One of the common features of fairy tales across cultures is the formulaic beginning and ending and the use of repetitions: ‘One upon a time…and they all lived happily ever after.”
So in my Greek lesson this week, as were translating a piece of English into Greek and it had the title ‘Once upon on a time’, I couldn’t resist asking Maria my tutor, how these formulas were used in Greek fairy stories.
‘Once upon a time’ is pretty much the same (mia fora ki enan kairo), but the Greeks use a subtle twist in their ending formula. ‘And they lived well, but we lived better’ (ki autoi zisan kala, kai emeis kalitera).
For some reason I find it peculiarly touching to suggest to children that the endings of fairy tales cannot match the happiness of their own lives.