The Pentamerone (Neapolitan: Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, "The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones") is a seventeenth-century fairy tale collection by Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile.
The stories in The Pentamerone were collected by Basile and published posthumously in two volumes by his sister Adriana in Naples, Italy in 1634 and 1636 under the pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis.
He recorded and adapted the tales, believed to have been orally transmitted around Crete and Venice, several of which were also later adapted by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, the latter making extensive, acknowledged use of Basile's collection. Examples of this are versions of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel.
While other collections of stories have included tales that would be termed fairy tales, his work is the first collection in which all the stories fit in that category. Although he did not transcribe them from the oral tradition as a modern collector would, he wrote them in the dialect, and in many respects was the first writer to preserve oral intonations.
The style of the stories is heavily Baroque, with many metaphorical usages, such as referring to the dawn as
- "the Sun, like a chief physician, went out to visit the flowers that are sick and languid,"
- "The next morning, as soon as the shades of Night, pursued by the constables of the Sun, had fled the country,"
- "as soon as the Sun with his golden broom had swept away the dirt of the Night from the fields watered by the dawn".
- "as the Night, having aided the robbers, is banished from the sky, and goes about collecting the faggots of twilight"
- "as soon as the Sun opened his bank to deliver the deposit of light to the Creditor of the Day,"
This has been interpreted as a satire on Baroque style, but as Basile praised the style, and used it in his other works, it appears to have no ironic intention.
Although the work fell into some obscurity, as a work in dialect, the Brothers Grimm, in their third edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales praised it highly as the first national collection of fairy tales, fitting their romantic nationalist views on fairy tales, and as capturing Neapolitan voice. This drew a great deal of attention to the work.
This collection (Basile's Pentamerone) was for a long time the best and richest that had been found by any nation. Not only were the traditions at that time more complete in themselves, but the author had a special talent for collecting them, and besides that an intimate knowledge of the dialect. The stories are told with hardly any break, and the tone, at least in the Neapolitan tales, is perfectly caught.... We may therefore look on this collection of fifty tales as the basis of many others; for although it was not so in actual fact, and was indeed not known beyond the country in which it appeared, and was never translated into French, it still has all the importance of a basis, owing to the coherence of its traditions. Two-thirds of them are, so far as their principal incidents are concerned, to be found in Germany, and are current there at this very day. Basile has not allowed himself to make any alteration, scarcely even any addition of importance, and that gives his work a special value - Wilhelm Grimm
The Pentamerone is structured around a fantastic frame story in which fifty stories are related over the course of five days rather than the ten of the Tuscan compendium. The frame-story is that of a cursed, melancholy princess named Zoza ("mud" or "slime" in Neapolitan, but also used as a term of endearment). She cannot laugh, whatever her father does to amuse her, so he sets up a fountain of oil by the door, thinking people slipping in the oil would make her laugh. An old woman tried to gather oil, a page boy broke her jug, and the old woman grew so angry that she danced about, and Zoza laughed at her. The old woman cursed her to marry only the Prince of Round-Field, whom she could only wake by filling a pitcher with tears in three days. With some aid from fairies, who also give her gifts, Zoza found the prince and the pitcher, and nearly filled the pitcher when she fell asleep. A Moorish slave steals it, finishes filling it, and claims the prince.
This frame story in itself is a fairy tale, combining motifs that will appear in other stories: the princess who cannot laugh in The Magic Swan, Golden Goose, and The Princess Who Never Smiled; the curse to marry only one person, and that one hard to find, in Snow-White-Fire-Red and Anthousa, Xanthousa, Chrisomalousa; the heroine falling asleep because of saving the hero and so losing him to trickery in The Sleeping Prince and Nourie Hadig.
The now-pregnant slave-queen demands (at the impetus of Zoza's fairy gifts) that her husband tell her stories, or else she would crush the unborn child. The husband hires ten female storytellers to keep her amused; disguised among them is Zoza. Each tells five stories — most of which are more suitable to courtly than juvenile audiences. The Moorish woman's treachery is revealed in the final story (related, suitably, by Zoza), and she is buried, pregnant, up to her neck in the ground and left to die. Zoza and the Prince live happily ever after.
Many of these fairy tales are the oldest known variants in existence.
The fairy tales are:
- The First Day
- The Second Day
- The Third Day
- The Fourth Day
- The Fifth Day
The text was translated into German by Felix Liebrecht (1846), into English by John Edward Taylor (1848) and again by Sir Richard Francis Burton (1893) and into Italian by Benedetto Croce in 1925. A further English translation was made from Croce's version by Norman N. Penzer in 1934. A new, modern translation by Nancy L. Canepa was published in 2007 from Wayne State University Press.
Media related to Pentamerone at Wikimedia Commons
- Basile, Giambattista (2007). Giambattista Basile's "The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones". Translated by Nancy L. Canepa, illustrated by Carmelo Lettere, foreword by Jack Zipes. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-2866-8.
- Canepa, Nancy L. (1999). From Court to Forest: Giambattista Basile's "Lo cunto de li cunti" and the Birth of the Literary Fairy Tale. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-2758-6.
- Croce, Benedetto (2001). "The Fantastic Accomplishment of Giambattista Basile and His Tale of Tales". In Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm. New York: W W Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-97636-6.
- Swann Jones, Steven (1995). The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of Imagination. New York: Twayne. ISBN 978-0-8057-0950-6.
- "La vita di Giambattista Basile" (in Italian)
- The complete text of Lo cunto de li cunti (in Neapolitan)
- Works by Giambattista Basile at Project Gutenberg
- SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages: Il Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile
- Illustrations by Warwick Goble
- Illustrations by George Cruikshank
- Professor S. Cicciotti's page about G. B. Basile (in Italian)
- Online text of some stories, in English (from Taylor translation)