Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Roma  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

p. 1




No. 1.--The Dead Man's Gratitude 1

A KING had three sons. He gave the youngest a hundred thousand piastres; he gave the same to the eldest son and to the middle one. The youngest arose, he took the road; wherever he found poor folk he gave money; here, there, he gave it away; he spent the money. His eldest brother went, had ships built to make money. And the middle one went, had shops built. They came to their father.

'What have you done, my son?'

'I have built ships.'

To the youngest, 'You, what have you done?'

'I? every poor man I found, I gave him money; and for poor girls I paid the cost of their marriage.'

The king said, 'My youngest son will care well for the poor. Take another hundred thousand piastres.'

The lad departed. Here, there, he spent his money; twelve piastres remained to him. Some Jews dug up a corpse and beat it.

'What do you want of him, that you are beating him?'

'Twelve piastres we want of him.'

'I'll give you them if you will let him be.'

He gave the money, they let the dead man be. He arose and departed. As the lad goes the dead man followed him. 'Where go you?' the dead man asked.

'I am going for a walk.'

'I'll come too; we'll go together; we will be partners.'

p. 2

'So be it.'

'Come, I will bring you to a certain place.'

He took and brought him to a village. There was a girl, takes a husband, lies with him; by dawn next day the husbands are dead.

'I will hide you somewhere; I will get you a girl; but we shall always be partners.'

He found the girl (a dragon came out of her mouth).

'And this night when you go to bed, I too will lie there.'

He took his sword, he went near them. The lad said, 'That will never do. If you want her, do you take the girl.'

'Are we not partners? You, do you sleep with her; I also, I will sleep here.'

At midnight he sees the girl open her mouth; the dragon came forth; he drew his sword; he cut off its three heads; he put the heads in his bosom; he lay down; he fell asleep. Next morning the girl arose, and sees the man her husband living by her side. They told the girl's father. 'To-day your daughter has seen dawn break with her husband.'

'That will be the son-in-law,' said the father.

The lad took the girl; he is going to his father.

'Come,' said the dead man, 'let's divide the money.' They fell to dividing it.

'We have divided the money; let us also divide your wife.'

The lad said, 'How divide her? If you want her, take her.'

'I won't take her; we'll divide.'

'How divide?' said the lad.

The dead man said, 'I, I will divide.'

The dead man seized her; he bound her knees. 'Do you catch hold of one foot, I'll take the other.'

He raised his sword to strike the girl. In her fright the girl opened her mouth, and cried, and out of her mouth fell a dragon. The dead man said to the lad, 'I am not for a wife, I am not for any money. These dragon's heads are what devoured the men. Take her; the girl shall be yours, the money shall be yours. You did me a kindness; I also have done you one.'

'What kindness did I do you?' asked the lad.

'You took me from the hands of the Jews.'

p. 3

The dead man departed to his place, and the lad took his wife, went to his father.

In his introduction to the Pantschatantra (Leip. 1859), i. 219-221, Benfey cites an Armenian version of this story that is practically identical. Compare also the English 'Sir Amadas' (c. 1420), first printed in Weber's Metrical Romances (Edinb. 1810, iii. 243-275) Straparola (1550) xi. 2 ('The Simpleton,' summarised in Grimm, ii. 480); 'The Follower' or 'The Companion' of Asbjörnsen (Dasent's Tales from the Fjeld, p. 68), on which Andersen founded his 'Travelling Companion'; 'The Barra Widow's Son' (Campbell's Tales of the West Highlands, No. 32, ii. 110); Hahn, ii. 320; Cosquin, i. 208, 214; Hinton Knowles' Folk-tales of Kashmir, pp. 39-40; Wratislaw's Sixty Slavonic Folk-tales, No. 18 (Polish); and especially Reinhold Köhler in Orient and Occident (1864, ii. 322-9, and iii. 93-103). What should be of special interest to English folklorists, is that Asbjörnsen's 'Follower' forms an episode in our earliest version (Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1711) of 'Jack the Giant-killer.' Cf. pp. 67-71 of J. O. Halliwell's Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (1849), where we get the redemption of a dead debtor (who is not grateful), a witch-lady who visits an evil spirit, and the cutting off of that evil spirit's head by a comrade clad in a coat of darkness. The resemblance has never been noticed between the folk-tale and the Book of Tobit, where Tobit shows his charity by burying the dead; the archangel Raphael plays the part of the 'Follower' (in both 'Sir Amadas' and the Russian version the Grateful Dead returns as an angel); Sara, Tobias's bride, has had seven husbands slain by Asmodeus, the evil spirit, before they had lain with her; Raguel, Sara's father, learns of Tobias's safety on the morning after their marriage; Tobias offers half his goods to Raphael; and Raphael then disappears. The story of Tobit has certainly passed into Sicilian folklore, borrowed straight, it would seem, from the Apocrypha, as 'The History of Tobià and Tobiòla' (Laura Gonzenbach's Sicil. Märchen, No. 89, ii. 177); but the Apocryphal book itself is plainly a corrupt version of the original folk-tale.

Madame Darmesteter's Life of Renan (1897), contains at p. 251 the following passage:--'That night he told us the story of the Babylonian Tobias. Rash and young, this Chaldæan brother of our Tobit, discouraged by the difficult approaches of prosperity, had entered into partnership with a demi-god or Demon, who made all his schemes succeed and pocketed fifty per cent. upon the profits. The remaining fifty sufficed to make Tobias as rich as Oriental fancy can imagine. The young man fell in love, married his bride, and brought her home. On the threshold stood the Demon: "How about my fifty per cent?" The Venus d’Ille, you see, was not born yesterday. From the dimmest dawn of time sages have taught us not to trust the gods too far.'

Unluckily there seems to be no authority whatever for this alleged Chaldæan version, which should obviously come closer to the folk-tale than to the Book of Tobit. At least, Professor Sayce writes word:--'The passage in Madame Darmesteter's Life of Renan must be based

p. 4

on an error, for no such story--so far as I know--has ever been found on a cuneiform tablet. It may have originated in a mistranslation of one of the contract-tablets; but if so, the mistranslation must have appeared in some obscure French publication, perhaps a newspaper, which I have not seen.' Alack! and yet our folk-tale remains perhaps the oldest current folk-tale in the world.


1:1 Told by an old sedentary Gypsy woman of Adrianople.

Next: No. 2.--Baldpate