THE LEGEND OF DRAGOBETE
Illustration of Mirela Pete Rusu
For centuries, our nation’s traditions have been preserved in memory of the people in different stories, songs and legends. Some were transmitted orally, others were sculptured into rocks, bringing evidence over centuries about this industrious, brave people, passionate when they love. Because today it is the Feast of Love, I tell you the legend of Dragobete who, according to the elderly, was the son of a lovely woman, Dochia by name. It is believed that she
was the daughter of Decebalus (King of the Dacians) and … that even Trajan, the Roman emperor wanted her as a wife. Those who saw her, with blond hair in braids that were hanging down her back, with eyes as blue as the sky, with a white face like marble and red lips with strawberry scent, were stunned by her beauty. She lived in a hut at the foot of the mountain and had a flock of sheep which she took out daily to pastures in meadows with fresh grass. One day, charmed by the magic of delicate colours of flowers and their intoxicating scents, she fell asleep on the lake shore where she took the sheep to drink water. It was a night with full moon and Dochia fell asleep on a bed of flowers, smiling in her sleep. Around midnight, when the girl was asleep, a cloud of fog rising from the bottom of the mountain-valley covered the moonlight and wrapped in a tender hug the body of the sleeping Virgin … The next day, when she opened her eyes, it was high noon. Awakened as from a long sleep, she looked around her, and everything seemed changed. On her lips…still wearing the delicate fragrance of a kiss. Not knowing what was wrong with her, she looked in the mirror of the lake and the forest began to roar and a tender sound of a flute could be heard in the distance … Life continued its normal course, but Dochia did not know what was happening to her body, which was changing from one day to another…. After 9 months, since the occurrence of the cloud of fog, on February 24th, her child, Dragobete was born. Fatal sisters and godmothers were four fairies: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each of them brought him what they thought was more beautiful and useful in life. Spring sowed in his heart love giving him flowers, freshness and youth without old age. Summer was not far behind and gave the child the warmth of love, the fulfillment of appreciation and the sweetness of fruit. The Autumn Fairy brought him a flute that would keep him company, but also to cheer up the people with his songs. Finally, the Winter godmother gave him a garment woven with shimmering white diamonds. As a belt, she gave him a red one … sown with snowy white pearls. The coat was designed in such a way that it grew together with the lad, remaining white as snow, no matter how many times it would be worn.
When he turned 19 , Dragobete had his hair as black as the night and green eyes as silky grass on the mountain, his word was as sweet as honey and his kiss burnt like hot coal. He was a jolly fellow who played the flute and loved girls who looked at him as if he were a God. The virgins who met him and felt his enchanted gaze and sometimes his fiery kiss, felt sure he had come from another world. The elderly said that there might be a spark of truth in the assertion of the girls. Because nobody knew who his father was, it was rumored that he was conceived by the Mountain Spirit with Dochia, when he turned into mist … The truth is that for a time no one ever saw him again, neither did they hear the song of the flute. On the top of the mountain, in a cave on whose walls there grew, „Stone Flowers” in white, blue, gray, pink and purple bunches , there lived a wise old man. While feeding the sheep in the meadow where he had been conceived, the boy found himself face to face with the wise old man who called him by his name and urged him to follow him. Astonished in surprise, Dragobete followed without saying a word. Becoming his apprentice, he learned the hidden knowledge of reading in the Secret Book of Nature. Thus, he recognized medicinal herbs, he knew how to speak to birds, understood the magical signs of the forest, not being any longer afraid of wild beasts. When he returned to the world, he was received with open arms. More than ever, he awakened love in the girls’ heart, traveling at the speed of thought and appeared where he was called … The men too liked him. Nobody knew the secret that made men like him and not be jealous of him. That is, until one day, when an old man revealed the secret. When he was a lad, on the evening of February 23rd Dragobete appeared in a dream to three young lads, ready to marry and taught them the secrets of love. Everything was done under oath … The old man broke the silence, since he was over 100 years old, and deemed no longer to be under oath.
Legend says that after hundreds of years of life on earth, while the Romanians learned to love the people of this land, and teaching was transmitted from father to son and from mother to daughter, the Mountain Spirit called the child to its breast. At the request of the father, the Mother of God transformed him into a magical plant called Hart’s Tongue. And in the third millennium, some girls even women of this people still believe in the magic power of the Hart’s Tongue. They carry at their bosom a silk purse where they keep it. It’s a sign of appreciation and remembrance of who Dragobete was, “God” of Love for the Romanians. Are you wondering what happened to Dochia? Bad people tell that she had turned into a stubborn and wicked old woman. They say that in March she had put on nine coats on herself and had climbed the mountain with the flock of sheep . Because it was hot, she began to take off her fur coats , one by one, and on a frosty night she turned to stone together with her flock. Others, wiser, argue that Dochia went to her beloved Ceahlău Mount and asked him to turn her into a block of stone … to be together forever.
––– Author’s note: August 15-th – The Assumption, the day when the hart’s tongue (a type of fern) is being picked up, the ultimate healing plant, which grows in forests, in places known just by old women, who use it as a means of disenchantment in love matters. The hart’s tongue is given to girls for them to keep it by their bosom ;there is a belief that it has magical powers of attracting the young lad’s love for the girl that wears it.
(Translated by Frederica Dochinoiu )