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Erotokritos (Greek: Ἐρωτόκριτος) is a romance composed by Vikentios (Vitsentzos, "Vincenzo", Vincent) Kornaros in early 17th century Crete. It consists of 10,012 fifteen-syllable rhymed verses, the last twelve of which refer to the poet himself. It is written in the Cretan dialect of the Greek language. Its central theme is love between Erotokritos (only referred to the work as Rotokritos or Rokritos) and Aretousa. Around this theme, revolve other themes such as honour, friendship, bravery and courage. Erotokritos and Erophile by Georgios Hortatzis constitute classic examples of Greek Renaissance literature and are considered to be the most important works of Cretan literature. It remains a popular work until today, largely due to the music that accompanies it when it is publicly recited. A particular type of rhyming used in the traditional mantinades was also the one used in Erotokritos.
The play takes place in ancient Athens, but the world displayed is a complex construct which does not correspond to any particular historical period. Alongside references to classical Greece there are anachronisms and many elements peculiar to Western Europe, such as the jousting competition. The work is divided in the following five parts:
I. After several years of marriage, a daughter (Aretousa) is born to the King of Athens (Heracles) and his wife. The son of the faithful adviser to the king (Erotokritos) falls in love with the princess. Because he cannot reveal his love, he sings under her window in the evenings. The girl gradually falls in love with the unknown singer. Heracles, when he learns about the singer, organizes an ambush to arrest him, but Erotokritos with his beloved friend kills the soldiers of the king. Erotokritos, realising that his love cannot have a happy ending travels to Chalkida to forget. During his absence, his father falls ill and when Aretousa visits him, she finds in the room of Erotokritos a painting of hers and the lyrics he sang. When he returns, he discovers the absence of his drawing and songs and learns that the only person that visited them was Aretousa. Realizing that his identity was revealed and that he may be at risk, he stays at home pretending to be ill. Aretousa sends him a basket of apples to wish him well and as an indication she shares his feelings.
II. The king organizes a jousting competition for the entertainment of his daughter. Many noblemen from around the known world participate and Erotokritos is the winner.
III. The couple begins to secretly meets under the window of Aretousa. The girl pleads with Erotokritos to ask her father to allow them to marry. Naturally, the king is angry with the audacity of the young man and has him exiled. Simultaneously a marriage proposal for Arethusa arrives by the king of Byzantium. The girl immediately gets engaged secretly to Erotokritos before he leaves the city.
IV. Aretousa refuses to consider any marriage proposals and is imprisoned by the king alongside her faithful nanny. After three years, when the Vlachs besiege Athens, Erotokritos reappears, his true identity concealed through magic. In a battle he saves the life of the king and gets wounded in the process.
V. In order to thank the wounded stranger the king offers him his daughter as spouse. Aretousa refuses to accept this marriage and in discussion with the disguised Erotokritos she persists in her refusal. Erotokritos submits her to tests to confirm her faith and finally reveals himself after breaking the spell that concealed his identity. The king accepts the marriage and reconciles with Erotokritos and his father, and Erotokritos ascends to the throne of Athens.
The direct model of the work is the French popular medieval romance Paris et Vienne composed by Pierre de la Cépède, which was printed in 1487 and was widely circulated, having been translated to many European languages. Kornaros most likely became familiar with the French original through the Italian translation, since he was unlikely to understand French. He adapted the original creatively and his adaptation displays some merits compared to both the original and other adaptations. The plot is better structured, the characters fewer, some repetitions are reduced and there is more emphasis on the development of the psychology of the heroes. The first part of the work follows the original. The two works differ significantly after the failed marriage proposal. In Paris et Vienne two lovers eloped and attempted to make an escape, but after a while the girl is captured by people of her father and Paris travels in the East. The heroic act that contributes to the pair's reunion in the original is the release of the king from captivity, after he was arrested in an abortive crusade. The end of both plays is similar with the strange benefactor offering to marry the princess and her accepting only after his true identity is revealed. Apart from the French romance, the influence of Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto is evident, particularly in the epic elements of the work. The work was also influenced by the Greek literary tradition and specifically demotic songs and proverbs as well as other texts such as Erofili, Apokopos and Penthos Thanatou.
The work was very popular and circulated in manuscript form throughout the 17th century. In 1713 it was printed in Venice by some Cretan who had collected several manuscripts of the work, and relied on them to deliver a sufficiently valid and reliable version. There are no extant manuscripts of the work except for an unfinished one of 1710. It is decorated with elegant miniatures, but is less valid than the Venetian version in its delivery of the text, because it alters the character of the vernacular language at places. Probably the copying process stopped after the release of the printed version in 1713. Several reprints of the original edition followed, and the first modern edition appeared in 1915 by Stefanos Xanthoudides.
Erotokritos sets great store by true love, friendship, courage, and patriotism, and this is the reason for its later popularity all over Greece. It was a source of inspiration for Dionysios Solomos and influenced Greek poets as diverse as Kostis Palamas, Kostas Krystallis, and George Seferis. A complete translation to English was made by Theodore Stephanides in verse, and by Betts, Gauntlett and Spilias in prose.Several groups of renowned Cretan musicians have added selected parts of the poem to their music, often exploring the boundaries of their local musical tradition.