The Golden Root
A person who is over-curious, and wants to know more than he ought, always carries the match in his hand to set fire to the powder-room of his own fortunes; and he who pries into others' affairs is frequently a loser in his own; for generally he who digs holes to search for treasures, comes to a ditch into which he himself falls--as happened to the daughter of a gardener in the following manner.
THERE was once a gardener who was
so very very poor that, however hard he worked, he could not manage
to get bread for his family. So he gave three little pigs to his three
daughters, that they might rear them, and thus get something for a little
dowry. Then Pascuzza and Cice, who were the eldest, drove their little
pigs to feed in a beautiful meadow; but they would not let Parmetella,
who was the youngest daughter, go with them, and sent her away, telling
her to go and feed her pig somewhere else. So Parmetella drove her little
animal into a wood, where the Shades were holding out against the assaults
of the Sun; and coming to a pasture --in the middle of which flowed
a fountain, that, like the hostess of an inn where cold water is sold,
was inviting the passers-by with its silver tongue--she found a certain
tree with golden leaves. Then plucking one of them, she took it to her
father, who with great joy sold it for more than twenty ducats, which
served to stop up a hole in his affairs. And when he asked Parmetella
where she had found it, she said, "Take it, sir, and ask no questions,
unless you would spoil your good fortune." The next day she returned
and did the same; and she went on plucking the leaves from the tree
until it was entirely stript, as if it had been plundered by the winds
of Autumn. Then she perceived that the tree had a large golden root,
which she could not pull up with her hands; so she went home, and fetching
an axe set to work to lay bare the root around the foot of the tree;
and raising the trunk as well as she could, she found under
Parmetella, who was curious beyond measure, went down the stairs, and walking through a large and deep cavern, she came to a beautiful plain, on which was a splendid palace, where only gold and silver were trodden underfoot, and pearls and precious stones everywhere met the eye. And as Parmetella stood wondering at all these splendid things, not seeing any person moving among so many beautiful fixtures, she went into a chamber, in which were a number of pictures; and on them were seen painted various beautiful things--especially the ignorance of man esteemed wise, the injustice of him who held the scales, the injuries avenged by Heaven--things truly to amaze one. And in the same chamber also was a splendid table, set out with things to eat and to drink.
Seeing no one, Parmetella, who was very
hungry, sat down at a table to eat like a fine count; but whilst she
was in the midst of the feast, behold a handsome Slave entered, who
said, "Stay! do not go away, for I will have you for my wife, and
will make you the happiest woman in the world." In spite of her
fear, Parmetella took heart at this good offer, and consenting to what
the Slave proposed, a coach of diamonds was instantly given her, drawn
by four golden steeds, with wings of emeralds and rubies, who carried
her flying through the air to take an airing; and a number of apes,
clad in cloth of gold, were given to attend on her person, who
When night was come, and the Sun--desiring to sleep on the banks of the river of India untroubled by gnats--had put out the light, the Slave said to Parmetella, "My dear, now go to rest in this bed; but remember first to put out the candle, and mind what I say, or ill will betide you." Then Parmetella did as he told her; but no sooner had she closed her eyes than the blackamoor, changing to a handsome youth, lay down to sleep. But the next morning, ere the Dawn went forth to seek fresh eggs in the fields of the sky the youth arose and took his other form again, leaving Parmetella full of wonder and curiosity.
And again the following night, when Parmetella went to rest, she put out the candle as she had done the night before, and the youth came as usual and lay down to sleep. But no sooner had he shut his eyes than Parmetella arose, took a steel which she had provided, and lighting the tinder applied a match; then taking the candle, she raised the coverlet, and beheld the ebony turned to ivory, and the coal to chalk. And whilst she stood gazing with open mouth, and contemplating the most beautiful pencilling that Nature had ever given upon the canvas of Wonder, the youth awoke, and began to reproach Parmetella, saying, "Ah, woe is me! for your prying curiosity I have to suffer another seven years this accursed punishment. But begone! Run, scamper off! Take yourself out of my sight! You know not what good fortune you lose." So saying, he vanished like quicksilver.
The poor girl left the palace, cold and
stiff with affright, and with her head bowed to the ground. And when
she had come out of the cavern she met a fairy, who said to her, "My
child, how my heart grieves at your misfortune! Unhappy girl, you are
going to the slaughter-house, where you will pass over the bridge no
wider than a hair. Therefore, to provide against your peril, take these
seven spindles with these seven figs, and a little jar of honey, and
these seven pairs of iron shoes, and walk on and on without stopping,
until they are worn out; then you will see seven women standing upon
a balcony of a house, and spinning from above down to the ground, with
the thread wound upon the bone of a dead person. Remain quite still
and hidden, and when the thread comes down,
He who has made my spindle sweet,
And after repeating these words, they will
say, one after another, O you who brought us these sweet things appear!'
Then you must answer, Nay, for you will eat me.' And they will say,
We swear by our spoon that we will not eat you!' But do not stir; and
they will continue, We swear by our spit that we will not eat you!'
But stand firm, as if rooted to the spot; and they will say, We swear
by our broom that we will not eat you!' Still do not believe them; and
when they say, We swear by our pail that we will not eat you!' shut
your mouth, and say not a word, or it will cost you your life. At last
they will say, We swear by Thunder-and-Lightning that we will not eat
you!' Then take courage and mount up, for they will
When Parmetella heard this, she set off and walked over hill and dale, until at the end of seven years the iron shoes were worn out; and coming to a large house, with a projecting balcony, she saw the seven women spinning. So she did as the fairy had advised her; and after a thousand wiles and allurements, they swore by Thunder-and-Lightning, whereupon she showed herself and mounted up. Then they all seven said to her, "Traitress, you are the cause that our brother has lived twice seven long years in the cavern, far away from us, in the form of a blackamoor! But never mind; although you have been clever enough to stop our throat with the oath, you shall on the first opportunity pay off both the old and the new reckoning. But now hear what you must do. Hide yourself behind this trough, and when our mother comes, who would swallow you down at once, rise up and seize her behind her back; hold her fast, and do not let her go until she swears by Thunder-and-Lightning not to harm you."
Parmetella did as she was bid, and after the ogress had sworn by the fire-shovel, by the spinning-wheel, by the reel, by the sideboard, and by the peg, at last she swore by Thunder-and-Lightning; whereupon Parmetella let go her hold, and showed herself to the ogress, who said, "You have caught me this time; but take care, Traitress! for, at the first shower, I'll send you to the Lava."
One day the ogress, who was on the look-out for an opportunity to devour Parmetella, took twelve sacks of various seeds --peas, chick-peas, lentils, vetches, kidney-beans, beans, and lupins--and mixed them all together; then she said to her, "Traitress, take these seeds and sort them all, so that each kind may be separated from the rest; and if they are not all sorted by this evening, I'll swallow you like a penny tart."
Poor Parmetella sat down beside the sacks, weeping, and said, "O mother, mother, how will this golden root prove a root of woes to me! Now is my misery completed; by seeing a black face turned white, all has become black before my eyes. Alas! I am ruined and undone--there is no help for it. I already seem as if I were in the throat of that horrid ogress; there is no one to help me, there is no one to advise me, there is no one to comfort me!"
As she was lamenting thus, lo! Thunder-and-Lightning
appeared like a flash, for the banishment laid upon him by the spell
had just ended. Although he was angry with Parmetella, yet his blood
could not turn to water, and seeing her grieving thus he said to her,
"Traitress, what makes you weep so?" Then she told him of
his mother's ill-treatment of her, and her wish to make an end of her,
and eat her up. But Thunder-and-Lightning replied, "Calm yourself
and take heart, for it shall not be as she said." And instantly
scattering all the seeds on the ground he made a deluge of ants spring
up, who forthwith set to work to heap up all the seeds separately, each
kind by itself, and Parmetella filled the sacks with
When the ogress came home and found the task done, she was almost in despair, and cried, "That dog Thunder-and-Lightning has played me this trick; but you shall not escape thus! So take these pieces of bed-tick, which are enough for twelve mattresses, and mind that by this evening they are filled with feathers, or else I will make mincemeat of you."
The poor girl took the bed-ticks, and sitting down upon the ground began to weep and lament bitterly, making two fountains of her eyes. But presently Thunder-and-Lightning appeared, and said to her, "Do not weep, Traitress,--leave it to me, and I will bring you to port; so let down your hair, spread the bed-ticks upon the ground, and fall to weeping and wailing, and crying out that the king of the birds is dead, then you'll see what will happen."
Parmetella did as she was told, and behold
a cloud of birds suddenly appeared that darkened the air; and flapping
their wings they let fall their feathers by basketfuls, so that in less
than an hour the mattresses were all filled. When the ogress came home
and saw the task done, she swelled up with rage till she almost burst,
saying, "Thunder-and-Lightning is determined to plague me, but
may I be dragged at an ape's tail if I let her escape!" Then she
said to Parmetella, "Run quickly to my sister's house, and tell
her to send me the musical instruments; for I have resolved that Thunder-and-Lightning
shall marry, and we will make a feast fit for a king." At the same
time she sent to bid her sister, when the
Parmetella, hearing herself ordered to
perform an easier task, was in great joy, thinking that the weather
had begun to grow milder. Alas, how crooked is human judgment! On the
way she met Thunder-and-Lightning, who, seeing her walking at a quick
pace, said to her, "Whither are you going, wretched girl? See you
not that you are on the way to the slaughter; that you are forging your
own fetters, and sharpening the knife and mixing the poison for yourself;
that you are sent to the ogress for her to swallow you? But listen to
me and fear not. Take this little loaf, this bundle of hay, and this
stone; and when you come to the house of my aunt, you will find a bulldog,
which will fly barking at you to bite you;
Parmetella did all that Thunder-and-Lightning told her; but on her way back with the instruments she opened the box, and lo and behold! they all flew out and about--here a flute, there a flageolet, here a pipe, there a bagpipe, making a thousand different sounds in the air, whilst Parmetella stood looking on and tearing her hair in despair.
Meanwhile the ogress came downstairs, and not finding Parmetella, she went to the window, and called out to the door, "Crush that traitress!" But the door answered:
"I will not use the poor girl ill,
Then the ogress cried out to the horse, "Trample on the thief!" But the horse replied:
"Let the poor girl go her way,
And lastly, the ogress called to the dog, saying, "Bite the rogue!" But the dog answered:
"I'll not hurt a hair of her head,
Now as Parmetella ran crying after the instruments, she met Thunder-and-Lightning, who scolded her well, saying, "Traitress, will you not learn at your cost that by your fatal curiosity you are brought to this plight?" Then he called back the instruments with a whistle, and shut them up again in the box, telling Parmetella to take them to his mother. But when the ogress saw her, she cried aloud, "O cruel fate! even my sister is against me, and refuses to give me this pleasure."
Meanwhile the new bride arrived--a hideous pest, a compound of ugliness, a harpy, an evil shade, a horror, a monster, a large tub, who with a hundred flowers and boughs about her looked like a newly opened inn. Then the ogress made a great banquet for her; and being full of gall and malice, she had the table placed close to a well, where she seated her seven daughters, each with a torch in one hand; but she gave two torches to Parmetella, and made her sit at the edge of the well, on purpose that, when she fell asleep, she might tumble to the bottom.
Now whilst the dishes were passing to and
fro, and their blood began to get warm, Thunder-and-Lightning, who turned
quite sick at the sight of the new bride, said to Parmetella, "Traitress,
do you love me?" "Ay, to the top of the roof," she replied.
And he answered, "If you love me, give me a kiss." "Nay,"
said Parmetella, "YOU indeed, who have such a pretty creature at
your side! Heaven preserve her to you a hundred years in health and
with plenty of sons!" Then the new bride answered, "It is
very clear that you are a simpleton, and would remain so were you to
At these words the bridegroom swelled with rage like a toad, so that his food remained sticking in his throat; however, he put a good face on the matter and swallowed the pill, intending to make the reckoning and settle the balance afterwards. But when the tables were removed, and the ogress and his sisters had gone away, Thunder-and-Lightning said to the new bride, "Wife, did you see this proud creature refuse me a kiss?" "She was a simpleton," replied the bride, "to refuse a kiss to such a handsome young man, whilst I let a herdsman kiss me for a couple of chestnuts."
Thunder-and-Lightning could contain himself
no longer; the mustard got up into his nose, and with the flash of scorn
and the thunder of action, he seized a knife and stabbed the bride,
and digging a hole in the cellar he buried her. Then embracing Parmetella
he said to her, "You are my jewel, the flower of women, the mirror
of honour! Then turn those eyes upon me, give me that hand, put out
those lips, draw near to me, my heart! for I will be yours as long as
the world lasts."
"Patience conquers all."
The next story in Il Pentamerone is Sun, Moon and Talia.
These tales came from:
Basile, Giambattista. Stories from the Pentamerone. E. F. Strange, editor. Warwick Goble, illustrator. London: Macmillan & Co., 1911. The text of this book is based on John Edward Taylor's translation from 1847.