Site map Laboratory About the author Community Links


The Fanes' saga - Analysis of the legend

The Trilogy of the val di Fassa


Wolff 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 text in short


1. The tournament of Contrin


The 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.


These 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.


Only 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 Trusani 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).


Contrin 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, since Odolghes, 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.

2. The light of the dead


Lidsanel 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 the unfailing 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 Lidsanel’s 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 of Vigo.


It 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”!” Lidsanel 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 de Rossi, 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.

The Arimanni, 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.


Here 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 the Arimanni 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.

3. The last of the "Latrones"


Lidsanel 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, the Trusani 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 of Trusani 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.


We 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. The vivena makes and unmakes all by herself: had she spoken into a wall, the result would have been quite the same, because Lidsanel’s 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.


Wolff 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 or Lidsanel’s 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.