Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Cat and the Mouse, The

The next story affords, like "Pitidda," a curious example of the diffusion of nursery tales.

               Our readers will remember the Grimm story of "The Spider and the Flea." A spider and a flea dwelt together in one house and brewed their beer in an egg-shell. One day, when the spider was stirring it up, she fell in and scalded herself. Thereupon the flea began to scream. And then the door asked: "Why are you screaming, flea?" "Because Little Spider has scalded herself in the beer-tub," replied she. Thereupon the door began to creak as if it were in pain, and a broom, which stood in the corner, asked: "What are you creaking for, door?"

               "May I not creak?" it replied.

"The little spider scalded herself,     
And the flea weeps."

               So a broom sweeps, a little cart runs, ashes burn furiously, a tree shakes off its leaves, a maiden breaks her pitcher, and a streamlet begins to flow until it swallows up the little girl, the little tree, the ashes, the cart, the broom, the door, the flea, and, last of all, the spider, all together. [1]

               The first Italian version of this story which we shall mention is from Sicily (Pitrè, No. 134), and is called:


ONCE upon a time there was a cat that wanted to get married. So she stood on a corner, and every one who passed by said: "Little Cat, what's the matter?" "What's the matter? I want to marry." A dog passed by and said: "Do you want me?" "When I see how you can sing." The dog said: "Bow, wow!" "Fy! What horrid singing! I don't want you." A pig passed. "Do you want me, Little Cat?" "When I see how you sing." "Uh! uh!" "Fy! You are horrid! Go away! I don't want you." A calf passed and said: "Little Cat, will you take me?" "When I see how you sing." "Uhm!" "Go away, for you are horrid! What do you want of me?" A mouse passed by: "Little Cat, what are you doing?" "I am going to get married." "Will you take me?" "And how can you sing?" "Ziu, ziu!" The cat accepted him, and said: "Let us go and be married, for you please me." So they were married.

               One day the cat went to buy some pastry, and left the mouse at home. "Don't stir out, for I am going to buy some pastry." The mouse went into the kitchen, saw the pot on the fire, and crept into it, for he wanted to eat the beans. But he did not; for the pot began to boil, and the mouse stayed there. The cat came back and began to cry; but the mouse did not appear. So the cat put the pastry in the pot for dinner. When it was ready the cat ate, and put some on a plate for the mouse, also. When she took out the pastry she saw the mouse stuck fast in it. "Ah! my little mouse! ah! my little mouse!" so she went and sat behind the door, lamenting the mouse.

               "What is the matter," said the door, "that you are scratching yourself so and tearing out your hair?"

               The cat said: "What is the matter? My mouse is dead, and so I tear my hair."

               The door answered: "And I, as door, will slam."

               In the door was a window, which said: "What's the matter, door, that you are slamming?"

               "The mouse died, the cat is tearing her hair, and I am slamming."

               The window answered: "And I, as window, will open and shut."

               In the window was a tree, that said: "Window, why do you open and shut?" The window answered: "The mouse died, the cat tears her hair, the door slams, and I open and shut." The tree answered and said: "And I, as tree, will throw myself down."

               A bird happened to alight in this tree, and said: "Tree, why did you throw yourself down?" The tree replied: "The mouse died, the cat tears her hair, the door slams, the window opens and shuts, and I, as tree, threw myself down." "And I, as bird, will pull out my feathers." The bird went and alighted on a fountain, which said: "Bird, why are you plucking out your feathers so?" The bird answered as the others had done, and the fountain said: "And I, as fountain, will dry up." A cuckoo went to drink at the fountain, and asked: "Fountain, why have you dried up?" And the fountain told him all that had happened. "And I, as cuckoo, will put my tail in the fire." A monk of St. Nicholas passed by, and said: "Cuckoo, why is your tail in the fire?" When the monk heard the answer he said: "And I, as monk of St. Nicholas, will go and say mass without my robes." Then came the queen, who, when she heard what the matter was, said: "And I, as queen, will go and sift the meal." At last the king came by, and asked: "O Queen! why are you sifting the meal?" When the queen had told him everything, he said: "And I, as king, am going to take my coffee."

*  *  *  *  *

               And thus the story abruptly ends. In one of Pitrè's variants a sausage takes the place of the mouse; in another, a tortoise.

               In the version from Pomigliano d'Arco (Imbriani, p. 244), an old woman, who finds a coin in sweeping a church, hesitates in regard to what she will spend it for, as in the stories above mentioned. She finally concludes to buy some paint for her face. After she has put it on, she stations herself at the window. A donkey passes, and asks what she wants. She answers that she wishes to marry. "Will you take me?" asks the donkey. "Let me hear what kind of a voice you have." "Ingò! Ingò! Ingò!" "Away! away! you would frighten me in the night!" Then a goat comes along, with the same result. Then follows a cat, and all the animals in the world; but none pleases the old woman. At last a little mouse passes by, and says: "Old Aunt, what are you doing there?" "I want to marry." "Will you take me?" "Let me hear your voice." "Zivuzì! zivuzì! zivuzì! zivuzì!" "Come up, for you please me." So the mouse went up to the old woman, and stayed with her. One day the old woman went to mass, and left the pot near the fire and told the mouse to be careful not to fall in it. When she came home she could not find the mouse anywhere. At last she went to take the soup from the pot, and there she found the mouse dead. She began to lament, and the ashes on the hearth began to scatter, and the window asked what was the matter. The ashes answered: "Ah! you know nothing. Friend Mouse is in the pot; the old woman is weeping, weeping; and I, the ashes, have wished to scatter." Then the window opens and shuts, the stairs fall down, the bird plucks out its feathers, the laurel shakes off its leaves, the servant girl who goes to the well breaks her pitcher, the mistress who was making bread throws the flour over the balcony, and finally the master comes home, and after he hears the story, exclaims: "And I, who am master, will break the bones of both of you!" And therewith he takes a stick and gives the servant and her mistress a sound beating. [2]

               There is a curious class of versions of the above story, in which the principal actors are a mouse and a sausage, reminding one of the Grimm story of "The Little Mouse, the Little Bird, and the Sausage." In the Venetian version (Bernoni, Punt. III. p. 81), the beginning is as follows: Once upon a time there was a mouse and a sausage, and one day the mouse said to the sausage: "I am going to mass; meanwhile get ready the dinner." "Yes, yes," answered the sausage. Then the mouse went to mass, and when he returned he found everything ready. The next day the sausage went to mass and the mouse prepared the dinner. He put on the pot, threw in the rice, and then went to taste if it was well salted. But he fell in and died. The sausage returned home, knocked at the door,--for there was no bell,--and no one answered. She called: "Mouse! mouse!" But he does not answer. Then the sausage went to a smith and had the door broken in, and called again: "Mouse, where are you?" And the mouse did not answer. "Now I will pour out the rice, and meanwhile he will come." So she went and poured out the rice, and found the mouse dead in the pot. "Ah! poor mouse! Oh! my mouse! What shall I do now? Oh! poor me!" And she began to utter a loud lamentation. Then the table began to go around the room, the sideboard to throw down the plates, the door to lock and unlock itself, the fountain to dry up, the mistress to drag herself along the ground, and the master threw himself from the balcony and broke his neck. "And all this arose from the death of this mouse."

               The version from the Marches (Gianandrea, p. 11) resembles the above very closely; the conclusion is as follows: "The mouse, the master of this castle, is dead; the sausage weeps, the broom sweeps, the door opens and shuts, the cart runs, the tree throws off its leaves, the bird plucks out its feathers, the servant breaks her pitcher," etc.

               The version from Milan (Nov. fior. p. 552) resembles the one from Venice. Instead of the mouse and the sausage we have the big mouse and the little mouse. In the version from Leghorn (Papanti, p. 19) called "Vezzino and Lady Sausage," [3] the actors are Lady Sausage and her son Vezzino, who falls into the pot on the fire while his mother is at mass. The rest of the story does not differ materially from the above versions.


[1] Grimm, No. 30. Another version from the North of Europe is in Asbjørnsen, No. 103 [Dasent, Tales from the Fjeld, p. 30, "The Death of Chanticleer"]. Several French versions may be found in the Romania, No. 22, p. 244, and Mélusine, p. 424. There is a Spanish version in Caballero's Cuentos, etc., Leipzig, 1878, p. 3, "La Hormiguita" ("The Little Ant"). There is a curious version in Hahn's Griechische und Albanesische Märchen, Leipzig, 1864, No. 56, "Pepper-Corn." The story is from Smyrna, and is as follows:--


ONCE upon a time there was an old man and an old woman who had no children; and one day the old woman went into the fields and picked a basket of beans. When she had finished, she looked into the basket and said: "I wish all the beans were little children." Scarcely had she uttered these words when a whole crowd of little children sprang out of the basket and danced about her. Such a family seemed too large for the old woman, so she said: "I wish you would all become beans again." Immediately the children climbed back into the basket and became beans again, all except one little boy, whom the old woman took home with her.

                He was so small that everybody called him little Pepper-Corn, and so good and charming that everybody loved him.

                One day the old woman was cooking her soup and little Pepper-Corn climbed up on the kettle and looked in to see what was cooking, but he slipped and fell into the boiling broth and was scalded to death. The old woman did not notice until meal-time that he was missing, and looked in vain for him everywhere to call him to dinner.

                At last they sat down to the table without little Pepper-Corn, and when they poured the soup out of the kettle into the dish the body of little Pepper-Corn floated on top.

                Then the old man and the old woman began to mourn and cry: "Dear Pepper-Corn is dead, dear Pepper-Corn is dead."

                When the dove heard it she tore out her feathers, and cried: "Dear Pepper-Corn is dead. The old man and the old woman are mourning."

                When the apple-tree saw that the dove tore out her feathers it asked her why she did so, and when it learned the reason it shook off all its apples.

                In like manner, the well near by poured out all its water, the queen's maid broke her pitcher, the queen broke her arm, and the king threw his crown on the ground so that it broke into a thousand pieces; and when his people asked him what the matter was, he answered: "Dear Pepper-Corn is dead, the old man and the old woman mourn, the dove has torn out her feathers, the apple-tree has shaken off all its apples, the well has poured out all its water, the maid has broken her pitcher, the queen has broken her arm, and I, the king, have lost my crown; dear Pepper-Corn is dead."

*  *  *  *  *

                See also Benfey, Pant. I. p. 191. There is also a version in Morosi, op. cit., given by Imbriani in Pomiglianesi, p. 268; and mention is made of one from the Abruzzi in Finamore, Trad. pop. abruzzesi, p. 244.

[2] In addition to the versions mentioned in the text, Imbriani (Pomiglianesi, pp. 250, 252) gives two versions from Lecco.

                The following version is found in Morosi, p. 73.


THERE was once an ant who, while sweeping her house one day, found three quattrini, and began to say: "What shall I buy? What shall I buy? Shall I buy meat? No, because meat has bones, and I should choke. Shall I buy fish? No, for fish has bones, and I should be scratched." After she had mentioned many other things, she concluded to buy a red ribbon. She put it on, and sat in the window. An ox passed by and said: "How pretty you are! do you want me for your husband?" She said: "Sing, so that I may hear your voice." The ox with great pride raised his voice. After the ant had heard it, she said: "No, no, you frighten me."

                A dog passed by, and the same happened to him as to the ox. After many animals had passed, a little mouse went by and said: "How pretty you are! do you want me for your husband?" She said: "Let me hear you sing." The mouse sang, and went, pi, pi, pi! His voice pleased the ant, and she took him for her husband.

                Sunday came, and while the ant was with her friends, the mouse said: "My dear little ant, I am going to see whether the meat that you have put on the fire is done." He went, and when he smelled the odor of the meat, he wanted to take a little; he put in one paw and burned it; he put in the other, and burned that too; he stuck in his nose, and the smoke drew him into the pot, and the poor little mouse was all burned. The ant waited for him to eat. She waited two, she waited three hours, the mouse did not come. When she could wait no longer, she put the dinner on the table. But when she took out the meat, out came the mouse dead. When she saw him the ant began to weep, and all her friends; and the ant remained a widow, because he who is a mouse must be a glutton. If you don't believe it, go to her house and you will see her.

[3] Vezzino e Madonna Salciccia. Vezzino is the dim. of vezzo, delight, pastime.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Cat and the Mouse, 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 2023: Little Ant Marries

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