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Why does the fly of kolumbatsh poison the cattle?

The Ballad of the Knight and the Dragon.
Numerous ballads recount the same story of the origin of the Poison-fly of Kolumbatsh, with slight variations, of which the most complete is the following:

High up in the green forest
What does appear?
High up in the forest of Cerna,
At the ford of Rushava,
Have gone forth, verily gone forth,
From some village nigh,
Very early in the morning,
Through dew and mist,
Three sisters,
Beautiful maidens.
The elder sister,
Dressed sweetly,
Fair like a pink flower,
Surpassing a fairy,
When you espy her breast,
White like a lily.
The younger sister,
Darling Maria,
Full of pride
In her eyebrows,
In her eyes and lashes,
And when you look into her eyes,
You are like one smitten by the evil eye.
The youngest sister,
Like unto a dove,
Ana Ghirosana,
Like the fairy Sanziana,
Surpassed them all.
She is like the evening star,
And the star of morn,
The flower of flowers.
They played and frolicked,
And gathered flowers.
They made wreaths,
And while they twisted them they sang.
Through the forest the singing was heard.
Thus they went on,
Until, overcome,
The youngest lay down,
And went to sleep.
The elder two,
The sisters twain,
When night arrived,
To their home they turned.
They left the youngest behind,
Who was fast asleep,
Until the dawn appeared,
When she called for them.
But none heard her,
Except the little cuckoo,
Beautiful and brave,
Who flitted among the trees,
And sang with a loud voice.
“Dear Cuckoo mine,Listen to me, you brave one!
Lead me out into the open,
To the road of carriages,
That I find my sisters,
For I will be unto thee a cousin!”
“My sweet one!
I do not know
Whether I will lead thee into the open or not,
For I have many cousins,
As many as there are flowers on the mountain!”
“Cuckoo, cuckoo, listen, O brave one!
Lead me into the open,
To the road of cars.
I will be a sister unto thee.”
The cuckoo replied:
“No, my child, no,
For I have sisters as many
As flowers that bloom in spring.”
“Cuckoo, cuckoo, listen, O brave one!
Lead me into the open,
That I may find my sisters,
For I will be a wife unto thee
As long as I live.”
“O no, for I am not a young man
Able to wed.
I am only a little bird,
And I know not of a beloved one.”
Then suddenly appeared from a rock
The most horrible fright,
Gruesome and cruel—
Twisting and crawling across the path—
A terrible dragon.
Running after her,
He coiled himself round her,
Twisted his tail
Round her waist; he encircled her.
She was seized with terror,
And shrieked aloud.
The forest resounded.
High up the Cerna,
Very high up the river,
Many a brave has passed,
And all were laid low.
A valiant Ruman,
Ioan Iorgovan,
Whose arms were like clubs,
Was riding upon a horse,
Swift as the eagle,
Followed by two little dogs,
Keen and quick.
He was riding gaily,
Walking up the Cerna
Quite quickly,
His horse prancing,
Encouraging his dogs,
And waving his lance.
He suddenly heard a noise,
But he did not understand,
However much he strained,
Whether it was the voice of a man
Or that of a woman.
For the waves of the Cerna raged,
Sounding loud through the forest.
So he turned himself back,
And said to the Cerna:
“O my clean Cerna,
Stop, I pray thee, stop,
For I will throw
Into thy bed,
And I will give thee a silver lamprey,
And a golden distaff,
With dragon’s eyes,
Which will spin and turn by itself.”
The Cerna heard him,
And at once stood still.
Then Ioan Iorgovan,
With arms like clubs,
At once heard
And knew the voice,
That it was not that of a man,
But that of a woman.
Then he got angry,
Spurred on his horse,
And, striking it hard,
He roared like a lion,
Splitting the air.
The dragon got sight of him,
And, seized with fear, it ran away.
But he followed it,
And jumped across the Cerna,
And approached it.
The dragon waited for him,
And asked him:
“Ioan Iorgovan,
With arms like clubs.
With what kind of a good message
Dost thou come this day to me?
Or hast thou the thought
To destroy me?
I pray thee, grant me peace,
And turn back to thy home.
I swear on my head
That, dead, I shall be worse.
For, if thou killest me,
My head will rot.
Worms will breed;
Flies will swarm,
Who will bite thy horse.
It will burst of the poison,
The oxen will run mad,
The plough will come to a standstill!”
“Accursed snake!
Thou still bandiest words.
I will teach the country,
And the people will hearken to me.
They will raise the smoke,
And thy flies they will choke.
My horse will not die,
But thou shalt perish,
For I have heard
That thou hast killed
A beautiful maid
With thy robber’s jaw.”
“Ioan Iorgovan,
When I heard thy approach,
Thy horse’s trot,
Roaring like a dragon,
I at once left the maid
Safe and unhurt.
I pray thee,
Leave me alone,
And turn back to thy home.
I swear on my head,
Worse shall I be dead.”
Ioan Iorgovan,
With arms like clubs,
Brandished his sword,
Hit the snake,
And cut it up in pieces.
The maid looked on
Until he had finished it,
Then she showed herself,
And thus she spake:
“Ioan Iorgovan,
With arms like clubs,
Lead me out in the open,
To the carriage road,
That I may meet my sisters,
For I shall be unto thee a wife
As long as I be alive.”
When he beheld her,
Wonder seized him
Of her beauty and of her youth.
“Ho, my beautiful flower,
Who art like a young fairy,
Be then to me a wife
As long as you be alive.”
He then embraced her
And kissed her.
He then looked on—
May it burst—
There was the dragon’s head
Running away,
Painting the Cerna red with his blood.
And it ran across the Danube,
Until it hid itself in the dark cave.
There it rotted.
The worms bred
And flies swarmed.
And so it is to this very day;
When the fly comes out
It bites the horses,
It poisons the oxen,
And stops the plough.


Thus far this, the most complete version.

               There are a number of other variants, but the central idea is the same, that the poison-fly (Musca Columbaca) comes from the head of the dragon, slain by the knight Ioan Iorgovan.

               The people show the imprint of the hoofs and the traces of Iorgovan's dogs on the high cliff overhanging the banks of the Danube.

               This legend, localised in Rumania on the borders of Servia, is of special interest for hagiography. It is nothing else but a variant of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. It has assumed a peculiar form, differing greatly from the other versions of that fight, which is known all over the East and West, and lives in many forms and versions. In the Rumanian hagiography there are at least two or three versions of the legend as found in the Vitae Sanctorum and the Synaxarium of the Greek and Slavonic Church. Thus it is found in one of the oldest Rumanian prints, the Homiliary of 1646, the very first book printed at Jasi, in Moldavia, in the Rumanian language. It occurs also in part in the Lives of the Saints by the Archbishop Dositheus, who used MS. collections for his book, printed also in Jasi, in 1682. An elaborate version is to be found in the great collection of the Lives of the Saints in twelve volumes, by Bishop Benjamin of Moldavia, and then reprinted in Bucharest in 1836. All these collections are full of apocryphal matter, and the Life of St. George makes no exception. There is one point more to which attention must be drawn in this connection, viz. the influence of the Genoese and Venetian traders who had established emporia along the Danube and the Black Sea, among them one which to this very day has retained the name of St. George. Along the Danube, on the left bank, on what is now Rumania, stands that place, called Giurgiu in honour of the patron saint of the Genoese who found it. Thus, from many quarters, one or the other version became known to the folk, and was localised at that point where the Carpathian mountains seem to dip into the Danube, to emerge again on the other side and continue rising and forming the chain of the Balkans. From a philological point of view the name Iorgu Iorgovan denotes Servian influences.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why does the fly of kolumbatsh poison the cattle?
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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