Benaki museum: Ballad of the dead brother
Occasionally among the jumble of artifacts in a museum, something pops up out of nowhere with huge symbolic meaning, and you wonder just how the hell the museum even got hold of it, and why it doesn’t have a room to itself.
In the museum of folk instruments, that was the lyra of Nikos Xilouris, Crete’s greatest folk musician. It was a polished, much recorded instrument in among random crude instruments collected in the field. It was a big deal to behold, and also completely out of place.
For anyone that has studied in Old school Greek education, and imbibed its folk ballads in school (long after they stopped being sung), this manuscript is comparable. It is The ballad of the dead brother (Του Νεκρού Αδερφού), in an original manuscript by the scholar who published it, Nikolaos Politis, in the first collection of folk songs by a Greek researcher, 1914.
We know that Politis edited his published ballad based on lots of local variants, so seeing this polished final version in manuscript raises a lot more questions than it answers. I guess I would have preferred to see his field notes. But I was certainly not expecting to find it here, let alone to find it under a different title, “Nighttime Visit”.