Thursday, July 30, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Greek tales for the summer

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

As you have probably seen in the previous posts, I recently spent some time in Greece at a storytelling conference and festival. I love to prepare for travel ahead of time, mostly by reading local folklore and legends. Now, you do not have to dig very deep for the mythology of Ancient Greece - pretty much everyone grows up with those. But I was also curious about more recent stories, folktales and legends, so I went digging anyway. I immediately realized "modern" Greek tales are a lot less popular in English than mythology, but I still managed to find some great collections:

E.M. Geldart: Folk-lore of modern Greece: The tales of the people (1884)

L.M.J. Garnett: New folklore researches: Greek folk poesy, Vol. II. (Folk-prose) (1896)

R. M. Dawkins: Modern Greek Folktales (1953)

R. M. Dawkins: More Greek Folktales (1955)

Ruth Manning-Sanders: Damian and the Dragon (Modern Green Folk-tales) (1965)

I have not gotten through all of these, but the stories I read were just as fascinating as Greek mythology. In addition, a lot of them retain traces and motifs known from mythology. At the FEST conference we heard a great presentation on this, and the question whether it was mythology first, or tales first. Either way, you can recognize many elements, both old and new, in these stories, and they are definitely worth reading.

Here are some of the familiar things I have encountered so far (most of them in Greek folk poesy):

1. A prince that visits his princess in the form of an eagle
2. Nereids (they seem to be very popular in Greek folklore - they take the place of fairies in most tales)
3. A king having a child with a woman and leaving his weapons for his son to find when he grows up (Theseus)
4. Fates (instead of fairy godmothers)
5. A multi-headed serpent living in a swamp and killed by a hero (Hydra)
6. Hunt for a terrifying wild boar (Kalydonian boar hunt)
7. Rocks that open and shut that the hero needs to get through (Argonauts)
8. Golden apples and their guardian (Hesperides)
9. "Souls in Hades"
10. A fish-horse the hero rides into battle (hippocampus)
11. A one-eyed giant who lives in a cave and gets blinded, and then the hero escapes the cave by crawling under the sheep (come on, you know this one)
12. Blind old women giving directions to the hero (Perseus)
+1: A hero that can make the earth shake. This one is interesting because it is found in an "Extraordinary Helpers" type folktale, but out of the 46 version of this type I have collected, the Greek was the only one that mentioned earthquake powers (and it made me happy because I could include it in my book as the story for Earth Manipulation). Go figure.

It is all kinds of fun, reading these folktales and hunting for mythological Easter eggs.

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