Constantine of Berat
| Saturday, 07.07.2007, 11:56 AM |  


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.


Mary Stood before the Cross

Came Saint Mary, our good Lady,
            she before the cross was standing,
She was queen of all the angels,
            she was mistress of the planet,
When she saw him nailed upon it,
            mankind's only hope and saviour,
In distress she started weeping,
            and in longing she lamented:
Oh that damned, accursed Judas,
            who did call the Jews to gather,
And they gathered and they seized you,
            like a wolf pack with no feelings,
And they took you to your trial,
            and at Pilate's court they judged you,
And false witness did they bear there,
            both to shame and denigrate you,
They defiled you, spit upon you,
            piling insults, adding beatings,
In loud voices they did clamour,
            and to Pilate: "Slay him!" ordered.
What harm have you ever done, lad,
            or what evil have you rendered
That they nailed you to this cross,
            and left you here to hang and perish?
Oh, my sweet and cherished young man,
            oh, the son I love so dearly,
How is it that you must suffer,
            all these beatings and revilements?
Both your hands and feet are blemished,
            by those cruel and heartless rivets,
And a crown of thorns they fashioned,
            and upon your head did place it,
With a lance they pierced your rib cage,
            from which flowed both blood and water.
What vile crime, oh faithless Jews,
            have you with all this gore committed?
You denied the very saviour,
            who has brought you the commandments,
No faith did you e'er store in him,
            and these torments heaped upon him,
Even though he was kind to you,
            since forever he did heal you,
Both the blind and the disabled,
            both the lame ones and the crippled.
From the dead he raised your fellows,
            that you'd see it and believe him.
Notwithstanding all his good deeds,
            you then gave him up to perish.
When you nailed him to the cross,
            the sun at once went dim and sombre,
At the same time dimmed the moonlight,
            by that venom it was poisoned.
Yet despite all he accomplished,
            he was paid with crucifixion,
Though his human form did perish,
            his divinity did flourish.
Heaven and earth did shake and tremble,
            and the rocks were burst asunder.
Why did you not ponder on it,
            so at least you might believe him?
You denied him and forsook him,
            and have faithlessly betrayed him.
Where is now Saint Peter,
            who had said that he would perish with you?
He betrayed you and fled from you,
            all alone among the others.
They took flight and left you helpless,
            in the hands of non-believers.
When you cried out: "I am thirsty",
            they prepared a cup of poison,
Gall and vinegar they mixed,
            and then into your mouth they squeezed it.
But as you have said yourself,
            son, you'll rise up, a divine being,
From the dead you will ascend,
            and all of humankind you'll succour,
Saving each one who believed you,
            for you came, were incarnated.
And for them did you turn human,
            and yet all of this you suffered,
With your blood, that sacred liquid,
            which you spilt and poured out for them,
To protect them from the devil,
            and again you did transport them
To their dear abode in heaven,
            where you placed them there before you,
That they might pray and adore you,
            in that life forever lasting.

[Zonja Shën Mëri përpara kryqësë, ca. 1780. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

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