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Arts

Ripped from History and the Headlines: The Siege of Misolonghi Remembered in Music and Poetry

ATHENS – Beneath a beautiful reproduction of the iconic painting ‘Sortie of Missolonghi’ which graces the National Gallery of Athens – created by the great painter Theodoros Vryzakis, who was a child during the Greek Revolution – on April 5 sitting Greek judges, several of them members of Greece’s Supreme Court, presented ‘Ola Ta Kastra Pesane – All the Forts Have Fallen.’  It was a theatrical production with traditional and original music and poetry depicting the tragic – yet heroic scenes of the Exodus from Missolonghi, one of the turning points of the Greek Revolution.

The presentation this week was a remarkable yet tragic coincidence, the sieges and flights of refugees happening ‘live’ in Ukraine as the Missolonghi production was unfolding onstage in Athens.  Indeed, outrage over the massacre at Bucha mirrored the world’s reaction to the Ottoman attrocities two hundred years ago.

Dimitrios Orfanides, General Secretary of the Circle and a member of the Court of Second Instance, contributed several poems.

The judges are members of the ‘Κύκλος Ελλήνων Λογοτεχνών Δικαστών

– Literary Circle of Greek Judges’ – an organization perhaps unique in the entire world and their months-long endeavor filled the Amphitheater of the War Museum in Athens with 400 appreciative guests.

The production’s title is taken from a popular song of the Missolonghi region around the time the Exodus and which referred to the famous events of early April, 1826.

Relying on the power of words and music and the passion of the performers – the stage contained the minimum of props – director Panagiotis Glezellis brought to life the story of a tragic defeat that helped lead to a great victory. The attempts to escape of the 10,500 residents of Missolonghi in Western Greece, especially the elderly, women, and children besieged and trapped in the vital port town, captured the attention and hearts of influential Europeans, helping to force their reluctant governments to support the sacred cause of Freedom for Greece.

On April 10, 1826, Palm Sunday, the inhabitants attempted a mass breakout. It was the third siege they had endured since the start of the war, and they held out for almost a year before running out of food.

The production consists of 15 poems, recited and in the form of skits, interlaced with commentary and songs. The moving poems expressed in Iambic 15 syllable meter illuminated not only of a disaster, but the spirit of the residents of the town and the fighters they supported, humble folk who chose to hold out until relief came rather than surrender.

Sophia Lignou, President of the Circle and President of the Court of Second Instance, who wrote most of the poems.

There were numerous poignant and powerful moments, the judges in their actual robes often arranged like the choruses of classical Greek theater. They wore appropriate accessories too: replicas of the guns and knives of the heroes of the Greek Revolution.

Several famous stories of sacrifice and courage were presented. Iosif, Bishop of Rogon was chased out Epirus by Ali Pasha because he was a revolutionary  – a member of Filiki Eteria. He was a revered figure who both fought and assisted the fighters and the others in any way he could. As their impending doom because clear – death for the men and children, being sold into harems for the women, some men proposed they kill each other’s families rather than have them fall into the hands of the Turks. Enraged, Bishop Iosif cried: “Kill me first, then you can kill the rest – but I will curse you!” So it was decided that a separate column of refugees would be established, protected by soldiers.

The songs included ‘Ολα τα Εθνη Πολεμουν – All the Nations are Battling,’ and ‘Το Χαραμα Επηρα – I took the Dawn’ of D. Leonti. The other songs were, ‘Αποψε Μαυροματα Μου – Tonight, My Dark-Eyed Beauty,’ ‘Σαββατο Βραδη Περασα – I came by on Saturday Night,’ ‘ Ενας Λεβεντης Χορευε – Α Βrave Υoung Μan Dances,’ ‘Καλιο Το Βολι Να Μας Βρη – Well Might The Gunshot  Find Us,’ ‘Χρυσος Αετος – Golden Eagle.’

The moving strains of gifted accordionist Zoe Tiganouria opened and closed the production, and musical adaptation, percussion, vocals were provided by Ioannis Megaloudis, Professor of Music and Byzantine Chanter. The words of the poems were beautifully accented by this drums, bells, triangle, and chimes.

The production was an initiative of the circle under the Aegis of the Ministry of Justice. Konstantinos Kokkinos, Director of the Office of the Minister was one of the guests.

Most of the poems were written by Sophia Lignou, President of the Circle and President of the Court of Second Instance, i.e. Court of Appeals. Dimitrios Orfanides,  General Secretary of the Circle and a member of the Court of Second Instance, also contributed poems – and both also recited poems.

Participants onstage – 10 judges in total – included Athanasios Davvetas, Vasilios Papakostas, Myrto Tzeferakou, Konstantina Paloudi, Nektaria Soukara, Marianthe Pagouteli, Georgios Schoinohoritis, and Anna Aggelatou-Vasileiou.

EPILOGUE

When the morning of Tuesday, May 29 dawned, many Greeks were still administered justice by their own officials working with monuments of jurisprudence, law books derived from the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian the Great, builder of the Aghia Sophia. By sundown in Constantinople, and a little later in Greece for the next 400 years, they were subject to Ottoman law, second class citizens at best. The judges who participated in the April 3 event depicted part of the process that led to the return to Greece of Hellenic justice and Freedom.

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