Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Fair Fiorita, The

We have already encountered the trait of "Thankful Animals," who assist the hero in return for kindness he has shown them. What is merely an incident in the stories above alluded to constitutes the main feature of a class of stories which may be termed "Animal Brothers-in-law." The usual formula in these stories is as follows: Three princes, transformed into animals, marry the hero's sisters. The hero visits them in turn; they assist him in the performance of difficult tasks, and are by him freed from their enchantment. This formula varies, of course. Sometimes there are but two sisters, and the brothers-in-law are freed from their enchantment in some other way than by the hero. A good specimen of this class is from the south of Italy, Basilicata (Comparetti, No. 20), and is called:


THERE was once a king who had four children: three daughters and a son, who was the heir to the throne. One day the king said to the prince: "My son, I have decided to marry your three sisters to the first persons who pass our palace at noon." At that time there first passed a swine-herd, then a huntsman, and finally a grave-digger. The king had them all three summoned to his presence, and told the swine-herd that he wished to give him his oldest daughter for a wife, the second to the huntsman, and the third to the grave-digger. Those poor creatures thought they were dreaming. But they saw that the king spoke seriously, or rather commanded. Then, all confused, but well pleased, they said: "Let your Majesty's will be done." The prince, who loved his youngest sister dearly, was deeply grieved that she should become a grave-digger's wife. He begged the king not to make this match, but the king would not listen to him.

               The prince, grieved at his father's caprice, would not be present at his sisters' wedding, but took a walk in the garden at the foot of the palace. Now, while the priest in the marriage hall was blessing the three brides, the garden suddenly bloomed with the fairest flowers, and there came forth from a white cloud a voice which said: "Happy he who shall have a kiss from the lips of the fair Fiorita!" The prince trembled so that he could hardly stand; and afterward, leaning against an olive-tree, he began to weep for the sisters he had lost, and remained buried in thought many hours. Then he started, as if awakening from a dream, and said to himself: "I must flee from my father's house. I will wander about the world, and will not rest until I have a kiss from the lips of the fair Fiorita."

               He travelled over land and sea, over mountains and plains, and found no living soul that could give him word of the fair Fiorita. Three years had elapsed, when one day, leaving a wood and journeying through a beautiful plain, he arrived at a palace before which was a fountain, and drew near to drink. A child two years old, who was playing by the fountain, seeing him approach, began to cry and call its mother. The mother, when she saw the prince, ran to meet him, embraced him, and kissed him, crying: "Welcome, welcome, my brother!" The prince at first did not recognize her; but looking at her closely in the face, he saw that it was his oldest sister, and embracing her in turn, exclaimed: "How glad I am to see you, my sister!" and they rejoiced greatly. The sister invited him to enter the palace, which was hers, and led him to her husband, who was much pleased to see him, and all three overwhelmed with caresses the child who, by calling his mother, had been the cause of all that joy.

               The prince then asked about his other two sisters, and his brother-in-law replied that they were well, and lived in a lordly way with their husbands. The prince was surprised, and his brother-in-law added that the fortunes of the three husbands of his sisters had changed since they had been enchanted by a magician. "And cannot I see my other two sisters?" asked the prince. The brother-in-law replied: "Direct your journey towards sunrise. After a day you will find your second sister; after two days, the third." "But I must seek the way to the fair Fiorita, and I do not know whether it is towards sunrise or sunset." "It is precisely towards sunrise; and you are doubly fortunate: first, because you will see your two sisters again; secondly, because from the last you can receive information about the fair Fiorita. But before departing I wish to give you a remembrance. Take these hog's bristles. The first time you encounter any danger from which you cannot extricate yourself, throw them on the ground, and I will free you from the danger." The prince took the bristles, and after he had thanked his brother-in-law, resumed his journey.

               The next day he arrived at the palace of his second sister; was received there also with great joy, and this brother-in-law, too, wished to give him a memento before he departed; and because he had been a huntsman, presented him with a bunch of birds' feathers, telling him the same thing that the other brother-in-law had. He thanked him and departed. The third day he came to his youngest sister's, who, seeing the brother who had always loved her more dearly than his other sisters, welcomed him more warmly, as did also her husband. The latter gave him a little human bone, giving him the same advice as the other brothers-in-law had. His sister then told him that the fair Fiorita lived a day's journey from there, and that he could learn more about her from an old woman who was indebted to her, and to whom she sent him.

               As soon as the prince arrived at the fair Fiorita's country (she was the king's daughter), he went to the old woman. When she heard that he was the brother of the one who had been so kind to her, she received him like a son. Fortunately, the old woman's house was exactly opposite that side of the king's palace where there was a window to which the fair Fiorita came every day at dawn. Now one morning at that hour she appeared at the window, scarcely covered by a white veil. When the prince saw that flower of beauty, he was so agitated that he would have fallen had not the old woman supported him. The old woman attempted to dissuade him from the idea of marrying the fair Fiorita, saying that the king would give his daughter only to him who should discover a hidden place, and that he killed him who could not find it, and that already many princes had lost their lives for her. But, notwithstanding, he answered that he should die if he could not obtain possession of the fair Fiorita. Having learned afterward from the old woman that the king bought for his daughter the rarest musical instruments, hear what he devised! He went to a cymbal-maker and said: "I want a cymbal that will play three tunes, and each tune to last a day, and to be made in such a way that a man can be hidden inside of it; and I will pay you a thousand ducats for it. When it is finished I will get in it; and you must go and play it in front of the king's palace; and if the king wishes to buy it you will sell it to him on condition that you shall take it every three days to fix it." The cymbal-maker consented, and did all that the prince commanded him. The king purchased the cymbal with the maker's condition, had it carried to his daughter's bed-chamber, and said to her: "See, my daughter, I do not wish you to lack any diversion, even when you are in bed and cannot sleep."

               Next to the fair Fiorita's chamber slept her maids of honor. In the night when all were asleep, the prince, who was hidden in the cymbal, came out and called: "Fair Fiorita! fair Fiorita!" She awoke in a fright and cried: "Come, my maids of honor, I hear some one calling me." The maids of honor came quickly, but found no one, for the prince hid himself suddenly in the instrument. The same thing happened twice, and the maids coming and finding no one, the fair Fiorita said: "Well, it must be my fancy. If I call you again, do not come, I command you." The prince, within the cymbal, heard this. Scarcely had the maids of honor fallen asleep again, when the prince approached the fair one's bed and said: "Fair Fiorita, give me, I beg you, a kiss from your lips; if you do not, I shall die." She, all trembling, called her maids; but obeying her command, they did not come. Then she said to the prince: "You are fortunate and have won. Draw near." And she gave him the kiss, and on the prince's lips there remained a beautiful rose. "Take this rose," she said, "and keep it on your heart, for it will bring you good luck." The prince placed it on his heart, and then told his fair one all his history from the time he had left his father's palace until he had introduced himself into her chamber by the trick with the cymbal. The fair Fiorita was well pleased, and said that she would willingly marry him; but to succeed, he must perform many difficult tasks which the king would lay upon him. First he must discover the way to a hiding-place where the king had concealed her with a hundred damsels; then he must recognize her among the hundred damsels, all dressed alike and veiled. "But," she said, "you need not trouble yourself about these difficulties, for the rose you have taken from my lips, and which you will always wear over your heart, will draw you like the loadstone, first to the hiding-place, and afterward to my arms. But the king will set you other tasks, and perhaps terrible ones. These you must think of yourself. Let us leave it to God and fortune."

               The prince went at once to the king, and asked for the fair Fiorita's hand. The king did not refuse it, but made the same conditions, that the princess had told him of. He consented, and by the help of the rose quickly performed the first tasks. "Bravo!" exclaimed the king, when the prince recognized the fair Fiorita among the other damsels; "but this is not enough." Then he shut him up in a large room all full of fruit, and commanded him, under pain of death, to eat it all up in a day. The prince was in despair, but fortunately he remembered the hog's bristles and the advice which his first brother-in-law had given him. He threw the bristles on the ground, and there suddenly came forth a great herd of swine which ate up all the fruit and then disappeared. This task was accomplished. But the king proposed another. He wished the prince to retire with his bride, and cause her to fall asleep at the singing of the birds which are the sweetest to hear and the most beautiful to see. The prince remembered the bunch of feathers given him by his brother-in-law the huntsman, and threw them on the ground. Suddenly there appeared the most beautiful birds in the world, and sang so sweetly that the king himself fell asleep. But a servant awakened him at once, because he had commanded it, and he said to the prince and his daughter: "Now you can enjoy your love at liberty. But to-morrow, on arising, you must present me with a child two years old, who can speak and call you by name. If not, you will both be killed." "Now let us retire, my dear wife," said the prince to the fair Fiorita. "Between now and to-morrow some saint will aid us." The next morning the prince remembered the bone which his brother-in-law the grave-digger had given him. He rose and threw it to the ground, and lo! a beautiful child, with a golden apple in his right hand, who cried papa and mamma. The king entered the room, and the child ran to meet him, and wished to put the golden apple on the crown which the king wore. The king then kissed the child, blessed the pair, and taking the crown from his head, put it on his son-in-law's, saying: "This is now yours." Then they gave a great feast at the court for the wedding, and they invited the prince's three sisters, with their husbands. And the prince's father, receiving such good news of the son whom he believed lost, hastened to embrace him, and gave him his crown too. So the prince and the fair Fiorita became king and queen of two realms, and from that time on were always happy. [1]

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               In the above story the wife is won by the performance of difficult tasks by the suitor. A somewhat similar class of stories is the one in which the bride is won by the solution of a riddle. The riddle, or difficult question, is either proposed by the bride herself, and the suitor who fails to answer it is killed, or the suitor is obliged to propose one himself, and if the bride fails to solve it, she marries him; if she succeeds, the suitor is killed. The first of the above two forms is found in three Italian stories, two of which resemble each other quite closely.

               In the Pentamerone (I. 5, "The Flea"), the King of High-Hill, "being bitten by a flea, caught him by a wonderful feat of dexterity; and seeing how handsome and stately he was, he could not in conscience pass sentence on him upon the bed of his nail. So he put him into a bottle, and feeding him every day with the blood of his own arm, the little beast grew at such a rate that at the end of seven months it was necessary to shift his quarters, for he was grown bigger than a sheep. When the king saw this, he had him flayed, and the skin dressed. Then he issued a proclamation, that whoever could tell to what animal this skin had belonged should have his daughter to wife." The question is answered by an ogre, to whom the king gives his daughter rather than break his promise. The hapless wife is afterward rescued by an old woman's seven sons, who possess remarkable gifts. In Gonz. (No. 22, "The Robber who had a Witch's Head"), a king with three daughters fattens a louse and nails its skin over the door as in the Pentamerone. A robber, who had a witch's head that told him everything he wanted to know, answers the question, and receives in marriage the king's eldest daughter. He takes her home and leaves her alone for a time, and on his return learns from the witch's head that his wife has reviled him. He kills her and marries the second sister, whom he kills for the same reason, and marries the youngest. She is more discreet, and the witch's head can only praise her. One day she finds the head and throws it in the oven; and the robber, whose life was in some way connected with it, died. The wife then anointed her sisters with a life-giving salve, and all three returned to their father's house, and afterward married three handsome princes. The third story, from the Tyrol (Schneller, No. 31, "The Devil's Wife"), is connected with the Bluebeard story which will be mentioned later. A king and queen had an only daughter, who was very pretty and fond of dress. One day she found a louse; and as she did not know what kind of an animal it was, she ran to her mother and asked her. Her mother told her and said: "Shut the louse up in a box and feed it. As soon as it is very large, we will have a pair of gloves made of its skin; these we will exhibit, and whoever of your suitors guesses from the skin of what animal they are made, shall be your husband." The successful suitor is no other than the Devil, who takes his wife home and forbids her to open a certain room. One day, while he is absent, she opens the door of the forbidden chamber, and sees from the flames and condemned souls who her husband is. She is so frightened that she becomes ill, but manages to send word to her father by means of a carrier-pigeon. The king sets out with many brave men to deliver her; on the way he meets three men who possess wonderful gifts (far seeing, sharp ear, great strength), and with their aid rescues his daughter.


[1] The best version is in the Pent. IV. 3, where the three daughters are married to a falcon, a stag, and a dolphin, who, as in our story, assist their brother-in-law, but are disenchanted without his aid. Other Italian versions are: Pitrè, No. 16, and Nov. pop. sicil., Palermo, 1873, No. 1; Gonz., No. 29; Knust (Leghorn), No. 2 (Jahrb. VII. 384); Finamore, Trad. pop. abruzzesi, No. 23; Nov. fior. p. 266; Comparetti, Nos. 4, 58; Archivio, II, p. 42 (Tuscan); Nov. tosc. No. 11.

               For other European versions see, besides references in notes to above stories, Hahn, No. 25; Grimm, vol. II. p. 510, to Musäus' "Die drei Schwestern," and No. 197, "The Crystal Ball;" Benfey, Pant. I. p. 534; and Ralston, R. F. T. p. 96. See also note 12 of this chapter.

               As usual, many of the incidents of our stories are found in those belonging to other classes; among the most important are: Prince hidden in musical instrument, Pitrè, No. 95; finding princess' place of concealment, Pitrè, Nos. 95, 96; Gonz., No. 68; and Grimm, No. 133; "The Shoes which were danced to Pieces;" princess recognized among others dressed alike, or all veiled; Nov. fior. p. 411 (Milan); Grimm, No. 62, "The Queen Bee," Ralston, R. F. T. p. 141, note; Basque Legends, p. 125; Orient und Occident, II. pp. 104, 107-114; tasks set hero to win wife, Pitrè, Nos. 21, 95, 96; Gonz., No. 68; De Gub., Sto. Stefano, No. 8; Basque Legends, p. 120; Orient und Occident, II. 103; and Romania, No. 28, p. 527. This last incident is found also in "Forgotten Bride," see note 25 of this chapter.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Fair Fiorita, The
Tale Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas
Book Title: Italian Popular Tales
Book Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas Frederick
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin and Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1885
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 552: The Girls Who Married Animals

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