A Land of Legends – Part II

Another myth, the myth of the master genius, features Manole the Master, a legendary character whose existence has, however, a factual basis, as the masterpiece that he allegedly built, the Monastery of Argesh, still stands. The plot is based on a deep and dramatic conflict between vocation and love. According to the legend, Manole the Master was called by the prince to build the Monastery of Argesh, and the prince wanted him to build the most beautiful edifice ever.

He and his workers started erecting the walls, but the walls were falling down overnight. They were starting over yet again, and their work was in ruins by next morning. And so they worked in vain, until the Master was told by a divine voice, in a dream, that he must embed a living being in the wall, and it must be the first person that would come to the site in the morning. Next day, the works started as usual, and Manole, sitting on the top of the wall, saw his wife coming to the site, bringing him his meal. He was terrified – it turned out that it was his wife, Ana, whom he loved very much, that he had to embed in the walls of the monastery. He prayed to God so that He would send a storm to turn his wife back, and the Lord answered to his prayer, but she continued to walk through the storm. He prayed to God to make the rain fall hard, and it rained, but Ana went on.

Wife embedded in wall

Finally, she came to the spot and hugged her husband, but the master, tears in his eyes, took her inside the wall and started building it up. The woman cried and begged to let her go, telling him that she was in pain, that she was pregnant, and that the baby was crying inside… But the master kept on working, trying not to listen to her wails. Finally, the monastery was finished, and it was a masterpiece indeed. But the prince, Negru-Voda (which means the Black Prince), asked the master and his nine fellows whether they could build something greater than that. When the masters said they could, the prince made a decision. He did not want anybody else to have a building that would overshadow the monastery that Manole had built for him. So the prince ordered to take the scaffolding down while the masters were on the roof, so they couldn’t come down. The first nine masters made shingle wings, and tried to take flight, but the wings were useless, and as they fell down, their bodies “cracked” (according to the legend). As Manole tried to make his own wings (the subtext suggests that such a skilled craftsman would certainly make wings that worked), he heard his wife’s voice from inside the wall, telling him that she was dying. When he heard that, he threw himself down, and a well appeared in the place where he had fallen. The water in that well was clear and salted, like tears.

Sacrifice for sake of art

It is a very moving and tragic legend about sacrifice for the sake of art. The divine voice in Manole’s dream that made him make such a terrible decision was, in fact, the voice of his own genius telling him that he must bring his love to the altar of creation. It was not an easy choice, as the master truly loved his wife, and wept while erecting the walls, but he could not stop. He knew that human life was ephemeral, fleeting, but art was eternal. His masterpiece still stands, but the story of the master remained in the memory of the people as well. And who knows, what is more durable? A stone building that would sooner or later give in to winds and rain, or this tragic love story that would never be forgotten?

Erotic myth

The fourth myth is the story of the Flier, an erotic myth. Love is considered to be a powerful force in the archaic mentality, and the myth of the Flier is a representation of the initiation in physical love. The Flier is a supernatural being, a young handsome man, who visits the dreams of young girls and makes them restless and yearning for something they cannot define. This legend was woven into a wonderful poetic story by Mihai Eminescu, the greatest Romanian poet. This poem is called “Calin – Pages of a Fairy Tale”, and tells the story of a princess who is visited by Calin the Flier at night. When the old king finds out that his daughter is going to have a baby, although she was heavily guarded, he banishes her from the castle. When the Flier came back, seven years later, he found the girl’s quarters empty and the king alone and insane. He goes away, and, after a long journey, he reaches to a clearing in the woods, where a little boy was watching over a flock of geese. When he asked the boy who he was and how old he was, the boy said he was seven, his mother was a princess, and his father was Calin the Flier. The Flier realised it was his own son. The boy led him to a small decrepit shack in the forest where the Flier found his bride. The poem ends in an exquisite description of their wedding.

Myths representing modern values

These are the four fundamental myths that gave rise to a multitude of interpretations and variations, and served as motives for many literary works. They depict, in a metaphorical and poetic way specific for our national paradigm, the issues that the humanity is concerned with: life and death, divinity and mortality, love and loss, art, creation, sacrifice, achievement… The myths are not just the literary fruit of national fantasy – they are, as a matter of fact, representations of the values that do not change with the times.

Mărţişor – a symbol of love and beauty

However, the fairy tales and myths are only an element of the folkloric landscape – there are also legends, ballads, songs, anecdotes, and it would take many large tomes to include them all. As a conclusion, I would like to tell the story of Mărţişor – a simple but sublime legend that celebrates spring, beauty, and hope. Once upon a time the Sun came down from the skies, transformed into a young man, to participate at a feast. An evil dragon abducted him and put him in prison, and the life on Earth almost stopped without the warmth and the light of the Sun. A young man went on to look for the Sun, and so he searched for many months, until March. Only then the young man found the dragon, engaged it in a fight, and set the Sun free. But the hero was harmed in the battle, and did not live up to see the light and warmth return. As he was dying, his blood ran down on the snow, and snowdrops bloomed in that place. This legend gave rise to a charming tradition – on the first of March people exchange Martsishors (a noun allegedly formed from the word “March”, or, according to another version, that was the name of the hero). These are tiny red-and-white lace ornaments worn on the chest, on the left side, where red is the symbol of love for beauty, a reminder of the hero’s blood, and white is the symbol of purity and vigor, a reference to the snowdrop, the first flower of the spring.