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Story No. 124

The Fool with the Sheep

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania, Bukovina, Ukraine

The youngest of three brothers is a fool, and the two others want to kill him. They induce him to get into a sack as the way to go to heaven. He does so, and they take him to the sea. They stop for a drink at a tavern. A stranger comes by with sheep. He wants to go, and takes Jack's place, and is thrown into the sea. Jack returns with the sheep. The brothers find him at home with his flock, and ask where he got them. 'At the bottom of the sea.' They want to go too, so Jack throws them in, and returns home.


One of the Boswells remarked to me twenty odd years ago, 'The folks hereabouts are a lot of rátfalo heathens; they all think they are going to heaven in a sack.' Our story is a very widespread one, A Polish-Gypsy fragment of it was printed as a specimen by Kopernicki (Gypsy Lore Journal, iii. 132); and it occurs also in Grimm ('The Little Peasant,' No. 61, i. 264, 422), Campbell of Islay ('The Three Widows,' No. 39, ii. 218-238; cf. R. Köhler thereon in Orient and Occident, ii. 1864, pp. 486-506), and Straparola (Venice, 1550: 'Scarpafigo,' i. 3), besides which Clouston (ii. 229-288, 489-91) cites Irish, English, Norse, Danish, Icelandic, Burgundian, Gascon, Sicilian, Modern Greek, Kabyle, Indian, and other versions. He could not of course give two excellent versions from A. Campbell's Santal Folk-tales (1891) – 'The Story of Bitaram,' pp. 25-32, and 'The Greatest Cheat of Seven,' pp. 98-101. In the first, which has features of Grimm's 'Thumbling' (No. 37) and 'Frederick and Catherine' (No. 59), Bitaram, who is only a span high, by measuring money in a paila and leaving some coins sticking in it, deludes the king and his sons into killing all their cattle and firing their houses so as likewise to grow rich by the sale of the hides and the ashes. They resolve to drown him, put him in a bag, and carry him to the river, then go to a little distance to cook their food. Bitaram tells a herd-boy that they are going to marry him against his will; the herd-boy takes his place; and the story ends exactly as in the European versions, only with cows and buffaloes in place of sheep. In the second story the rivals are induced to purchase a ' magic' fishing-rod and a ' marvellous' dog, to burn their houses, and to kill their wives. The occurrence of this story, as of others already cited, among the aboriginal Santals of India is exceedingly curious. Is it perhaps to be explained by the frequent mention in the collection of Doms (= Roms = Gypsies)? Cornelius Price's whole story of 'Jack the Robber' is a combination of 'The Master Thief' and 'The Little Peasant,' such as meets us also in Hahn's Greek story of 'Beauty and the Dragon' (No. 3, i. 75-79; ii. 178-186).


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