Chapter 1: Early Travelers to Greece 1550-1775
Philippe du Fresne-Canaye was a French nobleman who accompanied the French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, François de Noailles, when he travelled to Constantinople in 1573.
Fresne-Canaye describes the scene at the wedding of a rich Greek merchant of Pera in Constantinople:
Avant qu'on commençât le passemezzo, on apporta des confitures, des vins excellents et beaucoup de suceries, et après qu'on eût fait amplement collation, le mari passa au milieu du bataillon des dames, arriva à l'estrade de l'épousée et s'assit à côté d'elle. Tout d'un coup tous deux furent couverts d'un voile d'écarlate; et cachés sous ce voile il est à croire qu'ils se donnèrent les plus savoureux baisers du monde, réservant pourtant la consommation de la fête à un temps plus opportun; car soudain le mari se leva, comme si en peu de temps la femme lui était venue à charge, et retourna s'asseoir avec les hommes. La mère ou tante de l'épousee reçut dans un bassin d'argent les présents que lui faisaient ses parents ou amis.Alors un vieillard commença à jouer sur la harpe une ronde presque sur un air de passemezzo; le père du marié prenant la mariée par la main ouvrit la danse, et ainsi firent beaucoup d'autres parents, prenant leurs cousines et connaissances.
Before beginning the passemezzo, preserves, some excellent wines and many sweets were brought in, and after having amply snacked, the bridegroom went into the middle of the battalion of ladies, arrived at the bride's platform and seated himself next to her. Suddenly, both of them were covered in a scarlet veil, and hidden beneath this veil, it can be thought that they gave each other the most savory kisses in the world, reserving, however, the consummation of the festivity to a more opportune time; when suddenly the bridegroom rose up as if in the short time the bride had come to his charge and returned to sit with the men. The mother or aunt of the bride received on a silver plate the gifts given by relatives and friends.Then an old man began to play on a harp a round almost on an air of the passemezzo; taking the bride by the hand, the father of the groom opened the dance, and so did many of the other relatives, taking their cousins and acquaintances.
- Le Voyage du Levant de Philippe du Fresne-Canaye (1573), Paris, 1897, p. 115
Salomon Schweigger (1551-1622) was a German preacher who traveled as a theologian in the entourage of Jochim von Sinzendorf, Ambassador to Constantinople for Kaiser Rudolf II, in 1577. There he met Stephan Gerlach and became his successor at Constantinople in the attempt to lead Jeremiah II, Patriach of Constantinople to accept the Lutheran faith.
In 1577 at a Greek wedding in Constantinople. After eating there was entertainment, with a "Morescken" dance with some frivolous and lewd gestures. Then some sweet wine...:
Und nach dem sie des suessen Weins voll waren / siengen sie ihr Griechische Tripudia oder Terpudia an / da schrencken sie die Arm uebereinander / machen ein Ring / gehen also im Ring herumb / mit dem Fuessen hart tredent und stampffend / einer singt vor / welchem die andern alle nachfolgen. Wie ich nun dieser Kurtzweil lang zugesehen / legt ich mich endlich zu bett / dahin ich bescheiden war...
And after they were full of sweet wine, they sang their Greek Tripudia or Terpudia, then they joined arms one upon the other, made a circle, went round the circle, with their feet stepping hard and stamping; one sang first, with the others all following after. After I watched this amusement for a long while, I finally went to bed...
- Salomon Schweigger: Ein newe Reyssbeschreibung auss Teutschland nach Constantinopel und Jerusalem, Graz, 1964, p. 227
Illus. p. 227
Reinhold Lubenau (1556-1631) left Vienna in 1587 and traveled to Constantinople as the apothecary to the Austrian Ambassador Bartholomaeus Petzen.
In November of 1588, at a Greek wedding in Galata, after eating all day and drinking, in the evening...
In einer grosen Stuben sas der Breutigam mitt den Herren. In der anderen daneben die Braudt mit den Frauen und Jungfrauen, und wahr nur ein Tepich dazwischen gehengkt. Nebenst dem Tepich sassen die Spileut, das die Weiber sowol als die Menner der musica zuhoeren kunten. Unterweilen trat eine Companei, oft von zehen oder mehr Perschonen, Grichen herfuhr auf den Platz, fasten einander bei den Henden, machten einen runden Kreis und traten balde hinder sich, balde fur sich, balde gingen sie herumb, sungen grichisch drein, balde trampelden sie starck mit den Fussen auf die Erde. Doch hatten sie sich auch zimlich am Muskatel besoffen.
In a large room sat the bridegroom with the men. In another next to it was the bride with the women and girls, and truly with only a carpet hanging between them. Closest to the carpet sat the musicians, so that the women as well as the men could hear the music. From time to time a company of Greeks, of ten or more persons, stepped forth to the open place, took each other by the hand, made a round circle, and now stepped backward, now forward, sometimes went around, singing in Greek the while, sometimes stamped strongly on the ground with their feet. Of course, they also guzzled considerable amounts of Muscatel. [Later, there were professional entertainers, Gypsies, dancers, etc.]
- “Beschreibung der Reisen des Reinhold Lubenau” (W. Sahm, ed), Mitteilungen aus der Stadtbibliothek zu Koenigsberg i. Pr. VI, 1-229 (1915), p. 23
Pierre Belon (1517?-1564), a French botanist and physician, traveled in Greece, Asia Minor and the Near East in 1546-1549. He was mysteriously murdered one evening in Paris in the Bois de Boulogne.
He describes the following scene in Crete:
- Pierre Belon: Les observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables trouvées en Grèce, Asie..., Paris, 1588, p. 48 (originally published at Paris in 1553)Estans en un village champestre, au logis du seigneur Ioan Antonio Barochzo, assez pres de la village de la Sphachie, vismes les paysans des villages d’alentour assemblez à une feste, les unes avec leurs amoureuses, & les autres avec leurs femmes, tellement qu’il avoit moult grande compagnie. Et apres avoir bien bev, ils se mirent à danset au plus grand chaud de iour, non pas en l’ombre, mais au soleil, encor que ce fust le plus ardent iour de tout le moys de Iuillet. Et combien que lesdits paysans fussent chargez d’armes, toutesfois ne cesserent de danser iusques à la nuict. Les paysans sont quasi tousiours en chemise blãches, ceincte d’une large cõroye, ayant une large boucle, & ont des brayes de toile, mais la chemise n’est pas enclose dedãs. Au lieu de chausses & souliers, ils portent des bottes, qui leur montent iusques à la ceinture, à laquelle sont attachees: leur chemise pend par devant & par derriere. Ainsi accoustrez, & chargez d’une trouffe, ou il y a cent cinquante fleches ou environ, bien ordonnees, laquelle ils porrent derriere de dos, & d’un arc bendé pendant au bras, on en escharpe, & d’une rapiere au costé: ils s’efforcent de faire leurs plus beaux sauts: & ne penseroyent avoir bonne grace, s’ils n’avoyent tout cela sur eux. Ceste danse en armes des Cretes, semble se resentir de la danse des anciens Curetes, nommee par les Latins Pyrrhica saltatio. Les Grecs ainsi dansans ont en usage trois mesures: l’une fait le pas, sautans devant eux d’un pied sur l’autre, comme font les Allemans; l’autre est quasi comme les branles qu’on danse és villages de France: la tierce est estrange: car ils remuet ores l’un des pieds en avant & en arriere, ores l’autre comme le premier: & se respondent les uns aux autres en chantant & dansant à leurs chansons, tantost en rond, l’autre fois en long, & quelquefois deux à deux: & sautent à puissance.
George Sandys (1578-1644), son of an Archbishop of York, was an English poet and traveller in the early 17th century. He was later for a time an official in the Colony of Virginia.
In Crete in about early summer of 1611:
- George Sandys: Description of the Turkish Empire. London 1615, Amsterdam, 1978. [Reprint of A Relation of a Journey begun Anno Dom 1610 (London, 1615)]The country people do dance with their bowes ready bent on their armes, their quiuers hanging on their backes, and their swords by their sides; imitating therein their ancestors ( a custome also amongst the Lacedaemonians) called by them Pyrricha: and as of old, so vse they to sing in their dancings, and reply to one another.
3. Mainland and Aegean Isles
Guillaume-Joseph Grelot was a French artist who was born about 1630. He began his eastern travels in Constantinople in 1672:
We may also add to the number of the Grecian days of Merriment, the Festivals that they observe through the whole year, especially in the Islands, where the Christians enjoy far more liberty than upon the Terra Firma. ... Hagii Sarandés is another of their Holy-days, which though it fall out in Lent, yet the Greeks make no scruple to honour it with the best chear they can make; especially in the Islands and out-Villages, where they dance and frisk it like the Maids about a May-Pole. I have often admir’d why the Greeks are so jocund upon this Holy-day, considering the almost natural Antipathy between them and the Armenians, in whose Country it was that these happy Saints laid down their Lives for the Faith of Christ, as being the Forty Saints that were put to death at Sebastia in Armenia. Nor are they less merry upon St. Georges day. So that the Greek Holy-days are spent rather in Feasts and dancing than in exercises of devotion. Nor do they repeat upon those days their Pater Noster half so often, as the following verses, which serve to regulate the movement of their dances,
- Guillaume-Joseph Grelot: A Late Voyage to Constantinople, London, 1683, p. 167 [Published by John Playford, a translation of Relation nouvelle d’un voyage de Constantinople, Paris, 1680]Ascore Psomai kai asinaiTon Hagion Sarandon inai.Let us dance and spend at leisureForty-Martyr’s-day in pleasure.
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708) was a French botanist and Professor of Botany at the Jardin des Plantes. He was one of the founders of systematic botany and a forerunner of Linnaeus. By order of King Louis XIV, he traveled through Western Europe, Greece & Asia Minor where he collected plant specimens. He spent considerable time in the Aegean islands in 1700-1702, especially on Mykonos where he lived for about two months.
Here he is describing saint's day festivals in the Aegean islands. The eve before the day of the festival is spent in dancing and feasting. The most popular festivals are those of St. Michael, St. Andrew, St. Nicholas, St. George and the 40 martyrs:
- Joseph Pitton de Tournefort: Voyage d'un botaniste, Paris, 1982, Vol. I, p. 147...leur manière de danser est assez singulière et ne varie guère: ceux qui dansent se tiennent ordinairement par la bout d'un mouchoir; le garcon fait mille bonds, tandis que la fille ne se remue presque pas....their manner of dancing is rather singular and scarcely ever varies: those dancing hold on to each other by the ends of a handkerchief; the man makes many leaps while the woman barely moves.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) was an English aristocrat and writer who traveled to Turkey with her husband Sir Edward Wortley Montagu in 1716, when he was made British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
In a letter (XXXI) to the poet Alexander Pope from Adrianople dated April 1, 1717:
- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: The Turkish Embassy Letters, London, 1994, p. 75Their manner of dancing is certainly the same that Diana is sung [sic] to have danced on the banks by Eurotas. The great lady still leads the dance and is followed by a troup of young girls who imitate her steps and, if she sings, make up the chorus. The tunes are extreme gay and lively, yet with something in them wonderfull soft. The steps are varied according to the pleasure of her that leads the dance, but always in exact time, and infinitely more agreeable than any of our dances, at least in my opinion. I sometimes make one in the train but am not skilful enough to lead. These are Grecian dances, the Turkish being very different.
She gives an account of those Turkish dances in a later letter (XXXIV) to Lady Mar (her sister) from Adrianople dated April 18, 1718. At the home of the wife of the Kabya, a high Turkish official:
Her fair maids were ranged below the sofa, to the number of twenty, and put me in mind of the pictures of the ancient nymphs. I did not think all nature could have furnished such a scene of beauty. She made them a sign to play and dance. Four of them immediately begun to play some soft airs on instruments, between a lute and a guitar, which they accompanied with their voices, while the others danced by turns. This dance was very different from what I had seen before. Nothing could be more artful or more proper to raise certain ideas; the tunes so soft, the motions so languishing, accompanied with pauses and dying eyes, half falling back and then recovering themselves in so artful a manner that I am very positive the coldest and most rigid prude upon earth could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of.
- Ibid. p. 90
Pierre Augustine Guys (1721-1799) was a French businessman who lived in Constantinople and Smyrna probably about 1748-55. His Voyage litteraire de Grèce was published in 3 French editions in 1771, 1776 & 1783 and in an English edition in 1772. The first letter of his work is dated 1750. This later letter gives the fullest description of Greek dance up to this time:
Sir,If after the serious treatise you last received from me, you are not relieved or amused by the present, the fault is mine, for I confess that nothing in this country has offered me greater pleasure and entertainment than the Greek dances. Every country has some dances peculiar to itself, and Greece is not deficient in that particular; on the contrary, it has a great variety. The Greeks have some dances expressive of their national character, which must be of very ancient extraction, and, as it were, hereditary to them. They are easy to learn; imitation supplies the want of masters...The passion of the Greeks for dancing is common to both sexes, who neglect every other consideration when they have an opportunity of indulging that passion ...The modern Greeks never celebrate any feast or solemnity, without dancing around the altar, or at least around the temple ... in Prince’s island, where the Greeks have a public well just without the town, I have seen the young women assembled in the evening to draw water, suddenly strike up a dance, while others sung in concert to them ...The brawl, a kind of dance practiced by the moderns, in every part of Greece, was also much in use by the ancients... The principal dances now in fashion among the Greeks, are the Candian, Greek, Arnatic, Walachian, and Pyrrhic, and the country dances.The two first are very much alike, one appears to have been copied from the other, but the airs are different. A young woman always leads in both, holding in her hand a handkerchief, or silken string.The Candian is the most ancient; we have an account of it from Homer, in his description of the famous shield of Achilles ... The Candian of the moderns is nearly the same. The air is soft and tender, and begins with a slow tune, but presently after grows more lively and animating. She who leads the dance, performs a number of figures and traverse lines, the variety of which produces a very agreeable and interesting spectacle.From the Candian sprung the Greek dance, which the islanders are yet very fond of. In this the men and women begin with the same steps and figures, but separately, and joining afterwards, mix together, without order or regularity. The woman who leads the dance, after choosing a partner, takes him by the hand, and presents him with one end of a ribband or silken string, holding the other herself, the rest of the dancers pass and repass under this string (being generally of a considerable length) one party as if flying, the other seeming to persue. The movements become slower, and the whole party forms into a circle; the conductress, after many turns, and changes of situation, rolls, as it were, the whole set about her. The dexterity of the lady consists in quickly disengaging herself from this embarassment, and appearing instantly at the head of the dancers, who are very numerous, and by this time placed in ranks. Waving her hand with an air of triumph or exaltation, she exposes the ribband in the same manner as at the beginning. It will readily occur to you, that the idea of this dance was taken from the labyrinth of Crete ...Sometimes the young men and women quit hands, and separate, in order to form two parties. The men raise their arms without breaking the chain. The women at the same time take hands, and pass under the opening made for them by the men, and presently the whole set join and form into one string ...The Arnatic is another dance belonging to the Greeks. It is of very ancient extraction, and peculiar to the army ... The Arnatic is led by a man and a woman. The man with a whip in one hand, and a stick in the other, runs about animating the rest from one end of the set to the other, stamping with his feet and smacking with a whip, while the others, joining hands, follow him with the same kind of step, but not so violent.The Pyrrhic is the true military dance ... there are many dances that bear the same name .. the poor subdued Greeks of the present age have nothing more to do with these dances; but their masters have thought proper to adopt them in their exercises. The Pyrrhic is a dance much in vogue with the Turks and Thracians. They arm themselves with bucklers and short swords, and jumping lightly to the sounds of flutes, make passes at each other with great swiftness and agility, parrying also with no less dexterity ... A few remains of the Pyrrhic dance are yet to be found in that part of Greece called Magnesia, and at Misitra; a country formerly rendered famous by the Spartans ... M. de Peysonnel says the Pyrrhic dances are now practiced by the Sfacchiotes, who are the ancient Cretans, and a war-like people, but should be distinguished from the other Greeks of Candy.The best sailors and marine soldiers in the Turkish service, are raised in Greece. In the taverns, where these people drink frequently to the greatest excess, you will always find them dancing, and music with them. In the last stage of ebriety, you will see them stumble and slide ...The Ionian dance ... has a sort of tripping step, which is much in fashion at Smyrna, and in Asia Minor, where a taste for lascivious dances always predominated. But I know you will excuse me the description of such dances ...The Greeks also have the Walachian dance, which is of very ancient date in the country from whence the name is borrowed. This dance, which has but uniform step, and differs from every other I have mentioned, is, when well performed, and with the exactness it requires, a very agreeable spectacle.
- Pierre Augustin Guys (1721-1799): A Sentimental Journey Through Greece, London, 1772, Vol. I, Letter XIII, pp. 198-208
Note: The folklorist and later Professor at the University of Athens, Stephanos Imellos, published a paper in 1964 attempting to associate Guy's descriptions with some modern Greek dances. According to Imellos, the Candian and Greek dances belong to the group of cyclic dances which includes the modern Syrtos while the Arnatic represents the modern Hasapikos. He sees a resemblance between Guy's Pyrric dance and the present-day Pontian Sera and the Cretan Sousta, while he identifies the Ionian as a wedding dance, probably a mix of the Syrtos and the Ballos, but definitely not the Ballaristos. The Walachian seems to be a Bacchic dance but he can find no modern parallel in later Greek dances and he equates this type with modern Romanian dances.
From: Epeteris tou Laographikou Archeiou v. 15-16 p. 14-31 (1962-63) published in 1964. (in Greek with a French summary)
Richard Chandler (1738-1810) was an English scholar educated at Oxford. Under the auspices of the Society of Dilettanti, he went on an archaeological expedition to Asia Minor and Greece in 1764-1765. In addition to his travel narratives, he also published works on his antiquarian researches.
Aboard a Greek ship sailing from Smyrna (Izmir) to Athens, near the Attic coast in August, 1765:
We now had sea-room and a prosperous gale. The genius of the Greek nation prevailed, and was displayed in the festivity of our mariners. One of the crew played the violin and on the lyre; the latter, an ordinary instrument with three strings, differed from the kitara, which has two and a much longer handle. The captain, though a bulky man, excelled, with two of his boys, in dancing. We had been frequently amused by these adepts. It mattered not whether the vessel was still in port, or rolling, as now, on the waves. They exerted an extraordinary degree of activity, and preserved their footing, for which a very small space on the deck sufficed, with wonderful dexterity. Their common dance, which was performed by one couple, consisted chiefly of advancing and retiring, expanding the arms, snapping the fingers, and changing places; with feats, some ludicrous, and to our apprehension indecent.
- Richard Chandler: Travels in Greece, Oxford, 1776, p. 10
At a Turkish circumcision rite in Athens in late 1765 or early 1766:
Some Arabians and black slaves, who had obtained their freedom and were settled at Athens, had a feast on the performance of the rite of circumcision. The women danced in a ring, with sticks in their hands, and turning in pairs clashed them over their heads, at intervals, singing wildly to the music. A couple then danced with castanets; and the other swarthy ladies, sitting cross-legged on a sofa, began smoking.
- Ibid, p. 133
At Athens in 1765-1766:
Athens was antiently enlivened by the choruses singing and dancing in the open airt, in front of the temples of the gods and round their altars, at the festival of Bacchus and on other holidays. The Greeks are frequently seen engaged in the same exercise, generally in pairs, especially on the anniversaries of their saints, and often in the areas before their churches. Their common music is a large tabour and pipe, or a lyre and tympanum or timbrel. Some of their dances are undoubtedly of remote antiquity. One has been supposed (1) that which was called the crane, and was said to have been invented by Theseus, after his escape from the labyrinth of Crete. The peasants perform it yearly in the street of the French convent, at the conclusion of the vintage; joining hands, and preceding their mules and asses, which are laden with grapes in panniers, in a very curved and intricate figure; the leader waving a handkerchief, which has been imagined to denote the clew given by Ariadne. A grand circular dance, in which the Albanian women join, is exhibited on certain days near the temple of Theseus; the company holding hands and moving round the musicians, the leader footing and capering until he is tired, when another takes his place. They have also choral dances. I was present at a very laborious single dance of the mimic species, in a field near Sedicui in Asia Minor; a goat-herd assuming, to a tune, all the postures and attitudes of which the human body seemed capable, with a rapidity hardly credible.
(1) Le Roy, p. 22.
- Ibid, p. 133-134
At Ligourio, a set of small villages in the northeast Peloponnesus near Corinth in the summer of 1765:
After supping on the ground before the house, a violin was procured. The janizary played, and the Albanians and Greeks began singing and dancing, with their usual alacrity. When they had finished, we lay dispersed, in the open air, in the area of the court.
Ibid, p. 222-223