My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

my top heroes from Romanian folktales

Thinking of the heroes from Romanian folktales, and any tales, they achieve so much more than rescuing the princess or defeating the dragon who endangers an entire kingdom. Heroes give readers hope and hope is the seed of dreams, of adventures and achievements.

Only four centuries ago, during a time when books would slowly, very slowly become accessible due to printing, yet reading was still a skill of the lucky few, written stories were cherished, their readers esteemed, and the entire experience treasured in group gatherings, artisanal sittings or during feasts. Stories were further narrated, enjoyed and treasured, past on to descendants, and the storybooks, if owned, were even kept next to religious icons and even protected by curses against possible thieves.

Be it religious accounts, mystical or magical tales, secular adventures, enigmatic predictions, parables or humorous accounts, stories have left their mark on people’s mindset, on their imagination.

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

Făt-Frumos, Beautiful-Son

Ask any Romanian 🙂 and Făt-Frumos, Beautiful Son, is the one Romanian folktale hero that’s on everyone’s lips. Well, he is a character quite hard to forget, handsome (as if it needed be said), smart, possessing great physical and spiritual strength, performing good deeds left and right, always keeping his word while going through some really queer adventures.

Usually the youngest son of a king, Beautiful Son always succeeds where his older brothers failed. I guess he is a bit like Superman or Spiderman – the underdog who eventually goes through tests and obstacles that surpass ordinary men’s power, fighting monsters – dragons – and other malicious characters – hags, witches, or even prejudiced, unreasonable kings, always emerging victorious.

He does have an aid, and this is one of my favorite parts as it is a magic horse, a Marvelous Horse, a Magic Horse, who looks old and shabby, but is given a second chance.

I am not sure I am cut to be the type of hero Beautiful Son is, having to overcome Frost’s dilemma as to which road to travel: “If you turn right, you will be in sorrow; if you turn left, you will be in sorrow as well“, and ending up traveling through deserts and snowy places on this land, but on the other land too.

Isn’t this what we love about heroes, the second chance they are offered and they offer to others?

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

For a child, a hero is the ticket to an adventure he / she can take from the safety of their own bed. But if we look at folk heroes closely, as adults, we can see that they encompass the history of the nation who birthed them. Romania has known centuries of harsh attacks from north, south, east and west (mongols, Turks, Austro-Hungarians, Russians, Nazis) – and Romanians always fought back, always forced to decide between two equally unfortunate choices: ally with your enemies or fight them.

Have you read the story of Emperor Aleodor yet?

Ileana Cosânzeana

Ileana Cosânzeana (or Ileana Simziana, Chira Chiralina) is the main heroine of Romanian mythological fairy tales, the female correspondent of Beautiful-Son, usually his love ideal. She is depicted as beautiful and kind – perhaps the other way around, her kind spirit shining through, therefor everyone finds her lovely?

According to folktales she is kidnapped by a dragon and locked in a tower or taken to the Other Land, the Netherworld. The heroine is saved by Făt-Frumos and most of the times the two have to defeat the dragon/ or the witch together. Thus, the fairy tale ends, most of the time with a wedding. And they both live happily ever after.

Worth mentioning is that the dragon is always in love with Ileana. It is interesting to notice that Ileana and her abductors never have children. In Romanian fairy tales a child can only be the result of a relationship based on love and consensual marriage.

What makes a heroine out of a brave girl?

What makes a heroine out of a brave girl?

A spirit that soars against patriarchal norms.
Boldness when obedience is expected.
A voice that does not yell.
A will like a sword.
A kind heart.

Now, as Iana Sânziana (and many argue that the two are not the same character) she is the daughter of the Son from which she runs away for he loves her so, perhaps with too much ardor. She hides herself on a secluded island. In another version of the myth she is the Moon and thus God separates the Moon from the Sun.

The Romanian myth of the Sun and the Moon goes like this

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

The sun is presented as a young man who, wanting to get married, travels for nine years, on nine paths to find his chosen one. Finally, the sun finds the youngest of nine sisters and her name was Ileana Sinzeana, later nicknamed
‘The lady of flowers
Of carnations,
The sister of the Sun,
The foam of milk. ‘
He wishes to marry her and travels through Heaven and Hell, accompanied by “old man Adam” and “mother Jehovah” (Eve), who try to persuade him to give up his intention. Back to earth, the young man again asks the girl to accept him as her husband, and she, as in the fairy tale, asks him to build her “A brass bridge, To not pay attention to it” (perhaps invisible) over the Black Sea (bordering Romania), at the end of which she knew there was a monastery where they can celebrate their marriage.
But when the two reach the bridge, Ileana Sânziana throws herself into the sea, turning into the white foam that “the saints from heaven” in their palms took.

You might want to read about the legend of Dochia too.

Greuceanu

This hero we encounter in only one Romanian myth. The Sun and the Moon are stolen by three vicious dragons, balauri, and their wives. Greuceanu defeats them all and returns daylight to humankind. This is a precious motif of initiation symbolizing a new beginning for humans, the chance of a rebirth.

Prâslea cel Voinic, Young-One the Robust

The youngest of the brothers, again, proves to be the bravest and the smartest one. He is also the one who has to save the honor of the family by making up for his older brother’s faults – necessary for his success. But it isn’t only bravery that Prâslea has and his brothers don’t, but social skills too. In Romanian folklore Prâslea finds the thief of the King’s golden apples.

When I was young I found this story mesmerizing as Prâslea had to stay awake an entire night to catch the thief. He even fashions some spikes for himself that were supposed to impale him awake from his slumber.

Harap Alb, White Warrior

Harap Alb may be only a 19th century story told by Ion Creanga and based on Romanian folktales, but the theme of this fairy tale is still the struggle of good against evil, ending with the victory of good. The main character follows the same heroic adventure, a path of moral and ethical maturation sprinkled with various trials and obstacles. The world in which the action takes place is still a miraculous one, dominated by stereotypes and exaggerations.

It is the same reflection of reality, but in an embellished, fabulous way, which does distract the reader and thus the characters can and will react in ways that will not make sense nor be possible in the real world.

Harap might translate to moor, or Arab, but the character is the youngest son of a King and is depicted as having blond hair.

My favorite part as a child were some of Harap Alb’s helpers, his buddies: Frost-one, Thirsty-one, Hungry-one, Good-sight-one, Birdy-Widy-Lenghtly-One, one more colorful than the next.

Harap-Alb by Natsuki Otani

The Old Man’s Clever Daughter

I do like the Old Man’s Daughter and she was one of my favorite heroines as I grew up. Not your average wild character, and definitely not a warrior with a sword. Still, a champion.

Old Mn's Daughter, old school heroine, Romanian folklore

A gentle voice
To match her heart;
A will that saw her
Through heartbreak.
The Old-Man’s-Daughter sings of trust,
Endurance, and everlasting love –
Old-fashioned qualities,
Yet so hard to come by anymore.

Patricia Furstenberg

She is quiet, shows perseverance, and always sees the best in others – qualities often overlooked in many people. Her story shows us that good deeds, honesty, humanity and diligence do not go unrewarded. Something we need to read more about these days. I wrote more about her story for the lovely people at Folklore Thursday.

Why do we love a good hero?

Because they create order out of chaos? Because they show us that it can be done, any obstacle surmounted if we set our mind to it?

Folk tales remind us of a time when everyday life was passing at a slower pace, when people listening and let their imaginations unfold, when simple fables held the answer the world’s ultimate questions and dark forests still withheld secrets.

Today we rush through each day and fly over forests to spy on its last secrets. But perhaps at night, when we hear the last wolves howl, or a branch knocks in the window stopping us from our fast pace, sending shivers down our necks, our souls remember what was passed on from generation to generation until it was embodied in our DNA. Story-time.

I hope you enjoyed My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales. Which are your favorite fairytale heroes and heroines?

hope readers books Pat Furstenberg
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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.

books by Patricia Furstenberg You can find all my books on Amazon worldwide here.

Emperor Aleodor, Romanian Folktale, part 2

emperor aleodor romanian folktale

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 change 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.

“So Aleodor departed. He went on and on, thinking over and over again how he was to accomplish his task, and how to keep his word. When he realized that his steps had brought him to the edge of a pond, and there he saw a pike dashing its life out on the shore. 

Aleodor immediately went up to it, eager to satisfy his hunger. When the pike spoke to him: “Slay me not, Beautiful Boy! But cast me rather back into the water again, and then I will do thee good whenever thou dost think of me.”

Aleodor respected the pike’s wish and threw it back into the water. Then the pike said to him again: “Take this scale, and whenever thou dost look at it and think of me I will be with thee.”

Emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale

So the lad went on in his quest, marveling greatly at such a strange encounter.

Presently he fell in with a crow that had one wing broken. He would have killed the crow and eaten it, but the crow said to him: “Beautiful Boy, Beautiful Boy, why wilt thou burden thy soul on my account? Far better were it if thou didst bind up my wing, and much good will I requite thee with for thy kindness.”

Aleodor listened, for his heart was as kind as his hand was cunning; and he bound up the crow’s wing. When he made ready to go on again, the crow said to him: “Take this feather, thou gallant lad, and whenever thou dost look at it and think of me, I will be with thee.”

Then Aleodor took the feather and went on his way.

He hadn’t gone a hundred paces further when he stumbled upon a horse-fly. He would have trodden upon it when the horse-fly said: “Spare my life, Emperor Aleodor, and I’ll deliver thee also from death! Take this little bit of membrane from my wing, and whenever thou dost think of me, I’ll be with thee.”

When Aleodor heard these words, and how the horse-fly called him by his name, he raised his foot right away and let the horse-fly go where it would.

And he also went on his way, and after journeying for I know not how many days he came at last to the palace of the Green Emperor. There he knocked at the gate and stood waiting for someone to come out and ask him what he wanted.

Emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale

He stood there one day, he stood there two days, but as for any one coming out to ask him what he wanted, there was no sign of it. When the third day dawned, however, the Green Emperor called to his servants and gave them a talking to that they were likely to remember. 

“How comes it,” said he, “that a man should be standing at my gates three days without anyone going out to ask him what he wants? Is this what I pay you wages for?”

The servants of the Green Emperor looked up, and they looked down, but they had not one word to say for themselves. At last they went and called Aleodor and led him before the Emperor.

“What dost thou want, my son?” inquired the Emperor; “and wherefore art thou waiting at the gates of my court?”

“I have come, great Emperor, to seek thy daughter.”

“Good, my son. But, first of all, we must come to an agreement together, for such is the custom at my court. Thou are allowed to hide thyself wheresoever thou wilt three times running. If my daughter finds thee all three times, thy head shall be struck off and stuck on a stake, the only one out of a hundred that has not a suitor’s head upon it. But if she does not find thee thrice, thou shalt have her from me with all imperial courtesy.”

 “My hope, great Emperor, is in the Lord, Who will not allow me to perish. We will put something else on this stake of thine, but not the head of a man. Let us hand on it.”

 “Thou dost agree?”

 “I agree.”

So they closed the deal, and the deeds were drawn out and signed and sealed.

Then the daughter of the Emperor met him the next day, and it was arranged that he should hide himself as best he could. But now he was in an agony that tortured him worse than death, for he bethought him again and again where and how he could best hide himself, for nothing less than his head was at stake. Nothing less, nothing more. And as he kept walking about, and brooding and pondering, he remembered the pike. Then he took out the fish’s scale, looked at it, and thought of the fish’s master, and immediately, oh wonderful!—the pike stood before him and said: “What dost thou want of me, Beautiful-Boy?”

 “What do I want? Thou mayest well ask that! Look what has happened to me! Canst thou not tell me what to do?”

“That is thy business no longer. Leave it to me!”

And immediately, striking Aleodor with his tail, he turned him into a little shell-fish and hid him among the other little shell-fish at the bottom of the sea.

When the damsel rose from her sleep that morning she picked up her eye-glass and looked for him in every direction, but could see him nowhere. Her other wooers had hidden themselves in caves, or behind houses, or under haycocks and haystacks, or in some hole or corner, but Aleodor hid himself in such a way that the damsel began to fear that she would be vanquished. Then it occurred to her to turn her eye-glass towards the sea, and she saw him beneath a heap of mussels. But you must know that her eye-glass was a magic eye-glass.

“I see thee, thou rascal,” cried she and then she laughed, “how thou hast bothered me, to be sure! From being a man thou hast made thyself a mussel, and hidden thyself at the bottom of the sea.”

This he couldn’t deny, so of course, he had to come up again.

But she said to the Emperor: “Methinks, dear father, this youth will vanquish me. He is nice and comely too. Even if I find him all three times let me have him, for he is not stupid like the others. Why, thou canst see from his figure even how different he is.”

“We shall see,” replied the Emperor.” 

~~~ end of part one~~~
Do return to find out if Aleodor got the Princess or not. And, of course, to discover who learned some lessons along the way.

Vonk the Horse: Spark, the Bravest Stallion of the 18th Century
Vonk the Horse: Spark, the Bravest Stallion of the 18th Century

 Vonk the Horse is a story in rhyme inspired by true historical events that took place during the 18th century in South Africa, near the Cape of Storms, Cape Town today.
It depicts the true story of utmost bravery of Wolraad Woltemade, a Cape Dutch dairy farmer who lived during the 18th century. He gave his life rescuing sailors from the wreck of the ship De Jonge Thomas anchored in Table Bay, South Africa, on 1 June 1773
Of the 191 souls on board, only 53 survived and of these 14 were saved by Woltemade.
“Vonk” (Afrikaans/Dutch for “Spark”) is the name attributed to Wolraad Woltemade’s horse in a statue created by Mitford-Barbeton to commemorate the tragic event.

“On that early morning of June the 1st,
The weather worsened, the sea yelled: revenge!
“You shouldn’t be here,” the winds howled aloud.
“You broke the maritime law,” the waves threw back.

Both sea and wind kept pushing and pulling.
Five anchored ships; which one will be losing?
It was De Jonge Thomas, its anchor gave up
And the misty air echoed with shrieks of despair.

Help us!

Louder than sea,
Stronger than wind.
A bridge of lost hopes
Between vessel and land.

Help us!

The waves, like branches,
Grabbing and pulling.
The wind, like fingers,
Tossing and turning.”

Vonk the Horse by Patricia Furstenberg

You can get Vonk the Horse from Amazon in Kindle format: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia.