Site map Laboratory About the author Community Links

Next chapter


Wolff’s “Integrations” consist of a general section, which specially interesting as far as the state of oral tradition at his times is concerned, and of a sequence of remarks or explanation about several of the single legends that compose the Dolomitensagen. Of these, I’m only reporting here the little that refers to the Kingdom of Fanes. My intention is to insert the remainder in a group of short notes, legend by legend, that I’ll prepare later on, of course following the track of Ulrike Kindl’s fundamental work.
All references to page numbers are in connection with the latest (16th) issue of the Dolomitensagen.

Notice: Wolff’s description of the Rhaetians’ social structure must be considered, with the eyes of today, his personal opinion only.


About the social relations of the Rhaetians, as they result from legends and from history, we can shortly outline what follows: as in all Indo-European populations, a structure must have existed including princes, knights, free peasants and serfs. Each prince (king) was surrounded by a small elitary group of professional warriors, who rode on horseback. This concept is everywhere mirrored by legends. Even today it is obvious to both Germans and Ladinians that in solemn occasions (therefore both at marriages and at political events) a man had to attend in arms and on horseback. This is also what appears in the picture of knighthood as it is described and glorified by poets. From the same sources it also clearly emerges the apparently odd picture of a princely court life within a small mountain population. The whole broad Alpine area shows having been subdivided into valley-wide social structures and into regional agglomerations that constituted several small states and were governed by “kings”. History provides us with clear examples of this. At the time of emperor Augustus, a “king Cottius” was ruling over a territory in the western Alps that consisted of 14 Ligurian communities. His father and his son were equally “kings” before and after him.From that Cottius the “Alpi Cozie”, located west of Turin, take their name. Cottius’ “kingdom” included the town of Segusium [today Susa, transl.’s note], important for trading with Gaul, however it cannot have counted more than twenty thousand inhabitants. In the Trompia valley, north of Brescia, in Roman times the Rhaetic tribe named Trumpilini was settled. These also cannot have been more than twenty thousand. Ancient historians must have grouped under the collective name of “Rhaetians” many small tribes, as also explicitly stated by Svetonius. From this many-sided image of the pre-historic inhabitants of the Alps we can realize a rich social structure with principates, noblemen and bards, as well as a poetry that dealt with both men and mountains together, a splendid poetry of which we can still find the last fragmentary hints in the treasure of legends only. The objection that Ladinians could not develop any court poetry because they had no king, is thence false, as in Rhaetic pre-history there were kings and courts enough. As far as the spinwatches are concerned, in the spinwatch rooms the history of kings had a broad predominance.

About the note at the bottom of page 22: the biologist Johannes Weigelt, from Halle, exposes the same concept in his contribution “Paleontology” to the “Evolution of Organisms” by Gerhard Heberer, Jena 1943, pages from 131 to 182), where he writes: “Isn’t perhaps the historians’ art that of rebuilding an irreproachable historical picture starting from defective and fragmentary archives? An incomplete material doesn’t authorize final conclusions too widely pessimistic and restrictive.” (p. 131).

At page 23 (The spinwatch room): an old lady from Plan de Tjampedel (Campitello in val di Fassa) once told me what follows: “When in the spinwatch room a storyteller told a tale, it was taken for granted that girls listened to the end speechless, or elder women would reproach them immediately. The girls were allowed neither clapping hands nor showing signs of disappointment, and most of all they must avoid chattering with one another. If a tale was saddening, girls were expected to weep. A girl who didn’t was considered heartless, and no mother would approve her as a bride for her son. The spinwatch room was devoted not only to work and entertainment, but also was an educational institution, not only for girls, but also for young men. So, as an instance, young men were not allowed smoking, unless they were explicitly permitted by elder people, primarily by the ladies. Young men who didn’t behave irreproachably were thrown out by men; but this almost never occurred, as everyone cared attentively not to provide a chance for it”.

At page 14 ff. and page 23 f. (The spinwatch room): it was also reported that storytellers (in Ladinian: cantastories, both singular and plural, in Rhaetian filìpes, sing. filìp, filìpa), before entering the spinwatch room of a village, had to overcome a sort of censorship by a group of elderly ladies, i.e. they had to narrate their tales in advance, so that the women could judge whether their contents were suitable for young girls. Parents were specially touchy on this subject. In addition, it was generally deemed unacceptable to utter God’s name, because the spinwatch room was considered as a place of entertainment, where people often danced (the ban on dancing seems to have been raised only quite lately, probably during Counter-reformation; earlier, all around the Alps people danced passionately every time it was possible, often until morning). In my collection the name of God appears just once (at page 488), i.e. in the Aurona legend, that appears however of a specially stern kind (the romance between Somavida and Odolghes is patently a late addition). In any circumstance it was normal to have the name of God, if it was really necessary to name Him, preceeded by an embellishing epithet (e.g. in Gardena “Kel bel Dìe”, in Badia “Kal bel Di” (that beautyful God).

The cantastories or filìpes (storytellers, bards) represented a category apart, enjoying a high reputation, and presumably descended from the pagan priests (ritual bards). Also at each king’s court there were bards, like in all Indo-European populations. Male storytellers used to introduce themselves to their audience with their own motto (which they sang). Old Franz Dantone, from Gries in the Fassa valley, still remembered one of these mottoes, which sounded as follows:

De ròba veyes

(Of old topics

E de prumes tempes

And ancient times

Ay ò aldì

I’ve heard

E vò kunté bayèdes!

And I will tell!)

Every storyteller had a motto of his own and his own style in singing it. There must have existed several of these mottoes. The Ladinians of today wag their head when they hear them, as they are a mix of words coming from different Ladinian dialects. So, as an instance, vèyes (old) is a specific Fassan term, bayedes (tales) is only used in Marebbe. The cantastories used to take something from everywhere and to appropriate the various words. By using them together, they strived for a Ladinian “Koinè”, i.e. for a common language that could be used by all Ladinians, but this never took root. Wilhelm Moroder-Zhumbyèrk intended to proceed further on this path, but was prevented by his early death.
Female storytellers, the filìpes, never talked to any public audience, but only did within their family circle. The name, which is likely Venetic-Rhaetian, was preserved in Alpago, where it means “bride” (she who talks for the bride, while a bride should keep her mouth well shut).

In connection with prof. Dr. Adolf Helbok’s statements (page 27), we can hint here to another remark, that Enrico Noe first pronounced about elderly people’s tales. It sounds: “They introduce to the gods’ wisdom, the heavens, and man’s transcendental vocation”*).



A further remark about the legend of the Kingdom of Fanes (p.468),: old gamekeeper Franz Kall from Marebbe, whom I last visited in 1941, expressed his opinion on the whole legendary cycle of the Fanes with the contemptuous words: “lè na tjàtjera” (that’s just chattering); he admitted, however, having heard this “chattering” many times, and never having any second thought about.
Another old man from Marebbe, however, during the same year told me as follows: “Kan ke yèra ‘n möt de dòudesh àyn, ài aldì kontén dla zhont plu vödla, kal è stè dan tomp te Fànis, fora dla Lotja, ‘n tjastel, i glò, dizhei, ste ‘l ré dles monts de Marèo” (when I was a boy twelve years old, I heard elderly people telling that, in old times, in Fanes, out of the Locia pass, there was a castle where the king of the Marebban mountains lived). Furthermore: “Te boshk dles luìres dan otànt àyn el sté Martin Terabòna, kò a tjafé na saita de fer, e la zhont dizhès, kal è sté ‘nlo de gran vères da vödlmònter” (in the wood of the Iron Bars, about eighty years ago Martin Terabona found an iron arrow, and they say that in old times terrible wars were fought there”.



  • On the state of the oral tradition at Wolff’s times:
    • Strangely, among the environments where the tradition of oral storytelling could survive, Wolff here seems to be forgetting about the so-called “popular theater”, which arose his passion so much. No doubt that at his times it wasn’t active any longer (since the Napoleonic wars, according to Moroder-Lusemberg). See also my remarks aside the analysis of prof. Poppi’s work about the Mazzel’s and De Giulio’s collections.
    • Having a personal motto preceed or follow storytelling was a common usage in Italy too (see e.g. the Fiabe Italiane by Calvino).
    • I hear now for the first time the name “filipes” for “storytellers”. Wolff says it is “Rhaetian”, maybe meaning with this term “archaic Ladinian”. Or does it go back to an (hypotethical) ancient and famous Ladinian storyteller named Filip, from whom all followers took their name? Does anyone know more?
  • About the integrations to the Kingdom of Fanes:
    •  The “castle” of the Fanes, therefore, seems to have been located, according to tradition, outside of the pass of Col Locia, and not inside, as I always had believed! Maybe on the wide ledge named Bandiarac? Certainly not in the Busc da Stlü, as I previously guessed, and not even at the Ciastel di Fanes, which is in a quite different place.
    • What did Martin Terabona really find, and where? If the arrow (-head) had really been made of iron, it must have been relatively recent, or it would have rusted away completely; but it also might have been made of bronze, thence be ancient. Anyway, our ignorance about the precise conditions of the finding makes any deduction impossible.


*) See Manfred Mumelter “The discovery of Tyrol” (Schlern, 1, 1920, p.265 ff.). The passage which Mumelter refers to is in the “Climbings and places of rest” by Noe, Munich 1892, p.46.


Next chapter