"They knocked at the door, and a woman answered. She asked them what they wanted; Little Thumb told her that they were poor children who had been abandoned in the forest, and asked if she could give them a bed out of charity. The woman, seeing how cute they all were, began crying and said to them, "Ah, my poor children, why did you come here? Don't you know that this is the house of an ogre who eats little children?"".
Since the Middle Ages generations of kids have been frightened by ogres, imaginary creatures that kidnap children, take them to their lairs and devour them. Ogres are mentioned in the texts of Giovanni Boccaccio, Ludovico Ariosto, Giambattista Basile (in his "Pentamerone") and the great tradition of regional folktales. They are also characters in the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, who consecrated their global significance, confirmed by their role in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world and many recent animated feature films. But where do ogres come from? In his detailed exploration of fairy tales, folklore, and literature, the author unveils the Orcus: a ravenous, rapacious, unstoppable Roman god of the underworld. The devourer of children, although often re-interpreted in farcical tones, has preserved many deeply dark features of its infernal origins.
Tommaso Braccini teaches Classical Philology at the University of Turin.