Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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We shall now direct our attention to a class of stories found in all lands, and which may, from one of its most important episodes, be called "The Forgotten Bride." In the ordinary version, the hero, in consequence of some imprecation, sets out in search of the heroine, who is either the daughter or in the custody of ogre or ogress. The hero, by the help of the heroine, performs difficult tasks imposed upon him by her father or mother, etc., and finally elopes with her. The pursuit of father or mother, etc., is avoided by magic obstacles raised in their way, or by transformations of the fugitives. The hero leaves his bride, to prepare his parents to receive her; but at a kiss, usually from his mother, he entirely forgets his bride until she recalls herself to his memory, and they are both united. The trait of difficult tasks performed by the hero is sometimes omitted, as well as flight with magic obstacles or transformations. All the episodes of the above story, down to the forgetting bride at mother's kiss, are found in many stories; notably in the class "True Bride," already mentioned.

               A Sicilian story (Pitrè, No. 13) will best illustrate this class. It is entitled:


THERE was once a king and queen who had no son, and they were always making vows to obtain one; and they promised that if they had a son, or even a daughter, they would maintain two fountains for seven years: one running wine, the other oil. After this vow the queen gave birth to a handsome boy.

               As soon as the child was born, the two fountains were erected, and everybody went and took oil and wine. At the end of seven years the fountains began to dry up. An ogress, wishing to collect the drops that still fell from the fountain, went there with a sponge and pitcher. She sopped up the drops with the sponge and then squeezed it in the pitcher. After she had worked so hard to fill this pitcher, the little son of the king, who was playing ball, from caprice threw a ball and broke the pitcher. When the old woman saw this, she said: "Listen. I can do nothing to you, for you are the king's son; but I can bestow upon you an imprecation: May you be unable to marry until you find Snow-white-fire-red!" The cunning child took a piece of paper and wrote down the old woman's words, put it away in a drawer, and said nothing about it. When he was eighteen the king and queen wished him to marry. Then he remembered the old woman's imprecation, took the piece of paper, and said: "Ah! if I do not find Snow-white-fire-red I cannot marry!" When it seemed fit, he took leave of his father and mother, and began his journey entirely alone. Months passed without meeting any one. One evening, night overtook him, tired and discouraged, in a plain in the midst of which was a large house.

               At daybreak he saw an ogress coming, frightfully tall and stout, who cried: "Snow-white-fire-red, lower your tresses for me to climb up!" When the prince heard this he took heart, and said: "There she is!" Snow-white-fire-red lowered her tresses, which seemed never to end, and the ogress climbed up by them. The next day the ogress descended, and when the prince saw her depart, he came from under the tree where he had concealed himself, and cried: "Snow-white-fire-red, lower your tresses for me to climb up!" She, believing it was her mother (for she called the ogress mother), lowered her tresses, and the prince climbed boldly up. When he was up, he said: "Ah! my dear little sister, how I have labored to find you!" And he told her of the old woman's imprecation when he was seven years old.

               She gave him some refreshments, and then said: "You see, if the ogress returns and finds you here, she will devour you. Hide yourself." The ogress returned, and the prince concealed himself.

               After the ogress had eaten, her daughter gave her wine to drink, and made her drunk. Then she said: "My mother, what must I do to get away from here? Not that I want to go, for I wish to stay with you; but I want to know just out of curiosity. Tell me!" "What you must do to get away from here!" said the ogress. "You must enchant everything that there is here, so that I shall lose time. I shall call, and instead of you, the chair, the cupboard, the chest of drawers, will answer for you. When you do not appear, I will ascend. You must take the seven balls of yarn that I have laid away. When I come and do not find you, I shall pursue you; when you see yourself pursued, throw down the first ball, and then the others. I shall always overtake you until you throw down the last ball."

               Her daughter heard all that she said, and remembered it. The next day the ogress went out, and Snow-white-fire-red and the prince did what they had to do. They went about the whole house, saying: "Table, you answer if my mother comes; chairs, answer if my mother comes; chest of drawers, answer if my mother comes;" and so she enchanted the whole house. Then she and the prince departed in such a hurry that they seemed to fly. When the ogress returned, she called: "Snow-white-fire-red, let down your tresses that I may climb up!" The table answered: "Come, come, mother!" She waited a while, and when no one appeared to draw her up, she called again: "Snow-white-fire-red, lower your tresses for me to climb up!" The chair answered: "Come, come, mother!" She waited a while, but no one appeared; then she called again, and the chest of drawers replied: "Come, come, mother!" Meanwhile the lovers were fleeing. When there was nothing left to answer, the ogress cried out: "Treason! treason!" Then she got a ladder and climbed up. When she saw that her daughter and the balls of yarn were gone, she cried: "Ah, wretch! I will drink your blood!" Then she hastened after the fugitives, following their scent. They saw her afar off, and when she saw them, she cried: "Snow-white-fire-red, turn around so that I can see you." (If she had turned around she would have been enchanted.)

               When the ogress had nearly overtaken them, Snow-white-fire-red threw down the first ball, and suddenly there arose a lofty mountain. The ogress was not disturbed; she climbed and climbed until she almost overtook the two again. Then Snow-white-fire-red, seeing her near at hand, threw down the second ball, and there suddenly appeared a plain covered with razors and knives. The ogress, all cut and torn, followed after the lovers, dripping with blood.

               When Snow-white-fire-red saw her near again, she threw down the third ball, and there arose a terrible river. The ogress threw herself into the river and continued her pursuit, although she was half dead. Then another ball, and there appeared a fountain of vipers, and many other things. At last, dying and worn out, the ogress stopped and cursed Snow-white-fire-red, saying: "The first kiss that the queen gives her son, may the prince forget you!" Then the ogress could stand it no longer, and died in great anguish.

               The lovers continued their journey, and came to a town near where the prince lived. He said to Snow-white-fire-red: "You remain here, for you are not provided with proper clothes, and I will go and get what you need, and then you can appear before my father and mother." She consented, and remained.

               When the queen beheld her son, she threw herself on him to kiss him. "Mother," said he, "I have made a vow not to allow myself to be kissed." The poor mother was petrified. At night, while he was asleep, his mother, who was dying to kiss him, went and did so. From that moment he forgot all about Snow-white-fire-red.

               Let us leave the prince with his mother, and return to the poor girl, who was left in the street without knowing where she was. An old woman met her, and saw the poor girl, as beautiful as the sun, weeping. "What is the matter, my daughter?" "I do not know how I came here!" "My daughter, do not despair; come with me." And she took her to her house. The young girl was deft with her hands, and could work enchantment. She made things, and the old woman sold them, and so they both lived. One day the maiden said to the old woman that she wanted two bits of old cloth from the palace for some work she had to do. The old woman went to the palace, and began to ask for the bits, and said so much that at last she obtained them. Now the old woman had two doves, a male and a female, and with these bits of cloth Snow-white-fire-red dressed the doves so prettily that all who saw them marvelled. The young girl took these doves, and whispered in their ears: "You are the prince, and you are Snow-white-fire-red. The king is at the table, eating; fly and relate all that you have undergone."

               While the king, queen, prince, and many others were at the table, the beautiful doves flew in and alighted on the table. "How beautiful you are!" And all were greatly pleased. Then the dove which represented Snow-white-fire-red began: "Do you remember when you were young how your father promised a fountain of oil and one of wine for your birth?" The other dove answered: "Yes, I remember." "Do you remember the old woman whose pitcher of oil you broke? do you remember?" "Yes, I remember." "Do you remember the imprecation she pronounced on you,--that you could not marry until you found Snow-white-fire-red?" "I remember," replied the other dove. In short, the first dove recalled all that had passed, and finally said: "Do you remember how you had the ogress at your heels, and how she cursed you, saying that at your mother's first kiss you must forget Snow-white-fire-red?" When the dove came to the kiss, the prince remembered everything, and the king and queen were astounded at hearing the doves speak.

               When they had ended their discourse, the doves made a low bow and flew away. The prince cried: "Ho, there! ho, there! see where those doves go! see where they go!" The servants looked and saw the doves alight on a country house. The prince hastened and entered it, and found Snow-white-fire-red. When he saw her he threw his arms about her neck, exclaiming: "Ah! my sister, how much you have suffered for me!" Straightway they dressed her beautifully and conducted her to the palace. When the queen saw her there, she said: "What a beauty!" Things were soon settled and the lovers were married. [1]

*  *  *  *  *

               As we have remarked above, this story is often found incomplete, the ending--"forgetfulness of bride"--being wanting.

               Several of these versions are from Milan (Nov. fior. pp. 411, 415, 417). In the first, "The King of the Sun," a trait occurs that is of some interest. The hero plays billiards with the King of the Sun and wins his daughter. He goes in search of his bride, and at last finds an old man who tells him where the King of the Sun lives, and adds: "In a wood near by is a pond where, in the afternoon, the king's three daughters bathe. Go and carry away their clothes; and when they come and ask for them give them back on condition that they will take you to their father." The hero does as he is told, is taken to the king, and obliged to choose his bride from among the three, with his eyes blindfolded. The remainder of the story consists of the usual flight, with the transformations of the lovers. The incident of the maidens who bathe, and whose clothes the hero steals, is clearly an example of the Swan-maiden myth, and occurs in a few other Italian tales. In a story from the North of Italy (Monferrato, Comparetti, No. 50), "The Isle of Happiness," a poor boy goes to seek his fortune. He encounters an old man who tells him that fortune appears but once in a hundred years, and if not taken then, never is. He adds that this is the very time for fortune to appear--that day or the next--and advises the youth to hide himself in a wood near the bank of a stream, and when three beautiful girls come and bathe, to carry away the clothes of the middle one. He does so, and compels the owner (who is none other than Fortune) to marry him. By his mother's fault he loses his bride, as in the Cupid and Psyche stories, and is obliged to go in search of her to the Isle of Happiness. The same incident occurs in several Sicilian stories. In one (Pitrè, No. 50, "Give me the Veil!") the hero, a poor youth, goes in search of his fortune as in the last story, and meets an old woman who tells him to go to a certain fountain, where twelve doves will come to drink and become twelve maidens "as beautiful as the sun, with veils over their faces," and advises the youth to seize the veil of the most beautiful girl and keep it; for if she obtains it she will become a dove again. The youth does as he is commanded, and takes his wife home, giving the veil to his mother to keep for him. She gives it to the wife, who becomes a dove again, and disappears. The same thing happens twice; the third time the veil is burned, and the wife, who turns out to be the enchanted daughter of the king of Spain, remains with her husband. [2]


[1] Other Italian versions are: Gonz., Nos. 14, 54, 55; Pent. II. 7, III. 9 (forgets bride on touching shore); Pomiglianesi, p. 136 (the first part belongs to the class of "Fair Angiola;") Busk, p. 3 (first part same as last story); De Gub., Sto. Stefano, No. 5 (see also Rivista di Lett. pop. I. p. 84); Coronedi-Berti, No. 13 (this is one of the few "Three Citrons" stories containing episode of bride forgotten at mother's kiss); Schneller, No. 27; Finamore, Trad. pop. abruzzesi, No. 4 (mother's kiss); Pitrè, vol. IV. p. 285, gives an Albanian version of our story. The imprecation and mother's kiss are also found in another of the "Three Citrons" stories, Gonz., No. 13. For obstacles to flight, see Note 11 of this chapter.

               For other European versions see Köhler's notes to Gonz., No. 14; to Campbell, No. 2 (Orient und Occident, II. 103); to Kreutzwald-Löwe, No. 14; Hahn, I. p. 55; Romania, Nos. 19, p. 354, 20, p. 527; Grimm, Nos. 56, ("Sweetheart Roland"), 113 ("The Two Kings' Children"), 186 ("The True Bride"), 193 ("The Drummer;") Basque Legends, p. 120; Ralston, R. F. T. pp. 119, 131; Brueyre, p. 111; and B. Schmidt, Griechische Märchen, Sagen und Volkslieder, Leipzig, 1877, cited by Cosquin, Romania, No. 28, p. 543. See also in general, Cox, Aryan Myth. I. p. 158.

[2] The same incident is found in Gonz., No. 6, and Pitrè, No. 61. See Köhler's notes to Gonz., No. 6; Grimm, No. 193 ("The Drummer"); Romania, No. 28, p. 527; and Hahn, No. 15.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Snow-White-Fire-Red
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 313: The Magic Flight

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