USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Wolves’
Folk speech
Proverbs

The Wolves Will Eat Your Butt

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This piece is something that the informant’s grandmother would tell her when she refused to put her clothes back on after a bath.

“So, when I was younger my family used to always tell me stories in order to get me to do what I was supposed to do. They knew that was kind of the only way to manage myself. So my grandmother, who was especially fond of the horror stories of what happened to naughty children, so um, my personal favorite was when I got out of the bath, I liked to run around naked. And she would tell me that if I didn’t put my underwear on, the wolves would eat my butt.

[laughs] And, when I didn’t believe her, she gave me examples of people with tiny butts and she would tell me why they had tiny butts and it would because the wolves had eaten them. So my cousin had a tiny butt because one day she had forgotten to put her underwear on after the bath, and um, they had come in and eaten her.”

Analysis:

While this is an entertaining anecdote, it is also indicative of what is and isn’t considered “proper” for girls to show. This interested me because of the specificity of the consequences of not putting on underwear—though the informant was naked she was not warned about what would happen if she failed to put on her shirt; the focus was on her underwear. Additionally, this warning only applies to women. The informant’s grandfather describes the buttocks of her female relatives, and not the males. The implication is also that small buttocks are not desirable.

Legends
Narrative

Romulus and Remus

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This piece is a legend regarding the founding of Rome that the informant learned while he was living there.

“So, these two twins named Romulus and Remus are born and then set adrift in a river and, which is common in these sorts of legends and such. So then they end up going into the forest and a wolf, a she-wolf, sees them and she decides that she’s going to raise them for some reason. And so they suckle at her teat, uh, is the actual language used, um, and they are essentially raised by wolves.

And then, so they grow up and they’re, they want to found a city. Right? And Romulus wants to found it on the Palatine Hill and Remus wants to found it on the Esquiline Hill, which are two completely separate hill in Rome. So what they decide to do is say, “Okay, let’s see how many birds fly over each hill, and the one with the most birds wins.” Mkay? So, basically they sit there all day with an auger. And birds start flying over these hills.

Eventually, a flock of 11 blackbirds fly over Remus’ hill. And Remus thinks that he’s won and that he’s gotten the right to build at Esquiline, or to build the city on the Esquiline. And Romulus is like, “Well, there’s still time in the day yet.” And at the last second, 12 blackbirds fly in over the Palatine Hill. So it’s decided that it be build on the Palatine Hill. And Remus is very upset about this.

So when Romulus starts doing the ceremonial task of plowing the boundaries with a plough, uh, Remus goes up to him and jumps over the line. He crosses the line, literally. And so, Romulus, incensed by this, because this is a really sacrilegious thing to do, Romulus basically beats him to death. And then Romulus becomes king of Rome.

Now, that’s what the Romans say. But then there’s also the Sienese version, which is that Remus just left in disgrace and went North and founded Siena, which they’re claiming so that they can say that they’re great. Because they were founded by Remus. So that’s that story.”

Analysis:

In this version of the legend, it matters very little that Remus and Romulus are set adrift at birth and raised by wolves. Aside from establishing their background, it plays no role in affecting the rest of the story. It may be that the informant is most interested in what happened after the brothers left to found the city than in what led to that point.

It’s also notable that the Sienese and the Romans tell this legend in different ways; though this legend typically refers to the birth of Rome, it makes sense that the Sienese would seek an origin story for their city as well. The informant was not aware of other Sienese legends about the birth of Siena, but it would be interesting to see how other legends might compare.

For another version of this legend, see the “Romulus and Remus” entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica online.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Romulus and Remus.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Vilnius

“This is a legend about the creation of Vilnius, and everybody who lives in Vilnius knows it. I think we even studied it at school. So the story goes that the grand duke, Duke Gediminas, who lived in the beginning of the fourteenth century, was hunting. At that time, the capital of Lithuania was in a city called Trakai, which is not far from Vilnius, it’s still there. So, the capital was there, and in the place where Vilnius stands was wilderness, and he was hunting there. And the hunt ran late, so he fell asleep. And when he slept, he had a dream. In this dream, he saw a wolf; he hunted wolves, so it’s natural that he would dream about wolves. The wolf was out of iron, and the wolf was howling. An iron wolf howled in his dream. When he woke up, he asked the main priest, ‘What does it mean?’  And the priest said, ‘If you will build a city on this hill, the city will be very strong and unconquerable.’ And that’s how he decided to build a new capital called Vilnius in these hills. And his castle was built on this hill, and when I was growing up in Vilnius in the 1960s and 70s, there were ruins, and there was only one guard tower left untouched. The rest of it was ruins, and there was a museum there. And that’s what you see usually in pictures of Vilnius, this tower.

“Gediminas builds his city, and in 1325, he sent a letter to the main cities in Western Europe, like Germany. This letter said, ‘I built a new city and I invite city-folk, artisans in particular, to come and live there.’ That’s because Lithuania is a small nation, and most of them were either peasants or they were in the army. So he didn’t have much of city population. So, he invited people from Western Europe, or Eastern Europe, to come and live in his new city, and that letter is preserved, and that’s how we know, and 1325 is considered to be the birthday of Vilnius.”

Q. Did he write down his dream?

A. I don’t think so. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know how we know about his dream. I presume that, perhaps, somebody wrote it, but I don’t know. But everybody who is educated and grows up there knows this legend. And I have no idea, maybe he didn’t have a dream, maybe the legend appeared later to give Vilnius more significance, I simply do not know, it’s a legend.

Q. Is Gediminas considered to be one of the most important people in Lithuanian history?

A. Gediminas is definitely considered the most important Grand Duke of Lithuania, and he was killed in battle, by Germans, because German crusaders tried to conquer Lithuania. They didn’t succeed, but lots of Lithuanian grand dukes died in battles with Germans, and he was one of them.

Q. Is this legend meaningful or powerful for you personally?

A. Yes. It makes me feel proud that I am from Vilnius and there is a story associated, it makes me feel extremely good. It’s like part of my identity; I came from a place which is important, which has history. And we all know that it’s like in Rome—remember Rome, also, is associated with a wolf. And I think it’s important because Lithuanians are a small nation and they always were trapped between large nations. You have Russians from the east, you have Poles and you have Germans in the west, and so, I think they always tried to keep their identity.

Q. Do you remember when you first heard this?

A. No, I just grew up with it.

Q. When would this story be told?

A. I don’t know. I just know it. I don’t remember—maybe it was told to me at school.

Q. What do you think it says about Lithuanian culture or values?

A. Lithuanians are a very proud people, and it’s very important for them to keep their heritage, so that’s why we know these stories, because it’s very important to them. It’s very important to them that Lithuania was once between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea—it’s a very tiny nation but had territory from one sea to another sea, a huge territory. They’re very, very proud of that.

Q. Did Lithuanians really resent Soviet rule?

A. They did resent Soviet rule. Before that, they were free for about twenty years—between 1920 and 1939—but before that, they were part of Tsarist Russia, as well. They had two rebellions against Tsarist Russia, which were very cruelly put down. They always were strong nationalists, very proud of their heritage, and wanting to have a separate state.

Analysis: This romantically-nationalistic legend has become a central aspect of Lithuanian identity; it unifies all Lithuanians by forming part of their common, national heritage. Interestingly, while throughout Europe, many stories that serve this same romantically-nationalistic function are the lore of peasantry, this particular legend is rooted in the story of a historical duke, who has been become a folklorized figure through the retelling of this tale.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Mexican Refranes (Proverbs)

Here is a series of Mexican proverbs that my informant told me she uses or hears every day as she told me verbatim:

“If you are with bad people, like when somebody tells you a refrán. That means something to make you think about the things you doing.”

“Dime con quién andas y dire quién eres.” (Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are)

“If you have bad company, if you have bad friends people can tell you hey you don’t do that because you have a bad friends but you say im not doing anything bad and then people say ‘Dime con quién andas’ ok? tell me who you’re with and I tell you who you are. ‘y dire quién eres’ people are going to think you are the same you have with bad people, but you are not bad. But people are going to think you are the same. ‘Dime con quién andas y dire quién eres.’ Tell me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

“Quién con lobos anda, aullar aprende.” (Those who walk with wolves learn to howl)

“You are still with bad people and then you are not bad, you are a good girl but the other person are a bad person. No no bad only they are younger they… you are with a people but you are not bad and then we say ‘Quién con lobos anda, aullar aprende.’ Those who walk with wolves learn to howl. You learn to do the same.”

These two are similar in that they are about who you surround yourself with, in the second case, “wolves.” They’re about how you should be careful because we are easily influenced by others, and perceived in terms of people we choose to be with, even if you are good. Wolves are dangerous vicious animals that run in packs, so this is a warning not to get involved with bad people, who can turn you and make you “howl,” or be bad like them.

“Hacer bien, sin mirar a quién.” (Be good without looking at who)

“‘Hacer bien, sin mirar a quién.’ Be good no matter who are. Be good with a person no matter how a person is. That’s one we use more. Be good no matter. Be good without looking at who.”

This refran is about being good to everyone, no matter who they are, how they may seem. Treating others well is very important to my informant and she believes strongly that you shouldn’t judge others.

“Dime de que presumes y te diré de que careces.” (Tell me what you’re showing off and I’ll tell you what you lack)

“This is a nice one. You know especially we in Mexico, maybe you know people like this. People who, how how you use the word when you have friend and they said ‘Oh I have this Oh this cost me a lot money Oh this very expensive Oh mine’s is better oh blah blah blah.’ They always telling you they have the best or you know if I get if I have my dog oh yes I have dog and then I have a shoes oh I have a shoes or I have a new bed or some ‘I have this’ all the time I’m telling you what I have ok. They always telling you what they have. You know people like this. ‘Blah Blah blah.’ They are always trying to tell. And they they say ‘Dime de que presumes y te diré de que careces’ That means persons talk about they have they have when you realize what they have they have, really they don’t have nothing. That’s why. You telling me you have a lot a lot and maybe when I go to your house, you have nothing.”

Because my informant comes from very humble beginnings in León, Guanajuato, México, she can’t stand materialism and thinks that people who are obsessed with things and showing off are either fake, liars, or as the proverb suggests are lacking otherwise. This lack is likely a more metaphorical lack, like they have something perhaps emotionally or spiritually missing from their lives or are unhappy. This saying has probably become even more applicable since she moved to the United States, where image and things is a part of daily life and are even more in your face.

“No soy monedita de oro.” (I’m not a gold coin)

“If you have somebody… I don’t know if I say in the right way or no. Ok, you ah you like me, ah? Because if I say ‘I love you’ (Te quiero) that means I want you, and if I say you don’t want me, you don’t want me ah? This is when you have somebody and that person don’t like you and we say this most of the time, all of the time all the time because you know you find most of the persons they don’t like you. We answer ‘Oh good, I’m not gold coin.’ ‘No soy monedita de oro.’ If you are gold coin, everybody want you. If you are not gold, not everybody want you. Somebody can say ‘Oh I don’t like her,’ or somebody say ‘Well, I don’t like you.’ Well good, ‘No soy monedita de oro’ and everybody loves gold, so it’s good that they don’t all want you. Not everybody loves me. We use that every time, everyday, all situations. That’s the most popular in Mexico. ‘No soy monedita de oro.’”

I found this refran to be the most interesting because the connotation or the reason why she says it seems somewhat contradictory at first. I’m not a gold coin is considered a positive thing. It’s good that you aren’t gold because then everyone doesn’t like you, everyone doesn’t want you, love you. This tells me that self-esteem in Mexican culture has a different slant in that it truly comes from the self as opposed to from affirmation from others, and also in the sense that not being perfect is a good thing. This saying emphasizes uniqueness and the imperfection of humanity as good and safe. It’s not as important that everyone love you because not everyone is good and you shouldn’t want everyone to love you. That she ends telling me this particular refran, which she explains to be the most popular and commonly used one she knows from Mexico, it really highlights the motif that you need to be cautious with people. You don’t want everyone to like you. It’s almost a giant Freudian defense mechanism, because again, the other motif is that not all people are good, or good for you to be around, though you should treat everyone well (even if you don’t like them).

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