Tuesday's Tale - from Italy


There was once a king who had lost a valuable ring.  He looked for it everywhere but could not find it.  So he issued a proclamation that if any astrologer could fathom its location, he would be richly rewarded.  A poor peasant, who could neither read nor write, heard of the proclamation.  Then and there he decided, not only would he be an astrologer, but he would be the astrologer who would find the king’s ring.

Making himself presentable, the peasant, who went by the name of Crab, presented himself to the king, and said, “Your Majesty, I beg your forgiveness for coming before you so poorly dressed, but I am an astrologer.  I have heard that you have lost a ring, and I will try, by study, to find out where it is.”

“Very well,” said the king, “and when you have found it, what reward will you seek?”

“That is at your discretion, your Majesty.”

“Go then, study, and we shall see how good an astrologer you are.”

Crab was conducted to a room, which contained only a bed and a table.  On the table were a large book and writing materials.  He seated himself at the table, and proceeded to turn over the pages of the book, and scribble on the paper.  So studious did he look that the servants who brought him his food thought him a great astrologer indeed.

In truth, the servants were the ones who had stolen the king’s ring, and they began to fear that the astrologer would find them out.  And so they treated him with the utmost reverence.

Crab, although an illiterate peasant, was as cunning as they come, and suspected that the servants must have some knowledge about the ring.  He thought long and hard about how he might have his suspicions confirmed.  It happened, that a month later, his wife came to visit him.  He said to her, “Hide under the bed, and when a servant enters, say, ‘That is one’.  When another servant comes, say, ‘That is two’, and so on.”

His wife hid herself.  It wasn’t long before the servants came with the dinner.  The first one entered and a voice from under the bed said, “That is one.”  When the second servant entered, the voice said, “That is two”, and so on.  The servants, on hearing the voice, were frightened, and hurriedly left.

Taking refuge in their rooms, one of them said, “We are discovered!  If the astrologer denounces us to the king as thieves, we are lost.”

“There is only one thing we can do,” said another.

“What is that?”

“We must go to the astrologer and confess to him that we stole the ring.  We must beg him not to betray us, and present him with a purse of money.  Are you willing?”

They all agreed.

So they returned together to the astrologer, and bowed as low as they were able.  One of them stepped forward.  “Mr Astrologer, you have discovered that we stole the king’s ring.  We are poor people, and if you reveal our theft to the king, we are undone.  We beg you not to betray us, and to accept this purse of money.”

Crab took the purse and said, “I will not betray you, but you must do what I tell you, if you wish to save your lives.  Take the ring, and get the turkey in the courtyard to swallow it, and leave the rest to me.”

The servants seemed happy enough to do this, and quickly left.

The next day, Crab went to the king and said, “Your Majesty must know that after having toiled over a month I have succeeded in discovering the location of the ring.”

“Where is it, then?” asked the king.

“A turkey has swallowed it.”

“A turkey?  Very well; let us see.”

The hapless turkey was captured, butchered and opened to reveal the ring.  The king, amazed, presented the astrologer with a large purse of money, and invited him to a banquet.  Among the dishes was a large plate of crabs.  Crabs must have been rare indeed in that kingdom, for only the king and a few others knew their name.

Turning to the peasant, the king smiled and said, “You, who are an astrologer, must be able to tell me the name of these things here on this dish.”

The poor astrologer, puzzled indeed, muttered to himself, but loud enough that those close to him heard.  “Ah!  Crab, Crab, what a plight you are in.”

Having called him ‘astrologer’ all this time, none had thought to ask him his name, and so it was that all present believed he had just named the dish.  They rose and proclaimed him the greatest astrologer in the world.


It’s the simplicity of the tale that I, yet again, find appealing.  That, and the cleverness of Crab – what an inspired name!  I like how the tale emphasises his cleverness, at the same time highlighting his illiteracy, making the point that the inability to read and write doesn’t negate being clever.  And I love how he suddenly decided that he would be an astrologer, despite his inability to read and write; talk about ambitious!