King in the mountain

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A king in the mountain, king under the mountain or sleeping hero is a prominent motif in folklore and mythology that is found in many folktales and legends. The Aarne-Thompson classification system for folktale motifs classifies these stories as number 766, relating them to the tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

General features[edit]

Frederick sends out the boy to see whether the ravens still fly.

King in the mountain stories involve legendary heroes, often accompanied by armed retainers, sleeping in remote dwellings, including caves on high mountaintops, remote islands, or supernatural worlds. The hero is frequently a historical figure of some military consequence in the history of the nation where the mountain is located.

The stories gathered by the Brothers Grimm concerning Frederick Barbarossa and Charlemagne are typical of the stories told, and have been influential on many told variants and subsequent adaptations. The presence of the hero is unsuspected, until some herdsman wanders into the cave, typically looking for a lost animal, and sees the hero. The stories almost always mention the detail that the hero has grown a long beard, indicative of the long time he has slept beneath the mountain.

In the Brothers Grimm version, the hero speaks with the herdsman. Their conversation typically involves the hero asking, "Do the eagles (or ravens) still circle the mountaintop?" The herdsman, or a mysterious voice, replies, "Yes, they still circle the mountaintop." "Then begone! My time has not yet come."

The herdsman is usually supernaturally harmed by the experience: he ages rapidly, he emerges with his hair turned white, and often he dies after repeating the tale. The story goes on to say that the king sleeps in the mountain, awaiting a summons to arise with his knights and defend the nation in a time of deadly peril. The omen that presages his rising will be the extinction of the birds that trigger his awakening.[1][2]


A number of kings, rulers, fictional characters and religious figures have become attached to this story. They include the following:

  • Emperor Constantine I, said to have been turned into a stone statue, although not resting within a mountain.
  • Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, said to have been turned into marble and thus was known as "Marmaromenos", "the Marble King". He was said to be hidden somewhere underground until his glorious return as the Immortal Emperor.
  • Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes (also known as "Kaloyannis III'") of the Eastern Roman Empire, due to his kindness and ability, also known as "Marmaromenos" -- although this title might also be due to the post-mortem discovery of the his intact body, the peculiar appearance of which was caused by a lifetime of medical treatment for epilepsy. (Greece, Cyprus)
  • Merlin of the Arthurian legend, who is imprisoned in an oak tree by Nimue.
  • Bran the Blessed (Wales)
  • St. John the Evangelist (Ephesus, Turkey) who some said was only sleeping in his grave until the coming of Antichrist, when he would be needed as a witness.[3][4]
  • Csaba, the son of Attila the Hun (Hungary) who is supposed to ride down the Milky Way when the Székelys are threatened.
  • King St. Stephen, King St. Ladislaus, King Matthias Corvinus (Hungary)
  • Emperor Charlemagne (Germany, France) rests in the Untersberg near Salzburg.
  • Fionn mac Cumhaill (Ireland), is said to sleep in a cave/mountain surrounded by the Fianna (he is differentiated from them because of his large stature). It is told that the day will come when the Dord Fiann is sounded three times and Fionn and the Fianna will rise up again, as strong and well as they ever were. In other accounts he will return to glory as a great hero of Ireland.[5]
Statue of Ogier the Dane, Kronborg Castle

Sleeping anti-hero and villain[edit]

Sometimes this type of story or archetype is also attached to not-so-heroic figures, who are either simple anti-heroes or fully villains, whose return would mean the end of the world, or whose sleep represents something positive. This kind of archetype is known as the "Chained Satan" archetype.[13] Among examples of this are:

The sleeping hero in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 23.
  2. ^ Kaiser Karl im Untersberg (German)
  3. ^ Isidore of Seville - De ortu et obitu patrum (5th century)
  4. ^ Jacobus de Voragine - The Golden Legend
  5. ^ Augusta, Lady Gregory - Gods and Fighting Men (1904)
  6. ^ The Science of Fairy Tales: An Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology, Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1925 edition, p. 143
  7. ^ a b Alois Jirásek, Old Bohemian Legends (1894, Staré pověsti české)
  8. ^ The Three Tells
  9. ^ Henry Tegner; Ghosts of The North Country, 1991 Butler Publishing, ISBN 0-946928-40-1. p.13
  10. ^ The Science of Fairy Tales: An Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology, Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1925 edition, p. 144
  11. ^ "Canaanism:" Solutions and Problems, Boas Evron, Alabaster's Archive
  12. ^ הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד בַּמְּעָרָה ח"נ ביאליק
  13. ^ a b Mher in the Carved Rock, J. A. Boyle, p. 11, at the Library of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  14. ^ Mher in the Carved Rock, J. A. Boyle, at the Library of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

External links[edit]