Sunday, July 1, 2012

Basile's The Young Slave

"The Young Slave" is a Snow White variant found in Giambattista Basile's collection, The Pentamerone.

In this tale, a young woman is impregnated by swallowing a rose leaf. She sent the child, named Lisa, to the fairies to give her charms, but the last fairy slipped and twisted her foot as she was running to see the child, and uttered a curse against her-that when the child was seven, her mother would leave a comb in her hair, stuck into the hair, from which the child would perish.

This happened just as the fairy had said, and the mother lamented bitterly, and encased the body in seven caskets of crystal, each one within the other, which she put in a distant room and locked, keeping the key in her pocket, telling no one. After some time, as the mother was dying, she entrusted the key to her brother, begging him to never open the last room in the house.

The brother was faithful, but when he left on a hunting party, he gave the keys to his wife, telling her not to open the last room. The wife grew suspicious, and "impelled by jealousy and consumed by curiosity, which is a woman's first attribute," she opened the forbidden chamber. Lisa had grown into a woman in her sleep, the caskets lengthening with her, and the wife found a beautiful woman hidden in the caskets. Convinced she was her husband's mistress, she opened the caskets and dragged Lisa out by the hair, causing the comb to drop and Lisa to awake. The jealous wife began to beat Lisa, tearing her hair and clothes, giving her bruises all over, and kept her as a slave.

One day the husband was going out of town again, and asked everyone in the household what presents they would like him to bring them, "even the cats." The wife became furious when the husband asked Lisa as well, but the husband insisted it was only courteous to offer Lisa a gift. Lisa demanded a doll, a knife, and a pumice-stone, and added that if the husband forgot them, he would be unable to cross the first river he came to on his return.

The husband did initially forget the gifts, but upon being unable to cross water on his way home, he remembered, and bought the gifts for Lisa. When Lisa had her doll, she began to tell the doll her story, which the husband overheard. Lisa was weeping and sharpening her knife, telling the doll, "Answer me, dolly, or I will kill myself with this knife." The husband, her uncle, kicked down the door and snatched the knife away.

Once her uncle had learned the truth, he drove his wife away and gave Lisa a husband of her own choice. "Thus Lisa testified that
              heaven rains favors on us when we least expect it"
I don't know that I quite agree with the "moral" of this story being the main point that comes across. This tale has some interesting parallels with other fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty and the fairy's curse, Bluebeard and the forbidden room/blame placed on female curiosity, Cinderella and abuse, Beauty and the Beast and the request for gifts on a return from a journey, even Goose Girl in that the rescue came from the heroine telling her story to an inanimate object), as well as differences from the Grimm version we're more familiar with (seven caskets rather than dwarves, the comb is present not as a temptation from the evil mother figure but still as an instrument of death, absence of the apple). And though Lisa is rewarded with a husband, he is not at all related to her rescuer-in fact, wouldn't it have been completely counter-cultural in 17th century Italy to give a girl her choice of husband, not the other way around? Was this a little taste of female empowerment?


  1. Though the moral is questionable I still love this story because it has elements from most of the popular fairytales, as you've noted. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. The Young Slave is a "Sleeping Beauty" variant - tale type 410 (Ashliman) - from G. Basile's Pentamerone, Day 2, Tale 8.

  3. "The Young Slave" is indeed a Snow White variant, "Sun, Moon, and Talia" (Day 5, Tale 5) is the Sleeping Beauty counterpart.

  4. no its actually snow whites but emphasizes on a sleeping beauty concept