St Peter and the poor man

Here's another Macedonian folk tale. It was recorded by Marko Cepenkov in Prilep, and published in SBNU Vol. VII (Sofia, 1892). The original text, in the 19th-century Bulgarian orthography, is on pp. 172-174 of Section III of that volume. The same story was also published, in modern Macedonian orthography, in the collection Mark K. Cepenkov, Makedonski Narodni Umotvorbi, Volume 4 (Skopje, 1972). In that edition it appears as entry No. 176, pp. 108-113. A text very similar to the 1972 edition (with minor changes in spelling) is available online as well: СВЕТИ ПЕТАР И СИРОМАВИОТ

It is interesting that this text was recorded nearly a century before the scientists started talking about the global warming, or several decades before some Macedonians moved to Australia and got to meet the cane toads (who themselves only were brought to that continent in the 20th century)!

St Peter and the poor man (Свети Петар и сиромаиот)

There was a poor man: naked, barefoot, hungry, thirsty, at the end of his rope. He was walking home from work one evening -- and it was a cold and rainy day, with fields and roads turned into mud, and he was trembling like a leaf on a tree. As his luck would have it, he met Saint Peter, who was also walking home.

"Good evening, Saint Peter," -- said the poor man to him -- "how are you doing, what are you up to?"

"May the Lord grant you everything good, o Christian! I am fine, thanks to God. And how are you?"

"We are fine, thanks to God, o St Peter," -- said the poor man -- "living in health. But being poor is tough; look for yourself: I am naked, barefoot, in mood up to my knees. I still will be all wet when I go to bed, and I will be wet when I get up."

"There is the Lord, o Christian," -- said St Peter to him - "The Lord is here for you the poor people too".

"Eh, may there be Lord for us the poor people too!", said the poor man to him. "We pray to you from the earth to the heaven, St Peter, that you go to the Lord and pray to him that at least the entire year the weather were warm, like in the summer, so that we the poor people could work in the field and earn bread for the children whom Lord has given to us. We the poor don't ask the Lord to make us rich; we only ask for the weather to be warm; that's all we want. Oh St Peter, wouldn't you go to God and pray to Him that he makes the entire year warm, so that there would be no more cold?"

The poor man was crying as he was saying these words and St Peter, he was kissing both his hands imploringly. St Peter felt pity upon him; he and went right away to the top of a high mountain, fell to his knees and prayed to God to grant the poor man's wish: so that there would be summer year round, and there would be no winter. He prayed and prayed for three days, and finally the Lord responded:

"O Peter, why are you pestering me so much? To ordain the weather change? Yes, St Peter, I can make the summer all year round. But it will be even worse for you. Think well, so that you won't need to come and ask me again to change the weather so that it again would be as it is now! This is why I am telling you: think one more time, or instead of making it better for the poor you only will make it worse for them!"

"Truly, o Lord, it is as you are saying" -- said St Peter to him -- "But I want you to make this good thing that I have promised to the poor man to ask you for, so that the poor man would not say that you aren't listening to me and talking with me."

"Well, Peter, you are pestering me so much! Here, I will listen to you and do it the way you wish; but if something bad comes out of the change in climate, it is you and your household who will suffer the most from it. Now, go in peace; I have ordained for the weather to turn into summer, fine and beautiful."

What a miracle! The weather started changing right away; it had been frosty, and now it became pleasantly warm.

The weather became warmer every day, and soon it was summer all the time. When the poor saw that winter turned into summer, they rejoiced and took their hats off to pray to the Lord for the health of St Peter, because it was him whoss prayer had reached God to turn winter into summer.

St Peter, too, enjoyed it very much when he heard the poor pray to God for him.

For a few years after that, it was summer year round, and the poor enjoyed life said to themselves:

"Now, that's weather! That's prosperity! That's how it should have been done when the World was created, so that the poor would not suffer as they had until now!"

Along with the poor, the rich rejoiced as well, because the fields, the meadows, the vineyards all produced more. But this wonderful warm weather benefited not only the people, but also all the creatures of the earth: all were fruitful and multiplied, and none died: snakes, vipers, lizards, frogs, crawfish, wolves, bears, foxes, and other animals. And in addition to that, flies, wasps, and mosquitoes multiplied abundantly. Everyone had to hold a horse tail in his hand to shoo away these bugs, while at night people could not sleep because of bedbugs. Neither people nor livestock could stand the bugs.

And on top of this, the land became filled with frogs and toads; there was no empty spot without a frog or toad in it. It was as if the ground was all paved with stones, that's how many frogs and toads there were. Yes, that's how it was! "One who wants to gain horns, he will end up losing even his ears", as said the ancients.

The frogs and toads kept growing, becoming as big as large geese. And their ruler, the King of Toads, has grown to be as big as a house. His eyes were as big as lids of big pots; everyone who saw the King of Toads was full of fear, and would say to himself:

"Oh brother, what was that monster!?"

People cringed, and started to kill frogs and toads, as if they hoped to clear their yards from them. But as soon as you started fighting them and have killed some, lots of other frogs would come to the calls of those being killed, and would start a great ruckus, the choir of their voices rising to heaven, scaring anyone out of his wits. The people found themselves in trouble, and saw no end to it.

"Hey folks", it was often said, "let's go to St Peter to ask him to go to God and to pray him to rid us of these creatures that don't let us live and work.:

Many times did people go to St Peter with such requests, but St Peter felt ashamed to go to God to ask for this. And on top of this, here's what happened to St Peter.

One morning St Peter's daughter went out with a shovel, to clear the yard of the family's house from frogs and toads. At this time the King of Toads happened to be walking by the door of St Peter's house, and he saw St Peter's daughter who was chucking out spadefuls of frogs and toads.

"Why are you throwing out frogs and toads with a spade like this?" -- the King of Toads asked her.

"If I weren't throwing them out, there would be no space left for me! They have filled our yard like sheep!"

"Eh, you are going to see with whom you are arguing!", said the King of Toads to the daughter of St Peter, and went away.

The evening of the same day, the King of Toads sent matchmakers to St Peter to ask the hand of his daughter. When St Peter and his wife heard the matchmakers' words, their hair stood on end from fear and shame.

"Look, brothers, can the King of Toads ask someone else to be his bride? Me and my wife only have one daughter; can he ask for a bride from some family that has several daughters?" -- said St Peter. -- "Please carry my respects to the King of Toads; we are praying from the earth to the heaven that he may change his mind!"

"Look, brothers, I too entreat the King of Toads not to take away my daughter as his bride", -- told St Peter's wife -- "It will scare her so much! She's been doted upon by her parents, fed on chosen morsels, how can she become the bride of a toad? Here are some gifts from us to the King Toad. Go in peace, brothers, and take our best wishes to the King of Toads!"

The matchmakers took the bag with gifts and went to the King of Toads, and told him all that St Peter and his wife had said to them.

"St Peter and his wife aren't going to deceive me with some gifts! I will take their daughter as my bride, or I will die!", told the King of Toads to the matchmakers.

The King of Toads went to make wedding arrangements right away, sending his envoys in all directions to invite wedding guests. Snakes, vipers, lizards, frogs and toads, and other creatures were all invited. They all assembled at the King of Toads' place as his wedding party. The drums started beating in the King of Toads' courtyard, his guests started dancing. Great ruckus started at the King of Toads' house. And the King of Toads sent a message to St Peter to make his daughter ready, as he was about to come there with his wedding party to take her.

When the message from the King of Toads reached St Peter, he started to cry and grabbed at his beard, as if trying to pull it out, while his wife was tearing her hair out. St Peter went to the mountain right away, to pray to God. He fell on his knees, and screamed as loudly as he could,

"O Lord, help me and rid me of the Toad, so that he does not take my daughter!"

"Eh, so you see, Peter, that this weather is worse than what it was like before I've made summer year round!"

"It's my fault, o Lord, forgive me!" -- told him St Peter -- "I have caused this, not you".

"Ay, go in peace, Peter, and don't worry." -- said the Lord. -- "I will save your daughter."

When St Peter approached his house, what did he see? Thousands and millions of frogs and toads, snakes and vipers had surrounded his house. The King of Toads had taken his daughter and put her into his cart, pulled by two oxen, with snakes and vipers used instead of harness, and they started rolling on their way to King of Toads' house. But, in the middle of a warm day, suddenly a strong wind started blowing from the north, freezing the soil down to nine hands deep. A terrible storm started, freezing all creatures to death; wherever they were standing, at those spots now they all fell dead! The last of all creatures to die was The King of Toads.

As everything froze, becoming hard as stone, the weather improved, in accordance with God's will, and St Peter's daughter came back home. Her parents joy had no bounds.

"It's better this way now," -- said the people -- "Even though it's cold, at least now we have a break from all the creatures that made us suffer!"


[1] The original text of the tale describes the amphibian pests as žabi (жаби), or žabi i žabari (жаби и жабари), i.e. female and male žabi. Strictly speaking, žaba is usually translated as "frog" in Macedonian; however, the word is generic, and also includes species that are known as "toads" in English. (E.g. Крастави жаби are known in English as "true toads"). So I felt "frogs and toads" is a suitable translation.

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