Return to the King – Biancabella and the Snake Part 4

What’s gone before

Biancabella marries Ferrandino, the King of Naples but his stepmother’s henchmen amputates her hands and leaves her blind while she replaces Biancabella with her own daughter in order to fool the king. With the help of Samaritana, Biancabella is returned to her whole self and is now heading back to Naples to return to the king.

Biancabella and the Snake is quite a lengthy tale so we have split it into four parts. This is the final part.

Return to the King – Biancabella and the Snake Part 4

 

Return to the kingIt came to pass after the lapse of many days that Samaritana and Biancabella, and the old man with his wife and his three daughters, left their cottage and betook themselves to the city of Naples, purposing to dwell there, and, when they had entered the city, they chanced to come upon a vacant space hard by the palace of the king, where they determined to make their resting-place. And when the dark night had fallen around them, Samaritana took in her hand a twig of laurel and thrice struck the earth there with, uttering certain mystic words the while, and almost before the sound of these words had ceased there sprang up forthwith before them a palace, the most beautiful and sumptuous that ever was seen. The next morning Ferrandino the king went early to look out of the window, and when he beheld the rich and marvellous palace standing where there had been nothing the night before, he was altogether overcome with amazement, and called his wife and his stepmother to come and see it; but these were greatly disturbed in mind at the sight thereof, for a boding came upon them that some ill was about to befall them.

While Ferrandino was standing, scanning closely the palace before him, and examining it in all parts, he lifted his eyes to a certain window, and there, in the chamber inside, he beheld two ladies of a beauty more rich and dazzling than the sun. And no sooner had his eyes fallen upon them than he felt a tempest of passion rising in his heart, for he assuredly recognized in one of them some similitude of that loveliness which had once been Biancabella’s. And when he asked who they were, and from what land they had come, the answer which was given him was that they were two ladies who had been exiled from their home, and that they had journeyed from Persia, with all their possessions, to take up their abode in the noble city of Naples. When he heard this, Ferrandino sent a messenger to inquire whether he would be doing them any pleasure in waiting upon them, accompanied by the ladies of his court, to pay them a visit of welcome, and to this gracious message they sent an answer, saying that it would indeed be a very precious honour to be thus visited by him, but that it would be more decorous and respectful if they, as subjects, should pay this duty to him, than that he, as lord and king, should visit them.

Hereupon Ferrandino bade them summon the queen and the other ladies of the court, and with these (although at first they refused to go, being so greatly in fear of their impending ruin) he be took himself to the palace of the two ladies, who, with all friendly signs of welcome and with modest bearing, gave him the reception due to a highly honoured guest, showing him the wide loggias, and the roomy halls, and the richly ornamented chambers, the walls of which were lined with alabaster and fine porphyry, while about them were to be seen on all sides carven figures which looked like life. And when they had exhibited to the king all parts of the sumptuous palace, the two fair young women approached Ferrandino and besought him most gracefully that he would deign to come one day with his queen and dine at their table. The king, whose heart was not hard enough to remain unaffected by all he had seen, and who was gifted moreover with a magnanimous and liberal spirit, graciously accepted the invitation. And when he had tendered his thanks to the two ladies for the noble welcome they had given him, he and the queen departed together and returned to their own palace. When the day fixed for the banquet had come, the king and the queen and the stepmother, clad in their royal robes and accompanied by some of the ladies of the court, went to do honour to the magnificent feast set out in the most sumptuous fashion. And after he had given them water to wash their hands, the seneschal bade them conduct the king and queen to a table apart, set somewhat higher, but at the same time near to the others, and having done this, he caused all the rest of the guests to seat themselves according to their rank, and in this fashion they all feasted merrily and joyfully together.

When the stately feast had come to an end and the tables had been cleared, Samaritana rose from her seat, and turning towards the king and the queen, spake thus: ‘Your majesties, in order that the time may not be irksome to us, as it may if we sit here idle, let one or other of us propose something in the way of diversion which will let us pass the day pleasantly.’ And when the guests heard what Samaritana said, they all agreed that she had spoken well, but yet there was found no one bold enough to make such a proposition as she had called for. Where upon Samaritana, when she perceived they were all silent, went on: ‘Since it appears that no one of this company is prepared to put forward anything, I, with your majesty’s leave, will bid come hither one of our own maidens, whose singing perchance will give you no little pleasure.’ And having summoned the damsel, whose name was Silveria, into the banqueting-room, Samaritana commanded her to take a lyre in her hand and to sing thereto something in honour of the king which should be worthy of their praise. And the damsel, obedient to her lady’s command, took her lyre, and, having placed herself before the king, sang in a soft and pleasant voice while she touched the resounding strings with the plectrum, telling in her chant the story of Biancabella from beginning to end, but not mentioning her by name. When the whole of the story had been set forth, Samaritana again rose to her feet, and demanded of the king what would be the fitting punishment, what torture would be cruel enough for those who had put their hands to such an execrable crime. Then the stepmother, who deemed that she might perchance get a release for her misdeeds by a prompt and ready reply, did not wait for the king to give his answer, but cried out in a bold and confident tone, ‘Surely to be cast into a furnace heated red hot would be but a light punishment for the offences of such a one.’ Then Samaritana, with her countenance all afire with vengeance and anger, made answer to her: ‘Thou thyself art the very same guilty and barbarous woman, through whose nefarious working all these cruel wrongs have been done; and thou, wicked and accursed one, hast condemned thyself to a righteous penalty out of thine own mouth.’ Then Samaritana, turning towards the king with a look of joy upon her face, said to him, ‘Behold! this is your Biancabella, this is the wife you loved so dearly, this is she without whom you could not live.’ Then, to prove the truth of her words, Samaritana gave the word to the three daughters of the old man that they should forthwith, in the presence of the king, begin to comb Biancabella’s fair and wavy hair, and scarcely had they begun when (as has been told before) there fell out of her tresses many very precious and exquisite jewels, and from her hands came forth roses exhaling the sweet scents of morning, and all manner of odoriferous flowers. And for yet greater certainty she pointed out to the king how the snow-white neck of Biancabella was encircled by a fine chain of the most delicately wrought gold, which grew naturally between the skin and the flesh, and shone out as through the clearest crystal.

When the king perceived by these manifest and convincing signs that she was indeed his own Biancabella, he began to weep for the joy he felt, and to embrace her tenderly. But before he left that place he caused to be heated hot a furnace, and into this he bade them cast the stepmother and her two daughters. Thus their repentance for their crimes came too late, and they made a miserable end to their lives. And after this the three daughters of the old man were given honourably in marriage, and the King Ferrandino with Biancabella and Samaritana lived long and happily, and when Ferrandino died his son succeeded to his kingdom.

Biancabella and the Snake is a tale by Giovanni Francesco Straparola. It is one of his many fairy tales published in a collection called The Facetious Nights or The Pleasant Nights. His stories are some of the earliest written fairy tales in Europe.

Giovanni Straparola was born around 1485 and died in the 1550’s. The first volume of The Facetious Nights was published in 1551 and the second in 1553. Together they contained seventy-five tales including an early version of Puss-in-boots and Biancabella and the Snake. The collection was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of books banned by the Catholic Church) between 1580 and 1624.

Biancabella and the Snake appears in The Facetious Nights Volume 1. Like most fairy tales it begins simple enough and ends “happily ever after”, but it’s the going developments in the middle that make it disturbing.

It contains all the weird and violence we’ve come to expect from the older fairy tales. Without giving away too much, Biancabella has a snake as a twin, there is a good father and an evil step-mother and ugly step-sisters, Biancabella is mutilated and left for dead but eventually the bad guys are dealt with in a gruesome way.

 



Is it weird in here, or is it just me?”
Steven Wright