Manuel Chantakites, Away from Crete, 1420

By: | Post date: 2010-02-18 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Mediaeval Greek
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Rather than continue from the previous post by presenting the theoretical framework of documentary texts, I will instead give a sample of that kind of text. This is one of the absurdly few private letters we have in the vernacular from the Early Modern period. It’s such a rare thing, Kriaras’ online dictionary abbreviates it as just Γράμμα κρ. διαλ., “letter in Cr(etan) dial(ect)”, with no risk of ambiguity.

The letter has survived through a fluke of history. The State Archives of Venice, “Duke of Candia” (= Crete) section, include a few documents copied for the benefit of Cretans, anxious to have the colonial power’s backup for their legal claims. Most of them are dry contracts, and most of those are in Latin: there are several published collections of notary documents in Cretan dialect, but they are all from the 16th and 17th century.

In this instance, we have something different. The widow of Manuel Chantakites, goldsmith of Chandax (= Iraklion), asked for this letter to be notarised and entered into the Venetian archives on March 15, 1446. The letter was from her husband, who had been forced to abandon her and leave Crete. Manuel wrote his letter to be used as a will, because of the dispute over their houses with his father. From the parenthetical note at the end, we know he wanted his wife as much as his father to read the letter. His wife already had witnesses authenticate the letter in December 1420, so we can surmise the letter was sent earlier that year, or maybe a year or so before.

This was the only will the widow had from Manuel, which suggests he never did come back. Given the extraordinary step of having a private letter witnessed in Iraklion and copied in Venice, she clearly continued to be at odds with her in-laws.

As a human interest story, the letter is rich stuff. Manuel admits to abandoning his wife unwillingly: the letter’s editor, Manousakas, suspects he had committed homicide. The Kriaras dictonary calls him ‘Manuel “Chantakites”‘, because “Chantakites” just means “from Chandax”; so Manuel was not necessarily using his surname. The letter itself has a potent mix of indignation, threats, and affection. (The sarcasm was potent enough that I contemplated using the irony mark; but this is a 1420 letter, not a 2010 instant message, so that would be a distraction.) I’ll let the letter stand on its own, though in a follow-up I’m going to comment on its language extensively.

The vernacular is unusually clean for the period—although Crete was always less macaronic about its Greek writing than the mainland was. There’s only one errant δέ “but” in the end of the first paragraph. The author is literate, but not a scholar (like the other vernacular letter writer of the time, Cardinal Bessarion). To be literate meant you were exposed to learnèd Greek, and your writing would reflect that; but given that caveat, this letter is as good as we’re going to get as linguistic evidence, without the conscious manipulation of language that characterises literature (vernacular no less than learnèd).

Maybe Machairas’ chronicle is a better witness still, come to think of it, simply because there’s more of it. But that’s Cypriot dialect, and an entirely different post.

I’m reproducing the text from Manousakas’ 1962 edition—which appeared in the kind of occasional publication that has guaranteed most copies in existence are photocopies. I’ve put the text in monotonic, because it’s straightforwardly Modern Greek. (I’ve already posted about the debate over accentuation of editions.) I’ve respelled the orthographic subjunctives as contemporary indicatives—not because I have any particular enthusiasm for doing so, but to preempt TAK saying I should have. 🙂 (Manousakas already spells the subjunctives without iota subscript anyway, so he was just using the Modern Greek spelling of his time.)

[Manousakas, M.I. 1962. Ένα παλιό (1420;) ιδιωτικό γράμμα σε κρητική διάλεκτο: Τα παράπονα του ξενιτεμένου Μανουήλ Χαντακίτη για την απονιά του πατέρα του. Kρητική Πρωτοχρονιά 2. 35-39.]

Archivo di Stato di Venezia—Duca di Candia 11: Atti antichi 2, volume 25 bis (1443–1456) folio 3, p. 21v.

† Εις τον πατέραν μου και την μητέραν μου πολλά προσκυνήματα από εμέναν τον υιόν σας τον Μανοήλ τον Χαντακίτην.

Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι πολλά με επρίκανες, ωσάν ήκουσα να γυρεύγεις της νύφης σου νοίκια και να τηνε πρικάνεις. Και σώνει την η εδική μου πρίκα οπού της έκαμα (οκαί κατέχεις καλά και μεγάλην πρίκαν της έκαμα εγώ). Και εθάρρουν εις εσέναν, άματά ’μουν μιαν φοράν το παιδίν σου και εξενιτεύτηκα, να φλογοτομάς το αίμα σου να ποτίζεις την νύφην σου και ποτέ πρίκαν να μηδέν έχει από σένα. Και εγώ έμαθα ότι έκαμες ωσάν ήθελες. Και δοξάζω τον Θεόν. Και τούτον σου θυμίζω, ότι, α δώσει ο Θεός, γλήγορα θέλω είσταιν αυτού· οκαί, αν εμίσσεψα από χολής μου πολλής, έλθει θέλω, α δώσει ο Θεός. Και θάρρουν ότι όχι και ήτονε γυναίκα μου, αμέ αν ήθελεν είσται καύχα μου, ουδέν ετύχαινεν να κάμεις ωσάν μού ’παν ότι ήκαμες. Και ευχαριστώ σου πολλά. Και, α δώσει ο Θεός να έλθω και εγώ αυτού, εγνωρίσει θέλω τους καλούς μου εδικούς και τους καλούς μου φίλους. Όμως δε ο Θεός μετά σας.

† Όλα μου τα αδέλφια πολλά καταφιλώ. Και το περιπλέον την σπλαχνικήν μου αδελφήν την κερ-Αντωνίαν την Μαρμαράδαιναν πολλά καταφιλώ χέρια της και τα πόδια της. Ομοίως και τους γαμπρούς μου και τους εδικούς μου όλους.

† Ήξευρε, πατέρα, ότι ήμαθα και ήλεγες να εβγάλεις την νύφην σου από τα σπίτια της, α μου έρθει τίβοτας. Κ’ ήλεγες το θέλημά σου. Και εγώ λέγω, οκαί αν έχω χίλιες χιλιάδες δουκάτα, όχι και α δεν έχω τίβοτας, θέλω να είναι όλα εδικά της, τόσο σπίτια, ωσάν άλλα πράγματα. Και τούτον θέλω το γράμμα να έναι τεσταμέντο και ό,τι γράφω να έναι στερεόν.

Εγώ ανωγεγραμμένος Μανουήλ ο χρουσοχός έγραψα με την χέραν μου.

(† Τούτον, ωσάν το αναγνώσεις, πέψε το του κυρού μου και της μάννας μου.)

† Εγράφη μηνί Μαγίω εις την πρώτην.

To my father and my mother, many obeisances from me, your son Manuel Chantakites.

Know this, father, that you grieved me a lot, when I heard that you are asking for rent from your daughter-in-law, and are grieving her. And the grief I’ve given her was quite enough. (And you know well that I have given her much grief.) And since I was after all your child and have gone away, I trusted in you even to bleed your own veins for your daughter-in-law to drink, and that she should never have grief from you. And I have learned that you have done as you willed. And I give thanks to God. And I remind you of this: that, should God grant it, I will be back there soon; and though I have gone away with much bitterness, I will indeed be back, should God grant it. And I trusted that, never mind if she were my wife, not even if she were my whore should she deserve for you to have done what they’ve told me you’ve done. And I thank you a lot. And should God grant that I will come back—I shall know my true relatives and my true friends. But God be with you all.

Many kisses to all my siblings. And especially my dear sister Lady Antonia Marmaras, I kiss her hands and feet. The same goes for my brothers-in-law and all my relatives.

Know this, father, that I have learned you’ve been saying that you would kick your daughter-in-law out of her houses, if anything should happen to me. And you have been speaking your will. And I say that, even if I had thousands of thousands of ducats, never mind the nothing that I do have, I want it all to be hers, the houses as much as the other things. And I want this letter to be a will, and whatever I write to be fixed.

I the above-signed Manuel the goldsmith have written this with my own hand.

(When you have read this, send it to my mum and dad.)

Written on the first of the month of May.


  • pne says:

    Quite legible indeed! For something that's nearly six hundred years old and for all I've never come across Cretan dialect, I understood quite a bit.

  • opoudjis says:

    There's a third lexical oddity by Modern standards (as opposed to Cretan dialect standards): άματα for "when". In fact, here I was grateful for the polytonic of the original, because it gave me a hint as to what the underlying word is: ἅματα, from ἅμα "together > as soon as".

  • Wonderful indeed -and quite accessible after all these years, provided one knows that πρίκα = πίκρα. Note also φλογοτομώ instead of φλεβοτομώ.

  • opoudjis says:

    I knew you'd appreciate it, Diana…

  • Diana Wright says:

    That is wonderful stuff! Thanks so much for letting me know about it. ( The father of Giovanni Dario, Marco, was a goldsmith in Candia at that time.)

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