Romanian Essay on Main Characters and Animals, Real and Mythological

Introduction

In very old times people tried to give names to their fears and their imagination created a various number of mythological creatures which are nothing else than the materialization of these fears. But people also needed to invent stories about heroes who defeated these mythological creatures, because in this way they could somehow control the world they strived to live in. Moreover, inexplicable phenomena had to be made clearer and therefore magic played an important role in people's lives. It is interesting to observe that although every culture has their own monsters or magic creatures, these sometimes seem to be imagined by a universal mind that creates them regardless geographic location, culture or even time. Dragons are ones of the oldest mythological creatures, well known in many cultures. Most of the times they were harmful and dangerous, but - especially in ancient times, they could also be protective and even useful. When Christianity spread across the world, dragons started to represent only the evil, Satan. In medieval times, people, having little knowledge in what concerned the existence of dinosaurs, thought that the large skeletons or bones they found were the proof that dragons really existed. No matter the culture, the dragons seem to have the same appearance: body of a serpent (and, as it happen in Bulgarian folklore, body of a human and tail of a serpent), multiple heads (very rarely just one), sometimes having wings, breathing fire or even being able to speak, living under the oceans or rivers or in caves or forests in the mountains. More evil than the dragons are the devils that appear in many legends. They are either the tempters who try to lure the faithful to abandon their faith or they want to punish people for their disbelief. No matter what the legend is about, there is evidence about the story: a stone, a bridge, a mountain or a column, showing that people needed explanations for the presence of strange rocks in unusual places or stone bridges of significant technological achievement which were built in The Middle Ages.

But not only male evil characters are presented in the legends. The most important female mythical creatures are the Nymphs, Dryads, Naiads (in Greek mythology), Iele (in Romanian mythology) or Samodivas (in Bulgarian mythology). They are depicted as beautiful, graceful maidens, with magic powers, who are sometimes mischievous and are regarded as divine spirits associated with Nature. Another mythical feminine creature is a mermaid (half woman, half fish) who also has magic powers and interferes with the human world either to help people, but more likely to produce perilous events, such as storms and drowning.

However, legends are also populated with real characters, such as rulers, princes and princesses, who either founded cities or are at the origin of legendary characters (such as Dracula). Other real characters are the people who sacrificed or were forced to sacrifice themselves so that the construction of a monastery, a castle, a bridge or even the formation of a mountain might be completed. 

All the dragons that appear in legends are eventually killed by the heroes. They simply seem to be invented mostly to be the opponents of bold adventurers. Dragons normally make use of their power to spread terror among humans and obtain whatever they desire. In "The Dragon Garden", the dragons kidnap the most beautiful maidens, as this also happens in the Italian legend "Saint George and the dragon" or in "The Pirin's Dragon". In other legends, such as "Legend about Neringa", the Dragon wants to marry a beautiful girl against her will. There are cases in which the simple presence of the dragons terrifies the humans, as in "The legend of Wawel Dragon". What most of the legends have in common is the defeat of the dragon by a human hero. But while in "The Dragon Garden" the dragons are blinded by the sun and turned into stone by a spell, in "Saint George and the Dragon" the beast is first humiliated, by being tied by Saint George and dragged by the princess into the town and then killed. In "Legend of Wawel Dragon" the hero, a shrewd shoemaker uses an unusual weapon to kill the dragon - a lamb's skin filled with sulphur, while in "Legend about Neringa" the hero, Naglis, kills the dragon in the most common way, by cutting his head. An unusual legend is "The Pirin's Dragon" in which there are depicted two different types of dragons: one is Pirin, who eventually seems to be loved by the maiden he has kidnapped and the other is the evil Belasitsa, who kills Pirin, but later is defeated by Pirin's son. Legend 1 of "The Dragon Garden" has similarities with Legend 2 of "Belogradchik Rocks" because in both of them young girls, who are prevented from being with the loved ones, are turned into stone. 

Devils began to play an important role in legends after Christianity spread across the world. They are mainly greedy and wicked and also try to tempt the true believers to abandon their faith. In "The Lady's Rocks", the Devil wants to steal all the possessions of a very wealthy king, his greediness being the same as of that in "Legend of Mount ?l??a" or "Bies and Czady". Another common feature most legends depicting devils have is that of the appearance of rocks or rock formations as a consequence of devils' fights with humans or with more powerful forces. Sometimes the rock formations seal the entrance to hell, preventing the devils from return there, as it happens in "The Lady's Rocks" or in "Legend of Mount ?l??a". In other legends, strange rocks are thrown by devils onto people's villages, miss their target and end up in places they do not belong to, as in "The Devil's Stone" and "Puntuko Stone". A different type of devil is that of "The Devil's Column", who tries to tempt Saint Ambrogio, the Archbishop of Milan, to give up his position.  

The myth of human sacrifice associated with building different monuments, monasteries or bridges appear in many cultures. In the Romanian legend "The Master builder Manole", the builder is desperate to see the monastery he was ordered to erect finally finished. But in order to do that, he had to sacrifice his pregnant wife and build her within the walls of the monastery. This human oblation in the process of building important constructions is also found in the Bulgarian legend "Devil's Bridge" (Legend 2). It is important to observe that in both legends, the master builders had to sacrifice not only their wives, but also their children (newborn or still in their mother's wombs). Although the construction is made safe after the sacrifice, the master builders either die or remain miserable for the rest of their lives. In both legends there is a supernatural power who demands a sacri?ce for helping people to build the construction. In "Devil's Bridge" Legend 1, the master builder makes a deal with Satan so that the construction is granted with endless durability. Similarly to the previous legends, the bridge is built, without a human oblation, but the master builder has a tragic fate and dies after finishing the construction. 

Unfortunate love was one of the most important themes in legends across different cultures. Young girls fall in love with lads their parent do not approve of, from different reasons, and have a tragic fate. In "The Bride's Cave", both versions, the young girl is forced to marry someone she does not love and, because she cannot cope with this, commits suicide. The same sad love story occurs in the Bulgarian legend "Belogradchik Rocks", Legend 2, the young, beautiful Vita is separated from her beloved Luka and sent to a convent. In both legends the two girls die, but while the girl from "The Bride's Cave" commits suicide, the one from "Belogradchik Rocks" is turned to stone. Although in both cases the girls' parents are the ones who interfere tragically in the love story, their purpose is different: in the Romanian legend they want their daughter to marry a rich person, while in the Bulgarian legend they want to protect their daughter from the world and everything bad in it, including a potentially misfortunate love. 

Dragons are some of the most important mythical creatures in cultures around the world and they are renowned mostly for their greediness and evilness, for being treasure guardians and for kidnapping young girls or demanding to be given beautiful maidens as oblation. In the legend "The Living Fire", the greedy dragon was the guardian of an inestimable fortune: a well whose water would cure any type of disease. In "Saint George and the Dragon", the fearful creature asks to be given beautiful young maidens as protection for the locals.  In "Legend about Neringa" the Sea Dragon wants to forcefully marry Neringa and in "Legend about Wawel Dragon", the mythical creature makes everyone tremble with fear. The defeat of the dragons differ in each legends: in "The Living Fire", the dragon is killed after quite a long fight and is beheaded, in "Saint George and the Dragon" we witness first the humiliation of the fearful beast, which is tied and dragged into town and then killed, in "Legend about Neringa" the dragon is also beheaded, but its body is cut into pieces and in "Legend about Wawel Dragon, the beast is killed in an unusual way, with a weapon made of a lamb skin filled with sulphur.  

Female mythical characters are well represented in the legends of different cultures. The most important category is that of the gracious creatures known under different names, depending on the culture they come from: fairies, nymphs, dryads, Iele, Samodivas, who have in common their female appearance. All of them look like beautiful young girls, with long hair, who dance or sing beautifully and who are related to Nature. They can be gentle, musical and benevolent, but sometimes they are mischievous or even vengeful and destructive. In the Romanian legend "Iele/Nymphs", the mythical creatures make their appearance mainly at night and mortals who manage to see them or who are lured by their graceful dance and unearthly singing are punished. A different type of female mythological creatures is a mermaid, with the upper body of a pretty woman and the lower body of a fish. Mermaids were feared because they were considered to bring bad luck to sailors, as they lured them with magical songs to the depths of the ocean. Although Iele and mermaids have different appearance, they have in common the way they attract humans with their songs. In "Legend about Warsaw Mermaid" the mermaid has all the features of her kind, but in the end she shows her gratitude to the fisherman who rescued her, which can be consider an unusual behaviour. The dryad from "Devil's throat cave" has in common with Iele and mermaids only the delicate looks. Euridice is graceful and in love with Orpheus, who was the greatest singer, poet and musician of ancient times. She is neither mischievous or vengeant and and has a tragic fate.

Not only mythological characters generate legends. Real characters, with strong traits of characters, manage to remain in the collective conscience and they either are turned into mythological creatures or are the core of a legend. "Dracula - Vlad ?epe?'' is the legend about the Romanian ruler Vlad ?epe? whose method of punishing criminals and enemies by impaling them and raising them aloft in the town square for all to see was considered to be of an extreme cruelty. It was not until Bram Stoker wrote his novel that the Romanian ruler became the fictional character, Dracula, the vampire. What Vlad ?epe?, the ruler, has in common with the ruler from the legends "Legend about the establishment of Trakai Castle" and "Legend about Vilnius city foundation" is their determination, strong spirit and power. The first two important cities in Lithuania, Vilnius and Kaunas, were founded, according to the legends, by important rulers of their times, after supernatural events. The Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas founded the city of Vilnius after dreaming an iron wolf. Duke Palemonas's son, K?nas (Kaunas), founded the city of Kaunas.

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