Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Moon

From the Grimm fairy tales, a little cosmogony:


Once there was a land where the night was always dark and the sky was spread over it like a black cloth, for the moon never rose there and no star winked in the darkness. At the creation of the world the light of night had been sufficient. From this land, four lads once went wandering and arrived in another realm, where in the evening, when the sun had vanished behind the mountains, a glowing sphere stood on an oak tree, pouring out a soft light far and near. People could see and tell apart everything very well in it, even though it was not as bright as the sun. The wanderers stood still and asked a farmer, who was driving past with his cart, what sort of light that was. "That is the moon," the man answered. "Our mayor bought it for three Talers and fixed it to the oak tree. He must pour oil to it daily and keep it clear, so it always burns brightly. For that, we give him a Taler every week."

When the farmer had driven away, one of them said, "We've a use for this lamp. At home we have an oak tree that is exactly as large; we can hang it on there. What a joy it will be not to tap around in the darkness at night!"

"Do you know," said the second, "we'll fetch a cart and horse and carry off the moon. These people here can buy themselves another one."

"I climb well," said the third, "I'll fetch it down proper."

The fourth fetched a cart with horses and the third climbed up the tree, drilled a hole into the moon, pulled a rope through it and lowered it down. When the shining sphere lay in the cart, they covered it in a cloth so that no one would notice the theft. They brought it happily to their land and set it onto a tall oak. Old and young were happy when the new lamp sent its light glowing over all the fields and filled the halls and chambers with it. The dwarves came out from their caves, and the little brownies danced rings on the meadows in their red frocks.

The four supplied the moon with oil, cleaned the wick and received their Taler every week. But they became old men, and when one of them sickened and foresaw his death, he commanded that the fourth part of the moon be given into the grave with him, as his property. When he had died, the mayor climbed into the tree and cut off a quarter with his hedge shears, and it was laid in the coffin. The light of the moon fell off, but not noticeably yet. When the second died, the second quarter was given with him, and the light diminished. It was even weaker after the death of the third, who equally took his part with him, and when the fourth entered the grave, the old darkness set in again. When people went out without a lantern of an evening, they bumped their heads together.

But when the parts of the moon reunited themselves in the underworld, where darkness had always reigned, the dead became restless and awoke from their sleep. They were astounded when they could see again; the moonlight was enough for them, since their eyes had become so weak that they would not have endured the brilliancy of the sun. They raised themselves, became merry and took up their old mode of life again. One part went gaming and dancing, others went into the inns, where they called for wine, drank, caroused and quarrelled and finally picked up their clubs and beat each other. The noise became sharper and finally drove through to heaven.

Holy St. Peter, who held watch over heaven's gate, thought that the underworld had entered into an uproar and called together the heavenly host, who were to chase back the dastardly foe when he prepared to overrun the abode of the blessed with his companions. Since they did not come, however, he set himself on his horse and rode through heaven's gate down into the underworld. He brought the dead to rest, bade them lay themselves in their graves again, and took the moon away with him, and hung it up in heaven.


Mayor = Schultheiß, which is rather like a medieval English sheriff, but since "sheriff" suggests star badges and American county police departments, "mayor" was preferable.
Brownie = Wichtelmännchen
Taler = A coin named after the Joachimsthal, the Bohemian town where silver was mined in the 16th century; etymological ancestor of "dollar."


From Grimms Märchen, Gondrom Verlag



Allegory of the Moon, Ecce Homo window
From the St. Martin church in Triel-sur-Seine, Département Yvelines (Île-de-France), France
Leaded glass pane with fragments from the 16th century
by GFreihalter
via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

"Claire de Lune" (1770), by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg the Younger (1740–1812)
Oil on canvas, 57 x 72 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg
via Wikimedia Commons (Edelseider)

View of Pavlovsk fortress by moonlight (1800), by Andrey Ukhtomsky (1770-1852)
via Wikimedia Commons

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