Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Table of Contents



  Translator’s Acknowledgments


  Dauntless Little John

  The Man Wreathed in Seaweed

  The Ship with Three Decks

  The Man Who Came Out Only at Night

  And Seven!


  Money Can Do Everything

  The Little Shepherd

  Silver Nose

  The Count’s Beard

  The Little Girl Sold with the Pears

  The Snake

  The Three Castles

  The Prince Who Married a Frog

  The Parrot

  The Twelve Oxen

  Crack and Crook

  The Canary Prince

  King Crin

  Those Stubborn Souls, the Biellese

  The Pot of Marjoram

  The Billiards Player

  Animal Speech

  The Three Cottages

  The Peasant Astrologer

  The Wolf and the Three Girls

  The Land Where One Never Dies

  The Devotee of St. Joseph

  The Three Crones

  The Crab Prince

  Silent for Seven Years

  The Dead Man’s Palace

  Pome and Peel

  The Cloven Youth

  Invisible Grandfather

  The King of Denmark’s Son

  Petie Pete versus Witch Bea-Witch

  Quack, Quack! Stick to My Back!

  The Happy Man’s Shirt

  One Night in Paradise

  Jesus and St. Peter in Friuli

  The Magic Ring

  The Dead Man’s Arm

  The Science of Laziness

  Fair Brow

  The Stolen Crown

  The King’s Daughter Who Could Never Get Enough Figs

  The Three Dogs

  Uncle Wolf


  Tabagnino the Hunchback

  The King of the Animals

  The Devil’s Breeches

  Dear as Salt

  The Queen of the Three Mountains of Gold

  Lose Your Temper, and You Lose Your Bet

  The Feathered Ogre

  The Dragon with Seven Heads

  Bellinda and the Monster

  The Shepherd at Court

  The Sleeping Queen

  The Son of the Merchant from Milan

  Monkey Palace

  Rosina in the Oven

  The Salamanna Grapes

  The Enchanted Palace

  Buffalo Head

  The King of Portugal’s Son

  Fanta-Ghirò the Beautiful

  The Old Woman’s Hide


  Catherine, Sly Country Lass

  The Traveler from Turin

  The Daughter of the Sun

  The Dragon and the Enchanted Filly

  The Florentine

  Ill-Fated Royalty

  The Golden Ball

  Fioravante and Beautiful Isolina

  Fearless Simpleton

  The Milkmaid Queen

  The Story of Campriano

  The North Wind’s Gift

  The Sorceress’s Head

  Apple Girl


  The Fine Greenbird

  The King in the Basket

  The One-Handed Murderer

  The Two Hunchbacks

  Pete and the Ox

  The King of the Peacocks

  The Palace of the Doomed Queen

  The Little Geese

  Water in the Basket


  Jack Strong, Slayer of Five Hundred

  Crystal Rooster

  A Boat for Land and Water

  The Neapolitan Soldier

  Belmiele and Belsole

  The Haughty Prince

  Wooden Maria

  Louse Hide

  Cicco Petrillo

  Nero and Bertha

  The Love of the Three Pomegranates

  Joseph Ciufolo, Tiller-Flutist

  Bella Venezia

  The Mangy One

  The Wildwood King


  The Three Blind Queens

  Hunchback Wryneck Hobbler


  The False Grandmother

  Frankie-Boy’s Trade

  Shining Fish

  Miss North Wind and Mr. Zephyr

  The Palace Mouse and the Garden Mouse

  The Moor’s Bones

  The Chicken Laundress

  Crack, Crook, and Hook

  First Sword and Last Broom

  Mrs. Fox and Mr. Wolf

  The Five Scapegraces

  Ari-Ari, Donkey, Donkey, Money, Money!

  The School of Salamanca

  The Tale of the Cats


  The Slave Mother

  The Siren Wife

  The Princesses Wed to the First Passers-By



  Filo d’Oro and Filomena

  The Thirteen Bandits

  The Three Orphans

  Sleeping Beauty and Her Children

  The Handmade King

  The Turkey Hen

  The Three Chicory Gatherers


  Serpent King

  The Widow and the Brigand

  The Crab with the Golden Eggs

  Nick Fish



  Pippina the Serpent

  Catherine the Wise

  The Ismailian Merchant

  The Thieving Dove

  Dealer in Peas and Beans

  The Sultan with the Itch

  The Wife Who Lived on Wind


  The King of Spain and the English Milord

  The Bejeweled Boot

  The Left-Hand Squire


  Lame Devil

  Three Tales by Three Sons of Three Merchants

  The Dove Girl

  Jesus and St. Peter in Sicily

  The Barber’s Timepiece

  The Count’s Sister

  Master Francesco Sit-Down-and-Eat

  The Marriage of a Queen and a Bandit

  The Seven Lamb Heads

  The Two Sea Merchants

  Out in the World

  A Boat Loaded with . . .

  The King’s Son in the Henhouse

  The Mincing Princess

  The Great Narbone

  Animal Talk and the Nosy Wife

  The Calf with the Golden Horns

  The Captain and the General

  The Peacock Feather

  The Garden Witch

  The Mouse with the Long Tail

  The Two Cousins

  The Two Muleteers

  Giovannuzza the Fox

  The Child that Fed the Crucifix

  Steward Truth

  The Foppish King

  The Princess with the Horns


  Fra Ignazio

  Solomon’s Advice

  The Man Who Robbed the Robbers

  The Lions’ Grass

  The Convent of Nuns and the Monastery of Monks

  The Male Fern

  St. Anthony’s Gift

  March and the Shepherd

  John Balento

  Jump into My Sack



  Books by Italo Calvino

  About the Author

  Copyright © 1956 Giulio Einaudi editore, s.p.a., Torino

  English translation copyright © 1980 by Harcourt, Inc.

  All right
s reserved.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  The woodcut illustrations are reproduced from Proverbi milanesi, Proverbi siciliani, and Proverbi del Veneto by kind permission of Aldo Martello-Giunti Editore, S.p.A., Milan.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

  Calvino, Italo, 1923–1985

  Italian folktales.

  Translation of Fiabe italiane.

  “A Helen and Kurt Wolff book.”

  I. Tales, Italian. I. Title.

  GR176.C3413 398.2'1'0945 80-11879

  ISBN 0-15-145770-0

  ISBN 0-15-645489-0 (pbk.)

  eISBN 978-0-544-28322-0


  Translator’s Acknowledgments

  My thanks, first of all, to Willard R. Trask and Ines Delgado de Torres, for certain thoughtful and judicious remarks to me that are actually responsible for my getting launched in the translation of these folktales. Next, I am deeply grateful to Italo Calvino and to Helen Wolff for their encouragement at every turn. I feel especially fortunate to have had so painstaking—and patient—an editor as Sheila Cudahy, from whose expertise in literature, in translation, and in Italian I have profited immeasurably. My father, G. W. Martin, also deserves special thanks for his useful comments on portions of the manuscript. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the Translation Center at Columbia University for an award made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.



  A Journey Through Folklore

  The writing of this book was originally undertaken because of a publishing need: a collection of Italian folktales to take its rightful place alongside the great anthologies of foreign folklore. The problem was which text to choose. Was there an Italian equivalent of the Brothers Grimm?

  It is generally accepted that Italian tales from the oral tradition were recorded in literary works long before those from any other country. In Venice, as early as the middle of the sixteenth century, tales of wizardry and enchantment (some of them in dialect) as well as realistic novellas written in a Boccaccio-like style were collected by Straparola in his Piacevoli Notti. These tales imparted to his book a flavor of magic—part gothic, part oriental—suggestive of Carpaccio. In Naples, in the seventeenth century, Giambattista Basile wrote fairy tales in Neapolitan dialect and in baroque style and gave us the Pentameron or Entertainment for the Little Ones (which in our century was translated into Italian by no less a personage than the philosopher Benedetto Croce). Basile’s work resembles the dream of an odd Mediterranean Shakespeare, obsessed with the horrible, for whom there never were enough ogres or witches, in whose far-fetched and grotesque metaphors the sublime was intermingled with the coarse and the sordid. And in the eighteenth century, again in Venice, to countervail Goldoni’s middle-class comedies, Carlo Gozzi, a surly conservative, deeming that the public deserved no better, brought to the stage folktales in which he mingled fairies and wizards with the Harlequins and Pantaloons of the Commedia dell’Arte.

  But it was no longer a novelty: ever since the seventeenth century in France, fairy tales had flourished in Versailles at the court of the Sun King, where Charles Perrault created a genre and set down in writing a refined version of simple popular tales which, up to then, had been transmitted by word of mouth. The genre became fashionable and lost its artlessness: noble ladies and précieuses took to transcribing and inventing fairy stories. Thus dressed up and embellished, in the forty-one volumes of the Cabinet des fées, the folktale waxed and waned in French literature along with a taste for elegant fantasy counterbalanced by formal Cartesian rationalism.

  Thanks to the Brothers Grimm it flourished again, somber and earthy, at the beginning of the nineteenth century in German Romantic literature, this time as the anonymous creation of the Volksgeist, which had its roots in a timeless medieval period. A patriotic cult for the poetry of the common people spread among the littérateurs of Europe: Tommaseo and other scholars sought out Italian popular poetry but the tales waited in vain for an Italian Romantic to discover them.

  Through the diligent efforts of the folklorists of the positivistic generation, people began to write down tales told by old women. These folklorists looked upon India, as did Max Muller, as the source of all stories and myths, if not of mankind itself. The solar religions impressed them as being so complex that they had to invent Cinderella to account for the dawn, and Snow White for the spring. But meantime, after the example first set by the Germans (Widter and Wolf in Venice, Hermann Knust in Leghorn, the Austrian Schneller in Trentino, and Laura Gonzenbach in Sicily), people began collecting “novelline”—Angelo De Gubernatis in Siena, Vittorio Imbriani in Florence, in Campania, and in Lombardy; Domenico Compareretti in Pisa; Giuseppe Pitrè in Sicily. Some made do with a rough summary, but others, more painstaking, succeeded in preserving and transmitting the pristine freshness of the original stories. This passion communicated itself to a host of local researchers, collectors of dialectal oddities and minutiae, who became the contributors to the journals of folkloristic archives.

  In this manner huge numbers of popular tales were transmitted by word of mouth in various dialects, especially during the last third of the nineteenth century. The unremitting efforts of these “demo-psychologists,” as Pitrè labeled them, were never properly acknowledged and the patrimony they had brought to light was destined to remain locked up in specialized libraries; the material never circulated among the public. An “Italian Grimm” did not emerge, although as early as 1875 Comparetti had attempted to put together a general anthology from a number of regions, publishing in the series “Poems and Tales of the Italian People,” which he and D’Ancona edited, one volume of Popular Italian Tales, with the promise of two additional volumes which, however, never materialized.

  The folktale as a genre, confined to scholarly interests in learned monographs, never had the romantic vogue among Italian writers and poets that it had enjoyed in the rest of Europe, from Tieck to Pushkin; it was taken over, instead, by writers of children’s books, the master of them all being Carlo Collodi, who, some years before writing Pinocchio, had translated from the French a number of seventeenth-century fairy tales. From time to time, some famous writer such as Luigi Capuana, the major novelist of the Sicilian naturalist school, would do as a book for children a collection of tales having its roots both in fantasy and popular sentiment.

  But there was no readable master collection of Italian folktales which would be popular in every sense of the word. Could such a book be assembled now? It was decided that I should do it.

  For me, as I knew only too well, it was a leap in the dark, a plunge into an unknown sea into which others before me, over the course of 150 years, had flung themselves, not out of any desire for the unusual, but because of a deep-rooted conviction that some essential, mysterious element lying in the ocean depths must be salvaged to ensure the survival of the race; there was, of course, the risk of disappearing into the deep, as did Cola Fish in the Sicilian and Neapolitan legend. For the Brothers Grimm, the salvaging meant bringing to light the fragments of an ancient religion that had been preserved by the common people and had lain dormant until the glorious day of Napoleon’s defeat had finally awakened the German national consciousness. In the eyes of the “Indianists,” the essential element consisted of the allegories of the first Aryans who, in trying to explain the mystery of the sun and the moon, laid the foundations for religious and civil evolution. To the anthropologists it signified the somber and bloody initiation rites of tribal y
ouths, rites that have been identical from time immemorial, from paleolithic hunters to today’s primitive peoples. The followers of the Finnish school, in setting up a method for tracing migrations among Buddhist countries, Ireland, and the Sahara, applied a system similar to that used for the classification of coleoptera, which, in their cataloging process, reduced findings to algebraic sigla of the Type-Index and Motif-Index. What the Freudians salvaged was a repertory of ambiguous dreams common to all men, plucked from the oblivion of awakenings and set down in canonical form to represent the most basic anxieties. And for students of local traditions everywhere, it was a humble faith in an unknown god, rustic and familiar, who found a mouthpiece in the peasantry.

  I, however, plunged into that submarine world totally unequipped, without even a tankful of intellectual enthusiasm for anything spontaneous and primitive. I was subjected to all the discomforts of immersion in an almost formless element which, like the sluggish and passive oral tradition, could never be brought under conscious control. (“You’re not even a Southerner!” an uncompromising ethnologist friend said to me.) I could not forget, for even an instant, with what mystifying material I was dealing. Fascinated and perplexed, I considered every hypothesis which opposing schools of thought proposed in this area, being careful not to allow mere theorizing to cloud the esthetic pleasure that I might derive from these texts, and at the same time taking care not to be prematurely charmed by such complex, stratified, and elusive material. One might well ask why I undertook the project, were it not for the one bond I had with folktales—which I shall clarify in due course.

  Meanwhile, as I started to work, to take stock of the material available, to classify the stories into a catalog which kept expanding, I was gradually possessed by a kind of mania, an insatiable hunger for more and more versions and variants. Collating, categorizing, comparing became a fever. I could feel myself succumbing to a passion akin to that of entomologists, which I thought characteristic of the scholars of the Folklore Fellows Communications of Helsinki, a passion which rapidly degenerated into a mania, as a result of which I would have given all of Proust in exchange for a new variant of the “gold-dung donkey.” I’d quiver with disappointment if I came upon the episode of the bridegroom who loses his memory as he kisses his mother, instead of finding the one with the ugly Saracen woman, and my eye became so discerning—as is the wont with maniacs—that I could distinguish at a glance in the most difficult Apulian or Friulian text a “Prezzemolina” type from a “Bellinda” type.

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