Today I found out Sleeping Beauty is based on a story where a married king finds a girl asleep and can’t wake her, so rapes her instead.
The story is called The Sun, the Moon, and Talia, written, or at the least collected and composed, by the Italian poet Giambattista Basile. It was published in 1634 in his “Pentamerone” collection of fairy tales, which also includes the first known version of Cinderella and Rapunzel, and includes a version of Puss in Boots.
Basile was more or less the “Brothers Grimm” of his time. In fact, Wilhem Grimm said of Basile’s work,
This collection [Basile's Pentamerone] was for a long time the best and richest that had been found by any nation. Not only were the traditions at that time more complete in themselves, but the author had a special talent for collecting them, and besides that an intimate knowledge of the dialect. The stories are told with hardly any break, and the tone, at least in the Neapolitan tales, is perfectly caught…
While there are several variants of The Sun, Moon, and Talia told since the first documented instance, the basic story is of a baby girl named Talia, born to a powerful ruler. The wise men of the kingdom prophesy that the girl will meet her death from a flax splinter. Rather than just instruct his daughter never to go near flax or wear any clothes made of it or it would mean her death, as would have been the sensible thing to do, the ruler commands that all flax and hemp in his palace be removed and apparently doesn’t mention it to her.
When the girl is older, she observes an old woman outside of her window spinning flax on a spindle, something Talia has never seen before. She then goes down and convinces the woman to allow her to stretch the flax, at which point a splinter from it gets lodged under her fingernail and she seems to die.
Rather than bury Talia, her father has her adorned in her most expensive, beautiful outfit, and leaves her in one of his palaces in the woods, which is then closed up and abandoned.
On a hunting trip, a king stumbles on this estate and attempts to get in to retrieve his falcon that had flown inside. After being unable to get anyone to answer the door, he scales the wall and climbs in through the window his falcon flew in at.
Up to this point, it could have been the Disney version of the story. Here’s where it gets weird. Upon entering the estate, the king wanders around, finding the house empty except for a beautiful young woman who despite his best efforts, he couldn’t wake. So
being on fire with love, he carried her to a couch and, having gathered the fruits of love, left her lying there. Then he returned to his own kingdom and for a long time entirely forgot the affair.”
Talia became pregnant and the babies were born and cared for, as was Talia, by kindly fairies. (Where were they when she needed protected from being raped? ) The fairies would put the babies up to Talia’s breasts to feed, except one time, one of the babies instead sucked on Talia’s finger with the splinter in it and sucked it out, at which point she woke up.
Quite a while later, the king remembered the girl and decided to go back to the house to see her again (classy). This time, though, he found her awake (awkward) and with twin babies she named “Sun” and “Moon”, as their origin was just as mysterious to her as the origin of the Sun and the Moon.
After the king explained to her how she’d gotten pregnant, rather than be upset with him and call the local law enforcement, she instead decided she loved him (he was no doubt, dreamy) and he decided he loved her too. And they lived happily ever after… except, you know, he was already married and his wife had become suspicious of where he’d gone because when he came back, he started saying Talia’s and the children’s names in his sleep.
The queen then forced the king’s secretary to tell her everything or she’d have him killed. After finding out about Talia and the children, she then sent for the kids in the name of the king in order that she might have the cook kill them and feed them to the king. While the king is eating, she keeps telling him, “You are eating what is your own.” To which he replies, “I know very well I am eating what is my own, because you brought nothing with you into this house!”
Next, the queen sent for Talia in the name of the king and confronts Talia saying, “Are you the whore who has been enjoying my husband? Get ready to be welcomed in hell, because you will soon be going there.” She then prepared a fire in the courtyard to burn Talia in, despite Talia vehemently explaining that she had no part in the king having taken advantage of her while she was unconscious.
To stall for time, Talia asked if she can strip naked before being thrown into the fire. While slowly stripping, she continually screamed, at which point the king came bursting in, finds out what happened and has his wife and secretary killed instead, the latter of which apparently was destined to die whether he’d told the queen anything or not.
The king also tried to have the cook killed, but finds out the cook had actually spared his children and had hidden them when the queen asked him to cook them up. Thus, he was spared and given a large reward.
So now, with the queen finally out of the way, the king is free to marry his raped mistress and now they really do live happily ever after, with the last line of the story being (translated):
Lucky people, so ’tis said,
Are blessed by Fortune whilst in bed.
- Giambattista Basile actually died two years before his Pentamerone collection was published. His sister, Adriana, had it published after he died, but under the name “Gian Alesio Abbatutis”.
- Basile’s version of the sleeping beauty fairy tale would soon be sanitized somewhat when in 1687 Charles Perrault made his own version of the tale called La Belle au bois dormant, “The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood”. In this version, among other changes, the king was not married and did not rape the girl, but instead woke her with a kiss.
- The Brothers Grimm didn’t just write fairy tales. They also worked for many years on a German dictionary that not only included the definitions of the words, but they also attempted to include the origin of every word. As you might expect, this was a monumental undertaking for just two people who lacked Google. They did not manage to finish it before dying, but did publish excerpts from it as they worked, starting in 1852, which was 14 years after they’d started it.
- When Disney animated Sleeping Beauty, they had actors perform every scene of the movie for the animators, so they could make it more realistically animated.
- In August of 2012, the National Art Museum of Ukraine held an “artistic” event, where they had five beautiful women lay as if they were asleep. Men then signed up to kiss them. However, the women who signed up had to sign an agreement that if they opened their eyes while being kissed, they’d have to marry the man kissing them. Similarly, the men who did the kissing also had to sign such an agreement. None of the women opened their eyes, though one, 27 year old Natalya Bakovskaya, stated that she nearly opened her eyes for one of the kissers as his kiss had been incredible and she slightly regretted afterwards not having had the courage to open her peepers… Probably for the best.
- There is a very rare medical syndrome nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty syndrome” and technically called Kleine-Levine syndrome. Only about 30% of the diagnosed cases of this syndrome are women, though. But, in either case, the person suffering from the disorder will have periods where they suddenly become excessively sleepy, often sleeping for 16-20+ hours per day during the episodes. They also become extremely hungry, gorging themselves with any food they find. Some have difficulty remembering anything they did during the episode; they also can be delusional and have other cognitive difficulties, sometimes reporting after the episode having experienced the world as if in a dream. Occasionally, generally with males, they can be extremely uninhibited and hypersexual (combined with the other symptoms, this sometimes gets them in trouble with the law). They can also feel and act lethargic, as well as experience hallucinations and extreme depression, among other symptoms.
- Oddly, as they grow into adulthood, the syndrome eventually goes away completely for about 90% of those who suffer from this condition, with the average age of it disappearing being 23 and the average duration of the syndrome being 8 years worth of occasional episodes. In between the episodes, the people are completely normal with no symptoms. Those where the condition doesn’t go away, it tends to become much milder as they age.
- The average number of episodes per patient over that 8 year span is just 12, each lasting around 12 days, though the maximum number of episodes recorded to date is 130 with episodes lasting as long as 80 days.
- What causes “Sleeping Beauty syndrome” isn’t known, but it’s thought it might have something to do with a malfunctioning hypothalamus. There is also no real effective treatment other than stimulants to try to counteract the excessive sleeping problem, but this can be counterproductive given some of the other symptoms; in some cases, it’s better just to let them sleep and otherwise just have people closely observe them so they don’t get themselves into any trouble during the episodes.
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