"They knocked at the door, and a woman answered. She asked
them what they wanted; Little Thumb told her that they were poor children who
had been abandoned in the forest, and asked if she could give them a bed out
of charity. The woman, seeing how cute they all were, began crying and said
to them, "Ah, my poor children, why did you come here? Don't you know that this
is the house of an ogre who eats little children?"".
Since the Middle Ages generations of kids have been frightened
by ogres, imaginary creatures that kidnap children, take them to their lairs
and devour them. Ogres are mentioned in the texts of Giovanni Boccaccio, Ludovico
Ariosto, Giambattista Basile (in his "Pentamerone") and the great tradition
of regional folktales. They are also characters in the fairy tales of Charles
Perrault, who consecrated their global significance, confirmed by their role
in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world and many recent animated feature films. But
where do ogres come from? In his detailed exploration of fairy tales, folklore,
and literature, the author unveils the Orcus: a ravenous, rapacious, unstoppable
Roman god of the underworld. The devourer of children, although often re-interpreted
in farcical tones, has preserved many deeply dark features of its infernal origins.
Tommaso Braccini teaches Classical Philology at the University of Turin.
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