January 6, 2020

Sun, Moon, and Talia, By Giambattista Basile

Stock photo
Editor's Note: Since I first read this version of "Sleeping Beauty," which I think of as the original (wiser heads might disagree), I view the slumbering princess in a totally different light. Basile's story, which he set down in the 1630s, is replete with crimes against Talia, crimes against human decency, and pretty much a gallery of human awfulness. Truly, I am perplexed as to why this early version of "Sleeping Beauty" fell out of favor with adults. (Note: When we are tempted to think our 21st-Century selves as above this form of entertainment, we need only think of slasher films. Modern adults have no corner on morally superior entertainment. KW) Kids, I can understand, but this dark tale has magic, sleep sex (shudder with the creepiness of it all!), a diabolical scorned wife, and a happy ending -- I guess.

I promise, read this and you'll never see a "Prince Charming" as any kind of rescuer of woman. (Update: Part of my goal when thinking and writing about fairy tales is to put to rest the myths about fairy tales. There seldom ever were any real "Prince Charmings" in fairy tales. And originally, they don't seem to have been written as symbols of desirable males. Rescue fantasies, to me, anyway, were a Disney thing. KW)

Update, 2020: This is the most popular post on EC of all time. Clearly, this old tale strikes a nerve. For those of you who wish to write new fairy tales, this is a great story to deconstruct.

There once lived a great lord, who was blessed with the birth of a daughter, whom he named Talia. He sent for the wise men and astrologers in his lands, to predict her future. They met, counseled together, and cast her horoscope, and at length they came to the conclusion that she would incur great danger from a splinter of flax. Her father therefore forbade that any flax, hemp, or any other material of that sort be brought into his house, so that she should escape the predestined danger. 

 One day, when Talia had grown into a young and beautiful lady, she was looking out of a window, when she beheld passing that way an old woman, who was spinning. Talia, never having seen a distaff or a spindle, was pleased to see the twirling spindle, and she was so curious as to what thing it was, that she asked the old woman to come to her. Taking the distaff from her hand, she began to stretch the flax. Unfortunately, Talia ran a splinter of flax under her nail, and she fell dead upon the ground. When the old woman saw this, she became frightened and ran down the stairs, and is running still.

As soon as the wretched father heard of the disaster which had taken place, he had them, after having paid for this tub of sour wine with casks of tears, lay her out in one of his country mansions. There they seated her on a velvet throne under a canopy of brocade. Wanting to forget all and to drive from his memory his great misfortune, he closed the doors and abandoned forever the house where he had suffered this great loss.
After a time, it happened by chance that a king was out hunting and passed that way. One of his falcons escaped from his hand and flew into the house by way of one of the windows. It did not come when called, so the king had one of his party knock at the door, believing the palace to be inhabited. Although he knocked for a length of time, nobody answered, so the king had them bring a vintner's ladder, for he himself would climb up and search the house, to discover what was inside. Thus he climbed up and entered, and looked in all the rooms, and nooks, and corners, and was amazed to find no living person there. At last he came to the salon, and when the king beheld Talia, who seemed to be enchanted, he believed that she was asleep, and he called her, but she remained unconscious. Crying aloud, he beheld her charms and felt his blood course hotly through his veins. He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to a bed, where he gathered the first fruits of love. Leaving her on the bed, he returned to his own kingdom, where, in the pressing business of his realm, he for a time thought no more about this incident.

Frances MacNair
Now after nine months Talia delivered two beautiful children, one a boy and the other a girl. In them could be seen two rare jewels, and they were attended by two fairies, who came to that palace, and put them at their mother's breasts. Once, however, they sought the nipple, and not finding it, began to suck on Talia's fingers, and they sucked so much that the splinter of flax came out. Talia awoke as if from a long sleep, and seeing beside her two priceless gems, she held them to her breast, and gave them the nipple to suck, and the babies were dearer to her than her own life. Finding herself alone in that palace with two children by her side, she did not know what had happened to her; but she did notice that the table was set, and food and drink were brought in to her, although she did not see any attendants.

In the meanwhile the king remembered Talia, and saying that he wanted to go hunting, he returned to the palace, and found her awake, and with two cupids of beauty. He was overjoyed, and he told Talia who he was, and how he had seen her, and what had taken place. When she heard this, their friendship was knitted with tighter bonds, and he remained with her for a few days. After that time he bade her farewell, and promised to return soon, and take her with him to his kingdom. And he went to his realm, but he could not find any rest, and at all hours he had in his mouth the names of Talia, and of Sun and Moon (those were the two children's names), and when he took his rest, he called either one or other of them.

Henry M. Rheam
Now the king's wife began to suspect that something was wrong from the delay of her husband while hunting, and hearing him name continually Talia, Sun, and Moon, she became hot with another kind of heat than the sun's. Sending for the secretary, she said to him, "Listen to me, my son, you are living between two rocks, between the post and the door, between the poker and the grate. If you will tell me with whom the king your master, and my husband, is in love, I will give you treasures untold; and if you hide the truth from me, you will never be found again, dead or alive." The man was terribly frightened. Greed and fear blinded his eyes to all honor and to all sense of justice, and he related to her all things, calling bread bread, and wine wine.

The queen, hearing how matters stood, sent the secretary to Talia, in the name of the king, asking her to send the children, for he wished to see them. Talia, with great joy, did as she was commanded. Then the queen, with a heart of Medea, told the cook to kill them, and to make them into several tasteful dishes for her wretched husband. But the cook was tender hearted and, seeing these two beautiful golden apples, felt pity and compassion for them, and he carried them home to his wife, and had her hide them. In their place he prepared two lambs into a hundred different dishes. When the king came, the queen, with great pleasure, had the food served.

Marcus Stone
 The king ate with delight, saying, "By the life of Lanfusa, how tasteful this is"; or, "By the soul of my ancestors, this is good."

Each time she replied, "Eat, eat, you are eating of your own."

For two or three times the king paid no attention to this repetition, but at last seeing that the music continued, he answered, "I know perfectly well that I am eating of my own, because you have brought nothing into this house"; and growing angry, he got up and went to a villa at some distance from his palace, to solace his soul and alleviate his anger.

In the meanwhile the queen, not being satisfied of the evil already done, sent for the secretary and told him to go to the palace and to bring Talia back, saying that the king longed for her presence and was expecting her. Talia departed as soon as she heard these words, believing that she was following the commands of her lord, for she greatly longed to see her light and joy, knowing not what was preparing for her. She was met by the queen, whose face glowed from the fierce fire burning inside her, and looked like the face of Nero.

She addressed her thus, "Welcome, Madam Busybody! You are a fine piece of goods, you ill weed, who are enjoying my husband. So you are the lump of filth, the cruel bitch, that has caused my head to spin? Change your ways, for you are welcome in purgatory, where I will compensate you for all the damage you have done to me."

John W. Godward
Talia, hearing these words, began to excuse herself, saying that it was not her fault, because the king her husband had taken possession of her territory when she was drowned in sleep; but the queen would not listen to her excuses, and had a large fire lit in the courtyard of the palace, and commanded that Talia should be cast into it.

The lady, perceiving that matters had taken a bad turn, knelt before the queen, and begged her to allow her at least to take off the garments she wore. The queen, not for pity of the unhappy lady, but to gain also those robes, which were embroidered with gold and pearls, told her to undress, saying, "You can take off your clothes. I agree." Talia began to take them off, and with every item that she removed she uttered a loud scream. Having taken off her robe, her skirt, the bodice, and her shift, she was on the point of removing her last garment, when she uttered a last scream louder than the rest. They dragged her towards the pile, to reduce her to lye ashes which would be used to wash Charon's breeches.

The king suddenly appeared, and finding this spectacle, demanded to know what was happening. He asked for his children, and his wife -- reproaching him for his treachery -- told him that she had had them slaughtered and served to him as meat. When the wretched king heard this, he gave himself up to despair, saying, "Alas! Then I, myself, am the wolf of my own sweet lambs. Alas! And why did these my veins know not the fountains of their own blood? You renegade bitch, what evil deed is this which you have done? Begone, you shall get your desert as the stumps, and I will not send such a tyrant-faced one to the Colosseum to do her penance!"

Edward Burne-Jones
 So saying, he commanded that the queen should be cast into the fire which she had prepared for Talia, and the secretary with her, because he had been the handle for this bitter play, and weaver of this wicked plot. He was going to do the same with the cook, whom he believed to be the slaughterer of his children, when the man cast himself at his feet, saying, "In truth, my lord, for such a deed, there should be nothing else than a pile of living fire, and no other help than a spear from behind, and no other entertainment than twisting and turning within the blazing fire, and I should seek no other honor than to have my ashes, the ashes of a cook, mixed up with the queen's. But this is not the reward that I expect for having saved the children, in spite of the gall of that bitch, who wanted to kill them and to return to your body that which was of your own body."

Hearing these words, the king was beside himself. He thought he was dreaming, and he could not believe what his own ears had heard. Therefore, turning to the cook, he said, "If it is true that you have saved my children, be sure that I will take you away from turning the spit, and I will put you in the kitchen of this breast, to turn and twist as you like all my desires, giving you such a reward as shall enable you to call yourself a happy man in this world."

While the king spoke these words, the cook's wife, seeing her husband's need, brought forth the two children, Sun and Moon, before their father. And he never tired at playing the game of three with his wife and children, making a mill wheel of kisses, now with one and then with the other. He gave a generous reward to the cook, he made him a chamberlain. He married Talia to wife; and she enjoyed a long life with her husband and her children, thus experiencing the truth of the proverb:
Those whom fortune favors
Find good luck even in their sleep.

Artists are named  under their images in this post.


Christie @ Spinning Straw into Gold said...

Charming--rape a woman while she sleeps!

I'm pretty sure a woman awaking to find herself the mother of twins would need extensive therapy.

Kate W. said...

Too true! Your comment made me think even more on this, and I updated accordingly!

Alaskalainen said...

I seem to remember a version in which instead of a jealous wife, the king/Prince Charming has an ogre mother who attempts to eat her grandchildren.

The older versions of the fairy tales are rarely so sweet as the versions we tell now!

Lissa said...

Wow--KING Creepy! And then his wife blames the innocent girl who slept through her own deflowering...And motherhood wakes Talia up, so she can enjoy happily ever after with the perpetrator. What a story!

Lissa said...

And one more thought, although the Queen's actions were completely reprehensible, King Creepy did cheat on her and received no punishment for it.

Anonymous said...

I thought this version of Sleeping Beauty was very creepy and gross. This doesn’t seem like a story one would want to read or tell their children. Compared to Disney’s sweet story of a prince who saves the fair maiden from her sleeping death, this story has a dark sinister plot to it. A married king who was out hunting came across a sleeping girl and robs her of her virginity. After he knew she was awake and that she had given birth to his children he still deserts her to go back to his wife and castle. This story can be seen as a gibe against men who have mistresses and illegitimate children. Another interpretation of this story could be as a caution for girls to look out for men who want to take their innocence. Men steal the girls’ innocence and leave them to fend for themselves. Although this version has some sinister aspects to it, there is a good lesson for young girl to learn from it. Look out for men who are trying to take your youthful innocence.

Abbey Ward

Anonymous said...

"there is a good lesson for young girl to learn from it. Look out for men who are trying to take your youthful innocence." - Abbey Ward,

Respectfully, I disagree with Abbey Ward’s supposed lesson.

Aside from rape - which no one abides - do not individuals take agency over who they share their "youthful innocence" with? Ward seems to perpetuate the shameful myth that women are immune from their biologically-based desires and that they are, instead, merely helpless dunces duped into sex by lascivious men. Not an empowering belief, that (btw – why is Ward’s supposed lesson gender-specific? Should not males be mindful of a female "trying to take their youthful innocence", or is male innocence of an inferior quality?).

The notion that either gender has hallmarked intellect, duplicity, piety or promiscuity is, indeed, an odious fairy tale.

Kate W. said...

The post you refer to was written by a student as a course requirement and reflects a great deal of class discussion. Also, one cannot divorce this story from rape. It is a rape story. Period. What's more, Ward's comment reflects the history of fairy tales as we reviewed them in class, including "Little Red Riding Hood," an unabashed tale about predation. The wolf is not just a wolf. In other words, Ward's comments reflect a great deal of discussion about both men and women over the course of a semester.

Anonymous said...

Sun, Moon, and Talia, By Giambattista Basile
Very dramatic fairy tale to say the least! What I find most unbelievable is the fact that when Talia awoke to two infants she thought nothing of it and began breast feeding them. It’s as if she instantly knew they were hers even though she had no idea how or when. Talia seemed to always be very nice or and content with her lot in life. Even after the King came to see her and told her that he had fathered her children while she slept, she seemed ok with it. She just waited patiently for the King to come back at his whim and asked for nothing. You would think that if she knew he was the king she would also be aware that he had the means to take her and her children with him. Also that maybe a man of his station was very likely married. Yet, she waited patiently until he called upon her. To me it seemed that Talia didn’t express much emotion throughout the story. The Queen, on the other hand, went off the deep end. It’s understandable that she would be highly upset to find out that her husband was a two timing jerk but like many women she sought to punish the other woman instead of the man. – Melinda P.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there is an older story represented here in the later telling, related to Zeus. Zeus (as Jupiter, the Roman name for him) often raped or tricked women into sleeping with him and encouraged a rape culture with his siblings and offspring, per the stories. He also had an insanely jealous wife. The references to Nero leaves me wondering if they were left overs from an older Roman story.

Roman culture was a very brutal one, and such stories would fit their time. The middle ages (and Renaissance) were not much better and even in our time, while there is much more social justice, there is brutality in our culture as well. Perhaps we should use such stories as fodder to build a new world where such brutality does not exist at all...

Anonymous said...

To start off, this fairytale is already vastly different from other versions of “Sleeping Beauty”, simply because Talia is not a princess, there are no fairies to curse her, and no spinning wheels are the fault of her demise. This is a completely different tale than the one told by Disney. To be frank, refreshing and disturbing have never gone so well together. I would like to point out that the king who finds Talia in her sleeping state, and proceeds to rape her and then leave her, is one of the most disturbing and disgusting characters I have had the pleasure of reading about. It isn’t until later in the tale that we learn the king is married to his queen, so not only is her a rapist and necrophiliac, but he is also a cheater. Luckily, and quite stupidly for the latter bit, for Talia, she doesn’t have to suffer through the childbirth of her twins, and even willingly befriends the king when he comes back to her. I can’t say what his intentions were the second time the king visited her, but I feel that if Talia hadn’t been awake, the same story would have taken place, as with his previous visit. Women, at least in this piece, were objectified quite clearly, and whether or not the king knew Talia was alive, he had no trouble taking her without her consent. Although I find this original version of the fairytale rather sickening, it is, none the less, a piece that pulls readers in and holds their attention without faltering.
Rachel B.

Anonymous said...

I am aware that this is the original version of sleeping beauty but while reading I can’t help but notice all of the many differences between the Disney version and this original work. I also have noticed many differences between this and “Sleeping Beauty in the Wood”. To put it lightly this version has no sensor. I liked the other versions of the story better than this one because they aren’t as shocking. Not only is the prince a creepy rapist in this version he also already has a wife! He commits adultery as if it is no big deal and also suffers no consequences. I understand why the queen would be mad at her creepy husband for cheating on her but wanting to kill his children and trick him into eating them, that’s just messed up! It also really bothered me that the original version did not have fairies at the beginning! Both “Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” and Disney’s Sleeping Beauty had fairies gift the princess at her christening and she is cursed by a bad fairy, in this story it’s just kind of random that some wise men predict her future and she isn’t cursed or anything.
Paige F.

Anonymous said...

This story was very strange. At first I did not realize that I was reading sleeping beauty; it sounded like sleeping beauty but the name was different and it seemed to be someone’s plagiarized version. I was confused at different parts of this story because in my opinion it was not very clear about whom the author was speaking about. It seemed that the king who found Talia was her father because I did not see a break away from the first king. There is also the creepy factor that is played in here and how in the view/opinion of someone living in the 21st century this king should have very bad things happen to him because technically he did rape a woman who was convenient however, it seems there are a lot of stories from history that tell of king’s having their way with women and being able to get any woman they desire willing or not.

Lex Keating said...

Thanks for posting the entirety of this story!

While I agree about the disturbing nature of this story, I wonder if the modern reader is misunderstanding what a powerful teaching tool this story is. It's not a story for children, that's true. But it is the perfect story for a young woman (or young man) on the brink of adulthood. There are a lot of places in the story that are upsetting. Elegant language or coarse words, the audience should be bothered. But this is good for a young audience. It can be used to teach young people where their boundaries are. That informed consent is important. That omitting the truth is a form of lying. That other people's baggage (or past) can affect you. That you can be blamed for a sin you didn't commit. These aren't things we like to hear in "fairy tales", but a lot of old stories were designed to teach. Not just to entertain.

Unknown said...

Many commenters are looking at this from a modern perspective. To really understand the meaning of this story you have to look at it from the perspective of the original bards/audience. Of course the king wasn't punished, he was a king. Who was going to punish him? Kings took what they wanted and that was how it was. Meanwhile, of course Talia wouldn't have been unsure when she woke up as a mother. Women were meant to be mothers and were supposed to really become alive once they became mothers. This is why the Queen is punished for attempting to kill the children, because that goes against the nature of women. The King and Talia's behaviors were perfectly appropriate for views of the time.

Lex Keating said...

@Courtnie, I must disagree with that. There are plenty of fairy tales with honorable, decent kings and heroes. "Might equals right" wasn't a beloved theme in fairy tales, nor a frequent one. There were a lot of cautionary tales (Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, Valalisa, etc.) about innocents who are taken in by powerful people, but these girls learn to escape. Talia's sheltered childhood in part explains her inability (or unwillingness) to forge her own way out of the King's clutches, but blaming the victim for her accessory-after-the-fact enabling isn't fair, either.

As a strong woman, it was the Queen's prerogative to deal with her husband. Instead, she attacks his bamboozled mistress, Talia, who does not know she is "the other woman." Talia is the passive girl we've been following, so it's easy to empathize with her and see her as the protagonist, but at no point does this phlegmatic girl make any good choices. She isn't given that option. She would have to depart from the dictates and whims of her manipulative "lover" to choose anything good. Neither the King nor the Queen offer her any healthy, safe choices, and she doesn't try to find any. This isn't a story about societal norms in the day. It's a story about what not to do and who not to be. Talia is overtaken by evil. That doesn't make her wicked, but neither does she actively choose to flee that evil when she first realizes the extent of the baggage the King bring to the table (a vindictive wife). One could hope that she would escape one day, but we're given nothing to base that hope on.

And even back in the day, people knew that cheaters don't stop cheating. One day, Talia will wake up to find her loving husband has a younger, innocent version of her on the side. The King's philandering behavior is, as you say, perfectly appropriate. Who's going to stop him? You and I, that's who. Don't let a creep be a creep just because he has money and power. Stand up for the innocent, or one day it may be your daughter who is taken without her consent and blamed for other people's sins.

JShelby said...

Raping a girl while she's passed out and then living happily ever after with her...rape culture is alive and well in this one!

Anonymous said...

So much for Prince Philip's "True Loves First Kiss" And Wow Talia even managed to sleep through child birth of twins! This original is definitely not Disney friendly! lol

Anonymous said...

What a great story. It's life as lived - at least in fantasy - but their fantasy, not ours. These stories tap ancient traditions and times. We can read them without condemning or endorsing their content. Otherwise we'll live in the half-light of litigious court justices who seek to know and enact the exact directions of our "founding fathers." This is history, not a guide for modern living. Enjoy the ride, or don't.

Star O' Star said...

When one has power...
I am a big fan of "the Goddesses Within" by Bolen. Here Zeus sprinkles his seed at his pleasure and Hera-wife, crazy with jealousy, tries revenge but she ultimately fails.

Unknown said...

Except, that's not the lesson here. The lesson here is that rape is acceptable, good even, and that women should be grateful for being raped.
Is this really a good lesson?

Joseph B. Ramirez said...
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