Two Occitan Tales from Languedoc
Lambert, Louis, Marvels & Tales
"Le roi des poissons" ("The Fish King") and "La sorcière" ("The Witch") are tales of fantasy and enchantment belonging to France's rich oral tradition. Chivalrous acts of heroism, Provençal love lyñcs sung by courtly troubadours, Anglo-Norman lays recounting supernatural events from the Celtic matière de Bretagne, burlesque fabliaux boldly ridiculing bourgeois manners and buffoonery, and simple, earthy animal fables; all of these reflect the collective imagination that lies at the heart of French oral literature. The custom of reciting and reinventing popular stones continued for centuries throughout rural areas in France, resulting in an immense cultural heritage that scholars have stnved over the years to protect and preserve in written form.
Not only do transcriptions of oral folktales offer a variety of interesting literary motifs, but they also reflect the unique cultural and linguistic diversity of a nation. In recent years, with the increasing popularity of regionalism and folklore in France (expressed by the cheñshed notion of le patrimoine culturel, or cultural heñtage), there has been a renaissance of such spoken languages as Breton and Occitan as well as new publications in provincial dialects. The oral tales presented here for the first time in an English translation were onginally recited in Occitan, or langue d'oc, a Romance language still spoken in many parts of southern France, as in Spain's Aran Valley, and recognized today as an official language of Catalonia.
Louis Lambert (1835-1908) first published his French translations of "Le roi des poissons" and "La sorcière" in the Revue des langues romanes and in his collection Les contes populaires du Languedoc in 1899. A -professional musician from Montpellier, Lambert later worked for the Société pour l'Etude des Langues Romanes, founded in 1869 for the purpose of collecting oral works of literary and linguistic value. The organization established competitions for the best collection of songs, stories, or proverbs told in a southern dialect, reproduced exactly as traditionally recited and translated into French. Under his own name, Lambert published Les contes populaires du Languedoc in 1899 as well as two volumes of songs titled Chants et chansons populaires du Languedoc in 1906. Appearing in later anthologies of French folklore, both of these stones have also been presented in their original Occitan by Editions Garae-Hesiode in Carcassonne (Contes populaires du Languedoc, 1985) with an informative preface by Jean-Marie Petit. The two tales translated here from the French are based on Lamberts 1899 texts as they are reprinted in the extensive collection compiled by Claude Seignolle (415-19 ["La sorcière"]; and 459-64 1"Le roi des poisons"]).
Little is known of the precise orgins of "Le roi des poissons" and "La sorcière" other than the fact that both stories were dictated to a translator by a local authoñty (Petit 10). In an attempt perhaps to underline the cultural and regional specificity of these works, the translator retained a few passages in the original dialect - in particular, those with words that point to their oral beginnings: "Cric, cric, / Mon conte es finit. / Cric, crac, / Mon conte es acabat" [Cric, cric, I My story is over. I Cric, crac, /My story is done] (Seignolle 419). In addition, both tales reveal certain customs or traditions specific to the Languedoc region. Undoubtedly one of the most fascinating scenes in "La sorcière" is the beautiful witch's unexpected flight from her husbands bedside astñde her broomstick. Although follow ed by the lines in French, the translators colorful description of her ascent remains in Occitan: Tè sus felba / Passa per la cheminieira" [Foot on leaf/ Pass through the chimney] (Seignolle 416). In an interesting discussion of the beliefs and customs of Languedoc-Rousillon, Claude Seignolle tells of how southern bruixas, or witches, would commonly rendezvous at midnight, flying to their coven on brooms to the cry of "Up above the leaves! …