Aspects of the Balkans. Continuity and change

H. Birnbaum and S. Vryonis (eds.)






As the comparative study of folktales began to evolve in Europe during the early 19th century, it was obvious to researchers that the Balkans should figure prominently in this emerging field of investigation. The strategic geographical position of the Balkan peninsula between East and West, its long and complex history, and the nature of its populations suggested that folktales from the Balkans might contribute substantially to answers which were being sought for the questions that these newly-discovered data had raised about the history and nature of man. In one sense, these expectations have been fulfilled time and time again during the course of the development of folktale research in Europe; yet in another sense, they have never been fulfilled at all. In order to understand this paradox and to comprehend its implications for the contemporary student of Balkan studies, it is necessary to consider the kinds of pronouncements which have been made about Balkan folktales through time in terms of the general intellectual climate that generated them and in terms of the broader context of European folktale scholarship within which they have been presented.


The study of folktales is usually said to have begun in Europe in 1812 with the publication of the first part of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Unlike most beginning dates, this one is neither so arbitrary nor so unimportant as one might expect. No one book which appeared in early 19th-century Europe more quickly captured the imaginations of laymen and scholars alike, and few works which have ever been published have been used more freely or frequently as both data base and starting place for speculations and hypotheses about the history and nature of man. [1] As the Grimms and their successors



1. One reason why the Grimms' work on folktales generated so many speculations and hypotheses about the history and nature of man was (he nature of the implications which Wilhelm Grimm drew from the story data with which he and Jakob were concerned. For the most complete statement of Wilhelm Grimm's position, see Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Reklam, Leipzig, 1856), III, 427ff.





uncovered from the written literatures of East and West what they conceived to be countless parallels to the stories contained in the volumes of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, and as a growing number of fieldworkers began to record what they regarded as innumerable variants of traditional story types from the memories and mouths of peasant tale-tellers, it soon became apparent to students of every humanistic discipline that this rapidly-growing corpus of textual data contained important clues to unsolved mysteries and ready proof of the validity of working hypotheses concerning human existence and human history. [2]


In its initial phases, the systematic study of traditional stories in Europe was closely bound up with, and was significantly influenced by, the development of the Romantic Movement in literature and the evolution of the Indo-European hypothesis in linguistic studies. It is not surprising, therefore, that the impetus and intellectual motivation for the collection and study of folktales came from England, France, and Germany, where prevailing philosophical notions about human history and social development had engendered an interest in folk poetry, balladry, and mythology since the 18th century. [3] Furthermore, it is easy to understand why the early collections and studies of European folktales, including those from the Balkan area, were edited and authored by writers and researchers from these three countries: it was in England, France, and Germany that the comparative study of historical documents and cultural data was most diligently pursued during the 19th century, and it was the members of the intellectual communities of these three countries by whom new data were most avidly sought and for whom published works containing such data were obviously most often intended. [4]


The earliest publications of folktales from the Balkans, like those from



2. Among the most important of these were notions concerning the primitive and conservative nature of the peasant and the common cultural heritage of most European and Western Asiatic peoples.


3. An excellent work which traces the evolution of the scholarly interest in folk poetry and balladry in England and assesses its effects upon continental scholarship is Albert B. Friedman, The Ballad Revival (Chicago, 1961).


4. A. H. Wratislaw, for example, begins his preface to Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources (London, 1889) with a comment which reveals his awareness of the nature of his reading audience: "So much interest has lately been awakened in, and centered around, Folk-lore, that it needs no apology to lay before THE BRITISH READER additional information upon the subject" (p. iii; my emphasis).





the rest of Europe, consist, for the most part, of story texts, discovered in little-known or relatively inaccessible written sources or recorded directly from storytellers, and translated into the native languages of their editors and the audiences for which they had been gathered together. [5] Little information is provided in these early works about the individuals from whom the field-collected stories had been obtained or about the circumstances under which the stories had been communicated and recorded. [6] Editorial comments and interpretive statements tend to be relatively brief, and they invariably reflect the theoretical biases that were prevalent in European scholarship at the time. Stories from Balkan peoples, like folktales recorded in other parts of Europe, are characterized as direct manifestations and typical products of a collective 'folk mind' and hence tend to be regarded as primary data which provide proof of, and insights into, the simple, but idyllic, character of the peasantry and the static, but equilibratory, nature of their way of life. Coupled with this is the concept of Balkan tale-tellers as preservers and perpetuators of a story tradition which presumably had its beginnings at some time in the remote past, when the cultures of the ancestors of the majority of European and Western Asiatic peoples were felt to have been undifferentiated. Balkan stories, like those of kindred folk elsewhere in the Indo-European world, are conceived by the editors of most of these early collections as cultural artifacts which, though tarnished by time and corrupted by innumerable retellings, survive among the peasantry of the present as living monuments of a way of life and a world-view of an earlier era and another place. The general similarities between folktales from Balkan countries and those from other parts of Europe were readily apparent to editors of these early collections; and differences, when they were discerned at all, were felt to have little significance. "Many an old nursery favourite will be recognised through its Greek disguise by English children when they read... this book", wrote E. M. Geldart in the Preface to his Folk-Lore of Modern Greece: The Tales of the People (London, 1884, p. v); and the point of view which is implicit in this



5. Among these early works were the following: Vuk S. Karadzic, Volksmärchen der Serben, trans. Wilhelmine Karadzic (Berlin, 1854); J. G. von Hahn, Albanesische Studien (Jena, 1859); J. G. von Hahn, Griechische- und albanesische Märchen (Leipzig, 1864), 2 vols.; John T. Naaké, Slavonic Fairy Tales (London, 1874); C. Mijatovics, Serbian Folklore (London, 1874); Bernhard Schmidt, Griechische Märchen, Sagen und Volkslieder (Leipzig, 1877); and E. Legrand, Recueil de contes populaires grecs (Paris, 1881).


6. This is true of all editors of early folktale collections, of course, not simply those who edited stories from the Balkans.





remark is typical of that of most pioneering students of folktales from the Balkan area. [7]


As the comparative study of folktales attracted an increasing number of investigators throughout Europe in the course of the 19th century, as large quantities of new textual data became available as a result of the efforts of library researchers and fieldworkers to provide more comprehensive and representative historical and geographical coverage of the story tradition, and as scholars began to develop research tools by means of which the comparative study of tale texts could be facilitated, it was inevitable that early speculations and assumptions about the origin and nature of folktales would come under increasing scrutiny. The generally accepted notions that the traditional stories of European and Western Asiatic peoples were all of great antiquity, that the folktales of peoples whose languages were thought to be cognate all had to have had their ultimate roots in a prehistoric common parent culture, and that the tale corpuses of all European peasant peoples must necessarily be similar because of the common life style and world-view of those among whom traditional stories were still being circulated, were subjected to re-examination, debate, and modification. Furthermore, as the reliability of story data increased as a result of the employment by fieldworkers of more careful and rigorous recording methods and techniques, and as more information was made available about storytellers and the ways in which stories were articulated and communicated, folktale researchers began to become increasingly aware of the fact that certain kinds of differences in folktales which early investigators had tended to ignore or which they conceived to be relatively unimportant (or at least less significant than similarities) would have to be explained or accounted for in some way.


These developments had significant effects upon European folktale



7. Throughout his book on Slavic folktales, for example, A. H. Wratislaw (see note 4 above) makes comments such as the following: "The Bulgarian tales themselves are curious, and some of them very beautiful.... There are old traditions as to the world and its inhabitants, apparently of heathen origin (No. 35); a singular fusion of the history of Abraham and Isaac with some other, probably heathen, tradition (No. 36); a version of 'Cinderella' (No. 37), which, involving as it does the transmigration of souls, clearly exhibits an Indian origin; a beautiful story (No. 38), the latter part of which is a variant of the latter part of the Russian tale of 'Marya Morevna' (Ralston, p. 85); and No. 39, in the latter part of which many people will recognise a variant of an old acquaintance" (p. 176; numbers refer to the numbers of the stories included in Wratislaw’s collection_. The many inferences which Wratislaw draw from his data clearly indicate the speculative nature of the pronouncements made by early editors of story collections from Balkan peoples.





scholarship, for they called into question the very foundations upon which this field of research had been built. For one thing, if folktales were, for the most part, of more recent origin than had been assumed, then they could not all have originated in the prehistoric common culture from which it was presumed all manifestations of culture of all Indo-European peoples had been derived. In addition, if the differences that had become increasingly apparent in the folktales of different groups of peoples were really as significant as they appeared to be, then this suggested that the general similarities with which early researchers had been preoccupied might have been more apparent than real. Consequently, a number of alternative hypotheses came into existence to take these new discoveries into account, each of which was based upon some prevailing concept concerning the evolution of man or the nature and transmission of culture, but no one of which could account for both the general and the specific kinds of similarities and differences which researchers could discern in the growing corpus of European folktales. Vigorous scholarly debate ensued, the result of which was a kind of compromise which had significant effects upon the kinds of pronouncements that were made about traditional stories of European and Western Asiatic peoples. [8]


The notions which became prevalent in comparative folktale scholarship as a result of this compromise can be characterized briefly as follows : that most folktales — and certainly all 'complexly-structured' ones — which were conceived to be traditional and recurrent in Europe and Western Asia had originated in one place; that a large number, if not the majority, of them had probably either originated in, or had been codified in the early literary words of, India and neighboring parts of the Near East; that these stories probably either originated or began to be disseminated no earlier than the Middle Ages, for the most part; that the tales spread, like ripples on a pond, outward from centers of origin or influence; and that as they moved through time and space by means of oral transmission, they changed in accordance with the regional, linguistic, and national boundaries which they traversed and within which they were circulated. In terms of these notions, the Balkan peninsula came to be regarded as an important crossroads in the diffusion process, for stories



8. For a summary of these competing theories, see Stith Thompson, The Folktale (New York, 1946), pp. 367-390 ; Richard M. Dorson, "The Eclipse of Solar Mythology", in Myth: A Symposium, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok, Bibliographical and Special Series of the American Folklore Society, Vol. 5 (Bloomington, Ind., 1955), pp. 15-38; and Richard M. Dorson, "Theories of Myth and the Folklorist", in Myth and Mythmaking, ed. Henry A. Murray (New York, 1960), pp. 76-89.





coming from the Near East were conceived to have entered Europe through the Balkans and to have been disseminated from the Balkan area to other parts of Europe. Moreover, since the Balkans were conceived to constitute a kind of transition area between East and West, it was felt that the folktales of Balkan peoples should be more similar to each other, to those of the Near East, and to those of their neighboring peoples than they should be to the traditional stories of peoples living farther from the centers of origin and influence from which the tales had spread.


The expected was shown to be true, as we see from a well-known essay on Modern Greek folktales published in 1916. [9] Its author, W. R. Halliday, notes that it comes as no surprise to the contemporary reader to find "close parallels between Teutonic märchen and the folk-tales of Greece", for "the same tales and the same incidents are to be found distributed over the greater part of the world". [10] At the same time, Halliday asserts, one can also "trace a narrower nationality in the tone and content of a body of allied folk-stories" ; and insofar as Greek tales are concerned, this "narrower nationality" is what Halliday calls the "Nearer East". This area, "including Magyars, Greeks, Albanians, Serbs, Russians, Turks, Armenians, Georgians (in fact the Turkish Empire, Russia, and the Balkan States), presents in its folk-tales the equivalent of its geographical position as a halfway house between East and West." [11] Furthermore, Halliday contends, another fact is readily apparent; and he presents it in these words :


In ordinary conversation the Greek peasant habitually contrasts Greece with Europe and the Hellene with the Frank, thus implicitly ranging himself among the peoples of the Nearer East. And the admission of this casual comparison is justified by his conditions of life and modes of thought. IT IS FURTHER BORNE OUT BY THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLK-TALES. The oriental and particularly Turkish character of Greek stories has never been sufficiently recognised. No Greek, however strong the evidence, could do anything but deny a phenomenon, which his sense of patriotism decrees a priori to be impossible. [12]


Halliday presents a number of general and somewhat vague examples to support his contentions (e.g., the existence of similar words or similar kinds of actors and agents in Greek and other Balkan or Turkish stories) ; and his annotations to the collection of stories upon which he focuses in



9. "The Subject-Matter of the Folk-Tales", in R. M. Dawkins, Modern Greek in Asia Minor (Cambridge, 1916), Chapter III, pp. 213-283.


10. "The Subject-Matter of the Folk-Tales", p. 218.


11. "The Subject-Matter of the Folk-Tales", p. 219.


12. "The Subject-Matter of the Folk-Tales", p. 216; the emphasis is mine.





his essay (a corpus of Greek tales from Asia Minor) emphasize what he conceives to be parallel and related stories from other Balkan and neighboring peoples. Occasionally Halliday expresses surprise at the fact that Greek stories do not contain certain kinds of content elements and stylistic devices which occur in tales of nearby countries; but he invariably accounts for these "deficiencies" by stressing the "broken-down" and "corrupt" nature of the story texts with which he is concerned. [13] Thus, Halliday claims that he has found close affinities between Greek folktales and the traditional stories of other Balkan and neighboring peoples ; but the nature of the examples which he presents suggests that these similarities, like those which earlier investigators had found between the folktales of Balkan peoples and those of peoples from other parts of the Indo-European world, might have been more apparent than real.


The scholarly notions about folktales in terms of which Halliday and others like him were able to make the kinds of pronouncements which they made about traditional stories from Balkan peoples have persisted among European investigators throughout the 20th century. The appearance of Antti Aarne's tale-type index in 1910 [14] — and of Stith Thompson's enlargements and revisions ofthat work in 1928 and 1961 [15] — and the development of the Finnish or historic-geographic method [16] have facilitated the classification, indexing, and comparative study of traditional story types. Moreover, the results which have been obtained from the rigorous systematization of folktale data and from the intensive comparative study of variants of individual story types have reinforced most notions about the nature, distribution, and adaptation of folktales and have required investigators to make only minor modifications in others. But the widely-adopted methods of comparative folktale study have also created some problems for which no satisfactory solutions have yet been forthcoming. Among the most perplexing problems for com-



13. Such qualitative statements are not uncommon among students of folktales, many of whom have had formal training in literary studies. Moreover, Halliday was apparently convinced that among the Greeks living in Asia Minor, the storytelling tradition was 'dying'.


14. Verzeichnis der Märchentypen, Folklore Fellows Communications, No. 3 (Helsinki, 1910).


15. The Types of the Folk-Tale, Folklore Fellows Communications, No. 74 (Helsinki, 1928); and The Types of the Folktale, Second Revision, Folklore Fellows Communications, No. 184 (Helsinki, 1961).


16. For a description of the Finnish or historic-geographic method, particularly as it has been used in comparative folktale research, see Thompson, The Folktale, pp. 428-448.





parative folktale researchers is one which has been created by story data from the Balkans.


The problem, to state it simply and succinctly, is that story data from the Balkans do not fit into the system. Most of the stories which have been recorded in, and which have been reported from, the Balkan area cannot be readily or easily described or characterized by means of the generalized descriptions of widely-circulated and recurrent story types which appear in the standard tale-type index. [17] Furthermore, even when stories which have been reported from Balkan peoples appear to have some characteristics commonly found in variants of well-known tale types, they also usually differ in such significant ways that they cannot be classified as variants of these tale types without considerable difficulty or arbitrariness. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — stories from the Balkans, whether they be conceived to be variants of well-known tale types, on the one hand, or stories which have been reported from no other part of Europe or Western Asia, are neither so recurrent among Balkan peoples generally nor even among peoples living in any given area of the Balkans as to enable researchers to consider them to be either tale types which are unique to a region, culture, or nation, or regional, cultural, or national sub-types of more widely-distributed tale-types.


That these facts are both real and apparent has been obvious for some time. And they have created a dilemma for the comparative folktale researcher, for they seem to contradict what he has come to expect. Since folktales from the Balkan area are conceived to constitute an important part of a story tradition common to all or most peoples of Europe and Western Asia, then it would seem that widely-circulated and recurrent tales which have been reported in large numbers of variant forms from other parts of this vast tradition area should be better known and should have been reported with much greater relative frequency from the Balkans than the data seem to indicate. Furthermore, when familiar stories are reported from the Balkans, one would expect them to exhibit a greater number of similarities to, and a lesser number of significant differences from, variants of these story types that are known from elsewhere. Finally, the stories which have been reported from Balkan peoples should have, one would think, many more parallels or variants both from within and from outside the Balkans than the data seem to suggest they have. But the data have fulfilled none of these expectations; and researchers have responded to the resulting dilemma



17. The Types of the Folktale (see note 15 above).





by seeking its solution in the Stereotypie concept of the Balkans as a 'melting pot' [18] in which peoples of diverse cultures and nationalities have intermingled for so long that the result has been the formation of a kind of conglomerate culture area of which Balkan folktales are but one manifestation.


In terms of this concept, comparative folktale researchers have come to view traditional tales from the Balkan area as 'composites' — that is, as stories which are made up of a number of content elements or motifs which are well known from folktales of other groups of European and Western Asiatic peoples, but which do not occur in Balkan stories in the combinations in which they occur in tales elsewhere and which do not even occur within the corpus of Balkan folktales with the predictable consistency and frequency which investigators have discovered in folktales from other regions, linguistic areas, cultures, and nations. Thus, stories reported from Balkan peoples have come to be regarded, in this sense, as variants of combinations of well-known tale-types ; and many of these 'composite' stories have been assigned new or supplemental tale-type numbers so that they can be incorporated, if only in a token way, into the standard folktale index and hence into the system to which they are so ill-fitted. [19]


One consequence of these developments is readily apparent from the kind of treatment that the stories of Balkan peoples receive in the standard work on the folktale by Stith Thompson. [20] In that work, Thompson notes that there is "an unmistakable historical connection among the traditional narratives of all the peoples extending from Ireland to India". [21] Moreover, within this vast story tradition area, Thompson asserts, a number of "sub-areas" can also be discerned,


for affinities in language, consciousness of a common historic past as a recognized tribe or nation, religious unity, and association in a definite geographic



18. One comparative folktale scholar has used this precise term in her characterization of Balkan stories: "The Balkans have proved a melting pot for the Oriental and the Slavonic traditions, and it is well-nigh impossible to classify particular variants as members of the South Slavonic, Near Eastern or native Balkan traditions" (Anna Birgitta Rooth, The Cinderella Cycle, Lund [1951], p. 213).


19. Among the Balkan stories which have been fitted into the tale-type system in this way are the following: 300A*, The Princess is Won, reported from Rumania; 302A* (no title), reported from Greece; 332A*, Visit in the House of the Dead, reported from Rumania and Greece; and 409A, The Girl as Goat (Jackdaw), reported from Serbocroatia and Greece. In all such instances, these tale types are described as being 'mixed with' other types, which simply means that they contain motifs that are found


20. The Folktale (see note 8 above).


21. Thompson, The Folktale, p. 14.





territory, all have tended to produce within peoples of certain regions a psychological unity very important for its influence on their traditional lore. [22]


In the list of sub-areas which Thompson delineates, however, the Balkans as such receive no mention, despite the fact that the Balkan region appears to meet all of the criteria necessary for inclusion. Moreover, Thompson says nothing about the story traditions of Greece, Albania, and Rumania; and although he includes all other Balkan peoples under the sub-area which he designates as "the Slavic countries", Thompson qualifies this designation with the following assertions :


The South and West Slavic peoples — the Bulgarians, the Serbo-Croatians, the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles — have tales resembling in many ways those of Russia, but also greatly influenced by their neighbors farther to the south and west. Bulgaria is thus marginal between Russia and Greece, and one finds plentiful Italian influence in Serbia, and many German elements in the tales of Bohemia and Poland. [23]


Thus, one never really knows from Thompson's survey just where the stories of Balkan peoples belong in the vast tradition area which extends from Ireland to India; and he can only conclude from Thompson's statements that since the tales reported from the Balkans in general or from any given group of Balkan peoples have so much in common, and yet at the same time so little in common, with each other, with the tales of the peoples of the rest of Europe, and with stories from Western Asia, then neither Balkan folktales nor the folktales of any given group of Balkan peoples can be said to have either distinguishing or distinctive characteristics of their own.


This conclusion is the one which most comparative folktale researchers have reached as a result of their examination of story data from the Balkans; and it is the only defensible conclusion which one CAN draw from the data in terms of the system within which these data have been, and continue to be, examined. But this is a negative conclusion, and it suggests that meaningful studies of the stories of Balkan peoples cannot be conducted by comparative investigators (1) until and unless new data reveal greater consistencies and suggest closer affinities than are apparent in the existing data, or (2) until and unless the prevailing system utilized in comparative folktale research can be modified in such a way as to accommodate story data from the Balkans more satisfactorily than it can at present. There is, however, something else that is suggested by the negative nature of this conclusion, and it is that perhaps story data



22. Thompson, The Folktale, p. 15.


23. Thompson, The Folktale, p. 17.





from the Balkan area cannot be studied in terms of the same system or even the same KIND of system within which story data from other parts of Europe have been studied successfully. In other words, what this negative conclusion suggests is that comparative folktale researchers may be unable to find in Balkan story data that they think they SHOULD be able to find because it simply does not exist in these data. Let us consider this latter possibility further.


The basic premise upon which the widely-used tale-type system is built is that STORIES are traditional — that is, that there are stories which are told over and over again by people and that as these stories are told and retold, they are changed or modified, sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately, but that in the process of being transmitted the basic plots and motifs of these stories remain stable enough so that once one has been exposed to these stories, he will recognize them when he is exposed to them again, even though he might be able to detect what he conceives to be additions, omissions, or modifications. Myriad stories can be said to be 'traditional' in this sense; and many stories can be said to be traditional to many different people, at different times, and in different places. And it is the stable plots and motifs which one can detect in stories which constitute the basis for the concept of the tale-type. Thus, the standard tale-type index contains generalized descriptions of many such widely-known and recurrent story types; and the system of comparative folktale study which is based upon the concept of the tale-type and which utilizes the standard index of tale types as its basic research tool is one which is particularly useful for studying the stories of peoples among whom folktales can, indeed, be said to be traditional because the same story types recur so frequently. But when stories reported from a given group of people are not readily identifiable and recognizable as well-known tale-types, and when the stories which are told by these people do not seem to recur with noticeable enough frequency that one is enabled to posit that new story types may have been created and circulated among these people, then this suggests that among the people in that given group there may be less of a preoccupation with stories per se and more with the process of telling stories. When one s such a situation, then it would appear that what he is dealing with is not so much a STORY TRADITION, but rather a STORY-TELLING which the total structures of the story-messages are not predetermined, as would seem to be the case with a story tradition, but rather one in which the structures of story-messages are generated during the actual course of the story-telling process. From the evolving evidence





in comparative folktale research, it appears that in the Balkans it is more often story-telling that is traditional rather than stories. And this would explain why stories recorded from Balkan peoples can so infrequently be fitted easily into the tale-type system and why that system cannot provide meaningful insights into story-telling in the Balkans.


In order to clarify these points and to illustrate that they are based upon what the data reveal, let us consider three Balkan story texts, which I shall summarize as succinctly as possible. Each of the three stories was told by a different storyteller, and each was recorded at a different time and place. All three story texts have appeared in reputable published collections, and all are characteristic of the kinds of stories which have been reported from Balkan storytellers during the present century.



Text one relates a story of a king and his vizier who are both childless and who both wish for children. They agree that if children of opposite sexes should happen to be born to them, the two should marry. This does, indeed, come to pass. But while the girl born to the queen is beautiful and fair, the boy born to the wife of the vizier is handsome, but black. Determined to get out of his agreement with the vizier, the king sends the black boy to find God and to ask Him whether what has been written can be unwritten.


Perplexed by the nature of the task, but duty-bound nevertheless to carry out the king's command, the boy begins his aimless journey. On the way to his unknown destination, he encounters first a blind man, later a man who is perpetually submerged in water up to his neck, and finally a lonely exile-outlaw, each of whom asks the boy to ask God for a solution to his misfortune, should the boy be fortunate enough to find God. The boy promises to do so ; and when he accidentally encounters God, he not only asks Him for the answer to the king's question, but he also asks what those whom he has encountered can do to alleviate their misfortunes. On his return journey, the boy encounters the exile-outlaw, tells him what God has said he must do to regain the favor of his fellow men, and receives considerable wealth from the exile-outlaw for having spoken to God for him. To the drowning man, the boy gives God's answer that there is no solution to his misfortune, for it is a punishment which he must endure for having been blasphemous. When he encounters the blind man again, the black boy, in accordance with God's command, rubs the blind man's eyes with some clay from a nearby hole; the result of this action is that the blind man is able to see again. In the process of





rubbing the clay on the blind man's eyes, however, the boy notices that the hand with which he has applied the clay has turned white. Consequently, the boy rolls his body in the clay; as his entire body turns white, be becomes aware of the meaning of the king's question and the implications of God's answer.


Now both wealthy and white, the boy returns to the city, sets himself up as a merchant, and manages to attract the attention of the king by deliberately underselling all the other merchants, who complain to the king. Motivated by the merchants' complaints, the king visits the boy's shop, but forgets his mission once he sees the boy, for he is immediately struck by the boy's appearance and wealth and desires the boy to be the husband of his daughter. The marriage between the unrecognized boy and the princess is arranged; but before the wedding, the boy visits his parents, is eventually recognized by them and by all others. Then what was written is carried out.



In text two, we are told of a rich man who, at the time of his death, divides his wealth between his two sons and commands that they never separate. The elder son, however, decides to part company with his younger brother after their father's death; while the fortune of the latter grows, that of the former rapidly dwindles to nothing.


Convinced that it is Luck who has let him down, the elder son sets out to seek her. On his journey, he encounters first a shepherd who cannot keep his flock from decreasing in number, then a man whose gluttonous sons treat him disrespectfully, and finally a river which is unable to breed fish. Each asks the elder son to ask Luck what can be done about his plight; and the elder son agrees to do so if he ever does encounter her.


Eventually, the elder son does find Luck, who requests that he remain with her for four days in order to learn why his fortune has been so bad. Each morning during the four days, the souls of newborn babies appear outside Luck's door and clamor for gifts, and each day Luck gives generously of her great wealth. After the fourth day, however, Luck's store of riches has been depleted.


With nothing left to eat or drink and nothing with which to buy provisions, Luck suggests that she and the elder son seek work. The two earn a scanty wage, and between them they manage to make enough to afford a simple meal. But when the newborn souls arrive at Luck's door the next morning, there is nothing for them but crumbs and crusts. Again, Luck and the elder son seek work, but they have even less success than they had had the previous day; the newborn souls which appear the





following day get nothing at all, for there is nothing for Luck to give to them.


The lesson for the elder son is clear, for his newborn soul, too, arrived at Luck's door on such a day. But he can change his fortune, Luck tells him, if he can arrange to marry the adopted daughter of his younger brother and if he remembers never to boast again about his possessions or good fortune. Before departing from Luck's house, the elder son remembers the shepherd, the father of the disrespectful boys, and the sterile river; he asks Luck what they can do to change their fortunes, too. The elder son conveys the advice which Luck has given him to each of the three on his return journey, receives rewards from the father and the shepherd, and returns to the house of his younger brother to request the hand of the brother's adopted daughter in marriage. The marriage is consummated, and all goes well for the elder son. But as he prospers, he forgets Luck's warning; when he boasts of the vastness of his farmlands, he receives reports that many of his land holdings have been destroyed by natural causes. He remembers Luck's warning, repents quickly, and his lands prove to be untouched. He prospers and lives unseparated from his brother for the rest of his days.



In text three, we are told of an old woman who has a single hen which lays a single egg each day. But an unattractive old-man neighbor steals the eggs when the old woman is away. Unable to catch the suspected thief in the act, the old woman decides to seek advice from the Undying Sun.


On her way, she meets three old-maid sisters who lament their unmarried state, a heavily-clad woman who shivers from the cold, a river which can only run turbid and dark as blood, and a montrous rock which is suspended precariously, but which cannot fall and be at rest. Each asks the old woman to describe his plight to the Undying Sun, which she agrees to do when she encounters him. On her return journey, she conveys the Undying Sun's answers to those whom she had encountered earlier. She arrives home, and in accordance with the Undying Sun's promise, the thief has already received his just desserts. The old woman's eggs never disappear again ; and when she dies, her hen dies, too.



The kinds of problems which this group of three story texts presents for the comparative folktale researcher are typical of the kinds of problems that confront him repeatedly as he examines story data reported from peoples living in the Balkans. On the one hand, one cannot help but be





struck by many features which are common to, and readily discernible in, these three texts: the existence of a human conflict, the search for a personified abstraction, the encounters en route, the requests of those who are encountered along the way, and the successful completion and effects of this completion of both the secondary and primary tasks. Furthermore, familiar stylistic features are found in all three stories: the trebling and quadrupling of encounters and the happy endings. Motifs well known in other traditional stories — such as the personification of abstractions, the reversal of fortune, and the intervention of supernatural beings in the lives of mortals — are found in all three texts.


At the same time, however, one cannot help but be aware of significant differences among the three stories as well. Texts one and two appear to be more complex than text three, but the relative complexity of the one is quite different from the other. Furthermore, many of the major motifs found in one story text are missing from the others. The old woman in text three, for example, receives no rewards from those whom she encounters and helps; and the black boy in text one encounters only human agents, while the elder son and the old woman interact with inanimate objects as well as with other mortals. Thus, the data create a dilemma from the point of view of those who feel that these three stories belong together and that they should in some way be able to be fitted into the widely-used system of tale types which has come to serve as the basis for comparative folktale study.


When one looks beyond the obvious and superficial similarities and differences, however, he begins to discover things which indicate that the question of whether or not these stories are variants of a common tale type is not just unanswerable, but is completely irrelevant. For while the three story texts contain a narrative sequence which can be characterized as conflict, primary task, search, encounters en route, secondary tasks, confrontation and successful completion of primary and secondary tasks, and resolution of conflict, this common narrative sequence in no way constitutes a common story plot. In text one, the sequence of events which occurs once the boy sets off on his journey proves to be of primary importance in the story, for it provides the means by which the storyteller can alleviate the tensions which arise from the existence of a moral dilemma for which there is no easy solution. It is the black boy's interactions with the exile-outlaw and the blind man that make the resolution of the human conflict possible, for it is only because of the material reward which the boy receives from the exile-outlaw and the miraculous transforming powers of the clay which God has instructed the boy to apply to





the blind man's eyes that what is written can, indeed, be carried out. In text two, on the other hand, the sequence of events which occurs after the elder son begins his search for Luck seems, at first, to be redundant insofar as the total structure of the story is concerned. Yet this redundancy is actually integral to the story, for it serves to reinforce the theme by mirroring the kinds of violations of a moral code which account for the elder son's dilemma and motivate him to seek a means of restituting his state of existence. But in text three, the sequence of events which occurs after the old woman sets out to find the Undying Sun provides the means by which the storyteller can exemplify the common kinds of consequences which result when human beings violate established social norms and when they are unable to comprehend the reasons for these consequences without the intercession and help of one who understands them and who values social equilibrium for its own sake. Thus, one is not dealing, in story texts such as these, with a common story plot which is simply given different treatments by different storytellers. Instead, he is confronted with a basic narrative structure which is manipulated and exploited by different storytellers in such a way as to enable its manipulators and exploiters to generate different story-messages whose principal communicative value is social rather than dramatic.


The three story texts summarized and discussed above were all recorded from nonliterate storytellers. Furthermore, those who communicated these stories to fieldworkers all lived in the Dodecanese Islands, a fact which would normally lead one to expect the three stories to be much more similar and much less different than they actually are. [24] But there are other story texts which have been reported from other parts of the Balkans in which the same narrative sequence is manipulated and exploited and in which the discernible differences, as well as the implicit similarities, are equally noticeable and significant; and these could have been cited just as easily as those which have been utilized above. [25] Whatever the choice of examples, however, the result of the examination is always the same : it is a basic narrative structure, not a well-known tale



24. The three texts summarized in this paper have been published in the following works: R. M. Dawkins, Forty-five Stories from the Dodekanese (Cambridge, 1950), pp. 281-287 (text one), pp. 358-368 (text two); and R. M. Dawkins, Modern Greek Folktales (Oxford, 1953), pp. 462-465 (text three).


25. See, for example, the story recorded in Lydia Schischmanoff, Legendes religieuses bulgares (Paris, 1896), pp. 232-238, which contains the same basic narrative structure as that found in the three stories summarized above, but in which the plot that is generated from this basic narrative structure is entirely different from the plot of any one of the three stories discussed in this paper.





type, which is important to the storytellers; and it is the way in which these basic narrative structures are manipulated and exploited by different storytellers in the Balkans that makes each story-message unique. To consider these three stories to be variants of a well-known and common tale type, as Stith Thompson does in the Second Revision of the standard tale-type index, [26] is to ignore significant aspects of the data for no apparent reason other than to force these data into a classification system of recurrent tale-types which cannot accommodate them and into which they not only cannot, but also should not, be fitted.


There are, then, numerous indications from examinations which have been made of story data from Balkan peoples that in the Balkans one finds a story-telling, rather than a story, tradition. And this suggests that in the Balkans, in contrast to many other parts of Europe, one must approach stories and storytelling in an entirely different way than he does when he is dealing with cultures in which it is the stories, rather than the telling of stories, which is traditional. For in the Balkan area, it would seem that storytelling is really a creative process rather than a kind of communicative event during which well-known story plots are re-created and re-transmitted for their dramatic effects.


In the introductions to two of his well-known and justly-praised collections of Modern Greek folktales, the distinguished comparative scholar R. M. Dawkins draws some inferences from Greek stories which seem to be relevant for other Balkan peoples as well. "It would seem", Dawkins notes, "that as people grow out of what is a very primitive state, the folktale has two paths open to it." Dawkins continues:


If it [the folktale] is to remain unaltered, then it will fall into the hands of children and those who minister to them. If it is to continue to interest older people, then it will change into a kind of oral novel, dealing with life as known or as imagined by the auditors. But it almost always happens that the second development is blocked, or rather cut short, by the arrival of written stories, and the stage so elegantly represented by the storytelling company of the Decameron rapidly passes. This is what makes these Dodekanesian stories so interesting: they show us how people, ready for written stories and not getting them, contrived to make something to give themselves satisfaction, using only their native resources of wit and ingenuity. [27]



26. In The Types of the Folktale, Second Revision (1961), the three stories summarized in this paper are all regarded as variants of a common story, Type 460B, The Journey in Search of Fortune. The summary of the story provided by Thompson in the type index corresponds in many respects to our text two; but the similarities between our texts one and three and the summary provided by Thompson are minimal.


27. Dawkins, Forty-five Stories from the Dodekanese, p. 5.





In another of his publications, Dawkins develops the principal point that is implicit in the passage quoted above. These words, too, are worth quoting at length:


The brothers Grimm called their book Haus- und Kindermärchen : it would not occur to anyone to give such a title to most of the Greek stories. The answer may perhaps be that the Greeks are a people of great natural intelligence and gifts, who lived for many centuries in a country governed by a people intellectually very much their inferiors. In their isolated islands and villages they lived far away from the general current of events which was all the time carrying the peoples of Europe into new ways of thought and life. Even in the revolutionary changes at the end of the eighteenth century Greece could do hardly more than turn in her sleep. For long the Greeks were ready for something new, but the nation lay always in chains. In their folktales, we have, it seems, an art-product of a people naturally progressive and active but with no means of making progress. What they did was to develop the riches of their own home-grown culture, and the art of the folktale, in Europe entirely swept away except as an amusement for children, was in Greece developed until we reach such stories as those I have placed at the end of the present collection: stories in which the national philosophy of life shows itself so clearly. [28]


Although some of Dawkins' comments might be readily disputed (such as those about "natural intelligence" and "intellectual superiority"), they communicate, it seems to me, certain insights into, and plausible explanations for, certain realities which are evident in the story data which have been reported not only from the Greeks, but from other Balkan peoples as well. For it is true that in other parts of Europe — and particularly in those countries in which the theoretical bases and methods of comparative folktale study were first developed — the folktale actually did fall early into the "hands of children and those who minister to them", as Dawkins asserts. And this may well be why one can talk of a STORY TRADITION, but not a STORY-TELLING TRADITION, in Europe in general. For it is true, as Dawkins suggests, that widespread literacy affects storytelling because the very models which written stories provide — even for those people who cannot read them, but who are exposed to and affected by them nevertheless — are STATIC models; and static models obviously make the STORY rather than the process of TELLING THE STORY the focus of attention. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — what studies of comparative researchers seem to have revealed about storytelling in the Balkans generally is something which Dawkins came to realize from his study and analysis of Greek stories; and it is that while in other parts of Europe traditional stories provide the basis for a kind



28. Dawkins, Modern Greek Folktales, p. xxviii.





of social interaction and communication through the participation of taletellers and listeners in the dramatic unfolding of familiar story plots, in the Balkans storytelling itself is a kind of social interaction and communicative event during which the story-messages which are generated as a result of the storyteller's exploitation and manipulation of familiar narrative structures communicate social values which are traditional.


What appears to be implicit in the dilemma which has been created by story data from the Balkan peoples, then, is the fact that if investigators wish to gain meaningful insights into these data, they can only do so by creating new investigative models in terms of which the dynamic processes which appear to be characteristic of story-telling in the Balkans can be better understood. For researchers to continue to try to study Balkan story data in terms of a model which was developed for the study of traditional stories rather than traditional storytelling can only complicate matters and lead to further delays in initiating studies which have the potential to enlighten students of Balkan cultures about social and communicative processes, an intrinsic part of the lives of peoples from which researchers hope to learn more about human behavior, social relationships, and expressive cultural phenomena.


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