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Literature / Pintosmalto

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Image from "Stories from the Pentamerone", the 1911 English Macmillan & Co. publication.

Pintosmalto is an Italian Fairy Tale written by Giambattista Basile in Il Pentamerone, which was published in 1634. Although it is a literary fairy tale, folk variants are found in many Mediterranean countries.

A merchant's daughter named Betta builds herself a groom from half a hundredweight of Palermo sugar, as much again of sweet almonds, four to six bottles of scented water, a little musk and amber, as well as forty pearls, two sapphires, a few garnets and rubies, and some gold thread. Her sole tools are a trough and a silver trowel. When the marzipan statue is done, she prays to the Goddess of Love until he comes to life.

Betta names him Pintosmalto and they arrange to marry at once. But a queen who attends the wedding feast abducts him, and Betta, disguised as a beggar, sets out to get her husband back. She happens on an old woman who takes pity on her and teaches her three spells that should help her. After more journeying, Betta finds Pintosmalto, but the queen won't let her near and he doesn't recognize her.

Undeterred, she tries the first spell and an automotive golden coach appears. With it, she bribes the queen to let her sleep the night at the door of Pintosmalto's room. The queen agrees but drugs Pintosmalto, so that Betta cannot speak to him. She tries again with the next spell and a golden bird that sings like a nightingale appears. It is as before but a cobbler informs Pintosmalto of all the weeping he had heard, and the next night, when Betta bribes her way in with an assortment of fineries, he is awake. They instantly flee, taking with them what the queen was bribed with plus a little extra for the trouble she caused them.

The fairy tale takes inspiration from the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, as when Betta prays to the Goddess of Love, she explicitly mentions that the goddess did the same favor for a "King of Cyprus". The unique choice for a statue of marzipannote  is not a coincidence either. Italy has a very old tradition in the making of wax statues for purposes ranging from art to religion to science. Marzipan is not wax, but has a similar capacity to be molded and colored into something indistinguishable from the real thing. And in 1634 marzipan was expensive, mostly due to the sugar, which was known as "white gold" at the time. Prior to the 1500s, sugar was for the rich only. Colonization and slavery made it increasingly more accessible and starting the 1600s it was available to the bourgeoisie, which used fancy marzipan creations to impress one another.

Full text here. It is an unusual example of Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type ATU 425, "The Search for the Lost Husband", a type of which there are many variants. Compare "The Feather of Finist the Falcon" and "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", and for the Gender Flip "Soria Moria Castle" and "The Blue Mountains" not to mention Weird Science.

Tropes included

  • Art Initiates Life: Pintosmalto is a sculpture brought to life through divine intervention.
  • Child Marriage Veto: The merchant really wants his one child to marry. Betta isn't interested, which causes her father grief, but he doesn't force her to anything. The situation is resolved when Betta creates her own husband. Pintosmalto may not have heritage, but the merchant sees he has great beauty and makes his daughter happy, so he gives his blessing.
  • Death by Despair: Betta predicts she will suffer this fate if Pintosmalto doesn't answer her the third night either. Fortunately for her, he does.
  • Distressed Dude: Pintosmalto is kidnapped by the queen and needs Betta to rescue him.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Abduction, brainwashing, drugging, and a somewhat underhanded way of making deals does qualify the queen for the label "evil".
  • Gold Makes Everything Shiny: Gold is a recurring element in the tale for no particular reason other than make fancy things even more fancy. Pintosmalto's hair is gold thread, the automotive coach is gold, the singing bird is gold, and the third bribe also contains golden objects.
  • Greed: The given moral of the story is that a cheater can't be mad for getting cheated, but another moral about greed can be deduced as well. After all, had the queen not wanted the beggar girl's riches after she'd already stolen the merchant's daughter husband, she'd only have missed out on the (suspicious) possessions of the beggar. She'd still had the boy and wouldn't have been robbed.
  • The Ingenue: Pintosmalto is a male version and his naivity and innocence is particularly strong during the feast held in celebration of his and Betta's wedding. He is said to "had only opened his eyes on the wickedness of the world three hours before"note  and this the queen makes use of to abduct him with ease.
  • Living Statue: Pintosmalto is a marzipan statue. His composition after coming to life is unspecified.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Implied. Pintosmalto isn't a monster but he is not human either. A regular adult has thirty-two teeth, so Pintosmalto has eight too many going by the forty pearls Betta ordered.
  • Pygmalion Plot: A rare case in which the genders are reversed. Betta is Pintasmalto's sculptor and the one who prayed him to life. They live happily ever after.
  • Rule of Three: The three spells Betta learns from the old woman which turn into three bribes to sleep at Pintosmalto's door for three nights.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Two-thirds of the story deals with Betta getting Pintosmalto back from the queen, who had taken him with her solely because of his immense beauty.
  • Solitary Sorceress: The old woman Betta stays with for a time lives alone and teaches the girl spells to get back Pintosmalto
  • Spoiled Sweet: Betta gets whatever she wants from her father, but she doesn't go overboard. When Pintosmalto is abducted, she gives up everything to find him, whenever and wherever that may be. As well, while she is skeptical about the spells given to her by the old woman, she reasons that it is not done to judge the help she's been given.
  • Villainous Crush: The queen instantly falls for Pintosmalto when she beholds his beauty.
  • You Owe Me: Among the generally heart-wrenching begging Betta does at Pintosmalto's door, reminding him that he is indebted to her for his life is not a high note.