From Cradle to Grave/ From Beast to Garden: The Journey of Digenis Akritas

From Cradle to Grave/ From Beast to Garden: The Journey of Digenis Akritas

“We know from ancient stories filled with wondrous names how heroes fought for glory, won their fight for fame, their flowing feasts and pleasures, their tears, their moans, their mourning, their noble quarrels and courage, and here once more is more of the same.”

Song of the Nibelungs


The Medieval Avengers

Roland striking to break his sword

Deep in Moorish Spain, doomed to die of the mortal wounds he has received while defending the rear of the French army against an unnumbered Arab host, Charlemagne’s nephew Roland strikes his sword again and again on a rock in a futile attempt to break the faithful steel so it won’t be pillaged by marauders after his death.

King Alfonso X whose favour Cid longs to gain

Somewhat later but again in Spain, the legendary Mio Cid having conquered vast lands on his lord’s behalf, sent hundreds of well-bred horses his way, masochistically endured scorn and exile at his hands, is still pleading for readmission into the cruel don’s service. 

Delhemma, also know as Princess Fatima, courted

All this as an outcast at birth tramples tribal and gender bounds and goes on to achieve great glory in the Byzantine-Arab wars a continent away, on the other side of the East-West frontier; her name: Dhat al-Himma. 

Digenis in strife with no other than Death himself

And at last her mirror double, Digenis of double kin (Arab and Greek), lord Akritas of the Eastern reaches of the Byzantine empire, having lost interest in giving and taking blows is now happily looking after his own garden of Eden on the Euphrates.  

The entrants on this shortlist of wondrous names – Roland, Cid, Dhat al-Himma, Digenis Akritas – all performed extraordinary feats, survived against impossible odds, overcame insurmountable challenges, and were glorified for their efforts in songs and epic tales. 

Today these songs and tales might seem odd to us or even put us off with the amounts of violence, phantasmagorical exaggeration, and plain primitive thinking that saturates them. 

Of course, when you are dealing with narratives composed between the 11th and 13th centuries, way before any semblance of modernity in the making that is, you can’t really expect a progressive outlook.  

But still, you might ask: how am I expected to enjoy a story that has too much action and no handsome Hollywood actors, a story that represents reality about as well as a three-year-old with a crayon? 

The Hero’s Journey

A recent edition of Campbell’s classic book

You can look at it this way: whether you realize it or not, epics are human. They are direct and simplistic but not crude. Behind every one of them is a living consciousness ticking and tinkering with bits of legend and lore – stories of people who lived and died hundreds of years ago, snippets of the one truly great story, the story of Us. 

Like the heroes in those medieval tales, people today are all the time waging battles of their own, diligently recording their deeds in their internal chronicles, which all contain some level of exaggeration ­– but that is only all too human also. 

In light of this realization, I have decided to recast the chanson de gest of Digenis Akritas (12th century), long considered “the national epic” of Greece, as rather a story of growth and self-realization. I was aided well in this endeavor by the framework provided by Joseph Campbell’s classic book The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he breaks down the archetypal mythological hero’s journey into three phases: Departure, Initiation and Return, during which occur other typical elements of myth, such as: “The call to Adventure”, “Crossing of the First Threshold”, “The Road of Trials”, “Meeting with the Goddess” etc. 

Useful visualization of The Hero’s Journey

Digenis – summary, exegisis and translation

We can summarize the ascent of Digenis this way: at the start of the epic he is little more than a wild beast ­– freakishly strong, reckless and uncouth; he goes after other beasts, not knowing what they are, not knowing how to fight them, attacking with his bare hands… But then he discovers love and music, and suddenly he’s not fighting just to satisfy those violent urges anymore, he’s defending his beloved, he’s winning glory for them both. At last, as he has vanquished all enemies – animal, human and supernatural ­– he undergoes a final metamorphosis from destructive predator to cultivator of heavenly bliss. 

Page of the Athens National Library manuscript

Two manuscripts exist recounting Digenis’ story, and though neither is entirely free from the influences of the classical tradition, one is closer to the variety of modern Greek spoken today, while the other preserves many more anachronistic elements. In my translation based on the more colloquial version I have attempted to mimic the mixing of the two stylistic varieties, but also to convey the strangeness of the original abounding in outlandish forms, some of which scholars are still struggling to decode. 

A more recent edition of Digenis

A quirk of the text that will become immediately apparent to the reader and should therefore be addressed here is the seemingly random mixing of tenses – in Digenis switches from the past to the present occur sometimes in the same sentence. I have preserved this oddity of the original to the best of my ability. 

In questions of philological fidelity versus creative freedom, I have invariably erred on the side of artistic effect over mechanistic rendering of the Greek source into English. Neither have I denied myself the occasional linguistic gimmick. All this I did to maximize for myself and the reader the pleasure of reading, which ultimately is the end goal of every literary production. 

A recent full translation into English

Digenis – a thematic translation

Chapter 1: The Hero’s Birth 

The epic begins with an invasion led by the first emir of Syria into Byzantine-ruled Asia Minor. In the course of the assault the emir has captured a Christian girl and has subsequently returned with her and the rest of the spoils to his native Syria. The five brothers of the hostage, on pain of their mother’s curse, set off to retrieve her. They reach the Arab camp and hold council. It is decided that the youngest one will face the emir in single combat, and should he win, their sister would be set free. Which is precisely what transpires, however, the emir proves treacherous and sends them on a wild goose chase around the tents of his camp in search of the lost sister. On a tipoff from a nameless Arab the five brothers go to investigate the site of a mass slaughter of Christian girls. They find the bodies too bloodied and disfigured to tell who’s who but nonetheless assume their sister dead. After burying the girls in a mass grave and addressing a long lament to Master Sun in which they demand to know wherefore after Christ’s sacrifice men and women continue to be massacred in this way, the five grieving brothers journey back to the camp determined to wage open war on the emir. 

And as the emir saw them, he feared them manifold; 

Yet stood to question them: “Who are you and whence come you, 

From which Roman kin are you?” 

And then the first brother answers thus: 

“We are found to be of great kin indeed:

Our father was from the side of the Doukas, 

Whereas our mother from the Kirmagastros. 

Twelve uncles had we and six cousins.

Our sire was exiled after a rising in his hosts. 

Had they stumbled on you, you would not have beheld Syria. 

Five brothers our mother birthed, you espy them, 

And one we had sister, the sun-born, 

And we cheer her yet with feats of courage.” 

Likewise, the emir thereupon answers: 

“Our father was Harun ar Rashid and uncle was Caroilis, 

Mouselom the lauded was our father’s father; 

And all are buried near the Prophet’s tomb. 

Never was I matched by any general nor landlord. 

Over and again I’ve turned armies to flight both Persian and Roman, 

Castles I’ve claimed inerrable, Persian hegemons 

I’ve seized hostage and many generals. 

The parading I suffered at your hands I shall never forget. 

Since when I began to fight with prodigious prowess

No one at all was found to match me, 

To give me battle, lad, and take my spoils. 

And now I’ve suffered it at your hands and will never forget it; 
I’ve disgraced the armies and all of my kin. 

Today I wish not for my life but to die. 

But let me put aside the palaver and the babbling, 

And here tell you plainly the whole truth: 

If it be so that you deign to have me as your brother-in-law, 

I have your sister, so on her behalf do not mourn. 

This I swear and tell you by the good prophet, 

                                                                                 the great Mohammed: 

Neither did she kiss me, nor spoke I a word to her. 

For the five of you she languished day and night, 

And for this I hid her and misled you. 

Run to my tent to find your sister. 

For, many others did the lawless Arabs carry off,

Sold or butchered unjustly and iniquitously. 

And your sister fell to my spoils, 

And I forfended her for her fine beauties. 

So, fly and witness an unmarred girl; 

I upon her charms and abounding nobility, 

Forfeit both my faith and my abundant fame,

And will a Christian turn and come back with you

[to Romanía].” 

And then the five brothers start off to the tent, 

And find there a beautiful daybed made of agarwood, 

And on it a golden cover and on it a girl sprawled.

So sat the svelte one as a wilted apple 

And wept and wailed, her brothers sought. 

Though wasting away, she still shone as the Sun, 

And thrice beautiful resembled a beam from the Star. 

The wonderful girl’s beauties were withering –

Fie, calamity and shame and vile deed! 

And as her brothers saw the girl so dried, 

Together the five of them sighed, this utterance give:

“Rise slender withe, sweet sister of ours; 

We took you for dead and sword-cloven 

While God had protected you for your fine beauties. 

Your face’s flower has been withered by rue. 

Wars we fear not wage for the sake of you.” 

The five of them shower her with kisses and swoon over her:

Some kiss her lips and the others her eyes. 

Then the five brothers and that emir sit down: 

They pass common will to take their brother-in-law, 

                                                                                    And to enter Romanía.

And at once the emir decreed hold to himself 

His most wonderful lads, whom he had in his will; 

The others he released, and they went into Syria. 

And the emir together with the girl

And with his wife’s kinsmen, turned to go back to Romanía. 

In the front go his lads and the emir behind, 

And the girl in a litter, is being carried by five mules. 

Around her, her five brothers are holding fast. 

And the folk gawks at all this exuberance;

They follow behind her marveling at the maiden;

They recalled her captivity […]

How he had set her free for the love he had for her. 

The “Kyrie Eleison” they cried out for she had been saved, 

And now it is heard in all the world

That a most delightsome maid has won over hosts 

Even a hundred thousand strong with her fine beauties, 

And turned back the first emir of Syria. 

And being consecrated in matrimony, he rejoiced with her, 

And upon bedding the sun-born one 

They begat a marvelous child, the Digenis Akritis, 

Star of daybreak, light bearing sun. 

And his light enhaloed all of creation,

Along with the mighty brigands and those of manly prowess. 

He was born, he grew and turning four years old, 

He embarked on and mastered his ancestral manhood. 

Chapter 2: Departure

This section of the poem begins with a panegyric on the power of Love. It recalls the fate of ancient Greek heroes, who despite possessing great courage and fame were still tortured by passion. The poet takes care to ensure us of the authenticity of his narrative, denouncing Homer and other Greek poets for their embellishments. Then, we get to learn more of the emir’s accomplishments prior to his fateful expedition in Asia Minor. He had travelled to Babylon and on account of his great prowess and astuteness the elders had recommended him to the Sultan to be appointed emir. He had commanded an army of Turks and Arabs three thousand strong and also had a personal guard of five hundred young men. With all of these he had pillaged the towns of Asia Minor – Heraklion, Konya and Amorium, before himself falling victim to love. 

I. The Call to Adventure

And for the many beauties that the girl possessed, 

The emir became a Christian and blessed with matrimony.

And the girl’s brother was Constantine, 

The one who fought the emir, his brother-in-law. 

And then Akritis, that wonderous one, 

Singularly worshipped the other’s exploits, 

And since minority knew himself destined for glory. 

And when he had turned but twelve, 

He came to his father and discussed these matters with him: 

“How long must I hunt for hares and partridges?

This must your peasants – to hunt partridges. 

Young lords and the children of nobles, 

Hunt they lions and bears and other beasts of terror. 

And neither do I want to be exalted through my father, 

Though glorious are both my father and mother, 

But you my liege must be exalted through me. Come let us mount our horses and go ahunt.” 

II. The Crossing of the First Treshold

Straight away Digenis mounted his horse,

Alike his father the emir and his uncle Constantine, 

And they carried white moulted falcons. 

And as they penetrated the great highlands, 

Two bears leapt behind them from the woods – 

Male and female and two cubs with them. 

And forthwith of their sighting Digenis thus speaks to his uncle: 

“What are those there, uncle, that leap and dash?”

He answers him: “These are, Digenis, called bears, 

And whoever catches one is thought thrice hardy.” 

And as Digenis heard this, he came down upon them, 

His cane lifted he overtook the bears. 

The female stood for fray for the cubs’ sake, 

But he was apt so though she descended him, 

He did not overtake her quick, 

Gave her the cane, 

And when she approached, 

He locks her in his forelimbs, 

And squeezed and forthwith strangled her. 

And as her mate saw this, he turned back, 

And he leapt a mile fleeing from him. 

But Digenis, the sprout, had a fast turn, 

And he was undaunted, and his pluck shone through. 

In four leaps he reached the bear, 

And clutching it by the lower jaws, he held it 

And he rend it in half.

Then he sits and observes it. 

His uncle and his father, the two came together, 

They stand and marvel at the youth’s deeds, 

Shoulder to shoulder placed, they say to each other: 

“By our Lady, mother of God, and o, merciful Lord, 

We are witnessing freakish things in this youth.

This one was sent by God for the foolhardy, 

And for the brigands to fear all the years of their lives.”

As the father and uncle were discussing thus, 

They saw a lurid lion behind a copse of reeds, 

On a wild ox sprawled from tail to ears.  

And he was drinking its blood, clenching it fast.

So, as Digenis’ sire and his uncle Constantine saw this 

They pointed to him the lion, to trial him. 

Looking around they observe that he has come from the forest

[…]

Chapter 3: Initiation

There is a gap in the text in which it is believed, Digenis kills the lion and first lays eyes on the beautiful daughter of the Byzantine general or strategos, who is to become his wife. It is unclear what exactly comes to pass between the two but from the extant text we know that vows have been exchanged and that Digenis has promised to return in the cover of night to initiate their elopement. In what follows he is riding home by himself and praying for the moon to come out so it may keep him company in the journey he is about to undertake. 

I. The Meeting with the Goddess

(The Elopement) 

“For to have it company on my march. 

As I am solitary and wish solo to course.” 

Into his kindred he returned carefree and unscathed, 

And furtively spoke to his first cavalier: 

“Cavalier, first cavalier, ye first of the cavaliers, 

Unsaddle my soot hisan and saddle my ash hisan;

My uncle always had it in his exploits. 

With three surcingles girth it and three breastcollars, 

And the thick harness, so it may gallop, 

And hang by my saddle also my hefty rapier, 

As I am to embark on a terrible labor, to catch a bride.” 

Hardly had he ended his speech nor the instruction, 

And straight he jumped, the stairs scaling. 

[…]

Then having dined, he enters into his chamber, 

And took his tamboura and tuned it. 

He slit snakes’ skins, 

Spun sheep’s insides and crafted his strings, 

And fashioned the teeth into well-made keys. 

Having quickly shoed himself, he goes to the stables. 

In a leap he mounted his horse and took his rapier,

And took his tamboura and tuned it. 

He has strummed his lute and echoes it with a song, 

Sensuously he has sung out and quietly he strums.

And he has stirred on his march and he goes unto the maiden. 

And when he came near to the strategos’ dwellings 

He tightened the strings and the tambouras howled, 

While his own voice more softly sounds out: 

“It is rare when one lover is away 

For the other to fly fast their way

And to nightly sway and sway, 

Holding sleep at bay, 

And to Eden seek by day,

With its odors gay. 

Not I, no, pray! 

My dear may be far away,

But to her I fly without delay. 

And for this toothsome fay, 

Asleep at night I cannot lay.” 

Burning black beauty was his horse, the moon shone day-bright, 

And for her sake he had come to the strategos’ dwellings. 

Having reached there, he bespeaks the girl:

“You, maiden, have cast away your cares and carelessly sleep, 

And you desert from your vow, wholly awesome damsel. 

I believe you have forgotten yesterday’s words. 

Fair one, we concurred in certain things the two of us in private, 

And swore oaths not to sunder from each other.”

And the damsel knew him from his song. 

She was perturbed and rose and took her girdle, 

Fast she leapt down, on the lancet came out.

Now she fully reproaches the youth: 

“Shame on you, lord, for this tardy vigil, 

You are indolent and listless, for the which – shame on you alway. 

And that lute of yours, the one you now strum, 

Watch where you play that. 

For don’t you know, mine eyen, light of my gaze, 

That if my sire hears or any and all of my kin, 

You shall be stripped of your lovely youth because of me?

For many have tried to take me unbeknownst, 

And my lord apprehended and handled them well. 

So, you beware your lovely youthfulness. 

And I know, mine eyen, light of my gaze, 

That passion has injured you; love has enflamed you, 

It has overwhirled your mind, taken your intelligence, 

And to your end sped you, to die because of me. 

I see you lonesome and can naught do. 

For, warden, if I come down and you take me with you, 

And my brothers and siblings overtake you, 

They shall obliterate you and drag me back here; 

You shall be stripped of your lovely youth because of me.” 

And the sprout then thus answers: 

“Aren’t those fine words damsel? Thus, you speak to me?

I unaided battle armies,

And have power by myself to vanquish all, 

And to war against castles, to slaughter beasts. 

And you babble to me of your brothers, sire and kin? 

Tell me, how many crows may take an eagle’s pray?

My beauteous one, 

If your mind has shifted and you long for another, 

Tell me the truth, dame, so I may go. 

But if you totanimously, fair one, wish for us to make love, 

Whilst it is still cool, let us not hold out but a little, 

Let us not hang fire for the swelter of day, 

When the heat of the sun will enflame us incessantly 

And scorch and wither us all through our march. 

Come quick, maiden, so the world won’t mind us. 

And don’t think, ye withe, ye most delightsome maid, 

That for fear of that other lot I now tell you to go.  

By Saint Theodore, the great brigand, 

If they don’t find us and cut us off here, 

And we reach the flatland, I tell you, let as many as may come. 

And then you shall see me, lady, and kiss me and love me more. 

And then you shall see a lad, without second in the world.”

And then the maiden tells the youth:
“I now, for your sake, my lord, renounce my forebearers, 

And my fair brothers and my much opulence, 

And follow you for your great ardor. 

And may God confront you, my lord, if you defile me.” 

The youth became tearful and an oath swore:

“Lord God philanthrope, constructor of eons,  

If I in my soul conceive to defile you, 

May beasts dismember me,

And may I never revel in my youth, my prodigious prowess, 

And may I never be entombed as a Christian and may I never flourish, 

And may I never my mother’s blessing inherit, 

And may I never take pleasure in your love sublime, 

If I ever conceive it in my soul to defile you. 

But also, you, lurid-eyed one, see that you offend not chastity. 

Now rise up, maiden, let us journey forth.” 

And straight she leapt down from the low lancet, 

On him she leapt and clung to him. 

He put her up first in the front of the saddle. 

Tightly, sweetly they clasped each other, as was their right, 

And set off on their march, merry away. 

Then the young man turned and hauled out a giant cry:

“Bless me, lord strategos, with this, your daughter.” 

[…]

(The Marriage) 

He placed her on the pearl encrusted saddle

And the congregation rode off with “May your years be many”. 

The wild shrubs were flowering and the mountains swelling, 

And the stars bent down to gleam upon that gayety. 

And with all manner of commotion and a vast retinue, 

Digenis returned to his house amidst his parents, 

And the two of them blessed him, his mother and his father. 

And Eros assuaged all the couple’s hopes. 

All the wishes and fancies 

Of hedonic Eros, they consummated in unison. 

II. The Road of Trials

Digenis and his bride went on an outing. 

And not that God had any wish to damn him:

But, in the middle of the road, as he was ambling, 

A dragon cry came to the Akritis. 

Then the dragon (in human form) confronted him and started towards him. 

And Digenis to the man dragon thus speaks:

“If you so desire, let us wrestle or trade blows of the cane. 

You call the place, come, I’m ready all over.” 

• • •

And he revealed to me once more his wyvern’s wagger, 

And such words he speaks to me, to fuss me: 

“Neither, Akritis. I don’t want to trial myself with you, 

And I don’t want to wrestle. I’m going after catch. 

Hang on a little, sprout, as I grab your beloved, 

Or maybe, your boyishness sets you up to lose your life.” 

As he made his speech, addressing me, 

He morphed in an instant, three heads displaying: 

One was of a geezer, the other of a youth, 

The middle one of serpent, dragon of Gehenna. 

And as I grasped his threat and the words he spoke, 

My soul fretted and perchance I was a tad afraid. 

But God of all things the potentate wished not to damn me: 

Bearing my rapier on my left side, 

I set my precious down from the horse onto her feet, 

And drew; 

And with one swing I take the three heads outright. 

And a mighty pillar of dust rose from the dragon’s fall. 

And the maid laughed, she had gone for the whole affair mighty, 

And with that there treat she laughs again. 

But the hissing of the dragon and my belle’s laughter

A giant lion heard while lying hind a copse of reeds. 

I picked up the swishing of its tail as it lashed its flanks, 

And it surged out of the thicket as a frenzied torrent. 

And as the beast saw me and my belle, 

It perked up its tail and was still lashing its flanks. 

It bulged out its eyes, meaning to devour us.

And then the maid totally despaired; 

These things she told me eyeing the beast: 

“See to it, my good lord, that this lion not devour us.” 

And I leap down from my daybed, I run out of the tent. 

Quickly I took my rapier and affronted him; 

And to meet him I rushed full on. 

It was his will to fell me.

He arched his tail and descended on me. 

I gave him a blow between the flanks, 

And his head was swallowed by the marsh. 

Then I took the maiden and went back into my tent 

And the girl so tells me, this begs of me: 

“To cheer my beauties and your prodigious manhood, 

Take your lute and play it a little, 

For I have gone faint for fear of the beast, 

And my heart has turned wild with the beast’s blood.” 

I took my lute, fancying some muffled play, 

And straight the svelte one intoned with a chant:

“Fete the gods of fancy,

Good groom they gave me,

All the years of my life

May I gaze and joy him.”

And from the sound of the tamboura and the girl’s singing 

An echo rang out in the mountains, repeated by the hills. 

The brigands were enchanted by the girl’s call –

A zeal haunted them to snatch her. 

And from afar they shouted impudent words: 

“Abandon, good fellow, the svelte one and save yourself. 

Suffice your lovemaking and embraces. 

Or perhaps, your boyishness sets you up to lose your life.” 

And as the girl saw the crowd and their multitude, 

[That they were three hundred brigands]

And had they good arms and coursers in mail, 

And were mightily geared and all helmeted, 

Into their filth she bought and now tells me:

“Alas, my good master, they will surely part us, 

One from the other, today.” 

She kissed me tight on my lips and thus prompted me:

“Lord, may we kiss in parting.” 

Weeping she spoke to me amidst a hearty sigh, 

“Today we come apart – who can bear it?” 

I, for my part, split my sides and say to the maiden:

“Aren’t those fine words damsel? Thus, you speak to me?!

God has put us together and no man shall put us asunder. 

Give me, white-headed one, surcoat, give me my cane too, 

And watch, lady mistress, what I will do to them.” 

Quick I took the cane and met them

And as they struck me only kerfuffle came out, 

But when hit them, they would turn up dead. 

So, they ran to seed – their ghost their fee. 

And there was much haze and flurry. 

But those who were fled unseen, 

For them I’m struck with spleen. 

And this anguish will follow me to my grave.

And this sorrow will I have always. 

That as I was hot for battle, I found none left to strike. 

But then, having lost care for trading blows, 

I turn, I look around for my precious, 

And I see her sitting on her daybed.

My sleeves rolled down; I go her way. 

And she jumped down and also came; 

Cold water she brought reckoning I had tired […] 

III. Woman as Temptress

After this episode, Digenis is approached by three brigands (apparently of higher stature) who have heard of his feats and want to test his courage. Though the fight against these much more experienced and braver brigands proves challenging, Digenis manages to scatter them. Ashamed of their defeat and eager to prevent the hero from boasting, they resort to seeking the help of a woman warrior – an Amazonian called Maximou. She is more than happy to assist her old outlaw friends yet knows not that she’s being deceived. The three brigands have told her that Digenis has abducted a girl intended for one of them and furthermore that he has a whole army at his command. When the maiden warrior and all her host arrive and see the young man alone leaning on his cane, Maximou – outraged by the cowardice of her comrades – runs to cross the rapids of a river so as to challenge him to single combat.

Giddyap, she shortly charged the river, 

But I cried out to her from afar, 

“There stay, Maximou, do naught to hither cross! 

Men ought cross rivers and not women. 

For you, Maximou, I shall go over

To ante up what’s justly your due.” 

My ash hisan I giddyaped across the river. 

But the waters of this river were mighty and mucked, 

My horse plunged and sank neck deep. 

But God let a log be felled amid the river. 

Had there been no log, the Akritis would have drowned. 

And as Maximou saw all this, she fell down on me. 

She brandished a spear as if to give me a thrust.

Her spear I whacked right off, 

Her cane I whacked after too, telling her:

“I pity your beauties, mistress, but beware of peril; 

Let me give your courser a thwack, 

May you know what foe you have in me.” 

I landed a blow of the cane on the horse’s flanks

And that wonderous horse was laid prostrate. 

And again, Maximou beseeches me thus: 

“Younker, fear of God and sympathy bear yet for me, 

And let them bring horse anew, for me to sit on.

May you, young man, see my manliness too.” 

And I accede her to remount, 

And if her taste for it be good, to redouble the fight. 

She called upon Liandros and he brings her an equid.

In a leap, spear clasping too, she mounted, 

And from afar came calling on me: “Now let me see you, Akritis!” 

Lunging with her spear, she gave me a stab. 

In turn I landed a rapier’s rap on her horse’s head

The two sides were split apart and fell at once. 

And now was the saddle full shapely all disfigured, 

And Maximou – left on foot, pitiable in the champaign. 

She kissed my footwear and thus beseeches me:

“Younker, fear God and sympathy bear for me once more,

In this my moronity, 

As I was instructed by irregulars – men

Of squirmish mind. 

Master me – first and only; no one else may.” 

And then I this to Maximou answer: 

“By God, Maximou, your desire cannot come to pass. 

A girl lives of noble cast, to whom I owe my love. 

She has infinite wealth and illustrious kin, 

Most savory sisters and fat-cat brothers. 

All of it she renounced and with me came, 

And now God himself the potentate of all things 

Can only put us asunder. 

Yet if your precipitation be for pornication, 

I shall grant it thee.” 

And having come down from my soot hisan, I undo my gear, 

And quickly I granted Maximou’s desire. 

And after I had done this to Maximou, the whore, 

I mounted straightaway and went to the girl. 

And then hear what I say to that withe:

“Did you see, my fair eyen, what feats I accomplished?”

And then hear what the maiden says to me: 

“I saw you, my fair eyen, light of my gaze, 

How you fought off all the brigands alone, 

And when you fought alone against the girl Maximou; 

In the tight pass, in the deep runlet, 

You fouled around too long; I believe you made her yours.”

And then I assured the withe that: 

“As I gave her equid the last blow, 

Maximou fell down from her horse, 

And now was the saddle full shapely all disfigured. 

And believe me, svelte one, I speak truthfully: 

I had much sorrow for her two horses.” 

And then the maiden laughed mightily, 

Snugly, sweetly she embraced me 

And was kissing me full oft. 

Then I confided to the girl this matter: 

“With the defiling of Maximou I have vanquished her thrice: 

First that I possessed her, second that she was put to shame, 

And third and foremost that she lost her valor; 

Disgraced she fled from her general.” 

IV. The Ultimate Boon

Digenis was everywhere lauded for his feats in battle, 

From the dawny east to dusky west, 

His name they recite in all the world. 

And when he had astounded all earth dwellers, 

And had subjugated many emirs and Arabs, 

And slaughtered archbrigands and all the guerrillas, 

And lost interest in giving and taking blows, 

And had no care for other such treats, 

It seemed good to the youth to settle the flatlands. 

He explored thoroughly the whole riverfront,

But found no agreeable place to settle. 

Yet it excited him to live along the Euphrates river, 

So he built his castle there as he wanted and desired. 

And he meandered through every site by the river. 

In one meadow place there was a large grove, 

Surrounded by lovely umbrageous trees. 

Full sweet streams flowed down the mountains, 

And the whole place seemed as wonderful as paradise. 

He diverted the river from this meadow, 

And made a place sublime and heavenly sweet. 

And also fashioned its surroundings:

He built lustrous walls with battlements, 

And their marble facing could be seen from afar, 

Full lovely, stunning, singular. 

And he dammed the four branches of the river, 

And irrigated the mountainside, furrowing it up and down. 

Pools he erected with metal basins, 

To water the more cut-off parts. 

And he fashioned ponds of full wonderous fish. 

And he planted phoenix palms in this paradise. 

From the land of Egypt he brought balm of Gilead: 

Its leaves are green and red its flower 

Its root is a span long and much like agarwood, 

And musky its fruit, 

Its branches too are red and amorously entwined, 

And ice-cold water trickles from its root, 

Aromatic as rosewater, it can make one faint. 

He built a marvelous courtyard, grand pool, 

And in front …. perfumed trees. 

He made also a terraced atrium soaring above ground, 

And he encircled it all round and round, 

And set up animal figures of solid gold and silver:

Lions, leopards and eagles, partridges and neraïdes 

Spouting from their mouths and their wings

Water clear and crystalline, fragrant water, 

Which flowed into grand pools. 

And he hung golden garlands on the branches of the trees, 

With graceful parrots which twitter and recite:

“Rejoice Akritis, rejoice with the one you have always longed for.” 

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