|She sat down for a rest on a log...|
Note: contains violence. Once upon a time, there was a farmer who"went out mowing every day, and at noon, one or the other of his three daughters would bring him his lunch." Well, one day the oldest girl went with it. It was a long walk, and when she got to the edge of the woods, she sat down on a log for a short rest. "No sooner had she taken a seat than she felt a strong thud underneath, and out crawled a snake." The girl was so scared that she threw the lunch down and ran all the way home. The next day, it was the middle girl's turn to go. She sat down for a rest on the very same log, and out crawled the very same snake! Of course, the day after that, it was time for the youngest sister to carry her father his lunch. This smart girl packed one basket for her father — and a second one, besides. When she got to the edge of the wood, she sat down and waited for the snake to appear. When it did, she gave it a picnic basket of food. That's when the snake spoke to her. It said,"Take me home with you, and I will bring you luck." This the girl did, and kept her snake friend a secret from the family. It lived under her bed for many months. One day, however, it was too big to fit, so it announced that it would have to move on. It gave the girl three charms before leaving, though. When "weeping, she would shed tears of pearls and silver; laughing, she would see golden pomegranate seeds fall from her head; and washing her hands, she would produce fish of every kind." The next day the food ran out at the farmer's house. There was nothing for breakfast, and nothing for lunch, and by dinnertime, the family was weak with hunger. So the girl washed her hands, and lo! — the basin was immediately full of fish. The mother cooked them and the whole family ate their fill of them. And then the farmer decided he had better lock up this strange daughter at once. So, he pushed her up into the attic and locked her in. She had nothing to do but look out the window. Fortunately, this looked over the king's garden, where his young son amused himself playing ball. When the prince slipped and fell, the girl found it so funny that she could not stop laughing. Of course, she scattered golden pomegranate seeds down over the prince! But when he looked up to see where they came from, all he saw was an empty attic window. The next day, a beautiful young sapling sprung up. Before nightfall, it was covered with fine, red pomegranates. Yet when the king reached for one, the branches swung from his hands. When the prince tried, the tree actually grew a foot taller, and raised itself out of reach. That is how they knew that it was a magic tree, and that the wise men, and wizards must be summoned to learn how it was charmed. "The oldest of them all said that only one maiden would be able to pick the fruit and that she would become the bride of the king's son." Now the king sent out an order that every girl in the kingdom must come and try to pick the fruit, on pain of death. So, they all came. Smart girls, and dumb ones, fat ones and smart ones, girls with skin as white as milk and girls with skin as brown as a hazelnut, from every corner of the land. But no one could reach the fruit. The longest ladders always seemed just a bit too short. When the farmer's daughter's tried to pick the pomegranates "they fell off the ladder and landed flat on their backs. The king had the houses searched, and found other girls, including one locked up in the attic. As soon as they took her to the tree, the branches bent down, and placed the pomegranates right in her hands. Everyone cheered, 'That's the bride!". So preparations were made for a grand wedding. First, however, all three of the farmer's daughter's rode together back to the woods. Suddenly, the oldest girl called for the carriage to halt in the depths of the woods. That's when "the older girls ordered the younger one out of the carriage, cut off her hands, gouged out her eyes, and left her lying unconscious in the bushes." Then her eldest sister changed dresses with the dead girl, got back into the carriage with her remaining sister, and drove away. They went straight back to the prince, and acted like nothing had happened. The sister simply took on her sister's name, and acted like she had been the bride all along. The prince wondered "why she'd become so ugly, but since she faintly resembled the other girl, he decided he'd been mistaken all along about her original beauty." Meanwhile, back in the forest, the youngest sister wandered, bloody and blind. A carter picked her up, and put her on the back of his mule. She told him to look on the ground, and there he found silver and pearls which had streamed from her eyes as she wept. He gathered them and sold them "for more than a thousand crowns." He was so glad he had stopped for the poor, maimed maiden,and carried her home to his cottage. "One day, the girl felt a snake wrap around her leg; it was the snake she had once befriended. 'Did you know your sister married the king's son and became queen, since the old king died? Now she's expecting a baby and wants figs. " So the blind girl told the carter, "Load a mule with figs and take them to the queen." And, although it was winter and the trees were bare, when the carter went to the garden he found one heavy with figs. So "he filled up two baskets and loaded them onto his donkey. 'How high a price can I ask for figs in winter?' said the carter. 'Ask for a pair of eyes.' replied the maiden." When the carter showed up at the palace with his fruit, the king asked the price. Hearing that it was none other than a pair of human eyeballs, he went to consult with his wife. She would not give her eyes, nor he his, nor her sister hers. That's when they remembered the pair they had gouged out of their other sister. "Let's give him our sister's eyes, which are of no use to us." And so they bought the figs, paying one eye for each basket. The carter carried the eyes home to the maiden, and "she put them back in place and saw again as well as ever. " Soon the queen craved peaches, and sent her sister to find the carter who had sold the figs. When he heard what she wanted, he went home, and told the handless girl. She told him to go look in the garden, and there, under the snowy branches, were soft yellow peaches. When he asked her what price to ask, she replied, "A pair of hands." Back the carter went to the palace, with his tempting load of fruit. When the queen and her sister heard the price, they beseeched someone to cut off their hands and buy the baskets of peaches. But nobody would do it, not even when the king ordered it. So they decided to get the old arms they'd cut off their sister, and pay with those. Back at home, the carter gave the girl her hands. "She reattached them to her arms and was as sound as ever." And the next day, the queen's labor pains began. All day they continued and then — out slid the babe! Yet it was no human child but a scorpion! The king, who had announced only that a child was born, celebrated the birth with a fancy dress ball. The farmer's youngest daughter "went dressed as a queen, and was the belle of the ball." That's when the king recognized her, and realized what had happened. She was sad and happy and felt like washing her hands all at once, so she "laughed golden seeds, wept pearls and washed fish into the basin as she told her story from start to finish. The two wicked sisters and the scorpion were burned on a pyre, sky-high. On the same day, the grand wedding banquet took place. THEY PUT ON THE DOG AND HIGH DID THEY SOAR; I SAW, I HEARD, I HID BEHIND THE DOOR. THEN TO DINE, REPAIRED I TO THE INN, AND THERE MY STORY DRAWS TO AN END."
From Italian Folktales Selected and Retold by Italo Calvino (p. 37)
Notes: The cutting off of the hands and putting out the eyes is an old fairy tale plot device; the Brothers Grimm collection featured The Maiden Without Hands, a forerunner of this motif found in so many places. This story shows how pomegranates, as well as oranges and pumpkins and gourds, appear in fairy tales as bringers of fortune and magic. Surely, Charles Perrault was inspired by many such stories when he chose a pumpkin for his fairy godmother to transform into a coach!
Montessori Connection: Botany/Pomegranates/Pomegranates in Literature
1. Read this story and notice where the pomegranate appears.
2. Learn that the scientific name for pomegranates Punica granaium, and that the tree is native to west Asia and north Africa.
3. Learn more about pomegranates:Pomegranates: 70 Celebratory Recipes
4. Learn about a famous Greek story involving pomegranate seeds:D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths