|Illustration by Bagwell, J.|
Note: contains violence. Once upon a time, in Siena, Italay, there lived a poor widower left to raise a daughter. To give his motherless child some care, he hired a governess named Agheta. At first, this governess treated the child, Isabella, with sweetness and affection. But in her heart, she despised the little girl. Her own daughter, Mariotto, "whom certain uncles are keeping, out of charity", is far from home. Now Agheta begins to wheedle her employer's child, saying that it would be pleasant to be together all the time. If only, she laments, she could marry Isabella's father. At length, Isabella begins to question her father about this, pleading with him to marry her governess. Her father refuses, but Agheta will not give up the quest. She decides to feign illness, and takes to her bed. Soon the doctor confirms that she is at death's door, and in desperation, calls in her employer. Now Agheta swears that the only thing that will save her life is for the widower to make her his wife. Out of compassion, he agrees to do this, and Agheta recovers. Yet after the marriage ceremony, her personality undergoes a change for the worse. Now she abuses Isabelluccia, making her do the servant's work, and hindering the girl's well-being. She forces the child to cook, clean, and mend. It happened one day, when Isabella had been given a basket filled with "fish to clean and cook". Just as she is about to begin chopping the fishes heads off, "a red and gold fish slips out of her hands into the sink." Knowing that her stepmother will beat her for letting one fish get away, she grabs frantically to keep it from slipping down the drain. Just then, "the fish peeps through the hole, and tells her that it is useless to grieve; she had better take the pomegranate," which he is going to give her. It is a magic pomegranate, and if she takes it down to the beach and sings, "Rise, little fish from the azure sea, rise little fish, and succor me; Red-and-gold fish, to thee I cry, come to me, come to me, or I die." So she takes the pomegranate from the fish, and it slips down the drain. She hides the fruit, and, after her step-mother beats her, she goes out onto the terrace and peels it. But just as she "is raising it to her lips" it tumbles from her hand. Unfortunately, it lands in a garden adjoining her own. Fortunately, the garden is behind the King's palace. When the King goes for his morning walk in the garden the next day, he is astounded to find that a pomegranate tree, "loaded with red and yellow fruit" has grown overnight. He orders his cook to pick the fruit so that it can be served to him, but when the man reaches for a pomegranate, the tree grows even higher. Each of the servants in turn tries to pick a fruit, but the tree snatches its branches higher each time. The King demands to know how a tree dares to disobey him , and where this one has come from. Yet none of the royal gardeners know by whose hand it grows. Now the King called for his councillors, and after much learned consulting, they declare that the tree is under an enchantment, and that the only one who will be able to pick fruit from it will be the King's bride. So he orders every maiden in the kingdom to come and try to harvest pomegranates. None can, including Mariotto, who has been sent by her mother. Yet she cannot pick the fruit either. That is when the royal advisor declares that there must be one more maiden hiding somewhere, so the King orders that every house be searched. And that is when Isabella is found, hidden under a tub in her stepmother's kitchen. A lavish wedding ceremony takes place, and Isabella is crowned Queen. But her stepmother begs to be allowed to come with her to the palace, and, in secret, brings Mariotto along as well. Now Agheta offers to take Isabella riding in the forest. She comes in a fine carriage, and takes the new bride away from the King. When they are in the deepest part of the woods, Mariotto jumps out from her hiding place under the seat, and together with her mother, they tear out the bride's eyes and "throw her under the carriage". When they return to the palace, Agheta pretends that Mariotto is the same girl she drove away with. The King protests that this is not true, but because his courtiers are beginning to doubt his sanity if he cannot recognize his own wife, he eventually accepts her as his Queen. Meanwhile, back in the forest, Isabella wanders, blind and bloody. She is found by a young shepherd girl, and, in exchange for the fine clothes the blind girl wears, leads her to the sea-shore. Isabella, dressed now as a shepherdess, sings for the fish, who comes at once. The fish gives her a basket of apricots, and tells her that Mariotto is now pregnant, and craving that fruit. She must go to the palace, but must only accept as payment an eye. This Isabella does, and so gets one eye back. The fish now gives her a basket of figs to sell as well, and thus Isabella gets her other eye back. Now the fish "bids her go to an old furniture shop, where she can get an old woman's skin, put it on, and then ask for lodging at the palace out of charity." So Isabella follows this unusual advice, and then returns to thank the fish. She wants to give him a gift of some kind, but the fish says that the only gift he will accept is for Isabella to cut off his head. She faints in horror at this suggestion, and, when she comes to, discovers that the fish has turned into "a handsome man". He explains that "They wanted me to wed one that had plighted troth to another, and because I refused, I was changed to a fish. The spell could only be removed through a girl fainting because of me." Now the man repeats the advice given when he was a fish: that the girl disguise herself as an old woman, and take menial work at the palace. This she does, and slowly finds ways to ingratiate herself with the King. They become fast friends, as the King found the old woman an excellent person with whom to converse. One day he confided to her that he was to host a ball that evening, so that he could find himself a wife. He begged her to come,but she refused. When she was alone, she tore off the old skin, washed and dressed herself carefully, and went to the ball. The King was so taken with the beautiful stranger that her gave her a golden ring. When she vanished as the music stopped, he was bereft. His spirits cannot be lifted, and soon he is at death's door. The doctor orders him to eat only bread, and, when this order is sent down to the kitchen, the old woman bakes it. When the King takes a bite and finds the ring, he calls for the cook. The man confesses that he did not bake the loaf, but had allowed the old woman to bake it. When she is brought upstairs, the King seeks to question her. Now she lets fall the old skin, and the King is dazzled by her beauty. She tells him her story, and he proposes to her at once. When he learns the role that her step-mother and step-sister played in her torment, he punishes them in such a way "that the scorn of their wickedness may be known to all, their eyes are torn out by the King himself."
From Cox, M. R. (1893/2011) p. 219
Notes: This is the creepiest Catskin yet...beware old skins at furniture shops.
Montessori Connection: Botany/Fruits/Pomegranates
1. Read this story and notice how important the pomegranate tree is.
2. Learn that the scientific name for pomegranate is Punica granium.
3. Learn that the tree grows naturally in Africa and the Mediterranean.
4. Try a pomegranate recipe:Pomegranates: 70 Celebratory Recipes or Pomegranates & Prickly Pears: Flavorful Entertaining from the Junior League of Phoenix.