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Giambattista Basile lived from 1575 to 1632. He was a poet but today he is chiefly remembered as a collector of fairy tales, oral tales which were being told around Naples and Venice in the late 1500's. Basile rewrote the stories and embellished them for literary effect as was the custom. He transformed the oral materials he heard into original tales with abundant references to everyday life and popular culture, with a subtext of playful critiques of courtly culture included as verse eclogues following each tale. They were intended to be read aloud in the "courtly conversations" that were an elite pastime of the period. (Basile spent most of his adult life in intellectual service at courts in Italy and abroad.)
After his death his sister published the stories in a book which came to be known as "The Pentamerone" because it mirrored the form of Bocaccio's "Decameron" in which a series of stories are told each day. In the case of Il Pentamerone there are ten fairy stories, fairy-assisted stories, told on each of five days. Although isolated fairy tales had begun to be included in novella collections, most notable in Straporola's work, this book was the first collection consisting entirely of fairy tales to appear in Europe. As such it exerted a notable influence on later fairy tale writers such as Perrault and the brothers Grimm.
Basile wrote in flavorful Neapolitan Italian. There are ample examples of the collection in translation available on the internet, and in 2007 Wayne State University Press published a complete translation of the text by Nancy L. Canepa, but all the translations faithfully replicate Basile's flamboyant style. Instead of "that night" Basile would say "Day was gone, and Earth had spread out her great black board to catch the wax that might drop from the tapers of night." And instead of "next morning" he would say "the cock, who is the spy of the sun, announced to his master that the Shades of Night were worn and wearied, and it was now time for him, like a skillful general, to fall upon their rear and make a slaughter of them." to the point that the flourishes completely overshadow the tales themselves.
My purpose in putting the stories into rhyme is to extract only the plots. I do not claim to be a scholar or a translator but I know a good story when I hear one.
Click on the buttons below to enjoy the stories in verse
Here you will find poems based on the tales included in The Pentamerone.