Folklore as a universal language

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A Utah State University professor compares the local legend of Logan to distant Italian folklore in order to reveal a global language.

Steve Siporin, a professor of folklore at Utah State, gave a lecture at the Harold B. Lee Library on Wednesday called “A Bear and a Bandit.”

Siporin compares a Logan myth, Old Ephraim, to an Italian Robin Hood figure.

“I thought of different things and this one is a Utah theme,” said Siporin, referring to his choice to lecture on Old Ephraim. “To have them (BYU students) value their own local folklore … because ordinary people do great things.”

Jessie L. Embry, the associate director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Folklore archives and co-sponsor of the event, said the lecture was an interesting blend of local and foreign stories. She felt that was significant because it revealed that stories are a universal language.

In his lecture, Siporin said that there are parallels between the animal and human legends.

Old Ephraim was a grizzly bear up in Logan Canyon who supposedly weighed over 1,000 pounds and was responsible for killing many sheep. The Italian Brigand was supposedly a large “bear-like” man who was responsible for killing 20 people within 30 years.

Siporin also points out that both these folklore stories focus mainly on their death rather than life.

Old Ephraim is killed by a hunter when a dog barks and distracts him. The Italian brigante is killed when he is trying to sneak by a settlement and a dog barks betraying his location.

Siporin also points out that both characters are aged when they are defeated which he says is symbolic of a passing of an era. In both Italy and Logan, civilization was spreading during the times of these folklores and the deaths of the characters represented the conquering of the wilderness.

The significance of the legends, according to Siporin, is that they both communicated an attitude that was relevant to the moment.

Siporin said this is important to realize because there are probably more stories like this that can help us understand the world around us better.

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