Pinocchio and the wobbling king

Pinocchio and the wobbling king

Carlo Collodi opened his masterpiece Le avventure di Pinocchio with an enigma and guess what – one hundred and forty years later it has not been solved.

C’era una volta… “Un re!” diranno subito i miei piccoli lettori. No, ragazzi, avete sbagliato. C’era una volta un pezzo di legno.

Centuries ago there lived…“A king!” my little readers will say immediately. No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

Le avventure di Pinocchio has been translated into more than 260 languages, making it the most popular children’s story in the world and there is not one single reference to the eminent historical and political figure that might have, that certainly inspired Collodi in writing his capolavoro .

The story of the wooden puppet whose nose grew whenever he told a lie and who aspired wholeheartedly to become a boy is not solely a product of its author’s fertile imagination and aimed at entertaining children, but a satirical portrait of an important statesman of his time.

Who was the wobbling, faltering King that due to his liberal tendencies needed to be corrected, disciplined, carved and become an obedient boy?

Precisely King Charles Albert of Savoy (Carlo Alberto di Savoia) nicknamed “Il Re tentenna” – the wobbling, the vacillating King of Sardinia – emotionally unstable and politically unpredictable, a man tormented by the conflict of being liberal in his heart and conservative by birth.

As a matter of fact, if we stop to think about who our puppets are inspired by, we will better understand their conflicts, motivations and the lessons they might teach us.

Carlo Alberto di Savoia – Pinocchio’s real-life mould?

The coincidences between the life story of Carlo Alberto di Savoia, Prince of Carignano, and the adventures of the wobbling marionette are numerous and fairly considerable.

Carlo Alberto, the improbable King of Sardinia, was born in Turin, in 1798. As a member of the cadet branch of the House of Savoy he was not expected to inherit the throne. His father had studied in France and had been an officer of the French army. During the French invasion of Turin and the proclamation of the Piedmontese Republic, in 1796, Carlo Emanuele supported the republican cause but soon fell into the distrust of the revolutionaries and was sent to Paris with his family to live under surveillance.

Carlo Alberto’s early childhood in Paris was marked by poverty and austerity. He had one younger sister named Maria Elizabetta. His father died suddenly when he was only two years old and his mother endured great hardship to raise both children in a hostile environment. She, nevertheless, refused to send her son back to Sardinia to receive a conservative education.

The boy grew up deprived of his hereditary privileges, and amongst the liberal, constitutionalist ideals of a Republican France. Eight years after his father’s passing Carlo Alberto’s mother married a French politician, much to his dislike, but this association reopened the doors to the renegade family. The Savoy-Carignano were costumarily accepted as princes étrangers at the French royal court, where some held prominent positions.

At the age of twelve Carlo Alberto and his mother were finally received by Napoleon Bonaparte, who gave the boy the title of count and a life annuity. Since it was no longer appropriate to have him studying at home, in 1812 the young man entered the San Stanislao College (Collège Stanislas) in Paris.

Perhaps not known to those entertained by the romanticized interpretations of Collodi’s book, hunger and poverty are recurring themes in the puppet’s story. Pinocchio starves, lives in a humble room, his clothes are adapted and when asked about his progenitor he states that he is very, very poor and does not have money even to buy his school books.

Pinocchio is hungry and looks for an egg to cook himself an omelet; but, to his surprise, the omelet flies out of the window.

Carlo Collodi. The Adventures of Pinocchio. English edition.

There are those who say that Collodi makes a social criticism of the Italy of his time. Even after the fall of the Austrian rule the living conditions of the peasants had not changed significantly, and after 1861 the united Italian nation was living what we can call the frustration of great expectations.

Indisputably, “The adventures of Pinocchio” is a complex and multifaceted work and its author had a sharp political and social consciousness, but there is a clue that allows us to argue who Collodi was referring to. By becoming obedient, reasonable and educated Pinocchio materializes wealth and nobility around him. How has the miserable marionette turned not only into a boy but a wealthy boy? We know that only hard work does not pay, thus a touch of magic or predestination was necessary.

A touch of fate and a pun intended

Deeply affected by the encounter with Napoleon, Carlo Alberto decided to pursue a military career, and entered the Bourges military high school, in the Loire, aiming to become a French officer like his father.

However, on 11 April 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate his throne after allied Austrian, Prussian and Russian forces vanquished his army and took Paris.

The Bourbon were restored and Carlo Alberto was forced to return to Turin with his family. He returned as the second to the throne of Sardinia, though. A series of fatalities claimed the lives of several successors and the ostracized young Prince of Carignano, by a twist of fate, was turned into a coveted royal asset. Precisely for this reason he was assigned a tutor who would “correct” his liberal ideas – the count Filippo Grimaldi Del Poggetto, a religious, morally rigid, scholar man whose last name could easily be punned on to Master Geppetto, the elderly woodcarver, Pinocchio’s first stoic preceptor.

Del Poggetto was succeeded by others who did not succeed in fixing, reshaping Carlo Alberto’s mentality and character. In this period, the young man was recognized for the first time as suffering from nerves and started his painful journey through what is called contemporarily generalized anxiety disorder.

But the Cricket, who was a wise old philosopher, instead of being offended at Pinocchio’s impudence, continued in the same tone:

“If you do not like going to school, why don’t you at least learn a trade, so that you can earn an honest living?”

“Shall I tell you something?” asked Pinocchio, who was beginning to lose patience. “Of all the trades in the world, there is only one that really suits me.”

“And what can that be?”

“That of eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, and wandering around from morning till night.”

“Let me tell you, for your own good, Pinocchio,” said the Talking Cricket in his calm voice, “that those who follow that trade always end up in the hospital or in prison.”

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

Excuse me, Signor Grillo-parlante, but eating, drinking, sleeping and playing are nothing more, nothing less than every child’s essential rights, whether one is made of flesh and bones or wood. No child should be sent to hospital or prison for demanding and exercising these rights.

Collodi was actually profoundly aware that children could not be expected to learn if they were hungry. In an open letter called “Pane e Libri,” he argues that all humans first need to eat and drink, to be protected from the elements and to have a place to sleep. Then, through education there is a way out of ignorance and hardship.

Lovely Maiden with Azure Hair

All of those acquainted with Collodi’s original must remember that Pinocchio’s supporting actor came to be, in fact, the Maiden with Azure Hair instead of his father Geppetto. But what few people actually know is that she was supposed to be only an unsympathetic dead girl.

After a hard race of almost an hour, tired and out of breath, Pinocchio finally reached the door of the cottage and knocked. No one answered.

At the noise, a window opened and a lovely maiden looked out. She had azure hair and a face white as wax. Her eyes were closed and her hands crossed on her breast. With a voice so weak that it hardly could be heard, she whispered: “No one lives in this house. Everyone is dead.”

“Won’t you, at least, open the door for me?” cried Pinocchio in a beseeching voice.

“I also am dead.”

“Dead? What are you doing at the window, then?”

“I am waiting for the coffin to take me away.” After these words, the little girl disappeared and the window closed without a sound.

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

Collodi began publishing “La storia di un Burattino” in a periodic called Giornale per i bambini. The story concluded after only fifteen chapters exactly at this point – Pinocchio is persecuted by assassins, find the unsympathetic dead girl’s cottage on his way to escape, she doesn’t bother to help him at all and he ends up murdered, hanging from an oak tree.

Carlo Alberto also found an unsympathetic maiden on his way to escape such dreadful tendencies of his. To give the prince an inner balance, the Savoy court thought it was time for him to marry. The chosen one was the sixteen year old Maria Teresa of Habsburg-Lorraine, daughter of the Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Tuscany and relative of the Queen of Sardinia Maria Teresa of Asburgo-Este. The young lady was very shy and very religious. To compensate this total lack of empathy between the bride and the groom Carlo Alberto began to frequent a group of young Piedmontese intellectuals with whom to share some liberal ideas.

Terrible company, indeed, especially during conspiratorial times. Following the revolts of Cadiz in 1820, King Ferdinand VII of Spain was forced to reconcile the constitution of 1812. In many European countries, the hope of obtaining similar concessions from the respective sovereigns was ignited. Insurrectionary riots broke out in Naples and Palermo. The liberal movement was ready for action and saw in Carlo Alberto the new man of the House of Savoy who would put an end to its past of absolutism.

During several months of conspiracy, the prince ensured his support for the cause as mediator, but changed his mind and at last betrayed the insurgents. He summoned the minister of war Alessandro Saluzzo di Monesiglio informing him that he had discovered a revolutionary plot, but the revolt could not be contained and King Vittorio Emanuele I, faced with the spread of the uprising and not to grant the constitution, decided to abdicate in favor of his brother Carlo Felice, who was in Modena, appointing Carlo Alberto as regent prince.

Feeling the pressure of a political crisis he had helped to create, the twenty-three-year-old regent signed, in 1821, a proclamation conceding the Spanish constitution. This movement profoundly displeased the new king Carlo Felice; he declared the constitution null and expelled Carlo Alberto who, after a short stay in the middle of the rice fields of Novara, left for Tuscany, where a sort of exile awaited him.

“I’ll explain,” said the Fox. “You must know that, just outside the City of Simple Simons, there is a blessed field called the Field of Wonders. In this field you dig a hole and in the hole you bury a gold piece. After covering up the hole with earth you water it well, sprinkle a bit of salt on it, and go to bed. During the night, the gold piece sprouts, grows, blossoms, and next morning you find a beautiful tree, that is loaded with gold pieces.”

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

However, Pinocchio’s punishment for being fooled or greedy – such violent death by hanging- was not well received by his unexpectedly growing fandom and Collodi decided to resurrect his hero and continue his adventures in a book called Le Avventure di Pinocchio. That’s when the Lady with the Azure Hair assumes her adult, maternal and healing aspects. The sequel is written in a much more indulgent, benevolent, fabulous and educational tone.

And will the Fairy ever forgive me for all I have done? She who has been so good to me and to whom I owe my life! Can there be a worse or more heartless boy than I am anywhere?”

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

Another evident transition happened – Pinnochio, who had the features of a “ragazzo” in the book’s earliest editions – as a young man or a prince, later acquired the aspect of a “bambino” – a small child.

Italian Edition, 1902 – Firenze

We must not only blame Disney. This transformation was intituitively aprehended from the original itself and Collodi’s growing interest in pleasing Pinocchio’s audience.

Carlo versus Carlo

Carlo Alberto, the prince, was never discarded as an important source of inspiration throughout Collodi’s book, though. Maybe both men had a lot in common.

Collodi’s father was a cook in the service of the Marquis Ginori in Florence while his mother was a seamstress and waitress in the service of the Marquise Garzoni in Collodi, a small village near Pescia. The couple had ten children and the eldest son was named Carlo.

Carlo was practically raised by his maternal grandfather, an man in charge of a farm for the Ginori; an old, rigid caricature, full of religious principles and obedience rules, just like Filippo Grimaldi Del Poggetto, just like Master Geppetto.

Carlo entered a seminary in Colle Val d’Elsa at the age of eleven, where he remained during five years of his early life. He was supposed to be ordained a priest, as was the tradition amongst peasant families – the firstborn was consecrated by God and owed Him gratitude through religious service. This is the story of many Italian families, including my very own – my grandfather’s eldest brother was a botanist monk, more dedicated to nature and the plants than to The Scriptures, but fulfilling his familial religious obligation anyway.

Carlo, the creator of Pinocchio, did not complete his studies to become a priest. He left the seminary, moved to Florence and studied philosophy and rethoric in the school of the Piarist Fathers, Catholic education being the bulk of his formation, no matter how much he tried to escape or overcome it.

“I deserve it! Yes, I deserve it! I have been nothing but a truant and a vagabond. I have never obeyed anyone and I have always done as I pleased. If I were only like so many others and had studied and worked and stayed with my poor old father, I should not find myself here now, in this field and in the darkness, taking the place of a farmer’s watchdog. Oh, if I could start all over again! But what is done can’t be undone, and I must be patient!”

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

The Prince was also a prolific writer. He wrote no less than thirty eight stories for his children during the period that preceeded his reign. He was a lover of Arts, Music and Literarture in general, adventured into comedy and printed three operettas. Of all these works Carlo Alberto repented and ordered to withdraw them from circulation. He was so much afraid of unintentionally displeasing the royalty and betraying the monarchic ideals he was forced to embrace.

King, finally, but a repentant and penitent one

Taken by a spiritual crisis and on the advice of Prince Klemens Von Metternich, the head of the Austrian rule in Italy and arc-enemy of constitutionalist efforts all over Europe, Carlo Alberto left to Spain in 1823 to help repress popular uprisings and re-establish the monarchy of Ferdinand VII. Fighting alongside the royalists, he demonstrated all his courage and valor in battle.

The King of Sardinia, Carlo Felice, was happy to bring the repentant and valuable prince back to Turin, but made him take an oath in which he pledged “to respect and maintain religiously, when he will come to power, all the fundamental laws of the monarchy”. He received the order to enter Turin at night, to avoid demonstrations, and obediently returned to Palazzo Carignano.

After the death of his uncle, in 1831, the Prince of Carignano, only thirty three years old, ascended the throne and became, by right, the new King of Sardinia and Piedmont, effectively extinguishing the direct line of the Savoys.

The unexpected King of Sardinia immediately found himself facing the dilemma between monarchy and liberalism, between defending the ancient and traditional system or subverting it in the name of new ideas and new values.

There were only two means left to him in order to get a bite to eat. He had either to work or to beg. He was ashamed to beg, because his father had always preached to him that begging should be done only by the sick or the old. He had said that the real poor in this world, deserving of our pity and help, were only those who, either through age or sickness, had lost the means of earning their bread with their own hands. All others should work, and if they didn’t, and went hungry, so much the worse for them.

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

Hunger as punishment and penance had always been a constant in the life of the young king, as much as in the story of the wooden marionette.

However, even hard work could not deliver Carlo Alberto from his guilt and during the first years of his reign he went through a profound crisis. He started to wear a hairshirt cilice and to sleep penitently on an iron bed without his wife. He woke up very early at dawn to go to mass and worked all day without breaks. For breakfast he only had a piece of bread and a glass of water; at lunch they served him a meagre portion of boiled meat. Religious crises became more and more frequent and his health and vigor naturally decayed.

Between the light and the shadows

The new king spent the first years of his reign swaying, divided between his liberal heart and his conservative vows.

Carlo Alberto implemented many social and economic reforms considered pro-liberal, as abolishing feudalism in Sardinia, reducing the control of the ecclesiastical hierarchy over public bodies, investing in agriculture, roads, railway and ports infraestructure. He lowered tariffs on imported machinery and opened credit institutions to encourage small and medium-size producers and facilitate trade.

In this context, Carlo Alberto realized the need to grant reforms to make the kingdom more modern and to satisfy the needs of the people. From the moment of his ascent to the throne he had appointed a commission that had the task of drafting the new civil, penal, commercial and criminal procedure codes.

“The path of this reform was very long, at the end of which, on 20 June 1837, the new civil code was promulgated, inspired in part by the Napoleonic Code. The King also participated in the drafting of the new penal code that was issued on October 26, 1839. During the works Carlo Alberto insisted on the concept of corrective punishment, thus limiting the death penalty as much as possible. He however demanded severe penalties for those guilty of sacrilege and suicide, whose wills lost any legal value. Furthermore, in 1842 both the commercial code and the code of criminal procedure were promulgated, with innovations on the guarantees of the rights of the accused.

Carlo Alberto di Savoia (

In desperation, he ran to the city and went straight to the courthouse to report the robbery to the magistrate. The Judge was a Monkey, a large Gorilla venerable with age. A flowing white beard covered his chest and he wore gold-rimmed spectacles from which the glasses had dropped out.

Pinocchio, standing before him, told his pitiful tale, word by word. He gave the names and the descriptions of the robbers and begged for justice.

Then the magistrate, pointing to Pinocchio, said in a very solemn voice: “This poor simpleton has been robbed of four gold pieces. Take him, therefore, and throw him into prison.”

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

Nevertheless, afraid of being overthrown by the revolutionary uprisings that set Europe on fire, he forged a miliatry deffensive alliance with Austria and harshly repressed Mazzini’s “Giovine Italia” constitutionalist movement.

In June 1831, from his exile in Marseilles, Giuseppe Mazzini wrote a letter to the King of Sardinia and Piedmont, calling him to lead a free and unified Italy.

“Your Majesty,

Have you not looked closely at this nation, which is really great, since the disasters could not break it, could not deprive it of hope. Has the thought not arisen in your head: create, as God from chaos, the world from the scattered atoms; connect the scattered parts and say: the whole Italy belongs to me and is happy. You will then be as great as God and Creator and twenty million of people will cry out: God is in heavens, Charles Albert is on Earth. […]

And if your soul is dead for the eagle’s thoughts; if when ruling, you just want to be a worthy successor of miserable and small predecessors; if you have a vassal soul, then stay where you are; incline your head against the Teutonic sceptre and be a tyrant, but a real tyrant. Indeed, it is only one step and Austria, that Austria you fear so much, will be your enemy. Austrian does not trust you. Try to throw ten, twenty heads at his feet; double the weight of chains carried by the living; repay him with boundless attachment for the contempt […] and maybe the Italian tyrant will forget that you once conspired against him. He will allow you, perhaps, to guard for him that prey for which he has been sharpening teeth since 1814. But if these words will move your soul to the moment when your ambition reaches higher than the crown of Austrian vassal; if the words awake a voice in you: <> – oh, follow that voice. It is the voice of genius, the voice of the time, which is calling you through centuries toward immortality. It is the voice of the whole of Italy awaiting the one and only word to become yours.

Say it! Lead the nation and write on your banner: Unity, Freedom, and Independence! […] Proclaim yourself an avenger, interpreter of national rights, restorer of Italy. Free Italy from the barbarians! Build the future! […] Start a new era from yourself! […]

King! I told you the truth. Free people are waiting for your answer in deed. But regardless of what you answer is, be certain that the posterity will announce you the first among the men of Italy, or the latest in a number of its tyrants. Choose!”

Letter by Giuseppe Mazzini to Charles Albert from 1931, free translation by K. Czekaj based on: Sobańska-Bondaruk M., Lenard, S.B. (1998). Wiek XIX w źródłach. Wydawnictwo PWN, s. 99.

Considering that this letter was Mazzini’s first public manifestation, one month before founding Giovine Italia, we can already understand and anticipate the importance of Piedmont and Sardinia’s support to Italy’s independence and unification.

Springtime of nations and the first Italian war of independence

Few people in 1830 believed that an Italian nation might exist. There were eight states in the peninsula, each with distinct laws and traditions. The common people in each region, and even the intellectual elite, spoke their mutually unintelligible dialects, and lacked the least vestiges of national consciousness.

Smith, Denis Mack – Victor Emanuel, Cavour, and the Risorgimento (Oxford University Press, 1971)

Ignited by the explosive combination of political dissatisfaction and severe economic crisis, the popular uprisings of 1948, also called Springtime of Peoples, spread like fire and powder throughout Europe.

The revolutions had some common aims, essentially the dissolution of royal absolutism and greater restriction of the prince power. These would be achieved by the concession of new statutes and constitutions, the election of a parliament entrusted with legislative power, universal manhood suffrage, freedom of press, freedom of expression and association, in the newly formed republican states or pre-existent monarchies.

Despite having suppressed radical revolutionary efforts and remained indifferent to Mazzini’s appeals, the election of the new Pope, Pius IX, made Carlo Alberto’s liberal heart flutter.

The new pontiff inaugurated his papacy with an act of clemency, granting amnesty to those convicted of political crimes. Pius IX also demonstrated fierce resolution against the occupation of papal territory by the Austrian army.

The Kingdom of Sardinia was the youngest political entity in Italy and, possibly because of that, the strongest and most independent. It was also capable to field a modern army capable of confronting the Austrian forces.

In the wake of the pope’s actions, things moved quickly, and at the beginning of March, 1948, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Duchy of Tuscany all had their constitutions, while Pius IX had formed a new goverment open to those outside of the Church.

On March 17, a large mob forced the imperial governor to free all political prisoners, mainly patriots in Venice and on the 18th Milan was taken by a violent insurrection, which became known as the legendary Five Days Of Milan (Le Cinque Giornate di Milano). By its end, on March 23, a declaration of war against Austria was made by Carlo Alberto, marking the beginning of the First Italian War of Independence.

“Because Marionettes never grow. They are born Marionettes, they live Marionettes, and they die Marionettes.” “Oh, I’m tired of always being a Marionette!” cried Pinocchio disgustedly. “It’s about time for me to grow into a man as everyone else does.”

Carlo Collodi. Le avventure di Pinocchio (Italian Edition and English translation)

In response to Carlo Alberto’s declaration of war, people from all over the peninsula started taking arms, organizing and marching toward Milan. Other states also sanctioned the creation of voluntary armies, composed of their own troops together with civilians. The first of these armies to march north came from the Papal States, followed by Tuscany and Naples. Even Giuseppe Mazzini came to Milan to show his support.

With the entire peninsula behind him, the stars seemed to have aligned perfectly for Carlo Alberto to swiftly take Venice and declare himself king of Italy. He even marched under a three-color flag representing the entirety of Italy instead of only his family or his kingdom.

Charles River Editors. The First Italian War of Independence: The History and Legacy of the Revolutions that Started the Process of Italy’s Unification

It was at this critical juncture that a dramatic move by Pope Pius IX changed the course of history. Intimidated by Vienna, the Pope withdrew his support, afraid of losing his spiritual influence as a source of morality and guidance for all people and all nations. Condemning a war among Catholics, he ordered his troops to return. This was a fatal stab in the heart of the movement for independence and unification of Italy. Many lost their enthusiasm and courage.

Carlo Alberto decided to carry on, with his army and the civilians who supported the cause. He gathered some important victories but the alliance lost cohesion and he ended up defeated by General Josef Radetzky, the commander of the Italian Austrian contingent. He retreated to Piedmont on August 4, leaving the Austrian empire in possession of the entire territory it had started with before the conflict.

Convinced that he had acquired military and strategic know-how despite the defeat, Carlo Alberto invested once more against the Austrians, but was terminated by Radetzky exactly one year after the declaration of war, at the Battle of Novara.

This further defeat led Carlo Alberto to abdicate the throne of the Kingdom of Sardinia to his son, Vittorio Emmanuelle II, who would eventually obtained clauses more advantageous than those originally anticipated for the armistice and the prize that eluded his father a king of Italy.

The defeated king left for Portugal with the intention of sailing to America. He was lodged at the Hotel do Peixe, but in few weeks his health deteriorated and his was not able to travel farther. After three heart attacks, the Portuguese priest Don Antonio Peixoto, who assisted him spiritually, gave him the extreme unction. He fell asleep with the crucifix on his chest on 28 July 1849, just under 51 years old.

The importance of the Piedmontese constitution tThe importance of the Piedmontese constitution that Charles Albert conceded on February 8th 1848, also called the Statuto Albertino, was not only that it survived the upheavals of 1848/49 but the fact that it became the basis for Italy’s constitution in the 1860s and lasted (with chages) until 1947. It allowed for the existence of two Chambers, the upper nominated by the king, the lower elected. Both Chambers and the king had the right to introduce legislation. Also granted were freedom of association and equal rights to citizenship and public office. A later electoral law restricted the franchise to about 2% of the population. This was very narrow but comparable to Britain at the time. The Lower Chamber established the right to examine and vote on the budget annually. The monarchy retained considerable power but was weak and this enabled constitutional government to develop

The symbolism of being swallowed by a giant fish

You must have been surprised by the fact that in Collodi’s story Geppetto was swallowed by a monstrous fish (PESCECANE in Italian, a shark) quite after setting sail in a precarious boat, searching for his disappeared son.

Well, this myth, from the Christian Old Testament, is known to many of us. Jonah, the prophet, was saved from drowning when swallowed by a huge fish. He lived for three days and three nights inside the creature, after which the fish vomited him out upon dry land.

But the process Jonah passed through represented much more than a simple rescue operation. Jonah was assigned to an important task by God, something he fearfully tried to escape, and he was actually fleeing from it when was caught off guard by a violent storm in open sea. After being saved, he finally completed his mission.

This is a simplified version of the myth, as during centuries more complex theories and hypotheses were created, but it serves perfectly well to our purpose and to the knowledge Collodi must have had of it at the time.

There is an important variation here, however. Geppetto was not spontaneously expelled by the monster. He also needed Pinocchio’s assistance to be rescued, in a synergy between divine and human intervention. This is very meaningful, considering our historical context. Italian independence and unification were also viewed as the product of human efforts and divine will.

This brings us to another associate religious myth, the one of Tobit and his son Tobias.

As soon as the Fisherman pulled him out, his green eyes opened wide with surprise, and he cried out in fear:

“What kind of fish is this? I don’t remember ever eating anything like it.”

He looked at him closely and after turning him over and over, he said at last: “I understand. He must be a crab!”

Pinocchio, mortified at being taken for a crab, said resentfully: “What nonsense! A crab indeed! I am no such thing. Beware how you deal with me! I am a Marionette, I want you to know.”

“A Marionette?” asked the Fisherman. “I must admit that a Marionette fish is, for me, an entirely new kind of fish. So much the better. I’ll eat you with greater relish.”

Carlo Collodi. The Adventures of Pinocchio – (Italian Edition – English Translation)

Pinocchio, mistaken by a fish, was ready to be fried when Alidoro, the carabineers’ dog which he had saved from drowning, entered the cave and rescued the marionette. And here we have the complete triad – boy, dog, fish.

The Old Testament Book of Tobit tells the story of how St Raphel, the Archangel, travelled with Tobias as his guide and guardian through Persia, and how, using the ointment made from a fish caught during the journey Tobias was able to heal his old father from his blindness.

After being saved by the dog Pinocchio is finally swallowed by the PESCECANE and find Geppetto in the guts of the monster, in total darkness. He is the one who conducts the old progenitor safely to the shore and into the light. Pinocchio leads his father to freedom, out of blindness.


The Adventures of Pinocchio is a complex and multifaceted literary work. Its archetypes, easily identifiable, made it universal and popular. The contemporary reader, nonetheless, has missed the knowledge of the historical, political and social circumstances in which it was conceived and written.

In fact, with the unification of Italy, the myth of the Savoyard King had spread throughout the peninsula, as the champion of freedom and of the national resurgence.

Collodi started his story unpretentiously, in 1881. Caught off guard by the acceptance and the popularity of Pinocchio, resurrected “il suo burattino di legno” and also made him a champion of freedom, morality and national pride.

The coincidences between the life story of Carlo Alberto di Savoia, Prince of Carignano, and the adventures of the wobbling marionette are numerous and fairly considerable.

If we stop to think about who our puppets are inspired by, we will better understand their conflicts, motivations and the lessons they might teach us.

Il legno, in cui è tagliato Pinocchio, è l’umanità ed egli si rizza in piedi ed entra nella vita come l’uomo che intraprende il suo noviziato: fantoccio, ma tutto spirituale.

The wood in which Pinocchio is carved is humanity and he stands and enters life as the man who undertakes his initiation : a puppet, but wholly spiritual.

Benedetto Croce


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11. Collodi. Available at: Collodi: biografia, anni giovanili e le opere letterarie principali (

12. Anna MomiglianoThe Politics of Pinocchio – The Atlantic

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