(c) 2019 Terry DeLuco
For almost as long as my parents have been married, they have had a pair of small white birds, dove-like, symbolizing their love and partnership. Each year these doves sit together on the branches of our Christmas tree. Considering their age, I doubt that I can find an accurate picture online; imagine white ceramic shaped like chickadees with clips on their feet so that they can attach firmly to the tree.
The dove as a symbol for love originates ancient times: In Greek mythology, for example, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, rides in a carriage drawn by doves and, in one Syrian tale, emerged from an egg that doves tended. Sculptures and drawings of Aphrodite often include the dove, representing the spiritual aspect of love rather than the physical. Even further back, the ancient Egyptians saw doves as symbols of innocence; the ancient Chinese, as symbols for peace and longevity.
The continued association of doves with love and partnership, reflected especially in weddings when the couple releases a pair 1 during or after the ceremony, stems from a medieval belief that doves selected their seasonal mates on February 14, Valentine’s Day. While doves are not among the bird species that mate for life, on Valentine’s Day they symbolize monogamy insofar as they generally stay with the same partner through the mating season. Mourning doves are an exception; they do mate for life.
As the namesake of Valentine’s Day, St. Valentine of Rome, was Italian, and as much time has passed since a post of this ilk, I thought it would be appropriate on this Valentine’s Day 2021, to share an Italian folktale involving a dove. 2
What better use for a pot of beans than target practice?
Such was the thought that flashed in the mind of Nardo Aniello, the King’s son, as he raced through the dense wood of low fig trees and tall poplars outside Naples. The pot, which sat outside the window of a dilapidated cottage, was full of kidney beans, slightly swollen from the water in which they soaked.
The Prince scooped a handful of stones from the ground. “Let’s have a bet!” he called to his attendants. “Whoever topples the pot first wins.”
Laughter accompanied the stone throwing. After a few tries, the Prince trained his aim and knocked the pot clean off the window. The pot cracked and the beans scattered. Nardo Aniello rushed forward, his attendants close behind. As the cottage faded from view, one may have looked back and seen an old woman with a hundred wrinkles and a head of silver hair totter back to the cottage, her arms encumbered by sticks and leaves.
“The beans shouldn’t take long,” she murmured, turning the corner to her modest home, “then I can at last have a decent meal.” Her bones ached from the day’s begging, which earned her but a dish of kidney beans. The townsfolk had an abundance; she knew that looking at their fields, passing the markets, and passing the windows of their houses. The smell of savory beans and sharp onions stewing together mocked her as she, shaking with hunger, beseeched passerby for a single bean or two.
Thoughts of food at last filled her mind, lightening the burden of the sticks, when her eyes fell on the pot. Dropping the sticks, she stumbled to her knees and brushed her hands over the broken pieces. Some of the beans had been trodden underfoot.
The hard years had toughened the old woman, but she could not stem the tears then. “Ay, let him stretch out his arm and go about boasting how he has broken this pot!” she said. “The villainous rascal who has sown my beans out of season.” She stood and yelled at the sky, at the forest. She called a curse on the uncaring creature who had thus cursed her with hunger unabated: that he might fall in love with the beautiful daughter of an ogress, an ogress who would condemn him to much labor and little food and would so abuse him that he could not escape, leaving him in fear and her servitude forever and his mother in sorrow over his presumed death.
The curse resounded in Heaven and, deeper in the woods, separated from his attendants, Nardo Aniello felt a change in the wind. He shivered. “Nothing to worry about,” he said. “Just wild animals, probably.” He glanced around, hoping to catch sight of the bright colors of an attendant’s tunic.
What he saw instead was a young lady with a cheery, crystal face, a maiden enveloped in light. Her golden hair streamed out behind her. She skipped through the woods, picking up snails and, full of merriment, sang to them, “Snail, snail, put out your horn / Your mother is laughing you to scorn / For she has a little son just born.”
The Prince froze. He struggled to find his voice. When at last the words came, he exclaimed, “From what meadow has this flower of beauty sprung? From what mine has this treasure of beauteous things come to light? O happy woods, O fortunate groves, which this nobility inhabits, which this illumination of the festivals of love irradiates.”
The maiden, named Filadoro, blushed. She extended her hand and invited him to kiss it, which he fell to immediately. More praises for Filadoro rose to his lips, but his tongue swelled and he could not express them. He kissed and kissed Filadoro’s hand until her face turned red. He could have gone longer if Filadoro’s mother had not yanked him away.
The mother, the ogress, could not be any more unlike her daughter. Her face was of stone, her eyes held no light, and boar’s tusks protruded from her twisted mouth. The ogress held the Prince at the nape of his neck like a dog. “Hollo! what now, you thief! you rogue!” She gave him a shake. Nardo Aniello reached for his sword to slash at the ogress, but a quivering fear overtook him, so his hands could not grasp the hilt and his limbs would not respond to his will to fight.
The ogress dropped him onto the floor of her house. The Prince shrank into himself as she stood over him. “Mind, now, and work like a dog, unless you wish to die like a dog,” she hissed. “For your first task to-day you must have this acre of land dug and sown level as this room; and recollect that if I return in the evening and do not find the work finished, I shall eat you up.” Turning to her daughter, she said, “Mind the house and the boy. I must meet the other ogresses.”
Nardo Aniello drew his knees to his chest and sniffled. The sight of Filadoro, radiant beauty, pleased his heart, but pity consumed him as he considered the task that the ogress laid before him. What a way for a prince to go! He examined his hands, soft from a lifetime devoid of labor. What would it be to have his hands hardened by such labor, accomplishing what not even two strong oxen working together could? He tried to control his tears, taking gasps of air and deep sighs, but the tears came anyway.
Filadoro knelt beside him and dried his tears. “Fear not that my mother will touch a hair of your head,” she said. “Trust to me and do not be afraid; for you must know that I possess magical powers. Be of good heart, for by the evening the piece of land will be dug and sown without any one stirring a hand.”
“Magic!” the Prince said. “If you have magic power, as you say, O beauty of the world, why do we not fly from this country?”
Filadoro shook her head. “The stars do not allow me now to escape.”
Nardo Aniello and Filadoro passed the day with much pleasant conversation. By her magic, Filadoro had the garden prepared as her mother had instructed the Prince. As the sky darkened, the wicked voice of the ogress called from the road, “Filadoro, let down your hair.” The heart of the Prince froze in his chest. Filadoro bade him relax, and she threw the long tresses of her hair down for the ogress to climb to their stair-less, high-rising house.
The ogress shoved by the Prince to inspect the garden – dug and sown! How was it possible?
The Prince and the daughter continued this pattern the next day when the ogress commanded him to split six stacks of wood. “…4, 5, 6,” the ogress counted. She leered at the Prince, standing stock-still at the side of the room while she assessed his work. If it was his work. She scanned him up and down, noting his smooth skin and soft hands. Surely a delicate boy such as himself could not be responsible for the labor. The ogress squinted at her daughter, who sat lackadaisically brushing her hair.
The third day of his toil, the ogress tasked the Prince with emptying a cistern that contained one thousand casks of water.
“What a brute!” Filadoro thought. “Why, she seems intent on killing the lad with all these burdensome labors.” She could not use her powers to leave that place, but that did not mean she could not escape by some natural means. Turning to the weeping Prince, she said, “Be quiet, and as soon as the moment has passed that interrupts my art, before the Sun says I am off.”
While the Prince feared for the ogress’s return, Filadoro dug an underground passage through the garden that would take them to Naples. The journey was dirty and cramped, but at long last they arrived in the open air of the Pozzulo, in central Italy. The Prince brushed the dirt from him and, taking Filadoro’s arm, led her discretely through the town. He stopped at the sign of an inn. “It will never do for me to take you to the palace on foot and dressed in this manner. Therefore wait at this inn and I will soon return with horses, carriages, servants, and clothes.”
“I will wait for you.”
While the joy of imminent peace and companionship filled the lovers’ hearts, the ogress called for Filadoro’s hair. When it came not, she fashioned a pole and clambered up it to the house. Not a body stirred. She tromped to the garden and, seeing the hole, tore her hair and bellowed curses. “May the first kiss that that wretched boy receives erase the memory of Filadoro from his mind!”
So it was that the Prince stepped back into the royal palace and, slipping through the joyous raucous of the house seeing him alive and well, met the affectionate embrace of his mother as he climbed the stairs to his room. “My son, my jewel, the apple of my eye, where have you been and why have you stayed away so long to make us all die with anxiety?” she said – a question he couldn’t have answered, for the terrors of the last days left his mind as soon as a loving, relieved kiss from her lips touched him.
His mother the Queen tapped his nose teasingly. “Enough of these hunts and forest meanderings. You are a man, and your father and I intend for you to marry. We have found you a bride from Flanders.”
With Filadoro wiped from his memory, the Prince nodded. “Well and good.”
The announcement of the Prince’s engagement sent the palace into a period of great festivity, with sumptuous feats and banquets.
Filadoro’s heart burst within her when she heard of the Prince’s new wife-to-be and of the banquets in their honor. Stealing the clothing of the inn’s servant-lad, she dressed herself like a man and snuck off to the palace. The royal celebrations had the kitchen staff overworked and underpaid, and they eagerly accepted the service of Filadoro as a new “kitchen boy.”
Love and heartache went into the English pie that Filadoro prepared for Nardo Aniello’s nuptial festivities. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she chopped the onions for a meat filling and cut the butter through the fine white flour for the pastry. The egg yolk she spread over the striated design of the pastry’s top baked into a golden sheen. Placing the pie on a wooden board to serve, Filadoro closed her eyes and whispered magic over it.
The guests praised the pie, alongside the dozens of other dishes, when it emerged from the kitchen. As a servant began to carve the pie, a dove flew out of it. The guests froze in awe; the Prince froze in shock as the dove spoke directly to him: “Have you so soon forgotten the love of Filadoro, and have all the services you received from her, ungrateful man, gone from your memory? Is it thus you repay the benefits she has done you: she who took you out of the claws of the ogress and gave you life and herself too? …But go, forget your promises, false man. And may the curses follow you which the unhappy maiden sends you from the bottom of her heart. …Enough, eat and drink, take your sports, for unhappy Filadoro, deceived and forsaken, will leave you the field open to make merry with your new wife.” And the dove disappeared.
The Prince called the creator of the pie into the room. Filadoro rushed in and threw herself at his feet, suppressed tears flowing freely now. The memory of her charged back into his mind.
“My King and Queen,” the Prince said, “I thank you for your efforts to obtain for me a wife, but I cannot accept. To this maiden I owe my life.”
His mother the Queen smiled. “I wish only what you desire, my son.”
“It is well,” the woman his parents selected said. “I wish to return to my dear Flanders anyway.” 3
“Servants!” the Prince said. “See to it that the lady Filadoro is treated as a princess. Find her suitable clothes. Then, remove the tables, that we may dance.”
The Prince Nardo Aniello and Filadoro, then, lived happily ever after. 4
- Not to squash the magic, but they’re technically white homing pigeons.
- This story is attributed to the poet and fairytale collector Giambattista Basile, printed in his Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, meaning “The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones.” It was later called Il Pentamerone, from the Greek for “five” and “day.” The content of the story is drawn from the World of Tales and Wikipedia. Quotes largely taken from the former, which also appears on Wikisource.
- Very convenient.
- What else is there to do?