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

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Three Love-Oranges, The (I Tre Merangoli di Amore)


THEY say there was a king's son who went out to hunt. [2] It was a winter's day, and the ground was covered with snow, so that when he brought down the birds with his arquebuse the red blood made beautiful bright marks on the dazzling white snow.

               'How beautiful!' exclaimed the prince. 'Never will I marry till I find one with a complexion fair as this snow, and tinted like this rosy blood.'

               When his day's sport was at an end, he went home and told his parents that he was going to wander over the world till he found one fair as snow, tinted like rosy blood. The parents approved his design and sent him forth.

               On, on, on he went, till one day he met a little old woman, who stopped him, saying: 'Whither so fast, fair prince?'

               He replied, 'I walk the earth till I find one who is fair as snow, tinted like rosy blood, to make her my wife.'

               'That can I help you to, and I alone,' said the little old woman, who was a fairy; and then she gave him the three love-oranges, telling him that when he opened one such a maiden as he was in search of would appear, but he must immediately look for water and sprinkle her, or she would disappear again.

               The prince took the oranges, and wandered on. On, on, on he went, till at last the fancy took him to break open one of the oranges. Immediately a beautiful maiden appeared, whose complexion was indeed fair as snow, and tinted like rosy blood, but it was only when she had already disappeared that he recollected about the water. It was too late, so on he wandered again till the fancy took him to open another orange. Instantly another maiden appeared, fairer than the other, and he lost no time in looking for water to sprinkle her, but there was none, and before he came back from the search she was gone.

               On he wandered again till he was nearly home, when one day he noticed a handsome fountain standing by the road, and over against it a fine palace. The sight of the fountain made him think of his third orange, and he took it out and broke it open.

               Instantly a third maiden appeared, far fairer than either of the others; with the water of the fountain he sprinkled her the moment she appeared, and she vanished not, but staid with him and loved him.

               Then he said, 'You must stay here in this bower while I go on home and fetch a retinue worthy to escort you.'

               In a palace opposite the fountain lived a black Saracen woman, [3] and just then she went down to the fountain to draw water, and as she looked into the water she said, 'My mistress says that I am so ugly, but I am so fair, therefore I break the pitcher and the little pitcher.' [4]

               Then she looked up in the bower, and seeing the beautiful maiden, she called her down, and caressed her, and stroked her hair, and praised her beauty; but as she stroked her hair she took out a magic pin, and stuck it into her head, and instantly the maiden became a dove and perched on the side of the fountain.

               Then she broke the pitcher and the little pitcher, and the prince came back.

               When the prince saw the ugly black woman standing in the bower where he had left his beautiful maiden, he was quite bewildered, and looked all about for her.

               'I am she whom you seek, prince,' said the woman. 'It is the sun has changed me thus while standing here waiting for you; but all will come right when I get away from the sun.'

               The prince did not know what to make of it, but there was no help for it but to take her and trust to her coming right when she got away from the sun. He took her home, therefore, and right grand preparations were made for the royal marriage. Tapestries were hung on the walls, and flowers strewed the floor, while in the kitchen was the cook as busy as a bee, preparing I know not how many dishes for the royal banquet.

               Then, lo, there came and perched on the kitchen window a little dove, and sang, 'Cook, cook, for whom are you cooking; for the son of the king, or the Saracen Moor? May the cook fall asleep, and may all the viands be burnt!' [5]

               After this nothing would go right in the kitchen; every day all the dishes got burnt, and it was impossible to give the wedding banquet, because there was nothing fit to send up to the table. Then the king's son came into the kitchen to learn what had happened, and they showed him the dove which had done all. 'Sweet little dove!' said the prince, and, catching it in his hand, began to caress it; thus he felt the pin in its head, and pulled it out. Instantly his own fair maiden stood before him, white as snow, rosy as blood. Then the mystery was cleared up, and there was great rejoicing, and the old witch was burnt.


This story, besides its similarities with those mentioned in note of the foregoing, is substantially the same as 'Die weisse u. die schwarze Braut' in Grimm (with his 'Schneeweisschen u. Rosenroth' it seems to have nothing in common, though the words 'Snow-white and rose-red' suggest it); but its commencement is different. The German Tale of Sneewittchen (Grimm, p. 206 has also much similarity with it: a queen sat working in a window framed with ebony; she pricks her finger, and three drops of blood that fall on the snow suggest the wish that her child may be fair as snow, red as blood, and her hair as dark as ebony. Her wishes are fulfilled, and she dies. She is succeeded by a witch-stepmother, from whom the child of wishes suffers many things, but the witch is ultimately danced to death in red-hot iron shoes. A link between them is supplied by the next following, in which the opening agrees with the German story. In Schneller's 'Legends of the Italian Tirol' are two, with a title similar to the Roman one. In the first ('I tre aranci') the girl becomes the property of a fairy, as in Filagranata. She is sent to fetch three oranges, which she does by the help of five gifts given her by an old man; but the whole ends in the good child wishing as her only reward to be restored to her mother. The other is called 'L'amor dei tre aranci.' In this the prince breaks a witch's milkjug while playing at ball, and in revenge she tells him he shall not marry till he finds 'the Love of the three oranges,' which he similarly obtains by the help of five gifts received of an old woman; when he opens them, the story goes on just like the Roman one, the verse of the dove being a little different:--

Cogo, bel cogo,           
Endormeazate al fogo,           
Che l'arrosto se possa brusar,         
E la fiola (figlia) della stria non ne possa magnar.

and there is nothing about 'fair as snow, rosy as blood,' in it. He has another, 'Quel dalla coda di oro,' in which three golden apples or balls play a prominent part, but it belongs to another group. A second version of this, entitled 'I pomi d' oro,' however, is a strange mixture of the various Tirolean and Roman versions.

               The Hungarian story of 'Vas Laczi' (Iron Ladislas) begins, like 'L'amor dei tre aranci,' by a young prince getting into a scrape with a witch, this time by breaking her basket of eggs. His punishment is the fulfilment of his first wish, and his first wish happens to be a pettish one, that the earth might swallow up his three sisters; as one of them is said to be always dressed like the sun, the second like the moon, and the third like the stars, we have a link with the German Marienkind and the Tirolean Klein-Else. Afterwards Iron Ladislas goes in search of his sisters, and encounters many heroic adventures and many transformations, in one of which a tree in a dragon's garden with golden apples is a prominent detail.

               A tree with golden fruit is also an important incident in the principal and most popular of Hungarian myths, that of 'Tündér Ilona' (Fairy Helen). As it is seen depicted on the thirteen compartments of the grand staircase walls of the National Club at Pest, Tündér Ilona appears in the first as the Goddess or Queen of Summer held in thrall by the stern witch the Goddess or Queen of Winter. She is seen planting in the territory of the Earth-King a tree which represents her earnest longings after freedom, and committing it to the benign influence of the Sun-King.

               The second shows this mystical tree bearing its golden fruit, which the beautiful Fairy, as if ashamed of her boldness, is hasting to pluck off, borne on a chariot formed of obedient swans. The Wind-genius wafts poppy seeds over the eyes of the armed guard the Winter-Queen had set round the tree, and lulls them to sleep.

               In the third Argilus, the Earth-Prince, is seen surprising in his (up till then vain) nightly attempt to gather the golden fruit, Tündér Ilona's departing convoy. He aims an arrow at the coy plunderer; then suddenly a glance from her pierces his heart instead, and he lets the arrow harmlessly strike the ground.

               The fourth portrays the happy union of Ilona and Argilus, Summer and Earth; but the Winter-Queen comes by enraged at their successful defiance of her, and cuts off Ilona's beautiful golden locks. (The people have it that these locks borne along by the winds planted the Puszta with the beautiful long feathery grass which they call 'Orphan-girl's hair'). In the distance are seen the parents of the Earth-Prince hurrying forward in search of their son.

               The fifth shows Tündér Ilona waking from her delicious slumber, and on discovering the loss of the mantle of her hair, hasting back in agony to her swan-chariot. Argilus in vain stretches out his arms after her, and prays her to remain always with him.

               In the sixth the scene is changed to the dwelling of the Earth-King. Prince Argilus is taking leave of his parents as he starts on his perilous journey, determined to deliver the captive Fairy.

               In the seventh the Earth-Prince has advanced on his journey as far as the dwelling of a giant, of whom he asks counsel, and who appoints him three witches to show the way to regain the Tündér.

               In the eighth he is seen victorious in a late conflict with three giants, from each of whom he has succeeded in gaining an instrument necessary for his purpose; from one a switch, from another a pipe, from the third a conjuring mantle. The giants throw down masses of rock upon him, but he spreads out the conjuring mantle, and committing himself to it, floats securely through the air.

               In the ninth Argilus has reached the Winter-Witch's border, and prepares to engage in combat with the dragon who guards it.

               The tenth is highly sensational. The Winter-Witch has thrown a deep sleep over him, and the poor Summer-Fairy strives to awaken him in vain.

               In the eleventh the ardent desires of Tündér Ilona have prevailed over all the enchantments of the Winter-Witch, and at her prayer there rises up from the innermost region of the earth the fairy Iron-Queen, who brings the Tátos, the winged magic horse who is to bear the Prince through all dangers to certain victory.

               The twelfth shows Argilus and Ilona once more united, enthroned side by side, and subjects bearing them offerings.

               The thirteenth is a large composition symbolising the mystic union of Earth and Summer, whence sprang, says the myth, Autumn with her abundant fruits, and the great god Pan, the author of all productiveness, who called the land of his birth after his own name and blessed it with fecundity above all nations of the earth. The tree of golden fruit, the first occasion of the auspicious meeting which led to this union, is again introduced, and Tündér Ilona is again clothed in her luxuriant mantle of golden hair.


[1] 'I tre Melangoli di amore;' melangolo or merangolo, or merangola, an ungrafted orange. See note to 'Filagranata.'

[2] 'Caccia,' though usually translated by 'hunt,' is used for all kinds of sport. Bazzarini says it even includes 'pallone' and other games; but it is in common use for shooting small birds as for hunting quadrupeds.

[3] 'Mora Saracena,' a black Saracen woman; 'mora' is in constant use for a dark-coloured person. Senhor de Saraiva tells me that a so-called 'Mora encantada' figures as one of the favourite personages in Portuguese traditionary tales; but she is less often an actual Moor than a princess held in thrall by Moorish art, to be set free by Christian chivalry. She is often represented as bound at the bottom of a well.

[4]    Mia padrona dice che son tanta brutta,             
     E son tanta bella,         
Io rompo la brocca e la brocchetta.

               This verse would be hardly comprehensible but that the incident is better explained in the more detailed versions of other countries mentioned in note to the last tale. The ugly 'Mora' sees the reflection of the face of the beautiful maiden who sits in the tree overlooking the fountain, and takes it for her own. See Campbell's Tales of the W. Highlands, pp. 56-7, &c.

[5]    Cuoco, cuoco, per chi cucinate,         
Pel figlio del rè o per la mora Saracena?         
Il cuoco si possa dormentar',         
E le vivande si possano bruciar'.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Three Love-Oranges, The (I Tre Merangoli di Amore)
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 408: The Three Oranges

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