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Italian Essay on Main Characters and Animals, Real and Mythological


The main characters often depend on the history of the country. Some legends are inspired by real facts happened a long time ago, while others have been created to give a more interesting view of reality. The characters and mythological creatures which  appear most often are: the devil,  saints, historical figures, royals and beautiful women.

The devil appears in some of the legends and his goal is to tempt the heroes of the story. In every legend, the devil is  sly, destructive and sneaky while the hero is always quiet, brave and thoughtful. In most cases the hero wins like in the Italian legend “The Devil’s column” or the Lithuanian legend “Puntuka stone”. But the hero doesn’t always win because sometimes  he is too curious like in the Bulgarian legend “Devil’s throat cave” where we find the young Orpheus trying to save his beloved wife Eurydice from the Hade’s underworld; or  sometimes the hero tries to trick the devil like in “The tale of Mr. Twardowski”.  So, in those cases, the devil wins.

In Italy we have the legend of Romolo and Remo and the foundation of Rome, where the two boys are  saved and grown by a female wolf, so we can consider the wolf like a symbol of salvation and power. In Lithuania we have the legend of Vilnius city foundation where  the Grand Duke Gediminas dreams about an iron wolf on the top of a mountain and the following day he takes inspiration from his dream to build the city in that place. So we can consider the wolf as a symbol of power.

In some legends we have the figure of the monster, often a  dragon, that  terrifies villages and cities. In the Italian legend “Saint George and the Dragon”  a princess is sacrified for the safety of a city; in the Lithuanian legend about Neringa’s conquest, we have a similar situation because the daughter of a fisherman, being beautiful, is coveted by a dragon, to save the village, she is offered in marriage to the dragon even if  she refuses. In the legend "Scylla and Charibdis" the two monsters are terrible and terrifying and it is impossible to believe that once they were two beautiful girls: all the sailors passing through the strait of Messina are afraid of them.

In a lot of European lands, the imagine of the woman is celebrated  as an angel. Women are respected and treated as  divinities. They are defined as a superior human-being because they are respected by everybody and venerated as queens. Every respectable man has a wife and in the private life of each couple, women are often well-treated. But women in the legends aren’t always rich or in a high position. They can be poor girls or not from well-off families.

Another well-known role is that of the “Man of honor”, as the figure of the  knight during the Middle Ages. This figure is such an ethical man to be totally prepared to stand up for his principles. This man is usually  a king, a soldier or simply a father. These men appear strong and mature, but as human-beings, they can also make mistakes. For this reason, not all the men in the European legends  are respected and considered “men of honor”. A male character can also be an evil man. Another important character is that of the magician. This character is important  because of his abilities and qualities.

This legend has some human characters and a fairy. Misurina is enchanted by the fairy’s mirror and wants to possess it. The fairy is neither good nor evil, she simply asks for something in return for the object she is asked to part with. Of course, the fairy also sets a challenge: she wants to know how selfish Misurina is, and the girl proves to be very  selfish.  In the Bulgarian legend “The Devil’s Bridge-2”, three brothers  consult with a wise man from their village, but they are not prepared for what he has to tell them. The wise man tells them that the bridge needs a sacrifice in order to be finished. The wise man appears like a magician and sets an impossible condition. In the Lithuanian  legend “Puntukas stone” we read that Mother Anykšta is a mighty sorceress and that all the devils are  afraid of her.

Misurina is a  spoilt ungenerous young girl. There are other girls in the foreign legends, for example Katharina in the Polish legend “Gingerbread”. However, unlike Misurina, Katharina is generous and kind and helps her father in his  bakery willingly

Alda is a young girl, she is innocent and naïve and very religious. In the dangerous situation she has to face, she prays the Virgin and the angels and they help her escape from her enemies. So we find three kinds of characters: the innocent girl; the supernatural religious characters; the villains.

Like Alda, Petka is a young girl chased by the infidels. Petka takes shelter in a cave and escapes thanks to a miracle. The difference is that Petka becomes a saint while Alda dies because she tries to challenge the angels a second time.

Stana is the young girl who marries a dragon in the Bulgarian legend “The Pirin’s dragon”; Vita is the young nun who gives birth to a child and is turned to stone in the Bulgarian legend “Belogradchik rocks – 2”.

The Virgin Mary is a character in St Petka and in the Lithuanian legend “The Hill of crosses” and she answers the prayers addressed to her by granting  salvation.

Angels instead appear in the Polish legend about Mount Ślęża, where they manage to fight and defeat the devils.


The devil is a very common character in most legends. It is a character in “The Devil’s Column” and also in the other Italian legend “Saint Galgano and the sword in the rock”. The devil represents the temptation  of a successful life. He tempts Ambrogio, but the saint doesn’t fall in temptation, moreover he kicks the devil who is shamefully defeated and outsmarted.

A very similar legend is the Lithuanian “The Devil’s stone” where the devil wants to destroy the church of Raigarò. In the other Lithuanian legend “Puntukas stone” the devil doesn’t set to destroy a church but the hut where a witch lives.

While Ambrogio’s faith is strong enough to stand up to the devil, other characters look for the devil and ask him for success and sign a pact with him; it is the case with  The Bulgarian legend “The Devil’s bridge” and the Polish legend “Tale of Mr Twardowski”.

The devil is also a character in the Romanian legend “Lady’s rock”, in the Bulgarian legend “Devil’s throat cave” and in the Polish legend “Mount Ślęża”, even though the situation in these legends is  different from the one presented in “The Devil’s column”.

The legend is about the conversion of Galgano who is a young troublesome kid, who then  a violent knight and after the conversion to Christianity he becomes a hermit and a saint. His conversion is made possible by the apparition of the Archangel Michael and it is contrasted by the devil who wants to tempt him. Before his birth, Galgano’s mother had asked  the Virgin for a son, as she was having problems getting pregnant.

Like in most legends,  human characters and  religious or supernatural ones coexist. As usual, the Archangel and the Virgin are positive elements  in the narration, while the devil tries to do harm.

The new element is provided by Galgano being a knight. However, he is not a “good” knight like Saint George, because he leads a life of murder and violence. The only other knight in the foreign legends is present in the Romanian legend “Dracula – Vlad Tepes” .

Romolo and Remo are two twin brothers. They have a noble origin as they are the sons of a woman and of the God Mars. Their life begins in a dramatic way as they are abandoned to their death but luckily  rescued by a she-wolf who feeds and brings them up. As brothers,  they don’ t share brotherly love or affection, but turn one against the other. The legend ends with Romolo becoming  the first king of Rome but also the murderer of his  twin brother.

The Bulgarian legend “Belogradichik Rock-3” narrates the story of three brothers who live in a loving family; they don’t fight  against each  other and their big and united family is envied by some evil people who kill them.

The presence of a wolf who is responsible for the foundation of a city is to be found in the Lithuanian “legend about Vilnius city foundation"

The Bulgarian legend “Belintash” features a character, Sabazioa, who  is not fed by a human mother but by a nymph.

A similarity with the Bulgarian legend “Rhodopa” is the love between a God and a young human girl. In the Lithuanian legend God Hemus falls in love with a girl and he is so jealous that he hides her in the rocks. Similarly, Romolo and Remo’s mother is so beautiful that her uncle hides her and obliges her to become a vestal; however, God Mars succeeds in meeting her and in getting her pregnant.

In this legend we have the elements of the dragon, the saint and of a princess, all common characters in many legends.

We can also find these characters  in the Lithuanian legend “Neringa’s conquest”.In both legends, it is narrated that the cities are  terrified by a horrible monster, so to keep him  quiet, the citizens offer the dragon one of the youngest maidens in town in sacrifice. But then we have two different developments: in the case of the Italian legend, St. George appears and defeats the dragon and saves the princess. While, in the Lithuanian legend, the girl is not a princess but the beautiful daughter of a fisherman and she is very tall, in fact she is a giant.  Contrary to the princess, Neringa decides to defeat the dragon herself covering him with sand, dunes, pine and forests. However, the final blow to the dragon is given by youngNaglis, who is just  a common boy.

A dragon claiming young maidens in sacrifice is also present in the Bulgarian legend “The Pirin’s dragon” and in the Romanian legend “Dragon garden-2”. We can say that all these legends present the same characters and the same situation; however, the Lithuanian legend appears to have a more feministic approach.

The Polish “legend about Wawel dragon” has a similar situation to the previous legends, but  the dragon doesn’t claim maidens. In the Romanian legend “The Living fire” the monster is not a dragon but a beast with heads spitting fire.

Scylla and Charibdis were two beautiful girls who dared defy the gods and were punished.

Scylla was attracted by the sea and its creatures and loved swimming in the clear waters at night. She was transformed in a monster by Circe the sorceress who was envious of her beauty and of the love Glauco felt for Scylla.  Glauco is a sea monster like the one we find in the Lithuanian legend, Neringa. Neringa is a girl, a giant, and she refuses the love of the sea dragon just like Scylla refuses to love Glauco. In the Lithuanian legend, the sea monster sinks ships and sailors, in the Italian legend it is the girl Scylla who destroys ships and sailors after being transformed in a monster.

Scylla and Charibdis are different from the Warsaw mermaid even though they are all sea creature: the mermaid is a positive character who sings beautiful songs, Scylla and Charibdis only bring about destruction. The same can be said for the Romanian legend, the Iele Nymphs.