Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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


The most famous story of the class we are now considering is, however, the one best known by its French title, "Bonhomme Misère." The French version was popular as a chap-book as early as 1719, running through fifteen editions from that date. The editor of the reprint referred to in the note, as well as Grimm (II. 451), believed the story to be of Italian origin and that the original would some day be discovered. [1] This has proved to be the case, and we have now before us a number of versions. These may be divided into two classes: one independent, the other constituting a part only of some other story. The latter class is generally connected with the cycle of our Lord's journeys upon earth, and is represented by "The Master Thief" and "Brother Lustig" in Germany, and "Beppo Pipetta" from Venice. The Sicilian versions which we shall mention first, although independent stories, are connected with the cycle of our Lord's journeys upon earth. We give first two versions from Pitrè (Nos. 124, 125).


ONCE upon a time there was a father and a mother who had a little boy. They died and the child was left in the street. One of the neighbors had pity upon him and took him in. The boy throve well and when he had grown up the one who had sheltered him said: "Come now, Occasion (for this was the boy's name), you are a man; why do you not think about supporting yourself and relieving us from that care?" So the lad made up a bundle and departed. He journeyed and journeyed until his clothes were worn out and he was almost dead from hunger. One day he saw an inn and entered it, and said to the innkeeper: "Do you want me for a servant? I wish only a piece of bread for my wages." The host said to his wife: "What do you say, Rosella? We have no children; shall we take this lad?" "Yes;" and so they took him.

               The boy was very attentive and did willingly whatever was commanded him, and at last his master and mistress, who had grown to love him like a son, went before the judge and adopted him.

               Time passed and the innkeeper and his wife died and left all their property to the young man, who, when he saw himself in possession of it, made known: "That whoever should come to Occasion's inn could have food for nothing." You can imagine the people that went there!

               Now the Master and his apostles happened once to pass that way, and when St. Thomas read this announcement he said: "Unless I see and touch with my hands I shall not believe it. Let us go to this inn." They went there and ate and drank and Occasion treated them like gentlemen. Before leaving St. Thomas said: "Occasion, why don't you ask a favor of the Master?" Then Occasion said: "Master, I have before my door this fig-tree, and the children do not let me eat one of the figs. Whoever goes by climbs up and pulls off some. Now I would like this favor, that when any one climbs this tree, he must stay there until I permit him to come down." "Your request is granted," said the Lord, and blessed the tree.

               It was a fine thing! The first who climbed up for figs stuck fast to the tree without being able to move; another came, the same thing; and so on; all stuck fast, one by the hand, another by the foot, another by the head. When Occasion saw them he gave them a sound scolding and let them go. The children were frightened and touched the figs no more.

               Years passed and Occasion's money was coming to an end; so he called a carpenter and told him to cut up the fig-tree and make him a bottle out of it. This bottle had the property that Occasion could shut up in it whoever he wished. One day Death went to fetch him, for Occasion was now very old. Occasion said: "At your service; we will go. But see here, Death, first do me a favor. I have this bottle of wine, and there is a fly in it, and I don't like to drink from it; just go in there and take it out for me, and then we will go." Death very foolishly entered the bottle, when Occasion corked it and put it in his wallet, saying: "Stay a bit with me."

               While Death was shut up no one died; and everywhere you might see old men with such long white beards that it was a sight. The apostles, seeing this, went to the Master about it several times, and at last he visited Occasion. "What is this? Here you have kept Death shut up so many years, and the people are falling down from old age without dying!" "Master," said Occasion, "do you want me to let Death out? If you will give me a place in paradise, I will let him out." The Lord thought: "What shall I do? If I don't grant him this favor, he will not leave me in peace." So he said: "Your request is granted!" At these words Death was set at liberty; Occasion was permitted to live a few years longer, and then Death took him. Hence it is "That there is no death without Occasion."


[1] See Champfleury, De la littérature populaire en France. Recherches sur les origines et les variations de la légende du bonhomme Misère, Paris, 1861. It contains a reprint of the oldest yet known edition of the chap-book, that of 1719. The most valuable references to the legend in general will be found (besides the above work, and Grimm's notes to Nos. 81, 82) in the Jahrb. V. pp. 4, 23; VII. 128, 268; and in Pitrè's notes, vol. III. p. 63, and IV. pp. 398, 439. All the Italian versions are mentioned in the text or following notes. To the stories from the various parts of Europe mentioned in the articles above cited, may be added Webster, Basque Legends, pp. 195, 199. Since this note was written another Tuscan version has been published by Pitrè in his Nov. tosc. No. 28, who cites in his notes: Ortoli, p. 1, § 1, No. XXII. (Corsica); and two literary versions in Cintio de' Fabritii, Venice, 1726, Origine de' volgari proverbi, and Domenico Batacchi in his Novelle galanti: La Vita e la Morte di Prete Ulivo.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Occasion
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

Back to Top