Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Giambattista Basile - 1634

Translated into English
  by Richard Burton - 1893

Original title (Neapolitan):
La Schiavottella

Country of origin: Italy

Story types:
  Snow White (ATU 709)
  The Sleeping Beauty (ATU 410)


English - aligned

German - viewaligned

Add a translation

The Young Slave

Giambattista Basile / Richard Burton

Lisa is born from a rose-leaf, and dieth through a fairy's curse; her mother layeth her in a chamber and biddeth her brother not to open the door. But his wife being very jealous, wishing to see what is shut therein, openeth the door, and findeth Lisa well and alive, and attiring her in slave raiments, treateth her with cruelty. Lisa being at last recognised by her uncle, he sendeth his wife home to her relations, and giveth his niece in marriage.

In days of yore, and in times long gone before, there lived a baron of Serva-Scura, and he had a young sister, a damsel of uncommon beauty, who often fared to the gardens in company of other young damsels of her age. One day of the days they went as usual, and beheld a rose-tree which had a beautiful fully opened rose upon it, and they agreed to wager that whosoever should jump clear above the tree without damaging the rose would win so much. Then the damsels began to jump one after the other, but none could clear the tree; till it coming to Cilia's turn (thus was the baron's sister hight), she took a little longer distance, and ran quickly, and jumped, and cleared the tree without touching the rose, and only a single leaf fell to the ground. She quickly picked it up, and swallowed it before any of the others perceived aught, and thus won the wager.

Three days had hardly passed, when she felt that she was with child, and finding that such was the case she nearly died with grief, well wotting that she had done naught to bring such a catastrophe upon her, and she could not suppose in any way how this had occurred. Therefore she ran to the house of some fairies, her friends, and relating to them her case, they told her that there was no doubt but that she was with child of the leaf she had swallowed.

Cilia hearing this hid her state as long as it was possible, but the time came at length for her delivery, and she gave birth secretly to a beauteous woman-child, her face like a moon in her fourteenth night, and she named her Lisa, and sent her to the fairies to be brought up. Now each of the fairies gave to the child a charm; but the last of them, wanting to run and see her, in so doing twisted the foot, and for the anguish of pain she felt cursed her, saying that when she should reach her seventh year, her mother in combing her hair would forget the comb sticking in the hair on her head, and this would cause her to die. And years went by till the time came, and the mishap took place, and the wretched mother was in despair at this great misfortune, and after weeping and wailing, ordered seven crystal chests one within the other, and had her child put within them, and then the chest was laid in a distant chamber in the palace; and she kept the key in her pocket.

But daily after this her health failed, her cark and care bringing her to the last step of her life; and when she felt her end drawing near, she sent for her brother, and said to him, "O my brother, I feel death slowly and surely come upon me, therefore I leave to thee all my belongings. Be thou the only lord and master; only must thou take a solemn oath that thou wilt never open the furtherest chamber in this palace, of which I consign to thee the key, which thou wilt keep within thy desk."

Her brother, who loved her dearly, gave her the required promise, and she bade him farewell and died.

After a year had passed the baron took to himself a wife, and being one day invited to a hunt by some of his friends, he gave the palace in charge to his wife, begging her not to open the forbidden chamber, whose key was in his desk. But no sooner had he left the palace than dire suspicion entered in her mind, and turned by jealousy, and fired by curiosity (the first dower of womankind), she took the key, and opened the door, and beheld the seven crystal chests, through which she could perceive a beauteous child, lying as it were in a deep sleep. And she had grown as any other child of her age would, and the chests had lengthened with her.

The jealous woman, sighting this charming creature, cried, "Bravo my priest; key in waistband, and ram within; this is the reason why I was so earnestly begged not to open this door, so that I should not behold Mohammed, whom he worshippeth within these chests."

Thus saying, she pulled her out by the hair of her head; and whilst so doing the comb which her mother had left on her head fell off, and she came again to life, and cried out, "O mother mine, O mother mine."

Answered the baroness,"I'll give thee mamma and papa;" and embittered as a slave, and an-angered as a bitch keeping watch on her young, and with poison full as an asp, she at once cut off the damsel's hair, and gave her a good drubbing, and arrayed her in rags. Every day she beat her on her head, and gave her black eyes, and scratched her face and made her mouth to bleed just as if she had eaten raw pigeons.

But when her husband came back and saw this child so badly treated, he asked the reason of such cruelty; and she answered that she was a slave-girl sent her by her aunt, so wicked and perverse that it was necessary to beat her so as to keep her in order.

After a time the baron had occasion to go to a country fair, and he, being a very noble and kind-hearted lord, asked of all his household people from the highest to the lowest not leaving out even the cats, what thing they would like him to bring for them, and one bade him buy one thing, and another another, till at the last he came to the young slave-girl.

But his wife did not act as a Christian should, and said, "Put this slave in the dozen, and let us do all things within the rule, as we all should like to make water in the same pot; leave her alone and let us not fill her with presumption."

But the lord, being by nature kind, would ask the young slave what she should like him to bring her, and she replied, "I should like to have a doll, a knife, and some pumice stone; and if thou shouldst forget it, mayst thou be unable to pass the river which will be in thy way."

And the baron fared forth, and bought all the gifts he had promised to bring, but he forgot that which his niece had bade him bring; and when the lord on his way home came to the river, the river threw up stones, and carried away the trees from the mountain to the shore, and thus cast the basis of fear, and uplifted the wall of wonderment, so that it was impossible for the lord to pass that way; and he at last remembered the curse of the young slave, and turning back, bought her the three things, and then returned home, and gave to each the gifts he had brought. And he gave to Lisa also what pertained to her.

As soon as she had her gifts in her possession, she retired in the kitchen, and putting the doll before her, she began to weep, and wail, and lament, telling that inanimate piece of wood the story of her travails, speaking as she would have done to a living being; and perceiving that the doll answered not, she took up the knife and sharpening it on the pumice stone, said, "If thou wilt not answer me, I shall kill myself, and thus will end the feast;" and the doll swelled up as a bagpipe, and at last answered, "Yes, I did hear thee, I am not deaf."

Now this went on for several days, till one day the baron, who had one of his portraits hung up near the kitchen, heard all this weeping and talking of the young slave-girl, and wanting to see to whom she spake, he put his eye to the keyhole, and beheld Lisa with the doll before her, to whom she related how her mother had jumped over the rose-tree, how she had swallowed the leaf, how herself had been born, how the fairies had each given her a charm, how the youngest fairy had cursed her, how the comb had been left on her head by her mother, how she had been put within seven crystal chests and shut up in a distant chamber, how her mother had died, and how she had left the key to her brother. Then she spoke of his going a-hunting, and the wife's jealousy, how she disobeyed her husband's behest and entered within the chamber, and how she had cut her hair, and how she treated her like a slave and beat her cruelly, and she wept and lamented saying, "Answer me, O my doll; if not, I shall kill myself with this knife;" and sharpening it on the pumice stone, she was going to slay herself, when the baron kicked down the door, and snatched the knife out of her hands, and bade her relate to him the story.

When she had ended, he embraced her as his own niece, and led her out of his palace to the house of a relative, where he commanded that she should be well entreated so that she should become cheerful in mind and healthy of body, as owing to the ill treatment she had endured she had lost all strength and healthful hue. And Lisa, receiving kindly treatment, in a few months became as beautiful as a goddess, and her uncle sent for her to come to his palace, and gave a great banquet in her honour, and presented her to his guests as his niece, and bade Lisa relate to them the story of her past troubles.

Hearing the cruelty with which she had been entreated by his wife, all the guests wept. And he bade his wife return to her family, as for her jealousy and unseemly behaviour she was not worthy to be his mate; and after a time gave to his niece a handsome and worthy husband whom she loved; which touched the level that:

When a man least goods of any kind expecteth,
The heavens will pour upon him every grace.