Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why are the locusts voracious?

The Story of the Arrogant King and the Monks.

IT IS related that when the Emperor Por married his daughter he made a great banquet, as big as had never been done before, for he called all the kings and governors, and so many guests came together that one might have thought that they would eat up even Por's ears.

               But Por the emperor knew what he had to do, and he prepared food for all. He opened casks of wine, which had been kept closed for a thousand years, and he spread tables in a field as large as a country, and he brought musicians who were so skilled that one would have liked to listen to them for ever.

               Everything had he prepared, only one thing had he forgotten. He did not call the priests and the nuns. The priests he left out just because he wanted to insult them, and he did not think of having the marriage service performed in a Church.

               "What do I want them for?" he said, "all this can be done without their blessing, and to have popas (priests) always about you in your house, by God, is not quite a lucky thing, for it is well known if you meet a popa in your way you are sure to have no luck, for you have met the devil."

               The priests, seeing that Por had mocked at them, and the mothers of the Church (the nuns) got very angry. They began ringing the bells and praying, and they fasted three days on end, hoping that God would hearken to their prayer and would punish the Emperor Por in such signal manner as God alone in his wisdom could do.

               And God, as it seems, hearkened to their prayer, for while the tables were laden with meat and drink, and all the guests had sat themselves down to eat and drink, suddenly the heavens grew dark, a mighty wind arose, and out of the sky came down a thick black cloud of winged things with large mouths, voracious and hungry.

               They settled on the tables and devoured every bit of food that could be found, and drank every drop of wine. The guests turned sick at this horrible sight, and, falling ill, they all died there and then. From a wedding feast it became a huge burial, the fame of which spread throughout the lands. No one knew why this misfortune had befallen them, only Por understood what had happened, and before his death he said:

               "Nothing can be done without the mercy and grace of God. And this has been my punishment."

               These were the locusts (Pachytylus migratorius) which God sends upon men when they forget the true God.


The rôle assigned here to the official priests, the "popa" of the orthodox religion, is in perfect harmony with that sectarian teaching which could not find words strong and opprobrious enough against the "official" Church and its ministers. The belief is still alive in Rumania that to meet a "popa," as he is called, is an evil omen, and the people will often desist from some enterprise if a popa has met them. There are practices by which the evil consequences of such a meeting could be averted; but they belong to those of primitive society. This story seems also to have been originally a satire against these popas. They were the original locusts who descended upon the tables of the rich and mighty, but now the point has been blunted and the lesson deliberately turned round, making the locusts the means of punishment for ignoring the priests. The man who told this tale must have had a mischievous twinkle in his eye, not lost on his hearers, but evidently lost upon him who wrote it down afterwards.

               The Emperor Por is none else than the Indian King Porus who plays so important a part in the legendary history of Alexander the Great. This is one of the most popular Rumanian chap-books--probably the oldest in Rumanian folk-lore. There are a number of traces of this legendary history in the Rumanian popular literature. We shall meet another reference to it in the history of the cricket, No. 65, and of the cuckoo, No. 91.

               This story evidently belongs to the cycle of legends in which an emperor tries to invite God and his host to dine with him, boasting that he would be able to feed them. He decks tables along the sea shore and waits for God to come to the banquet. But a wind rises and blows everything into the sea. A sage explains to the emperor that thus far only one of the servants of God--the wind--has partaken of his banquet. (v. Gaster, Exempla of the Rabbis, No. 12.)

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why are the locusts voracious?
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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