Old Grandfathers
and
Their Grandsons

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 980
about old people who are saved
by their grandsons

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2013


Contents

  1. How an Ungrateful Son Planned to Murder His Old Father (India, The Jataka).

  2. Half a Blanket (Germany, Des Knaben Wunderhorn)

  3. The Old Grandfather and His Grandson (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

How an Ungrateful Son Planned to Murder His Old Father

India, The Jataka

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was King of Benares, there was in a family of a certain village of Kasi an only son named Vasitthaka. This man supported his parents, and after his mother's death, he supported his father as has been described in the introduction. But there is this difference. When the woman [Vasitthaka's wife] said, "Look there! That is your father's doing! I am constantly begging him not to do this and that, and he only gets angry!" she went on, "My lord, your father is fierce and violent, forever picking quarrels. A decrepit old man like that, tormented with disease, is bound to die soon; and I can't live in the same house with him. He will die of himself before many days are out. Well, take him to a cemetery, and dig a pit, throw him in, and break his head with the spade; and when he is dead, shovel the earth upon him, and leave him there."

At last, by dint of this dinning in his ears, said he, "Wife, to kill a man is a serious matter. How can I do it?"

"I will tell you of a way," quoth she.

"Say on, then."

"Well, my lord, at break of day, go to the place where your father sleeps. Tell him very loud, that all may hear, that a debtor of his is in a certain village, that you went and he would not pay you, and that if he dies the man will never pay at all. And say that you will both drive there together in the morning. Then at the appointed time get up, and put the animals to the cart, and take him in it to the cemetery. When you get there, bury him in a pit, make a noise as if you had been robbed, wound and wash your head, and return."

"Yes, that plan will do," said Vasitthaka. He agreed to her proposal, and got the cart ready for the journey.

Now the man had a son, a lad of seven years, but wise and clever. The lad overheard what his mother said. "My mother," thought he, "is a wicked woman, and is trying to persuade father to murder his father. I will prevent my father from doing this murder." He ran quickly, and lay down beside his grandsire.

Vasitthaka, at the time suggested by the wife, prepared the cart. "Come, father, let us get that debt!" said he, and placed his father in the cart.

But the boy got in first of all. Vasitthaka could not prevent him, so he took him to the cemetery with them. Then, placing his father and his son together in a place apart, with the cart, he got down, took spade and basket, and in a spot where he was hidden from them began to dig a square hole. The boy got down and followed him, and as though ignorant what was afoot, opened a conversation by repeating the first stanza:

No bulbs are here, no herbs for cooking meat,
No cat-mint, nor no other plant to eat.
Than father, why this pit, if need be none,
Delve in Death's acre mid the woods alone?

This his father answered by repeating the second stanza:

Thy grandsire, son, is very weak and old,
Oppressed by pain from ailments manifold.
Him will I bury in a pit today.
In such a life I could not wish him stay.

Hearing this, the boy answered by repeating a half stanza:

Thou has done sinfully in wishing this,
And for the deed, a cruel deed it is.

With these words, he caught the spade from his father's hands, and at no great distance began to dig another pit. His father approaching asked why he dug that pit, to whom he made reply by finishing the third stanza:

I too, when thou art aged, father mine,
Will treat my father as thou treatest thine;
Following the custom of the family
Deep in a pit I too will bury thee.

To this the father replied by repeating the fourth stanza:

What a harsh saying for a boy to say,
And to upbraid a father in this way!
To think that my own son would rail at me,
And to his truest friend unkind should be!

When the father had thus spoken, the wise lad recited three stanzas, one by way of answer, and two as an holy hymn:

I am not harsh, my father, nor unkind,
Nay, I regard thee with a friendly mind.
But this thou dost, this act of sin, thy son
Will have no strength to undo again, once done.
Whoso, Vasittha, hurts with ill intent
His mother or his father, innocent,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In hell for his next life undoubtedly.
Whoso with meat and drink, Vasittha, shall
His mother or his father feed withal,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In heaven for his next life undoubtedly.

The father, after hearing his son thus discourse, repeated the eighth stanza:

Thou art no heartless ingrate, son, I see,
But kindly hearted, O my son to me.
'Twas in obedience to thy mother's word
I thought to do this horrid deed abhorred.

Said the lad, when he heard this, "Father, women, when a wrong is done and they are not rebuked, again and again commit sin. You must bend my mother, that she may never again do such a deed as this." And he repeated the ninth stanza:

That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Let us from out our dwelling far expel,
Lest she work other woe on thee as well.

Hearing the words of his wise son, well pleased was Vasitthaka, and saying, "Let us go, my son!" he seated himself in the cart with son and father.

Now the woman too, this sinner, was happy at heart; for, thought she, this ill-luck is out of the house now. She plastered the place with wet cow dung, and cooked a mess of rice porridge. But as she sat watching the road by which they would return, she espied them coming, "There he is, back with old ill-luck again!" thought she, much in anger. "Fie, good-for-nothing! cried she. "What, bring back the ill-luck you took away with you!"

Vasitthaka said not a word, but unyoked the cart. Then said he, "Wretch, what is that you say?" He gave her a sound drubbing, and bundled her head over heels out of doors, bidding her never darken his door again. Then he bathed his father and his son, and took a bath himself, and the three of them ate the rice porridge. The sinful woman dwelt for a few days in another house.

Then the son said to his father, "Father, for all this, my mother does not understand. Now let us try to vex her. You give out that in such and such a village lives a niece of yours, who will attend upon your father and your son and you. So you will go and fetch her. Then take flowers and perfumes, and get into your cart, and ride about the country all day, returning in the evening."

And so he did. The women in the neighbor's family told his wife this. "Have you heard," said they, "that your husband has gone to get another wife in such a place?"

"Ah, then I am undone!" quoth she, "and there is no place for me left."

But she would inquire of her son. So quickly she came to him, and fell at his feet, crying, "Save thee, I have no other refuge! Henceforward I will tend your father and grandsire as I would tend a beauteous shrine! Give me entrance into this house once more!"

"Yes, mother," replied the lad, "if you do no more as you did, I will. Be of good cheer!" And at his father's coming he repeated the tenth stanza:

That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Like a tamed elephant, in full control,
Let her return again, that sinful soul.

So said he to his father, and then went and summoned his mother. She, being reconciled to her husband and her husband's father, was thenceforward tamed, and endued with righteousness, and watched over her husband and his father and her son. And these two, steadfastly following their son's advice, gave alms and did good deeds, and became destined to join the hosts of heaven.




Half a Blanket

Germany

In France an old king, weak with age, gave his kingdom and all his lands to his son, who in return promised to personally care for him. Soon afterward the son took himself a wife, who did not like the father.

Spitefully she said, "The old man is always coughing at the table until it takes away all my pleasure in eating."

So to please her, the son gave his father a place to lie beneath the stairs. For many years he lay there on a bed of hay and straw like one they would make for the dogs.

The queen gave birth to a son, who grew into a proud and virtuous lad. Recognizing the situation, he brought whatever food and drink he could find to his grandfather. One day the grandfather asked for an old horse blanket to protect him from the cold, and the virtuous youth ran off to fulfill his wish.

In the stall he found a good horse blanket. He took it from the horse and ripped it in two. Seeing him, his father asked him what he was doing with the horse blanket.

"I am taking half of it for your father's bed," he said. "The other half I'll save for you when you are sleeping there where you now have your father locked in."