Time for yet another installment of Ursula Comments On Peculiar Fairy Tales. This time, since they’re both short, we’re doing two versions of Cinderella. One is Greek and one is from Georgia (Not the one with Atlanta.) They both have some very odd moments, but since neither is very long, it’d be a short commentary of either one on their own.
And hey, let’s just stop right here for “Is that a helluva title or what?” Good heavens.
There were once three sisters spinning flax, and they said, “Whosever spindle falls, let us kill her and eat her.”
I will hand it to the Greek storytellers here that they did not mess around getting to the weird plot point. No “Once upon a time in a land far far away…” no marital history of some poor woodcutter, just bam! Cannibalism right out of the gate. I can only assume that very easily distracted children were involved, and if you didn’t have a hook in under two seconds, they’d go tie explosives to the cow.
The mother’s spindle fell, and they left her alone.
Again they sat down to spin, and again the mother’s spindle fell, and again and yet again.
You’d think Mom would be a little more careful, given the context, or, I dunno, excuse herself to go visit relatives that were less…predatory.
“Ah, well!” said they, “let us eat her now!”
“No!” said the youngest, “do not eat her; eat me, if flesh you will have.”
Mom is still curiously silent during this whole exchange.
But they would not; and two of them killed their mother and cooked her for eating.
When they had sat down to make a meal of her, they said to the youngest, “Come and eat too!”
But she refused, and sat down on a saddle which the fowls were covering with filth, and wept, and upbraided them.
This has got to be some kind of translation thing, or else it was normal among the Greek peasantry to have a saddle laying around the house being crapped on by the chickens. Lacking any context, I’m picturing a big Western one, but I suspect something like a sawhorse might be more accurate.
Many a time they said to her, “Come and eat!” but she would not; and when they had done eating, they all went away.
Well, that was delicious. Time to go to the mall!
Then the youngest, whom they called Little Saddleslut, gathered all the bones together and buried them underneath the grate, and smoked them every day with incense for forty days; and after the forty days were out, she went to take them away and put them in another place. And when she lifted up the stone, she was astonished at the rays of light which it sent forth, and raiment was found there, like unto the heavens and the stars, the spring with its flowers, the sea with its waves; and many coins of every kind; and she left them where she found them.
Apparently it’s hereditary. If my sisters were cannibals and had left town for the moment, I would grab the money and run like hell. Raiment like unto the heavens and the stars will buy a pretty good horse, and hey, you’ve already got a saddle!
Yes, yes, I know, it’s like “Why didn’t the Eagles take the Ring to Mt. Doom?” Because then there wouldn’t be a story. Moving on.
Afterwards her sisters came and found her sitting on the saddle, and jeered at her. On Sunday her sisters went to church;
Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I killed and ate my mother following a rash of spindle-dropping. How many Our Fathers is that, exactly?
then she, too, arose; she washed and attired herself, putting on the garment that was as the heavens with the stars, and went to church, taking with her a few gold pieces in her purse. When she went into the church all the people were amazed, and could not gaze upon her by reason of the brightness of her garments. When she left the church, the people followed her to see whither she went. Then she filled her hand with money from her bag and cast it in the way, and so she kept throwing it down all the way she went, so that they might not get near her. Then the crowd scrambled for the coins, and left her alone.
This trick also works in Assassin’s Creed.
And straightway she went into her house, and changed her clothes, and put on her old things, and sat down upon the saddle.
Her sisters came home from church and said to her, “Where are you, wretch? Come and let us tell you how there came into the church a maiden more glorious than the sun, who had such garments on as you could not look on, so brightly did they gleam and shine, and she strewed money on the way! Look, see what a lot we have picked up! Why did not you come too? Worse luck to you!”
“You are welcome to what you picked up; I don’t want it,” said she.
Next Sunday they went to church again, and she did the same. Then they went another Sunday, and just as she was flinging the money, she lost her shoe among the crowd, and left it behind her.
Now the king’s son was following her, but could not catch her, and only found her shoe. Then said he to himself, “Whose ever foot this shoe exactly fits, without being either too large or too small, I will take her for my wife.”
The shoe definitely comes up a lot.
And he went to all the women he knew and tried it on, but could not manage to fit it. Then her sisters came to her and spoke as follows to her, “You go and try; perhaps it will fit you!”
I’m…torn. On the one hand, they’re cannibals and did stick her with that nickname. On the other hand, this is possibly the only Cinderella story I’ve ever read where the sisters try to get the heroine to try on the shoe, apparently without any malice.
“Get away with you!” said she. “Do you think he will put the shoe on me, and get it covered with filth? Do not make fun of me.”
The prince had taken all the houses in turn, and so he came at length to the house of Little Saddleslut, and his servants told her to come and try on the shoe.
“Do not make fun of me,” she says.
However she went down, and when the prince saw her, he knew the shoe was hers, and said to her, “Do you try on the shoe.”
And with the greatest ease she put it on, and it fitted her.
Then said the prince to her, “I will take you to wife.”
“Do not make fun of me,” she answered, “so may your youth be happy!”
“Nay, but I will marry you,” said he, and he took her and made her his wife.
Then she put on her fairest robes. When a little child was born to her, the sisters came to see it. And when she was helpless and alone they took her and put her into a chest, and carried her off and threw her into a river, and the river cast her forth upon a desert.
Danae? Is that you?
There was a half-witted old woman there, and when she saw the chest, she thought to cut it up [for firewood] and took it away for that purpose. And when she had broken it open, and saw someone alive in it, she got up and made off.
So the princess was left alone, and heard the wolves howling, and the swine and the lions–
I will admit that wild swine can be rather dangerous, but I have to think that if you have wolves and lions, the swine are maybe just as nervous as you are.
–and she sat and wept and prayed to God, “Oh God, give me a little hole in the ground that I may hide my head in it, and not hear the wild beasts,” and he gave her one.
Is it just me, or is this essentially “Oh god, make me an ostrich!”
Again she said, “Oh God, give me one a little larger, that I may get in up to my waist.”
And he gave her one. And she besought him again a third time, and he gave her a cabin with all that she wanted in it; and there she dwelt, and whatever she said, her bidding was done forthwith.
Hole…slightly bigger hole…enchanted cabin that responds to voice commands! Either holes were much nicer back then, or this escalated REALLY quickly. Then again, maybe God was just annoyed by all that beating around the bush.
GOD: Stop asking! Just tell me what you want the first time! I AM A BUSY DEITY!
For instance, when she wanted to eat, she would say, “Come, table with all that is wanted! Come food! Come spoons and forks, and all things needful,” and straightway they all got ready, and when she finished she would ask, “Are you all there?” and they would answer, “We are.”
Useful if you worry that you’ve swallowed a fork.
One day the prince came into the wilderness to hunt, and seeing the cabin he went to find out who was inside; and when he got there he knocked at the door.
And she saw him and knew him from afar, and said, “Who is knocking at the door?”
“It is I, let me in,” said he.
“Open, doors!” said she, and in a twinkling the doors opened and he entered. He went upstairs and found her seated on a chair.
“Good day to you,” said he.
“Welcome!” said she, and straightway all that was in the room cried out, “Welcome!”
Nothin’ creepy about that at all. I’m sure the prince wasn’t unsettled in the slightest.
“Come chair!” she cried, and one came at once.
“Sit down,” she said to him and down he sat. And when she had asked him the reason of his coming, she bade him stay and dine, and afterwards depart.
He agreed, and straightway she gave her orders: “Come table with all the covers,” and forthwith they presented themselves, and he was sore amazed.
“Come basin,” she cried. “Come jug, pour water for us to wash! Come food in ten courses!” and immediately all that she ordered made its appearance.
Were I somewhat younger, I might picture the singing table service in Beauty and the Beast, but being me, I just went straight to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Afterwards when the meal was ended, the prince tried to hide a spoon, and put it into his shoe; and when they rose from table, she said “Table, have you all your covers?”
“Yes I have.” “Spoons, are you all there?”
“All,” they said, except one which said “I am in the prince’s shoe.”
When confronted with singing silverware, I know my first instinct is always to cram it into my boots.
Then she cried again, as though she had not heard, “Are you all there, spoons and forks?”
And as soon as the prince heard her he got rid of it on the sly and blushed.
And she said to him “Why did you blush? Don’t be afraid. I am your wife.”
I have learned to accept your minor bouts of kleptomania as normal.
Then she told him how she got there and how she fared. And they hugged and kissed each other, and she ordered the house to move and it did move. And when they came near the town all the world came out to see them. Then the prince gave orders for his wife’s sisters to be brought before him, and they brought them and he hewed them in pieces. And so henceforward they lived happily, and may we live more happily still.
Short and to the point, although I do like that ending vs. ‘happily ever after.’
Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl
There was and there was not, there was a miserable peasant.
Now that’s a marvelous opening. Okay, not as rapid as the cannibalism, but still elegantly phrased.
He had a wife and a little daughter. So poor was this peasant that his daughter was called Conkiajgharuna (Little Rag Girl).
Some time passed, and his wife died. He was unhappy before, but now a greater misfortune had befallen him. He grieved and grieved, and at last he said to himself, “I will go and take another wife; she will mind the house, and tend my orphan child.” So he arose and took a second wife, but this wife brought with her a daughter of her own. When this woman came into her husband’s house and saw his child, she was angry in heart.
She treated Little Rag Girl badly. She petted her own daughter, but scolded her stepdaughter, and tried to get rid of her. Every day she gave her a piece of badly cooked bread, and sent her out to watch the cow, saying, “Here is a loaf; eat of it, give to every wayfarer, and bring the loaf home whole.” The girl went, and felt very miserable.
That’s awesome. I am much impressed with some of the phrasing in this one.
Once she was sitting sadly in the field, and began to weep bitterly. The cow listened, and then opened its mouth, and said, “Why are you weeping? What troubles you?” The girl told her sad tale. The cow said, “In one of my horns is honey, and in the other is butter, which you can take if you want to, so why be unhappy?”
…sort of wondering about the mechanics of this. Do the horns unscrew? Are they hinged? Do you squeeze them out like ketchup bottles?
The girl took the butter and the honey, and in a short time she grew plump. When the stepmother noticed this she did not know what to do for rage. She rose, and after that every day she gave her a basket of wool with her; this wool was to be spun and brought home in the evening finished. The stepmother wished to tire the girl out with toil, so that she should grow thin and ugly.
Once when Little Rag Girl was tending the cow, it ran away onto a roof. [In some parts of the Caucasus the houses of the peasantry are built in the ground, and it is quite possible to walk onto a roof unwittingly. (Note by Wardrop)]
(Thank you, translator note! If I haven’t mentioned, these are both from the marvelous Folktales collection at University of Pittsburgh, and this particular one is attributed to Marjory Wardrop, collected in 1894.)
She pursued it, and wished to drive it back to the road, but she dropped her spindle on the roof. Looking inside she saw an old woman seated, and said to her, “Good mother, will you give me my spindle?”
The old dame replied, “I am not able, my child, come and take it yourself.” The old woman was a devi.
Checking around on-line, the best comparison I can find of ‘devi’ in this context is “ogress.” They’re generally portrayed as evil, but I’m gonna guess that this one is somewhat like Baba Yaga—not exactly GOOD, but rewarding quick thinkers. If any native speakers or people with knowledge of Georgian mythology have a more nuanced explanation, please comment!
The girl went in and was lifting up her spindle, when the old dame called out, “Daughter, daughter, come and look at my head a moment. I am almost eaten up.”
The girl came and looked at her head. She was filled with horror; all the worms in the earth seemed to be crawling there.
Eww, eww, eww!
The little girl stroked her head and removed some, and then said, “You have a clean head. Why should I look at it?”
This is possibly the only Cinderella that has done anything pretty darn awesome. Most of them are awfully passive and just cry on their parent’s bones a lot. This one gets right in there and starts pulling out head worms. You go, Little Rag Girl!
This conduct pleased the old woman very much, and she said, “When you leave here, go along such and such a road, and in a certain place you will see three springs — one white, one black, and one yellow. Pass by the white and black, and put your head in the yellow and rinse it with your hands.”
The girl did this. She went on her way, and came to the three springs. She passed by the white and black, and bathed her head with her hands in the yellow fountain. When she looked up she saw that her hair was quite golden, and her hands, too, shone like gold.
I’m sure the devi meant well, but I don’t know if I’d want to go around with gold hands. At best it’d be odd, at worst you might get somebody with an axe and a mercenary streak. (God knows, it won’t be the first time in these stories…)
In the evening, when she went home, her stepmother was filled with fury. After this she sent her own daughter with the cow. Perhaps the same good fortune would visit her!
So Little Rag Girl stayed at home while her stepsister drove out the cow. Once more the cow ran onto the roof. The girl pursued it, and her spindle fell down. She looked in, and seeing the devi woman, called out, “Dog of an old woman! Here! Come and give me my spindle!”
The old woman replied, “I am not able, child, come and take it yourself.” When the girl came near, the old woman said, “Come, child, and look at my head.”
The girl came and looked at her head, and cried out, “Ugh! What a horrid head you have! You are a disgusting old woman!”
The old woman said, “I thank you, my child; when you go on your way you will see a yellow, a white, and a black spring. Pass by the yellow and the white springs, and rinse your head with your hands in the black one.”
The girl did this. She passed by the yellow and white springs, and bathed her head in the black once. When she looked at herself she was black as an African, and on her head there was a horn. She cut it off again and again, but it grew larger and larger.
We will pause now to gaze out the window and think dark thoughts about the racism of fairy tales, and of Georgians in the 1890s. Seriously, people, that’s practically modern-day. Get with the enlightenment, Georgia!
Horn’s kinda neat, though. I wonder if there’s honey and butter in it?
She went home and complained to her mother, who was almost frenzied, but there was no help for it. Her mother said to herself, “This is all the cow’s fault, so it shall be killed.”
I am not sure how she made the logical jump here. Wouldn’t you go yell at the worm-woman?
This cow knew the future.
Oh, for god’s sake, seriously? You had a talking prognosticating cow and you wasted all this story on an evil stepsister and a woman with poor scalp hygiene? How does the cow tell the future? Why didn’t it mosey off before this happened? Why didn’t it and Little Rag Girl hit the carnival circuit as Miss Ragolinda And Her Amazing Bovine Oracle?
When it learned that it was to be killed, it went to Little Rag Girl and said, “When I am dead, gather my bones together and bury them in the earth. When you are in trouble come to my grave, and cry aloud, ‘Bring my steed and my royal robes!’” Little Rag Girl did exactly as the cow had told her. When it was dead she took its bones and buried them in the earth.
I would just like to point out that a cow skeleton is a big thing. And I have a hard time digging a big enough hole to plant a rosebush. Little Rag Girl did some serious shovel work to get that cow in the ground.
After this, some time passed. One holiday the stepmother took her daughter, and they went to church. She placed a trough in front of Little Rag Girl, spread a large measure of millet in the courtyard, and said, “Before we come home from church fill this trough with tears, and gather up this millet, so that not one grain is left.” Then they went to church.
Little Rag Girl sat down and began to weep. While she was crying a neighbor came in a said, “Why are you in tears? What is the matter?” The little girl told her tale. The woman brought all the brood hens and chicken, and they picked up every grain of millet, then she put a lump of salt in the trough and poured water over it. “There, child,” said she, “there are your tears! Now go and enjoy yourself.”
I love this neighbor. Most heroines require having saved ants or sparrows or something to get this kind of effect.
Little Rag Girl then thought of the cow. She went to its grave and called out, “Bring me my steed and my royal robes!” There appeared at once a horse and beautiful clothes. Little Rag Girl put on the garments, mounted the horse, and went to the church.
There all the folk began to stare at her. They were amazed at her grandeur. Her stepsister whispered to her mother when she saw her, “This girl is very much like our Little Rag Girl!”
Her mother smiled scornfully and said, “Who would give that sun darkener such robes?”
Point one for the stepsister. I wonder if she’s still got horns?
Little Rag Girl left the church before anyone else; she changed her clothes in time to appear before her stepmother in rags. On the way home, as she was leaping over a stream, in her haste she let her slipper fall in.
A long time passed. Once when the king’s horses were drinking water in this stream, they saw the shining slipper and were so afraid that they would drink no more water. The king was told that there was something shining in the stream, and that the horses were afraid.
…okay, “the fairest lady in the world dropped this shoe” is one thing, but, “and the horses are petrified!” is something else again.
The king commanded his divers to find out what it was.
Naturally he had divers! Part of any good royal household. You’ve got the butler, the food taster, the ladies-in-waiting, and the royal divers.
They found the golden slipper, and presented it to the king. When he saw it, he commanded his viziers, saying, “Go and seek the owner of this slipper, for I will wed none but her.” His viziers sought the maiden, but they could find no one whom the slipper would fit.
Little Rag Girl’s mother heard this, adorned her daughter, and placed her on a throne.
You know, one of the thrones you keep in the cupboard for a special occasion.
Then she went and told the king that she had a daughter whose foot he might look at. It was exactly the model for the shoe. She put Little Rag Girl in a corner, with a big basket over her. When the king came into the house he sat down on the basket, in order to try on the slipper.
Little Rag Girl took a needle and pricked the king from under the basket. He jumped up, stinging with pain, and asked the stepmother what she had under the basket. The stepmother replied, “It is only a turkey I have there.”
You know, one of those new-fangled needle turkeys. We crossed them with porcupines so they could eat tree bark. Tasty, but you have to be really careful plucking them.
The king sat down on the basket again, and Little Rag Girl again stuck the needle into him. The king jumped up, and cried out, “Lift the basket. I will see underneath!”
The stepmother pleaded with him, saying, “Do not blame me, your majesty, it is only a turkey, and it will run away.”
It’ll kill us all! You wouldn’t believe the range of a needle-turkey’s quills! And the gobbling! The horrible buck-toothed gobbling!
But the king would not listen to her pleas. He lifted the basket up, and Little Rag Girl came forth, and said, “This slipper is mine, and fits me well.” She sat down, and the king found that it was indeed a perfect fit. Little Rag Girl became the king’s wife, and her shameless stepmother was left with a dry throat.
While it lacks the oomph of “And they exploded into pebbles!” I have to say that that last is a kind of nice touch. Nobody gets killed or hacked to pieces or pushed off cliffs in barrels full of unpleasantness, but ‘left with a dry throat’ definitely leaves you with a sense of chagrin.