GHEONOAIA & SCORPIA -
MORE ROMANIAN DRAGONS
-an article by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe & Alastair McBeath,
first published in The Dragon Chronicle,
Number 14, October 1998-
Many mythologies feature aspects of the search for immortality,
often with a timeless land attached.
One of the earliest known is that of Gilgamesh’s search for immortality
after the death of his friend Enkidu (cf. Dalley, 1991: especially pp.95-109).
This was almost certainly composed in Sumeria
in the second or third millennium BCE.
The Romanian tale “Youth Without Old Age, Life Without Death”,
collected and published by Petre Ispirescu in 1882 (see Ispirescu, 1968)
is undoubtedly far younger, but deals with similar themes.
It concerns the great dragon-fighting hero Fat Frumos (“Beautiful Boy”),
who is a not dissimilar character to Gilgamesh.
There were severe difficulties at his birth, and his elderly father, the emperor,
promised him youth without old age and life without death if only
he would leave the womb and be born.
At this, Fat Frumos entered the world.
When he grew up to be a young man, he asked his father to keep his promise,
but the emperor replied,
“I cannot give you this. It was just a pretext to speed your birth”.
Fat Frumos refused to accept this.
He found a magical flying horse, called Calul Nazdravan (“Extraordinary Horse”),
which he rides in this tale, and others.
This horse is also his councillor.
On it, he went searching for youth without old age and life without death.
Along the way he defeated two fabulous, flying, monstrous, draconic, sisters,
Gheonoaia and Scorpia, who could not live together because of their enmity
for one another, and on his horse, he jumped right over a forest containing
the most ferocious animals in the world.
Then he discovered a palace where three beautiful sisters lived,
the Palace of Youth Without Old Age and Life Without Death.
Here he lived in great happiness for a long time, never aging.
One day, however, he made a mistake, by crossing the Crying Valley,
and was suddenly seized by pangs of homesickness for the very first time.
He returned to his parents’ palace, but he found there only ruins.
Looking down at himself, he saw he had become a very ancient man,
and sitting on his father’s throne was Death, who said to him,
“You are most welcome!”, whereupon Fat Frumos died.
There are recognisable elements of tales from other lands here.
The ageless “faerie-land” motif recurs in numerous other places, along with
the sudden aging once a taboo is broken and the hero returns to the mortal realm,
in this instance by literally crossing the “Vale of Tears”.
There are echoes of the tale of the fourscore-year “Assembly of the Head” from
the Mabinogion here too, after Bran’s (Bendigeidfran’s) death
(cf. Jones & Jones, 1989: pp.25-40, especially pp.37-40).
We mention Bran here, since Fat Frumos has other links with Bran and
his appurtenances, some of which we shall mention briefly later in this article.
Firstly, we will look at the draconic monsters.
Gheonoaia is a gigantic bird-woman.
She can create a wind capable of felling trees.
She may represent the stormy winds of winter and spring,
and may be a variant on the Greek Lernean Hydra.
She has 100 poison-breathing heads in some tales.
Scorpia is an evil, flying, serpent-woman with three heads,
who can breath fire and pitch from her mouths.
Her fiery breath perhaps equates with the summer heat of
the Dog Days in July and August.
In other Romanian tales, Scorpia is called Mama Zmeilor, “Mother of the Zmei”,
who is sometimes Fat Frumos’ last, and strongest,
enemy in his fighting with the zmei.
We looked at the draconic zmei in an earlier TDC article
(McBeath & Gheorghe, 1998).
Elsewhere, Scorpia is Mama Serpilor, “Mother of the Serpents”.
One ballad collected and published by Alexandru I. Anzulescu (Anzulescu, 1973)
has Scorpia living in a well.
Her son, the Serpent, disguises himself as an ill young man in order
to lure unwary travellers to the well, where Scorpia swallows them whole.
Finally, the brave hero Mircea (an alternative name for Fat Frumos
which occasionally appears in other myths), whose nine brothers
Scorpia had already swallowed, kills the Serpent and his mother.
Ion Ottescu’s skylore text (Ottescu, 1907: Chapter 1) gives the peasants’ description
of Scorpia (= the constellation Scorpius) as having “an eye of blood”
(presumably the bright reddish star Antares) “and long claws”
(which once extended across the neighbouring constellation of Libra).
The Romanians also have a saying about awful women,
that they are “Thin and bad like a scorpia”.
Scorpia too features in some versions of the zgripturoaica myth.
(Ottescu, 1907: Chapter 2) discusses this; we paraphrase it here.
For the Romanian peasants the Earth is not a sphere in space,
but a plane like a table-top.
At its edges, the Earth meets the sky.
The Earth is supported by various things from below.
Some think the Earth is propped up by several pillars (usually three),
made of iron, or wood, or wax.
These pillars are gnawed at by an old zgripturoaica, and it is her activities
which produce earthquakes.
This zgripturoaica - who is a kind of supernatural monster-woman of
indeterminate appearance - eats only maize and water from the people of Earth.
When women sift maize, the part that remains around the edges of their sieves
is thrown away and zgripturoaica eats it.
Similarly, when women go to the spring to fill their pails with water, the water they
use to wash their pails with is thrown onto the ground to be drunk by zgripturoaica.
Other peasants say Judas Iscariot takes the place of zgripturoaica.
The descriptions of zgripturoaica are unfortunately unclear, but she appears
to be a vaguely draconic creation too.
Where Scorpia replaces her, the Earth is supported by only a single pillar,
and Scorpia perpetually scratches or gnaws away at it.
This variant of Scorpia appears as having a distinctly serpentine aspect,
coiled or curled about the pillar - shades of the serpent coiled around
the roots of the World Tree.
In (McBeath, 1998: pp.34, 50-51), the astronomical aspects of
Gheonoaia and Scorpia were discussed in more detail.
Here we simply repeat the strong likelihood that Gheonoaia
is the constellation Hydra, and that Scorpia is indeed Scorpius, as mentioned above.
Their enmity continues - probably originated - in the sky, where as Scorpius rises,
For anyone still not convinced of Scorpia’s draconic attributes by this stage,
we present this mysterious myth, which reads like a coded omen:
“Scorpia wanted to eat God’s Mother [the Virgin Mary], but Saint George
caught Scorpia and buried her at the seventh frontier,
and he said that when these frontiers fall,
then Scorpia will emerge to garnish the waters.”
The “seventh frontier” smacks of the Ptolemaic solar system’s seventh crystal sphere
of Saturn, immortalized in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (Paradiso XXI-XXII),
which lies just below the crystal sphere of the fixed stars, the constellations.
In Dante’s vision, the Virgin Mary resides in the final, tenth, heaven, and Dante
passed through Saturn’s sphere on the way to see this final, Empyrean, heaven.
The seventh heaven is the broadest: “...so wide/That Juno’s rainbow [Iris, Greek
goddess of the rainbow], when it is complete,/Would be too narrow to contain it.”
(Paradiso XXVIII, lines 31-33).
However, there is a closer parallel to the whole short myth in the Biblical Revelation
to John (especially Chapters 6-13), famous for its use of sevens.
The Lamb’s breaking of the sixth seal on the scroll results in an earthquake,
a solar and lunar eclipse, a storm of falling stars, all of this in the presence of God
on a rainbow-encircled throne from which lightning bolts emanate and peals
of thunder resound (Revelation 4:1-5).
The breaking of the seventh seal results in a dreadful silence for half an hour
Then, six trumpets are sounded, causing more meteoric events, locusts with
scorpion-stings to come forth, and draconic horses to appear (Revelation 8:6-19).
After a seventh trumpet sounds, a woman in agonising labour appears in the heavens,
along with a seven-headed red-dragon, and thus follows the war
with Michael and the angels.
The dragon is defeated by Michael, and hurled to Earth, but there,
he pursues the woman, who has just given birth to a boy child.
She escapes a water jet the dragon vomits forth at her by divine intervention
of the Earth.
The dragon takes its anger out on the rest of the woman’s children,
and then another draconic beast emerges from the sea, followed by a second one
from the land (Revelation 12:1-13:12).
We will not further labour the similarities here between these beasts and the
Romanian dragons we have previously discussed - or with dragons found elsewhere.
Finally, we turn to the Romanian hero.
Among his other potential links, Fat Frumos can be loosely equated with
the Greek hero Heracles.
The constellation Hercules (the Romanized name of Heracles) is called Omul,
the Man, in the Romanian peasants’ traditions, and this Man is
identical to Fat Frumos.
However, although the tale above features Fat Frumos’ birth,
he does not have a single, homogeneous story behind all his activities.
He appears in many different Romanian tales as a brave,
intelligent, inventive, honest knight.
As we have suggested in earlier articles, Fat Frumos is closer to the
personified heroic spirit, than a single real person.
One last tale this time concerns Fat Frumos and the zmeu (Kernbach, 1983).
One of the most popular Romanian abduction legends, repeated in various forms,
is that of the wonderful princess Ileana Cosanzeana by a zmeu.
Fat Frumos tracks down the zmeu and rescues the princess, killing the zmeu in
the process, but Fat Frumos is assisted in doing this by a mysterious, magical raven,
which prepares “water of death” for the zmeu, and “water of life” for Fat Frumos.
After the two combatants are all-but spent,
the raven sprinkles the appropriate water on each.
There is a curious parallel here with the crow/raven constellation Corvus
and its neighbour Crater the Cup, which lie on the back of Hydra in the sky
(discussed further in (McBeath, 1998: pp.34-39)).
Both constellations are also linked with Bran the Blessed too,
further reinforcing the comparison we drew between the two heroes before.
In addition, the “waters of life and death” can be traced back to
ancient Mesopotamia, where they are intimately associated with the Underworld,
the land of the dead.
UNDER THE CONSTELLATION DRACO’S BRIGHTNESS
(the Romanian Eternal Tale
Praise to James Bradley)
-poem by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe-
“Save me Fat Frumos!”
Shouts Ileana Cosanzeana,
The beautiful princess
The former Balaur.
(Disguised in a fireball,
And Beautiful Boy
Kills the Zmeu,
The aberration of Draco’s light.
REFERENCES AND NOTES:
Anzulescu, Alexandru I. 1973. Novac and Zana: Fantastic Ballads.
Minerva Publishing House. Bucharest, Romania.
Dalley, Stephanie (translator and annotator). 1991. Myths from Mesopotamia.
Oxford University Press (World’s Classics imprint). Oxford, England.
Dante. 1993. The Divine Comedy (translated by Sisson, Charles, H.,
annotated by Higgins, David H.).
Oxford University Press (World’s Classics imprint). Oxford, England.
Ispirescu, Petre. 1968. Romanian Legends and Tales. Publishing House
for Literature. Bucharest, Romania. (In Romanian)
Jones, Gwynn & Jones, Thomas (translators). 1989. The Mabinogion
(Revised edition). J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. (Everyman imprint). London, England.
Kernbach, Victor. 1983. Dictionary of Mythology. Albatross Publishing House.
Bucharest, Romania. (In Romanian)
McBeath, Alastair. 1998. Sky Dragons & Celestial Serpents. Dragon’s
Head Press. London, England.
McBeath, Alastair & Gheorghe, Andrei Dorian. 1998. Balauri &
Zmei - Romanian Dragons. The Dragon Chronicle No.13, pp.21-23.
Niculita-Voronca, Elena. 1903. Traditions and Beliefs of the Romanian People,
Collected and Prepared Mytholgically. Isidor Wiegler Printing Works.
Cernauti, Romania. (In Romanian)
Ottescu, Ion. 1907. Romanian Peasants’ Beliefs in Stars and Sky. Romanian
Academy Annals. Bucharest, Romania. (In Romanian; English translation in
preparation by Gheorghe, Andrei Dorian & McBeath, Alastair)
Revelation. The translations used here are from: Wansbrough, Henry
(general editor). 1994. The New Jerusalem Bible: Study Edition. Darton,
Longman & Todd Ltd. London, England.