Old, Older, and Oldest

folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 726
about old men, their fathers, and their grandfathers
selected and translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2006


  1. Old Age (Germany, Johann Peter Hebel).

  2. The Three Old Men (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  3. The Seventh Father of the House (Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen).

  4. The Pigmy of Folkared's Cliff (Sweden, Herman Hofberg).

  5. Three Generations (USA).

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Old Age

Germany, Johann Peter Hebel

In Scotland there are people who grow very old. Once a traveler came upon an old man in his sixties who was crying. When asked what was wrong with him, he said that his father had slapped his face. The stranger could hardly believe that a man of his years would still have a living father and that he would still be under his discipline. When asked why he had been slapped, the man in his sixties said that he had carelessly dropped his grandfather while helping him into his bed. Upon hearing this the stranger asked to be taken to their house to see if the situation was as the old man stated.

Yes, it was so. The boy was 62 years old, the father 96, and the grandfather 130. Afterward, while recounting the story, the stranger told how unusual it was to thus see 288 years together in one little room.

The Three Old Men

Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There are people still living today in the Duchy of Schleswig, in the region of the Angles, who remember the following story. They heard it from the mouth of Pastor Oest, who died some time ago and who is known for several scholarly works. However, it is not known if he himself experienced the events, or if it was a neighboring preacher.

In the middle of the eighteenth century it happened that a new preacher was riding around the boundaries of his diocese in order to familiarize himself thoroughly with its circumstances. In a remote area there was a lonely farmstead, and the road led directly past the front yard of the farmhouse. An old man with snow-white hair was sitting there on a bench and crying bitterly. The pastor wished him a good evening and asked him what was wrong with him.

"Oh," answered the old man, "my father gave me a beating."

Surprised, the preacher tied up his horse and entered the house. He was met in the entryway by an old man even more aged than the first one. He was openly agitated and making angry gestures. The preacher addressed him kindly and asked him the cause of his anger.

The old man spoke, "Oh, the boy dropped my father!"

With that he opened the parlor door. The pastor was struck with silence and astonishment when he saw there an old man, bent over with age but still energetic, sitting in an easy chair next to the stove.

The Seventh Father of the House

Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

Once upon a time there was a man who was traveling about, and he came at length to a big and fine farm. There was such a fine manor house there that it might well have been a little castle. "It would be a nice thing to get a night's rest here," said the man to himself, upon entering the gate. Close by stood an old man with gray hair and beard, chopping wood.

"Good evening, father," said the traveler. "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"

"I am not the father of the house," said the old man. "Go into the kitchen and speak to my father!" The traveler went into the kitchen. There he met a man who was still older, and he was lying on his knees in front of the hearth, blowing into the fire.

"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" asked the traveler.

"I am not the father of the house," said the old man. "But go in and speak to my father. He is sitting at the table in the parlor."

So the traveler went into the parlor and spoke to him who was sitting at the table. He was much older than the other two, and he sat there with chattering teeth, shaking, and reading in a big book, almost like a little child.

"Good evening, father. Can you give me lodgings here tonight?" said the man.

"I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father over there. He is sitting on the bench," said the man who was sitting at the table with chattering teeth, and shaking and shivering. So the traveler went to him who was sitting on the bench. He was getting a pipe of tobacco ready, but he was so bent with age, and his hands shook so much, that he was scarcely able to hold the pipe.

"Good evening, father," said the traveler again. "Can I get lodgings here tonight?"

"I am not the father of the house," said the old, bent-over man. "But speak to my father, who is in the bed over yonder."

The traveler went to the bed, and there lay an old, old man, and the only thing about him that seemed to be alive was a pair of big eyes.

"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" said the traveler.

"I am not the father of the house. But speak to my father, who lies in the cradle yonder," said the man with the big eyes. Yes, the traveler went to the cradle. There was a very old man lying, so shriveled up, that he was not larger than a baby, and one could not have told that there was life in him if it had not been for a sound in his throat now and then.

"Good evening, father. Can I get lodgings here tonight?" said the man. It took some time before he got an answer, and still longer before he had finished it. He said, like the others, that he was not the father of the house. "But speak to my father. He is hanging up in the horn on the wall there."

The traveler stared around the walls, and at last he caught sight of the horn. But when he looked for him who hung in it, there was scarcely anything to be seen but a lump of white ashes, which had the appearance of a man's face. Then he was so frightened, that he cried aloud, "Good evening, father. Will you give me lodgings here tonight?"

There was a sound like a little tomtit's chirping, and he was barely able to understand that it meant, "Yes, my child."

And now a table came in which was covered with the costliest dishes, with ale and brandy. And when he had eaten and drunk, in came a good bed with reindeer skins, and the traveler was very glad indeed that he at last had found the true father of the house.

The Pigmy of Folkared's Cliff

Sweden, Herman Hofberg

It is probably that there are few places more gloomy and uninviting than certain parts of the parish of Sibbarp, in the Province of Halland. Dark heaths cover a good portion of the parish, and from their dull brown surface rises, here and there, a lonely, cheerless mountain. One of these is Folkared's Cliff, in the southern part of the parish, noted of old as the abiding place of little trolls and pigmies.

One chilly autumn day a peasant, going from Hogared, in Ljungby, to Folkared, in Sibbarp, in order to shorten his journey took a shortcut by way of the cliff, upon reaching which he perceived a pigmy about the size of a child seven or eight years old, sitting upon a stone crying.

"Where is your home?" asked the peasant, moved by the seeming distress of the little fellow.

"Here," sobbed the pigmy, pointing to the mountain.

"How long have you lived here?" questioned the peasant in surprise.

"Six hundred years."

"Six hundred years! You lie, you rascal, and you deserve to be whipped for it."

"Oh! Do not strike me," pleaded the pigmy, continuing to cry. "I have had enough of blows already today."

"Who have you received them from?" asked the peasant.

"From my father."

"What capers did you cut up that you were thus punished?"

"Oh, I was set to watch my old grandfather and when I chanced to turn my back he fell and hurt himself upon the floor."

The peasant then understood what character of person he had met, and grasping his dirk he prepared to defend himself. But instantly he heard an awful crash in the mountain, and the pigmy had vanished.

Three Generations

United States of America

A seventy-year old man visited a doctor for a routine examination. Impressed with his patient's vitality and health, the doctor decided to ask him some questions about his lifestyle. After hearing responses about diet and exercise, the physician continued: "And may I also ask about your sexual activity?"

"Of course," answered the seventy-year-old. "I usually have sex three times a week."

"That's remarkable," said the doctor. "Would you happen to know how late in life your father remained sexually active?"

"Oh, Dad? He's a bit of an embarassment to us. He's ninety, and he visits a prostitute every week."

"Ninety!" exclaimed the doctor. "You do have good genes. How old was your grandfather when he died?"

"Granddad? He's still alive. He's 110 and getting married next week."

"Getting married at 110! Why does he want to get married at that age?"

"Oh, he doesn't want to get married. He has to!"

Return to D. L. Ashliman's index of folklore and mythology electronic texts.

Revised November 11, 2006.