Spiritual Kinship, Incest, and Traditional Weddings: Honor, Shame, and Cultural Boundaries in Romanian Marriage Songs

A young groom-to-be, along with a celebratory band of Romani (Gypsy) musicians and a throng of wedding guests, arrives after a lengthy journey at the faraway residence of his soon-to-be bride, eager to take her home, where she will become his wife and join his family. The bride’s father, however, has other plans. He insists, before relinquishing his daughter, that the groom successfully accomplish a series of tasks in order to win her. The groom is reluctant to undertake the trials, upon which a substitute for him steps in and masterfully completes them. The guests, in a jubilant procession, then return back with the bride to the home of the groom, where his family awaits them, and the festive, several-day-long wedding takes place.
The narrative pattern that relates the successful execution of the tasks of the bridegroom by a substitute is widespread throughout the Balkans. It is a quintessential example of what Albert Lord called wedding songs: “heroic tales of bride capture that end with an elaborate wedding.” [1] In the Romanian tradition, the substitute hero is the couple’s godfather; the song is often titled “Cântecul naşului” (The Godfather’s Song). [2] It was, until very recently, performed at virtually every traditional wedding in southern Romania. [3] It portrays a caring and supportive godfather representing, in a larger sense, the constructive social ties that bind and uphold traditional communities. It is also an ethnographic text that endorses out-group marriage and expresses the tensions evoked when kin relations shift at weddings. Spiritual kin at Romanian weddings, however, do not appear only in positive, upbeat narratives. They are also present in songs about marriage that offer the reverse of the story just recounted: negative, destructive tales in which godparents violate established relationships and norms of conduct through sexual deviance. In one, in addition to flouting the customary practices of gift-giving during the wedding rituals, a godfather also violates the bride, his goddaughter; she is shamed, and he is put to death by the groom. In another, a godmother brazenly attempts to seduce her godson who repeatedly rejects her advances; the broken honor and disgrace of both are publicly exposed, and each commits suicide or is killed. In these tales, shame and revenge are close to the surface; honor, trust, status, and generosity are dramatically distorted and lead to violent, unsettling ends. But, as we will see, these songs also articulate culturally-constructed rules of marriage.
In this essay, I explore spiritual kinship in Romanian marriage songs—traditional narrative songs about weddings and marriage. [4] Godparents, because they are sponsors at baptisms and weddings, play vital roles in Romanian families and communities and are highly respected. Their representation in marriage songs reflects the significance of their roles in the real nuptial rituals and marriages of their godchildren. Substitute-bridegroom narratives performed at weddings depict godfathers as compassionate and honorable, offering reassurance and inspiration to couples as they get married. But why songs of incest between spiritual kin, especially at weddings? I argue that while incest between spiritual kin in marriage songs at weddings may seem inauspicious, it furnishes compelling counterexamples of the behavior that substitute-bridegroom narratives promote and thus important cautionary tales. More often than not, it is shame that characterizes the negative conduct in these stories. Moreover, incest in the marriage songs furnishes a symbolic vehicle for the expression of the cultural boundaries that traditional marriage assumes, among them exogamy, endogamy, and the taboo on adultery. It metaphorically frames one of the most fundamental questions in traditional society and one that is in the forefront during weddings: who can and should marry whom?
Weddings are intermediary periods during which virtually all kin relations are shifting, new kin bonds are forming, and reversals of standard behavior are temporarily sanctioned. Like other traditional celebrations that mark life- or calendrical-cycle changes, weddings offer openings during which aberrant social behavior or discourse, such as anomalous marriage songs, may be expressed. [5] I suggest that the rituals and events that take place during weddings allow for the inverted relations—both constructive and subversive—depicted in marriage songs about spiritual kin, where identities, relationships, and perspectives are in flux and, in some cases, reversed. Furthermore, Romanian marriage songs about spiritual kin are sung during real weddings: stories are tied, through performance, to events. Narrated in the context of wedding rituals, the songs speak to concerns right as they are happening: the bride’s eventful rite of passage, the crucial role of godparents, the banquet, and gift-giving, and the challenges and tensions within marriage. The immediate context of the performance is simultaneously mirrored in the stories being sung; thus performance plays a critical role in generating the messages embedded in them. Performance mediates between story and event and organically brings meaning to both the verbal and the ritual narratives.
In the pages ahead, I discuss kinship and incest as well as traditional Romanian weddings, and then explore seven Romanian oral narratives, including multiple song texts from various sources, some from my own fieldwork. [6] I also offer comparative commentary from Slavic Balkan epic and Anglo-Scots ballad. [7]

Kinship and Incest

After a hiatus, the study of kinship has received renewed attention in the past two decades and has been approached more recently as a culturally constructed, not only biological, process. With this reorientation have also come reassessments of incest. The universality of the incest taboo, famously affirmed by Claude Lévi-Strauss in 1949, as the exchange of exogamous women by and for men, has been re-examined. [8] More than sixty years later, anthropologists consider that while a taboo on sexual relations between primary kin (parent/child and siblings) is extremely widespread, it is not absolutely universal. [9] Maurice Godelier defines incest as “sexual relations prohibited between consanguineous kin or between affines considered to be too close or too similar.” [10] The incest taboo on primary kin compels individuals to seek partners and marry outside of their immediate families; thus incest rules may be viewed as a corollary of exogamy.
Kinship groups in traditional Romanian society are based on descent (consanguinity), marriage (affinity), and sponsorship (spiritual kinship). [11] Traditional marriage, permitted after the third degree of relatedness (in some communities after the fourth), is exogamous with preferred local endogamy. [12] As Nicolae Constantinescu notes,

The rules of exogamy and the prohibition of incest are strictly observed in traditional Romanian society … Romanians practice a type of endogamous exogamy, in which the marital couple comes from two different families but belongs to the same community: neighborhood, village, or region. [13]
By contrast, “spiritual kinship” is a “fictitious kin tie created by the religious bonds that are established for instance in Christianity between the child … and the persons who agreed to be his or her godfather and godmother.” [14] It was first associated with baptism in the Catholic Church; spiritual parents were sponsors and played central roles in the lives of reborn babies. Baptismal sponsorship also ensured the security of godchildren should they be orphaned. [15] It generated close, albeit artificial, bonds between individuals and families, reinforced by the ritual character of baptism. [16] Orthodox and Catholic godparenthood developed along similar lines until the reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), at which point the Western Church introduced modifications, while the Eastern Church continued to implement previous policies. [17]
Godparenthood (năşie) in Romania “institutionalizes between two families a ritual-spiritual relationship predicated primarily on social and economic obligations,” [18] offering security and stability to godchildren and their families. As their sponsors, godparents

officiate at … birth and marriage. Generally, the ritual sponsor at a marriage is also the ritual sponsor for the children born to the couple. The relationship between godparents and godchildren is … enduring and … establishes ritual kin bonds between the two families. [19]

The significance of spiritual kin is invoked at weddings, where godparents specifically marry the couple by placing the crowns on their heads and thus generate their union. Through the godparents, the marriage is recognized, not only in a religious sense but also in a communal one. Assuming a public role, godparents occupy an important and influential social position; thus spiritual kinship provides alliances between families and security in the community. Spiritual kin relations strengthen social ties both horizontally as well as vertically: across generations as well as from one to the next.

The practices of spiritual kin among Orthodox believers are embedded in both religious and secular culture. The role of folk customs in spiritual kinship is significant. Godparenthood in the Balkans preceded Christianity; [20] Barbara and Joel Halpern maintain that it was “pre-Christian in origin but [was] adapted into church practice.” [21] In Russia, “folk tradition viewed baptism as one of the principal rites of passage and treated spiritual kinship as an important social network within kinship relationships.” [22] Russian peasants of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries “respected spiritual kinship and treated it as even more important than blood kinship.” [23] For centuries the Church has recognized impediments to marriage between godparents, godchildren, and their relations up to the third degree of relatedness. [24] In Russia, “[s]piritual kinship … excluded all sexual activity between spiritual kin. Popular tradition viewed those as the worst type of incest.” [25] In the Balkans as well, godparents cannot be related by blood or marriage to their godchildren; [26] thus marriage between sponsors and sponsored is “precluded on the grounds of ritual kinship.” [27] The violation of spiritual kinship through sexual relations is socially unique because, unlike family-kin incest, it throws into disarray the larger communal, ritual bonds that spiritual kinship assumes (produced at baptism and wedding and perpetuated through marriage). It shatters trust and security on a public stage, affecting individuals, marriages, and families.

Traditional Romanian Weddings

In order to appreciate the ethnographic content of marriage songs, I present a generic wedding description drawn mainly from the weddings I have attended during fieldwork in southern Romania. [28] Romani poet-musicians known as lăutari (sg. lăutar)—professional (hired), male, traditional singers—are indispensable to the wedding; they provide all of the music for the rituals and celebrations. [29] The social biases of patriarchy and patrilocality permeate traditional Balkan weddings and marriage; emblems of exogamy are embedded in traditional society and are symbolically represented in wedding rituals, songs, and practices, as are fertility symbols and metaphors of separation, transition, and incorporation. [30]
In addition to the bride and groom, the most important participants in the wedding are the godparents from the groom’s side (naşi, sg. naş/naşă), typically called great, e.g. naşul mare ‘the great godfather’. In his 1890 monograph on weddings, S. F. Marian states that “[t]he great godfather … exercises absolute control during the entire wedding … Everyone must do as he says … The great godmother, in addition to assisting her husband,” tends to the bride. [31] In fact, the godparents are so vital to the wedding that they are present throughout all of the events, while the couple’s parents are present at only a select number of them and do not even attend the church ceremony. [32] Gendered female and male activities, each frequently with the godmother or godfather, respectively, occur throughout the wedding.
On the morning of the ceremony, the bride, at her home, is prepared by a small company of female kin, both family and spiritual, of which the godmother is the most important. As she places the crown on the bride’s head, a lăutar sings “Cântecul miresii” (The Bride’s Song), a poignant reminder that the bride will no longer be a maiden at her parents’ home but will be joining the ranks of married women as a stranger in her husband’s—a stirring example of the patrilocality of traditional marriage.
In the meantime, the groom sets out with his godfather and the wedding guests in a procession to the bride’s home. Sometimes, upon arriving, obstacles are imposed by the bride’s father for the groom. Symbolic tests include questions posed to the groom, which he must answer cleverly. [33] Once the bride is secured, the groom and company return with her to his home. The celebratory wedding processions, complete with lăutari, are important as the status of the couple, their godparents, and families is on display. Following the church ceremony, the wedding party gathers in the evening at the home of the groom for a lengthy, festive banquet at which the lăutari perform. At traditional weddings, it was at this time that guests, including the godfather, would tip the lăutari with requests for narrative songs. Also called cântece bătrâneşti ‘ancient songs’ or epic songs, they were sung, until the late twentieth century, at every banquet, and are still sung on occasion today. [34] “The Godfather’s Song” was a requisite part of the banquet repertoire. [35]
The guests eat, drink, dance, and celebrate for many hours, often all night long. At one point, gifts for the couple are individually announced and presented. This affords another show of status and wealth. Particularly important are the gifts given to the couple by the godparents. Later, after the meal, the godmother oversees the bride’s ritual transition from unmarried maiden to married woman during the public removal of her crown, accompanied again by “The Bride’s Song.” The godmother then ceremoniously ties a scarf on the bride’s head, indicating her new role as wife. At traditional weddings, the couple would then retire to a room where they would consummate their marriage. At this juncture, another test had to be passed: the bride had to prove her virginity by displaying her blood on the bedsheets. In former times, this was extremely important, since it demonstrated the bride’s honor, which reflected on the groom and both of their families. [36]

Substitute Bridegrooms

“The Godfather’s Song” is the only Romanian marriage song involving spiritual kin that does not include incest. It has been collected and transcribed numerous times since the mid-nineteenth century. [37] In Communist Romania and earlier, it was standard at traditional weddings for the musicians to sing this song. In 1987, a lăutar from a village in south-central Romania told me that “The Godfather’s Song” was still sung “at every wedding!” [38] In today’s world it is performed only rarely.
The substitute-bridegroom narrative is also well-known in the South Slavic tradition, where epic was likewise sung at weddings, the Slava (feast day of a family’s patron saint), coffee-houses, and at home. [39] One of the best-known texts is “Ženidba Sibinjanina Janka” (The Wedding of Sibinjanin Janko), [40] in which Janko is assisted in passing the tests of the bridegroom by his sister’s youngest son, Sekul, in disguise as a Bulgarian. Sekul represents bonds of kin loyalty in the groom’s extended family as well as fertility as a young, unmarried man. [41]
This pan-Balkan narrative promotes strong networks of spiritual and family kin, stability, and continuity. It offers a symbolic tale that projects a mutually reinforcing society, especially at weddings, when social boundaries are shifting and kin ties are in flux. This is true for the bride but it also pertains to the groom, whose identity is also changing as his role reversal with the godfather (or nephew) reveals. In the Romanian text below, the godfather advocates an explicit swapping of identities with his godson in order to pass the tests of the bridegroom and warmly assures him that the wedding will take place: [42]

“Taci, fine, nu te speria,
Fii tu naş în locul meu,
Şi eu fin în locul tău …
Că te-om scăpa de belea
Şi pe fina om lua,
Ca să faci casă cu ea.” [43]

“Be silent, Godson, don’t be afraid,
You be the godfather in my place,
And I’ll be the godson in yours …
Because we will rescue you from this mess
And we will get the goddaughter,
So you can marry [make a house with] her.”

The metaphoric journey to and from the bride’s home is richly symbolic, pointing to patrilocality and exogamy. The bride is the daughter of Letinul bogat ‘the Rich Latin/Infidel’ from Dobrogea (on the Black Sea), home to the largest Turkish population in Romania—a hyperbolic example of exogamous identity from the perspective of Orthodox ethnic Romanians. Not only do names and places speak to the bride’s out-group identity, but the journey itself—occurring “from Saint Peter’s Day” (June 29) “to Saint Dumitru’s” (October 26)—represents metaphorically how suitable an out-group bride she is by how far away she lives. [44]

“The Godfather’s Song” is a type of metanarration [45] or metanarrative performance, in which varying levels of narration and communication are embedded within each other, a marriage song performed during an actual wedding. In other words, two narratives are taking place, one inside the other: the sung narrative within the event narrative. The story features a perfect godfather who smoothes out wrinkles in the wedding events, resolving the obstacles that arise when the wedding party arrives at the bride’s home. He does symbolically in the narrative what he is expected to do in actuality: be there for the nuptial couple, aid them in any difficulties, and provide a bedrock of security. Lăutari typically present complimentary depictions of godfathers in this song, and so the magnanimous godfathers in the songs and the flattered godfathers at the real weddings connect in performance, effecting the dynamics of the metanarrative pair—godfather in song and godfather in person (and sometimes resulting in bigger tips). As Gail Kligman observes, traditional Romanian “society generates marriage through the godparents, shifting interpersonal relations to the communal level.” [46] Indeed, this performance event provides a strong affirmation in public of the role of the godfather as a dedicated spiritual parent who aids and protects his spiritual children, the wedding couple.
Metanarration also functions in smaller, more rhetorical ways. Commenting on how words are adapted for metanarrative effect, Barbara Babcock notes that beginnings and endings of stories provide “one of the ways in which a narrator sets up an interpretative frame” as “explicit metanarration” [47] and that a “shift in pronouns … implicitly comments on the story or the storytelling by effecting a transfer from an internal point of view to an external one.” [48] The wedding banquet in the text below is described as the banquet in the real wedding is simultaneously taking place. The internal perspective becomes external, the pronouns shift from third-person to first- and second-person forms, and the song and event merge:

O horă mare prindea,
Lăutarii tot cînta,
Aluneasca o juca.
Şi a fost o nuntă mare,
De la munte pîn’ la mare!
Şi a fost nuntă domnească,
De veci să se pomenească,
Cu mari boieri şi cocoane,
Ca la astă nuntă mare.
La boieri ca dumneavoastră
Noi facem cîntarea noastră,
Tutora ca să fie
Cu bine şi cu bucurie! [49]

They assembled a great circle dance,
The lăutari continued to sing and play,
They danced “the little hazelnut” [folkdance],
And it was a great wedding,
From the mountains to the sea!
And it was a royal wedding
That will be remembered forever,
With great boyars and great ladies,
Just like at this great wedding.
To boyars like you
We sing this song
So that all of you
Will enjoy it and be happy!

This recalls what Dwight Reynolds terms “overlapping performances” in Arabic oral epic, where “narrative strategies” enable the poet “effective means of moving back and forth through the boundaries of the story world.” [50] Lăutari likewise cross boundaries of verbal and cultural texts and organically bring “story, performance, and event” to life. [51]

Counterexamples: Incest and Spiritual Kin

Two narratives in the Romanian epic tradition involve incestuous designs by godparents on their godchildren. They distort the standard story of weddings and marriage and turn conventional behavior on its head, employing the trope of incest in dramatic and violent ways. The first narrative charts how a godfather shuns gift etiquette at a wedding banquet and forces himself sexually on his goddaughter, while the second exposes how dishonor destroys families linked by spiritual kin when a godmother recklessly determines to seduce her godson. Shame and the loss of honor result from incest between spiritual kin—both for the individuals and the community, representing a complete breakdown of society.

Gift-Giving and Reciprocity

The shame that ensues when public gift-giving and reciprocity are inverted is fundamental to “Radu-vodă şi Drăgan” (Prince Radu and Drăgan). [52] Godparents’ functions at weddings include, among other things, ritual gift-giving. As Kligman notes, wedding “[g]ifts are not simply expected; they are mandatory”; indeed, “[g]ift-giving is an expression of social interaction.” [53] Radu-vodă, the godfather, fails to offer adequate gifts to the nuptial couple during the public gift-giving at the wedding banquet. In a metanarrational moment, the lăutar references the ritual gift-giving in the example below, corresponding to the actual banquet at which the wedding guests—including the godfather—are seated. The context of gift-giving that is evoked parallels the public display of gifts during the “real” wedding feast:

Că, cînd Radu l-a cununat,
Cînd a fost la masa mare,
Toţi boierii i-a dat
Care vii, care moşii,
Care galbeni pe tipsii.
Numai Radu nu i-a dat
Nici o vie, nici o moşie
Şi nici galbeni pă tipsie. [54]

So, when Radu sponsored [Drăgan’s] wedding,
When they were at the great banquet,
All of the boyars gave [things] to him:
Some [gave] vineyards, some estates,
Some gold coins on trays.
Only Radu didn’t give him anything:
Not a single vineyard, nor a single estate,
And not even gold coins on a tray.

Social status and responsibility are transparently reflected in public gift-giving. Radu-vodă’s disregard of the etiquette of this event is a breach of duty for a godparent. Moreover, his understanding of reciprocity is totally inverted: he gives little or nothing and in return takes far more than his share: his goddaughter’s virginity and honor, and, importantly, Drăgan’s as well. Radu-vodă commits incest with the bride in the garden: a place that represents nature and disorder, away from the cultural and more ordered space of the wedding proper and outside of the rules of the household. Drăgan furiously accuses him:

“Pe fina ta ţi-ai luat,
În grădină te-ai băgat,
Făcuşi voia trupului,
Lăcomia ochilor!” [55]

“You took your goddaughter,
You shoved her into the garden,
You enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh,
You feasted your greedy eyes!”

As punishment, Drăgan threatens to behead not only Radu-vodă but (sometimes) his son Vlăduţ as well, predicting that if he were to spare Vlăduţ, the boy would simply grow up to repeat the sins of his father. Drăgan’s obliteration of both father and son speaks to the importance of honor within families over time, since a godfather in the Balkans “marries and christens, and his obligation passes from one generation to the next.” [56] In an attempt to salvage himself (and his son), Radu-vodă reminds Drăgan of their obvious spiritual kin relationship and recalls the important ritual moments they have shared, hoping that the memory of these purportedly inviolate ritual bonds will change his mind: “Că la mic te-am botezat, / La mare te-am cununat” (“Because when you were little I baptized you, / When you were big, I sponsored your wedding”). [57] Unmoved, Drăgan decapitates Radu-vodă (and his son) and sticks his head onto a stake, placing it on the main road to air Radu-vodă’s shame in public.

In the comparable South Slavic “Ženidba Marka Kraljevića” [58] (The Wedding of Marko Kraljević), shame, also generated as the vulnerability of the bride on her metaphoric journey from her home (maidenhood) to that of her groom (wifehood), is interwoven with themes of exogamy and the importance of honor and trust. Like the substitute-bridegroom narrative, the journey to and from the out-group bride’s faraway home provides the context of the story. But like “Radu-vodă,” the ostensibly honorable godfather turns on his goddaughter in order to seduce her. Endogamy also enters the picture. On incest and literature, Susan Stewart remarks that “[o]ne must travel to find a mate. That is, one must not look too closely, and one must not look too far afield.” [59] While the daughter of the Bulgarian king is a duly exogamous bride for Marko, the traitorous Catholic (infidel) godfather, the Doge of Venice, and best man (djever), “should have been” more in-group, as the bride’s mother earlier warned Marko: “[N]emoj vodit tudjina djevera” (“Don’t bring a stranger as best man”). [60] Marriage choices in traditional society entail a delicate balance of exogamous and endogamous matching. [61]
The bride’s honor is vulnerable as she progresses in her journey from one secure cultural space to another. As Kligman points out, among the central themes of the traditional wedding are the bride’s honor and shame and her virginity. [62] The bride’s mother is deeply anxious about her daughter’s perilous journey to the groom’s house, telling Marko that “Bojimo se goleme sramote” (“We fear some deed of shame”). [63] David Atkinson notes that incest in ballads occurs “in liminal settings like the ‘greenwood’ with its connotation of being somewhere outside the law,” [64] such as in “Babylon” and “The King’s Dochter Lady Jean,” where brothers unwittingly hope to marry or rape their sisters. [65] Radu-vodă also rapes Drăgan’s bride in the garden, an “irrational” and “ungovernable” natural space. [66] The godfather also tries to seduce Marko’s bride “outside the law,” en route between her house and Marko’s, but she cleverly exposes him, and Marko kills him. In another, shorter variant of this song, “Ženidba Imroara Nenada” (The Wedding of Nenad Imroar), the plucky bride singlehandedly slays her assailant (the groom’s bloodbrother, also spiritual kin) during a similar journey. [67] In both South Slavic texts, the honor of both bride and groom is barely upheld. By contrast, in “Radu-vodă,” the bride’s honor and life are shattered; she is polluted and humiliated. And Drăgan, who cannot return to her, simply wanders endlessly without purpose.
What the godfathers (and bloodbrother) do in the incest narratives contrasts clearly with what the exemplary godfather does in “The Godfather’s Song.” But there is another subtext. Substituting the godfather for the groom (and “winning” the bride) symbolically also evokes incest, even if it does not actually entail the risk of it. [68] One could argue that although the threat of incest lurks below the surface in “The Godfather’s Song,” it is managed constructively and, in fact, complements the negative tales of incest by the godfather, a meaning, I believe, that is augmented by an ethnographic reading. Constantinescu remarks that in the past, on the night of the wedding, the godfather had the right to sleep with his goddaughter, the bride. [69] Hammel also notes that “sexual privilege” with the bride was sometimes extended to the groom’s kum (godfather), notwithstanding that “the moral of these [stories] is always that such a relationship is a sinful one.” [70] In other words, these tales sung at weddings may have served as uneasy forewarnings even of the hours or days to follow. Constantinescu implies that it was “a right of the godfather that had to be accepted.” [71] The fact that this liberty was sometimes taken, however, does not mean that it did not cause a great deal of anger, anguish, and even violence.

Cultural Boundaries Violated

The cultural boundaries that inform possible marriage partners and adultery, as well as honor and shame, are central to “Vartici.” [72] A godmother repeatedly attempts to seduce her young godson and servant, Vartici, who rejects her amorous advances on the basis of their spiritual kin bond. [73] The incestuous nature of this relationship scars the principal actors and their families permanently, and the tale ends with the miserable deaths of both godmother and godson.
“Vartici” is a tale full of inversions—performed, appropriately, when the transitional moments and role reversals of “real” weddings take place. In a hypothetical union of the godmother, Ileana, and her godson, Vartici, most of the normal social boundaries in marriage are overturned, creating a caricature that accentuates the prohibitions that form impediments to wedlock. One could say that it is an inverted marriage song, with genders and outcomes reversed: Ileana wishes to “win” Vartici, not with the symbolic help of a substitute, but rather on her own, by seducing him. Ironically, while in normal weddings the godmother is devoted to the bride, in “Vartici” she is devoted to the groom. But her proposal is turned down, so there is no wedding at the end but rather a funeral, since both bride and groom die. The transitional nature of wedding celebrations temporarily permits the sounding out of this violation of the marriage story, in which virtually every component of the customary wedding is transposed: a much older bride attempts to win a younger groom, both of whom are already married and belong to different social classes; moreover, they are godmother and godson. As Stewart maintains, the prohibition of incest in narrative has to do with the “articulation and maintenance of cultural boundaries in time and space”; [74] the taboo on incest in narratives “extends spatially to the boundaries of social groups and temporally through the organization of generations.” [75] “Vartici” includes a recognition of the marriage limitations imposed by spiritual kinship, prior marriage commitments, class distinctions, and age, offering a tale of cultural, social, and generational groups that are either forbidden or at least strongly discouraged from mixing. “Vartici,” like rules of incest, spells out “whom it is possible or forbidden to marry” and offers a commentary on the dynamics of trust in marriage, [76] as well as the consequences of adultery, all topics relevant at weddings, where finding suitable marriage partners is both explicitly and implicitly acknowledged.
In real relationships, class and spiritual kinship overlap, since godparents are frequently from a higher economic and social class than their godchildren. [77] Underscoring class divisions, “Doamna” (Lady) Ileana is portrayed at home at the outset of the narrative, presiding over an aristocratic all-female banquet, while Vartici, her godson, is serving the meal. Her husband, Ştefan-vodă (Prince Stephen), has gone hunting. [78] The initial scene is reminiscent of banquets in heroic epic. Yet it is a parody of them: it is attended only by women and headed by Ileana, producing an uncharacteristic, caricatured, female-dominated space, the inverse of typical all-male banquet assemblies. In heroic epic, after the meal-assembly, the men typically set off in pursuit of someone or something, while in “Vartici,” Ileana suddenly cuts her banquet short, dismissing all of her lady guests so that she can “pursue” Vartici and seduce him alone. In the example below, the lăutar “calls attention to the narrative performance as performance” through a metanarrative “interpretive frame” as he “steps outside” of the banquet by parodying it: [79]

/:În curte la dom’ Dumitraşe, :/ …
          Mîndră masă-mi este-ntins’,
Săvai masă dă batis’
Cu dalbe făclii aprinse.
Jur-prejuru mesiei
Şade-m’ vere, şade-m’ dragă
          F-o cinzăj’ dă priotese,
Patruzăj’ dă jupînese,
Cei mai mari căimăcănese …
Iar cu pahar cin’ de da?
          /:Săvai finu-său Vartici. :/
/:Iar în capu mesiei :/
Şade-m’ vere, şade-m’ dragă,
Şade doamna Ileana,
Frumoasă ca icoana … [80]

/:In the court of King Dumitraşe, :/ …
          A beautiful table is set,
Even a table [covered with a cloth of] printed silk
Lit with shining white torches.
All around the table
Are sitting, cousin, are sitting, my dear,
          About fifty priests’ wives,
Forty boyar wives,
The greatest wives of the caimacans …
But who is serving them glasses [of wine]?
          /:Even [Ileana’s] godson Vartici. :/
And at the head of the table
She sits, cousin, she sits, my dear,
Lady Ileana sits,
As beautiful as an icon …

Questions that propel the story forward that the lăutar poses to the public (as in the highlighted verse) are also metanarrative devices for connecting with the listeners as are vocative nouns addressed to them (also highlighted). [81] The narrative banquet ironically relates to the “real” banquet at the wedding, while as an unconventional banquet it immediately sets up the story as a series of other unexpected, inverted events in which boundaries of all kinds are transgressed. Ileana frames her desire for Vartici with “Vino lîngă mine-aici” [82] (“Come here close to me”), accentuating the physical, which becomes the moral, boundary that she is violating. She knows that this path may take her beyond another even more imposing boundary as she tells Vartici: “Chiar de azi să intru-n iad, / Dar să iubesc ce mi-e drag!” (“Even if I enter Hell from this day on, / Just let me love what is dear to me!”). [83] The boundaries created between Ileana and Vartici by spiritual kinship are the principal obstacles to a sexual relationship from Vartici’s perspective. Employing verses that are reminiscent of Radu-vodă’s plea for mercy from Drăgan, Vartici makes clear what Ileana also knows: that she has been a godmother for two generations in his family and that these spiritual kin bonds preclude the intimacy that she desires:

“Că mai mic, m-ai botezat,
Mai mare m-ai cununat,
La mijloc m-ai retezat, [84]
Trei copii mi-ai botezat …
Nu ţ-o fi, naşă, păcat
Şi frică dă blestemat?!” [85]

“Because when I was young, you christened me,
When I was older, you [sponsored my wedding],
In between you [ritually] cut my hair,
You christened my three children …
Isn’t it a sin for you, Godmother,
Aren’t you also afraid of the curse?!”

The ritual context of what a godparent means and the boundaries that spiritual kinship entail are concisely summed up by Vartici’s four consecutive references to Ileana’s past sponsorship.

Atkinson points out that in ballads, incest typically happens to “characters separated from the continuity of everyday life and its relations.” [86] In “Vartici,” the attempted seduction also occurs in a marked space; but with genders switched, it becomes a domestic, female space (immediately following a “female banquet”). For Vartici, it is an uncomfortable realm: a seductive, women’s arena in which he could lose control. In one text, for her planned seduction, Ileana takes Vartici to an even more private spot: a secluded space she calls “sus în casă” (“upstairs in the house”), where she mixes sensual suggestions that they eat and drink together with climbing into bed. [87] In a metaphor (in all of the “Vartici” texts) for social boundaries that threaten to be crossed, Vartici deceptively tells Ileana that he will go home to change clothes so that he can return to her in attire more fitting for what she has in mind. The clothing ironically epitomizes the distance between culture and nature in the ostensibly upper-class (“princely”) Ileana; in order for Vartici to connect with her, he will need to “come down to her level” and don “whoring” clothes:

“Lapăd haine d-al’ domneşti
Să-mbrac ieu d-ale curveşti,
Pintru tine mă gătesc,
Prea frumos să te iubesc!” [88]

“I’ll take off these princely clothes
And put on my whoring clothes
In order to get myself ready for you,
So I can make love with you just right!”

Although Vartici returns home, he immediately departs, heading for yet another, distant boundary, into the unknown—to the “Tatar land,” “Armenian region,” or “Ţaligrad” [89] —where he hopes to evade Ileana and his family forever, echoing the disconsolate Drăgan in “Radu-vodă” and the dejected brother in “Lizie Wan” (who, after mortally stabbing his sister, pregnant with his child, aimlessly sets out to sea), [90] all of them shamed and eternally wandering. Incest destroys relationships and families with a certain finality; as Larry Syndergaard notes, incest ballads “offer no strategy for mitigation or recovery, or for continuance of life in any endurable form after the incest itself.” [91] Once Vartici has departed, Ileana goes in search of him, usually finding him far away, living with a new wife. She drugs Vartici, and when he awakens to realize that he has been wed to her against his will, he promptly grabs a dagger and stabs himself “Să scape de naşă-sa” (“So he could escape his godmother”). [92] Ileana follows suit. In incest ballads, as Atkinson notes, stabbing “is a potent symbol of sexual assault, combining penetration with destruction”; and the “phallic nature [of the knife] as a weapon of penetration is more or less inescapable in these texts.” [93] In “Vartici,” the knife as a weapon of suicide is clearly associated with incest—although initiated by a woman, not the usual male perpetrator. In “The Wedding of Nenad,” when the bloodbrother attempts to seduce the bride, she kills him with a knife: also a metaphor in reverse.

“Vartici” exposes the tensions between nature and culture, what Stewart calls the “cultural rule of the natural.” [94] “Vartici” is not only about Ileana’s persistent attempts to indulge in illicit desire, but also, I believe, Vartici’s near inability to curb his own instincts and maintain the boundaries he objectively recognizes. In the example below, he tells his wife that when Ileana propositioned him, he almost “crossed the line” himself—evocatively called prag ‘threshold’:

“Am lăsat-o şi-am fugit!
De mai stam niţel pe prag,
Chiar mă dedea de păcat!” [95]

“I left her and fled!
If I had stood on the threshold even a little longer,
She would have led me to sin!”

And once Ileana has declared her love, Vartici deserts his wife and children, unable to fit any longer into his own world or hers. He simply flees “Ca să scape de păcat” [96] (“In order to keep from sinning”). Ileana sometimes denounces Vartici, claiming that he desired an adulterous affair. [97] She reverses the guilt and portrays her own shame as Vartici’s, for which Ştefan-vodă hangs, beheads, or mercilessly stabs him. Ileana then takes her own life. [98]

“Vartici” is also about the anxiety generated within marriage by the rules that forbid adultery. A criss-crossing of spouses and would-be spouses characterizes the complex of marriages in the narrative. Ileana and Ştefan-vodă, as well as Vartici and his wife are (happily) married at the outset. Soon Ileana wishes to couple illicitly with Vartici, whose wife consequently loses her equilibrium. Meanwhile Vartici departs and finds another wife, far away from Ileana (and his first wife if she is not already dead), while Ileana unlawfully tries to marry Vartici and actually succeeds momentarily. By the end, all are deceased except Ştefan-vodă and Vartici’s (second) wife. The web of secrecy, deception, infidelity, and cowardice has been intentionally manufactured by the central actors and results in chaos. A strong normative message denouncing adultery surely emerges when this song is performed at weddings.
In today’s Romania, contemporary song genres have, for the most part, replaced epic, especially manele (sg. manea), the extremely popular Balkan pop-song genre performed by lăutari at weddings since the 1990s. [99] Manele are often requested and dedicated to important people at the wedding banquet (such as the godfather) and typically include superlative characterizations that flatter them (generating bigger tips). The songs are sung in the first person as the lăutar takes on the identity of the person to whom the song is dedicated. Manele are non-narrative songs that speak of love, sex, money, and power. Embedded in these topics are songs about infidelity. The parallels with the marriage songs about incest are intriguing. The male voices typically admit, in the manea lyrics of infidelity, to having fine wives and decent conditions at home, but they also confess—with a good bit of bravura—to indulging in extramarital affairs. They are somewhat like male Ileanas, driven by sexual desire and power despite adequate marriages. While the lyrics consciously defy the norm of monogamy, manele are not cautionary tales, however, since male egos are glorified but never rebuked. Perhaps such manele are permissible violations of the norm, included along with other inverted behavior, during the frenzied celebrations at weddings. They may very well also be expressions of male power in a liberated, post-communist age of modernity, markets, and globalization.

Family Versus Spiritual Incest in Oral Narrative Song

Incest between primary kin in Romanian epic is rendered in four distinct narratives. Three of them concern siblings. Resembling an explanatory myth, “Soarele şi luna” [100] (The Sun and the Moon), recounts the Sun’s unrequited love for his sister, the Moon. The cosmos itself opposes this union, hence the Sun’s eternal penalty: to chase the Moon across the sky. “Iovan Iorgovan,” [101] a dragon-slayer wondertale in verse, recounts how Iovan searches for his sister, who has fled due to his incestuous advances, and finds her captured by a dragon that he kills. In some texts, the sister eventually curses Iovan, who becomes a stone; she often turns into a flower. And in “Nevasta vândută” (The Wife Who Was Sold), in order to obtain money to pay taxes to the Turks, a man sells his wife to a man who turns out to be her brother, the siblings having been separated at birth. [102] The brother returns his sister to her husband. South Slavic narratives of sibling incest—brothers pursuing unwilling sisters—also include outcomes determined in large part by nature, fate, and curses. [103]
The Romanian “Ursitoare” [104] (Fate), comparable in some degree to “Vartici,” involves a mother and son. It is an Oedipal story in which a son unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother. Appropriately called “Fate,” not only does one of the three Fates predict at the son’s birth that he will marry his mother, but fatefully, just before son and mother consummate their marriage, they intuit that they resemble each other too much and are related. [105] They resolve to live together instead as mother and son. The best-known South Slavic mother-son analogue is the religious legend “Nahod Simeuna” (Simeun the Foundling). [106]
The Balkan narratives of family incest, which are generally neither tragic nor violent, are resolved by and large by nature, fate, and curses that invoke nature. And although “Fate,” about real mother-son incest, corresponds to “Vartici,” about metaphoric (god)mother-(god)son incest, they are quite different. In “Fate,” where the events and outcomes are determined by destiny, the mother and son are easily reconciled to their situation. By contrast, in “Vartici,” the role of agency is central: intention and transgression underlie the tale as a godmother fights to the death to have her godson. Since the almost-incest is not purposely committed and there is no punishment, “Fate” is not a cautionary tale. “Vartici,” on the other hand, is: the prohibition on incest is explicitly disregarded, resulting in calamity and providing a dramatic cautionary tale that resonates in the context of wedding banquets.


Weddings furnish quintessential public occasions for the singing of narratives about marriage. The expression of narrative within event, with the arsenal of metanarrative devices that lăutari wield as part of their trade, empowers the performative experience, enlivening both the song and the rituals and intensifying the meanings of both. In the joyous substitute-bridegroom narratives, the expectations of marriage are confidently celebrated as grooms seek and, with help, ultimately win exogamous brides, while constructive social alliances are publicly reproduced through the deeds of spiritual kin. Quite the reverse, however, are the destructive and disturbing portrayals in alternative narratives of subversive behavior on the part of godparents articulated through the trope of incest, where honor and trust are broken and futures dashed. “Radu-vodă” and “Vartici” are devastating tales, providing explicit counterexamples to the optimistic substitute-bridegroom narratives at weddings. They offer incisive cautionary tales in which godparents fully recognize the prohibitions on incest, but selfishly disregard them and are punished. Incest in narrative songs also articulates cultural boundaries that spell out obligations within marriage, through which honor is sustained. In the midst of these perspectives on human behavior—both positive and negative—are important subtexts that offer insight on their most profound question: who can/should marry whom? The tales of spiritual kin articulate and endorse obligations relating to exogamy, endogamy, and other social boundaries, especially with regard to categories of culture, class, and generation.
Each of the spiritual-kin narratives of incest is unique. While, in all of the other narratives incest is only a threat or suggestion of sexual relations, in “Radu-vodă,” rape actually takes place. In this way, it is the most destructive and sobering narrative regarding incest, and perhaps the most tragic. Like the maidens in “The Bonny Hind” and “The King’s Dochter Lady Jean,” it concerns the pitiful fate of a female victim. As for “Vartici,” it is a tale, not about male gender as power, as are all the other incest narratives, but rather about female gender and power in terms of cultural, social, and generational advantage. As a marriage song that is thoroughly inverted, “Vartici” ends up, through counterexample, pronouncing powerful taboos on incest and adultery.
As a pair of tales, the two narratives jointly convey yet another important meaning. Godparents—ideally—provide unwavering support to their nuptial godchildren. While so many significant changes take place during weddings—parents sorrowfully let go of their daughters, brides timorously move to new families, parents-in-law brashly permit them as strangers into their homes, and sons appropriate new roles as able husbands—it is godparents who remain steadfast. They are stable and persistent anchors of security in the midst of all the transitions for the couple and their families (as “The Godfather’s Song” so ably demonstrates). Godparents join the bride and groom from outside the family and are not “natural” kin but rather “fictional” kin, thus bringing to the relationship a deliberately adopted sense of moral commitment, ritually reinforced by baptisms, weddings, and the traditions of cooperative and honorable relationships. Thus tales that involve the breakdown of godparents’ integrity and honor also represent the breakdown of the moral commitment of spiritual kinship, with implications for individuals, families, and the community. It is no wonder that this prospect makes for narratives that are both powerful and threatening.
Both the productive and destructive tales of spiritual kin provide profound narrative confirmations of society’s convictions and truths, but also its conflicts and contradictions. As Albert Lord so poignantly stated:

Oral traditional epic is not merely entertainment … but has a serious function in its society. It contains the ideals and values of the society, as well as a regard for the fundamental problems of both the community and the individual and for how they may be met and accepted if they cannot be solved. [107]

The Romanian (and other Balkan) epic songs of incest warn of the fallout from crossing forbidden boundaries. They advocate, through counterexample, behavior that reinforces the foundation of social groups—interpersonal and group relations based on alliances and trust—and the cultural boundaries that are so vital to social survival. The narratives uphold—in dramatic, symbolic, and sometimes inverted terms—the stability and continuity that are essential to traditional society, where marriage, family, and spiritual kin generate critical bonds that can falter and dissolve, bringing devastation and anguish, but where they also have the power to create, reinforce, and sustain social order and communal cohesion.

Works Cited

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[ back ] 1. Lord 1991:110.
[ back ] 2. It is also called “Letinul bogat” (The Rich Latin/Infidel).
[ back ] 3. After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, narrative song performances at weddings became infrequent.
[ back ] 4. I use “marriage song” instead of “wedding song” since the latter can also refer to lyric and ritual songs performed at weddings.
[ back ] 5. Compare the transitional calendrical-cycle rituals căluş (Romania) or kukeri (Bulgaria); see Kligman 1981, Creed 2011.
[ back ] 6. Sources include published texts and epic songs that I collected in Bucharest (1979) and in villages: Blejeşti (1980), Celei (1987), and Mârşa (2002).
[ back ] 7. South Slavic sources include Kačić-Miošić, Karadžić I & II, and Vidan; the ballads are from Child 1965; see also Bronson 1969, Buchan 1972.
[ back ] 8. See The Elementary Structures of Kinship.
[ back ] 9. Godelier 2011:78-79.
[ back ] 10. Godelier 2011:566.
[ back ] 11. Pop 1979:136-140.
[ back ] 12. Pop 1976:16.
[ back ] 13. Constantinescu 2000:212.
[ back ] 14. Godelier 2011:570.
[ back ] 15. Stone 2010:246.
[ back ] 16. Alfani and Gourdon 2012:20.
[ back ] 17. Alfani 2009:231.
[ back ] 18. Kligman 1988:35.
[ back ] 19. Kligman 1988:36.
[ back ] 20. Hammel 1968:5. Sponsorship in Balkan folk belief is more formalized and hierarchical than in the Orthodox canon (Hammel 1968:8); see also Filipović 1960:77.
[ back ] 21. Halpern and Kerewsky-Halpern 1986:122.
[ back ] 22. Muravyeva 2012:262.
[ back ] 23. Ibid.
[ back ] 24. Alfani 2009:231.The earliest written record documenting a ban on marriage between spiritual kin dates from 530 (Lynch 1986:219).
[ back ] 25. Muravyeva 2012:262.
[ back ] 26. Vuković 2004:70.
[ back ] 27. Kligman 1988:36.
[ back ] 28. In Bucharest and many towns and villages (1980-2013). See also Kligman (1988), Constantinescu (1999), Marian, and Pop (1976).
[ back ] 29. A female vocalist also often joins the male bands. On lăutari, see Beissinger 1991, 2001, 2005, 2012a, 2012b.
[ back ] 30. See Van Gennep for his well-known tripartite structure of rituals. There are many customs and genres in the wedding that I do not discuss.
[ back ] 31. Marian 2000:142.
[ back ] 32. See Kligman 1988:96-149 on godparents’ roles in Romanian weddings.
[ back ] 33. Pop 1976:22.
[ back ] 34. Epic is also performed at other life-cycle celebrations such as baptisms. On Romanian epic, see Beissinger 1991, 2012a.
[ back ] 35. Like elsewhere in the Balkans, the Romanian epic tradition was influenced by the centuries-long Ottoman period; many of the narratives are heroic. Songs are rarely longer than 500 verses; the meter is generally trochaic, and verses are octosyllabic.
[ back ] 36. In some very conservative communities (especially among Roma), “showing the sheets” is still practiced.
[ back ] 37. Over 100 versions are found in publications and archives (Constantinescu 1999:93). Twenty texts form the materials for my observations: Amzulescu 1964(1):401-411; 1974:108-113; Bălăşel 1967:130-136, 136-141; Gregorian 1967:562-564; Popescu 1970:70-75, 76-79, 80-83, 84-87; Rădulescu-Codin1986(1):18-19, 19-21, 21-23; Teodorescu 704-7, 707-9; Tocilescu 1980(1):95-97, 97-98, 98-100, 101; two epic songs collected during fieldwork in Bucharest (1979) and the village of Celei (1987).
[ back ] 38. Conversation with Marin Candoi, Celei, 7 July 1987.
[ back ] 39. Lord 1995:2.
[ back ] 40. Kačić-Miošić 1946:107-9.
[ back ] 41. Janko is Sekul’s uncle (ujak) on his mother’s side; Sekul aids the groom in most South Slavic versions. In some societies the nephew-maternal uncle relationship is highly regarded, hence the significance of the nephew’s role in the wedding (Constantinescu 2000:21-23).
[ back ] 42. Janko is similarly promised by his nephew: “Ne plaši se, Sibinjanin Janko! / Ja ću strilat na kopju jabuku.” (“Don’t be afraid, Sibinjanin Janko! I will shoot the apple on the spear,” Kačić-Miošić 1946:108, ll. 59-60)
[ back ] 43. Amzulescu 1964(1):406-407, ll. 219-221, 224-226.
[ back ] 44. Janko also searches for a bride far and wide, finally finding ”Janja” from Temišvar (Timişoara) in the Banat (western Romania).
[ back ] 45. See Babcock 62, Bauman 98-101.
[ back ] 46. Kligman 1988:149.
[ back ] 47. Babcock 1977:71.
[ back ] 48. Babcock 1977:73.
[ back ] 49. Amzulescu 1964(1):411, ll. 400-412.
[ back ] 50. Reynolds 1999:156, 164.
[ back ] 51. See Bauman 1986.
[ back ] 52. Two texts form the materials for my observations: Amzulescu 1964(3):74-76 and Tocilescu 1980(1):305-306.
[ back ] 53. Kligman 1988:101.
[ back ] 54. Tocilescu 1980(1):305, ll. 9-16.
[ back ] 55. Amzulescu 1964(3):75, ll. 49-52.
[ back ] 56. Vuković 2004:70.
[ back ] 57. Tocilescu 1980(1):306, ll. 54-55.
[ back ] 58. Karadžić 1969(2):208-214.
[ back ] 59. Stewart 1991:173.
[ back ] 60. Karadžić 1969(2):209, l. 62.
[ back ] 61. As Stewart 1991 notes, the prohibition on incest “is simultaneously endogamous (defining those within the marriage pool) and exogamous (defining those without it)” (174).
[ back ] 62. Kilgman 1981:145.
[ back ] 63. Karadžić 1969(2):209, l. 65.
[ back ] 64. Atkinson 2002:115.
[ back ] 65. In “Babylon” (Child 1965:14), a brother kills two of his sisters with his “pen-knife” in the woods when they refuse to marry him and then himself when their identities are revealed. In “The King’s Dochter Lady Jean” (Child 1965:52), a brother rapes his then-unidentified sister in the woods; when it is revealed who they are, he kills her with his knife and later dies himself.
[ back ] 66. Syndergaard 1993:136.
[ back ] 67. Karadžić 1975(1):498-500. Pobratimstvo ‘bloodbrotherhood’ (Serbian) entails the exchange of blood between unrelated boys and/or men, a tradition rooted in antiquity (Constantinescu 1999:91-92). It establishes a close spiritual bond that prohibits marriage between their families (Vuković 2004:71-72).
[ back ] 68. Thanks to David Elmer for sharing this reading.
[ back ] 69. Constantinescu 2000:223-224. Kligman also makes reference to godfathers sometimes sleeping with the bride/goddaughter (1981:337n26).
[ back ] 70. Hammel 1968:34. Vuković 2004 points out that “[t]here was, at one time, the custom that on the first night, the dever (best man) slept with the bride to guard her from the bridegroom” (48). It seems that on occasion at traditional weddings in the Balkans, the dever had the right to sleep with the bride before the wedding ceremony; the groom’s brother is often said to ‘sleep with’ the bride on her way to the wedding or to take minor sexual liberties with her after her marriage” (Hammel 1968:33-34).
[ back ] 71. Constantinescu 2000:224.
[ back ] 72. Five texts form the materials for my observations: Amzulescu 1964(3):82-85; 1974:457-65; Păsculescu 1910:195-96; Rădulescu-Codin 1986(1):36-37, 37-40.
[ back ] 73. “Vartici” is a version of the ancient tale, “Potiphar’s wife” (K2111 in the Motif-Index of Folk Literature): “A woman makes vain overtures to a man and then accuses him of attempting to force her” (Thompson 1960:474). In the Biblical form (Genesis 39:1-20), the woman is the wife of Potiphar (a prominent figure in the community), while the young man she wishes to seduce is Joseph, their slave. See Balotă 1958 for a historical reading of “Vartici.”
[ back ] 74. Stewart 1991:173.
[ back ] 75. Stewart 1991:173.
[ back ] 76. Godelier 2011:79.
[ back ] 77. Hammel 1968:77-78, 80.
[ back ] 78. Ştefan cel mare (Stephen the Great) (1433-1504), whose name is frequently (and fictionally) attached to heroic epic songs, ruled Moldova (northeastern Romania) 1457-1504.
[ back ] 79. Babcock 1977:71.
[ back ] 80. Amzulescu 1974:457, ll. 2, 4-11, 13-18.
[ back ] 81. These are common rhetorical devices in Romanian oral epic.
[ back ] 82. Amzulescu 1964(3):83, l. 47.
[ back ] 83. Rădulescu-Codin 1986(1):38, ll. 84-85. In several texts, Ileana promises Vartici that if he agrees to sleep with her, she will give richly to the Church and charity in order to atone for her sins.
[ back ] 84. This refers to moţul (Romanian), a child’s ritual first haircut, performed by the family’s godparents; it is a widespread pre-Christian Balkan custom that is still practiced (Hammel 1968:8).
[ back ] 85. Amzulescu 1974:459, ll. 68-72, 77-78.
[ back ] 86. Atkinson 2002:115.
[ back ] 87. Rădulescu-Codin 1986(1):38, l. 40.
[ back ] 88. Amzulescu 1974:460, ll. 107-110.
[ back ] 89. Constantinople.
[ back ] 90. Child 1965:51.
[ back ] 91. Syndergaard 1993:133.
[ back ] 92. Păsculescu 196, l. 106.
[ back ] 93. Atkinson 2002:115. A knife is employed for murder or suicide in most of the best-known Anglo-Scots incest ballads: “Babylon,” “Lizie Wan,” “The King’s Dochter Lady Jean,” and “The Bonny Hind,” in which brother and sister unknowingly sleep together; when they realize their relationship, she fatally stabs herself, and he mourns (Child 1965:50).
[ back ] 94. Stewart 1991:174. As Stewart notes, “Exogamous relations therefore pose a contradictory set of cultural solutions. On the one hand, they define one’s membership, and by completing one’s need for otherness pose an imaginary wholeness … But on the other hand … they define one’s subjection, the renunciation of ‘spontaneous’ desires, the ‘castration’ one experiences under the rule of all cultural law” (175).
[ back ] 95. Rădulescu-Codin 1986(1):38, ll. 110-12.
[ back ] 96. Amzulescu 1964(1):84, l. 79.
[ back ] 97. This aspect of the story is less prominent in “Vartici” than in other Potiphar narratives.
[ back ] 98. She is not the only woman to kill herself over Vartici’s death; when his wife sees him dead in some texts, she kills herself.
[ back ] 99. On manele, see Beissinger 2005, 2007.
[ back ] 100. Amzulescu 1964(1):283-293.
[ back ] 101. Amzulescu 1964(1):311-19, 319-23.
[ back ] 102. Amzulescu 1964(3):281-287, 287-291, 292-294
[ back ] 103. See “Dušan hoće sestru da uzme” (Dušan Wishes To Marry His Sister) (Karadžić 1969:81-83), “Udaja sestre Dušanove” (The Marriage of Dušan’s Sister) (Karadžić 1969:84-85), “Senjanin Ivo i Njegova sestra” (Senjanin Ivo and his Sister) (Karadžić 1975:549-550); Vidan 2003:188-191, #18; see also Krstić 1984:275-277.
[ back ] 104. Amzulescu 1983:441-442.
[ back ] 105. There are some formulaic similarities between this and “The Wife Who Was Sold.”
[ back ] 106. Simeun and his mother unknowingly sleep together, for which Simeun is thrown into prison. The keys to the prison are deposited in the river, and he is told that he will be released when the keys are found. Ten years later, they are discovered and presented to Simeun, still in prison, reading the Bible (Karadžić 1969:43-47, 47-50); see also Krstić 1984:277.
[ back ] 107. Lord 1995:106.