Red deer (Cervus elaphus) didn’t die out in the Pyrenees until WWI (they were reintroduced for hunting under Franco in the 50s) and the locals over the centuries accumulated a considerable body of art starring big multi-branched horny beasts.
The oldest local images I know are the Neolithic graffiti at Cogul, Lleida (although the village’s big annual feast celebrates pig killing), I recently blogged Pere Quart and Xavier Nogués’s 1937 stag, and I will shortly post photos of a spectacular 14th century zoomorph.. Various local place names refer to the stag (Cerver, Cérvoles). Myths include one about a doomed hunter, one in which a stag becomes a distinctly non-aerodynamic Shaven Arse, and several Arthurian variants.
Some of these representations may be local inventions – the sight of a stag is enough to get anyone going – but others almost certainly originated elsewhere, and I want to concentrate on one of the latter, a song called 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 remarkable because it feels like it might 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.” At lightning speed, the hunter calculates that a foreign princess is worth even more than a talking stag and offers to marry her.
Amades noted the song in 1918 from the 75- or 76-year-old Margarida Marginet, an illiterate pig-keeper and herbalist of Riu de Cerdanya up in the Pyrenees. 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 enchanted girl, daughter of the King of Hungary
This daughter of the king of Hungary is surely Violant1 (Esztergom ca 1215-ca 1251 Spain), daughter of Andrew II of Hungary and Iolande of Courtenay, who in her brief life became the second wife of Jaume I of Aragon (Montpellier 1207-1276 Valencia) in Barcelona in 1235, bore four sons and five daughters and meddled in royal politics. 2
The song’s probably not local or modern
Various factors suggest that this song isn’t nineteenth century fakelore: the fact that the Violant connection doesn’t seem to have occurred to Amades, the lack of any other modern source – Ms Marginet probably learnt her song before the revivalists got anywhere near her and long after Violant had passed from memory.
I somehow doubt, too, that the meme was present in the eastern end of the Pyrenees when she arrived.
Instead, I wonder if this isn’t a Hungarian story put into lyric poetry by the French, who were culturally influential in thirteenth century Hungary.
A Hungarian political stag-bride, versified by an Occitan troubadour?
Just as in the kingdom of Aragon under Jaume, the creation of magical national myth was one of the means used by Andrew II of Hungary (ruled 1205-1235) and predecessors and successors to justify their rule over an aggressive and powerful baronry eager to exploit a highly developed society. In the Legend of the White/Wondrous Stag, which is found in various versions in Hungary and further east, a stag becomes not one but two maidens. A generic synopsis:
The two sons of Nimrod, Hunor and Magor, are 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, and the Huns are Hunor’s descendent, and the Magyars are Magor’s descendants.
The Hungarian beast is from the beginning always depicted with masculine attributes, yet is also the mother of the nation.3 The same ambivalence of gender is there in Margarida Marginet’s version, though Amades misquotes the song in his Prologue, referring to the animal as a cérvola, a cerva, a hind:
No sóc cerva,
que sóc nina,
sóc filla del rei d’Hongria.
Amades 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; furthermore it’s not the kind of mistake singers in Romance languages make, however uneducated they may be. However, you can’t really blame him: I can think of no other example in stories from Western Europe in which a beast changes gender on the eve of marriage.
My hunch is that a poet at the court of Jaume and Violant figured that he would ingratiate himself with his bosses, and perhaps create a handy political myth, by modernising and relocating the Hungarian national myth as an Occitan ballad. However, the music doesn’t fit with that idea.
I’ve no idea where it’s from, but it’s not medieval. The chorus may be taken from another song, something you seem to find quite a lot in these parts. The scale (MIDI) is a modified Phrygian – rare but not unknown here.4
Anyway, here’s a little busked arrangement of it with the cat on drums: MIDI.
At which point the phone rang. Honest: listen to the MIDI!
- Crazies will want to see the stag as the sun, coming from the East, bringing life. That’s OK with me.
- Attila died of a nosebleed, but you may still find inspiration in Wess Roberts’ excellent book.
- Violante? Cernunnos? No evidence, and as I said, people are perfectly capable of coming up with stag myths of their own.
- Has this got anything to do with the Song of Solomon, which contains the lines “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices”?
- 2014: I now sing this song with the barrel-organ, but people don’t really seem interested in it. Maybe I need to do it in English.
Anecnotes [ + ]
|2.||⇑||Genealogy links: 1/2/3/4. History: 1/2.|
|3.||⇑||Actually 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. But perhaps that has something to do with the Roman church’s influence, and doesn’t reflect popular versions. It’s actually very difficult to change the gender of stories successfully: how many feminist versions of folktales have lasted?|
|4.||⇑||This 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.|
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