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

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ONCE upon a time there were three brothers, who were woodmen; their employment was not one which required great skill, and they were none of them very clever, but the youngest was the least brilliant of all. So simple was he that all the neighbours, and his very brothers--albeit they were not so very superior in intelligence themselves--gave him the nickname of 'Scioccolone,' the great simpleton, and accordingly Scioccolone he was called wherever he went.

               Every day these three brothers went out into the woods to their work, and every evening they all came home, each staggering under his load of wood, which he carried to the dealer who paid them for their toil: thus one day of labour passed away just like another in all respects. So it went on for years.

               Nevertheless, one day came at last which was not at all like the others, and if all days were like it the world would be quite upside down, or be at least a very different world from what it is. Oimè! that such days never occur now at all! Basta, this is what happened. It was in the noontide heat of a very hot day, the three simple brothers committed the imprudence of going out of the shelter of the woods into the wold beyond, and there, lying on the grass in the severest blaze of the burning sun, they saw three beautiful peasant girls lying fast asleep.

               'Only look at those silly girls sleeping in the full blaze of the sun!' cried the eldest brother.

               'They'll get bad in their heads in this heat,' said the second.

               But Scioccolone said: 'Shall we not get some sticks and boughs, and make a little shed to shelter them?'

               'Just like one of Scioccolone's fine ideas!' laughed the eldest brother scornfully.

               'Well done, Scioccolone! That's the best thing you've thought of this long while. And who will build a shed over us while we're building a shed for the girls, I should like to know?' said the second.

               But Scioccolone said: 'We can't leave them there like that; they will be burnt to death. If you won't help me I must build the shed alone.'

               'A wise resolve, and worthy of Scioccolone!' scoffed the eldest brother.

               'Good-bye, Scioccolone!' cried the second, as the two elder brothers walked away together. 'Good-bye for ever! I don't expect ever to see you alive again, of course.'

               And they never did see him again, but what it was that happened to him you shall hear.

               Without waiting to find a retort to his brothers' gibes, Scioccolone set to work to fell four stout young saplings, and to set them up as supports of his shed in four holes he had previously scooped with the aid of his bill-hook; then he rammed them in with wedges, which he also had to cut and shape. After this he cut four large bushy branches, which he tied to the uprights with the cord he used for tying up his faggots of logs; and as the shade of these was scarcely close enough to keep out all the fierce rays of the sun, he went back to the wood and collected all the large broad leaves he could find, and came back and spread them out over his leafy roof. All this was very hard labour indeed when performed under the dreaded sun, and just in the hours when men do no work; yet so beautiful were the three maidens that, when at last he had completed his task, he could not tear himself away from them to go and seek repose in the shade of the wood, but he must needs continue standing in the full sun gazing at them open-mouthed.

               At last the three beautiful maidens awoke, and when they saw what a fragrant shade had refreshed their slumbers they began pouring out their gratitude to their devoted benefactor.

               Do not run at hasty conclusions, however, and imagine that of course the three beautiful maidens fell in love on the spot with Scioccolone, and he had only to pick and choose which of them he would have to make him happy as his wife. A very proper ending, you say, for a fairy tale. It was not so, however. Scioccolone looked anything but attractive just then. His meaningless features and uncouth, clownish gait were never at any time likely to inspire the fair maidens with sudden affection; but just then, after his running hither and thither, his felling, digging, and hammering in the heat of the day, his face had acquired a tint which made it look rougher and redder and more repulsive than anyone ever wore before.

               Besides this, the three maidens were fairies, who had taken the form [2] of beautiful peasant girls for some reason of their own.

               But neither did they leave his good deed unrewarded. By no means. Each of the three declared she would give him such a precious gift that he should own to his last hour that they were not ungrateful. So they sat and thought what great gift they could think of which should be calculated to make him very happy indeed.

               At last the first of the three got up and exclaimed that she had thought of her gift, and she did not think anyone could give him a greater one; for she would promise him he should one day be a king.

               Wasn't that a fine gift!

               Scioccolone, however, did not think so. The idea of his being a king! Simple as he was, he could see the incongruity of the idea, and the embarrassment of the situation. How should he the poor clown, everybody's laughingstock, become a king? and if he did, kingship had no attractions for him.

               He was too kind-hearted, however, to say anything in disparagement of the well-meant promise, and too straightforward to assume a show of gratitude he did not feel; so after the first little burst of hilarity which he was not sufficiently master of himself to suppress, he remained standing open-mouthed after his awkward manner.

               Then the second fairy addressed him and said:--

               'I see you don't quite like my sister's gift; but you may be sure she would not have promised it if it had not been a good gift, after you have been so kind to us; and when it comes true, it will somehow all turn out very nice and right. But now, meantime, that I may not similarly disappoint you with my gift by choosing it for you, I shall let you choose it for yourself; so say, what shall it be?'

               Scioccolone was almost as much embarrassed with the second fairy's permission of choosing for himself as he had been with the first fairy's choice for him. First he grinned, and then he twisted his great awkward mouth about, and then he grinned again, till, at last, ashamed of keeping the fairies waiting so long for his answer, he said, with another grin:--

               'Well, to tell you what I should really like, it would be that when I have finished making up my faggot of logs this evening, instead of having to stagger home carrying it, it should roll along by itself, and then I get astride of it, and that it should carry me.'

               'That would be fine!' he added, and he grinned again as he thought of the fun it would be to be carried home by the load of logs instead of carrying the load as he had been wont.

               'Certainly! That wish is granted,' replied the second fairy readily. 'You will find it all happen just as you have described.'

               Then the third fairy came forward and said:--

               'And now choose; what shall my gift be? You have only to ask for whatever you like and you shall have it.'

               Such a heap of wishes rose up in Scioccolone's imagination at this announcement, that he could not make up his mind which to select; as fast as he fixed on one thing, he remembered it would be incomplete without some other gift, and as he went on trying to find some one wish that should be as comprehensive as possible, he suddenly blurted out--

               'Promise me that whatever I wish may come true; that'll be the best gift; and so if I forget a thing one moment I can wish for it the next. That'll be the best gift to be sure!'

               'Granted!' said the third fairy. 'You have only to wish for anything and you will find you get it immediately, whatever it is.'

               The fairies then took leave and went their way, and Scioccolone was reminded by the lengthening shades that it was time he betook himself to complete his day's work. Scarcely succeeding in collecting his thoughts, so dazzled and bewildered was he by the late supernatural conversation, he yet found his way back to the spot where he had been felling wood.

               'Oh, dear! how tired I am!' he said within himself as he walked along. 'How I wish the wood was all felled and the faggots tied up!' and though he said this mechanically as he might have said it any other day of his life, without thinking of the fairy's promise, which was, indeed, too vast for him to put it consciously to such a practical test then, full of astonishment as he was, yet when he got back to his working-place the wood was felled and laid in order, and tied into a faggot in the best manner.

               'Well to be sure!' soliloquised Scioccolone. 'The girls have kept their promise indeed! This is just exactly what I wished. And now, let's see what else did I wish? Oh, yes; that if I got astride on the faggot it should roll along by itself and carry me with it; let's see if that'll come true too!'

               With that he got astride on the faggot, and sure enough the faggot moved on all by itself, and carried Scioccolone along with it pleasantly enough.

               Only there was one thing Scioccolone had forgotten to ask for, and that was power to guide the faggot; and now, though it took a direction quite contrary to that of his homeward way, he had no means of inducing it to change its tack. After some time spent in fruitless efforts in schooling his unruly mount, Scioccolone began to reason with himself.

               'After all, it does not much matter about going home. I only get laughed at and called "Scioccolone." Maybe in some other place they may be better, and as the faggot is acting under the orders of my benefactress, it will doubtless all be for the best.'

               So he committed himself to the faggot to take him wherever it would. On went the faggot surely and steadily, as if quite conscious where it had to go; and thus, before nightfall, it came to a great city where were many people, who all came out to see the wonder of the faggot of logs moving along by itself, and a man riding on it.

               In this city was a king, who lived in a palace with an only daughter. Now this daughter had never been known to laugh. What pains soever the king her father took to divert her were all unavailing; nothing brought a smile to her lips.

               Now, however, when all the people ran to the windows to see a man riding on a faggot, the king's daughter ran to look out too; and when she saw the faggot moving by itself, and the uncouth figure of Scioccolone sitting on it, and heard all the people laughing at the sight, then the king's daughter laughed too; laughed for the first time in her life.

               But Scioccolone passing under the palace, heard her clear and merry laugh resounding above the laughter of all the people, he looked up and saw her, and when he saw her looking so bright and fair he said within himself:--

               'Now, if ever the fairy's power of wishing is to be of use to me, I wish that I might have a little son, and that the beautiful princess should be the mother.' But he did not think of wishing to stop there that he might look at her, so the faggot carried him past the palace and past all the houses into the outskirts of the city, till he got tired and weary, and just then passing a wood merchant's yard, the thought rose to his lips,--

               'I wish that wood merchant would buy this faggot of me!'

               Immediately the wood merchant came out and offered to buy the faggot, and as it was such a wonderful faggot, that he thought Scioccolone would never consent to sell it, he offered him such a high price that Scioccolone had enough to live on like a prince for a year.

               After a time there was again a great stir in the city, everyone was abroad in the streets whispering and consulting. To the king's daughter was born a little son, and no one knew who the father was, not even the princess herself. Then the king sent for all the men in the city, and brought them to the infant, and said, 'Is this your father?' but the babe said 'No!' to them all.

               Last of all, Scioccolone was brought, and when the king took him up to the babe and said, 'Is this your father?' the babe rose joyfully from its cradle and said, 'Yes; that is my father!' When the king heard this and saw what a rough ugly clown Scioccolone was, he was very angry with his daughter, and said she must marry him and go away for ever from the palace. It was all in vain that the princess protested she had never seen him but for one moment from the top of the palace. The babe protested quite positively that he was his father; so the king had them married, and sent them away from the palace for ever; and the babe was right, for though Scioccolone and the princess had never met, Scioccolone had wished that he might have a son, of whom she should be the mother, and by the power of the spell [3] the child was born.

               Scioccolone was only too delighted with the king's angry decree. He felt quite out of place in the palace, and was glad enough to be sent away from it. All he wanted was to have such a beautiful wife, and he willingly obeyed the king's command to take her away, a long, long way off.

               The princess, however, was quite of a different mind. She could not cease from crying, because she was given to such an uncouth, clownish husband that no tidy peasant wench would have married.

               When, therefore, Scioccolone saw his beautiful bride so unhappy and distressed, he grew distressed himself; and in his distress he remembered once more the promise of the fairy, that whatever he wished he might have, and he began wishing away at once. First he wished for a pleasant villa, [4] prettily laid-out, and planted, and walled; then, a casino [5] in the midst of it, prettily furnished, and having plenty of pastimes and diversions; then, for a farm, well-stocked with beasts for all kinds of uses; for carriages and servants, for fruits and flowers, and all that can make life pleasant. And when he found that with all these things the princess did not seem much happier than before, he bethought himself of wishing that he might be furnished with a handsome person, polished manners, and an educated mind, altogether such as the princess wished. All his wishes were fulfilled, and the princess now loved him very much, and they lived very happily together.

               After they had been living thus some time, it happened one day that the king, going out hunting, observed this pleasant villa on the wold, where heretofore all had been bare, unplanted, and unbuilt.

               'How is this!' cried the king; and he drew rein, and went into the villa intending to inquire how the change had come about.

               Scioccolone came out to meet him, not only so transformed that the king never recognised him, but so distinguished by courtesy and urbanity, that the king himself felt ashamed to question him as to how the villa had grown up so suddenly. He accepted his invitation to come and rest in the casino, however; and there they fell to conversing on a variety of subjects, till the king was so struck with the sagacity and prudence of Scioccolone's talk, that when he rose to take leave, he said:

               'Such a man as you I have long sought to succeed me in the government of the kingdom. I am growing old and have no children, and you are worthy in all ways to wear the crown. Come up, therefore, if you will, to the palace and live with me, and when I die you shall be king.'

               Scioccolone, now no longer feeling himself so ill-adapted to live in a palace, willingly consented, and a few days after, with his wife and his little son, he went up to the palace to live with the king.

               But the king's delight can scarcely be imagined when he found that the wife of the polished stranger was indeed his very own daughter.

               After a few years the old king died, and Scioccolone reigned in his stead. And thus the promises of all the three fairies were fulfilled.


Prior to the tale: The three brothers who occupy so large a space in the household tales of other countries, do not seem to be popular favourites in Rome. I have come across them but seldom. There are plenty of them in the 'Norse Tales,' under the name of 'Boots' for the unexpectedly doughty brother. The Spanish romance I have given as 'Simple Johnny and the Spell-bound Princesses,' in 'Patrañas,' makes him a knight. In the Siddhi Kür story of 'How the Schimnu Khan was Slain,' it is three hired companions (as in some other versions), who betray the hero; and in all but this (which is its link with the usual Three-brother stories), it is a remarkably close repetition of the details of another Spanish romance, which I have given as 'The Ill-tempered Princess,' and this, in its turn, is like the Tirolean 'Laxhale's Wives' and the Roman 'Diavolo che prese moglie.' Compare, further, a number of instances collected by Mr. Ralston, pp. 72-80, and 260-7. In many parts of Tirol you meet a Three-brother story different from any of these. Three brothers go out to hunt chamois on a Sunday morning, and get so excited with the sport that they make themselves too late to hear Mass, and get turned into stone, or some other dreadful punishment. The younger brother, who has all along urged them to go down, but has been overruled by the others, is involved in the same punishment. There are three peaks on the Knie Pass, leading from Tirol to Salzburg, called 'The Three Brothers,' from such a legend.

After the tale: Among the Italian-Tirolese tales is one called 'I tre pezzi rari' (The Three Rare Things), which begins just like 'Scioccolone,' and then the fairies give the three gifts of a dinner-providing table-cloth, an exhaustless purse, and a resistless cudgel, which we so often meet with, as in Grimm's 'Tischchen deck dich,' p. 142; Campbell's 'Three Soldiers,' i. p. 176-93, who refers to numerous other versions, in which other incidents of the two next succeeding tales occur. The Spanish version I have given by the name of 'Matanzas' in 'Patrañas.'

               In the Roman version of the 'Dodici palmi di naso,' it is singular that it is the second and not the youngest son who is the hero. There is another Italian-Tirolese story, entitled 'Il Zufolotta,' in which only one boy and two fairies are concerned, and they only give him the one gift of the Zufoletto, which, instead of supplying every wish as in 'Dodici palmi di naso,' has the power of the Zauberflöte, the pipe of the 'Pied Piper,' and kindred instruments in all times and countries, so that, when it has got its possessor into such trouble that he is condemned to be executed, it answers the same end as the cudgel, liberating its master by setting the judge and executioner dancing, instead of by thumping them.]


[1] 'Sciocco,' a simpleton; 'scioccolone,' a great awkward simpleton.

[2] Even in this story, where the fairies really are described as fair to see, it will be observed it is only said they had assumed the forms of beautiful girls for one occasion, not that they were necessarily beautiful, like our fairies.

[3] 'Fatatura,' the virtue of enchantment.

[4] 'Villa' is more often used to express a little estate--or, as we should say, the 'grounds' on which a country-house stands--than for the house itself, though we have borrowed the word exclusively in the latter sense.

[5] 'Casino' a tasteful little house.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Scioccolone
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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