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The Legend of the Tarantella

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How the Devil Married Three Sisters


The Legend of the Tarantella

No Italian wedding or celebration would be complete without the rhythmic song and dance of the tarantella. It is the most popular of all the Italian songs and it is even considered by many as the song of Italy. The song is both lively and graceful and the dance is one of light and quick steps mixed with passionate gestures. Its origin dates back to the Middles Ages and traces of a similar song can even be found in Magna Graecia.

Legend states that between the 15th and 17th centuries an epidemic of tarantism swept through the town of Taranto in southern Italy. This was as a result of being bit by the poisonous tarantula spider. The victim, which is referred to as the tarantata, was almost always a woman but never a high ranking lady or one of an aristocratic upbringing. Once bitten the tarantata would fall into a trance that could only be cured by frenzied dancing. People would surround the victim while musicians would play mandolins, guitars and tambourines in search of the correct rhythm. Each beat would have a different effect on the tarantata causing various movements and gestures. Once the correct rhythm was found it was almost certain that the tarantata was cured.

As legends have it there always seems to be more than one version. Another version states that a woman who was depressed and frustrated from the subordinate lifestyle would fall into a trance that could only be cured by music and dance. This normally lasted three days and during that time the tarantata would be the center of attention, which in turn would cure them of their frustrations and depressions.

Of these two variations that most popular is the one in which the victim is bitten by the poisonous tarantula. This is why the tarantella is sometimes referred to as the dance of the spider.


Once upon a time, beyond golden wheat fields, close to our well-known village, there was a little farm where a beautiful and kind maiden lived with her fastidious aunt. She forced her sweet niece to carry out all the hard tasks without never assist her.

With the excuse of her old age, she spent all day on the rocking chair in the porch.
Among the ordinary duties of the youth there was even the daily care of the animals.
She attended and fed them with joy since they were the custodians of her secret.

One day, currying the shining hair of the youngest filly, she told to the cow and the piggy her dream to leave the country and its innumerable works, and live in a calm cottage near the sparkling and crystalline sea that, she had visited only few times when she was a baby.

She was saying:
“I cannot leave my aunt alone, if I’ll go away; she would not take care of you and would sell you anyone”.

The girl saw telling his thought to the animals looking for a solution, unaware that somebody else was listening to her.

There was small curious elf hidden behind a small straw hillock near the cow. He was tall no more than three spans, above the long curly hair had a funny spiky red hat, he was dressed with a short tobacco tunic, without any shoes to cover his hairy feet.

He was invisible but he had big ears to listen what the girl was saying.

-“I have to find the way to help her” - he thought between himself.

The following night the small creature decided to go to make visit to the selfish aunt while she was sleeping in her comfortable bed. Too much comfortable according to him that jumped on her big breast and set off his powers. That was the ugliest and tormented night for the woman, distressed by thousand terrible and cruel nightmares.
The awakening was not better. She went down the short staircase to reach the kitchen and prepare something hot to relax herself, but she didn't find neither a little pot. All the dishes were disappeared!
She runs out looking for her niece and screaming:
-“My dear, someone stolen our things! Come to see!”

The girl placed the buckets full of water that was bringing in the stall to help her.
The old aunt came back in the kitchen with the niece and her expression fearfully changed.
Stunned, she dropped herself on the first chair fixing incredulous the shelves of the cupboard perfectly in order. Everything was to its usual place.
-“Am I crazy?" - whispered the unfortunate one.

The small elf, still invisible admired pleased his whole job.
The nightmares and the thefts were repeated for days. The girl gets used to the hysterical cries of her aunt, but the old woman couldn’t stand more.
A morning, while the girl was sweeping the porch she saw her aunt with triumphant expression.

-“I’m going away! This house is infested by wicked spirits! I don't want to stay here more than one minute. Make of it what you want, now is yours!”, and, without saying goodbye, she lifted her heavy baggage and went toward the near village.
The young girl looked at the distant outline of her aunt that became more and smaller to the horizon. She was frightened, she was wondering what she would now have done alone.

At this point she perceived a new figure near her feet.
Sitting on the last stair of the porch there was a funny and noisy creature that was laughing and clapping the hands.

The girl make a step back, asking -“Who you are?”

The proud elf leaped up, cleared the voice and with a very polite tone of voice he answered:
-“I am the Scazzamurrieddhu, benevolent goblin with the humble, hostile with the arrogant persons” - and he made a little bow.

The girl said:
- “Why was you laughing? My aunt is gone and I’m alone now!”

The little elf answered:
- “My dear, she spent the all day on the rocking chair in the porch, observing you working in the small farm. Which company can give you a piece of furnishing?”

The young girl reflected. She thought to the word of the little goblin and her face light up with a big smile.
She said:
-“Wait here for me, please” - and still smiling, run inside the house coming back with a packet hold in her hands.
-“This is for you, my dear Scazzamurrieddhu” – the young girl said handing her gift to the elf that accepted it.

He opened it in a frantic way. And when he discovered what it was, his eyes became filled with tears of joy.
- “It is a pair of shoes!” - He said.

The lady answer:
- “I thought that maybe you would like to have warm feet while you make your mischief”
The goblin said:
- “Without knowing it, you give me the most desired thing for a goblin!
Because of a magic agreement, it’s forbidden for us to ask shoes and the only way to have it is to receive them spontaneously. I want to reward your intuition, my dear!”

The creature, still excited, made a deep and noisy breath, closed the eyes and for three times he snapped the fingers. Three big bags, full of gold coins, appeared to the feet of the amazed girl.

- “I…I don't know how to express my gratitude, I’m without words” -said the girl.

The goblin answered:
- “You should thank your kindness. Now hurry up, pack your things and start to finally realize your dreams” - He pointed out the blue sea in the horizon.

The following morning, the Scazzamurrieddhu brought, satisfied, the fresh fodder in the stall, while, far away, a young girl was opening a wide window on a beautiful blue sea breathing the best air ever.

How the Devil Married Three Sisters

Once upon a time the devil was seized with a desire to marry. He therefore left hell, took the form of a handsome young man, and built a fine large house. When it was completed and furnished in the most fashionable style he introduced himself to a family where there were three pretty daughters, and paid his addresses to the eldest of them. The handsome man pleased the maiden, her parents were glad to see a daughter so well provided for, and it was not long before the wedding was celebrated.

When he had taken his bride home, he presented her with a very tastefully arranged bouquet, led her through all the rooms of the house, and finally to a closed door. "The whole house is at your disposal," said he, "only I must request one thing of you; that is, that you do not on any account open this door."

Of course the young wife promised faithfully; but equally, of course, she could scarcely wait for the moment to come when she might break her promise. When the devil had left the house the next morning, under pretence of going hunting, she ran hastily to the forbidden door, opened it, and saw a terrible abyss full of fire that shot up towards her, and singed the flowers on her bosom. When her husband came home and asked her whether she had kept her promise, she unhesitatingly said "Yes." But he saw by the flowers that she was telling a lie, and said, "Now I will not put your curiosity to the test any longer. Come with me. I will show you myself what is behind the door." Thereupon he led her to the door, opened it, gave her such a push that she fell down into hell, and shut the door again.

A few months after he wooed the next sister for his wife, and won her; but with her everything that had happened with the first wife was exactly repeated.

Finally he courted the third sister. She was a prudent maiden, and said to herself, "He has certainly murdered my two sisters; but then it is a splendid match for me, so I will try and see whether I cannot be more fortunate than they." And accordingly she consented. After the wedding the bridegroom gave her a beautiful bouquet, but forbade her, also, to open the door which he pointed out.

Not a whit less curious than her sisters, she, too, opened the forbidden door when the devil had gone hunting, but she had previously put her flowers in water. Then she saw behind the door the fatal abyss and her sisters therein. "Ah!" she exclaimed, "poor creature that I am; I thought I had married an ordinary man, and instead of that he is the devil! How can I get away from him?" She carefully pulled her two sisters out of hell and hid them. When the devil came home he immediately looked at the bouquet, which she again wore on her bosom, and when he found the flowers so fresh he asked no questions; but reassured as to his secret, he now, for the first time, really loved her.

After a few days she asked him if he would carry three chests for her to her parents' house, without putting them down or resting on the way. "But," she added, "you must keep your word, for I shall be watching you."

The devil promised to do exactly as she wished. So the next morning she put one of her sisters in a chest, and laid it on her husband's shoulders. The devil, who is very strong, but also very lazy and unaccustomed to work, soon got tired of carrying the heavy chest, and wanted to rest before he was out of the street on which he lived; but his wife called out to him, "Don't put it down; I see you!"

The devil went reluctantly on with the chest until he had turned the corner, and then said to himself, "She cannot see me here; I will rest a little."

But scarcely had he begun to put the chest down when the sister inside cried out, "Don't put it down; I see you still!" Cursing, he dragged the chest on into another street, and was going to lay it down on a doorstep, but he again heard the voice, "Don't lay it down, you rascal; I see you still!"

"What kind of eyes must my wife have," he thought, "to see around corners as well as straight ahead, and through walls as if they were made of glass!" and thus thinking he arrived, all in a perspiration and quite tired out, at the house of his mother-in-law, to whom he hastily delivered the chest, and then hurried home to strengthen himself with a good breakfast.

The same thing was repeated the next day with the second chest. On the third day she herself was to be taken home in the chest. She therefore prepared a figure which she dressed in her own clothes, and placed on the balcony, under the pretext of being able to watch him better; slipped quickly into the chest, and had the maid put it on the devil's back. "The deuce!" said he; "this chest is a great deal heavier than the others; and today, when she is sitting on the balcony, I shall have so much the less chance to rest." So by dint of the greatest exertions he carried it, without stopping, to his mother-in-law, and then hastened home to breakfast, scolding, and with his back almost broken.

But quite contrary to custom, his wife did not come out to meet him, and there was no breakfast ready. "Margerita, where are you?" he cried, but received no answer. As he was running through the corridors, he at length looked out of a window and saw the figure on the balcony. "Margerita, have you gone to sleep? Come down. I am as tired as a dog, and as hungry as a wolf." But there was no reply. "If you do not come down instantly I will go up and bring you down," he cried, angrily; but Margerita did not stir. Enraged, he hastened up to the balcony, and gave her such a box on the ear that her head flew off, and he saw that the head was nothing but a milliner's form, and the body, a bundle of rags. Raging, he rushed down and rummaged through the whole house, but in vain; he found only his wife's empty jewel box. "Ha!" he cried; "she has been stolen from me and her jewels, too!" and he immediately ran to inform her parents of the misfortune. But when he came near the house, to his great surprise he saw on the balcony above the door all three sisters, his wives, who were looking down on him with scornful laughter.

Three wives at once terrified the devil so much that he took his flight with all possible speed.

Since that time he has lost his taste for marrying.