Time in Romanian Folktales and Schrödinger’s Cat

Time in Romanian Folktales and Schrodinger's Cat

Recently I re-read one of best known Romanian folktales, Youth Without Age and Life Without Death, and something about the way time unfolds jabbed at my mind, yet only when I remembered Schrödinger’s Cat did it all fall into place.

What is Youth Without Age and Life Without Death about?

In a tiny nutshell, Youth Without Age and Life Without Death tells the story of a young prince who chose to leave his parents and kingdom to pursue a quest. What he seeks is what was promised to him before birth: eternal youth and a life without death. Of course he faces numerous trials but he also finds that what he searched for. And together with a lovely young woman lives the eternal youth he was born for, forgetting all about the life and the world he left behind.

Until one day… I won’t tell you how… when he suddenly remembers his past and his family. And as a heavy longing struck him he just has to go back and see them all one more time – although he is warned not to do it.

As he chases on his magic horse back to his native land he is amazed to discover how much the scenery changed and how the adventures he lived only yesterday are fairy-tales to those he meets along the road. And as he approaches the land of his birth he also ages at an alarming rate…

I do think there is a dual time lapsing in Youth Without Age and Life Without Death. While time passed at a normal rate for the humans left behind and actually the entire humankind, time stands still (or at least barely moves forward) for the hero once he finds himself in the land of everlasting youth.

And yet the two time zones are concurrent.

time in Romanian folktales and Schrödinger's Cat
Time in Romanian folktales and Schrödinger’s Cat

The time in Romanian folktale Youth Without Age and Life Without Death

The time that passed while the hero was away in his quest, away from family and the places where he was born, is indicative of his journey. A quest and a journey of initiation nevertheless. This time is measurable and irreversible for those he left behind, while his quest takes place in a different time, almost a parallel time, where the known means of time passing do not apply. Here, in this forever youthful land, the idea of time is simply erased or at least slowed down dramatically.

So how can the real time and the quest time be concurrent in fairy-tales and folk tales – and not mess with the story’s timeline?

Perhaps looking at the dual time continuum in fairy tales as a type of Schrodinger’s Cat experiment will save this writer’s sanity.

Time in Romanian folktales and Schrödinger's Cat
Time in Romanian folktales and Schrödinger’s Cat

What is Schrödinger’s Cat?

Just a note. No cats have ever been harmed during Schrödinger’s Cat experiment as this is a theoretical experiment and not a real one. It is a Thought Experiment, a Gedanken Experiment. An experiment one can only think of but never do in practice.

Schrödinger‘s Cat experiment was created as a visual teaching tool to illustrate how some people misinterpreted the quantum theory. But we won’t go that way.

I’ll describe the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment then I’ll explain how it illustrates the dual time lapsing in folk tales.

In his imaginary experiment Schrödinger places in a metal box fitted with a lock:

  • a cat;
  • a tiny bit of radioactive substance that is contained by a tiny vessel. Now here you can choose the quantity of the radioactive substance so that you know it will contain only a certain number of atoms because you want to have the possibility that after a certain amount of time (say one hour) there will be a 50/50 possibility that one of these atoms might decay radioactively and release particles;
  • a tiny Geiger counter – this instrument can detect if the radioactive release took place;
  • a tiny hammer connected both to the Geiger counter and to
  • a tiny glass vial containing cyanide.

The idea is that when / if the radioactive substance decays, it will triggers a Geiger counter which will cause the hammer to break the glass container releasing the poison that will kill the cat.

Or not.

The idea is also that one cannot know the outcome of the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment until one opens the box.

BECAUSE

Something can have both an absurd and a logical outcome. If you have something that can exist in two possible states the two states could be muddled together so you can’t say which is which.

Schrödinger's Cat
Schrödinger’s Cat – source

OR, considering the TIME in the Youth Without Age and Life Without Death folktale, TIME can exist in two different states or pass at two different rates at the same time.

In the metal box, during the time of one hour that it remains locked, there is a chance that radioactive decay might take place. But we cannot predict if it will or not and cannot tell if it did or not until we open the box. / The folktale hero, since he is still a human, might grow old during the time he spends away from his birth place but we cannot tell until he returns to his place of birth.

What is the state of the cat before opening the box? / What is the age of the folktale hero during the time spent in the land of forever youth?

The hero of the Romanian folktale Youth Without Age and Life Without Death, since he was born in a normal human timezone, will be affected by the passing of time as we know it. At the same time, the hero finds himself in a miraculous place ruled by a different clock and is also affected by it – he does not grow old. So, at the same time, he is old if you count the years passed on his birth clock and he remains young, based on the clock the miraculous world is ruled by.

And we have no way of knowing what the hero’s age is.

The conclusion of Schrödinger’s Cat theoretical experiment is that the cat is in a superposition of state of being both alive and dead.

The conclusion (at least mine) of the hero in Youth Without Age and Life Without Death is that he is in a superposition state of being both young and old / young and dead.

What are your thoughts on Schrödinger‘s Cat and Youth Without Age and Life Without Death?

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Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 3

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 3

If you enjoyed the Romanian folktale Emperor Aleodor , the first part and the second part of Youth Without Age and Life Without Death do find out how it al ends below.

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 3

The prince spent a very long time at the palace without being aware of it, for he always remained just as young as he was when he arrived. He wandered about the woods without ever having a headache. He amused himself in the golden palace, lived in peace and quiet with his wife and her sisters, enjoyed the beauty of the flowers, and the sweet, pure air. He often went hunting; but one day, while pursuing a hare, he shot two arrows at it without hitting the animal. Angrily chasing it he discharged a third arrow, which struck it, but in his haste the luckless man had not noticed that he had passed through the Valley of Sighs while following the game.

He picked it up and turned toward home, but was suddenly seized with a longing for his father and mother. He did not venture to speak of this wish to his wife, yet by his grief and restlessness both she and her sisters instantly perceived his condition.

“Oh! luckless prince, you have passed through the Valley of Sighs,” they said in terror.

“I did so, my dear ones, without meaning to be so imprudent, but now the longing to see my parents is killing me! Yet I can not forsake you. I have already spent several days with you and have no cause to complain. So I’ll go and see my parents once more, and then come back to you, never to leave you again.”

“Do not quit us, beloved prince! Your parents died two or three hundred years ago, and if you go, we fear you yourself will never return; stay with us, for a presentiment of evil tells us that you will perish!”

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 3

All the entreaties of the three ladies, as well as those of the horse, were unable to quiet the young hero’s longing for his parents, which was fairly consuming him alive.

At last the horse said: “If you don’t listen to me, master, whatever happens to you will be your own fault. I’ll tell you something, and if you accept my condition, I’ll take you back.”

“I’ll accept it with many thanks,” replied the prince; “let me hear it.”

“As soon as you reach your father’s palace you will dismount, but I am to return alone in case you stay even an hour.”

“Be it so,” the prince agreed.

They made their preparations for the journey, the prince embraced the ladies and after having bade them farewell he rode away, but they sobbed and wept bitterly when he left them.

They reached the country which had once been the kingdom of the Scorpion Witch, but found cities there; the woods had become fields; the prince questioned one person and another about the Scorpion Witch and her house, but they answered that their grandfathers had heard from their great, great grandfathers that such silly tales had once been told.

“How is that possible!” replied the prince, “I came through this region myself only a short time ago,” and he told them all he knew.

The people laughed at him as if he were a lunatic or a person talking in his sleep, and the prince angrily rode on without noticing that his hair and beard were growing white.

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 3

When he reached the realm of the Woodpecker Fairy, the same questions and answers were exchanged. The prince could not understand how these places had altered so much in a few days, and again rode angrily on. He now had a white beard that reached to his waist, and he felt as if his feet were beginning to tremble.

Quitting this country he arrived in his father’s empire. Here he found new people, new towns, and every thing so much changed that he could not recognize it. At last he came to the palace where he was born. When he dismounted, the horse kissed his hand, and said:

“I wish you good health, master, I’m going back to the place from which I came. If you want to go too, mount quickly, and we’ll be off.”

“Farewell, I too hope to return soon.”

The horse darted away with the speed of an arrow.

When the prince saw the ruined palace and the weeds growing around it, he sighed deeply and with tears in his eyes tried to remember how magnificent these places had once been. He walked around the building two or three times, tried to recollect how every room, every corner had looked, found the stable where he had discovered the horse, and then went down into the cellar, whose entrance was choked up with fallen rubbish.

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 3

He groped hither and thither, holding up his eyelids with his hands, and scarcely able to totter along, while his snowy beard now fell to his knees, but found nothing except a dilapidated old chest, which he opened. It seemed empty, but as he raised the lid a voice from the bottom said: “Welcome, if you had kept me waiting much longer, I too should have gone to decay.”

Then his death, which had become completely shriveled in the chest, seized him; but the prince fell lifeless on the ground and instantly crumbled into dust.

Into the saddle then I sprung, The tale to tell to old and young.

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death (Tinerete Fara de Batranete si Viata Fara de Moarte) is a Romanian folktale discovered by Petre Ispirescu, Romanian editor, folklorist, printer and publicist, and first published in 1862 in local newspaper Țăranul român (Romanian Peasant).

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Youth Without Age and Life Without Death

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death

If you enjoyed the eerie feeling and local color of Romanian folktale Emperor Aleodor you will love reading Youth Without Age and Life Without Death. Enjoy it and remember, the magic of Romanian folktales starts with the first words.

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 1

Once upon a time long, long before something happened whose likeliness never occurred before, for if it had not happened it could not be told. When the flea had one foot shod with ninety-nine pounds of iron and jumped into the glory of the sky to get us fairy stories… When the fly would write on the wall, a bigger liar being the one who doesn’t believe what he is told… 

There was once a mighty emperor and empress. Both were young and handsome, and as they desired the blessing of children they did every thing that was necessary to secure it, that is they went to the witches and philosophers and asked them to read the stars to find out whether they would have children or not.
But it was all in vain.
Finally the emperor heard that a very wise old man lived in a neighboring village, and sent for him. The messengers returned with the answer: “Let him who needs me come to me.” So the emperor and empress set out for the wise man’s house, taking with them several of their courtiers, attendants, and soldiers. When the old man saw them in the distance, he rose, went to meet them, and said at once:

in a land far away - Youth Age Life Death

“Welcome! But what do you want to know, oh, emperor, your wish will bring you sorrow.”

“I am not here to question you about that,” replied the emperor, “but to learn whether you have any plants you can give us that will bestow us the blessing of children.”

“I have,” the old man answered, “but you will possess only one child. He will be a handsome, lovable boy, yet you will not be able to keep him long.”

After the emperor and empress had obtained the herbs they joyfully returned to the palace. The whole empire, the courtiers, and all the attendants rejoiced too. But when the hour of birth came, the child began to scream in a way no magic arts could silence it. The emperor commenced to promise it all the good things the world contained, but it was impossible to quiet him.

“Hush, father’s pet,” said the emperor, “I will give you this or that kingdom. Hush, my son, I will give you this or that princess for your wife.” At last, when he saw the child would not stop, he added: “Hush, my boy, I will give you youth without age and life without death.”

Then the prince stopped crying and was born. The courtiers beat drums and blew trumpets, and there were great rejoicings throughout the empire for a whole week.

The older the boy grew, the more thoughtful and reflective he became, handsome too. He went to the schools and the philosophers and gained every kind of learning, so that the emperor died of joy and came to life again. The whole realm was proud of having a prince so wise and learned, a second King Solomon.

Then one day, when the lad had just reached his fifteenth year and the emperor sat at a banquet with the nobles and grandees of the country, the handsome prince rose, saying: “Father, the time has come, you must now give me what you promised at my birth!”

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death - party

When the emperor heard this he grew very sorrowful and answered: “Why, my son, how can I give you an impossible thing? If I promised it to you then, it was only to hush you.”

“If you can’t give it to me, father, I shall be obliged to wander through the whole world till I find what was promised to me, and for which I was born.”

Then all the nobles and the emperor fell at his feet and besought him not to quit the country, because, as the courtiers said, his father was growing old, and they would place him on the throne and give him the most beautiful princess under the sun for his wife. But it was impossible to shake his resolution, he remained as firm as a rock. After his father had seen and duly considered all these things, he gave his consent and prepared to supply the prince with provisions and whatever else he might need for his journey.

The young hero went to the imperial stables, where the finest steeds in the whole realm were standing, to choose one of them; but when he laid his hand on the horse’s tail he knocked it down, and so they all fell, one after another. At last, just as he was going out, he let his eyes wander around the stables once more and saw in one corner a sick, weak horse, covered with sores. He went up to it, and when he grasped it by the tail, the animal turned its head, saying:

“What do you command, my master? I thank God that He has permitted a hero’s hand to touch me once more.”

And, planting its feet firmly, it remained standing. The young prince told it what he intended to do, and the horse replied:

“To obtain your wish, you must ask your father for the sword, lance, bow, quiver of arrows, and garments he wore when a youth; but you must take care of me with your own hands for six weeks and give me oats boiled in milk.”

When the prince begged the emperor for the articles the horse had advised, the monarch called the palace chamberlain and ordered him to open all the chests of clothing, that his son might choose what he pleased.
The young hero, after rummaging them three whole days, at last found in the very bottom of an old trunk the weapons and garments his father had worn in his youth, but the arms were covered with rust. He set to work to clean them with his own hands and in six weeks, during the time he was taking care of the horse, he succeeded in making the weapons as bright and shining as a mirror.

When the horse heard from the handsome prince that the clothes and arms were cleaned and ready, it shook itself once. All the sores instantly fell off and there it stood, a strong, well-formed animal, with four wings. When the hero saw this, he said:

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death - magic horse

“We’ll go in three days!”

“May you have a long life, master. From to-day I shall be at your service,” the horse answered.

~ Return tomorrow for part 2 ~

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death (Tinerete Fara de Batranete si Viata Fara de Moarte) is a Romanian folktale discovered by Petre Ispirescu, Romanian editor, folklorist, printer and publicist, and first published in 1862 in local newspaper Țăranul român (Romanian Peasant).

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A Forgotten Spring Legend and a Romanian Tradition

spring legend Romanian tradition

Knee deep in research I lost my way between dusty manuscripts but I am excited to have discovered a forgotten Spring legend tied to a Romanian tradition.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, for if it wouldn’t have happened it wouldn’t have been told…

Legend says that the Sun, bewildered by the livelihood of Spring with its slow onset, elevated by the burst of energy that seemed to take over the world… everywhere but where he lived… the Sun himself, sick and tired of the long hibernation forced upon him in the company of Winter, a guest that seemed never to plan on leaving… the Sun decided to run away.
Towards South.
Towards Spring.
Towards heat.

A Forgotten Spring Legend and a Romanian Tradition

And to escape through the gates of Heaven he even had a plan. A well thought plan. A plan fabricated during the long, cold, boring nights spent in the company of Winter.

The Sun placed nine crones, one on each one of the nine stallions that were pulling his carriage! He did so knowing very well that the crones will be ‘more wicked than Lucifer itself’ and so they will drive the horses till they will give their last breath running.

The Sun and his suite drove like the wind through the gates of Heaven and off they went! The pull from their chase even stirred the robes of Saint Toader, the Heavenly guardian of the Sun. Now Saint Toader, stiff as he was after the long winter, a little bit sore in the joints too, caught sight of the fleeting group one second too late. Saint Toader ran to the Heaven’s stables as fast as his robe and his age allowed him, grabbed nine strong stallions placing on them nine seniors with beard as white as his and hands as gnarly as his own… and after he seated himself in his carriage they took off, chasing after the Sun.

Saint Toader and his team searched and searched for eight long days but alas, they lost track of the Sun. Perhaps because the crones were indeed as evil as the fame preceding them said they will be. And they had driven the horses so forcefully that even the skies shook and blizzards and snow storms fell onto Earth. A calamity after another.

The seniors riding ahead of Saint Toader’s carriage, gentle as they were, could not keep up with the crones.

Until the ninth day when one of the seniors caught sight of the Sun and together with the others finally caught up – determined as they were to get the Sun to follow his celestial path again. The one intended for him by God.

And in the day when Saint Toader and his nine seniors found the Sun the Earth, with all its creatures, came to life! In Spring.

And in the day when Saint Toader and his nine seniors found the Sun the Earth, with all its creatures, came to life! In Spring.

And this is why during March, we celebrate in Romania:

  • starting with the 1st of March, for 9 days, we celebrate the 9 Crones, Babele, starting with Dochia. These days are renowned for their fickle weather.
  • on the 10th of March begin the 9 days we celebrate the Seniors, Mosii – days that always have a milder weather. And from these nine days stands out:
  • the 17th of March – the day of Alexii.

17 March – the Spring Legend of Alexii and another Romanian tradition – Alexiile

Legend says that humankind suffered terribly at the cost of insects, both crawling and winged. So God, in His good heart, caught them all and placed them in a box. Then he called Alexie, his trusted man, and gave him the box to throw into the sea.

But Alexie, true to his nature, could not resist the temptation and took one peek. He thought that just one will be enough.
Quick.
And no one will ever know.

Quick.
And all the bugs scattered all over Earth again.

For his punishment Alexie was turned into a heron and made to gather bugs between 17 March and 14 September.

Did you know that it is around 17th of March when migrating herons and storks return?

The Romanian fishermen also say that it is Alexie who brings the fish to the surface again, from the depths of the waters where they love to hibernate. They also say that if you eat an uncooked fish, just a tiny one mind you, on this day of Alexie you will have a rich catch each day for the next year.

 if you eat an uncooked fish, just a tiny one mind you, on this day of Alexie you will have a rich catch each day for the next year.

Well, I don’t fish, but I certainly remember the fickle days of March from my childhood. I only discovered now that the Sun ran away to warmer lands and it was his chariot and his stallions who shook the last of the snow from the late Winter clouds… A spring legend and a Romanian tradition to treasure.

Have a blessed Spring and good luck fishing 😉

And I mounted on my saddle.
What I said it wasn’t babble.

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Emperor Aleodor, Romanian Folktale, The End

Emperor Aleodor, Aleodor Imparat, is a Romanian folktale gathered by Romanian folklorist and writer Petre Ispirescu in 1875 and translated into English in 19th by historian and linguist Robert Nisbet Bain. I did very little to edit Nisbet Bain’s skillful translation. I liked his choice of early modern English, I thought it gives Emperor Aleodor a charming old-fashioned patina.
Read part one here and part two here.

Emperor Aleodor, a Romanian folktale, The End

“On the second day, Aleodor bethought him of the crow, and immediately the crow stood before him, and said to him: “What dost thou want, my master?”

“Look now, senseless one, what has happened to me. Canst thou not show me a way out of it?”

“Let us try!” and with that, it struck him with its wing and turned him into a young crow, and placed him in the midst of a flock of crows that were flying high in the air in the teeth of a fierce tempest.

As soon as the damsel woke up that morning she reached for her eye-glass and searched for him in every direction. He was nowhere to be found. She looked for him on the earth, but he was not there. She looked for him in the rivers and in the sea, but he was not there either.

The damsel grew pensive. She searched and searched till mid-day when it occurred to her to look upwards also. And perceiving him in the glory of the sky, in the midst of a swarm of crows, she pointed him out with her finger and cried:

“Look! look! Rogue that thou art! Come down from there, man, that hast made thyself into a bit of a bird! Nothing in the fields of heaven can escape my eye!”

emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale - "Come down from there, man, that hast made thyself into a bit of a bird"

Then he came down, for what else could he do? Even the Emperor himself now began to be amazed at the skill and cunning of Aleodor and lent an ear to the prayers of his daughter. Inasmuch, however, as the deal declared that Aleodor was to hide three times, the Emperor said to his daughter: “Wait once more, for I am curious to see what place he will find to hide himself in next.”

The third day, early in the morning, he thought of the ant, and—whisk!— the ant was by his side. When she had found out what he wanted she said to him: “Leave it to me, and if she doth find thee I am here to help thee.”

So the ant turned him into a flower-seed and hid him in the very plate of the damsel, without her perceiving it.

Then the Emperor’s daughter rose up, took her eye-glass, and sought for him all day long, but look where she would, she could not find him. She plagued herself almost to death in her search, for she felt that he was close at hand, though see him she could not. She looked through her eye-glass on the ground, and in the sea, and up in the sky, but she could see him nowhere, and towards evening, tired out by so much searching, she exclaimed:
“Show thyself then, this once! I feel that thou art close at hand, and yet I cannot see thee. Thou hast conquered, and I am thine.”

emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale, "She plagued herself almost to death in her search, for she felt that he was close at hand, though see him she could not."

Then when he heard her say that he had conquered, he slipped slowly down from her plate and revealed himself. The Emperor had now nothing more to say, so he gave the youth his daughter, and when they departed, he escorted them to the boundaries of his empire with great pomp and ceremony.

While they were on the road they stopped at a place to rest, and after they had refreshed themselves somewhat with food, he laid his head in her lap and fell asleep. The daughter of the Emperor could not forbear from looking at him, and her eyes filled with tears as they feasted on his comeliness and beauty. Then her heart grew soft within her, and she could not help kissing him. But Aleodor, when he awoke, gave her a buffet with the palm of his hand that awoke the echoes.

“Nay but, my dear Aleodor!” cried she, “thou hast indeed a heavy hand.”

“I have slapped thee,” said he, “for the deed thou hast done, for I have not taken thee for myself, but for him who bade me seek thee.”

“Good, my brother! but why didst thou not tell me so at home? for then I also would have known what to do. But let be now, for all that is past, yet nothing is lost.”

Then they set out again till they came alive and well to the Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit.

“Lo, now! I have done my service,” said Aleodor, and with that he would have departed. But when the girl beheld the monster, she shivered with disgust, and would not stay with him for a single moment. The hideous cripple drew near to the maiden and began to caress her with honeyed words, that so she might go with him willingly. But the girl said to him: “Depart from me, Satan, and go to thy mother Hell, who hath cast thee upon the face of the earth!”

red scarf on antlers

Then the half-monster half-man was near to melting for the love he had for the damsel, and, writhing away on his belly, he murmured fair words and sweet nothings hoping it might help to persuade the maid to be his wife. But meanwhile, the damsel had dug a little trench all round herself and stood rooted to the spot with her eyes fixed on the ground. The hideous Satanic skeleton of a monster could not get at her.

“Depart from the face of the earth, thou abomination!” cried she piercing him with her beautiful eyes one last time, “the world is well rid of such a pestilential monster as thou art!”

Still, he strove and strove to get at her, but finding at last he could not reach her, he burst with rage and fury that a mere woman should have so covered him with shame and reproach.

Then Aleodor added the domain of the Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit to his own possessions, took the daughter of the Green Emperor to wife, and returned to his own empire.

emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale, Deva Fortress, Romania
The actual Dev Fortress, in Romania

And when his people saw him coming back in the company of a smiling spouse as beautiful as the stars of heaven, they welcomed him with great joy, and, mounting once more his imperial throne, he ruled his people in peace and plenty till the day of he felt tired of life.

And now I’ll mount my horse again, and say an “Our Father” before I go. And I’ll mount my horse once more and hope the story was not a bore.”

~~~The End~~~

I hope yo enjoyed Emperor Aleodor, a Romanian folktale.

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