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The Fanes' saga - Short essays

The salvans (wildmen)

We met salvani and salvarie in several passages of the legend. It is convenient to remind how the Fanes legend shows them, keeping in mind that Wolff here means salvani every time he mentions dwarfs, or salvans, or silvani, if male, and salvare, or salvarie, or salvarghes, if female:

- they can be met basically anywhere; within the Fanes cycle, we find them in the Badia and Fassa valleys only (notice: both valleys in the Fanes' legend, silvani apart, appear unpopulated, but in both archaeological remains are known from the middle and recent Bronze Age up);
- they live in the woods and among the cliffs, isolated or in small groups, and usually avoid encounters with people;
- they show a benign attitude towards the Fanes, and specially towards Ey-de-Net;
- their women usually collect woodberries;
- they profess the cult of waters;
- they are in close and friendly terms with the anguane;
- some of them are expert miners and smelters who work "in the hollow of the mountains".

It may be useful broadening our scope shortly, like we did in the case of the anguane, and consider what is told about them in the whole body of the Dolomitic legends collected by Wolff and de Rossi:

- The silvani lived very miserably, in familiar groups numbering from 6 to 10 people (KFW, i selvaggi del Latemar [the wildmen of mount Latemar]);
- They migrated from an eastern country and contented themselves with living in the woods (KFW, I monti pallidi [The Pale Mountains]);
- The silvani once lived in the valleys, but were chased onto the mountains by the advance of men (KFW, La salvaria [The wildwoman]);
- the Iron Dwarfs once were the lords of the country, but men chased them into the caves (KFW, La Delibana);
- East of mount Pelmo there is a "pagans' cemetery"; the relevant hamlet was located near the shore of the "lake of the onions" (KFW, L'Antelao e la Samblana [The Antelao and the Samblana]);
- They are miner dwarfs like in the German fables (KFW, Il Rosengarten);
- An old wise wildman can see the future in a quartz crystal (KFW, L'usignolo del Sassolungo [The nightingale of the Sassolungo]);
- The dwarfs cumulate wealth in the woods and in the caves (KFW, La moglie dell'Arimanno [the Arimanno's wife]);

- A slim, long-bearded tiny man, two spans high, casts a curse (KFW, La moglie dell'Arimanno [the Arimanno's wife]);

- The salvarie collect strawberries (KFW, La salvaria [The wildwoman]);
- A salvaria marries a man and is a good wife, but is compelled to vanish away when her name is pronounced (KFW, La salvaria [The wildwoman]);
- A dwarf from mount Latemar donates Cadina a magic necklace (KFW, Cadina);
- The dwarfs admire a roll of cloth; after having accepted the dress made out of it, they cannot come back again (KFW, Il genio del torrente [The stream's genius]);
- The wildman originally was a blacksmith (KFW, Il selvaggio di Pontives [The wildman of Pontives]);
- The dwarfs' jobs are metalworking and gardening (KFW, Le rose del ricordo [The roses of remembrance]):
- A miller used to sell flour to the wildmen of mount Latemar, who paid him in gold (KFW, Il fantasma del torrente Dopenyole [The ghost near the Dopenyole stream]);
- A wildman is set free when he receives a dress as a gift (KFW, Il selvaggio di Pontives [The wildman of Pontives]);
- A dwarf wants a red dress and makes a spring gush out (KFW, Il canto fatale [The fatal song]);
- A salvano gives away to Donna Dindia the magic (and ill-spelled) mirror he retrieved from the bottom of the Green Lake (KFW, Donna Dindia);
- A dwarf needs an axe and gets it because he knows better than the Devil (KFW, Seelaus);
- The dwarfs give away a magic pan that fills itself of food, but when they are offended they take it back (KFW, La padella [The pan]);
- The salvano is the bregostana's husband; he awards or punishes according to a good- or bad-mannered behaviour (HdR, Il salvan e la figliastra [The wildman and the stepdaughter]);
- The salvano is fully covered with hair, wears a big beard and is dressed with vegetals. He utters nonsense and accepts gifts (HdR, A proposito del salvan [About the wildman].

We can, better we must, object that wildmen are a tradition at home over half Europe, if not all, and we can find their traces over an area much wider than that involved in the Rhaetic migrations (myself, although I never performed any specific research, by sheer chance found unmistakable clues of their "presence" from Slovenia to Anjou, from the Valtellina to the Apuan Alps). The wildmen are normally described as hairy people, irritable but basically benevolent, who live shy and lonely in the woods, but taught humans how to make cheese and maybe many other things.
I don't feel prepared to discuss here thoroughly about the origin of the legends concerning the "wildmen" in the general European case. I will limit my scope to a few remarks.

At first, we can distinguish, with Palmieri (Le antiche voci dei Monti Pallidi [Ancient voices from the Pale Mountains]), the character of the salvano proper from that of the Om salvarek or Om dal bosk. The latter appears strictly related with the vegetal world, maybe the embodiment of a spirit of the wood, maybe a tree-man, wholly covered of leafy branches (strictly of lycopodium in the iconography from Rivamonte Agordino, id.). De Rossi also (Mortoi e segnai, in Mondo Ladino, 1985 n.3-4) lists the salvan and the om dal bosk as separate figures.

Coming back to the silvano as such, when can it have happened that the dominant peoples (all over Europe!) ignored the art of cheesemaking or that of farming to the point of being compelled to ask those they just had chased into the woods for lessons on the subject? Strictly speaking, never. In a broader sense, however, the situation that more-or-less "barbarian" invaders have been able or compelled to learn important cultural notions by the survivors of those people they just had swept away or destroyed, may have repeated several times. It is plausible that the memory of several similar circumstances reinforced each other like overlapping coats of paint, albeit preserving the features of the most ancient, seen as an archetype. This iteration of the remembering process may explain why the tradition lasted so long. We cannot forget, by the way, that even today people "see" wildmen in the mountains, like the himalayan yetis or the sasquatch in the Rockies. The phenomenon seems to be deeply routed in the human unconscious itself. We must also stress that the most important feature of european wildmen, i.e. their transmission to humans cultural notions essential for survival, is usually interpreted by anthropologists exclusively from a basically mythological and symbolical point of view (Kindl, Centini). I can quite easily accept this interpretation, however I believe that the legends on wildmen, so universally widespread among peoples very different from each other both ethnically and culturally, cannot represent a sheer case of collective autosuggestion and must at least partially take their origin from the re-elaboration of a core of reiterated occurrences.

If we analyse the legends collected by Wolff, and keep in mind that this Author very clearly states in "I monti pallidi" that his "dwarfs" must be considered as "salvans" under any aspect, we can remark that, while the typical cultural feature attributed to them is being hunters-gatherers, and one can find passages witnessing their special ability in picking up wildberries, on the contrary there is no genuine reference in any of the said legends that may link them with notions about agriculture or livestock raising; surprisingly enough, several passages strictly connect them with the world of mines and the practice of metalworking.

We can observe now that in the Fassa valley (where the salvaria, however, never appears) the salvan is at times displayed as the vivana's husband, at times as the bregostana's (or bregostena), although sometimes the latter is married to a bregostan or bregostegn. There are passages where some typical attributions of an anguana are linked to a silvano. It seems probable, then, that at least in this valley people made up a lot on confusion among legendary figures that originally ought to be different.

We can propose a more orderly rearrangement this way:

- the anguane should have been originally, as we already have seen, the priestess of an animistic cult of the waters (as well as of the Sun and probably of the mountains);
- we may suppose that the anguane normally didn't marry ("little or nothing is known about the vivano", de Rossi); however, if they wished, they could choose a partner and have children from him (see also Moltina's anguana); but this union was only temporary, and sooner or later they switched back to their single woman condition, sometimes without any specific reason, or at least a reason that the man could understand (hence the concept of an inexplicably broken taboo);
- chances are that the cult connected with the ritual bonfires, probably strictly related with the cult of dead (and of vultures?) was also ministered by priestesses; the hypothesis, admittedly still to be demonstrated, that the character of the bregostana, who initially ought to have been very similar to that of the anguana, may have derived from them, is far from being absurd;
- it must have occurred again and again, in the Dolomites as elsewhere, that a people of rough warriors settled in an area at the expenses of a peaceful indigenous race. It is quite plausible that the survivors of the latter took shelter "in the woods and among the cliffs". Legends report such a fact in several passages. It is also possible that, over time, in a number of cases they transmitted important cultural notions to their successors (like Indians did to the first American colonists). Chances are that several anguane actually belonged to these tribes;
- within this picture, it doesn't seem impossible that groups of miners and smiths were allowed to continue their jobs by the interested invaders, even after having been reduced to the status of "salvans". We can observe, by the way, that the Bronze-Age miners' aspect must have been quite "wild" even before they were chased "among the cliffs"!;
- it doesn't look clear up to what period anguane and salvani could physically be encountered in the Dolomitic woods. Certainly at least up to the Romans' arrival, but maybe much later, however less and less frequently. Some legend make reference to random encounters that don't look like mere phantasy at all (e.g. "The vivana chased away" by de Rossi).

It is very probable, however, that, silvani, anguane and bregostane have got mixed and confused over time, so that they became in a way interchangeable, and at the same time they were reduced to archetypes. The image of the cult ministress started overlapping with the image of the object of her cult, and therefore a part of the superhuman attributes of the latter were also spuriously attached to the former. From this mix, probably, the multiplicity of different and at times contradictory facets, with which these figures have been loaded, has derived. The advance of christendom heavily contributed to gradually shift all these figures of a past yet by large misunderstood into the sphere of myth (of the "imaginary truth", to say it with U.Kindl), as well as to force them into a devilish-angelic ambiguity that wasn't at all their own at their origins.