|An old woman with a spinning wheel. Illutration
by Blanche Fisher Wright, 1916.
Note: Contains violence. Once upon a time, in Bologna, Italy, there lived a merchant who had three daughters. He “was due to leave town on business. ‘Before going’, he said to his daughters, ‘I shall give you a present, as I wish to leave you happy. Tell me what you want.’ The girls though it over, and said they wanted gold, silver, and silk for spinning.” He brought these to them, warned them all to behave while he was gone, and departed. “The youngest of the three, whose name was Giracoccola, was the most beautiful, and her sisters envied her. When their father had gone, “ the eldest took the gold to spin, the next took the silver, and Giracoccola got the silk. They all sat down to spin. As it happened, they sat in front of the big window overlooking the street. All day long, people walking by stared at the three girls spinning. They always looked longest at Giracoccola. Later that night the moon “rose and looked in the window saying,’ Lovely is the one with gold, Lovelier still the one with silver, But the one with silk surpasses them both. Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike.” So the next day the eldest took the silk to spin and gave Giracoccola the silver. That afternoon they sat down to spin. People stared as they walked past. Later, when the moon rose, it sang to the three spinning girls, ‘ Lovely is the one with gold, lovelier still the one with silk, but the one with silver surpasses them both. Good night lovely girls and ugly girls alike.’ Now her sisters were really angry. They “taunted Giracoccola so much that only someone with that poor girl’s patience could have stood it.” The next day they gave her the gold, and the minute the moon rose it teased. “ Lovely is the one with silver, Lovelier still the one with silk, But the one with gold surpasses them both. Good night lovely girls and ugly girls alike.” Now the sisters were consume with hatred. They locked Giracoccola in the hayloft to get her out of their sight. She wept and sobbed at being treated so, and that’s when she heard a voice. It was the moon! It “opened the little window with a moonbeam and said, ‘Come with me! “ And the moon carried the girl away. Now, the next afternoon, the two older sisters sat down in the window to spin. But when the moon rose that night it taunted them, ‘Lovely is the one with gold, Lovelier still the one with silver, but the one at my house surpasses them both.” When they checked the hayloft and found their sister gone, they “sent for a woman astrologer to find out where [she] was. The astrologer said that she was at the moon’s house, and more comfortable than she had ever been. ‘How can we bring about her death?’ asked the sisters. ‘Leave it all to me.’ replied the astrologer, who dressed as a gypsy and went to peddle her wares under the moon’s window. Giracoccola looked out and the astrologer said, ‘Would you like these pins? I’ll let you have them for a song.” So trusting was Giracoccola that she invited the stranger in. The gypsy-astrologer brushed the girl’s hair, then “thrust the pin into her head. Giracoccola at once turned into a statue, and the astrologer ran off to report to the sisters. When the moon came home from her trip around the world” and saw the lovely statue of a girl in her room, she scolded Giracoccola for disobeying her. She had been told not to allow strangers in, and look what had happened now? The moon ordered Giracoccola never to take such a risk again. And then “she relented and drew the pin from the girl’s head. Gircacoccola came back to life and promised never to let anyone else in.” Now the sisters had the astrologer read the stars to see if their little sister was still dead. The astrologer said that “for some strange reason” the girl was no longer dead, but alive and well! So the sisters decided to kill her again. This time they gave the gypsy poisoned combs to sell. Giracoccola could not resist the trinkets. She did not let the woman selling them come in, but leaned out of the window so that the gypsy could brush her hair. “The minute the comb touched her head she changed back into a statue, and the astrologer ran off to the sisters. The moon came home and seeing the girl changed into a statue once more, flew into a rage and called her every name under the sun.” When she calmed down, she took the comb out and brought the girl back to life. Next time, she warned, ‘You are going to remain a stone.’ So when the gypsy read the news of Giracoccola’s return to life, which was written in the stars, she restocked her wares and back she went. This time it was embroidered dresses. Oh, they were so soft and the colors so bright! The flowers so cunningly embroidered around the collar and wrists...Giracoccola simply had to have the gown. The moment it touched her body she became a statue. The moon made good her threat and “washed her hands of the matter, selling the statue for three cents to a chimney sweep.” The sweep tied it to his donkey’s back and went about his work. It happened that the King’s son saw the statue of the girl and was compelled by it. He bought it from the sweep for its weight in gold, and took it home. He set the statue up in his chambers “ where he would spend hours adoring the stone maiden. “ He kept it jealously out of sight. His sisters, however, observed his behavior. They snuck into his room by means of “a skeleton key” and when they saw the gown that the stone maiden wore, removed it. They planned to take turns wearing it at the ball that night. But “no sooner than it was off that Giracoccola stirred and came back to life. The sisters almost died of fright, but Giracoccola reassured them with her story.” Now the girls waited for the Prince to return. When he did, he wept frantically seeing that his statue was gone. That’s when Giracoccola “told him everything, from beginning to end. The youth took her to his parents at once and introduced her as his bride. The wedding was celebrated immediately. Giracoccola’s sisters learned of this from the astrologer and died of rage right then and there.”
From Italian Folk Tales, Selected and Retold by Italo Calvino. Story Number 50.
Notes: Elements of this story will be very familiar to most people from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. There too, the girl is "killed" by a poisoned comb, and of course, is eventually brought back to life. The theme of sisters runs through this tale. The three sisters and their rivalry over beauty are mirrored by the Prince's sisters, who sneak in and steal the dress because they want to wear it for themselves.
Montessori Connection Ages 10+ : The Moon in Literature
1. Read the story of Giracoccola once more, paying attention to the things that the moon does.
2. Make a list of them. Example: watches the girls spinning; sings to the girls; rescues Giracoccola; travels around the world.
3. Notice that the moon also lives in a house.
4. Notice that the moon seems to act like a person.
5. Find examples of other roles that the moon plays in literature. Example: Roman mythology, moon goddesses Luna and Diana; Greek moon goddesses Selene and Artemis; the Moon Lady of Chinese culture.
6. Read more:The Moon Lady (Aladdin Picture Books) or D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths or Roman Myths and Legends (Myths & legends)