Thursday’s Tale: Verde Prato

Illustration from Stories from the Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile. E. F. Strange, editor. Warwick Goble, illustrator. London: Macmillan & Co., 1911.

“Verde Prato” is an Italian tale, written by Giambattista Basile in his 1634 work,  Il Pentamerone, which also includes “Penta with Maimed Hands.” Il Pentamerone is a collection of 50 stories, told within a frame story of a deceitful queen who has demanded that her husband tell her stories, and he in turn hired a group of ten female storytellers who each tell five stories over five days. “Verde Prato” is the second story of the second day.

A woman has three daughters. The older two have no luck at all but the youngest, Nella, is as usual lovely and talented and more or less perfect. She is having a secret affair with a handsome prince who lives many miles away. The two lovers build a glass tunnel that runs under the ground—from the prince’s castle into the princess’s bedroom, so that they might “joy together” without the mom’s knowing it. Every night the prince runs through the tunnel naked to spend time with his young princess.

Nella’s two sisters, who are ugly and evil, learn of the affair and smash the glass tunnel. That night the prince is running so fast to reach his young lover that he doesn’t see the broken glass and the skin all over his body is cut. Because the glass that cut him was enchanted his wounds will not heal. The prince’s father vows that the woman who can find a remedy for the enchanted wounds will be the prince’s wife and if a man heals him he will be given half the kingdom.

Nella is heartbroken upon hearing of her mortally wounded prince, and goes out disguised to at least see him before he dies. Luckily, she overhears two ogres telling each other that the only thing in the whole world that will heal the prince is to smear the fat from their own bodies all over the prince. Nella, pretending to be lost in the woods, begs the ogres to let her into their house. The ogre husband, fancying a bit of human flesh, lets her in eagerly but sadly he drinks so much alcohol that he passes out before he gets to eat her.

Nella quickly gets to work and slaughters him then collects all the fat from his body in a bucket. She makes her way to the prince’s palace. She smears the fat into the prince’s wounds and he is healed as if by magic, then she reveals her identity and the marriage is swiftly arranged. And her sisters? They are burned alive in typical fairy tale fashion, “so that like unto leeches they should purge their blood in the cinders of their wickedness and envy.”

This is certainly not a tale for kids, but it’s an enjoyable read though. You can find the first volume of Il Pentamerone here. The phrases and dialogue are an interesting mix of coarse and lovely. It’s worth noting that the affair is not punished, probably because he’s a prince and princes are expected to have affairs. Also, this is not a story aimed to teach kids a lesson, it’s more for entertainment.

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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