The sun is a source of light and brings new life, but for farmers working in the fields, the sun can be oppressive. In Greek stories, the sun is often characterized as an ogre. But as Greek storyteller and musician Manya Maratou tells host Steve Curwood, the sun also has a soft side.
CURWOOD: It’s the Living on Earth Holiday Storytelling Special: Season of Light. I’m Steve Curwood. On the sunny hillsides of Greece, light is a part of daily life of course. Farmers working the fields from sun up to sundown have come to know the sun, not just as a source of life and light, but as an ogre, breathing heat down upon them. But the sun ogre of Greece has a soft side and now we’re going to hear his story. Manya Maratou is a storyteller and musician from Greece. She lives in the village of Grammatiko, outside of Athens. Manya, Welcome to Living on Earth.
MARATOU: I’m very glad to be here.
CURWOOD: Now I understand, Manya that you’ve brought along a few instruments today. Can you tell me about them?
MARATOU: Yes, I have the ney which is a flute made of a reed, and it’s a traditional instrument. And I also have my drum, which is another traditional instrument.
CURWOOD: I’m already thinking about ouzo and olive oil.
MARATOU: Already, yes.
CURWOOD: (laughs) And how about your flute?
CURWOOD: Now, you’ve been a musician for some time. How did you become a storyteller?
MARATOU: I became a storyteller the moment I heard that story telling exists (laughs) as a profession. And the first time I saw a performance I was hooked.
CURWOOD: (laughs) And you haven’t been able to stop ever since, huh?
MARATOU: I haven’t no.
CURWOOD: Now today you’re going to share a traditional Greek story with us. Um can you tell me how old you think this is and where you first heard it?
MARATOU: I’m going to tell you a story about the sun, where the sun is an ogre, a being. And I think that this story might be very, very, very old because it has a mythological feeling to it. And I first read it in a book; a collection of Greek stories. And it’s a Greek traditional story.
In the beginning the sky was lying on the earth. But the oxen and the cows they licked the sky and the sky didn’t like this at all. So one day he talked to the sea and he said, “Sea if I give you depth, will you give me height?” and the sea agreed. And from that day on the sky jumped high, high, high, as far away as he could from the earth. And as high as the sky is, that’s how deep the sea is. And between the sky and the sea, once upon a time, there was an island. And on that island there lived a couple; a man and his wife. They were married for about a year and the wife had just given birth to their first baby. She was three days old and on that night, it was the very darkest hour, the mother was lying on the bed, looking, watching her little baby in the cradle. The father was away. He was working.
And at that moment the door to the room opened. And in came an old woman dressed in black with a black headdress and a long nose. And she went and she stood over the baby’s cradle. And then a second old woman came in. She was dressed in black and she had a black headdress on and through the folds of the headdress out poked her long long nose. And she went and she stood right next to her sister, the first one who came in. And behind them there came a third old woman. She was dressed in black. She wore a black headdress. And she had a long, hooked, pointed, hairy nose. And she stood right next to her sisters.
And then the first old woman spoke. And she said, “It is the fate of this little girl to be wise, to be good and kind and beautiful. And then the third old lady spoke out of turn and she said, “Wise and beautiful? Ok all that. Yes wise and beautiful and good and kind, but when she is eight years old she will die.”
The mother fainted when she heard these words. And so she didn’t hear what the second old woman had to say. And the second old woman said, “I cannot change what my sister said but I can say this, this girl will manage to live and grow up and not die only if she can be born for the second time.” And with those words, the three women they turned around and left the room one behind the other. And a while later the father came back from work. He found his wife fainted on the bed and as he stroked her to wake her up, as she woke up, she started crying and sobbing. And the father asked what had happened. And she said, she told him she was watching the little baby in the cradle and the door opened and three old women came in and she couldn’t tell him what the second one said because she hadn’t heard it.
And then the father he said, “If we keep this child and it grows up with us, for eight years we will love it too much. We will be very very sorry when she dies. So why don’t we put her out of the house now?” But the woman she couldn’t say anything. She just lay there on the bed. So the father, he took a box and he put the baby in the box. And then he closed the lid. And then he took the box and he took it down to the sea and he put it on the waves and the waves took the box with the baby inside and took it out. And the waves rocked the baby and it slept.
And a long time passed or a short time passed and one morning the box reached the very end of the world. And there, at the very end of the world, there is an island. And at the end of the beach there is a bridge. And that is the bridge where the sun goes up into the sky every morning to light up the world. And this morning the sun, as he was going up his bridge he saw the box and he called his mother and he said, “Mother there is a box on the beach. Take it into the house and open it. And if you see jewels inside keep them. Keep them for yourself and for my sisters. But if there is a human being inside, keep it for my dinner.”
And with those words he went up his bridge into the sky, lighting up the world. The sun’s mother went down to the beach and she took the box into the house. When she opened the box she saw the baby and the baby saw her. And the baby smiled and then the old woman smiled. And she pointed her finger and tickled her tummy and started playing with it. And the baby laughed. But as she was playing she remembered what her son had said, that he would eat a human being. So she put it back in to its little box, which was like a cradle and she started cooking.
And she got a great big ox and roasted it in the oven. And made 40 great big loaves of bread so her son would find plenty to eat and not be hungry when he came back. And when she had finished all her cooking and everything was ready then she took the little baby out and started playing with it again. And she didn’t want the sun to eat it up so she patted it on its back and it turned into a pot with a rose bush in it. And she put the pot with the rosebush onto the windowsill.
And at that moment the sun banged open the door of the kitchen and he came into the kitchen and he said, “MMMMMM Somewhere here I smell a human being.” And the old woman she said, “Oh, my son you walk over the human beings all day long. Their smell has gotten up into your nostrils. That’s why you smell, there’s no human being here. Here, have your dinner.” And she brought in the bread, and she brought in the ox. And he ate and he ate until he was full and satisfied.
And then he threw his knife, and his fork, and his napkin onto the table and he laid back into his chair and he put his arms on his belly and he said, “Ahh, yes. That was a good meal.” And his mother said, “Son, are you hungry? Do you want something else?” “No, mother I’m not hungry.” “Are you sure you’re not hungry anymore? Are you sure you don’t want me to cook something else for you?” And the sun he said, “Oh, mother stop talking about food. I’m full up. But tell me, what was in that box on the beach in the morning?” And the mother, she took down the pot from the windowsill and she patted it and it turned back into the baby. And she took the little baby girl and put her into the sun’s arms. And the sun looked at the baby. And the baby looked at the sun. And he was so beautiful. He was handsome and shining and golden that the baby smiled. And then the sun, he smiled too. And he put out his finger and he tickled the baby’s tummy and the baby laughed. And he started playing with the baby. And he liked it. He liked playing. And he turned to his mother and he said, “Mother, we’re going to keep this little baby in our home and she’s going to grow up with us.”
And so the little girl, she grew up in the sun’s home. And the sun enjoyed having her at home so much that some times it took him a long time to leave the house in the morning because he was playing with the baby. And sometimes he rushed back much too early to go and tell stories to the little baby at bedtime. And the years past and she became a little child. And then more years passed and she became a young woman. And one day the sun said to his mother, “Mother, I want to marry this young woman.”
But at that moment one of the sun’s sisters she spoke and she said, “Oh, you can not marry that girl.” And the sun’s mother said, “And tell me why can’t he marry this girl?” And the sun’s sister said, “Well, it’s written in the fate of the sun that he cannot marry a girl who hasn’t been born twice.” And the sun’s mother said, “And how do you know that?” And the sun’s sister said, “Oh, how do I know that? I am one of the sun’s rays. I shine on the earth and I can see everything that is happening on the surface of the earth but also hidden things. And I know everything.” And then his mother said, “Uh huh, you know everything, so how don’t you know this girl has been born twice? The first time she was born from her mother. The second time she was born from the sea.”
And so that is how this little girl was freed of her fate. And she lived on in the house of the sun and she became his wife. And from that day on, the sun, every time he went out, he took all his rays with him because they were jealous. And the girl she stayed in the house with his mother. But because she was a little bored staying all day long in the house he let her go out at night sometimes by herself. And he made a lovely dress for her to wear at night when she went out. And on that dress the sun he sewed many little lights so they could shine at night and show her the way back so she wouldn’t get lost. And they lived happily ever after. And that is the story of how the sun got married to the moon.
CURWOOD: Ah, so that’s what happened?
MARATOU: That’s how it happened.
MARATOU: That’s what they say in Greece.
CURWOOD: But let me tell you this: if the sun’s out all day and the moon is out all night when do they ever, well, get together?
MARATOU: Well, the moon is not out all night long. She goes out sometimes, and sometimes she goes out for a very little while. And then goes running back home.
CURWOOD: (laughs) You know in some cultures the sun is a warm god, a friendly god, or a very powerful god. But in Greece he’s an ogre? How come?
MARATOU: In Greece the sun shines and he’s very very very strong. He can be sweet in the spring but when the summer comes and the days get to be very very very long the sun is very very hot. And we even have a saying in the summer, mothers tell their children, “Don’t go out without a hat on because the sun might hit you.”
CURWOOD: (laughs) Now, I’m thinking that when the girl in the story is a baby she just charms the sun ogre just by being a baby. And he ends up staying late at home in the morning, not getting to work as early as he used to, and then cutting out rather early to be with her and read her stories, which of course, means our winter. But I’m just wondering if you relate with that sun ogre, Manya. I mean how often do you tell stories to your own children?
MARATOU: At least every day. And you’re probably right. This uh bringing children up from baby hood it is a growing thing. You’re charmed in the beginning and then as time passes this love gets deeper and deeper and it’s the common experience I think. Just as the sun in the story, yes?
CURWOOD: And so the myth tells us that we’re suffering in wintertime the loss of light because of the care of a child?
MARATOU: Maybe and maybe when she grows up that is the time when the sun and the moon are together.
CURWOOD: (laughs) Manya Maratou is a storyteller who lives in Greece. Thank you so much.
MARATOU: Thank you very much.
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