In myths and fairy tales the set-up is always of the divide between good and evil, the strong and weak, clever and foolish. Cultural theorists such as Julia Kristeva have explored how they belie psychological truths about human nature, and core themes and taboos of the time they were invented. What then do the classic Albanian folk-tales tell us of the world of their creation?
Constantin and Doruntine
Doruntine was the only daughter with 12 brothers who married a foreign prince. Constantin, the youngest brother, promises he will bring her back to visit, but all 12 brothers died in a war. Her mother cursed Constantin for breaking his promise so he rose from the dead and brings her home on his horse, showing how an Albanian always keeps his word.
Once, a terrible Kulshedra lived in a cave on Kruja mountain. An aged dervish killed the dragon. In anger, he threw a watermelon against the cave and in four strides, went to Corfu, footprints in Kruja, Shijak and Durrës.
Three brothers were building a Castle, but each night the walls fell down. They decided to sacrifice a wife. The next day, Rosafa, the wife of the youngest brother came. Her husband asked her to be walled up in the Castle and she agreed, asking only for holes to be made so she could feed and rock her son.
Gjergj Elez Alia
With cudgel and sword he fought enemies from land and sea, for nine years recovering from his wounds. A Baloz rose from the sea, demanding maidens and lambs. Gjerj said: “I have no maiden or lamb for you, Baloz! I challenge you to combat.” In battle Gjergj chopped the monster’s head off. He hung it from his saddle and threw the body into a well. He went home, embraced his sister and they both promptly died.
Aga Aga Ymeri of Ulqin
Ymeri was sent to fight in Spain for the Sultan. His wife agreed to wait for nine years and nine days. Taken prisoner, in nine years and nine days he could no longer eat, drink or make merry. He begged his captor’s daughter to let him see his wife, promising to return. As an Albanian, he would die rather than break his word so she agreed. He sped like an arrow over mountains and valleys to Ulqin shimmering on the water. His wife recognized him and they rejoiced. In Spain the king was furious, but true to his word Ymeri returned. The King said, “Aga Ymeri, you kept your word. You shall be released!”
A hunter freed a serpent from a rock and tried to bite him. This seemed unfair so he sought advice. A dog said: “I caught hares for a man and he gave me meat. Now I am old and I can’t catch a tortoise, he wants to kill me. I was given evil in return for good, so the snake should eat you. They asked a horse who said:”I had a master. He fed me as long as I could travel. Now I am feeble, he desires to kill me. The snake should eat you.” They asked a fox who said: “let us return to where you met.” At the quarry the fox put the rock on the serpent, and told him “you can stay there until the end of your days.”
The Skilful Brothers
Once upon a time there was a King with a beautiful daughter. They lived happily until one day a bandit took her into the earth. Seven intelligent, noble, and skilful men went to rescue her: The first had super hearing, the second could split the ground, the third an expert thief, the fourth an expert thrower, the fifth could magic a castle from thin air, the sixth had a magic bow and arrow, the seventh was an expert catcher. The first put his ear to the ground and fund the bandit’s hideout. The second opened the earth, the third stole the princess, the fourth threw the bandits shoes away, the fifth cast a spell and made a castle to hide in. But the bandit seized her and flew away. The sixth shot his arrow and the bandit dropped the Princess as the seventh caught her. At home the King asked her “Which of the brothers will you choose to marry? She chose the one who caught her as he was the most handsome.
The Man and the Earthly Beauty
A man desired the Earthly Beauty. Her servants took his gold and threw him out. But he returned. They took his gold and threw him out again. One day he found a genie in a jug who said, “Your wish is my command.” He ran to her but let slip about the wish granting genie and the Earthly Beauty ordered the genie to send him far, far away. He wandered until one day he found red grapes which made horns grow on his face. White grapes made them disappear. He sailed the ocean home and gave her the red grapes. When her face filled with horns she lost her mind. He said he could heal her, gave her the white grapes and made her marry him.
The Man Who Understood The Animals
A man was given the gift of the language of the animals on condition he never tell or he would die. He heard an ox tell a donkey, “They yoke me to the plough all day. They don’t give me food but leave you alone.” Donkey said: pretend to be sick. don’t eat any grass and they will leave you alone.” So the main laughed and said “yoke the donkey to the plough instead.” Donkey worked until sunset. He was tired but clever. He told the Ox “if you’re still sick, they will eat you! Pretend you are well again.” The farmer laughed and his wife nagged and demanded he tell his secret to her. But then he heard the rooster say “I have forty wives – I beat my wings and they tremble. But he has only one wife and she has nagged him to death! I would beat her and throw her out.” So instead of telling her his secret, he gave her a thrashing, threw her out, got a new wife and lived happily ever after.
The Girl Who Became a Boy
Once upon a time a man had three daughters, no sons. The youngest cut her hair, and set off to find her fortune. In the next Kingdom, the King had said who could jump over the moat with his horse could marry his daughter. The girl won and married the King’s daughter. That day she was cursed by a snake who said “If you are a girl, become a boy”. She spent the night with the Princess who had a wonderful night.
The Jealous Sisters
There were four sisters, they asked the Sun, “which is prettiest?” “Fatima,” it replied. They abandoned her in the forest. She found a cottage which was home to forty thieves. She cooked their meals and married their servant. Her sisters were enraged and swore to kill her. They sent a maidservant with a poisoned gold necklace. When Fatima wore it, she fell dead. But the thieves took it off and she came to life. The next day the servant took a poisoned gold brooch, again she fell down dead. Again the thieves saved her. The next day, the maidservant took a gold ring – once on her finger she fell down dead. Sadly the thieves did not see it, put her in a box, and threw it in a fountain. One day, the king saw it, he took her home and locked her in a room. As she got thinner the ring fell off and she came to life. The king married her and they lived happily ever after.
The Bear and the Dervish
A shepherd was bothered by a bear stealing his sheep. One day, he told a strange magician his tale of woe. The stranger asked the bear to make a bet who was stronger. He said: “I can crush you like this rock,” crushing up a piece of cheese. The bear was scared. The bear begged the magician to make him as strong as he was. He told the bear to boil the milk and said, “stick your head in and you’ll be strong.” When he did the magician kicked him, he fell into the cauldron and boiled to death.
An old man and woman owned nothing but a cat and a rooster. They split up and the woman got the cat and the man the rooster. The cat caught birds, but the old man ate half the rooster. The other half set off to seek his fortune hopping on one leg. He met a frog and a fox and they hopped into belly to join him. He met a wolf and a mouse and they joined him. One day he was caught and put in an oven, but the frog put out the fire. Once he was locked in a stable, but the wolf bit the horses and they escaped. Once he was locked up with some geese, but the Fox chased them off. Lastly, he was locked in a chest of gold. He ate the gold, the mouse gnawed a hole and they escaped. He hopped home and told the old man to hit him on the back with a rod every day. Each day he did this a piece of gold fell out so they all lived happily ever after.
The Lover’s Grave
Kruja and Tirana were in feud when Bedri from Kruja fell asleep in a forest. A zana appeared saying: ”beware the beam and the doe. You are safe at the fountain not at the root.” At noon, he reached a fountain saw a lady in a veil. He fell in love and followed her to Tirana. At the gate, men showed him a beam and asked what it was. “trani” he said as his accent betrayed his Krujan origin. But he escaped and found a room near the harem. He learned the lady was the daughter of the bey of Elbasan forced to marry the kajmakam of Tirana. She begged him to save her. They galloped away with men in pursuit. He took the road to Ndroq. Too late he knew the zana’s words. Ndroq meant “root” and Kruja “fountain.” It was too late. Surrounded by horsemen he stabbed his beloved, then himself. They begged to be buried together. This wish was granted.
The South of Albania has the myth of the Bolla, a sea-dragon who sleeps throughout the year, only to wake one day a year, when it seeks out and eats a human, then closes its eyes and sleeps in the sea. The Mezuraj Museum has contemporary paintings from new and established artists and a collection of sculpture and archaeological objects from Southern Albania. This includes some wonderful ancient objects such as stone depicting a Mermaid. In the French version of the classic mermaid tale Melusina, Elinas, the King of Albania, married the fairy Pressina.