Andronikos Noukios, aka Nicander of Corcyra

By: | Post date: 2009-11-09 | Comments: 7 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
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There won’t be much from me here this month, as I’ve been on the road and still am. However, a chance discovery I made at the ANU Library leads to another superficial post on Greek diglossia; with me away from my books, that’s as much as I can do.

In the 1540s, Andronico Nunzio from Kerkyra (Corfu) was working as a copy editor in Venice, preparing Greek texts for publication. He was responsible for editing a couple of missals (typika). He also copied a manuscript of Porphyry. That’s the kind of low-level scribal work you’d expect of a Renaissance humanist. As you’d also expect of a Renaissance humanist, his surname was Hellenised into something more reputable-sounding: after some hesitation, he ended up as Andronikos Noukios, Andronicus Nucius.

Andronicus also wrote three books. One was a translation from Italian that I can’t find anything about online, and I don’t have the book I read this from by my side.

The second was an account of his travels to Northern Europe, in Ancient Greek. That was the chance find at ANU: the 1962 edition of his Voyages. This is the kind of text I love, as you know from my adventures with Laonicus Chalcocondyles: lots of references to Western Europe through the ill-fitting garb of Ancient Greek.

Someone writing a travel account in the 1540s in Ancient Greek is no surprise: it was the learnèd language of the time, and writing in Modern Greek was simply not a serious option. The Voyages have been translated in French in 2003 (see also Google Books); and the publishers’ blurb is taken with the antick garb of the language—

Nourri de culture classique, Nicandre rédige en grec (ancien !) ses observations des lieux et des gens. Cambrai dépeinte comme par Strabon, ou Paris décrite comme par Plutarque, ça ne manque ni d’étrangeté ni d’allure !

Brought up in Classical culture, Nicander writes up in Greek (Ancient Greek!) his observations of places and peoples. Cambray, depicted as if by Strabo; or Paris, described as if by Plutarch: something not lacking in either strangeness or allure!

But that is misguidedly exoticising what was a quite natural thing for a Renaissance Greek scholar to do. Noukios wasn’t writing in Ancient Greek to be cute: he was writing in Ancient Greek because that’s what scholars did.

In writing his account in Herodotan Greek, Noukios amped up his self-hellenisation all the way up to 11: he switched Andronicus (a good Byzantine name) to Nicander, just as Nicholas Chalcocondyles styled himself as Laonicus. The book is still inscribed as Nicander Nucius’, but the 1962 editor de Foucault has titled it as being by “Nicander of Corcyra” (= of Corfu)—presumably with plenty of motivation by Noukios himself. That has misled at least one antiquarian bookseller to conflate him with the slightly more famous Nicander of Colophon, 2nd century BC.

Beyond the 1962 edition and the 2003 French translation, the section of the Voyages dealing with Nucius’ stay in Britain was translated in English in 1841, and is available in full online courtesy of and the wonderful people of the University of Toronto.

(The book reviews for the French translation have pointed out that this is the reverse of the usual Orientalist voyage: an Oriental exploring the Occidentals. They did not say it that crudely, but I did still growl “screw you, Beef Eaters”. Here’s one more review.)

The third text Andronicus wrote (under the much abbreviated signature ΑΝ. ΝΟΥ. ΚΕΡΚ.) was the first Modern Greek rendering of Aesop.

The text has been published in a modern edition in 1993, but it had stayed in print for three centuries from 1543, in increasingly decrepit state, as a popular chapbook. The text’s modern editor, Georgios Parasoglou (papyrologist at Aristotle U, Thessalonica), notes that the translation is pretty poor—it’s a rush job, done to order. The Venetian publisher knew they had a market for fairy tales in Modern Greek, and grabbed the first copyeditor they had to hand for their churchbooks. Nucius for his part wasn’t going to Nicander himself up for such a vulgar undertaking.

There is a surprise to Modern Greek readers here. Parasoglou feels the need to point out that no, it’s not a surprise at all, Andronicus was neither the first nor the last scholar to write in both Ancient and Modern Greek. Indeed he was not. Cardinal Bessarion was a scholar’s scholar; but his letters home were pretty close to vernacular. Hans-Georg Beck is renowned for pointing out that the first writers of Modern Greek, in the 12th and 14th centuries, must have been literate and cultured in Ancient Greek, and studies of early vernacular Byzantine novels are highlighting that they belong to the same literary tradition as the novels written in Ancient Greek a century before.

This all should be obvious: literate people knew both Ancient and Modern Greek, and wrote in both. But to a contemporary Greek, this does not compute. It does not compute that the current English Wikipedia page on Byzantine novels does not even mention the shift in language between the 12th and 14th century. It does not compute that the Classical Nicander and the Vernacular Andronikos could be the same person. Or, to use an example thanks to Notis Toufexis, it does not compute that Theodosius Zygomalas could complain (in Ancient Greek) how horribly degraded the Modern language had become—and then turn around and do a quite creditable translation into Modern Greek of the Stephanites and Ichnilates (ultimately from the Panchatantra).

It does not compute, because of the peculiar poison of Modern Greek diglossia. Noukios could write vernacular for hire, Zygomalas may even have written vernacular for fun, but still keep to Ancient Greek as their working languages. But in Modern Greece, you had to choose. In the 20th century, you were either a Demoticist or a Purist—a Longhair or an Ancestor-Worshipper. In Athens in the 1880s, you didn’t even have that much choice—which is why Roidis had to deride Puristic in Puristic, and why the late 19th century pioneers of Demotic prose all lived in the diaspora.

And that binary thinking makes it comes as a surprise that Modern Greek was first written by men literate in Ancient Greek, and that the rhetoric in Libistros and Rhodamne has much in common with the rhetoric of Hysmine and Hysminias, even though they don’t share datives and infinitives. The Modern battle between the languages blinds us to the obvious truth that, in earlier times, you didn’t have to choose.

Which reminds me of another binarity of Modern choice that didn’t used to apply. The Balkan Sprachbund, with the grammatical convergence of the languages spoken throughout the area, could only have happened if you had lots of bilinguals in the Balkans—indeed, trilinguals and quadrilinguals. After the Balkan Wars and population exchanges, and the State policy of discouraging minority languages, it’s hard for a Greek in particular to picture what a plurilingual Balkans might have looked like. But the linguistic evidence for it is clear.

Similarly, the literal equivalence of oodles of Turkish and Greek proverbs gave rise to a famous paper, which got cited a lot at me when I was an undergrad. (Tannen, D. & Oztek, P.C. 1977. Health To Our Mouths: Formulaic Expressions in Turkish and Greek. Berkeley Linguistics Society 3. 516-534.) I was pretty disappointed when I finally read the paper as a postgrad. The authors were modern linguists, and they did what modern linguists tend to do: ignore anything done before Chomsky. (In particular, the extensive literature on Balkan and Turkish proverbs done in the philological tradition, through the early twentieth century.) And I knew several equivalent sayings that they had missed, which made me grumble about Deborah Tannen not being a native speaker.

(Yes, *that* Deborah Tannen: she started her academic career with Greek. She end up writing best-sellers looking at men’s and women’s language, after breaking up with her Greek husband—over miscommunications.)

But the common sayings shared between Turkish and Greek only make sense if there were substantial numbers of people bilingual in Turkish and Greek, enough to establish the same sayings either side. This doesn’t accord with the modern Turkish or modern Greek image of Ottoman times; but there is no other sensible explanation.

So, what have we learned?

  • We need to be jolted out of our preconceptions on occasion.
  • Greek diglossia has a lot of baggage, and therefore carries a lot of preconceptions with it.
  • And to jolt those preconceptions, it helps to have library shelves to browse through at random.

Because I don’t have the books at hand, I’m grabbing the online renditions for samples. Here’s Nicander of Corcyra, from the 1841 translation:

Ἅπαντες σχεδόν τοι, πλὴν ἡγεμόνων καὶ τῶν ἔγγιστα βασιλεῖ τυγχανόντων, ἐμπορικὰς μετιᾶσι πράξεις. Καὶ οὐ μόνον ἀνδράσι τοῦτο περίεστι, ἀλλὰ καὶ γυναιξὶν, ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πλεῖστον, ἐπιγίνεται. Καὶ δαιμονίως ἐς τοῦτο ἐπτοήνται. Καὶ ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς καὶ ῥύμαις τῆς πόλεως ὁρᾷν γυναῖκας ὑπάνδρους καὶ κόρας, τέχνας τὲ καὶ συναλλαγμοὺς καὶ πράξεις ἐμπορικὰς ἐργαζομένας ἀνυποστόλως. Ἁπλοϊκώτερον δὲ, τὰ πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας σφίσιν εἴθισται, καὶ ζηλοτυπίας ἄνευ. Φιλοῦσι γὰρ ταύτας ἐν τοῖς στόμασιν, ἀσπασμοῖς καὶ ἀγκαλισμοῖς, οὐχ οἱ συνήθεις καὶ οἰκεῖοι μόνον, ἀλλ’ ἤδη καὶ οἱ μηδέπω ἑωρακότες. Καὶ οὐδαμῶς σφίσιν αἰσχρὸν τοῦτο δοκεῖ.

Almost all, indeed, except the nobles, and those in attendance on the royal person, pursue mercantile concerns. And not only does this appertain to men, but it devolves in a very great extent upon women also. And to this, they are wonderfully addicted. And one may see in the markets and streets of the city married women and damsels employed in arts, and barterings and affairs of trade, undisguisedly. But they display great simplicity and absence of jealousy in their usages towards females. For not only do those who are of the same family and household kiss them on the mouth with salutations and embraces, but even those too who have never seen then. And to themselves this appears by no means indecent.

And here’s Andronikos Noukios, in a sample from the review of translations from Ancient to Modern Greek:

Λάφι και αμπέλιον

Το λάφι από τους κυνηγούς έφευγεν και εκρύπτη εις αμπέλι. Και όταν απέρασαν οι κυνηγοί, το λάφι ενόμιζεν ότι έγλισεν. Άρχισε να τρώγει εκ τα φύλλα της αμπέλου και, επειδή ανακάτωνε τα φύλλα, εστράφησαν οι κυνηγοί και είδασι το λάφι και το εδόξεψαν. Λοιπόν αποθνήσκοντας έλεγε ότι: «Δίκαια έπαθα, διότι δεν έπρεπε να αδικήσω εκείνην οπού με εφύλαγεν».

Ο μύθος δηλοί ότι όσοι αδικούσιν εκείνους οπού τους ευεργετούσιν, ο θεός τους κολάζει.

Deer and Vineyard

The deer was fleeing the hunters and hid in a vineyard. And when the hunters passed, the deer thought it had escaped. It started eating from the vine leaves, and because it was rustling the leaves, the hunters turned back and saw the deer and shot arrows at it. So dying the deer said: “This serves me right, for I should not have maltreated her who was safegaurding me.”

The fables means that whoever harms those who do them good, God punishes them.


  • TAK says:


    In a way, you are right about ancient Greek being a "foreign" language to most Greeks of the early modern period (not just Cretans), though I feel that this is not just for all those people (and Cretans most of all) who were doing all the editorial work for ancient Greek authors in Venetian publishing houses.

    "people educated in Byzantium proper, where the language of the state was more or less Ancient Greek, 'living' Ancient Greek if you wish, had a much greater exposure to older forms of Greek"
    may be correct for some scholars of "Byzantium proper" but then again the question is what is "Byzantium proper" after 1204…

    The vast majority of vernacular works were not produced in "Byzantium proper", but even if we limit our discussion to those that were again we (at least I) cannot come up with a coherent explanatory model for all.

    If we are talking about the Comnenian period, we do not disagree on this:
    "the main audience of these 'lighter' works [..] were mostly Byzantine urban folks"
    (in Palaeologan times there were certainly many readers, reciters and authors living outside the borders of the once glorious Eastern Roman Empire).

    But even then, by "Byzantine urban folks" one should not understand the limited circle of scholars, like Anna Comnena, who wrote in an exceedingly archaistic language. The average educated Byzantine could not understand or write this language any better than a Renaissance Cretan would, and this is the reason why you have paraphrases in the vernacular of several works (incl. novels like Syntipas, the works of historians like Comnena and Nicetas Choniates, but also the works of chronicle writers like I. Zonaras and C. Manasses).

    In the 12th century the question is why people like Theodore Prodromos who belonged to this circle of scholars would write works like the Prochoprodromika or why would the anonymous author of Digenis would decide to produce his work in the vernacular (if Alexiou and others are right and E is closer to the original work, which I believe is indeed the case) or why Glykas wrote his prison poem in this register. For each case, different reasons may apply that would include genre and the circumstances under which each work was produced, but also other factors (in Ptochooprodomos's case, the literary taste of the Comneni may have played a decisive role).

    Literary works are written to be read (or, back then, heard as well). Entertainment is an important aspect, but the ability to understand the language in which the work is written is a sine qua non prerequisite. Why do you think Kallimachos (which is the vernacular romance that is closer than any other to folk tradition) was written in the vernacular? Is it genre here the decisive factor? I do not think so: there was a generic tradition in the 12th century of learned romances that was linguistically abandoned and it is only fair to assume that it was abandoned because it would deem these works unreadable by many of their intended readers. This does not exclude more educated readers (like Philes), but the important thing is that it includes the average educated reader that, in my view, would have great difficulties in reading and enjoying it had it been written in archaistic Greek.

  • gbaloglou says:


    Yes, I should have written that the poet of Erotokritos wrote in the only form of Greek dear to him 🙂 What I mean was that, in my opinion, Ancient Greek was to Cretans about what it is to contemporary Greeks: a foreign language not quite, but close… But people educated in Byzantium proper, where the language of the state was more or less Ancient Greek, 'living' Ancient Greek if you wish, had a much greater exposure to older forms of Greek — to the point of not hesitating to throw quite a bit of written-only forms into daily conversation, I would think. And if not daily conversation, certainly those 'entertaining' literary works I was referring to. ('Entertainment' needs to be clarified here: something like "Kallimachos and Chrysorroi" could be read or recited for fun during a pleasant evening even if nowhere as funny as the "Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds".)

    I guess we continue to disagree about the main audience of these 'lighter' works: for me it is mostly cultivated intuition that suggests that the readers and reciters were mostly Byzantine urban folks (with not-that-high Greek becoming more acceptable as the Byzantine state became both weaker and more Greek-speaking); but I would like to hear more from you about foreign audiences, or rather Greek-speaking audiences in occupied territories no longer under the spell of high Greek.

  • TAK says:

    the problem of Kornaros's education is related to the problem of Kornaros's identity: if he is indeed the son of Iakovos and the brother of Andreas Kornaros, born in 1553 ceased in 1613/4, then he most probably had a typical humanistic education that included both ancient Greek and Latin. In Renaissance Crete there was a catholic school in Chandakas founded and funded by Bessarion after 1453. The school provided basic instruction in both ancient Greek and Latin and we know that it operated throughout the 16th century. In 1501, the nobilitas of Chandakas applied for the appointment of a public teacher of ancient Greek and Latin (the appointment was only realized in the 17th c.), but the existence of private teachers in all major cities of Crete throughout the period of the Venetian occupation is well attested. In addition, Andreas Kornaros, the brother of Vitsentzos, had a fairly rich library that included many volumes in Greek, Latin and Italian, part of which (30 vols.) was donated to Vitsentzos after Andreas death. I assume that people would not buy or donate books in ancient Greek if they could not read them…
    Thus, your point that "the poet of Erotokritos wrote in the only form of Greek known to him" is based on the highly unlikely hypothesis that Kornaros was not an educated man of his time. In my view, the question is not whether he knew ancient Greek or not (like most educated Cretans before and after him, and more importantly like most educated Cretans of his social status he must have had a basic at least knowledge of the language); the question is to what extent he could use it in writing. I have no concrete answer for this, but it is possible that he was not competent in ancient Greek writing. However, the fact that he opted for the use of a "natural" language is not necessarily a proof of his incompetence in ancient Greek, but rather a poetic choice related to the fact that he was aware and in fact made part of the most important ideological and aesthetic discussion of his time, which is no other than the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns (if you are interested, you may download this:
    Kaplanis, Erotokritos ).
    As for Digenis Akritis (and not Akritas – the latter form is only attested in the Trebizond ms. The two oldest and most important ms., Grottaferrata and Escorial, provide the form Akritis, which is nowadays the only form acceptable by scholarship) and other "Byzantine" vernacular works, well, as I said, I do not believe there is one explanatory model that can apply to all: entertainment is a good reason for writing the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds, but not for writing it in the vernacular. Batrachomyomachia was equally entertaining in both ancient and modern Greek versions. But clearly it's the audience that these versions were addressed to that made the difference and quite clearly again in both Ottoman and Venetian occupied territories from the 13th c. onwards there was a wider audience for works in the vernacular and/or even in dialects.
    But even in the 12th c. I do not think that entertainment was the reason behind Michael Glykas's choice for the vernacular in his prison poem.
    So, in some cases, yes, entertainment may have played a decisive role, but in others not.

  • Somehow similar is the case of Vasileios Vatatzis, a merchant and traveler to both West and East, early 18th century. He wrote a history of Nader Shah of Iran (published by Iorga in 1939), in a Thucydides-like language, and a description of his travels to Central Asia (published by Legrand in 1886), in a much simpler Phanariot-type verse.
    (if you'd like more info, send me a p.m.!)

  • gbaloglou says:

    In the previous post I meant to write "Digenes Akritas yes, Erotokritos no?" [Sorry!]

  • gbaloglou says:

    Digenes Akritas, Erotokritos no? If memory and intuition serves, I venture to conjecture that the poet of Erotokritos wrote in the only form of Greek known to him — he probably was well versed in Latin, but in ancient Greek not quite (me thinks).

    Further, as the host and me have argued in the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds, the educated folks in Constantinople and other Byzantine centers probably produded their 'lighter' works for their peers' entertainment; same should apply to their serious works: they wrote them first and foremost in order to gain/maintain esteem — therefore employment as well — among their peers and fellow citizens (me thinks).

  • TAK says:

    Welcome back, Nick! I missed your posts…
    Nicander or Andronikos Noukios was a well-known scholar in the west (it seems) and I was rather surprised to find some quotes from his Voyages in a pamphlet distributed by the Protestant church in the Constantine Basilica in Trier, Germany, when I visited it in 2002 or 2003.
    I have kept the pamphlet somewhere, but I can't find it right now.
    It is more than clear that most of, if not all, the scholars who wrote in the vernacular in the early modern period (from 12th c. onwards) were educated people (judging by the standards of their time at least). And this goes even for the author of the epic of Digenis Akritis, as I have argued a few years ago… What is not so clear is the extent to which all authors could use ancient Greek in writing and the reasons why they would also write texts in (early) modern Greek. I don't think there can be one single explanatory model that would apply to all cases (the reasons that led Theodore Prodromos to write his Ptochoprodromika are different from those that led to the writing of Kallimachos and Chryssorhoe or Erotokritos, etc.), but in most cases at least from the 14th c. onwards, one of the main reasons for the use of both must have been simply the desire to reach wider audiences: people wrote in the vernacular so that they can be read and understood by the Greek speaking populace of the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean and in ancient Greek so that they can be read and understood by humanists mostly in the West.
    I hope you are having a good time in the US.

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