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Giambattista Basile

Giambattista Basile (1566 or 1575–1632) was an Italian poet, courtier, and fairy tale collector.

Born to a Neapolitan middle-class family, Basile was, during his career, a courtier and soldier to various Italian princes, including the doge of Venice. According to Benedetto Croce he was born in 1575, while other sources have February 1566. In Venice he began to write poetry. Later he returned to Naples to serve as a courtier under the protection of Caracciolo d'Avellino, and by the time of his death he had reached the rank of "count" Conte di Torrone. He is known for writing the collection of Neapolitan fairy tales titled Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille (Neapolitan for "The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones"), published posthumously in two volumes by his sister Adriana in Naples, Italy in 1634 and 1636 under the pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis.

He recorded and adapted the tales, believed to have been orally transmitted around Crete and Venice, several of which were also later adapted by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, the latter making extensive, acknowledged use of Basile's collection. Examples of this are versions of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel.

Lo cunto is known as the Pentamerone because it is constructed roughly upon the model of the Decamerone of Boccaccio. It is structured around a fantastic frame story in which fifty stories are related over the course of five days rather than the ten of the Tuscan compendium. The title Il Pentamerone was first used in the 1674 edition. The frame-story is that of a cursed, melancholy princess named Zoza ("mud" or "slime" in Neapolitan, but also used as a term of endearment) who is robbed of her only chance at matrimony by a Moorish slave, who takes her place. The now-pregnant slave-queen demands (at the impetus of Zoza's fairy gifts) that her husband tell her stories, or else she would crush the unborn child. The husband hires ten female storytellers to keep her amused; disguised among them is Zoza. Each tells five stories — most of which are more suitable to courtly than juvenile audiences. The Moorish woman's treachery is revealed in the final story (related, suitably, by Zoza), and she is buried, pregnant, up to her neck in the ground and left to die. Zoza and the Prince live happily ever after.

The text was translated into German by Felix Liebrecht (1846), into English by John Edward Taylor (1848) and again by Sir Richard Francis Burton (1893) and into Italian by Benedetto Croce in 1925.


Last updated: 10-26-2005 11:57:44
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