“Battling at the name of Skanderbeg”: the literary metamorphoses of George Castriot
I take the title of this essay from the poem by Padraic Colum, entitled “Scanderbeg”, which I will be quoting in its entirety at its conclusion. Judged at least from a strictly grammatical perspective, the phrase “battling at the name of Scanderbeg” might perhaps appear to be a somewhat dubious one, but it is nonetheless serviceable enough in view of the remarks I shall be making in the following pages. As Colum’s poem recalls, the name of George Castriot Scanderbeg has in the course of the centuries been invoked by different peoples in the most disparate contexts. But as the term “alias” or “surnamed” by which the title “Scanderbeg” is often preceded suggests, that name is in some ways a deeply schizophrenic one, and this schizophrenia extends to the way in which the individual to which it refers has himself often been perceived. With its curious mixture of Albanian, Greek and Turkish elements, with its juxtaposition of the European and the Asiatic, of the pagan, the Christian, and the Moslem, the name reflects what might be described as the polymorphous quality of Scanderbeg the man, but also the fact that in many respects he is as ambiguous a figure as he is unique. This ambiguity, and the consequent ambivalence Scanderbeg has historically been capable of arousing in those contemplating his colourful but, at least in some eyes, by no means unimpeachable career as military commander and political leader, manifests itself imaginatively in the very different ways he has been treated in literature. This is nowhere more evidently the case than with
the literature of English-speaking countries, and it is this that I will be discussing in what follows.