Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Ingrates, The

The above story really belongs to the class of fables of which there are but few of Oriental origin in the Italian collections. [1] The following version of one of the most famous of the Eastern apologues is from Monferrato (Comparetti, No. 67). It is called:


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. [2]

               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. [3] 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." [4]

               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. [5] 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. [6] 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. [7] 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." [8] 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." [9]

               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. [10] 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. [11] 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." [12]

               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. [13]


[1] The fables in Pitrè of non-Oriental origin may be mentioned here; they are: No. 271, "Brancaliuni," found also in Straparola, X. 2; No. 272, "The Two Mice," compare Aesop, ed. Furia, 198, and Schneller, No. 59; No. 274, "Wind, Water, and Honor," found in Straparola, XI. 2; No. 275, "Godfather Wolf and Godmother Fox"; No. 276, "The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox," Aesop, ed. Furia, 233; No. 277, "The Fox," see Roman du Renart, Paris, 1828, I. p. 129, and Nov. tosc. No. 69; No. 278, "L'Acidduzzu (Pretty Little Bird)," compare Asbj. & Moe, No. 42, Bernoni, Punt. III. p. 69, "El Galo," Nerucci, Cincelle da Bambini, p. 38; No. 279, "The Wolf and the Finch," Gonz., No. 66, Nov. tosc. No. 52 (add to Köhler's references: Asbj. & M., Nos. 42, 102, [Dasent, Tales from the Fjeld, p. 35, "The Greedy Cat,"] and Bernoni, Punt. III. p. 69); and finally No. 280, "The Cricket and the Ants," see Aesop, ed. Furia, 121, La Fontaine, La Cigale et la Fourmi, livre I. 1: see copious references in Robert, Fables inédites, I. p. 2. For Bernoni, III. p. 69, "El Galo," and Pitrè, No. 279, see Chap. V. pp. 270, 272.

               There are two fables in Coronedi-Berti's collection: No. 20: "La Fola del Corov," and No. 21, "La Fola dla Vôulp." The first is the well-known fable of the crow in the peacock's feathers; for copious references see Robert, Fables inédites, I. p. 247, to La Fontaine's Le Geai paré des plumes du Paon, livre IV, fab. IX., and Oesterley to Kirchhof's Wendunmuth, 7, 52. In the second fable the fox leaves her little ones at home, bidding them admit no one without a counter-sign. The wolf learns it from the simple little foxes themselves, gains admission, and eats two of them up. The mother takes her revenge in almost the same way as does the fox in Pitrè's fable, No. 277.

[2] 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:--


THERE was once a huntsman, who, in passing a quarry, found a serpent under a large stone. The serpent asked the hunter to liberate him, but the latter said: "I will not free you, for you will eat me." The serpent replied: "Liberate me, for I will not eat you." When the hunter had set the serpent at liberty, the latter wanted to devour him, but the hunter said: "What are you doing? Did you not promise me that you would not eat me?" The serpent replied that hunger did not observe promises. The hunter then said: "If you have no right to eat me, will you do it?" "No," answered the serpent. "Let us go, then," said the hunter, "and ask three times." They went into the woods and found a greyhound, and asked him, and he replied: "I had a master, and I went hunting and caught hares, and when I carried them home my master had nothing too good to give me to eat; now, when I cannot overtake even a tortoise, because I am old, my master wishes to kill me; for this reason I condemn you to be eaten by the serpent; for he who does good finds evil." "Do you hear? We have one judge," said the serpent. They continued their journey, and found a horse, and asked him, and he too replied that the serpent was right to eat the man, "for," he said, "I had a master, who fed me when I could travel; now that I can do so no longer, he would like to hang me." The serpent said: "Behold, two judges!" They went on, and found a fox. The huntsman said: "Fox, you must aid me. Listen: I was passing a quarry, and found this serpent dying under a large stone, and he asked aid from me, and I released him, and now he wants to eat me." The fox answered: "I will be the judge. Let us return to the quarry, to see how the serpent was." They went there, and put the stone on the serpent, and the fox asked: "Is that the way you were?" "Yes," answered the serpent. "Very well, then, stay so always!" said the fox.

[3] The individual stories of the Thousand and One Nights were known in Europe long before the collection, which was not translated into French until 1704-1717. This is shown by the fact that some of the XIII. century fabliaux embody stories of the Thousand and One Nights. See Note 10. An interesting article by Mr. H. C. Coote on "Folk-Lore, the source of some of M. Galland's Tales," will be found in the Folk-Lore Record, vol. III. pp. 178-191.

[4] The Sicilian versions are in Pitrè, No. 81. The version from Palermo, of which Pitrè gives only a résumé, is printed entire in F. Sabatini, La Lanterna, Nov. pop. sicil. Imola, 1878. The Roman version, "How Cajusse was married," is in Busk, p. 158; and the Mantuan in Visentini, No. 35. Tuscan versions may be found in the Rivista di Lett. pop. p. 267; De Nino, No. 5; and a version from Bergamo in the same periodical, p. 288. For the episode of the "Magician with no heart in his body," see Chap. I. note 12.

[5] See Pitrè, No. 36, and Gonz., No. 5, with Köhler's copious references. As this story is found in Chap. I. p. 17, it is only mentioned here for the sake of completeness.

               There is another complete version of "The Forty Thieves" in Nerucci, No. 54, Cicerchia, o i ventidua Ladri. The thieves are twenty-two, and cicerchia is the magic word that opens and shuts the robbers' cave. A version in Ortoli, p. 137, has seven thieves.

[6] Pitrè, No. 164, "The Three Hunchbacks;" Straparola, V. 3. It is also found in the fabliauLes Trois Bossus, Barbazan-Méon, III. 245; for copious references see Von der Hagen, Gesammtabenteuer, III. p. xxxv. et seq. Pitrè, No. 165, "Fra Ghiniparu," is a variation of the above theme, and finds its counterpart in the fabliau of Le Sacristain de Cluni: see Gesammtabenteuerut sup. Other versions are in Finamore, Trad. pop. abruzzesi, No. 9, and Nov. tosc. No. 58.

[7] The story is, properly speaking, in the introduction to the Thousand and One Nights: see Lane, The Thousand and One Nights, London, 1865, I. 10. See Straparola, XII. 3, and Schmipf und Ernst von Johannes Pauli, herausgegeben von Hermann Oesterley (Bibliothek des litt. Vereins, LXXXV.), Stuttgart, 1866, No. 134, "Ein bösz weib tugenhaft zemachen."

[8] For the first story, see Thousand and One Nights (ed. Breslau), IX. 129; Pent. V. 7; Gonz., No. 45; Hahn, No. 47; and Grimm, No. 129. For the second, see Thousand and One Nights (ed. Breslau), II. 196; ed. Lane, III. 41.

[9] See Lane, I. 140, and, for the transformations, p. 156. This story is also in Straparola, VIII. 5. It is well known in the North of Europe from the Grimm tale (No. 68), "The Thief and his Master," To the references in Grimm, II. p. 431, may be added: Revue Celtique, I. 132, II.; Benfey, Pant. I. p. 410; Brueyre, 253; Ralston, R. F. T. 229; Asbj. & M., No. 57 [Dasent, Pop. Tales, No. XXXIX.] (comp. Nos. 9, 46 [Dasent, Pop. Tales, Nos. XXIII., IX.]); Hahn, No. 68; Bernhauer, Vierzig Viziere, p. 195; Orient und Occident, II. 313; III. 374; Grundtvig, I. 248; Jülg, Kalmükische Märchen, Einleitung, p. 1; and F. J. Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Part II. p. 399, "The Twa Magicians."

[10] The principal sources of information in regard to the Disciplina Clericalis and its author are the two editions of Paris and Berlin: Disciplina Clericalis: auctore Petro Alphonsi, Ex-Judæo Hispano, Parisiis, MDCCCXXIV. 2 vols. (Société des Bibliophiles français); Petri Alfonsi Disciplina Clericalis, zum ersten Mal herausgegeben mit Einleitung und Anmerkungen von Fr. Wilh. Val. Schmidt, Berlin, 1827. The first edition was edited by J. Labouderie, Vicar-general of Avignon, and as only two hundred and fifty copies were printed, it is now very scarce. Schmidt even had not seen it: and when he published his own edition, three years later, thought it the first. The Paris edition contains the best text, and has besides two Old-French translations, one in prose, the other in verse. The Berlin edition is, however, more valuable on account of the notes.

[11] This is the story shortly after mentioned, Pitrè, No. 138, "The Treasure." The date of the Cento nov. ant. cannot be accurately fixed; the compilation was probably made at the end of the XIII. cent., although individual stories may be of an earlier date.

[12] See Disciplina Cler. ed. Schmidt, pp. 63 and 142. For copious references see Oesterley's Gesta Rom. cap. 106.

[13] There are several literary Italian versions of this story: one in Casalicchio, VI., I., VI.; and in Cintio, Ecatommiti, I. 3. There is another popular version in Imbriani's Nov. fior. p. 616, "The Three Friends."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Ingrates, 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 155: The Ungrateful Snake Returned to Captivity

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