To Book List

To Story List

To Main Page

International Folktales Collection

To Next Story

To Previous Story

Story No. 856

The Ingrates

Book Name:

Italian Popular Tales

Tradition: Italy

(Piedmontese, Comparetti, No. 67, Gli Ingrati)

There was once a man who went into the forest to gather wood, and saw a snake crushed under a large stone. He raised the stone a little with the handle of his axe and the snake crawled out. When it was at liberty it said to the man: "I am going to eat you." The man answered: "Softly; first let us hear the judgment of some one, and if I am condemned, then you shall eat me." The first one they met was a horse as thin as a stick, tied to an oak-tree. He had eaten the leaves as far as he could reach, for he was famished. The snake said to him: "Is it right for me to eat this man who has saved my life?" The nag answered: "More than right. Just look at me! I was one of the finest horses. I have carried my master so many years, and what have I gained? Now that I am so badly off that I can no longer work they have tied me to this oak, and after I have eaten these few leaves I shall die of hunger. Eat the man, then; for he who does good is ill rewarded, and he who does evil must be well rewarded. Eat him, for you will be doing a good day's work." They afterwards happened to find a mulberry-tree, all holes, for it was eaten by old age; and the snake asked it if it was right to eat the man who had saved its life. "Yes," the tree answered at once, "for I have given my master so many leaves that he has raised from them the finest silk-worms in the world; now that I can no longer stand upright, he has said that he is going to throw me into the fire. Eat him, then, for you will do well." Afterwards they met the fox. The man took her aside and begged her to pronounce in his favor. The fox said: "The better to render judgment I must see just how the matter has happened." They all returned to the spot and arranged matters as they were at first; but as soon as the man saw the snake under the stone he cried out: "Where you are, there I will leave you." And there the snake remained. The fox wished in payment a bag of hens, and the man promised them to her for the next morning. The fox went there in the morning, and when the man saw her he put some dogs in the bag, and told the fox not to eat the hens close by, for fear the mistress of the house would hear it. So the fox did not open the bag until she had reached a distant valley; then the dogs came out and ate her; and so it is in the world; for who does good is ill rewarded and who does evil is well rewarded.[6]


[6] This fable is also found in Pitrè, No. 273, "The Man, the Wolf, and the Fox," and in Gonz., No. 69, "Lion, Horse, and Fox:" see Benfey, Pant. I. 113, and Köhler's references to Gonz., No. 69.

There is also a version of this fable in Morosi, p. 75, which is as follows:—


It would be surprising if we did not find the fascinating stories of the Thousand and One Nights naturalized among the people. It is, of course, impossible to tell whether they were communicated to the people directly from a literary source, or whether the separate stories came to Italy from the Orient by way of oral transmission.[7] These stories have circulated among the people long enough to be treated as their own property and changed to suit their taste. Incidents from other stories have been added and the original story remodelled until it is hardly recognizable. The story of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp," for instance, is found from Sicily to Lombardy; but in no one version are all the features of the original story preserved. In one of the Sicilian versions (Messina) Aladdin does not lose his lamp; in another (Palermo), after Aladdin has lost his lamp he goes in search of it, and on his journey settles the quarrel of an ant, an eagle, and a lion, who give him the power to transform himself into any one of them. He finally discovers the magician, who has his life elsewhere than in his own body, and who is killed after the usual complicated process. In the Roman version the point of the unfinished window in Aladdin's palace is missed, the magician requires to be killed, as in the version from Palermo, and there are some additional incidents not in the Oriental original. In the Mantuan story, instead of a lamp we have a rusty ring, which the youngest brother finds inside of a dead cock bequeathed to three brothers by their father. After the ring has fallen into the possession of the magician and the palace has disappeared, the hero goes in search of his wife and ring. On his way he is assisted by the "King of the Fishes" and the "King of the Birds." The eagle carries a letter to the captive princess, who obtains the ring from the magician, rubs it on a stone, and when it asks what she wishes, answers: "I wish this palace to return where it first was and the magician to be drowned in the sea."[8]

Of almost equal popularity is the story of the "Forty Thieves," who are, however, in the Italian versions, reduced to thirteen, twelve, or six in number. The versions in Pitrè (No. 23 and variants) contain but one incident of the original story, where the robbers are detected in the oil-jars, and killed by pouring boiling oil over them. In one of Pitrè's versions the robbers are hidden in sacks of charcoal, and the cunning daughter pierces the bags with a red-hot spit. In another, they are hidden in oil-skins, and sold to the abbess of a certain convent for oil. One of the nuns has some suspicion of the trick, and invites her companions to tap the skins with red-hot irons. Another Sicilian version (Gonz. No. 79, "The Story of the Twelve Robbers") contains the first part of the Arabian tale, the robbers' cave which opens and closes by the words, "Open, door!" and "Shut, door!" The story ends with the death of one of the brothers, who entered the cave and was killed by one of the robbers who had remained. It is only in the version from Mantua (Visentini, No. 7, "The Cunning Maid") that we find the story complete; boiling water is used instead of oil in killing the thieves, and the servant girl afterwards kills the captain, who had escaped before. The story of the "Third Calendar" is told in detail in Comparetti (No. 65, "The Son of the King of France") and the "Two Envious Sisters" furnishes details for a number of distinct stories.[9] The story of "The Hunchback" is found in Pitrè and Straparola, and as it is also the subject of an Old-French fabliau, it may have been borrowed from the French, or, what is more likely, both French and Italians took it from a common source.[10] The fable of "The Ass, the Ox, and the Peasant," which the Vizier relates to prevent his daughter becoming the Sultan's wife, is found in Pitrè (No. 282) under the title of "The Curious Wife," and is also in Straparola.[11] The beautiful story of "Prince Ahmed and the fairy Peribanu" is found in Nerucci, No. 40, "The Three Presents, or the Story of the Carpets." The three presents are the magic telescope that sees any distance, the carpet that carries one through the air, and the magic grapes that bring to life. The Italian version follows closely the Oriental original. The same may be said of another story in the same collection, No. 48, "The Traveller from Turin," which is nothing but Sindbad's "Fourth Voyage."[12] The last story taken from the Arabian Nights which we shall mention is that of "The Second Royal Mendicant," found in Comparetti (No. 63, "My Happiness") from the Basilicata, and in the collection of Mantuan stories. The latter (No. 8) is entitled: "There is no longer any Devil." The magician is the devil, and the story concludes, after the transformations in which the peasant's son kills the devil in the shape of a hen, with the words: "And this is the reason why there is no longer any devil."[13]

The first collection of Oriental tales known in Europe as a collection was the Disciplina Clericalis, that is, Instruction or Teaching for Clerks or Clergymen. It was the work of a converted Spanish Jew, Petrus Alphonsi, and was composed before 1106, the date of the baptism of the author, the time and place of whose death are not known. The Disciplina Clericalis was early translated into French prose and poetry, and was the storehouse from which all subsequent story-tellers drew abundant material.[14] Precisely how the Disciplina Clericalis became known in Italy we cannot tell; but the separate stories must have become popular and diffused by word of mouth at a very early date. One of the stories of this collection is found in Italian literature as early as the Cento Novelle Antiche.[15] Four of the stories in the Disciplina Clericalis are found in Pitrè and other collections of popular tales, and although belonging, with one exception, to the class of jests, they are mentioned here for the sake of completeness.

In one of the stories of the Disciplina Clericalis, two citizens of a certain town and a countryman were making the pilgrimage to Mecca together, and on the way ran so short of food that they had only flour enough left to make one small loaf. The two citizens in order to cheat the countryman out of his share devised the following scheme: While the bread was baking they proposed that all three should sleep, and whoever should have the most remarkable dream should have the whole loaf. While the citizens were asleep, the countryman, who had divined their plan, stole the half-cooked bread from the fire, ate it, and then threw himself down again. One of the other two pretended to wake up in a fright, and told his companion that he had dreamed that two angels had led him through the gates of heaven into the presence of God. The other declared that he had been led by two angels into the nether-world. The countryman heard all this and still pretended to sleep. When his companions aroused him he asked in amazement: "Who are those calling me?" They answered: "We are your companions." "What," said he, "have you got back already?" "Where have we been to in order to return?" The countryman replied: "It seemed to me that two angels led one of you to heaven, and afterwards two others conducted the other to hell. From this I imagined that neither of you would return, so I got up and ate the bread."[16]

The same story is told in Pitrè (No. 173) of a monk who was an itinerant preacher, and who was accompanied on his journey by a very cunning lay brother. One day the monk received a present of some fish which he wished to eat himself alone, and therefore proposed to the brother that the one of them who dreamed the best dream should have all the fish. The dreams and the conclusion are the same as in the original.[17]

The next story is well known from the use made of it by Cervantes in Don Quixote (Part I., chap. xx.) where Sancho relates it to beguile the hours of the memorable night when the noise of the fulling-mill so terrified the doughty knight and his squire. The version in the Disciplina Clericalis is as follows: A certain king had a story-teller who told him five stories every night. It happened once that the king, oppressed by cares of state, was unable to sleep, and asked for more than the usual number of stories. The story-teller related three short ones. The king wished for more still, and when the story-teller demurred, said: "You have told me several very short ones. I want something long, and then you may go to sleep." The story-teller yielded, and began thus: "Once upon a time there was a certain countryman who went to market and bought two thousand sheep. On his way home a great inundation took place, so that he was unable to cross a certain river by the ford or bridge. After anxiously seeking some means of getting across with his flock, he found at length a little boat in which he could convey two sheep over." After the story-teller had got thus far he went to sleep. The king roused him and ordered him to finish the story he had begun. The story-teller answered: "The flood is great, the boat small, and the flock innumerable; let the aforesaid countryman get his sheep over, and I will finish the story I have begun."[18]

The version in Pitrè (No. 138) lacks all connection and is poor, but we give it here, as it is very brief.

39. The Treasure.


To Next Story

To Previous Story