of the lament, when Kallistos’ praise of the city reaches a peak.
He describes it in lofy spiritual terms as a mirror of the heavens, and its people as
particularly pious.37 By immediately following this with his narrative of the city’s
fall and the brutal impact of the conquest on the very people whom he just praised,
35 Alexiou 1974, 127.
36 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 362: Ὦ θάνατε, θάνατε, νῦν μ’ ἐπίσκεψαι μολών. Ὄλβιος γὰρ οἶτος ἐκεῖνος,
ὃς οὐκ ἦλθεν εὐτυχέουσι, κληθεὶς δ’ εὐθὺς ἔβη δυστυχέουσι βροτοῖς. Ὦ πόσα δυσπραγέοντας ἀποστρέφετ’ οὔασι
κωφοῖς, κλύειν δ’ οὐκ ἐθέλει πενθαλέα δάκρυα.
37 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 484, notes that “Il Callisto esagera; questo certo non è il quadro morale
che della città fanno altri scrittori, specie occidental”. Tis is another ambiguous moment in the text which
could indicate either sincere nostalgia or a pessimistic irony. Given the placement of this scene at the cru-
cial transitional moment between praise and catastrophe, the moment wherein God should, according to
religious views of divine protection, come to the city’s aid, the latter seems more likely.
102 Adam J. Goldwyn
Kallistos undermines the traditional Biblical (and thus Byzantine) notion of histo-
ry by divorcing piety and divine favor from historical causation.
Many of the other laments depict a similarly nostalgic vision of Byzantium
before the conquest as an idealized empire with a pious emperor governing pious
subjects from a fourishing capital, all protected and prospering under divine fa-
vor. In reiterating this sentimental view of the city before the fall, the poets set
up a paradox at the heart of this ideology: how could the city have fallen if it was,
indeed, a city of pious people under divine protection? Te laments, and the new
post-Byzantine ideology they put forth, are one means of articulating a solution to
this problem.
In the Trenody for Constantinople (Θρῆνος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως), a reworking
of a lament attributed to Matthew, metropolitan of Mira,38 the anonymous poet
adheres to the Biblical view of historical causation: he argues that almost every
previous emperor was a sinner and that, therefore, God punished them:
All were deceitful, all without goodness, and only three or four were just.
Tey slaughtered one another ofen each year,
ascending to the throne against God’s will.
Some others were heretics, others denied the holy spirit,
others once were atheists and others were iconoclasts,
schismatics and corrupt, imbued with envy,
without the fear of God, hated by all;
Enemies of Christians, of every monastery:
For this they also received the wrath of the Lord,
And they lost their empire from carelessness.39
For Kallistos, there could be no hope for the future since there was no connection
between piety and political prosperity. For the author of the Trenody for Con-
stantinople, who follows Biblical notions of historical causation, the hope remains
that should the people become pious, God will reward them. Tus, afer the author
describes the sinfulness of the emperors, he writes:
Αnd we poor wander in foreign realms
and we only console ourselves and take courage again.40
38 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 364. Te poem can be dated by the reference in line 37 to Michael of Wal-
lachia (1558–1601, ruled 1593–1601). As such, it ofers a relatively late (albeit based on an earlier version)
example of Byzantine history at odds with the previous nostalgic histories.
39 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 388: Οἱ πάντες ἦσαν πονηροί, χωρὶς ἀγαθωσύνην, / καὶ μόνον τρεῖς ἢ τέσσα-
ρες εἶχαν δικαιοσύνην. / Ὁ εἷς τὸν ἄλον ἔσφαζε συχνὰ τὸν κάθε χρόνον, / χωρὶς θελήματος Θεοῦ ἐλάμβανον τὸν
θρόνον. / Οἱ μὲν ἦσαν αἱρετικοί, ἄλοι πνευματομάχοι, / καὶ ἄλοι ἅπαξ ἄθεοι, ἄλοι εἰκονομάχοι· / σχισματικοὶ
καὶ ἀσελγεῖς, μὲ φθόνον ζυμωμένοι, / φόβον Θεοῦ δὲν εἴχασιν, ἀπ’ ὅλους μισημένοι∙ / διῶκται τῶν χριστιανῶν,
παντὸς μοναστηρίου / καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἔλαβον καὶ τὴν ὀργὴν Κυρίου. / Κ’ ἔχασαν τὸ βασίλειον ἐκ τῆς ἀπροσεξίας.
40 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 388: Καὶ περπατοῦμεν οἱ πτωχοὶ εἰς ἄλας βασιλείας. / Καὶ μόν’ παρηγο-
ρούμεσθεν καὶ πάλιν τὸ θαρροῦμεν.
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 103
Tis courage stems specifcally from faith in the divine, since he rejects the possibil-
ity of human success in the endeavor:
And so we are lef in futile hope
taking courage from our oracles and many schemers
who write superfuous words and are worth nothing
and talk about the Hungarians who prattle on, fatter and call to rally.

Αnd with such thoughts we spend our time
and our enemy keeps getting stronger.
We have confdence in the Venetians, the Hungarians and Michael
to retake our empire and give it back to us.41
Te author notes that it is futile to place one’s hope in the other European powers
before reiterating again that it was divine anger at human sin that was the cause of
the city’s fall:
How we chained ourselves in sin!
Woe to our people, to what state has it come

As we miserable ones fell to the Turkish masses!
How angry you are, Lord, with the creations of your hands,
and you have delivered us into the hands of your enemies!42
Te poem concludes with a plea directed at the proper source of hope:
Give us Forgiveness and deliverance from our sins,
arranging everything towards an advantage.43
Unlike Kallistos, who saw no hope for the future at all and, in fact, begged for death,
the author of the Trenody is somewhat hopeful. And unlike Kallistos, whose focus
is solely on the misery of this life and who consistently makes no claim to divine
favor, the author of the Trenody concludes by suggesting that the sorrows of this
life are feeting anyway, and that the survivors should put their faith in the glories
of the next one:
41 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 390: Ἐμεῖς οὖν ἀπομείναμεν εἰς εὔκαιρες ἐλπίδες, / ἔχομεν θάρρος ς’ τοὺς
χρησμοὺς καὶ εἰς πολὲς παρτίδες, / ποὺ γράφουν λόγους περισσοὺς καὶ τίποτις δὲν ’ξίζουν / διὰ τοὺς Οὕγρους
λέγουσι, σημαίνουν, παπαρίζουν. / … / Καὶ μετ’ αὐτοὺς τοὺς λογισμοὺς περνοῦμεν τὸν καιρὸν μας, / καὶ ὁλοένα
γίνεται μεγάλος ὁ ἐχθρός μας. / θαρροῦμεν ’ς τοὺς Βενέτικους, ’ς τοὺς Ὅυγρους, ’ς τὸν Μιχάλη, / νὰ πάρουν τὸ
βασίλειον νὰ μᾶς τὸ δώσουν πάλι. Te allusion here is to a prophecy in Pseudo-Methodios of Patra (Pertusi
1976, 488).
42 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 390: ‹τὸ› πῶς μᾶς ἐπερίφραξεν δεσμὸς τῆς ἁμαρτίας! / Ἀλοίμονον ’ς τὸ
γένος μας, τὸ πῶς ἐκαταστήθη, / κ’ ἐπέσαμεν οἱ ἄθλιοι εἰς τῶν Τουρκῶν τὰ πλήθη! / Ὢ πῶς ὠργίσθης, Κύριε, τὰ
ἔργα τῶν χειρῶν σου, / καὶ ἐπαρέδωκας ἡμᾶς εἰς χεῖρας τῶν ἐχθρῶν σου!
43 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 390–392: Συγχώρησιν καὶ ἄφεσιν κακῶν τῶν ἡμετέρων / δόσε ἡμῖν οἰκονο-
μῶν πάντα πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον.
104 Adam J. Goldwyn
And instead of this temporary and earthly empire,
Give us the one of heaven, which is chosen and divine.44
Te world-views presented in this lament and in Kallistos’, therefore, ofer two dif-
ferent solutions to the destruction of Constantinople. Kallistos viewed Constan-
tinople almost as a utopia, a refection of the heavenly spheres populated by pious
people and blessed with natural abundance. In the afermath of the city’s destruc-
tion, he looks at the world around him and fnds his future uncertain and unhappy;
he is sad for those who have died and sadder still for those who survived and are
now driven into exile. Whereas Kallistos sees only the meaninglessness of human
agency in the city’s destruction, Matthew of Mira sees the unfolding of a Divine
Plan. His Constantinople is not Kallistos’ utopia, but is rather a new Sodom and
Gomorrah: cities of sinners destroyed by god for their transgressions. Tus, where
Kallistos ends on a note of bitter hopelessness, Matthew of Mira ends on a hope-
ful and optimistic note, suggesting that there is an alternative to the fallen world
around him in the heavens.
Another lament ofers a unique insight into the integration of the Biblical
idea of historical causation and city sacking into the Byzantine tradition. Te
lament exists in two manuscripts which have diferent openings but are the same
thereafer. Te frst iteration, called the Trenody for Constantinople (Θρῆνος τῆς
Κωνσταντινουπόλεως), begins by quoting Psalm 79:45 “Let me speak the words of
holy David when he lamented Jerusalem: ‘God, the foreigners have invaded your
inheritance; they turned Jerusalem to rubble’.”46 Tis opening quotation implies
the parallel, which will be made explicit later, between the destruction of Jerusa-
lem and that of Constantinople. Moreover, as those familiar with the psalm would
know, the link between the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and the sinful ways
of the Jews is one of its recurrent themes. Te author instead quotes from the pro-
phetic Book of Daniel: “It is because you are just in all ways towards us, and you
have delivered us into the hands of the most hateful lawless heretics, and to an un-
just and most wicked king on the whole earth because of our sins.”47 Tus, in the
frst passage, the author invokes the conquest of Jerusalem; in the second, he claims
that the cause of the misery is God’s punishment for their sin. In so doing, he ofers
a traditionally Biblically based view of the divine causation of city sacking.48
44 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 392: Kαὶ ἀντὶ τῆς προσκαίρου τε καὶ κάτω βασιλείας, / ἀξίωσον τῆς οὐρα-
νῶν, τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς καὶ θείας.
45 In the Masoretic numbering, 78 in the Septuagint.
46 Testi Inediti, 326: Νὰ εἰπῶ ἐγὼ τὸν λόγον τοῦ θείου Δαυίδ ὁποῦ ἐθρήνει τὴν Ἱερουσαλήμ ‘Ὁ θεὸς ἔλθοσαν
ἔθνη εἰς τὴν κληρονομίαν σου∙ ἔθεντο Ἱερουσαλήμ ὡς ὀπωροφυλάκιον’.
47 Testi Inediti, 326: Ὅτι δίκαις εἶ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἐποίησας ἡμῖν∙ καὶ παρέδωκας ἡμᾶς εἰς χεῖρας ἐχθίστων ἀνόμων
ἀποστατῶν καὶ βασιλεῖ ἀδίκω καὶ πονηροτάτῳ παρὰ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν διὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν.
48 Another Trenody for Constantinople (Θρῆνος τῆς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως) makes the same compari-
son between Constantinople and Jerusalem. Most of the poem follows the conventions of the traditional
lament, as Kallistos’ does, for example calling Constantinople the mirror image of the heavens, describing
the city’s beautiful interior, and giving a description of Constantine Palaiologos’ fnal heroic moments. In
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 105
Te introduction to the second version, When Constantinople was Sacked (Τὸ
πότε ἐπάρθη ἡ Κωνσταντινούπολις), begins diferently: “It was 6961 years afer the
creation of the world, 1453 since the birth of Christ, on Tuesday the 29th of May.”49
Te author does not put himself in the Biblical context, but rather ofers historical
dates. Subsequently, moreover, he evokes the popular legends surrounding the fall
rather than its Biblical antecedents, describing the legend that, since the city had
been built by a Constantine son of Helena, that it would fall during the reign of an-
other Constantine son of Helena. He continues with another popular myth, that of
an eclipse which serves as a harbinger of the city’s fall. Tus, even though the fnal
parts of the two versions of the poem are identical, the difering opening sections
put the focus on two diferent aspects of the same narrative: for the former, the
focus is on sin as the cause of the fall, for the latter, Constantine himself.
Te rest of the narrative, then, can be read through these two diferent foci. Te
separate narratives converge with Constantine looking over the walls and seeing
the onrushing Turks. Looking back inside, he sees a princess entering the temple.
Constantine goes down to her and she says to him:
Since this miserable City was entrusted to me, many times have I saved it from divine anger. But
now I prayed to my son and God, and yet a decision was made, that you will be surrendered into
foreign hands, because the sins of the people have lit the anger of God. … and you go to die, for
thus God commanded.50
Tis section maintains the dual foci of the lament: on the one hand, it invokes
God’s wrath at the sin of the people as the cause of the fall of the city; on the other,
it heightens the tragic pathos of Constantine, a good yet doomed man. And, unlike
the Biblical example of the sinning king of Nineveh, who turns away God’s wrath
through repentance, Constantine repents his sins but is unable to avoid his fate:
“Because for my sins I have been stripped of imperial honor and even lose my own
life.”51 As with the queen’s condemnation, Constantine’s reply invokes sin as the
cause of the city’s fall while also ofering a moment of human pathos for the emper-
or, a pathos further emphasized by the king’s magnanimity, piety and bravery, not
only in this lament, but in every other one as well.
Te conclusion of the lament, too, uses two stock images: the preservation of
the relics in Hagia Sophia and the death of Constantine and the delivery of his
this lament, the author personifes Constantinople as “Lady Seven-hills” (Ἑπτάλοφε Κυρία), and it is she
who delivers much of the lament in monologue (La Caduta di Constantinopoli 378).
49 Testi Inediti 326: Ἔτει ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου, ͵ςϡξαʹ, ἀπὸ δὲ Χριστοῦ γεννήσεως ͵αυνγʹ, μηνὶ Μαίῳ εἰς τὰς κθʹ,
ἡμέρᾳ Τρίτῃ.
50 Testi Inediti 328: Ἀφόντις μοῦ ἐπαράδοσαν ταύτην τὴν ταλαίπωρον Πόλιν, πολαῖς φοραῖς τὴν ἐγλύτωσα
ἀπὸ ὀργαῖς θεϊκαῖς∙ ἀλὰ καὶ τώρα ἐπαρακάλεσα τὸν υἱόν μου καὶ θεόν, καὶ ὅμως ἔγινε ἀπόφασις, ὅτι νὰ παραδο-
θῆτε εἰς τὰς χεῖρας τῶν ἀλοτρίων, διότι αἱ ἁμαρτίαι τοῦ λαοῦ ἄναψαν τὸν θυμὸν τοῦ θεοῦ. … καὶ σὺ ὕπαγε νὰ
ἀποθάνῃς, ὅτι ἔτζι ὥρισεν ὁ θεός.
51 Testi Inediti, 328: ἐπειδὴ διὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας μου ἐξεγυμνώθηκα τὴν τιμὴν τῆς βασιλείας καὶ χάνω καὶ τὴν
ζωήν μου.
106 Adam J. Goldwyn
severed head to the Turks. In About Hagia Sophia (Τῆς Ἁγιὰ Σοφιᾶς), the poet de-
scribes how three ships were sent to France containing the cross, the gospels and
the holy altar, lest they be captured by the Turks. Te poem ends on a hopeful note,
with the archangel telling the icon of the Teotokos and the other icons:
Calm down, queenly mistress and you, icons, do not cry,
over the years, in time, everything will be yours again.52
Similarly, an untitled folk song from Asia Minor describes how Constantine en-
trusted a trustworthy general to lock the doors of Hagia Sophia, and how it re-
mained safe thereafer:
Te years came and passed, times came and went.
Te key was forgotten, and it stayed locked.
It needs an artisan from heaven and a worker from earth.53
Te shared conclusion of the lament under consideration similarly uses this meme:
afer the fall of the city
neither the crown nor the scepter were found there, because the lady Teotokos had taken them
away to guard them, until the poor race of Christians received pity. Some Christians related this
later, having been present where they saw this miracle.54
Tis optimistic note, however, is not where the lament ends. Rather, it concludes
on the more pessimistic note of the emperor’s death: “He was defeated, and they
cut him and his nobles down, and they brought the head of the pitiful king to the
sultan, and he rejoiced greatly.”55 Te end of this lament, therefore, weaves together
two common strands in the larger corpus of laments: the pathos of Constantine’s
fnal moments and death and the fate of the city’s holy relics.
Both of these themes, moreover, have signifcant metaphorical power. Constan-
tine’s death serves as a metonymy for the fall of the city that bears his name, and his
death serves as a paradigmatic example of the deaths of the city’s other inhabitants.
Te preservation of the relics (and the many legends surrounding Constantine’s
resurrection), moreover, represent the conviction that though the city has fallen,
the religion it embodied and the people who still adhere to it will endure, even (as
the three ships carrying the relics suggest) as they are dispersed as exiles and refu-
52 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 396: Σώπασε, κυρὰ Δέσποινα καὶ σεῖς κόνες μὴν κλαῖτε∙ / πάλι μὲ χρόνους,
μὲ καιρούς, πάλι δικά σας εἶναι.
53 La Caduta di Constantinopoli 400: Χρόνους ἔρθαν κ’ ἐπέρασαν, καιροί ἐρθαν κ’ ἐδέβαν, / ’νεσπάλθεν τὸ
κλειδίν ἀθες, ’κ’ ἐπέμ’ νεν κλειδωμένον. / Θέλ’ ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ μάστοραν κι ἀπὸ τὴν γῆν ἀργάτεν.
54 Testi Inediti 330: οὐδὲ τὸ στέμμα οὐδὲ τὸ σκῆπτρον εὑρέθησαν ἐκεῖ ὁποῦ τὸ ἄφησε, διότι τὸ ἐπῆρεν ἡ κυρία
Θεοτόκος νὰ τὸ φυλάγῃ ἕως οὗ νὰ γένῃ ἔλεος εἰς τὸ ταλαίπωρον γένος τῶν Χριστιανῶν. Ταῦτα ἐξηγήθησάν τινες
Χριστιανοὶ ὕστερον, παρόντες, ἐκεῖ ὅπου εἶδαν τὸ θαῦμα.
55 Testi Inediti 330: Ἐνικήθη, καὶ ἔκοψαν αὐτὸν ὁμοῦ μὲ τοὺς ἄρχοντας αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἤφεραν τὴν κεφαλὴν τοῦ
ἐλεεινοῦ βασιλέως εἰς τὸν σουλτάνον καὶ ἐχάρη μεγάλως.
“I come from a cursed land and from the depths of darkness” 107
In his chapter “Tradition and the Individual Talent” in Folk Poetry of Modern
Greece, Beaton describes the two-part process of composition in folk literature:
“the formation of the relatively standard groups of formulas, image-patterns and
narratives which are so consistent all over the Greek-speaking world” and “the in-
ventiveness of the individual singer in choosing among these traditional elements
and varying them within certain limits.”56 Tough Beaton is speaking about the
Greek tradition generally, these same principles apply to the particular case of
laments about Constantinople. A catastrophe on the scale of the sack of Constan-
tinople (as with any event great or small) afects each person diferently depending
upon a range of causes, from proximity in time and place to the event to one’s own
personality and unique experience. Tus, within the context of a single event there
are a multitude of experiences. It is no surprise, then, that this same principle is
found within works about a single event: within the structural confnes, outlined
by Alexiou, and from the range of traditional images, motifs, and stories, difer-
ent authors were able to articulate a personal vision and individual response to the
city’s fall.
Tese laments, moreover, reveal the authors’ attempts, as representatives of the
frst generations of post-Constantinopolitan Greeks, to forge a new identity as a
diaspora community of refugees. Some, such as Andronikos Kallistos, ofered a
pessimistic and hopeless vision of life for the individual survivor under these cir-
cumstances (though, ironically, Kallistos would go on to a distinguished career,
frst in Bologna and later in England).57 Many other writers were more optimistic,
seeing the hand of God in the city’s fall and, they hoped, in the city’s eventual resur-
rection. Te numerous laments which depict the protection and preservation of sa-
cred objects, ofen through divine means, attest to this lingering hope. Ultimately,
both strands contain kernels of truth: for centuries afer the fall of Constantinople,
the life of the individual Greek was difcult and ofen full of hardship; neverthe-
less, the culture, its religion and artistic production endured and even thrived.
56 Beaton 1980, 69.
57 According to Barbera 1995, 296, Kallistos “was one of the frst Greeks to teach Aristotle at an Italian
University in the Renaissance … starting from at least 1458 onwards”. Barbera further notes that “Secund-
inus complemented Callistus on how far his career had progressed afer so little time in Italy” (396). For
Kallistos’ time in England, see Harris 1995, 140–2 and 146 and, for a more detailed biography, see Cammel-
li 1942.
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