Fanes' saga - A summary of the legend
Fanes' saga may not be widely known to the general public. In
order to make clear what's this all about, I'm adding here a short
summary of the legend, together with an essential introduction
and a few final notes about its interpretation.
Fanes' saga is a Ladinian tradition. Ladinians are a small (35,000
people) ethnical minority who live in the central valleys of the
a wonderful mountain area on the Italian side of the eastern Alps.
They are believed to be the descendants of a population that formerly
inhabited most of the Alps, whom Romans called Rhaetians, and
have been fragmented and squeezed by the opposite push of Germans
from the North and Italians from the South. They speak Ladinian,
a neo-latin language, different from Italian, similar to the idioms
spoken in the Swiss Grisons and in the Italian Friuli.
Ladinian traditions were only preserved by oral transmission until
the end of the XIX century. At that time they had long been badly
neglected and were on the verge of slipping into oblivion forever.
The German-speaking writer Karl
Felix Wolff, author of the Dolomitensagen (Dolomitic
Legends) spent several years on the field in his strenuous effort
to collect, refurbish and reassemble all dismembered pieces of
legend that he could retrieve. Unfortunately, Wolff was moved
by an artistic better than by a scientific purpose, so that it
is often difficult today to separate his well-intended "restoration"
interventions by the genuine ancient Ladinian tradition.
Fanes' legend talks of a population that - in times so remote
that the Ladinians themselves can just define "older"
than all their other legends - lived on the high-altitude karstic
plateaus between Cortina d'Ampezzo, east, and the val Badia, west.
Indeed, the Fanes' legend is different from all other
Ladinian legends: it's longer, it's structured as an epic cycle,
and its contents are mostly quite unusual. The summary here below
basically follows Wolff's version, with the exception that the
epos of Lidsanel, that was inserted by Wolff but clearly has nothing
to do with the Fanes, has been removed off.
"myth of the origins"
upon a time, an anguana
used to live in a cave at the feet of the mountain today named
Rossa” (=Red Peak). Every
morning, surrounded by marmots, she greeted the rising sun from
the shore of a small lake. One day, a local woman comes back from
a foreign country with a newborn girl, and dies at once. The anguana
adopts the girl, who grows up together with the marmots: Moltina.
She learns the marmots’ customs and language, and eventually
she even gets able to turn herself into one. A foreign prince
meets Moltina and falls in love with her. They decide to marry,
against his family’s doubts. Moltina states that not only
the marmots , but also the mountain itself is sharing her happiness.
After her marriage, Moltina quietly lives at the castle. One day
several queens meet together, and each is requested to narrate
her ancestors’ story. Moltina has none, and gets terribly
ashamed.The situation is rescued by a prodigy: the mountain in
front, sharing Moltina’s feelings, turns purple red like
her face. Moltina turns herself into a marmot and flees to her
mountains. Later on, her husband decides to live at her home.
One night, they hear the Fanes drilling their unskilled troops.
The prince accepts to train them, leads them into battle, carries
off victory and is nominated King. He builds a stronghold
a marmot painted as an emblem on its walls. The Fanes’ royal
dinasty will descend from the couple; the anguana
foretells their glory and greatness. But the Croda
Rossa will remain red forever.
years later, the Crown Princess of the Fanes’ dinasty marries
a foreign prince, but she dares not reveal him, as she should,
of the “secret alliance” between the Fanes and the
marmots. The king meets a fierce eagle
who actually is the king of a remote island, inhabited by single-armed
men; both kings agree upon a new secret alliance, that must be
consecrated by an “exchange of twins”. The king keeps
it secret to everyone, his wife included.The Fanes’ queen
gives birth to a couple of twin girls, named Lujanta and Dolasilla.
The next morning, however, Lujanta has disappeared, replaced by
a white baby marmot. The king is left unaware of the exchange.
A short time later, he orders a servant to bring the twins to
the eagle, so that he can choose one of them. The queen is informed
and makes it so that the servant can’t discover that one
of the twins actually is a marmot. The eagle chooses the marmot,
but she escapes and disappears in a crevice. Some time later,
the eagle brings to the Fanes’ king a young eagle, his son,
in order to fulfil the second “exchange of twins”.
The king loses him, but when he comes back to his castle he finds
that a single-armed baby prince has been delivered by the queen.
The king is delighted and has the marmot, that was painted
on the castle walls, replaced by an eagle.
boy who wishes to become a warrior arrives at the borders of the
Fanes’ territory at dusk. Not far away a servant, who is
coming back with the baby Dolasilla from having met with the eagle,
is assailed by a powerful sorcerer, Spina-de-Mul (i.e.: mule-skeleton).
who can assume the aspect of a half-rotten mule carcass and cannot
be wounded by weapons. The boy attacks him in the darkness, repeatedly
hitting him with stones, puts him to flight and eventually knocks
him down. Then the sorcerer, subdued, names him “Ey-de-Net”
(i.e. “Night-Eye”) and walks away. Ey-de-Net finds
a splendid gem (the "Raietta")
that the sorcerer had lost in combat, but gives it away to Dolasilla
to stop her from crying.
upon a time, under the ridge of mount Padon,
there was a golden gate, locked all the time, that was the entrance
to the country of Aurona,
whose inhabitants had forever renounced to sunlight on the purpose
to amass an enormous wealth in gold and gems. One day, a little
hole opens up in the ceiling, and through it an old man can admire
the beautiful outside world; but he gets blinded by sunlight.
So the hole is hastily closed, but everyone is now craving for
getting out, specially the princess, who spends long hours weeping
just behind the gate. The young king of Contrin
passes by and, in order to free her, pounds the golden gate with
his sword seven days long, until he breaks in. He marries the
girl, disregarding all other wealths; but the tip of his sword
remains shining with the gate’s gold, so that the hero is
nicknamed Sabja de Fek (Sword of Fire). The inhabitants
of the Aurona
scatter all over the world and the entrance to the underground
kingdom gets forgotten and is eventually buried by landslides.
Dolasilla goes to war
Fanes' king leads an expedition in search of a silvery treasure
hidden on a lake bottom, and he takes with him Dolasilla, an adolescent
yet. The treasure, which was expected to come from the Aurona,
cannot be found; but in a cave nearby the Fanes find silver ingots
and a small box with a piece of white skin and a grey powder.
A group of dwarfs
jumps out, reclaiming their properties, but the king ignores them.
Dolasilla, on the contrary, gives them their box back. The dwarfs
have her throw the powder in the lake, so that the hidden treasure
may “blossom”, and themselves be freed from an enchantment.
They give the box and the skin away to Dolasilla, so that she
may have an armour built out of them. They foretell she will be
an invincible warrior till her marriage, and recommend her not
to enter the field if her armour should change its colour. Dolasilla
is given an armour built of ermine skin and silver, that no weapon
can penetrate. Out of the remaining silver, she also gets a bow,
and out of what still remains several wonderful silver trumpets
are built. Later on, the Fanes come back to the lake and find
it covered by silvery reeds, that they use to build Dolasilla
a set of arrows. They are unfailing arrows, and they have a high
penetrating power. In a short time, Dolasilla becomes a very skilled
archer. The king brings Dolasilla into battle and her unfailing
arrows grant him easy victories. Dolasilla is triumphally crowned
with the Raietta by
her father on Plan
de Corones. Years of continuous battles ensue, with great
victories and large booties. After a battle, Dolasilla picks up
a bunch of poppies from the helm of an enemy warrior she has killed.
In the night she falls into a sound sleep, during which she dreams
of the warrior, who exhorts her not to fight with magic weapons
any longer. She would obey the warning, but the king asserts that
it’s all just nonsense.
on the purpose to retrieve his Raietta,
tries to put together a coalition of tribes against the Fanes.
He succeeds in convincing Ey-de-Net to take part in it with a
group of Duranni.
The warrior, who had never heard of Dolasilla, accepts at the
condition of being granted to take the girl out of the battle
unharmed. Before the battle, Ey-de-Net greets sunrise from the
top of mount Amariana.
The clash, in which the Eagle-prince fights for his first time,
takes place in the small plain of Fiammes.
While the Fanes are at an advantage, Ey-de-Net confronts Dolasilla
standing motionless and uncovered but, as the archer girl wavers,
Spina-de-Mul, who was hiding behind his shield, wounds her with
an arrow. Ey-de-Net, instead of exploiting the Fanes’ momentary
dismay, assails the sorcerer who has broken their deal. The Fanes
prevail and the allies quarrel. Ey-de-Net will not come back home,
because he wants to approach Dolasilla. He asks an anguana for
advice; she addresses him at the Vögl
delle Velme. In his turn, the old man sends him to Tsicuta,
a sister of Spina-de-Mul’s. Ey-de-Net combs the mountain
to no avail for a long time, until he runs into a raven, who explains
him what he must do to meet her. She also tells him that the woman
had been betrothed to the Fanes’ king before the latter
married the Fanes’ queen. Tsicuta
deals with Ey-de-Net coldly, foretells him that Dolasilla will
break a promise she will make him, and that her destiny is shaped
by her father’s ambition. However she gives him the correct
advice to get in touch with the girl: he must have a shield built,
so heavy that almost no man can be able to carry. Dolasilla quickly
recovers from her wound. The artisans who had assembled the silver
armour answer the king that it had been pierced by a magic arrow,
against which it had no power. In order to protect Dolasilla from
enchanted weapons, an enchanted shield was required, as the dwarfs
of mount Latemar could build. The dwarfs speculate that the king’s
order concerns the same shield Ey-de-Net had already ordered;
when the finished objects is delivered to the castle, the Fanes
discover that none of them is able to raise it from the ground.
One day, Ey-de-Net arrives and proves able to carry it, so that
he is hired as shield-bearer for the princess.
The King's betrayal
from her wound, Dolasilla enters the field again, protected by
Ey-de-Net’s huge shield. The Fanes’ army appears invincible.
When, one day, Ey-de-Net asks the king for his daughter’s
hand, he gets indignant. But Dolasilla has fallen in love as well,
and declares tired of fighting. Since Ey-de-Net can’t be
replaced in his job, the king pretends yielding his consent, but
delays the wedding and prepares a plot. He knows that both have
promised each other never to fight again unless together. In his
unmeasured greed for wealth, the king plans to have himself and
his family buried in the Aurona. Therefore he secretly gets in
touch with the enemy, the “southern
peoples” who are going to wage war against the Fanes,
and comes to an agreement with them: he will prevent Dolasilla
from entering battle, so that the enemies will easily gain victory
and take possession of his kingdom; in exchange, they will dig
out for him the gates of the Aurona.
Therefore, the king banishes Ey-de-Net, being convinced that Dolasilla
will no longer fight without him because of her promise, and himself
retires on the Lagazuoi waiting for events. Ey-de-Net leaves the
kingdom. The Fanes are in dire straits: the king has disappeared,
Ey-de-Net has been banished, Dolasilla refuses to fight although
repeatedly invoked, and the overwhelming foes are approaching
their borders. Pondering her difficult choice, either to fail
her promise or let her people being destroyed, eventually Dolasilla
consents to enter the battlefield again. At the same time, Ey-de-Net
is looking for a silvano,
a friend of his, but meets the raven again. The bird tells him
the news that Dolasilla will fight again, against all odds. Since
the hero feels betrayed because she broke her promise to him,
and declares he will go far away forever, the silvano
sends him consulting an oracle of lake nymphs
. But they answer that Dolasilla had no other choice but to break
her promise, and that soon she will die. Ey-de-Net tries to rejoin
to the Fanes to defend her, but arrives too late. In the meanwhile,
Dolasilla pays a visit to the silvano,
Ey-de-Net’s friend, and learns that he has departed, never
to come back. While returning to her castle, Dolasilla meets a
crowd of weird ragged boys, who ask for her arrows; she gives
away one each, thirteen in total. When she arrives at the castle,
the enemy coalition is on sight, camped on the Pralongià.
end of the kingdom
the coalition’s camp, the army commander states that the
Fanes’ king has betrayed them, and the day after Dolasilla
shall enter the field against his promises; but, with the sorcerers’
help, he has succeeded stealing thirteen of Dolasilla’s
magic arrows. He assigns his archers one arrow each and orders
them to kill the heroine. Next morning, the Fanes are preparing
for the fight but, when Dolasilla appears, her amour has turned
dark. She understands the meaning of the prodigy, but pretends
to be confident, so that her people don’t get discouraged.
Dolasilla leads her people onto the verge of victory. For a long
time the enemy bowmen are puzzled because they are looking for
a white armour and not a black one. But they eventually understand
their mistake and aim all their arrows at her. Although fighting
like a lioness, Dolasilla falls and the Fanes break up. The princess
dies while being carried back to the castle. Her body is burnt
on the battlefield. The Fanes are routed. The Fanes’ queen
takes command of the defence of the castle. News are brought that
Dolasilla is dead and the prince is wounded. The castle is surrounded
by enemies. The Fanes’ king, who was awaiting for
the outcome of the battle on the Lagazuoi, is harshly derided
by the winners, and specially by Spina-de-Mul, who throws in his
face the tragic outcome of his betrayal. Even nowadays the king’s
head, turned into stone with his pointed crown, may be seen on
the mountain wall that dominates the pass of Falzarego.
The myth of the "Resurgence"
the enemies assault the Fanes’ castle, Lujanta reappears
and puts them to flight using her sister’s bow. But the
castle is lost anyway. The queen reconciles with marmots; they
explain Lujanta how to evacuate the last defenders from the castle,
and foretell the chance to recover their lost kingdom.The last
defenders of the castle escape through an underground passage,
but are being closely chased. The dwarfs
save them, by deviating a waterfall (the “Morin di
Salvans”, i.e. Dwarfs’ Mill) so that it separates
them from their pursuers. Eventually they arrive at a large hall,
where marmots are hibernating. In the meanwhile the enemies pillage
the country and destroy everything. Spina-de-Mul recovers his
Raietta. According to
the marmots’ prophecy, The Fanes fight for seven summers,
each year retaking a new mountaintop. But the Eagle-prince is
eager to recover all his father’s conquests, and he leaves.
The Fanes gain their victories by means of their ancient tactics:
they strike by surprise and then vanish into caves, where they
also spend all winters. The Fanes and their enemies come to a
peace settlement: the Fanes will get back the land that had been
a part of their territory since ever, but none of their late conquests.
When the pact is close to be agreed upon, the Eagle-prince comes
back and rejects the conditions. As any further agreement proves
impossible, war is declared. Shortly after, wolfes, crows and
vultures are banqueting upon the Fanes’ bodies: men and
women, old people and children, all of them massacred during the
last desperate battle fought in their country’s heart, on
dai Fers, against an immense coalition collected from
every corner of the world.Just about twenty people, all women
and children, including the queen and Lujanta, escaped the massacre
hiding among the marmots. The Flame
Eagle arrives carrying the small boy who is the Eagle-prince’s
son. He foretells that the kingdom will be reborn if the boy is
able to retrieve the unfailing arrows before the silvery trumpets
blow again for the “great time”. The eagle takes the
job to lit a sacred flame every year in memory of the Fanes’
kingdom. He will fly the boy to Contrin,
where he will learn the profession of arms by the reknowned local
king. By moonlight, the queen and Lujanta row around the Braies
lake in a small boat.They are waiting for the queen’s
grandson to come back with the unfailing arrows. But he never
comes. And one night the “great time” arrives: the
silvery trumpets can be heard blowing from every mountain, but
nobody is there to answer their call. The queen listens to them
for a last time, then disappears to sleep forever on the lake
bottom. But one day the “promised time” will come,
when everyone will be resurrected and will live in peace.
analysis of the saga clearly shows that its cultural environment
is that of the end of the Bronze Age, which in our area can be
dated back to about year 800 A.C.: shortly before the foundation
of Rome, when the Etruscan nation was at its beginnings. The details
suggesting this conclusion can be found elsewhere in this site.
anthropological picture of the Fanes is that of a totemistic
cult of the marmot, which is carried out by the queen: therefore,
a sort of theocratic matriarchate, where the king, who is
a foreigner, only plays the role of the army commander. The
queen's elder daughter is "exchanged" with a marmot,
so that her younger sister can embody a marmot herself, this
way acquiring the sacrality required to reign;
tribemen, who must never have numbered over 500 - 600, evolved
into shepherds and later on into warriors and raiders. Accordingly,
they shifted to a more warlike "totem": the vulture
(="eagle"). Eventually, the change became institutional:
matriarchate gave way to patriarchate;
practiced cults (of water, of the Sun, of mountains) were
typical of the Bronze age;
myth of foundation has strong structural similarities with
that of Romulus and Remus; both myths must share a common
living on the plateaus (over 6,000 ft.) was only possible
in a period of climatic optimum; the best suited was that
around 1,000 B.C.;
references are made to metallurgy, and all of them point to
the final Bronze age;
historical frame is that of the advance of palaeo-venetic
civilization in southern Dolomites, which took place about
the described events actually take place? We often see the narrators
puzzled by topics they weren't fully acquainted with, or dropping
possible highly dramatic scenes. The story, moreover, is that
of a bitter defeat and not of a triumph: no good theme to glorify
ancestors!. All these points indicate that the legend shouldn't
be purely fictional, and is probably based on a sequence of events
that actually did occur. Of course this does not imply that all
details of the legend are equally "true". It is also
certain that several even older myths have been incorporated into
the saga. Please refer to other pages of this site for more details