"Sleeping Beauty" Henry Maynell Rheam
“Sleeping Beauty” Henry Maynell Rheam

I mentioned “Talia, Sun, and Moon” last week when talking about Sleeping Beauty. It was a written by Giambattista Basile, an Italian, in his 1634 work  Il Pentamerone. 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. Two other stories I’ve looked at from this collection are “Penta with Maimed Hands” and “Verde Prato.”

After the birth of a great lord’s daughter, Talia, wise men and astrologers cast the child’s horoscope and told the lord that Talia would be later endangered by a splinter of flax. To protect his daughter, the father commands that no flax would ever be brought into his house. Years later, Talia sees an old woman spinning flax on a spindle. She asks the woman if she can stretch the flax herself, but as soon as she begins to spin, a splinter of flax goes under her fingernail, and she drops to the ground, apparently dead. Unable to stand the thought of burying his child, the lord puts Talia in one of his country estates.

Some time later, a king, hunting in nearby woods, follows his falcon into the house. He finds Talia, tries unsuccessfully to wake her up, then rapes her while she is unconscious. Apparently she was so beautiful he just couldn’t stop himself from “gathering the fruits of her love.” Afterwards, he leaves the girl on the bed and returns to his own city. Still deep in sleep, she gives birth to twins (a boy and a girl) and two fairies come to take care of them and place them so that they can nurse. One day, the girl cannot find her mother’s breast; and instead she begins to suck on Talia’s finger and draws the flax splinter out. Talia awakens immediately. She names them “Sun” and “Moon” and lives with them in the house.

The king returns and finds Talia is awake – and a mother of twins. He tells Talia everything and apparently she’s okay with it all because he stays for several days. However, he is already married. When he returns home, he calls out the names of Talia, Sun, and Moon in his sleep, and his wife, the queen, hears him. She forces the king’s secretary to tell her everything, and then, using a forged message, has Talia’s children brought to court. She orders the cook to kill the children and serve them to the king. But the cook hides them, and cooks two lambs instead. The queen taunts the king while he eats.

Then the queen has Talia brought to court. She commands that a huge fire be lit in the courtyard, and that Talia be thrown into the flames. Talia asks to take off her fine garments first. The queen agrees. Talia undresses and utters screams of grief with each piece of clothing. The king hears Talia’s screams and shows up, demanding to know what’s going on. His wife tells him that Talia would be burned and that he had unknowingly eaten his own children. The king commands that his wife, his secretary, and the cook be thrown into the fire instead. The cook explains how he had saved Sun and Moon. The king and Talia marry; and the cook is rewarded with the title of royal chamberlain.

The last line of the fairy tale – its moral – is: “Those whom fortune favors, Find good luck even in their sleep.” As if being raped is good luck.

If you have time, read the whole story here. I love some of the phrases and the style is unique. It’s coarse and lovely, too, with old-fashioned phrases describing some pretty awful things in flowery language. The story itself, obviously, is not pretty, even for a fairytale. Locking a “dead” girl up in a house, rape, attempted murder, burning at the stake – it’s all pretty gory.

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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