Eva Poulopoulou – The Song of the Dead Brother

By Sotiris Bekas

In her first published comic, Eva Poulopoulou (with studies in architecture and digital arts) tackles one of the most intense and dramatic stories found in Greek folk songs, which is filled with symbolism and universal messages. This refers to “Του Νεκρού Αδερφού” (The Song of the Dead Brother), which was illustrated in a very unique manner (and with high quality) by the creator, who hails from Messinia but has been living in the Netherlands for many years.

She explains to folkradio.gr the initial inspiration and the reasons that led her to this particular project. “The truth is that I have not particularly engaged with folk music. Any contact I had came through my grandfather, who sang and told me stories, which were not very well-known. However, specifically, the song ‘The Song of the Dead Brother’ was told to me by my mother during my childhood. And although it is not a cheerful song, it stuck with me, stayed in my mind. From then on, there was always an artistic aspect within me, especially related to comics.”

Eva Poulopoulou had been drawing comics since her teenage years and always had a small ambition in that direction, but she never put it into her plans until everything somehow connected. She found the time and the impetus, or perhaps the psychological background was completed, which is created in a person by 20 years of living abroad. As she emphasizes, lately, the idea of being an expatriate has started to concern her a bit more intensely and not necessarily in a bad way. It is an idea, after all, very fundamental in the story of “The Song of the Dead Brother.”

“I started the comic in September 2023 because the story kept coming to my mind during a difficult period in the Netherlands, during which I felt a great sense of nostalgia. The first time I had the idea, though, was in France in 2007 during a similar crisis of nostalgia. Nostalgia is, for me, a motif that comes and goes at intervals depending on the circumstances. It is often connected with significant life events or major changes, both positive and negative.

The notebooks where I found my writings from the first phase of the idea, I discovered in my parents’ house (to my great surprise) in May 2024 when I came to Greece for the comic’s premiere. In retrospect, that is. It was very interesting to discover how my younger self thought about the same subject. I believe the idea had probably been quite worked through inside me. Naturally, I also conducted some research, but I had already progressed a lot. I searched for folklore elements, read, and gathered analyses regarding the symbolic level of the song, while I found out that as a theme it exists throughout the Balkans, with local differences, of course.”

The truth is that the song “The Song of the Dead Brother” is one of the oldest recorded in the tradition of Greek music and folklore, and it is clear that it is a story with very rich semiology. To such an extent that it can respond timelessly on many levels of messages, as Eva Poulopoulou emphasizes…

“It’s a story that you cannot take literally because it is clearly very symbolic. Many psychoanalysts have dealt with the subject of myths and fairy tales. In the past, when there was no psychotherapy, fairy tales played that role. We told stories when we wanted to help each other or when we wanted to teach something to someone. For me, it was clear that the characters in the story are essentially different aspects of the human soul. When I started working on the story, I saw specific characteristics in the characters. For example, the mother is the creative force. Konstantis is the ambitious and adventurous part of the soul, which sets a tragic story in motion. He is the catalyst for the story’s development. The recklessness with which he sends his sister, Areti, to marry someone they do not know, in a country so far away that it makes it almost certain they will never see her again, is quite striking. Perhaps he even has selfish motives, in terms of gain or interest, because it is essentially a child marriage, and maybe Konstantis thinks that if his sister is abroad, it may serve him. The most interesting thing about this character is that he is considered the wisest, and while human wisdom knows no bounds, you see how short-sighted a person can become in situations that determine the future.”

In this wonderful folk ballad, one encounters many of the narrative tools of ancient tragedy, while the element of the supernatural surrounds the story throughout its entirety. Even when death seems to spread and dominate, a supernatural twist comes, and the concept of resurrection brings about the reversal of nemesis. However, although the fulfillment of the promise of the ‘Dead Brother’ who returns from the Underworld (another element taken from ancient mythology) delivers redemption, the price is heavy.

This is another crucial point, which Eva Poulopoulou comments on: “When everything seems to have been destroyed, and essentially only the mother is left, who is also heading towards destruction, Konstantis is reborn to set things right. But that’s where you see the character of Areti, who, on a symbolic level, I believe, corresponds to a very essential part of the soul, because from the moment she was removed, collapse ensued. Even her name is not accidental, because ‘Areti’ has to do with the value system. When she returns, she faces things with great composure and maturity. Even when she realizes that something is wrong with her brother and hears the birds speaking with human voices and warning her. She does not accept it immediately; she discusses it with her brother. Even when she discovers the truth and goes back to her home and meets her mother, that’s when the tragedy peaks, and both die.

Personally, I believe that the climax of the tragedy is the transformation, that is, the moment when Areti, having gone through all these misfortunes, having understood what is happening, and having discovered her inner strength, at that moment unites with the creative part, meaning the mother, and they die together. It is worth noting that at that time (when the song was created), societies believed in the afterlife, meaning transformation and the journey to another dimension.”

Eva Poulopoulou (Image credit: Karen Barnhoorn)

According to Domna Samiou and her researcher and collaborator, Miranda Terzopoulou, the “Song of the Dead Brother,” also known as the “Song of Areti,” along with “The Bridge of Arta,” are the most beloved, the most pan-Balkan, narrative dramatic songs. Many scientific discussions have taken place regarding its original cradle as well as the multifaceted mythological elements and ideas it contains, the power of the oath, the lament and the curse, the return of the dead, the talking birds, and especially the notions of expatriation and life in unknown foreign lands, a concept that is conflated with death. All these are themes that reflect the common fate of the peoples who loved and sang it. Known also in fairy tale form, the song’s myth has inspired many Greek, Balkan, and European writers, confirming the view that it is a pinnacle achievement of folk poetic creation.

Eva Poulopoulou‘s “The Song of the Dead Brother” is published by Jemma Press.


The “Song of the Dead Brother” by Chronis Aidonidis.

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