Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, , at sacred-texts.com
A curious point about these Gypsy stories is that in three or four of them one recognises an incident or a whole plot which, unless it be Gypsy, the Gypsies would seem to have derived from books. Here, for instance, are two parallel passages from No. 120 of the Gesta Romanorum and from the Bukowina-Gypsy story of 'The Seer' (No. 23):--
Where to bend his steps he knew not, but arising, and fortifying himself with the sign of the Cross, he walked along a certain path until he reached a deep river, over which he must pass. But he found it so bitter and hot, that it even separated the flesh from the bones. Full of grief, he conveyed away a small quantity of that water, and when he had proceeded a little further, felt hungry. A tree, upon which hung the most tempting food, incited him to eat; he did so, and immediately became a leper. He gathered also a little of the fruit, and conveyed it with him. After travelling for some time, he arrived at another stream, whose virtue was such that it restored the flesh to his feet; and eating of a second tree, he was cleansed of his leprosy.
The youngest went into the woods, and he was hungry, and he found an apple-tree with apples, and he ate an apple, and two stag's horns grew. And he said, 'What God has given me I will bear.' And he went onward, and crossed a stream, and the flesh fell away from him. And he kept saying, 'What God has given me I will bear. Thanks be to God.' And he went further, and found another apple-tree. And he said, 'I will eat one more apple, even though two more horns shall grow.' When he ate it, the horns dropped off. And he went further, and again found a stream. And he said, 'God, the flesh has fallen from me, now my bones will waste away; but even though they do, yet will I go.' And he crossed the stream; his flesh grew fairer than ever.
Which is the better here, the nearer the original--the Geste of the Romans, or that of the Romanies? It is hard to determine; but of this I feel pretty sure, that, if any one were asked to say which of these two passages was monkish and which Gypsy, he would decide wrongly: there is such a tone of pious fortitude about 'The Seer.' The Welsh-Gypsy story of 'The Three Wishes' (No. 65) looks as though it were taken straight from Giambattista Basile's tale of 'Peruonto,' i. 3, in the Pentamerone (1637)--a none too accessible work, one would fancy, and a tale that has not passed into popular folklore. Then there is the fine Bukowina-Gypsy story of 'The Jealous Husband' (No. 33), derived apparently from the novella ii. 9 of Boccaccio's Decamerone (1358), the prototype of Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Except that the Gypsy story is localised on the Danube, the plot is almost identical--the wager, the chest, the theft of the ring, the mole. It sounds unlikely that Gypsies, the most illiterate race in Europe, should have enriched their stock of folk-tales from Boccaccio. Still, that is how folklorists would probably account for the identity of the two stories, if those stories stood alone. But they do not; there are also four folk-tales at least to account for--Roumanian, German, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish Gaelic. And Campbell's Gaelic story of 'The Chest,' whilst
like Boccaccio's, is in some points still liker that of the Bukowina Gypsies. On the whole, it seems easier to suppose that Boccaccio got his story directly or indirectly from the Gypsies, than that they got theirs from Boccaccio. But Gypsies, it will be urged, were unknown in Italy in Boccaccio's day. That is by no means so certain. There was the komodromos with the blind yellow dog, who came from Italy in 544 A.D.; and there was the Neapolitan painter, Antonio Solario, 'lo Zingaro,' who was born about 1382. 1 And even though Boccaccio himself could never have seen Gypsies, many of his countrymen must have come across them outside of Italy--in Greece, in Corfu, in Crete, and in other parts of the Levant.
lxviii:1 According to the Archduke Josef's great Czigány Nyelvatan (1888), p. 342, chronological reasons force us to the conclusion that Solario was not a Gypsy. He came by the name of Zingaro as being the son of a travelling smith (farrier), and as having himself first engaged in that calling. . . . Since the Gypsies only made their appearance in Italy in 1422, it is clear that Solario could not be of Gypsy parentage.' If it could be proved that Italy in 1382 had its travelling smiths, called Zingari, it would be clear that then there were Italian Gypsies. A similar instance of arguing from a foregone conclusion occurs in the remark of a German lexicographer of 1749, that, 'the common people gave the name Zihegan to land-tramps before Gypsies ever were heard of.' The said Zihegan could not of course be Gypsies, because Gypsies were then non-existent.