restricted access The Sacrifice of Abraham: A First Approach to its Poetics
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The Sacrifice of Abraham: a First Approach to its Poetics Wim F. Bakker To ϕφος δε μετϕιÎ-ται, "Style cannot be measured." It is an adage one often hears, even at gatherings of scholars. To people who support this view, style would seem to be something personal and therefore to be approached only by subjective means. A good example of where this kind of approach can lead is given by Haralambákis (1985: 377), who quotes a statement of Lorentzátos about the style of Makriyánnis: ToϕφοςτουΜακϕυγιάννηδεχϕειάζεταιπιστοποίηση.Είναιεκείμπϕοστάσου, ασϕντϕιφτομπεντÎ-νι,καιχτυπάςαπάνωτου.Avδεντοκαταλάβειςμετοπϕώτο, εσϕφταις.ΜηνπεϕιμÎ-νειςπϕοκοπήαπόεξηγήσεις,αναλϕσεις,παϕατηϕήσεις, μετϕήσειςκαιστατιστικÎ-Ï‚.Αυτάείναιγιαλϕπησηκαιχάνονται.(1984:37—38) Accordingly, all pronouncements about style are altogether subjective , need no proof, are unverifiable, 'non-scientific.'1 Style can be measured and should be. Without the sound basis of objective data it is nearly impossible to interpret a literary work with the necessary thoroughness, responsibility and objectivity. I shall try to prove this point in the present article, which at the same time is meant to be a small contribution to gaining a deeper insight into the poetics of the poet of the Sacrifice of Abraham, with the help of the computer. And even the reader who has doubts about the combination of poetry and the computer may recognize that, basing ourselves on the "μετϕήσεις και στατιστικÎ-Ï‚" so despised by Lorentzátos, and proceeding to equally scorned "εξηγήσεις, αναλϕσεις και παϕατηϕήσεις," we may gain some insight into the methods followed by this poet. The work I am referring to when I speak of a study of the Sacrifice of Abraham based on the computer is a recent publication by Dia Philippides (1986) on this Cretan drama, in which we find for Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 6, 1988. 81 82 Wim F. Bakker the first time the extensive use of the computer in the linguistic and literary analysis of a modern Greek poetic text. It comprises a concordance, that is, a word-index showing the word-forms in their actual context; other word-tables: one giving the frequency of wordforms , another listing the number of words per line and couplet; and, finally, a reverse index and a rimario. A (bilingual) commentary on all the tables completes the book. In a previous publication about the Sacrifice of Abraham I have tried to demonstrate that this play is a work of art so carefully structured that nothing can either be removed or transferred without detracting from the total effect (1978). A whole network of crossreferences has been woven into the play, forming a design consisting of scores of small details all of which are interrelated. And so the play is full of many kinds of patterns, created to make specific impressions that produce all sorts of mental associations in the audience. One of the techniques used by the poet to create this network of associations is that of recurring motifs. Certain words, phrases, and ideas are repeated over and over again, by different speakers and in different circumstances, hence with ever-changing shades of meaning.2 In order to show how much more insight into the poetics of the Cretan poet one can gain when one uses the objective data and the ideas provided by Philippides' book, I have studied just one word of the play: μαντάτο, "message".3 My train of thought about this word, activated by ideas expressed by Philippides (1986: 212, 225), starts with vss. 1109-1110: Έδεμαντάτοτό'φεϕες,Î-δεμαντατοφόϕος, καικάμποςοποϕγίνηκετογϕινιασμÎ-νονόϕος,4 "See what a message you've brought to me, see what a messenger! The grim mountain, it has become a plain!"—words spoken by Sarah to her servant Siban at the moment when, near the end of the play, the latter appears with the message that Isaac is alive and will soon come home. The play starts with an angel, an Angelos who brings a mandato (see the 2nd verse: μαντάτο απο τους ουϕανοϕς σου φÎ-ϕνου κι αφουκϕάσου, "A message is brought to you from heaven, so listen well!") and ends with a second úngelos, a mandatofóros (Siban), who also brings a mandato. But what a difference between the two mandatai The first brings death and destruction, plunging the recipient, Abraham, into utter darkness, because it tells him to sacrifice the sweetest thing he has, his only son; the second means resurrection— new life—to the mother of Isaac, Sarah, who had given up her son, knowing, when...