Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Firrazzanu's Wife and the Queen

There are two figures in Sicilian folk-lore around whom many jokes have gathered which are, in other parts of Italy, told of some nameless person or attributed to the continental counterparts of the insular heroes. These two are Firrazzanu and Giufà. The former is the practical joker; the second, the typical booby found in the popular literature of all peoples.

               The following stories of Firrazzanu (unless otherwise indicated) are from Pitrè, No. 156.



FIRRAZZANU was the valet of a prince in Palermo, on whom he also played his tricks; but as Firrazzanu was known and everybody was amused by him, the prince overlooked them.

               The queen was once in Palermo, and wished to know Firrazzanu. He went to see her, and amused her somewhat. The queen said: "Are you married, or single?" "Married, your Majesty." "I wish to make your wife's acquaintance." "How can that be, your Majesty, for my wife is deaf?" (Firrazzanu made this up out of his own head, for it was not true.) "No matter; when I speak with her I will scream. Go, have your wife come here."

               Firrazzanu went home. "Fanny, the queen wants to know you; but you must remember that she is a little hard of hearing, and if you wish to speak to her, you must raise your voice."

               "Very well," said his wife, "let us go." When they arrived at the palace she said to the queen, in a loud voice: "At your Majesty's feet!" The queen said to herself: "You see, because she is deaf, she screams as if everybody else were deaf!" Then she said to her, loudly: "Good day, my friend; how do you do?" "Very well, your Majesty!" answered Firrazzanu's wife, still louder. The queen, to make herself heard, raised her voice and screamed, also, and Fanny, for her part, cried out louder and louder, so that it seemed as if they were quarrelling. Firrazzanu could contain himself no longer, and began to laugh, so that the queen perceived the joke; and if Firrazzanu had not run away, perhaps she would have had him arrested, and who knows how the matter had ended? [1]

*  *  *  *  *

               The second story, "The Tailor who twisted his Mouth," has already been mentioned in Chapter III.

               On one occasion (No. 7) the viceroy gave a feast, and needed some partridges. Now the word pirnicana means both partridge and humpback; so Firrazzanu said he would get the viceroy as many pirnicani as he wanted, although they were very scarce. The viceroy said twenty would do. Firrazzanu then collected a score of humpbacks and introduced them into the viceroy's kitchen, sending word to the viceroy that the pirnicani were ready. His excellency wished to see them, and Firrazzanu led his troop to his apartment. When they were all in, Firrazzanu said: "Here they are." The viceroy looked around and said: "Where?" "Here. You wanted pirnicani, and these are pirnicani." The viceroy laughed, gave each of the humpbacks a present, and dismissed them. [2]

               Another time, while the prince was at dinner, Firrazzanu led a number of asses under his window, and made them bray so that the poor prince was driven almost to distraction. The author of the joke, as usual, took to his heels, and escaped.

               Once a very wealthy prince, having a great number of rents to collect, and not succeeding, thought of making Firrazzanu collector. "Here," said he to him, "take my authority, and collect for me, and I will give you twenty per cent." Firrazzanu went into the places where the rents were to be collected, and called together all the debtors. What do you suppose he did? He made them pay his share, that is, twenty per cent., and nothing more. "The rest," he said, "you can pay another year to the prince; now you may depart."

               Then he went back to the prince. "What have you done, Firrazzanu? Have you collected all the rents?" "What are you talking about collecting! I had hard work to collect my share." "What do you mean?" "I collected with difficulty the twenty per cent. that belonged to me; your share will be paid next year." The prince was obliged to laugh at last, and Firrazzanu went away happy and satisfied. [3]

               Another time the prince went hunting, and ordered Firrazzanu, when it was convenient, to tell the princess that he should not be home to dinner that day. Firrazzanu did not find it convenient to deliver the message for a week, when he said that the prince would not be home to dine that day. On the first occasion, of course, the princess waited for her husband in great anxiety until midnight; on the second she went out to pay visits, and when the prince returned, he found his wife out, and no dinner prepared. Firrazzanu, when scolded, excused himself by saying that the prince told him to deliver the message when convenient.

               This recalls the story in Straparola (XIII. 6) where a master orders his lazy servant to go to market and buy some meat, and says to him, sarcastically: "Go and stay a year!" which command the servant obeys to the letter.

               The viceroy at last, angry at one of Firrazzanu's jokes, banished him to the town of Murriali. When Firrazzanu grew tired of the place, he had a cart filled with the earth of the town, and rode into Palermo on it. The viceroy had him arrested as soon as he saw him, but Firrazzanu protested that he had not broken the viceroy's command, for he was still on the earth of Murriali.

               The same story is told of Gonnella, the Italian counterpart of Firrazzanu, by Sacchetti (Nov. 27), and Bandello (IV. 18).

               The prince desired once to give Firrazzanu a lesson that would correct him of his fondness for jokes; so he told the commandant of the castle that he would send him one day a servant of his with a letter, and that he, the commandant, should carry out the orders contained in it.

               A week after, the prince called Firrazzanu and said: "Go to the commandant of the castle and ask him to give you what this letter says."

               Firrazzanu went, turning over the letter and in doubt about the matter. Just then he met another servant and said to him: "Carry this letter for me to the commandant of the castle, and tell him to give you what he has to give you. When you return, we will have a good drink of wine."

               The servant went and delivered the letter to the commandant, who opened it, and read: "The commandant will give my servant, who is a rascal, a hundred lashes, and then send him back to me." The order was carried out, and the poor servant returned to the palace more dead than alive. When Firrazzanu saw him, he burst out laughing, and said: "My brother, for me and for you, better you than me."

               This story is told in Gonzenbach (No. 75) as the way in which the queen tried to punish Firrazzanu for the joke he played on her by telling her his wife was deaf.

               There are other stories told of Firrazzanu, but they do not deserve a place here, and we can direct our attention at once to Giufà, the typical booby, who appears in the various provinces of Italy under different names. [4]

               The first story told of him in Pitrè's collection (No. 190) is: [Giufà and the Plaster Statue]


[1] This story is found in Gonz., No. 75, "Von Firrazzanu," and is (with the queen's attempt to punish him for it) the only joke in that collection relating to Firrazzanu. A literary version is in Bandello, Novelle, IV. 27.

[2] See Pitrè, No. 156, var. 5 (III. p. 181).

[3] Imbriani in his notes to Pitrè (IV. p. 417) gives a French version of this joke entitled: Un Neveu pratique.

[4] The name Giufà is retained in many localities with slight phonetic changes. Thus it is Giucà in Trapani; Giuchà in the Albanian colonies in Sicily; in Acri, Giuvali; and in Tuscany, Rome, and the Marches, Giucca. Pitrè, III. p. 371, adds that the name Giufà is the same as that of an Arab tribe. The best known continental counterparts of Giufà are Bertoldino and Cacasenno (see Olindo Guerrini, La Vita e le Opere di Giulio Cesare Croce, Bologna, 1879, pp. 257-279). Tuscan versions of the stories of Giufà given in the text may be found in Nov. tosc. pp. 179-193.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Firrazzanu's Wife and the Queen
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 1698C: Two Persons Believe Each Other Deaf

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