“Beginning of the Tale”: Folk Tales of Greece

Pimsleur Approach • April 4, 2012 • Foreign LiteratureComments (0)
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The Greek tale of “Mirsina” - via Wikipedia

In addition to carrying many elements of Greek mythology, Greek folk tales have been influenced by the many cultures that surrounded it over the centuries. These include influences from Western Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Ottoman Empire, which once stretched across the Mediterranean and North Africa into Central Asia.

Despite these wide-ranging influences, the Greek folk tale has almost always begun with the same words: “Beginning of the tale, good evening.”

The Greek tale of “Mirsina” presents many parallels to “Snow White.” Mirsina is the youngest and kindest of three orphaned sisters. Similar to Snow White’s stepmother, the older sisters want to know which of them is the most beautiful. Three times they ask the Sun (the eye of God, in Greek myth) and each time, the Sun replies, “Mirsina.” Infuriated, the older sisters abandon Mirsina in the woods one night.

Mirsina is helped by a group of brothers—the Twelve Months—who (like Snow White’s seven dwarves) adopt her as a beloved sister and give her fine gifts. Hearing of this, the older sisters again plot Mirsina’s death, giving her a gold ring they claim their mother had wanted her to have. Upon putting on the ring, Mirsina faints and cannot be awakened. Grieving, the Months dress her in a gold gown and place her in a precious gold trunk.

The trunk comes into the possession of a prince, who one day opens it despite his promise to the Months never to do so. He finds there Mirsina, and taking the ring off her finger, frees her from the evil spell. They fall in love and marry. But the evil sisters hear of Mirsina’s good fortune and go to the castle, demanding to see her. The prince is enraged, and orders them to be done away with. They are “never seen or heard from again.”

The storyteller then enters the tale, telling of how he once saw Mirsina, renowned for her goodness as well as her beauty, and that she gave him some gold coins. But in going home, he is chased by “Melachro’s fierce dog” and throws the coins at the dog as he runs from it. He encourages the listener at the end of the tale to “buy some bread at daybreak tomorrow and offer it to Melachro’s dog. “Maybe the dog will give you the gold pieces.”

Though the evil older sisters meet with a sort of divine justice for their crimes, this occurs “offstage” as it would have in the ancient Greek dramas. The storyteller’s addition at the end then brings  immediacy to the story, bringing the listeners into the action.

In another Greek tale, “Loukas and Kalothia,” young Loukas tricks a beautiful fairy into marrying him by stealing her gossamer veil while she is out dancing in the field. They live happily together, until one day Kalothia when finds her veil in an old trunk, and disappears to rejoin her fairy life. She returns in secret, caring for the children, cooking and cleaning, but disappearing each day before Loukas comes home. One morning Loukas hides, reappearing when his wife enters the home. He quickly grabs Kalothia’s veil and throws it on the fire, ensuring she will remain at home from then on.

This tale is similar to the selkie stories of Iceland, Ireland and Scotland, in which a seal-woman is tricked into becoming a fisherman’s wife after he steals her seal skin. One day finds she finds it hidden in the house, and returns to her life in the sea.

The motifs found in Greek folk tales are recognizable in many cultures: the hero who battles a frightening creature; the childless couple; the grand castle with a locked room; the machinations of the “cruel stepmother”; a young royal who falls in love with a commoner; wise old men or women; tables that magically become heaped with food; dragons, ogres, fairies and mermaids.

Lyrics and riddles are also common, as are funny stories, such as “The Animals’ Exodus,” in which an ever-growing crowd of animals runs in fear over nothing. The story of why they are running away becomes larger and more ridiculous with each animal’s telling.

The Greek folk tale usually ends with the words, “They lived well, and we lived even better,” encouraging the listeners to believe that they will find happiness, regardless of what obstacles they may face.

 

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