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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif K187

Strokes shared. The boy promises the soldier what the king has promised to give him. The soldier receives a beating in place of the boy. *Type 1610; **Reinhard JAFL XXXVI 380; *BP I 62; *Basset 1001 Contes I 321; Köhler-Bolte I 495; *Chauvin V 282 No. 166; *Wesselski Märchen 202 No. 13; *Pauli (ed. Bolte) No. 614; Hibbard 80 n. 3; Wesselski Mönchslatein 161 No. 122. – English: Wells 161 (Sir Cleges); Italian Novella: *Rotunda; India: *Thompson-Balys.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

1. Jests and Anecdotes

D. Deceptive Bargains

The joy in a shrewd deal is by no means confined to the world of good business and does not depend upon modern capitalistic society. The principle of caveat emptor is only a codification of an idea already very old and very widespread. Especially if the cheater is naturally weaker or poorer than his adversary, the interest in the swindle is heightened. Several of the well-known complex folktales, such as The Rich and the Poor Peasant (Type 1535) and Cleverness and Gullibility (Type 1539), [306] are filled with sales of pseudomagic objects, false treasure, and worthless animals and services. Except as members of longer tales, these incidents do not normally have enough interest to assure them independent life. But in that group of anecdotes having to do with bargains which sound simple but become very difficult in the end there is enough real cleverness to make them popular everywhere. Such, for instance, is the tale of the deceptive crop division, sometimes told of men and sometimes of animals. Of the two who are putting in the crops, they agree that one is to have what grows above the ground and the other what grows below. The stupid person or animal chooses the tops of the root crops and the roots of all other crops (K171.1; (Types 1030 and 9B). Many variations are made on this tale, though the essential idea is always the same. It may be a division of pigs with curly or straight tails where the trickster takes all the curly tails, or of animals for shearing where the trickster chooses the sheep and leaves the pigs for the dupe (K171.4, K171.5; Types 1036, 1037).

A seemingly simple agreement may lead to a kind of blackmail. Thus the trickster and his superior, usually a parson, have a quarrel over some property. They agree that the first of them to say "Good morning" the next day is to have the property. The trickster is early on the scene and witnesses the other's adultery. He may keep the property without saying "Good morning" (K176; Type 1735).

One of the oldest records of deceptive bargains in the world is that connected with the legend of Dido. In its most usual form this anecdote tells about the purchase of as much land as can be surrounded by an oxhide. [p. 199] The hide is cut into very small strips so as to include a large territory (K185 and all its subdivisions; Type 2400). The theme is subject to many variations. The boundary may be fixed by the flight of a goose, or by a race run by a supernaturally swift man. As an actual legend, such a story appears not only in Virgil, but in Herodotus, ancient Buddhistic literature, Icelandic sagas, and the Historia of Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is found rather infrequently as an oral tale.

If the tale of Dido is primarily a legend, the story of the strokes which were shared (K187; Type 1610) belongs to another world, that of the medieval and Renaissance literary anecdote. The boy who is going to see the king is forced to bribe the doorkeeper with an agreement to give him whatever the king promises. The only promise the king gives is a beating, and the doorkeeper must submit to the bargain. In some versions of the tale, the agreement is merely to share the profits, and these turn out to be strokes. In spite of its purely literary origin, this story is very well known in northern and eastern Europe and has been recorded in Spain and India.

Many anecdotes of such deceptive bargains find their place in jestbooks, or in the folklore of a single country or area. Such of those as concern transactions with the devil have already been noticed in connection with one of the complex tales. [307]

The idea of a bargain of this kind appears with a slight variation in an anecdote extremely popular in northern and eastern Europe and recorded by Hans Sachs. This tells of the man who is to receive as payment all the money his hat will hold. He has a hole in his hat and the hat is over a pit (K275; Type 1130). The tale has been collected two hundred times in Finland alone.

[306] For these, see pp. 165 and 166f., above.

[307] See pp. 42ff., above.


9B, 1030, 1036, 1037, 1130, 1535, 1539, 1610, 1735, 2400


K171.1, K171.4, K171.5, K176, K185, K187, K275