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  • La Cenorientola1

    THEY say there was a merchant who had three daughters. When he went out into foreign countries to buy wares he told them he would bring them rare presents whatever they might ask for. The eldest asked for precious jewels, the second for rich shawls, but the youngest who was always kept out of sight in the kitchen by the others, and made to do the dirty work of the house, asked only for a little bird.

    'So you want a little bird, do you! What is the use of a little bird to you!' said the sisters mocking her, and 'Papa will have something else to think of than minding little birds on a long journey.'

    'But you will bring me a little bird, won't you, papa?' pleaded the little girl; 'and I can tell you that if you don't the boat you are on will stand still, and will neither move backwards nor forwards.'

    The merchant went away into a far country and bought precious wares, but he forgot all about the little bird. It was only when he had got on board a boat to go down a mighty river on his homeward way, and the captain found the boat would not move by any means, that he remembered what his daughter had said to him. Then while the captain was wondering how it was the boat would not move, he went to him and told him what he had done. But the captain said, 'That is easily set right. Here close by is a garden full of thousands of birds; you can easily creep in and carry off one. One, will never be missed among so many thousands.'

    The merchant followed his directions and went into the garden where there were so many thousand birds that he easily caught one. The captain gave him a cage, and he brought it safely home and gave it to his daughter.

    That night the elder sisters said as usual, 'We are going to the ball; you will stay at home and sweep up the place and mind the fire.'

    Now all the birds in the garden which the captain had pointed out to the merchant were fairies; so when the others were gone to the ball and the youngest daughter went into her room to her bird, she said to it:

    Give me splendid raiment,
    And I will give you my rags.2

    Immediately, the bird gave her the most beautiful suit of clothes, with jewels and golden slippers, and a splendid carriage and prancing horses. With these the maiden went to the ball which was at the king's palace. The moment the king saw her he fell in love with her, and would dance with no one else. The sisters were furious with the stranger because the king danced all night with her and not with them, but they had no idea it was their sister.

    The second night she did the same, only the bird gave her a yet more beautiful dress, and the king did all he could to find out who she was, but she would not tell him. Then he asked her name and she said,—

    'They call me Cenorientola.'

    'Cenorientola,' said the king; 'what a pretty name! I never heard it before.'

    He had also told the servants that they must run after her carriage and see where it went; but though they ran as fast as the wind they could not come near the pace of her horses.

    The third night the sisters went to the ball and lefther at home, and she staid at home with her little bird and said to it,—

    Give me splendid raiment,
    And I will give you my rags.3

    Then the bird gave her a more splendid suit still, and the king paid her as much attention as ever. But to the servants he had said, 'If you don't follow fast enough tonight to see where she lives I will have all your heads cut off.'So they used such extra diligence that she in her hurry to get away dropped one of her golden slippers; this the servants picked up and brought to the king.

    The next day the king sent a servant into every house in the city till he should find her whom the golden slipper fitted, but there was not one; last of all he came to the merchant's house, and he tried it on the two elder daughters and it would fit neither. Then he said,—

    'There must be some other maiden in this house;' but they only shrugged their shoulders. 'It is impossible; another maiden there must be, for every maiden in the city we have seen and the slipper fits none, therefore one there must be here.'

    Then they said,—

    'In truth we have a little sister who sits in the kitchen and does the work. She is called Cenorientola, because she is always smutty. We are sure she never went to a ball, and it would only soil the beautiful gold slipper to let her put her smutty feet into it.'

    'It may be so,' replied the king's servant, 'but we must try, nevertheless.'

    So they fetched her, and the king's servant found that the shoe fitted her; and they went and told the king all.

    The moment the king heard them say Cenorientola he said, 'That is she! It is the name she gave me.'

    So he sent a carriage to fetch her in all haste. The bird meantime had given her a more beautiful dress than any she had had before, and priceless jewels, so that when they came to fetch her she looked quite fit to be a queen. Then the king married her; and though her sisters had behaved so ill to her she gave them two fine estates, so that all were content.

    1 'Cinderella' is a favourite in all countries, with its promise of compensation to the desolate and oppressed. I only came across it once, however, while making this collection, in its own simple form, and with a name as near its own as Cenorientola. Of course the construction of such words is quite arbitrary, and any Italian can make a dozen such out of any name or word: even in the dictionary the following variations are to be found— 'Cenericcio,' 'Cenerognolo,' 'Cenerino,' 'Ceneroso,' 'Cenerugiolo.'
    2 Da mi tu panni belli,
    Ed io te do i cencirelli.
    3 Da mi tu abiti belli
    Ed io te do i stracciarelli.

    The same as above: 'abiti' and 'panni' are convertible, so are 'cenci and 'straccj.'

    [The counterparts to the story are endless. In Grimm's 'Aschenputtel' (p. 93), the nominal German counterpart, there is a stepmother as well as two sisters, and the story turns upon the gifts each daughter craves of the father, an episode which occurs in Roman versions with different titles. His 'Die drei Männlein im Walde' ('Three Little Men in the Wood') is like it, and the other versions too, and the episode in it of the good daughter receiving the faculty of dropping a gold coin from her mouth at every word she utters, is like a Hungarian story, in which no stepmother figures, but the evil genius of the story (the Lady-in- Waiting) is plainly called a witch. In this story it is a princess, from whose footsteps rise gold pieces, her tears are pearls, and her smiles rosebuds. In one of the Siddhi Kur Stories which I have translated as 'Sagas from the far East' (p. 49) is a similar incident, and a Spanish equivalent in Note 3. A friend of mine met with a very similar legend in a convent at Quito, concerning a nun called 'the Rose of Quito,' out of whose grave a rose-tree is said to have sprung and blossomed on the morrow of her burial. It seems, however, to have an independent origin, as 'the Rose of Quito' died within the last 150 years. In the Tirolean 'Klein-Else,' or 'Aschenpfödl,' to which allusion has already been made, and which answers to it in name, we have a connexion with the last group (as in some of the succeeding Roman versions) in the sun, moon, and star dresses.

    Among the Tales of Italian Tirol we find it as Zendrarola, and with a good deal of variation from any other form I have met. The story opens with a dying father as in the North Tirolean 'Klein-Else,' but it is only a rich man, not a warrior-baron, and he has three daughters instead of one. He bids them choose what gifts he shall bestow on them before he dies, and the eldest asks for a pair of earrings; the second for a dress; and the youngest for his magic sword, which gives whatever the possessor wishes for. The story is singular in this, that the elder sisters seem to have no spite. The father does not die; but, notwithstanding his recovery, he has nothing more to do with the story further than to give an unwilling consent that the youngest daughter, though his favourite, shall go forth with her sword and roam the world till she finds a husband. She only takes service in a large house in a big town, however; but there falls in love with a melancholy youth, son of a count, who lives opposite. For the sake of being nearer him, she obtains the place of kitchen-maid in his palace, and thus acquires her title of Zendrarola in a very different way from her counterparts in other lands. One day she hears he is going to a ball, and she makes her wishing-sword give her a dress like the sky; and the young Count, who has never admired anyone before, of course falls in love with her. When he comes back, he confides to his lady mother what has occurred, and Zendrarola, now again dressed as a dirty drudge, interposes that the fair one he was extolling was not prettier than herself. He silences her indignantly by giving her a poke with the shovel, and when she meets him next night in some beautiful attire, and he asks her where she comes from, she answers 'dalla palettada' (from shovel-blow). The next day the same thing happens, and he gives her a blow with the tongs, and when he asks her in the evening what her country is, she answers 'majettada' (tongs-blow); answering to Frustinaia and Stivalaia in the second Roman version of 'Maria di Legno.' He gives her a ring, which she sends up in his broth, as Klein-Else does in the pancake, and so he recognises and marries her. In one or two of the Roman versions also, the means of recognition is a ring in place of a slipper.

    I do not remember any Cinderella among the Russian Tales, though there are stepmother stories, which pair off with others of the Roman. For Scotch versions I must refer the reader to Campbell's 'Highland Tales,' i. 226, and ii. 292.]

    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. 26-30


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