Episode 11 Show Notes
Source: European Folklore
This week on MYTH, we’ll meet a sleeping beauty who finds that waiting for your prince can cause a lot of problems. This is the second episode in our 3-episode series called “Disney Lied to Me,” where I’ll be taking a famous Disney musical and ruining it by telling you the sexual, blood-soaked story behind the singing animals. In this episode, you’ll learn that Prince Charming was a dick, that the best epidural might be a splinter, and that sticking your sword penis where it doesn’t belong can get you killed. Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the Italian cross between a faun and a mermaid who prefers to fuck human men. This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory. Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them. This is Episode 11, “Sleeping Beauty: Plucking Brier-Rose”. As always, this episode is not safe for work.
- Sleeping Beauty is a well-known and well beloved story about a woman cursed by an evil witch to die, but saved by good fairies to only sleep instead until true love wakes her. The prince comes by and fights the evil dragon-witch, love prevails, and everyone lives happily ever after. Or so you Disney would have you believe.
- Sleeping Beauty is an old story, and for those who have heard a version besides the musical, most people are familiar with the Brothers Grimm version of the story, Little Briar Rose. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (see, the stories aren’t just called Grimm’s fairy tales because they’re so fucking dark and brutal) were German academics who wandered the countryside during the 19th century gathering folklore and writing it all down in one place. A lot of our most famous fairy tales were written down by the brothers (including some we will cover in later episodes), but in many cases, these were not the original stories.
- For the story of Sleeping Beauty, we’ll actually be going back further to a story called The Sun, Moon, and Talia, by the Italian Poet Giambattista Basile, published in 1634. There’s an earlier version from Perceforest, written sometime between 1330 and 1344, but I like this version best.
- Once upon a time, there lived a great lord, with a daughter named Talia. When she was born, he had sent for wise men and astrologers from across his lands to come and predict her future. The wise men came, spoke together in huddled whispers, and came to a conclusion. There was some awkward shuffling as they argued over who would have to deliver the news to the powerful man. Finally, one was picked. “Um, your highness? We have seen your daughter’s future, and she is in great danger from a splinter of flax.” “A flax splinter? Are you fucking serious?” The man cringed. “Yes, sir. The signs are very clear.” The lord stroked his beard. “Alright, seems simple enough. I’ll just order that flax, hemp, and anything else like it be forbidden from my house. She can’t be in any danger if she stays the fuck away from it, right?” The wise me weren’t so sure fate worked that way, but agreed anyway that it was a very wise plan. If it worked, great. If not, they would all probably be dead before anything happened. Win win.
- Years go by, and Talia grows into a beautiful maiden. One day, she is looking out of her window and sees and old woman walking by and spinning as she went. Alia had never seen a distaff or a spindle, the two tools used to spin thread by hand, before the spinning wheel got popular. Having been confined to her father’s house for her entire life, she was unbearably curious and called for the woman to come to her, fascinated by the twirling spindle in the woman’s hand. The old woman, afraid to disobey the lord’s daughter, went upstairs with the forbidden flax. It the lord saw her, he would have her fucking head, and she knew it.
- Talia took the spindle and the distaff from the old woman and began to stretch the flax, a fiberous plant used to make cloth in places where sheep were not common. She was inexperienced, obviously, and she managed to get a splinter from the flax shoved up under her fingernail. Immediately, Talia dropped to the grown dead. The old woman looked at the lovely woman’s corpse and bolted for the stairs. She knew what was up, and she didn’t stop running until she got a long ass way away from the soon to be angry lord.
- A servant came in to bring her food and found her body. The lord was summoned, and he wept over his daughter’s body. “Those old bastards had known! Fucking wise men!” When the worst of his grief had subsided, he ordered the servants to take her body to his country estate to lie in state. She was laid out on a velvet throne under a brocaded canopy and a bunch of other rich, fancy shit and left there alone. The king closed the doors to the mansion and vowed that he would forever abandon this house and it’s painful memories. It would be home to his grief and his daughter’s ghost.
- Some time went by, and a king was out hunting in the woods. Yeah, these were the lord’s lands, but he was the king, so that meant he could go where the fuck he wanted. It’s good to be king. One of his falcons took off after a squirrel without permission, so the king rode after it. The hawk followed the squirrel through an open window into the mansion. The king demanded that the hawk return, but the bird was selectively deaf when it wanted to be, so it continued to hunt the squirrel.
- Annoyed, the king had a servant knock on the door to ask permission of the owner to come inside and throttle his bird. The servant knocked until his knuckles were bloody, but no one came. In fact, as they listened, the place was completely silent. The servants thought it was fucking eerie, honestly. The king was impatient, and not one to let a creepy vibe keep him from what he deserved, so he sent his servants off to find a ladder. It wasn’t long before they found one and set it against the window for the king to climb. He went up himself, alone, figuring that if anyone was here, one man in finery was likely to be treated better than a fucking army.
- He went through the house meticulously, from the ground floor up, looking for his goddamned bird. Having not picked up on the quiet, the king was surprised that there was no one in the house. He finally came to the great salon, where Talia lie motionless on her velvet throne. The king rushed over to her, and believed her to be ensorcelled. He called to her and shook her, but she did not stir. He held her against him, and felt her tits pressing pleasantly into his chest. He stepped back. She really was beautiful, a maiden in the flower of her youth, and obviously still a virgin. Looking around, the king remembered that he was completely alone, so he picked her up in his arms and carried her to a splendid bedroom he had found in his search.
- If you’re getting a little worried about where this whole thing is headed, yeah, it’s going exactly where you think it is. He ripped her dress at the bodice, spilling out her lush breasts which, despite her enchantment, still hardened at the cold (though he told himself it as a sign that she desired him in her spelled sleep). He ripped her dress the rest of the way off and, not bothering with any foreplay since she wouldn’t know the difference anyway, he raped the shit out of her. He waited a few minutes to catch his breath, then decided fuck it, and raped her again. He had just enough decency to put her under the covers before he left the house, having forgotten all about his bird. He rode off into the forest, and thought no more about the incident. That’s right, Prince Charming straight up rapes either an unconscious or a dead girl, then goes about his merry and it doesn’t bother him even a little. Fuck that guy. Seriously.
- Naturally, this rapetastic encounter gets poor, coma-ridden Talia knocked up. After nine months (thankfully, whatever fateful deus ex machina is keeping her not-dead also kept her babies alive during the pregnancy. That’s right, babies. Talia had twins – a boy and a girl. Fo reasons that are not really explained, two fairies come to midwife and take care of the twins. I can only presume that they saw the poor girl in the magic coma being raped by the asshole king and decided to help out. They delivered the babies and put them to their mother’s breasts to suckle. Babies are stupid, though, and they had trouble finding the nipple. One of them found her finger instead and sucked on that. In doing so, the flax splinter was removed and Talia woke back up. No one ever thought to try a pair of tweezers before dropping her off in the middle of the forest completely alone.
- In spite of the fact that when Talia dropped basically dead, she was a childless virgin, she was completely unfazed by finding two infants on her naked post-birth body. The story says she immediately decided that the children were as dear to her as her own life, and that she put them to her breasts with no hesitation, but I have to figure she had at least a little bit of a mental breakdown first.
- Talia had been very sheltered, so it’s entirely possible she doesn’t know how babies are made, but regardless, she wasn’t sure how she ended up alone, completely naked in house she’d never been to before with two babies that were apparently hers. On the plus side, someone had left a hot meal sitting out for her. She didn’t see anyone, since the fairies apparently wouldn’t reveal themselves to adults.
- Out of the blue, the long lost rapist king suddenly remembered that he had raped a sleeping slash dead girl in the forest about a year ago. He got a little horny thinking about it, and decided that he should go look the place up and go for another round of rape (seriously, fuck this guy). He made an excuse about going hunting again and went off in search of the house in the woods. He was more than a little surprised to find her not only awake, but bouncing twins on her knees all alone in the woods.
- The story strays into utter unbelievability at this point: the king was overjoyed to see Talia awake and with his children, so he told her what had happened. Rather than becoming horrified at her rapist reappearing in her life while she was utterly alone, she immediately fell for the handsome king. They became fast friends and he stayed for three days with her and the children. They played with the children all day, and with each others’ genitals all night. The way I see it, there are two possible explanations for this reaction. One, the king was really so entitled that he didn’t think he did anything wrong and Talia was so sheltered and naive, she didn’t understand just how she’d been violated, particularly since she wasn’t awake for any of it, including the pregnancy and birth. The second, and probably more plausible explanation, is that the king realized he was caught with his pants down and had to pretend to be excited; Talia, for her part, realized that she was alone with a sexual predator and had to play along for her own safety. Old stories can sometimes gloss over these details by pretending that it was true love instead of lust and violence. Ga-ross.
- After the three days, the king bade Talia farewell and promised to return soon to see her and their children, Sun and Moon (Talia was, again, very sheltered, and didn’t have a lot of original ideas for names). He rode home, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the woman in the woods that had his bastards.
- After three days missing in the woods alone, then coming back restless and distracted, the queen (yes, this dickhead was married, so his sexual assault was also infidelity; really, truly, fuck this guy) started to get suspicious. His constant muttering of “Sun, Moon, and Talia” didn’t help matters. She began to be, understandably, filled with a hot rage. Figuring that her bastard of a husband would just lie, she sent for his secretary. “Listen up, boy. You’re caught between a rock and a very hard place right now. Tell me who the king is fucking behind my back, and I’ll give you unbelievable treasure. Refuse, and I’ll make sure no one ever hears from you again or even finds a fucking body. Understand?” The servant was absolutely terrified of his pissed off monarch, so he told her everything. The story says that “greed and fear blinded his eyes to honor and justice” but honestly, was he supposed to die to protect the king’s rape and bastard children? Fuck that.
- The queen, still angry, sent the secretary to Talia in the name of the king. He told Talia that the king wished to see them. Talia, again being incredibly sheltered and innocent, had never bothered to ask if the rapist she was falling into Stockholm syndrome with was married or not so she saw no reason not be excited about this. She took her children and went to the capital. When she arrived, the queen ordered the cook to murder the twins and pull a Medea and cook them into dishes to be served to the king in vengeance.
- This is a thing that actually does happen in several stories (including the aforementioned Medea from Greek myth and Titus Andronicus from Shakespeare), but in those cases, the vengeful party had the fortitude to do the deed themselves, rather than pawning it off to a servant. The cook, who was not murderously angry at this woman and infant twins he had never met, took the children home and had his wife hide them. In their place, he killed two lambs and had them prepared into all of the dishes the queen had asked for.
- The king ate with delight, exclaiming that the cook had outdone himself. The queen just smiled cruelly, thinking that she had pulled off her great revenge. She kept whispering “eat, eat, eat of your own.” After a few repetitions, even the normally oblivious asshole of a king had to stop and ask about it. “No shit, bitch. Everything in this house is mine since you don’t lift a fucking finger to bring anything in.” The irony of a statement like this from a man who had an army of servants to do everything for him that he didn’t want to do was utterly lost on him.
- This pushed the queen over an edge she thought she’d already crossed, so she sent the secretary to fetch Talia, saying that the king longed for her. Talia went right along, again having no idea that the king was married. I’m not sure exactly where she thought her children were, but I presume that the queen told her they were being watched by a servant to give her a break.
- When Talia entered the hall, the queen stood and confronted her. “About time, whore! You are a real piece of work, you piece of shit! So you’re the cunt that’s been fucking my husband behind my back! You better close your legs right fucking now, or I swear I will pay you back for all of the hurt you have caused!” On the one hand, it really seems she should be directing more of this at her husband, who is the actual cheater, but he is the king, and that might be a challenge. On the other hand, it’s fairly reasonable for the queen to assume that Talia knew who the king was and that he was married, so her anger is somewhat justified, if misplaced.
- Talia, terrified of this towering rage of a woman, began to stutter out her story. “It’s not my fault, your highness! The king raped me while I was asleep, and he never told me he was married! See, there was this flax splinter…” “Shut up, you lying whore! Since you won’t admit what you’ve done, I’ll have you fucking burned alive! Guards!” She had a fire built in the courtyard and ordered Talia to be cast into it for her sins.
- I love that the story describes Talia’s thoughts at this moment as “perceiving that matters had taken a bad turn.” That’s a massive goddamned understatement when someone has tried to butcher your children and have you burned alive. Talia threw herself at the queen’s feet and begged her to at least be able to get naked first. The queen agreed, but only because she thought that nakedness would be a good way to shame her before she died, and also she wanted to take the woman’s dress, which was embroidered with gold and pearls. Seriously, she wanted the dress of the woman fucking her husband that she had just condemned to death.
- Talia, for her part, was just stalling hoping the king would fucking do something. She let out a heart-rending scream every time she took an article of clothing off, and it finally proved too much for the king, who otherwise might seriously have just let her burn to death in punishment for being raped. This is victim-shaming on a whole new, disgusting level.
- It was finally too much for even him, and he demanded to know why the queen was torturing this innocent woman. The queen whirled on him. She screamed at him for cheating on her and fathering two bastards, though not a word of reproach for the, you know, raping of another human being. She screamed at him that she’d had his bastards butchered and baked into a feast, which he had just eaten. This was too much for the king, not that I feel the least bit sorry for that asshole, and he dropped to his knees in despair. “My children? I ate my fucking children? ” He gagged on the food. “How could I have eaten my children and not known any better? You bitch!” He stood. “You will pay for this horror. You wanted to see someone burn alive? Well, guess what? You get to see it from the inside now!”
- And so saying, he ordered his wife cast into the fire she had built for Talia. For good measure, he had the secretary thrown in as well, since he had gone along with the queen’s plan (not that he really had much choice since she literally ordered him on pain of death). He sent for the cook as well, because why not go for the hat trick? The cook sputtered “Your justice is sure, my lord, and anyone who was a part of this should absolutely be fed alive to the fire, but wait, my lord! I didn’t kill any babies! She asked me to, sure, but I couldn’t do it, so I had them hidden away and cooked lambs instead! I wasn’t part of that bitch’s plan!”
- The king was suspicious, but the cook said he could prove it. “If you’re telling the truth, I will reared you with untold riches. If not, I’ll make you wish I had just fed you to the flames.” He sent for his wife, who appeared with the children alive and well. The king was immediately married to Talia, the woman he had raped in her sleep, before the ashes of his executed wife were even cold because, really, fuck that guy. The cook was given wealth and given a promotion to the king’s advisor. And Talia then tspent every day raising her children with her rapist, whom she was married to now. And they all lived happily ever after? The super fucked up moral of the story is that “those whom fortune favors find good luck even in their sleep.” Seriously. The story considers getting raped good luck, as long as the guy is rich and powerful, so basically, it’s the same moral as 50 Shades of Grey.
- I want to briefly touch on the other two versions of this story, the Perfeforest and the Grimm. The former story centers around a woman named Zellandine. At her birth, the goddesses Lucina, Themis, and Venus (Roman goddesses) are invited. Themis gets pissed off that her meal isn’t quite as fine as the other two goddesses’, so she curses the child to be stabbed by the first flax she touches and fall into a sleep she will never awaken from. Weirdly enough after the whole ordeal with Psyche (see Episode 7), it is Venus who takes the side of the girl child and uses her power to save Zellandine from death. In this version, Zephyr, the gentle west wind who carried Psyche to Eros, offers her lover Troylus a ride to her bedchamber. He finds her asleep and isn’t sure what to do with his naked girlfriend. Note that he doesn’t immediately jump to “rape” as an option.
- He tries to awaken her, but is unsuccessful. It isn’t until Venus whispers in his ear that he should totally bone her that he does so, but not before making a long speech asking for forgiveness from Zellandine, but he can’t exactly disobey a goddess and besides, she say it’ll help. She doesn’t awaken, and Troylus leaves disheartened. Nine months later, she has a son who, like in the Basile version, sucks the flax from her finger (why does no one try to remove the splinter?) and she wakes up, and returns to Troylus.
- The Grimm brothers’ version takes elements from both of the earlier versions to arrive at something closer to the Disney version. The queen is bathing outside one day (hey, different times) and wishes aloud for a child, which she has been unable to conceive. A frog hops out of the bushes and says “No problem, queeny. You’ll have a daughter before the year is out. No explanation is offered as to how the fuck a frog knew this, but he was right, and the king and queen have a beautiful baby girl less than a year later. The king was so excited that he ordered a huge party for all of his family and friends. Hoping to get on the right side of the wise women of the kingdom (read, witches), he decides to invite them also. He only has 12 golden plates though, and 13 wise women, so he decides to not invite one.
- He’s the king, so he really should have just had another plate made, but 13 is unlucky and he doesn’t. The party was grand, and at the end, the 12 wise women offer gifts to the girl: virtue, beauty, wealth, and so on until she couldn’t possibly be a better or better off girl. The 11th woman had just announced her blessing when the doors slammed open and the slighted 13th woman entered. As you probably already guessed, she was piiiiised that she hadn’t been invited, so without a word, she strides over to the cradle and looks at the baby. “A lovely girl. A shame that she will prick her finger on a spindle at the age of 15 and drop fucking dead!” Without another word, she turned on her heel and strode out.
- The hall stood silent. Fuuuuuck. The last of the original 12 women steps forward. The woman turns out to be much weaker than the one who hadn’t been invited (which seems like a bad choice), so she can’t undo the curse but only soften it. “It shall not be death, when the girl pricks her finger. It shall be a 100 year sleep.”
- The king, much like in the Basile version, tries to protect his daughter. He orders every spinning wheel in the kingdom burned. Thinking her safe, they raise their daughter. The girl gets every gift she was bestowed, and everyone in the kingdom loved her (well, except for that one wise woman). Everything went well until the girl, named Brier-Rose, was 15. The king and queen had been called away on urgent kingdom business, so the girl was free to wander the castle (honestly, would the servants really try to tell a teenage princess no?). She wanders, bored and lonely, and climbs an old tower she hadn’t been in before.
- She climbs the narrow, rickety stairs and comes to a small door. It was locked, but there was an old rusty key in the lock, and with much squealing, it turned and the door opened. Inside, she found an old woman with a spindle, busily spinning flax next to a comfy looking bed. Brier-Rose was a sweet, innocent girl, so it didn’t occur to her to wonder why a woman had been locked alone in a tower. She went in. “Good day, old woman. What’s this you’re doing?” (Old woman was apparently a fairly polite form of address, since that was one of the virtues bestowed upon the girl.
- “I’m spinning, my dear. Have you never tried it?” The girl shook her head. “Look fun, though. Can I try?” She reaches for the spindle and pricks her finger. She immediately drops unconscious onto the bed and falls into a deep sleep. The curse spreads throughout the castle in a way that was absolutely not mentioned previously (although maybe this was how the last witch kept it from being fatal). Everyone falls asleep where they ere, including the king and queen, who have just returned home. Even the flies on the wall fall asleep, and the fire in the hearth flickers and freezes. The entire castle was silent and still.
- Outside, a massive thorny hedge began to grow around the castle, growing larger every year until, soon, nothing at all could be seen of the castle through the wicked thorns. Still, that didn’t stop the rumors. The story of little Brier-Rose went through all the neighboring kingdoms and beyond, cause honestly, this is some juicy shit. From time to time, princes would ride up to the thorn hedge and would try to force their way violently through the thorns in what was almost certainly a rape metaphor. Oddly enough, the Grimm version of the story is actually less brutal than the Basile, so the attempted rapists couldn’t make it through the thorns. They would force their way in and find themselves unable to go any deeper, or to find their way out, and they would either starve to death or impale themselves on the thorns in a bid for freedom and bleed out.
- Eventually, the assholes gave up, and the place sat silent. After nearly a century, a young prince heard the story, and thought that this was wrong. Someone needed to go help, but with a pure heart rather than a rapey one. The old man who had told the prince the story tried to stop him. He’d meant it as a lesson about being a good person and not rushing in recklessly, but clearly it hadn’t worked. Not entirely, anyway.
- He rode out to the legendary castle, and found the massive hedge of thorns as promised. As he approached, he drew his sword and inserted it gently into the thicket rather than forcing his way in. The thorns grew beautiful flowers and parted of their own accord to allow him to pass unharmed, in what is clearly a sex and assent metaphor (which, when you think about it, makes the scene in the Disney movie where the prince is hacking his way through the thorns slash princess’ thighs fairly horrifying instead of valiant). The prince made his way through the castle, past the sleeping people who had not even aged in the interim, and up to the highest tower. There, he saw 15 year old Brier Rose and was so overcome with her beauty that he decided to kiss her, which is way less terrible than the immediate rape that occurs in the other versions of the story.
- At the touch of his lips, the girl awakens, and so does the entire castle. The castle was alive again, and Brier-Rose fell in love with the man who had come to her politely rather than trying to force himself in, and they were married and actually did live happily ever after until they died (and that’s a quote from the Grimms because even a happy ending needs to be tempered with death, right?).
- I first encountered the original version of this story in high school at a summer enrichment program (yes, I’m a giant nerd – shocking right?). It was part of a two week segment on the origins and messages of children’s stories, which helped spark my interest in fairy tales in addition to mythology. As much as I like to give Disney crap for whitewashing the hell out of the stories it adapts, it’s kind of hard to blame them in this case. I don’t know that rape, infanticide, and cannibalism really make for a great kids movie, though part of that might be because these stories were originally intended for adults. Either way, it’s time for Gods and Monsters. This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story. This week’s monster is the Longana, from the legends of Cadore, Italy.
- The longana is a sea monster that lives in groups off the coast, usually in coves or near cliffs. The longana is always depicted as female, much like the fauns of Greek myths are always male or the nymphs are always female. Also like fauns, the longana has the lower legs of a goat, which seems less than ideal for a water-dwelling creature, though it does help explain the next bit. Like mermaids, longana are intelligent and beautiful, and have a habit of falling in love with human men (what with their entire species being female).
- When a longana would fall in love with a human man, and he with her, she would agree to marry him and come on shore, but on one condition. He had to agree to let her use her powers to have him completely forget where she came from. In one story, a man falls in love with a longana, and agrees to her condition, so they are married. The power of their love makes her entirely human. They have children, and the farm propers under her care due to her supernatural powers, intelligence, and hard work. Their neighbors begin to be jealous of the man, and ask where he found this outsider, but he doesn’t remember. He does remember promising not to be curious about it, though, so he tells them to piss off.
- In return, the men of the village begin to come up with their own origins, starting with whore and getting worse from there. Eventually, the man can’t take it anymore, and he is starting to wonder if the men are right. Why can’t he know about her past? He asks his wife one night, and she begins to sob. He legs and feet melt, and shift back to goat legs. She runs off into the night and dives into the water, never to be seen again. So the moral of the story is to keep your promises to your spouse, or they might turn back into legendary creatures and abandon you with the kids.
That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated. Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth. You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com. If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes. These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists. If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line. I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated. The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.
Next time, we’ll be finishing up our Disney Lied to Me series with another movie I bet you know. It’s the story of the Little Mermaid, as written by the original author, Hans Christian Anderson. It’s a story that is far more likely to give you a phobia about the deep sea than to make you dive in looking for love. You’ll learn that Prince Eric was an ass, though not as bad as in Sleeping Beauty, that not all sex metaphors are as subtle as the hedge of thorns opening after being penetrated by the prince’s sword, and that sea foam is a lot more horrifying than you ever imagined. Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the Danish raven that gets magical powers from eating dead kings. That’s all for now. Thanks for listening.