The Dead Brother's Song

The Dead Brother's Song (Greek: Το Τραγούδι Του Νεκρού Αδερφού, or most commonly Του Νεκρού Αδερφού) is a Greek poem, considered to be the oldest surviving dimotikó, which are traditional Greek folk songs.


The song was composed in Asia Minor in the 9th century,[1][2] during the time of the Byzantine Empire.

The Dead Brother's Song was widespread in the Greek-speaking world during the High and Late Middle Ages, as it can be seen by the many variants that have survived in various places of Greece. The song was adopted by the other Balkan literatures,[3] notably by the Bulgarian and Serbian.

In 1962, Mikis Theodorakis composed a dramatic synthesis based on The Dead Brother's Song named The Ballad of the Dead Brother which referred to the Greek Civil War and the then oppressive political situation in Greece.


It is written in the meter called Political verse, iambic decapentasyllable (15 syllables), an evolution of the ancient Greek iambic trimeter (iambic dodecasyllable). It is not known whether it was actually set to music or it was merely a poem meant to be recited, as it only survives as a text.


The main figures of the poem are Constantine and his sister Arete (which means "Virtue"), a name derived from the ancient Greek goddess Arete and the homonym for the excellent ideal. The presence of both is evident in the poem, as well as the presence of Charon. The poem is called a παραλογή (paralogē, "illogic") as its theme is supernatural, featuring a dead person resurrecting for some time to fulfil an oath, and birds speaking with human voice. Another well-known medieval paralogē is the song of the Bridge of Arta, a bridge whose foundations would not stand unless the master builder buried his own wife within the masonry.


The "The Dead Brother's Song" has the following lyrics:

Mother with your nine sons and with your only daughter,
the precious the most beloved daughter.
She was twelve years old and the sun had not seen her.
In darkness she bathed her and without moonlight she is making her hair,
under the star and the Bringer of Light she was tying her ribbons.
They’ve sent men from Babylon to ask her as a bride,
to take Arete too far away in the foreign lands.
The eight brothers don’t want and Constantine wants.
-My mother lets give Arete as a bride to the foreign lands.
Abroad, there that I am walking, in the foreign lands that I am travelling,
And if we go abroad, not to be considered foreigners.
-You are wise Constantis, but you replied wrongly.
And if, my son, to me comes death, and if, my son, illness happens to come to me,
If bitterness or joy comes, who will go to bring her back to me?
-I quote the Heaven as judge and the Saints as witnesses,
if death happens to come, if happens to come illness,
if bitterness or joy comes, I will go to bring her to you.
And once they gave Arete as bride in the foreign lands
and years of misery and months of anger came
and death fell upon them and the nine brothers died
the mother was left all alone.
In all the graves she was crying, in all she was mourning
In front of Constantine’s grave she was pulling her hair off.
“Damn you, Constantis, and damn you a myriad times,
cause you exiled my Arete in the foreign lands!
The promise that you gave me when will you fulfil?
You quoted the Heaven as judge and the Saints as witnesses
that if bitterness or joy comes, you will go to bring her to me”.
From the myriad anathemas and the heavy curse,
the earth was shaken and Constantis came out.
He turns the cloud into horse and the stars into bridle
and the moon into companion and goes to bring her back.
He leaves the hills behind him and the mountains in front.
He finds her making her hair out, under the moonlight.
From far away he greets her and from a close distance he tells her:
-Stand up sister to leave, lets go to our mother.
-Alas, my brother, and why that time of the night?
If maybe it is cause of joy, I should wear my jewels and come
and if it is cause of bitterness, tell me that, to get dressed in black and come.
-Come Arete in our home and let it be the way you are.
He kneels the horse and makes her sit behind.
In the way they were going, little birds were singing.
They were not singing like birds, nor like swallows,
but they were only singing and saying with human voice:
“Who has seen a beautiful lady being led by the dead?”!
-Did you hear, my Constantine, what the little birds are saying?
-They are little birds and let them sing, they are little birds and let them say.
And a little further on their way other little birds are telling them:
“Isn’t pity and unfair, very strange,
the alive to walk along with the dead?”!
-Did you hear, my Constantine, what the little birds are saying?
That the alive walk along with the dead.
-It is April and they sing and May and they are nesting.
-I am afraid of you my brother and you smell frankincense.
-Last night we went far away to Saint John’s
and the priest incensed us with too much frankincense.
And even later on their way more little birds are telling them:
“Look what a miracle and evil takes place in the world,
such a beautiful delicate lady being led by the dead!”
Arete heard that again and her heart was broken.
-Did you hear, my Constantine, what the little birds are saying?
-Stop Arete talking about the birds and let them say whatever they want!
-Tell me where is your beauty and your manfulness
and your blonde hair and the beautiful moustache?
-It’s been a long time since I got ill and my hair has fallen.
Over there, near there, they arrive to the church.
He mightily hits his horse and is lost from in front of her.
And she hears the gravestone clashing, the soil buzzing.
Arete sets off and goes home by herself.
She sees her gardens leafless, the trees sickly
she sees the mint dried, the carnation turned black
she sees in front of her door grass having grown.
She finds the door locked and the keys having been taken
and the windows of the house been tightly bolted.
She knocks the door mightily, the windows are crunching.
-If you are a friend, come in, and if you are an enemy, go away
and if you are bitter Charon, I don’t have more sons
and my poor little Arete is far away in the foreign lands.
-Stand up my mother, open the door, stand up my sweet mother.
-Who is the one who knocks my door and calls me “mother”?
-Open the door, my mother, open it and it is me, your Arete.
She came down, they hugged and they both fell dead.


  1. Samuel Baud-Bovy, La chanson grecque, pp 163-174
  2. Λίνος Πολίτης, Ιστορία της Νεοελληνικής Λογοτεχνίας, Μορφωτικό Ίδρυμα Εθνικής Τραπέζης, Αθήνα, 2002, σελ. 109
  3. Λίνος Πολίτης, Ιστορία της Νεοελληνικής Λογοτεχνίας, Μορφωτικό Ίδρυμα Εθνικής Τραπέζης, Αθήνα, 2002, σελ. 110

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