Fanes' saga - Analysis of the legend
"myth of the origin": The "Croda Rossa"
“Croda Rossa” (“Red Peak”) legend, that
Wolff edited separately from the Fanes’ saga proper, although
he recognized their close connection, might look like a classic
example of a myth built to explain a natural phenomenon. However,
apart from this aspect, it represents the Fanes people’s
true “myth of the origin”, that confers a sacral significance
to their society’s fundamental institutions.
text in short
upon a time, an anguana
used to live in a cave at the feet of the mountain today
appear in several legends, widespread at least all over
the Italian North-east. They can easily be related with
similar figures present in Greek, Italic and Balkan mythologies.
morning, she greeted the rising sun, surrounded by marmots,
from the shore of a small lake. |
passages in the Dolomitic legends connect the adoration
of the Sun with the cult
of waters. As far as the marmots
are concerned, we can understand that, whatever they are
meant to be, they are assumed to recognize the anguana
as a minister of the cult they participate in.
day, a local woman called ‘Molta’,
who had moved to a foreign country, comes back with a newborn
girl, and dies at once. |
colourless character, inconsistent with its context and
more suited to a moralistic tale of Christian age, looks
like having been forcibly inserted, on the purpose to
explain why the anguana
is in the situation to raise a baby. We may suppose that,
originally, the girl must have been her natural daughter.
Later on, perhaps in the days of Counter-Reform, this
circumstance was considered as highly scandalous, because
it could easily be read as “the nun’s daughter”.
Therefore it was carefully removed by the invention of
the “fallen woman”.
adopts the girl, who grows up together with the marmots:
She learns the marmots’
customs and language, and eventually she even discovers
being able to turn herself into one of them.
passage is the fundament of the “twinning”
between the marmots
and the Fanes’ queen, that will be developped later,
and stands as the keystone of their sacred alliance with
these animals, an evident form of all-tribe
totemism somewhat similar
to that of other Italic peoples (Piceni – woodpecker,
Latini – wolf, etc.).
day, the Landrines'
prince meets Moltina
and falls in love with her. They decide to marry, against
his family’s doubts. |
religious grounds of two other peculiar institutions of
the Fanes begin being outlined, i.e. matrilinearity
and the queen’s exogamy.
Notice, however, that the first move (the prince taking
his bride to his own castle) is in the direction of patrilocality,
albeit opposed by the Landrines
themselves: but it is doomed not to work, the bride shall
go back to her mountains.
states that not only the marmots
, but also the mountain itself is sharing her happiness.
spiritual consonance with the mountain, probably related
to the next passage, will be used to explain the red hue
that the mountain will take.
her marriage, Moltina
quietly lives at the castle. Every night, she lights a bonfire
to greet her mountain. |
passage looks like hinting at a Brandopferplatz,
a ritual bonfire typical of the late Bronze and Iron Ages,
which is well documented by archaeology, specially in
the Dolomites. One may suspect, therefore, that the bonfire
actually was a ritual of adoration of the mountain ahead.
The practice of lighting ritual bonfires on mountaintops
on special occasions has persisted up to nowadays.
day several queens meet together, and each is requested
to narrate her ancestors’ story. Moltina
has none, and gets terribly ashamed. |
“meeting of queens” denotes that matriarchate
is widespread among all peoples around. Within such a
social context, we can hardly believe that the reason
shame is the lack of noble ancestors (as it would, on
the contrary, during the Middle Ages); we might better
remark that Moltina
is the only one who has given up matrilocality.
situation is rescued by a prodigy: the mountain in front
of them, sharing Moltina’s
feelings, turns purple red like her face. Moltina
takes advantage of the ensuing turmoil, turns herself
into a marmot
and flees to her mountains. Later on, her prince joins
her and, since she refuses coming back to his castle,
decides to remain with her.
now the mountain blushes.
turning into a marmot
in front of a danger might hint at a general behaviour
typical of the Fanes at the time of their origins, i.e.
that of hiding in the caves of their karstic plateaus
as soon as foes were approaching.
In any case, the final outcome is the definitive restoration
of the infringed matrilocality: Moltina’s
husband accepts settling at his wife’s home.
night they hear noise of arms. The Fanes are drilling
their troops, but they lack any skill. The prince accepts
to train them and then leads them into battle; he carries
off victory and is nominated King.
last fundamental institution now appears: the role of
the king as a mere army chief (dux bellorum).
Probably, the legend is also stressing that the Fanes
over time did acquire the military skills they initially
were completely lacking (= the “marmots”).
prince builds a stronghold
and has a marmot
painted as an emblem on its walls. The Fanes’ royal
dinasty will descend from Moltina
and himself; the anguana
foretells their glory and greatness. But the Croda
Rossa will remain red forever. |
their original area of Sennes/Fosses,
where we first found them, the Fanes spread over time onto
the Alpe di Fanes proper, “from the wall of the Vanna
to the indented peaks of the Bedoyeres
a group of karstic plateaus less than 150 km² wide,
at altitudes mostly comprised between 1900 and 2500 meters
When the legend states that the stronghold is the work of
husband, it probably condenses the labour of generations
into the hands of a single man. But the myth requires the
Fanes’ “town” to be personally founded
by the dinasty founder’s husband.
actually is the Fanes’ “myth of the origin”,
that outlines with full coherence a social and religious ordering
based on animistic
that are well known to anthropologists for having been observed
and studied in several different populations. Its presence in
(almost) mediterranean Europe allows us to sustain its antiquity,
although in the relative isolation of the Alps we cannot rule
out the persistance of some archaisms even in relatively late
periods. What we just said, however, can hardly live together
with the theme of the blushing mountain.
every culture used (and sometimes uses) myth to give an “explanation”
of any unusual natural phenomenon that could not be accounted
for otherwise. Remaining within Wolff’s
collection, this type of myth is central to several other well
known ladinian legends, from the “Pale
Mountains” themselves to king Laurin’s Enrosadüra
("pink alpenglow"), from the icy heart of mount Antelao
to the lake of the Rainbow: all legends that have little or nothing
to share with the Fanes.
On the contrary, in the Fanes’ saga this form of myth will
reappear just once, and again with all features of a late interpolation,
unrelated to its context and demonstrably attached fictitiously
(i.e., the king
turned into stone). We can safely propose, therefore, that
myths of this type pertain to different cultural layers, which
are later than the first composition of the Fanes’ saga.
A case very similar to the “Croda
Rossa” can be observed in “Merisana’s
wedding”, where the fable about the origin of the larch
is forcibly appended to a myth of much greater depth and antiquity.
can conclude, therefore, that the original version of the myth
credibly contained no reference to the colour of the mountain;
story, in any case, “holds” even if that theme is
completely removed. It may be however interesting to remark that,
in order to “explain” the origin of the red hue of
the peak, the author of the interpolation made no reference to
a blood shedding, e.g. a battle, as we might have expected, but
to a blushing face. The theme of “Moltina’s
shame” must therefore have already been well known and precisely
localized: we can reasonably presume that it was an established
part of the original legend, although not related at all to the
lack of quarters of nobility, as the version that was handed down
to us says, but rather to the violated matrilocality.
a conclusion, the antiquity of the story is supported by several
details that directly refer to proto-historical times and that
in a later epoch would have been just unthinkable (e.g. the matriarchate,
the cult of waters
and of the Sun, the totemism,
details whose real meaning has been forgotten for centuries and
can only be understood again nowadays, in the light of relatively
recent archaeological and anthropological researches.
The myth about the colour of the Red Peak (that closely resembles
Mountains” structure) was only later overlapped on the
“myth of the origin”; at the same time, its protagonist
was given a name, by the way a god’s name; much later still,
perhaps during the Middle Ages, both the reason of Moltina’s
shame and her mother’s identity were radically changed.
We can also retrieve, scattered all over the story, several references
to medieval court and military daily life; but these are just
facade details and may have been added as embellishments by quite
recent storytellers, if not by Wolff
Having cleaned them out, the story appears, in its description
of the environment (of course not in its plot!) a rich source
of original data, almost certainly trustworthy.
must also notice that the sheer existence of this “myth
of origin” represents by itself a significant clue to the
fact that a “Fanes people” may have existed for real.
It is hard to believe, as a matter of fact, that posterity may
have conceived such an archaic socio-cultural structure, had not
its memory been explicitly preserved; furthermore, the act of
condensing all this into a myth of origin may only have been meaningful
in the eyes of the actual possessors of that culture.