Vitsentzos Kornaros (??–1677)

Tortured by love

I will not hide myself and I will not be named as unknown
I want to reveal myself so that everybody knows me
The poet ‘s name is Vitsentzos and his family name is Kornaros
May he have no sins when Death comes to take him.
He was born in Sitia, he was brought up in Sitia
And there he wrote these verses that he writes
At Kastro he got married as nature demands
And God will decide where his death takes place

Erotokritos This translation of the last twelve verses of the poem 'Erotokritos' is as close as we get to any exact information about Vitzentzos Kornaros. The author of this epical poem from the beginning of the 17th Century considered to be one of the masterpieces of Greek literature. He says that his first name is Vitsentzos and his family name Kornaros, that he was born in Sitia (Eastern Crete) and that he got married at Kastro (Heraklion). What he couldn't tell us himself was that he died in 1677. Perhaps he was related to the Kornaros, a big family of nobles, of Venetian origin, but it is not known.

Erotokritos As for the poem there are passages that imitate the "Orlando Furioso" by Lodovico Ariosto, which places his writing after 1550. Other passages refer to imitations of "Erofili" that was written by the Cretan poet Georgios Hortatzi around 1600. Some battles described in the poem appear to refer in the fights of the Cretans against the Turks after 1645. And this then is as close as we get to establishing the time at which the epic was written.

The first printed publication of Erotokritos was in 1713 in Venice. One copy still exists in the Gennadio Library. A handwritten publication from 1710 is saved in the British Museum. The publication of 1713 was printed again in 1737 and a copy of it is held by the National Library in Athens.

The Poem

The name 'Erotokritos' is the name of the main character of the poem. It means 'the one that has been tortured by love'. The poem is constituted by 10.000 verses, divided in five parts. Initially, the story appears to take place in Ancient Athens. But the poet has added characters, facts and places from the Middle Ages and his own time.

The plot is twisting around the love of Erotokritos and Aretousa, the daughter of the King of Athens. Erotokritos was the son of Pezostratos, adviser of the King. Being from an inferior social class to the princess, any relation between them was impossible. Therefore Erotokritos disguises himself and starts singing erotic songs under her window in the evenings. And slowly the princess falls in love with the unknown singer.

Erotokritos & Arethousa. (Theofilos Hatzimichael 1870-1934) At some time Erotokritos is forced, together with his friend Polidoros, to kill ten of the Kings bodyguards who have been sent to arrest him. He then flees to the city of Egripos, where, in vain alas, he tries to forget his love. When the unknown singer stops singing under her window, Aretousa, discovers that she loves him. And during a visit at the house of Pezostratos, the father of Erotokritos, she discovers the identity of her secret admirer and falls in deep sadness.

To cheer her up the King organises fights of joust. Erotokritos participates, wins the fight and takes the prize for his victory by the hands of his beloved princess. Taking courage from his victory, he dares to ask her father, King Iraklis to give him Aretousa in marriage. The king, however, gets furious, exiles Erotokritos and orders his daughter to marry the successor to the throne of Byzantium. Aretousa refuses, whereafter the king confines her in a dark, humid dungeon, where she remains for years, suffering many hardships.

After a number of years, the king of Vlahias declares war on Athens and invades with his army. But Erotokritos after drinking a magic liquid that changes his appearance, comes to help his homeland. While fighting he happens to save the life of the old King. Finally, the war is concluded in a duel between Erotokritos and the nephew of the King of Vlahias. Erotokritos overcomes but gets seriously wounded. He is brought to the royal palace, where he stays until he is cured.

The King wants to express his gratitude and offers to adopt him and assign to him half of his kingdom. But Erotokritos however refuses. Instead he ask the king to release Aretousa and allow him to marry her. At first the princess refuses to be married to a stranger, but then Erotokritos reveals his real identity. The marriage takes place and the young couple inherits the throne of Athens.

Of all the gracious things upon this earth
It is fair words that have the greatest worth,
And he who uses them with charm and guile
Can cozen human eyes to weep or smile.

Erotokritos I 887-90 (transl. Stephanides)

Due to its beautiful lyrics, Erotokritos is still being sung today. And the names of the heroes, Erotokritos and Aretoussa, are also still in use on on Crete.

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