Thursday 5 November 2020

Long ears

There is a very unusual story about a king with long (goat's or donkey's or horse's or ox's) ears and his barber. This story has only been preserved as a folk tale in a few places. Are these places connected with each other in some way? 
Midas, Greece

Bacchus, on a certain occasion, found his old schoolmaster and foster-father, Silenus, missing. The old man had been drinking, and in that state wandered away, and was found by some peasants, who carried him to their king, Midas. Midas recognized him, and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with an unceasing round of jollity. On the eleventh day he brought Silenus back, and restored him in safety to his pupil. Whereupon Bacchus offered Midas his choice of a reward, whatever he might wish. He asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Bacchus consented, though sorry that he had not made a better choice.

Midas went his way, rejoicing in his new-acquired power, which he hastened to put to the test. He could scarce believe his eyes when he found a twig of an oak, which he plucked from the branch, become gold in his hand. He took up a stone; it changed to gold. He touched a sod; it did the same. He took up an apple from the tree; you would have thought he had robbed the garden of the Hesperides. His joy knew no bounds, and as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a splendid repast on the table. Then he found to his dismay that whether he touched bread, it hardened in his hand; or put a morsel to his lip, it defied his teeth. He took a glass of wine, but it flowed down his throat like melted gold.

In consternation at the unprecedented affliction, he strove to divest himself of his power; he hated the gift he had lately coveted. But all in vain; starvation seemed to await him. He raised his arms, all shining with gold, in prayer to Bacchus, begging to be delivered from his glittering destruction. Bacchus, merciful deity, heard and consented. "Go," said he, "to River Pactolus, trace its fountain-head, there plunge yourself and body in, and wash away your fault and its punishment." He did so, and scarce had he touched the waters before the gold-creating power passed into them, and the river sands became changed into gold, as they remain to this day.

Thenceforth Midas, hating wealth and splendor, dwelt in the country, and became a worshipper of Pan, the god of the fields. On a certain occasion Pan had the temerity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and to challenge the god of the lyre to a trial of skill. The challenge was accepted, and Tmolus, the mountain god, was chosen umpire. The senior took his seat, and cleared away the trees from his ears to listen.

At a given signal Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower Midas, who happened to be present. Then Tmolus turned his head toward the Sun-god, and all his trees turned with him. Apollo rose, his brow wreathed with Parnassian laurel, while his robe of Tyrian purple swept the ground. In his left hand he held the lyre, and with his right hand struck the strings. Ravished with the harmony, Tmolus at once awarded the victory to the god of the lyre, and all but Midas acquiesced in the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award. Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer to wear the human form, but caused them to increase in length, grow hairy, within and without, and movable on their roots; in short, to be on the perfect pattern of those of an ass.

Mortified enough was King Midas at this mishap: but he consoled himself with the thought that it was possible to hide his misfortune, which he attempted to do by means of an ample turban or head-dress. But his hairdresser of course knew the secret. He was charged not to mention it, and threatened with dire punishment if he presumed to disobey. But he found it too much for his discretion to keep such a secret; so he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, and stooping down, whispered the story, and covered it up. Before long a thick bed of reeds sprang up in the meadow, and as soon as it had gained its growth, began whispering the story, and has continued to do so, from that day to this, every time a breeze passes over the place.

Source: Thomas Bulfinch, The Age of Fable (1855), chapter 6.

Bulfinch's source: Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 11, and other classical writers.

The Goat's Ears of the Emperor Trojan, Serbia

Once upon a time there lived an emperor whose name was Trojan, and he had ears like a goat. Every morning, when he was shaved, he asked if the man saw anything odd about him, and as each fresh barber always replied that the emperor had goat's ears, he was at once ordered to be put to death.

Now after this state of things had lasted a good while, there was hardly a barber left in the town that could shave the emperor, and it came to be the turn of the Master of the Company of Barbers to go up to the palace. But, unluckily, at the very moment that he should have set out, the master fell suddenly ill, and told one of his apprentices that he must go in his stead.

When the youth was taken to the emperor's bedroom, he was asked why he had come and not his master. The young man replied that the master was ill, and there was no one but himself who could be trusted with the honor. The emperor was satisfied with the answer, and sat down, and let a sheet of fine linen be put round him.

Directly the young barber began his work, he, like the rest, remarked the goat's ears of the emperor, but when he had finished and the emperor asked his usual question as to whether the youth had noticed anything odd about him, the young man replied calmly, "No, nothing at all."

This pleased the emperor so much that he gave him twelve ducats, and said, "Henceforth you shall come every day to shave me."

So when the apprentice returned home, and the master inquired how he had got on with the emperor, the young man answered, "Oh, very well, and he says I am to shave him every day, and he has given me these twelve ducats"; but he said nothing about the goat's ears of the emperor.

From this time the apprentice went regularly up to the palace, receiving each morning twelve ducats in payment. But after a while, his secret, which he had carefully kept, burnt within him, and he longed to tell it to somebody. His master saw there was something on his mind, and asked what it was. The youth replied that he had been tormenting himself for some months, and should never feel easy until some one shared his secret.

"Well, trust me," said the master, "I will keep it to myself; or, if you do not like to do that, confess it to your pastor, or go into some field outside the town and dig a hole, and, after you have dug it, kneel down and whisper your secret three times into the hole. Then put back the earth and come away."

The apprentice thought that this seemed the best plan, and that very afternoon went to a meadow outside the town, dug a deep hole, then knelt and whispered to it three times over, "The Emperor Trojan has goat's ears." And as he said so a great burden seemed to roll off him, and he shoveled the earth carefully back and ran lightly home.

Weeks passed away, and there sprang up in the hole an elder tree which had three stems, all as straight as poplars. Some shepherds, tending their flocks near by, noticed the tree growing there, and one of them cut down a stem to make flutes of; but, directly he began to play, the flute would do nothing but sing: "The Emperor Trojan has goat's ears." Of course, it was not long before the whole town knew of this wonderful flute and what it said; and, at last, the news reached the emperor in his palace.

He instantly sent for the apprentice and said to him, "What have you been saying about me to all my people?"

The culprit tried to defend himself by saying that he had never told anyone what he had noticed; but the emperor, instead of listening, only drew his sword from its sheath, which so frightened the poor fellow that he confessed exactly what he had done, and how he had whispered the truth three times to the earth, and how in that very place an elder tree had sprung up, and flutes had been cut from it, which would only repeat the words he had said. Then the emperor commanded his coach to be made ready, and he took the youth with him, and they drove to the spot, for he wished to see for himself whether the young man's confession was true; but when they reached the place only one stem was left. So the emperor desired his attendants to cut him a flute from the remaining stem, and, when it was ready, he ordered his chamberlain to play on it. But no tune could the chamberlain play, though he was the best flute player about the court -- nothing came but the words, "The Emperor Trojan has goat's ears."

Then the emperor knew that even the earth gave up its secrets, and he granted the young man his life, but he never allowed him to be his barber any more.

Source: Andrew Lang, The Violet Fairy Book (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1901), pp. 52-54.

Lang's source: Volksmärchen der Serben.

The King with the Horse's Ears, Ireland
The story I'm going to tell you is not to be met every day. I heard little Tom Kennedy, the great schoolmaster of Rossard, say that he read it in the history of Ireland, and that it happened before the people were Christian. It is about a king who had his hair cut only once a year. He lived in some old city on the borders of Carlow and Kilkenny, and his name was a queer one: Lora Lonshach it was.

So, as I said, he got his hair cut only once a year, and afterward nothing more was ever heard of the barber who did it. This happened to about seven unlucky fellows, and then no barber would come close the castle for love or money. So the king proclaimed that all the barbers in the country were to draw lots, and if the one who got the short straw would dare to refuse, he would be put to death.

The short straw was drawn by a poor widow's son named Thigueen. Fearing that she would never again see her son, the mother ran to the castle and beseeched the king to spare him the fate of the previous barbers.

"You'll get your boy back safe and sound," promised the king.

The next day the frightened barber reported for duty.

"My good fellow," said the king, "you'll be at liberty to go wherever you please after cutting my hair, but you must swear Dar lamh an Righ (by the king's hand) that you'll never tell anything that has ears and tongue what you see here today."

The king sat down on his throne and took off his hood, revealing two brown horse's ears, quite as long as those of an ass.

"Pick up your scissors and do your job!" he ordered.

The poor lad did as best he could, taking special care not to nick the king's ears.

When the job was finished, the king paid him, saying, "Now, my lad, if I ever hear word of this, I'll make you wish that you had never been born."

The boy returned to his mother, only to fall into bed, deathly ill. She asked him what ailed him, but he gave no answer.

Two days later the doctor came.

"I have a secret," said poor Thigueen. If I cannot tell it, I'll die, and if I do tell it, I'll not be allowed to live."

When the doctor heard that the secret was not to be told to anyone with a tongue or ears, he said, "Go into the woods, make a split in the bark of one of the trees, tell your secret into the cut."

The doctor was hardly out of the house when Thigueen got up and went into the woods, not stopping until he reached the middle, a place where two paths crossed one another. At this spot he found a healthy tree, cut a gash in its bark, and then whispered into it, "Da Chluais Chapail ar Labhradh Loingseach," which means, "The two ears of a horse has Lora Lonshach."

The poor fellow had hardly whispered these words when he felt as if a mountain had been lifted off his back.

Before a year passed, when again it would be time for the king's haircut, a great harp-playing match was announced, a contest between Craftine, the king's harper, and anyone who dared play against him. The other four kings of Ireland were invited, as well as all the lords and ladies who chose to travel so far. One week before the appointed day, Craftine found a crack in his harp, so he went into the forest to look for wood for a new one.

Where should bad luck send him but to the very tree that Thigueen had told his secret to! Craftine cut it down and fashioned it into the finest harp you have ever seen, and when he tried it, he himself was enchanted with its beautiful music.

The great day came at last, and the big hall in the palace was crammed. The king was on his high throne, with the four other kings before him. On either side were all the great lords and ladies, around the open place in the center where the harpers were sitting.

Craftine began. He first played so mournfully that all who heard him were grief-stricken. Then he played a merry jig, and because there was no room to dance, everyone shouted out for joy. Next came a war-like march, and everyone who had room drew his sword and waved it over his head, each one crying out the war-cry of his own chief or king. Finally he played a beautiful heavenly tune, and they all closed their eyes, hoping that the beautiful music would never come to an end.

When Craftine finally ceased playing, gold and silver were thrown in showers to him. Then the harpers of Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and Ulster tried their hands, and, sure enough, they played very well, but not nearly as well as Craftine.

When they were finished, the king said to Craftine, "Give us one more tune to finish decently, and put all that we invited in good humor for their dinner."

"I am afraid of my harp," answered Craftine. "It wasn't my fingers that struck out the music, but the music that stirred my fingers. There is magic in that harp, and I fear it will play us some trick."

"Trick be hanged!" said the king. "Play away!"

The harper had to obey his king, and he took up his harp, but he had hardly touched the strings, when a loud voice came from them, shouting, "Da Chluais Chapail ar Labhradh Loingseach!"

The startled king put his hands to his head, not knowing what he was doing, and in his fumbling he loosened the bands of his hood, revealing the two long hairy ears. What a roar came from the crowd! King Lora was not able to stand it, and in a trance he fell down from his throne. In a few minutes he had the hall to himself, except for his harper and some of his old servants.

They say that when he came to himself, he was very sorry for all the poor barbers that he had put out of the way, and that he pensioned their wives and mothers. From then on Thigueen was no more concerned about giving the king a haircut than he would have been about giving one to you or to me.

Source: Abstracted from Patrick Kennedy, Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, 2nd edition (London and New York: Macmillan and Company, 1891, pp. 219-225.

March's Ears (1), Wales (Llyn peninsula inhabited by the Irish)

One of Arthur's warriors, whose name was March (or Parch) Amheirchion, was lord of Castellmarch in Lleyn. This man had horse's ears (resembling Midas), and lest anybody should know it, he used to kill every man he sought to shave his beard, for fear lest he should not be able to keep the secret; and on the spot where he was wont to bury the bodies there grew reeds, one of which somebody cut to make a pipe.

The pipe would give no other sound than "March Amheirchion has horse's ears."

When the warrior heard this, he would probably have killed the innocent man on that account, if he had not himself failed to make the pipe produce any other sound. But after hearing where the reed had grown, he made no further effort to conceal either the murders or his ears.

Source: John Rhys, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1901), v. 1, pp. 233-234.

March's Ears (2), Wales (Llyn peninsula inhabited by the Irish)

March ab Meirchion was lord of Castellmarch, in Lleyn. He ruled over leagues of rich land, tilled by hundreds of willing and obedient vassals. He had great possessions, fleet horses, greyhounds, hawks, countless black cattle and sheep, and a great herd of swine. (But few possessed pigs at that time, and their flesh was esteemed better than the flesh of oxen. Arthur himself sought to have one of March's sows.) In his palace he had much treasure of gold, silver, and Conway pearls, and all men envied him.

But March was not happy. He had a secret, and day and night he was torn with dread lest it should be discovered. He had horse's ears!

To no one was the secret known except his barber. This man he compelled to take a solemn oath that he would not reveal his deformity to any living soul. If he wittingly or unwittingly should let anyone know that March's ears were other than human, March swore that he would cut his head off.

The barber became as unhappy as March. Indeed his wretchedness was greater, because his fate would be worse if the secret were revealed. March would undergo ridicule, which is certainly a serious thing, but the barber would undergo decapitation, which is much more serious.

The secret disagreed with his constitution so violently that he lost his appetite and his color, and began to fall into a decline.

So ill did he become that he had to call in a physician. This man was skilled in his craft, and he said to the barber, "You are being killed by a suppressed secret. Unless you communicate it to someone you will soon be in your grave."

This announcement did not give the barber much consolation. He explained to the physician that if he did as he was directed he would lose his head. If in any event he had to come to the end of his earthly career, he preferred being interred with his head joined to, rather than separated from, his trunk.

The physician then suggested that he should tell his secret to the ground.

The barber thought there was not much danger to his cervical vertebrae (this is the learned name for neck bones) if he did this, and adopted the suggestion. He was at once relieved. His color and appetite gradually came back, and before long he was as strong and well as he had ever been.

Now it happened that a fine crop of reeds grew on the spot where the barber whispered his secret to the ground.

March prepared a great feast, and sent for one of Maelgwn Gwynedd's pipers, who was the best piper in the word, to make music for his guests.

On his way to Castellmarch, the piper observed these fine reeds, and as his old pipe was getting worn out, he cut them and made an excellent new pipe. When his guests had eaten and drunk, March ordered the piper to play.

What was the surprise of all when the pipe gave out no music, but only the words, "Horse's ears for March ab Meirchion, horse's ears for March ab Meirchion," over and over again.

March drew his sword and would have slain the piper, but the hapless musician begged for mercy. He was not to blame, he said. He had tried to play his wonted music, but the pipe was charmed, and do what he would, he could get nothing out of it but the words, "Horse's ears for March ab Meirchion."

March tried the pipe himself, but even he could not elicit any strains from it, but only the words, "Horse's ears for March ab Meirchion."

So he forgave the piper and made no further effort to conceal his deformity.

Source: W. Jenkyn Thomas, The Welsh Fairy Book (London: T. Fisher Unwin, Ltd., [1908], pp. 93-95.

          The horse's ears of King Mark of Cornwall  

The myth is also known in Brittany where the king Mark of Cornwall is believed to have ruled the south-western region of Cornouaille. Chasing a white doe, he loses his best horse Morvarc'h (Seahorse) when the doe kills it with an arrow thrown by Mark. Trying to kill the doe, he is cursed by Dahut, a magician who lives under the sea. She gives life to Morvarc'h back but switches his ears and mane with Mark's ears and hair. 
Worried that the word might get out, Mark hides in his castle and kills every barber that comes to cut his hair until his milk brother Yeun is the last barber alive in Cornouaille. He promises to let him live if Yeun keeps the secret and Yeun cuts his hairs with a magical pair of scissors. The secret is too heavy for Yeun though and he goes to a beach to dig a hole and tell his secret in it. When he leaves, three reeds appear. 
Years later, when Mark's sister marries, the musicians are unable to play for the reeds of their bagpipes and bombards have been stolen by brigands. They find three reeds on the beach and use them to make new ones, but the instruments, instead of playing music, only sing "The King Mark has the ears and the mane of his horse Morvarc'h on his head" and Mark departs never to be seen again.  
Source: Larvol, Gwenole. Ar Roue Marc'h a zo gantañ war e benn moue ha divskouarn e varc'h Morvarc'h   


          The Child with the Ears of an Ox, India

Once upon a time a son was born to a certain raja, and the child had the ears of an ox. The raja was very much ashamed and let no one know. But the secret could not be kept from the barber who had to perform the ceremony of shaving the child's head. However, the raja made the barber vow not to tell anyone of what he had seen.

So the barber went away, but the secret which he might not tell had an unfortunate effect. It made his stomach swell to an enormous size. As the barber went along in this unhappy condition he met a Dom [member of a low caste, comprising scavangers, basketmakers, and drummers] who asked why his stomach was so swollen. The barber said that it was because he had shaved the raja's child and had seen that it had the ears of an ox. Directly he had broken his vow and blurted out the secret, his stomach returned to its usual size.

The Dom went his way and cut down a tree and made a drum out of the wood, and went about playing on the drum and begging. He came to the raja's palace, and there he drummed and sang: "The son of the raja has the ears of an ox."

When the raja heard this, he was very angry, and swore to punish the barber who must have broken his vow. But the Dom assured the raja that he knew nothing about the matter, that it was the drum that sang the words and not he, and that he had no idea what they meant. So the raja was pacified, and the barber was not punished.

Source: Cecil Henry Bompas Bompas, Folklore of the Santal Parganas (London: David Nutt, 1909), no. 53, p. 171.

King of Ossounes with donkey's ears

In pre-Islamic legend of Central Asia, the king of the Ossounes of the Yenisei basin had donkey's ears. He would hide them, and order each of his barbers killed to hide his secret. The last barber among his people was counselled to whisper the heavy secret into a well after sundown, but he didn't cover the well afterwards. The well water rose and flooded the kingdom, creating the waters of Lake Issyk-Kul. 
This is such an obscure story, that there is no way that all these people could have come up with it independently. Accepted opinion is that this story was invented by Phrygians in Anatolia, it was then recorded by the Ancient Greeks who then passed it to Indians, Central Asians, and Romans, who then passed it on to the Irish and the Serbs...

Few questions:

How was this story transmitted? Through written texts? By learned men? The stories recorded in Ireland and Serbia were recorded among illiterate peasants...How did they learn the story in the first place?

Also do the Serb, Irish, Breton, Indian and Central Asian peasants and shepherds have a weird taste in legends, that no one else has, considering that it was only them who preserved this mad story as a folk legend, but not Greeks, Turks, Italians...And they didn't preserve the actual Phrygian story about the actual Phrygian king Midas. Which you would expect if all these people learned the story from the same Greco-Roman source. No. They actually have their own story with their own king and their own ears (horse, ox, goat)...Cultural appropriation?

Don't really know what to think about all this.... 

Anyway, you can read abut why I don't think that the choice of ears given to King Midas by Apollo was random in my post "Onager".

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