The Cretan's close relationship to music and dancing can be traced back to the beginning of the history and the myths of the island. In one of the most famous myths, that of the "Kourites" for example it is described that the Kourites, the guardians of the infant Zeus, danced while they beat their shields in order to cover up the infant's crying.
Furthermore historical testimonies give evidence of this relationship as well as pieces of art such as the well-known sarcophagus from Aghia Triada, on which for the first time a lyre with seven cords is depicted. With respect to the same issue Homer mentioned the shield of Achilles, which was ornamented with pictures displaying revelry at Knossos. All these testimonies give an exact description of the geographical area where music and dancing were of major importance in every event of people's life, as for example in the event of religious ceremonies, entertainment, birth, marriage, death and even war.
The basic instrument of Cretan music, the Cretan lyre, first made its appearance in the 17th century, while the art of playing the lyre became common practice from the 18th century. Of course the initial shape of the instrument was rather different from that of the lyre of modern times, which the Rethymno citizen Manolis Stagakis built in 1940. The lyre, which is in the shape of a pear as it has always been, was first accompanied by the "boulgari" and only later by the "laouto", the lute, which is still used today.
Both the sound and shape of the Cretan lyre and the traditional songs were improved after World War II; undoubtedly the lyre players of Rethymno played an important role in this development.
During that period Kostas Mountakis and Thanassis Skordalos, both citizens of Rethymno, were the lyre players to blaze the trail for a worldwide recognition of the traditional Cretan music in the following decades. On a similar line other competent artists of that time as well as of previous years such as Manolis Lagos, Andreas Rodinos and Stelios Foustalieris, the latter performing mainly on the "boulgari", helped to establish Cretan traditional music.
Thus to the music of the lyre, the laouto and occasionally of the violin and the guitar the musicians sing "mantinades", which are mainly amorous compositions arranged in couplets.
Apart from the mantinades, the "rizitika", which are slow songs of narrative character, are also a widespread variety of Cretan music. Their main subjects are marriage, death, historical events, heroic characters etc.Closely connected to the traditional music and songs as they developed in the course of time was the art of dancing, which the Cretans and particularly the people from Rethymno, who were distinguished by their gallantry, improved to a large degree.
The roots of Cretan dances date back to Minoan times. Contrary to the "syrtos", which is danced in a large circle, the "sousta" is danced by couples. It is an erotic and vigorous dance, which is danced almost on the tip of the toes.
Traditional dances, during which men and women wear the superb Cretan costumes, include slow and swift rhythms, however both varieties always show dynamic and imposing postures.
Their direct relationship to dances of war becomes evident particularly if they are danced in a circle by a group of men. Following the rhythm of the lyre the dancers gradually improve their technique while they perform the difficult steps of the basic dances such as the 'Pentozalis, the 'Syrtos' and the 'Pidichtos'. The dancer who leads the circle, usually a man, is supported by the right hand of the second dancer and is thus able to perform excellent leaps, the so-called "tsalimia".
Rodinos and Baxevanis, the legendary duo.
The statue of Kostas Mountakis in a central square of Rethymno