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The Fanes' saga - Analysis of the legend

Related legends

What follows is composed of several short remarks on the legends collected by Wolff, that are no part of the Fanes cycle, but bring useful elements to the clarification of some topics we have dealt with. In brackets are the book and the page where the tale is published, with reference to the edition reported in Bibliography (MP = The Pale Mountains; AD = The Soul of the Dolomites; RB = The White Alpine Roses of the Dolomites)


The Pale Mountains (MP, p.15)
1. The spirits of the mountain: the prince meets some spirits of the mountain, whom he shows not being afraid of at all

A hint to a primitive, animistic religious sentiment, where deities are only pluralistic spirits of natural phenomena.

2. The story of the Salvans (wildmen): the Silvani ask being allowed to settle in the Dolomites. They are an ill-fated people, persecuted and enslaved in their ancient mother-country, situated in the East.



This is a very realistic story, that complies with what we know of the migratory thrusts at the end of the second millennium B:C: but it cannot be referred to the Silvani, on the contrary, it fits the Rhaetians themselves. However, the latter people didn't ask for permission to populate the central Alps, they just chased their predecessors away or into the woods. Notice that Wolff in this legend alternates the words "dwarfs" and "wildmen" as if they were completely synonymic; better, he clearly states that in his opinion "the Ladinians call Silvani (wildmen) the dwarfs who live in the woods and in the caves".


The flowers of Lagorai (MP, p.41)

1. The sacred lake: among the flowers on the Lagorai lies a lake, obviously a sacred one.


A new instance of a sacred lake, connected with the ancient cults of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Conturina MP, p.57)
1. The name "Conturina" is a lexical bridge between "Contrin" and the "Cunturines".
Of this myth, almost completely lost, what matters for our purposes is specially this name, that bridges both forms of the archetypal name of a mountain urban aggregation, and strengthens the idea that originally they have been derived from a single root. Remark that, although associated with the val Contrin of today, the name is probably once more related to a myth connected with mining (see below).

2. The girl prisoner of the mountain: Conturina has been turned into stone by her stepmother; during the first seven years she might have been freed, but now she is prisoner of the mountain forever.

Here a pale shadow of the Delibana mining myth reappears, even if it has almost been wiped away by the theme of the stepmother and stepsisters, who in their turn immediately recall Cinderella. It seems that the well-known fable of the wicked stepmother (surely not of Ladinian origin) has been arbitrarily overlapped on a persistent but fading tradition it had nothing to share with, on the purpose of giving it back a rationale whatsoever, as people was unable to remind the original any longer. Alas, of the ancient myth close to nothing remains.


The Arimanno's wife (MP, p.67)
1. An Arimanno leads a squad of peasants, and the Trusani are satisfied with killing him alone.

The military party here described (a single Arimanno leading several pesants) is contrasting with the idea that the Arimanni were a militia paid by the people of Fassa, while it fits very well with the concept that the Arimanni, the only men trained at arms and in their own right to use them, had divided the land among themselves, and therefore the troops following this Arimanno were nothing but his serfs, approximately armed and not even considered by their enemies.


The shepherd of mount Cristallo (MP, p.85)
1. The Fields of the Blessed: the shepherd Bertoldo rembers that, before being born, all "souls" dwelled in the Fields of the Blessed.

This is the only existing example, in Wolff's legend collection, of a sort of metempsychosis concept, however rudimentary, localized in the ancient Dolomites. Remark how little these "Fields of the Blessed" have to share with the christian Heaven.


The "salvaria" (MP, p.91)

1. The salvaria's [wild-woman's] people: a salvaria states "it was your ancestors who chased us onto the mountains".


This is very probably, in short, the "true" story of the Silvani (wildmen), according to what remarked as a note to "The Pale Mountains" here above.
Cadina (MP, p.103)
1. Cadina receives a magic necklace from "a dwarf from mount Latemar"
A "dwarf" from mount Latemar appears again, in connection with magic objects extracted from the underground (gems?). But this story is certainly later than the Fanes' saga.
2. The raid into the St.Pellegrino valley: the "Trusani" invade the valley and are defeated with much bloodshed by a coalition of the various tribes that inhabit it and Fassa.

This time the Trusani attack from the middle valley of the Cordevole, but it is not the Arimanni who face them, but a coalition in which it is easy to recognize a makeshift alliance of small Rhaetic tribes of the Iron Age. The Trusani, therefore, in this passage ought to be the Romans. As a matter of fact, although the legend claims that the Fassani reported a crushing victory, it appears clear that their wounded fell into the enemy's hands, what generally happens to the losers and not to the winners; The warrior Verrenes, who comes back years later after evading from captivity, cannot dwell in the village but must take to the bush (joining the "Latrones?); finally, it is stated that Cadina, the daughter of a chieftain, is sought in marriage by a "foreign prince": and this also makes me suspect that the Romans had already occupied the valley.

Merisana's wedding (MP, p.139)
1. The rei dei Raies: the "king of rays" was the sovereign of a large and splendid kingdom that stretched "behind the Antelao".

A purely mythical kingdom, that might have been inspired by the Cadubrenes, because it roughly coincides with its geographical position ("behind the Antelao"). This king appears indeed as a guest of the Lastoieres' king. Once more we have purely mythological characters overlapping with persons or tribes that might have actually lived. The "king of rays" cannot be, anyway, but an obvious personification of the Sun, and in Merisana we can easily read "Meridiana" (i.e. "pertaining to midday"; from Latin meridies, midday) through a Ladinian "Merijana". So we are in a full-size solar myth, and we may wonder whether the simple tale recounted here may just be the iceberg tip of a much more complex mythological story. In any case, it is certain that the name "Raies", that someone in Fassa had assigned to the Fanes' king (as collected by de Rossi) is nothing but a spurious reminder, an attempt to unify all kings under the same name , the same way as all warriors are named Ey-de-Net, and all sorcerers Spina-de-Mul.

2. The blue mountains of the Duranni's country: they enclose Merisana's kingdom southwards.
Apart from the geographical reference, useful to locate the "remote Pregajanis", where the Duranni live, we have the puzzle of the mythological meaning that should be assigned to this kingdom of Eden of the southern Dolomites.

3. The veil of the larch: the vegetal formation that enveloppes the tree during springtime is likened to a bridal veil.

Once again, a myth that explains a natural feature (better, two of them: the "veil" and the fact that the larch, albeit a conifer, is deciduous). Now, since when do brides wear a veil? Certainly since pre-christian times by large. The symbolic meaning of the veil seems anyway connected with a wife's status of subordination to her husband, therefore with a patriarchal society. This induces me to date the latter part of the legend at a different and later period with respect to the former, that must have been composed when matriarchate was the obvious, "natural" social ordering. According to other passages in the Fanes cycle, we might indicate the Bronze Age (or earlier) for Merisana's myth as such, and the Iron Age (or later) for that of the larch. The author of the latter must have exploited the pre-existing story of a "queen of nature" who "became a bride" to insert the details he wished to develop for purposes of his own.

Albolina (MP, p.163)
1. Albolina's father's possessions stretch over the Caiutes' country, down to Agordo.

Again a geographical clarification, that helps us in locating the Duranni more south., i.e. in the valley of Belluno.
2. The jarines: Albolina perceives ethereal, benign, white-dressed feminine creatures emerging from the waters
This might be a rather realistic image of how the (feminine) spirits, object of the cult of waters, were imagined. In this same legend we have another hint to the "spirits of mountains and water", once again a collective personification of natural entities.

3. The Bregostene: hairy women having claws (or talons) instead of their hands, however not wicked and experts of herbs.

Notice the morphological similarity with the Filadressa. They are again feminine characters, and this fact alone denotes the antiquity of the myth. The demon who escorts the dead into Hell will probably take origin from this type of images. But this will happen later: by now, the very concept of hell seems not to exist yet. In ancient Ladinian legends, the dead take better the shape of birds, or flowers, maybe in an embryonic methempsychotic theory that never developped completely, or more easily in a generic concept of death understood as a "reflow into nature".


Elba (MP, p.183)
1. The silvery lake: water had a clear and cold hue, like liquid silver, so that people spoke of a silver lump buried in its bottom. Drwarfs could be seen swimming, or climbing on its shores.

There is an evident connection between this sacred lake (notice the treasure buried in its bottom, in conformity with the known Bronze-Age rituals) and the cult of the Sun. Is the lake the "mirror" of the sky? Elba, who silently sails upon it, is the "daughter of the Sun". "Alba", or "Elba" is an ancient pre-Ladinian word meaning "cliff", that remains in several place names. But today, Ladinian uses the word "alba" as derived from the Latin "alba" (=white), with the meaning of "dawn". Indeed, Elba has nothing to do with a "cliff". She is a personification of early dawn, the silvery light that spreads noiseless on the lake of the sky, and vanishes when the sun rises: in the legend, after having been walled up, Elba dies giving birth to Soreghina ("thread of sunlight"). However, in Elba's character, who lives close to the waters of the sacred lake, we might at the same time perceive a reference to an anguana. Like the other anguana of the Croda Rossa, who presumably is Moltina's mother, Elba too gives birth to a child, Cian Bolpin, whose father is a foreigner. He is raised by his totem animal, the dog (=Cian) as his father had been by a fox (=Bolpin). More: his firstborn daughter, Soreghina, doomed to die in the darkness, is nicknamed "lujenta", i.e. "shining", just like Dolasilla's firstborn sister!


Soreghina (MP, p.191)
1. The daughter of the Sun: Soreghina, "thread of sunlight", is Elba's daughter
Behind this character, who strengthens at midday and dies when she happens to stay awake at midnight, a solar myth can be perceived, of which close to nothing unfortunately remains. In parallel with the Fanes' saga, must the lujenta Soreghina disappear into the darkness, so that Cian Bolpin may found his own dinasty? But why doesn't this take place? As a matter of fact, the parallel between Cian Bolpin's and Moltina's (or Romulus's) story stops here. The legend, as Wolff narrates it, takes at this point quite another flavour and ambientation, so that we may be induced to think being once more at the presence of two different tales that are made to overlap for the sole reason of that name, Cian Bolpin, attributed to the protagonist of both. If this is true, the fate of the original Cian Bolpin will maybe remain hidden forever. U. Kindl stresses that the second part of Cian Bolpin' story follows the plot of the Italian fable Liombruno. Notice that this name also is built out of a double (totemic?) animal, i.e. the lion and the bear (brown, it. bruno).

2. Soreghina finds the wounded Ey-de-Net, hides and heals him, and eventually they marry.

In this role Ey-de-Net (another mythical Ey-de-Net, who has little or nothing at all to share with the hero of the Fanes' saga) is probably to be seen as a lunar symbol ( the eye of the night), related, but not anthitetical, to Soreghina's solar symbol. Almost certainly, this again isn't the same Ey-de-Net who fought against Spina-de-Mul, and we perceive another commixture of two originally different myths, that overlap because of the arbitrary usage of the same archetypical warrior name.

The paintress of mount Faloria (MP, p.219)
1. The vulture-woman who steals children: the Filadressa, because of a wicked sorcery, unwillingly turns into a bird of prey who kidnaps children and takes them onto a mountain.

This legend, ambiented in the Cortina bowl, that probably had no stable villages before the Middle Age, is late both in its form and its contents. It appears plausible that the Filadressa's character, who even in her human form keeps vulture talons-shaped hands, is inspired by that of the Bregostene, who now are only interpreted as wicked witches, and therefore indirectly reconnects with a remote cult of the vulture, seen as a scavenger of both bodies and souls.


The sorcerers of the Delamis wood(MP, p.245)

1. The route: from Zoldo, the protagonist crosses the Peleghetes' country, then the Duranni's lands, to descend into the plains.


A tale that, for our purposes, is only interesting for its geographical hints. The most obvious route, keeping into account that the lower valley of the Maè stream is narrow and steep-sloped, was across the Duran pass, the lower valley of the Cordevole and the valley of Belluno. Therefore, according to this passage the Peleghetes might have lived in the same Zoldo basin and/or the area of Agordo and the Duranni the same area of Agordo and/or the valley of Belluno.


Donna Dindia (MP, p.283)
1. The first news on the gem: the Raietta should be hidden somewhere on the Gardenaccia.
As the gem hasn't been on the Gardenaccia since long, and no rationale is provided to justify why someone may have put it there, why this topographical hint? This is one of those apparently irrational details that make us suspect the existence of other, now completely lost notions. A chance (although totally to be verified) might be that the karstic plateau, in the past covered by different terrains out of which only the outstanding geological relict of Col di Sonea still remains, once allowed finding stones like the "Raietta", i.e. quartz crystals large enough to be used as arrowheads.

2. The wizard: the gem is owned by a wizard, who had offered it to the lady whose love he wished to win, but later on had it guarded by a dragon.

Assigning Spina-de-Mul's name to this wizard (what Wolff himself refrained from doing) has been accomplished on the only account of the presence of the Raietta, that in both legends appears associated with a sorcerer. But all conspicuous gems cannot but take the name of their archetype, while the wizard's actions, the properties of the gem and the whole background of the tale have nothing to share with the Fanes' period,


The enchanted foundations (AD, p.155)
1. The virgin buried alive: "Under the castle a virgin is walled up, if in the castle another virgin dies, the whole castle shall fall to ruin".

A gloomy story where, to the purpose of building a castle high on an "impossible" cliff, the owner resorts to black magic, by sacrificing a virgin who is walled up under its foundations. Full Middle Ages, then, as the whole plot confirms. But in the procedures of the sacrifice, performed by a witch who can be easily perceived as the twisting of an anguana's character, there might be an echo of the ancient rituals connected with the legends of Lujanta and the Delibana (as a matter of fact, although the castle is located in the Gardena valley, the legend was collected by Wolff in the Livinallongo.


The Antelao and the Samblana (RB, p.17)
1. The "pagans": they once owned fields and huts, but later on they were chased away and compelled into caverns and holes, until they eventually died out.
Again a reminder to the existence of a people of wildmen: but this time the story is being told in a Christian period, the Silvani have become "pagans" and they died out (although someone believes that still nowadays, during the night...)

2. The pale mountains: at Serdes they said that the cliffs had been whitened "by wildmen's hands"

The myth of the "pale mountains" appears again, and probably can be directly reconnected with the better known one, but this time the work is ascribed not to fresh immigrants, but more properly to those wildmen who had been chased into the woods.


Bedoyela (RB, p.27)
1. The last Arimanno: interesting to remark that Loogut, "the last of the Arimanni", is still a pagan.

The christianization of the Dolomites could be considered as complete around year 800. Therefore the Middle-Age "Arimanni" must be located shortly after that date. Remark also that "Loogut" is no Ladinian name at all, and that his father is a landowner: all these data match with the concept that the "Arimanni" were no mercenary militia, but the dominant social class composed of the lombard invaders. True, it is stated that Loogut "enlists" among the Arimanni, but this either might be a later and trivial distortion due to to the misunderstanding of the original concept of Arimanni, or only mean that the man abandons the administration of his farm to permanently join the armed company.


The last Delibana (RB, p.39)
1. The Delibana's sacrifice: it was custom that a virgin must spend (at least) seven years in the mine on mount Pore to propitiate the fertility of the irone ore vein.
The presence of this tradition in the Dolomites environment, apparently up the very recent times, positively demonstrates nothing about the meaning of the Fanes' "exchange of the twins" with marmots: however, it clarifies at least that the practice of getting into the underground powers' good graces by this type of sacrifices was not at all unknown in this part of the world.
2. The dwarfs of iron: they once were the masters of the country, but later were chased by men and compelled to take shelter into the darkest corner of the wood, worse, inside the mountain itself.

Once again the story of the chasing of the salvani is reported, although these are mining dwarfs all right.

3. The "luntjernine": small lamps, hanging from the mine ceiling, light the way

A clear reminder of the miners' oil lamps, that we already have seen appearing in the Aurona myth.
4. The rituals of the Delibana were only remebered by women: it is said that men knew nothing about them, more, that in the past women had a secret language that men couldn't even understand.
An evident hint to matriarchal regimes, where women detained both the key to the sphere of the sacred and, maybe as a consequence, the civil powers. The comparison with the "twinning with marmots" of the Fanes' queen shows an even more stringent connection if we admit that in that case also the myth dealt with a virgin's reclusion underground. The "secret language" might have been an artificially built initiatic jargon, or better an ancient extinct and forgotten language that women handed down for ritual purposes only. The hint to matriarchate dates back the origin of the Delibana myth at least to the Bronze Age, therefore confirming the date proposed for the Aurona.
The knight of the crocuses (RB, p.107)
1. Landrines and Bedoyeres: it is said that the Bedoyeres conquered the Landrines' castle, but later on they were defeated by the Fanes, who eventually destroyed their castle in turn.
Rather curious the recall of these tribes, that we have seen vanishing in the late Bronze Age, in the context of a long gloomy tale clearly ambiented in the Middle Ages. Are we once more confronting the overlapping of facts that occurred in different periods, but the homologous protagonists of which are identified in name and deeds? I don't think so: in the Middle Ages no people, who could be mistaken as the Fanes or the Landrines, had to exist any longer. It seems more reasonable to simply suspect a loss of the time reference, rather common in Middle-Age legends, according to which near and far past, chronichle history and myth, are plainly mixed together in the same cauldron.

2. Birkenleute: Wolff states here that the German name of the Bedoyeres ought to derive not from Birken, birches, but from Spirken, an obsolete word for baranci (i.e., dwarf pines) that he defines however as "tall dark pines"). From these trees the Croda dei Baranci (german: Birkenkofel) would have taken its name, and therefore the Bedoyeres must have lived in this area.


See discussion in > Themes > Peoples.
The ghost near the Dopenyole stream (RB, p.209)

1. The miller's ghost: when he was alive, he sold flour to the Latemar wildmen, who gave him in exchange pure gold extracted from the mountain.


A further legend that insists in locating mines on mount Latemar, including "wildmen" as miners.
The Silivena (RB, p.259)
1. Alpago traditions: the place was once named Silivena and was strongly linked to the town of Oderzo (to the point of being owned by it). It is said that queen Bongaya, who disappeared in a crevice with all her army after a lost battle, will reappear from the lake of Santa Croce during a new earthquake.

The Silivena was inhabited by queen Bongaya's Paghinis, who were defeated by the Laponis. Who was connected with the ancient Palaeo-Venetic center that, later on, will become the Roman Opitergium? Wolff didn't tell us, and maybe his informants didn't know as well. We might better see the Palaeo-Venetics in the "Laponis" (a name on the ethymology of which I'm unable to guess anything), supposing that the "Paghinis" were the original population, whom they defeated, organized as a matriarchate and probably devoted to chthonian rituals (remark their connection with caves and earthquakes). Notice that "Paghinis" closely reminds "pagans", from Latin "pagus", a village, a name that once didn't indicate any religion in itself, but a peasantlike style of life.


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