The Death of Digenis
Οψές επέρνου ποταμούς
Last night I forded rivers and crossed bridges
and heard sighing and wondered what it was.
Digenis is fighting for his life and the world cowers,
the sky thunders and lightning flashes.
The whole upper world is shaking,
and the underworld is gaping open, its foundations creaking
and the thought of covering him fills the slab with dread,
the thought of the slab covering the eagle,
[the bravest on the earth,
whose words are brave, even when fighting for his life.
- Would that the earth had steps and the sky chains,
I'd plant my foot on the steps, grab the chains
and shake the heavens.]
Translated by Michael Eleftheriou
Οψές επέρνου ποταμούς
Ο θάνατος του Διγενή
Οψές επέ- οψές επέρνου ποταμούς και διά- ε, και διάβαινα γιοφύρια
και διά- ε, και διάβαινα γιοφύρια κι άκουσα κι α- κι άκουσα κι αναστεναγμούς
κι άκουσα κι α- κι άκουσα κι αναστεναγμούς και ρω- ε, και ρώτηξα είντα 'ναι.
Ο Διγενής ψυχομαχεί κι η γης τονε τρομάσσει,
βροντά κι αστράφτει ο ουρανός και σειέτ' ο απάνω κόιμος1
κι ο κάτω κόιμος άνοιξε και τρίζουν τα θεμέλια
κι η πλάκα τον ανατριχιά πώς θα τονε σκεπάσει,
πώς θα σκεπάσει τον αϊτό, [τσι γης τον αντρειωμένο,
γιατί κι όντες ψυχομαχεί, λόγια αντρειωμένα λέγει.
- Να 'χεν η γης πατήματα κι ο ουρανός κερκέλια2,
να πάθιουν τα πατήματα, να 'πιανα τα κερκέλια
να 'δουδα σείσμα τ' ουρανού.]
Songs on the death of Brave men
Of all the songs in the Digenis cycle, the best and most widely known - including the very few that researchers now recognize as properly ‘akritic’ - are those that relate to the death of the never-defeated hero. Βλ. τραγούδια Kostantis and Kostantas, Charon and the brave men, Last night I crossed rivers. Akritas goes hunting', Charon wore black, Digenis is dying.
In the popular imagination, it is unthinkable that such a hero should be subject to the common fate of common folk and be allowed to die. And, truth be told, there was little that was philosophical or meditative about the heroic mindset. A slave to his impulses and his strength, the hero will once again square up against an opponent and challenge him, even if he is Death himself. And the hero will throw himself into battle once again, the latest in an endless string of feats; this time, though, he will be defeated.
As a theme, Digenis’ death belongs to the older, rich oral narrative tradition which centred on the personality, life and achievements of the akritic heroes so beloved by the populace. However, the fact that the struggle with Charon is absent from all the variants of the written epic led a number of researchers to conclude that this theme is also absent from the popular imagination during the akritic era. It was also used to argue that the written epic pre-dated the songs.
The oldest and richest song-type, the one Nikolaos Politis considered a recap of Digenis Akritas’ feats and the type closest to the written epic, is represented in this collection by a Cypriot variation (see Charon wore black).
Some of the other songs included here are loosely linked to the traditions relating to the death of Digenis or with the epic cycle more generally (e.g. Kostantis and Kostantas). They include however names, verses and concepts linked to the Akritic cycle and besides the central theme of death, they also refer to other aspects of the hero’s everyday life, work, family and loves. Miranda Terzopoulou (2017)
Studio recording, 2004.
Charidimos Manarolis sang the verses in brackets for Domna Samiou who taped him in the village of Lakkoi, Crete, in 1965.
Watch a different version of the song by Domna Samiou