Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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In Love with a Statue

One of the most beautiful and touching of all fairy tales is the one known to the readers of Grimm's collection by the title of "Faithful John," and which has such a charming parallel in the story of "Rama and Luxman," in Miss Frere's "Old Deccan Days." There are seven Italian versions of this interesting story, which we shall mention briefly, giving first the shortest entire, as a point of departure. It is from the North of Italy (Comparetti, Monferrato, No. 29), and is called:


THERE was once a king who had two sons. The eldest did not wish to marry, and the youngest, although he went about everywhere, found no lady to his taste. Now it happened that he once went to a certain city, and there saw a statue with which he fell in love. He bought it, had it carried to his room, and every day embraced and kissed it. One day his father became aware of this, and said to him: "What are you doing? If you want a wife, take one of flesh and bones, and not one of marble." He answered that he would take one exactly like the statue, or none at all. His older brother, who at this time had nothing to do, went out into the world to seek her. On his way he saw in a city a man who had a mouse which danced so that it seemed like a human being. He said to himself: "I will take it home to my brother to amuse himself with." He continued his journey, and, arrived in a more distant town, where he found a bird that sang like an angel, and bought that, too, for his brother. He was on the point of returning home, and was passing through a street, when he saw a beggar knocking at a door. A very beautiful girl appeared at the window, who resembled in every respect the prince's statue, and suddenly withdrew. Then he told the beggar to ask alms again; but the beggar refused, because he feared that the magician, who was then absent, would return home and eat him up. But the prince gave him so much money and other things that he knocked again, and the young girl appeared again, and suddenly withdrew. Then the prince went through the streets, saying that he mended and sold looking-glasses. The servant of the young girl, who heard him, told her mistress to go and see the mirrors. She went, but he told her that if she wanted to select the mirrors she would have to go on board his ship. When she was there, he carried her away, and she wept bitterly and sighed, so that he would let her return home, but it was like speaking to the wall.

               When they were out at sea, there was heard the voice of a large black bird, saying: "Ciriù, ciriù! what a handsome mouse you have! You will take it to your brother; you will turn his head; and if you tell him of it, you will become marble. Ciriù, ciriù! a fine bird you have; you will take it to your brother; you will turn his head; and if you tell him, you will become marble. Ciriù, ciriù! a fine lady you have; you will take her to your brother; you will turn his head; and if you tell him of it, you will become marble." He did not know how he could tell his brother, because he was afraid of becoming marble. He landed, and took the mouse to his brother; and when he had seen it and wanted it, the elder brother cut off its head. Then he showed him the bird that sang like an angel, and his brother wanted it; but the elder brother again cut off its head. Then he said: "I have something handsomer," and he produced the beautiful girl who looked like the statue. And as the brother who had brought her said nothing, the other feared that he would take her away from him, and had him thrown into prison, where he was a long time; and because he continued to keep silence, he was condemned to death. Three days before he was to die he asked his brother to come and see him, and he consented, although unwillingly. Then the condemned brother said: "A large black bird told me that if I brought you back the dancing mouse, and spoke, I should become a statue." And saying this, he became a statue to the waist. "And if, bringing you the singing bird, I spoke, it would be the same." Then he became a statue to his breast. "And if, bringing you the lady, I spoke, I should become a statue." Then he became a statue all over, and his brother began to lament in despair, and tried to restore him to life. All kinds of physicians came, but none succeeded. Finally there came one who said that he was capable of turning the statue into a man provided they gave him what he needed. The king said he would do so, and the physician demanded the blood of the king's two children; but the mother would on no account consent. Then the king gave a ball, and while his wife was dancing he had the two children killed, and bathed with their blood the statue of his brother, and the statue straightway became a man and went to the ball. The mother, when she beheld him, suddenly thought of her children. She ran to them and found them half dead, and fainted away. All around sought to console and encourage her; but when she opened her eyes and saw the physician, she cried: "Out of my sight, ugly wretch! It is you who have caused my children to be killed." He answered: "Pardon me, my lady, I have done no harm. Go and see whether your children are there!" She ran to see, and found them alive and making a great noise. Then the physician said: "I am the magician, your father, whom you forsook, and I have wished to show you what it is to love one's children." Then they made peace, and remained happy and contented.

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               In the Venetian version (Teza, La Trad. dei Sette Sari, p. 26), called "Mela and Buccia," from the names of the prince and his friend, while the two friends are spending the night in a deserted castle, Buccia hears a voice foretelling the dangers to which Mela will be exposed. His horse will throw him if Buccia does not kill it; a dragon will devour him on his wedding night if Buccia does not kill it; and finally, the queen's pet dog will mortally wound him if Buccia does not kill it. If, however, Buccia reveals what he has heard, he will turn to stone. Buccia acts accordingly, and the king forgives him everything but killing the queen's pet dog; for that Buccia is condemned to be hung. Then he relates all, and gradually turns to stone from his feet up. The king, queen, and Buccia's mother are inconsolable until they are informed by an old woman that the blood of the little prince will bring the statue back to life. The faithful friend is by that means restored, and the child also saved. In this version the abduction is wanting, and the last danger is not the one usually threatened.

               In a version from Siena (Gradi, Vigilia, p. 64), one of two brothers goes in search of the "Princess with Blonde Tresses." He also buys a parrot and a horse, and the dangers are: he who touches the parrot will have his eyes put out; he who mounts the horse will be thrown; he who marries the fair one will be devoured by a dragon; and he who reveals these dangers will become stone. The remainder of the story is like the last version.

               The Florentine version (Nov. fior. p. 421) is mixed up with a number of other incidents. The dangers from which the prince is saved by his faithful servant are: poisoned apples, poisoned pastry, and a lion in the royal chamber. The servant is turned to stone and restored, as in the other versions.

               In a Mantuan story (Fiabe mant, No. 9), the dangers are: parrot, horse, and bride; whoever touches these will be devoured by a dragon; whoever reveals these dangers will become stone. The conclusion is the same as above.

               The last version we shall mention here is in the Pentamerone (IV. 9), and resembles the one from Monferrato. The elder brother, who goes in search of a bride for his younger brother, buys a falcon and a horse. The first will pick out the younger brother's eyes; the horse will throw him, and finally a dragon will devour him on his wedding night. The remainder of the story is as usual. [1]

               We shall conclude this chapter with the class of stories in which giants are outwitted by men. The simplest form is found in two stories which are interesting examples of the survival of classic myths. Both stories are from Sicily, and one was told to Pitrè by a girl eight years old (Pitrè, No. 51). It is entitled "The Little Monk," and is, in substance, as follows: There were once two monks who went begging for the church every year. One was large and the other small. They lost their way once and came to a large cave, in which was a monster (lit. animal, armalu), who was building a fire. The two monks, however, did not believe it was a monster, but said: "Let us go and rest there." They entered, and saw the monster killing a sheep and roasting it. He had already killed and cooked twenty.

               "Eat!" said the monster to them. "We don't want to eat; we are not hungry." "Eat, I tell you!" After they had eaten the sheep, they lay down, and the monster closed the entrance to the cave with a great stone. Then he took a sharp iron, heated it in the fire, and stuck it in the throat of the larger of the two monks, roasted the body, and wanted the other monk to help eat it. "I don't want to eat," said he; "I am full." "Get up!" said the monster. "If you don't I will kill you."

               The wretched monk arose in fright, seated himself at the table, and pretended to eat, but threw the flesh away. In the night the good man took the iron, heated it, and plunged it in the monster's eyes. Then the monk in his terror slipped into the skin of a sheep. The monster felt his way to the entrance of the cave, removed the stone, and let the sheep out one by one; and so the good man escaped and returned to Trapani, and told his story to some fishermen. The monster went fishing, and being blind, stumbled against a rock and broke his head. The other version is from the Albanian colony of Piana de' Greci (Comparetti, No. 70), in Sicily, and is substantially the same as the story just given. [2]


[1] The seventh version is from Bologna and is entitled La Fola dêl Muretein ("The Story of the Little Moor"), and was published by Coronedi-Berti in the Rivista Europea, Florence, 1873. It is briefly as follows: A queen has no children and visits a witch who gives her an apple to eat, telling her that in due time she will bear a son. One of the queen's maids eats the peel and both give birth to sons; the maid's being called the Little Moor from resembling the dark red color of the apple peel. The two children grow up together, and when the prince goes off on his travels his friend the little Moor accompanies him. They spend the night in an enchanted castle and the friend hears a voice saying that the prince will conquer in a tournament and marry the king's daughter, but on their wedding night a dragon will devour the bride, and whoever tells of it will become marble. The friend saves the princess' life, but is thrown into prison, and when he exculpates himself becomes marble. He can only be restored to life by being anointed with the blood of a cock belonging to a wild man (om salvadgh) living on a certain mountain. The prince performs the difficult feat of stealing the cock and healing his friend.

               For other European versions, see Grimm, No. 6 ("Faithful John"); Hahn, No. 29; Wolf, Proben Port. und Cat. Volksm. p. 52; Lo Rondallayre, No. 35 ("Lo bon criat"); Old Deccan Days, p. 98; and in general, Benfey, Pant. I. p. 417, and Köhler in Weimarische Beiträge zur Lit. und Kunst, Weimar, 1865, p. 192 et seq.

[2] See Pitrè, vol. I. pp. xcix., ciii.; IV. pp. 382, 430, and Comparetti, No. 44. A version from the Abruzzi may be found in Finamore, No. 38. See also Grimm, No. 191 ("The Robber and his Sons"); Basque Legends, p. 4; Dolopathos ed. Oesterley, pp. xxii., 65; and in general, Orient und Occident, II. 120, and Benfey, Pant. I. 295.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: In Love with a Statue
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 516: Faithful John

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