La mortella

Mortella in some parts of Italy is the vulgar name of myrtle which is also a plant sacred to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, born from the foam of the sea but also to Ištar, the Babylonian goddess of love, fertility and eroticism, but also of war and storms.


Mortella is a fairy tale taken from "Lo Cunto de li Cunti" (The Tale of Tales) or Pentamerone, a collection of fairy tales by Gambattista Basile from the 1600s. In "La Mortella" a childless couple gives birth to a shoot of myrtle for "fatagione" (something like bewitching, oh how I love this word! Fatagione = Magical operation, spell; the effect, the result of magical practices which grant wonderful powers or properties to people or things.) The mother, planted the myrtle sprout in a beautiful decorated vase of masks, he placed it on the window. This is where the fairy tale begins because the prince's son passes by and becomes so intrigued that with tears, threats and offers of money, he finally manages to take her to his apartments in the royal palace. The fairy tale has even bloody implications but there is no lack of a happy ending. The language is ironic and flowery, after all the period is that of the Neapolitan Baroque.


The theme of the girl-fairy-plant is typical of fairy tales from the Mediterranean area.


You can see the work I took from this wonderful fairy tale in the photos, the gold color could not be missing to recall the chromatic themes of the Baroque and the vase with the mask mentioned in the fairy tale itself.


Below you can read the summary of the fairy tale. Unfortunately I can't translate the whole text because I have not the skills to do it. The language is very ironic and peculiar because it is part of the Baroque period.

A couple wants children so much and the wife declares that, in order to give birth to something, she wouldn't care if it were a myrtle plant. Having said that, after nine months she really gives birth to a myrtle, puts it in a vase and takes care of it every day like a daughter. One day Prince Cola Marchione passes by and sees the plant and is immediately struck by it. After a long series of negotiations, you convince the woman to sell him the plant, with the promise that he will treat her well. The prince lovingly tends the plant for a week, and every night a fairy maiden emerges from the plant and enters her bed and disappears at dawn. The prince finally manages to see her during the day and she becomes his secret lover.


The idyll of the two lovers does not last long, because the prince has to go away to hunt down a wild boar that is devastating his forests. The prince orders a servant to take care of the plant and advises the fairy not to leave the myrtle for any reason: when Cola Marchione returns, a bell will ring and only then will she be able to leave without danger. Meanwhile seven lovers of the prince, disappointed by the lack of attention in recent times, take advantage of his absence and have a tunnel dug up to his room, to understand what is keeping him away from them. The women are struck by the myrtle and take a branch each, but in doing so they make the bell ring: the fairy believes that the prince has returned and comes out of the plant. Having understood what the prince's secret is, the ladies kill the fairy and tear her into many pieces, keeping one each: only the youngest does not participate in the murder and limits herself to taking a lock of her hair.


The servant finds the fairy's remains and the ruined plant. Fearing the wrath of the prince, he puts what remains of the fairy into the earth of the vase, arranges the room and leaves the country. Cola Marchione returns and finds the ruined plant from which his beloved never comes out. Taken by discouragement, the prince becomes depressed and falls ill, but over time the plant begins to flourish again and the same fairy is reborn, returns to the prince and tells everything that has happened. Cola Marchione then organizes the wedding with the fairy and during the banquet he asks the guests what punishment anyone who harms a girl like his bride deserves. The turn of the seven ladies has come, those answers that the culprit deserves to be locked up for life in the sewers. The prince accepts that sentence and orders that the ladies be immediately shut up in the city sewers: only the younger sister is pardoned and married off with a good dowry to the prince's servant. The mother's parents will bring riches, while the prince and the fairy live a merry life.

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