The Lay of Armoures

By: | Post date: 2017-05-22 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Literature, Mediaeval Greek

Song of Armouris – Wikipedia. A heroic Greek ballad, 200 verses, likely dating from the 11th century, though the manuscript is from the 15th.

I got into an altercation in comments to Bruce Graham’s answer to What language was used to connect Europe and Byzantium?, an answer approving of the description of Byzantine vernacular Greek as “the childish and degenerate Greek spoken by the poor”.

Pieter van der Wilt commented:

20.5.2017 Since you seem to appreciate the “elegant writing” of R.West, how would you call the “childish and degenerate Greek” she mentions ? Still elegant ?

The OP replied:

Street talk. Perhaps it had some charm. Perhaps you can give me some examples of Byzantium street Greek demonstrating how it outshines Homer.

Πίτερ βαν ντερ Βιλτ, πατριώτη μου, τούτο το μεταφράζω για σένα.


Ελληνική Μεσαιωνική Ποίηση – Άσμα του Αρμούρη

(Already translated here: Ἄσμα τοῦ Ἀρμούρη / The Song of Armouris – Translation & Commentary, and by David Ricks.)

A different sky today; a different day.
Today the noble lads wish to go riding.
But sir Armoures’ son, he will not ride.
And then the lad, he goes up to his mother.
“O Mother, may my siblings give you joy;
[…]
and see my father; mother, let me ride.”
And then the mother gives him this reply:

“You’re young, you’re underage; you should not ride.
Yet, my good son, if go to ride you must,
your father’s lance is hanging up the stairs,
that which your father seized in Babylon.
It’s gilded top to bottom, decked in pearls.
And if you bend it once, and bend it twice,
and if you bend it thrice, then you can ride.”
And then the lad, then young Armoures’ son,
went crying up the stairs, came laughing down.
He shook to shake it, he was seized to seize it.
He bound it to his arm; he shook; he swerved.
And then the lad, he goes up to his mother.
“O mother, mother, shall I break this for you?”

And then the mother called the nobles out:
“Come look, you nobles, saddle the black horse up.
Saddle and bridle him, his father’s horse.
It’s been twelve years that none have watered him,
it’s been twelve years that none have ridden him.
He eats his horseshoe nails, bound to a stake.”

The lords came out and saddled the black horse up.
He stretched his arms, and found himself a rider.
He’d travelled thirty miles, ere he said “hail!”
He’d travelled sixty five, ere they replied.
He saw and rode the Euphrates up and down,
he rode it up and down, and found no ford.
A Saracen there stood, and laughed at him:

“The Saracens have steeds that chase the winds,
that catch the dove and partridge on the wing,
and reach the hare that they pursue uphill,
and anything they see, they race and seize.
Yet even those steeds can’t cross the Euphrates.
And you would cross it now with this poor nag?”

On hearing this, the youth was seized with rage.
He spurred the black horse, so that he could cross.
Mighty the Euphrates flowed, with murky waters,
with waves down in the depths, and overflowing.
He spurred the black horse, struck him, and went forth,
he shrieked as shrill a voice as he could muster:

“Thank you, kind God, thank you a thousandfold.
You gave me bravery; you take it from me.”
An angel’s voice then came down from the heavens:
“Now stick your lance into the palm tree’s root,
and stick your clothes in front, onto your pommel.
Then spur your black horse, make him go across.”

He spurred his black horse, and he made him cross.
Before the youth had let his clothes dry off,
he spurred his black horse, to the Saracen.
He punched his face, his jaw he dislocated.
“Tell me, fool Saracen, where are your armies?”

And then the Saracen said to Armoures:
“My God, the brave will ask such stupid questions.
First do they punch, and then they ask their questions.
By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
last night a hundred thousand of us met,
all good and choice, and all with bucklers green.
They’re mighty men, who will not fear a thousand,
ten thousand, or however many come.”

He spurred his black horse, and went up a hill.
He saw an army, thought it can’t be counted.
And then the lad considered, and he said:

“If I attack them while unarmed, they’ll boast
that I had caught them unawares, unarmed.”
He shrieked as shrill a voice as he could muster:
“Arm yourselves, Saracens, you filthy curs,
put on your breastplates quickly […]
and do not disbelieve Armoures came,
Armoures’ son, the meet and valiant man.”

By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
as many stars are in heaven, leaves on trees,
so many soldiers jumped onto their saddles,
Saddled and bridled, leapt and rode their steeds.
And then the youth, he made his own arrangements.
He drew a fine sword from a silver scabbard,
he flung it to the sky, and caught it falling.

He spurred his black horse, and he drew close by.
“If I forget you, strike me from my kin.”
And then he started warfare, close and brave,
he slashed along the sides; the middle wearied.

By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
the whole day long, he slashed the troops upwater,
the whole night long, he slashed the troops downwater.
He struck and struck at them, he left not one.

The youth got off his horse, to feel the breeze.
One filthy cur, one of the Saracens
lay there in ambush and he took his steed,
lay there in ambush and he took his club.

By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
he chased him forty miles on foot with kneeplates,
another forty miles on foot with breastplate,
and at the gates of Syria he caught him,
took out his sword, and cuts his hand away.
“Now you go, Saracen, and bear the news.”

His father sat outside the prison gate.
He recognised his son’s own steed and club;
he saw no rider, and his soul would perish.
He sighed a mighty sigh, it shook the tower.
And the emir called forth his noblemen.

“Go see, you noblemen, wherefore he sighs.
And if his meal is bad, let him have mine.
And if his wine is bad, let him drink mine.
And if his cell stinks, let them perfume it,
and if his chains weigh heavy, cut them lighter.”

And then Armoures told the noblemen:
“Nor is my meal bad, that I should have his,
nor is my wine bad, that I should drink his,
nor do my chains weigh heavy, to cut lighter.
I recognised my son’s own steed and club;
I see no rider, and my soul would perish.”

Then the emir replied unto Armoures:
“Stay, dear Armoures, stay a little while.
I’ll have the trumpets sound, the mighty bugles,
to gather Babylon and Cappadocia.
And where your darling son is […]
they’ll bring him to me, hands bound side and back.
Wait, dear Armoures, wait a little while.”

He had the trumpets sound, the mighty bugles,
to gather Babylon and Cappadocia.
And no one gathered save the one-armed man.
Then the emir said to the one-armed man:
“Tell me, fool Saracen, where are my armies?”

And then the Saracen told the emir:
“Wait, O my master, wait a little while.
Let light come to my eyes, breath to my soul,
let blood flow back to my remaining arm,
and then I’ll tell you where your armies are.
But truly, nobles, I am speaking idly:
last night a hundred thousand of us met,
all good and choice, and all with bucklers green.
all mighty men, who will not fear a thousand,
ten thousand, or however many come.
A lad appeared over a savage mountain.
He shrieked as shrill a voice as he could muster:
“Arm yourselves, Saracens, take breastplates, curs,
and do not disbelieve Armoures came,
Armoures’ son, the meet and valiant man.”

By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
as many stars are in heaven, leaves on trees,
so many soldiers jumped onto their saddles,
Saddled and bridled, leapt and rode their steeds.
And then the youth, he made his own arrangements.
He drew a fine sword from a silver scabbard,
he flung it to the sky, and caught it falling.

He spurred his black horse, and he drew close by.
“If I forget you, strike me from my kin.”
He slashed along the sides; the middle wearied.
By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
the whole day long, he slashed our troops upwater,
the whole night long, he slashed our troops downwater.
He struck and struck at us, he left not one.

The youth got off his horse, to feel the breeze.
And good and prudent, I set ambush for him,
I lay in ambush there and took his steed.

By Sweet Sir Sun, and by his Sweet Dame Mother,
he chased me forty miles on foot with kneeplates,
another forty miles on foot with breastplate.
Here at the gates of Syria he caught me,
took out his sword, and cut my hand away.
“Now you go, Saracen, and bear the news.”

Then the emir replied unto Armoures:
“Are these the fine deeds of your son, Armoures?”
And then Armoures [the emir?] wrote a pretty letter,
and sent it forth by bird, by pretty swallow:

“Tell the cur’s son, the child of lawlessness:
show mercy to the Saracens you meet,
else you’ll have none when you fall in my hands.”

And then the young lad wrote a pretty letter,
and sent it forth by bird, by pretty swallow:

“Tell my sweet father, tell my Lord and master,
while I still see the houses double bolted,
while I still see my mother dressed in black,
while I still see my siblings dressed in black,
I’ll drink the blood of Saracens I meet.
I’ll fall on Syria if they make me angry:
I’ll fill with heads the alleyways of Syria,
I’ll fill with blood the dried out creeks of Syria.”

And the emir grew fearful, hearing this.
And the emir said to his noblemen:
“Go, go, you nobles, set Armoures free,
go take him to the bath, to bathe and change,
at morning bring him here, to dine with me.”

The nobles went and set Armoures free,
they took his chains off and his manacles,
they took him to the bath, to bathe and change,
they brought him to the emir, to dine with him.
Then the emir replied unto Armoures:

“Go, dear Armoures, go back to your homeland.
And train your son: I’ll make him son-in-law,
neither my niece he’ll have, nor yet my cousin,
but my own daughter, dearer than my eyes.
And train your son […]
show mercy to the Saracens he meets,
and if he gains aught, let them share it out,
and be at peace with one another.”

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