The Bridge of Arta is a stone bridge that crosses the Arachthos river (Αράχθος) near the city of Arta (Άρτα) in Greece. The bridge became famous from the eponymous legendary folk ballad, which is at the core about human sacrifice. From the ballad, a number of Greek proverbs and customary expressions arose, associated with interminable delays, as in the text of the ballad: "All day they built it, and in the evening it collapsed."
32937The Bridge of Arta (Το γεφύρι της Άρτας)Traditional folk ballad1914
Forty-five master builders and sixty apprentices
Were laying the foundations for a bridge over the river of Arta
They would toil at it all day, and at night it would collapse again.
The master builders lament and the apprentices weep:
"Alas for our exertions, woe to our labours,
For us to toil all day while at night it collapses!"
A bird appeared and sat on the opposite side of the river.
It did not sing like a bird, nor like a swallow,
But it sang and spoke in a human voice:
"Unless you sacrifice a human, the bridge will never stand.
And don't you sacrifice an orphan, or a stranger, or a passer-by,
But only the chief mason's beautiful wife,
Who comes late in the afternoon and brings his supper."
The chief mason hears it and falls down like dead.
He quickly sends to his wife, with the bird as his messenger:
"Let her dress slowly, change slowly, and bring the supper late,
Let her come late to cross the bridge of Arta!"
But the bird ignored it and gave her a different message:
"Hurry, dress quickly, change quickly, and bring the supper early,
Go quickly to cross the bridge of Arta!"
So she went and appeared at the end of the white lane.
The chief mason saw her and his heart broke.
From far she greeted them, and when she came near she spoke:
"Greetings, builders, and greetings to you, apprentices.
But what's wrong with the chief mason that his looks are so dark?"
"He lost his wedding ring, it fell into the first chamber.
Who'll go down there now and up again to find the ring for him?"
"Master, don't worry, I'll go myself to get it,
I'll go down there and come up again and find the ring for you."
She had hardly descended, hardly went down into it,
When she called: "Pull me up, dear, pull the chain,
I've looked everywhere but can't find anything!"
One comes with the spade and one with the mortar,
And the chief mason himself goes and throws a big stone.
"Alas for our fate, woe to our destiny!
We were three sisters, and all three star-crossed.
One of us worked on the Danube, the other on the Euphrate,
And I, the youngest, on the river of Arta.
May the bridge ever shake, as carnations shake,
And may those who cross it ever fall down, as leaves fall from trees."
"Girl, take that back, make it a different curse,
Because you have your only dear brother, lest he happen to pass by."
And so she took it back and uttered a different curse:
"When the wild mountains shake, then may the bridge shake,
And when the wild birds fall from the sky, then may those who cross it fall.
For I have a brother abroad, lest he happen to pass by."
This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.