The Fish and the Ring

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The Fish and the Ring is an English fairy tale collected by Joseph Jacobs in English Fairy Tales. This tale has several parallels in the literature and folklore of various cultures.

Synopsis[edit]

A baron who was a magician learned that his son was fated to marry a girl born to a poor peasant. He went to that peasant and, when he lamented that he could not feed six children, offered to take the littlest one. He threw her into the river, and she floated to a fisherman's house, and the fisherman raised her. She was beautiful, and one day when the baron was hunting, he saw her and a his companion asked who she would marry. To cast her horoscope, he asked when she was born, and she told her story. He sent her to his brother, with a letter telling his brother to kill her.[1] She fell among robbers, who altered the letter to say she should be married to his son, and his brother didn't like it.

The baron came and learned this, and took his daughter-in-law for a walk along the cliff. She begged for her life, and he did not push her in, but he threw a golden ring into the sea and told her that she should never show him or his son her face again without the ring. She went off and got work in a kitchen. The baron came to dinner at that house, and she was preparing fish. She found the ring in it. The guests were so taken with the fish that they wanted to meet the cook, and she went with the ring. The baron realised that he could not fight fate, and announced she was his son's true bride and took her back with him to his home, where she lived happily with her husband.

Variations[edit]

One of the early sources or inspirations, could be the Greek tale of Polycrates or Polykrates, ruler of Samos. According to Herodotus, Polycrates was making a treaty with Amasis the king of Egypt, when Amasis told Polycrates to dispose of some of his most valued possessions, explaining that even he must experience hardships and sorrow, or his life will end in tragedy. Polycrates's, taking Amasis's advice throw away some of his possessions including his most prized, emerald ring. The loss of the ring weighed heavy on Polycrates; one day a fisherman brought a great fish as tribute, and as is the custom, had the fish gutted. When the fish was cut open, Polycrates was surprised and delighted to see his old emerald ring.[2]

The Sanskrit drama of Śakuntalā, as written by Kālidāsa, is also a parallel. A king had fallen in love with Śakuntalā, whom he married and gifted an emerald ring, with his name engraved upon it. However when he returned to his capital, he forgot about Śakuntalā until one day a fisherman was seen selling such a ring in the marketplace and had been arrested. The fisherman told the king that he had found the ring in the belly of a fish. The king thus remembers Sakúntala and they are reunited.

Another early variant, could be the Talmudic tale of the biblical Solomon, who recovers his signet ring in a similar manner. A similar Talmudic tales is the tale of a wealthy and irreligious man who hearing from an astrologer that all his worldly goods shall one day belong to his neighbour Joseph, a poor and religious man, sold all his wealth and bought a large diamond which he attached onto his turban. One day while trying to cheat the stars again, by leaving his old home he embarked on a ship for a distant port. On the deck a great wind blew, taking his turban and diamond with it into the depth of the sea. Shortly after this event Joseph was preparing his fish for cooking on sabbath eve, when inside the fish's innards he saw a large diamond, all that remained of the wealthy man's riches.[2]

An Irish variation is found in Tain Bo Fraich, in which Ailill gives his daughter Findabair a ring, which she then gives to her lover Fraech, who is hated by Ailill. Ailill discovers the ring among Fraech's things, and throws it into the river, where it is swallowed by a salmon. Fraech sees this, commands a servant to catch the salmon and cook it. When Ailill demands the ring, Findabair sends a servant to deliver the fish with the ring on top. Ailill demands that Fraech tell where the ring came from, and Fraech lies, saying he found it in the salmon and not before. Despite the lie, Fraech and Findabair are able to depart for their own lands.

There are also two somewhat similar tales found in British literature. In Jocelyn's Life of St. Kentigern, King Rederech of Strathclyde discovers Queen Languueth's affair with a soldier, to whom she gave a ring. The king steals the ring from the sleeping soldier, and demands the queen produce the ring in three days or else face death. Languueth confesses her sin to St. Kentigern, who then commands a messenger to go fishing in the Clyde; a salmon is caught, gutted, and the ring is found. The queen then produces the ring for the king, and escapes death.

A similar version is found in Elis Gruffudd's Cronicl (16th century), though in this instance the story is attached to Maelgwn Gwynedd, and the queen is innocent, having lost the ring while walking.[3]

Another connected story is the Northern German folktale of The Three Gifts. One day three wealthy students find a poor weaver and give him one hundred dollars. The weaver hid the money in some rags; however, his wife sells them to a rag and bone man. The students return to find the weaver poorer than before, and give him another hundred dollars, this time they tell him to be more careful; so the weaver hides it in a dust-tub; however, his wife sells the dust-tub, losing the money a second time. When the students returned a third time they angrily give him a piece of lead stating that they would more foolish than he if they gave him money a third time. One day a fisherman came to the weaver's home, asking if he could use the lead as a weight for his net, promising the weaver the first big fish he catches. The weaver agrees and the fisherman brings him his fish. When gutting the fish the weaver finds a large shining stone and sells it for one thousand dollars making him a wealthy man. There is a near exact cognate of the German tale in an Arabian tale, though the man is a ropemaker not a weaver.[2]

In Belgium there is the story about the foundation of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval. According to this, the widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was visiting the site, when she lost her wedding ring in a spring, to her great distress. When she prayed for the return of the ring, a trout appeared on the surface of the water with the ring in its mouth. She exclaimed "Truly this place is a Val d'Or", from which the name "Orval" is derived, and in gratitude made available the funds for the foundation of the monastery here. The abbey arms show the trout and ring. The spring still supplies water to the monastery and its brewery.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ This trope, sometimes called a "bellerophontic letter", receives a classic version in the Greek myth of Bellerophon.
  2. ^ a b 'Popular Tales and Fictions: Their Migrations and Transformations' By W. a. Clouston, Published by Kessinger Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0-7661-7622-3, ISBN 978-0-7661-7622-5 [1]
  3. ^ Ford, Patrick K (1992). Ystoria Taliesin. Cardiff: University of Wales. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-0-7083-1092-2. OCLC 26803558. 

External links[edit]

See "Herzog", by Saul Bellow, p. 242, where Bellow's character Herzog says, " Like catching the fish that swallowed the queen's ring," Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-243729-8, Copyright Saul Bellow.