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Folktales of Sicily
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  1. The Thoughtless Abbot
  2. With the Scissors
  3. The Doctor's Apprentice
  4. Firrazzanu's Wife and the Queen
  5. Giufà and the Plaster Statue
  6. Giufà and the Judge
  7. Eat, My Clothes!
  8. The Sound of a Screech-owl
  9. Lots of Food and Money

The Thoughtless Abbot

There was once in a city a priest who became an abbot, and who had his carriages, horses, grooms, steward, secretary, valet, and many other persons on account of the wealth that he had. This abbot thought only of eating, drinking, and sleeping. All the priests and laymen were jealous of him, and called him the "Thoughtless Abbot."

One day the king happened to pass that way, and stopped. All the abbot's enemies went to him straightway and accused the abbot, saying: "Your Majesty, in this town there is a person happier than you, very rich, and lacking nothing in the world. He is called the 'Thoughtless Abbot.'"

The king said to the accusers: "Gentlemen, depart in peace, for I will soon make this abbot think." The king sent directly for the abbot, who had his carriage made ready and went to the king. The king received him kindly, made him sit at his side, and talked about various things with him. Finally he asked him why they called him the "Thoughtless Abbot". The abbot replied that it was because he was free from care, and that his servants attended to his interests.

Then the king said: "Well, then, since you have nothing to do, do me the favour to count all the stars in the sky, and within three days and three nights. Otherwise you will be beheaded." The abbot on hearing these words began to tremble like a leaf. After taking leave of the king he returned home in mortal fear for his neck.

When meal-time came, he could not eat because of his great anxiety and went at once out on the terrace to look at the sky. But he could not see a single star during the day-time. When it grew dark and the stars could be seen, he began to count them and write it down. It grew dark and light again, and still the abbot had not succeeded in the task. He often stopped and wondered, "Hey, did I count that tiny star in just now, or did I overlook it? Eh, where was I? Must I start all over again?"

The cook, the steward, the secretaries, the grooms, the coachmen and all the persons in the house became thoughtful when they saw that their master did not eat or drink and always watched the sky. They believed that he had gone mad. The three days passed without the abbot having counted all the stars, so he was sure the king would behead him. But on the last day a trusty servant begged the abbot so long to tell what was the matter that he said: "I have not been able to count the stars, and for that reason the king will cut my head off this morning."

When the servant had heard all, he said: "Don't you fear, and leave it to me. I will settle everything."

He went and bought a large ox-hide, stretched it on the ground, and cut off a piece of the tail, half an ear, and a small piece out of the side, and then said to the abbot: "Now let us go to the king. When he asks you how many stars there are in heaven, you will call me. I will then stretch the hide on the ground, and you will say: 'The stars in heaven are as many as the hairs on this hide. There were more hairs than the number of stars I counted, though, so I had to cut off part of the hide.'"

After the abbot had heard him, he felt relieved, ordered his carriage and took his servant to the king. When the king saw the abbot, he greeted him and then said: "Have you fulfilled my command?"

"Yes, your Majesty," answered the abbot, "I should say so."

"Then tell me how many they are."

The abbot called his servant, who brought the hide and spread it on the ground while the king, not knowing how the matter was going to end, continued his questioning.

When the servant had stretched out the hide, the abbot said to the king: "Your Majesty, during these three days the stars have been counted."

"How many are they?"

"They are as many as the hairs of this hide. I think there were too many hairs at first, so I cut off a bit of the hide. You can have them counted, for I have brought you the proof."

The king, his mouth open, had nothing to answer. He only said: "Go and live a long life. Your mind serves you well." So speaking, he dismissed him, thanking him, and remained his friend from then on.

The abbot returned home with his servant, delighted and rejoicing. He thanked his servant, made him his steward and intimate friend, and gave him more than an ounce of money a day to live on.



With the Scissors

Once on a time there was a husband and a wife. The husband was a tailor, and so was the wife, and she was also a good housekeeper. One day the husband found some things in the kitchen broken, – pots, glasses, plates. He asked: "How were they broken?"

"How do I know?" answered the wife.

"What do you mean by saying 'How do I know?' Who broke them?"

"Who broke them? I, with the scissors," said the wife, in anger.

"With the scissors?"

"With the scissors!"

"Are you telling the truth? I want to know what you broke them with. If you don't tell me, I will beat you."

"With the scissors!" (for she had the scissors in her hand).

"Scissors, do you say?"


"Ah! what do you mean? Wait a bit; I will make you see whether it was you with the scissors." So he tied a rope around her and began to lower her into the well, saying: "Come, how did you break them? You see I am lowering you into the well."

"It was with the scissors!" The husband, seeing her so obstinate, lowered her into the well; and she, for all that, did not hold her tongue.

"How did you break them?" asked the husband again.

"It was with the scissors."

Then her husband lowered her more, until she was half way down. "What did you do it with?"

"With the scissors."

Then he lowered her until her feet touched the water. "What did you do it with?"

"The scissors!" Then he let her down into the water to her waist. "What did you do it with?"

"The scissors!"

"Take care!" cried her husband, angered at seeing her so obstinate, "it will take but little to put you under the water. You had better tell what you did it with; it will be better for you. How is it possible to break pots and dishes with scissors?"

"It was with the scissors! The scissors!"

Then he let go the rope. Splash! his wife was all under the water. "Are you satisfied now? Do you still say it was with the scissors?"

The wife could not speak, for she was under the water; but she stuck her hand up out of the water, and with her fingers began to make signs as if she were cutting with scissors.

What could the husband do? He said: "I am losing my wife soon if this goes any further. And then I shall have to go after her. No, I will pull her out now; she may say that it was with the scissors." Then he pulled her out, and there was no way of making her tell with what she had broken all those things in the kitchen.


The Doctor's Apprentice

Once on a time there was a doctor who took his apprentice with him when he made his visits. One day while visiting a patient, the doctor said: "Why don't you listen to my orders that you are not to eat anything?"

The invalid said: "Doctor, I assure you that I have eaten nothing."

"That's not true," answered the doctor, "for I have found your pulse beating like that of a person who has eaten grapes."

The patient admitted it: "It's true that I have eaten some grapes; but it was only a little bunch."

"Very well; don't risk eating again, and don't think you can fool me."

The poor apprentice, who was with the doctor, was amazed to see how his master guessed from the pulse that his patient had eaten grapes. As soon as they had left the house he asked: "How did you perceive that he had eaten grapes?"

The doctor told him: "A person who visits the sick must never pass for a fool. As soon as you enter, cast your eyes on the bed and under the bed too, and from the crumbs that you see you can guess what the patient has eaten. I saw the stalk of the grapes, and from that I concluded that he had eaten grapes."

Next day there were many patients in the town, and the doctor, not being able to visit them all, sent his apprentice to visit a few. Among others, the apprentice went to see the man who had eaten the grapes. Wishing to play the part of an expert like his master and show he was a skilful physician, he said angrily when he perceived that there were bits of straw under the bed: "Won't you understand that you must not eat?"

The invalid said: "I assure you that I have not tasted even a drop of water."

"Yes, you have," answered the apprentice; "you have been eating straw, for I see the bits under the bed."

They came from the sick man's mattress.



Firrazzanu's Wife and the Queen

Firrazzanu was the valet of a prince in Palermo, and also played his tricks on him. However, as Firrazzanu was known and everybody was amused by him, the prince overlooked them.

The queen was once in Palermo, and wished to know Firrazzanu. He went to see her, and amused her somewhat.

The queen said: "Are you married, or single?"

"Married, your Majesty."

"I wish to meet your wife."

"How can that be, your Majesty when my wife is deaf?" Firrazzanu made this up on the spot; it was not true.

"No matter; when I speak with her I will scream. Go, have your wife come here."

Firrazzanu went home. "Fanny, the queen wants to know you, but you must know that she is a little hard of hearing. If you wish to speak to her, you must raise your voice."

"Very well," said his wife, "let's go."

When they arrived at the palace she said to the queen, in a loud voice: "At your Majesty's feet!"

The queen said to herself: "You see, because she is deaf, she screams as if everybody else were deaf!" Then she said to her, loudly: "Good day, how do you do?"

"Very well, your Majesty!" answered Firrazzanu's wife, still louder. The queen, to make herself heard, raised her voice and screamed, also, and Fanny, for her part, cried out louder and louder, so that it seemed as if they were quarrelling. Firrazzanu could contain himself no longer and began to laugh so that the queen perceived the joke. IfFirrazzanu had not run away, perhaps she would have had him arrested. Who knows how the matter had ended if so?

In Sicilian folk-lore there are two figures that many jokes have gathered around. These two are the practical joker Firrazzanu and the dense Giufà, who is at times wiser than he looks.


Giufà and the Plaster Statue

Once on a time there was a very poor woman who had a son called Giufà. He was stupid, lazy, and cunning. The mother had a piece of cloth, and said one day to him: "Take this cloth and go and sell it in a distant town, and take care to sell it to those who talk little."

So Giufà set out, with the cloth on his shoulder.

When he came to a town, he began to cry: "Who wants cloth?" The people called him, and began to talk a great deal; one thought it coarse, another dear.

Giufà thought they talked too much, and would not sell it to them. After walking a long way, he entered a court-yard where he found nothing but a plaster image. Giufà said to it: "Do you want to buy the cloth?"

The statue said not a word, and Giufà, seeing that it spoke little, said: "Now I must sell you the cloth, for you speak little;" and he took the cloth and hung it on the statue, and went away, saying: "Tomorrow I will come for the money."

Next day he went after the money, and found the cloth gone. "Give me the money for the cloth."

The statue said nothing.

"Since you won't give me the money, I will show you who I am." He borrowed a mattock and struck the statue until he overthrew it - and found a jar of money inside of it. He put the money in a bag, went home to his mother and told her that he had sold the cloth to a person who did not speak and who gave him no money, and that he had killed him with a mattock and thrown him down. "And here is the money," he said and showed her the money he had brought home.

His mother said to him: "Say nothing about it. We will eat up this money little by little."


Giufà and the Judge

One day Giufà went out to gather herbs, and it was night before he returned. On his way back the moon rose through the clouds, and Giufà sat down on a stone and watched the moon appear and disappear behind the clouds, and he exclaimed constantly: "It appears, it appears! it sets, it sets!"

Now there were near the way some thieves who were skinning a calf that they had stolen. When they heard "It appears, it sets!" they feared that the officers of justice were coming, so they ran away and left the meat.

When Giufà heard and saw the thieves running away, he went to see what was happening and found the calf skinned. He took his knife and cut off flesh enough to fill his sack and went home. When he arrived there his mother asked him why he came so late. He said it was because he was bringing some meat which she was to sell the next day, and the money was to be kept for him.

The next day his mother sent him into the country and sold the meat.

In the evening Giufà returned and asked his mother: "Did you sell the meat?"

"Yes, I sold it to the flies on credit."

"When will they give you the money?"

"When they get it."

A week passed and the flies brought no money, so Giufà went to the judge and said to him: "Sir, I want justice. I sold the flies meat on credit and they have not come to pay me."

The judge said: "I pronounce this sentence on them: wherever you see them you may kill them."

Just then a fly lighted on the judge's nose . . .


Eat, My Clothes!

Giufà was half a simpleton, so no one showed him any kindness, such as to invite him to his house or give him anything to eat.

Once Giufà went to a farm-house for something. The farmers, when they saw him looking so ragged and poor, came near setting the dogs on him, and made him leave in a hurry.

When his mother heard it she procured for him a fine coat, a pair of breeches, and a velvet vest. Giufà dressed up like an overseer, went to the same farm-house, and then you should see what great ceremonies they made! They went on to invite him to dine with them, and while at the table all were very attentive to him.

Giufà filled his stomach and also put into his pockets, coat, and hat whatever was left over, saying: "Eat, my clothes, for you were invited!"


The Sound of a Screech-owl

Once Giufà's mother went to church and told him to make some porridge for his little sister. Giufà made a great kettle of boiling porridge and fed it to the poor child and burned her mouth so that she died. After he had scalded his little sister to death, his mother drove him from the house, and he entered the service of a priest. "What wages do you want?" asked the priest.

"One egg a day, and as much bread as I can eat with it; and you must keep me in your service until the ◦screech-owl cries in the ivy."

The priest was satisfied and thought he could not find such a cheap servant again. The next morning Giufà received his egg and a loaf of bread. He opened the egg and ate it with a pin, and every time he licked off the pin he ate a great piece of bread. "Bring me a little more bread," he cried; "this is not enough;" and the priest had to get him a large basket of bread.

So it was every morning. "Alas for me!" cried the priest; "in a few weeks he will reduce me to beggary." It was winter then and would be several months until the screech-owl cried in the ivy. In despair the priest said to his mother: "This evening you must hide in the ivy and scream like an owl." The old woman did as she was told and began to cry: "Miu, miu!"

"Do you hear, Giufà?" said the priest, "the screech-owl is crying in the ivy; we must part." So Giufà took his bundle and was going to return to his mother.

As he was going by the place where the priest's mother was still crying "Miu, miu," he exclaimed: "O you cursed screech-owl! Suffer punishment and sorrow!" and threw stones into the ivy and unwittingly killed the old woman.


Lots of Food and Money

Giufà returned home. One day his mother said to him: "Giufà, we have nothing to eat today; what shall we do?"

"Leave it to me," he said, and went to a butcher. "Giive me half a rotulu of meat; I will give you the money tomorrow." The butcher gave him the meat and he went in the same way to the baker, the oil-merchant, the wine-dealer, and the cheese-merchant and took home to his mother the meat, macaroni, bread, oil, wine and cheese which he had bought on credit, and they ate together merrily.

Next day Giufà pretended he was dead and his mother wept and lamented. "My son is dead, my son is dead!" He was put in an open coffin and carried to the church and the priests sang the mass for the dead over him.

When everyone in the city heard that Giufà was dead, the butcher, the baker, the oil-merchant and the wine-dealer said: "What we gave him yesterday is as good as lost. Who will pay us for it now?" But the cheese-dealer thought: "Giufà, it is true, owes me only six pence, but I will not give them to him. I will go and take his cap from him."

So he crept into the church. There was still a priest there praying over Giufà's coffin. "As long as the priest is there, it is not fitting for me to take his cap," thought the cheese-merchant, and hid himself behind the altar.

When it was night the last priest departed and the cheese-merchant was on the point of coming out from his hiding-place when a band of thieves rushed into the church. They had stolen a large bag of money and were going to divide it in the dark church. They quarrelled over the division and began to cry out and make a noise. At that point Giufà sat up in his coffin and exclaimed: "Out with you!"

The thieves were greatly frightened when he rose up and believed he was calling to the other dead, so they ran out in terror, leaving the sack behind.

As Giufà was picking up the sack, the cheese-merchant sprang from his hiding-place and claimed his share of the money. Giufà, however, kept crying: "Your share is six pence."

The thieves outside thought he was dividing the money among the dead and said to each other: "How many he must have called if they receive but six pence each!" and ran away as fast as they could run.

Giufà took the money home to his mother, after he had given the cheese-merchant the money he owed him and a little extra.



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