Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Cobbler, The

The second version of the above story, in which the giant is deceived by the hero's braggadocio, is represented by several Italian stories; the simplest are some Milanese versions (Nov. fior. pp. 575-580), one of which (Ibid. p. 575) is as follows:


THERE was once a cobbler who one day was so tired of cobbling that he said: "Now I will go and seek my fortune." He bought a little cheese and put it on the table. It got full of flies, and he took an old shoe, and hit the cheese and killed all the flies. He afterward counted them, and five hundred were killed, and four hundred wounded. He then girded on a sword, and put on a cocked hat, and went to the court, and said to the king: "I am the chief warrior of the flies. Four hundred I have killed, and five hundred I have wounded." The king answered: "Since you are a warrior, you will be brave enough to climb that mountain there, where there are two magicians, and kill them. If you kill them, you shall marry my daughter." Then he gave him a white flag to wave when he had killed them. "And sound the trumpet, you will put his head in a bag, both the heads, to show me." The cobbler then departed, and found a house, which was an inn, and the innkeeper and his wife were none other than the magician and his wife. He asked for lodging and food, and all he needed. Afterward he went to his room; but before going to bed, he looked up at the ceiling. There he saw a great stone over the bed. Instead of getting into bed, he got into a corner. When a certain hour struck, the magicians let the stone drop and it crushed the whole bed. The next morning the cobbler went down and said that he could not sleep for the noise. They told him they would change his room. The same thing happened the next night, and in the morning they told him they would give him another room. When it was a certain hour, the husband and wife went to the forest to cut a bundle of fagots. Then the magician went home; and the cobbler, who had made ready a sickle, said: "Wait until I help you to take the bundle off your back." Then he gave the magician a blow with the sickle and cut off his head. He did the same thing when the magician's wife returned. Then he unfurled his flag, and sounded his trumpet, and the band went out to meet him. After he had arrived at the court, the king said to him: "Now that you have killed the two magicians, you shall marry my daughter." But the cobbler had got so used to drawing the thread that he did so in his sleep, and kept hitting his wife, so that she could not rest. Then the king gave him a great deal of money and sent him home. [1]

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               A more detailed version is found in a Sicilian story in Gonzenbach, "The Brave Shoemaker" (No. 41), the first part of which is like the Milanese version. On his way to the giant's, the cobbler makes some balls of plaster of Paris and cream-cheese, and puts them in his pocket. When he heard the giant coming through the woods, he climbed a tree; but the giant scented him, and told him to come down. The cobbler answered that if he did not leave him alone he would twist his neck; and to show him how strong he was, he crushed the balls of plaster of Paris in his hands, telling the giant they were marble. The giant was frightened, and invited the cobbler to remain with him, and took him home. After a while, the giant asked him to bring some water in a pitcher from the well. The cobbler said that if the giant would give him a strong rope he would bring the well itself. The giant in terror took the pitcher, and drew the water himself. Then the giant asked the cobbler to cut some wood, but the latter asked for a strong rope to drag a whole tree to the house with. Then the giant proposed a trial of strength, to see which could carry a heavy stick the longer. The cobbler said that the giant had better wind something about the thick end, for when he, the cobbler, turned a somersault with it, he might hit the giant. When they went to bed, the giant made the cobbler sleep with him; but the latter crept under the bed, leaving a pumpkin in his place. The giant, who was anxious to get rid of the cobbler, took an iron bar and struck at the pumpkin all night, believing it the cobbler's head. After he had beaten the pumpkin to pieces, the cobbler, under the bed, gave a sigh. "What is the matter with you?" asked the terrified giant. "A flea has just bitten my ear," answered the cobbler. The next day the cobbler proposed to the giant to cook a great kettle of macaroni, and after they had eaten it, he would cut open his stomach to show the giant that he had eaten it without chewing it; the giant was to do the same afterward. The cobbler, of course, secretly tied a sack about his neck, and put his macaroni in it; then he took a knife and ripped open the bag, and the macaroni fell out. The giant, in attempting to follow the cobbler's example, killed himself. Then the cobbler cut his head off, carried it to the king, and claimed his daughter's hand. [2]

               The stories given in this chapter constitute, as we have already said in the Introduction, but a small part of Italian fairy tales. They represent, however, as well as our space will allow, the great fairy cycles, so to speak. As our purpose has been to give only those stories which have been taken down from the mouths of the people, we have not drawn, except for purposes of reference, upon the Pentamerone, one of the most original and charming collections of fairy tales in any language. Enough has been given, we trust, to show how the Italians have treated the themes familiar to us from childhood, and to furnish the scholar with additional material for comparison.


[1] The version in Nov. fior. p. 574, is from Florence, the others, pp. 575 (the story in our text), 577, 578, 579, are from Milan, and closely resemble each other.

[2] Compare Pitrè, No. 83, and De Nino, No. 43. Tyrolese versions are in Schneller, Nos. 53, 54. See also Widter-Wolf, No. 2 (Jahrb. VII. 13), and Jahrb. VIII. p. 246, Italien. Märchen aus Sora, No. 2. For additional European versions, see Jahrb. ut supra, and V. 7; Romania, Nos. 19, p. 350; 24, p. 562; 28, p. 556; and Grimm, Nos. 20 ("The Valiant Little Taylor"), and 183 ("The Giant and the Tailor") Some of the episodes mentioned in the text may be found in a Corsican story in Ortoli, p. 204, where, however, instead of a giant, a priest is outwitted by his servant.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Cobbler, 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 1640: The Brave Tailor

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