Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Mason and His Son, The

The next story is doubly interesting because it is found not only in the mediæval collection last mentioned, but also in Greek literature, being told of Rampsinitus, King of Egypt, by Herodotus (II. 121), and by Pausanias of the two architects Agamedes and Trophonius who robbed the treasury of Hyrieus. [1] There are four versions in Italian: two from Sicily (Pitrè, Nos. 159, 160), one from Bologna (Coronedi-Berti, No. 2), and one from Monferrato (Comparetti, No. 13). In one of the Sicilian versions (Pitrè, No. 159), and in the other two from Bologna and Monferrato, the thieves are two friends. In the other Sicilian version they are a father and son. We give a translation of the last named version, which is called:


THERE was once a mason who had a wife and son. One day the king sent for the mason to build a country-house in which to put his money, for he was very rich and had no place to keep it. The mason set to work with his son. In one corner they put in a stone that could be taken out and put back, large enough for a man to enter. When the house was finished the king paid them and they went home. The king then had his money carted to the house and put guards around it. After a few days he saw that no one went there and took away the guard. Let us leave the king, who took away the guard, and return to the mason. When his money was gone he said to his son: "Shall we go to the country-house?" They took a sack and went there. When they arrived at the house they took out the stone and the father entered and filled the bag with gold. When he came out he put the stone back as it was before and they departed. The next day the king rode out to his house and saw that his pile of gold had diminished. He said to his servants: "Who has been taking the money?" The servants answered: "It is not possible, your Majesty; for who comes here; where could they get in? It may be that the house has settled, being newly built." So they took and repaired it. After a while the mason said again to his son: "Let us go back there." They took the accustomed sack and went there; arriving as usual they took out the stone and the father entered, filled the sack, and they departed. The same night they made another trip, filled the same sack again, and went away. The next day the king visited the house with his soldiers and councillors. When he entered he went to see the money and it was very greatly diminished; he turned to his councillors and said: "Some one comes here and takes the money." The councillors said: "But, your Majesty, while you are saying so, one thing can be done; take a few tubs, fill them with melted pitch, and place them around the walls on the inside, whoever enters will fall in them, and the thief is found."

               They took the tubs and put them inside, and the king left sentinels and returned to the city. The sentinels remained there a week; but as they saw no one, they, too, left.

               Let us leave the sentinels, who have departed, and return to the mason. He said to his son: "Let us go to the accustomed place." They took the sack and went. Arriving there, they took out the stone, and the father entered. As he entered he stuck fast in the pitch. He tried to help himself and get his feet loose, but his hands stuck fast. Then he said to his son: "Do you hear what I tell you, my son? Cut off my head, tear my coat to pieces, put back the stone as it was, and throw my head in the river, so that I shall not be known." The son did as he was told, and returned home. When he told his mother what had become of his father, she began to tear her hair. After a few days, the son, who did not know any trade, entered the service of a carpenter, and told his mother not to say anything, as if nothing had happened.

               Let us leave these and return to the king, who went the next day with his councillors to the country-house. They entered and saw the body, and the king said: "But it has no head! How shall we find out who it is?" The councillors said: "Take him and carry him through the streets three days; where you see weeping you will know who it is." They took the body, and called Filippu Carruba and Brasi Vutùru, [2] and made them carry it about. When they passed through the street where the mason's widow lived, she began to weep. The son, whose shop was near by, heard it, and gave himself a blow in the hand with an axe and cut off his fingers. The police arrested the mother, saying: "We have found out who it is." Meanwhile the son arrived there and said: "She is not weeping for that; she is weeping because I have cut off my fingers and can no longer work and earn my bread." The police saw it was so, believed him, and departed. At night they carried the body to the palace and built outside a scaffold to put the body on, because they had to carry it around three days. About the scaffold they placed nine sentinels--eight soldiers and a corporal. Now it was in the winter and was very cold; so the son took a mule and loaded it with drugged wine, and passed up and down. When the soldiers saw him they cried: "Friend, are you selling that wine?" He said: "I am." "Wait until we drink, for we are trembling with the cold." After they had drunk they threw themselves down and went to sleep, and the son took the body, and, after he had buried it outside of the town, returned home.

                [In the morning the soldiers awoke and told the king what had happened, and he issued a proclamation that whoever found the body should receive a large sum of money. The body was found and carried about the street again, but no one wept. That night new sentinels were appointed, but the same thing happened as the night before. The soldiers were drugged and dressed in monks' robes, and the corporal had a cross stuck between his legs. The next day another proclamation, the body again found and carried about, but no one detected weeping. The story then continues:]

               The mason's son (here called for the first time Ninu) could not rest, and went to Cianedda. [3] "Will you do me a favor?" "If I can," answered Cianedda; "not one, but two. What can I do for you?" "Will you lend me your goats this evening?" "I will." Ninu took them, bought four rotula [4] of candles and an old earthen pot, knocked out the bottom and fastened some candles around it. Then he took the goats and fixed two candles to the horns of each one and took them where the body was, and followed with the pot on his head and the candles lighted. The soldiers ran away in terror, and the son took the body and threw it in the sea.

                [The next day the king commanded that the price of meat should be set at twelve tari [5] a rotulu, and ordered that all the old women of the city should assemble at the palace. A hundred came, and he told them to go begging about the city and find out who was cooking meat; thinking that only the thief could afford to buy meat at that price. Ninu, of course, bought some and gave it to his mother to cook. While it was cooking, and Ninu absent, one of the old women came begging, and the widow gave her a piece of meat. As she was going down-stairs Ninu met her and asked her what she was doing. She explained that she was begging for some bread. Ninu, suspecting the trick, took her and threw her into the well.]

               At noon, when the old women were to present themselves to the king, one was missing. The king then sent for the butchers, and found that just one rotulu of meat had been sold. When the king saw this, he issued a proclamation to find out who had done all these wonders, and said: "If he is unmarried, I will give him my daughter; if he is married, I will give him two measures of gold." Ninu presented himself to the king and said: "Your Majesty, it was I." The king burst out laughing, and asked: "Are you married or single?" He said: "Your Majesty, I am single." And the king said: "Will you be satisfied with my daughter, or with two measures, of gold?" "Your Majesty," he said, "I want to marry; give me your daughter." So he did, and they had a grand banquet. [6]

*  *  *  *  *

               The story in The Seven Wise Masters, known as "Inclusa," or "The Elopement," is found only in Pitrè (No. 176), where it is told of a tailor who lived next to the king's palace, with which his house communicated by a secret door known only to the king and the tailor's wife. The tailor, while at work in the palace, imagines he sees his wife there, and pretending that he has forgotten his shears, etc., rushes home to find his wife there. She finally elopes with the king, leaving at her window an image that deceives her husband until she is beyond pursuit. [7]


[1] See Herodotus, with a commentary by J. W. Blakesley, London, 1854, I. p. 254, n. 343. For the literature of this story, and for various other Italian versions, see La Leggenda del Tesoro di Rampsinite, Stanislao Prato, Como, 1882; and Ralston's notes to Schiefner's Tibetan Tales, p. xlvii.

[2] Names of two undertakers in Salaparuta, where the story was collected.

[3] The name of a goatherd in Salaparuta.

[4] A rotulu = .793 kilos.

[5] Frs. 5.10.

[6] For the story in the Seven Wise Masters, see D'Ancona, op. cit. p. 108; Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, p. 146; Keller, Romans, p. cxciii., and Dyoclet. p. 55.

               Besides the popular versions in Italian, the story is also found in Bandello, I., XXV., who follows Herodotus closely.

[7] For the story in the Seven Wise Masters see D'Ancona, op. cit. p. 120; Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, p. 158; Keller, Romans, p. ccxxxvii., and Dyoclet. p. 61. Literary versions of this story are in Straparola, II. 11; Pecorone, II. 2; Malespini, 53; Bandello, I. 3; and Sercambi, XIII. See Pitrè, IV. pp. 407, 442.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Mason and His Son, 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 950: Rhampsinitus

Prev Tale

Back to Top