Fanes' saga - Analysis of the legend
Trilogy of the val di Fassa
was told this country epic much earlier than he was acquainted
with the Fanes’ kingdom as such, and he never was able to
consider them as two sagas completely apart, not even when he
recognized that they had been composed in quite different times.
No doubt, he was influenced by his anxiety to demonstrate the
existence of a unitary Fassa-Ladinian tradition, that might be
also revived as a popular theater, in anti-italian function. However,
the so-called trilogy of the Fassa valley not only lives in another
world than the Fanes’, but after an accurate analysis appears
itself as the confused overlapping of remembrances that belong
to two different periods: the Roman conquest and the lombard invasion.
The tournament of Contrin
villages of the Fassa valley must defend themselves from
the raids of the “Trusani”,
who live in the basin of the Cordevole stream, and for
this purpose have instituted a regular militia: the Arimanni.
militiamen called Arimanni,
a term of Lombard origin (Heer-Mann, army-man)
are very deeply rooted into the popular tradition, but
no written confirmation of their presence in the Fassa
valley exists. This brought de
Rossi to conclude that they ceased existing earlier
than the date of the first documents that came down to
us (about 1050). Supposing that Lombards cannot have penetrated
up to the secondary valleys until some time later than
their invasion of Italy (568 A.D.), the Arimanni
might then be preliminarly dated, let us say, between
year 600 and 1000.
the town of Contrin,
so rich that it has plated the merlons of its walls with
gold, proudly believes being able to defend by itself.
Its king, named Odolghes,
is a great warrior as well as a bard. But one night the
assault the town by surprise and conquer it. Odolghes
loses one of his hands in the fight, but succeeds to escape
into the mountains. Thirty years later, the Trusani
have permanently occupied Contrin
and the king’s only surviving son has been appointed
Mayor, but he is subject to a Trusan
military governor. He is just going to marry his daughter
to the governor. Odolghes
returns, disguised as a bard, and secretly agrees with
his granddaughter to conquer the town back. She only must
obtain that the Arimanni
of Fassa are invited to a tournament on her wedding day.This
is accomplished and, at an agreed signal, Odolghes
reveals and leads the Arimanni
against the Trusani.
In the battle, the town takes fire and all its inhabitants
perish, including Odolghes
and his niece, but all the Trusani
with them. Only a small group of Arimanni
escapes. The day after, among the
smoldering ruins they find a small boy, unharmed, whom
they name Lidsanel
(from lizza, i.e. tournament).
is probably once more an archetype only, an idealized village,
imagined as older than the other villages of the valley
and richer because of its mining activities, idealized them
too.The fall of Contrin
into the Trusani’s
hands represents a noteworthy exception to their usual tactics,
“steal, rape and flee”. Not only, instead of
pillaging the town, they permanently occupy it, but they
allow it to be, at least nominally, ruled by the last survivor
of the ancient royal dinasty, albeit subject to the control
of a military governor. We also can observe a policy of
fostering mixed marriages, in an attempt to assimilate townfolk
with their new masters; an attempt that must have been fruitful,
returned into the town in disguise thirty years later to
raise a revolt, must realize that this is impossible, i.e.
that the people of Contrin
have no intention to revolt at all.This behaviour attributed
to the Trusani
cannot certainly be referred to the rough and brutal Lombards,
nor to any other people of their age. On the contrary, it
is a typical behaviour of the Romans: we can take as an
instance the Palestine of Herodes and Pilatus, that was
conquered more or less in the same period as the Dolomites.
Some Fassa traditions are explicitly referred to the times
of the Roman conquest (see also de
Rossi’s collection). Therefore two distinct and
differently dated legendary cycles, – three, if we
also count that of the Fanes proper - must have been mixed
and entangled together by Wolff
himself, or by someone else before him.
The light of the dead
remains among the Arimanni
as a drummer, and over time becomes the biggest and strongest
of them. One day, a vivena
reveals him that he is the Fanes’ king grandson,
and that he will be able to retake his kingdom if he retrieves
arrows: but he must be thrice able to repress his
most ardent desire.There is a long period of peace, during
which the Arimanni
take up robbery, so that people begin calling them “latrones”
(i.e., robbers). Eventually the militia is dissolved.
A great tournament takes place, and each village is going
to assign a prize to his most valiant warrior. The chief’s
daughter of the village of Vigo, who is sure of his beloved
superiority, has offered her hand to the prize winner.
However, the villages assign their prize to the best of
their own citizens. So Lidsanel,
a foundling who is citizen of no village, wins the tournament
but loses his prize and his beloved. He meets the vivena,
and forgets preferring the unfailing arrows to the prize
is quite curious that the official name attributed to these
militia is lombard in its origin, but the scornful nickname
that the populace would have applied to them (from 600 to
1000 A.D., when the Ladinian language already was well established!)
is a word in classical Latin. It is also important to underline
how proud the “Latrones” are of their
nickname, specially in front of their enemies. “I’m
the last of the “latrones”!”
will proudly shout to the Trusani:
of the “latrones”, not of the “Arimanni”.
It seems that the enemies themselves had been the first
to call “latrones” the Arimanni;
those enemies who are anyway described as vulgar robbers
and cattle-thieves themselves. To the same pride we can
also refer the “weird” anecdote, collected by
about the woman who, to the raven addressing her with scornful
irony, answers: “We, the Latrones, never
stole anything from anyone, but we fought for our freedom
and at least partially succeeded in preserving it”.
It really seems that each name pertains to a separate historical
period: the latrones (as partisans have often been
named in all epochs!) should just be the Fassa people of
the late Iron Age, who opposed against the Roman occupation
by waging guerrilla warfare; the Arimanni
should pertain to the Lombard period instead.
instead of disbanding, decide to migrate; but on the mounts
named Monzoni they clash with a large number of Trusani.
They light a signalling fire to ask for help, but nobody
sees it. Then they send Lidsanel
down to the valley, but when he comes back with fresh
troops the fire is still burning, but all the Arimanni
have died. Sometimes, in the darkest nights, the Monzoni
still reverberate of the bloody light of that fire.
again we have a legend used to explain an unusual natural
feature. According with its description, it is a very feeble
light, of a quite different colour from the blueish will-o’-the-wisp.
Should we talk of spontaneous self-combustion anyway? I
see no alternative, although the fire is well different
from the flame
of the vulture. Maybe it is, or better was, some hydrocarbon
gas, or natural coal, that slowly burnt to exhaustion with
a flame too weak to be observed in daylight. This detail
remains however substantially marginal to the tale structure.
We can conclude that the episode of the bloody battle where
were massacred (probably historical, and to be placed in
that same area) was just invoked later, to justify what
otherwise looked inexplicable by means of something supernatural.
The last of the "Latrones"
has remained the last survivor of the Latrones:
he can’t accept becoming a farmer, but is still
hanging around his beloved. He lives on the mountains
and in the woods, all the time just looking for a way
to meet her. He meets the vivena
instead, and again forgets the unfailing arrows for the
sake of her. One day, when the girl is on the high pastures,
launch a raid: Lidsanel
tries to defend her, but the girl gets wounded. He avows
never to use arms any longer, but she dies anyway. Lidsanel
claims her body, carries her onto the mountains and swears
terrible vengeance over the Trusani.
When the vivena,
for the third time, asks him what is he longing for, he
again forgets the unfailing arrows in favour of his vengeance,
and this way any hope to restore the Fanes’ kingdom
gets definitively lost. Being aware that a large number
are going to descend into Fassa, he organizes an ambush:
many militiamen are placed high over a narrow passage
across a steep slope deprived of any protection, and he
offers himself, unarmed, as a guide to the Trusani.
He leads them where they will be massacred, of course
dying together with them. The villages of the valley tribute
the highest honours to his body.
can easily believe that a party of Roman soldiers needed
a guide to detour the pass of Fedaia: much less that mountaineers
from Roccapietore or nearby were so badly acquainted with
the place as to run into Lidsanel’s
ambush! Therefore the episode of Lidsanel’s
glorious self-sacrifice is more credible if placed at Roman
times; it probably cost the invaders a couple of hundreds
of auxiliary troops, if not of legionaries. All the rest
of the tale, where the Trusani
are the usual robbers and rapists, seems more typical of
the lombard period.We can remark that Lidsanel’s
descendance from the Fanes plays indeed no role in the story.
makes and unmakes all by herself: had she spoken into a
wall, the result would have been quite the same, because
actions aren’t influenced at all by his claimed genealogy.
It is obvious that this is a posthumous attempt of Lidsanel’s
citizens to exhalt and ennoble the hero, whom they had despised
and kept at a distance while he was still alive.
himself must have realized that Fanes, Romans and lombards pertain
to three historical – and poetical – moments to be
kept well apart, and that in the Fassa valley the Fanes are but
the echo of legends that have their origin and their roots elsewhere;
anyway he preferred including them all into a single cycle of
sagas. If it proves quite easy separating the Fanes from the others,
both other periods are much more difficult to disentwine. Some
episodes can certainly be referred to the Roman invasion, like
the storming of Contrin
death; others to the lombard period, like the raids of the Trusani
or the expulsion of the Arimanni.
But drawing a clean separation line is not always as easy; several
episodes seem once more have likely occurred twice, conforming
to the principle that legendary figures must adhere to mythical
archetypes. Had H. de
Rossi actually written the second part of his Tales and Legends
of the Fassa valley, according to his intentions, today we would
probably know much better how to assign each character and each
event to the period it belongs.