Goldenhorn - The Steinbock of the Alps
Goldenhorn Tales
The Friulian Goldenhorn
Goldenhorn - The Steinbock of the Alps
A Slovenian Tale

The dramatic moment, when Zlatorog (the Goldenhorn) descends the Wild Hunter into the precipice, because he commited outrageous deeds, i.e. he injured God's divine nature.
(Der dramatische Augenblick, in dem Goldenhorn den Wildjäger in die Tiefe stösst, da er frevelte, d.h. die Natur und die göttliche Welt verletzte.)

Dr. Jozko Šavli, KdB, FSAI, FAS
Heraldry, An International Journal,
Torrance (Calif.), 1995

Among the findings from prehistoric times there appear many steinbock- pictures, particularly those found on the beautiful situlas of the Hallstatt period (5th century B.C.), which were unearthed in Northern Italy and in Slovenia. These pictures are evidently connected to the ancient mythology , in which animals with golden horns appear, and which was wide-spread throughout the Indo-European area. The components of this mythology have been conserved in many tales until today.

In these tales is the eternal struggle between light and darkness the most important action, as illustrated in scenes of the Wild Hunt, in particular shall be mentioned here the scene of the Wild Hunter, shooting at the Sunny Deer (A. Kuhn, 1869). Therefore, it could be argued that all Indo-European people once shared a myth in common, in which the God of the Night and Storm hunts and shoots the Sunny God, who is showing himself in form of a deer. In various regions we find other similar animals besides the sunny deer. For example, in the mountain areas the white Steinbock with golden horns even finds its reputation.

In Rigveda, in India (1st millennium BC), a sunny horse of this kind was celebrated as a holy animal. Later on, we find further development towards the figure of the unicorn that arrived across Mesopotamia and Egypt in the Greek and Latin world. Afterwards, in the Middle Ages the unicorn became a symbol of the Blessed Virgin.

In any case, the holy animal with horns, or better said, the animal with golden horns, represented light. It is God's messenger and it is hunted by the Wild Hunter (the powers of darkness).

The image of a similar holy animal entered also the mythology of the classic era. Greek authors mentioned it already in their tales, meaning Pindar and Euripides in the 5th century BC and later, in the 2nd century BC, it was mentioned again by Apollodorus as well. Moreover, Callimachos reports to us in the 3rd century BC, that Artemis' coach was drawn by four hinds with golden horns.

Among the Latin authors, Valerius Flaccus, in the 1st century BC, and Quintus Smirneus, in the 4th century AD, report a deer with golden horns. Anyway, in Pliny's stories appears the real deer, i.e., without golden horns, that later entered the medieval legends, especially those of St. Eustachius and St. Hubertus. These legends narrate the story of a hunter that follows a deer. At the moment, when the hunter sees the deer, it turns around and carries the host between its horns, converting him into a holy man.

In popular tales all over Europe we find many animals with golden horns, belonging to the same Indo-European origin. A similar animal could be also a chamois goat (Tyrol, Albania, Bulgaria), or a ram (Macedonia, Romania, Bohemia), an ox (Finland, Estonia), or a golden goat (Walloon Belgium, Provence), and so on.

To the most beautiful tale of this nature that emerged, belongs to "Goldenhorn" (Zlatorog), which originated in the Slovenian Julian Alps. It was registered and published in German by Karl Deschmann (Ljubljana 1868). Its contents could be summarized as follows:

Once upon a time there was an Alpine paradise in the northeastern part of the Julian Alps beneath the peak of Triglav. The place was inhabited by the so-called White Ladies, who were the benefactresses of the people in the valley, but they made sure that no strangers entered their mountain territory. White goats pastured on the mountain ridge that rose vertically above the valley of the Isonzo river .

In case that a stranger should try to approach them, they made rocks fall down, so that the intruders would fall into the precipice.

The white goats were lead by a white steinbock with golden horns named Zlatorog, whom the White Ladies made invulnerable to every lesion. When a hunter fired at him and caused to spoil a drop of his blood, a plant with mysterious balm, called the Triglav rose, sprang up and a leaf of this plant healed Zlatorog immediately. Moreover, his golden horns had a divine magic all of their own in sense of forgiveness and redemption.  If someone succeeded in plundering one of the steinbock's golden horns, instead to punish him, he would obtain the keys to the gold and silver chamber, watched by a three-headed serpent on Mountain Bogatin.

In the suburbs of Bovec, on the junction of the rivers Isonzo and Koritnica, there used to be an inn in those days, which was frequently visited by merchants, travelling on horseback. The innkeeper's daughter was the prettiest girl in the whole valley. Many suitors wanted to marry her, but she gave her love to a young man from the Trenta Valley. He was considered to be the best hunter as far as the eye could reach, and therefore, he was called the Trenta Hunter.

It was a sunny Sunday when the young girl danced with an Italian merchant. The Trenta Hunter asked her to dance with him, but the girl replied that the Italians were much more refined gentlemen than her lover. For he, even though he knew all the treasures of the mountain, he never brought her a single Triglav rose.

The young man, deeply offended, left the inn. On his way he met the Green Hunter, who told him about the treasures guarded on Bogatin mountain. The same night, they both climbed the mountain and the next morning they met Zlatorog. The Trenta Hunter fired at him, but the buck, healed by the Triglav rose, charged them, making the Trenta hunter fall into the precipice.

The next summer, when the shepherds returned to the Alps, instead of an Alpine paradise, they found desolated rocky grounds. The White Ladies had left the mountain world and Zlatorog had ruined all the beautiful meadows in his anger. The marks of his horns can still be seen on the rocky ground today.

The Zlatorog tale is filled with mythological components of Wild Hunting, that had its source in the Indo-European antiquity. Here, the role of the Wild Hunter, i.e., the tresspasser, belongs to the man (the Trenta Hunter), meanwhile, his tempter the Green Hunter, the representative of the darkness, is identified with the evil in the Central European, as well as in the Slovenian tradition.

Furthermore, it seems that the motifs of the Alpine steinbock (Capra ibex ibex) and the Wonder Flower entered the Situla-arts in the Eastern Alps and Northern Italy during the 6th and 5th century BC. The ornaments on the various utensils portray animals, some of them with horns, marching in a row. Several of these animals eat flowers.

Moreover, the Greek author Aristotle, in the 4th century BC, gives detailed information about the Greek steinbock (Capra aegagrus), i.e., when he is hit by a bullet he eats the wonder flower and is immediately cured in the same way as the Alpine steinbock.

After Aristotle, many Greek and Latin authors cited the Dictamnon, namely the wonder flower:

Theophrastus, Philostratus, Cicero, Virgil, Plutarch, Dioscurides, and so on. The antique writers, who inherited the symbol from Aristotle, had no knowledge of this plant. The prevailing opinion today is that it was identified with Origanum Dictamnus from Crete. But this flower was rare already in those times, and therefore a similar plant, named Dictamnus Albus, was used for its healing powers.

The saga about "Goldenhorn" (Zlatorog) survived through the Middle Ages, and although it cannot be adapted to any Christian legend, it neither was in opposition to any. Moreover, in the 19th century AD, "Goldenhorn" arose to a mythological symbol.

It was the German poet Rudolph Baumbach, a native of Thuringia, who stayed in Trieste and visited the Julian Alps at the time when the saga was published. Deeply impressed by the story he wrote the famous poem entitled Zlatorog (Leipzig 1877). The poem about "Goldenhorn" and the presumptuous hunter, who had the audacity to profane the mountain world, impressed also numerous cultural circles.

So, the Zlatorog tale conquered the public of Central Europe. The story has been translated from German into Czech, Slovenian, Polish, Lusatian, Italian and Serbian. Four German and one Slovenian composers set it into an opera. "Goldenhorn" (Zlatorog) became a symbol of the spotless mountain world of Middle Europe and an admonitory against its devastation.

Hirschbrunnen - Berlin Tempelhof (established 1912)

Some bibliography:

   K. Deschmann, Die Sage vom Goldkrikel (Zlatorog), Laibacher Zeitung (20. 2.), Ljubljana 1868
   R. Baumbach/A. Funtek, Zlatorog - Eine Sage aus den Julischen Alpen (German-Slovenian edition), Munich 1968
   L. Kretzenbacher, Die Sage und Mythos vom Zlatorog (accompanying word to the German-Slovenian edition), Munich 1968
   R. Wildhaber Das Tier mit den goldenen Hoernern, Alpes Orientales VII, Muninch 1975
   W. Lucke, Die Situla in Providence (Rhode Island). Ein Beitrag zur Situlenkunst des Osthallstattkreises, Berlin 1962
   (cf: Slovenska Znamenja)

Goldenhorn Tales
Goldenhorn appears, apart from the Julian Alps, also in Friuli and in Tyrol

The village of Andreis in the Alps north of Pordenone (Friuli),
were the tale of the "chamois with golden horns" was registered.
Dr. Jožko Šavli

As already quoted in "Slovenska znamenja", the well-known popular tale of Goldenhorn (Zlatorog) - The Steinbock of the Alps, was first published in German language by Karl Deschmann (Lublana 1868). Later, several scholars were of the opinion, that Deschmann's registration did not reflect the people's original version of the tale, the way it was written down in the surroundings of Bovec in the Upper Isonzo (Soca) Valley. Indeed, during the translation process, the original people's story was very probably rewritten in a fluent literary text. It is very likely, that the true original story of Goldenhorn was already forgotten at the turn of the century. Only the image of the "goat with golden horns" remained in the memory for so long. Nevertheless, the majority of scholars do not oppose the fact, that at one-time a version of this favourite tale about Goldenhorn existed.

The only exception among the scholars was Milko Maticetov, the well-known Slovenian ethnologist, who always rejected the possibility of a really existing original tale, which Deschmann rewrote and published in German. Let us adduce one of his quotations in this connection: The quasi-absolute silence of all the informants is only explainable in a unique way, Goldenhorn must be Deschmann's invention, its compiler and author together... In a few words, we can say, that Deschmann's text is a late-romantic mystification. See Maticetov's comments concerning the book: Anton von Mailly, Leggende del Friuli e delle Alpi Giulie, Gorizia 1996, p. 212.

It seemed that I never was able to accept such a vehemently expressed assertion by Maticetov. Thus, seen from a cultural and political view point, Karl Deschmann was German oriented, and he did not endeavour to go deeply into Slovenian national treasures. He registered the Goldenhorn tale only for pure scientific reasons. Indeed, he was a well-known serious museologist. It is probably not just an "invention" from his side, not to mention the Goldenhorn story. But what was the purpose?

The denial of such an excellent tale would mean also a considerable impoverishment of the Slovenian popular tradition. According to my researches, the inner experience and the spiritual level of the common Slovenian people altogether, are able to conceive a tale like that of Goldenhorn. I would say, the roots of the tale go even back to pre-historic times. In my opinion, the image of Goldenhorn presents a messenger of Belin, the ancient god of the universe (cf. our article God Belin). But let as quote two other tales of Goldenhorn, the veracity of which cannot be denied.
The Friulian Goldenhorn

Since times immemorial horned animals played a role in the lives of our ancestors. The picture shows the figure of a steinbock that frequently appears on the fries of the prehistoric vessels called situlas (6th/5th century BC). It very faithfully reminds of Goldenhorn. (The colours have been added.)

Here is a case of a registered Goldenhorn tale from Friuli, which was sent to my attention. It is about a considerable different tale in comparison with Deschmann's registration. In this tale appears a chamois with golden horns instead of the steinbock, which for some centuries already, does not exist anymore in the Friulian Alps. The below reported tale was registered in Friul by Mme Carla Scagnetti (Pordenone), in the locality of Andreis (Pordenone Province, Friuli, Italy). The English and Italian translation is as follows:

The Chamois with the Golden Horn

Once upon a time, there was a good-natured Prince, who lived with his family and servants in a poor country, but he had God's blessing. He was helpful and kind to every one and therefore, he was well liked by his subjects. The day came when his beloved mother died. She was a good lady, who many years ago was injured, when his father, the King, found her on his return from the war. He brought her to his castle and healed her wounds. Afterwards he married her without asking who she was or where she came from. The herdsmen said that she was a Countess from a far away country. But others said that she was a witch, who transformed at night time only. Someone even said, that she was a gypsy, one of those from the caravans.

Before she died, she called her son at her bedside, and began to speak with a faint voice. But the only word he could understand was "...chamois..." In desperate search to find out what his mother tried to tell him, he could not find peace within himself. Fortunately, when the women dressed the defunct for the coffin, they found a golden lamina sewed into her skirt, bearing written words, which no one was able to understand. Several people said, these were God's words; but others said, that they were the devil's words, and they could not come to an agreement.

At this moment a limping humpback with a black rebuke passed by, who compared to a Mazzariol (imp). He opened his mantle and under it he carried an iron lamina with the same inscription as found at the defunct lady, but written in Latin. The interpreting priest said that there was written, "Take the chamois with the golden horn."

Then, all the people remembered the chamois they saw at night-time, leaping on the mountain summits with something sparkling on the head. Together they started out to find the chamois, but quite soon they got tired and returned home. Only the son continued to search throughout the countryside, until one evening, already completely tired out, he spotted the chamois for a very brief moment. He approached the animal very slowly, but the chamois moved further and further away, so that he had to follow it for endless days and nights.

Finally, they reached a countryside, which presented the most beautiful part of Paradise. On the meadows grazed large flocks of cows and horses, the fields yielded wheat twice a year. The chamois came to a stop and brushed his horns on a rock. Due to the impact the golden horns severed from its head, and the Prince finally succeeded to hold them in his hands. At this moment the chamois, like a gleam, transformed into a nice girl, who said: "Open the horn!" The Prince opened it and inside he read the inscription: "This is the most beautiful countryside in the world: once upon a time it pertained to your mother, now it is yours!"

Il Camoscio dal Corno d'oro

C'era una volta un principe buono, che viveva con la sua famiglia e con i suoi servitori in un paese povero, ma benedetto dal Signore. Tutti gli volevano bene, perchè aiutava ed era gentile con tutta la gente. Ma un bel giorno è morta la sua madre, una donna buona, che il Re suo padre aveva trovato ferita mentre tornava dalla guerra e che aveva sposato senza chiederle nè chi era nè da dove veniva. I pastori dicevano, che era una contessa di un paese lontano, altro dicevano invece una streva, che girava solo di notte; chi diceva era una zingara, di quelle dei carrozzoni.

Prima di morire, aveva chiamato accanto al letto suo figlio e con un filo di voce aveva iniziato a parlare, ma egli aveva compreso solo "...camoscio...". Disperato, non era capace di darsi pace, per non aver capito ciò che aveva detto la sua madre. Per fortuna, quando le donne l'avevano vestita per metterla nella cassa, le hanno trovato cucita nella gonna un pezzo di lamina d'oro, con scritte parole che nessuno fu capace di comprendere. Alcuni dicevano che erano parole del Signore, altri dicevano che erano parole del diavolo e non si mettevano d'accordo.

In quel momento è passato un gobbo zoppo con un capellaccio nero, che assomigliava al Mazzariol, ha aperto il mantello e sotto aveva una lamina di ferro con le stesse parole di quella della morta, ma scritte in latino. Il prete le ha lette e ha detto che era scritto "Prendere il camoscio dal corno d'oro".

Allora tutti si sono ricordati del camoscio che vedevano di notte saltare sulle cime dei monti e che aveva sulla testa qualcosa che brillava. Si sono messi tutti a vedere chi poteva trovarlo, ma si sono stancati subito. Solo il figlio ha continuato a cercare in tutti i paesi finchè una sera, stanco morto, sotto il temporale ha visto il camoscio. Pian piano si avvicinava ma il camoscio andava sempre più in là, ed egli sempre dietro per giorni e notti.

Finalmente sono arrivati in un paese che era più bello del Paradiso. I prati erano pieni di mucche e di cavalli, nei campi si tagliava il frumento due volte all'anno. Il camoscio si è fermato e ha struscicato le corna su una roccia; a forza di "ruzzare" il corno d'oro si è stancato ed il principe l'ha preso in mano. In quell stesso momento il camoscio, con un lampo, è diventato una bella giovine che hadetto: "Apri il corno!" Il principe ha aperto il corno e ha visto che dentro c'era scritto: "Questo è il paese più bello del mondo: un giorno era di tua madre, oggi è il tuo."

The Tyrolian Goldenhorn

In the Ötztal Valley (Tyrol) we find another well preserved tale of the "beautiful chamois. The golden horns of the chamois have long been forgotten, but in origin they certainly existed. The tale was narrated on the Austrian Radio (ORF, December 19, 1994). Thereafter, its contents was translated and published in Slovenian by Ivan Tomažic in the miscellanea section of "Veneti in Etrušcani" (Veneti and Etruscans, Vienna 1995, p. 199). The story tells the following:

Quite above the valley, where round and round glaciers are found, there dwelt once upon a time  the salige (nymphs), who were three very nice ladies, taking care of the local chamois, marmots, steinbocks... The fauna all around belonged to them too. At one-time a hunter came with his bow to fire at the chamois. The most beautiful chamois with snow-white hair stood on top of a rock. The hunter aim at him... But above the rock, the prettiest of the women appeared. She was entirely dressed in white and had long hair with a veil extending down to the ground. She looked great and was of indescribable beauty, so that one would feel intimidated from talking to her.

She was inverted looking towards down and exclaimed with open arms: "Leave my chamois in peace! Woe to you, if you will fire!" But the hunter aimed up and fired the arrow. The lady stood on the edge of the rock. The hunter got frightened, fell, overturned, and he precipitated into the glaciers. There he remains dead until the ice will bring him to the sunlight after thousand years.

The Tyrolian version of Goldenhorn (Zlatorog) is very similar to the Slovenian one. It must be considered that at one-time the original myths of Goldenhorn were widespread all over the Alps. The present-day Alpine people are speaking different languages for several centuries already, but they evidently have common predecessors, from whom they inherited the Goldenhorn tale, which remained preserved in different variants. It is one of the most important proofs that the ancient people of the Veneti or Vends had common ancestors.