"Mioriţa", the most popular Romanian ballad, has its name coming from a rather ambiguous female character, the meek ewe that discloses the plot to her fair master, whose two fellow shepherds plan to kill by the time of sunset, looting his larger and worthy flock. Mioriţa the ewe is merely reporting the news, which is enough for her master to start professing his own, indeed elated incantation of the imminent death, gradually transfigured into a grandiose, cosmic marriage. Strange enough, although the proper body of the ballad is actually constituted by the rapturous litany of the shepherd, its name, in all the diverse oral variants, remains "Mioriţa", that is the ewe's name.One cannot help but thinking that as an allegorical figure, the meek ewe distraught by the fate of her master unmasks not only a female character, but a truly feminine one. Mioriţa is apparently a woman worried by the destiny of a man. She is not the mother of that man, because in his litany he explicitly refers to his mother as another, distinct figure. Mioriţa is not a mother, but a lover. If the ballad bears her name, despite the fact that in it she appears as simply an informer and transient initiator, it is because her lover's chant is in fact her own lament for the already lost man. Mioriţa's voice is vicariously acting inside her lover's ode. Mioriţa's retrospective sorrow constitutes the actual substance of the ballad "Mioriţa". She is simply informing her master-lover about the plot whose victim he already was (and still is), precisely because she is not prophesizing about the immediate future, but conjures a past she is excruciatingly reconstructing. In "Mioriţa" the murder has already taken place. There is no way of escaping it. The apparent passivity professed by the ballad is not a stupid, inexplicably dull resignation facing an allegedly unavoidable destiny; if it were a present-tense action, then her master-lover would certainly try to escape the conspiracy if only by running away as fast as possible. Both the incidental derisive appraisal of the shepherd's apparent foolishness of making himself an easy prey for his killers, and the abusive metaphysics of a cosmic resignation and passivity were basically rooted in a misunderstanding of the convoluted narrative time of the action in "Mioriţa". The shepherd is not inane, but already dead. The mystery doesn't consist in his irritating passivity, but in his own resurrection through the grievance of his lover Mioriţa. The ballad is a requiem, not an alibi of abeyance and sluggishness. One has to remember the other major Romanian ballad, "Master Manole", where Ana, the pregnant wife immolated by the Master himself in the walls of the monastery he is building up, doesn't cease to cry asking for her release, definitely opposing her sacrifice. Even when the wall has entirely covered her, she is still wailing, refusing the destiny. One can hardly imagine that between the two fundamental myths of the Romanians the difference could be as huge as a contradiction between magnificently complying to the sacrifice and dramatically opposing it. Seen as a requiem voiced by the living lover for the departed one, "Mioriţa" becomes understandable in all its pantheistic and cosmic dimensions. Taking death as a given and not as an outcome, one can grasp the true archetypal crux of the ballad, residing in the ancient, Orphic myth of the power that spellbound love has over the realm of death. Momentarily infringed by a lover's elegy for the beloved one that is gone, death remains, however, the solid ground against which the enlivening vision is temporarily raised. Mihail Sadoveanu revisited the myth and the figures developed by the ballad in his masterpiece, "The Hatchet". Nechifor Lipan, a vigorous, indeed majestic Moldavian shepherd went far away from home, to the northern part of the country to buy a big sheep-flock. He reached a good deal, yet on the way home he was killed by two fellow shepherds who took his flock, throwing his dead body in a ravine next to the road they were riding along. For months, nobody knew about the murder. At home, his wife Vitoria, after waiting so long and ritually fasting twelve weeks, sold much of their goods and, after sending their daughter temporarily to the monastery, took her husband's way, together with their son. She doesn't believe the general opinion that her husband simply strayed away and will be back home soon or later. Signs of her body and mind have convinced her of his death. A peculiar, Orphic figure like Mioriţa, Vitoria Lipan begins her elegy against the distinct background of death. Through her character, Sadoveanu endeavored to re-write the popular ballad "Mioriţa", so that the covert female voice of the requiem comes forth on the front stage, as a protagonist. Contrariwise to Mioriţa, Vitoria Lipan appears as an active woman: the preparative for the trip and the various encounters she has during it, shows her as rather a battle-sheep than a meek ewe. Although travelling for the first time out of her secluded mountainous area, she passes through each episode of her trip as if fighting one battle after the other. Yet all that she does is due to the way she tacitly and increasingly impersonates her dead husband. Following his track, seeing what he also saw and meeting the people he had met too, she gradually internalizes his self, the same way Mioriţa's plaint underplayed her lover's chant. Currently, Vitoria Lipan is viewed by the exegesis as the typical peasant woman entering from the closed world of the village to the strange, masculine world outside. However, she is not entering the world, but simply she entered the (lost, hollowed) life of her husband, which was certainly larger than her world, but to which she accommodates progressively. Even when she interferes in the women's world to facilitate the punishment of the two killers, she does it as if askew, in an oblique manner, distant and detached of the typical feminine means employed by the women helping her to influence the progress of her design. She does not pertain to that world either. Vitoria Lipan is not actually more active than Mioriţa. She is simply more visible. Like her too, she solely reconstitutes the killing of the beloved one. She also does it like a sort of retrospection happening in the present. Vitoria Lipan impersonates her husband until even the actual circumstances of his slaying are revealed to her as if in a vision, as if lived by her too. The dead body of her husband becomes the living body of her story. Her pilgrimage is not a religious one, although she arranges a memorial dinner for her husband. It is not a justice journey either. Although apparently premeditated and carefully staged, the vengeance is finally a circumstantial outcome. Like the dead shepherd in Mioriţa's lament, Nechifor Lipan still lives in the being of his wife throughout her journey. After uncovering the dead body and revealing the real story of the murder, she finishes her requiem-like journey in a narrative that works like the lyrics of the ballad, unmasking the truth in an Orpheus-like legend.

by Erwin Kessler