Site map Laboratory About the author Community Links


The Fanes' saga: Myth, History and Fiction


We find in the Fanes’ legend a few themes that can certainly be traced back to a mythological background which is now almost completely lost. We also find, however, passages that may hint to the existence of a real, “historical” root of the story. All these elements melt and mix together in a fairly complex, highly emotional tale, that has been handed down to us as really occurred facts. In the previous chapters, we expurgated from the legend the various contaminations it incurred into during the course of time. We then reconstructed the environmental and cultural background within which several details - most often inadvertently - locate the Fanes and their saga. We verified that this background is coherent, is plausible, and coincides with a well-defined historical situation. The saga can therefore be tentatively dated at that time. We are allowed to conclude, with reasonable certainty, that the Fanes’ legend deals with events (real or fictitious) that, if they ever happened, must have happened in the central Dolomites at the transition between the end of the Bronze Age and the advent of the Iron Age. And now, at the end of our long-lasting analysis, we are back trying to find an answer to that intriguing, unescapable question: may it have happened for real?

It’s clear that, while our reconstruction of the legend environment can be substantiated by several evidences, - some of them only indirect, admittedly - we just have very few clues supporting the claim that the events may have really happened the way they have been described. We know from historical and archaeological data that the Dolomites before the final Bronze Age were inhabited by populations that can be described (somewhat arbitrarily) as indigenous; we know that around the end of the Bronze Age the Palaeo-Venetic culture was spreading throughout the Italian north-east, including the valleys of the southern Dolomites; last, we know that duringin the final Bronze Age the people we call Rhaetians migrated into the Alps, and we presume that they didn't settle there without fighting, at least in the Dolomites, because at about that time the pre-existing villages were razed and a long period of poverty and depopulation took place. And this is substantially all we know.
Can the story of a small, primitive-minded tribe of mountain-dwellers, who lived raising goats and plundering their neighbours and got crushed in the squeeze of newer, stronger, richer and more cultured people, fit in this picture? It obviously can; better, it fits perfectly. In its outlines, the core of the Fanes’ legend is therefore not only quite plausible, it almost looks unavoidable. But, in a rigorous context, we cannot claim more than this.

It is expedient now to approach the problem of the possible historical roots of the Fanes’ legend from a philologic point of view, investigating for what reason, or to what purpose, it might have been composed and handed down to the present days, if the narrated events had been purely fictitious.
The assumption that it might be a sheer “myth of origin” can be easily rejected because it is structured otherwise and is centered on the tale of the defeat and destruction of a people, not of its foundation. The same way, it is no myth dealing with a fabulous kingdom of a “good time bygone”: this component of course appears in the present-day saga, but it must only recently have crept into the original story, transforming into a powerful kingdom, that flourished in an undetermined golden age, what at the beginning was nothing but a small and fierce tribe of Dolomitic shepherds, well rooted within their final Bronze Age background.
We can generally add that, although the Fanes’ saga embodies passages that can be easily traced down to more ancient myths, and although there has been the tendency, in later periods, to turn it into a myth as a whole, it lacks the basic features that would allow stating that it originated as a myth. A myth in its essence is a clarifying moment of fundamental issues about life, both at individual and social level, a source of certainties, a conceptual reference point to which the whole cultural structure of a collectivity is anchored.
Myth is that of Merisana, that “explains” the basic concepts of the Anguane’s religion and gives account of mankind's happiness and unhappiness; myths are Romulus’ and Remus’ and Moltina’s, that bestow sacrality on the humble foundation of a State, respectively the Romans’ and the Fanes’; myths are [at least a part of] the fanciful Greek constructions, even when they trace the chaotic eveniences of life down to the oddities of a god or another; but what certainties, what standing points might be derived from the tale of the Fanes’ greatness, treason and defeat? No, the reason why the legend exists must be a different one.
We may then propose that it is an epic poem, composed to glorify the ancestors’ memory. Indeed, this component is also present in the saga, and it is probably one of the reasons why it survived the centuries. However, if it were just a fiction composed on that purpose, we should reasonably expect more light and less shadows, and specially a much less bitter ending; it would surely deal with the deeds of the storytellers’ ancestors themselves, not with the mishap of an extinct people of predecessors, whose survivors might at most have provided them with a marginal blood contribution.
Last, we might affirm the Fanes’ saga basically to be a literary fiction, composed for the audience's delight, apart from (partially and in unequal shares) each of the above listed motivations. In the legend we find, in effect, elements that may look fictional; but we also find several very important themes or passages where the storytellers themselves are visibly confused, and show therefore not to be fully aware of the story, or not to master it completely; to the point of making very hard to believe that the whole plot may have been constructed, instead of having been uneasily reconstructed. Paradoxically, this is the clearest philologic evidence that hints at an at least partially historical root of the saga. Let us remind the most significant passages that put in doubt that the legend text may have been completely imaginary:

- Tsicuta: according to what is told and untold about this woman and her relationship with the Fanes’ king, there is sufficient material to shape a great dramatic character. But this chance is wasted entirely. She doesn’t look like a literary fictional character, but like a real-life person whose profile embarassed the storyteller. He can’t ignore her, but he shrouds her in myth, as if he wanted to conceal, not to reveal, the real course of her life;
- the making of the shield: had this passage simply been invented, it could be quite easily arranged in a linear and rationale way (it was enough to say that the Fanes’ king ordered the shield, and later on the muscled Ey-de-Net turned up as a candidate carrier). On the contrary, we have the ill-conceived story about the smiths who build a single shield to fill both orders. Why? In my opinion, the easiest explanation is that the passage isn’t fictitious, but reconstructed by the storytellers according to the accounts of people who were unaware of a fundamental element, i.e. of the previous agreement between the king and Ey-de-Net, which had been kept secret for obvious reasons;
- the Palaeo-Venetic coalition: the list of the several peoples who rally together to destroy the Fanes may be read at first glance as the desire to exhalt the fighting valour of the defeated through the number of their foes, whose names look like being cast at random. But, if you frame the events withinf their historical background, you understand that the coalition was no casual evenience, and that the storyteller describes, from his very narrow and distorted local perspective, a sequence of events he was just unable to perceive in their real political significance;
- the king’s end: we observed that the king being turned into stone isn’t but a middle-age fictional expedient; as a consequence, just nothing of the original story remains to tell us what happened to the king before, during or after the battle on Pralongià. Were the legend a purely fictional novel, may its author have so blatantly overlooked such an important and dramatic episode of its ending? Once more, everything makes us believe that the storyteller was greatly embarassed in reporting about events that had no surviving eyewitness (or maybe no survivor was ready to talk about), and therefore was compelled to elude the topic altogether.

Therefore, the assumption that the Fanes’ legend has been completely invented by one or more storytellers seems not to withstand investigation: as a consequence, we have to admit that, at least in its outline, it may have been triggered by a core of events that actually took place. On the other hand it is obvious that, the deeper you dig into the details of the plot, the more hazardous it is to assert that any given specific event really happened, and happened exactly the way the story tells us. Just to take the most conspicuous example, there is absolutely no supporting evidence to reject the claim that Dolasilla’s character may have been strongly embellished, if not completely invented, to make the story more exciting; or better, that it was fictitiously inserted into the Fanes' legend, borrowing it from another tale: fictional in its turn, or maybe based on a root of events that really happened, but happened in a quite different time and place.
In the case that a Fanes’ kingdom really existed, as a matter of fact, a last king and a last queen must reasonably have lived, as well as a last crown princess; her conflict with a brother who tried to convert the kingdom from a female to a male lineage appears rather unavoidable. But the character of the beautiful princess who is also the ablest of the archers, however admissible (within given limits) even in her traditional context, appears more credible as the result of a commixtion with other legends or myths, maybe through the importing of allochtonous elements (the Amazons, the Balkan Samovila, Arthemis herself…) that possibly took place even before the Roman age. If this may hold true for the protagonist herself, it may also for any other character or event in the legend as well. This statement must be moderated by noticing that an overly audacious transplant would unavoidably carry along some background discrepancies that would easily be recognizable as such. Only a philologic research, delving in much more depth and carried on much more professionally than the present notes, might bring such “details” into full light: but probably the raw material required to fulfill such an analytical research has already forever dissolved in the shadows of time.

We can therefore reasonably conclude that The Fanes’ saga is probably the reconstruction of a sequence of events that actually took place at the end of the Bronze Age, but was very early intertwined with both (certainly) themes derived from a pre-existing mythology, and (quite possibly) fictional components introduced either to embellish the story, or to exhalt its protagonists, or both.