Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.06.25

Vassilios Sabatakakis, Aspects of Morphological and Stylistic Variation of the Verb in Erotokritos. Studia Graeca et Latina Lundensia 9.   Stockholm:  Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2004.  Pp. 163.  ISBN 91-22-02071-3.  SEK 223.00 / $30.00.  



Reviewed by Eleni Manolaraki, University of South Florida (emanolar@cas.usf.edu)
Word count: 2531 words

Published by the University of Lund in Sweden, this book belongs to a series that has covered such diverse literature as Apollonius Rhodius, Synesius of Cyrene, Sextus Empiricus, and the Septuagint. The present book, which is a revised form of Sabatakakis' 2003 dissertation, examines a text less known to the general classicist: Vitsentzos Kornaros' Erotokritos. Written in Crete by a noble of Venetian descent and traditionally dated to the 17th century, it consists of 9,982 iambic fifteen-syllable verses narrating the tale of star-crossed lovers Erotokritos and Aretusa. Sabatakakis (henceforth S.) focuses on the morphological and semantic variations of verb forms in Erotokritos, examining how these shape Kornaros' poetic style. The strongly linguistic nature of this book, one third of which is taken by tables of statistical data, its specialized terminology, and the fact that the quoted passages from the poem are featured only in Greek, render it accessible primarily to Cretologists. However, because it makes a strong case about the Eastern Cretan Dialect (henceforth ECD) of the Erotokritos as reflecting an intermediate stage in the development from Classical Greek (henceforth CG), to Standard Modern Greek (henceforth SMG), S.'s study can appeal to those interested in the diachronic development of the Greek language.

The book consists of 7 chapters, a list of tables, and a bibliography. Chapter 1 (19-30) introduces the historical and cultural background of the poem, summarizing long-standing controversies reminiscent of the Homeric question: the identity of Vitsentzos within the Kornaros family and its implications for the dating of the Erotokritos, the manuscripts and editions of the poem, and its artificial language based on ECD, enriched with idiomatic poetic expressions, archaisms, and Venetian words (25). S. does not state clearly how his study furthers that of his predecessors, but his own contribution is suggested in his discussion of his method (26-7). Basing his study on his own computer concordance, which registers the total occurrences of all verb forms, S. has command of complete and detailed data for his study. Thus he draws on more definitive conclusions regarding the use of morphological and stylistic variants of verb forms, following their trajectory from CG, into the ECD of the Erotokritos, and finally into SMG.

Chapters 2-4 deal with the three morphological spaces where such variation occurs commonly: the stems and endings of 'imperfective non-past' (present) active stem-stress verbs (Chapter 2, 31-69), the 'imperfective past' (imperfect) and imperfective non-past formation of contracted verbs (Chapter 3, 70-92), and the augment (Chapter 4, 94-110). Chapter 2 provides exhaustive tables of stems ending in both consonants and vowels. There are three common denominators in these various verb forms:

1) They are mostly inherited from CG, and, by the time of the Erotokritos, their morphology has developed in various ways: loss of an initial unaccented vowel, change of prepositional prefix under the influence of the augment, phonetic changes in the interior of the stem, development of parallel forms of the same verb which belong to both the stem-stress and end-stress conjugations, etc. Such changes foreshadow the development of these CG verbs into their SMG equivalents.

2) The 3rd person plural presents the greatest variety of suffixes (-ου, (ουν), -ούνε, -σι, -σινε), and is therefore a particularly rich source of rhyme. This is integral to the form of the poem, which is structured in rhyming couplets.

3) CG, ECD, and Kornaros' contemporary SMG verb forms coexist in the Erotokritos, ensuring a rich resource of stylistic and metrical variation.

Chapter 3 discusses the imperfective non-past and imperfective past of verbs in 2nd person singular -as and -is, which originate with the contracted CG verbs in -άω and -έω. Again, in both these tenses, the 3rd person plural yields the most variant forms, facilitating rhyme and style. S. demonstrates that several SMG verbs originating in CG contracted verbs have switched classes, turning into -άω verbs from -έω verbs more frequently than vice versa. S. shows that these changes are already in place in the Erotokritos. Of particular interest is a table (84-91) diachronically classifying verbs into their CG contracted forms, their multiple variants and compounds in the Erotokritos, and their MG equivalents in 2nd person singular -as and -is. S. rightly observes that 'the majority of the verbs follow the same declination through time. That is a proof of the continuity of the Greek language' (92). S. pays equal attention to the differences between the CG and SMG verb system. Such an example is his discussion of verbs in -ώνω (37-42). Derived from the CG contracted verbs in -όω with the insertion of a -ν-, their evolution is contrasted with the diachronic stability of verbs in 2nd person singular -as and -is. S. shows how the Erotokritos reflects an intermediate stage in which the combination -ών- becomes a productive suffix which is added to stems of nouns and adjectives to form derivative verbs. Such examples from the Erotokritos include μεγαλώνω ('to grow', from μεγάλος,), ἀλαφρώνω ('to make lighter', from ἐλαφρός,), κομπώνω ('to tie a knot', from κόμπος,), and κουκουλώνω ('to hood', from the Venetian cuculla). All the above are common words in both ECD and SMG today.

Chapter 4 discusses Kornaros' use of the augment and its effect on stylistic and metrical variation. Following an introduction on the syllabic and temporal augments in CG and their development into SMG (the disappearance of the temporal augment, the retaining of the accented syllabic augment, etc.), S. turns to the presence of the augment in the Erotokritos. Kornaros uses both the unaccented and the accented augment , as well as or ι [i]; the latter might or might not be inherited from CG (98-99). The same morphological type occurs in different contexts with either the or the augment, depending on metrical or euphonic reasons (although seems to be preferred in the plural and in the singular, 103). The temporal augment is more challenging, since various treatments coexist in the text: complete omission of the augment, presence according to the rules of CG, transference of the augment from past imperfective/perfective forms to present ones, often followed by an interpretation of the augment as a part of the present stem. This development often results in the addition of a second, syllabic, augment after an initial consonant. An initial ε or η- can also develop in present forms, in imitation of the regular augments of past tenses (the 'anaptyctic' ε, 109). These variously augmented and stressed forms generate less or more useful syllables, providing Kornaros with a rich metrical and stylistic range.

Leaving behind the morphological part of his study, S. focuses on the semantic aspects of verb variations in Chapters 5 (111-120), 6 (121-133), and 7 (134-161). Chapter 5 discusses the relationship between the morphological variation of the verb and its position in the line. Summarizing the structure and stress-patterns of the iambic fifteen-syllable verse (obligatory stress on the fourteenth syllable and either the sixth or the eighth, caesura after the eighth), S. discerns five important metrical positions: the beginning of the line (A), the end of the first hemistich (M1), the beginning of the second hemistich (M2), the end of the line (T), and any other position except the above (X). S. shows that verbs tend to occupy particular positions in the line, depending on their number of syllables and their stress (120). The more syllables a verb form has, the more it tends to occupy positions A, M1, M2, and T. Verbs with fewer syllables are more mobile and often occupy position X. Most verbs in position M1 are tetrasyllabic and stressed on the antepenult, while the most commonly occurring verbs are trisyllabic and stressed on the penult. This is explicable by the fact that such a form is the building block of the iamb.

Chapter 6 discusses how the oral formulae and other repetitions in the Erotokritos are connected to the position of verb forms in the line. S discusses various formulae beginning with the rare ones spanning two lines, to more frequent ones covering a single line, to common formulae occupying the first or the second hemistich. He also categorizes formulae according to their morphological structures such as 'adjective plus noun', 'two (or more) verbs', 'verb and noun', 'interchangeable numerals', 'two adjectives', etc. S. concludes that verb variation is an integral tool of a formula, rendering it more mobile and versatile in the line (129). Unlike other kinds of formulae, which tend to limit themselves to the first or second hemistich, formulae with verbs occur in both.

Chapter 7 discusses the positioning in the line of various synonymous verbs drawn from CG, ECD, and Kornaros' contemporary SMG. S. focuses on some verb groups commonly used in the Erotokritos: these include 'run', 'make/become angry', 'leave', 'go', 'see', 'hear', and others. S. demonstrates that, in several groups, a single verb has the greatest descriptive range and therefore occurs more commonly than the rest (137). Also, two synonyms often appear in the same line, the verb of lower semantic intensity preceding that of a greater semantic intensity (140). Other synonyms occupy the two most important metrical positions, before the caesura and at the end of the line (146-147). Observing that more than half of the rhyming words of the Erotokritos are verbs, S. argues convincingly that the morphological and semantic variation of verbs makes them productive rhyming forms and therefore appropriate line endings. In a final two-page section (162-163), S. summarizes his general conclusions, underlining again the artificial, diachronically layered language of the Erotokritos. Verb forms, with their rich morphological and semantic variations enable the poet to build a rich and textured narrative, with exciting and meaningful metrical patterns.

The most important contribution of this book is its painstaking dissection of the artistry of the Erotokritos, concealed behind seemingly effortless rhyming couplets and reminiscences of Cretan folk songs. S. illuminates the carefully constructed metrical and stylistic structures of the poem, which are difficult to detect 'without the help of the concordance and statistics based on it' (162). Equally important is S.'s strong linguistic argument regarding the ECD of the Erotokritos as reflecting an intermediate stage between CG and SMG. Scholars are generally aware of the morphological, syntactical, and semantic continuity between CG and SMG. What is less familiar is how the conservative ECD, which has changed relatively little since the time of the Erotokritos, bears clear marks of the transition between the two. S. also shows that the modern ECD is a rich repository of CG morphology. Drawing on both linguistics and field research in Crete (30), S. rightly concludes that many elements in ECD have not undergone significant changes since CG, despite the fact that such changes have taken place in SMG (30, 65, 92).

Perhaps the main weakness of this book lies in two areas: its cumbersome/inconsistent terminology and its uneven structure. S. often wavers between terms used for CG and for SMG, and terms used by contemporary Greek scholars for either language. Such issues become already apparent in his introduction. The very key word of the book title, 'variation,' is abandoned in the introduction for its MG equivalent πολυτυπία, which is used throughout. S. acknowledges his choice without explanation: 'this variation is called in Greek polytypia, and we choose that term in our work, despite the fact that it is not established in English (29).' As a precedent for his own use, S. cites C. G. Charalambakis [Charalampakes], Neoellenikos Logos: Meletes gia te Glossa, te Logotechnia, kai to hyphos (Athens, 1992). Placing in quotation marks what is actually his own translation of that author's SMG into English, S. simply transliterates the SMG word πολυτυπία. While this term is at home in Charalambakis' book, written in SMG, it is unclear why it is preferable to 'variation' in a book aimed at a primarily English-speaking audience. Similarly, S. introduces the term ditypies without any definition (34). The reader has to rely on context and on her SMG to realize that ditypy is the variation between two forms of the same morphological type. Elsewhere, the author lapses into full SMG. He states that he uses the term 'imperfective past' for 'paratatikos', and perfective past for 'aoristos' (27). Paratatikos and aoristos are the SMG terms for imperfect and aorist, but I doubt that anyone unfamiliar with SMG would realize what these transliterated forms mean.

S. states in his introduction that he will not use 'the traditional terminology, which is in current use for the description of classical Greek, but the terminology which is utilised in studies of the modern language (27).' However, he does not always stick with his choice. Discussing the verbs originating in the CG contracted verbs in -άω and -έω, S. states that 'in the classification of these verbs we shall use the terms -as verbs and -is verbs' (70). However, he also uses alternatives such as '-as declination' (72, 79), and '-is conjugation' (72, 80), terms traditionally describing CG verbs. Elsewhere, S. introduces terms without definition, explaining them only subsequently. The word mandinades, denoting the Cretan rhyming couplets in iambic fifteen-syllable verse, is introduced on p. 133 but defined in a footnote on p. 141. As I noted above, quotation marks are used rather ambiguously. In such an instance, S. quotes M. Parry's definition of formula as a 'signe of which the signifié is an "idea", while its signifiant is "a group of words used to express" this idea' (122) (double quotation marks are S.'s own). S. marks this claim with a footnote (p. 123, n. 124) stating merely 'Parry [1929],' without specific page numbers. These Saussurian terms, featured without quotation marks or italics, obscure S.'s narrative: are these Parry's actual words, or is this S.'s own interpretation of Parry's interpretation of Saussure?

Finally, the structure of the book is not particularly uniform. Chapters range from 9 to 38 pages in length (Chapters 5 and 2 respectively), reflecting the exhaustive use of statistical tables in the first part of this study. Chapter 2 ends with a short paragraph titled 'results' (69), which is essentially a summary of data. The 'results' of chapter 3 (91) are followed by a section introducing a new topic (92-93). On the other hand, chapters 4-7 conclude with more extensive and substantial paragraphs titled 'conclusion.' Cumulatively, these individual trifles create unnecessary irritants for the reader, who has to keep up with the elusive terminology, the obscure use of quotation marks, the often scarce information in the footnotes, and the uneven pace of the book. An index would resolve some of these difficulties.

The book is relatively free of typographical errors. I noticed 'passiv' instead of 'passive' (69), 'follow' instead of 'follows' (84), and wide spaces (T h e, 105, i n, 155). Throughout the book, text following footnote numbers is either too widely or too closely spaced after the footnote number.

The popularity of Erotokritos in modern Cretan culture remains undisputed. To this day, many older Cretans can recite the entire poem by heart. As S. points out, numerous couplets from the poem circulate as autonomous mandinades. Folk songs accompanied by the Cretan lyra draw directly from the amatory themes and language of the Erotokritos. Despite its flaws, S.'s book is commendable for providing deep insights into this masterpiece of Cretan literature.

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