Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why is the ant cut in the middle?

The Story of the Young Maiden and her Step-mother the Demon.

ONCE upon a time there was a widow who had only one child, a girl, and all her possessions (goods and chattels) consisted of a flock of sheep.

               When the girl grew up, the mother sent her with the flock, and told her at the same time to put on a man's clothes and not to speak to anyone in the manner of women.

               The girl did as she was told, and fed the flock for a long time. One day, however, she was in the forest, where a young boy also fed his flock. But he was not the son of man; he was the son cf the serpent (dragon). How was she to know it? And even if she had known it, what good would it be to her, seeing that she did not know what a dragon or a she-dragon was?

               Regarding him as a shepherd like herself, she began talking to him, and the whole day they went together with their flocks. When the young dragon came home in the evening, he told his mother, "I think that he with whom I spent the day is not a man in spite of the clothes but a woman, but he does not seem to have a woman's voice. Would it not be better if I brought him here, and you might then tell me whether it is a man or a woman, for if she be a woman, I should like to have her as my wife. I have not yet seen in the whole world one more beautiful." "Go," said the mother, "bring him. If he be a man, he will return safely from us, but if she be a woman, then thine shall she be."

               On the next day, meeting the daughter of the widow, they fed their flocks together, and in the evening, when they were to separate, he asked the girl to spend the night at his house. The girl, not thinking aught evil, and being somewhat far away from her own house, accepted his invitation and went with him. What did the she-dragon do when she saw her coming? She went out to meet her and engaged her in conversation. Then she turned to her son and spoke to him, but in a foreign tongue. She told him to put a flower under the pillow of his companion, and if in the morning the flower will be faded, for sure then she is a girl; otherwise the flower would remain fresh. So he did. The girl, seeing that they talked in a foreign tongue, understood that they were talking about her, and determined to watch and see. No sooner had she gone to bed than she began to snore, as if she had fallen fast asleep, but she did not sleep. Her hosts, thinking her fast asleep, got up, went on tip-toe into the garden, and, taking a carnation in full flower, put it under her pillow and fell asleep.

               The girl, feeling that something had been put under her pillow, understood that something was wrong. So she got up and took out of her bag a charmed mirror by which to undo the sorcery of her hosts. No sooner had she taken out her mirror, than the dragon-mother woke up, and, running quickly to the bed, found the flower faded, to her own great joy and that of her son. What was the girl to do now? She could not deny that she was a girl. So she began to speak with a woman's voice. The young dragon then insisted on her marrying him, but she said, if he insisted on taking her she would neither speak to him nor kiss him. The young dragon, more in a joke, took her in his arms and squeezed her so tight that her face got swollen and her eyes almost started out of her head. She then changed herself into an insect and ran to the door to get out from under the threshold. But the old dragon took a knife and slashed her across the body when she had crept half-way out of the house, so that she nearly cut her in twain. Her luck was that just a little flesh remained by which the other part of the body was kept hanging on, and thus she has remained to this very day, for she became the ant.


The first part of this story agrees in the main with the first part of the swallow story, No. 87. It is another example of the transfer of a story from one object to another, like the story of the woodpecker and the pelican. (Cf. also the slashing of the bee in the stories, No. 1 ff.)

               Popular belief is that the ant is the grandchild (niece nepoata) of God, and the handmaid of the Virgin, although I have not yet been able to find the legend upon which this belief rests. The ant must not be molested, for the Virgin sighs as often as an ant is killed.

               The red ant comes from the tears shed by St. Mary over the grave of Christ.

               The ant is used as a remedy against toothache by boiling it together with the earth of its nest and rinsing the mouth with the water (which thus contains the well-known arnica of the pharmacopoeia).

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why is the ant cut in the middle?
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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