The Language of Animals

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 670
about wife beating
selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2022


  1. The Language of Animals (from The Jataka; or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births).

  2. The King and His Inquisitive Queen (India).

  3. The Billy Goat and the King (India).

  4. Ramai and the Bonga (India).

  5. The King Who Learnt the Speech of Animals (Sri Lanka).

  6. The Bull, the Donkey, and the Husbandman (from The 1001 Nights).

  7. The Merchant Who Knew the Language of Beasts (Palestine).

  8. The Snake's Gift: Language of Animals (Serbia).

  9. The Language of Animals (Bulgaria).

  10. The Language of Beasts (Bulgaria).

  11. Woman's Curiosity (Hungary).

  12. The Dog and the Cock (Denmark).

  13. The Wicked Wife (Germany).

  14. Frederigo da Pozzuolo Is Pressed by His Wife to Tell a Secret (Italy, Giovanni Francesco Straparola).

  15. The Language of Beasts (Jamaica).

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The Language of Animals

from The Jataka; or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births

Once upon a time when a king named Senaka was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Sakka. The king Senaka was friendly with a certain naga king. This naga king, they say, left the naga world and ranged the earth seeking food. The village boys seeing him said, "This is a snake," and struck him with clods and other things.

The king, going to amuse himself in his garden, saw them, and being told they were beating a snake, said, "Don't let them beat him. Drive them away." And this was done.

So the naga king got his life, and when he went back to the naga world. He took many jewels, and coming at midnight to the king's bedchamber he gave them to him, saying, "I got my life through you." So he made friendship with the king and came again and again to see him. He appointed one of his naga girls, insatiate in pleasures, to be near the king and protect him, and he gave the king a charm, saying, "If ever you do not see her, repeat this charm."

One day the king went to the garden with the naga girl and was amusing himself in the lotus tank. The naga girl seeing a water snake quitted her human shape and made love with him. The king not seeing the girl said, "Where is she gone?" and repeated the spell. Then he saw her in her misconduct and struck her with a piece of bamboo.

She went in anger to the naga world, and when she was asked, "Why are you come?" she said, "Your friend struck me on the back because I did not do his bidding," showing the mark of the blow.

The naga king, not knowing the truth, called four naga youths and sent them with orders to enter Senaka's bedchamber and destroy him like chaff by the breath of their nostrils. They entered the chamber at the royal bedtime.

As they came in, the king was saying to the queen, "Lady, do you know where the naga girl has gone?"

"King, I do not."

"Today when we were bathing in the tank, she quitted her shape and misconducted herself with a water snake. I said, 'Don't do that,' and struck her with a piece of bamboo to give her a lesson. And now I fear she may have gone to the naga world and told some lie to my friend, destroying his goodwill to me."

The young nagas hearing this turned back at once to the naga world and told their king. He being moved went instantly to the king's chamber, told him all and was forgiven. Then he said, "In this way I make amends," and gave the king a charm giving knowledge of all sounds. "This, O king, is a priceless spell. If you give anyone this spell you will at once enter the fire and die."

The king said, "It is well," and accepted it. From that time he understood the voice even of ants.

One day he was sitting on the dais eating solid food with honey and molasses, and a drop of honey, a drop of molasses, and a morsel of cake fell on the ground. An ant seeing this comes crying, "The king's honey jar is broken on the dais, his molasses cart and cake cart are upset. Come and eat honey and molasses and cake."

The king hearing the cry laughed. The queen being near him thought, "What has the king seen that he laughs?"

When the king had eaten his solid food and bathed and sat down cross-legged, a fly said to his wife, "Come, lady, let us enjoy love."

She said, "Excuse me for a little, husband. They will soon be bringing perfumes to the king. As he perfumes himself some powder will fall at his feet. I will stay there and become fragrant, then we will enjoy ourselves lying on the king's back."

The king hearing the voice laughed again. The queen thought again, "What has he seen that he laughs?"

Again when the king was eating his supper, a lump of rice fell on the ground. The ants cried, "A wagon of rice has broken in the king's palace, and there is none to eat it."

The king hearing this laughed again. The queen took a golden spoon and helping him reflected, "Is it at the sight of me that the king laughs?"

She went to the bedchamber with the king and at bedtime she asked, "Why did you laugh, O king?"

He said, "What have you to do with why I laugh?" But being asked again and again her told her.

Then she said, "Give me your spell of knowledge."

He said, "It cannot be given." But though repulsed she pressed him again.

The king said, "If I give you this spell, I shall die."

"Even though you die, give it me."

The king, being in the power of womankind, saying, "It is well," consented and went to the park in a chariot, saying, "I shall enter the fire after giving away this spell."

At that moment Sakka, king of gods, looked down on the earth and seeing this case said, "This foolish king, knowing that he will enter the fire through womankind, is on the way; I will give him his life." So he took Suja, daughter of the Asuras, and went to Benares. He became a he-goat and made her a she-goat, and resolving that the people should not see them, he stood before the king's chariot. The king and the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot saw him, but none else saw him. For the sake of starting talk he was as if making love with the she-goat.

One of the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot seeing him said, "Friend goat, we have heard before, but not seen, that goats are stupid and shameless. But you are doing, with all of us looking on, this thing that should be done in secret and in a private place, and are not ashamed. What we have heard before agrees with this that we see."

And so he spoke the first stanza:

"Goats are stupid," says the wise man, and the words are surely true:
This one knows not he's parading what in secret he should do.

The goat hearing him spoke two stanzas:

O, sir donkey, think and realize your own stupidity,
You're tied with ropes, your jaw is wrenched, and very downcast is your eye.

When you're loosed, you don't escape, sir, that's a stupid habit too:
And that Senaka you carry, he's more stupid still than you.

The king understood the talk of both animals, and hearing it he quickly sent away the chariot. The ass hearing the goat's talk spoke the fourth stanza:

Well. sir king of goats, you fully know my great stupidity:
But how Senaka is stupid, prithee do explain to me.

The goat explaining this spoke the fifth stanza:

He who his own special treasure on his wife will throw away,
Cannot keep her faithful ever and his life he must betray.

The king hearing his words said, "King of goats, you will surely act for my advantage. Tell me now what is right for me to do."

Then the goat said, "King, to all animals no one is dearer than self. It is not good to destroy oneself and abandon the honor one has gained for the sake of anything that is dear." So he spoke the sixth stanza:

A king, like thee, may have conceived desire
And yet renounced it if his life's the cost.
Life is the chief thing. What can man seek higher?
If life's secured, desires need ne'er be crossed.

So the Bodhisatta exhorted the king. The king, delighted, asked, "King of goats, whence come you?"

"I am Sakka, O king, come to save you from death out of pity for you."

"King of gods, I promised to give her the charm. What am I to do now?"

"There is no need for the ruin of both of you. You say, 'It is the way of the craft,' and have her beaten with some blows. By this means she will not get it."

The king said, "It is well," and agreed. The Bodhisatta after exhortation to the king went to Sakka's heaven. The king went to the garden, had the queen summoned and then said, "Lady, will you have the charm?"

"Yes, lord."

"Then go through the usual custom."

"What custom?"

"A hundred stripes on the back, but you must not make a sound."

She consented through greed for the charm. The king made his slaves take whips and beat her on both sides. She endured two or three stripes and then cried, "I don't want the charm."

The king said, "You would have killed me to get the charm," and so flogging the skin off her back he sent her away. After that she could not bear to talk of it again.

The King and His Inquisitive Queen


There was a certain king known by the name of Huntsman, on account of his expertness in the chase. One day when returning from the forest where he had been hunting he found a serpent and a lizard fighting on the path along which he was moving. As they were blocking the way he ordered them to stand aside and allow him to pass, but they gave no heed to what he said. King Huntsman then began to beat them with his staff. He killed the lizard, but the serpent fled, and so escaped.

The serpent then went to Monsha, the king of the serpents, and complained of the treatment the lizard and himself had received at the hands of king Huntsman. The next day king Monsha went and met king Huntsman on his way home from the forest, and blocked his way so that he could not pass. King Huntsman being angry said, "Clear the way, and allow me to pass, or else I shall send an arrow into you. Why do you block my way?"

King Monsha replied, "Why did you assault the lizard and the serpent, with intent to kill them both?"

King Huntsman answered, "I ordered them to get out of my way, but they would not, I therefore assaulted them, and killed one. The other saved himself by flight."

King Monsha hearing this explanation said, "Very good, the fault was theirs, not yours."

King Huntsman then petitioned the king of the serpents to bestow upon him the gift of understanding the language of animals and insects. King Monsha acceded to his request, and gave him the gift he desired. A few days after this event king Huntsman went to the forest, and after hunting all day returned home in the evening. Having washed his hands and feet, he sat down to his meal of boiled rice. When the rice was being served to the king a few grains fell on the ground, and a fly and an ant began to dispute as to who should carry them away.

The fly said, "I will take them to my children."

The ant replied, "No, I will take them to mine."

Hearing the two talk thus, the king was amused, and began to smile.

The queen, who was standing by, said to him, "Tell me what has made you laugh."

On being thus addressed the king became greatly confused, for at the time the gift of understanding the language of animals and insects was bestowed upon him, king Monsha had forbidden him to make it known to anyone. He had said, "If you tell this to any one, I shall eat you."

Remembering this the king feared to answer the question put to him by the queen. He tried to deceive her by saying, "I did not laugh, you must have been mistaken."

She would not, however, be thus put off, so the king was obliged to tell her that if he answered her question his life would be forfeited.

The queen was inexorable, and said, "Whether you forfeit your life or not, you must tell me."

The king then said, "Well, if it must be so, let us make ready to go to the bank of the Ganges. There I shall tell you, and when I have done so you must push me into the river, and then return home."

The king armed himself, and the two set out for the river. When they had reached it, they sat down to rest under the shade of a tree A flock of goats was grazing near to where they were seated, and the king's attention was arrested by a conversation which was being carried on between an old she- goat and a young he-goat.

The former addressed the latter thus, "There is an island in the middle of the Ganges, and on that island there is a large quantity of good sweet grass. Get the grass for me, and I shall give you my daughter in marriage."

The he-goat was not thus to be imposed upon. He angrily addressed his female friend as follows, "Do not think to make me like this foolish king, who vainly tries to please a woman. He has come here to lose his own life at the bidding of one. You tell me to go and bring you grass out of such a flood as this. I am no such fool. I do not care to die yet. There are many more quite as good as your daughter."

The king understood what passed between them, and admitted to himself the truth of what the he-goat had said. After considering a short time he arose, and having made a rude sacrificial altar, said to the queen, "Kneel down, and do me obeisance, and I shall tell you what made me laugh."

She knelt down, and the king struck off her head and burnt her body upon the altar. Returning home he performed her funeral ceremonies, after which he married another wife. He reigned prosperously for many years, and decided all disputes that were brought before him by animals or insects.

The Billy Goat and the King

India, Andrew Lang

Once there lived a certain king who understood the language of all birds and beasts and insects. This knowledge had of course been given him by a fairy godmother; but it was rather a troublesome present, for he knew that if he were ever to reveal anything he had thus learned he would turn into a stone. How he managed to avoid doing so long before this story opens I cannot say, but he had safely grown up to manhood, and married a wife, and was as happy as monarchs generally are.

This king, I must tell you, was a Hindu; and when a Hindu eats his food he has a nice little place on the ground freshly plastered with mud, and he sits in the middle of it with very few clothes on -- which is quite a different way from ours. Well, one day the king was eating his dinner in just such a nice, clean, mud-plastered spot, and his wife was sitting opposite to wait upon him and keep him company. As he ate he dropped some grains of rice upon the ground, and a little ant, who was running about seeking a living, seized upon one of the grains and bore it off towards his hole.

Just outside the king's circle this ant met another ant, and the king heard the second one say, "Oh, dear friend, do give me that grain of rice, and get another one for yourself. You see my boots are so dirty that, if I were to go upon the king's eating place, I should defile it, and I can't do that, it would be so very rude."

But the owner of the grain of rice only replied, "If you want rice go and get it. No one will notice your dirty boots; and you don't suppose that I am going to carry rice for all our kindred?"

Then the king laughed. The queen looked at herself up and down, but she could not see or feel anything in her appearance to make the king laugh, so she said, "What are you laughing at?"

"Did I laugh?" replied the king.

"Of course you did," retorted the queen; "and if you think that I am ridiculous I wish you would say so, instead of behaving in that stupid way! What are you laughing at?"

"I'm not laughing at anything," answered the king. "Very well, but you did laugh, and l want to know why."

"Well, I'm afraid I can't tell you," said the king.

"You must tell me," replied the queen impatiently. "If you laugh when there's nothing to laugh at you must be ill or mad. What is the matter?

Still the king refused to say, and still the queen declared that she must and would know. For days the quarrel went on, and the queen gave her husband no rest, until at last the poor man was almost out of his wits, and thought that, as life had become for him hardly worth living while this went on, he might as well tell her the secret and take the consequences.

"But," thought he, "if I am to become a stone, I am not going to lie, if I can help it, on some dusty highway, to be kicked here and there by man and beast, flung at dogs, be used as the plaything of naughty children, and become generally restless and miserable. I will be a stone at the bottom of the cool river, and roll gently about there until I find some secure resting place where I can stay for ever."

So he told his wife that if she would ride with him to the middle of the river he would tell her what he had laughed at. She thought he was joking, and laughingly agreed; their horses were ordered and they set out. On the way they came to a fine well beneath the shade of some lofty, wide-spreading trees, and the king proposed that they should get off and rest a little, drink some of the cool water, and then pass on. To this the queen consented; so they dismounted and sat down in the shade by the well-side to rest.

It happened that an old goat and his wife were browsing in the neighbourhood, and, as the king and queen sat there, the nanny goat came to the well's brink and peering over saw some lovely green leaves that sprang in tender shoots out of the side of the well. "Oh!" cried she to her husband, "come quickly and look. Here are some leaves which make my mouth water; come and get them for me!"

Then the billy goat sauntered up and looked over, and after that he eyed his wife a little crossly. "You expect me to get you those leaves, do you? I suppose you don't consider how in the world I am to reach them? You don't seem to think at all; if you did you would know that if I tried to reach those leaves I should fall into the well and be drowned!"

"Oh," cried the nanny goat, "why should you fall in? Do try and get them!"

"I am not going to be so silly," replied the billy goat. But the nanny goat still wept and entreated.

"Look here," said her husband, "there are plenty of fools in the world, but I am not one of them. This silly king here, because he can't cure his wife of asking questions, is going to throw his life away. But I know how to cure you of your follies, and I'm going to." And with that he butted the nanny goat so severely that in two minutes she was submissively feeding somewhere else, and had made up her mind that the leaves in the well were not worth having.

Then the king, who had understood every word, laughed once more. The queen looked at him suspiciously, but the king got up and walked across to where she sat.

"Are you still determined to find out what I was laughing at the other day?" he asked.

"Quite," answered the queen angrily. "Because," said the king, tapping his leg with his riding whip, "I've made up my mind not to tell you, and moreover, I have made up my mind to stop you mentioning the subject any more."

"What do you mean?" asked the queen nervously.

"Well," replied the king, "I notice that if that goat is displeased with his wife, he just butts her, and that seems to settle the question."

"Do you mean to say you would beat me?" cried the queen.

"I should be extremely sorry to have to do so," replied the king; "but I have to persuade you to go home quietly, and to ask no more silly questions when I say I cannot answer them. Of course, if you will persist, why --"

And the queen went home, and so did the king; and it is said that they are both happier and wiser than ever before.

Ramai and the Bonga


Once a bonga haunted the house of a certain man and became such a nuisance that the man had him exorcised and safely pegged down to the ground; and they fenced in the place where the bonga lay with thorns and put a large stone on the top of him. Just at the place was a clump of "Kite's claws" bushes and one day when the berries on the bushes were ripe, a certain cowherd named Ramai went to pick them and when he came round to the stone which covered the bonga he stood on it to pick the fruit, and the bonga called out to him to get off the stone. Ramai looked about and seeing no one said "Who is that speaking?" and the voice said "I am buried under the stone; if you will take it off me I will give you whatever boon you ask."

Ramai said that he was afraid that the bonga would eat him but the bonga swore to do him no harm, so he lifted up the stone and the bonga came out and thanking Ramai told him to ask a boon.

Ramai asked for the power to see bongas and to understand the language of ants. "I will give you the power," said the bonga, "but you must tell no one about it, not even your wife; if you do you will lose the power and in that case you must not blame me,"

Then the bonga blew into his ear and he heard the speech of ants; and the bonga scratched the film of his eye balls with a thorn and he saw the bongas: and there were crowds of them living in villages like men. In December when we thresh the rice the bongas carry off half of it; but Ramai could see them and would drive them away and so was able to save his rice.

Once a young fellow of his own age was very ill; and his friends blew into his ears and partially brought him to his senses and he asked them to send for Ramai; so they called Ramai and he had just been milking his cows and came with the tethering rope in his hand; and when he entered the room he saw a bonga sitting on the sick man's chest and twisting his neck; so he flogged it with the rope till it ran away and he pursued it until it threw itself into a pool of water; and then the sick man recovered.

But Ramai soon lost his useful power; one day as he was eating his dinner he dropped some grains of rice, and two ants fell to quarrelling over one grain, and Ramai heard them abusing each other and was so amused that he laughed out loud.

His wife asked why he laughed, and he said at nothing in particular, but she insisted on knowing and he said that it was at some scandal he had heard in the village; but she would not believe him and worried him until he told her that it was at the quarrel of the ants. Then she made him tell her how he gained the power to understand what they said. But from that moment he lost the powers which the bonga had conferred on him.

The King Who Learnt the Speech of Animals

Sri Lanka

In a certain country a king was rearing wild animals. The king had learnt in a thorough manner the speech of animals.

One day at that time the fowls were saying, "Our king assists us very much; he gives us food and drink." They thanked the king very much. The king having heard their talk, the king laughed with pleasure.

The royal queen having been near, asked, "What did you laugh at?"

"I merely (nikan) laughed," the king said. Should he explain and give the talk to any person the king will die. Because of it he did not explain and give it. That the king knows the speech of animals he does not inform anyone.

The royal queen says, "There is no one who laughs in that way without a reason. Should you not say the reason I am going away, or having jumped into a well I shall die."

Thereupon the king, because he was unable to be released from [the importunity of] the queen, thought, "Even if I am to die I must explain and give this."

Thinking thus, he went to give food to the animals. Then it was evident to those animals that this king is going to die. Out of the party of animals first a cock says, "His majesty our king is going to be lost. We don't want the food. We shall not receive assistance. Unless his majesty the king perish thus we shall not perish. In submission to me there are many hens. When I have called them the hens come. When I have told them to eat they eat. When I have told them to go they go. The king, having become submissive in that manner to the thing that his wife has said, is going to die."

The king having heard it, laughed at it also.

Then, also, the royal queen asked, "What did you laugh at?"

Thereupon, not saying the [true] word, the king said, "Thinking of constructing a tank, I laughed."

Then the queen said, "Having caused the animals that are in this Lankawa (Ceylon) to be brought, let us build a tank."

Then the king having said, "It is good," caused the animals to be brought. The king having gone with the animals, showed them a place [in which] to build a tank; and telling them to build it came away.

The animals, at the king's command being unable to do anything, all together began to struggle on the mound of earth. Those which can take earth in the mouth take it in the mouth. All work in this manner. The jackal, not doing work, having bounded away remained looking on.

After three or four days, the king having gone [there] trickishly stayed looking on. The king saw that the other animals are all moving about as though working. The jackal, only, having bounded off is looking on.

Having seen it he asked the jackal, "The others are all working. Thou, only, art looking upward. Why?"

Thereupon the jackal said, "No, O lord, I looked into an account."

Then the king asked, "What account art thou looking at?"

The jackal says, "I looked whether in this country the female3s are in excess or the males are in excess."

The king asked, "By the account which thou knowest, are the females in excess or the males in excess?"

The jackal said, "So far as I can perceive, the females are in excess in this country."

Then the king said that men are in excess. Having said it the king said, "I myself having gone home and looked at the books, if males are in excess I shall give thee a good punishment."

The king having come home and looked at the books, it appeared that the males were in excess. Thereupon the king called the jackal, and said, "Bola, males are in excess."

Then the jackal says, "No, O lord, your majesty, they are not as many as the females. Having also put down to the female account the males who hearken to the things that females say, after they counted them the females would be in excess."

Then the jackal said, "Are the animals able to build tanks? How shall they carry the earth?"

Thereupon the king having considered it, and having said, "Wild animals, wild animals, you are to go to the midst of the forest," came home.

At that time, the queen asked, "Is the tank built and finished?"

Then the king, taking a cane, began to beat the queen. Thereupon the queen, having said, "Ané! O lord, your majesty, I will never again say anything, or even ask anything," began to cry aloud.

The king got to know that the jackal was a wise animal.

Western Province.

The Bull, the Donkey, and the Husbandman

The 1001 Nights

Once Allah endowed a wealthy husbandman with the ability to understand the language of every kind of beast and bird, commanding him, under pain of death, never to divulge this gift. Fearing for his life, the husbandman guarded the secret well.

One day while observing his animals, he heard a bull say to a donkey, "Lucky one, you enjoy the best of care, while I suffer all manner of ill treatment. I toil under the yoke by day, receive but a meager ration of beans and straw, and must lie at night in a filthy stall. You, by comparison, eat well and lie about at ease unless the master chooses to ride you into town, which happens seldom enough, and even then he returns with you straight-away."

"You fool," replied the donkey. "You could have an easier life, if you would only feign illness. When they next take you to your stall, fall to the ground, puff out your belly, and refuse to eat. This will surely bring a reprieve from your accustomed blows and toil."

The bull did as the donkey recommended and pretended to be sick. However, the master, who had overheard their conversation, responded by binding the wily donkey to the plow and forcing him to do the bull's work. The donkey, unaccustomed to such labor, suffered greatly under the yoke and the plowman's stick, while the bull enjoyed a day of rest. At day's end, the donkey, nearly dead from exertion and blows, came quickly to a new plan. "My friend," he said to the bull, "you have a bleak future if you do not soon recover your strength. I heard the master say that he intends to deliver you to the butcher, who will turn your flesh into meat for the poor and your hide into a leather mat." The husbandman heard this all.

The next morning the husbandman, accompanied by his wife, approached the bull in his stall. The beast gave a great show of health and vigor, whisking his tail, farting, and frisking lustily about. The master, greatly amused at the turn of events, broke into laughter.

"Why do you laugh?" asked his wife.

"I cannot tell you, lest I die." replied the man.

"So be it," answered the woman, "but I must know why you laughed." She continued to wheedle and to beg, until he, sensing that he could not forever resist her unrelenting pleas, resigned himself to his fate. He brought his affairs to order, then prepared to reveal his secret and to die.

Now the husbandman had some fifty hens, all serviced by one rooster. The rooster, lustily mounting one hen after the other, was interrupted by one of the farm dogs, who said, "For shame, that you thus satisfy your lust on this day that our master is to die."

The rooster replied, "What sort of master do we have, who cannot manage a single wife? I control fifty hens."

"And what should the master do?" asked the dog.

"He should cut a branch from yonder mulberry tree then use it on her back and ribs until she repents. Then let him give her another beating for good measure, and henceforth he will sleep well and enjoy life."

The husbandman heard this conversation between the dog and the rooster, and he took it to heart. He cut a branch from the mulberry tree and proceeded with it to his wife's room. Locking the door behind him, he announced that he was about to reveal his secret to her, but then began to beat her soundly about her back, shoulders, ribs, arms, and legs, all the while saying, "Are you ever again going to ask questions about matters that do not concern you?" Nearly senseless, she finally cried out, "I repent! With Allah as a witness, I will never again question you." She then kissed his hands and his feet, and he led her from the room as submissive as a wife should be. Her parents and other members of the family rejoiced at the turn of events.

Thus the husbandman learned family discipline from his rooster, and he and his wife lived together the happiest of lives until they died.

The Merchant Who Knew the Language of Beasts


There was once a merchant who knew the language of beasts. But this knowledge had been granted him only upon condition that, if he told the secrets learnt by its means, he should instantly die. No one, not even his wife, was aware that he was gifted beyond the common.

One evening, standing near his stables, he heard an ox, which had just returned from plowing, complaining bitterly of his hard labor, and asking the ass on which the merchant rode to business how he might lighten it. The ass advised him to be very ill, to leave his food untouched and roll on the ground in pain when the plowman came to take him to the field. The ox took this advice, and next day his master was told he was too ill to work. The merchant prescribed rest and extra food for the ox, and ordered that the donkey, which was strong and fat, should be yoked to the plow in his place.

That evening the merchant stood again by the stable, listening. When the ass came in from plowing, the ox thanked him for his advice, and expressed his intention to act upon it again next morning.

"I don't advise you to do that," said the ass, "if you value your life. Today while I was plowing, your master came and told the plowman to take you to the butcher's tomorrow, as you seemed ailing, and have you killed to save your life. For should you sicken and die, he would lose the value of your carcass."

"What shall I do?" cried the ox in terror.

"Be well and strong tomorrow morning," said the ass.

At that the merchant, unaware that his wife stood near him, laughed aloud, and excited her curiosity. His evasive answers only made her more inquisitive; and when he absolutely refused to satisfy her, she lost her temper, and went to complain of him to her relations, who soon threatened him with a divorce. The poor man, who really loved his wife, in despair resolved to tell her all and die. So he put his affairs in order, made his will, and promised to content her on the morrow.

Next morning, at a window overlooking the stable yard, where the cock was gallanting with a number of hens, he heard his watchdog reprove the bird for such light conduct on a day of grief.

"Why! What is the matter?" inquired the cock.

The dog told the story of their master's trouble, when the cock exclaimed, "Our master is a fool. He cannot keep one wife in order while I have no trouble with twenty. He has only to take a stick and give his mistress a sound thrashing to make her amiable."

These words came as light to the merchant's gloom. Forthwith he called his wife into an inner room, and there chastised her within an inch of her life. And from that hour she gave him no more trouble.

The Snake's Gift: Language of Animals


Once upon a time there lived a shepherd who served his master faithfully and honestly. One day whilst keeping the sheep in the forest, he heard a hissing, and wondered what the noise could be. So he went farther into the wood to try and find out. There he saw that the forest was on fire, and a snake was hissing in the midst of the flames. The shepherd watched to see what the snake would do, for it was quite surrounded by the fire, which approached it nearer and nearer.

Then the snake cried out, "For God's sake, good shepherd, save me from the fire!"

So the shepherd stretched his crook across the flames and the snake glided rapidly over the staff and up his arm onto his shoulder, till at last it wound itself round his neck. Then the shepherd was terrified and exclaimed, "What shall I do? What an unlucky wretch I am! I saved you, and now your are about to kill me!"

The snake answered, "Do not be afraid. Only take me to the house of my father. My father is the king of snakes."

But the shepherd, being already in great fear, began to excuse himself, saying he must not leave his sheep. Then the snake said, "Nothing will happen to your sheep. Do not be anxious about them. But let us hurry home."

So the shepherd went on with the snake through the forest, until they came to a gate made entirely of snakes. Then the snake on the neck of the shepherd hissed, and instantly the snakes untwined themselves, so that the man could pass through. As soon as they had gone through, the snake said to him, "When you reach my father's house he will offer to give you whatever you like -- gold, silver, or precious stones. Do not, however, take any of these things. Choose, instead, the language of animals. He will hesitate at first, but at last he will give it you."

Meanwhile they arrived at the palace, and the king of snakes said, weeping, "For God's sake, my child, where were you?" Thereupon the snake told him all that had happened, how he had been surrounded by fire, and the shepherd had saved him. Then the snake king said to the shepherd, "What do you wish that I should give you for saving my son?"

The shepherd answered, "I desire nothing but the language of animals."

The snake king, however, said, "That is not good for you, for if I give it you, and you tell anyone about it, you will instantly die. Therefore it is better that you ask me for something else."

"If you wish to give me anything," replied the shepherd, "give me the language of animals. If you will not give me that, I want nothing -- so good-bye," and he turned to go away.

Then the snake king called him back, saying, "If you indeed wish it so much, take it. Open your mouth." The shepherd did so, and the snake king blew into his mouth, and said, "Now blow once yourself in my mouth." The Shepherd did so, and then the snake king blew again into his mouth, and this they did three times. After that the snake said, "Now you possess the language of animals. Go, in God's name, but do not for the world tell anyone about it. If you tell anyone you will instantly die."

The shepherd returned across the forest, and, passing through it, he understood everything the birds and animals, and even the plants were saying to each other. When he came to his sheep he found them all there, safe and sound, so he laid himself down to rest a little.

Hardly had he done so before two or three ravens settled on a tree near him, and began to converse together, saying, "If that shepherd only knew that just on the spot where the black sheep is lying there is, deep in the earth, a cave full of gold and silver!"

When the shepherd heard that he went off to his master and told him. The master brought a cart, and dug down to the cave, and carried the treasure away home. But the master was honest, so he gave up the whole of the treasure to the shepherd, saying, "Here my son, all this wealth belongs to you. For to you God gave it. Build a house, marry, and live upon the treasure."

So the shepherd took the money, built a house, and married, and by and by he became the richest man in the whole neighborhood. He kept his own shepherd, and cattle driver, and swineherd. In short, he had great property and made much money.

Once, just at Christmas, he said to his wife, "Get ready some wine and other food, and tomorrow we will feast the shepherds."

The wife did so, and in the morning they went to their farm. Towards evening the master said to the shepherds, "Come here, all of you. You shall eat, drink, and make merry together, and I will go myself this night to watch the sheep."

So the master went to watch his sheep, and, about midnight, the wolves began to howl and the dogs to bark. The wolves spoke, in wolf language, "May we come and take something? You also, shall get a part of the prey."

And the dogs answered, in dog language, "Come! We also are ready to eat something."

But there was one old dog there who had only two teeth left. This old dog shouted furiously, "Come on, you miserable wretches, if you dare. So long as I have these two teeth left you shall not do any damage to my master's property."

All this the master heard and understood. Next day he ordered all the dogs to be killed except that old one. The servants began to remonstrate, saying, "For God's sake, master, it is a pity to do this."

But the master answered, "Do as I have ordered you," and started with his wife to go home. They rode on horseback, he on a fine horse and his wife on a handsome mare. But the master's horse went so fast that the wife remained a little behind.

Then the master's horse neighed, and said to the mare, "Come on, why do you stay behind?"

And the mare answered, "Ah, to you it is easy -- you are carrying only one weight, and I am carrying three."

Thereupon the man turned his head and laughed. The wife saw him laughing, and urged the mare on quicker till she came up to her husband, and asked him, "Why were you laughing?"

He said merely, "I had good reason to laugh!"

But the wife was not satisfied, and again begged he would tell her why he laughed. He excused himself, exclaiming, "Give up questioning me. What has come to you, my wife? I forget now why it was I laughed."

But the more he refused to tell her, the more she wished to know. At last the man said, "If I tell you I shall die immediately!"

That, however, did not quiet her, and she kept on asking, saying to him, "You must tell me."

In the meantime they reached their house. When they had done so the man ordered a coffin to be made, and, when it was ready, had it placed in front of the house, and laid himself down in it. Then he said to his wife, "Now I will tell you why I laughed, but the moment I tell you I shall die."

So he looked around once more, and saw that the old dog had come from the field, and had taken his stand over his head, and was howling. When the man noticed this he said to his wife, "Bring a piece of bread for this poor dog."

The wife brought a piece and threw it to the dog, but the dog did not even look at it, and a cock came near and began to peck at it.

Then the dog said to the cock, "You think only about eating. Do you know that our master is going to die?"

And the cock answered, "Well, let him die, since he is so stupid. I have a hundred wives, and often at nights I gather them all round a grain of corn, and, when they are all there, I pick it up myself. If any of them are angry, I peck them. That is my way of keeping them quiet. Only look at the master, however. He is not able to rule one single wife!"

The man, hearing that, got out of the coffin, took a stick, and called his wife to him, saying, "Come now, and I will tell you what you want to know."

The wife, seeing she was in danger of getting a beating, left him in peace, and never asked him again why it was he laughed.

The Language of Animals


A certain man had a shepherd, who served him faithfully and honestly for many years. This shepherd, when he was once upon a time following the sheep, heard a whistling on the hill, and, not knowing what it was, went off to see. When he got to the place, there was a conflagration, and in the middle of it a serpent was squeaking. When he saw this, he waited to see how the serpent would act, for all around it was burning, and the fire had almost come close to it.

When the serpent saw him, it screamed, "Dear shepherd, do a good action; take me out of this fire."

The shepherd took pity on its words, and reached it his crook, and it crawled out upon it. When it had crawled out, it coiled itself round his neck. When the shepherd saw this, he was frightened, and said, "Indeed you are a wretch! Is that the way you are going to thank me for rescuing you? So runs the proverb: 'Do good, and find evil.'"

The serpent answered him, "Don't fear. I shall do you no harm. Only carry me to my father; my father is the emperor of the serpents."

The shepherd begged pardon, and excused himself, "I can't carry you to your father, because I have no one to leave in charge of my sheep."

The serpent said to him, "Don't fear for your sheep; nothing will happen to them. Only carry me to my father, and go quickly."

Then there was no help for it, so he started with it over the hill. When he came to a door, which was formed of nothing but serpents intertwined, and went up to it, the serpent which was coiled round his neck gave a whistle, and the serpents, which had twined themselves into the form of a door, immediately untwined, and made way for them to enter.

As the shepherd and the serpent entered the palace, the serpent called to the shepherd, "Stop! Let me tell you something: when you come into my father's palace, he will promise you what you desire, silver and gold; but don't you accept anything, only ask him to give you such a tongue that you will be able to understand all animals. He will not give you this readily, but at last grant it you he will."

The shepherd went with it into its father's palace, and its father, on seeing it, shed tears, and asked it, "Hey, my son, where have you been till now?"

It replied, and told him everything in order: what had taken place, and how it had taken place, and how the shepherd had rescued it.

Then the emperor of the serpents turned to the shepherd, and said to him, "Come, my son, what do you wish me to give you in recompense for rescuing my child?"

The shepherd replied to him, "Nothing else, only give me such a tongue that I can understand all animals."

The emperor of the serpents said to him, "That is not a proper gift for you, my son, because, if I give you anything of the kind, you will betray yourself in somebody's presence by boasting of it, and then you will die immediately. Ask something else."

The shepherd replied to him, "I wish for nothing else. If you will give it me, give it; if not, farewell!"

He turned to go; but the emperor of the serpents cried out, "Stay! Return! If you ask this, come, that I may give it you. Open your mouth."

The shepherd opened his mouth, and the emperor of the serpents spat into it, and told him to spit also into his mouth. And thus they spat thrice into each other's mouths.

When this was done, the emperor of the serpents said to the shepherd, "Now you have the tongue which you desired. Go, and farewell! But it is not permitted you to tell anybody, because, if you do, you will die. I am telling you the truth."

The shepherd then departed. As he went over the hill, he understood the conversation of the birds, and, so to speak, of everything in the world. When he came to his sheep, he found them correct in number, and sat down to rest.

But scarcely had he lain down, when two crows flew up, perched on a tree hard by him, and began to converse in their language, "If that shepherd knew that just where that black lamb lies a vault full of silver and gold is buried in the ground, he would take its contents."

When he heard this, he went and told his master, and he brought a cart, and they broke open the door of the vault, and took out its valuable contents.

His master was a righteous man, and said to him, "Well, my son, this is all yours; the Lord has given it you. Go, provide a house, get married, and live comfortably."

The shepherd took the property, went away, provided a house, got married, and lived very comfortably. This shepherd, after a little time, became so rich and prosperous that there was nobody richer than he in his own or the neighboring villages. He had shepherds, cowherds, swineherds, grooms, and everything on a handsome scale.

Once upon a time this shepherd ordered his wife on New Year's Eve to provide wine, brandy, and everything requisite, and to go the next morning to his cattle, to take the provisions to the herdsmen, that they, too, might enjoy themselves. His wife obeyed him, and did as her husband ordered her.

The next day they got up, got ready, and went. When they arrived where the cattle were, the master said to his shepherds, "Lads, assemble together, and sit down to eat and drink your fill, and I will watch the cattle tonight."

This was done; they assembled together, and he went out to sleep by the cattle. In the course of the night, after some time, the wolves began to howl and speak in their language, and the dogs to bark and speak in theirs.

The wolves said, "Can we capture any young cattle?"

The dogs answered in their language, "Come in, that we, too, may eat our fill of flesh."

But among the dogs there was one old dog, who had only two teeth left. This dog spoke and answered the wolves, "In faith, as long as these two teeth of mine last, you shan't come near to do harm to my master."

In the morning, when it dawned, the master called the herdsmen, and told them to kill all the dogs except that old one.

His servants began to implore him, "Don't, master! Why? It's a sin."

But he said to them, "Do just as I ordered you, and not otherwise."

Then he and his wife mounted their horses and went off. His wife rode a mare, and he a horse. As they went, the master's horse outstripped the wife's mare, and began to say to her in their language, "Go quicker. Why do you hang back?"

The mare's reply in defense of her lagging pace was so amusing that the man laughed out loud, turned his head, and looked behind him with a smile. His wife observed him smiling, whipped her mare to catch him up, and then asked him to tell her why he smiled.

He said to her, "Well, suppose I did? Something came into my head."

This answer did not satisfy her, but she began to worry him to tell her why he smiled. He said this and that to her to get out of it, but the more he said to get out of it, the more did she worry him. At length he said to her that, if he told her, he would die immediately. But she had no dread of her husband's dying, and went on worrying him: "There is no alternative, but tell me you must."

When they got home, they dismounted from their horses, and as soon as they had done so, her husband ordered a grave to be dug for him. It was dug, and he lay down in it, and said to his wife, "Did you not press me to tell you why I smiled? Come now, that I may tell you; but I shall die immediately."

On saying this, he gave one more look round him, and observed that the old dog had come from the cattle. Seeing this, he told his wife to give him a piece of bread. She gave it him, but the dog would not even look at it, but shed tears and wept. But the cock, seeing it, ran up and began to peck it.

The dog was angry, and said, "As if you'd die hungry! Don't you see that our master is going to die?"

"What a fool he is! Let him die! Whose fault is it? I have a hundred wives. When I find a grain of millet, I call them all to me, and finally eat it myself. If one of them gets cross at this, I give her one or two pecks, and she lowers her tail. But this man isn't equal to keeping one in order."

When the man heard the cock say this, he jumped up at once out of the grave, seized a stick, chased his wife over hill and dale, and at last settled her completely, so that it never entered her head any more to ask him why he smiled.

The Language of Beasts

Bulgaria, Andrew Lang

Once upon a time a man had a shepherd who served him many years faithfully and honestly. One day, whilst herding his flock, this shepherd heard a hissing sound, coming out of the forest nearby, which he could not account for. So he went into the wood in the direction of the noise to try to discover the cause. When he approached the place he found that the dry grass and leaves were on fire, and on a tree, surrounded by flames, a snake was coiled, hissing with terror.

The shepherd stood wondering how the poor snake could escape, for the wind was blowing the flames that way, and soon that tree would be burning like the rest.

Suddenly the snake cried, "O shepherd! for the love of heaven save me from this fire!"

Then the shepherd stretched his staff out over the flames and the snake wound itself round the staff and up to his hand, and from his hand it crept up his arm, and twined itself about his neck.

The shepherd trembled with fright, expecting every instant to be stung to death, and said, "What an unlucky man I am! Did I rescue you only to be destroyed myself?"

But the snake answered, "Have no fear; only carry me home to my father who is the King of the Snakes."

The shepherd, however, was much too frightened to listen, and said that he could not go away and leave his flock alone; but the snake said, "You need not be afraid to leave your flock, no evil shall befall them; but make all the haste you can."

So he set off through the wood carrying the snake, and after a time he came to a great gateway, made entirely of snakes intertwined one with another. The shepherd stood still with surprise, but the snake round his neck whistled, and immediately all the arch unwound itself.

"When we are come to my father's house," said his own snake to him, "he will reward you with anything you like to ask -- silver, gold, jewels, or whatever on this earth is most precious; but take none of all these things, ask rather to understand the language of beasts. He will refuse it to you a long time, but in the end he will grant it to you."

Soon after that they arrived at the house of the King of the Snakes, who burst into tears of joy at the sight of his daughter, as he had given her up for dead. "Where have you been all this time?" he asked, directly he could speak, and she told him that she had been caught in a forest fire, and had been rescued from the flames by the shepherd. The King of the Snakes, then turning to the shepherd, said to him, "What reward will you choose for saving my child?"

"Make me to know the language of beasts," answered the shepherd, "that is all I desire."

The king replied, "Such knowledge would be of no benefit to you, for if I granted it to you and you told any one of it, you would immediately die; ask me rather for whatever else you would most like to possess, and it shall be yours."

But the shepherd answered him, "Sir, if you wish to reward me for saving your daughter, grant me, I pray you, to know the language of beasts. I desire nothing else"; and he turned as if to depart.

Then the king called him back, saying, "If nothing else will satisfy you, open your mouth." The man obeyed, and the king spat into it, and said, "Now spit into my mouth." The shepherd did as he was told, then the King of the Snakes spat again into the shepherd's mouth. When they had spat into each other's mouths three times, the king said, "Now you know the language of beasts, go in peace; but, if you value your life, beware lest you tell anyone of it, else you will immediately die."

So the shepherd set out for home, and on his way through the wood he heard and understood all that was said by the birds, and by every living creature. When he got back to his sheep he found the flock grazing peacefully, and as he was very tired he laid himself down by them to rest a little.

Hardly had he done so when two ravens flew down and perched on a tree nearby, and began to talk to each other in their own language, "If that shepherd only knew that there is a vault full of gold and silver beneath where that lamb is lying, what would he not do?"

When the shepherd heard these words he went straight to his master and told him, and the master at once took a wagon, and broke open the door of the vault, and they carried off the treasure. But instead of keeping it for himself, the master, who was an honorable man, gave it all up to the shepherd, saying, "Take it, it is yours. The gods have given it to you."

So the shepherd took the treasure and built himself a house. He married a wife, and they lived in great peace and happiness, and he was acknowledged to be the richest man, not only of his native village, but of all the countryside. He had flocks of sheep, and cattle, and horses without end, as well as beautiful clothes and jewels.

One day, just before Christmas, he said to his wife, "Prepare everything for a great feast, tomorrow we will take things with us to the farm that the shepherds there may make merry."

The wife obeyed, and all was prepared as he desired. Next day they both went to the farm, and in the evening the master said to the shepherds, "Now come, all of you, eat, drink, and make merry. I will watch the flocks myself tonight in your stead." Then he went out to spend the night with the flocks.

When midnight struck the wolves howled and the dogs barked, and the wolves spoke in their own tongue, saying, "Shall we come in and work havoc, and you too shall eat flesh?"

And the dogs answered in their tongue, "Come in, and for once we shall have enough to eat."

Now amongst the dogs there was one so old that he had only two teeth left in his head, and he spoke to the wolves, saying, "So long as I have my two teeth still in my head, I will let no harm be done to my master."

All this the master heard and understood, and as soon as morning dawned he ordered all the dogs to be killed excepting the old dog. The farm servants wondered at this order, and exclaimed, "But surely, sir, that would be a pity?"

The master answered, "Do as I bid you"; and made ready to return home with his wife, and they mounted their horses, her steed being a mare. As they went on their way, it happened that the husband rode on ahead, while the wife was a little way behind.

The husband's horse, seeing this, neighed, and said to the mare, "Come along, make haste; why are you so slow?"

And the mare answered, "It is very easy for you, you carry only your master, who is a thin man, but I carry my mistress, who is so fat that she weights as much as three."

When the husband heard that he looked back and laughed, which the wife perceiving, she urged on the mare till she caught up with her husband, and asked him why he laughed.

"For nothing at all," he answered; "just because it came into my head."

She would not be satisfied with this answer, and urged him more and more to tell her why he had laughed. But he controlled himself and said, "Let me be, wife; what ails you? I do not know myself why I laughed."

But the more he put her off, the more she tormented him to tell her the cause of his laughter. At length he said to her, "Know, then, that if I tell it you I shall immediately and surely die." But even this did not quiet her; she only besought him the more to tell her.

Meanwhile they had reached home, and before getting down from his horse the man called for a coffin to be brought; and when it was there he placed it in front of the house, and said to his wife, "See, I will lay myself down in this coffin, and will then tell you why I laughed, for as soon as I have told you I shall surely die."

So he lay down in the coffin, and while he took a last look around him, his old dog came out from the farm and sat down by him, and whined. When the master saw this, he called to his wife, "Bring a piece of bread to give to the dog."

The wife brought some bread and threw it to the dog, but he would not look at it. Then the farm cock came and pecked at the bread; but the dog said to it, "Wretched glutton, you can eat like that when you see that your master is dying?"

The cock answered, "Let him die, if he is so stupid. I have a hundred wives, which I call together when I find a grain of corn, and as soon as they are there I swallow it myself; should one of them dare to be angry, I would give her a lesson with my beak. He has only one wife, and he cannot keep her in order."

As soon as the man understood this, he got up out of the coffin, seized a stick, and called his wife into the room, saying, "Come, and I will tell you what you so much want to know"; and then he began to beat her with the stick, saying with each blow, "It is that, wife, it is that!" And in this way he taught her never again to ask why he had laughed.

Woman's Curiosity


A shepherd saved the life of the daughter of the king of snakes, the princess narrowly escaping being burnt to death. To show him her gratitude she taught him the language of animals, and he was able to understand them.

One day his donkey said something that made him smile; whereupon his wife commenced to tease him, and wanted to know the joke, but the shepherd was unable to gratify her wish, as his betraying the secret would have immediately been followed by the penalty of sudden death. However the wife would not give in and leave him in peace, but continued to torment her husband with so many questions that he at last determined to die rather than to bear his wife's ill temper any longer.

With this view he had his coffin made and brought to his house; he laid down in the coffin quite prepared for death and ready to divulge the secret.

His faithful dog sat mournfully by his side watching, while the cock belonging to the house merrily hopped about in the room. The dog remonstrated with the cock and said that this was not the time for merriment, seeing how near their master was to death.

But the cock replied quite curtly, "It's master's own fault! Why is he such a great fool and coward? Look at me! I have fifty wives, and they all do as I tell them to do! If I can get on with so many, surely he ought to be able to manage one!"

Hearing this the shepherd jumped out of the coffin, seized a wet rope end and gave the woman a sound thrashing. Peace was restored, and they lived happily together ever after.

The Dog and the Cock


One day the dog and the cock were walking in the farmyard. The cock was cheerful, flapping his wings and crowing lustily, but the dog hung his tail and appeared to be buried in sad thoughts. Angry at the cock's cheerfulness, he said, "I cannot understand how you can be so happy!"

"Why not?" asked the cock.

"Can't you see," said the dog, "that our master has been going around with a long face for a few days now? I think that we should be sharing his concerns."

"What are his concerns?" asked the cock.

"About his wife," said the dog. "She is so bad that he never gets a good word from her. She is never satisfied with anything he does or says. A woman like that can be the death of a man!"

"She wouldn't be the death of me," answered the cock. "I have seventy wives, and if I ever had to hang my head because something went wrong, the devil would be in charge, not I. No, I handle them differently. My wives receive blows if they are stubborn and don't want to listen to me. And if they get in each others' hair, I pull them apart. In this manner I get along splendidly with my seventy wives, and if our master can't deal with his one wife, then he is a sorry fellow indeed!" And with that the cock proudly and cheerfully went on his way.

Now the master had been listening in on this entire conversation, so he went to his wife. Once again she had bad words for him, so he answered her with an appropriate measure of blows, and from that time onward she was as tame and agreeable as never before.

The Wicked Wife


Once there was very clever man, for he understood the language of animals, but however clever he was, he was unable to control his wicked wife.

Now one day he was listening to the animals in his farmyard when one of them said something funny, and he laughed out loud. His wife observed this, and she insisted that he tell her why he had laughed, for she was very curious. He would have liked to tell her, in order to keep her quiet, but he was not allowed to, for it would have cost him his life.

Therefore he refused, and she became all the more impatient and angry heaping many curses and accusations upon him and saying that he always kept secrets from her. Thus it continued from one day to the next. This saddened the man so much that he walked around with his head sunk in sorrow trying to think of a way to change the situation.

He wandered into the farmyard and saw how the rooster was happily strutting about while loudly calling out "cock-a-doodle-doo."

However, the dog was quite still until he said to the rooster, "How can you be so cheerful while our master is so sad because of his wicked wife who will give him no peace?"

The rooster replied, "I think that he could change things if he would only take an example from me. I have more than a hundred wives, and woe be unto any one of them who does not obey me. I would immediately peck her eyes out of her head. He has only the one wife and is unable to deal with her."

The man heard all this with pleasure, for he saw that the rooster was right. Therefore he immediately went into his house, picked up a whip and began to beat his wife with it, all the time asking her if she still wanted to know why he had laughed. She finally gave in, and never again, as long as she lived, did she ask to know her husband's secrets.

From then on they lived happily and contented until they died.

The Wicked Wife


Once there was very clever man, for he understood the language of animals, but however clever he was, he was unable to control his wicked wife.

Now one day he was listening to the animals in his farmyard when one of them said something funny, and he laughed out loud. His wife observed this, and she insisted that he tell her why he had laughed, for she was very curious. He would have liked to tell her, in order to keep her quiet, but he was not allowed to, for it would have cost him his life.

Therefore he refused, and she became all the more impatient and angry heaping many curses and accusations upon him and saying that he always kept secrets from her. Thus it continued from one day to the next. This saddened the man so much that he walked around with his head sunk in sorrow trying to think of a way to change the situation. He wandered into the farmyard and saw how the rooster was happily strutting about while loudly calling out "cock-a-doodle-doo."

However, the dog was quite still until he said to the rooster, "How can you be so cheerful while our master is so sad because of his wicked wife who will give him no peace?"

The rooster replied, "I think that he could change things if he would only take an example from me. I have more than a hundred wives, and woe be unto any one of them who does not obey me. I would immediately peck her eyes out of her head. He has only the one wife and is unable to deal with her."

The man heard all this with pleasure, for he saw that the rooster was right. Therefore he immediately went into his house, picked up a whip and began to beat his wife with it, all the time asking her if she still wanted to know why he had laughed. She finally gave in, and never again, as long as she lived, did she ask to know her husband's secrets.

From then on they lived happily and contented until they died.

Frederigo da Pozzuolo Is Pressed by His Wife to Tell a Secret

Giovanni Francesco Straparola

Federigo da Pozzuolo, a man learned in the language of animals, is earnestly pressed by his wife to tell her a certain secret, but in lieu of this be beats her in strange fashion.

It is the duty of all wise and prudent men to hold their wives in due fear and subjection, and on no account to be induced by them to wear their breeches as head gear. If indeed they should be led to follow other courses than these, they will of a surety have good cause to repent in the end.

It happened one day that Federigo da Pozzuolo, a young man of great parts and prudence, was riding towards Naples on a mare of his which was in foal, carrying behind him on the crupper his wife, who was also pregnant. Likewise there was a young colt which followed the mare its mother, and, having been left some distance behind on the road, it began to neigh, and to cry out in its own language, "Mother, mother, go slowly, I pray you; because I, being very young and tender, and only just a year old, am not able in my pace to follow in your footsteps."

Hearing this the mare pricked up her ears, and, sniffing the air with her nostrils, began also to neigh loudly, and said in answer to her colt, "I have to carry my mistress, who is with child, and in addition to this I bear a young brother of yours in my womb; while you, who are young and brisk, carry no burden of any sort strapped on your back, and yet you declare that you cannot travel. Come on, if you wish to come; but if not, go and do whatever pleases you."

The young man, when he understood the meaning of these words (for be it known he was well skilled in the utterances of birds and of all the animals that live on earth), smiled somewhat; whereupon his wife, who was greatly filled with wonder thereanent, questioned him as to the reason why he smiled.

To this her husband made answer that he had laughed spontaneously; but that, if in any event he should be led to tell her the cause of his laughter, she might take it for certain that the Fates would without more ado cut the thread of his life, and that he would die on the spot.

But the importunate woman was not satisfied with this, and replied that she wanted, at all hazard, to know the reason why he had thus laughed; adding that if he would not tell her she would lay hold of him by the weazand.

Then the husband, finding himself thus placed in a position of difficulty and danger, answered her, speaking thus, "When we shall have returned to Pozzuolo you shall set in order all my affairs, and make all the necessary provisions both for my body and my soul after death. Then I will make known to you all you want to learn."

As soon as her husband had given her this promise the wicked and malicious woman was silent, and when they were returned to Pozzuolo she quickly recalled to mind the promise which had been made to her, and forthwith besought her husband to be as good as his word.

Whereupon Federigo replied by charging her to go at once and fetch the priest, forasmuch as, seeing that he must needs die on account of this matter, he was anxious first to confess himself, and to recommend himself to his Maker. As soon as she should have done this, he would tell her all. Thereupon the wife, who was determined to see her husband lying dead rather than give up aught of her pestilent wishes, went forthwith to summon the confessor.

At this moment, while Federigo was lying in his bed, overcome with grief, he heard his dog address certain words to his cock, who was crowing aloud, "Are you not ashamed of yourself, wretch and ribald that you are, to crow thus? Our good master is lying very near his last breath, and you, who ought to be sorrowful and full of melancholy, keep on crowing as if you rejoiced thereat."

To these words the cock promptly made answer, "And supposing that our master should die, what have I to do with that? Am I, indeed, to be charged with causing his death? He wishes to die of his own accord. Do you not know what is written in the first book of the Politics [by Aristotle], 'The wife and the servant stand on the same footing.' Seeing, therefore, that the husband is the head of the wife, it is her bounden duty to regard the usages and customs of her husband as the laws of her life. I, forsooth, have a hundred wives, and, through the workings of fear, I make them all most obedient to my commandments, castigating now one and now another, and giving pecks wherever I may think they are deserved. And this master of ours has only a single wife, yet he knows naught how to manage her, and to make her obedient to his commands. Let him die forthwith. Do you not believe that our mistress will soon find for herself another husband? So let it be with him, seeing that he is a man of such little account, and one disposed to give way to the foolish and unbridled will of his wife."

The young man, when he had comprehended and well considered in his mind the words he had just listened to, at once altered his purpose, and felt deeply grateful to the cock for what he had said. The wife, after she had come back from seeking the priest, was still pertinacious to learn the cause of her husband's laughter; wherefore he, having seized her by the hair, began to beat her, and gave her so many and lusty blows that he nearly left her for dead.

This fable did not vastly please those of the listeners who were ladies, especially when they heard tell of the sound basting which Federigo gave his wife. Nevertheless, they grieved amain when they heard how she would fain have been the cause of her husband's death.

The Language of Beasts


One boy was along wid a man. He was a shepherd boy; every Wednesday he go in de wilderness go look after his master sheep. He saw one snake.

De snake said, "Do, I beg you carry me go to me fader; but when you go, if me fader give you money, don' you tek it, but ax him to give you de knowledge of every animal."

So de boy tek de snake to his fader. When he go, de snake ax him if he want money.

He said, "No, I wan' to understan' de knowledge of every animal."

De snake tol' him to lie down, an' he spit in his mouth an' tol' him whatever animal dat he hear talk he mus' not tell it to nobody, fo' de day he venture to talk it he shall surely die.

De odder Wednesday he went de same place, he saw some pigeon on one tree. De pigeon was cooing, an' de pigeon tell him he mus' come an' dig under de tree an' he will fin' a lot of money. De boy went an' dig, an' he fin' de money. He tek it home to his master. His master deliver all dat money to him, he tek it, settle himself an' married a wife.

One evening him an' his wife went for a ride. He was before, de lady was behin'. De horse turn round and whicker to de mare which de lady was riding.

De mare answer him an' said, "I kyan' go wid you; for you, it is two of you, but me, it is four of us. I have to carry meself an' me colt, de missis an' de missis baby in her, so I cannot walk fas' as you."

De man turn roun' an' laugh.

De lady said, "Why de reason let de two animal whicker an' you look pon me an' laugh? Der is somet'ing in dis matter!"

She nag her husband to tell her de meaning why mek him laugh.

De husband said to her, "De day dat I tell you, I will surely die. Sen' for a carpenter mek me box an' den I wi' tell you!"

De carpenter come mek de box, an' he went an' lie down in it. He got one rooster in his yard. De rooster come near de box an' begin to crow.

De missis said, "Oh, go away! makin' such a noise over yo' master head!"

De master said, "Let de bird stay!"

De rooster said to his master, "Master, you fool to gi' up yo' life fo' de count of woman! Look how much wife I have in de worl', an' de least nonsense all of dem come round me, I begin to peck 'em an' walk away from dem. So, Master, you come out of de box an' tek yo' supple-jack an' go in de house give yo' wife two good lick, an' den you fin' if she would 'noy you again."

De man do so. He got up, he went in de house, he tek de supple-jack an' hit her free lick over de shoulder; an' from dat day de woman never ax him a word again.

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Revised January 27, 2022.