All he tells us, in the epilogue to Erotokritos, is that he was born and raised in Sitia, where he created Erotokritos, and was married in the capital, Candia. He was clearly an educated man, and had a good knowledge of Italian, the second language of Venetian Crete.
Unfortunately, though, several persons called Vitsentzos Kornaros lived on the island in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Scholars have done detective work in the Venetian archives, trying to establish which one was the poet. Most now believe he was the brother of the nobleman Andreas Kornaros from Sitia, who was a leading member of Cretan cultural circles, a historian and poet choosing to write in Italian rather than Greek. Apart from Erotokritos, no other work by Vitsentzos is known. Many believe he was also the author of Abraham’s Sacrifice, though there is no definite proof.
THE IMPACT OF EROTOKRITOS FROM KORNAROS’ TIME UNTIL TODAY
Like other Cretan works, for decades Erotokritos circulated in manuscript only. Refugees from the Cretan War, which ended with the surrender of Candia to the Ottomans in 1669, took the poem with them to their places of exile. A manuscript copy made in Kerkyra and dated 1700 is preserved now in London. Erotokritos was first printed in Venice in 1713, and reprinted frequently from then on.
Erotokritos became widely known and loved both in Crete and beyond. It was especially popular in the Ionian Islands. People able to read would read it aloud to family and friends, and many would memorise large sections. Erotokritos reached a far wider audience than Kornaros probably imagined. In Athens it was once so popular that the ruined temple of Olympian Zeus became known as “Iraklis’ Palace”!
Erotokritos helped numerous modern Greek writers find their own poetic voice. It provided a much needed model for the use of everyday spoken Greek (demotic) as the basis of a literary language. Its influence can be seen in the works of Dionysios Solomos, Kostis Palamas and George Seferis, to name only three.
At some point, someone had the idea of singing Kornaros’ lines to a traditional tune, which helped to embed it even more firmly in people’s cultural world. In the last century, extracts from Erotokritos, sung in traditional style, circulated on vinyl records and later, of course, on cassettes and CDs. Particularly influential in popularising sections of it was the great singer Nikos Xylouris. More recently, Giannis Haroulis has re-interpreted extracts from Erotokritos for a new generation, still drawing on the traditional mode of performance.
Others have departed from the tradition to a greater or lesser extent. The composer Nikos Mamangakis turned Erotokritos into a “ballad” for a small orchestra of traditional and western instruments, and four voices, including, on the original LP, the great actor Manos Katrakis. A more recent version of this on CD features Savina Yannatou.
Erotokritos lends itself to various kinds of stage performance. In some parts of Greece, scenes inspired by the poem have been performed as a kind of folk theatre, at Carnival. In more recent times there have been numerous stage adaptations. To mention just two, a landmark, modernistic production was conceived and directed by Spyros Evangelatos and first presented in 1975, while more recently the composer Yanni Markopoulos made Erotokritos into an opera, Ερωτόκριτος και Αρετή.
There is no space here to mention all the recorded versions and stage productions of Erotokritos. A small selection is listed at the end of this article, and there is abundant material on YouTube and other internet sites. During Erotokritos Year there have been numerous cultural events in Greece as well as a major academic conference. It is safe to say that after 400 years, Erotokritos still has a lot to offer.
- Dr Alfred Vincent is a researcher and academic who has taught Modern Greek at the University of Sydney. He has given lectures and seminars at institutions around the world and has been actively involved in organisations of interest to the Greek Community.