The bridge of 200… folk fables! The renowned “folk fable” of the Bridge of Arta with the dramatic plot that demanded the sacrifice of the master builder’s wife for the bridge to stand, is a topic of research and the central issue of the book written by Spiros Mantas professor and researcher of the stone bridges of the broader area of Epirus (Pindos) and its builders (Artas’ Bridge – Tou giofiriou tis Artas- volume E, publication: Prefecture of Epirus – Archives of the bridges of Epirus) The president of the Center of Studies of Stone Bridges has delivered a substantial study concerning the famous folklore “paralogi”, which is of great musicological significance as well.
“Paraloges” (folk fables) are songs of a narrative form. They contain an intense element of narration, are associated with the musical and theatrical performances of imperial era Byzantium, and stem from the ancient tragedy as well as being a music genre with a long-standing tradition. In the topics of folk fables, one can find mythological elements, prevalent in the poetry of many peoples and so this way this particular myth of the sacrifice has constituted the primary source of many variations in languages and countries of the Balkans. This has been common knowledge for years and one could trace back to recordings of the different versions of not only each country but also of individual areas. What was missing from the scientific research was the documentation and musical correspondence among different interpretations.
Spiros Mantas’s research comes to fill this void by documenting 110 different versions of the musical recording of this famed paralogi, from countries all across the Balkans. Among others, there are local accounts in the Hungarian language in the territory of Transylvania, which today constitutes part of Romania, which has its own version of the folk fable. In Serbia the song is found in Aromanian, in Bulgaria there are a lot of areas with their own versions in Gagauz. The Gagauz are Greeks who come from Eastern Thrace. Christians who speak Turkish though, and are part of their community have moved to Moldοva. At the same time, Mantas has carried out recordings in Berati, Albania whereas as far as the North Macedonia version is concerned on the internet posted two different examples by the important local singer Vaskalieva. The research was also aided by older books with the lyrics of the songs, since from them and with a quick comparative research the origins of the songs are revealed.
Naturally, in Greece, the song of the bridge (of Arta) is found in hundreds of different versions for example in Epirus, as well as in villages of Drama, Thrace where Chronis Aidonidis has given a unique performance, Katerini, Crete, and also on villages of Kozani, in the communities of Pomaks, even in Olympos of Karpathos. As far as the original descent of the folk fable is concerned, the opinions differ but it is agreed that it originates from Greece as is suggested by researchers even beyond the Balkans (like Jussepe Kotsiara from Palermo) and this is an important factor so as to prevent localism. Baud-Bovy this prominent researcher and musicologist confirms its Greek origin while Nikolaos Megas pinpoints the descent of the song in Epirus. On the contrary, Baud-Bovy expresses the view that the song probably comes from Cappadocia and this seems quite logical given the fact that in this area thrived both the Acritic songs (frontiersmen songs) and the folk fables of the folk tradition.
The article was originally published in Difono magazine and it is written by Sotiris Bekas