1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Digenes Acritas, Basilius

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DIGENES ACRITAS, BASILIUS, Byzantine national hero, probably lived in the 10th century. He is named Digenes (of double birth) as the son of a Moslem father and a Christian mother; Acritas (ἄκρα, frontier, boundary), as one of the frontier guards of the empire, corresponding to the Roman milites limitanei. The chief duty of these acritae consisted in repelling Moslem inroads and the raids of the apelatae (cattle-lifters), brigands who may be compared with the more modern Klephts. The original Digenes epic is lost, but four poems are extant, in which the different incidents of the legend have been worked up by different hands. The first of these consists of about 4000 lines, written in the so-called “political” metre, and was discovered in the latter part of the 19th century, in a 16th-century MS., at Trebizond; the other three MSS. were found at Grotta Ferrata, Andros and Oxford. The poem, which has been compared with the Chanson de Roland and the Romance of the Cid, undoubtedly contains a kernel of fact, although it cannot be regarded as in any sense an historical record. The scene of action is laid in Cappadocia and the district of the Euphrates.

Editions of the Trebizond MS. by C. Sathas and E. Legrand in the Collection des monuments pour servir à l’étude de la langue néohellénique, new series, vi. (1875), and by S. Joannides (Constantinople, 1887). See monographs by A. Luber (Salzburg, 1885) and G. Wartenberg (Berlin, 1897). Full information will be found in C. Krumbacher’s Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur, p. 827 (2nd ed., 1897); see also G. Schlumberger, L’Épopée Byzantine à la fin du dixième siècle (1897).