Portuguese Folktale: The Tower of Babylon


Art by StarTwo

Here in Portugal one of our country’s adages- “Quem conta um conto acrescenta um ponto”, means something like “Someone who tells a tale, adds to the story.”
This couldn’t be truer about the folktale we are about to share with you today. We found out there are all sorts of variations, from the North to the South of the country; to the point we are considering presenting later on the version that was told to one of us by her great grandmother.
You could say then, that this is a StarTwo version of the tale as we have decided to mix the version from the Porto region with the Algarve version!

But for now, sit back with a nice beverage in hand and enjoy today’s Portuguese folktale!

The Tower of Babylon – artwork, adaptation, and translation by StarTwo

There was a fisherman that on a certain day of going out to sea, found the king of fishes. Realizing that he was trapped, the king begged to be spared. The fisherman would have complied except his wife nagged him so much about giving her the king of fishes that he had no choice but to do so.
Thus the white fish asked the man to have him cut into five slices:

One for the wife,
One for the mare,
Another for the dog,
And the two remaining, should be buried in the backyard.

And so it was.
From the wife two boys were born, from the mare two horses, from the dog two lions, and from the dirt in the backyard two spears.

The boys grew up and once they were old enough, they asked their father permission to go on a journey. Each left with his own spear, lion, and horse.
Upon reaching a crossroad, each brother took a different path and promised they would help each other if danger ever crossed their paths.

One brother arrived on a hill where he saw a damsel about to fall victim to a seven headed beast. The young man killed the beast and married the damsel.
One day, they were both by a window and as he saw a dark tower in the distance, he heard his wife explain:
                                                                                            “That’s the Tower of Babylon
                                                                                              Those who reach it are forever gone.”

“Well I shall reach it and return.”
He called his lion, took his spear, got on his horse, and proceeded.

In the tower there was an old woman and upon seeing the lad on his horse, she cut a hair off her head and said:
“Horseman, your lion frightens me. Bind him with this hair.”
He did so, but suddenly the old woman came charging towards him and he cried out:
“Go forth lion of mine!”
The old woman cried back:
“Thicken hair of mine!”
Suddenly the old woman’s hair transformed into thick iron chains that incapacitated the lion and the horseman fell through a trapdoor.  

Some time after, the other young man who had sensed something wasn’t right, arrived at his brother’s dwelling. However, since the two were so similar (the sole difference was a beauty mark on this one’s face), his brother’s wife mistook him for her husband and offered him lodging for the night.
They went to bed together and he was stunned, not knowing what to do or say.
She kept treating him as her husband, and finally he said this:
“I have made a vow. I must place my spear between us so that our bodies don’t touch.”
That surprised her but even if asked why, he would not tell her the reason.

On the next day, they were both by a window and as he noticed the old tower in the distance, his sister-in-law replied:
“Egad, I’ve already told you:
                                                                                            “That’s the Tower of Babylon
                                                                                              Those who reach it are forever gone.”

“Well I shall reach it and return.”

He prepared himself just like his brother had and went to the tower. As soon as the old woman saw him, she told him to use her hair to bind the lion. The young man only pretended to do so but let the hair fall. Then the old woman ran at him. The lad cried:
“Go forth lion of mine!”
And the old woman:
“Thicken, hair of mine!”
The hair thickened but the lion dashed forward.
The old woman begged:
“Don’t kill me and I’ll give you this little glass that will disenchant all the people trapped in the tower.”
The young man took the glass, commanded his lion to charge and killed the old woman. Afterwards, he disenchanted all the trapped people in the tower.

After the rescue, both brothers were reunited once again and embraced, rejoicing their reunion.
The rescuer shared his tale, not sparing any details, not even the fact he had shared his brother’s marital bed. He explained:
“I did sleep with your wife, but I didn’t dishonour her. I placed my spear between us and told her I had made a vow.”
But jealousy took over the rescued brother who replied:
“For that I should kill you right away. You took advantage of my wife’s unawareness.”
And since he wouldn’t believe his saviour’s story, the two brothers said their goodbyes and parted angrily.

As soon as he got back to his wife, overjoyed, she asked him if he still was bound to his vow.
“What vow?” he asked.
“Well, yesterday when you came to bed with me, you placed your spear between us and that we could not touch.”
That’s when he realized his brother had been saying the truth all along and was a very honoured man, who didn’t abuse his wife.

On the next day, he left right away in search of his brother. He went to his parents’ house and there he found him. He hugged him while begging for forgiveness for his mistrust.
And he also hugged his parents and after that, as he was bidding farewell to them, he said to his brother:
“My life is made ‘for my wife is a princess. Now when you need me, come and I’ll aid you and share my fortune with you.”

And so it was.


If you noticed a sudden change of pace in the story that’s because of our mixing of two versions. Why did we do it? Mainly because we are suckers for a happy ending and the Porto version didn’t deliver on that department.
Regarding the origins of this popular tale, we haven’t entirely discovered them. It seems to have the same themes and settings as other versions from different countries.

The Tower of Babylon was also known as “Tower of Somnolence” and “Tower of Madorna” which in turn has a whole different version and is also known as “Tower of Ill Luck.” (hence us considering presenting this version soon).

There is also a Spanish version entitled: “El Castillo de irás y no volverás” and the French versions have the names of “Le fils du Pêcheur” and “Les dons des trois animeaux”.  Italy, Serbia and even Brittany also have their versions and the famous Brothers Grimm also collected a similar tale from Germany with the name of “Tale of Two Brothers”, that share some similarities.

But where does this tale’s true origins come from? From the northern Europe or further perhaps? There is also something quite Arthurian about placing the spear/sword (in many versions is a sword) between the man and the woman.
Maybe when we can go to libraries again, we all can find out!

Thank you so much for reading and like always,
★stay inspired★

22 thoughts on “Portuguese Folktale: The Tower of Babylon

  1. Cheryl

    I collect storys,myths,etc. I wonder if man’s history is woven in it. At the least it tells where we’ve been. I also heard once:every storyteller adds his own touch to the story

    Liked by 1 person

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