THE MYTH OF THE SARVÀN
The wild man, or Sarvàn, is a particularly widespread myth in the Alps and other European mountain regions. Present in the rituals and folklore of many populations under different forms (divinity, spirit of the woods, protector of fields and nature), it is variously characterized from region to region, while retaining constant characters.
He is a primordial man with some wild features such as the thick hair; he is considered the first inhabitant of the Alps; he masters the production of dairies, beekeeping, mining techniques, or other activities related to the economy of the individual territories; he taught men songs and proverbs; he distanced himself from civilization because he was not accepted or was offended by other men; he lives in places often inaccessible to civilized man; he is not dangerous and almost always runs away when he sees another man.
In numerous legends, the wild man has the distinctive characteristics of the archetype of the "cultural hero", that is, the one who taught something fundamental to "civilized" peoples. As the initiator of various activities fundamental to the subsistence of mountain communities, "he has a role that allows man to make sense of his own culture and to find its roots in a mythical dimension [...] In the oral tradition, the wild man is the genius of the forest, carries out a mainly pedagogical task and represents the depositary of truths matured on the basis of a profound ability to get in tune with the environment "(Massimo Centini, On the trail of the wild man, 2018, Milan: Magenes ). On a symbolic level, he represents the dark part of the self, which we have difficulties to access, unless through languages of art.
The iconography of the wild man also appears in situations of organized performance. His first theatrical performance dates back to the "Magnus Ludus de quodam homine wild" (1208), but traces of his presence are found in many of the masks of the Commedia dell'Arte, for example in the mixture of violence and naivety, malice and recklessness of Arlecchino.
Pictorial representation of the wild man in Sacco, Valtellina (Italy) from 1464.
Carnival Parade in Piazza Brembana, Bergamo (Italy) in 1906. At the centre, in white, a man dressed as a wild man.