Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 


Faune Nympharum fuglentum amator,
Per meos fines at aprica rura
Lenis incedas, abeasque parvis
Aequus alumnis.
UNFORTUNATELY for our knowledge of the ancient Italian mythology, the ballad-poetry of Rome is irrecoverably lost. A similar fate has befallen the literature of Etruria, Umbria, and other parts of the peninsula. The powerful influence exercised by Grecian genius over the conquerors of the Grecian states utterly annihilated all that was national and domestic in literature. Not but that Latin poetry abounds in mythologic matter; but it is the mythology of Greece, not of Italy; and the reader of Virgil and Ovid will observe with surprise how little of what he meets in their works is Italian.
So much however of the population of ancient Italy, particularly of Latium, was Pelasgian, that it is natural to suppose a great similarity between the religious systems of Latium and Hellas. The Latins do not, however, appear to have believed in choirs of Nymphs. Those we read of, such as Egeria, Anna Perenna, Juturna, are all solitary, all dwellers of fountains, streams, and lakes The Italian Diana did not, like the Grecian Artemis, speed over the mountains attended by a train of buskined nymphs. No Dryads sought to avert the fate of their kindred trees--no Nereides sported on the waves.
Dwarfish deities they had none. We are indeed told of the Lars, particularly the rural Lars, as answering to the Gothic Dwarfs; but no proofs are offered except the diminutive size of their statues. This we hold to amount to nothing. Are we to suppose the following lines of Plautus to have been delivered by an "eyas?"
Lest any marvel who I am, I shall
Briefly declare it. I am the family Lar
Of this home whence you see me coming out.
'Tis many years now that I keep and guard
This family; both father and grandsire
Of him that has it now, I aye protected.
Now his grandsire intrusted me a treasure
Of gold, that I, unknown to all, should keep it.
* * *
He has one daughter, who, each day with wine
Or incense, or with something, worships me.
She gives me crowns, and I in recompense
Have now made Euclio find the treasure out,
That if he will, he may more readily
Get her a match. [a]
The Lars were a portion of the Etrurian religion. The Etruscan word Lar signifies Lord, with which it has a curious but casual resemblance. [b] The Lars were regarded, like the Grecian heroes, as being the souls of men who, after death, still hovered about their former abodes, averting dangers from, and bestowing blessings on, the inhabitants.
They differed from the Penates, who were, properly speaking Gods, beings of a higher nature, personifications of natural powers, the givers of abundance and wealth.
The old Italians, it appears, believed in a being, we know not of what size, called an Incubo, that watched over treasure. "But what they say I know not," says Petronius, [c] but I have heard how he snatched the cap of an Incubo and found a treasure."

Respecting the Fairy mythology of the modern Italians, what we have been able to collect is very little.
The people of Naples, we are told, [d] believe in a being very much resembling the Incubo, whom they call the Monaciello, or Little Monk. They describe him as a short, thick kind of little man, dressed in the long garments of a monk, with a broad-brimmed hat. He appears to people in the dead of the night, and beckons to them to follow him. If they have courage to do so, he leads them to some place where treasure is concealed. Several are said to have made sudden fortunes through him. In the Neapolitan story-book, named the Pentamerone, of which we shall presently give an account, we meet with a Monaciello of a very different character from this guardian of hidden treasure.
In the second tale of the first day of that work, when the prince in the night heard the noise made by the Fairy in his room, "he thought it was some chamber-boy coming to lighten his purse for him, or some Monaciello to pull the clothes off him." And in the seventh tale of the third day of the same collection, when Corvetto had hidden himself under the Ogre's [e] bed to steal his quilt, "he began to pull quite gently, when the Ogre awoke, and bid his wife not to pull the clothes that way, or she'd strip him, and he would. get his death of cold." "Why, it's you that are stripping me," replied the Ogress, "and you have not left a stitch on me." "Where the devil is the quilt?" says the Ogre; and putting his hand to the ground, he happened to touch the face of Corvetto, and immediately began to shout out, "The Monaciello, the Monaciello, hola! candles! run, run!" Corvetto, meanwhile, got off with his prize through the window. [f]
It is quite clear that the Monaciello is the same kind of being as the House-spirit of the Gotho-German nations. He seems to belong peculiarly to Naples, for we have not heard of him in any other part of Italy. Now we are to recollect that this was the very place in which the Normans settled, and so he may be their Nis or Kobold; [g] or, as he is so very like the Spanish Duende, he may be that being introduced by the Aragonese, who seem to have exercised so much influence over the language and manners of the people of Naples.
The belief in Mermaids also prevailed in modern Italy. In the reign of Roger, king of Sicily, a young man happening to be bathing in the sea late in the evening, perceived that something was following him. Supposing it to be one of his companions, he caught it by the hair, and dragged it on shore. But finding it to be a maiden of great beauty and of most perfect form, he threw his cloak about her, and took her home, where she continued with him till they had a son. There was one thing however which greatly grieved him, which was the reflection that so beautiful a form should be dumb, for he had never heard her speak. One day he was reproached by one of his companions, who said that it was a spectre, and not a real woman, that he had at home: being both angry and terrified, he laid his hand on the hilt of his sword, and urged her with vehemence to tell him who or what she was, threatening if she did not do so, to kill the child before her eyes. The spirit only saying, that he had lost a good wife by forcing her to speak, instantly vanished, leaving her son behind. A few years after, as the boy was playing on the sea-shore with his companions, the spirit his mother dragged him into the seas where he was drowned. [h]
We now come to the Fate of romance and tale.
The earliest notice that we can recollect to have seen of these potent ladies is in the Orlando Innamorato, where we meet the celebrated Fata Morgana, who would at first appear to be, as a personification of Fortune, a being of a higher order.
lvi è una fata nomata Morgana,
Che a le genti diverse dona l'oro;
Quanto e per tutto il mondo or se ne spande
Convien che ad essa prima si dimande.
L. I. c. xxv. st. 5. ed. 1831.
But we afterwards find her in her proper station, subject, with the Fate and Witches, to the redoubtable Demogorgon. [i] When Orlando, on delivering Zilante from. her, makes her swear by that awful power, the poet says:
Sopra ogni fata è quel Demogorgone
(Non so se mal l'odiste raccontare)
E giudica tra loro e fa ragione,
E quel che piace a lui puo di lor fare.
La notte si cavalca ad un montone,
Travarca le montague e passa il mare,
E strigie, e fate, e fantasime vane
Batte con serpi vive ogni dimane.
Se le ritrova Ia dimane al mondo,
Perchè non ponno al giorno comparire,
Tanto le batte al colpo furibondo
Che volentier vorrien poter morire.
Or le incatena giu nel mar profondo,
Or sopra iI vento scalze le fa gire,
Or per il fuoco dietro a se le mena;
A cui dà questa, a cui quell' altra pena.
L. II. c. xiii. at. 27, 28.
According to Ariosto, [j] Demogorgon has a splendid temple palace in the Himalaya mountains, whither every fifth year the Fate are all summoned to appear before him, and give an account of their actions. They travel through the air in various strange conveyances, and it is no easy matter to distinguish between their convention and a Sabbat of the Witches.
We meet with another Fata in Bojardo, [k] the beautiful Silvanella, who raised a tomb over Narcissus, and then dissolved away into a fountain.
When Brandamarte opens the magnificent tomb and kisses the hideous serpent that thrusts out its head, it gradually becomes a beautiful maiden.
Questa era Febosilla quella fata,
Che edificato avea I'alto palaccio
E 'l bel giardino e quella sepoltura,
Ove un gran tempo è stata in pena dura.
Perchè una fata non può morir mai,
Sin che non giunge il giorno del giudizio,
Ma ben ne Ia sua forma dura assai,
Mill' anni o piu, si come io aggio indizio.
Poi (siccome di questa io vi contai
Qual fabbricato avea il bell' edifizio)
In serpe si tramuta e stavvi tanto
Che di baciarla alcun si doni il vanto.
L. II. c. xxvi. st. 14, 15.
The other Fate who appear in this poem are Le Fate Nera and Bianca, the protectresses of Guidone and Aquilante; the Fata della Fonte, from whom Mandricardo obtains the arms of Hector, and finally Alcina, the sister of Morgana, who carries off Astolfo. Dragontina and Falerina, the owners of such splendid gardens, may also have been Fate, though they are not called so by the poet.
Alcina re-appears in great splendour in the Orlando Furioso, where she is given a sister named Logistilla, and both, like Morgana in the preceding poem, are in a great measure allegorical. We also obtain there a glimpse of the White and Black Fate. The Maga Manto of Dante becomes here a Fata, and we meet her in the form of a serpent; to account for which she says,
Nascemmo ad un punto che d' ogni altro male
Siamo capaci fuor che della morte.
Ma giunta è con questo essere immortale
Condizion non men del morir forte;
Ch' ogni settimo giorno ognuna è certa
Che la ma forma in biscia si converta.
C. xliii. st. 98.
Elsewhere (x. 52) the poet tells us that
Morir non puote alcuna fata mai
Fin che il Sol gira, o il ciel non muta stilo.
In the Amadigi of Bernardo Tasso the Fate appear for the last time in Italian poetry; [l] but in greater number, and, we may say, greater splendour than elsewhere. There are two classes of them, the beneficent and protective, and the seductive and injurious. The terms Maga and Incantatrice, as well as Fata, are applied to them all indifferently. The good Fairy-ladies are Urganda, termed La savia and La sconosciuta, [m] the guardian of Amadigi, and the fair Oriana; Silvana or Silvanella who stands in a similar relation to Alidoro; Lucina, also named La Donna del Lago, another protectress of Alidoro and of his lady-love, the fair warrior Mirinda, sister of Amadigi; Eufrosina, the sister of Lucina; Argea, called La Reina della Fate, the protectress of Floridante, to whom, after making him undergo various trials, she gives her daughter Filidora in marriage; finally, Argea's sister Filidea. The Fate whose character resembles that of Alcina are Morganetta, Nivetta, and Carvilia, the three daughters of Morgana. Beside these then are two Fate of neutral character, Dragontina, who formed a palace, temple and gardens, in which, at the desire of her father, she enchanted a young prince and his wife; and Montana, who, to avenge the fate of her lover, slain by Alidoro, enchanted that warrior in a temple which she had raised to the memory of the fallen. [n]
Ma veggiam ch' io non stessi troppo a bada
Con queste Alcine e Morgane.
The earliest collections of European Fairy-tales in prose belong to Italy. In 1550, Straparola, a native of Caravaggio, in the Milanese, published at Venice his Notti Piacevoli, a collection of tales, jokes, and riddles, of which several, and those the best, are Fairy-tales. These were translated into French in 1560--76, and seem to have been the origin of the so well known Contes des Feés. Perrault's Puss in Boots (Le Chat Botté,) and the Princess Fairstar (Belle Etoile,) and many others of Madame D'Aulnoy's, who borrowed largely from the Notti Piacevoli, are to be found in Straparola. In 1637, eighty-seven years after the Notti Piacevoli appeared at Naples, and in the Neapolitan dialect, the Péntamerone, the best collection of Fairy-tales ever written. [o] The author, Giambattista Basile, [p] had spent his youth in Candia, and then passed several years rambling through Italy. He seems to have carefully treasured up all the tales he heard, and he wrote and published them, under the feigned name of Gian Alesio Abbatutis, in his native dialect, not long before his death.
In the Tales and Popular Fictions we gave some translations from the Notti Piacevoli, the only ones in English, and they will probably remain such, as the work is not one likely ever to be translated. In the same work we gave two from the Pentamerone, and. three (the Dragon, Gagliuso, and the Goatface) in the former edition of the present work. Most certainly we were the first to render any of these curious tales into English, and we look back with a mixture of pleasure and surprise at our success in the unaided struggle with an idiom so different from the classic Italian. [q] We fancied that we had been the first to make translations from it into any language, but we afterwards learned that of the two tales in our other work, the one, Peruonto, had been translated into French (probably by the Abbé Galiani) for the Cabinet des Feés, the other, the Serpent into German, by M. Grimm. [r] Of late, this most original work has been brought within the reach of ordinary readers by two translations, the one in German by Felix Liebrecht, who has given the work complete with few omissions; the other in English by Mr. J. E. Taylor, who has made a selection of thirty tales, and these most carefully expurgated, in order that agreeably to its second title, it might form a book of amusement even for children--a most difficult task, and in which his success has been far greater than might have been anticipated. All our own translations have been incorporated in it, and we can safely refer to it those who wish to know the real character and nature of the Pentamerone.
Whatever name Basile might give his book it is quite plain that he never could have meant it merely for children. The language alone is proof enough on that head. It is, besides, full of learned allusions and of keen satire, so that it could only be understood and relished by grown persons, for whose amusement it was apparently designed; and its tales are surely not much more extravagant than some of those in Ariosto and the other romantic poets. It in fact never was a child's book like the Contes de ma Mère l' Oie. It has now become very scarce; we could not at Naples meet with a copy of it, or even with any one who had read it.

[a] Anlularia, Prologue.

[b] See our Mythology of Greece and Italy, p. 543; and our Ovid's Fasti, Excursus iv.
[c] Satyricon, ch. 38. Sunt qui eundem (Hercules) Incubonem esse velint. Schol. Hor. Sat. ii. 6, 13.
[d] Viessieux, Italy and the Italians, vol. i. pp. 161, 162.
[e] L'huorco, the Orco of Bojardo and Ariosto, probably derived from the Latin Orcus: see Mythol. of Greece and Italy, p. 527. In this derivation we find that we had been anticipated by Minucci in his notes on the Malmantile Racquistato, c. ii. St. 50.
In a work, from which we have derived some information (Lettres sur lea Contes des Fées, Paris, 1826), considerable pains are taken, we think to little purpose, to deduce the French Ogre from the Oigours, a Tartar tribe, who with the other tribes of that people invaded Europe in the twelfth century. In the Glossaire de la Langue Romaine, Ogre is explained by Hongrois. Any one, however that reads the Pentamerone will see that the ugly, cruel, man-eating Huorco is plainly an Ogre; and those expert at the tours de passe passe of etymology will be at no loss to deduce Ogre from Orco. See Tales and Popular Fictions, p. 223.
[f] In another of these tales, it is said of a young man, who, on breaking open a cask, found a beautiful maiden in it, that he stood for a while comme o chillo che ha visto lo Monaciello.
[g] See Tales and Popular Fictions, chap. ix. p. 269; see also Spain and France.
[h] Vincentius apud Kornmann, de Miraculis Vivorum.
[i] This being, unknown to classic mythology, is first mentioned by Lactantius. It was probably from Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum that Bojardo got his knowledge of him.
[j] Cinque Canti, c. i. st. I. seq.
[k] Lib. ii. xvii. 56, seq.
[l] There is, however, a Maga or Fata named Falsirena in the Adone of Marini.
[m] La Sabia and La Desconocida of the original romance, which Tasso follows very closely in everything relating to Amadis and Oriana.
[n] Few of our readers, we presume, are acquainted with this poem, and they will perhaps be surprised to learn that it is, after the Furioso, the most beautiful romantic poem in the Italian language, graceful and sweet almost to excess. It. is strange that it should be neglected in Italy also. One cause may. be its length (One Hundred Cantos), another the constant and inartificial breaking off of the stories, and perhaps the chief one, its serious moral tone so different from that of Ariosto. It might be styled The Legend of Constancy, for the love of its heroes and heroines is proof against all temptations. Mr. Panizzi's charge of abounding in scandalous stories, is not correct, for it is in reality more delicate than even the Faerie Queene. Ginguené, who admired it, appreciates it far more justly.
[o] See Tales and Popular Fictions, p. 183. The Pentamerone we may observe, was not a title given to it by the author; in like manner the only title Fielding gave his great work was The History of a Foundling.
[p] He was brother to Adriana and uncle to Leonora Baroni, the ladies wbo~ musical talents Milton celebrates.
[q] Ex. gr. Fiume is shiume; Fiore, shiure; Piaggia, chiaja; Piombo, chiummo; Biondo, ghiunno. There are likewise numelous Hispanicisms. Thus gaiola in Gagliuso which we all rendered coffin, is the Spanish jaula, cage, and the meaning apparently is that he would have the cat stuffed and put in a glass-case; in like manner calling the eyes suns (as in na bellezza a doje) occurs in the plays of Calderon.
[r] In the Tascheubuch für altdeutscher Zeit und Kunst, 1816.

Next: Spain