East of the Sun & West of the Moon | The Sevens Bits of Bacon-Rind (An Italian Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.


Of the Fourth Day


ALL blessed Meneca's mouth for relating with so much taste her story, which put before the eyes of the hearers doings that had happened so far away in such a manner that it caused envy to glow in Tolla's breast, so that it made her wish from the marrow of her bones to excel and surpass Meneca; therefore, having first well cleared her throat, she began thus, in a clear voice:

Not a word is spoken which, if not all true, is not half true, and this is the reason that some one said, Crooked face and straight venture; and he knew the things of this world, or perhaps he had read the history of Antony and Palmiero, who had no eyebrows, and without birdlime caught Becafico. It is by experience that this world is the true portrait of the Cuccagna, land of pleasure and felicity, where who works most gaineth least; where he hath the best who taketh things as they come, and expecteth not that macaroni will fall down his throat; as is truly known, and one touches it with hands, that plunder and the spoils of fortune are gained and won, not by the full-sailed galley, but by the darksome sailing boat, as ye shall hear from what I am going to relate.

Once upon a time there lived a beggarly old woman, who with distaff in hand, dabbling folk with her spittle on the way, used to step from door to door, begging alms, and since by craft and deceit one lives half the year round, she made some women, who were tender of lungs and easy of faith, believe that she was going to do I know not what to fatten a very thin daughter she had. By thus begging, she gained the gift of seven pieces of pig's lard with the skin, which she took home with a quantity of straw and small bits of wood she had gathered by the way. Giving them to her daughter, she bade her cook them, whilst she went and begged of some gardeners an handful of greens to cook with them, and thus to make a tasty dish of food. The daughter took the pieces of skin, and burning off the bristles, put the skins in the pot, and began to cook them. But not so much did they boil in the pot, as they boiled in her throat, because the smell which came forth therefrom was a mortal defiance to taste its flavour in the field of appetite, and an immediate summons to the bank of gluttony, so much so, that after resisting for some time the temptation, at the last provoked by the natural odour that came forth from the pot, and drawn by her natural greed, and pulled by the throat by the hunger which gnawed at her entrails, she let herself slip, and tried a little of it, and the flavour being good, she said to herself, 'Let him that feareth become a bailiff; I am in it for this time; let us eat, and let it come of clay, or nails, or other, 'tis but a pig's skin. What will it be? Whatever may it be? I have good skin upon my shoulders to pay for these skins;' and thus saying, she put down the first, and feeling her stomach gnaw the more, took up the second; and after wards she ate the third, and thus, one after the other, until she had eaten them all. Now having done this bad service, thinking of the error, and dreaming that the skins would stick in her throat, she bethought herself to blind her mother, and taking an old shoe, cut the sole in seven pieces, and put it in the pot.

In the meanwhile her mother returned with a bunch of greens, and cutting them up in small bits with all the suckers, so as not to lose a crumb, when she saw that the pot boiled, she put all the greens therein, together with a quantity of lard, that a coachman, who had it left from greasing a carriage, gave her in alms. Then she bade her daughter lay a coarse cloth upon an old box of poplar wood, and bringing forth from a pair of saddle-bags two pieces of stale bread, and taking from a shelf a wooden basin, she cut up the bread within it, and threw upon it the greens with the old shoe- leather, and began to eat. But at the first mouthful she perceived that her teeth were not for shoe-leather, and that the pig's skins, by a new Ovid's transformation, had become the gizzard of a buffalo. Therefore she turned to her daughter, and said, 'Thou hast done me brown, this time, thou whore accursed, and what filthiness hast thou put in the pottage? Has my belly become an old shoe, that thou shouldst provide me with old leather? Quick, do thou confess this moment, how this was done; or say naught, and I will not leave thee a whole bone in thy body.' Saporita (thus was the girl hight) began to deny, but the old woman's vexation increasing, she blamed the smoke which had entered the pot and came forth from it, which had blinded her and caused her to do this evil deed. And the old woman, seeing her food poisoned, and taking hold of a broomstick, began to work in good earnest, and more than seven times did she take it up and let it down, hitting anywhere as it fell. And the daughter shrieked with loud shrieks, and at her cries a merchant who was passing by entered, and seeing the dog-like treatment dealt by the old woman to her daughter, he took the stick from her hand, and said to her, 'What hath this poor child done to thee, that thou hast a will to slay her? Hast thou found her running a lance or breaking money-boxes? Art thou not ashamed to treat thus a wretched child?' 'Thou knowest not what she hath done to me,' answered the old woman, 'the shameless chit, she can see that I am a beggar, and she hath no consideration, and she would like to see me ruined by doctors and druggists: because having commanded her now that it is hot weather that she should not work so much, so that she should not fall sick, as I have naught with which to feed her, the presumptuous creature, in my despite, would fill seven spindles, risking by doing this to have some bad disease of the heart, and re main some two months in a bed of sickness.' The merchant, hearing this, thought that the cleverness and industry of this damsel could make his house into a fairy's kingdom; therefore he said to the old woman, 'Leave off thine anger and cast it on one side, for I will deliver thee from this danger in thine house by taking this daughter of thine to wife, and lead her to my home, where I will entertain her as a princess, as by grace of Heaven I bring up mine own fowls, and fatten mine own pigs, and keep pigeons, and I can hardly turn round in my house because of its fulness; may the heavens bless me, and the evil eye have no power over me, for I have my casks full of corn, my press full of flour, my pitchers full of oil, my pots and bladders full of lard, and hams and salt provisions hanging by the roof beam, and the rack full of crocks, and heaps of wood, and mounds of coal, and safes of linen, a bed fit for a bride groom: and above all, from rents and interests, I can live like a mighty lord; and besides, I gain safely in these fairs some ten ducats, and if business always went full sail I should soon be rich.' The old woman, beholding this good fortune raining upon her when least she dreamt of it, taking Saporita by the hand (in the Neapolitan custom and fashion), consigned her to him, saying, 'Here she is, may she be thine for many happy years with health and fine heritage.' The merchant threw his arms round Saporita's neck, and carried her home, and he was very anxious for the day to come when he would fare to the market to buy some flax for his wife to spin.

When Monday came he arose early in the morning, and wending where the country-women came, he bought twenty dozens of flax, and taking it to Saporita, said to her, 'If thou hast a will to spin, be not afraid, as thou wilt not find another so madly enraged as thy mother, who used to break thy bones, if thou filledst the spindle; whilst I, for every ten spindle-full will give thee ten kisses, and for every distaff-full I will give thee mine heart; work thou then with a good will, and I will wend to the fair, where I shall tarry some twenty days, and when I return from the fair, do thou let me find these ten dozen of flax all ready spinned, and I will buy thee a fine pair of sleeves of Russian cloth trimmed with green velvet.' 'Thou mayest go an thou art ready,' said Saporita to herself, 'thou hast filled my spindle, yes, run and light the fire. An thou expectest a shirt out of my hands, thou canst provide thyself from this moment of blotting-paper; thou hast found her, and 'twas milk of the black goat, to spin twenty dozens of flax in twenty days. May evil happen to the boat that brought thee in this country. Go, for thou hast the time, and thou shalt find the flax spun when the liver groweth hair, and the ape a tail.'

In the meanwhile her husband fared on his journey, and she, who was as greedy and gluttonous as she was lazy, did not wait long before she began to mix flour, and take the oil, and cook fritters, and make cakes, and from morning till night she did naught else, but gnaw and munch like a mouse, and eat like a pig. But now when the term arrived of her husband's return, she began to spin very fine, considering the noise and great fracas that would occur when the merchant came back and found the flax untouched, and the press and pitchers empty; and therefore, taking a long perch, wound round it a dozen of the flax with all the tow and the rest, and hanging upon a big fork an Indian vegetable marrow, and tying the perch at one side of the wall of the terrace, she began to lower this father abbot of spindles down the terrace, keeping by her side a cauldron full of macaroni broth instead of the saucer full of water, and whilst she spinned like a ship's rope, every time she dipped her fingers in water she played a carnival game with the passers-by. Now passed that way three fairies, and they enjoyed so much the sight of this ugly vision, that they laughed till they fell back wards: and for this cause they cried, 'May all the flax in that house be found spun, and made into cloth, and whitened,' which thing was done at once, and Saporita swam in the fat of en joyance, sighting this good venture raining upon her from heaven. But so that no more of this kind of enjoyance should befall her from her husband, she let him find her in bed, having first spread on it a measure of hazel-nuts; and when the merchant arrived, she began to lament, and turning first one side then the other she cracked the nuts, which made a sound as if the bones unhinged one from the other; and her husband asking of her how it was with her, she answered him with a very melancholic voice, 'I cannot be much worse, than I am now, O my husband, I have not a whole bone in my body; and what does it seem to thee but a little grass for the sheep, to skin twenty dozen of flax in twenty days, and to weave the cloth also? Wend thy ways, O my husband, for thou hast not paid my mother, and discretion has been eaten by the ass; when I shall be dead, my mother will not give birth to another like me, and therefore thou wilt not catch me any more at these dog's works; and I do not wish to fill so many spindles that I break the spindle of my life.'

The husband made her a thousand caresses, and said to her, 'Be thou well once more, O my darling wife, as I desire much more this beauteous loving frame than all the cloths in the world; and now I know that thy mother was right in chastising thee for so much work, because thou losest thine health. But be of good cheer. I shall spend an eye of my head to get thee back to health, and wait a while, I shall go at once for the doctor;' and thus saying, he went at once to call Messer Cattupolo. Whereupon Saporita ate up all the nuts, and threw the shells out of the window, and when the doctor came, feeling her pulse, and observing her face, and looking in the chamber-pot, and smelling in the night-vase, he concluded with Galenus and Hippocrates that her malady was superfluous blood, and from doing naught; and the merchant, thinking he heard nonsense, putting a carlino in his hand, sent him off warm and stinking; and wanting to go for another physician, Saporita told him that there was no need, because the sight of him only had cured her; and so her hus band embraced her, and said that from that time forth she should enjoy herself without work, because it was impossible to have a Greek and cabbages,

'The cask full, and the slave-girl drunk.'

Basile, Giovanni Batiste. Il Pentamerone, or The Tale of TalesSir Richard Burton, translator. London: Henry and Company, 1893.

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