M. from Novi Sad: “The Building of Skadar”

27 Jan

So interesting… the building-people-into-buildings is also a famous motif in Yugoslav epics — like in one of the most iconic poems, “The Building of Skadar,”* in which a vila (mountain nymph?) repeatedly destroys a fortress until a young prince builds his wife into its walls. The really tragic and poetic twist in this version is that the prince’s wife has an infant son — so when she is finally built into the wall, she asks to have a small window made for her eyes and breasts to be able to see and feed her baby. [my emphasis] (I wonder where this motif originated from?)

What, according to Google Images, is the fortress of Skadar

Oy. Who knows? Maybe, as per Jung, motifs don’t “originate” anywhere. They’re just innately inscribed on our collective imaginations. The spectrum of human sacrifice, let’s not forget, runs from the Aztecs to Abraham and Isaac and Jesus Christ and the communion bread and wine. For a long time I was fascinated by Meso-American civilizations precisely because of the courage they showed in the face of the necessity of giving up up human life. Because the courage enacted in, say, Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, in the first shot on the Normandy beach where, before the launch craft gate has even opened completely, the first two rows of infantrymen fall, shot, into the sand and tide, which they must have known would happen to them, leaves me quivering for the maybe two times I’ve been able to watch it. There’s some knowledge or wisdom there that’s beyond our immediate comprehension as humans.

The really “tragic” and “poetic” twist in your Serbian myth (is it in Karadžić’ collections?) is that female nurturing, and motherhood generally, resist and persist — and must do so for humanity to survive — against the aggression (the wall again, the fortress, the bridge) of male quest for power.


  • “Skadar” is the Serbian for the Albanian “Shkodra” or “Shkodër” or Italo-Adriatic “Scutari”. It’s a city in northern Albania, one of the country’s largest, situated on a lake of the same name, divided between Albania and Montenegro.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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