Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cinderella #232 Rosemary (Italo Calvino)


Woodcut reproductions from
Proverbi milanesi,
Aldo Marello-Gunti,
Ed. S.p.A. Milan

Once upon a time, in Spain, there lived a king and queen. Being royal, however, does not guarantee happiness, and these two grieved for the lack of a child. One day the queen was walking in her herb garden when she saw a large rosemary bush, with many little seedlings sprouting from it. She exclaimed,"Just look at that! A mere rosemary bush has all these children, while I am a queen and childless!" And soon thereafter, she discovered herself to be with child. But when she delivered, it was not an infant but a tender rosemary bush. She planted it "in an exquisite pot, and watered it with milk". Some time passed, and one day, their nephew came to visit. He "was the king of Spain", and when he asked his aunt the queen what plant grew in the pot, she said,"Royal nephew, that is my daughter, and I water her four times a day with milk." And the nephew watched the queen as she tenderly cared for the little bush, and soon he fell in love with it. Then "he took it, pot and all, and carried it aboard his yacht, purchased a nanny goat for milk, and ordered the anchors raised. When he reached Spain, he ordered the pot carried ashore, and the bush planted in his private garden. Now, this young king loved to play the flute, and each morning he took his instrument out to the rosemary bush to play. The first time he had done this he was amazed when "a comely maiden with long hair emerged from the rosemary foliage and began dancing beside him". Each day he milked the nanny goat and dribbled  the milk onto the plant, and the girl grew more lovely each day. Soon he spent much of his time in the garden with his flute, so much time that his sisters became suspicious. It happened that the king was summoned to war. Now he instructed his gardener to milk the goat and feed the rosemary with it, four times a day. He also said that "if he found the plant withered upon his return, the gardener would be beheaded." Then he told his rosemary girl to stay in the bush until he came back. He would signal her with three notes of the flute. As soon as he left, all three of his sisters rushed into his private garden to see what fascinated their brother so. And that is when they found the flute. The first girl grabbed it and blew a note upon it. Then she handed it to her sister, who blew  a second note. When the third sister had taken her turn, and sounded a note on the flute, the girl jumped out of the rosemary bush. Then "they caught hold of the maiden and beat her unmercifully". They shoved her back into the plant and fled. The next day, the gardener came to milk the nanny goat and feed the rosemary, and was horrified to discover the rosemary bush half-wilted. Fearing his punishment, he fled, deep into the woods. He trudged mile upon mile, and, when he could no longer put one foot before the other, he climbed a tree. But "a dragon-man and a dragon-woman had agreed to meet" in that very spot, and he was in a position to overhear their conversation. Said the dragon-woman to the dragon-man,"What's new?". He told her the tidings of the king's withered rosemary bush. The dragon woman wanted to know how the misfortune had occurred. Now the dragon-man told her,"Well, the king went off to war, the sisters started playing his flute, and out of the rosemary came the enchanted girl. The sisters all but killed her with their blows. The bush is withering away." And when the dragon-woman asked if there wasn't a cure for it, he said that there was, though a gruesome one. It required parts of their own bodies. In particular, blood from the dragon-man's windpipe, and "the fat from the nape of your neck." If one boiled those things together and anointed the bush, the girl would recover. The bush, however, would die. Well, you may be sure that the moment the dragons were snoring soundly, the gardener jumped down,"ripped a knotty branch from the tree...and dealing two hearty blows, sent them both to kinddom-come". Then he bled the dragon-man's windpipe, and scraped fat from the nape of the dragon-woman's neck. He ran home, asked his wife to boil those things, and made a salve. Then he rushed to the garden and rubbed every twig of the bush. Sure enough, by morning, the girl was better and the bush was dead. He tucked the girl into bed and "served her a bowl of tasty hot broth".  The next day, the king came back. The first thing he did when he got home to his castle was to rush over to the rosemary plant. But no matter how many times he blew three notes, no girl came out of it. He could see that the bush was dead. Then he drew his sword and rushed to find the gardener. When he did, it was all the poor man could do to stay the king's blows long enough to tell him the story of the dragon's blood and fat, and the salve made from it to cure the rosemary girl after the king's own sisters had beaten her. And when the king had seen the maiden with his own eyes, and heard the tale from her own lips, "he decided to marry her, and wrote his uncle the king that the rosemary plant he stole had become a young lady". He was going to marry her, and the uncle and aunt were cordially invited to the wedding. So the came at once, and many cannons were fired in honor of the wedding. "All of Spain rejoiced and feasted."
From Calivino, I. Italian Folktales Selected and Retold (p. 161)
Notes: I love the dragon man and dragon woman, giving us both Anima and Animus in ancient form. The dragon, related to the lizard, is an ancient beast. Anthony Stevens says both are representations of a most elemental part of the psyche. Ariadne's Clue: A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind (Mythos: The Princeton/Bollingen Series in World Mythology)

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