The Singing Bone

A dear friend of ours – Naomi – is on a yacht sailing in the Aegean Sea and our own memories of life on the Greek islands were refreshed, among others funeral rites which are foreign to most of us but are still practiced in Greece. After three or more years the remains of a deceased person are exhumed, the bones are put into a box and then transferred to a communal ossuary. This may sound eerie, but fairy tales often deal with human bones of a deceased which can come to life again in various ways, if for instance put under a Juniper tree. The tale of someone who ventures into the world to learn how to be afraid is one of many. The tale of the singing bone I always found particularly touching because of its many embedded themes.

The Singing Bone
Once upon a time there was great wailing in a land where a wild boar destroyed the land of the farmers, killed their cattle and ripped people apart. The king promissed anyone who could rid the land of this beast a great reward: but the animal was so big and strong that no-one dared to come close to the woods where it lived. Eventually the king let it be known that anyone who could capture or kill the wild boar could marry his daughter.
Now, two brother were living in the land, sons of a poor man, who presented themselves saying they would undertake this venture. The eldest was sly and clever, he did it because of pride; the youngest who was innocent and simple did it out of the goodness of his heart. The king said: “To find the animal more easily, you should go into the woods from opposite sides.”
The eldest was to enter from evening and the youngest from morning. When the youngest had walked for a while, a little man came to him who held a black lance and said to him: “I give you this lance because your heart is innocent and good: with it you may confidently approach the wild boar, it will not harm you.”
He thanked the little man, put the lance on his shoulder and proceeded without fear. Not long and he saw the animal which stormed toward him and he stretched out the lance and in its blind rage it ran with such tremendous force into the lance that its heart split in two. He then took the beast onto his shoulder and went home to bring it to the king.
When he emerged on the other side of the forest, there was a house where people were having a good time with dance and wine. His eldest brother had entered there thinking the boar would not run away and he could in the meantime have a drink to strengthen his courage.
When he saw the youngest coming out of the woods laden with his quarry, his envious and wicked heart leapt. He called him saying: “Come here, dear brother, rest a while and fortify yourself with a beaker of wine.” The youngest who was completely unsuspecting, entered and told him about the good little man and the lance he had given him and how he had killed the boar with it. The eldest held him back until night time and then they departed together.
When in the dark they came to a bridge over a creek, the eldest let the youngest go first and when they were midstream he killed him with a blow from behind that he fell down dead. He buried him under the bridge, took the beast and delivered it to the king pretending he had killed it whereupon he married the king’s daughter. When the youngest did not come back he said: “The boar must have ripped him apart,” and everybody believed that.
But because nothing remains hidden from God, this evil deed as well had to come to light. Many years later a shepherd was herding his flock over the bridge and he saw in the sand a snow-white bone and he thought it might serve as a good mouthpiece. He stepped down, picked it up and out of it he carved a mouthpiece for his horn. After he had used it for the first time, to the shepherd’s great astonishment it began to sing by itself.
Photograph of the brothers Grimm: Jacob (1785-1863 and Wilhelm (1786-1859)
O dearest shepherd,
you are blowing on my bone.
My brother has slain me,
has buried me under the bridge
for the wild boar,
for the king’s daughter.

“What a wondrous little horn,” the shepherd said, “that can sing by itself – that I must bring to the king.” When he came before the king, the little horn began again with its song. The king understood very well and when they dug under the bridge the skeleton of the slain brother came to light. The evil brother could no longer deny the deed, was sown into a sack and drowned and the bones of the murdered one were laid to rest in a churchyard in a proper grave. 
Funerary plaque, ca. 520–510B.C.; Archaic, black-figure, Greek, Attic, Terracotta, height 26 cm), Rogers Fund, 1954 (54.11.5)

A theme not generally talked about, yet part of our lives.

With love
Colleen & Walter
Betty’s Bay, Saturday May 14, 2011