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

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Monsu Mostro


THERE was a father who had three daughters, and when all trades failed, he said he would go and gather chicory, and called his daughters to go with him. But it was a wet day, and they begged to be left at home; so he went alone.

               He went out into the fields till he came to a place where was the biggest plant of chicory that ever was seen. 'That will do for me,' he said, and began to pull it up. Up it came by the root and left a hole in the ground, and a voice came up through the hole, and said, 'Who's there?'

               'Friends!' [2] answered the chicory-gatherer; and then One sprang up through the hole on to the ground. This was Monsu Mostro. The poor man was rather frightened at his aspect, but he dared say nothing.

               'Come along with me,' said Monsu Mostro and the poor man followed till they came to a palace in the Campagna, where he gave him a horse to ride home upon and a heap of money. 'I give you all this,' said Monsu Mostro; 'but you must give me one of your daughters in return.' The poor man was too frightened to refuse, so he said he would.

               When he came home all his three daughters came jumping round him with delight at seeing him come home riding on horseback. 'Papa! papa! [3] where have you been?' And when they saw what a lot of money he had brought home, their questions increased tenfold. But, in spite of his riches, the chicory-gatherer did not seem in good spirits. He did not know how to announce that he had to take one of his daughters to Monsu Mostro, and so he was very slow at answering their inquiries. It was not till next morning that he made up his mind to break this dreadful matter; and then, when the time had come for him to go forth, and there was no putting it off any longer, he made a great effort and said at last, 'I have found a husband for one of you; which shall it be?'

               'Not I!' said the eldest; 'I'm not going to marry a husband whom I haven't seen. Oibo!'

               'Not I!' said the second. 'I'm not going to marry a husband whom I haven't seen. Oibo!'

               'Take me, papa! take me! I'll go!' said the youngest. So the father remounted the horse, and put her behind him. Thus they arrived at the palace of Monsu Mostro, and knocked.

               'Who's there?' said a voice within.

               'Friends!' answered the father; and they were shown in.

               'Here's my daughter, as I promised,' said the father.

               'All right!' said Monsu Mostro; and, giving him another large sum of money, sent him away.

               When the father was gone, he said to the girl, 'I'm not going to marry you as your father thought. I want you to do the service of the house. But mind when there is anyone here you always call me "papa."'

               The girl promised to do as she was bid, and soon after there was a knock at the door, and some hunters who had got belated in the Campagna came to seek hospitality.

               'Let them in, set supper before them; and give them a change of clothes,' said Monsu Mostro; and the girl did as she was bid. While they were at supper one of the huntsmen kept looking at her, for she was a beautiful girl, and afterwards he asked her if she would marry him, for he was the king's son. 'Oh, shouldn't I like it!' said the girl, 'but you must ask papa.' The prince asked Monsu Mostro, and as he made no objection, he went and fetched a great cortège, and took her to the palace to marry her. As she was going away Monsu Mostro gave her a comb, wrapped up in paper, and said, 'Take care of this, and don't forget you have got it.' The girl was too full of her happiness to pay much heed, but she put it in her bosom and went away.

               As she drove along, a pair of horns like a cow's began to grow on her head, and they had already attained a considerable size before she arrived at the royal palace. The queen was horrified at her appearance, and refused to let her come in. 'How can it possibly be that such a beautiful girl should have all of a sudden got a pair of horns?' said the prince. But it was no use saying anything, for there were the horns, and the queen was determined that she should not be admitted into the royal palace.

               The prince was very much distressed, and would on no account let her be turned adrift as the queen wished, but sent her to a house in the Campagna, where he sent a servant every day to ask how she was, and to take her some present, but also to observe if the horns had not perchance gone away as suddenly as they had come. But, instead of going away, they went on growing every day bigger.

               In the meantime the queen sent a servant out with three little puppy-dogs in a basket, saying that whoever trained them best should marry the prince. One of these the servant brought to her, and the two others to two other girls, who were princesses, either of whom the queen would have preferred her son should marry.

               'Train puppy-dogs!' said each of the other two girls. 'I know nothing about training puppy-dogs! What can I do with them!' and they let them get into all manner of bad habits.

               But she put hers in a basket and went back to the palace of Monsu Mostro, and knocked.

               'Who's there?' said Monsu Mostro.

               'It's I!' [4] answered she; and then she told him all that had befallen her, and showed him the puppy-dog in the basket. He looked at it for a moment, but would not let her in, and only cried out, 'Go along! you ugly horned thing!' [5]

               She went away crying; but having lifted up the cloth and peeped at the puppy-dog, she felt reassured, and sent it back by a servant to the queen.

               When the queen uncovered the basket a beautiful little dog sprang out all of solid gold, yet it leaped about and performed all manner of tricks just as if it had been a real dog.

               The prince was triumphant when he saw that her dog was so much better than the other two; but the queen was indignant, and said, 'It is no dog at all, that gold thing!' and she would not allow that the girl had won the trial.

               After that the queen sent a servant out with three pounds of flax, and said that whoever could spin it best should marry the prince.

               'What do I know about spinning!' said each of the other two; and they let the flax lie without touching it.

               But she took hers in a basket and went to the palace of Monsu Mostro, and knocked.

               'Who's there?' asked he.

               'It's I!' she replied in her doleful voice, and told him her new difficulty. Monsu Mostro looked at the flax, but refused to admit her, and saying, 'Away with you, you horned wretch!' shut the door against her.

               This basket, too, she sent by a servant to the queen, and when the queen opened it she found it full of gold thread.

               'You must allow she has done better than the others this time!' said the prince.

               'No! it is as bad as before,' answered the queen; 'it is not natural! It won't do for me!'

               'After that the queen sent out a notice that whichever of them had her hair growing down to her heels should marry the prince.

               'My hair does not reach down to my waist,' said each of the other two. 'How can I make it grow down to my heels?'

               But she went to the palace of Monsu Mostro, and knocked.

               'Who's there?' asked he.

               'It is I!' she replied, as dolefully as before, and told him what was required of her now.

               'You see now what it is to have paid no attention to what I told you,' answered Monsu Mostro. 'I told you not to forget the comb I gave you. If you had not forgotten that none of this would have happened. That comb is your remedy now;' and with that he shut the door.

               But she went home and combed her hair with the comb he had given her; and not only the horns went away, but her hair grew down quite to her heels and swept the ground. But the other two were jealous when they saw that she had beaten them in all three trials, and they came to her to ask how she made her hair grow, and she sent them to the palace of Monsu Mostro to ask.

               But as they only came out of jealousy, he told them to make themselves two pitch nightcaps and sleep in them; and when they got up in the morning, instead of having longer hair, all the hair they had came off.

               But she was at length given to the prince, and they were married amid great rejoicing.


The two preceding stories represent the Roman contribution to the stories of visits to the underground world and the Bluebeard group. I have others (particularly one called 'Il Cavolo d' Oro', the 'Golden Cabbage') more like the general run of them. The two I have selected have this difference, that in neither instance does the subterranean ruler represent the Devil. 'Monsu Mostro,' is most disinterested in his generosity. As usual with the Roman versions, all that is terrible is eliminated. For other versions, see Ralston, pp. 98-100; and for a somewhat similar story, the 'Water Snake,' p. 116. Much in the Norse, 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon,' is like the 'Rè Moro;' so is 'The Old Dame and her Hen,' though the later details of that story are more like the Tirolean version, which I have given in 'Laxehale's Wives,' in 'Household Stories from the Land of Hofer.' The German version given as 'Fitchers Vogel,' Grimm, p. 177, has more of the horrid element than any of the others. In the version of 'Tündér Ilona' given in Graf Mailath's 'Magyarische Sagen' (a rather different version from that told me at Pesth, which I have given at p. 20-1), Prince Argilus loses his bride and her kingdom, and has to begin all his labours over again, through looking into a closed chamber which Tündér Ilona had bid him not to open in her absence. But heroic action abounds in the Hungarian tales, just as it is wanting in the Roman ones, and in this, and in many details, particularly in the enthusiasm for magic horses, they are singularly like the Gaelic.

               The 'Rè Moro' is perhaps nearer 'Beauty and the Beast' than 'Bluebeard.' I had a version of this given me in the following form, under the title of 'The Enchanted Rose-Tree.'


[1] At what period the title of honour of 'Monsu' got appended to the monster's name is more than I can fix.

[2] 'Chi è?' 'amicè.' See note 3, p. 187.

[3] The reader will bear in mind, in this and other places, that 'papa' and 'mama' are vernacular for 'father' and 'mother' among children of the lowest classes in Italy.

[4] 'Son' io.' I have generally found these stories told with a great deal of effect, especially to suit the tone to the dialogues. It was particularly the case with this one, e.g. the 'son' io' was said in the lamentable tone of a person wearied with fatigue and disappointment.'

[5] 'Vatene, brutta cornuda!'

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Monsu Mostro
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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