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The Fanes’ saga – The legend evolution

If we apply the methods proposed in > Researches > Method, we can formulate the working hypothesis (on which, admittedly, there is no conclusive evidence) that at the root of the Fanes’ saga there may be an historical course of events that took place in reality. Should this hold true, the core around which the legend was composed must have certainly been represented by the witness of the few Fanes who survived the massacre. Even if the queen was one of these, she clearly didn’t contribute to the tale by providing the many restricted or even personal details she must have been acquainted of, specially as far as the last days of the kingdom are concerned, and therefore the last events remain rather obscure. On the other hand, it’s rather probable (as the legend itself affirms) that few or none of the men fit to bear arms survived, and therefore the tale was compiled by people who substantially were of the same opinions as the queen, i.e. “marmot-oriented”. For this reason also, all the story was narrated so as to cast shadow on the “glory” acquired by the “vultures”. It is even too natural that the storytellers did all what they could to show the Fanes people in their best aspect and to throw all the blame and all the shame on the foreign king, liar and traitor, sole responsible of the tragedy. This latter’s end must have remained a secret, known to very few people, probably all of them dead yet; it is evident that the very first storytellers were in trouble not only to reconstruct what really had happened to him, but also the events that occurred during “council of the crown” (?) in the course of which his fate must have been decided. In any case, we can take for granted that something like that must have taken place, and that some gossip must have leaked out, or we wouldn’t have now both versions, that of the betrayal for the sake of love and that of the betrayal for greediness of the Aurona’s wealth: both versions much distorted, but traceable to hear-says of accusations really uttered during a high-pitched top secret debate.
It is probable that the story was integrated by contributions brought by people who had collected at least summary information in the enemy field also, or we would know nothing of the missed rendez-vous between Ey-de-Net and Dolasilla, nor of Tsicuta, nor of Spina-de-Mul’s diplomatic manoeuvres.
We can also suppose that, at first, the narration was limited to the last days of the kingdom, but was quickly extended back down to the wedding of the last royal couple, and that the flattening process of the social and cultural modifications by condensing them into symbolic individual vicissitudes, started from here.
Finally, we can suppose that, at that time, myths such as Moltina’s, the Aurona’s, Spina-de-Mul’s initiatic tale, the Sun’s Children’s and Merisana’s, already were well established and generally known, although there was no special reason to tell them in function of or in connection with the story of the end of the Fanes’ kingdom.

The first cultural transition the legend had to go through was undoubtedly the consequence of the last Fanes descendants’ blending with the Rhaetian farmers: a fact that cannot but have happened, or nobody would have been able to hand the story down to nowadays. Probably this occurred during the first century after the end of the kingdom, because the climate was worsening rather quickly. We can reasonably suppose that the last Fanes mixed with the Rhaetians who had settled in the nearest valleys, therefore in Badia and Marebbe. It follows that the most trustworthy tradition, the richest in original details, should be found in these areas: of course the possible variants that may be located elsewhere (e.g. in the Fassa valley) are not to be considered as deprived of any interest or trustworthyness, but they surely underwent at least one transition more, and we can expect that something has gone lost, mixed, or confused in the passage.
It is very probable that the tradition handover to the Rhaetians started the process of gradual misunderstanding, if not the oblivion, of the ethnological features of the Fanes society and that the legend described by allegories, I mean those concerning matriarchate and its crisis, as well as the mystic and ritualistic significance of the “alliances” and of the exchanges of twins. Some other essential modifications may also be dated to this period: on one hand the addition of the final scenes, with which the concrete hopes of a kingdom restoration, definitely dissolved yet, fade away into a remote and abstract promise of redemption; on the other hand the overlap of Spina-de-Mul’s and Ey-de-Net’s figures with the older mythical characters.

A second obvious transition occurred at the Romans’ arrival, at the beginning of our era, and the transformation of the rhaetic language into the Romance tongue that will later be named “Ladinian”. This tongue probably was used as a spoken language immediately, while Latin proper was used – in the rare cases when it could be useful – as a learned language. In this period we might date the translations and transliterations of the proper nouns, of persons, of peoples and of places; this way we probably lost both the unitary picture of the populations adhering to the Palaeo-Venetic coalition and many or all the original names of the protagonists. At the same time, some reminders of classic mythology may have been introduced, like Arthemis’ silvery bow, and the hints at certain divinatory practices of which we don’t know if they were performed in former times.

We don’t know for sure how much the inner Dolomitic valleys have been directly involved in the bavarian, frank and lombard invasions, although it is probable they they only marginally were, on one hand because of their being out of the main routes, on the other because at their end their rhaeto-romansh dialect will be named “Ladinian”, i.e. “latin”: therefore, an island of relinquished Romanity in a sea of non-latins. The last cultural transition must have happened with the advent of Christendom, that occurred much later than it did in the plains. It probably began before, but was completed only after the end of the Empire, even after the invasions period. Since here, a long period of substantial stasis ensued, or at most of slow cultural modifications, with basically no sudden significant change with the possible exception of Counter-Reform (the Council of Trento, that took place only few miles away from the Ladinian valleys, was felt as a significant event that “swept away the witches from the woods”). The process of legend degradation took place slowly and prevalently involved only secondary topics, all considered. Among these we can certainly quote the whole loss of the meaning of the details connected with the Bronze-Age cults and metallurgy (that, on the contrary, during the Iron Age ought to have remained rather clear and understandable to the storytellers). At the same time a few Middle-Ages elements must have been introduced, like castles, horses and spells, that cannot anyway impair the tale structure. It’s interesting, on the contrary, to remark how little the legend was contaminated by christian religious, or sorcerous, or demoniac elements: “modernisms” that one might have expected, but from which, instead, the legend remained substantially immune. A sign, probably, that at that time it already was felt as an important, not-to-be-touched cultural heritage from a remote past. The only really relevant retouch must have been the obviously forcible insertion of the “Eagle-prince” story, where it is clear that the compiler had no longer the slightest idea of the original meaning of the theme, and worked with fantasy by introducing elements and concepts of medieval coinage, maybe also taking inspiration from a different narrative thread that might have
separatedly existed already.
Lidsanel’s Fassa epic was composed apart, by mixing together two historical episodes separated by several centuries; it seems very probable, however, that the story of the Fanes kingdom was actually kept separated from it, and that, while telling of the partisan hero, the storytellers just added, as his posthumous glorification, that he was“the ancient Fanes’ heir”.

This period can be told to have lasted up to the XIX century: the attempts to culturally colonize the Ladinians, at the hands of the Austrians earlier and of the Italians later, but mostly the advent of literacy, almost completely destroyed what little was remaining of the ancient tradition of storytelling, and we owe only to Wolff’s meritory work that something has remained to discuss and dream upon yet.
As far as the manipulations of the tale introduced by the latter Author are concerned, obviously we would know better if he had been able to refrain from them: but my impression is that, at least for the reconstruction of the original legend, his distorting filter is relatively easy to remove, mostly because it is so close to us that we can well understand the components that make it up. Ulrike Kindl’s work is essential for this purpose too.