The boom of geographic discoveries and trading expeditions that began on the eve of the Renaissance and continued throughout that era developed a new taste for describing remote, if not downright imaginary, countries and peoples. "Before being discovered, the savage was first invented," noted Italian folklorist Giuseppe Cocchiara.
"This witty observation is not without its truth," later commented Mircea Eliade.
Knowledge of the savage (or merely exotic) stranger gave a new edge to the acknowledgement of the stranger "from home." Without giving rise to a new literary genre as such, this type of discourse-a collection of ethical and ethnical stereotypes-was nevertheless fairly common during that age. This is how Gilles Le Bouvier, in A Book of Countries Described
, written about the middle of the fifteenth century, presents the Europeans: the English are "cruel and bloodthirsty" and greedy merchants into the bargain; the Swiss are "ruthless and rude people"; the Scandinavians and the Poles are "fierce and possessed"; the Sicilians "fiercely keep watch over their wives"; the Neapolitans are "coarse and churlish, bad Catholics and great sinners"; the Castilians are "quick-tempered people, poorly dressed and shoed, their dwellings are in a bad way, and are bad Catholics," etc.
In Short Account of European Peoples and of Their Characteristics
, a volume edited at the beginning of the eighteenth century in central Europe (Stiria, in western Austria), ten nations are presented hierarchically according to their traits, from most positive to most negative (the Spaniard, the Frenchman, the Netherlander, the German, the Englishman, the Swede, the Pole, the Hungarian, the Greek, the Turk, etc.). A comparative table is devised, on the basis of seventeen categories: disposition, nature, intellect, vices, passions, knowledge, clothing, maladies, ability in warfare, religion, form of political government, and so on. From the point of view of mental characteristics, for instance, the Spaniard is allegedly "intelligent and wise," the Frenchman is "cautious," the German is "spiritual," and the Englishman is "bad-tempered"; the Pole is allegedly of "limited" intellect, yet not as much as the Hungarian; the Russian is "empty-headed," while the Greek Turk is "even less of that."
"It is not the barbarian and ignorant peoples who should come to know us first, but on the contrary, we are the ones who should…unravel the character, nature, and even physiognomy of contemporary peoples," wrote the Frenchman Jean-Louis Carra, secretary to the court of the Moldavian Prince, in 1777. By "barbarian and ignorant peoples" Carra was not referring to some exotic populaces of Africa, America, or Asia, but to the Moldavians along the lower course of the Danube. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, Carra envisaged the cognitive act as an empowering act of subordinating someone else. Therefore, "we" are supposed to know "them" before "they" get to know "us": "It is for us, finally, to know these same peoples before they can know themselves, and seek to know us in their turn."
The Romanians were neither conquerors nor great travelers or passionate merchants, but they cohabited and came into contact with many nations. In the preface he wrote for a volume by E. Baican, Gossip and Anecdotes
(1882), Mihai Eminescu observed: "There is no people the Romanians have come in contact with that did not become their laughing stock." Moses Schwarzfeld took over this concept, but in his own manner: The Romanian calls the foreigners filthy, foreign heathens, and there is no people which has ever been in contact with the Romanians and was found fair, good, and honest. Thus, the German is a man of the devil, the French is awarded the same flattering epithet, the Jew is târtan
[from the German Untertan
= subject, vassal], the Greek is a mangy goat, the Serbian is feeble-minded [provincial Romanian, bleod
, from the German blöd
, stupid], the Bulgarian has leeks, and we would never come to the end if we were to enumerate every epithet and appellation Romanians contrive against foreigners.
Dumitru Drăghicescu also commented on this delicate subject in 1907, when he published his book, Din psichologia poporului român
[On the Psychology of the Romanian People
]. According to his diagnosis, Romanians suffered from a superiority complex towards some …people less fine, with an intelligence more laggardly and less spirited, and therefore in an obvious state of mental inferiority as compared with the Romanians. As a proof that this is the state of things we have the fact that the irony and humor of the Romanians is chiefly directed at the neighboring peoples. Romanians have always poked fun chiefly at Serbs and Bulgarians, Hungarians and Turks. They have always considered themselves superior to these neighbors. From this consciousness of superiority have sprung all the jokes and ironies made on their account. [At the same time,] the Gypsy is an unexhausted well of humor for the peasants.
Around the middle of the nineteenth century, in political satires that were circulated underhandedly, orally or in manuscript, to avoid censorship and belonged to a species of city folklore, not only the Jews [jidani
] were considered "scabby dogs," but also the other "foreign hordes": "Tomorrow, after the mangy Greek, / Come, at a round trot, / The Turk, the famished wretch, / The Russian, the foul brute, / And the German, the stinky lickspittle."
The profile of the Jew has taken on several shapes, among which is the presentation of his vices and virtues as compared to other peoples. Most often, Romanians express the opinion that the Jew uses his intelligence to swindle other people: "A Jew cheats two Armenians, an Armenian two Greeks, a Greek two Romanians."
Similar proverbs, in which the relationships of Jews with other nations are defined, are to be found among the Russians ("A Jew is worth two Greeks, a Greek two Armenians, an Armenian two nobles of Poltava" or, vice versa, "From two coppers of Jews the devil made an Armenian"); the Poles ("The Pole is cheated by the German, the German by the Italian, the Italian by the Spaniard, the Spaniard by the Jew, but the Jew is only cheated by the Devil"); the Lithuanians ("A Jew cheats three Germans, a Russian, three Jews"); the Macedo-Romanian people ("A Jew cheats ten Greeks, a Greek cheats ten Albanians"); the Germans ("Three Jews cheat an Armenian, three Armenians a Greek, and there are still a dozen Christians left," or "A Jew is worth three Christians and a Yankee three Jews"); the Swiss ("Nine Jews cheat a Swiss and nine Swiss people from Basel cheat one from Geneva"); and the French ("Business take two Jews against a Genoese, two Genoese against a Greek, and two Greeks against an Armenian," and "Three Jews are worth a citizen of Basel, three citizens of Basel are worth one in Geneva").
Sometimes, however, the situation is reversed and the Jew appears in the position of the one who is taken in, like in this Romanian saying: "The Gypsy steals, the Armenian swears, and the Jew pays for the jade."
It is not so much the naïveté of the Jew which seems to be intimated here as his usual status as an object of discrimination and persecution and the fact that he is often held guilty and punished, irrespective of who is the true culprit. In this respect, the Georgians have a similar saying: "Mabshabeli had sinned and the Jews were punished,"
and so do the Ukrainians: "The Jew is to pay all damages."
The Jews themselves have such sayings: "A boyar lost some-thing, a non-Jew found that something, and they both pick on the Jew," or "No matter what, Jews will be hated."
The German saying is the most explicit and most grisly of them all: "Macht nichts, der Jude wird verbrannt" (It matters not, the Jew must be burned).
In Sibyl's Prophecy
, an old text of Slavic origin which circulated in the Romanian cultural area from the sixteenth century and, in the Romanian version, since the seventeenth century, the wise Empress Sibyl (in the text, daughter of the Judean King David) prophetically interprets the common dream of "a hundred great boyars." The nine different suns, which had appeared in the sky in this dream, are explained by Sibyl in terms of ethnic imagology: "The first of the suns is the offspring of the Bulgarians, good, guest-loving, and devout people…. The second sun signifies the Greeks, for they have abjured their faith three times and have mixed with all tongues, usurers that they are and loving well the pieces of silver well…." Historians of old literature concur that the text originated in the first half of the fourteenth century and can be included in the corpus of Bulgarian literature, owing to the fact that the Bulgarians are positively depicted while their adversaries, the Greeks, are negatively portrayed.
Besides the Bulgarians and the Greeks, there are profiles of the Catholics, the Arcadians, the Saracens (who "shall lay Jerusalem waste…"), the Syrians, the "Iverians" ("who their Church guard well, and fear God…"), the "Tartars" ("who shall spill blood on the earth and no one shall stand against them…"), and the Jews [jidovi
]. An extremely interesting fact is that no negative trait of the Jews is presented. According to Sibyl's divinations, "a woman shall come from them and she shall give birth to a son from Heaven and his name they shall call Jesus." He will be crucified and buried, then will rise again and "shall send twelve men" who will change the faith all over the world, including the empire ruled by Sibyl. "For I myself," the prophetess ends the interpretation of her dream, "have until now cherished hopes of giving birth to Christ from this body, and I have guarded my chastity for these fifty years. And now I fathom that I am not the one."
Obviously, the emphasis is different in this case, as compared to the majority of the texts of that epoch. The Jews are presented not as the people who kill Jesus, but as those who give birth to Him. It is true that, to some, this has been the capital sin of the Jews; but we are now in a different century, a different geographic meridian, and another cultural perspective. For Voltaire and other French Encylopedists of the eighteenth century, who managed to "secularize" antisemitism, the "Jews deserve to be punished for conceiving Jesus, not for killing him."
Another old Romanian text, dating from the beginning of the eighteenth century (1705), lists an inventory of the gifts distributed by God to various nations: "Trading to the Turks, / Drunkenness and swine-like living to the Russians, / Stoutness and stupidity to the Serbs,
/ Preaching and lying to the people of Rome, / Filthiness to the Germans, / Scab and lassitude to the Saxons, / Luck with money to the Greeks, / Pride to the Poles, / Beauty to the Circassians, / Bragging to the Moldavians, / Envy to the Romanians, / Heresy to the Armenians, / Richness to the Jews, / Poverty and barrenness to the Gypsies."
I have transcribed this entire text, for it is a suitable example of ethnic imagology, as it contains not only hetero-images, but also auto-images, if its origin is Romanian. Indeed, Moses Gaster was convinced that this characterization was "autochthonous Romanian, stemming from the people's own observation." An argument to this effect is also that-in contrast to the text below, in which diverse animals are associated with nations from western Europe to central Asia-the 1705 text made no mention of faraway peoples, at "the back of nowhere," but only of those with which the Romanians were neighbors, or with which they cohabited.
"The zoomorphic characterization of peoples," as B. P. Hasdeu was wont to call it, is not, according to Moses Gaster, specific to Romanian tradition but to the Palaeo-Slavic one. Indeed, the oldest text of this kind discovered in the Romanian area is a Slavic manuscript from the first half of the sixteenth century. It is not part "of a biblical apocryphal legend, namely The Legend of Abraham
" as researchers Marianne Mesnil and Assia Popova have maintained,
yet it was copied in this collection of miscellaneous works together with that legend. Entitled The Wise Man or the Teacher of All the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ
, the text was arranged in the usual form of questions and answers. To the question "What are the peculiarities of each nation?" an ambiguous answer is offered: to no less than thirty (European and Asian) peoples correspond as many animals. However, the characteristics of each animal and, implicitly, of the nation symbolically associated with it do not stand out-like in the celebrated Bestiaries (Physiologos): …the Italian is a lion, the German an eagle, the Arab a boar, the Turk a dragon, the Armenian a lizard, the Indian a dove, the Syrian a fish, the Georgian a ram, the Tartar a greyhound and a dog, the Cuman a leopard, the Russian an otter, the Lithuanian a bull, the Greek a fox, the Bulgarian an ox, the Romanian a cat, the Serbian a wolf, the Hungarian a panther, the German a ure ox, the Ossetian a stag, the Saxon a stallion, the Pole a mole, the Jew a badger, the Albanian a beaver, the Egyptian a goat, the Szekler a kite, the Circassian a buffalo, the Persian a crane, the Croatian an asp, etc [emphasis mine-A.O.].
In this metaphorical text it is the cat that corresponds to the Romanian (Walachian, in the original). Motivated by an obsolescent nationalism, yet a typical one for the second half of the nineteenth century, Hasdeu enumerates the real or attributed characteristics of this domestic animal, discovering all of them in the Romanian. "Love of the country" and "independence" are included for, unlike the dog, the cat "loves the home, the 'homeland' from where with the greatest pains, if at all, can anyone drag it out and chase it away, yet it never becomes the slave of one master."
There are some extenuating circumstances for Hasdeu, since he published and commented on that text in 1879, only a few months after Romania attained its independence. The Jew (evreanin
, in the text) is symbolically associated with the badger. In this case, no more than in the former, we cannot be sure what were, almost half a millennium ago, the causes of this atypical association: perhaps because the withdrawn, isolated, and morose man (as the "imaginary Jew"is supposed to be) was called a "badger"; or maybe because the badger, like the Jew, is perceived by the people as being cunning and thieving (it steals flour or grains from barns);
or, finally, because the traditional costume of the Jew at that time included a hat, or shtreimel, made of badgers' fur, for only rich Jews could afford sable. In Mihail Sebastian's novel For Two Thousand Years…
(1934), the protagonist witnesses a scene in the heart of Bucharest of the early 1930s, in which cries of "Death to the Yids!" are uttered. People pass by quietly "without so much as a turn of the head from any of them…. If someone should settle oneself in the middle of the road to call for (let's say) the 'death of the badgers,' I still believe that he would raise a certain amount of wonder from among the passers-by."
Does the author suggest the existence of a symbolic and significant relationship between the Jew and the badger? Or is this rather a chance and gratuitous association, meant to demonstrate precisely the absurdity of thinking along these lines: I don't care if you shout "Death to the Yids!" but what do you hold against the poor badgers?! Turning once more to the "gifts" bestowed by the Divinity on various nations, the following is a brief popular invocation in which God is called to give "good things" to Christians and "bad things" to everybody else: "Let God grant health / To Christendom, / The pagans / May go to the dogs, / The Turks, / The pest on them, / The Jews, the scab on them, / All ailments to the Gypsies".
It was in fact God, at the time of the Creation, who distributed the true "ethnic gifts". This is a subject shared by several folk legends. One of them has been taken over by Romanian prose author Mihail Sadoveanu and used at the very beginning of his pastoral novel Baltagul
, [The Hatchet
], published in 1930: "The Lord God, after He put the world together, put an order and a mark upon each people…. [To] the German He gave the screw," the Gypsy-his fiddle. "In the Serb's hand He deposited the hoe," while to the Turk He said: "Thou shalt be a simpleton, but power thou shalt have over other nations, by your sword." To the Hungarian He handed over some "top boots, and spurs, and resin" to make "handlebars on their moustaches" and told him: "Be proud and enjoy partying with your fellows." "Upon the Russian He bestowed the gift of being the greatest drunkard of all and of proving his worth in begging and singing through the fairs." "Among the Jews, He summoned Moses and commanded him: Thou shalt write a Law; and when the time comes, make the Pharisees crucify my well-beloved son Jesus; and after this thou shalt endure much trouble and persecution; and for this I shall let money flow to you like waters." Finally, the last to share in the divine gifts, the Romanians (in the original, the "mountain people"), were addressed by God as follows: "I cannot give you anything more, just an easy heart, to enjoy what is yours. All things should seem good to you; the one with the fiddle, and the one with the drinking should both come to you, and you shall have beautiful and loving wives." Nichifor Lipan, a character in the novel, is said to have learnt this story from the shepherds of northern Moldavia, "from an old head shepherd, who used to be a Jew in his youth, and God took pity on him and made him aware of the true belief."
This type of story falls into the greater category of etiologic legends. From them we learn how "ethnical characteristics" were established once and for all. Stereotypical thinking is carried to the limit in this case. Everything has to be reduced to one single "cultural mark" (the screw for the German, the fiddle for the Gypsy, drunkenness for the Russian, work for the Moldavian, etc.), or to a small number of such "marks," considered to be defining characteristics of an ethnic group. This ethnic and cultural determination derives from a double authority. On the one hand, it is given by God Himself and, on the other hand, it occurs at the mythical beginning of the world, in illo tempore. The first sentence in the Romanian legend explicitly states all these aspects of the issue: "Lord God, after He put the world together, put an order and a mark upon each people." Four "cultural marks" have been selected for the "Jews," all trying to compress their destiny and history to the maximum: 1) Decalogue; 2) Deicide; 3) Persecution; 4) Money. Toward the close of the 1930s, in his elaboration on a Project on the Research of Religious Life
, ethno-sociologist Ion I. Ionică, of the Sociological School of Bucharest (headed by Dimitrie Gusti), formulated a few of the subjects referring to the question of kinship in the following manner: "Their multitude and their differences. Was there a single kin in the beginning, or have all nations existed ever since? What are the features of kinship? Kinship and color. The hierarchy of kinship. The Gypsy, the Jew, the Hungarian, the Swabian, the Romanian, etc. How can one account for national and ethnic characteristics?"
An authentic folk legend, also recorded in northern Moldavia, unfolds the story of the "gifts" distributed by God at the Creation to "the first peoples." According to this legend, the first nations were the Jews, the Gypsies, and the Moldavians (the latter further divided into "boyars" and "peasants"). The Moldavian boyars, the first to come into the presence of the Lord, asked for "wealth." "God gave them wealth." "Then came the Jews, for they were sooner dressed." They asked for the "good." "The good be granted to you!" said God unto them. Since the Moldavian peasants, as is their habit, came later in the day, they were refused both "wealth" and the "good,"
for wealth had been given to the boyars, and the "good was taken over by the Jews." Instead, they received "work": "And this is why work is sacred, for it has been given by God." All that was left for the Gypsies was "laughter": " 'Be a laughing stock,' said God onto them. And so they remained a laughing stock."
As can be observed, the main ethical-ethnic characteristics attributed to the Jew are "good," obtained without "work," and "money," obtained by devious means. Deviousness is also the mark of the Jew in a Hungarian legend entitled "What the Peoples Got from God," recorded at the end of the nineteenth century. This time, God-He who sits on the celestial throne and gives to every people its due-is Jesus Christ. The Turk comes to Him and asks for the "Holy Land." "All right, let it be yours, then Jesus replies." Then comes the German, asking for the same, and Jesus explains that He has already given the Holy Land to the Turk. "Well, it is a nice thing," replied the German, and Jesus added: "All right then, let you have the nice thing." After Jesus turned down the same request made by the Hungarian, the latter replied, angrily, "Well, bad luck!" And Jesus decided "All right then, let you have bad luck." When, to the same request, the Jew received the same answer, he exclaimed nervously: "Well, it is a big cheat." Jesus replied instantly: "Well then, let the cheat be yours." The end of this multiethnic folk tale is typical of etiologic legends: "That is why Hungarians always have bad luck, Germans have all the nice things, Turks have the Holy Land, and the Jews cheating.
" Considering the negative status meted out to Hungarians and the positive one enjoyed by the Germans, it is possibile that this legend originated in the German cultural area. Of the same parentage as the above-mentioned legends (of the type of "the gifts distributed by God to the nations") are those regarding the genesis of ethnic groups and races. In a myth that is part of Transylvanian Gypsy lore, God made man out of clay and had him baked in the oven. He over-baked him, and so black was he, being burnt all over. This was the ancestor of the Blacks. Then God set out on another try. This time, however, he did not bake the man of clay long enough, so he was pale. This was the ancestor of the Whites. Finally, in a third assay, God succeeded: this third man was well baked, golden, and tanned. This was the ancestor of the Gypsies.
Romanian folkloric mythology too includes episodes of aborted species. Within mythical anthropogenesis, such an aborted species are the "Jidovi," gigantic androids, monstrous, and anthropophagous.
This type of script was then transferred from the mythical sphere to a pseudo-scientific one. The ideological forefather of modern racism, J. A. Gobineau, who pro-claimed the inequality of races and the supremacy of the Aryan race, maintained that God had created the yellow race in an aborted attempt at anthropogenesis. This is why, according to his account, people of the yellow race are exceedingly ugly, lack intellectual interest, and are solely pre-occupied with the satisfaction of their basic needs.
If one takes into consideration all the keywords concerning the Jew in the folk tales presented above (scabby dog, cheating and thieving, money, wealth, and "good" obtained without work, the birth and murder of Jesus, persecution and punishment, the Decalogue, and so forth), that is, all the ethical characteristics that have been noted and which define the profile of the Jew, one gets a cluster of well-known clichés, the old mental reflexes which make up the sketchy image of the "imaginary Jew." The novelty in the lines above consists in the motivations offered for these stereotypes and, especially, in the relationship between the clichés about the Jews and the others- no less spurious and false-which focus on other nations. Legends of this kind are extremely interesting because each story presents the images of the ethnic group which has generated it (auto-images), in comparison to (and rivaling) the images of the nations with whom it has bordered or cohabited (hetero-images). After centuries of cohabitation, the ethnic groups mix, cultures overlap and influence each other, vices are borrowed, and virtues are redistributed. In 1836, for instance, an anonymous Romanian defended the following theory to St. Marc of Girardin, a Frenchman traveling through Walachia and Moldavia: Our mores are more or less the same as the mores or, better to say, the vices, of all peoples who have ruled us or have protected us. From the Russians we have borrowed their lechery, from the Greeks their lack of honesty in business, from the ruling Greek aristocracy (the Phanariots) a mixture of degradation and vanity, from the Turks their carelessness and indolence. The Poles have blessed us with divorce and [with] this host of Jews of the lower kind, which you have seen swarming in our streets: these are our vices.* This study is a chapter of Andrei Oişteanu's book The Imaginary Jew in Romanian and Other Central-East European Cultures (Imaginea evreului în cultura românã. Studiu de imagologie în context est-central European), 2nd edition, Humanitas, Bucharest, 2004; German edition: Hartung-Gore Verlag, Konstanz, 2002; Hungarian edition: Ed. Kriterion, Cluj-Napoca, 2005; English edition to be published by the University of Nebraska Press. Giuseppe Cocchiara, Il Mito del Buon Selvaggio: Introduzione alla storia delle teorie etnologiche (Messina: G. d'Anna, 1948), 7.  Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 39.  Jean Delumeau, La peur en Occident (XIVe–XVIIIe siècle): Une cité assiégée, I–II (Paris: Fayard, 1978), 74.  Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 69.  Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 292. Moses Schwarzfeld, Evreii în literatura populară română: Studiu de psichologie populară (The Jews in Romanian folk literature: A study of folk psychology) (Bucharest, 1892), 44. Dumitru DrÇŽghicescu, Din psihologia poporului român (On the psychology of the Romanian people), edited and annotated by Elisabeta Simion (Bucharest: Albatros Pub. House, 1996), 409. First edition: 1907.  The satire "Down with the Boyar Government!" (1861); cf. Satire politice care au circulat în public, manuscrise şi anonime, între anii 1840–1866 (Political satires in public circulation, manuscripts and anonymous texts, between 1840–1866), ed. C. D. Aricescu (Bucharest: Grigore Luis, 1884), 50.  Schwarzfeld, Evreii în literatura populară română (n. 6 above), 47.  Ibid., 71–72. Ibid., 29.