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Kostas Yiavis, Imperios and Margarona. The Rhymed Version. Critical Edition with Introduction, Commentary and Index–Glossary. Athens: ΜΙΕΤ 2019. Pp. 523 + 31 plates.

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Kostas Yiavis, Imperios and Margarona. The Rhymed Version. Critical Edition with Introduction, Commentary and Index–Glossary. Athens: ΜΙΕΤ 2019. Pp. 523 + 31 plates.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2021

Marjolijne C. Janssen*
University of Oxford
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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek, University of Birmingham

The rhymed version of Imperios and Margarona, which Kostas Yiavis publishes in the book under review, is an adaptation of an earlier unrhymed verse romance, which in its turn is an adaptation of a French prose romance, Pierre de Provence et la belle Maguelonne. The oldest version of the French source text is datable to around 1430 and was a huge success throughout Europe with numerous translations into other languages. The unrhymed Greek version has come down to us in five manuscripts (with quite a few differences between them), the oldest of which, Neap. gr. III B 27, probably dates from the second half of the fifteenth century, making the Greek adaptation among the earliest renderings of the story into another language.

The romance tells the love story of Imperios, prince of Provence and Margarona, princess of Naples, following the popular motifs of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-and-girl-reunited-after-various-adventures. But even though the plot in the French and the Greek versions is broadly the same, there are significant differences. One of the most striking differences is that in the French text, the two lovers elope and thus fear the wrath of Margarona's father, whereas in the Greek text, they get married and then run away, still in fear of her father's wrath. This begs the question whether the Greek version is a direct adaptation of the French version, or whether there is a different source. As the oldest manuscript has an untranslated hemistich in dialectal Italian: τουρνὲ μου ἀπροπόζητον πάλι στὴν Μαργαρώνα (turnemu (= torniamo) a proposito) (p. 114, 168), a lost Italian version of the Pierre story may be suspected.

This is the first modern critical edition of the rhymed version, which has come down to us in 14 Venetian editions from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries. The oldest one known to us is that of 1543, but this copy (still extant in 1940) now seems to have vanished. Y.'s edition is therefore based on the second one known to us, that of 1553. Two earlier editions, by É. Legrand and G. Meyer had been based on single seventeenth-century copies.

Y.'s book consists of an introduction and the edition of the rhymed text, followed by an exhaustive commentary, a comprehensive Greek glossary and 31 plates. His introduction is extensive, consisting of eight chapters. In Chapter 1, he discusses Imperios in its international literary context, rightly looking not only to the West, but also to the East. Chapter 2 deals with the important issue of genre. Imperios cannot justifiably be called a chivalric novel, but the fact is that the genre of the chivalric novel remained popular throughout Europe even after the collapse of the feudal system and the disappearance of knights: think of Ariosto and Tasso in Italian and Spenser's The Fairie Queene in English. Y. eloquently explains how the genre is received by the new bourgeois classes and how it evolves through the change in readership and changing socio-economic and political circumstances. What was once the reality of courts and knights becomes a literary motif. The apogee of this development is of course Don Quixote, which relentlessly pokes fun at it. There is one small caveat here, though: to what extent can we speak of a bourgeois class in the sixteenth-century Greek community in Venice? And perhaps more importantly: when one considers the circulation of Venetian chapbooks such as Imperios, with numerous reprints over a long period of time, they are clearly intended for the wider Greek-speaking world, not just the Greek community in Venice. But to what extent can we really speak of an emerging bourgeois class in the wider Greek-speaking world in the sixteenth century and beyond?

In Chapter 3 Y. provides a solid description of the manuscript tradition of the unrhymed Imperios and seeks to link his text to it, but some details remain unclear, because we do not have a reliable modern edition of the unrhymed version. There are older critical editions of it, of which Kriaras' (1955) is the most important. However, his edition is problematic because it constitutes an eclectic patchwork of manuscript readings. That text, too, could do with a new critical edition. Chapter 4 offers a very detailed description of the editions of the rhymed Imperios and valuable insights into printing practices in Venice. Chapter 5 charts the transition from unrhymed to rhymed in a transparent and solid manner, based on the methodology of W.F. Bakker and A. F. van Gemert. The sixth chapter discusses versification and rhyme. This is not Y.'s strongest chapter. His definition of what constitutes a weakened caesura is on the strict side: we can all recognize a weakened caesura in Καὶ σὰν περάση λιγοστὸς (|) καιρός, θέλω γυρίσει (l. 197), but for instance in l. 910 στὴν στράταν ὁποὺ ἤτονε | βρύση μὲ κρυὸν νεράκι the sentence of course stretches beyond the caesura (how could it not?), but none of the constituents is broken up by the caesura in the way λιγοστὸς καιρός is in l. 197. As for hiatus across the caesura: it is not that the author of the rhymed Imperios ‘must have considered it legitimate’ (p. 227). It is common practice, and in fact there is no such thing as hiatus across the caesura in isometric poetry, just as there can be no hiatus between lines.

Chapter 7 briefly touches upon the dating and provenance of the text, regrettably without following the common practice of giving a systematic, detailed linguistic description. A Cretan provenance for the author of the rhymed Imperios is posited, based on earlier scholarship, but then the Commentary (chapter 11) contains several references to elements that are Peloponnesian, Cypriot, or even Pontic, leaving the reader in a state of mild puzzlement. Linguistic comments are to be found in the Commentary, but there are a few slips among them: at l. 234 κάμε is not a present imperative and ἄπειχε is not an aorist, but a present imperative; at ll.542-6 βλέπεσε is certainly not a middle aorist; at l. 630 ὑπομονὴν δὲν ἔχει: it is not that Imperios is impatient: he cannot bear the fact that Margarona is left to her own devices.

Both the Introduction and the Commentary are at times burdened by Y.'s undeniable erudition and clear enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge with his readers. His bibliography covers no fewer than 74 pages, and his commentary a whopping 162, while the edition of the poem itself is a mere 31 pages. There are comments on almost every line, and parallels are sought everywhere, even for commonplace expressions. Through free association, we sometimes arrive at an entirely different commonplace, not to be found in Imperios (e.g. at l. 150 where from Imperios’ φῶς καὶ παρηγοριά μου we arrive at μάτια μου καὶ ψυχή μου in Erofili). Sometimes Y. seems to temporarily forget that Imperios is a translation of a version of Pierre, for instance when he claims that geographical names, such as Provence, Naples and Cairo (all in Pierre) are used loosely. And there is certainly no reason to debate whether Ἀνάπολη might refer to Nauplion instead of Naples (at. l. 291), given that Maguelonne is the princess of Naples. There are astute and valuable observations throughout, but sometimes Y. seems to get carried away, and the reader is left questioning the relevance of some of the information given: for instance, when he attempts to obtain a full diagnosis for the pain Imperios experiences in his side after prolonged horse riding (at l. 907); or when he devotes 6 pages to the Venetian ducat, its history and value, while in the text the coin only gets a fleeting mention (at l. 24 δουκάτα τὄδιδεν πολλά). The absence of a general index makes all this information all the harder to find.

Chapter 8 is concerned with the principles of the edition. In it, Y. explains that he has refrained from correcting mistakes or emending lines metri gratia, unless the intelligibility of the text is impaired. In all other instances the text is kept unaltered and emendations are proposed in the Commentary. Y. has also refrained from homogenizing the text or its phonetic properties. This is always good news for readers with a linguistic interest, such as myself.

Sometimes, however, Y. is perhaps over-cautious in not wanting to correct. The syntactic awkwardness of ll. 557-9: Ἐσέναν ἔχ<ω> ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν πατέραν καὶ μητέρα, || ἐσύ ᾽σαι τ᾽ ἀπακούμπιον μου καὶ ἡ δεξιά μου χέρα || καὶ ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἀδελφὰς καὶ φῶς μου καὶ ζωή μου could very easily be remedied by inverting the order of ll. 558 and 557. This surely is a typesetting error that slipped into the tradition early and was not corrected in subsequent reprints; compare the same passage in the unrhymed version of Imperios: Ἐσέναν ἔχω ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν πατέραν καὶ μητέραν || καὶ ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἀδελφὰς καὶ φῶς μου καὶ ζωή μου (ll. 502-03). Very occasionally Y. seems to misinterpret the text. In his Commentary (at l. 189) he explains the second line of the following: τὰ τῆς γραφῆς φιλόσοφοι καὶ γνῆσοι συγγενεῖς μου, || οὐκ ἔχετε τὸ μάθημα, ἀλλά ᾽ναι φυσικό σας, || εὐχαριστῶ σας ἅπαντας, … as: ‘You do not know [what happened between me and the king], but this is natural [you being outside the immediate family]’. But this is simply a clumsy rendering of what is perfectly clear in the unrhymed version (ll. 171 στὰ τῆς Γραφῆς φιλόσοφοι, ἄριστοι ἐν τοῖς βίβλοις, || καὶ οὐκ ἔχετέ το μάθημα, ἀλλά ᾽ναι φυσικόν σας || εὐχαριστῶ σας ἅπαντας, …). ‘You, philosophers in scripture, experts in learning – [and] it is not something you have acquired, but it comes naturally to you –, I thank all of you’. At l. 427 (εἶχεν τοῦ παγωνιοῦ πτερόν …||) βαμμένον κιτρινόχρυσον· τοῦτό ᾽χε τὸ σημάδι (|| Ἱμπέριος εἰς τ᾽ ἄρματα …) Y. proposes as an alternative reading τοῦ τό ᾽χε τὸ σημάδι, without explaining what that might mean. A better reading would be τοῦτό ᾽χε το σημάδι (‘this he had as a distinguishing mark’). But these are minor quibbles, which do not in any way diminish the value of this new edition.