The Neo-Greek Literature – From the Origins to the 17th Century

The birth of neo-Greek literature can be placed in a span of time extending from the 11th century. up to the earliest years of the 16th. These chronological extremes refer, respectively, to the probable period of composition by a single poet, perhaps far from Byzantium, of the poem Dighenìs Akrìtis and to the publication of Apòkopos by the not better known Cretan poet Bergadìs, which took place in Venice in 1509. The two works are heterogeneous in content and formal characteristics: the hero of the first, with a double Greek and Saracen origin, who defends the eastern borders of the Empire, does not resemble any of the anxious and pathetic dead who crowd around the poet-narrator of the Apòkopos, transported in a dream to Hades; similarly, if the language and the decapentasyllable verse of Dighenìs reflect hybridisms and rigidity compatible with the era of composition, the idioms of Bergadìs, the fluidity of his rhymed decapentasyllable are just as many testimonies of an evolution that will bear even greater results in Crete. Yet both works enjoyed considerable fortune, however, the oldest was established by means of oral and handwritten transmission, the most recent by means of the press. In fact, the theoretical presupposition that there is a reciprocal and continuous exchange between orality and writing, recognizable in some specific outcomes, seems today to guarantee the most suitable approach to understanding a large part of neo-Greek literature.

The verses of T. Pròdromos (12th century) and M. Glikàs (second half of the 13th century) date back to the full Byzantine era, offering glimpses of the life and customs of the Byzantine capital, as well as the Spanéas (“Glabro”), in which the author (perhaps A. Komninòs, d. 1142) gives his nephew some moral directives. The destruction of Constantinople, in 1204, and the dismemberment of the Empire into various small states, ruled by Latin lords (consequences of the IV Crusade), subverted not only the political order but also the cultural traditions of the Byzantine world, which remained indifferent, if not even hostile to the solicitations that could come from the West. In fact, the compositions in which the ancient material is reworked, the bestiaries, the narratives in verse of historical events and above all the chivalric novels, which have come down to us in number of five, composed in different places and times (at least two, Libistro and Rodamne, and Iberio and Margarona are thought to have been written in Crete at the end of the 14th and early 16th centuries, respectively).

After the fall of Constantinople, the cultured Greek tradition (but only that relating to antiquity) is preserved from the diaspora in Western Europe of the Byzantine scholars, who contributed to the development of Humanism. A sensibility and a taste of genuine demotic mold are instead fully manifested in the major islands of the Aegean, provisionally escaped the Ottoman conquest. In Crete, a Venetian dominion since 1211, one of the most significant literature in modern Greek developed, initially including (late 14th century – early 15th century) poets of satirical, or amorous, or didactic poems. allegorical (S. Sachlikìs, L. Dellapòrtas, M. Falièros, Bergadìs, the Anonymous of the History of the donkey) in which a language still poised between literary koinè and dialectisms is combined with inspiring motifs of autochthonous or Byzantine origin, but also, sometimes, Western. These, together with other later anonymous authors of works of lyrical or pastoral inspiration, are the true precursors of that generation of poets who gave life, from about 1570, to the Cretan Renaissance, that is to say to that extraordinary flowering of texts, mainly dramatic, which, although inspired by Western models, reach a high degree of autonomy and adopt a now well-defined Cretan demotic as a linguistic vehicle. Little or nothing is known about these poets, not even the greatest, such as Greece Chortàtsis (active at the end of the 16th century), author of the pastoral drama Panòria, of the Erofìli tragedyand of the comedy Katzùrbos, or like V. Kornàros, author, perhaps around 1600, of the novel in verse Erotòkritos. The Veneto-Cretan origin of many Renaissance poets has often been underlined (MA Fòskolos, IA Tròilos, as well as Kornàros); the greatest of them,above all Kornàros, appreciated the contemporary Greek production, mediated by that same Venetian publishing which, together with the liturgical texts, produced books for entertainment, or edification.

The result of other experiences, and above all of the confrontation or even the encounter with the Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation and Propaganda fide, are the writings, in demotic prose, of many clergymen (K. Lùkaris, F. Skùfos, I. Miniàtis), or some philosopher educated in Italy.

The Neo-Greek Literature - From the Origins to the 17th Century