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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Early Authors


Mary and Child. Icon by Onufri (Onuphrios). 16th century.

Mary and Child. Icon by Onufri (Onuphrios). 16th century.

Mary and Child. Icon by Onufri (Onuphrios). 16th century.



Constantine of BERAT


Constantine of Berat (ca. 1745 - ca. 1825), known in Albanian as Kostandin Berati or Kostë Berati, is thought to have been an Orthodox monk and writer from Berat. Some experts doubt his existence, as an author at least. He is said at any rate to have possessed a manuscript from 1764 to 1822, presumably the 154-page work now preserved in the National Library of Tirana. This so-called Codex of Constantine of Berat, or Codex of Berat for short, is in actual fact a simple paper manuscript and must not be envisaged as an illuminated parchment codex in the Western tradition. It seems to have been the work of at least two hands and was completed around 1798 at the earliest. It contains various and sundry texts in Greek and Albanian: biblical and Orthodox liturgical texts in Albanian written in the Greek alphabet, all of them no doubt translated from Greek or strongly influenced by Greek models; two Greek-Albanian glossaries comprising a total of 1,710 entries; a short passage containing another original alphabet; various religious notes; and a chronicle of events between 1764 and 1789 written in Greek. Some of the religious texts in this manuscript later circulated for teaching purposes among the Orthodox communities of central and southern Albania.

Among the texts in the Codex of Berat is a forty-four-line Albanian poem, with the corresponding Greek text, called Zonja Shën Mëri përpara kryqësë (The Virgin Mary before the Cross). Written in so-called fifteen-syllable 'political' verse (stichos politikos), it is an unaffected though sincere and not unmoving description of the horror felt by the Virgin Mary on seeing her son nailed to the cross. The poem seems to be based on a Greek original by Akakios Diakrusês of Cephalonia, published in 1730.