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  • The Two Hunchbacked Brothers1

    THERE was once a man who had one son, who married a widow who also had one son, and both were hunchbacks. The wife took very good care of her own son, but the son of her husband she used to put to hard work and gave him scarcely anything to eat. Her son, too, used to imitate his mother, and sadly ill-treat his stepbrother.

    After treating him ill for a long time, she at last sent him away from the house altogether.

    The poor little hunchback wandered away without knowing where to go.

    On, on, on he went, till at last he came to a lonely hut on a wide moor. At his approach a whole host of little hunchbacks came out and danced round him, chanting plaintively—

    Sabbato!
    Domenica!

    a great number of times. At last our little hunchback felt his courage stirred, and, taking up the note of their chant, chimed in with—

    Lunedì!

    Instantly the dancing ceased, all the little hunchback dwarfs became full-grown, well-formed men, and, what was better still, his own hump was gone too, and he felt that he, too, was a well-grown lad.

    'Grood people,' said our hunchback now hunchbacked—no more—'I thank you much for ridding me of my hump and making me a well-grown lad. Give me now some work to do among you, and let me live with you.'

    But the chief of the strange people answered him and said: 'This favour we owe to you, not you to us; for it was your chiming in with the right word on the right note which destroyed the spell that held us all. And in testimony of our gratitude we give you further this little wand, and you will not need to work with us. Go back and live at home, and if ever anyone beats you as heretofore, you have only to say to it, "At 'em, good stick!"2 and you will see what it will do for you.'

    Then all disappeared, and the boy went home.

    'So you've come back, have you?' said the stepmother. 'What, and without your hump, too! Where have you left that?'

    Then the good boy told her all that had happened, without hiding anything.

    'Do you hear that?' said the stepmother to her own son. 'Now go you and get rid of your hump in the same way.'

    So the second hunchback went forth, and journeyed on till he came to the lonely hut on the moor.

    A tribe of hunchbacks came out and danced round him, and sung—

    Sabbato!
    Domenica!
    Lunedì!

    to which the bad son of the stepmother added in his rough voice, all out of tune—

    Martedì!

    Immediately all the hunchbacks came round him and gave him a drubbing, and the chief of them stuck on him a hump in front as well as behind.

    Thus they sent him home to his mother.

    When his mother saw him come home in this plight, she turned upon the stepson and abused him for having misled her son to injure him; and both mother and son set upon him and belaboured him after their wont. But he had only told the truth, without intention to deceive; and the stepmother's son had incurred the anger of the dwarfs by his discordant addition to their chant. So the first hero took out his wand and said, 'At' em, good stick!' and the wand flew out of his hand and administered on mother and son a sounder drubbing than that they had themselves been administering. Ever after that he was able to live at home in peace, for everyone was afraid to injure him because of the power of his stick.

    1 'I due Fratelli Gobbi.'
    2'Bachettone mena!' Perhaps the greatest stumbling-block in the way of acquiring familiarity with the art of conversing in Italian is the capricious use of the augmentative and diminutive terminations of words. Scarcely any substantive or adjective comes out of the mouth of an Italian without qualifications of this sort, making the spoken quite different from the written language. A foreigner can never arrive at the right use of these, because they have to be made up at the moment of use, upon no established laws, but entirely by a sort of instinctive perception of fitness. At Note 1 and 3 to 'II Poveretto,' and other places, I have given some specimens of some of the most ordinary of these transformations. In the instance before us, 'bacchettone,' from 'bacchetta,' a rod, presents two distinct irregularities. The augmentative of a feminine noun never ought strictly to be 'ona;' but there are numerous instances, scarcely to be remembered under the largest practice, in which a feminine noun takes a masculine augmentative. 'Bacchetta' happens to be one of these. Next, the addition 'one' would ordinarily express that the thing to whose designation it was added was particularly big; yet in this instance it is applied to a little wand; it is clear, therefore, that it no longer means 'big,' but 'singular,' 'remarkable' in some way or other; best rendered in English by 'good stick.' 'Menare,' whence 'mena,' is a word of many meanings, which, though they may be all traced to the same original idea, must not be confounded. In common parlance, as in the present case, it means to beat; and 'menar moglie' is a common expression too; but it does not mean 'to beat your wife,' but 'to lead home a wife,' or, as we say, to 'take a wife.' The primary meaning is 'to lead;' hence, to govern; hence, to govern harshly; hence, to govern with violence; hence, to spite, to beat. One sentence in which it is used recalls a capricious use of our own word 'to beat.' 'Menar' il cane per l'aja' (literally, to lead the dog all about the threshing-floor), answers exactly to our expression, 'to beat about the bush' in talking. 'Menare' and 'dimenare, la coda,' is said also of a dog wagging his tail. On the other hand, 'menare per il naso' (literally, 'to lead one by the nose'), has by no means the signification those words bear in English, but implies a roundabout way of giving an account of anything.

    Return to Italian Folktales Page



    Additional Resources
    Famous Italians Folk Dances Folk Songs
    Folklore/Legends Proverbs/Proverbi Traditions


    Busk, R. H. Roman Legends: a Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1877. 96-98

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