August 31, 2023

#08-340: The Stone Fish

Virgil in a basket. (In another legend, the poet was enamored of the Emperor's daughter.
She didn't love him, so she tricked him into getting into a basket to be pulled up to her
room. She then left him hanging halfway up as an object of public ridicule.) (Wikimedia)

Note: Virgil represents here the power of kindness--and Luigi, the power of love. This is one of 50 stories about Virgil collected by Charles Godfrey Leland in the 19th century, but dating back to the Middle Ages. 

Get Ready: Do you think ancients "curses" can ever be broken?

Virgil, the author of The Aeneid, was the Romans' greatest poet. By the Middle Ages his reputation had grown such that the common folk considered him to be a magician, and told stories about him going about doing kindnesses for the poor and weak. Here is one such story.

Once a poor fisherman was taking a large fish to sell to the monks of an abbey. But a nobleman--who was also a bandit--took it from him.

The fisherman cursed "Il Bandito," saying: "May you pass centuries in the worst of all suffering! You shall be wretched until you see someone eat this fish."

With that the fish turned into stone--and so did the nobleman! This "statue" was placed in a corner of his own castle's dining-hall; every day the stone fish was placed on the table at dinnertime, but no one could eat it.

After 300 years, the latest lord of the castle had a beautiful daughter. A young lord named Luigi loved her, but her father did not approve. And so he set a task for the youth: "If you can eat the stone fish, you can marry my daughter."

The lad went away grieving.

One day after hunting, Luigi was carrying two hares when he encountered Virgil. When the sage asked the youth to sell him one, Luigi said, "Oh, take your pick, but say nothing of payment. Perhaps you can return the favor someday."

"I'll pay it now!" said Virgil. "I hate to be indebted to anyone. What do you desire the most?"

"My wish is impossible, signore," Luigi said, "for I wish to eat the stone fish in the castle up there."

"Here, then," replied Virgil. "Take this salt, and sprinkle some on the fish. But first you must say, 'If you were ever a fish, become a fish again.'"

Luigi went to the castle and asked for the fish. Everyone laughed when the lord asked him if he wished to carve it with a hammer.

"No," said Luigi. "But I would like to use my own salt, and say my own grace."

When he sprinkled the salt and recited the words, the fish became tender--and delicious!

The lord gave permission for Luigi to marry his daughter, and the fish turned again to stone. Just then a statue in the corner spoke: "Now I am at peace, since the fish has been eaten." And a spirit form came out of the statue and disappeared.

Virgil attended the wedding of Luigi and the young lady, and promised them a happy life.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. abbey
  2. bandit
  3. carve
  4. grace
  5. grieving
  6. hares
  7. indebted
  8. recited
  9. sage
  10. wretched
  1. a robber; a thief
  2. animals like rabbits
  3. a monastery
  4. cut up
  5. miserable
  6. a prayer over a meal
  7. a wise person
  8. sad; feeling sorrow
  9. repeated
  10. owing; obliged

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 31, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. a; 3. d; 4. f; 5. h; 6. b; 7. j; 8. i; 9. g; 10. e