Dancers and mischiefmakers

There is a wider class of denizens of the wild who, without being distinguished by animal features, behave in similar ways to some who are. Dancing is one pursuit often attributed to them. Another is playing pranks on country-dwellers, stealing from them, damaging or befouling their property, upsetting churns, deluding them.

The poet of the Hesiodic Catalogue, as mentioned above, associated the mountain Nymphs and Satyrs with 'the divine Kouretes, dancers who love to sport'. The 'sporting' that they love (juXonaiypwv) may just be the dance, or there may be a hint of tomfoolery. Their name means simply 'Young men', and corresponds to Kourai 'Maids', a name sometimes used of the Nymphs. They faded out of the general Greek consciousness at an early date except in Crete, where they were held to live in the wooded mountain glens and protect livestock. Their rowdy dancing was on the one hand incorporated in the myth of Zeus' birth, on the other hand imitated in cult.53

49 Krahe (1955-64), i. 82; Mayer (1957-9), i. 120. Note that neither Ziirvpos nor ZeiX-qvos is a native Greek word. Krahe, Die Sprache 1 (1947), 37-42, argued that the former was of Illyrian origin.

50 Augustin, De civitate Dei 15. 23, followed by Isid. Etym. 8. 103; Hincmar of Rheims, Patr. Lat. lxxxii. 326; Grimm (1883-8), 481 n. 2. A thirteenth-century writer, Thomas of Chantimpre, says that groves were consecrated to the Dusii by Prussians among other pagans: Mannhardt (1936), 48.

51 J. MacKillop (as n. 37), 226 and under the above lemmata.

52 Mannhardt (1905), i. 138-43; Vaiia (1992), 122 f.

More definitely mischievous and knavish, though in classical times no longer part of living folklore, were the Kerkopes and Kobaloi. The Kerkopes figured in a story about Heracles. They were brothers (two or more) who tormented people in their neighbourhood—variously located—with their monkey tricks, until Heracles caught them and carried them away. According to another legend they were turned into the apes of Pithecusae. It seems likely that they were originally a species of goblin rather than rascally humans. As for the Kobaloi, they are said to be daimones in the entourage of Dionysus, which suggests something like the Satyrs or Sileni. There are no particular myths about them, but in colloquial Attic ko aaos meant an impudent rogue or trickster.

The Armenian dancing nymphs, the Parik, had male counterparts called Pay(n).54 Having no more detailed information, I cannot say how far they are comparable to any of the Greek male sprites or to the northern Elves.

The word 'elf' is common Germanic: Norse alfr, Old English elf, Old and Middle High German alp ('incubus'). A possible Indic cognate will be discussed below. In the Edda the Elves appear as one of the major categories of intelligent being beside gods (^sir) and men, and an Old English charm against the stitch promises help gif hit were esa gescot, odde hit were ylfa gescot, 'whether it be god-shot or elf-shot' (ASPR vi. 122 no. 4. 23). Snorri (Gylf. 17) distinguishes between liosalfar and dekkalfar, Light and Dark Elves, but this seems to be a scholarly move to resolve the contradictions in their character. They are more beautiful than humankind, and live very much longer. They are given to music and dancing, the evidence of which is to be seen in fairy rings.55 But they play tricks, put tangles in people's hair and that of their horses, steal children and substitute changelings. They can cause physical illnesses, or turn people into halfwits.56

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