Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Ass, The

The next legend accounts for the ass' long ears.


IT IS related that when the Lord created the world, he also made all the animals, and gave each its name. He also created the ass, which said: "Lord, what is my name?" "Your name is ass!" The ass went away well pleased. After a while it forgot its name, and went back to the Lord. "Lord, what is my name?" "Ass!" After a while it came back again. "Excuse me, Lord, what is my name?" "Ass, ass!" The ass turned and went away, but forgot it another time, and came back. "Lord, I have forgotten my name." The Lord could not stand it any longer, but seized its ears and pulled them sharply, exclaiming: "Ass! Ass! Ass!" The ears were pulled so hard that they became long, and that is why the ass has long ears, and why we pull a person's ears to keep him from forgetting a thing.

*  *  *  *  *

               Another legend relates that when Christ was journeying through the world he happened, dying with thirst, to enter a town. He saw a woman combing her hair, and said: "Will you give me a drink of water? for I am dying of thirst." "I am busy; it is not the time for water!" Christ said at once:

"Cursed be the braid     
That is braided Friday."

               And continued his journey. After a time he saw a woman making dough for bread. "Good woman, will you give me a drink of water?" "As much as you will!" and went and drew some water and gave him. Christ said:

"Blessed be the dough     
That is kneaded on Friday."

               Hence it is that certain women are accustomed not to comb their hair on Friday.

               There is a satirical legend, called "The Lord's Will," which relates that when Christ came to leave the world, he was in doubt as to whom to leave all on the earth. If he left it to the gentlemen, what would the nobility do? if to the nobility, what would become of the gentry, and the workmen, and the peasants? While He was reflecting, the noblemen came and asked the Lord to give them everything, which he did. Then the priests came; and when they were told that everything had been given to the nobility, "Oh! the devil!" they exclaimed. "Then I leave you the devil," said the Lord. To the monks, who, when they heard what had been done, exclaimed, "Patience!" patience was left. The workmen cried: "What a fraud!" and received that for their share. Finally the peasants came and said, with resignation: "Let us do the will of God;" and that was their portion. And this is the reason why in this world the noblemen command, the priests are helped by the devil, the monks are patient, workmen fraudulent, and the peasants have to do many things they don't want to, and are obliged to submit to the will of God. [1]

               St. Peter's mother is the subject of a story which has given rise to a wide-spread proverb. She was, so runs the story, an avaricious woman, who never was known to do good to any one. In fact, during her whole life she never gave anything away, except the top of an onion to a beggar woman. After her death St. Peter's mother went to hell, and the saint begged our Lord to release her. In consideration of her one charitable act, an angel was sent to draw her from hell with an onion-top. The other lost spirits clutched hold of her skirts, in order to escape with her, but the selfish woman tried to shake them off, and in her efforts to do so broke the onion-top, and fell back into hell. This story has given rise to the saying, "Like St. Peter's mamma," which is found, with slight variations, all over Italy. [2]

               A curious version of this story is given in Bernoni (Leggende fant. No. 8): After the onion-top was broken and St. Peter's mother had fallen back into hell, the story continues: "Out of regard, however, for St. Peter, the Lord permitted her once a year, on St. Peter's day, to leave hell and wander about the earth a week; and, indeed, she does so every year, and during this week she plays all sorts of pranks and causes great trouble." [3]


[1] These four legends are in Pitrè, Cinque Novelline popolari siciliane, Palermo, 1878. In the third story, "San Pietru e sò cumpari," St. Peter gets something to eat from a stingy man by a play on the word mussu, "snout," and cu lu mussu, "to be angry." For a similar story see Pitrè, III. 312. A parallel to the first of the above legends may be found in Finamore, No. 34, IV., where are also some other legends of St. Peter.

               Since the above note was written, some similar legends have been published by Salomone Marino in the Archivio per lo Studio delle Tradizioni popolari, vol. II. p. 553. One "The Just suffers for the Sinner" ("Chianci lu giustu pri lu piccaturi") relates how St. Peter complained to our Lord that the innocent were punished with the guilty. Our Lord made no answer, but shortly after commanded St. Peter to pick up a piece of honey-comb filled with bees, and put it in the bosom of his dress. One of the bees stung him, and St. Peter in his anger killed them all, and when the Lord rebuked him, excused himself by saying: "How could I tell among so many bees which one stung me?" The Lord answered: "Am I wrong then, when I punish men likewise? Chianci lu giustu pri lu piccaturi."

               Another legend relates the eagerness of St. Peter's sister to marry. Thrice she sent her brother to our Lord to ask his consent, and thrice the Lord, with characteristic patience, answered: "Tell her to do what she wishes."

               A third legend explains why some are rich and some are poor in this world. Adam and Eve had twenty-four children, and one day the Lord passed by the house, and the parents concealed twelve of their children under a tub. The Lord, at the parents' request, blessed the twelve with riches and happiness. After he had departed, the parents realized what they had done, and called the Master back. When he heard that they had told him a falsehood about the number of their children, he replied that the blessing was bestowed and there was no help for it. "Oh!" said Adam in anguish, "what will become of them?" The Lord replied: "Let those who are not blessed serve the others, and let those who are blessed support them." "And this is why in the world half are rich and half are poor, and the latter serve the former, and the former support the latter."

               The last of these legends which I shall mention is entitled: "All things are done for money." ("Tutti cosi su' fatti pri dinari.") There once died a poor beggar who had led a pious life, and was destined for paradise. When his soul arrived at the gate and knocked, St. Peter asked who he was and told him to wait. The poor soul waited two months behind the gate, but St. Peter did not open it for him. Meanwhile, a wealthy baron died and went, exceptionally, to paradise. His soul did not need even to knock, for the gate was thrown open, and St. Peter exclaimed: "Throw open the gate, let the baron pass! Come in Sir Baron, your servant, what an honor!" The soul of the beggar squeezed in, and said to himself: "The world is not the only one who worships money; in heaven itself there is this law, that all things are done for money."

[2] Pitrè, No. 126, where other Sicilian versions are mentioned. A version from Siena is in T. Gradi, Proverbi e Modi di dire, p. 23, repeated in the same author's Saggio di Letture varie, p. 52, and followed by an article by Tommaseo, originally printed in the Institutore of Turin, in which Servian and Greek parallels are given. Besides the Venetian variant mentioned in the text, there are versions from Umbria and Piedmont cited by Pitrè, a Tuscan one in Nov. tosc. No. 26, and one from the Tyrol in Schneller, No. 4. Pitrè, in his notes to Nov. tosc. No. 26, mentions several other versions from Piedmont, Friuli, and Benevento. An exact version is also found in Corsica: see Ortoli, p. 235.

[3] This reminds one of the "Sabbath of the Damned:" see Douhet, Dictionnaire des Légendes, Paris, 1855, p. 1040.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Ass, 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: unclassified

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