Jūratė and Kastytis
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Jūratė and Kastytis is one of the most famous and popular Lithuanian legends and tales. The first time it was recorded was in 1842, in the writings of Liudvikas Adomas Jucevičius. Since then it has been adapted many times for modern poems, ballets, and even rock operas. The authenticity of the entire story is questioned due to the possible influence of popular contemporary romantic tales.
The plot greatly varies between the different versions. However, the basic facts remain the same. The goddess (sometimes described as a mermaid or undine) Jūratė (from the noun jūra meaning the sea) lived under the Baltic Sea in a beautiful amber castle. She ruled the sea and all of the sea-life. A young fisherman named Kastytis was disturbing the peace as he was catching a lot of fish. Jūratė decided to punish him and restore the peace, but she fell in love with the handsome young fisherman. They spent some happy times in the castle, but Perkūnas, the thunder-god, found out that the immortal goddess had fallen in love with a mortal man. He became furious and struck the amber castle. It exploded into millions of pieces. Then Jūratė was chained to either the ruins or a rock on the seafloor by Perkūnas. According to legend, that is why pieces of amber come ashore after a storm on the Baltic Sea.
Jūratė rescued Kastytis from drowning in a storm. According to other variations, Kastytis was killed by Perkūnas and Jūratė mourns him to this day. Her tear drops are amber pieces washed ashore and one could hear her sad voice in a stormy sea. Sometimes it is said that Kastytis comes from Šventoji town north of Palanga.
Lithuanians have numerous legends and tales. Arguably, Eglė, the Queen of Serpents and Jūratė and Kastytis are the best known. Even though Eglė's story is much more complicated and elaborate, both legends are love stories that involve elements of Lithuanian mythology and try to explain origins of certain objects. Both Eglė and Jūratė are popular Lithuanian female names.
Palanga, the main resort in Lithuania, has a monument dedicated to Jūratė and Kastytis. It is located in a square right next to the main tourist attraction—a bridge that leads to sunset. The Palanga coat of arms was designed having the legend in mind. The amber beads represent the ancient business of amber processing. The silver crown represents goddess Jūratė.
The legend has inspired a number of other artworks. In 1920 Maironis, one of the best known patriotic poets, wrote a ballad to honor the lovers. Much of legend's present popularity is attributed to this poet. Woodcut illustrations by Vaclovas Rataiskis-Ratas for the ballad won awards in an international exhibition in Paris in 1937. In 1933 a ballet was staged. In 1955 an opera (premiered in 1972 in Chicago) and a play were written. In 2002 a rock opera was performed in Klaipėda to celebrate its 750th anniversary. A number of celebrities appeared in the opera and it became a success. It continues where the actual legend left off: the castle is destroyed and the lovers are separated. The rock opera is noted for taking a modern twist on old story.
- Jūratė and Kastytis by Kazimieras Viktoras Banaitis: A Lithuanian Operatic Version of the Lorelei-Undine Myths
- Jūratė and Kastytis rock opera home page (with photos and music samples)
- Jūratė ir Kastytis, ballad by Maironis. English translation by Lionginas Pažūsis.
- The legend of Jūratė and Kastytis
- Sadko - a similar Russian legend.