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

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King Otho


IN THIS case the merchant, when he goes out to buy his wares, asks his three daughters what he shall bring them. The eldest asks for fine dresses, the second for beautiful shawls, the third for nothing but some sand out of the garden of King Otho. The king had registered sentence of death against anyone who should ask for the sand. But in consideration of a bribe of three hundred scudi the gardener gives him a little.

               When she gets it, the daughter burns a little in the evening, when the sisters are gone to a ball. Instantly King Otho comes, and falls in love with her. She gives him a most exquisite pair of knee-bands she has embroidered, before he goes away. The second night she gives him a handkerchief of her work, and the third a beautiful necktie.

               After this, her father insists one evening that she should go to the ball. Her sisters say that if she goes they shall stay away. When she is gone they burn down her room, and in it all the sand of King Otho's garden. If the king came quickly for the burning of a little pinch, he naturally comes in exceeding greater haste at the burning of the whole quantity: in such haste that he is wounded all over with the blazing beams and broken glass. There is a great explosion. [2] As he knew nothing about the spite of the sisters, he could only think that the mischief arose from the misconduct of her to whom the sand had been given, and determines accordingly to have nothing more to do with her.

               When she comes home, and finds what has happened, she is in despair. She dresses like a man and goes away. In the night, in a cave where she takes shelter, she hears an ogre and ogress talking over what has happened, and they say that the only cure is an ointment made of their blood. [3] She shoots them both, and takes their blood and heals the king with it. The king offers any kind of reward the supposed doctor will name; but she will have nothing but some of the sand of the garden. She contrives, however, to discover the knee-bands, the handkerchief, and the necktie she had given him, and asks him what they are. 'Oh, only the presents of a faithless lover,' he replies. She then insists he should give them up to her, which he does, and she goes away.

               When she gets home she burns a pinch of the sand, and the king is forced by its virtue to appear; but he comes in great indignation, and accuses her of wounding him. She replies it was not she who wounded him, but who healed him. He is incredulous; and she shows him the knee-bands, handkerchief, and necktie, which convince him he owes his healing to her. They make peace, and are married.


Mr. Ralston gives a very pretty counterpart of so much of this story as relates to the transformation of a human being into a flower, at p. 15 of the story commencing at page 10, and 'Aschenputtel,' Grimm, p. 93, has something like it; but I do not recall any European story in which a person is actually wounded and half-killed by damage done to a tree mysteriously connected with him. There is something like it in the 'trees of life' which people plant, and their withering is to be a token that harm has befallen them.

               Overhearing the advice of supernatural beasts under a tree occurs in the Norse 'True and Untrue,' and is very common in all sorts of ways, everywhere. It enters, too, into the analogous Italian Tirolean tale of 'I due cavallari,' where witches figure instead of the orco and orchessa.


[1] This was pronounced 'Uttone,' but was doubtless intended for 'King Otho.' Words which in Latin were spelt with a u, as 'Bollo,' 'pollo,' retain the sound of u in the mouth of the people; but I know of no reason for it in the present instance.

[2] 'Precipizio,' equivalent to 'an explosion,' 'a terrible kick-up,' &c.

[3] The blood instead of the fat is one of the variations of this version. It is not easy to see how blood can enter into the composition of an ointment, yet one of the most frequent charges to be met in processes against witches was taking the blood of infants to make various ointments.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: King Otho
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: unclassified

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