Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why did Noah get drunk?

The Story of the Goat, Noah and the Vine.

IT IS said that the vine did not exist before the flood, and of course, therefore, there was no wine. The giants, whatever mischief they may have done, and however wicked may have been their ways, at any rate were never drunk. They only drank water, which is the eternal beverage for man and beast. When the flood came the giants and all the living creatures, except those whom Noah saved in the ark, were destroyed. When the flood had subsided, the animals went out, spread themselves over the earth, and multiplied very quickly.

               Thus from the few head of cattle, sheep and goats there grew up soon a large number, and Noah was able to live by his cattle and his goats.

               Of all these animals, Noah loved the goats best, especially when he saw them climbing about everywhere up the trees and up the rocks, going freely in all directions. One day Noah saw that one of the he-goats left the rest alone and went his own way, and when the evening came he came down dancing and jumping, quite jolly; this he repeated many days, and every evening he came home jumping and dancing, and frolicking like a madman. Noah, anxious to find out what was the reason of this peculiar behaviour of the goat, followed him quietly one day, and he found out what it was. There, on one of the hillsides, he saw a tree with very huge grapes, each one as big as a bucket. The goat went straight to these and ate his fill. Getting drunk, he laid himself down to sleep. When he woke up he started the game again, and so until the evening, when he returned home quite jolly.

               Old Noah was greatly surprised at this sight, for he had never seen before any grapes; and so, climbing up as best he could, he plucked a bunch in order to take it home and show his family.

               On his way home the heat grew unbearable, and he got very thirsty. He turned to the right, he turned to the left; nowhere a drop of water to be seen. I do not know what he thought; but, having the grapes in his hand, he put one in his mouth, and sucked at it. He found the juice very sweet and refreshing, so he took the other grapes and squeezed the juice into his mouth. Not satisfied with that, as his thirst was not yet quenched, he went back to the vine tree, and taking a whole cluster, he sucked it dry. When he returned, he felt somehow that his head had got rather heavier than usual, and his legs, on the contrary, were much lighter than before. Altogether he felt in a merry mood, and though old and advanced in years, he started singing a song. Getting near his house, the goat overtook him, frolicking and jumping as it had done every day.

               What should enter Noah's head but to follow the example of the goat, frolicking and jumping, and in that state of high merriment both reached the house. When Noah got near the house, he looked at himself, and he could not make out what had happened to him, for he had lost almost all his clothes. They had fallen off him on the way. He could not get into the house, but, dropping down in front of it, he fell fast asleep. There his sons found him, and thinking that he was dangerously ill, put him on his bed and began wailing over him, for they were sure he was at death's door.

               The next morning, to their astonishment, he woke hale and hearty, and there and then he told them all about the goat and the vine and the grape and the sweet juice. Then Noah gave orders that the vine should be taken from the hills and planted in his garden. Before he did so, he killed the goat and poured the blood of it on to the roots in remembrance of the fact that it was through the goat that he discovered the vine.

               Thus far the Rumanian story, which, however, requires completion. As far as it goes it agrees almost verbatim with a story found in a very ancient Hebrew collection of legends (Midrash Abkhir); the sequel there is as follows: When Noah started planting the vine, the devil came and asked to be allowed to take a part in it. Noah willingly agreed. After killing the goat, the devil brought a lion, whose blood was also used to water the roots of the vine, and finally brought a swine, and his blood was also poured over the roots of the vine.

               For this reason it comes to pass that, when a man drinks a little wine he gets merry and jumps and frolics like a young kid; and if he drinks a little more, he becomes hot and roars like the lion; and his last stage is reached when he wallows in the mire like the pig, for he has drunk the blood of all of them.

               Here, then, we have a tale which shows how a man can become a beast without changing his human form, not like all the other tales, in which he remains a bird or a beetle to the end of his days.

               A peculiar transformation of this legend is found in the following variant, in which the bones of the animals are substituted for their blood. The whole setting is different from the more primitive type preserved in the Rumanian.

               When Saint Dionysios was still young, he once made a journey through Greece, in order to go to Naxia (the isle of Naxos), but the way being very long, he got tired and sat down on a stone to rest. While he was sitting, and looking down in front of himself, he saw at his feet a little plant sprouting from the earth, which seemed to him so beautiful that he resolved at once to take it with him and to plant it. He took the plant out of the ground and carried it away; but, as the sun was very hot just then, he feared that it might dry up before his arrival in Naxia. Then he found the small bone of a bird, and put the plant into it and went on. In his holy hand, however, the plant grew so quickly that it peeped forth from both sides of the bone. Then he again feared that it would dry up, and thought of a remedy. He found the bone of a lion, which was thicker than the bird's bone, and he put the bird's bone, together with the plant, into the bone of the lion. But the plant quickly grew, even out of the lion's bone. Then he found the bone of a donkey, which was still thicker, and he put the plant, together with the bird's and lion's bones, into the donkey's bone, and so he came to Naxia. When he was planting it, he saw that the roots had wound thickly round the bones of the bird, the lion and the donkey; and, as he could not take it out without injuring the roots, he planted it in the ground as it was, and it quickly grew up and produced, to his delight, the finest grapes, from which he made the first wine, which he gave to men to drink. But what a wonder did he see now! When men drank of it, they sang in the beginning like merry little birds; drinking more of it, they became strong as lions; and drinking still more, they became stupid like donkeys. (Hahn, Albn. Märchen, ii. 76; v. also Thumb, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, vol. ii. No. 1, Oct. 1914, p. 38 and note 50).

               I add here a Christmas carol about the shepherd and the sheep, for it seems that at the basis of it lies the idea of God giving a special blessing to the sheep. It is a second stage after the idea of creation of the sheep by God.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why did Noah get drunk?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

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