|Romaïc folk-lore of enchanted animals ||Articles and Essays
|(Romaïc Folk-lore of Enchanted Animals1)
Few are the antiquarians who have studied the folk-lore of the Modern Greek people, and yet their popular legends offer as large and diversified a field to critical examination as those of any other race. Limited as my knowledge of them is I will try to transcribe a few of their superstitions that relate to that curious phase of domestic mythology, enchanted animals.
Most houses in Greece have the reputation of being haunted by στοιχειά (spirits) under the form of huge reptiles — το φίδι του σπητιού, the serpent of the house, being a familiar form of phrase. This serpent is generally supposed to inhabit the foundations of the building and has been observed to be of a golden hue during the very rare and short exits it makes. Country-folk in Greece revere greatly these snakes, and have never been known to harm any issuing from the walls or the foundations of a house. They are as cautious on this head as Mahomet’s followers whom the prophet advised «to be slow to kill a house serpent. “Warn him to depart; if he do not obey, then kill him, for it is a sign that he is a mere reptile or an infidel genius”».2 In large edifices such as palaces, arsenals, etc. the haunting spirit is sometimes a deer, and sometimes a sheep.
The enchanted deer (το στοιχειωμένο ελάφι) is the great scarer of the Greek peasants’ simple imagination. It is a sort of divine power full of sacred terrors. It bears the cross on its horns and the crescent (? φεγγάρι) on its body; when it shakes itself the mountains and the fields shake; with its feet it roots out the trees; its loud voice is re-echoed by the highest mountain-peaks:
Έχει σταυρό στα κέρατα, φεγγάρι στα καπούλια.
Σειέται και σειούνται τα βουνά, σειέται και σειούνται οι κάμποι.
Tαράζει τα ποδάρια του, τα δέντρα ξεριζώνει.
Στριγγιά φωνήν εφώναξε, βογκάν βουνά και ράχαις:
«K’ εδώ που πέντε δεν πατούν και δέκα δεν διαβαίνουν,
Tι χάλευες μονάχος σου, πεζός κι αρματωμένος;...»
The traditions relating to this deer are very ancient dating from the Byzantine era.
Enchanting insects are met with here and there in Greece. There exists a Corinthian legend describing a precipitous height between Xylocastrum and Zura on which a swarm of bees had planted their dwelling. None but one daring traveller attempted to collect the honey of that bee-hive. He ordered to be let down by a long cord; yet he had no sooner been let down a considerable length than he was seen to writhe under the greatest tortures taking the cord for a snake struggling to entangle him in its deadly embrace. At last unable to bear the mental torture any longer he drew out his knife, cut the cord, and was lost in the abyss.
An enchanted red bee is believed by the Rhodians to enter into every dying man or woman’s room precisely one hour ere he or she expire; and the Samians speak of the invisible bees that take up their residence in the perjurer’s house afflicting him with a noise inaudible to all other ears.
1. See Politis, Neo-Hellenic Mythology.
2. See Washington Irving’s, Life of Mahomet.
|Κ.Π. Καβάφης, Τα πεζά (1882;-1931), Φιλολογική επιμέλεια Mιχάλης Πιερής, Ίκαρος Εκδοτική Εταιρία, 2003 |