Snow White - A True Story

The Brothers Grimm famous fairy-tale Snow White is based on a real life person, Maria Sophia von Erthal, born on 15 June 1729 in Lohr am Main, Bavaria. She was the daughter of 18th-century landowner, Prince Philipp Christoph von Erthal. After the death of the Baroness, Prince Philipp went on to marry Claudia Elisabeth Maria von Venningen the Countess of Reichenstein, who was said to dislike her stepchildren, especially Maria.

The Girl Maria was very much loved by the local folk where she was described as "an angel descended to earth" and won their love through her noble hear and good deeds, and her fame grew towards the years 1800. The Brothers Grimm spent most of their childhood in the nearby town of Steinau. The rise of Romanticism during the 18th century had revived interest in traditional folk stories, which to the Grimm's' and their colleagues represented a pure form of national literature and culture. The Brothers Grimm established a methodology for collecting and recording folk stories that became the basis for folklore studies.


The Mirror The castle where they lived, which is now a museum, was also home to a mirror that was famous for its extremely smooth and even surface, something uncommon in that period. It was referred to as a ‘talking mirror’, because “it always spoke the truth” - but in reality the mirror has acoustic effects in the sense that if one speaks in front of it will echo - and it's now housed in the Spessart Museum. The mirror, constructed in 1720 by the Mirror Manufacture of the Electorate of Mainz in Lohr, had been in the house during the time that Maria’s stepmother lived there. Her gravestone was found in 2019.

The Dwarfs

The dwarfs in Maria’s story are linked to a mining town in Bieber, located just west of Lohr and set among seven mountains. The smallest tunnels could only be accessed by very short miners, who often wore bright hoods, as the dwarfs have frequently been depicted over the years. Because they were digging the silver and copper mines, the miners were of small statures and studies show that these might have even been children-miners.

The Apple Although it sounds crazy, it is also true that the poisoned apple is real and that by imbibing half of it in "mandrake" a plant that grows in the forest in Spessart which is still used in today's medicine. The plant has deliriant hallucinogenic properties it induces a state of unconsciousness and was used as an anaesthetic for surgery in ancient times. In the past, juice from the finely grated root was applied externally to relieve rheumatic pains. It was also used internally to treat melancholy, convulsions, and mania. When taken internally in large doses, however, it is said to excite delirium and madness.

The Wooded Mountains Spessart is a Mittelgebirge, a range of low wooded mountains, in the region of Bavaria and Hesse in Germany. Due to the area's low density of population, important trade routes passing through lonely forest territory and the Spessart's extremely fragmented jurisdictions, banditry was a lucrative business. This is the area in which the Brothers Grimm describe Snow White passing through.


The Glass Coffin It is believed that the glass coffin in which they placed Snow White may be linked to the region’s famous glassworks. The most popular glass objects around that time were used in domestic, industrial and funerary contexts.


 

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