Red deer (Cervus elaphus) didn’t die out in the Pyrenees until WWI and were reintroduced for hunting in the 50s, so it’s not surprising that the locals created and borrowed a fairly large body of (ahem) cultural artefacts starring big multi-branch horny beasts.
The oldest local representations I know are the Neolithic graffiti at Cogul, Lleida (although the village’s big annual feast celebrates pig killing), and I recently blogged Pere Quart and Xavier Nogués’s 1937 stag. Various local place names refer to the stag (Cerver, Cérvoles), and recorded myths include that of the doomed hunter, one in which a stag becomes a distinctly non-aerodynamic Shaven Arse, as well as several Arthurian variants, and I will shortly post photos of a rather special C14th naive zoomorph. However, for now I want to concentrate on The Enchanted Girl.
The enchanted girl and the pigwoman
I know of three versions of the La Nina Encantada in print, of which the one in Amades’ Cançoner is unusual because it actually seems to refer to a historical event. A hunter has his eyes on a stag drinking at a spring up on the mountain, but the stag cries: “Hunter, don’t shoot me, I’m not a stag, I’m a girl, I’m the King of Hungary’s daughter.” Whereupon the hunter figures that a foreign princess is worth more than a talking stag and offers to marry her. It was recorded in 1918 by the then 75-/76-year old Margarida Marginet, an illiterate pig-keeper and herbalist of Riu de Cerdanya up in the Pyrenees, and here’s her text followed by a MIDI version of the tune:
Aquí dalt a la muntanya,
n’hi havia una font viva.
Viva l’amor, que l’amor viva!
Hi havia un cérvol qui hi bevia.
Un caçador l’hi espia.
“Caçador, mira, no em tiris:
no en só cérvol, que en só nina.
Só filla del rei d’Hongria.”
“Ai, nina, si jo ho sabia
amb tu, bé, m’hi casaria.”
“No em dieu pas si us voldria?”
“Minyona, jo ho provaria.”
The daughter of the king of Hungary
This particular daughter of the king of Hungary must surely have been Violant, daughter of the Andrew II of Hungary and Iolande of Courtenay (just south of Paris – long-distance unions were common among crusading families). Violante was born between 1213 and 1219, became the second wife of Jaume I The Conqueror of Aragon (Montpellier 1207-76 Valencia) in Barcelona on 1235/9/8, gave birth to four sons and five daughters, meddled in royal politics, and died in Huesca on 1251/10/12.1 (Genealogy links: 1/2/3/4. History: 1/2.)
This notion doesn’t seem to have occurred to Amades, but I think it’s fairly convincing. This was the golden age of Occitan literary creation, record suggests that Iolanda did not seek a low profile, and Iolanda’s spouse, Jaume, himself generated and encouraged a personality cult that did not eschew the magical. There are other queens and princesses with the same name in this period, but none came from Hungary.
Enchantment and gender
Violant was probably incorporated into an existing story, so the question arises as to whether this particular version of the story was (1) one that was hanging around the eastern end of the Pyrenees before she arrived, (2) one that her mother’s side of the family brought with them from France (there was strong French cultural influence in thirteenth century Hungary) and which she simply reimported, (3) actually Hungarian, or (4) a nineteenth century invention.
The answer is, as usual, that I don’t have much idea. (4) can probably be discounted immediately since I know of no other nineteenth century source and since there’s every chance that Mrs Marginet learnt her song before the revivalists got anywhere near her and long after Iolanda had passed from memory. Of the remaining three options, you’d have to be fairly crazy to put money on any but (1), and I’m not going to be so bold. However what bothers me is that gender of the beast in the song.
Weirdly, Amades misquotes the song in the Prologue to his book, referring to the stag as a cérvola, a cerva, a hind:
No sóc cerva,
que sóc nina,
sóc filla del rei d’Hongria.
He doesn’t explain why he thinks the old lady is mistaken, and it’s completely improbable that she was: it’s very difficult to spend any amount of time with pigs without becoming aware of gender issues; furthermore it’s not the kind of mistake singers in Romance languages make, however uneducated they may be.
OK, the Song of Solomon contains the lines “Make haste, my beloved,/and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart
upon the mountains of spices.” But that’s different … isn’t it?
However, Amades may have wanted to believe in her error simply because there is no other example that I can think of in stories from this part of the world in which a beast changes gender at the same time as metamorphosing into a marriage partner. Hinds become girls, girls become hinds, and it’s the same everywhere, in Wales, in France, in Denmark; everywhere, that is, until you travel to central Europe.
National myths and political legitimacy
Just as in the kingdom of Aragon, the creation of national myth was one of the means used by Andrew II of Hungary and those who came before and after him to justify his rule in the face of an aggressive and powerful baronry eager to exploit what was at the time a highly developed society. There are lots of versions of the Legend of the White Stag, both from Hungary and from places further east, but here’s a simple outline:
The story describes how two sons of Nimrod, Hunor and Magor, were lured for days into a new land by a fleeing white stag. The stag suddenly vanishes without trace. But the disappointed young hunters hear laughing and singing. The two dismount and follow the laughing until they come across a lake in which two beautiful maidens are splashing. The two hunters take the maidens as wives. The Huns are Hunor’s descendent, and the Magyars are Magor’s descendants.
Crazy people will at this point want to cite the stag as sun, coming from the East, bringing life. OK with me.
This beast is from the beginning always depicted with masculine attributes, yet is also the mother of the nation. Given that the maintenance of both the genetic and political legitimacy of Jaume was a problem in the early years, and given that songs will have been made that parallel the intentions of the chronicles that have survived, I think that is feasible that Violant or her entourage formed the source for the gender-change motif in the text of a song that for some reason survived.
(Fine, you will say, but the first surviving (Latin) versions of the Gesta Hungarorum (ref), which date from ca 1200 (Anon) and ca 1280 (Simon Kézai), call the beast a doe and don’t describe the horns of a stag. Fair enough, but that’s almost certainly a reflection of the increasing official influence of the Roman church in the period and not of what people actually sang or told. It’s actually very difficult to change the gender of stories successfully: how many feminist versions of folktales have lasted?)
I’m going to have to rush through this bit as I’m expecting a phone call.
Tonally speaking there’s nothing of huge interest here. The scale itself: MIDI is a modified Phrygian that is rare but not unknown here. It is not the same modified Phrygian as this: MIDI, which your guitar teacher will have introduced to you as Spanish Phrygian because of its characteristic use in flamenco. Neither is it the same altered Phrygian that you will play when you get asked for a klezmer gig.
Looking at the music as a whole, there’s nothing to indicate that it isn’t local. The chorus was possibly added from an existing song, which again is something you seem to find quite a lot here. Anyway, here’s a little busked arrangement of it which me with the cat on drums will try to play for you before that call comes through: MIDI
Attila died of a nosebleed, but you may still find inspiration in Wess Roberts’ excellent book. (below). Please don’t mail me telling me that Violante was actually Cernunnos unless you’ve got, like, some evidence.
Anecnotes [ + ]
- Blonde virgins
Last week I snapped a Scandinavian blonde Maria in Vilafranca del Penedès. Joan Amades (El pessebre (1959)) tells us that, in Catalan nativity scenes, the Mother of God was always represented by a young, very white girl with hyper-perfect features, and that her whiteness is both traditional and proverbial (“white as a Mother of God”). He then …
- Daniel Heinsius’ solitary phoenix and the final words of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona
In 1927 the Catalan literary researcher and writer, Ramon Miquel i Planas (1874-1950; henceforth MiP) wrote a little book, published in a bibliophile edition, called La llegenda del llibreter assassí. In it he reflects on the origins and recycling of “Le bibliomane ou le nouveau Cardillac”, an anonymous tale published as if true in 1836 …
- The Singing Organ-Grinder’s top 10 pig songs
Sincerity meets spam.
- Two versions of Flann O’Brien’s “The workman’s friend”
With some relevant chunks of Henry Fielding.