Monday, June 4, 2018

Maid Maleen - The "Maiden in the Tower" Meme

I recently came across the German fairy tale Maid Maleen, one of the many fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. It caught my interest as it ticked many of the boxes concerning a theme I've noticed in folklore and history. A theme which seems to be something of a recurring motif in both western and middle eastern traditions.

Namely; The maiden, the tower and the "M" name (oftentimes a double "M" name).

The main examples I've previously focused on being; Maid Marian, Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and Mermaids.


For instance, if we take the name Mary Magdalene, it's generally stated that Magdalene means tower. The Hebrew migdal (מגדל) meaning tower or fortress, and the Aramaic magdala translating as tower or elevated.

However, another variant of Magdalene is Madeleine, and in German the name Mädelein translates as "little girl". So the name Magdalene could also be said to mean maiden. This would bring us nicely to this maiden & tower theme.

I've also argued that the name Mary could simply translate as marry. Or even more simply as sex - the ceremony of marriage just being a symbolic celebration of the act of sex. Of course, mer also translates as sea as well. So you could even argue that the name Mary Magdalene translates as sea-maiden, or mer-maid.

In old English mermaids where called merrymaids, which brings us back to merry/marry. On top of this the word mermaid was also used as a label for a prostitute in days of yore. Mary Queen of Scots famously being slandered as a "mermaid", insinuating she was a prostitute, back in the 16th century. Again this gives us the loose translation of sex-maid. Which likewise ties in quite neatly with the classic depiction of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute or fallen woman.

(The Penitent Mary Magdalene - Giampietrino)

Of course, sailors meeting strange girls in harbours is not a million miles away from the classic mermaid tale. So the label of "mermaid" for prostitutes makes a degree of sense.

It's also worth noting that we have the word mar meaning "to spoil" something. Which perhaps ties in with ideas of maidens loosing their virginity or purity.

If we return to the marry/Mary idea then the name Virgin Mary could simply mean a married virgin. This would make a lot more sense of the whole "virgin birth" idea. It would not be a virgin giving birth, but a married virgin giving birth.

A virgin gets married, then has a baby.

(The Virgin Mary -
Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato)

Maid Marian would likewise translate as a maid marrying. Most probably why the figure of Maid Marian is so heavily associated with May Day and fertility rites. It may also explain why Robin Hood's Men were so merry.

Anyhow, the story of Maid Maleen also seems to fit this theme quite nicely. The story goes something like this;
Maleen, a princess, fell in love with a prince, but her father forbade her from marrying this prince as he intended her for another suitor. However, she refused to follow her father's orders, so he bricked her up in a tower, along with her serving ladies, with food and water to last seven years.
After seven years the food ran out, but no one came to release her from the tower. So she and her serving ladies escaped by using a simple knife to scrape away the mortar and dislodge stones from the tower. On escaping they found that the kingdom was in ruins and completely deserted.
With nothing better to do they travelled to a nearby kingdom in search of work. Fortunately they found employment in the royal kitchens of the very prince Maleen had fallen in love with. He was due to be married to another, however on the day of the wedding the bride sent Maleen in her place instead, as she feared that she herself was not beautiful enough to face the prince and the people of the court.
Later, after the wedding, when the prince entered the wedding chamber that night to meet his bride, he grew suspicious that she was not the girl he'd earlier walked down the aisle with. After asking her a series of questions his suspicions were finally confirmed when she failed to display any knowledge of a golden necklace he'd given her during the marriage ceremony.
On leaving the chamber he then found Maleen, complete with the golden necklace he'd given her. The two then lived happily ever after in classic fairy tale style.
The entire story can be found here on this handy website;
https://www.grimmstories.com/en/grimm_fairy-tales/maid_maleen

It's actually quite a nice little tale and well worth reading. My synopsis barely does it justice.

In Maleen's tale we see similar ideas to the ones mentioned earlier - a maiden, a tower, a marriage, and a name beginning with the "M" sound. So we seem to have yet another example of this trope or tradition.

My interest in this story also spurred me on to do some further digging, which led me to two towers in the real world associated with maidens.

(Clockwise from left; a classic fairy tale Rapunzel style
tower, then Maiden's Tower in the Bosporus, and finally
Maid Maleen escaping from her stone tower)

First up, we have Maiden's Tower (also known as Leander's Tower), which is located on a small islet at the southern entrance of the Bosporus strait. The tower has many legends, most notably the following one;
According to the most popular Turkish legend, an emperor had a much beloved daughter and one day, an oracle prophesied that she would be killed by a venomous snake on her 18th birthday. The emperor, in an effort to thwart his daughter's early demise by placing her away from land so as to keep her away from any snakes, had the tower built in the middle of the Bosporus to protect his daughter until her 18th birthday.
Quite an obvious metaphor for fears regarding lost chastity.
The princess was placed in the tower, where she was frequently visited only by her father. On the 18th birthday of the princess, the emperor brought her a basket of exotic sumptuous fruits as a birthday gift, delighted that he was able to prevent the prophecy. Upon reaching into the basket, however, an asp that had been hiding among the fruit bit the young princess and she died in her father's arms, just as the oracle had predicted; hence, the name Maiden's Tower.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maiden%27s_Tower

The second tower is Maiden Tower in Baku, Azerbaijan. This one likewise has many legends associated with it. The most striking one being the tale of a "fire-haired" warrior-maiden who defends ancient Baku from destruction and enslavement. The full story can be found on the Wikipedia page below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maiden_Tower_(Baku)

Both the tower in the Bosporus and the tower in Baku look quite beautiful. I'll have to make sure to keep my eye out for any other towers that are similarly named.

(On the right the equally enchanting
Maiden Tower, Baku)

I think I may do a follow-up article next looking at the name Miriam - a variant of the name Mary. I think I'll call that one Meme Miriam :)

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