“What? Is that it?” Thalia is incredulous and indignant.
“Yes, I am afraid so.”
“I don’t like that story.” Thalia stalks off to bed with Teddy dragging behind.
I do like the story, but I shouldn’t expect a tale of infidelity to be a kid’s thing. What disturbs her is The Three Snake Leaves.
A poor, young soldier, through dint of senseless bravery, becomes the king’s favorite. More emotional than cautious, he falls in love with the king’s daughter.
The field for his pursuit is clear, given the princess’s declaration that she will marry no man who won’t agree to follow her to the grave, no matter when her death may occur, and she vows to do the same for her beloved.
He, she, and the king agree to the bargain, and the marriage soon follows. Her untimely death is not far behind.
Sitting in the crypt with his wife’s corpse, he stares at the four loaves of bread, four bottles of wine, and four candles provided to him. These he rations, but death slowly approaches.
As he sits, waiting for his demise, a snake slithers into the tomb, moving toward the body of his love. He leaps up, sword in hand, cutting the snake into pieces. Presently, another snake appears, departs, and returns with leaves in its mouth. These it places on the body of its companion, which wiggles out from under the leaves, and they slither away together.
The youth takes the leaves and puts them on the eyes and mouth of his wife, and she begins to breathe.
Returned to life, his wife unaccountably loses her love for her husband. On a sea voyage, she develops a passion for the ship’s captain. Together, they throw her husband overboard to his death.
His faithful servant lowers a small boat, retrieves his master’s body, and restores him to life with the snake leaves. Together they row for home, returning before the faithless wife.
The king gives his daughter enough time to incriminate herself, then sends her off with her captain-lover, in a boat bored with holes, to sink beneath the waves.
No surprise that Thalia is not enamored of this story, but not all stories collected by the Grimms were told for a youthful audience. The tales were as often told among women for women. This one, I will guess, was told as a cautionary tale.
Not for the first time, I sense a feminine mind behind a story, challenging my masculine outlook. The hero of this tale is not in charge of his fate. First, he throws himself at the feet of valor. Soon, through passion, he places himself at the behest of his wife’s will. He triumphs, through luck, only to be murdered at the hand of the one he saved, then saved himself by a servant. In the end, the king, not our hero, decides everyone’s fate.
Had the story reversed the role of the sexes, had a heroine agreed to her husband’s demand to follow him to the grave, had she saved him only to have him be ungrateful and pursue another woman, we would nod our heads, identifying a familiar theme.
With The Three Snake Leaves I am a little stunned at the princess’s boldness, and ultimately, the passive nature of the hero.
Plus, where have I heard this tale before? I think a conversation with Augustus is in order.