Straparola and Basile

The Italian Fairy Tale Collectors

We are all familiar with the great anthologies of fairy tales written and collated by the likes of Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, but have you heard of Giambattista Basile or Straparola?

Children today may have come to associate fairy tales with big budget live action films or iconic Disney cartoons, but in fact the tradition of fairy tales predates even the written word. Before Disney, and even before the widely known fairy tale collectors like Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, these fantastical stories for children and adults (many tales in fact were much more gruesome than the versions we know today, with the content being made more child friendly as the decades went on), were passed on by minstrels or elders.


One of the first people to collate and record some of these tales, which are normally associated with the north of Europe was in fact an Italian, Straparola. Giovanni Francesco, known as Straparola (babbler) was born in 1480 in Caravaggio in Italy, and during his life he collated 75 folkloristic tales into two volumes: Le Piacevoli Notti published between 1550 and 1553, later published in English with the title The Facetious Nights of Straparola. Many of these stories that are now classic fairy tales, including Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast and The Golden Goose.

The second Italian fairy tale collector is perhaps better known thanks to the visually stunning film directed by Mattero Garrone in 2015, Tale of Tales starring Salma Hayek and Vincent Cassel. The film is inspired by a book written by poet Giambattista Basile, originally titled Lo cunto de li cunti (Tale of Tales) and published in Naples between 1634 and 1636 in Neapolitan dialect.


Also called lo trattenemiento de peccerille – Entertainment for Little Ones – the book is composed of 50 fairy-tales recounted by 10 different storytellers in 5 days. It was in fact its structure that gave it its second name, in 1674: The Pentamerone, from Penta, “5” in Greek.


The Pentamerone was published posthumously in two volumes by Basile’s sister Adriana in Naples in 1634 and 1636 under the pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis with the name Lu Cunto. Just like Straparola’s volumes, this work too inevitably recalls the Tuscan work by Boccaccio, the Decameron, because of the similar structure of the two books.

While the Basile’s work was unfairly forgotten for long time, it was unearthed by the Grimm brothers, who then had it translated into German, resulting in its first integral publication, with the preface by Jacob Grimm in 1846, and in English in 1848. In 1925, the volumes make their way back into Italian literature with a stunning translation into Italian by philosopher Benedetto Croce who loved it and praised it.


But what fairy tales can be found in Basile’s opera magna? Early incarnations of the timeless princesses of fairy tales like Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.


All images provided by Bridgeman



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