Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

  The following afternoon the two sisters spun by themselves at the window. The moon rose in the evening and said:

  “Lovely is the one with gold,

  Lovelier still is the one with silver,

  But the one at my house surpasses them both.

  Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike.”

  At that, the sisters went flying to the hayloft to see what was up. Giricoccola was gone. They sent for a woman astrologer to find out where their sister was. The astrologer said that Giricoccola was at the moon’s house and more comfortable than she had ever been.

  “How can we bring about her death?” asked the sisters.

  “Leave it all to me,” replied the astrologer, who dressed as a gypsy and went to peddle her wares under the moon’s windows.

  Giricoccola looked out, and the astrologer said, “Would you like these handsome pins? I’ll let you have them for a song!”

  Now those pins truly delighted Giricoccola, and she invited the astrologer inside. “Here, let me put one in your hair,” said the astrologer, and thrust the pin into her head. Giricoccola at once turned into a statue, and the astrologer ran off to report to the sisters.

  When the moon came home from her trip around the world, she found the girl changed into a statue and said, “Didn’t I tell you to let no one in? I should leave you just like that for disobeying me.” But she finally relented and drew the pin from the girl’s head. Giricoccola came back to life and promised never to let anyone else in.

  A short time later the sisters returned to ask the astrologer if Giricoccola was still dead. The astrologer consulted her magic books and said that, for some strange reason, the girl was alive again and well. So the sisters once more urged the woman to put her to death. This time the astrologer took a box of combs to peddle under Giricoccola’s windows. They were too much for the girl to resist, and she called the woman inside. But the minute the comb touched her head she changed back into a statue, and the astrologer ran off to the sisters.

  The moon came home and, seeing the girl a statue once more, flew into a rage and called her every name under the sun. But when she had calmed down, she again forgave her, removed the comb from her head, and Giricoccola revived. “But if it happens one more time,” warned the moon, “you are going to remain a statue!” Giricoccola solemnly promised to admit no one from that moment on.

  But the sisters and the astrologer weren’t about to give up! Here came the woman with an embroidered gown for sale, the most beautiful gown you ever saw. Giricoccola was so charmed with it that she had to try it on, and the minute she did, she became a statue. This time the moon washed her hands of the matter, selling the statue for three cents to a chimney sweep.

  The chimney sweep took the beautiful statue about the city tied to his donkey’s packsaddle, until one day the king’s son saw it and fell in love with it. He bought the statue for its weight in gold and took it to his room, where he would spend hours adoring the stone maiden. Whenever he left the room, he would lock the door, wishing to be her sole admirer. Now his sisters were each anxious to have a gown like the statue’s to wear to a gala ball, so they entered the room with a skeleton key while their brother was out and removed the maiden’s gown.

  No sooner was it off than Giricoccola stirred and came back to life. The sisters almost died of fright, but Giricoccola reassured them with her story. Then they had her hide behind a door to await their brother’s return. The king’s son was frantic upon discovering the statue missing, but out jumped Giricoccola and told him everything from beginning to end. The youth took her to his parents at once and introduced her as his bride. The wedding was celebrated immediately. Giricoccola’s sisters learned of this from the astrologer and died of rage right then and there.



  Tabagnino the Hunchback

  The hunchback Tabagnino was a poor cobbler who could no longer make ends meet, because people never brought him so much as one shoe to mend. He therefore set out in search of better luck elsewhere. It grew dark and he was wondering where he was going to sleep, when he spied a light in the distance. Going toward it, he came to a house and knocked. A woman answered the door, and he asked for shelter.

  “But this is the home of the Wild Man,” said the woman. “He eats everyone he meets. If I let you in, my husband will eat you too.”

  Tabagnino begged and pleaded until the woman took pity on him and said, “Well, come in, and I’ll hide you under the ashes, if you don’t mind.”

  That she did, and when the Wild Man arrived and went sniffing through the house, saying,

  “The awful stench, it makes me leer,

  There was or is a man in here,

  My nose informs me, let him fear,

  I know, I know, he’s somewhere near,”

  his wife replied, “Come on to the table, you’re imagining things,” and served him a big bowl of macaroni.

  The couple both made a meal off the macaroni, and when the Wild Man had eaten all he could hold he said, “I’ve eaten my fill. You can give what’s left over to anybody hiding in the house.”

  “As a matter of fact, there is a poor little man who asked me for shelter for tonight,” said the wife. “If you promise not to eat him, I’ll bring him out.”

  “Bring him out.”

  The woman pulled Tabagnino from the ashes and seated him at the table. Sitting across from the Wild Man, the poor hunchback cloaked in ashes shook like a leaf, but he took heart and ate the macaroni

  “Tonight I’m no longer hungry,” said the Wild Man. “But I warn you, if you don’t flee for your life early tomorrow morning, I’ll swallow you whole.”

  With that said, they struck up a friendly conversation, and the hunchback, who was as crafty as the Devil himself, remarked, “That’s a fine coverlet you have on your bed!”

  “It is embroidered entirely in gold and silver,” explained the Wild Man, “and fringed with solid gold.”

  “And that chest?”

  “It contains two bags of money.”

  “And the wand behind the bed?”

  “It brings good weather.”

  “And the voice we hear?”

  “It’s a parrot I keep in the henhouse and which talks like us.”

  “You really have some fine things!”

  “Oh, they’re not all here by any means! In the stable I have the most beautiful mare you ever saw, and she runs like the wind.”

  After supper the wife took Tabagnino back to his spot under the ashes and then went off to bed with her husband. When day broke, she called Tabagnino, “Get up, flee for your life before my husband rises!”

  The hunchback thanked the woman and left.

  On and on he traveled until he reached the king of Portugal’s palace and asked for hospitality. The king wanted to see him and hear his story. Upon learning what was in the Wild Man’s house, the king felt a strong desire to possess those wonderful things and said, “Listen carefully. You can stay here at the palace and do whatever you please, but I’m asking one thing in return.”

  “What’s that, Majesty?”

  “You said the Wild Man has a beautiful coverlet embroidered in gold and silver and fringed with solid gold. You must get it for me, or you’ll lose your head.”

  “But how can I?” replied the hunchback. “The Wild Man devours everyone. You’re sending me, for sure, to my death.”

  “That is not my concern. Think it over and manage the best you can.”

  The poor hunchback thought hard, then went to the king, saying, “Sacred Crown, give me a paper bag full of live hornets that have fasted for seven or eight days, and I’ll bring you back the coverlet.”

  The king sent the army out to catch the hornets and gave them to Tabagnino. He also gave him a wand, saying, “Take this wand. It is magic and will come in very handy. When you have to cross water, strike the ground with the wand and have no fear. While you are gone I will be waiting for you in my palace across the sea.”
r />   The hunchback went to the Wild Man’s house, where he listened at the door and heard them eating supper. He climbed up to the bedroom window, slipped through it, and hid under the bed. When the Wild Man and his wife retired and fell asleep, the hunchback thrust the paper bag full of hornets under the covers and sheets and opened it. Feeling that wonderful heat, the hornets came buzzing out, stinging right and left.

  The Wild Man began tossing about and threw off the coverlet, which the hunchback rolled up under the bed. The hornets grew angry and stung for all they were worth. The Wild Man and his wife fled, screaming. Once Tabagnino was alone he too fled with the coverlet under his arm.

  A few minutes later the Wild Man went to the window and called to the parrot in the henhouse, “Parrot, what is the hour?”

  “The hour when the hunchback Tabagnino makes off with the beautiful coverlet!” replied the parrot.

  The Wild Man ran into the bedroom and saw that the coverlet was missing. Then he took the mare and galloped after the hunchback, finally spotting him in the distance. But Tabagnino was already on the seashore striking the ground with the wand the king had given him: the waters divided, and he ran safely to the other shore, after which the waters again united. The Wild Man, halted on his shore, yelled:

  “O Tabagnino, you hateful thing,

  When will you come back to this shore?

  I mean to eat you before long,

  Or else not live any more.”

  At the sight of the coverlet, the king jumped for joy. He thanked the hunchback, then said, “Tabagnino, if you were sly enough to steal the coverlet, you can also make off with the wand which brings fine weather.”

  “But how could I ever do that, Sacred Crown?”

  “Think hard, or you’ll lose your head.”

  After some concentration, the hunchback asked the king for a little bag of walnuts.

  He reached the Wild Man’s house, listened at the door, and heard them going to bed. After climbing to the roof, he began pelting the tiles with walnuts. The clatter awakened the Wild Man, who said to his wife, “Just listen to that hailstorm! Take the wand and lay it on the roof at once, or the hail will ruin my wheat.”

  The woman got up, opened the window, and laid the wand on the roof, in perfect reach of Tabagnino, who picked it up immediately and fled.

  Shortly after, the Wild Man rose, pleased that it had stopped hailing, and went to the window.

  “Parrot, what is the hour?”

  “It is the hour when the hunchback Tabagnino makes off with your good-weather wand.”

  The Wild Man jumped on the mare and galloped after the hunchback. He was about to overtake him on the beach, when Tabagnino struck the ground with the wand. The sea opened, let Tabagnino through, then closed again. The Wild Man yelled:

  “O Tabagnino, you hateful thing,

  When will you come back to this shore?

  I mean to eat you before long,

  Or else not live any more.”

  At the sight of the wand, the king was overjoyed. But he said, “Now you must go and get me the two bags of money.”

  The hunchback thought it over, then had some woodchopper’s tools readied, changed clothes, put on a false beard, and went off to the Wild Man’s with hatchet, wedges, and sledgehammer. Now the Wild Man had never seen Tabagnino in the daylight, and Tabagnino had also been eating such hearty meals since he had been at the king’s palace, that the Wild Man did not recognize him.

  They greeted one another. “Where are you going?”

  “For wood!”

  “Oh, here in the forest there’s all the wood you could possibly want!”

  So Tabagnino took his tools and started working around a massive oak. Into the tree he hammered a wedge, then another, then a third, and proceeded to drive them in with the sledgehammer. In no time he grew impatient, pretending one wedge had gone in too far.

  “Don’t get upset,” said the Wild Man. “I’ll lend you a hand.” And he stuck his hands in the opening to see if he could widen it and free the wedge. At that, Tabagnino struck the tree with the sledgehammer, knocking out all the wedges at once, and the crack in the trunk closed on the Wild Man’s hands. “Help me, for heaven’s sake, help me!” he began shouting. “Run to my house and tell my wife to give you those two large wedges of ours and set me free!”

  Tabagnino ran to the house and said to the woman, “Quick, your husband wants you to give me those two bags of money out of the chest.”

  “How can I do that?” said the woman. “We have supplies to buy. If he’d said one bag, I could understand. But both of them, no!”

  So Tabagnino opened the window and cried, “Is she to give me just one, or both of them?”

  “Both of them, and be quick about it!” shouted the Wild Man.

  “Did you hear that? He is very angry,” said Tabagnino. He took the bags and fled.

  With a good deal of struggling, the Wild Man pulled his hands out of the tree trunk, skinning them quite badly, and went home groaning. His wife asked right away, “But why did you ask me to give away the two bags of money?”

  Her husband was stunned. He went to the parrot and asked: “What is the hour?”

  “The hour the hunchback is carrying off the two bags of money!”

  But this time the Wild Man was in too much pain for a chase and merely cursed the hunchback.

  The king also ordered Tabagnino to go and steal the mare that ran like the wind. “How can I do it? The stable is locked, and the animal has many jingle-bells on its harness!” But then he thought it over and requested an awl and a little bag of cotton. With the awl he made a hole in the wall of the stable and squeezed through it. Then he began pricking the mare in the belly with the awl. The horse kicked, and the Wild Man, hearing the noise as he lay in bed, said, “Poor animal, she must not feel well tonight to be so restless.”

  Tabagnino waited a couple of minutes, then pricked her again with the awl. Tired of hearing the mare kick, the Wild Man went to the stable, led her out, and tethered her outdoors. Then he returned to his bed and fell asleep once more. The hunchback, who was hiding in the dark stable, came out through the hole he had made, stuffed the mare’s bells with cotton, and muffled her hoofs. He untied the animal, climbed into the saddle, and galloped off in silence. A little later, the Wild Man woke up as usual and went to the window. “Parrot, what is the hour?”

  “It is the hour the hunchback is riding your mare away!”

  The Wild Man would have gone after him, but Tabagnino had the mare, and who could ever overtake that animal?

  Overjoyed, the king said, “Now I want the parrot.”

  “But the parrot talks and screams!”

  “Think of a way.”

  The hunchback ordered a few of the best trifles you ever tasted, candies, cookies, and all kinds of pastries. He put everything in a basket and left. “See what I brought you, parrot? You’ll get things like this every day if you’ll come with me.”

  The parrot ate the trifles and said, “Good!”

  So by means of trifles, cookies, and candies, Tabagnino lured the bird away, and the next time the Wild Man called from the window, “Parrot, what is the hour?” there was no answer. “Didn’t you hear me? I said, ‘What is the hour?’” He ran to the henhouse and found it empty.

  There was a big celebration when Tabagnino walked into the king’s palace with the parrot. “Now after all this,” said the king, “you have only one more thing to do.”

  “But there’s nothing else to take!” replied the hunchback.

  “What do you mean?” snapped the king. “The most important thing of all remains for you to bring me the Wild Man himself.”

  “I will try, Sacred Crown. Just give me a garment that hides my hump, and have my features well disguised.”

  The king called in his finest tailors and wigmakers, and thanks to the new clothes, blond wig and fine mustache they put on Tabagnino, no one would have ever recognized him as the hunchback from the king’s court.
br />   Thus disguised, the hunchback went off to the Wild Man and found him working in a field. Tabagnino doffed his hat in greeting.

  “What are you looking for?” asked the Wild Man.

  “I’m the coffin-maker,” explained Tabagnino, “and I’m in search of planks for the coffin of Tabagnino the hunchback, who has died.”

  “So he finally dropped dead!” exclaimed the Wild Man. “That makes me so happy I’ll give you the boards myself, and you can build the coffin right here.”

  “With pleasure,” said the hunchback. “The only drawback to that is I won’t be able to measure the body.”

  “That’s no problem,” answered the Wild Man. “The rascal was about my size. You may measure me.”

  Tabagnino began sawing the boards and nailing them together. When the coffin was done, he said, “Now let’s see if this is the right size.” The Wild Man stretched out inside. “Let’s check the lid.” Tabagnino put the lid in place and nailed it down. Then he took the coffin to the king.

  All the noblemen in the vicinity came and carried the box to the middle of a meadow and set it afire. Then there was a grand celebration to mark the kingdom’s liberation from the monster.

  The king named Tabagnino his secretary and always held him in great esteem.

  Long tale, narrow way,

  I’ve finished, so now say your say.



Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]