Haymo, a Tyrolean Dragonslayer



A famous dragon ravaged the surroundings of Innsbruck, capital of the Austrian province Tyrol. South of this town the narrow and gloomy gorge of the river Sill leads to a once dark, deserted mountain forest. During the long winter nights rumours spread about the occurance of gold in that area. But no one dared to search for it. For the gorge was inhabited by a gruesome dragon. He guarded a huge hoard. From time to time the waters of the river Sill reached the dragon┤s cave and swept away small pieces of gold. Sometimes they were found by lucky people strolling the banks of the river. When the dragon noticed the loss, he left his cave in search of the thief. He then rushed down the gorge, ravaged the fields and destroyed houses, stables and gardens, spreading terror all around.

At that time a giant named Haymo lived somewhere near the Rhine. Being more than 12 feet tall he exceeded all other people in height. His strength was matchless. And he was of noble descent. When Haymo heard of the dragon, he decided to relieve the peasants of this brute. He gathered the best weapons available and took his way towards the Alps. Approaching Innsbruck he encountered the devastations caused by the dragon. There was not even one firm house, but only small, pitiful huts. Peasants lamented over the loss both of cattle and grooms. Haymo had come just in time. Again the dragon lurked for victims. With one leap the giant was upon the beast and gave him one stroke after the other. The dragon wriggled and roared with pain. At last he fled into his cave. But Haymo persued the brute and stabbed it. As a prove his heroic deed he cut off the dragon┤s tongue. The peasants were both astonished and glad. They persuaded Haymo to stay in Tyrol and to be their sovereign.

Haymo, however, did not come to rest. Another giant, Thyrsus, inhabited the surroundings of Seefeld, then a small village some kilometers northwest of Innsbruck (today Seefeld is well renowned as a winter sports resort). Thyrsus was both brutal and jealous. Therefore he pondered on how to defeat his rival. Haymo, however, cought rumours about the evel intentions of his enimy. So they met somewhere between Innsbruck and Seefeld. During their struggle Haymo happened to wound Thyrsus who fled back to his home where at last he was slain. His blood soaked the earth and even the rocks. Seeing his rival dead, Haymo regreted his deed. When he returned to Innsbruck he founded the monastery of Wilten just at the spot where he had killed the dragon.

As in many other legends, the dragon served as a personification of the violent forces of the river Sill. This supernatural creature could only be defeated by another mythological being: a giant. Gold was never found in the surroundings of Innsbruck, but small crystals of the golden mineral pyrite are quite common in the metamorphic rocks of the Alps. A geological peculiarity of the surroundings of Seefeld is the occurance of bituminous shales of middle Triassic age (Seefelder Fischschiefer; approximately 210 to 223 m.y.). They have been mined for centuries. The oil destilled from the shales (named Ichthyol = fish-oil) is still used for medicinal purpose. ABEL (1939) tried to link these bitumina to the legend of Haymo slaying the Sill-dragon: dragon blood was believed to have great powers. Although he mentioned the old names Thürsenbuet (= Thyrsus┤ blood) and Thürschenöl (= Thyrsus┤ oil), he neglected the legend of the fight between the two heroes, interpreted Thyrsus as a general name of giants and equated Thyrsus and Haymo. He also neglected the different geological settings of Seefeld (limestones and shales) and the Sill gorge (metamorphic rocks). This misinterpretation is still found in recent publications. The dragon┤s tongue, mounted in silver, was long stored at the monastery of Wilten. It is now at exposition at the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum. Of course it is not a real tongue, but the rostrum of a swordfish (Xiphias gladius), which probably was brought to Tyrol by a crusador.




This text was first published in:
Dragons and Geology: Examples from Austria - The Dragon Chronicle, vol. 15: 11-13, London



Sources

  • ABEL O. (1939): Vorzeitliche Tierreste im Deutschen Mythus, Brauchtum und Volksglauben. - 304 pp., Jena (Gustav Fischer).
  • GAMPER, H. (1924): Wilten in der Sage. - in: Wilten. Nordtirols älteste Kulturstätte. 1. Teil Stift Wilten. - Tiroler Heimatbücher, 1, Innsbruck (Landesgruppe Tirol Ver. christl. Erziehungswiss. & Jugendschutzver. St. Bartlmae).
  • THENIUS, E. & VAVRA, N. (1996): Fossilien im Volksglauben und im Alltag. Bedeutung und Verwendung vorzeitlicher Tier- und Pflanzenreste von der Steinzeit bis heute. - Senckenberg-Buch vol. 71, 179 pp., Frankfurt a/M. (Verlag Waldemar Kramer).



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