Shining Sun, an Italian fairy tale told in English by Francesca Diano

amore e psiche stanti, farfalla, antonio Canova, cupid and psyche standing, butterfly

Antonio Canova – Amore e Psiche

Some time ago I was asked to write in English a collection of traditional and well known Italian fairy tales. The project went to a halt, but I think it could be of some interest to foreign readers to read my personal version of these tales, as I told them to my children many years ago. As I love the “Pentamerone” by Giovan Battista Basile (1575 – 1632) very much, I will start with this, which is my free version of his “Pinto Smalto” (Painted Enamel) from Lo Cunto de li Cunti (1634). The typology of the tale is clearly a version of Eros and Psyche. The original language of this masterpiece of the Italian baroque literature is utterly rich, almost overwhelming for its beauty,  bursting with  flamboyant  metaphors and imagination. My version is just a pale rewrite of the original and not a translation, as I would need the pen of Shakespeare to reproduce it in a language that is not mine. But, in doing so, I kept well in mind what I have learned from the Irish art of storytelling.

A special thank to my dear friend Eileen Campbell, writer and Queen of flowers, for her precious help and advise and her constant support.  

Shining Sun[1]


Once  upon  a time, in a far away kingdom, there lived a king and this king had a daughter as beautiful as the rising moon. The queen had died and so the princess was left an orphan.

         The lovely princess was ready for marriage and the king was very anxious to find a suitable match for his  daughter, whom he loved more than anything in the world.

But the princess was very choosy and every time none of the suitors the king introduced to her were good enough to satisfy her taste. This one had pimples, that one was too short, one was too tall, the other was too fat, one was too thin, another was…whatever. So the king kept introducing to her all the princes and earls and marquises he could find, but all of them she refused with a yawn, turning away her lovely little head and curling her little nose.

The king was desperate. The fussy nature of his beloved daughter would leave her a spinster! And he would die without an heir to his throne.

But, one day, all of a sudden, the princess went to talk to her father, who was sadly sitting on the throne and said: <<Father, I want a modius of the purest flour, a modius of almond paste and one of the purest sugar. Then I need a jug of rosewater, a  skein of pure gold thread, two large sapphires, blue like the deepest sea, some rubies red as red blood and shining and some spotless, perfect pearls.>>

The king was left speechless. What would his daughter do with all that stuff? Was she going to cook, or to weave, or to do some embroidery? No, that would not have been possible. She had always been so reluctant to apply herself to any of the traditional women’s  occupation. So what was it?

So the king asked her. The princess said: <<Father, if I can’t find a match of my liking, I am going to create it myself, with my own hands. He will be perfect and handsome, like a shining sun>>.

The king thought that she had gone mad, but, as she was the apple of his eyes and he loved her dearly and wanted to make her happy, he arranged that everything she had  asked for was delivered to her apartments.

The very moment the princess had the required materials, she commanded all her maidservants to leave at once and she set to work.

She kneaded flour, sugar and almond paste together with  rosewater and shaped a perfect body, then moulded the head and the face of a handsome young man, with noble features. She then firmly pushed the sapphires into the head to create the eyes, used rubies to shape the lips and pearls for the teeth. Eventually, with the gold thread, she made a head of long, curly hair.

When she had finished, she stepped back and admired her masterpiece. So perfect and wonderful was that figure, that she exclaimed: <<You are indeed beautiful like the shining sun and this will be your name! Shining Sun, will you marry me?>>

But when the figure didn’t answer, she began to cry.

So, every day, she locked  herself in her room and spoke to Shining Sun.

         Shining Sun beautiful more than the sky

         Sugar and almonds, roses and sapphire

         Talk to me, look at me, marry me dear

         You are my love, please don’t leave me in tears.

At the end of the third day, when the king couldn’t see her and was by now worried and scared to death, Shining Sun moved his ruby lips and said: <<May I speak to your father?>>

You can hardly imagine how happy the princess was at hearing the man of her dreams actually speaking. So she ran to the king and led him to meet  Shining Sun.

<<Your Majesty, I want to ask you for your daughter’s hand>>, he said. <<Will you agree to the marriage?>>

The king couldn’t believe his eyes and ears, but was utterly happy and so the marriage was celebrated.

The banquet was so magnificent, that the whole kingdom feasted and tables laden with all sorts of delicacies were laid in every street. Roasted meat and cream tarts, stuffed chickens and exotic fruits, wine and honey, cakes and almonds abounded in every corner of the realm. The subjects of that kingdom celebrated the happy marriage for a whole week, and  everyone had a good share of all this bounty.

The princess and Shining Sun were so happy,  that everywhere they went, they were seen holding hands. But Shining Sun didn’t want to step out of the royal palace. The princess was very worried for his health, so, one day, she convinced her new husband to take a short ride  in the state-coach,  just to get some fresh air and visit the grounds.

So off they went. But you must know that, at the wedding banquet, a vicious queen of a nearby kingdom had  been invited. They had to invite her you see, because she was known to be very vindictive and so the king didn’t want to take any chances. But, as soon as Turkish Disgrace – such was the name of that queen, who was bitter and sour – set her eyes on Shining Sun, she decided he would be hers and she only waited for a good opportunity to kidnap the handsome creature.

So, when she saw the young couple in the state-coach, she followed them, careful not to be seen. Soon they arrived at a large lawn, in the heart of the royal park, near a grove close to the lake and Shining Sun expressed the wish to take a little walk.

And he did but, all of a sudden, a powerful gust of wind dragged him away. Just as he was flying over the grass, Turkish Disgrace threw her large black cloak  in the air and got him. Then she dragged him into her carriage and drove away in a hurry.

The poor princess was devastated. She went back to the palace and shut herself in her apartments, crying non-stop.

For days and days she cried all her tears, until her eyes dried up, then, unable to bear all that sorrow, she asked her father for a white steed, a purse of gold and  his blessing and away she rode in search of her love.

One night she was riding through a dark wood. She was frightened, but still she kept riding. Then, eventually, she saw a light glimmering amidst the thick foliage and she followed that direction. The light came from a small hut. The princess knocked at the door and a very old man appeared on the threshold.

<<What is it you want at this hour of the night?>> the old man asked her.

<<I’m looking for shelter from the wild beasts>>, she answered, her voice trembling.

<<Are you a Christian soul?>> the old man asked her.

<<A Christian soul I am>>, she answered.

<<Then come inside. Daughter of a king>> said the old man, who was a hermit,  <<what are you doing, going around in such a night, all alone and risking to be devoured by the wild animals of the woods?>>

<<I’m following my destiny>>, answered the princess and she told him her sad story.

<<Daughter of a king, it won’t be easy for you to find your husband, but I want to give you all the help I can, so take this chestnut and take good care of it. Tomorrow I will show you the way to reach my brother. Go and speak to him.>>

The following day, she reached the second hermit, who was much older than his brother. He gave her a walnut and directed her to the third brother. He was so old, that his skin looked like the bark of an ancient tree and his hands were like thin roots. This third brother gave her a hazelnut, then said: <<If you go that way, you will find a huge, dark palace. That is the home of Turkish Disgrace. She keeps your husband  a prisoner. When you are close to the palace’s walls, break open your chestnut and start shouting, pretending to sell what will come out from the chestnut. As soon as you see the queen’s maidservant, ask  to be taken in front of the Queen. She will be willing  to buy your goods. Don’t accept any money, mind you,  but ask, in exchange, to spend the night in the same room with her husband. Her husband is Shining Sun. If you don’t succeed in speaking to him that night, do the same with the walnut and then with the hazelnut and then see what happens.>>

The princess followed the good old man’s instructions and, as soon as she arrived at the palace, she broke open the chestnut and out  came  a little golden loom, with a golden young woman weaving a golden cloth.

She started shouting: <<Who wants to buy my golden loom, with a golden maiden weaving a golden clooooth?>>

The queen’s maidservant came to the window and, on seeing such a dainty delightful thing, ran to the her mistress. <<Your Majesty, Your Majesty! Come and see what they are selling! Such precious things, I’ve never seen the like!>>

Turkish Disgrace decided she must have such a miracle and summoned the princess, whom luckily  she didn’t recognize, as she had disguised herself as an old beggar.

The princess refused the money and, in the end, as Turkish Disgrace was so greedy and eager to get the magical object, succeeded in spending the night with Shining Sun. But Turkish Disgrace had given him some drugged wine to drink, and so he slept like a log all night. And the whole night the princess sang and cried.

Shining Sun, beautiful more than the sky

Sugar and almonds, roses and sapphires

Talk to me, look at me, just move your face

Let’s run away from vicious Turkish Disgrace.


But Shining Sun wouldn’t open his eyes. The next day, the princess opened the walnut. Inside there was a dainty golden embroidery frame, with a golden maiden embroidering a golden dress.

<<Who wants to buy my golden embroidery frame, with a golden maiden embroidering a golden dreeeess?>> she shouted.

And again Turkish Disgrace decided she must have that jewel, and again the princess succeeded in spending the night in the same room with Shining Sun. But that night too, Turkish Disgrace served him some drugged wine.

The cry of the princess was heartbreaking, but to no avail.

Near the palace was a grim prison and the prisoners had heard the princess crying and singing her song , so, the next morning, when Shining Sun went out for a stroll, in  passing near the prison’s windows, his attention was attracted by some voices coming from inside and some prisoners told him what they had heard.

Shining Sun immediately recognized his wife’s song and decided he would be very careful not to drink anything that night.

In the meantime, the princess was desperate. She thought that she was bound to lose her love for ever. Still, she had the hazelnut left and she opened it. And look! Out it came a little golden basket, with a golden young maid sowing a golden apron.

The princess, with eyes bright with tears, cried: <<Who wants to buy my golden basket with a golden maiden sowing a golden aaapron?>>

She was summoned by Turkish Disgrace and again she was left alone with Shining Sun. But this time Shining Sun had only pretended to drink his wine.

Oh! How they kissed each other and couldn’t stop looking at each other! She told him all her troubles. <<Why didn’t you run away?>> she asked him.

Shining Sun explained to her that he was under a spell, but now that she had eventually found him, the spell was broken and, by refusing to drink the drugged wine, he was now free.

So they ran away, as Turkish Disgrace was sure he would sleep and was careless.

When, the next morning, she discovered what had happened, she was so  furious, that she fell into the well and broke her neck.

Happy they were and celebrated in glory. Now will you please  tell me your story?

(C)2013 by Francesca Diano  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

[1] This is a free version based on the fairy tale Pinto Smalto, from Giovan Battista Basile’s Pentamerone. 

FRANCESCA DIANO was born in Rome. Her father, the famous  philosopher and scholar of ancient Greek, Carlo Diano, professor of Greek Literature and philosophy at the University of Padua, had a great influence on her education and studies, especially  regarding her interest in mythology and ancient cultures.

In 1971 she graduated Magna cum Laude in History of Art atPadua University. In the Seventies she  lived for some time first in Oxford, where she did research on medieval Italian illuminated manuscripts and later for some years in London, where she taught courses on Italian Art at the Italian Institute of Culture and worked at the Courtauld Insitute.

In 1997/98 she lectured in Italian at University College Cork.

From 1981  she has been a literary translator, working over  the years  for well known Italian publishers, like Cappelli Fratelli Fabbri, Neri Pozza, Guanda. Among her authors are  Thomas Crofton Croker, (Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland), Anita Nair, Sudhir Kakar, Themina Durrani, Susan Vreeland, Uzma Khan, Kushwant Singh, Pico Iyer, Geraldine Brooks, Anodea Judith, Ward Rutherford, J.A. McCulloch etc. and she is the official Italian  translator of all the works of the best selling  Indian author  Anita Nair.

Irish folklore and oral tradition are among  her main interests, stemming from 1973 when she was  lucky to find  in London one of the few and very rare  original copies of the  1825 first edition of T.C.Croker’s Fairy Legends .

In 1998 she was the curator for the Collins Press, Cork, of the facsimile edition of T.C.Croker’s Fairy Legends, the 1825 one in her possession. This  edition was released to celebrate the bicentenary of Croker’s birth. On that occasion she was interviewed  by the Irish Times   about her interest in T.C.Croker and Irish folklore..

Her  Italian translation of Croker’s work, enriched by her  long introduction (published by Neri Pozza  in 1998 with the Italian title Leggende di Fate e Tradizioni irlandesi)  was also launched at the Irish Embassy in Rome, on the personal invitation of the Ambassador and had several reprints and different editions.

She has lectured extensively on art, literature, translation studies  (University Alma Mater inBologna) and Irish folklore. Her essays and articles on Irish folklore have been published in journals and newspapers.

She writes poetry, short stories, essays and fiction.

In 2011 she has released her first novel, The White Witch – an Irish Story.

In 2012 she won the most important Italian literary prize for short stories, the Premio Teramo, awarded in its long history to some of the most celebrated  Italian writers.

In September 2013 she will publish a short story collection, Fiabe d’amor crudele, Edizioni La Gru.



Lo Spirito del Grano – Francesca Diano

Vincent van Gogh 

Nella notte di Lughnasadh, la festa celtica che celebra il raccolto e il dio Lugh, il dio della luce.



Ai campi dorati ondulati di grano

Il toro notturno è condotto al macello.

Osiride nero dall’atro mantello

Al sacerdote guida la mano-

Lontani esplodono aspri i tamburi

Le vergini danzano ebbre di sangue

Con timpani e sistri le vergini bianche

Percorrono lente gli antichi tratturi.

Legate le zampe il corpo pesante

La gola già offerta al pugnale

Al passo è condotto il grande animale

Offerto tra grida e singhiozzi-

I ciuffi di spighe legati in covoni

Di bruno metallo lucente

Punteggiano i campi con metro sapiente

Raggiati di barbe stellate.

A gruppi le donne dai neri mantelli

Si stringono cupe in silenzio

Attente serrate le bocche stirate

Osservano ritte il colare del sangue.

In rossi zampilli in fiotti di fuoco

Sgorgando violento inzuppa il terreno-

I muscoli tesi allo spasimo estremo

Disegnano a onde la pelle –

Le donne stridendo si battono il petto

Si strappano a ciuffi i capelli –

Feroce – in lamine – scende il silenzio –

La notte già guida la corte stellata –

Rimane deserta la terra striata

Da fili di sangue rappreso.

(C) 2013 by Francesca Diano RIPRODUZIONE RISERVATA

Il testo letto dall’attore Valter Zanardi