This album intends to cover the great vacuum of knowledge concerning Greek dancing before the 20th century. The cultural history of Greece during the past centuries has been infinitely less investigated, compared with its political history. One of the greatest cultural achievements of the Greek people, its dance, remains unexplored. Only during the past fifteen years has ethnographic research begun, fortunately at a fast pace, but this is the first time that the subject is approached historically.
Giving to dance such a central place among expressions of Greek culture during its multi-century course will seem exaggerated. In fact, archeologists, historians and sociologists have neglected it in their works. But the few relative studies on the subject - all by non Greeks - demonstrate beyond doubt that Greeks had the greatest esteem for dance, that they cultivated it as few other peoples did, and that they were the first to realize its educational value. Their treatises on dance have been lost but we know that they were numerous and that they were not only descriptive. The Chinese, for example, had produced descriptive writings on their dances centuries before the Greeks. But ancient Athenians were unique in that they approached dance with the intellect as well as with the body. Afterwards dance returned to being a mere entertainment and spectacle for 20 centuries. It was only during the last decades in the United States and then in Europe that dance began again to be regarded as a social phenomenon through a scientific lens.
The pictures and especially the texts in the following pages will demonstrate that the extraordinary propension of Greeks to dance special - compared with other peoples - did not stop after the Antiquity. Travellers are invariably surprised witnessing that, among the countless peoples living peacefully within the then vast Ottoman Empire, Greeks were singled out for dancing wholeheartedly every time they had the occasion.
On the other hand, the great extend of dance activity in contemporary Greece is not known. Had there been statistics and sociological studies, they would show that dance in modern Greece is maintained, without state support, on a scale incomparably higher than in other countries. Several thousands of dance ensembles, a large number of dance tavernas with live Greek music as well as discotheques, are indications to a pronounced propensity to dance.
A phenomenon as great in depth and in width during a history of many centuries justifies the need to give to Greek dance a prominent place in the world bibliography. The present book belongs to such a trend, by bringing together data from a period lasting three centuries. Pictures and texts cover almost the entire knowledge existing for that period.
We have included only visual material by foreign travellers together with the texts accompanying the original work. We will continue with one or two volumes on the 19th century. Other texts about dance, works by Greek painters, photographs, as well as frescoes from churches and manuscript illuminations have been gathered and will be published with comments in subsequent volumes.
Works are presented in an approximate chronological order according to the date of execution, since this one differs sometimes considerably from the date of publication. For undated works the supposed date has been used, since it is usually known when the traveller was in Greece. As far as prints are concerned the hand colored copies are preferred although colouring is recent and without sufficient knowledge of period data. In spite of efforts of many years it is probable that some works have not been located - we will be grateful to readers indicating them.
This edition is strictly non commercial. Its purpose is educational, presenting to scholars texts and pictures extremely difficult to find in order to fill the existing vacuum on the history of Greek dance. Since personal work and expenses cannot be reimbursed by sales the aim is to offer a considerable contribution to the community while participating to the celebration of 55 years of the Dora Stratou Theatre.
The study of texts and pictures left to us by travellers must be made with certain reserves imposed by conditions of the given period. We will present the most important of them while directing the reader in need of detailed analysis to treatises on travel writing. More on the manner of interpreting data will be found there, so as the reader will not be mislead by seeing with present day eyes what people of another period saw with their eyes.
At first, one should not forget that the travellers is a foreigner from a distant land who does not speak the language and stays a few days only in every place. He is making a very tiring and dangerous journey, full of unforeseen hazards. He is accompanied by an interpreter (drogman) and so relies on information he supplies. What he sees he tries to comprehend with his own very different mentality. Before starting his trip he has read books on Ancient Greece as well as accounts by previous travellers. He takes hasty notes, usually at night before going to bed, from which he will write his book upon his return. He has little in common with a modern-day tourist.
Dance is to him an impressive sight but not a subject sufficiently serious to be considered and to be described. As a townsman, he identifies dance with ballroom dances he was executing in his own country and with them he compres what he sees. Rather certainly he has not witnessed before the village dances which were then still performed in Europe and which he could have easily compared with the Greek ones. The music is unbearable to him, mainly because it is on the natural scale while he is used to the tempered one. In general, his training in music and dance is in full opposition with the traditional one he is confronted to.
He sketches in pencil, usually monuments or views but sometimes scenes that impress him. Thus he does not record colour unless he is working with watercolor or he has taken with him a professional painter. After his return he will give his sketches to an engraver who will make the prints we will find printed in his book. They will be more or less faithful to the original sketch, even less if the author does not have the opportunity to work with the engraver in order to make suggestions based on the picture he has conserved in his memory. In the 20th century merchants cut the prints from the books - to raise their price they have them hand coloured with arbitrary colors.
That is why we see today costumes bearing colours having nothing to do with reality, while their pattern is correctly shown. We see circular dances turning to the left while the rule in Greece is inverse (it is in Europe that folk dances turn left-wise). We see strange handholds which make us wonder if they really existed and faded out later, or it was the imagination of the engraver. The main theme is frequently a view, with a small dance scene in a corner, apparently put there to enliven the picture, while the traveller has rather witnessed it somewhere else and drawn it separately.
This is a minimum regarding conventions on the interpretation of texts or pictures relegated by travellers preceding the 20th. We had prepared detailed comments for each picture with information about the traveller and remarks on the dance scene, as well as analysis of the costumes by Mr. Christos Broufas, but we will leave it for later so as not to engross this first volume of the series.
I find no words of thanks for Mr. Stathis Finopoulos, dean of travel literature on Greece, who honored me with his friendship, guided me like a teacher and indebted me by offering material and advice. A man who dedicated every day of his life to gathering a vast collection of books and prints by travellers to Greece. This country should have acknowledged his priceless legacy. Researchers helped by him must be thousands, among whom I who spent countless afternoons and evenings in his house using books extremely rare as if they were mine.
Thanks are also due to those who helped either by providing information or by granting permission to photograph works in their possession, as well as to the respective institutions who contributed to the gathering of material. I separately mention the friends: Fani-Maria Tsingakou of the Benaki Museum, Manos Charitatos of the Greek Literary and Historial Archive and Dimitris Michalopoulos of the Museum of the City of Athens. Museums and collectors who granted slides and permission to publish are mentioned in the label of each work.
As in all my books, Adamantia Angeli has been a invaluable collaborator with relentless care during all phases and strict attention to detail. The efforts we shared for the documentation of material will be forgotten, but she will always miss the warm atmoshpere in the library of Mr. GFinopoulos which transported us two centuries back. I confess I am not one of the authors who hand their manuscript and forget about it till they see the book. Perhaps because my father had a printing shop, I feel the need for a "hand made" edition and I am involved in every detail of it. Anastasia Anastasopoulou executed joyfully my wishes for the fiftieth time.
[text written by the editor, about ten years ago, for the book edition]