Author Archives: Miriam Bedrin

The Story of the Founding of Rome


The informant and I were having a conversation in my apartment, and the topic of our families was brought up. I asked him if his parents or relatives had shared any interesting stories or sayings with him. The informant is of Italian heritage, and he said that when he grew up, his father told him the story of Rome’s founding.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: There’s a place called… Alba Longa, no longer known anywhere in Italy. But a place that was ruled by a king named Numitor. Numitor had a brother, um, Amulius, and… he was jealous of Numitor. So he actually seized the throne for him, and he kicked Numitor out and killed all the sons of Numitor. Numitor had one daughter though. Amulius decided to make the daughter, um, Rhea Silvia, a, uh… virgin priestess. She had to remain celibate, but of course, as often is true, the gods can intervene. And so they did. Mars, the god of war, impregnated Rhea Silvia, quote common in Greek mythology and Roman mythology, this idea, and she conceived twins. She birthed them, and Amulius saw and of course was not happy with this because he wanted to ensure that he would have no one to challenge him in his rule. Though he had the twins put in a basket and thrown in the Tiber river. Um… Well, since these children were born of a god, and were semi-divine, they were actually spared by the river, by the spirit of the river, I believe it’s um… Tiberinus, the god of the river Tiber, actually floated them to safety, to the shore. But they were still abandoned, so um… what would they do? They’d starve. Well a, uh, she-wolf found them, um, it’s uh, lupa, very iconic, that the she-wolf found them, and um, quenched their thirst, gave them nutrients. In some tellings of the story, she spent some time protecting the two young. Now, they were fed also by a woodpecker, the story goes. The woodpecker fed them, but the she-wolf protected them, uh… gave them sustenance. But eventually, after a little bit of time, they were found by a shepherd and his wife. They raised the, uh, two boys to become shepherds as well, and they had the names Romulus and Remus. Uh, just as a side note, I’m not sure if you can think of this connection, but if you’re aware of Remus from Harry Potter, um, he can turn into a werewolf. Well… Romulus, Remus are quite related to wolves. Oftentimes when we see depictions of Romulus and Remus in this myth, we see the two twin babes sucking from the she-wolf. That’s a very famous, very, uh, dear icon. Now, they were raised and they became natural leaders. They had no idea though, that they were actually divine. They ended up becoming leaders amongst other  shepherds, and Amulius found out about this and had the idea that they were actually the twins, that they must be. So he captured Remus. Romulus ended up gathering a band of shepherds to save him. And they ended up overthrowing Amulius and restoring Numitor to the thrown. They were actually offered, um, to be the kings together of Alba Longa, but they just had Numitor take the thrown again. But they decided to go off though, and with their band of followers and find a city. Now, Romulus wanted to find a city in the, I believe it’s the… Palatine hill. And Remus the Aventine. They weren’t sure which one they wanted to be the place of the city, so they decided to use augury, which is seeing from the birds some divine sign of what they should do. What would be the most auspicious place. Well… Romulus saw, um, twelve birds. Remus only six. So Romulus concluded he had the more auspicious sign that it was his location that they would build the city. But Remus thought to himself, “Well… I saw the six first though, so it is a more auspicious sign.” Well, Romulus already decided to start working on the city, but Remus was upset, criticizing, thinking it was really his right and that Romulus was wrong, so criticizing him. He held this grudge up. Romulus soon came up with a wall. Remus, in challenging this, actually decided to jump over the wall. Well… but when he did though, Romulus, so angered by this… defiance, killed him. This is, uh, probably the most problematic part of the founding myth of Rome, that, um, Romulus killed his twin brother, and uh… built the city upon that bloodshed, and named it Rome. The city actually had… not too many women. Of some of the shepherds, some of them had wives, but a lot of them did not, so it was a problem. Well, they ended up inviting some of the Sabine people, uh, that were around the area to come to the developing city for a festival, and they ended up distracting the men and taking captive the women. And this led to some conflicts, eventually to a standoff between Rome and the Sabines. Now… the women though, ended up, uh… wanting a, resolution between the two, seeing that it would be quite bloody. So they ended up actually having two kings becoming one entity. But the leader of the Sabines ended up getting into some scandal, some kind of situation, and he actually was killed. So Romulus, he ended up acquiring the territory, being leader of the territory, for the rest of his life acquiring more and more land. Uh… being such a great leader, a very strong person. But he died, eventually, and it’s said he rose up actually, into the sky into heaven, and announced, or expressed, that he would be, then, Quirinus, a certain god that actually, that god really is the form of Romulus. So that god now is often on coins, and people associate that god with Romulus. But then of course, Romulus, Remus, with the she-wolf, that statue, that icon, being very famous too. I often heard that, known about them, heard of their names, understanding their importance. But now, of course, it’s interesting to consider how the founding was of these… these boys that, you know, were human but also divine, but then were raised, in some sense, by a wolf. The idea of the… feral child. That is coming into play here, they had to experience with a wolf, with the wild, and then with the kind of… simple origins as shepherds. It’s interesting also with shepherds, those, you know, guiding sheep, maybe protecting sheep from wolves, but they were, in some sense, raised by a wolf. So, that’s it. That’s it for the legend.

Me: How did you learn about this story?

Informant: From my dad.

Me: In what context would he usually tell it to you?

Informant: Hmm… Um, I’m not sure if I exactly remember. Just when I was little, I remember, I remember it coming up, but I don’t exactly remember what context.

Me: So, um, what significance does this story have to you?

Informant: To me? Um… I’d that say, the personal significance is that it was something my father shared with me, and something that I thought was really interesting. The first time I heard it, this was… something that has been kind of passed down for a long time and has been important to Rome, to Italy. It’s something that people are aware… that people care about. Um, as far as how it’s interesting besides having heard it, and thinking of it as important that way, I’d say it’s always been interesting to me that the story starts with, the story of Rome starts with, like, twins that, were raised in part by a wolf. That seems, like… Who would think that? It’s very interesting to me. It almost seems like Rome, like it’s kind of like those who have come from the wilderness and then they bring something to begin civilization. You know… it’s like, you know, Socrates descending to the people from high. I don’t know… The hermits in the mountains coming down, giving them wisdom. That they kind of came from this situation and grew up from nothing, seemingly, to then… to then being the founders of Rome. And also, maybe more interesting recently, has been, um, has been the killing of Remus, what that means. That’s something to think about.


This narrative is an example of a story which has been performed for many years. While it once held mythologic significance for the citizens of Rome, it is now shared through families and during coverage of ancient Rome in history classes. The informant identified the story’s significance to him as the fact his father shared it with him. Even though the religion the story references has largely fallen out of practice, the story is still entertaining to tell and connects modern people with Italian heritage to their past.

Folk Remedy: Iodine

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this Armenian folk remedy which makes use of staining skin with iodine with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The most ridiculous, like some of the Armenian remedies, like I can see them working, but this one makes… no sense. Like, and it’s been done to me since I was a child. Any ailment you have, whether it be a fever, whether you have a lump on your nose, whether you have warts… For some reason, they truly believe… this… does something for you. Like it chemically does something for you, even though it makes no sense. They take pure iodine, the liquid form. They stain your skin, on your chest and your back, in a hashtag. And… you leave it on you. And they keep redoing it on a twenty four hour basis. And supposedly, after you do that a number of times, your ailment is supposed to completely go away. Disclaimer: it has never worked for me.

Me: What’s the rationale behind it?

Informant: There’s none. I don’t know what it is. They just, they truly believe… I think it’s actually a remnant of a time when Armenians were Pagans. When they believed that there were, you know, demons and um… spirits and all those things. And so I think they believed that the hatch-mark in iodine would… I’m sure back then they had a different chemical, but the hatch-mark is supposed to ward away the evil things. So if there was something lingering in your body, or if there was some… ailment or problem in you, the hatch-mark would deflect it, and it would leave your body.

Me: So it’s more about the shape and not the iodine itself?

Informant: Yeah… I think the iodine is just an instrument because it stains. Iodine stains your skin really well, and it’ll stain it for a while. And that’s the point. Um… because I’m sure they… I mean, I’m sure they could have used henna just as easily. It’s just the fact that it stains your skin, and it has to be the hatch-mark shape on your front, and on your back.

Me: So then like… who would do that to you?

Informant: Um… just whoever’s taking care of you. A mother would do it. A mother… Fathers never touch their kids. You know, a father doesn’t really pay attention to the child’s upbringing, until they’re of a certain age where they can do an internship or start pursuing jobs or they’re in highschool and need life advice or whatever. But the mother’s the primary caretaker… of a child.

Me: So that holds true in Armenia?

Informant: Yeah. That’s… ’til this day. It has not changed.


This remedy is an example of a piece of folk medicine that has been passed down through families for generations. My informant does not believe the remedy works for her, though her parents continue to practice it. The remedy is used to treat a variety of ailments and is not specific to one illness.

Vegan Jokes

Context: My informant is a vegan. While we were conversing on Skype, we started talking about jokes vegans tell about non-vegans and ignorant comments vegans hear from non-vegans. These jokes were all told in quick succession and the conversation flows too naturally to make sense in parts, so they were included together.

Joke 1: What’s the best way to keep milk fresh? Leave it in the cow.

Joke 2: Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?

Joke 3: Isn’t it weird that we drink milk, stuff designed to nourish baby cows? How did that happen? Did some cattleman once say, “Oh man, I can’t wait till them calves are done so I can get me a hit of that stuff.”

Full Interview Transcription: 

Me: What are some jokes that vegans tell?

Informant: Um, what’s the best way to keep milk fresh?

Me: What?

Informant: Leave it in the cow.


Me: That’s great. [Laughter] So um, who told you that?

Informant: I found it. Like I was scrolling on an Instagram post that had to do with veganism, and I like wrote it down immediately when I saw it because I was like, this is funny.

Me: Yeah. It’s great.

Informant: Um, and then, another one is: Can vegetarians eat animal crackers? And I get asked that all the time.

Me: Like, do people ask that seriously?

Informant: Seriously. Especially one of my band mates. They’re like, “Can they eat animal crackers? Or what about, like aren’t you hurting plants?”

Me: Oh my god… I don’t understand.

Informant: I don’t either! Okay… This one will probably… This one makes you think. Isn’t it weird that we drink milk, stuff designed to nourish baby cows? How did that happen? Did some cattleman once say, “Oh man, I can’t wait till them calves are done so I can get me a hit of that stuff.”


Me: Oh god… Where did you hear that one?

Informant: I found it on a website.

Me: Okay… So when do you usually tell these things? Among other vegans?

Informant: Among other vegans and among, like, meat eaters who are being judgmental of my veganism.


Informant: Just to make fun of them.

Me: That’s brilliant. What do you think the jokes are making fun of in particular?

Informant: I like to hope that it’s making fun of people’s ignorance towards different diet types. You know?

Me: Mhmm.

Informant: Not actually making fun of vegans.

Me: They’re funny. I like them. I can’t believe people ask the animal crackers one seriously.

Informant: Seriously all the time. And I also hear: “Why do you want to hurt plants? If you care so much about animals, what about the plants?”

Me: Are there any other things people say to you like that?

Informant: Um… Hmm… I hear about vitamins a lot. As soon as you become a vegan, everyone’s concerned about your vitamin levels. Not before you become a vegan. Like as soon as you become one. “Are you getting enough calcium? What about this? What about that?” And you’re like, “What if I wasn’t drinking milk before I was vegan?” You know?

Me: Yeah, good question.

Informant: Did you not care before?

Me: Yeah… Assumptions.

Informant: I’ve also noticed that people around me, when they’re with me, they’ll purposely… overly non-vegan-ify their food. Like completely. Like “I’ll take a steak, and some eggs, and put butter on that, with some bacon.” Just to be able to eat it in front of me.


Informant: I’m just like, you’re just clogging your arteries. It’s not bothering me.

Comments: This conversation informed me about some of the hurtful comments non-vegans say to vegans to try to delegitimize their lifestyle. The jokes the informant told me are also an example of a misunderstood group using humor to deflect ignorant remarks from outsiders.

Armenian Days of the Week Rhyme

Armenian: Ուրբաթ, Շաբաթ, Կիրակի, արջը գնաց մարզանկի, ուսթա Սակոն կրակեց, արջի փորա դրակեց.

Phonetic Translation: Urbat’, Shabat’, Kiraki, arjy gnats’ marzanki, ust’a Sakon krakets’, arji p’vora drakets’.

English Translation: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went to the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this rhyme, which is used to teach children the days of the week, with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The way that… So, in Armenia the way that parents will teach their children the days of the week is we have this rhyme. So, you say the days of the week, Monday through Friday. Armenians start with Mondays, we don’t start with Sundays. And it goes: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.


Me: Wow…

Informant: And it’s… it is really violent, but it rhymes really well, and so it’s caught on a lot to Armenian kids.

Me: Where do children usually learn this from?

Informant: Hmm… Armenian education systems are different than in America. For example, a child is expected to go to elementary school with… sort of the basics already down… Like the mother is expected to be a very good mother in that sense, if you think that a mother teaching you, you know, education at such a young age is a quality of a good mother. Um, they were supposed to come in with like a working knowledge, and the rhyme was generally taught by the mothers. So it was just a fun way for the kids to like, learn it and, you know, it was funny. Like, the violence in it, in Armenian stories in general. Just like in Grimms’ fairy tales. They’re very violent, and it’s just what makes them funny.


This rhyme is an example of violent children’s humor. Children’s media, such as the Warner Bros. television show Looney Tunes, often contain violence and, specifically, violent humor, despite the association of children with innocence. This rhyme also provides children with an easy way to remember the days of the week, as the rhyme associates memorization of them with something funny.

Armenian Rabbit Nursery Rhyme

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this nursery rhyme about two rabbits with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript: 

Informant: This one is a fun nursery rhyme. I think this was during, like, this came out originally, this rhyme, during the, um, the Soviet Union, to kind of symbolize Stalin. Which is hilarious because the rhyme basically goes, like: One rabbit is asking another rabbit, um, which symbolizes two innocent Armenian people, “Oh, like, what are you doing there? Why are you hiding under that tree? Like, come over to, um, come over to this other person’s house.” And he’s like “No, no, no, no, no. I won’t go to that other person’s house because a great big dog will come and… eat my tail away.” And… it’s completely illogical. There’s no reason why that would happen, but… that’s the idea. It’s to enforce paranoia into everyone. Like, don’t go outside, don’t interact with other people, like keep to yourself, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Me: What influence did Stalin have on Armenia? Was it more like, hearing about it? Or did…

Informant: No, the USSR owned Armenia. From 19… From the end of 1915 after the genocide, after they helped end the genocide, when they invaded Armenia and kicked Turkey out, um, during the genocide, which today, today commemorates the anniversary of it, um… So basically, the USSR reigned over Armenia just like it reigned all over all the other states in the Soviet block, um, by terrorizing the people. Like, economically the country… Armenia wasn’t doing as badly as it is now, ’cause it was under the influence of the Russian economy, which back then wasn’t doing that badly. It was bad for the people, but for the wealthy, who were like trading with Armenia, because Armenia has… had, before it was exploited for all of its stuff, had a very good produce industry, and, um, a very high quality of education. So we had a lot of people, like that other people knew of, who were getting, like, taken in by Russian soldiers and like taken to Russia and used for like, the space race or for research or whatever it may be. So you could be taken away from your home for some kind of advantage at any time. So the idea was, you know, stay away from people. Communism. You know, like stay away from people. There is a, everyone is equal, but there is a sovereign that will chop your head off if you believe you were special.

Me: And then like, why do people still tell it today?


Informant: It’s… cutesy. For kids. ‘Cause the rhyme… the rhyme rhymes. You know? It’s just a cutesy little rhyme. You can imagine a little bunny hopping around and being asked like, “Oh, why don’t you go hang out with this person?” Like, “Ah, ’cause I’m scared. This big bad wolf’s gonna come eat my tail.” Like it comes out really cutesy. And, you know, it’s just a fun thing to tell. Like why do we tell the story of Hansel and Gretel? Because it kind of, harshly, for the house of candy, it’s fun to describe it. So… yep.


This nursery rhyme provides an example of citizens of an occupied nation using humor to make light of their situation under an oppressor. Other children’s rhymes such as “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge is Falling Down” similarly use tragedies as their inspiration. The using of a “great big dog” to represent the Soviet Union and bunnies to represent Armenia references both the Soviet Union’s great size and its military strength. Children’s folklore also commonly addresses violence and misfortune.