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Greek-Cypriot Fairy Tales
Greek-Cypriot Fairy Tales
Local Culture in Folk Sagas
207
Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Author: Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Translation: Inna Guseva
27.02.2021

Have you heard about them or read together with your children?
Let me guess… You might have heard about Greek-Cypriot folk tales at folk festivals, at show-and-tell in kindergarten or during the excursion in Fairy Tale Museum  [1].
And those, who already got to know the taste and character of evening cultural facilities in big cities, might have been guests or even participants of literary nights, which include storytelling performance [2] as an obligatory part of the event (for example at Technodromio, Centre of Letters and Arts, which is open at the base of Bread Museum of Limassol).

Well, everyone likes to read or listen to new stories and many keep that craving for something unusual if not magical from a young age.

We invite you to deep dive into this amazing topic and perhaps to discover a completely new page of local culture.

In this article you will read several short fairy tales Greek-Cypriots love the most and can find the rest in original if you want: online, following the links [3] or as a physical books on the shelves of the local bookstores.

Everyone needs to read fairy tales as a kid… They not only give the feeling of wonder and fill life with exciting things and miraculous adventures. Fairy tales teach all of us humanity values and show us the world we are living in.

Later then our own children begin to identify with one of their favourite characters while listening to a bedtime story, watching “magical” cartoon or fairy tale theatre performance. With the character who is the strongest, bravest, wisest and most beautiful… Because if they become him or her kids definitely find the way out of any troubles and defeat all the difficulties no matter what.

So what is a fairy tale? According to the words of one of the organizers and participants of Cyprus Fairy Tale Festival — Katerina Voskaridou Pakkou:

“It’s our collective dreams in an imaginary world and at the same time a tool that helps us to dive in, which unites families, communities and nations. Ancient art of telling fairy tales that was lost is back recently but in other form — now it’s a living performance art…

I believe it will last forever because these stories are a part of our lives and human souls. We are telling stories every day, sharing our experience with others in various different ways” [4].

And that is true, the interest to the folk fairy tales on the island, like in other countries as well, is growing steadily. However, even in big bookstores you will mostly find not original (and that’s why valuable in terms of content) folklore tales but their bright well-promoted replacement: something about further adventures of Barbie and Co, Superman, some Disney Princesses etc.

In the best-case scenario you are lucky if you could find translations of famous works of world literature: Brother Grimm, Charles Perrault, Janni Rodari, Lewis Carroll, Alexander Pushkin, Hans Ch. Andersen or Joel Chandler Harris.

So a storybook that were written recently or on the other hand, existed in Cyprus since the ancient times and what is more published in other languages is a rare find on the island [5].

Among the key features of Cyprus fairy tales that partly distinct partly unite them with fairy tale traditions of other nations are:

  • All of them were written down — and also performed — in a local Greek dialect (ντοπιολαλια).
  • The main character — is a man of the people, whose destiny is to be a “bridge” in communication with both authorities and magical world creatures. Whereas the burden of authority’s power on an ordinary person finds its representation in form of monsters (especially in dragons) in popular consciousness.
  • The plot of a fairy tale includes obligatory challenges, which the main character (or characters) goes through with the help of some magical (supernatural) helper-creature (often it’s talking animals and birds as well as fairies, giants, dragons and snakes, wizards and spirits) or object (for example a ring or a mirror).
  • The stories themselves do not have any relation to a specific person or place and time until fairy tale heroes have symbolic nicknames depends on their character traits, type of clothes or even “occupation” (like Ο Τρίμματος, Ο δράκος και η λυγερή, Η Καλομοίρα). Moreover the plot is often based on real events of the past and involves real people, whose names did not fade from the memory of the generations.
  • Fairy tales always have cultural, spiritual and domestic elements of daily life in Cyprus: ethics and morals, customs, descriptions of country work and peasant’s life, culinary traditions etc. Historically believes are also embedded into the context of the story together with mentality and ceremonialism of Cypriots.
  • The basic fairy tale morals are: do good to the world, act brave and fairly and you will reach what you desire, you can always seek for help by your friends, who will be there for you.
  • Except pagan motives some Cyprus fairy tales sound very Christian. The mythological aspect is very influential among the oldest and most well known of them: knowledge about gods and goddesses is taught as a play-based learning for the youngest audience.

When the process of study of Greek works of folklore began?

As we know, these stories, which supposed to amuse kids before they go to sleep, were told to the youngest family members on the female half of the houses since ancient times. Long time no one collected or wrote them down.

Nonetheless, fairy tale stories — again it began a long time ago — became intertwined with classical literature: they were often used in ancient comedies.

First who began to collect and study folk tales were scientists in Greece; that was pretty recently — in the end of XIX century. It is expected that the oldest Hellenics fairy tales were lost or altered because of that reason.

Society of Cypriot Studies [6], one of the oldest associations of Hellenic world, was founded in Cyprus by a group of local scientists during British colonial rule. Its enthusiasts made preserving, researching and promoting (including publishing of folklore works and organizing of applied arts exhibitions) of cultural heritage their main goal.

It would be wrong to suppose that Greek-Cypriot fairy tales were all born in the ancient times. The stories are made up nowadays as well, however unknown and often illiterate folk storytellers passed the baton to their “colleagues scientists”: folklorists, literaturists, poets and writers.

Now fairy tales are born much faster, reflecting the changing world and its realities, told to audience with the help of indirect figures and set. Significant influence of the Greek mythology keeps consistent in modern works of this genre [7].

On a visit to “Seven Tales from Cyprus” and other great storybooks of folklore epos

“Cypriot Tales”

Consisting of 100 fairy tales, “Cypriot Tales” continues to be the biggest and fundamental storybook of ancient folklore tales published by famous Nearchos Clerides (1892-1969). He began to work on collecting, editing and researching of these oral tradition tales in 1925 and continued it right until his death in 1969. It is known that Clerides wrote down only those fairytales, which were told in a captivating manner by their tellers [8].

March of 2017 became a special year for folklorists in Cyprus: the Nearchos Clerides Cultural Foundation in collaboration with Dr. A. Sofokleus republished this fundamental work in the new version [9].

Folk and modern storytellers and folklorists, who collected tales — everyone became co-writers of this book. The book itself is recognized today as a precious source of folk wisdom, poetic images and inspiration for new authors.

Storybook has a glossary — a thesaurus explaining old words and expressions used in Cyprus dialect of Greek in last ages.

“Seven Tales from Cyprus” (published in 2003)

This storybook of magical short stories and novels adapted by Niki Marangou is one of the most well known books among Greek readers.

The author lives in Nicosia and is a member of Hellenic Authors Society and Cyprus Writers Association. She is also famous due to her works for Cyprus State Theatre where she worked as playwright from 1965 to 1970. Marangou published several books of her prose, poems and children stories — many of them got state awards.

Among “magical” stories published by Niki Marangou:

  • CD Tales from Cyprus, 1999;
  • The Gobler and the King, Taxideftis ed, Athens, 2005;
  • The boy and the goblet, Taxideftis ed, Athens, 2006.

But the most famous book is “Seven Tales from Cyprus”, 2003.

Fairytales in this book came to us through oral tradition. Contrary to popular belief that history doesn’t know the names of the people, who told stories, the names of storytellers contributed to this book are documented by folklorists. Niki Marangou’s sources for her written adaptations are as follows:

“Oliver’s Bird”: Giorgos Charalambous Admitos, a young student of Paphos high school, told this story to Costas Prousis in the beginning of 40es, who transcribed and published it in Laographiki Kypros (Vol. 43).

“The Forty Ogres [10] of Pyrgos and the King of the Golden Apple” — this fairytale was transcribed by Athanassios Sakellarios in Kypriaka (Athens, 1891).

“The Prince Who Became a Tailor”: Composed of two folk tales first transcribed and published by Nearchos Klerides in an issue of Kypriakes Spoudes (1959).

“Kkeletin” tale was told by an oldtimer Antonis Beis from Yialousa, and “Three Princes and Three Princesses” was told by Panayis Pantelis from Lysi.

“Bitter Lemons”: Vasilou Dimitri, a 75-year-old woman who could not read or write, told this story to the folklorist Nearchos Klerides, who transcribed it and published it in the journal Kypriakes Spoudes (1959).

“Manolis and the Dervishes”: Adapted from “The Story of the Oracle”, transcribed by Athanassios Sakellarios in Kypriaka (Athens, 1891).

“Kypris and Noufris, the Two Paphians”: Christina Papapavlou, from the village of Agros, told this story to Nearchos Klerides, who transcribed it and published it in Kypriakes Spoudes (1960).

“The King and the Cobbler”: Dimitris Mallotides, from the village of Kritou Terra, told this story to Nearchos Klerides, who transcribed it in Kypriakes Spoudes (1960).

“The Story of the Little Dog and the Little Cat”: Told to Nikolas Konomis in 1951 or 1952 in the village of Asha. He transcribed it in Deltio tis Ellinikis Laographikis Etaerias (1962) [11].

“Granny Maroula’s Tales” [12]

In 2014 a storybook of folk tales was published in Russian (complier — N. Zykova, publisher — “Zolotoye Yabloko” (Golden Apple)). The storybook received a high rating not only in Cyprus. The book was included in UNESCO list of children literature. As of today, this is the only one children fairy tale book in Russian published in Cyprus.

“Cyprus Stories: myths, legends, traditions, folk tales” [13]

This storybook was created by Sotiroula Maratefti and published at Mathiatis Primary School in 2014. The book contains drawings made by students of the school.

Tales you will find inside could be divided in following categories:

  1. Greek mythology: Aphrodite, Trojan War — beginning of the building of ancient Greek kingdoms and polises in Cyprus.
  2. Historical plots and characters: queen Rigena and her towers; Arodafnousa; Triantafylleni; Digenis Akritas / Sarakinos.
  3. Christianity: Paul the Apostle in Cyprus; Saint Helen and the Holy Cross; Saint George and the Dragon.
  4. Folk tales: Dekatris; The rich and the poor women; Koutsoukoutou; Spanos and the forty dragons.

Fairy tales in Cyprus could be found in “reality” as well as in books

One of these cultural events: “Cyprus folk tales and traditional songs of Middle ages” took place on the territory of the Municipal University Library in Limassol on 19th of October 2018.

Cyprus University of Technology also took part in cultural and educational performances organized as a part of European Heritage Days 2018. Zoe Hadjivassiliou, a storyteller of traditional stories and tales, told several folk tales: “The King and the Cobbler (tsangaris)”, “Spanos and the forty dragons” and “Pythagorean”. All these tales come from Nearchos Clerides storybook of “Cypriot Tales” and adapted by her.

Except oral creative works, the audience got a chance to listen to musical compositions: Medieval songs were performed by university vocal ensemble directed by Efi Ioannidou.

At 22:00, at the end of the performance, the library welcomed the audience at its halls and showed its funds.

Fairy tale festivals

6th festival called “I say it a thousand different ways” (Με χίλιους τρόπους θα το πω) took place in Nicosia and Limassol from 1st to 10th of November.

“Fairy tale binge” for children and adults included exhibitions of artworks like paintings and graphics, movies, dancing and musical performances and a book fair. Famous storytellers from Greece, Italy and Cyprus joined it too.

December Christmas Fair “Christmas Mystery” in Limassol invited all the children to visit holiday performances showing fairy tale stories (in Greek with both English and Russian translations).

The entrance ticket for children under 12 was free of charge.
Organizator’s contact: (+357) 99 009578.

Fairy tales on the phone

Famous Fairy Tale Museum in Nicosia launched a new project during pandemic that caught the whole world. The staff working there decided to give the children of Cyprus a unique opportunity to listen to their favourite fairytales on the phone, so they read stories to all those who wished. To present this small miracle to your kid you had to call to the museum or leave a message for its administration on Facebook.

Except museum workers other volunteers supported this campaign. Project “Phone Fairy Tale” started on 20th of March 2020.

Fairytales from the president

Nicos Anastasiades, a current president of Republic of Cyprus, read his favourite fairytale on TV on 19th of April — Eastern Sunday. Children and adults as well could listen to it during their involuntary sitting at home.

The initiative was supported also by many Cyprus actors, politicians and popular TV moderators.

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Nowadays Cypriot folklore is not only continued to be collected and retold. It becomes a base for poems, songs and theatre performances both professional and amateur.

Antonis Gavriel Papa (Papas, born in 1947), one of the famous contemporary writers and poets living in Cyprus and writing in Cypriot dialect, says in his works:

“Our language is reach and amazing, it has such a beautiful words one can find. It’s similar to blossoming tree…The heritage of our ancestors is priceless…” (from interview with A. G. Papa [14], August 2013).

He has been writing poems since 2001 and his books, containing according to Cypriots opinion the wisdom of the folk, won many awards.

First book of the author — “From the bottom of my heart” (Από της ψυχής τα βάθυ) was followed by several others. Poems and plays saw the light first and then it was time for Cyprus fairytales. They drew the attention of the writer when the administration of a local primary school decided to stage fairytale “Tirimos” (Ο Τυρίμος). They asked Papas to write poems for the play. So “Tirimos” by Papas was included to a storybook together with his other poetical adaptations of fairytales: “Koutsoukoutou”, “The Fox and the Crow” and “Spanos and the forty dragons”.

This book was noticed and bought by Ministry of Education and Culture and soon afterwards it was included in primary school program of the country as well as in Greek schools of Great Britain.

And now we present you several popular Greek-Cypriot fairytales in an abridged form

Kalomira

Once upon a time there lived a peasant who worked from down to dusk. He had a daughter named Kalomira. She was extremely lazy and spent her days talking with flowers and singing with birds in the garden.

One small bird once twitted to her:

— Kalomira, Kalomira, start working so that you can find your destiny!

The girl listened to her but couldn’t understand what the bird wanted to say to her. The bird continued to fly to the garden and sing that strange but beautiful song over and over again.

Kalomira decided to follow bird’s advice and get some work. So she went to the sea. There she met a captain who, together with pilgrims on board, was about to set on a journey to the Holy Land to see the Holy Cross. The girl asked to take her with them and promised to do every kind of work, which would be needed for that.

When they arrived and went ashore, Kalomira joined the crowd that went to an amazing palace. The king was absent by that time but there were three sisters sitting in the garden. They started talking with Kalomira and invited her inside.

The eldest sister was very skillful at embroidering wonderful motives: stars in the night sky. Kalomira asked her to teach her and was ready to spend the whole year learning this beautiful handicraft.

The middle sister could embroider the Moon so wonderful that Kalomira couldn’t take off her eyes of the work. She asked her to teach her too.

The youngest sister was also great at embroidering: she covered fabrics with fantastic birds and flowers. Kalomira asked her to be her teacher as well.

So passed three years. Except embroidery the sisters told Kalomira secrets of the universe, various songs, legends and prayers.

Kalomira bid farewell to the sisters and went back home. There she began to spend whole days working: creating beautiful embroideries on the pillows.

One evening someone knocked on the door: a young traveller stand on the porch. He was dressed as a rich person but looked very tired.

The young man asked for a place to sleep and Kalomira invited him inside. She wanted to amuse the guest while he was having dinner and began to tell him stories she learned from the sisters in the castle.

After eating dinner and listening to the interesting stories the young king (of course it was him!) wanted to go to sleep so Kalomira brought him pillows she embroidered and the king had sweet dreams [15]...

A fly that went to school

Here is for instance a very funny and cautionary tale about a Fly that thought of herself as an educated.

One day she heard students singing a children’s tease song while she flew inside through an open window. Decided she is very educated now, Fly went to different animals for a visit.

She annoyed everyone with her tease song and even more with her teachings. However the Fly didn’t realize that thinking she is way smarter than the others and kept doing it despite getting some slaps for that.

Well, the destiny of dummy know-it-all was unhappy: she ended up eaten by a Goose [16].

Arodafnousa

It’s the most well-known Cyprus ballad song [17], which is considered to be created in XIV century. The plot tells a story about a woman from Choulou village in Pafos region, who had three beautiful daughters: eldest Adorun, middle Adorusa and youngest and the most beautiful Arodafnousa. The youngest sister was so pretty because she was born in that month when all the trees are full of flowers. Flower petals flying with the wind touched her face and made her beautiful.

One day Frankish king Peter I of Cyprus (1328-1369) met the girl and fell in love. He, as they sing in songs, completely lost his head and forgot about all his previous love interests [18].

And all this happened, as it’s called, right in front of his wife queen Eleonora of Aragon (1333-1417).

The rumours about king’s new love interests reached the queen. She, driven by jealousy and curiosity, ordered to show her the girl.

Arodafnousa put on a pearl necklace and a dress made out of golden silk and went to the Eleonora’s castle.

The queen, convinced that the rumours were telling truth that Arodafnousa was prettier than all previous lovers of light-headed king, became angry and ordered to throw the peasant girl, who forgot about her social status, in a stone dungeon. Later she was executed by queen’s order. That’s all, folks.

This fairytale set to music is loved and performed nowadays [19]. Greek poet Kostis Palamas (1859-1943) was the first who used an image of a peasant girl Arodafnousa in his poetical works “Cyprus” (from a book Politia kai Monaxia) and in “Ekatos denesia” (from a book Asalefti Zoi). Italian writer, journalist and playwright Gabrielle d’Annunzio (1863-1938) mentioned this legend in his tragedy Pisanella (premiere of the play took place in Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 12 of June 1913). Cyprus poet Glafkos Alitersis (1897-1965) published a tragedy in verses called “Arodafnousa” in 1935. Film director Kostas Charalambidis staged play “Arodafnousa” re-imagined in the modern day with new social and political vision in Kaimakli in 1982.

Spanos and the forty dragons [20]

Once upon a time there was a young man called Spanos, whose name meant “beardless” because he couldn’t grow a moustache or a beard.

As people said, Spanos loved to brag that there is no one in the world as brave as him. And finally he paid for it when the villagers, tired of his bragging, said to him: “Well, if you go and defeat forty dragons, who plug a river, which was vital for our village, with stones we will believe you are actually very brave”.

So there was nothing to do except proving it. Spanos, who was not only boastful but also smart, set on a journey.

He met treacherous monsters and dragons tried to test him in many different ways, lure him into a trap using their tricks and eat. But his ingenuity saved him life all the time.

Dragons, despite being bloodthirsty, turned out to be surprisingly dummy and young guy not only won their quests but also managed to kill them all. After that he went to the river and broke the dam, which dragons built to direct water to their place — and river flow to the village giving life to its gardens and fields.

Happy villagers seeing Spanos returning back gathered around him and began to praise him: “Good job, Spanos! Now we see that you are definitely a brave fellow!” [21].

A girl with chestnut hair or Kastanomalloussa (Η Καστανομαλλούσσα)

It’s a fairytale about a girl with beautiful hair of chestnut colour, a story many generations are familiar with, that was first published in 1960 by Nearchos Klerides in his storybook “Cyprus fairytales: Narrations about dragons” (Vol. 3) (originally: Κυπριακά Παραμύθια, Διηγήσεις με δράκους, Τόμος Γ΄).

Once upon a time there was a prince, who left one day his parents and his castle to set on a long journey to the edge of the world. He had to find Kasanomalloussa, the only one person, who was able to break his curse.

Young prince went through a lot of difficulties and obstacles, found new friends and fought enemies and finally reached a tower.

Beautiful Kastanomalloussa was living there in captivity. Prince was enchanted by her beauty and immediately fell in love. So they decided to escape together and, as it usually is, new adventures and tests for their love were waiting for them ahead.

Musical performance “Kastanomalloussa” in original and modern adaptation by Nikos Nikolaides is also very popular in Cyprus.

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That’s all for now…

 

Until next time!


[1] At the time my colleagues and I visited it, there was a special exhibition to the left of the entrance, which the museum planned to develop and replenish with new acquisitions. That was “Hall of Princesses and Dragons”, where you could also see books of both traditional local fairytale folklore and written by Cyprus writers and folklorists.

[2] Great storytelling, as you might know, meets all the demands, which were made to a fairytale by the audience: it should be not only amusing but also educational, memorable and well-structured. It’s not by chance that modern writers in Cyprus love to perform for children so much, turning into the real storytellers for them.
So we will definitely see three traditional features of an interesting fairytale in their stories: main characters (heroes) + a conflict + an ending, providing the context.

[3] It’s kind of rare to find Cyprus fairytales online but, according to the experience of several guests of the island, these storybooks of folk savvy and wisdom are often sold at monasteries’ book stores. Most frequently they were seen in Kykkos.

[4] Read more about it here.

[5] Mouflon Bookstores offer folk fairytales of Cyprus both as physical books and online.

[6] Society publishes a self-titled annual collection of papers. All of them could be found in the archives of Society, which symbol is an eagle with wide spread wings (this image was on the ancient coins used in Cyprus). The archive is located in Archbishop’s Palace.

[7] Comes from: www.skazkoved.ru.

[8] If you want, you can buy this book even nowadays.

[9] Read more here.

[10] An ogre is a giant that eats humans (the image of this monster comes from Medieval Celtic mythology).

[11] Source.

[12] You can find more details here.

[13] Follow the link for more information.

[14] Read the full text of this exclusive interview with Antonis Gavriel Papas — “Poesy and art are helping us…” in Greek here.
Books of this author could be found or ordered in Cyprus bookstores or directly by Power Publishing office.

[15] Full text of the fairytale is here.

[16] Full text in Russian here.

[17] More information about it here.

[18] By the way it has been suggested that exactly that passion for women was the reason of king’s death when he was only 40. He was not only “admirer” of beauty of the girls from valleys and villages on his way but also persuaded many wives of his courtiers to become his lovers.
So it’s possible that because of this unstoppable love passion one day the husbands angered by that conspired, broke into his room and killed him.

[19] Text in Greek could be found here. Musical performance by Michalis Terlikkas, a folk song singer and director of musical band “Muse” born in Morfou region (Kypraia Foni — St' Agnarka Ton Djeron album). The artists are playing only Cyprus traditional musical instruments. Together with Terlikkas they perform in Cyprus and abroad. You can find videos of their performances on YouTube.

[20] Book that includes this fairytale was illustrated by famous Cyprus graphic painter Hambis Tsangaris (born in 1947). One of his paintings was printed on stamps of Republic of Cyprus.

[21] Read here about adventures of a young prince during his journey.