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The Fanes' saga - Analysis of the legend

The Fanes kingdom: 3 - Dolasilla s'en va-t-en-guerre

The themes of the first part of the saga showed the rhythm, the accents and the rarefaction of a myth. We are entering now into a legend all right, a sequence of events narrated as historical, generally in more and more detail and in a more and more insistent cadence as far as we proceed. The legend now develops the theme of the archer princess, the glorious heroine of one thousand battles and the major maker of the Fanes’ military fortunes. This is, I believe, the structurally weakest part of the saga, that probably came down to us incomplete, and worse embellished and emphatized in later times under the influence of alien cultural – if not literary – imported models. However, we can recognize several very interesting passages, both concerning the modifications of the Fanes’ social structure and their historical background, and illuminating references to ancient metallurgy (the “magic” of metals).


The text in short


The king leads an expedition to Canazei in search of a silvery treasure hidden on a lake bottom, and he takes with him Dolasilla, an adolescent yet. The treasure, which was expected to have come from the Aurona, cannot be found; but in a cave nearby the Fanes find silver ingots and a small box with a piece of white skin and a grey powder. A group of dwarfs jumps out, reclaiming their properties, but the king ignores them. Dolasilla, on the contrary, gives them their box back. The dwarfs have her throw the powder in the lake, so that the hidden treasure may “blossom”, and themselves be freed from an enchantment. They give the box and the skin away to Dolasilla, so that she may have an armour built out of them. They foretell she will be an invincible warrior till her marriage, and recommend her not to enter the field if her armour should change its colour.


Archaeology has demonstrated that, in the Bronze and Iron Ages, a typical form of the cult of waters was the consacration of precious items, usually metallic, by throwing them into a stream or a lake. Therefore, in the search for a “treasure”, no better address than the bottom of a lake believed to be sacred. It’s interesting to notice that here, as well as in several other passages of the legend, the only metal being named (gold apart) is silver, reinforcing the idea that the word “silver” is just used in place of “metal”. As a matter of fact, the treasure on the lake bottom could only consist of bronze. More: generally such a treasure was composed of weapons. Here is what the Fanes’ king was really looking for in the lake: bronze weapons for his warriors, who in their great majority could be no better equipped than with stone maces and sharpened wooden poles (even flintstone, for the Fanes, had to be rather difficult to procure). “Out of the Aurona”, in this case, just means “metallic”. The treasure, however, isn’t found in the lake, but in a cave nearby. The presence of metal “ingots”, i.e. raw metal lumps ready for casting and easy to carry, gives the idea of a small treasure concealed by an itinerant smelter or merchant (this type of Bronze-Age store, called “repository”, is also well documented in archaeology).
Dolasilla is given an armour built of ermine skin and silver, that no weapon can penetrate. Out of the remaining silver, she also receives a bow, and out of what still remains several silver trumpets are built, which emit a wonderful sound. Later on, the Fanes come back to the lake and find it covered by silvery reeds, that they use to build Dolasilla a set of arrows. They are unfailing arrows, and they have a high penetrating power. In a short time, Dolasilla becomes a very skilled archer.

Two wonderful properties are attributed to Dolasilla’s “magic” arrows:
1. They have an exceptional penetrating power;
2. They are "unfailing".
Both are due to different factors. The penetrating power may probably be linked to the simple fact that their arrowheads are metallic: therefore not the bow, but the arrowheads come from the “treasure” found in the caves near the lakeshore. The swapping is probably due to the fact that in a later period metallic arrowheads must have been nothing exceptional. Remark again that not only the word “silvery”, but also “magic” is constantly used as a synonim of “metallic” (see > Background > Metallurgy). The word “unfailing” must obviously be demystified, Finding perfectly straight stems must not have been easy at all, and obviously an arrow whose stem is not perfectly straight may follow an irregular trajectory, very difficult to foresee. It is possible, then, that “unfailing” originally did not mean “that always strikes its target, even if you don’t take aim” but “that always strikes its target, if you take aim correctly”, anyway a quite relevant feature! Therefore Dolasilla’s arrows not only had a metallic arrowhead, but also a stem obtained from lake reeds, picked up in the most favourable season to find them robust and perfectly straight.


The king brings Dolasilla into battle and her unfailing arrows grant him easy victory. Dolasilla is triumphally crowned with the Raietta by her father on Plan de Corones. Years of continuous battles ensue, with great victories and large booties. After a battle against the Caiutes, Dolasilla picks up a bunch of poppies from the helm of an enemy warrior she has killed. In the night she falls into a sound sleep, during which she dreams of the warrior, who exhorts her not to fight with magic weapons any longer. She would obey the warning, but the king asserts that it’s all just nonsense.


The morale impact of even a single bowman, who strikes from a distance while you can do nothing against him, may really be devastating, specially if his enemies are unprepared and are used to fight each for his own, and not in orderly parties.
Why does Dolasilla enter the field? Her most probable motivation seems to be the will to defend her rights to the throne, for which her father has at least implicitly designated her brother. She must demonstrate being able to fight and win a battle even better than he does. As a matter of fact, after a victorious campaign the king “crowns” Dolasilla, i.e. officially designates her as heir to the throne, contradicting what he already had announced, i.e. his intention to transmit his kingdom to his son, the Eagle-prince.


Since the Fanes don’t enlarge their territory at all (they remain on their Fanes and Sennes plateaus from the beginning to the end), it is obvious that their glorious wars cannot be nothing but raids against their neighbours, apart from defence operations against their desultory backstrikes. The “inestimable treasures”, openly declared as the purpose of all military enterprises, can hardly have consisted of more than a few weapons and some bronze ornaments.
The legend is biased towards charging the Fanes’ king with all responsibilities for the tragic destiny his people will face, first of all because of his foreign policy, that may euphemistically be defined as “very aggressive”. It seems difficult to assert, however, that the king alone is to blame for that, as we remarked in the previous chapter. We shall see later that he is, everything considered, compelled to ride the tiger.
While the first raids must have been directed north (and the geographical location of Plan de Corones, that dominates the Pusteria, supports this statement), later on the Fanes must have been compelled to turn south, where several other tribes dwelled, like the Caiutes. The picture the legend is sketching (see > Essays > Populations) shows that the Fanes ended up clashing unaware against a powerful federation of populations, bound together by the Paleovenetic economical, political and cultural influence. The federation’s reaction, weak at first, will grow mightier and mightier. Since now on, the Fanes will constantly stand on the defensive.