Petrosinella – An Italian Rapunzel Tale

Petrosinella rapunzel story

Petrosinella (translating as ‘Little Parsley’) is known as the Italian Rapunzel. It was written by Giambattista Basile (1566-1632), a Neapolitan poet and courtier. It was first published in his collection of Neapolitan fairy tales titled Lo Cunto de li Cunti Overo lo Ttrattenemiento de Peccerille (‘The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones’), posthumously published in two volumes in 1634 and 1636.

Although neglected for some time, the work received a great deal of attention after the Brothers Grimm praised it highly as the first national collection of fairy tales. Many of the fairy tales that Basile collected are the oldest known variants in existence, including this – the first full-length printed version of the ‘Rapunzel-Type’ narrative.



An Italian Rapunzel Tale

So great is my desire to keep the Princess amused, that the whole of the past night, when all were sound asleep and nobody stirred hand or foot, I have done nothing but turn over the old papers of my brain, and ransack all the closets of my memory, choosing from among the stories which that good soul Mistress Chiarella Usciolo, my uncle’s grandmother (whom Heaven take to glory!) used to tell, such as seemed most fitting to relate to you; and unless I have put on my spectacles upside down, I fancy they will give you pleasure; or, should they not serve, as armed squadrons, to drive away tedium from your mind, they will at least be as trumpets to incite my companions here to go forth to the field, with greater power than my poor strength possesses, to supply by the abundance of their wit the deficiencies of my discourse.

*  *  *

There was once upon a time a woman named Pascadozzia, who was in the family way; and as she was standing one day at a window, which looked into the garden of an ogress, she saw a beautiful bed of parsley, for which she took such a longing that she was on the point of fainting away; and being unable to resist her desire, she watched until the ogress went out, and then plucked a handful of it. But when the ogress came home, and was going to cook her pottage, she found that some one had been at the parsley, and said, “Ill luck to me but I’ll catch this long-fingered rogue, and make him repent it, and teach him to his cost that every one should eat off his own platter, and not meddle with other folks’ cups.”

The poor woman went again and again down into the garden, until one morning the ogress met her, and in a furious rage exclaimed, “Have I caught you at last, you thief, you rogue! prithee do you pay the rent of the garden, that you come in this impudent way and steal my plants? by my faith, but I’ll make you do penance without sending you to Rome!”

Poor Pascadozzia, in a terrible fright, began to make excuses, saying that neither from gluttony nor the craving of hunger had she been tempted by the devil to commit this fault, but from her being pregnant, and the fear she had lest the child should be born with a crop of parsley on its face; and she added that the ogress ought rather to thank her, for not having given her sore eyes.

“Words are but wind,” answered the ogress; “I am not to be caught with such prattle; you have closed the balance-sheet of life, unless you promise to give me the child you bring forth, girl or boy, whichever it may be.”

Poor Pascadozzia, in order to escape the peril in which she found herself, swore with one hand upon another to keep the promise: so the ogress let her go free. But when her time was come, Pascadozzia gave birth to a little girl, so beautiful that she was a joy to look upon, who, from having a fine sprig of parsley on her bosom, was named Petrosinella. And the little girl grew from day to day, until when she was seven years old her mother sent her to school; and every time she went along the street and met the ogress, the old woman said to her, “Tell your mother to remember her promise.” And she went on repeating this message so often, that the poor mother, having no longer patience to listen to the music, said one day to Petrosinella, “If you meet the old woman as usual, and she reminds you of the hateful promise, answer her, ‘Take it!'”

When Petrosinella, who dreamt of no ill, met the ogress again, and heard her repeat the same words, she answered innocently as her mother had told her; where upon the ogress, seizing her by her hair, carried her off to a wood, which the horses of the Sun never entered, not having paid the toll to the pastures of those Shades. Then she put the poor girl into a tower, which she caused to arise by her art, and which had neither gate nor ladder, but only a little window, through which she ascended and descended by means of Petrosinella’s hair, which was very long, as the sailor is used to run up and down the mast of a ship.

Now it happened one day, when the ogress had left the tower, that Petrosinella put her head out of the little window, and let loose her tresses in the sun; and the son of a prince passing by saw those two golden banners, which invited all souls to enlist under the standard of Love; and beholding with amazement in the midst of those gleaming waves a siren’s face, that enchanted all hearts, he fell desperately in love with such wonderful beauty; and sending her a memorial of sighs, she de creed to receive him into favour.

Matters went on so well with the prince, that there was soon a nodding of heads and a kissing of hands, a winking of eyes and bowing, thanks and offerings, hopes and promises, soft words and compliments. And when this had continued for several days, Petrosinella and the prince became so intimate that they made an appointment to meet, and agreed that it should be at night, when the Moon plays at hide with the Stars; and that Petrosinella should give the ogress some poppy-juice, and draw up the prince with her tresses. So when the appointed hour came, the prince went to the tower, where Petrosinella, letting fall her hair at a given signal, he seized it with both his hands, and cried, ” Draw up!” And when he was drawn up, he crept through the little window into the chamber.

The next morning, before the Sun taught his steeds to leap through the hoop of the Zodiac, the prince descended by the same golden ladder, to go his way home. And having repeated these visits many times, a gossip of the ogress, who was for ever prying into things that did not concern her, and poking her nose into every corner, got to find out the secret, and told the ogress to be upon the look-out, for that Petrosinella made love with a certain youth, and she suspected that matters would go further; adding, that she saw what was going on, and feared they would be off and away before May. The ogress thanked her gossip for the information, and said she would take good care to stop up the road; and as to Petrosinella, it was moreover impossible for her to escape, as she had laid a spell upon her, so that, unless she had in her hand the three gallnuts which were in a rafter in the kitchen, it would be labour lost to at tempt to get away.

Whilst they were talking thus together, Petrosinella, who stood with her ears wide open, and had some suspicion of the gossip, overheard all that passed. And when Night had spread out her black garments to keep them from the moth, and the prince had come as usual, she made him climb on to the rafters and find the gallnuts, knowing well what effect they would have, as she had been enchanted by the ogress.

Rapunzel painting by Heinrich Lefler

Rapunzel painting by Heinrich Lefler from Rapunzel – And Other Fair Maidens in Very Tall Towers


Then, having made a rope-ladder, they both descended to the ground, took to their heels, and scampered off towards the city. But the gossip happening to see them come out, set up a loud halloo, and began to shout and make such a noise that the ogress awoke; and seeing that Petrosinella had fled, she descended by the same ladder, which was fastened to the window, and set off running after the lovers, who, when they saw her coming at their heels faster than a horse let loose, gave themselves up for lost. But Petrosinella, recollecting the gallnuts, quickly threw one on the ground, and lo! instantly a Corsican bulldog started up,-O mother, such a terrible beast!-which with open jaws and barking loud flew at the ogress as if to swallow her at a mouthful. But the old woman, who was more cunning and spiteful than the devil, put her hand into her pocket, and pulling out a piece of bread, gave it to the dog, which made him hang his tail and allay his fury. Then she turned to run after the fugitives again; but Petrosinella, seeing her approach, threw the second gallnut on the ground, and lo! a fierce lion arose, who, lashing the earth with his tail, and shaking his mane, and opening wide his jaws a yard apart, was just preparing to make a slaughter of the ogress; when, turning quickly back, she stripped the skin off an ass that was grazing in the middle of a meadow, and ran at the lion, who, fancying it a real jackass, was so frightened that he bounded away as fast as he could.

The ogress, having leaped over this second ditch, turned again to pursue the poor lovers, who, hearing the clatter of her heels and seeing the cloud of dust that rose up to the sky, conjectured that she was coming again. But the old woman, who was every moment in dread lest the lion should pursue her, had not taken off the ass’s skin; and when Petrosinella now threw down the third gallnut, there sprang up a wolf, who, without giving the ogress time to play any new trick, gobbled her up just as she was, in the shape of a jackass. So the lovers, being now freed from danger, went their way leisurely and quietly to the kingdom of the prince, where, with his father’s free consent, he took Petrosinella to wife; and thus, after all these storms of fate, they experienced the truth, that

“One hour in port, the sailor freed from fears
Forgets the tempests of a hundred years.”


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