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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Verse

 

   
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Oh, my Beautiful Morea

The nostalgic song “Oh, my beautiful Morea,” included in the last eight lines of this folk ballad, is perhaps the best known Arbëresh (Italo-Albanian) folksong of all. The ballad reflects a central element in the collective memory of the Albanian minority of southern Italy – that of their early flight from the Morea (i.e. the Peloponnese in Greece), which had been conquered by the Ottoman Turks, to the safety of Sicily and Calabria. Other Albanians fled from Albania, too, when it was conquered by the Turks in the fifteenth century.

 

Arbëresh Costumes

 

Once there was a savage ruler
Who imprisoned a fine fellow,
No one dared address that ruler
Till a noble-hearted maiden
Summoned courage, spoke unto him:
“Lord, though you are known as savage,
You and I, let’s make a wager,
Let us see who is more able,
Who can drink more wine-filled glasses.
If you lose, release your prisoner,
If you win, my bed you’ll conquer
All with silken snakes embroidered.”
He was willing, made the wager.
To her servants said the maiden:
“When you serve the Turk his wineglass,
Make sure that the cup is brimming.
When you serve to me my wineglass,
Do not fill the cup completely,
Add a bit of water to it.”
Then, while they were having dinner,
Flushed with wine they were and laughing,
Did she lift her wineglass, sipping
Wine with icy water in it.
Mad with rapture did the ruler
Seize his glass and swill the wine down,
Till he slumped into his armchair,
Overcome, and fell asleep there.
Well the noble maiden freed the
Prisoner, armed him; they departed,
Taking flight then to the seaside,
There they climbed aboard a sailboat,
Tossing, gliding ’cross the ocean.
When they reached the other coastline
She looked back towards the ocean
In nostalgia contemplating:
“Oh, my beautiful Morea,
Left and saw you nevermore,
Left behind my lady mother,
Left behind my loving brother,
Left behind my lordly father,
All under your soil they’re resting.
Oh, my beautiful Morea,
Left and saw you nevermore.”

 

[Moj, e bukura Morea, Italo-Albanian folksong. From: Balada shqiptare, ed. Vladimir Zoto (Tirana: Dasara 2006), p. 311-312. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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