WOLFF’S LAST FOREWORDS TO HIS DOLOMITENSAGEN
The last Forewords written by Wolff for his Dolomitensagen and appearing in the latest (16th) issue are those to the IX (1956) and to the XI-XII Issues (1966), the latter rather short and not really important.
The Foreword to the IX Issue contains, on the contrary, some interesting material, first of all that concerning the uncompleteness of his collection. Wolff admits, in fact, not having used at all a part of the material he had gathered; as an instance, he renounced using all what was related with the Ogre and the witches. But he even didn’t worry collecting all what appeared to be too coarse or crude, not realizing the ethnographic importance it might possess.
Wolff distinguishes, for his scopes, between the legends that used to be narrated in the environment of the spinwatches, from which he took ample inspiration, and the less poetic ones that could be listened to in the mountain shepherd huts, where there were no women.
Then he dilates on telling about the reception of his works, and underlines the scant favour they enjoyed by the folklore specialists, while their acceptance was much warmer among the general audience. Several artists and men of letters, however, joined them later on the long run.
FOREWORD TO THE NINTH ISSUE
“The components of the alpine legends that have been preserved can revive through poetry and become again objects of folklore in wider circles”.
(Max Haushofer, “Alpine Landscape and Legends of the Bavarian Mountains”, Bamberg 1890, p.7)
Several times I’ve been blamed because a few types are missing from my collection, for instance the monster named Orco (Ogre) doesn’t appear at all, although old Ladinians narrated a lot about it. I can’t contest that; but among my annotations there are several I didn’t use, as I expected to place them within a wider context. So I also preferred limiting the tales about witchcraft, into which I incurred hundreds of times, because I deemed mandatory to give a more solid foundation to their coverage.
Several critics also scolded me, saying that in my reworking of the tales the “folkloric imprint” of the old stories has been lost, as I deprived them of all roughness, dressed them up courteously and arbitrarily embellished them with fable-like motives that are stranger to the country (e.g., the dwarfs). These three reprimands are unjust. We must make a distinction first, between spinwatches and sheep mountain huts. In the spinwatches, where women are dominant, roughness isn’t tolerated; here only courteous and elegiac love stories are narrated. Corteous concepts are apparently spread around by the storytellers (cantastories). The people of the Lombard Alps still today narrates with great participation about two queens, Rosamunda and Teodolinda, and the same used to happen in the Dolomites. Rough stories of course can be found everywhere; once, however, they were only tolerated in sheep mountain huts, where shepherds, hunters and woodcutters met, and only men were present, because in sheep huts there are no women. Ambiance and concepts here are a world apart, quite different from the spinwatches. In my collection, the ambiance that was usual in the spinwatches is dominating, and nobody can state that this is no popular ambiance. Just in the spinwatches, legends were preservated, and with the decay of the spinwatches the most ancient and noblest forms of the popular art of storytelling have disappeared*). As far as dwarfs are concerned, finally, Ladinians have three words to describe a dwarf: tàrter, mòrkye and guryùt; thence, this concept must also have played its role.
I took care, in the proper time, not to keep track of those tales which I deemed rough, strongly altered, or senseless; I wasn’t aware at all that they might be ethnologically important. On the other hand, I never pretended that my collection was complete in its redaction and compilation. The manuscripts left by my deceased friend, Hugo von Rossi, the best informed man about the Fassa valley, contained several details of which I used but a minimal part. (The manuscripts, unfortunately, have been destroyed by air raids). I easily admit that, for an adequate research on folklore, Rossi’s work was much more valid than mine. Like von Rossi for the Fassa valley, Runggaldier on his side offers some excellent material on the Gardena**).
For the Friuli area, I used another collection, that which the young researcher Carlo Scarsini, from Udine, had gathered and whose manuscript he had mailed to me; in his Foreword, he states that a deep melancholy, refinement, and a great austerity are the features of the Friulian popular poetry. The people from Friuli show us, therefore, the same spiritual attitudes as the people from the Dolomites, and the same concepts pervading legends and tales are common to both. This fact helps us to realize the basic unity of the whole area, from the high Fassan Dolomitic tops down to the coastal lagoons.
All what I struggled for wasn’t completeness, however, but evidencing those peculiar moods that can only be found in the ancient tales of the Dolomitic Ladinians, because, correspondingly, only here the prerequisites for their origin existed. This happened for several reasons; as a matter of fact, if the Ladinian language, which was once dominant over a very wide region, today is restricted to the most hidden corners of the Alps mountains, we cannot be surprised if the people who speak this language harbour the concern that their language might disappear, and it is quite understandable that this, under several points of view, may have an influence upon their spiritual life. A linguistic group, fragmented into small communities, lives in the Dolomites, a landscape whose wonderful beauty is exhalted by every culture and in every language.
Therefore one can recognize that two principles are acting at psychological level, one oppressing and one relieving: on one side, the people from the Dolomites see both their language and their sheer existence as a nation endangered, on the other they feel that their homeland is one of the most beautiful on the Earth. Both these moods, that cann’t be retrieved together in any other place, have generated an association of feelings that has, quietly but constantly, influenced their emotional life. One might define these people who inhabit the Dolomites the people of the grievous beauty, as this blending of feelings is always returning into their sentiments and their thoughts. The most knowledgeable friends of the Carnic Ladinians say that an “intimate sorrow” dominates their songs and all their folklore°). This feeling doesn’t surface and echo around easily, however, as people don’t speak about it, because it just lives, so to say, in their subconscious. Nevertheless, I always felt that feeble blending of sentiments in the most ancient tales of the Dolomitic people, and I think being of top importance to recover its expression while rebuilding their ruined traditions.
Notice the following instance: “The cherub Count” (el conte andjulìn) is the name of an old ballad that was widespread from the Fassa valley down to the Carnic and Julian Alps, however along the centuries it had been so much distorted that I preferred not to pick it up into my collection. Babudri found it in Istria and describes its plot as follows. A count fell in battle, and his mother, who had been made aware of this, hid this to her daughter-in-law during her puerperium. (This is a distortion already. Among the “carnyelis”, the inhabitants of the Carnic Alps, it is stated that the old castle-owner dissimulated her grief and remained silent because the young woman was pregnant and the grandmother was afraid that her grandson might receive damage, in case his mother had to grieve for the tremendous news). As the count wasn’t coming back home, his mother said that in her country it wasn’t customary that a bridegroom visited his bride shortly after she had given birth. However, as soon as she had completely recovered, her mother-in-law suggested her to wear black dresses, because they exhalted her beauty. Theferore the young countess understood what had happened, and died of sorrow. Before this happened, she obscurely predicted that her child would be a silvery ring “sarà ‘l mio fantulin con noi l’anelo, l’anelo de la morte, anel d’arzento” (my baby will be our ring, ring of death, ring of silver). From this gloomy allusion one can desume that the child was destined to play an important role in the further development of the plot, in the metaphysical sphere anyway, and as this was no longer understood later on, it was just dropped. Notwithstanding this unfortunate mutilation, which I found nowhere any chance to fill, the ballad preserves the nature of a spinwatch tale (see Francesco Babudri, “Fonti vive dei Veneto-Giuliani” [Living Sources of the Julian-Venetians], Trevisini, Milano, p.174).
It cannot be maintained that the sheer activity of collecting legends would be sufficient to allow recreating the full beauty of the ancient tales, because this job also requires some sentiment, therefore love for human letters. And it could only be accomplished if its performer was able to observe and use all that was available, at the same time preserving, however, an intellectual freedom sufficient to pick up, with attentive ears, also what was unexpressed of forgotten, and never proceeding against the soul of the people. The first man who taught me these concepts, the bases upon which I proceeded with my material, was the founder of the research on Tyrolean folklore, the chief librarian doctor Ludwig von Hörmann, who told me that a legend has an evolution and a life history of its own, as it consists of an unbound bunch of mythical or magical concepts, that mixes up with the remembrance of really happened events, and finally might be the basis for a human destiny. The resulting creation isn’t the work of a wide community of storytellers, but of a single poet. This way, the legend reaches the top of its development and, by a cyclic process, might bring to a popular epos. But times of decadence or renewal might also be possible. During the Reformation period, and specially during the XIX century, the creative livelihood of the legends and the art of popular storytelling have almost completely faded away for several reasons, so that our classical works about legends show but remains and ruins.
In 1909, these teachings received by Ludwif von Hörmann, to which my intentions carefully conformed, were my starting point in order to proceed on the path I had chosen, on the purpose to extract from the remains and ruins that still existed, wherever possible, the complete body of the ancient legends in their highest stage of development, and rebuild everything anew, within the narrative ambience that still could be detected from the tales of elder people, and specially of Ladinian women. This I tried to do since then. In 1913 my first booklet appeared, in 1925 the second, in 1929 the third and in 1941 the fourth. A few tales remained untranscripted, because they looked still obscure to me, and I didn’t want to venture in their elaboration yet. Such were “The last Delibana” and “The Knight with the Autumn Crocus”. Ludwig von Hörmann had anyway qualified the “Delibana” as the richest in contents and the most valuable of all, although I only was able to outline him its most important parts only in broad terms.
My readers have always received my Dolomitensagen friendly, and for sure not only in Tyrol, but also in foreign countries. On the contrary, I have long been flatly blasted by critics. However, always single scholars existed who exhorted me to insist on my path. With special gratitude I remember a high school advisor from Munich, dr. Wilhelm Rohmeder who, as a warm friend of Tyrol and of the people of the Dolomites, many times advised me to remain unmoved and to elaborate and publish all material known to me with the same methods I had used until then. Last, since 1949, also several researchers of this field came to my side, like University professor dr. Adolf Helbok, who (on the “Schlern”, year 1949, p. 275 ff.) wrote:
“Through decades Wolff gathered the legendary material of Tyrol with unbelievable perseverance, and his attitude has become, apart from his work on other nearby areas, the specific archetype of the legend researcher. Those who are acquainted with his Dolomitensagen, and in detail with his threefold re-elaboration of King Laurin, have got since long the picture of a researcher, who is poor according to the judgement of a restricted circle, but is making his way in broader and broader audiences… Wolff today maintains in his good right not to favour shortness and concision, as he gives back his material in epic broadness and is convinced that the tales of the ancient alpine populations were long, and he shows us that the human destiny has always been bound to environmental circumstances, and that what derives from this isn’t a superficial fable-like entertainment, but a deep-rooted spiritual experience. This way, he also drives us closer to the people of the myth.”
One year later, the Tyrolean art scholar monsignor dr. Josef Weingartner stated what follows:
“Karl Felix Wolff collected the legends of the Dolomitic valleys, and so he tried to reassemble again the fragments of ancient tales and songs, in order that they can reacquire their significance. Although he proceeded in this procedure quite far, and often we can’t tell for sure where the exact border lies between the real legendary body and his empathetic, but always poetical and affectionate integrations, in any case it can be clearly detected that these delicate creations have blossomed out of the landscape, and therefore that Ladinians of old times were already deeply conscious of the special beauty of their homeland (Josef Weingartner, “Südtirol”, Vienna, Adolf Holzhausen, 1950, p.78).
And the literary historian dr. Anton Dörrer, professor at the Innsbruck University, in a resumptive report upon the South Tyrolean legends and legendary literature, cuts it short by defining my writings as follows:
“We thank… Karl Felix Wolff, the writer from Bolzano… for his very fruitful issues and editions of his Dolomitensagen, which in the meanwhile have been translated into several foreign languages and have conveyed South Tyrol and Ladinia to many people. Alton himself embellished and tried to integrate his small collection; using the same method, Wolff tried to recover, from the remains he reassembled with difficulty, a solid body pf legends in the spirit of the ancient inhabitants of the Dolomites. This way, Wolff has brought back to life, above all, the “Rosengarten” with King Laurin in his charmingly poetical world, more or less like a painting restorer endowed with an artistic vein, who makes an ancient fresco, of which only scattered traces can be retrieved, resurface like by magic, and integrates it, enriching his posterity. As restorers however are met by the critical remarks of both contemporaries and posterity, so also Wolff’s efforts didn’t find their full acknowledgment everywhere. Wolff’s special merits towards the South-Tyrolean popular poetry deserve being underlined.” This quotation appeared on n.180 of the Bolzano newspaper “Dolomiten” of Aug. 6th, 1952).
My thanks to these specialists for their public appreciation of my methods of work. The basic concordance that can be found in the previously quoted statements is quite remarkable, as the three experts spoke in full independence and separately from one another.
After this digression, that should provide the reader with a glimpse on the history of the birth and the destiny of my work, I’m back again to what I already explained in 1913, i.e. that the tales have been re-elaborated by me. Several things are missing from my collection, as an expert can easily detect; however, several others that may sound odd to him are also present. This effect is produced both by the reconstruction of the missing parts and mostly by the recovery of that spiritual ambience, about which the inhabitants themselves of the Dolomites never speak. Only an Author who since his childhood has recorded that impression within himself, who has observed and lived continuously in the land and with the people, can achieve such a result. I know for sure that the task was heavy and difficult, as it didn’t just involve my methods of work, but first of all my personal attitude; how well I succeeded in that, it will be better evaluated back in the future.
A deep melancholy stretches over the ancient Ladinian people, like a soft sound of bells in the evening, and is wonderfully connected with the bright splendour of the Dolomitic landscape; - maybe the reader will find some of it in these pages also!
Recently, a turning point seems to be taking place in favour of the Dolomitic populations. Switzerland has recognized the Rhaeto-romansh as their fourth national language, and so the Rhaeto-romansh have been brought back to the consciousness of being a nation. Relationships have been re-established between the Swiss Rhaeto-romansh and those of the Dolomitic valleys. At Bressanone on the Isarco, under professor dr. Sylvester Erlacher’s leadership, the Ladinian bimonthly “Nos Ladins” is published, and in the Badia valley, during summer, 1951, the ancient festival of the “Kingdom of Fanes” has been performed again with great pomp. Gardena people publish every year a Ladinian calendar, nicely contributing to the knowledge of their land. The Fassa valley also shows a state of ferment: the local writers Guido Jori and Gianfranco Valentini are fighting for their people’s rights. These are encouraging signs for the future.
While now I’m publishing my work together with its latest integrations, I’ve got to thank my old publisher, mr. Alfredo Dissertori, director of the publishing house Auer-Ferrari in Bolzano, who printed six issues, although since 1945 for several reasons he had to refrain from any further reprint. I’m also thanking all my faithful readers, specially dr. Hermann Mitterer, who always displayed his enthusiasm and did a lot for me. My thanks also go to miss Irmin Steiger from Innsbruck, who patiently and carefully carried on the task of proofreading.
The publishing house “Tyrolia” in Innsbruck, by which my “Dolomitensagen” are now being published again, is printing two different issues at the same time: the first is an anthology for young people, with the very clever cooperation by ms. Auguste Lechner, and the second is the complete work as edited by me. I feel very obliged towards the mentioned publisher because of this. I had again to renounce, however, to the Gothic font, which I like better, as it is much finer, while I can’t understand why we should condemn and forget our own font, which Albrecht Dürer brought to its final shaping. The Gothic font is specially deserving because, in a longtime reading, it strains one’s eyes less than the Latin one, with its uniform roundness that doesn’t provide any firm support to the eyes. Finally, it is of advantage because, if one uses the Gothic font, the quotations in foreign languages (that obviously must be printed in Antiqua font) are clearly distinguishable.
Innsbruck, Summer 1956
Karl Felix Wolff
To the eleventh and twelfth issue
The present (eleventh) issue of this work is extended by a second excursus concerning the lake of Garda. In 1904, as a young man, I spent a lot of time on the lake of Garda and wandered on the surrounding mountains, where I gathered a lot of folkloric material. My intention was to derive from it a book completely devoted to the lake of Garda. However, in these years I didn’t succeed in that, and after the appearance of the wonderful work by Zinner & Riedl I abandoned my project. Now I’ve reviewed my material about the Garda and derived out of it a summary in six sections, which has been incorporated into the present work. The tales show some relationship with those of the Dolomitic Ladinians, and beyond any doubt they show the ancestral affinity of their deepest ethnical layers. The same is true of the excursus about the Verona gorge. Above all, in this area one can also retrieve the motive of the “Pale Mountains”, i.e. the light- and variable-coloured, cliffs and their typical landscape.
Please read also the “Integrations” together with my Introductions and Forewords.
Bolzano, Summer 1966
Karl Felix Wolff
” 1954, p.76 and the “Integrations” to this work.
**) Leo Runggaldier de Fredenan, “Stories i cianties per kei de Gerdeina”[Tales and stories for the people of Gardena], Innsbruck 1921 (also “Der Tiroler”, Bolzano, 4.3.1922).
°) So in Lea d’Orlandi – Gaetano Perusini, “Antichi costumi friulani” [Ancient Customs of Friuli] on the magazine “Ce fastu?” of the “Società Filologica Friulana”, Udine 1941, p.33.