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When I was a child my grandmother told me a myth of old times. I've read the myth (in a somewhat alternated version) in a book in my teenage years.

It goes like this:

A shepherd goes out to tend to his sheep, but gets tiered when the sun burns down on him. He sits in the shadow of an old oak and drinks from a spring there. Then he fells asleep. When he awakes, he does not recognize his field ("Alm", I could not find a translation for that word) anymore. Everything is grown over with shrouds, his plow is gone.

He then stands up and goes to his home, only to find it burnt down. He goes to the nearest town and everyone is dead. The plague had hit the place and all the living ones had fled, he even walked to the next city but did not meet a living person. He found a graveyard, but all the dates are in the future, so he concludes that he must have slept for at least a hundred years.

[The last part is an element that I think is special to the version the people of my grandmother]

He wanders to the top of the world and finds a woman who survived in her hut far away from people in the mountains. They have many children and their offspring still live at that place.

That offspring explains why there are people living where my grandmother comes from (a very lone valley up in the alps, "Mallnitz" is the next village today).

The story is from southern Austria, but I've read it in a book from Germany, so I assume that there are similar stories in other parts of the german/bavarian speaking area.

I remembered the story after reading the Wikipedia page Líf and Lífþrasir where a similar story is mentioned, unfortunately without link or name.

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My first reaction was that this sounds a lot like the story of Rip van Winkle, which is well-known, at least in the Northeastern United States. In the mid-1700s, a man (Rip van Winkle) and his dog hikes into the mountains, where they come across dwarfs bowling. He eventually falls asleep, waking up many years later - after the American Revolution.

There were, of course, other precedents. One that stands out here is the German folktale Peter Klaus, as well as a very similar folktale, Karl Katz (the title Der Ziegenhirt is sometimes used). In both of these cases, a German goatherd goes up into the mountains near his village with his flock. The story then proceeds nearly identically to Rip van Winkle, as the goatherd falls asleep and then wakes up many years later.

Neither tale has the goatherd wander back to find his village deserted, but he does find his own house in ruins:

Again he shook his head, and went straight through the village to his own cottage. Alas! it looked sadly out of repair; the windows were broken, the door off its hinges, and in the courtyard lay an unknown child, in a ragged dress, playing with a rough, toothless old dog, whom he thought he ought to know, but who snarled and barked in his face when he called to him.

I suspect that your grandmother's story is strongly inspired by this, but instead of Peter's/Karl's house falling into disrepair (as would be expected), she had the entire village become deserted. That said, there are many versions of the same story (not all German or Austrian, of course), so it's possible that she got that part from elsewhere.

  • I definitely remember that plague/everybody dead part to be in that book I read as well, so I hesitate to accept your answer. I thought about RvW, but considered it to be too young to apply, the plague struck Austria earlier and I assume the story to originate from there. Unfortunately neither Peter Klaus, nor Karl Katz have a publishing date to them and they both happen at the kyffhäuser, which is a long way from there to where I'm from. Also the oak is missing. In the stories of my people the trees are very important, so I assume that the oak is part of the original story. – Angelo Fuchs Jun 6 '16 at 7:09

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