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

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Chicory-Seller and the Enchanted Princess, The


THERE was a chicory-seller, with a wife and a son, all of them dying of hunger, and sleeping on the floor because they couldn't afford a bed. Once when they went out in the morning to gather chicory, the son found such a large plant of it, never was such a plant seen, it took them an hour, working at it together, to pull it up, and it filled two great bags. What is more, when they had got it all up, there was a great hole in the ground.

               'What can there be down in that hole?' said the son. 'I must go and see!' In he jumped, [2] and down he went.

               Suddenly he found himself in the midst of a splendid palace, and a number of obsequious servants gathered round him. They all bowed to the ground, and said,

               'Your lordship! your lordship!' and asked him what he 'pleased to want.'

               So there he was, dressed like a clodhopper, and all these servants dressed like princes, bowing and scraping to him.

               'What do I want?' said the lad; 'most of all, I want a dinner.'

               Immediately they brought him a banquet of a dinner, and waited on him all the time. Dinner over, they dressed him like a prince.

               By-and-by there came in an ugly old hag, as ugly as a witch, who said,

               'Good morning, Prince; are you come to marry me?'

               'I'm no prince; and I'm not come to marry you most certainly!' replied the youth.

               But all the servants standing round made all sorts of gesticulations that he should say 'yes.'

               'It's no use mouthing at me,' said the lad; 'I shall never say "yes" to that!'

               But they went on making signs all round that he should say 'yes,' till at last they bewildered him so, that, almost without knowing what he did, he said 'yes.'

               Directly he had said 'yes,' there were thunder and lightning, and thunderbolts, and meteors, and howling of wind, and storm of hail. The youth felt in great fear; but the servants said:

               'It is all right. She you thought an old hag is indeed a beautiful princess of eighteen, but she was under a spell; by consenting to marry her you have ended that spell, if you can only stand through the fear of this storm for three days and three nights, no harm can come to you, and we also shall all be set free.'

               The whole apartment now seemed on fire, and when that ceased for a time, it seemed to rain fire all around.

               For two days he managed to endure, but on the third day he got so frightened that he ran away. He had not much bettered his condition, however; for, if he had got away from the magic storms of the under world, he had come into real storms in the actual world, and there he was alone in the Campagna, starving and destitute again.

               At last an old man appeared, who said to him:

               'Why were you so foolish as to run away? You were told no harm could happen to you. Now you have nearly lost all. There is, however, one remedy left. Go on to the top of that high mountain, and gather the grass that grows there, and bring back a large bundle of it, and give it to these people to eat, and that will finish what you have begun. You will marry the princess, and share her kingdom; and all her people will be set free. For all those who waited on you as servants are noblemen of her court, who are under a spell.'

               'How am I to get up to the top of that high mountain?' said the youth; 'it would take me a life of weariness to arrive there!'

               'Take this divining-rod,' said the old man, 'and whatever difficulty comes in your way, touch it with this wand, and it will disappear.'

               The youth took the wand, and bent his steps towards the mountain. There were rivers to be crossed, and steep places to be climbed, and many perils to be encountered, but the wand overcame them all. Arrived at the top, he saw a plat of fine, long grass growing, which he made no doubt was the grass he had to take. But he thought within himself, 'If this wand can do so much, it can surely give me also a house and a dinner; and, then, why should I toil down this mountain again at all!'

               'Rod! rod! give me a nice little house!' he commanded; [3] and there was a nice little house on the top of the mountain.

               'Rod! rod! give me a good dinner!' and a good dinner was spread on the table.

               And thus it was with everything he wanted; so he went on living on the top of the mountain, without thinking of those he had to deliver in the hole under the earth.

               Suddenly, there stood the old man. [4] 'You were not sent here to amuse yourself,' said he, severely. 'You were sent to fetch the means of delivering others;' and he took the wand away from him, and touched the casino, and it disappeared, and he was once more left destitute.

               'If you would repair the past,' said the old man, as he went away, 'gather even now a bundle of grass and take it, and perhaps you will be in time yet; but you will have to toil alone, for you have forfeited the rod. And now, remember this counsel: whoever meets you by the way and asks to buy that grass, sell it to no man, or you are undone.'

               As there was nothing else to be done, the youth set to work and cut some grass, and then terrible was the way he had to walk to get down again. Storms of fire broke continually over him, and every moment it seemed as though he would be precipitated to the bottom.

               As he reached the plain a traveller met him.

               'Oh, you have some of that grass,' said he. 'I was just going up the mountain to get some. If you will give it me, and save my journey, I will give you a prancing horse, all covered with gold trappings studded with precious stones.'

               But this time the youth began to pay more attention to the injunctions laid upon him, and he shook his head, and walked on.

               'Give it me,' continued the stranger, 'and I will give you in return for it a casino of your own in the Campagna, where you may live all your life.'

               But the youth shook his head, and continued his way, without so much as answering him.

               'Give it me,' said the stranger the third time, 'and I will give you gold enough to make you rich all your days.'

               But the youth stood out the third temptation as well as the other two, and then the stranger disappeared.

               Without further hindrance he arrived at the chicory-hole, let himself down, and gave the grass to all the people to eat, who were half dead with waiting so long for him; and as they ate, the spell ceased. Only as he had cut the grass in an indolent sort of way, he had not brought so large a quantity as he ought, and there was one poor maiden left for whose deliverance the provision sufficed not.

               Meantime the whole face of the country was changed. The plain was covered with flourishing cities; over the chicory-hole was a splendid palace, where the maiden, who had under the spell looked like an old hag, took up her abode, and where the old man had promised that he should live with her for his reward.

               This reward he now came to claim.

               'But you have not completed your task,' said the princess.

               'I think I have done a pretty good deal,' answered the youth.

               'But there is that one who is yet undelivered.'

               'Oh, I can't help about one. She must manage the best way she can.'

               'That won't do,' said the princess. 'If you want to have me, you must complete your work.'

               So he had to toil all the way up to the top of the mountain, and all the way down again, and at last the work was complete.

               Then the princess married him, and all went wondrously well. [5]


Prior to the tale: The two following stories contain a jumbling mixture of the incidents of the three preceding, set in a different framework; more or less mixed up with those in the stories of other countries mentioned at p. 128. Some of those in 'The Transformation Donkey' occur in the Siddhi Kür story of 'The Gold-spitting Prince,' in 'Sagas from the Far East,' but they are constructed into a quite different tale.


[1] 'Il Cicoriaro e la Principessa fatata.'

[2] 'Fa una zompa;' 'zompa' for 'zomba,' properly a blow, a thump; here, 'jumped down with a noise like a thump.'

[3] Bacchettone di comando, suits this use of it better than does the English equivalent.

[4] 'Ecco il vecchio!' such abrupt interruptions, with change of tense, are often introduced with dramatic effect by the narrators. A similar one occurs at p. 133. 'He sounds the horn and One comes.'

[5] 'E tutto andava benone;' 'bene,' well; 'benone,' superlatively well.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Chicory-Seller and the Enchanted Princess, The
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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