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Folk-tales from Greece II

(English)

Also available in French and German

 

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This is the second in a two-volume edition containing twelve folk tales selected from the treasure-house of modern Greek tradition. Water nymphs, witches, animals with the power of speech and dragons spring to life from its pages, along with adventures and heroic deeds, human loves and weaknesses. These imaginary tales are set against the timeless background of the Greek countryside, with its Mediterranean light, its perfumes and its varied scenery. Stories which have been passed down to us by word of mouth, told by an older generation on long winter nights and beneath the stars in summer, they are aimed at people of all ages.

 

At the end of each volume is a tale preserved in the form it was first told in: two of the best-loved works of Greek demotic verse, translated into English but preserving the metre in which they were recited to their original audiences. The volumes are given an added dramatic dimension by prize-winning artist Fotini Stefanidi's vivid line illustrations.

Folk-tales from Greece II

 

Retold by Menelaos Stephanides
Illustrated by Photini Stefanidi
Translation: Bruce Walter
192 pages, paperback, pocket size 16,5 x 11,5 cm

Ages: 12 and up

ISBN-10: 9604250833, ISBN-13: 9789604250837

 

THREE PIECES OF ADVICE

 

Τhere was once a poor man called Antonis. He lived in a small village with his wife and only child, a boy about ten years of age. So terrible was their poverty, however, that he decided to leave home and go in search of work.

 

“This is no life we’re leading here,” he told his wife. “I’ll go and work in the city to make some money, and when I come back we can live in comfort.”

 

“Go, then, but don’t forget us,” his wife replied – and the very next day, she and their son bade him farewell with tears in their eyes.

 

Antonis went to the city, but there was no work to be had. After many days, he found a job as servant to a nobleman – but his master was very mean.

 

“I’ll pay you when your time is up, so you don’t squander all your wages,” he announced. And the poor man had no choice but to accept.

 

Antonis worked hard and well. Though he was never given any money, he told himself to be patient. Ten whole years went by like this, till in the end he decided to ask for his wages and leave.

 

Now his master had to decide what to pay him, and he told himself:

 

“A hundred pounds is too much by far. If I give him fifty, that’s still a lot. Let’s give him twenty, say. But has he really earned his keep? I’ll give him ten instead.” In the end he took out not ten pounds, but five – and even then he only gave him three of them.

 

“Is that all?” poor Antonis gasped.

 

“That’s all your work is worth,” the nobleman replied. “Still, if you think it’s not enough, stay on for another ten years and I’ll give you three pounds more.”

 

But the sum was so small, and the years so long, that Antonis took the money with a sigh and left.

 

On the road home, he met an old man with a long white beard.

 

“If you give me a pound, I’ll give you a good piece of advice,” the old man said. Antonis thought for a while then told himself:

 

“Well, I’m poor with three pounds and not much poorer with two.” So he gave one of his pounds to the old man, who told him:

Don’t ask if it isn’t your concern!
That’s the first thing you must learn.”

This is my first piece of advice to you. And if you want another, which is even better than the first, just give me another pound.”

 

“I’m poor with two pounds and not much poorer with one,” thought Antonis, and he gave the old man a second coin.

“Just keep to your way
And don’t be led astray.”

That’s my second piece of advice,” the old man told him. But if you want a third, which will help you even more than the second, give me one more pound.”

 

“Well, I’m poor with one pound and just the same with nothing,” said Antonis again. And he gave the old man his last gold coin.

“If you get angry in the night,
Don’t act on it until first light.”

the old man told him. “That is my final piece of advice to you.”

 

As he went on his way, poor Antonis wondered:

 

“Did I do the right thing or not? Ah well, I was poor with three pounds, and with nothing in my pocket, what’s the difference?” And on he walked.

 

A little further down the road he came upon a black man, ten feet tall, who was doing something very odd indeed. He was gluing gold sovereigns onto the leaves of a lemon tree!

 

Antonis stopped short in surprise. He was about to ask him why he was performing this strange task when he remembered the old man’s first piece of advice:

Don’t ask if it isn’t your concern
That’s the first thing you must learn.’

And so he just bade the black man good day and continued on his way.

 

“Hey! Where are you going?” the black man shouted. “Come back and fill your pockets with gold sovereigns. And do you know why I’m letting you have them? A hundred years I’ve been sticking these coins on the tree, and nobody ever passes by without stopping to ask me why. Here’s what happened to the last one who passed this way – it wasn’t long ago. A little fellow he was, and of course he stopped to ask me why I was sticking sovereigns on the lemon tree.

 

‘What did you say?’ I asked.

 

‘Why are you gluing sovereigns on the leaves?’ he repeated.

 

‘I can’t hear,’ I replied. ‘Speak in my other ear.’

 

‘Why are you sticking gold coins on the tree?’

 

‘I can’t hear! Speak louder!’ I told him – just joking, of course. Then he shouted out his question once again – so loud that it made him hoarse.

 

‘Louder!’ I repeated.

 

So he shouted, I shouted, I lost my temper, and then I gave him a slap on the face with this great paw of mine, which left him stone deaf in one ear. Then I gave him another with the other hand, which left him deaf as a post in the other ear as well. He staggered off with his head spinning. No more questions about sovereigns from him! To cut a long story short, that’s more or less what’s happened to every nosy traveller who passes by. I’ve sent the lot of them packing – some lamed, some blinded, some as mad as hatters. You’re the only one who didn’t ask me a single question – just wished me good day and continued on your way. So take as many sovereigns as you like, for you deserve them.”

 

Delighted, Antonis crammed his pockets with as many gold coins as they would hold, thanked the black man and continued on his journey home.

 

“A pound for that piece of advice was money well spent,” he told himself. “Some came healthy and left crippled, others came with sharp ears and left stone deaf, some were driven mad – but I came poor and left rich!”

 

A little further down the road he met some travellers who were going the same way. They exchanged greetings and all went on together.

 

Soon they came to a crossroads where there was a sign with an arrow, pointing to a tavern.

 

“Let’s go and have a drink,” said one of the travellers.

 

“Why not?” the others all agreed.

 

The words ‘why not’ were on the tip of Antonis’s tongue, too, when he remembered the second piece of advice:

‘Just keep to your way
And don’t be led astray.’

So instead of going with the others he said, “I’ll sit here and wait for you.” And with these words he seated himself beneath a tree and, tired from his long walk, soon fell asleep.

 

All of a sudden, he was woken up by a man who came staggering towards him with his clothes all burned and flopped down on the grass beside the tree.

 

“What a disaster!” groaned the stranger.

 

“Disaster? What disaster?” asked Antonis in surprise.

 

“What,” cried the stranger, “didn’t you see anything? Didn’t you hear it?”

 

“I was fast asleep – and you’ve just woken me up,” replied Antonis rather crossly.

 

“Well,” continued the stranger, “this is how I lost everything I have in the world. I was just about to lock my tavern up and go off home, when a group of travellers arrived. How was I to know what would happen next? They seemed ordinary enough folks to me. They asked for brandy and I served it with roast almonds. They began to eat and drink – especially to drink!

 

‘More brandy!’ they demanded – and I brought it to them.

 

‘More – and more!’ they shouted.

 

What else could I do? I gave them what they asked for. They got drunk as lords! Suddenly, one of them pulled a pistol from his belt and ‘bang!’ a shot went through the ceiling. Then another drew his weapon and ‘boom!’ a bullet smashed into a barrel of brandy. Then they all began shooting, ‘bang! boom! bang!’ They made matchwood of the barrels. The tavern was ankle-deep in ouzo, wine and brandy. I stood there tearing my hair while they danced a drunken reel in the puddles of spilled drink.

 

‘You villains! You’ve ruined me!’ I cried.

 

‘Let us alone! We are going to have a ball tonight!’ laughed one of them – and took aim at a barrel filled with paraffin. That was that. The whole tavern was wrapped in flames before I knew what was happening. Luckily, I was standing in the doorway and was able to dive for safety, or I would have been burned alive like all the others. Well, they got what they asked for – but what about me? Was it my fault that everything I possess has gone up in a cloud of smoke? Can you tell me that?”

 

What could Antonis say? He sat there open-mouthed and thought, ‘I got off lightly! A pound is all that piece of advice cost me. The old man was right when he said that the second was worth much more than the first.’

 

After many days of walking, Antonis eventually reached home. Night had fallen by the time he arrived, and in the darkness his wife did not even recognize him.

 

‘And perhaps it would be better not to tell her who I am just yet,’ thought Antonis. ‘I’ve been away so many years it would be wiser to wait and find out what’s been going on here in my absence.’

 

So he told her, “I’m just passing through. Make up a bed for me somewhere, would you?” And he gave her two gold sovereigns for her pains.

 

“I’m sorry,” his wife replied, “but I can’t let you into the house. You can sleep down in the store room, though – and as for money, in these parts we don’t accept it for such small services.” Then she gave him back the two gold coins, brought him a bowl of steaming soup and two thick blankets and went inside the house again, locking the door behind her.

 

A few moments later, Antonis made out through the darkness the tall figure of a man going upstairs to the house. The blood rushed to his head.

 

“The faithless creature!” he cried in a rage. “She’s forgotten me and married someone else, while I was slaving away for her, far off in the city. I’ll kill her! No, I’ll kill them both!” He drew his pistol from his belt and was about to charge upstairs when he remembered the old man’s third piece of advice:

‘When you get angry in the night,
Don’t act on it until first light.’

 

He stood there hesitating, but he was still boiling with rage. “No! Now! Why in the morning? It’s the same thing, isn’t it?” But then he thought better of it and said, “Leave it for tomorrow. I paid a pound for that piece of advice, and it would be a pity to let it go to waste.”

 

Soon afterwards he fell into a troubled sleep – but not for long. Somehow he found himself on his feet again, crying out, “I’ll shoot them both, the villains!” But even as the words left his mouth, he remembered that the old man had told him this third and final word of advice was worth even more than the second, so he decided after all that he would wait till morning came before he killed the guilty couple.

 

In his troubled state of mind, it was a long time before Antonis got back to sleep, and when he awoke he could already hear morning footsteps overhead. His blood boiled once again but he told himself,

 

“Let God punish them for their guilty deeds, not me,” and he threw open the door, intending to quit the house once and for all. At that very moment the door above him opened too and he heard a man’s voice saying, “Good-bye, mother. I won’t be late tonight.”

 

When Antonis heard this, he banged his fist against his forehead in dismay.

 

“My God!” he cried. “I must have been out of my mind! I would have killed my own son and his mother!”

 

He rushed upstairs and threw his arms around them both. They hugged and kissed and wept with joy. Then Antonis took them into the house, emptied his loaded pockets of the sovereigns and spread them out upon the table.

 

“This gold is precious enough, to be sure,” he told them, “but more precious still is the advice that I was given. An old man told me three things, but the best by far was his third piece of advice:


‘If you get angry in the night,
Don’t act on it until first light.’

 

And with these words he hugged and kissed them once again. Antonis was home at last, and they all lived happily ever after.


Excerpted from "Folk-tales from Greece II" by Menelaos Stephanides
Copyright © by Dimitris Stefanidis. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Three Pieces of Advice

The Soothsayer

The Lettuce Leaf

The Twelve Months

The Magic Mirror

The Swot

The Ballad of the Dead Brother

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