The Fish and the Ring

The Fish and the Ring

The Fish and the Ring is an English fairy tale collected by Joseph Jacobs in "English Fairy Tales". This tale has has several parallels in the literature and folklore of various cultures.


A baron who was a magician learned that his son was fated to marry a girl just born to a poor peasant. He went to that peasant and, when he lamented that he could not feed six, offer to take the littlest one. He threw her into the river, and she floated to a fisherman's house, and the fisherman raised her. She was beautiful, and one day when the baron was hunting, they saw her and a companion asked who she would marry. To cast her horoscope, he asked when she was born, and she told her story. He sent her to his brother, with a letter telling his brother to kill her. She fell among robbers, who altered the letter to say she should be married to his son, and his brother obeyed it.

The baron came and learned this, and took his daughter-in-law for a walk along the cliff. She begged for her life, and he did not push her in, but he threw a golden ring into the sea and told her that she should never show him or his son her face again without the ring. She went off and got work in a kitchen. The baron came to dinner at that house, and she was preparing fish. She found the ring in it. The guests were so taken with the fish that they wanted to meet the cook, and she went with the ring. The baron realized that he could not fight fate, and announced she was his son's true bride and took her back with him to his home, where she lived happily with her husband.


one of the early sources or inspirations, could be the Greek tale of Polycrates or Polykrates, ruler of Samos. As the story claims, Polycrates was making a treaty with Amasis the king of Egypt, when Amasis told Polycrates to dispose of some of his most valued possessions, explaining that even he most experience hardships and sorrow, or his life will end in tragedy. Polycrates's, taking Amasis's advice throw away some of his possessions inclduing his most prized, emerald ring. The loss of the ring weighed heavy on Polycrates; one day a fisherman brought a great fish as tribute, and as is the custom, had the fish gutted. When the fish was cut open, Polycrates was surprised and delighted to see his old emerald ring.

The drama of Sakúntála, as written by Kalidasa, is also a parallel. A king had fallen in love with Sakúntála, whom he married and gifted an emerald ring, with his name engraved upon it. However when he returned to his capital, he forgot about Sakúntála until one day a fisherman was seen selling such a ring in the marketplace and had been arrested. The fisherman told the king that he had found the ring in the belly of a fish. The king thus remembers Sakúntala and they are reunited.

Another early variant, could be the Talmudic tale of the biblical Solomon, who recovers his signet ring in a similar manner. A similar Talmudic tales is the tale of a wealthy and irreligious man who hearing from an astrologer that all his worldly goods shall one day belong to his neighbour Jospeh, a poor and religious man, sold all his wealth and bought a large diamond which he attached onto his turban.One day while trying to cheat the stars again, by leaving his old home he embarked on a ship for a distant port. On the deck a great wind blow, taking his turban and diamond with it into the depth of the sea. Shortly after this event Joseph was preparing his fish for cooking on sabbath eve, when inside the fish's innards he saw a large diamond, all that remained of the wealthy man's riches. ['Popular Tales and Fictions: Their Migrations and Transformations' By W. a. Clouston, Published by Kessinger Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0766176223, 9780766176225,M1]

An Irish variation is found in "Tain Bo Fraich", in which Ailill gives his daughter Findabair a ring, which she then gives to her lover Fraech, who is hated by Ailill. Ailill discovers the ring among Fraech's things, and throws it into the river, where it is swallowed by a salmon. Fraech sees this, commands a servant to catch the salmon and cook it. When Ailill demands the ring, Findabair sends a servant to deliever the fish with the ring on top. Ailill demands that Fraech tell where the ring came from, and Fraech lies, saying he found it in the salmon and not before. Despite the lie, Fraech and Findabair are able to depart for their own lands.

There are also two somewhat similar tales found in British literature. In Jocelyn's "Life of St. Kentigern", King Rederech of Strathclyde discovers Queen Languueth's affair with a soldier, to whom she gave a ring. The king steals the ring from the sleeping soldier, and demands the queen produce the ring in three days or else face death. Languueth confesses her sin to St. Kentigern, who then commands a messenger to go fishing in the Clyde; a salmon is caught, gutted, and the ring is found. The queen then produces the ring for the king, and escapes death.

A similar version is found in Elis Gruffudd's "Cronicl" (16th century), though in this instance the story is attached to Maelgwn Gwynedd, and the queen is innocent, having lost the ring while walking.cite book |title= Ystoria Taliesin|last= Ford|first= Patrick K|authorlink= Patrick K. Ford|year= 1992|publisher= University of Wales|location= Cardiff|isbn= 9780708310923|oclc= 26803558|pages= p. 109-110]

Another connected story is the Northern German folktale of "The Three Gifts". One day three wealthy students find a poor weaver and give him one hundred dollars. The weaver hid the money in some rages, however his wife sells them to a rag and bone man. The students return to find the weaver poorer than before, and give him another hundred dollars, this time thy tell him to be more careful; so the weaver hides it in a dust-tub, however his wife sells the dust-tub, losing the money a second time. When the students returned a third time they angrily give him a piece of lead stating that they would more foolish than he if the gave him money a third time. One day a fisherman came to the weaver's home, asking if he could use the lead as a weight for his net, promising the weaver the first big fish he catches. The weaver agrees and the fisherman brings him his fish. When gutting the fish the weaver finds a large shining stone and sells it for one thousand dollars making him a wealthy man.There is an exact cognate of the German tale in an Arabian tale, though the man is a ropemaker not a weaver. ['Popular Tales and Fictions: Their Migrations and Transformations' By W. a. Clouston, Published by Kessinger Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0766176223, 9780766176225,M1]


ee also

*The Story of Three Wonderful Beggars
*The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs
*The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate

External links

* [ "The Fish and the Ring"]
* [ "The Life of Kentigern"]

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