Pippo by Giambattista Basile
Ingratitude is a nail, which, driven into the tree of courtesy, causes
it to wither. It is a broken channel by which the foundations of
affection are undermined; and a lump of soot, which, falling into the
dish of friendship, destroys its scent and savour—as is seen in daily
instances, and, amongst others, in the story which I will now tell you.
There was one time in my dear city of Naples an old man who was as poor
as poor could be. He was so wretched, so bare, so light, and with not a
farthing in his pocket, that he went naked as a flea. And being about
to shake out the bags of life, he called to him his sons, Oratiello and
Pippo, and said to them, "I am now called upon by the tenor of my bill
to pay the debt I owe to Nature. Believe me, I should feel great
pleasure in quitting this abode of misery, this den of woes, but that I
leave you here behind me—a pair of miserable fellows, as big as a
church, without a stitch upon your backs, as clean as a barber's basin,
as nimble as a serjeant, as dry as a plum-stone, without so much as a
fly can carry upon its foot; so that, were you to run a hundred miles,
not a farthing would drop from you. My ill-fortune has indeed brought
me to such beggary that I lead the life of a dog, for I have all along,
as well you know, gaped with hunger and gone to bed without a candle.
Nevertheless, now that I am a-dying, I wish to leave you some token of
my love. So do you, Oratiello, who are my first-born, take the sieve
that hangs yonder against the wall, with which you can earn your bread;
and do you, little fellow, take the cat and remember your daddy!" So
saying, he began to whimper; and presently after said, "God be with
you—for it is night!"
Oratiello had his father buried by charity; and then took the sieve and
went riddling here, there, and everywhere to gain a livelihood; and the
more he riddled, the more he earned. But Pippo, taking the cat, said,
"Only see now what a pretty legacy my father has left me! I, who am not
able to support myself, must now provide for two. Whoever beheld so
miserable an inheritance?" Then the cat, who overheard this
lamentation, said to him, "You are grieving without need, and have more
luck than sense. You little know the good fortune in store for you; and
that I am able to make you rich if I set about it." When Pippo had
heard this, he thanked Her Pussyship, stroked her three or four times
on the back, and commended himself warmly to her. So the cat took
compassion on poor Pippo; and, every morning, when the Sun, with the
bait of light on his golden hook, fishes for the shakes of Night, she
betook herself to the shore, and catching a goodly grey mullet or a
fine dory, she carried it to the King and said, "My Lord Pippo, your
Majesty's most humble slave, sends you this fish with all reverence,
and says, A small present to a great lord.'" Then the King, with a
joyful face, as one usually shows to those who bring a gift, answered
the cat, "Tell this lord, whom I do not know, that I thank him
Again, the cat would run to the marshes or the fields, and when the
fowlers had brought down a blackbird, a snipe, or a lark, she caught it
up and presented it to the King with the same message. She repeated
this trick again and again, until one morning the King said to her, "I
feel infinitely obliged to this Lord Pippo, and am desirous of knowing
him, that I may make a return for the kindness he has shown me." And
the cat replied, "The desire of my Lord Pippo is to give his life for
your Majesty's crown; and tomorrow morning, without fail, as soon as
the Sun has set fire to the stubble of the fields of air, he will come
and pay his respects to you."
So when the morning came, the cat went to the King, and said to him:
"Sire, my Lord Pippo sends to excuse himself for not coming, as last
night some of his servants robbed him and ran off, and have not left
him a single shirt to his back." When the King heard this, he instantly
commanded his retainers to take out of his own wardrobe a quantity of
clothes and linen, and sent them to Pippo; and, before two hours had
passed, Pippo went to the palace, conducted by the cat, where he
received a thousand compliments from the King, who made him sit beside
himself, and gave him a banquet that would amaze you.
While they were eating, Pippo from time to time turned to the cat and
said to her, "My pretty puss, pray take care that those rags don't slip
through our fingers." Then the cat answered, "Be quiet, be quiet; don't
be talking of these beggarly things." The King, wishing to know the
subject of their talk, the cat made answer that Pippo had taken a fancy
to a small lemon; whereupon the King instantly sent out to the garden
for a basketful. But Pippo returned to the same tune about the old
coats and shirts, and the cat again told him to hold his tongue. Then
the King once more asked what was the matter, and the cat had another
excuse to make amends for Pippo's rudeness.
At last, when they had eaten and conversed for some time about one
thing and another, Pippo took his leave; and the cat stayed with the
King, describing the worth, the wisdom, and the judgment of Pippo; and,
above all, the great wealth he had in the plains of Rome and Lombardy,
which well entitled him to marry even into the family of a crowned
King. Then the King asked what might be his fortune; and the cat
replied that no one could ever count the moveables, the fixtures, and
the household furniture of this rich man, who did not even know what he
possessed. If the King wished to be informed of it, he had only to send
messengers with the cat, and she would prove to him that there was no
wealth in the world equal to his.
Then the King called some trusty persons, and commanded them to inform
themselves minutely of the truth; so they followed in the footsteps of
the cat, who, as soon as they had passed the frontier of the kingdom,
from time to time ran on before, under the pretext of providing
refreshments for them on the road. Whenever she met a flock of sheep, a
herd of cows, a troop of horses, or a drove of pigs, she would say to
the herdsmen and keepers, "Ho! have a care! A troop of robbers is
coming to carry off everything in the country. So if you wish to escape
their fury, and to have your things respected, say that they all belong
to the Lord Pippo, and not a hair will be touched."
She said the same at all the farmhouses, so that wherever the King's
people came they found the pipe tuned; for everything they met with,
they were told, belonged to the Lord Pippo. At last they were tired of
asking, and returned to the King, telling seas and mountains of the
riches of Lord Pippo. The King, hearing this report, promised the cat a
good drink if she should manage to bring about the match; and the cat,
playing the shuttle between them, at last concluded the marriage. So
Pippo came, and the King gave him his daughter and a large portion.
At the end of a month of festivities, Pippo wished to take his bride to
his estates, so the King accompanied them as far as the frontiers; and
he went on to Lombardy, where, by the cat's advice, he purchased a
large estate and became a baron.
Pippo, seeing himself now so rich, thanked the cat more than words can
express, saying that he owed his life and his greatness to her good
offices; and that the ingenuity of a cat had done more for him that the
wit of his father. Therefore, said he, she might dispose of his life
and his property as she pleased; and he gave her his word that when she
died, which he prayed might not be for a hundred years, he would have
her embalmed and put into a golden coffin, and set in his own chamber,
that he might keep her memory always before his eyes.
The cat listened to these lavish professions; and before three days she
pretended to be dead, and stretched herself at full length in the
garden. When Pippo's wife saw her, she cried out, "Oh, husband, what a
sad misfortune! The cat is dead!" "Devil die with her!" said Pippo.
"Better her than we!" "What shall we do with her?" replied the wife.
"Take her by the leg," said he, "and fling her out of the window!"
Then the cat, who heard this fine reward when she least expected it,
began to say, "Is this the return you make for my taking you from
beggary? Are these the thanks I get for freeing you from rags that you
might have hung distaffs with? Is this my reward for having put good
clothes on your back when you were a poor, starved, miserable,
tatter-shod ragamuffin? But such is the fate of him who washes an ass's
head! Go! A curse upon all I have done for you! A fine gold coffin you
had prepared for me! A fine funeral you were going to give me! Go, now!
serve, labour, toil, sweat to get this fine reward! Unhappy is he who
does a good deed in hope of a return. Well was it said by the
philosopher, He who lies down an ass, an ass he finds himself.' But
let him who does most, expect least; smooth words and ill deeds deceive
alike both fools and wise!"
So saying, she drew her cloak about her and went her way. All that
Pippo, with the utmost humility, could do to soothe her was of no
avail. She would not return; but ran on and on without ever turning her
head about, saying—
"Heaven keep me from the rich grown poor,
And from the beggar who of wealth gains store."