Description Of Moldavia (Descriptio Moldaviae) (1715)

Chapter XVII. On the Moldavians' Habits (excerpts) While we are trying to describe the Moldavians' habits, about which no-one, or just few foreigners hold a true image, the love we feel for our country on the one hand prompts us to praise the people among which we were born and depict the inhabitants of our country of origin, but on the other hand our love of truth prevents us, to the same extent, from praising what would rightfully be blamable. It would do them more good if we show them bluntly the flaws that uglify them, rather than deceive them with mild fawning and artful exculpation which may lead them to believe that justice is always the beacon of their enterprise, while enlightened people condemns such things upon seeing them. For this reason, we hereby honestly avow that, aside from true faith and hospitality, there is hardly anything we may extol of the Moldavians' habits. Of all the vices common among other people, Moldavians have their fair share, though not too many. Good habits are few and far between with them, and since they lack good education and knowledge of good habits, it will be harder to find a man with habits better than another's, unless his good nature lent a hand.Haughtiness and arrogance are their mother and sister. If the Moldavian has a thoroughbred horse and good weapons, he thinks no one is better than him, and he would not fight shy of taking on God Himself if he could. They are all particularly daring, proud and very quarrelsome; however, they quiet down quickly and make up with their former opponent. The word duel is not yet known to them. Peasants seldom switch from words to weapons, but silence their proud opponent with a cane, stick, or their fists. Soldiers do likewise; they hardly ever go from squabble to sword, and if it ever happens, they must atone for it with the most severe punishments. They are jovial and cheerful; what they hold in their soul is on their lips too; but, just as they easily forget their enmities, their friendship is as short-lived. Drinking does not turn their stomachs, but neither are they too addicted to it. Their greatest pleasure is to party, sometimes from the sixth hour of the evening to the third after midnight, or even till daybreak, and to drink until they throw up. However, they do not go to banquets day by day, but only on holidays and when the weather is bad, in winter, and the frost compels people to stay indoors and warm up with wine. Nobody likes brandy, except soldiers; the others drink only a small glass before meals. […]They are very good archers, as well as spear bearers; but their greatest victories were won by sword. Only hunters use rifles, for Moldavians consider it a shameful thing to use firearms against their enemies whom they wouldn't be able to reach either by military art or bravery. At the beginning of the battle they are very brave, then they soften; and if they are again fended off, seldom will they dare start to fight for the third time. But from the Tartars they learned to turn round from fleeing, and by this tactic they snatched many victories from the enemies' hands. To the defeated, they are sometimes kind and sometimes cruel, in accordance with their changeable nature. […]Moldavians have no measure in anything; if things are going well, they are proud; if they fare ill, they lose temper. Nothing seems hard to them at first glance; but if any little hindrance comes out, they lose their heads and don't know what to do. Eventually, when they see that their striving has been to no avail, they regret what they have done, but it's too late. Therefore, we can but ascribe to the extraordinary and boundless providence the fact that the mighty, fearsome empire of the Turks, after having overthrown, arms-in-hand, Roman power in Asia, conquered a chunk of Europe – Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and countless other kingdoms – and subjugated the wisest people, the Greeks, was not able to bring such an obtuse and helpless people under its rule, a people that attempted so many times to cast off the yoke it accepted of its own will, but kept its entire political and church organization intact.As a matter of fact, not only do Moldavians dislike learning, almost all of them hate it. […] They believe that scholars lose their minds, and when they want to praise someone's erudition, they say he went insane from too much learning. About this matter, Moldavians talk disrespectfully, saying that "education is the priests' job; to an ordinary man, it's enough if he knows how to read and write, write his name, enter in his register a white, black or horned ox, his horses, sheep and burden animals, beehives and suchlike; all others are useless." Although women are not as out of sight as with the Turks, the higher-born seldom leave their houses. The boyars' ladies are indeed attractive, but their beauty is way behind the ordinary people's wives'. The latter are prettier, but most of them are dissolute. Some drink a lot of wine at home; but at gatherings one seldom sees a drunken woman; for a woman is considered all the more praiseworthy, the less she eats and drinks at feasts. Thus, seldom does one see her taking a morsel to her mouth or open her lips to show the teeth. […] They deem nothing more disgraceful than the exposure of a married woman or widow's hair. […] In contrast, girls think it is a shame to cover their heads, even with the thinnest fabric, as they believe that walking bareheaded is a sign of cleanliness. In point of fact, customs are as different from one region to another as the air above.The inhabitants of the Lower [southern] Country, long accustomed to live at war with the Tartars, are better soldiers and madder than the others; they revolt more easily and are more erratic, and if they don't have a foreign enemy to fight, idleness quickly incites them to rouse a rebellion against their chieftains, or even against the monarch himself. Little do they know about religious service. Most of them and almost all common people believe that it is God who sets every man's death day, and nobody can die or perish on the battlefield before it. This gives them such great boldness that they sometimes charge wildly their enemies. Killing or looting a Tartar, a Turk or a Jew is not a sin in their opinion, much less a crime. Those who live nearer to the Tartars plunder and slaughter industriously; when they invade the Tartars' land, they claim they do not pillage, but they only took back what was theirs, because the Tartars wouldn't possess anything today weren't it for what they plundered from their ancestors. Adultery is rare among them. But young people believe it is not shameful, on the contrary, it is even praiseworthy to fornicate in secret before marriage, as if they didn't have to abide by any law. That is why one can often here them say, "My beloved son! Beware of theft and murder, because I won't be able to save you from the gallows; as for illicit intercourse, don't fear any mortal danger, as long as you pay the fancy man." The way they welcome strangers and travelers is highly commendable for, although they are very poor owing to the vicinity of the Tartars, they never shrink from offering food and housing to a guest, and put him up for three days without pay, together with his horse. They receive the stranger with a cheerful face, as if he were their brother or other relative. In order not to eat alone, some send their servants to the streets to invite the travelers they come across. […]The inhabitants of the Upper [northern] Country are less skillful in the military art and not very warlike; they rather eat their bread they sweat for in peace. They are almost heretic in their strong faith, that is why there are over 60 stone churches only in the Suceava region, over 200 big monasteries, built in stone, in the entire Upper Country, and the mountains teem with monks and hermits who sacrifice in tranquility their humble, solitary life to God. Thefts are few or none in their country. They have always been faithful to the king, and if there was any riot among them, it was due only to the boyars from the Lower Country. Likewise, they preserve purity before marriage and have good habits – which are so scarce in the Lower Country. In the administration of the country they are more diligent than the others; they are the best at householdership; they carry out the orders with the greatest zeal, and receive the guests much better than the inhabitants of the Lower Country.

by Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723)