Cor Hendriks – The Macaws | Myth and Folktale (10): Return, recognition and revenge

Because of the threat of his treacherous brothers the hero in ATU 301 after his return from the underworld puts on a disguise and goes in the service of a goldsmith or a shoemaker. According to Thompson: VI. Recognition. He is recognized by the princesses when he arrives on the wedding day. (b) He is in disguise and (c) sends his dogs to steal from the wedding feast; or (d) he presents rings, (e) clothing, or (f) other tokens, secures the punishment of the impostors and marries one of the princesses. The list of motifs consist of: Mot. K1816.0.3.1: Hero in menial disguise at heroine’s wedding. T68.1: Princess offered as prize to rescuer. T161: Year’s respite from unwelcome marriage. N681: Husband (lover) arrives home just as wife (mistress) is to marry another. H151.2: Attention drawn by helpful animal’s theft of food from wedding table; recognition follows. H83: Rescue tokens. Proof that hero has succeeded in rescue. H80: Identification by tokens. H94: Identification by ring. H111: Identification by garment. H113: Identification by handkerchief. Q262: Impostor punished. L161: Lowly hero marries princes. [Thompson 1961, 91f.]

Another thing about the hero of ATU 301 is that after his return from the underworld he of course arrives at the house, where the adventure started and where the hero lived with his companions. This is now abandoned, because the companions have gone to the court with the princesses to claim them as brides.

When the Phaeacians put the sleeping Odysseus on Ithaka, they also make sure he has all the rich gifts they gave him, and his first concern when he awakes is to secure this treasure. The goddess Athena appears to him and helps him to put these valuables in a cave, that she locks with a rock. Then she changes his appearance with a tab of her wand.

“She shriveled up his shiny skin around his supple limbs. From his head she let his blond hairs disappear and around his body she gave him the skin of a very old man. She dimmed his eyes, so sparkling shining beforehand, and wrapped around his body a coat, different than before, a unsightly rag, and a chiton, exactly like it, dirty and torn and filthy of dark sooth and smoke stains. Over it she put the hairless skin of a fast-running deer, gave him a stick and a dirty knapsack full of cracks.” [Od. XIII, 430-438.]

So he became an old baldheaded dirty looking and shabby-dressed man, which is also the appearance the hero in ATU 301 takes on. According to Panzer in several variants the hero put on shabby clothes before he entered the town, most of the times by exchanging clothes with a poor man. One time he dressed like a leper, or as baldhead by putting the skin of a sheep, the bladder of a goat over his hair, covered his golden hair with an ox-bladder, which are as Panzer will have it all traits borrowed from the ‘Goldener-type’ (ATU 314/502). In one version the hero has two bottles of water; when he washed himself with one, he changed completely of figure, the other water restored him to his original form. [Panzer 1910, 197 n. 1.] The idea that the trait of the bladder is borrowed from ATU 502 is criticized by Bolte-Polivka in a more general way: ‘Just the laying low of a banned hero, who at another king’s court lives unrecognized as kitchen-boy, groom or gardener, to come out more shiny, and the from that almost by itself sprouting motif of the undistinguished, deforming costume, as well as a daemonic helper are so much extended poetic fabrications, that it is hardly possible to see in all these cases (they have summed up a litany of medieval works) an elaboration or emanation of our fairytale.’ But of course rather the opposite is the case: the ‘goldener-type’ is related to ATU 301: when the boy in ATU 502 comes to the court he has the sign of his visit to the underworld: his golden hair, that he has to hide under the bladder and he becomes the unknown knight, who only shows his hair on special occasions; the rest of the time he is a ‘cendrillon’ as noted by Bolte-Polivka: ‘Die Zeit des Knechtendienstes, die der Held in entstellender Verkleidung als Grindkopf (see am Fürstenhofe verlebt, […] bietet ein männliches Seitenstück zu Allerleirauh [= ATU 510: Cinderella and Cap o’ Rushes].’ [BP III, 109f.]

That the Bororo-hero is able to manipulate the weather (on that particular night there was a violent wind accompanied by a thunder storm which put out all the fires in the village except the grandmother’s) is also to be found in a Turkish tale. Izmir, who’s sister and two older brothers have been taken by the Devil with three heads, is a Cendrillon-type: the whole day he is sleeping in the ashes, but when he hears the news he arises and says proudly to his mother that he will teach that devil a lesson, and steps outside, while his mother laments that she don’t want to lose also her last son. Hardly outside (as we may assume for the first time in his life) a storm arises so that the farmers have to leave their ploughs outside, which Izmir collects and takes to a smith to make a great lance out of it. He tests the weapon by throwing it up in the air and catching it on his little finger. The lance breaks into a thousand pieces. He continues his way and again a hurricane breaks out, so that the farmers leave their ploughs in the field. This time he collects even more ploughs, goes to the same smith, who has quite a job with it, but this time the lance turned out to be strong enough when Izmir let it fall down on his little finger. [Uzunoglu-Ocherbauer 1990, 51. The story is also in Kunos, Stambul, nº13 from 1887: Youngest-dumbest of three brothers sleeps always in the ashes. One day after his sister and two brothers are swallowed up by a three-headed dev he arises, shakes the ash-layer off: immediately a storm brakes out and a powerful wind forces the farmers to flee homeward, leaving their ploughs behind. The boy takes all the iron, brings it to a smith, who makes a lance, which when thrown up and caught on the little finger of the boy shatters. Only the third (!) lance is alright, made from what he collected after a third storm (Cosquin, C.I., 485).]

This scene can also be found in one of the stories Radloff collected from the Tartars in South Siberia. It concerns the strange hero Ak Köbök, who when he had come out of his mother the normal way (after threatening to come out sideways) binds his father’s sword to his braid and steps out of the door in his birth-suit. After having received a pike and sneakily cut off a leg of the 6-legged horse of Ködön Kan, and eaten these with his mother, he asks her if he has a horse. It is the same time born Kysyl Or. On this horse, now wearing a coat, he goes to a settlement and steals 66 axes, in another village 77 axes. Then he rides to the land of the Chinese, looking for an artisan to make a sword for him. He finds one, called Kützömöz. He shakes the axes [out of a bag] before Kützömöz and says: ‘Melting the 66 axes, you, make for me water-steel! Melting the 77 axes, you, make for me water-steel! Kützömöz, when you are an artisan, you, forge from this steel a sword.’ Kützömöz, the artisan, forges a day and a night and thus finishes the sword. Kützömöz takes 6 axes away, brings then the sword to Köbök, who weighs it in his hand, and notices that there are 6 (and 7) axes missing, and threatens to chop off his head. Kützömöz is afraid, goes back to his forge, works 3 days and has accomplished the task. He gives it to Köbök, who takes it by the point, turns it swaying round, holds it against the sun, and the sun shines through the blade. He finds it excellent and is very happy. Kützömöz asks for his pay, as he likes the sword, and Ak Köbök gives him a blessing and that is it. (The blessing is very curious, ending with wishing him endless riches.) This is of course the same sword Izmir had, who also more or less stole the needed iron. Ak Köbök goes back home, then puts on a felt cap and a felt coat, and goes herding his cattle at the river. While he is there, his great-grandfather, the hero Samyr Kasan, comes to Ak Köbök, saying: ‘Whose cattle are you herding here, baldhead?’ [Little boys have a bald head and a long braid from behind.] Ak Köbök replies: ‘I’m herding the cattle of Ak Köbök.’ Samyr Kasan asks: ‘Where did this Ak Köbök himself go to?’ Ak Köbök says: ‘Ak Köbök has gone down naked to that lake to hibernate there.’ Samyr Kasan says: ‘He was only born yesterday and today he already wants to have it out with me, he will have defiled my lake.’ Thereupon he descends to the middle of the lake and seats himself in the water, so that only his head can be seen. Ak Köbök takes his weapon, puts on his excellent outfit, ties his sword around his waist, climbs on his horse, and creates a nasty tempest. (This is followed by a little poetic formula, not clear who speaks: ‘When I speak on good days, the weather gets bad, Ak Köbök, when I speak on bad days, the weather gets good, Ak Köbök.’) 7 days he makes bad weather, 7 spans of ice he had it freeze. After these 7 days of freezing weather, Ak Köbök mounts his horse Kysyl Or, takes his sword in his hand and rides to where the hero Samyr Kasan is sitting in the middle of the lake, to chop off his head. Samyr Kasan blows towards him and he is hurled back with his horse to the top of the mountain. Again Ak Köbök approaches Samyr Kasan with the intent to kill him. Again Samyr Kasan blows and he is hurled back on the mountain. A 3rd time he goes. Samyr Kasan says: ‘Ak Köbök, you are a cunning deceiver, but you cannot kill me with that sword. Turn around; on the shore lies my sword [with his clothes]; take this sword of mine, that will cut off my head.’ Then Ak Köbök goes back, takes the sword, and chops off Samyr Kasan’s head. Samyr Kasan’s body twisted, the 7 spans of ice he splinters: they fly in all directions, killing Ak Köbök’s cattle, but Ak Köbök stays alive. The noise of the splintering ice is heard by the close by hunting Mangush, the hero, the son of Ködön Kan, with his servant, who says: ‘In the autumn the ice makes noise, what does it mean, Mangush? In the spring the ice roars, what does it mean, Mangush?’ And the awakening Mangush replies: ‘In the autumn the ice makes noise, doesn’t that mean panzer and armour? In the spring the ice roars, doesn’t that mean swords?’ Then the meeting between Ak Köbök and Mangush takes place. [Radloff 1872, 56-72 nº7 from the Täräna on the Kargat of the Baraba-people.]

The story is much more complicated by a second version of the story, that Radloff collected from Tartars in another district, wherein the hero is called Ak Kübäk. It is basically the same story but told quite differently, and so the scene with the forging of the sword is absent. Still the hero speaks before his birth (but doesn’t threaten to come out sideways, only saying that he wants to be born) and after he is born he runs outside and washes himself. Then he puts on clothes and mounts his horse, and sees that his father’s people are fishing and have caught an oversized fish which they can’t handle. He pulls the fish out of the net (while riding) and takes it home, where he has a feast prepared for all the people. He goes to invite people and then meets Kidän Chan [=Ködön Kan]. Just like Köbök he makes a joke about Kidän’s name (küdän = buttocks; ködön = tail-bone, probably anus is meant in both cases, anyway it is an insult), whereupon Kidän Chan makes the same play, changing Kübäk’s name in Sübäk (dog), while Ködön like Köbök doesn’t change the name, because Köbök means ‘white foam’, something you see on lakes and on milk. At this point Köbök cuts off a leg of Ködön’s 6-legged horse, but Kübäk doesn’t do this, and Kidän goes home, speaks to his son Mangysh about the little Ak Kübäk, saying that he can kill him now while he is still small. So Mangysh goes to Ak Kübäk inviting him for a hunt. After a few days hunting, Mangysh realizes he has to use a ruse to overpower Ak Kübäk and they have a conversation, wherein he asks Kübäk to give him his horse, dog, bird, sword, trumpet, but the price Ak Kübäk asks for each of them is too high for Mangysh. Of each a short description is given and of the sword is said: ‘O, my sword is excellent, friend, his value is very precious, friend, my sword, my sword, it shines, in the sheath it rattles. The sheath has been made by the Kirghiz, the grip has been made by the Russians, the blade has been made by the Mongols. At the striking not able to hold, the mighty hammers are shattered…’ (These same lines are part of the praise-song Köbök gave to the smith: ‘His strokes they didn’t bear, the iron hammers broke…). Also Ak Köbök has this conversation with Mangush, who asks for his hunting bird, whereupon Ak Köbök asks him for his berkut (bird), which is also too expensive, but Ak Köbök doesn’t want it, whereupon Mangush asks for his horse Kysyl Or, which is of course too expensive. In both versions this is followed by the killing of Mangush/Mangysh. When Kidän hears that his son has been killed by Ak Kübäk, he goes with his army up against the boy, who erects on a mountain a stone house and forges an arrow-point. Kidän sends a messenger to Kübäk, who first asks which heroes there are among the soldiers. Tshylash names some of them and then Kübäk says: ‘What if the ice cracks in the autumn, what does this mean, Tshylash?’ And he says: ‘What if the autumn-ice cracks, this means iron-panzers.’ And another question of Kübäk is: ‘What if the ice glimmers in the spring…’ and Tshylash replies: ‘What if the ice in the spring glimmers, is that not the shiny sword?’ The messenger returns to the army and now Salyr Kasan comes forward out of the host and goes to Ak Kübäk, and asks him: ‘Where is Ak Kübäk?’ Kübäk says that he is out hunting. Kasan asks who he is, and he says that he is Kübäk’s cook. Salyr asks him if he knows some of the tricks of Ak Kübäk. Kübäk says: ‘One of his tricks is this: he has an arrow-point heated in fire, then he opens his mouth and I have to shoot the glowing arrow-point into his mouth. He grinds it with his teeth and spits it then out.’ Salyr Kasan says: ‘I also want to open my mouth and you, shoot!’ Kübäk makes the arrow-point glowing hot and shoots it into Salyr’s mouth, who grinds it to pieces and spits it out. ‘Does he have other tricks?’ ‘He sets himself halfway the mountain and I roll from the top great rocks on him, that he throws back before they hit him.’ Salyr Kasan does this and wants to know another trick. Kübäk says: ‘He goes down in the sea, till the water reaches his neck. When I make 3 days frost, then I let the water freeze 3 spans thick, when I make 6 days frost, then I let it freeze 6 spans thick. Kübäk then lifts up this ice and brings it on the mountain.’ Salyr Kazan goes down to the sea and seats himself, so that the water reaches his neck. Kübäk makes 6 days frost and lets 6 spans ice freeze. Salyr Kasan wants to stand up, but can’t lift the ice with all his force and sits down again. Kübäk says: ‘I’m Kübäk, now I will cut off your head. Salyr Kasan says: ‘I didn’t know that you are Kübäk; had I known, I would have you torn in twain and devoured.’ Thereupon Kübäk approaches him and lifts the sword to chop off his head, but Salyr Kasan blows and Kübäk slides away on the ice. He binds irons to his feet, goes again, but again Salyr blows and Kübäk slides again far away. Then Salyr Kasan says: ‘Ah Kübäk, don’t torment my soul, at my feet is a steel-sword, you, take this, your sword is not able to wound me.’ Thereupon Kübäk stamps with his feet on the ground [actually the ice], makes a hole and takes from Salyr Kasan’s foot the steel-sword, steps beside him and cuts off his head. [Radloff 1872, 4, 181-192 nº2, from Täpkätsch, settlement of district Tara, Tobolsk and Tümen.]

A third version was collected by Radloff in South Siberia from the Altai Tschiwalkoff and is also called ‘Ak Köbök’. It starts with the song Ak Köbök sings in his mother’s belly and her answer about the cradle she is to prepare. When he is born, she calls him Ak Köbök, and he lies one day in the cradle, the second day he breaks it, stands up and goes fishing. On his way he meets Ködön Pi, who makes an insulting comment on his name, saying: ‘I thought about pouring you like cream (köbük) in my mouth and drink you.’ Ak Köbök says: ‘The behind (ködön) of the cattle I would like to cut off and eat, you, the behind of a human I don’t eat.’ Ak Köbök goes fishing, and brings home fish. Also Ködön Pi returns home, where his son Mangyt (who was born before Ak Köbök) is still lying in his cradle. He reproaches him: ‘Don’t you have shame, you’re still lying, Ak Köbök has thrown away, broken his cradle and is already walking.’ In his house Ak Köbök sings (this version has lots of songs build in): ‘Collect 25 artists, make the point of my lance. Chop down 25 trees, make the shaft of my lance. Collect 25 artists, make the sheath of my sword, cut 45 horns off, make the grip of my sword.’ After the forging of lance and sword he needs a horse. This is Kyzyl Ür. After a song of praise to his hunting falcon, his spear (the point is forged by 35 artists), sword (forged by 45 artists) and whip he proposes his brother to go to battle. They go but on the road the brother gets afraid and sings: ‘When it snows big flakes, will it snow much, my Köbök? The recently arrived emissary, will he die, my Köbök?’ (etc), whereupon Köbök answers: ‘What sounds to you as jingling, is that the lightning sword? What if a snowflake sparkles, isn’t that a horse’s manes?’ (etc) But the brother is very reluctant to go to the battle and wants to flee at the last moment. Köbök grabs the reins of his brother’s horse, sings to the horse and the horse throws itself into the battle. The brother wants to stop between two trees, grabs them with his hands, tears them with root and all out of the ground, and sweeps with them the enemy away, making true the song Ak Köbök sang to the horse: On his way that way 60 people fell down, on his way this way 50 people fell down. After this episode of ATU 650A we hear nothing further about this mysterious brother, that serves as a kind of comic relief. Ak Köbök now goes to battle, kills the remaining army, receives 30 wounds, his horse 40, and is sung to by the daughters of the village, spends the night there, goes home the next day, where he finds his only younger sister gone; she has married Mangyt, the son of Ködön Pi. He is furious, goes to the village of Mangyt to get his sister, who sings about his arrival. Mangyt goes out to meet him and stabs Köbök’s horse dead. Köbök says: ‘You know well how to stab,’ and strikes off Mangyt’s head, takes his sister and returns home. But then he changes himself into a cook and sets out again. Ködön Pi, looking for Ak Köbök, meets him and asks if he has seen Köbök. ‘Yes, I have seen him; but how will you kill him? Köbök’s cunning is great.’ ‘How great is his cunning?’ ‘I will teach you a trick of Köbök. Climb on top of the mountain; I will shoot, you catch with your teeth my arrow!’ Ködön Pi climbs the mountain, Köbök shoots, he crushes Ködön’s teeth. Köbök asks: ‘Have you learned it.’ Ködön affirms. Another time they meet. Ködön asks if he has seen Köbök. ´Yes, he went into the lake.´ Ködön Pi goes into the lake. Thereupon Köbök brings about a cold and has the lake freeze. For 3 days he lets it freeze. Ködön Pi is in the lake. Köbök says: ‘Come out now! Have you now learned Köbök’s cunning? I am Köbök, my cunning is great!’ Saying this he cuts off Ködön Pi’s head. [Radloff 1866, 1, 224-233.]


The story of the extinguishing of all the fires except that of his grandmother, so everyone has to come to her to light their fires is a motif also found elsewhere. I came across it in a story told by a Muslim Serb from Višegrad in Bosnia, called ‘The Master and his Pupil’. The Master is the devil, but his pupil is more clever and manages to get from the devil a ćulav (goat’s ear), that is put on [the head, like a cap?] to become invisible (this is used by the devils to steal people’s food invisibly). With this ćulav the boy performs with a friend such great thefts that the emperor sentences him to be hanged; but in the nick of time his friend [which is of course the devil] saves him with a fake Ferman (letter of imperial pardon), and instead of him the great-vizier is hanged.

“Once he settled in a town where the Emperor lived. In the half [of the town] where that magician [our hero] was, there was no rain. General complaint, until the culprit was found. He was summoned before the Emperor. A long time he didn’t want to be swayed, until at last after many requests he consented to move to the other part of town. Here lives an old woman who knew his art. He took revenge on her in such way, that he concentrated all the fire in her while everywhere else all fires were extinguished. So the people had to go with pieces of wood to get from her the fire and light the wood-pieces. The Emperor had the woman torn to pieces at the tail of a horse, but the Magician left the town.”

In his notes Jagić adds: ‘When the magician, in order to avenge himself on a woman, extinguishes all the fires in the town, and only at the fire of that woman can be kindled, then this is to be compared with the well-known legend of the magician Virgilius that is also told about a magician Heliodor and about the Greek emperor Leo the Philosopher. [Jagić, in: Archiv für slavische Philologie 1, 286f nº13: ‘Der Meister und der Gezelle’. For Virgilius he refers to Comparetti’s study Virgilio nel medio evo. He has no notes on the story of the Ferman, but this is the last part of the Grimm-story ‘The Three Apprentices’ (KHM 120), where the devil comes waving a white handkerchief as a sign of pardon, and instead of the 3 apprentices the innkeeper is executed. ATU 360: Bargain of the Three Brothers with the Devil. The Devil rescues them from the gallows [R175], the host is hanged in their place. Cf. Krappe 1930, 281: the mediaeval story of Vergil the magician who lets all the fires go out and compels the citizens to rekindle them from one definite spot.]

Of course it is more logical that the magician uses this fire-control for his own benefit, like the tortoise does in a story of the Bantu-tribe Lokanda. The tortoise has captured the feared Totongo (in an action comparable with the woodhouse-scene in ATU 301, where the ‘dwarf’ is caught with his beard in a trap, here with his hand in the tortoise), who is then killed and eaten by the other animals without giving something good to the tortoise, but laugh at him. But they have underestimated the tortoise, who is a powerful magician. He goes to the fire, takes a live coal and hides it in his esote (his anus which he can open and close at will by pressing his back-shield and his belly-shield together, which was how he caught the Totongo). Then he works his magic and at once heavy clouds gather which release torrents of rain. Soon all the fires in the village are extinguished so that no one can cook his meat. They think of tortoise who knows the answer to so many questions. Tortoise replies that he possesses fire but that he would sell it only for a very large portion of the meat. So they all have to pay a piece of their meat before the tortoise agrees to light the fire for them. [Knappert 1977, 106-108 nº5: The Mysterious Totonge’.]

The animal-transformations of the hero, that appear as a kind of show-off (like the hero in ATU 665, who does it to prove that he is the hero), are in fact demonstrations of his new powers; how he got these powers remains a mystery (as also the healing of his buttocks), but he cannot have possessed these powers before, when he was tricked in the bird’s nest; because then he could have saved himself by flying down as bird, crawling down as lizard, etc. So the powers are acquired after his rescue by the vultures and before his healing of his buttocks (for which there cannot have been a recipe as an old wives tale).


Bolte, Joh. & Polivka, Georg, Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Gebrüder Grimm I-V, Leipzig 1913-1930.
Cosquin, E., Les Contes Indiens et l’Occident, Paris 1922.
Knappert, Jan, Bantu Myths and other Tales, Leiden 1977.
Krappe, Alexander Haggerty, The Science of Folk-Lore, London 1930 (11-10-11)
Radloff, Proben … Türkische Stämme Süd-Siberiens 1, 1866
Radloff, Proben … Türkische Stämme Süd-Siberiens 4, 1872
Thompson, Stith, The Types of the Folktale, Helsinki 1961; FFC 184

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