Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

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Clever Peasant, The

To counterbalance the stories of foolish people which have been related above, we will conclude this chapter with some stories of clever people, stories which were popular as long ago as the Middle Ages.

               The first is from Sicily (Gonz., No. 50) and is called:


THERE was once a king who, while hunting, saw a peasant working in the fields and asked him: "How much do you earn in a day?" "Four carlini, your Majesty," answered the peasant. "What do you do with them?" continued the king. The peasant said: "The first I eat; the second I put out at interest; the third I give back, and the fourth I throw away."

               The king rode on, but after a time the peasant's answer seemed very curious to him, so he returned and asked him: "Tell me, what do you mean by eating the first carlino, putting the second out to interest, giving back the third, and throwing away the fourth?" The peasant answered: "With the first I feed myself; with the second I feed my children, who must care for me when I am old; with the third I feed my father, and so repay him for what he has done for me, and with the fourth I feed my wife, and thus throw it away, because I have no profit from it." "Yes," said the king, "you are right. Promise me, however, that you will not tell any one this until you have seen my face a hundred times." The peasant promised and the king rode home well pleased.

               While sitting at table with his ministers, he said: "I will give you a riddle: A peasant earns four carlini a day; the first he eats; the second he puts out at interest; the third he gives back, and the fourth he throws away. What is that?" No one was able to answer it.

               One of the ministers remembered finally that the king had spoken the day before with the peasant, and he resolved to find the peasant and obtain from him the answer. When he saw the peasant he asked him for the answer to the riddle, but the peasant answered: "I cannot tell you, for I have promised the king to tell no one until I have seen his face a hundred times." "Oh!" said the minister, "I can show you the king's face," and drew a hundred coins from his purse and gave them to the peasant. On every coin the king's face was to be seen of course. After the peasant had looked at each coin once, he said: "I have now seen the king's face a hundred times, and can tell you the answer to the riddle," and told him it.

               The minister went in great glee to the king and said: "Your Majesty, I have found the answer to the riddle; it is so and so." The king exclaimed: "You can have heard it only from the peasant himself," had the peasant summoned, and took him to task. "Did you not promise me not to tell it until you had seen my face a hundred times?" "But, your Majesty," answered the peasant, "your minister showed me your picture a hundred times." Then he showed him the bag of money that the minister had given him. The king was so pleased with the clever peasant that he rewarded him, and made him a rich man for the rest of his life. [1]


[1] This story is told in almost the same words in Pitrè, No. 297, "The Peasant and the King." There are several Italian literary versions, the best known being in the Cento nov. ant. ed. Borghini, Nov. VI.: see D'Ancona's notes to this novel in the Romania, III. p. 185, "Le Fonti del Novellino." It is also found in the Gesta Romanorum, cap. 57, see notes in Oesterley's edition; and in Simrock's Deutsche Märchen, No. 8, see Liebrecht's notes in Orient und Occident, III. p. 372. To the above may, finally, be added Köhler's notes to Gonz., No. 50 (II. p. 234).

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Clever Peasant, 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 922B: The King's Face on the Coin

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