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Vasilis Poulimenakos

The Sygria


Vasilis Poulimenakos was born in Gytheion, Mani; he lives and works in Chalkida as a civil engineer. His short stories have been published online and his lyrics have been set to music by various composers. He has participated in the digital music book of poetry for children “For one of your smiles” (2009), his short story “The Passage to Nisyros” has been honored with a distinction in the 1st short story competition of the culture magazine “Ως3”.His short story “Nocturnal” was also part of the award-winning collective ebook entitled “A Bite of Writing – A Dozen and Three Short Stories”. He is married with two children. Personal blog http://vasilis67.wordpress.com


VASILIS POULIMENAKOS

THE SYGRIA Narrative

Translation from Greek: Christina Ioannidou


Vasilis Poulimenakos, The Sygria ISBN: 978-618-5147-06-8 December 2014 Original Title: Η Σύγκρια Cover photo: Translation from Greek: Editing: Page layout, cover composition:

Vasilis Poulimenakos vasilis67@gmail.com Christina Ioannidou christioannidou@hotmail.com Metaxia Tzimouli, Tina Moschovi maetz84@hotmail.com , tinamosch@yahoo.gr Iraklis Lampadariou www.lampadariou.eu

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To my family


Two years had not passed since Thomas was married and he had already started to feel the pressure. His family was one of the largest in the greater area of Kotronas and at that time – around 1870 – at the main villages in Mani, it was the families that dictated the future, and the gthikiomos*controlled the living. The birth of male children was the cause of real joy. His wedding was a grand celebration, but never mind. His four storey tower house, which resembled a castle with the church nearby, adjoined with his relative’s other tower houses, seemed to hang menacingly over his head and control his thoughts, like a debt. His poor, sweet Despoina by his side was a beauty. Nonetheless, she did not have much to show for as a bride but the bloody sheet, in the closed society of the Dimitroulianos family, not even a daughter to start with. Despoina seemed to be barren; for more than two years she tried with Thomas but to no avail. He took her to Gytheion to his friend and doctor, Giannis Gerakaris, but he could not heal her, as it seemed. The poor soul was achamnomeri*, none would pay any attention to her. Her family was hard working famegioi*, humble people and honest, envied by the sun, the silver lit moon and the clearest gaze of the sea. They worked in foreign fields and under the command of the Dimitroulianos family. They did well, and now enjoyed the best cut of their work. Despoina bewitched Thomas with her beauty. The moment, he saw her bringing lunch at the fields, and with the purity of her soul, without any ulterior motive on her part, she bent to his words and beauty. Her ‘first and last man’ she called him, and that is what she thought of him ever since. Her heart was filled by Thomas’ sweet talk of everlasting fidelity, by that sentimental man from Mani who was more well-read and attentive to women than words could ever say.


-I will make you Queen of the Passavas1 my only love. -On our tower you will be my lord, the crown on my head and master Everything changed two years later. She seemed not much older, still at 22. However, families, bitter-tongued sisters and sisters-in-law kept murmuring that “these things are obvious from the very beginning”. Some of them were widowed young, when the gthikiomos between the Michalolianos family and the Petropoulianos family claimed their husbands, and so their hearts turned into stone, similar to those of Kotronas and the whole Mani. Others, which remained single, taking care of disabled elders, felt a secret joy for the “worthless one”. At Sundays, in the family’s church they would not come near her, not even to say good morning. As if she had a contagious disease which would infect the other females. Thomas was not old. At 27, dark-haired just like Despoina, he was tall as a tree, over 6 feet. He had a soft spot for her, he considered her to be his haven. Before Despoina, you see he was a great lover and there was no stopping him. He used to ride his black horse and go to the harlots of Tzimova, when he did not find the bedroom door of his slave girl Persephone open. Every single one of them, the ladies and the sluts, dreamt to be his mate. A rich man, in every meaning of the word; energetic and handsome, he was a talker, and also generous. He didn’t like this situation either, not on the account of his family, but he loved children and he wanted a child with Despoina. He dreamt of her becoming a mother, the child stuck on her breast, suckling, and him carving a bright sun on its crib. Together they would raise him with honey and nuts, like a true prince.

1

Refers to the Castle of Passavas; a Frankish castle whose ruins now lie in Mani 10

kilometers from Gytheion.


But his folks and the close society pressured him. They didn’t tell him to divorce Despoina, but indirectly, they proposed a sygria* as a solution, just another woman to have his children and expand his family; make him grander in Mani with rifle-sons* and male-bearing daughters. He could keep poor Despoina as the first lady of the house. As opposed to divorcing her, it would be better for her to have another woman in the house. After all, he had the money and space to take care of them both. Thomas couldn’t even think of telling Despoina something like that, but she heard rumors, which the women spread through the slave girls. So one day, she decided to step forward and get ahead of the solution she saw coming. When she lay with Thomas, and before he began his cuddles and kisses, she spoke to him. -Do you want another woman, my husband? So she can give you male heirs for the family and not risk your patria* being wiped out? I want you to know that I understand as if I am in your place, and I have no objection. I ask for one thing only, let me find her. I do not wish my sisters-in-law to bring me someone who will be insolent and smug. She should be good at what you need from her and a nice company for me. -My sweet Despoina, I could never ask this from you. But since you can bear it, find anyone you see fit and bring her home. I will always consider you my first and loving wife. I will go for your choice only. That night, they made crazy love; they continued till dawn as if they were celebrating their last night before battle, as if they would not get another night on their own. The minute that Thomas left for the management of the property, Despoina began searching. She was really scared that they would bring her someone who would make her life a living hell, and since the custom of sygria was an unwritten law among the great families of Mani, she made the decision and thought it better to at least find her by herself and


be spared of the one they might impose on her. After all, she knew really well the families of the working class she was going to look for. It was not long after, when she found Steliani, her distant cousin from Gerolimenas, the first of five sisters, considered as trash by her father and a curse for her mother -the greatest curse of all her other sisters -Damn you, you were my firstborn and created the mould, so now I can only have females, her mother nagged every day from the minute she would wake up. She kept at it until her mother had a boy on her sixth try and stopped minding her daughters. So, at 19, Steliani had her heart wounded by her parents and one need, to leave her home to go anywhere, and never look back. So she liked Despoina’s serious proposition and left home without many objections. -Just be careful Steliani, Despoina advised. -Do not ever mention there that you are the first of five daughters, otherwise you are done. They’ll call you cursed there too, and if you leave you’ll never find a house to take you in, or a man to fertilize you. The first thing Despoina made sure of was not be seen by anyone when she took Steliani to Kotronas, with her few clothes and linen hanging in a bundle. Then she contacted Thomas. They met outside the village, and astride the horses they took her to Gytheion, to Gerakaris, to find out whether that woman was the fertile plot their male line was looking for. The doctor examined her with his tools in front of Despoina, as an experienced doctor in such things, he didn’t see anything to make him worry, but he didn’t say a word. He simply walked out, smiling. He then asked Thomas to go to the square with him, at Panagakos’ coffee shop for a drink, and let the women stroll at the new port to see the barges that come and go unloading ships. On their third raki, he served the news to Thomas. -Thomas, you know how good of a friend of mine you are, we have been together since childhood, and we graduated from the same school


over here in Saint Dimitrios. My intentions are good when I ask you, but isn’t too early to take another woman as a sygria to your house, and to Despoina? -What can I do, Giannis? I love my wife, but I also want children. Only when Despoina accepted it and urged me, only then I decided to bring the second one. So tell me, is she okay? -Listen Thomas, she seems okay, but when it comes to these things one can never say for sure who is and who isn’t okay. I examined Despoina many times and I did not find anything wrong with her, but just imagine if Steliani cannot have your children as well. -Bite your tongue Giannis, why couldn’t she? -Because dear old friend, how do I say this, many times it’s not the plot which is bad but the seed you plant to it… -What are you talking about, Gerakaris? Thomas said with rage. He suddenly stood up; his eyes flashed, his brows pursed. His hand unconsciously grabbed the hilt of the dagger in his belt. -Thomas, sit down and take your mind off the bloodshed, Gerakaris said in a low voice, calming him down. -Look, I had never agreed with your dealings with harlots. I’m your friend and a doctor, and I mean well. There is a possibility, any way you see it, but it will seem worse for the family and the village, if you are the one who cannot have children. -What do you propose then? Thomas mumbled, sweating. -Let me tell you what’s going to happen. We will make the necessary arrangements together to see the condition of your seed. If it is alright, then you will take Steliani as a sygria, and she will have your children. If it is not, then you will leave her alone, young and beautiful as she is, to find a husband. We will fight the evil to its root and you may have a child in time, but you will do so with Despoina, who adores you. Thomas accepted it. He was very disturbed and his pride was shaken. However, having read books, he found the doctor’s words reasonable. He


took the girl with him but did not touch her; he left her at his sister’s tower. Steliani sensed that something had changed since the discussion with the doctor, but did not know what exactly. Despoina, who also didn’t suspect a thing, seemed to fall in love with Thomas all over again. She considered his move as proof of the boundless love and everlasting fidelity he once promised to her. After examining him thoroughly, the doctor gave him a bottle of medicine and some herbs to drink their juice, as a precaution, that’s what he told him and Despoina. Thomas said that they were to keep him standing during the hard work of the day. After two months, Despoina suddenly felt something moving inside her and immediately realized it was her husband’s seed. When with the help of the Virgin Mary, the doctor and Steliani, their daughter was born, and the celebration which had been organized by Thomas at his castle city in Kotronas, was the grandest. It may have been the first time that Mani had seen a celebration for the birth of a female. It was also a double celebration, since that was the day when Gerakaris chose to propose to Steliani, and the musicians played till dawn. They lived happily in that corner of Mani for many years, with the beautiful little girl and the little boy, which Steliani gave to Gerakaris soon after, becoming the best of friends. They lived happily ever after…


GLOSSARY Achamnomeri: The word comes from antiquity in Mani and is usually mentioned in the lower social class. They usually lived in settlements and “low places”, near rivers and sea. Rifle-sons: Because of the feuds between families and the need for revenge, the sons were also called rifles. Gthikiomos: Revenge or vendetta, the unwritten law in Mani, where up to modern times, the official Greek police would not interfere. Patria: The name, the generation and the fortune of the family to perpetuate needed male children, and many to be born, as most of them would be lost in gthikiomos. Sygria (Mistress): The second woman, which a man with great fortune would bring to the house, when the wife could not provide children, and it was customary law in Old Mani, overcoming the objections of the Church. The word comes from “syn-graia”, in other words “syn-kyria” (plus-a lady). The only time this customary law was applied was to the Nikiliani family, one of the most famous families in Mani. Famegioi: Residents of Mani, without any significant fortune. They usually worked in foreign estates.


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“The Sygria� is a narrative written like a fairytale for adults; suitable for teenagers too. It records the harsh thinking of the people in Mani (Peloponnese, Southern Greece) around the time of 1870, it is also observed from our contemporary point of view, the custom of the sygria-mistress which was a customary law in Mani. The need, the land and the debt, exceeded any family and religious objections.

ISBN: 978-618-5147-06-8


THE SYGRIA