Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Brother Giovannone


ONCE upon a time there was a convent at Casteltermini which contained many monks, one of whom was named Brother Giovannone. At the time when the Lord and all his apostles were on their travels they visited this convent, and all the monks asked the Lord to pardon their souls; Brother Giovannone asked nothing. St. Peter said to him: "Why do you not ask pardon for your soul, like the others?" "I don't wish anything." St. Peter said: "Nothing? When you come to paradise we will talk about it." When the Master had taken his departure and had gone some distance, Brother Giovannone began to cry out: "Master, Master, wait! I want a favor, and it is that any one I command must get into my pouch." The Master said: "This request is granted."

               Brother Giovannone was old and one day Death came and said to him: "Giovannone, you have three hours to live!" Brother Giovannone replied: "When you come for me you must let me know half an hour before." After a while Death came and said: "You are a dead man!" Brother Giovannone replied: "In the name of Brother Giovannone, into my pouch with you, Death!" Then he carried his pouch to a baker and asked him to hang it up in the chimney until he came for it. For forty years no one died. At the end of that time Brother Giovannone went and set Death free, so that he might himself die, for he was so old he could do no more. The first one that Death killed when he was free was Brother Giovannone, and then he destroyed all those who had not died in the forty years.

               After he was dead Brother Giovannone went and knocked at the gate of paradise and St. Peter said to him: "There is no room for you here." "Where must I go, then?" asked Brother Giovannone. "To purgatory," answered St. Peter. So he knocked at purgatory and they told him: "There is no place for you here." "Where must I go, then?" "To hell." He knocked at hell and Lucifer asked: "Who is there?" "Brother Giovannone." Then Lucifer said to his devils: "You take the mace; you, the hammer; you, the tongs!" Brother Giovannone asked: "What are you going to do with these instruments?" "We are going to beat you." "In the name of Brother Giovannone, into my pouch with you, all you devils!" Then he hung the pouch about his neck and carried all the devils to a smith who had eight apprentices, and the master, nine. "Master-smith, how much do you want to hammer this pouch eight days and nights?" They agreed upon forty ounces, and hammered day and night and the pouch was not reduced to powder, and Brother Giovannone was always present. The last day the smiths said: "What the devil are these; for they cannot be pounded fine!" Brother Giovannone answered: "They are indeed devils! Pound hard!" After they were through hammering, he took the pouch and emptied it out in the plain; the devils were so bruised and mangled that they could hardly drag themselves back to hell. Then Brother Giovannone went and knocked again at paradise. "Who is there?" "Brother Giovannone." "There is no room for you." "Peter, if you don't let me in I will call you baldhead." "Now that you have called me baldhead," said St. Peter, "you shall not enter." Brother Giovannone said: "Ah, what is that you say? I will be even with you!" So he stood near the gate of paradise and said to all the souls who were going to enter: "In the name of Brother Giovannone, into my pouch, all you souls!" and no more souls entered paradise. One day St. Peter said to the Master: "Why do no more souls enter?" The Lord answered: "Because Brother Giovannone is behind the gate putting them all in his pouch." "What shall we do?" said St. Peter. The Lord answered: "See if you can get hold of the pouch and bring them all in together." Brother Giovannone heard all this outside. What did he do? He said: "Into the pouch with myself!" and in a moment was in his own pouch. When St. Peter looked Brother Giovannone was not to be seen, so he seized the pouch and dragged it into paradise and shut the gate at once, and opened the pouch. The first one who came out was Brother Giovannone himself, who began at once to quarrel with St. Peter because St. Peter wished to put him out, and Brother Giovannone did not want to go. Then the Lord said: "When one once enters the house of Jesus, he does not leave it again." [1]

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               These stories have close parallels in two Roman legends collected by Miss Busk. In the first, the innkeeper asks first for the faculty of always winning at cards; and second, that any one who climbs his fig-tree must stay there. When Death comes the host asks her (Death is feminine in Italian) to climb the tree and pick him a few figs. When once up the tree, the host refuses to let her down until she promises him four hundred years of life. Death has to consent and the host in turn promises to go quietly with her when she comes again. At the end of the four hundred years Death takes the host to paradise. They pass by hell on the way and the host proposes to the devil to play for the newly received souls. The host wins fifteen thousand, which he carries with him to paradise. St. Peter objects to letting the "rabble" in, and Jesus Christ himself says: "The host may come in himself, but he has no business with the others." Then the host says that he has made no difficulty about numbers when Christ has come to his inn With as many as he pleased. "That is true! that is right!" answered Jesus Christ. "Let them all in! let them all in!" [2]

               In the other story, a priest, Pret' Olivo, received from the Lord, in reward for his hospitality, the favor of living a hundred years, and that when Death came to fetch him he should be able to give her what orders he pleased, and that she must obey him. Death called at the end of the hundred years, and Pret' Olivo made her sit by the fire while he said a mass. The fire grew hotter and hotter, but Death could not stir until Pret' Olivo permitted her to, on condition that she should leave him alone a hundred years. The second time Death called, Pret' Olivo asked her to gather him some figs and commanded her to stay in the tree. So Death a second time was obliged to promise him a respite of a hundred years. The next time Death called, Pret' Olivo put on his vestments and a cope, and took a pack of cards in his hand and went with Death. She wanted to take him directly to paradise, but he insisted on going around by the way of hell and playing a game of cards with the Devil. The stakes were souls, and as fast as Pret' Olivo won, he hung a soul on his cope until it was covered with them; then he hung them on his beretta, and at last was obliged to stop, for there was no more room to hang any souls. Death objected to taking all these souls to paradise, but could not take Pret' Olivo without them. When they arrived at paradise St. Peter made some objection to admitting them, but the Master gave his permission and they all got in. [3]


[1] See Pitrè, No. 125.

[2] See Busk, p. 178.

[3] See Busk, p. 183.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Brother Giovannone
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 330: The Smith and the Devil

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