It was a proverb established after those of an antique usage that whoso seeketh what he should not findeth what he would not; and clear thing it is that the ape, for drawing on boots, was trapped by the foot. This also befell a beggarly handmaid, who, never having worn shoes to her feet, must needs wear a crown on her head; but, as all wrongs meet their requital, and anon comes one that compensates for each and every, at last, having by wicked ways usurped what belonged to others, she was caught at the wheel, even as says the by-word, 'The higher the height, the lower the lapse': and this shall be shown after the fashion that follows.

It is said that once upon a time there was a king of the Bushy Valley that had a daughter named Zoza, and she, like another Zoroaster or Anacretus,[Note: Heraclitus.] was never seen to smile. The afflicted father, having none other life and spirit than this his only daughter, left nothing undone to lighten her melancholy. The better to provoke from her a laugh, he summoned now drolls who walk upon mace heads, and then fellows who jump through circles, and anon boxers, and rivals of Master Roger the juggler, and workers of legerdemain, and anon fellows strong as Hercules, and now the dancing dog and the leaping old man, and then the ass that drinks from a tumbler and the bitch Lucia Conazza [Note: A Neapolitan dame.]: briefly, now one thing, and then another. But 'twas all lost time, for neither the remedy of Master Grillo [Note: A noted medico of the day.], nor the herb sardonion, nor a dig in the diaphragm would make her smile in the least.

At length the unfortunate father, wishing to make a last attempt and not knowing what else to do, gave orders to build a great fountain of oil fronting the palace gate, with design by so doing that the folk who crowded like ants passing to and fro that way should be obliged, so as not to soil their clothes, to skip like crickets, and buck-jump like goats, and scurry like hares, pushing and knocking one against another: thus hoping that somewhat might occur which would make his daughter laugh.

So this fountain being built, as Zoza was standing at her lattice window, looking sour as vinegar, she saw an ancient woman coming to the fountain, and soaking up the oil with a sponge, filling therewith an earthen ewer she had brought with her; and whilst so doing, a certain court page threw a stone so true to an hair that he hit the ewer and broke it to bits. Hereat the old woman, who was by no means hairy of tongue, nor held herself from speaking her mind, turned to the page, and thus began to say: 'Ah, kindchen, scatter-brains, piss-a-bed, goat-dancer, petticoat-catcher, hangman's rope, mongrel mule, spindle-shanks, whereat if ever the fleas cough, go where a palsy catch thee; and may thy mammy hear the ill news! Never mayest thou see the first of May! May a Catalan lance thrust thee through! Mayest thou be touched with the rope and never lose a drop of blood! A thousand miseries reach thee, with the rest to boot; and, in short, may the wind blow away thy sail, so that the seed may be lost, thou knave, pimp, son of a whore!'

The lad, who had little beard and less discretion, hearing this flow of abuse, repaid her with the same coin, saying, 'Wilt thou not hold thy tongue, devil's grandam, bull's-vomit, children-smotherer, turd-clout, farting crone?' The old woman, hearing all the news of her household thus cried aloud, waxed so wroth that, losing all patience, she raised the curtain of her clothes, and showed a truly rural scene, whereof Silvio[Note: Dialectic, Sirvio: a personage in some pastoral, perhaps the pastor.] might have said, 'Go, wake the eyes with the horn.' When this spectacle was beheld by Zoza, she fell backwards, laughing so much that she had well-nigh fainted. Hereupon the old woman became even more furious, and turning a fierce look upon Zoza, cried, 'Go! and mayest thou never see the bed of an husband, unless thou take the Prince of Campo Rotundo!'. Zoza, who heard these words, summoned the crone and perforce would learn if she had meant to lay a curse upon her, or only to abuse her; and the other answered, 'Now thou must know that the prince I have named is a wonderful creature, Thaddeus highs, who, having been cursed by a fairy, came to the last picture of life, and was laid in a tomb outside the city walls, and upon his tombstone an inscription is graven: "Whosoever of womankind will in three days fill with tears an earthen vessel which hangs upon an hook, she will bring him to life and strength, and will take him to husband." But as it is impossible for two human eyes to run so much with weeping as to fill an earthen vessel which holds half a flagon, save, as I have heard recounted, it were a certain Jinniyah who became at Rome a fountain of tears, I, because I saw myself derided, have given you this curse, which I pray Heaven may fall upon you in revenge for the injury done me.' And thus saying, the old woman ran down the steps and went her way, being afeard that something might happen to her.

Meanwhile the princess pondered over the words of the old woman, and meditated, and doubted, and feared, and at length drew from them that passion which blindeth our judgment and darkeneth the mind; and she determined to fly from her father's house, and taking with her many thousand crowns and jewels, left the palace, and fared along until she reached the castle of a fairy, to whom she told her story. The fairy, taking compassion of such a beautiful young maiden, and desiring to help her on account of her youth and her great love to an unknown being, gave her a letter of recommendation to her own sister, who was also a fairy; and taking kindly leave of her, presented her with a walnut, saying, 'Take this, O my daughter, and keep it by thee, but open it not save in time of great stress.' The princess took the gift and the letter, and proceeding on her journey, ceased not wayfaring until she arrived at the castle of the second fairy, who also received her graciously, and well entreated her. And on the next morning, before taking leave, the fairy gave her a letter for another sister of hers, and presented to her a chesnut, with the same advice which had been given to her before. She fared on until she reached the castle of the third fairy, who also welcomed her, and entreated her kindly. The following morning, before her departure, the fairy presented her with an hazel-nut and the same injunctions as the other sisters.

Having received these things, Zoza fared on through cities and villages, wilds and words, passing seas and rivers, until after seven years she arrived, tired and worn by so much wayfaring, at Campo Rotundo, where, before entering the city, she perceived a mausoleum of marble at the foot of a fountain where a porphyry criminal wept tears of crystal: and hung thereon was the earthenware flagon.Taking the vessel down, and putting it before her, she shed two rivulets of tears rivalling the fountain, never lifting her head from its mouth, so that at the end of two days the tears had filled it to the neck. and there remained only two inches more. But, wearied by so much stress and trouble, she was taken by a deep sleep, so that she lay perforce under a tent close by for well-nigh two hours. In the meantime a certain slave, Cricket-legs highs, who came often to that fountain to fill an hogshead, and who knew well the matter of the inscription, which was spoken of everywhere, hid herself when she beheld Zoza weeping, awaiting that the earthen flagon should be nearly full, hoping by some wile to win the remainder to herself, and thus leave the princess with a handful of flies. And as she beheld her asleep, she thought the time had come for her advantage, and dexterously taking the earthen juglet, and putting her eye upon its mouth, filled it to the brim in a short time. Hardly was it full when the prince, awaking as from heavy sleep, arose from the marble sarcophagus, and threw his arms around that mass of black flesh and leading her to his palace, with feasts, and joyance, and revelry took her to wife. But no sooner did Zoza awake to find the grave open, and the juglet gone, and with it all her hopes and joys, than she came near to unpacking the bales of her soul at the custom-house of death. At last, seeing that for this evil there was no remedy, and that she could blame nought but her own eyes which had watched so ill that which held her desire, she arose, and fared on, and entered the city. And when she heard of the bridal feasts of the prince and of the fine wife he had taken to himself, she imagined how the misfortune had come to pass, and said to herself, sighing, 'Alas! two black things have crushed me to the earth: black sleep and a black slave.' Then, desiring to struggle against death, from which every kind of animal trieth to defend itself, Zoza took a fine house fronting the prince's palace, from within which she could not behold the idol of her heart, but could at least look upon the walls of the temple which held him for whom she longed with excessive longing.

Herewhile Zoza was seen one day of the days by Thaddeus, who had been flying until then like a moth around that black, hideous slave. When he beheld her, he became as an eagle, and held ever present in mind the beauty and comeliness of Zoza, even as it is one of the privileges of nature to be taken by a beauteous form and face. The slave failed not to perceive of what had taken place in the prince's mind, and she was wroth with exceeding wrath, and being with child by Thaddeus, threatened him, saying thus: 'If thou wilt not close the window, I will punish my belly and murder little George.' The prince, who loved his race, trembled like a leaf, and liked not to anger his wife, and therefore shut himself in, although it seemed to him he had taken the life out of his body in depriving himself of the sight of Zoza's beauty. The princess, perceiving herself deprived of the only means of beholding Thaddeus, and having lost every hope, not knowing what to do in this her time of need, bethought herself of the three gifts of the fairies, and cracking the walnut, out flew a handsome bird, the handsomest that had ever been seen in the world. The bird began to sing, and trill, and quaver at the window as no other bird had done before, and having been seen and heard by the slave, she could not rest without it, and so, calling the prince, said to him, 'If thou wilt not get for me that bird that sings so well, I will punish my belly and murder little George.' Thaddeus, who had let himself be ridden by her, sent at once to the princess to ask if she would sell it. Zoza made answer that she was not a seller of birds, but if he would accept it as a gift, she would present it to him. The prince, desiring to please his wife on account of the child she would bring to light, accepted the offer; but about four days after, Zoza opened the chesnut, and out of it stalked a fowl with twelve chicks of gold, which were seen by the slave upon the same window-sill, who at once longed to have them, and sending for the prince, pointed to them, saying, 'If thou bring me not that fowl and chicks, I will punish my belly and murder little George'; and Thaddeus, who allowed this bitch to pull him by the nose, sent again to the princess, offering her whatever she chose for such a priceless fowl, and he received the same answer as before: that he might have it as a gift, but to ask of buying it would be but lost time. And as he could not, and dared not, refuse, necessity had the best of his discretion; and he was humbled by the generosity of a woman, their liberality being very scarce, as they are never spoiled, not even by owning all the ores of India. But having passed other four days, Zoza opened the hazel-nut, from which came forth a doll, who was spinning gold, a most marvellous thing.No sooner was she put at the same window than the slave saw her, and sending for the prince, said to him, 'If thou bring me not that doll, I will punish my belly and murder little George'; and Thaddeus, who let his wife swing him about as yarn-blades, by whom he was ridden at her pleasure and crushed by her pride, not having courage to send for the third time to the king's daughter for the doll, thought it best to go himself, remembering the old saws, 'There is no better messenger than thyself,' and 'Who wanteth goeth, and who wanteth not sendeth,' and 'Who will eat fish must take it by the tail,' and beseeching her to forgive his boldness for begging these things because of the whims of a woman great with child, asked for the doll. Zoza, who was nigh a-fainting because of the cause of all her travail, hardened her heart, and allowed him to pray and beseech of her the gift of the doll, so as to have her lord near her and hear his voice, and to enjoy the light of his presence a little longer--he who had been stolen from her by an hideous slave. At last she gave him the doll, as she had done all the other things; but before she handed it to him, she begged the doll to make the slave long to hear tales and stories. Thaddeus, who beheld the doll in his hand without spending a single crown, felt crushed by so much kindness, and he offered Zoza his kingdom and his life in exchange for so much pleasure; then returning to his palace, he gave the doll to his wife.

No sooner did she place it in her bosom to play with it than it appeared as Cupid in the form of Ascanius before Dido, and lit a fire in her heart, and great desire to hear stories and tales, so that at last, fearing to lose her life on account of her great longing, and to give birth to a manchild who would corrupt a shipful of beggars, she sent for her husband, and said to him, 'If thou wilt not call folk to tell me stories, I will punish my belly and murder little George.' Thaddeus, desiring to get rid of this March nuisance, gave orders to the crier to publish that all the women of the city should come to the palace on such a day, and on the appointed day, at the shooting forth of the star Diana, which forerunneth the dawn to prepare the way by which the sun must pass, they should meet all at the same place. But the prince, unaccustomed to see such a crowd, and having no particular taste for the whims of his wife now that she longed to see so many folk around her, chose only ten of the noblest in the city, who seemed to him the more provoking and full of talk. And there were limping Zeza, crooked Cecca, wen-necked Meneca, long-nosed Tolla, hunchbacked Popa, flabbering Antonella, musty Ciulla, cheekless Paola, hairless Ciommetella, and rough-hewn Giacova; and, having written their names on a paper, he discharged the others.

Then they arose with the slave from under the dais, and all fared slowly to the palace garden, where the trees and boughs were so well interlaced one with another that the sun's rays could not penetrate underneath their leafy screen, and they seated themselves under a pavilion covered with a creeping vine, amiddlemost of which played a fountain. Grand Master of the School of Courtiers Prince Thaddeus thus began to say: 'There is nothing more pleasing and glorious in the world, O my noble women, than to hearken to the deeds of others; and not without reason did Aristoteles, that great philosopher, place man's greatest happiness in listening to pretty stories, since in hearkening to them care and gloom vanish, and life is lengthened. And with this desire doth the artisan leave his workshop, the merchant his traffic, the doctor his patient, the druggist his business; and they all go abroad in search of those clever story-tellers, whose tales can rival the best gazette written. By which reason I must excuse my wife, who, having become of a melancholic mood, desireth so much to listen to some pleasant tale: and therefore, if ye are willing to fulfil her wants and to catch mid-air also my desire, ye will be pleased in these four or five days that ye will remain to empty your stomachs and recount every day a story, such as those old women tell for the entertainment of the children, meeting always in this same site, where, after having eaten, ye will begin by recounting, and will end the day by reciting an eclogue, and thus we will spend joyously our life, and all the worse for him who dieth.' Hearing these words, all bowed their heads downwards in humble assent to Thaddeus's command.

In the meanwhile the tables were spread, and food was laid upon them, and they all began to eat; and having ended,the prince made a sign to Zeza the limping that she should open the fire. Rising and bowing low to the prince and his wife, Zeza thus began her say:

Il Pentamerone Contents

Publishers' Note

First Day
  1. Story of the Ghul
  2. The Myrtle-Tree
  3. Peruonto
  4. Vardiello
  5. The Flea
  6. The Cat Cinderella
  7. The Merchant
  8. Goat-Face
  9. The Charmed Hind
  10. The Old Woman Discovered
Eclogue--The Crucible

Second Day
  1. Petrosinella
  2. Verde Prato
  3. Viola
  4. Gagliuso
  5. The Serpent
  6. The She-Bear
  7. The Dove
  8. The Young-Slave
  9. The Padlock
  10. The Gossip
Eclogue--The Dye

Third Day
  1. Cannetella
  2. Penta the Handless
  3. The Face
  4. Sapia the Glutton
  5. The Large Crab-louse
  6. The Wood of Garlic
  7. Corvetto
  8. The Ignorant Youth
  9. Rosella
  10. The Three Fairies
Eclogue--The Stove

Fourth Day
  1. The Cock's Stone
  2. The Two Brothers
  3. The Three Anamal Kings
  4. The Seven Pieces of Pork-Skin
  5. The Dragon
  6. The Three Crowns
  7. The Two Cakes
  8. The Seven Pigeons
  9. The Crow
  10. Pride Punished
Eclogue--The Hook

Fifth Day
  1. The Goose
  2. The Months
  3. Pinto-Smauto
  4. The Golden Root
  5. Sun, Moon, and Talia
  6. The Wise Woman
  7. The Five Sons
  8. Nennillo and Nennella
  9. The Three Citrons
  10. End of the Tale of Tales