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Magna Grecia - from tarantella to funeral dirges in the lands forgotten by Christ

29 December 2014 / 13:12:53  GRReporter
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- For many years, the question of the origin of the dialects in southern Italy had split the scientific community into two opposing "camps", namely the so-called Byzantists and the archaists. The first camp, mainly Italian scholars, supported the Byzantine origin of this language. The latter faction, largely Greeks, shared the view that its roots were in ancient times, with emphasis on the Doric dialect of Magna Grecia. The contribution of A. Karanastasis, the compiler of the Historical Dictionary of the Athens Academy of Sciences, is considered as particularly significant. For some years after 1962, he carried out scientific expeditions in the Greek-speaking regions of Apuglia and Calabria, gathering rich linguistic evidence. The result of these studies is the publication of the five-volume historical dictionary of the Greek dialects in southern Italy, including the relevant historical grammar. His research activity has directed the scientific studies to a "sober" view of the origin of this language that is closer to historical reality. To summarize, Karanastasis recognizes the existence of the following language sub-layers in the Italian language spoken in the lower part of Italy: an Archaic layer teeming with Doric and Archaic elements, a Hellenistic layer, a Byzantine layer from the time of Byzantine domination in southern Italy and a layer of lexical loan-words from the local Roman dialect with which the Greek language coexisted for centuries. Obviously, all these sub-layers were the result of the successive Greek colonisations in the specific areas.
- In your text "Introducing the Greek-speaking villages" you mention the novel by Carlo Levi Christ Stopped at Eboli in which the author describes the life in the region of Lucania in the deprived Italian south, where he was interned in the period 1935-1936 by the fascist regime of Mussolini. You compare the living conditions in the Calabrian villages with the experiences and testimonies of an Italian doctor with leftist views. What was the economic and social reality in these places in the mid-eighties when you started your research there?    
- The conditions there resembled those in Greece in the 1950s. It would be enough to say that during the first three years of my stay there (1983-1985) there was no running water to supply the houses. The residents drew water from a well that the young people called the "Κάναλο της Αγάπης" ("Fountain of Love"), as idylls blossomed there when the girls went to fill the pitchers with water. I went to this "channel" too to wash my clothes, as my mother did in my birthplace when I was a child (in the village of Tourkoleka, Arcadia, the Peloponnese). After the first year, when I ended up in Galiciano, I looked for the book by Carlo Levi and I admit that I was impressed by the numerous similarities between Aliano, the village in Lucania, where he was interned himself (in the novel he called it Galliano as is its local pronunciation) and Galiciano. Levi wrote his classic masterpiece between 1943 and 1944, in the most dramatic moments of the war, and released it immediately after its end in 1945. The book shocked me so much that, at some point when I was in Rome, I took the train and followed the route of his journey, writing thoughts and impressions in my diary. As regards the economic situation of the Greek-speaking villages, it would be enough to mention that in 1979, according to a survey of the European Economic Community at the time, the income per capita of the population in the seven villages of the Greek-speaking area was the lowest compared with that in the 109 areas at the time and the 260 million Community citizens at the time. The economy was based on stockbreeding and the majority of the population had migrated to Switzerland and North Italy, especially to Milan. Those who had returned preferred to settle in Reggio (Reggio di Calabria), the largest urban centre in the region, since they could provide a better future for their children there. Even today, there are neighbourhoods in Reggio with a Greek-speaking population in its majority. However, at the time of my study, the village had about 250 inhabitants, a number dramatically reduced in the early 1990s, which has fallen further to just 15 families at present. Regarding the economic situation, I believe there has been no spectacular change to this day.
- In the 11th century Calabria experienced vigorous growth which would be interrupted by the appearance of the Normans there. They would be followed by the new conquerors as a result of whom the Greek element would decline. It, however, would again flourish after the conquest of Constantinople, due to the fact that many residents of the Greek space, terrified by the attack of Islamic Turks, sought refuge in the West, and particularly South Italy. What was the subsequent fate of these large centres where the Orthodox Greek population was concentrated?

Tags: Christina PetropoulouZdravka MihaylovaCalabriaMagna GreciaItalyGreek languageTarantella
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