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

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Devil Who Took to Himself a Wife, The


LISTEN, and I will tell you what the devil did who took to himself a wife.

               Ages and ages ago, in the days when the devil was loose--for now he is chained and can't go about like that any more--the head devil [2] called the others, and said, 'Whichever of you proves himself the boldest and cleverest, I will give him his release, and set him free from Inferno.'

               So they all set to work and did all manner of wild and terrible things, and the one who pleased the head devil best was set free.

               This devil being set free, went upon earth, and thought he would live like the children of men. So he took a wife, and, of course, he chose one who was handsome and fashionable [3], but he didn't think about anything else, and he soon found that she was no housewife, was never satisfied unless she was gadding out somewhere, would not take a word of reproof, and, what was more, she spent all his money.

               Every day there were furious quarrels; it was bad enough while the money lasted--and he had brought a good provision with him--but when the money came to an end it was much worse; he was ever reproaching her with extravagance, and she him with stinginess and deception.

               At last he said to her one day, 'It's no use making a piece of work; I'm quite tired of this sort of life; I shall go back to Hell, which is a much quieter place than a house where you are. But I don't mind doing you a good turn first. I'll go and possess myself of a certain queen. You dress up like a doctor, and say you will heal her, and all you will have to do will be to pretend to use some ointments [4] for two or three days, on which I will go out of her. Then they will be so delighted with you for healing her that they will give you a lot of money, on which you can live for the rest of your days, and I will go back to Hell.' But though he said this, it was only to get rid of her. As soon as he had provided her with the price for casting him out once, he meant to go and amuse himself on earth in other ways; he had no real intention of going back to Hell. Then he instructed her in the means by which she was to find out the queen of whom he was to possess himself, and went his way.

               The wife, by following the direction he gave, soon found him, and, dressed as a doctor, effected the cure; that is, she made herself known to him in applying the ointments, and he went away as he had agreed.

               When the king and the court saw what a wonderful cure had been effected, they gave the woman a sackfull of scudi, but all the people went on talking of her success.

               The devil meantime had possessed himself of another sovereign, a king this time, and everybody in the kingdom was very desirous to have him cured, and went inquiring everywhere for a remedy. Thus they heard of the fame of the last cure by the devil's wife. Then they immediately sent for her and insisted that she should cure this king too. But she, not sure whether he would go out a second time at her bidding, refused as long as she could; but they took her, and said, 'Unless you cure him we shall kill you!'

               'Then,' she said, 'you must shut me up alone with this king, and I will try what I can do.'

               So she was shut up alone with him.

               'What! you here again!' said the devil as soon as he perceived her. 'No; that won't do this time. I am very comfortable inside this old king, and I mean to stay here.'

               'But they threaten to kill me if I don't make you go; so what am I to do?' answered the wife.

               'I can't help that,' he replied; 'you must get out of the scrape the best way you can.'

               At this she got in a passion, and, as she used to do in the days when they were living together, rated him so fiercely that at last he was fain to go to escape her scolding.

               Once more she received a high price for the cure, and her fame got the more bruited abroad.

               But the devil went into another queen, and possessed himself of her. The fame of the two cures had spread so far that the wife was soon called in to try her powers again.

               'I really can't,' she pleaded; but the people said:

               'What you did for the other two you can do for this one; and, if you don't, we will cut off your head.'

               To save her head, therefore, she said, 'Then you must shut me up in a room alone with the queen.'

               So she was shut up in the room with her.

               'What! you here again!' exclaimed the devil as soon as he perceived her. 'No; I positively won't go this time; I couldn't be better off than inside this old queen, and till you came I was perfectly happy.'

               'They threaten to take my head if I don't make you go; so what am I to do?'

               'Then let them take your head, and let that be an end of it,' replied the devil testily.

               'You are a pretty husband, indeed, to say such a speech to a wife!' answered she in a high-pitched voice, which he knew was the foretaste of one of those terrible storms he could never resist.

               Basta! she stormed so loud that she sickened him of her for good and all, and this time, to escape her, instead of possessing himself of any more kings and queens, he went straight off to Hell, and never came forth any more for fear of meeting her.


For variants of this Ciarpa, see Ralston's 'Russian Folk Tales,' pp. 37-43; 'The Ill-tempered Princess' in 'Patrañas,' &c.


[1] 'Il Diavolo che prese Moglie.'

[2] 'Il Capo diavolo.'

[3] 'Il più bravo.'

[4] Witches were generally accused of communicating with the Devil, going to midnight meetings with him, &c., by means of ointments. See 'Del Rio,' lib. ii. Q. xvi. p. 81, col. 1, C., and lib. iii. P. 1, 2, ii. p. 155, col. 1, B., &c., &c.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Devil Who Took to Himself a Wife, 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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