King asleep in mountain

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The king asleep in mountain (D 1960.2 in Stith Thompson's motif index system)[1] is a prominent folklore trope found in many folktales and legends. Thompson termed it as the Kyffhäuser type.[2] Some other designations are: king in the mountain, king under the mountain, or sleeping hero.

Statue of Ogier the Dane in Kronborg Castle. Ogier is said to sleep in the castle, his beard grown down to the floor, until some day when the country of Denmark is in peril.

Examples include the legends of King Arthur, Fionn mac Cumhaill, Charlemagne, Ogier the Dane, King David, Frederick Barbarossa at Kyffhäuser, Constantine XI Palaiologos, Kraljević Marko, Sebastian of Portugal and King Matjaž.[3][4][5]

The motifs A 571 "Cultural hero asleep in mountain", and E 502, "The Sleeping Army" are similar and can occur in the same tale.[1] A related motif is the "Seven Sleepers" (D 1960.1,[2] also known as the "Rip Van Winkle" motif), whose type tale is the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (AT tale type 766).

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 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.[citation needed]

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."[citation needed]

The herdsman in this story was then 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.[6][7]


A number of European kings, rulers, fictional characters and religious figures have become attached to this story. Major examples are King Arthur of Britain and Holy Emperor Frederick Barbarossa,[8][9] Ogier the Dane and William Tell.[9]

Baltic states[edit]

  • A motif in Latvian legends involves a castle sinking into ground leaving a hill behind it. Years later someone finds a way into the hill and guesses the name of the castle causing it to rise again and its ruler and his people to return to the living.
  • Vytautas the Great in Lithuania is believed he will rise from his grave when the worst danger threatens Lithuania in order to defend the motherland at the last battle.

Britain and Ireland[edit]

  • King Arthur (Great Britain and Brittany). According to the legend, Arthur was taken away to Avalon to sleep until he was needed by the people of Britain. Several legends talk of a herdsman who stumbles across a cave on mainland Britain, wherein he finds Arthur sleeping, often with his knights and Excalibur by his side. In a variation on this, sometimes the exploring herdsman finds instead just Arthur's knights, or Sir Lancelot, Guinevere and the knights sleeping in wait on the return of the "Once and Future King". In early Arthurian literature, Arthur references his predecessor Brân the Blessed as having his head placed on a mound overlooking Britain so as to protect it. He wishes to do the same, and later they overlook and protect Britain together.[citation needed]
  • Merlin of the Arthurian legend, who is imprisoned in an oak tree by Nimue.[citation needed]
  • Thomas the Rhymer is found under a hill with a retinue of knights in a tale from Anglo-Scottish border. Likewise, Harry Hotspur was said to have been hunting in the Cheviots when he and his hounds got holed-up in the Hen Hole (or "Hell-hole"), awaiting the sound of a hunting horn to awaken them from their slumber. Another border variant concerns a party of huntsmen who chased a roebuck into the Cheviots when they heard the sweetest music playing from the Henhole. However, when they entered, they became lost and are trapped to this day.[10]


  • Brân the Blessed. Referenced as protecting the Isles and overlooking Britain; his head severed and placed on a mound. Arthur later says he wishes to do the same and in early Arthurian literature both guard Britain together.
  • Owain Lawgoch, Welsh soldier and nobleman (14th century).
  • Owain Glyndŵr, the last native born Welshman to hold the title "Prince of Wales"; he disappeared after a long but ultimately unsuccessful rebellion against the English. He was never captured or betrayed and refused all Royal pardons.
  • An unnamed giant is supposed to sleep in Plynlimon.


  • Fionn mac Cumhaill 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.[11]
  • The 3rd Earl of Desmond, who dozes under Lough Gur with his silver-shod horse.[3]
  • The 8th Earl of Kildare, who is at temporary rest under the Curragh of Kildare.[3]
  • Dónall na nGeimhlach Ó Donnchú, in legend around Co. Kerry.[12]
  • Cu Chulainn in Nationalist circles in Northern Ireland


  • King Harold. In Anglo-Saxon legends he survived the Battle of Hastings and will come one day to liberate the English from the Norman yoke.[13]
  • Sir Francis Drake. It is stated that if England is in deadly peril and Drake's Drum is beaten, then Sir Francis Drake will arise to defend England from the sea. According to the legend, Drake's Drum can be heard at times when England is at war or significant national events take place.[citation needed]
  • Knights asleep at Alderley Edge in Cheshire. There is an enduring legend of a cavern full of knights in armour awaiting a call to decide the fate of a great battle for England. There is no king named, but there is a wizard involved, who is referred to as Merlin in later versions of the legend.[14]

Caucasus region[edit]



  • According to legend, Queen Tamar is not dead, but is instead sleeping in a gold wreathed coffin in a mountain. Allegedly, there will come a day when she will wake, and restore Georgia to its medieval glory.[citation needed]

Dutch and German-speaking realm[edit]


Greek, Hellenistic and Byzantine[edit]

Ancient Greece[edit]

Byzantine Empire[edit]

  • 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.
  • John III Doukas Vatatzes (also known as "Kaloyannis III'").



Sebastian I. With his death, the house of Aviz lost the throne of Portugal. Sebastianists hold that he will return to rule Portugal's Fifth Empire.




Slavic nations[edit]

East Slavic[edit]

South Slavic[edit]

West Slavic[edit]

Examples in Asia[edit]

Asia minor and Middle East[edit]


  • Kay Khosrow, legendary shah of Persia, many of the companions of the Saoshyant are depicted as immortal and asleep, Kay Khosrow then revives each of them one by one to assist the Saošyant in his renovative work.[citation needed]

East Asia[edit]


  • A traditional tale of the death of Genghis Khan says he died falling from his horse while being injured, but that whether he died or not is unknown, and he may be merely resting. Every spring and autumn "those who know the secret" of where Genghis is buried are said to put new sets of clothes into his casket and take the old ones out, worn and frayed. Folklore reports another instance of evidence that Genghis would return: every year there is a sacrifice for Genghis Khan in the Ordos and two white horses (the horses of Genghis Khan) appear. In the third year of the Chinese Republic (1914), though, just one horse appeared. When the second horse came, four years later, it had saddle galls. This was taken as evidence that Genghis Khan had been using the horse, and was making ready to appear again.[21]


  • A traditional tale of Zhu Youjian survived through the fall of Beijing and will reappear was widely spread in Qing Dynasty.





  • The temple of Trần Hưng Đạo, the supreme commander who defeated Kublai Khan's invasions of Vietnam, housed a sword chest that rung if the nation was in peril, but it also foretold victories.

Examples from the Americas[edit]

United States[edit]

  • The Pueblo hero-god Montezuma — believed to have been a divine king in prehistoric times, and suspended in an Arizona mountain that bears his image.[citation needed]
  • The Sleeping Ute mountain in Colorado is said to have been a "Great Warrior God" who fell asleep while recovering from wounds received in a great battle with "the Evil Ones" (there are many other variants of this legend).[citation needed]
  • Tecumseh of the Shawnee.[citation needed]
  • Emperor Norton is claimed by several defunct civil rights groups to have been destined to return to the US when the unity of the Republic is at its nadir.[citation needed]
  • Some adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe that American figure John F. Kennedy Jr. will one day return to purge corruption from the American government.[22]


  • The Inkarri (from Spanish Inca Rey, "Inca King") of the indigenous peoples of Peru, who will return one day to restore the Inca Empire.[23] There are two main versions of the myth with several local variations:
    • In the first, Inkarri was the last Sapa Inca. He was decapitated by the Spaniards, who buried his head in an unknown location. The head is not dead but hibernating while it regenerates the rest of the body. When the regeneration is complete, Inkarri will return.[citation needed]
    • In the second, Inkarri and his wife Qollari were the founders of Cusco. They fled to the Amazon jungle (to a place called Paititi, or variations thereof), where they sleep under rocks and will return one day.[citation needed]

Examples by religion[edit]


  • King David is depicted in Hayim Nahman Bialik's tale "King David in the Cave" as sleeping along with his warriors deep inside a cave, waiting for the blast of the shofar that will awaken them from their millennia of slumber and arouse them to redeem Israel.[24][25] This role was not attributed to King David in earlier Jewish tradition.




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.[28] Among examples of this are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ó hÓgáin (1991), p. 197.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Stith (1977), The Folktale, University of California Press, pp. 264–265, ISBN 9780520033597
  3. ^ a b c Ó hÓgáin (2000), p. 92.
  4. ^ Henken, Elissa R. (1996), National Redeemer: Owain Glyndŵr in Welsh Tradition, Cornell University Press, p. 83, ISBN 0801483492
  5. ^ Šmitek, Zmago. 1999. “The Image of the Real World and the World Beyond in the Slovene Folk Tradition". Studia Mythologica Slavica 2 (May). Ljubljana, Slovenija. pp. 178-179.
  6. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 23.
  7. ^ Kaiser Karl im Untersberg (German)
  8. ^ Ó hÓgáin (1992–1993), pp. 58–59.
  9. ^ a b c Ashliman, D. L. (1999–2020). "Sleeping Hero Legends". Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  10. ^ Henry Tegner; Ghosts of The North Country, 1991 Butler Publishing, ISBN 0-946928-40-1. p.13
  11. ^ Augusta, Lady Gregory – Gods and Fighting Men (1904)
  12. ^ Ó hÓgáin (1992–1993), p. 59.
  13. ^ The Science of Fairy Tales: An Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology, Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1925 edition, p. 143
  14. ^ Louisa Stanley, "Alderley Edge and Its Neighbourhood", 1843
  15. ^ Mher in the Carved Rock, J. A. Boyle, at the Library of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  16. ^ Ellen M. Dolan, Sue D. Royals, Building Comprehension - Grade 5, p. 29. Milliken Publishing, 1999, ISBN 978-0787703943 [1]
  17. ^ "Елена Лебедева. Русский архистратиг / Православие.Ru".
  18. ^ The Science of Fairy Tales: An Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology, Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1925 edition, p. 144
  19. ^ Baraniak, Krzysztof (2014-08-15). "Legenda o śpiących rycerzach". TATROMANIAK - Serwis Miłośników Tatr (in Polish). Retrieved 2021-02-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ Alois Jirásek, Old Bohemian Legends (1894, Staré pověsti české)
  21. ^ Owen Lattimore, Mongol Journeys, London: Doran & Co., 1941, pp. 35–37
  22. ^ Pitofsky, Marina (November 2, 2021). "QAnon supporters gather over theory that JFK Jr. will emerge, announce Trump to be reinstated". USA Today. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  23. ^ OMER, Aurélie. Cuatro versiones inéditas del mito de Inkarrí. Áreas de estudio: Shipetiari y Quero. Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana, 2015, vol. 41, no 81, p. 405-434.
  24. ^ "Canaanism:" Solutions and Problems Archived 2012-07-17 at, Boas Evron, Alabaster's Archive
  25. ^ "הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד בַּמְּעָרָה / ח"נ ביאליק".
  26. ^ Isidore of Seville – De ortu et obitu patrum (5th century)
  27. ^ Jacobus de Voragine – The Golden Legend
  28. ^ a b "School of Humanities and Creative Arts - University of Canterbury" (PDF). The University of Canterbury. Retrieved 8 May 2018.


External links[edit]