In his Modern Greece: A Short History, C. M. Woodhouse (1984) has a chapter devoted to the period from 1453 to 1800, to which he gives the bleak title: ‘The Dark Age of Greece’. The implications are clear enough just from the dates, but since the time that book was first published in 1968, views of, and attitudes to, the centuries of Ottoman rule over the Greek-speaking people have undergone considerable modification. A number of myths have been exploded and more subtle and variegated accounts of the period are now available, from various disciplinary perspectives. Of course Woodhouse also mentions those western-ruled regions, such as Crete, that did not fall to Ottoman rule for another one or two centuries after 1453. But as far as culture is concerned, he offers a rather one-sided view. After trotting out the familiar story of the Venetians’ oppression and exploitation of the local population of Cyprus, he goes on:
The story was clearly the same in Crete, which was in fact the one part of Greece in which apostasy to Islam took place on a considerable scale after the Turkish conquest. In both islands, however, as in the Ionian Islands and the Peloponnese, there were exceptions. The upper classes were more ready to side with the Venetian aristocracy which ruled them. At this level social and cultural relations between two Christian societies, even though they regarded each other as heretics, were possible in a way that was not possible with the Turks. It is significant that the one masterpiece of Greek literature during these centuries, the epic poem Erotokritos, was written in Crete in the 17th century by a poet with an Italian name, Vincenzo Kornaros (Cornaro).(Woodhouse 1984: 112–13)
The extent of social and cultural relations between Venetians and native Cretans was, as we now know, much greater and much more significant than Woodhouse was prepared to believe. Indeed, we can justifiably talk of a Cretan Renaissance, the outcome of a lengthy social and cultural symbiosis, which enabled the spirit, ideas and values of the Italian Renaissance to be transmitted on Cretan soil and to inspire poets, intellectuals, artists and musicians. Erotokritos was by no means the sole work of literary distinction composed in Crete in those years.