Old Parents and Their Ungrateful Children

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 980D
edited and translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2019-2022

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  1. The Ungrateful Son (Europe).

  2. The Ungrateful Son (Martin Luther).

  3. A Terrifying Judgment of God (Croatia).

  4. The Ungrateful Daughter (Ukraine).

  5. The Origin of the Turtle (Russia).

  6. The Snake around His Neck (Germany).

  7. The Stingy Daughter (India).

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The Ungrateful Son


The old man, it seemed, always visited his son just at mealtime.

"You needn't fix anything for me," he would say, looking hungrily on as the others prepared to eat.

Of course they had to give him something.

"This has to stop," said the old man's son on a day when they had killed a chicken for a special feast. "If the old man comes today, we will hide the pot."

As expected, the old man knocked at the door just before mealtime. Hurriedly they hid the pot with the chicken, then acted as if they knew nothing of a forthcoming meal. The old man sniffed in the air, said something about the good smell, looked about, then seeing nothing to eat, he took leave and returned to his own house.

"Now we can eat!" said the man, bringing the pot from its hiding place and taking off the lid.

But to his terror, the chicken turned into a hideous toad before his very eyes. It jumped into his face, attaching itself firmly, and it did not come off as long as the man lived.

The Ungrateful Son

Martin Luther

We read about a father who gave all his goods to his children with the expectation that they would care for him and feed him for the rest of his life. But his children did not do this.

After he had been with a child for one week they would say to him, "Now you should go somewhere else and eat there for the same amount of time."

Once the father happened to come to a son who was just sitting down to eat a goose. On seeing his father, the son hid the goose under the table.

After the father left, the son wanted to pick up the goose, but it had turned into a toad. The toad jumped into the son's face and ate its way into his flesh until he could not free himself from it. It stuck fast to him and devoured everything that the son tried to eat until he starved to death.

This example shows how severely God punishes those who are thankless toward their parents.

A Terrifying Judgment of God


In the year 1453 a terrifying judgment of God happened in the Istrian town of Motovun. An evil and undisciplined son had a good, old father who was very poor. He often had neither bread nor wine at home, and no one gave him alms.

Sometimes he would go to his son and knock on the door.

His son's wife would say, "Look, it's your father."

The son would answer, "What in the devil's name does he want? Let him in and give him a little bread and some watered wine like they give to children."

Thus it happened several times, and the old man patiently accepted this treatment.

One day the son bought a good capon. They prepared it and sat down at the table to eat while it was still warm.

The mean-spirited wife, prompted by the devil, said, "If only your father won't come by just now!"

The son said, "I hope that we can eat the capon without being disturbed."

Suddenly someone knocked on the door. The son looked out -- it was his father.

"Curses that just now I have to open the door for him!" said the son.

He quickly hid the capon in a chest. He gave the poor old man a little bread and cheese and a little wine, told him to eat quickly, and then sent him home.

The father had scarcely left when the son went to the chest to fetch the capon. He lifted the lid. A large, terrible toad jumped out and into the son's face. Neither physicians nor medications could free him from it. The toad ate away his entire face so that he no longer could show himself to anyone.

The Ungrateful Daughter


An old mother came to visit her daughter. The daughter saw her coming and picked up a roasted chichen that she and her husband were about to eat. Covering it with a platter she hid the chicken in another room.

The mother sat for a while and then returned to her own home. She had scarcely left when the daughter and her husband carried the chicken back to their table. But when they looked beneath the cover, it was a turtle.

Thus the turtle, like the chicken between two platters, has a hard shell below and one above.

The Origin of the Turtle


A mother came to visit her married daughter. Through the window the daughter saw her coming, and with another plate she quickly covered the roasted chicken that she and her husband were eating, then hid it so they would not have to share it with the mother.

The mother sat for a while and then went away without being offered anything to eat. The daughter immediately fetched the chicken to continue eating it. But when she tried to pick up the top plate it had grown onto the roast. In an instant the chicken and the two plates had been transformed into a turtle.

Thus the turtle came into being.

The Snake around His Neck


Once there was a mother who gave all her property to her son, thinking that he was pious and good and would therefor treat her fairly. No! We should not give everything away before we die.

After the son had taken possession of everything he got married, and his poor mother had to fend for herself.

One day he was seated at the table with his wife. Before them they had a roasted chicken. The mother knocked on the door.

He quickly called to his servant, "Hide the chicken in the chest until the old woman has left."

The servant did just that. The hungry old mother came in. When she asked for a scrap of bread he sent her on her away with curse words.

When she was gone he said to his servant, "Now go and bring the chicken back here."

The servant went to the chest, but instead of a chicken lying on the plate there was a large snake. You can well imagine how the frightened servant cried out loud.

The son did not want to believe that anything was wrong, so he sent the maid to the chest, but she too cried out and ran away.

Then he became angry and said, "If the devil himself is on that plate, I shall fetch him."

He went to the chest, opened it, and the snake jumped out and wrapped itself around his neck.

From that time onward it ate with him and drank with him. And if the son refused to give it food, or if he attempted to take it off his neck, the snake pressed against him until he thought he would suffocate. He had to manage with the snake around his neck wherever he went, and all because he had treated his mother so badly.

The Stingy Daughter


Once a man went to visit his married daughter: he intended to arrive in time for dinner; so though he passed some edible herbs on the way he did not stop to eat them.

When he arrived he was duly welcomed and after some conversation he told his daughter that he must return the same day; she said, "All right, but wait till it gets hot." (The father understood this to be a metaphorical way of saying "Wait till the dinner is cooked.")

But the daughter was determined not to cook the rice while her father was there; so they sat talking and when the sun was high the daughter went into the yard and felt the ground with her foot and finding it scorching she said, "Now father, it is time for you to be going; it has got hot."

Then the old man understood that she was not going to give him his dinner. So he took his stick and got up to go.

Now the son-in-law was a great hunter and that day he had killed and brought home a peacock.

As he was leaving, the father said, "My daughter, if your husband ever brings home a peacock, I advise you to cook it with mowah oil cake; that makes it taste very nice."

So directly her father had gone, the woman set to work and cooked the peacock with mowah oil cake; but when her husband and children began to eat it they found it horribly bitter, and she herself tasted it and found it uneatable. Then she told them that her father had made fun of her and made her spoil all the meat.

Her husband asked whether she had cooked rice for her father; and when she said "No," he said that this was the way in which he had punished her. He had had nothing to eat, and so he had prevented their having any either. She should entertain all visitors and especially her father. So they threw away the meat and had no dinner.

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Revised April 21, 2022.