La Biscia

For once, it is in the north of the island, more precisely in the eastern part of the municipality of Palasca, that today we will focus on the oral heritage. It is in this territory that the legend of Biscia, monster sowing terror and desolation among the inhabitants of the lower valley of Ostriconi since time immemorial. Proof that the myth is ancient and anchored in the minds, the engraved lintel of the pievan church of Santa Maria Assunta, in Romanesque style, fixed in stone the image that the local populations of the Middle Ages had of the Beast.

La Biscia

the Biscia Santa Maria Assunta


The ornate lintel of Santa Maria Assunta

The story of the monstrous serpent emerging from the marshes to devastate the countryside and bring death to the herds and shepherds is in fact quite classic in the Mediterranean. Among the best-known examples, we will mention the story of the Vouivre, but also and above all one of the Twelve Labors of Heracles. The hero, arriving in Lerna, a city hidden at the bottom of the Gulf of Nafplion (Argolis, Greece), was here forced to kill the Hydra, a terrifying snake with many heads whose breath was deadly to anyone who breathed it. When the basilisk died, calm returned and the region could prosper again.

These different tales are quite clearly interpretable. The alluvial plains of Corsica (Ostriconi, Liamone, Tàravu, etc.) are placed in direct contact with deep valleys and drain suspended silts in varying proportions depending on the season. During the summer, the flow of these rivers is considerably reduced, which no longer allows them to carry the product of the erosion they carry to the sea. Arrived in the plain, the rivers are slowed down by the modification of the dips.

This geomorphological stress is rebalanced by the principle of anastomosis, which causes the creation of numerous meanders and other loops, the shape and position of which are very sensitive to short-term changes in the climate. Abandoned beds participate in the formation of marshes and lagoons. Thus, the rivers lengthen their route by draining parts of the plain which were previously blocked. By taking a little height, the result of the anastomosis appears as a winding network whose multiple ramifications lead to the sea and the ponds.



Aerial view of the lower Liamone valley. In yellow, current price; in red, old courses revealed by photo-interpretation

Symbolically, the decrease in the flow of the insular watercourses, which increases considerably from the month of June, therefore generates the development of a serpentine path whose multiple heads are pools of stagnant water. The foul and noxious breath pouring out of the mouth of the animal can therefore be interpreted as the nauseating odor which emanates from ponds, but especially to the proliferation of mosquitoes carrying the parasite plasmodium, vector of malaria. It will be recalled that this scourge was still topical on the island in the 1940s, before the marshes were chemically treated.

In this sense, the American soldiers who practiced this treatment therefore continued the work of Heracles who, to eradicate the problem of the hydra, stuck embers in his neck so that his heads did not grow back (metaphor of the hydra). drying up of the Argolida marshes during the Bronze Age?).

Beyond the undulating shape of the rivers in the dry season, the evocation of the serpent and its representation on the lintel of Santa Maria show, since Eve, the recovery by the Church of an older symbol of evil. crawling, in a region whose very name (Ostriconi evokes the production of marsh oysters) recalls the presence of larger ponds than those visible today (Cannuta and Foce ponds, between which stands Santa Maria). The holy dragon slayers, moreover often present near the mouths, are also there to perpetuate the image of Heracles.

Another testimony to the Christianization of the myth can be deduced from the fact that the Biscia did not leave its pond until the Sunday, to the sound of bells, to devour a loyal, that is to say three structuring elements of a completely Christian semantics which emerge from a probably recent version of the legend.

The story ends with the descent into the valley of the valiant Count of San Colombano, tutelary figure of the courageous knight of the post-medieval imagination of the region, as are Orlandu in Casta or Rinucciu in Alta Rocca. Determined to slay the monster, he himself rang the bells to dislodge it from the Cannuta swamp.

When Biscia arrived, he cut off her head with a single blow of the sword. Splashed by the blood of the beast, this new Heracles died shortly after her from an excess of pride, in a way punished by God for his arrogance. We can clearly guess here the subliminal propaganda instilled by the clergy to limit the influence of the lords, then accused of interference, on the parish organization.