4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

The Romanian Myths draw from a popular culture that is tightly blended with the history and the sacred and it spills into a rich national culture.

Myths have a powerful significance to the cultures who tell them, for they explain sacred origins, bring forward human archetypes, and are a model for future aspirations. A myth unifies cosmic and social events, explaining them in a way that is in touch with the most fundamental values of a community.

Carried forward through a nation’s folklore, myths enrich its culture in many ways, acting as a catalyst in literature, music, and the arts . Enchanting to children and still shrouded in mystery, myth reveal their meanings, like stepping stones, only as one advances through life. I remember learning about these myths in school. They felt abstract and their charm escaped my younger self. I am happy I revised them recently. I found them fascinating, dripping with insight and wisdom that over-passed the millennia.

The Cosmogonic Myth of Miorita

At the very origin of this myth is the ballad of Miorita that originates in Soveja, a small town in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains (right at the curve of the Carpathians). The eerie, mournful ballad was often sung by local troubadours. Worth mentioning here is that the Romanian populace, developed around strong Christian values and governed by a social structure, was fundamentally rural until the middle of the 18th century, so the myth of Miorita influenced a local and vibrant culture.

The word miorita has its root in mioara, a nick-name for a small, young sheep, an ewe.

Shepherding has been a millennial occupation of Romanians. Humans domesticated sheep since the early Stone Age, about the same time they met the trusted dog. Tradition and rituals are deeply embedded in the mindset of these people.

The sheep in Miorita may symbolize purity and simplicity, but also the complexity of unpretentious things. In Christianity, sheep symbolize purity and goodness.
In Miorita, the (young) sheep represent the oracle.

The ballad tells of three shepherds, one from each historical province of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), who meet in the Vrancea mountainous area during the transhumance. One of them is approached by a sheep who predicts that the other two will plot against him to steal his sheep. The shepherd accepts his destiny. His only desire is that the sheep tell his mom that he fell in love with a princess and ran with her to a far away kingdom.

The Legend of Traian and Dochia is the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis

Ceahlau, Dochia and Traian, Romanian myths culture history
Source

The Legend of Traian and Dochis is part of the Romanian myths that try to explain the origin of the local culture and the history of the Romanian people.

In antiquity, the geographical area we know today as Romania was known as Dacia. The geto-dac people lived here. Dacia was at the height of its power during the ruling of Decebal, 87-106.

Dochia was Degebal’s daughter. When the Romans under the ruling of Emperor Trajan attacked Dacia for its valuable gold mines, Trajan fell in love with Dochia and wished to take her with him. He chased her over the hills, eager to catch her. Dochia did not wish to leave her people and asked the gods to remain in her homeland, no matter what. She was instantly turned to stone together with her maidens.

The myth is placed in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, in the Ceahlau Mountain, where there is a group of stones with a strange appearance. Ceahlau Mountain is unique in Romanian culture, being the only mountain with patron saint.

The myth of Dochia represents the pain that Decebal felt at the thought of the Romans conquering his people, as well as his helplessness in front of irreversible life and its events. Just keep in mind that Decebal did not go down without a fight. The Dacs fought the Romans in two wars before they were finally conquered.

As it is often with myths and legends, this specific story might draw from a different one, about a grumpy master mason and his daughter.

The Myth of Master Builder Manole

The Legend of Master Builder Manole. Curtea de Arges Cathedral

This myth speaks of the sacrifice that sits at the foundation of each accomplishment or construction. The bigger the sacrifice, the more sacred the result is considered.

The theme of this myth is the sacrifice as a source of new life.

Tradition asks for cats, puppets, coins, or crosses to be built in the foundation of a new home or on its doorstep to protect it from evil spirits. And diggings prove that this tradition is true and widespread.

Prince Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia at the beginning of the 16th century and his wide Millica Despina were the founders of the Curtea de Arges Monastery.
Nine builders under the leadership of Manole worked all day long only to see their work falling to pieces during the night. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy. Manole prayed and prayed until one night he had a dream. Human sacrifice was needed, more exactly a laborer’s female relative, the first one to bring them food at dawn. And so it happens that the first woman to arrive with food was Maole’s wife Ana.

As soon as the sacrifice took place, Manole building his wife into the foundation while she was still alive, making it look like a game, the construction stood and it was soon finished.
The most beautiful monastery ever to see the light of the sun.
The Prince was ecstatic, but not desiring his master builder to raise another construction as beautiful as that one again, perhaps even more stunning, ordered for the scaffolding to be removed abandoning Manole, who were still standing on the roof. Manole fashioned himself wings out of its of wood he had nearby and tried to fly to safety, only to fall to his death.

The construction of Curtea de Arges Monastery was finished during the ruling of Prince Radu the Black. It is unclear if the myth of Manole speaks of him or his image was distorted. One version of the ballad mentions that Manole and the builders boasted together that they will be able to build an even better monastery, and so they were all left on the roof.
The Monastery Curtea de Arges is real, a pearl of byzantine architecture with Moorish arabesques and its two twisting cupolas are famous worldwide.

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy -  mitul Zburatorului
Amore e Psiche by Canova

This Romanian myth blends culture with social and religious believes as well as the history and beginnings of psychiatry.

Fly-boy is said to be a magnificent young man that visits young maidens in their dreams, similar to the myth of Incubus.
In Romanian mythology he is depicted as a handsome youngster with golden hair or as a dragon that shines, his skin covered in precious stones, with a tail made of flames.

The myth of Fly-boy signifies the impossible love, the unanswered love, the burning passion and even remembers of the vampire’s myth – giving the symptoms of the girls he “visits”: weight loss, pale skin.

The Fly-boy is presumed to have been a man whose love was rejected during his lifetime by a woman. He returned to hunt all women, but especially the one who rejected his feelings.

The Romanian folklore and literature are abundant with fabulous characters and archetypes: giants, ogres, sirens, three headed dragons, magic horses, talking wolves, spirits of the forest and of the lake, ghosts, eerie maidens, magic birds, witches and saints, fairy godmothers, handsome princes or clumsy page-boys, good or evil emperors, and many more. Their stories have animated the childhood of many generations and form an unseen golden thread that unites a strong national spirit that prevailed over millennia.
The Romanian myths connect its people with an abundant culture, a stormy history and the ever-permanent sacred.

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The Oldest Christmas Carol, Jesus Refulsit Omnium

Oldest Christmas Carol. Wise Men and Infant Jesus in Manger

The oldest Christmas Carol historians have knowledge of is a 4th century motet or Epiphany: ‘Jesus Refulsit Omnium’ – Jesus, Light of All the Nations – exactly translating Jesus, the brilliance of all. It depicts the sudden realization that enlightened the Magi, the Wise Men, when they finally arrived to the stable where infant Jesus had been born and it was created by St. Hilary of Poitiers between 310 – 367 (most probably without any instrumental backing).

Listen to this touching rendition of Jesus Refulsit Omnium as performed by the Chamber Choir of George Watson’s College at the annual Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, on 16th December 2015:

You can find the choir, a capella sheet music here. The lyrics in Latin are below:

Jesus refulsit omnium
Pius redemptor gentium
Totum genus fidelium
Laudes celebret dramatum

Quem stella natum fulgida
Monstrat micans per authera
Magosque duxit praevia
Ipsius ad cunabula

Illi cadentes parvulum
Pannis adorant obsitum
Verum fatentur ut Deum
Munus ferendo mysticum.
(Source)

 The Magi by Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915 . oldest christmas carol Jesus Refulsit Omnium
The Magi by Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915

This is the English translation by Kevin Hawthorne, PhD :

‘Jesus, devoted redeemer of all nations, has shone forth,
Let the whole family of the faithful celebrate the stories

The shining star, gleaming in the heavens, makes him known at his birth and, going before, has led the Magi to his cradle

Falling down, they adore the tiny baby hidden in rags,
as they bear witness to the true God by bringing a mystical gift.’

Saint Hillary of Poitiers, whose first name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful, hilari, was a Bishop of Poitiers who later received the title of Doctor of the Church. It is worth mentioning that in Latin doctor means ‘teacher’ – thus Doctor of the Church recognized a significant contribution brought to theology through research, study, or writing. Three hymns are attributed to St. Hillary of Poitiers thus making him the first Latin Christian hymn writer.

Charles Bosseron, Adoration of the Magi. oldest christmas carol Jesus Refulsit Omnium
Charles Bosseron, Adoration of the Magi

What exactly is a motet?

A motet is a short, sacred vocal composition. I love the etymology of the word motet. Originating in the Latin movere, ‘to move’, it depicts the movement (against each other) that the various voices produce during the song. Yet considering motet as a diminutive deriving from the French mot, ‘word’, it depicts a ‘little word’ – thus a short song.
The medieval motet most probably became the sacred Renaissance madrigals.

I am Christian Orthodox, yet I love the peace that washes over me when I listen to Catholic vocal compositions, late-medieval to present. My native language, Romanian, resonates closely to its Latin roots and the one year of Latin study I did in school has added an aura of mystery and enchantment to this now dead language.

I hope you enjoyed listening to what is believed to be the oldest Christmas carol, Jesus Refulsit Omnium.

Song lyrics and movie clip are property and copyright of their owners and are provided for educational purposes and personal use only.

The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .

Wishing everyone a blessed Holiday Season!

Which one is your favorite Christmas song?

You might also enjoy reading A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania.

Afrikaanse Vergelykings – Afrikaans Simile – Your Comprehensive & Fun Guide

so moeg soos 'n hond

Welkom by Afrikaanse Vergelykings – Afrikaans simile.

We often use similes without realizing, when we desire to emphasize the meaning of an idea or an image. But similes allow us insight into a different culture, as you can notice from these Afrikaans similes and their English translations.

Ons gebruik gereeld vergelykings, somtyds sonder dat ons dit besef, om ‘n idee of beeld te versterk. Vergelykings gee ons ook insig in ander kulture, soos jy kan opmerk van herdie Afrikaanse vergelykings en hulle (direkte) Engelse vertalings.

so arm soos ‘n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse

Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile, so arm soos 'n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse

This simile is probably deriving from an older one, as hungry as a church mouse – illustrating how the Catholic and the Orthodox priests were careful not to mess the smallest crumb of the sacramental bread.

Die vergelyking het heelwaarskynlik sy oorsprong van ‘n ouer een, “so honger soos ‘n kerkmuis”, wat illustreer hoe versigtig die Katolieke en Ortodokse priesters was om nie die kleinste krummel van die heilige nagmaalbrood te mors nie.

so bitter soos gal = as bitter as bile

so bleek soos ‘n laken = as pale as a sheet

In English we would rather say as pale as death, as pale as a ghost, as white as a sheet)

so blind soos ‘n mol = as blind as a mole
so blou soos die hemel / die berge = as blue as the sky / as blue as a mountain
so dapper soos ‘n leeu = as brave as a lion

so dood soos ‘n mossie = as dead as a sparrow

This simile might derive from as dead as a dodo (referring to the dodo being an extinct species), although I think that as dead as a door nail is more used.

so doof soos ‘n kwartel = as deaf as a quail

so doof soos 'n kwartel = as deaf as a quail, Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile
Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

Quails are widespread in South Africa and very easy to catch. The expression is based on a misunderstanding between Dutch and German. In German “doof” means “dumb”. Because quails are easy to catch or be lured with simple tricks, the Germans called them “doof” and the word entered Dutch and then Afrikaans.
In English we would say as deaf as a post.

so dom soos ‘n esel = as stupid as a donkey
so donker soos die nag = as dark as the night
so dronk soos ‘n matroos = as drunk as a sailor
so droog soos kurk / strooi = as dry as cork / as dry as straw (as dry as a bone is used in English)
so dun soos ‘n plank = as thin as a plank (rather as thin as a rail in English)

so fris soos ‘n perd = as healthy as a horse

so fris soos 'n perd = as healthy as a horse, Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile
Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

This is an interesting Afrikaans idiom as the English equivalent originates in the NE of the USA and is best used in summer. In English we would rather say as healthy / as fit as a butcher’s dog. This makes sense as a butcher’s dog would have a diet based on meat and other scraps, thus keeping him healthier than the stray dogs.

so geduldig soos Job = as patient as Job
so geel soos goud = as yellow as gold
geld soos bossies = money like weeds (has a lot of money)
so gereeld soos klokslag = as regular as clockwork
so giftig soos ‘n slang = as poisonous as a snake

so goed soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine)

so goed  soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine) Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

This simile most probably draws from the end of the 19th century when banknotes were first introduced in the USA. These were actually IOUs, written promises for a later payment, in gold and silver. Thus the expression, IOUs were “as genuine as gold”, as good as gold.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit…
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

so glad soos seep = as smooth as soap
so groen soos gras = as green as grass
so groot soos ‘n reus = as big as a giant
so hard soos klip = as hard as stone
so helder soos kristal = as clear as crystal
so honger soos ‘n wolf = as hungry as a wolf

so koel soos ‘n komkommer = as cool as cucumber

so koel  soos 'n komkommer = as cool as cucumber, Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile
Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

As cool as a cucumber dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Cool here does not refer to low temperature, but rather to someone unruffled. As cool as a cucumber was first recorded in 1732, in John Gay’s New Song on New Similes.

so koud soos ys = as cold as ice
so krom soos ‘n hoepel = as crooked as a hoop
so kwaai soos ‘n tierwyfie = as vicious as a tigress
so lelik soos die nag = as ugly as the night
so lig soos ‘n veer = as light as a feather
so lui soos ‘n donkie = as lazy as a donkey
so maer soos ‘n kraai = as thin / skinny as a crow
so mak soos ‘n lam = as tame as a lamb
so maklik soos pyp opsteek = as easy as lighting a pipe

so moeg soos ‘n hond = as tired as a dog

so moeg  soos 'n hond = as tired as a dog, Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

As tired as a dog draws back to the 9th century, originating in the adjectival phrase dog-tired. It is said that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and King of the Anglo-Saxons used to send his sons, Athelbrod and Edwin, out hunting accompanied by their dogs. Whichever son would catch more game would be seated at their father’s right hand side at the dinner table that evening. The hunt would leave both young princes as tired as a dog.

so nat soos ‘n kat = as wet as a cat
so nuuskierig soos ‘n aap = as curious as a monkey
so oud soos die berge = as old as the mountains
so plat soos ‘n pannekoek = as flat as a pancake
pronk soos ‘n pou = shows off like a peacock
so reg soos ‘n roer = as straight as a barrel (of a gun)
so rond soos ‘n koeël = as round as a bullet
so rooi soos bloed = as red as blood
so regop soos ‘n kers = as upright as a candle
rook soos ‘n skoorsteen = smokes like a chimney
so sag soos sy = as soft as silk
so seker soos twee maal twee vier is = as sure as knowing two times two is four
sing soos ‘n nagtegaal = sings like a nightingale
so skerp soos ‘n lemmetjie = as sharp as a razor blade
so skraal soos ‘n riet = as slim as a reed
so skurf soos ‘n padda = (skin) as scabby / dry as a toad

slaap soos ‘n klip = sleeps like a stone

slaap soos 'n klip = sleeps like a stone, Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

The former version of sleep like a stone would be sleep like a log – metaphorically mentioned in English as early as the 17th century:

“foundering is when she will neither veere nor steare, the sea will so ouer rake her, except you free out the water, she will lie like a log, and so consequently sinke.”

John Smith, A Sea Grammar, 1627

so slim soos ‘n jakkals = as clever, crafty as a jackal
so soet soos suiker / stroop = as sweet as sugar / syrup
so stadig soos ‘n trapsuutjies = as slow as a chameleon
so steeks soos ‘n donkie = as stubborn as a donkey
so sterk soos ‘n os = as strong as an ox
so stil soos ‘n muis = as quiet as a mouse
stink soos ‘n muishond = stinks like a skunk
so suur soos asyn = as sour as vinegar
so swaar soos lood = as heavy as lead
so swak soos ‘n lammetjie = as weak as a lamb
so swart soos die nag = as black as the night
swem soos ‘n vis = swims like a fish
sweet soos ‘n perd = sweats like a horse
so taai soos ‘n ratel = as tough as a honey badger
so trots soos ‘n pou = as proud as a peacock
so vas soos ‘n rots = as steady as a rock
so vinnig soos ‘n windhond = as fast as a greyhound

so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow

Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile, so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow
Afrikaanse vergelykings Afrikaans simile

Imagine the pure, pristine snow of a sunny winter’s morning. Shakespeare was one of the first to use this powerful simile:

… What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? …

Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1602
Nou in Afrikaans - geliefde kinderboeke deur Patricia Furstenberg
Nou in Afrikaans – geliefde kinderboeke deur Patricia Furstenberg – Amazon

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Thank you for reading Afrikaanse Vergelykings, Afrikaans simile, a comprehensive and fun guide.

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