The Pentamerone – Lo Cunti de li Cunto
The story of stories
from Crete and Venice
writer : Giambattista Basile
first published: 1634
This Italian seventeenth-century’s collection of folk-tales, was first published at Naples, in a Neapolitan dialect that kept it out of northern European tradition for two centuries.
Giambattista Basile, Conte di Torrone, is believed to have collected them chiefly in Crete and Venice. Originally it was called Lo Cunti de li Cunto (The Story of Stories ), it became known as the Pentamerone and eventually influenced the form of fairytales in Europe. Giambattista did not transcribe them from the oral tradition as a modern collector would. He was the first writer to preserve oral intonations, using a Neapolitan dialect.
After Giambattista’s death, the stories were published by his sister Adriana, in two volumes. In 1636 was again published under the anagrammatic pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis and referred to by its first editor, as Il pentamerone, because of the similarity of its framework to that of Boccaccio’s Decameron. The name of the Pentamerone comes from a Greek word which means “five days” because is structured around a fantastic frame story, in which fifty stories are related over the course of five days.
The book was translated into English in 1847 by John Edward Taylor and Richard Burton who did a great translation in 1893.
Il Pentamerone is essentially the first full collection of European literary fairy tales. It predate Charles Perrault by at least 50 years and the Grimm Brothers by 200 years (later adapted by both, Perrault and Grimm). The collection contains stories that are very similar to well-known tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, and other tales of magic. It’s a phenomenal collection, containing just about every major motif of the European folktale genre. It became an important source for other fairytale writers in Europe ( France and Germany), and influenced the 18th century’s Italian commedia dell’arte dramatist, Carlo Gozzi.
Illustrations by Warwick Goble