Thursday’s Tale: The Foolish Friend

Murano, Italy
Murano, Italy

I was thinking about concentrating on Italian folktales this month, in conjunction with Venice in February. First up is “The Foolish Friend” by Giovanni Francesco Straparola from The Facetious Nights, which was originally published between 1550 and 1553. The version I read, however, is from an English translation from 1901. The Facetious Nights tells the story of a 13-night party in the island of Murano, near Venice.  The revelers add to the entertainment by telling each other stories that vary from bawdy to fantastic. “The Foolish Friend” is the 4th tale on night 13.

A grocer has a servant named Fortunio. On warm afternoons, the grocer takes a nap and it’s Fortunio’s job to keep the flies away. One day, however, there is a particularly nasty and insistent horsefly, and Fortunio decides to kill it. He picks up a heavy bronze pestle, and, when the fly lights on the grocer’s temple, he swings at the fly with all his might, of course killing the grocer in the process.

Fortunio first thinks he should run away to avoid being accused of murder, but then comes up with a better plan. He secretly buries the grocer and throws a ram down the well.

When the grocer never arrives home, his wife accuses Fortunio and insists he must know what happened to the man. The judge has him arrested and Fortunio tells him the story he has come up with, that when he was sleeping near the well he had heard a sound like a rock being thrown in, but when he looked he had seen nothing. Now, however, he says he believes the noise was the grocer falling in and begs to go down into the well to see if he can find his master’s body. The judge agrees, and a whole crowd gathers to see what he finds. Fortunio goes down into the well and pretends to search around in the water, finding the ram’s carcass.

Feigning to be vastly amazed at this, the cunning fellow bawled up from the bottom of the well, “O my mistress! Tell me whether your husband, my poor master, had horns or not; for I have alighted on somebody down here who has got an enormous pair, both long and large. Is it possible that he can be your husband?”

The wife is ashamed and when the ram is brought up everyone laughs. The judge lets Fortunio go free, “but the grocer was never seen more, and the good wife, to her dying day, bore the shame anent the horns which Fortunio’s cunning trick had cast upon her.”

For being so stupid as to kill the grocer, Fortunio turns out pretty smart in the end.

I probably would have been lost as to why the horns comment was so funny if I hadn’t read Much Ado About Nothing last month. Horns were associated with a man whose wife has cheated on him, a cuckold. So, Fortunio was slyly suggesting that perhaps the grocer’s wife had cheated on him before he died, hence the horns. He amused the crowd and got himself off a murder charge int he process. I do feel bad for the wife, though.

You can read the story on-line in a couple of places, including here.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

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