The Ballad of Miorita – the defining Romanian myth
Folklore is the key to understanding a people’s culture. All the traditions and legends are just transposing, in a metaphoric way, the main attitudes concerning life, in general. The Miorita ballad, is perhaps, the most eloquent Romanian folk poem ever created, summing up the most important beliefs of this nation.
The Story behind the Ballad of Miorita
This rhyme ballad has a very simple yet, profound story. Three shepherds from three regions of Romania – Moldavia, Walachia and Transylvania – are going with their sheep in the mountains. The Moldavian shepherd is though, wealthier, so the others, full of envy, come with a plan to kill him and steal his flock. But Miorita, the most faithful ewe of the Moldavian shepherd, hears the plan and prevents her master. The conversation between them is very emotional. Miorita asks the shepherd to take immediate measures to protect himself, but the shepherd does not do so. His reaction is rather intriguing. Death doesn’t seem to scary him, in fact, he is willing to accept whatever will happen.
But, in the same time, he knows he cannot leave this world without putting everything in order so he reveals Miorita his last wishes. First, he asks Miorita not to tell the other sheep about his death because he does not want to grieve them. Instead, she is asked to tell them that he got married with a beautiful girl, a princess. The description of the hypothetical wedding is simply amazing. The mountains are playing the role of the priests, the godfathers are the moon and the sun, the guests are the firs and the sycamores and the fiddlers are the birds of the sky. But there is one catch, a star will fall at this wedding, symbolizing in a very subtle manner, the ending of a life. This death-wedding joining is actually, related to one of Romania’s funeral custom, still used today. Unmarried people are buried dressed in wedding clothes because every man must pass all three major events of life: the baptism, the wedding and the death. But this detached attitude over death is, in fact, an inheritance from the Dacians, who confronted it with no fear, as they considered themselves immortals.
The poem goes on in the same hypothetical manner, revealing the fact that the shepherd knows very well what it might happen next. So, he says to Miorita that, when his mother will come to look for him, she has to tell her the same story but, not to remember about the falling star, as she will figure out immediately about the truth.
The title – which is the Romanian diminutive for ewe – makes reference to the strong connection between man and nature and also draws attention to the importance of the transhumance – a millenary activity still present here. The poem is spread all over the country, in more than a thousand versions and many poets and writers got inspired by it. More than that, Miorita, due to its rich symbolism, is studied in schools so almost everyone knows it. Being considered the quintessence of the Romanian spirituality, this folk creation actually brings out the fact that Romania is truly a pastoral society, very attached to its traditions.