The Two Hunchbacks and the Walnut Tree

Once, as the tale is told, there were two brothers, who were both hunchbacks and lived together in a small village or paese.

The younger of the two said, "I will set out and make a fortune."

The elder brother asked him not to go. They had lived in this village all their lives, and they had always gotten along well together. Although they were sometimes teased by the boys for their deformity, most of the folk in the village were goodhearted.

Still, the younger brother was adamant, so when he left the older brother said, "Go. I will wait for your return and keep a candle lit for you on our table."

He set out upon a footpath through the woods, hoping to make better speed toward Rome. When he traveled for many miles, he realized he could see no town or farmhouse and was lost in the woods.

Fearing wolves, bears, and other wild animals, he decided to climb a large walnut tree and pass the night in its branches.

He was in a deep sleep when he awoke at midnight to the sound of a great hoard of people. Worried that it might be thieves and assassins, he cautiously peered down. To his surprise, he spied a multitude of little, old women. They made a line and began a procession around the walnut tree in a circle.

They danced around singing, "Sabato e Domenica!" which means "Saturday and Sunday," over and over.

"Sabato e Domenica!
Sabato e Domenica!
Sabato e Domenica!"
Finally, the dance slowed and the women paused in their song.

Without missing a beat, the hunchback suddenly blurted out, "E Lundi!" which means, "And Monday!"

All the women stood dead still. One said excitedly, "A good soul has given us lovely new words for our song!"

The line of little, old women suddenly resumed their processional dance around the tree, singing:

"Sabato e Domenica e Lundi!
Sabato e Domenica e Lundi!
Sabato e Domenica e Lundi!"
After circling around and around the tree several more turns, the little, old women had apparently completed the ritual processional. They stopped and said, "Who is this who has harmonized our song?" They looked up and called to the hunchback to come down.

The poor hunchback, who had been trembling ever since those words slipped out said, "For graciousness sake, vecchiarellas, don't kill me. Those words just popped out. I have not come here to do any harm!"

"Come down, come down!" merrily called the little, old women. "Let us reward you. Ask us any favor and we will grant it."

Once the hunchback climbed down and stood humbly before the women, they urged him, "Go on, ask!"

He paused and said, "I'm a poor man. What do you expect me to ask? What I would really like is for this hump to come off my back, since all the boys constantly try to touch it and tease me so much."

They shouted, "Alright, the hump will be removed."

The old women took a butter saw, and sawed off his hump quickly and without pain. After sticking the hump on the tree, they rubbed his back with a salve so that it healed completely and without any scar.

The younger brother now found he stood straight and he was a hunchback no more. He immediately retraced his tracks back to his home.

Nobody in the town recognized him, except for his elder brother.

His brother saw him and exclaimed, "Brother, it can't be you!"

"It most certainly is me! What a wonder it is! See how handsome I've become."

"But how is that possible?"

So, the younger brother told him about the tree, the little old women, and their song.

"I'm going to them too," declared the older brother.

Off the hunchback went, down the footpath, following his brother's descriptions. He traveled through the woods and climbed a large walnut tree, which seemed to have a large hump stuck to its side. Even though he could not sleep, he waited with eyes closed until midnight.

Eventually the little old women appeared and began dancing in procession around the tree while singing.

"Sabato e Domenica e Lundi!"
The elder hunchback could hardly wait, so he shouted over them, "E Martedi" which means "And Tuesday."

The little old women did not seem at all pleased that someone had interupted the rhythm of their dance and song.

They looked up angrily into the branches of the tree and said, "What criminal has spoiled our lovely song? We were singing so well and now all the virtue of our song is lost."

The hunchback hiding in the tree was trembling.

"Come down, come down!" they called furiously.

"I will not," he said, "for you will kill me."

"No, we won't! Come down!"

The hunchback climbed down and before he could say anything, they said, "This is your punishment!" They pulled the hump stuck on the tree trunk off and slapped it on top of the hump on his back.

So the poor fellow returned home with a hump that was twice as big as when he left.

When his brother saw him, he ran to him and said, "Brother, is it you?"

Weighed down, he answered, "It is I. I did not fare as well in the woods as you. See how ugly I am?"

The younger brother hugged the elder and said, "You were never ugly, and aren't now."

"Come to our home. You always took good care of both of us when I was little and I shall take care of us now."

Myth's Notes

SOUTHERN ITALY has been for many ages the favorite country for witches; they come from all parts of the peninsula to the Grand Councils held under the walnut-tree of Benevento, and even from more distant lands, for its fame is celebrated in Mentonnese tradition. This tree is to have been destroyed by S. Barbato in 660, during the reign of Duke Romualdo, in contending against superstition. Benevento was formerly called Malevento, a name perhaps significant. The site of the tree is now disputed, its very existence doubted; but witches still pretend to meet on the spot where it grew.
--J.B. Andrews, "Folk-Lore Transactions of the Folk-Lore Society," Neapolitan Witchcraft, Vol.III, No.1, March, 1897.
This tale is retold from three different versions of an Italian folktale. Rachel Harriett Busk, The Two Hunchback Brothers, Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folklore of Rome, 1877, Thomas Frederick Crane, Italian Popular Tales #37, 2001, and Itala Calivno #90, The Two Hunchbacks, Italian Folktales, 1956, English translation by George Martin, 1980. Calvino's version is collected in Florence. The story of two different hunchbacks who have entirely different fates from a musical interaction with faeries or witches is retold throughout Europe and the British Isles. According to Calvino, this tale "is of ancient European diffusion."

Calvino stated, "This is one of the legends pertaining to the famous 'walnut tree of Benevento'..." (p 734), which is one reason why I have included it on this website.

Apparently the story was widespread in Italy, because J. B. Andrews made mention of it in his essay, Neapolitan Witchcraft, 1897.

...a hunchback once got rid of his hump. Hearing them [the witches] singing "Sabato e Domenica" in endless repetition, he added "E Giovedi morzillo" (and Shrove-Thursday), a favourable day for witchcraft, as is also Saturday.
--J.B. Andrews, Neapolitan Witchcraft, 1897.
This folklore about witches relates to the Italian versions of the folktale, The Two Hunchbacks. Leland, in his Etruscan Roman Remains, 1892 (pp 192-193), also recorded a variant of this Italian folktale attached to the streghe. In the tale recorded by Leland, the hero's name was Labertus Lautarius.

In some of Busk's end notes for her collected tales, a Vecchiarella was literally a "little old woman" and could be interpreted as possibly being either a fata or strega or simply an older female human.

Usually, in any European or British Isles version I've seen of this story, days of the week are sung, such as "Saturday and Sunday." The essay by J. B. Andrews is the first instance that I've seen Shrove-Thursday mentioned as part of the chant. Shrove-Thursday or Griovedi morzillo is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Busk's version differs in a number of points from Calvino's. However, she also has the same days as Calvino: Sabato (Saturday), Domenica (Sunday), Lundi (Monday), and Martedi (Tuesday).

Both the version Calvino collected and the version Busk collected used the addition of the days, "Monday" and "Tuesday" to the chant. The streghe in Leland's version chanted, "Welcome, Thursday and Friday," to which Lambertus eventually added the line, "and Saturday and Sunday." I have stuck to the motif I have more commonly seen. Like Busk, I have used the Italian words for these days.

One of the intersting aspects of this story is it illustrates the loyality to famiglia (family) and paese (home village).

ABC of Aradia: Gobbo

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