Greeks use the word “Psorokostaina” to describe misery and poverty. However, according to folk tradition, Psorokostaina was a real person — and even a heroic figure — during the Greek War of Independence.
According to the Argolikos Archival Library of History and Culture, in 1821, the town of Kidonies in Asia Minor was destroyed after a failed revolutionary movement, and its population was slaughtered.
Those few who survived the Turks left their beautiful town to go to the island of Psara.
Panoraia Chatzikosta, a beautiful lady having a large fortune, managed to save herself from the destruction. A sailor helped her into a boat which took her to the small island of Psara.
Panoraia Chatzikosta, also called “Psarokostaina” or “Psorokostaina,” after the island she fled to, saw her husband and children killed in front of her very eyes by the Turks.
In Psara, where she found herself destitute and all alone, she was helped and protected mainly by Benjamin of Lesvos, a professor at the Academy of Kydonies.
Panoraia soon left Psara and went to Nafplio, the capital of Greece at the time, along with Benjamin, who also went to live there.
At first all went well, and she was able to live as his household servant. The professor and philosopher gave lessons to make a living in Nafplio.
But in August of 1824, Benjamin of Lesvos tragically died of typhus.
Psorokostaina taking care of orphans
After his death, Panoraia worked as a porter and a washerwoman, while she eked out a living while receiving charity from the people of Nafplio.
During the years of the Greek Revolution, there was understandably an increasing number of orphans in the country, and many were sent to Nafplio.
Despite her problems, Panoraia asked to care for some of the children, and soon took several orphans under her protection. She went from house to house begging in order to feed her frowning brood of children.
In 1826, a fundraiser took place in Nafplio for the area of Missolonghi, the site of a great battle in the War.
But because of the general poverty of the Greek people at the time, there was very little raised for suffering Missolonghi.
Suddenly, the poorest woman of all, the widow called Chatzikostaina and Panoraia, took off the silver ring she was wearing, and laid it with one coin on the table that the fundraising committee had set up in the square of the city.
But this was only the beginning. After seeing the incredible sacrifice of the impoverished widow, everyone began approaching the table, and it was soon covered with silverware and coins.
Psorokostaina did not only give concrete lessons of patriotism, but of humanity as well, since she shared her little income with the fighters’ orphaned children after herself suffering the worst misfortunes that life had to offer.
When Ioannis Kapodistrias founded an orphanage in Nafplio, she offered to wash the children’s clothes for no pay at all.
She died several months after the institution was opened and at her funeral, her coffin was accompanied by the children of the orphanage.