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Italian Essay on Similar Moral and Ethical Meaning and Purposes


If we look at the most popular legends and myths of some European countries’ traditions, we may find several similarities  as regards the morals and the ethical meanings that we can learn from them.

In most of the Italian legends, the characters achieve their purpose just by being good men and deciding not to give in to  temptations, expressing an important moral message  based on the themes of ‘good and evil’ and of true faith in God. We find such message in the story of ‘The Devil’s column’ and ‘Saint George and the Dragon’. In ' The Devil's Column ' Saint Ambrogio is tempted by the devil, but he is faithful to his beliefs, and he defeats his enemy. The Archbishop could easily give up his position or his religious faith for a more appealing life-style but, thanks to his will, he is capable of moving on with his life. The latter legend tells the story of one of the most venerated saints in Christianity -Saint George- who manages to kill a dragon -which symbolizes Evil- in front of many witnesses, demonstrating how strong his Faith can be. We find a similar moral message in a legend belonging to the Lithuanian tradition, which is called ‘The Hill of Crosses’. This hill is actually a sacred site in Lithuania where people go on pilgrimage hoping their sick loved ones will be cured. The legend tells the story of a man whose daughter was gravely ill. One night he dreamt of a woman dressed in white who told him that if he wanted his daughter to heal, he had to build a large wooden cross and place it on a hill. The man did what he had been told, showing his Faith in God and when he returned from his journey, he found his beloved daughter waiting for him, healthy and joyful.

Alson in ' Saint Galgano and the Sword in the Rock ', Galgano chooses to be devoted to the Lord after leading a violent life, thanks to the appearance of the Archangel Michael. When the Devil tries to take him back to his path, the man is able to remain faithful to his beliefs and choose good over evil.

However, not all the legends are about choosing good, in fact there are some about making the wrong choice; for example in ' Lake Misurina and Mount Sorapiss ' the characters behave selfishly: Misurina is spoiled by her father, and  when she asks him for the magic mirror, he wants to make her happy even though it will mean turning into a mountain. He is willing to die to make his daughter happy but and for this reason  he is punished. In comparison, the legend which tells the story of the beautiful Alda is based on pride and on vanity. In fact, in the beginning, the girl is saved from a difficult situation and when she tries to show to everybody what the angels are capable of, she ends up dying, because she has put herself in danger just to show off.

Also Scylla and Charibdis appear like two beautiful but selfish girls; Charibdis only thinks about satisfying her huge hunger and doing so she defies the gods. Scylla does not find any generosity or tolerance in her heart to love the man/fish Glauco. Both are punished for their selfish behaviour and condamned to be horrible monsters hated and feared by everybody.

In these legends faith, God, the gods, the  angels, and the Devil are important elements: this shows that religion plays a main influence not only in  Italian literature but also in its legends.

St. George, Saint Ambrogio, Saint Galgano  represent good believers, they do not give in to the devil even though his temptations are really appealing. As a result of their devotion they are able to defeat the greatest demon of all.

On the contrary ‘The Beautiful Alda’ is a representation of what a believer should not do: instead of being grateful for the possibility of living a long and rewarding life, Alda tests the angels. In other words she overestimates God’s goodness: the first time she is saved from a bad situation, whereas the second time she is not in danger but she willingly put herself in a dangerous situation, believing that there will be  angels to save her but nothing is guaranteed to anybody.

Another teaching that is often found among European legends relates to money and power and how they can make people do anything, even the worst things. The famous myth about the foundation of Rome by two brothers gives us a strong message: once the new city is built, Romolo and Remo have an argument about which one of them should be the king. Romolo chooses power over his own brother and kills Remo, thus becoming the first Roman sovereign. Similarly, the Bulgarian legend of ‘Belogradchik rocks’ teaches us a lesson about envy and the desire to be rich. Radul and his wife Blaguna has been blessed with three strong and healthy sons. But the three noblemen of the village are envious of the family’s happiness and wants to take their fortune, so they make up a plan helped by Radul’s brother and kills the entire family.

In the end, even though Europe is made up of various countries with different cultures and traditions, we can still find many bonds in the teachings and meanings of their ­­­popular stories.


The legend of Beautiful Alda has a fairly similar moral with the Romanian  legend ‘The Lady’s Rocks’:’ Alda is an innocent girl who is running away  from enemy soldiers, and she is trapped at the top of a high tower. Her only chance of escaping is jumping off the tower; while she is falling she invokes the help of St. Michael and the Virgin, and she miraculously survives, landing unhurt. Similarly, the two women that appear in The Lady’s Rocks are princess Elena and her daughter, two good people who are hiding from the enemy: while being hiding in the cave they are almost found by the Turks and start praying for salvation. The two women are saved by an angelic force that allows them to escape.

The second moral that we can learn from the legend “The beautiful Alda” is that being vain and reckless will not be repaid with anything good. Similar is the moral of the Lithuanian legend of ‘Pontukas Stone’ where Pontukas -an evil, wicked man- ends up dying, and of the Polish legend “Tale of Mr Twardowski”. 

The legend of ‘Lake Misurina and Mount Sorapiss’ is very similar to the Polish ‘Legend of Skarbnik’. In the Legend of Skarbnik the miners could easily team up to find a lot of coal, but they prefer taking advantage of the poor miner who can't say no just because they are selfish and don't want to work. The poor miner is a kind-hearted man and for this reason he will be helped by Skarbnik. In a similar manner Misurina forces her father to give up his life just to have a mirror that will allow her to read people's thoughts. The only difference is in the ending: in the first story the poor miner gets a lot of money despite being exploited by his co-workers, while the selfishness of Misurina will cause her death and the death of her father leading to the formation of the mountain and of the lake which are now called like the two characters of the legend. In other words, both  legends show that people should not be selfish and do what they are supposed to do without taking advantages of other people who are easily persuaded

Misurina craves the magic mirror, but she ends up losing it -and also losing her life. Therefore, the moral of her story could also be that desiring something too much often leads to nothing good. The legend of the ‘Devil’s throat cave’ gives us another example of this lesson.

Orpheus is so in love with his wife Eurydice that after she died due to a poisonous snake’s bite, he goes down to the Hades to get her back. He is allowed to do so but  on one condition: he can not turn to look at her before they reach the light. Orpheus, though, does not resist the desire to glance at his beloved wife and the moment he turns to look at her, he loses Eurydice for good.

The Italian legend ‘The Devil’s Column’ is the opposite of the Polish legend ‘Tale of Mr Twardoski’.

Mr Twardoski wants power and fortune, and he makes a pact with the Devil to have it, even though he could work harder to accomplish  his desire for power. Therefore, he will end up on the moon just to escape the devil. Unlike Mr Twardoski , St. Ambrogio does not give up his position of Archbishop although the devil’s temptations are really appealing. The two legends show us that we should be satisfied with what we have in life and, when we want to improve our ability or our fortune, we should always do it in the right way, avoiding shortcuts because they could backfire on us.

The Devil’s Column is also similar to The Devil’s stone. The moral of the two legends is that ‘good always wins against evil’. In both stories there is the figure of the Devil, who represents Evil incarnate. In the Italian legend the Devil tries to tempt St Ambrogio, but eventually the saint defeats him.In the legend of the ‘Devil’s stone’ instead, a devil attempts to destroy the church of Raigard, a town in Lithuania. Here again, Evil is defeated and the devil disappears without doing any damage

The legend of ‘Saint George and the Dragon’ is very similar to the legend of ‘Bies and Czady’. In fact both legends are about an honourable and brave man who is willing to challenge a monster to save innocent people; in  the legend of Bies and Czady, the hero saves a village, while St. George saves a beautiful princess even though her father has sentenced him to death due to his religion. The two legends are about the choice of sacrificing your life for the benefit of somebody else, only a man with honour and a lot of courage would do it and, in St. George’s case, he also overcomes previous disagreements and puts his life at risk so that he can save the daughter of the man who wants to ruin  his life.

Other similar legends are “The Pirin’s Dragon”, “The Dragon Garden” and “Neringa’s conquest” in which a good character always manages to defeat the monster or the antagonist

The legend of Saint Galgano and the Sword in the rock presents some connections with the legend of Mount Ślęża (Poland). Both legends feature the devil or the devils tempting people and doing everything in their power to lead people to temptation. Saint Galgano manages to resist thanks to his faith; the people in the Polish legend, instead, need the help of some angels to contrast the devils’ power. The message is the same: evil cannot prevail. The legend of the Devil’s Bridge (Bulgaria), on the contrary, shows a man who willingly asks the devil for help, so, he chooses to be tempted in order to finish his work and he chooses evil because he does not trust his abilities or because his faith isn’t strong enough.

The legend of Romolo and Remo is about the history of the foundation of Rome, but it is also about family relationships and the love-hate relationship between two brothers. Romolo and Remo are ready to disregard family ties in order to prevail on the other and become the stronger. The Bulgarian legend “Belogradchik Rocks” also tells about three brothers fighting against each other for silly and superficial reasons. The moral message of the legends is one of denunciation of any family fights, as they are disruptive for the family itself and for society; however, if we consider that the great Roman civilization was born as the result of the killing of Remo by his own brother, we may be induced to question the rightness of this message

The moral meaning and teaching to be found in the legend of Scylla and Charibdis is twofold.

On the one hand, the message is an adminition to sailors to be careful while sailing in the strait of Messina, whose waters hide a lot of dangers. Sailors should not fall into the temptation of looking at the beautiful rocks, caves and coast, but they should always beware of the calm and clear waters. In this case, the legend is similar to the Lithuanian legend of  the Iele Nymphs for the attraction that these supernatural creatures have on men.

On the other hand, the message is addressed to young beautiful girls who defy nature, the gods and their family and prefer to indulge in their own pleasure. Scylla likes being on her own and she is so selfish that she discards Glauco’s love only because he is a half monster. Charibdis defies the gods eating a whole sacred herd of cows. Both are punished in the worst possible way: they become horrible monsters, they lose their beauty, but keep their selfish traits because they are never satisfied and appeased and long to always destroy more and more human lives.