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Reviews 323 Konstantinos Lardas, editor and translator, Mourning Songs of Greek Women. New York: Garland. 1992. Pp. ix + 351. $75.00. These translations of Greek μοιϕολόγια (mourning songs) are addressed to a broad English-speaking audience. The original texts are not included, nor are the explanatory notes very extensive. The collection is divided into 19 categories according to subject matter. A short introduction by the translator treats the relationship of these demotic poems to the ancient liturgical tradition and especially to the Christian one. It is to be hoped that readers will realize from the start that this is a personal rather than a scholarly response to the genre. Otherwise, romantic statements about the songs—e.g., "they are the creations of unlettered and unremembered women who simply sang their songs guided by the genius of their ancient oral tradition"—may be misleading. First of all, it is too simple to assume, as the author does, that a relationship exists between this oral tradition and hymnography or the liturgy, i.e., between an oral tradition and a literary one. Secondly, not all laments are created by women. It is true that the mirológia do belong to women insofar as the "caretaking " culture of the Greek folk—which includes the caretaking of the dead— belongs primarily, although not exclusively, to women. Nevertheless, there are songs about the death of warriors that are sung by their male companions, songs about the fall of cities, songs of migration, even wedding and feasting songs in this category. There are also male healers, go-betweens, and professional mourners, particularly in areas where Greek communities amalgamated with Near Eastern cultures. For instance, in Lebanese folk culture, male and female mourners have different functions and different repertories of songs. I prefer not to dwell here on the recurrent arguments regarding diachronicity versus continuity that plague folk poetry. In the folklore circles, diachronicity seems to be held in greater esteem (see Margaret Alexiou's «TÃ- είναιηελληνικήλαογϕαφία»inÎϕακτικάΤετάϕτουΣυμποσίουÎοίησης [Athens: Gnosi, 1985], Ï•. 48). Instead, I should like to emphasize the unique nature of mirológia. They are composed and/or used in specific situations of grief; in both content and form they express the enormous tension between (a) the horror of death and (b) the need to aestheticize death; they are very much bound to their performative aspects, which include their music and also the unique function of the human voice as a musical instrument; moreover , their music, which is antiphonal, further carries their oppositional nature and is related not only to the text but also to the customs that accompany the grieving process: the sharing of the dirges between kinsfolk and outside mourners (see Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition [Cambridge University Press, 1974], p. 40). Commenting on his own versification, the translator says that he has not attempted to reproduce in English the traditional 15-syllable line or the rhymed couplets of the Greek. Relating the lamentations (μοιϕολόγια) to songs about the anointing of Christ's body (μυϕολόγια), he says with considerable emotion: "I have tried to render these Greek songs as poems in the English language—poems that will honor all the dead." This is indeed an arduous undertaking. Folk songs are difficult to recreate as poems in another language first of all because there is always the temptation to express that which goes 324 Reviews beyond personal poetry by means of stiff, formalized expressions that presumably allow the original's "formulaic," "collective," or "antique" feeling to come through, and secondly because the absence of the song's melúma when the song is rendered simply as poetry removes something essential from the song's nature. Brave as the present project may be, the translator's choices frequently promote a formalized expression in both tone and syntax. In the examples below, for instance, subjunctives, conditionals, and optatives, although intended to correspond to the impersonal (πϕÎ-πει) and wishful (μακάϕι) expression of the Greek originals, give a heavy quality to the verse: It is proper that the earth rejoice that she be filled with pride it is proper that we plant her with bright shoots of pearl and rake her with gold rakes, for she has eaten of our eagles. no. 1...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 323-325
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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