For centuries, many Indo-European peoples have sung a poignant ballad about the tragic sacrifice of a female victim to ensure the successful completion of an important undertaking, such as the construction of a building, bridge, or well. The legend, and its many regional and stylistic variations throughout Eastern Europe and India, provides material for an original and engaging casebook of interpretations by folklorists, anthropologists, scholars of comparative religion, and literary critics.
Alan Dundes brings together eighteen essays on this classic ballad, each introduced by his headnotes. Some contributors offer competing nationalistic claims concerning the ballad’s origin, claims now in dispute because of previously overlooked South Asian versions; Ruth Mandel examines gender and power issues in the ballad; Lyubomira Parpulova-Gribble presents a structuralist reading; Krstivoj Kotur proposes a Christian interpretation; Mircea Eliade advocates a myth-ritual reading of blood sacrifices with cosmogonic connections in the Romanian text; and other readings explore female victimization and heroism by seeing the ballad’s theme as a metaphor for marriage, a male-constructed trap seriously restricting women’s freedom and mobility. Dundes concludes the collection with his own feminist and psychoanalytic interpretations of the ballad, followed by suggestions for further reading.
By emphasizing the ballad’s variant forms in diverse cultural contexts, analyzed from different disciplinary perspectives, this volume asks students of folklore to be aware of the multiplicity of approaches available to them in researching folk narrative.