THE PRIEST WITH THE GREEDY EYES
A Russian Fairy Tale Story
In the parish of St. Nicholas there lived a Pope. This
Pope's eyes were thoroughly pope-like. He served Nicholas
several years, and went on serving until such time as there
remained to him nothing either for board or lodging. Then our
Pope collected all the church keys, looked at the picture of
Nicholas, thumped him, out of spite, over the shoulders with
the keys, and went forth from his parish as his eyes led him.
And as he walked along the road he suddenly lighted upon an
"Hail, good man!" said the stranger to the Pope. "Whence
do you come and whither are you going? Take me with you
as a companion."
Well, they went on together. They walked and walked for
several versts, then they grew tired. It was time to seek repose.
Now the Pope had a few biscuits in his cassock, and the companion
he had picked up had a couple of small loaves.
"Let's eat your loaves first," says the Pope, "and afterwards
we'll take to the biscuits, too."
"Agreed!" replies the stranger. "We'll eat my loaves,
and keep your biscuits for afterwards."
Well, they ate away at the loaves; each of them ate his fill,
but the loaves got no smaller. The Pope grew envious:
"Come," thinks he, "I'll steal them from him!" After the
meal the old man lay down to take a nap, but the Pope kept
scheming how to steal the loaves from him. The old man went
to sleep. The Pope drew the loaves out of his pocket and
began quietly nibbling them at his seat. The old man awoke
and felt for his loaves; they were gone!
"Where are my loaves?" he exclaimed; "who has eaten
them? was it you, Pope?"
"No, not I, on my word!" replied the Pope.
"Well, so be it," said the old man.
They gave themselves a shake, and set out again on their
journey. They walked and walked; suddenly the road branched
off in two different directions. Well, they both went the same
way, and soon reached a certain country. In that country the
King's daughter lay at the point of death, and the King had given
notice that to him who should cure his daughter he would give
half of his kingdom, and half of his goods and possessions; but
if any one undertook to cure her and failed, he should have his
head chopped off and hung up on a stake. Well, they arrived,
elbowed their way among the people in front of the King's palace,
and gave out that they were doctors. The servant came out
from the King's palace, and began questioning them:
"Who are you? from what cities, of what families? what
do you want?"
"We are doctors," they replied; "we can cure the Princess!"
"Oh! if you are doctors, come into the palace."
So they went into the palace, saw the Princess, and asked
the King to supply them with a private apartment, a tub of
water, a sharp sword, and a big table. The King supplied
them with all these things. Then they shut themselves up in
the private apartment, laid the Princess on the big table, cut
her into small pieces with the sharp sword, flung them into the
tub of water, washed them, and rinsed them. Afterwards they
began putting the pieces together; when the old man breathed
on them the different pieces stuck together. When he had put
all the pieces together properly, he gave them a final puff of
breath: the Princess began to quiver, and then arose alive and
well! The King came in person to the door of their room, and
"In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy
"Amen!" they replied.
"Have you cured the Princess?" asked the King.
"We've cured her," say the doctors. "Here she is!"
Out went the Princess to the King, alive and well.
Says the King to the doctors: "What sort of valuables will
you have? would you like gold or silver? Take whatever you
Well, they began taking gold and silver. The old man used
only a thumb and two fingers, but the Pope seized whole handfuls,
and kept on stowing them away in his wallet--shovelling
them into it, and then lifting it a bit to see if he was strong
enough to carry it.
At last they took their leave of the King and went their way.
The old man said to the Pope, "We'll bury this money in the
ground, and go and make another cure." Well, they walked
and walked, and at length they reached another country. In
that country, also, the King had a daughter at the point of death,
and he had given notice that whoever cured his daughter should
have half of his kingdom and of his goods and possessions; but
if he failed to cure her he should have his head chopped off and
hung up on a stake. Then the Evil One afflicted the envious
Pope, suggesting to him "Why shouldn't he go and perform
the cure by himself, without saying a word to the old man, and
so lay hold of all the gold and silver for himself?" So the
Pope walked about in front of the royal gates, forced himself on
the notice of the people there, and gave out that he was a doctor.
In the same way as before he asked the King for a private
room, a tub of water, a large table, and a sharp sword. Shutting
himself up in the private room, he laid the Princess on the table,
and began chopping her up with the sharp sword; and however
much the Princess might scream or squeal, the Pope, without
paying any attention to either screaming or squealing, went on
chopping and chopping just as if she had been so much beef.
And when he had chopped her up into little pieces, he threw
them into the tub, washed them, rinsed them, and then put
them together bit by bit, exactly as the old man had done, expecting
to see all the pieces unite with each other. He breathes
on them--but nothing happens! He gives another puff--worse
than ever! See, the Pope flings the pieces back again into the
water, washes and washes, rinses and rinses, and again puts
them together bit by bit. Again he breathes on them--but still
nothing comes of it.
"Woe is me," thinks the Pope; "here's a mess!"
Next morning the King arrives and looks--the doctor has
had no success at all--he's only messed the dead body all over
The King ordered the doctor off to the gallows. Then our
Pope besought him, crying--
"O King! O free to do thy will! Spare me for a little
time! I will run for the old man, he will cure the Princess."
The Pope ran off in search of the old man. He found the
old man, and cried:
"Old man! I am guilty, wretch that I am! The Devil
got hold of me. I wanted to cure the King's daughter all by
myself, but I couldn't. Now they're going to hang me. Do
The old man returned with the Pope.
The Pope was taken to the gallows. Says the old man to
"Pope! who ate my loaves?"
"Not I, on my word! So help me Heaven, not I!"
The Pope was hoisted on to the second step. Says the old
man to the Pope:
"Pope! who ate my loaves?"
"Not I, on my word! So help me Heaven, not I!"
He mounted the third step--and again it was "Not I!"
And now his head was actually in the noose--but it's "Not I!"
all the same. Well, there was nothing to be done! Says the
old man to the King:
"O King! O free to do thy will! Permit me to cure the
Princess. And if I do not cure her, order another noose to be
got ready. A noose for me, and a noose for the Pope!"
Well, the old man put the pieces of the Princess's body together,
bit by bit, and breathed on them--and the Princess stood
up alive and well. The King recompensed them both with
silver and gold.
"Let's go and divide the money, Pope," said the old man.
So they went. They divided the money into three heaps.
The Pope looked at them, and said:
"How's this? There's only two of us. For whom is this
"That," says the old man, "is for him who ate my loaves."
"I ate them, old man," cries the Pope; "I did really, so
help me Heaven!"
"Then the money is yours," says the old man. "Take my
share too. And now go and serve in your parish faithfully;
don't be greedy, and don't go hitting Nicholas over the shoulders
with the keys."
Thus spake the old man, and straightway disappeared.
[The principal motive of this story is, of course, the
same as that of "The Smith and the Demon," in No. 13
(see above, p. 70). A miraculous cure is effected by a
supernatural being. A man attempts to do likewise, but
fails. When about to undergo the penalty of his
failure, he is saved by that being, who reads him a
moral lesson. In the original form of the tale the
supernatural agent was probably a demigod, whom a
vague Christian influence has in one instance degraded
into the Devil, in another, canonized as St. Nicholas.
The Medea's cauldron episode occurs in very many
folk-tales, such as the German "Bruder Lustig" (Grimm,
No. 81) and "Das junge gegluehte Maennlein" (Grimm, No.
147), in the latter of which our Lord, accompanied by
St. Peter, spends a night in a Smith's house, and
makes an old beggar-man young by first placing him in
the fire, and then plunging him into water. After the
departure of his visitors, the Smith tries a similar
experiment on his mother-in-law, but quite
unsuccessfully. In the corresponding Norse tale of
"The Master-Smith," (Asbjoernsen and Moe, No. 21,
Dasent, No. 16) an old beggar-woman is the victim of
the Smith's unsuccessful experiment. In another Norse
tale, that of "Peik" (Asbjoernsen's New Series, No.
101, p. 219) a king is induced to kill his wife and
his daughter in the mistaken belief that he will be
able to restore them to life. In one of the stories of
the "Dasakumaracharita," a king is persuaded to jump
into a certain lake in the hope of obtaining a new and
improved body. He is then killed by his insidious
adviser, who usurps his throne, pretending to be the
renovated monarch. In another story in the same
collection a king believes that his wife will be able
to confer on him by her magic skill "a most celestial
figure," and under that impression confides to her all
his secrets, after which she brings about his death.
See Wilson's "Essays," ii. 217, &c., and 262, &c.
Jacob's "Hindoo Tales," pp. 180, 315.]