Folk Tales from Irpinia

old-woman-sitting-on-chair-near-girl-while-reading-a-book-3087878It has been quite hectic on my end lately and, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time as I had wanted to this blog. The most positive happening over the past few months was that I got my dream job with the Italian American Podcast (seriously, check them out!) and have been getting the incredible opportunity to dedicate myself more fully to preserving and promoting Italian American heritage. This job inspires me and energizes me with an even stronger desire to work on this blog and tell more Irpinian stories, so please stay tuned!

While on my slight hiatus over the holidays, I had the chance to reread some Irpinian folk tales that I had collected over the years. Many of these folk tales were preserved in libraries throughout Italy and were collected by having town elders tell them while younger people would write them down. I decided to share my two favorites here and I hope you enjoy them!



Once there was a poor man who worked night and day to earn money for his family.
One day, while he was coming home after a long day at work, he met a handsome gentleman, who was dressed in the finest garments. The gentleman stopped his carriage in front of the poor man, saying,
“My good sir, what do you do for a living? What do you want out of life?”
At this point, the poor man began to cry.
“I am forced to work from morning to night because I need to earn money for my family.”
The gentleman replied,
“Do you want to earn a lot of money without having to work too hard? Come with me, I’ll give you a job and after some time, I’ll give you all the money you want”
The poor man said, “If this is true, then I gladly accept your offer!”
The poor man jumped in the gentleman’s carriage and they road to a house on top of a mountain. When they got there, the poor man’s job was to throw coal into a furnace.
“Make sure this furnace never goes out,” the gentleman warned him.
For three days, the poor man worked non-stop throwing the coal into the furnace. He would be fed every day at noon. Throughout the day, other people would arrive and would be taken to various rooms in the house.
By the fourth day, the poor man was curious. He wanted to know what was happening in those rooms. Eventually, his curiosity got the best of him and he decided to go in one. He found a series of beds all lined up and in them were people that had died a long time ago.
He recognized someone he knew well. He remembered attending that man’s funeral.
“Excuse me, what are you doing here,” he asked.
“We’re in hell,” the man replied. “We’re burning in the flames.”
The temperature was quite high and the furnace was obviously what was keeping these souls on fire.
“But are you dead, too?” the man then asked. “How come you’re here? You’re in hell.”
“How on earth are we in hell?” replied the poor man and he began to tell his friend about how he ended up there. His dead friend gave him some advice.
“Look, if you can’t escape from here, you’re never going to be able to get away.”
So the poor man went back to work, throwing coal on the fire. The gentleman, whom he now realized was the devil, came back to see how he was doing.
“You’re doing a wonderful job, so I am going to pay you.”
The poor man said, “I don’t want any money.”
“How come you don’t want any money? You did so much to get paid and you wanted to earn enough of money to take care of your family. Why the sudden change of heart?”
“I want to go back to where I was before,” the poor man replied. “My life was okay before I came here.”
The devil was not happy with that reply, so he kept insisting until the poor man said,
“I saw everything. You tricked me!”
The devil then became furious.
“Fine, you want to go back to where we met? Then your wish will be granted,” he said, kicking the poor man in the process.
The devil’s footprint remained on the poor man’s body, but he forced himself to run home.
His relatives asked him what happened to him and he told them the story.
His wife then said, “You mean to tell me that to give us a better life you were willing to sell your soul to the devil?” And she began to cry. They then embraced and he told her he would never do such a thing again.



Once there was a family of shepherds with four sons. One day, their father sent them out to tend to the sheep. The three older brothers were very envious of their youngest brother as he was his mother’s favorite. That day, the older brothers decided to get rid of him by throwing him into a well filled up with water, where he later drowned.
When the three brothers got home, they told their father that their little brother had disappeared and that they looked for him all day, but were unable to find him.
Their mother and father were very upset to hear that their youngest son was lost, so they immediately went out to look for him. Unfortunately, that night there was a violent storm and they had to cut the search short because of the strong winds and rains.
They took refuge in a cave for the night and began to look again the next day. They went all over the region but without any luck. They searched for more than a week before they gave up.
The three older brothers celebrated their victory because now their parents were paying more attention to them, although their father would often remind them that because they didn’t watch their youngest brother more carefully, he was now gone.
Many years went by and another shepherd went to use that well. He sent the bucket down so he could get some water for his sheep but when the bucket came up, he realized that there was a bone floating in the water.
Surprised, the shepherd cleaned it and placed it in his sack, thinking it would be helpful for when he might have to trap wild rabbits.
That day, around noon, when the sheep were resting under an olive tree, that shepherd decided it would be a good time to get some rest as well. Before dozing off, he remembered the bone in his sack and he decided to make a rabbit trap with it.
When he took it out, he noticed the bone had two holes in it and he didn’t think it would work for what he wanted it for. He then thought it would make a nice whistle, so he began to whittle it into shape with his knife.
He cleaned it out carefully and treated it as if he were cutting a reed for the same purpose. He began to blow into it and all of a sudden a voice called out to him.
“My name is Francesco.”
The shepherd got scared and didn’t understand what was happening. He looked all around but didn’t see anyone. He tried to blow into the whistle again and the same thing happened.
“My name is Francesco. Don’t be afraid.”
The shepherd looked around again and, seeing nothing, blew into the whistle one more time.
“Please don’t be afraid. My name is Francesco. I need to tell you something. Keep blowing so I can tell you my story.”
As the shepherd continued to blow into the whistle, Francesco told of how his brothers killed him by throwing him into the well and drowning him. He asked the shepherd to go to his parents to give them the whistle made from his bone. Scared, surprised and shocked, the shepherd did as he was instructed.
Francesco, through the whistle, gave the shepherd the directions to his home, where his parents were still grieving.
The shepherd told the parents what happened and Francesco’s father, still in a state of shock, asked to see the whistle. He blew into it and heard, “Papà.”
Recognizing the voice of his youngest son, the father kept blowing into the whistle as Francesco told his parents what had happened.
When the three older brothers returned home that night from the field, their father began to play for them on the whistle and immediately Francesco called to his brothers by name. Shocked, they realized it was their brother speaking to them from beyond the grave and they ran to turn themselves in to the police for murder.
The truth, sooner or later, always comes to light.

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