Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.



ONCE upon a time [1] there was a poor woman who had a great fancy for eating parsley. To her it was the greatest luxury, and as she had no garden of her own, and no money to spend on anything not an absolute necessity of life, she had to go about poaching in other people's gardens to satisfy her fancy.

               Near her cottage was the garden of a great palace, and in this garden grew plenty of fine parsley; but the garden was surrounded by a wall, and to get at it she had to carry a ladder with her to get up by, and, as soon as she had reached the top of the wall, to let it down on the other side to get down to the parsley-bed. There was such a quantity of parsley growing here that she thought it would never be missed, and this made her bold, so that she went over every day and took as much as ever she liked.

               But the garden belonged to a witch, [2] who lived in the palace, and, though she did not often walk in this part of the garden, she knew by her supernatural powers that some one was eating her parsley; so she came near the place one day, and lay in wait till the poor woman came. As soon, therefore, as she came, and began eating the parsley, the witch at once pounced down, and asked her, in her gruff voice, what she was doing there. Though dreadfully frightened, the poor woman thought it best to own the whole truth; so she confessed that she came down by the ladder, adding that she had not taken anything except the parsley, and begged forgiveness.

               'I know nothing about forgiveness,' replied the witch. 'You have eaten my parsley, and must take the consequences; and the consequences are these: I must be godmother to your first child, be it boy or girl; and as soon as it is grown to be of an age to dress itself without help, it must belong to me.'

               When, accordingly, the poor woman's first child was born, the witch came, as she had declared she would, to be its godmother. It was a fine little girl, and she gave it the name of Filagranata; after that she went away again, and the poor woman saw her no more till her little girl was grown up old enough to dress herself, and then she came and fetched her away inexorably; nor could the poor mother, with all her tears and entreaties, prevail on her to make any exchange for her child.

               So Filagranata was taken to the witch's palace to live, and was put in a room in a little tower by herself, where she had to feed the pigeons. Filagranata grew fond of her pigeons, and did not at all complain of her work, yet, without knowing why, she began to grow quite sad and melancholy as time went by; it was because she had no one to play with, no one to talk to, except the witch, who was no very delightful companion. The witch came every day, once in the day, to see that she was attending properly to her work, and as there was no door or staircase to the tower--this was on purpose that she might not escape--the witch used to say when she came under the tower--

Filagranata, so fair, so fair,         
Unloose thy tresses of golden hair:        
I, thy old grandmother, am here; [3]

and as she said these words, Filagranata had to let down her beautiful long hair through the window, and by it the witch climbed up into her chamber to her. This she did every day.

               Now, it happened that about this time a king's son was travelling that way searching for a beautiful wife; for you know it is the custom for princes to go searching all over the world to find a maiden fit to be a prince's wife; at least they say so.

               Well, this prince, travelling along, came by the witch's palace where Filagranata was lodged. And it happened that he came that way just as the witch was singing her ditty. If he was horrified at the sight of the witch, he was in proportion enchanted when Filagranata came to the window. So struck was he with the sight of her beauty, and modesty, and gentleness, that he stopped his horse that he might watch her as long as she stayed at the window, and thus became a spectator of the witch's wonderful way of getting into the tower.

               The prince's mind was soon made up to gain a nearer view of Filagranata, and with this purpose he rode round and round the tower seeking some mode of ingress in vain, till at last, driven to desperation, he made up his mind that he must enter by the same strange means as the witch herself. Thinking that the old creature had her abode there, and that she would probably go out for some business in the morning, and return at about the same hour as on the present occasion, he rode away, commanding his impatience as well as he could, and came back the next day a little earlier.

               Though he could hardly hope quite to imitate the hag's rough and tremulous voice so as to deceive Filagranata into thinking it was really the witch, he yet made the attempt and repeated the words he had heard--

Filagranata, thou maiden fair,         
Loose thy tresses of golden hair:         
I, thy old grandmother, am here.

                Filagranata, surprised at the soft modulation of voice, such as she had never heard before, ran quickly to the window with a look of pleasure and astonishment which gave her face a more winning expression than ever.

               The prince looked up, all admiration and expectation; and the thought quickly ran through Filagranata's head--'I have been taught to loose my hair whenever those words are said; why should not I loose it to draw up such a pleasant-looking cavalier, as well as for the ugly old hag?' and, without waiting for a second thought, she untied the ribbon that bound her tresses and let them fall upon the prince. The prince was equally quick in taking advantage of the occasion, and, pressing his knees firmly into his horse's flanks, so that it might not remain below to betray him, drew himself up, together with his steed, just as he had seen the witch do.

               Filagranata, half frightened at what she had done the moment the deed was accomplished, had not a word to say, but blushed and hung her head. The prince, on the other hand, had so many words to pour out, expressive of his admiration for her, his indignation at her captivity, and his desire to be allowed to be her deliverer, that the moments flew quickly by, and it was only when Filagranata found herself drawn to the window by the power of the witch's magic words that they remembered the dangerous situation in which they stood.

               Another might have increased the peril by cries of despair, or lost precious time in useless lamentations; but Filagranata showed a presence of mind worthy of a prince's wife by catching up a wand of the witch, with which she had seen her do wonderful things. With this she gave the prince a little tap, which immediately changed him into a pomegranate, and then another to the horse, which transformed him into an orange. [4] These she set by on the shelf, and then proceeded to draw up the witch after the usual manner.

               The old hag was not slow in perceiving there was something unusual in Filagranata's room.

               'What a stink [5] of Christians! What a stink of Christians!' she kept exclaiming, as she poked her nose into every hole and corner. Yet she failed to find anything to reprehend; for as for the beautiful ripe pomegranate and the golden orange on the shelf, the Devil himself could not have thought there was anything wrong with them. Thus baffled, she was obliged to finish her inspection of the state of the pigeons, and end her visit in the usual way.

               As soon as she was gone Filagranata knew she was free till the next day, and so once more, with a tap of the wand, restored the horse and his rider to their natural shapes.

               'And this is how your life passes every day! Is it possible?' exclaimed the prince; 'no, I cannot leave you here. You may be sure my good horse will be proud to bear your little weight; you have only to mount behind me, and I will take you home to my kingdom, and you shall live in the palace with my mother, and be my queen.'

               It is not to be supposed but that Filagranata very much preferred the idea of going with the handsome young prince who had shown so devoted an appreciation of her, and being his queen, to remaining shut up in the doorless tower and being the witch's menial; so she offered no opposition, and the prince put her on to his good horse behind him, and away they rode.

               On, on, on, [6] they rode for a long, long way, until they came at last to a wood; but for all the good horse's speed, the witch, who was not long in perceiving their escape and setting out in pursuit, was well nigh overtaking them. Just then they saw a little old woman [7] standing by the way, making signs and calling to them to arrest their course. How great soever was their anxiety to get on, so urgent was her appeal to them to stop and listen to her that they yielded to her entreaties. Nor were they losers by their kindness, for the little old woman was a fairy, [8] and she had stopped them, not on her own account, but to give them the means of escaping from the witch.

               To the prince she said: 'Take these three gifts, and when the witch comes very near throw down first the mason's trowel; and when she nearly overtakes you again throw down the comb; and when she nearly comes upon you again after that, throw down this jar [9] of oil. After that she won't trouble you any more.' And to Filagranata she whispered some words, and then let them go. But the witch was now close behind, and the prince made haste to throw down the mason's trowel. Instantly there rose up a high stone wall between them, which it took the witch some time to climb over. Nevertheless, by her supernatural powers she was not long in making up for the lost time, and had soon overtaken the best speed of the good horse. Then the prince threw down the comb, and immediately there rose up between them a strong hedge of thorns, which it took the witch some time to make her way through, and that only with her body bleeding all over from the thorns. Nevertheless, by her supernatural powers she was not long in making up for the lost time, and had soon overtaken the best speed of the good horse. Then the prince threw down the jar of oil, and the oil spread and spread till it had overflowed [10] the whole country side; and as wherever you step in a pool of oil the foot only slides back, the witch could never get out of that, so the prince and Filagranata rode on in all safety towards the prince's palace.

               'And now tell me what it was the old woman in the wood whispered to you,' said the prince, as soon as they saw their safety sufficiently secured to breathe freely.

               'It was this,' answered Filagranata; 'that I was to tell you that when you arrive at your own home you must kiss no one--no one at all, not your father, or mother, or sisters, or anyone--till after our marriage. Because if you do you will forget all about your love for me, and all you have told me you think of me, and all the faithfulness you have promised me, and we shall become as strangers again to each other.'

               'How dreadful!' said the prince. 'Oh, you may be sure I will kiss no one if that is to be the consequence; so be quite easy. It will be rather odd, to be sure, to return from such a long journey and kiss none of them at home, not even my own mother; but I suppose if I tell them how it is they won't mind. So be quite easy about that.'

               Thus they rode on in love and confidence, and the good horse soon brought them home.

               On the steps of the palace the chancellor of the kingdom came out to meet them, and saluted Filagranata as the chosen bride the prince was to bring home; he informed him that the king his father had died during his absence, and that he was now sovereign of the realm. Then he led him in to the queen-mother, to whom he told all his adventures, and explained why he must not kiss her till after his marriage. The queen-mother was so pleased with the beauty, and modesty, and gentleness of Filagranata, that she gave up her son's kiss without repining, and before they retired to rest that night it was announced to the people that the prince had returned home to be their king, and the day was proclaimed when the feast for his marriage was to take place.

               Then all in the palace went to their sleeping-chambers. But the prince, as it had been his wont from his childhood upwards, went into his mother's room to kiss her after she was asleep, and when he saw her placid brow on the pillow, with the soft white hair parted on either side of it, and the eyes which were wont to gaze on him with so much love, resting in sleep, he could not forbear from pressing his lips on her forehead and giving the wonted kiss.

               Instantly there passed from his mind all that had taken place since he last stood there to take leave of the queen-mother before he started on his journey. His visit to the witch's palace, his flight from it, the life-perils by the way, and, what is more, the image of Filagranata herself,--all passed from his mind like a vision of the night, and when he woke up and they told him he was king, it was as if he heard it for the first time, and when they brought Filagranata to him it was as though he knew her not nor saw her.

               'But,' he said, 'if I am king there must be a queen to share my throne;' and as a reigning sovereign could not go over the world to seek a wife, he sent and fetched him a princess meet to be the king's wife, and appointed the betrothal. The queen-mother, who loved Filagranata, was sad, and yet nothing that she could say could bring back to his mind the least remembrance of all he had promised her and felt towards her.

               But Filagranata knew that the prince had kissed his mother, and this was why the spell was on him; so she said to her mother-in-law: 'You get me much fine-sifted flour [11] and a large bag of sweetmeats, and I will try if I cannot yet set this matter straight.' So the queen-mother ordered that there should be placed in her room much sifted flour and a large bag of sweetmeats. And Filagranata, when she had shut close the door, set to work and made paste of the flour, and of the paste she moulded two pigeons, and filled them inside with the comfits. Then at the banquet of the betrothal she asked the queen-mother to have her two pigeons placed on the table; and she did so, one at each end. But as soon as all the company were seated, before any one was helped, the two pigeons which Filagranata had made began to talk to each other across the whole length of the table: and everybody stood still with wonder to listen to what the pigeons of paste said to each other.

               'Do you remember,' said the first pigeon, 'or is it possible that you have really forgotten, when I was in that doorless tower of the witch's palace, and you came under the window and imitated her voice, saying,--

Filagranata, thou maiden fair,         
Loose thy tresses of golden hair:         
I, thy old grandmother, am here,

till I drew you up?'

               And the other pigeon answered,--

               'Si, signora, I remember it now.'

               And as the young king heard the second pigeon say 'Si, signora, I remember it now,' he, too, remembered having been in a doorless tower, and having sung such a verse.

               'Do you remember,' continued the first pigeon, 'how happy we were together after I drew you up into that little room where I was confined, and you swore if I would come with you we should always be together and never be separated from each other any more at all?'

               And the second pigeon replied,--

               'Ah yes! I remember it now.'

               And as the second pigeon said 'Ah yes! I remember it now,' there rose up in the young king's mind the memory of a fair sweet face on which he had once gazed with loving eyes, and of a maiden to whom he had sworn lifelong devotion.

               But the first pigeon continued:--

               'Do you remember, or have you quite forgotten, how we fled away together, and how frightened we were when the witch pursued us, and how we clung to each other, and vowed, if she overtook us to kill us, we would die in each other's arms, till a fairy met us and gave us the means to escape, and forbad you to kiss anyone, even your own mother, till after our marriage?'

               And the second pigeon answered,--

               'Yes, ah yes! I remember it now.'

               And when the second pigeon said, 'Yes, ah yes! I remember it now,' the whole of the past came back to his mind, and with it all his love for Filagranata. So he rose up [12] and would have stroked the pigeons which had brought it all to his mind, but when he touched them they melted away, and the sweetmeats were scattered all over the table, and the guests picked them up. But the prince ran in haste to fetch Filagranata, and he brought her and placed her by his side in the banquet-hall. But the second bride was sent back, with presents, to her own people.

               'And so it all came right at last,' pursued the narrator. 'Lackaday! that there are no fairies now to make things all happen right. There are plenty of people who seem to have the devil in them for doing you a mischief, but there are no fairies to set things straight again, alas!'


I have placed this story first in order, as its incidents ramify into half the traditionary tales with which we are acquainted.

               (1.) 'Rapunzel,' No. 12 in 'Grimm,' is the most like it among the German in the beginning, and has the most dissimilar ending. The counterpart form, in which it is some misdeed or ill-luck of the father instead of the mother, which involves the surrender of the first-born, is the more frequent opening, as in 'The Water King,' Ralston's 'Russian Folk Tales,' p. 120. 'The Lassie and her Godmother,' in Dr. Dasent's 'Norse Tales,' has an opening like 'Filagranata,' which, as it proceeds, connects it with 'Marienkind,' No. 4 in 'Grimm;' and the prohibition to open the room, in that one, carries on the connexion to another group, the Bluebeard group, represented in this series by 'Monsoo Mostro,' 'Rè Moro,' &c.; while, further on, 'Lassie and her Godmother' evolves the incident of the reflection in the well, which connects it with the following story in this collection, and in this roundabout way, though not in direct form, with the termination of 'Filagranata.'

               (2.) The introduction of an orange as a help to defy the 'orca,' connects the story again with the two next (though the fruit is used differently), and with a vast number of myths, as pointed out in Campbell's 'Tales of the West Highlands,' Introduction, pp. lxxx-lxxxv. I was rather put off the scent by the narrator using the word portogallo: melagranata, though properly a pomegranate, is, I think, used in old Italian for an orange, being simply a red, or golden, apple.

               (3.) The three gifts of the trowel, the comb, and the oil-filler, again bring this story in connexion with another vast group. Compare 'Campbell,' iv. 290; also his remarks, i. 58-62, on the 'Battle of the Birds,' which story this resembles in the main, but, as will be found throughout this collection, the Roman form is milder. The prince wins his bride without performing tasks, and the couple, in escaping, have only to kill a strange 'orca,' and not the girl's own father. In the third version of the tale in Mr. Campbell's series, the girl becomes a poultry-maid, and has three fine dresses, constituting a link with another group--that of Cinderella (I have given the Tirolean one as 'Klein-Else' in 'Household Stories from the Land of Hofer'); and the three dresses there (though not in the Gaelic story) representing the sun, moon, and stars, give it another connexion with 'Marienkind.' 'The Master Maid,' in Dr. Dasent's collection, again, has the golden apple (though it assists in a different way) and the ending of the Roman version (a golden cock there taking the part of the two paste pigeons), but begins with the tasks in the 'Giant's House' of the Gaelic version, which the Roman ignores.

               In the Russian story of 'Baba Yaga' (Ralston's 'Russian Folk Tales,' pp. 139) we have the three magic gifts. Though Mr. Campbell has a very ingenious solution for the idea of the supernatural attaching to swords (i. lxxii), the same does not seem at all to explain the introduction of supernatural combs; when I once found a comb transformed into a mountain in a Tirolean story, I thought, as Mr. Ralston has also suggested (p. 144), that it fitted very well with the German expression for a mountain-ridge; but he does not tell us whether the metaphor holds good in Russ, where he finds it used; and in the present instance it is a hedge of thorns into which the comb resolves itself. I have another Roman story, in which the comb 'swelled and swelled till every one of its teeth became a pier, and the spaces between them were arches, and it was a bridge by which one could pass over.'

               (4.) The kiss which brings forgetfulness, again, is found in the myths of every country. It occurs in the Tirolean story I have given as the 'Dove-Maiden' in 'Household Stories from the Land of Hofer,' though I had to omit it there for want of space; but the remaining episodes of that story are nearly identical with those of the Russian story of 'The Water-King;' and in the Tirolean story the maiden is fetched from a heathen magician's house by the aid of saints, while in the others it is from giants' or witches' abodes, by aid of other giants and witches. Mr. Ralston supplies, at pp. 132-7, a long list of variants of this story, and in a Russian one, at p. 133, comes a ride on a Bear, which is one of the incidents in the 'Dove-Maiden,' though, if I remember right, it does not occur in any of the others. In Mr. Campbell's notes to 'The Battle of the Birds' are also collected notices of variants of this episode.

               The affinity of this story with others again will be found in Mr. Cox's 'Mythology of the Aryan Nations,' ii. p. 301.


[1] This story comes from Palombara.

[2] The expression employed in this place was 'Orca;' as this is a word of most frequent, but somewhat capricious use, I interrupted the narrator to inquire her conception of it. 'Well, it means a species of beast,' she said; 'but you see it must have been a bewitched ('fatata') beast, because the story says it was so rich, and had a palace, and spoke and did all the things you shall hear.' She did not, however, seem to identify it with the evil principle according to its undoubted derivation, nor did she allow either that it had any connexion with 'orso,' a bear, as the narrator of the 'il Vaso di Persa' had expounded it, and indeed as the details of that story required; it will be seen, therefore, that popular fancy invests the monster with various shapes. The story of 'The Pot of Marjoram,' it will be seen, contains one or two incidents in common with this one. The apparently insignificant detail of the little plant--on which, however, both stories rest for a foundation--is noteworthy, the narrator in each instance being most positive that it was the one she had named and no other, and in both cases insisting on showing me the plant, that there might be no mistake about it. (See note to the word 'Persa,' infra, p. 54.)

[3]    Filagranata bella bella,         
Tira giù le bionde trecce,         
Ch' io son nonna vecchiarella.

               'Tira giù,' or 'butta giù,' as in the next repetition, mean equally 'throw-down.' 'Biondo' expresses particularly the yellow tint in hair. Bazzarini, 'Ortografia Enciclopedica Universale,' defines it, 'colore tra il giallo e bianco ed è proprio di capelli,' on the authority of Petrarch's use of the word. He has also 'biondeggiante, che biondeggia, che ingiallisce,' turning or tending to yellow; and it is thus the yellow Tiber gets called 'il biondo Tevere.'

[4] 'Portogallo' is now the ordinary word for an orange, and points to the introduction of the fruit from the Portuguese colonies in the sixteenth century. The 'arancia,' 'melarancia,' or 'merangola,' the ungrafted orange-tree, was, however, indigenous in Italy; and the fruit, which has even a finer appearance than the edible orange, is still grown for ornament in Roman gardens.

[5] 'Puzzo,' stink. There is no neutral word in Italian for a smell; you must define a good or a bad smell either as a perfume or a stink.

[6] 'Camminando, camminando, camminando.' This threefold repetition of this verb, according to the tense and person required by the story, I have found used as a sort of sing-song refrain by all the tellers of tales I have had to do with.

[7] 'Vecchiarella,' little old woman.

[8] 'Fata;' ethnologically Fata is the same as 'Fairy,' 'Fée,' &c., &c., and 'fairy' is the only translation; but it will be observed the Italian 'fata' has always different characteristics from the English 'fairy.'

[9] 'Buzzica' is a homely word for a lamp-filler; it probably comes from 'buzzicare,' to move gently or slowly. The narrator used the word because she would, according to local custom, keep her oil in a 'buzzica,' without perceiving that it was most inappropriate for the purpose of the story, which required that the oil should be poured out quickly.

[10] 'Allagato,' inundated. I preserve the word on account of its expressiveness--literally making a lake of the country.

[11] 'Fior di farina.'

[12] As the story was told me the dialogue was broken, and every incident of the journey was made the subject of a separate question and answer; all the furniture in the room also here entered into conversation with the pigeons, brooms being particularly loquacious; but as it became tedious, and by no means added to the poetry of the situation, I condensed it to the dimensions in the text.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Filagranata
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 310: The Maiden in the Tower

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