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Italian Essay on Usual Environments and / or Common Objects


The heroes of legends are known for their heroic deeds that are often acts of great courage in front of insurmountable adversities that are overcome thanks to legendary magic objects. These objects, which are also used by ordinary people, often have magical features. In fact they are very rare and desired by the characters who would do anything to get them. The legends are remembered thanks to magical objects which can be of any nature and of any material. Some legends are linked by the presence of rocks or stones that have different functions throughout the story and can also be magical. In some tales there is the element of fire which has often assumed symbolic importance for many religions and cultural traditions, being an image of power and action.


Legends are often set in natural places such as glades, ponds, riverbanks where civilizations and cultures developed. Also forests or woods are considered as magical and mysterious places. For example, according to Romanian mythology, the lele (similar to fairies) appear in the moonlight on tops of trees like maples and walnuts. Many legends centre around caves which are the oldest sanctuaries of humanity, if we think about the rock paintings of prehistoric times. The darkness and gloom of caves are usually associated with evil and wickedness. Mountainous and hilly landscapes are also often found in legends. In fact mountains have been the residence of gods since ancient times because of their majesty and eternal presence. Mountains have also represented the link between men and gods. In the Italian legends it is usually the alpine region characterized by the presence of huge mountains, stones or rocks that is the chosen setting for the story. . Both Beautiful Alda and Lake Misurina take place in the Alps, in a rocky landscape. Lake Misurina is also a typical example of a legend born to explain an amazing phenomenon of nature, with which people explained the thousand colourful reflections that you can notice in the lake. In fact, in ancient times, legends were frequently used to explain the creation of beautiful places that  people thought were born by magic. Besides the mountains, Italy is reknown by  beautiful clear waters of the Mediterranea sea and by its coasts. However, such a beautiful sea can turn treacherous and dangerous due to the undercurrents and the strong winds; this is what happens in the strait of Messina, whose rough waters have been explained by the mischievous behaviour of the two monsters, Scylla and Charibdis.


There are some legends that take place in cities or villages besieged by evil characters (dragons, devils); others take place during moments of daily life, for example while working in a bakery or in a mine. Many legends take place in religious places such as churches and monasteries and they  often explain the construction of a sacred building. The most common setting in nature where the legends take place is the village,  populated by farmers, among whom, sometimes a hero or a knight  emerges, as it happens in the legends of Saint George and Saint Galgano. These heroes share the most common object used by a real knight; the sword. For Saint George the sword indicates the power of good that dominates over evil and for Saint Galgano it indicates the sacred place where he decides to devote his life to God. In both legends, the sword stands for a positive image, it is the weapon used to defeat evil.

Speaking about the most common objects, besides the sword, Italian legends present very frequently many magic items. These may be of various types, for example the  magic mirror in Lake Misurina

This legend tells the story of a fairy who owns a magic mirror which enables her to read the thoughts of the people who look at their image reflected on it and of a selfish and spoiled child named Misurina who craves the fairy’s magic mirror. A magic mirror is also found in the Polish tale "Tale of Mr Twardowski" where Mr Twardowski uses the mirror to set fire to an enemy's castle from a mile away. It can be noted that many legends are set in mountainous and hilly landscapes because in the myths of every age and culture mountains have always been interpreted as the residence of the gods and have always been a metaphor for human life. Other legends that are set in mountainous landscapes are the Lithuanian legend “The Hill of Crosses”, the Polish legends “Legend of Mount Ślęża” and “Bies and Czady” and the Romanian legends “The Lady's Rocks' (Pietrele Doamnei)”, “the Dragon Garden and the Bulgarian legend “The Pirin’s Dragon”

The legend of Lake Misurina is also connected to the Romanian legend The Bride’s Cave by the presence of a lake.

Both legends were originated to explain some unnatural characteristic of the lake: its amazing colours and its very cold temperature. 

The Italian legend “Beautiful Alda” and the Romanian legend “Master Manole” present a similar environment: a monastery. In the Romanian legend, the monastery is the heart of the story. Everything revolves around it, and that applies also to the death of master Manole’s wife and Master Monole himself. Instead, in the tale “Beautiful Alda” the monastery has two functions: first it protects Alda from the attack of the soldiers (thanks also to the assistance of two angels) and then it is the setting of  her death. In fact she dies because she jumps off the roof of the monastery convinced that the angels will help her a second time. Also in the legend “The Devil’s Stone” the story takes place in a church. The connection with the Bulgarian legend “Belintash”, instead, is related to the belief that the monastery of the Sacra di San Michele lies on an imaginary line connecting all the churches dedicated to the Archangel Micheal, giving origin to a magnetic field


“The Devil's Column” has similarities with the Bulgarian legend “The Devil's Bridge” and the Romanian legend “Masterul Manole (roughly: The master builder Manole)” because they have architectural constructions in common. The same connection is present in the legend “The devil’s stone”. In the Italian legend the devil disappears through one of the two holes in the column, opening a gate to hell. The holes in the column are therefore a way to get to the underworld like the cave in the Bulgarian legend “Devil's throat cave” and in the Polish legend “Legend of Mount Ślęża” where the hellish gates are protected by Mount Ślęża..

Legends are often set in cities besieged by monsters, dragons or mythological animals which at the end of the story are defeated by heroes or heroines, so that good triumphs over evil. “Saint George and the Dragon”  is set in a city besieged by a dragon. This also  happens in the Lithuanian legend “Legend about Neringa's conquest” and in the Romanian legend “The Living Fire” where a village is  besieged by a

legendary fire-breathing creature with several heads and big red eyes. In this tale the geological phenomenon of natural gas leaking out from the earth surface is reinterpreted in a fantastic way. The cave is another element of the setting. Both “Saint George And the Dragon” and “The Bride’s Cave” take place in a cave. In the Italian legend the cave is the place where the maleficent dragon lives and keeps its victims. In the other legend the cave is a “magic place” due to the terrible action of a desperate young  girl. She decides to commit suicide after marrying a man that she doesn’t love. Her cold body falls in the water and then the temperature and atmosphere become suddenly cold, which is a characteristic of this place. In both legends, the cave is mysterious and hides a danger. The cave is also present in “The Devil’s throat cave” and  “The Pirin’s dragon”.

This tale tells of a sword that is stuck in a rock. We can see that many legends are characterized by the presence of rocks or stones that have different functions and characteristics throughout the stories. We find rocks or stones in the Bulgarian tales "Belogradchik Rocks": in legend 1 the stone is used by the young lads of the region to measure their bravery and strength. The winner will be the young man who climbs the stone the fastest. He will become a leader and be rewarded with the most beautiful girl in the region as his wife. In legend 3 instead three tall rocks rise next to the house of a family killed by nobles jealous of their happiness.

We also find rocks in two Romanian tales: in "The Dragon Garden" rocks are formed through the natural breaking off of huge blocks of sandstone and each rock has a name and carries a legend and in “The Lady's Rocks' (Pietrele Doamnei)”,  “Puntuka stone” and “The devil’s stone”. The rock is also the common object in the two legends “Saint Galgano and the sword in the rock” and “St. Petka and the Stone Bread”.  Clearly the meaning of the two objects is  different, in the Italian legend the purpose of the stone to defend the sword of Galgano, instrumental  to his conversion to Christianity. The Bulgarian legend speaks instead about a stone which allows  Petka to run away, because the loaf of bread that Petka has cooked in the cave turns  her persecutors into stones. Anyway, even though the two legends have two completely different stories, ultimately the stone has the same function , which is to protect someone or something from harm

The myth or legend about a  foundation is a myth about the beginning of a new city or civilization. The legend "Romolo and Remo and the foundation of Rome" tells the story of two twins Romolo and Remo, who are abandoned on the banks of a river and breastfed by a she-wolf. The twins quarrel over who should be the king of the new city they have founded. After a terrible argument, Romolo kills Remo and he becomes the first king of Rome. “Romolo and Remo and the foundation of Rome” is a foundation legend and has similarities with the Lithuanian legends “Legend about Vilnius City Foundation” and “Legend About Kaunas City Foundation”. The Italian legend is also linked to "Legend about Vilnius City Foundation" because the figure of the wolf is present in both stories even if in the Lithuanian legend the wolf appears in a dream. In fact The Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas founds the city of Vilnius after dreaming of an iron wolf.

The river is another important setting in the legend: it  is the place where Romolo and Remo  should have found their death, but where instead they are rescued. This setting is also common to  “The Devil’s Bridge”, “The Devil’s throat cave” and “the legend of Warsaw Mermaid”. 

There are no particular objects in the legend of Scylla and Charibdis, apart from the ships being destroyed by the two sea monsters, as it happens in the Lithuanian legend of Neringa.

However, the environment is breathtaking in its majestic beauty: clear water, a sea cave, strong winds, a rough sea are the dangerous natural elements of this legend.

The legend of Scylla and Charibdis shares the same natural environment (water) with the Polish legend of the Warsaw mermaid and the Lithuanian legend of Neringa. The mermaid, like the two sea monsters, lives in the water; however, she is a positive presence, while Scylla and Charibdis frighten everyone who approaches them.

Scylla has her den in a sea cave. The cave is a common place for a monster to live; a cave is the home to the dragon in Saint George and the dragon and to the dragon in the Polish Wavel legend.