Saturday, June 10, 2006

Oh here is my dowry!...

"Ω! Να το προικιό μου! είπε."
(Oh here is my dowry! she said).

By this phrase, Papadiamantis concludes in reality his all-times-classic novel "He Fonissa" (The Murderess)-1903. The few lines which follow, after the last statement of the heroine,concerning the tragical end of Hadoula somewhere between human and divine justice/law, do not add anything to the plot and the feeling of the reader. They are just a necessary concession to the late 19th century rules of naturalistic prose.

Girls took pride in their trousseau, the embroidery, the cloths, the utensils, and- if lucky- the land property that their father and brothers would provide them with, in order to enter their married life respected by their in-laws.
Before yesterday, the last day with practical obligations at the campus,I felt such a pride blooming over the face of that young student, a covered girl whom i saw for the first time, and asked me about the value of her jewel: She asked me in shy and correct english, "Could you tell me anything about this coin?" It was a small roman golden coin, set in an old silver frame, now in her palm. She assumed it was greek, and some colleague told her that I am the specialist in such assumptions. At first i got confused with the abbreviations that the Romans use in their numismatic techniques, there was a standing god and something next to him. A bird... or a minor god with wings... But everything got clear when I turned it to its other side. I recognized him directly by his strong neck and the thick decisive features.
(yeah that was him)

Yeah, that was him, Constantinus I the Great, the founder of the Byzantine Empire in a way. So I found the name, clearly written around his head, and I knew that it was Zeus-Jupiter the god and the bird was his symbol, the eagle as it appears in the Iliad, fighting with the snake above the heads of Trojan and Greek.
The girl, when she saw me telling her names and mentioning latin titles (Imperator, Pater Patriae), got happy for not having wasted my time in something worthless. Her pendant may be valuable. And it is. Sometimes I wonder how many hands these ancient objects change, travelling from one generation to the other, once they are found at some field, among the stones and the left-overs of a regular year of some moderate crop. Some other times I imagine them (the coins) never lost and refound, but kept in use from the first time they left the matrix till now, that some young hand weighs them wondering about their value... She did not know the name of Constantine, she did not know about the period covered in our region by the byzantine era, so I made it easy for her: It is 300 years before the Prophet. Yeah, I was right, I checked on-line catalogues and it may be of 313 A.D. So, she asked me, is it "Turki"? No way, I replied, it is much more than that, it is "Bizantini". Ah! Byzantini, she whispered happily, while going down the stairs.


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