TWIGMUNTUS, COWBELLIANTUS, PERCHNOSIUS
ONCE upon a time there was a king who was so very
learned that no parson in the whole world could
surpass him; in fact, he was so learned that ordinary
folks could hardly understand what he said, nor could
he understand them either. But in order to have some
one to talk with he procured seven wise professors,
who were not quite so learned as himself, but who were
just able to interpret his learned sayings so that
people could apprehend them, and who could twist and
turn about the talk of ordinary folk so that it became
sufficiently learned and complicated for the King to
The King had no son, but he had a daughter, and in
order that she should be happily married, and the
country governed according to the fundamental
principles of his learning, he issued an edict that he
who was so learned as to put the King and his
professors to silence should have his daughter and
half the kingdom there and then. But anyone who
attempted the task and did not succeed should lose his
head for having dared to exchange words with the King.
That was no joke; but the Princess was so fair and
beautiful that it was no joke to gaze at her either.
And the King did not keep her caged up, for anyone who
wished could see her.
There came princes and counts and barons and parsons
and doctors and learned persons from all quarters of
the world; and no sooner did they see the Princess
than they one
 and all wanted to try their luck. But,
however learned they were, their learning never proved
sufficient, and everyone of them lost his head.
Over in the corner of the kingdom there lived a farmer
who had a son. This lad was not stupid; he was quick
of apprehension and sharp-witted, and he was not
afraid of anything.
When the King's edict came to this out-of-the-way
place, and the parson had read it from the pulpit, the
lad wanted to try his luck. "He who nothing risks,
nothing wins," thought the lad; and so he went to the
parson and told him that if he would give him lessons
in the evenings, he would work for this worship in the
daytime, but he wanted to become so learned that he
could try a bout with the King and his professors.
"Whoever means to compete with them must be able to do
something more than munch bread," said the parson.
"That may be," said the lad; "but I'll try my luck."
The parson thought, of course, that he was mad; but
when he could get such a clever hand to work for him
only for his keep, he thought he could not very well
say no; and so the lad got what he wanted.
He worked for the parson in the daytime, and the
parson read with him in the evening; and in this way
they went on for some time, but at last the lad grew
tired of his books.
"I am not going to sit here and read and grind away,
and lose what few wits I have," he said; "and it won't
be of much help either, for if you are lucky things will
come right of themselves, and if you are not lucky
you'll never make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
And with this he pitched the books on the shelf and
went his way.
All at once he came to a large forest, where the trees
and the bushes were so thick that it was with
difficulty he could get along. While he was thus
pushing his way through, he began wondering what he
should say when he came to the king's palace, and how
best he could make use of the learning he had picked
up from the parson. All of a sudden the
 twig of a
tree trunk struck him across the mouth, so that his
"That is Twigmuntus," he said.
A little while after he came to a meadow where a cow
was standing bellowing so furiously that it almost
"That is Cowbelliantus," he said.
He then came to a river; but as there was neither
bridge nor planks across it, he had to put his clothes
on his head and swim across.
While he was swimming a perch came and bit him on the
"That is Perchnosius," he said.
At last he came to the King's palace, where things did
not look at all pleasant, for there were men's heads
stuck on long stakes round about, and they grinned so
horribly that they were enough to frighten anyone out
of his wits. But the lad was not easily frightened.
"God's peace!" he said, and raised his cap. "There you
stick and grin at me; but who knows if I may not be
keeping you company before the day is over, and be
grinning with you at others? But if I happen to be
alive, you shall not stick there any longer gaping at
people," he said.
So he went up to the palace and knocked at the gate.
The guard came out and asked what he wanted.
"I have come to try my luck with the Princess," said
"You?" said the guard, "well, you're a likely one, you
are! Have you lost your senses? There have been
princes and counts and barons and parsons and doctors
and learned persons here, and all of them have had to
pay with their heads for that pleasure; and yet you
think you'll succeed!" he said.
"I should say it is no concern of yours," said the
lad; "just open the gate, and you'll see one who's not
afraid of anything."
But the guard would not let him in.
"Do as I tell you," said the lad, "or there'll be a
But the guard would not.
 The lad then seized him by the collar and flung him
against the wall so that it creaked; and then he
walked straight in to the King, who sat in his parlor
with his seven professors about him. Their faces were
long and thin, and they looked like puny, sickly
persons about to die. They were sitting with their
heads on one side, meditating and staring at the
Then one of them, who looked up, asked the lad in
ordinary language: "Who are you?"
"A suitor," said the lad.
"Do you want to try for the Princess's hand?"
"Well, that's about it!" said the lad.
"Have you lost your wits? There have been princes and
counts and barons and parsons and doctors and learned
persons here, and all of them have gone headless away;
so you had better turn about and get away while your
head is on your shoulders," he said.
"Don't trouble yourself on that account, but rather
think of the head on your own shoulders," said the
lad. "You look after yours, and I'll take care of
mine! So just begin and let me hear how much wit you
have got, for I don't think you look so very clever,"
The first professor then began a long harangue of
gibberish; and when he had finished the second went
on; and then the third; and in this way they continued
till at length it was the turn of the seventh. The lad
did not understand a single word of it all, but he
didn't lose courage for all that. He only nodded his
approval to all of it.
When the last had finished his harangue he asked:
"Can you reply to that?"
"That's easy enough," said the lad. "Why, when I was
in my cradle and in my go-cart I could twist my mouth
about and prate and jabber like you," he said. "But
since you are so terribly learned, I'll put a question
to you, and that shall not be a long one:
"Twigmuntus, Cowbelliantus, Perchnosius? Can you give
me an answer to that?"
And now you should have seen how they stretched their
 necks and strained their ears. They put on their
spectacles and began to look into their books and turn
over the leaves.
But while they were searching and meditating, the lad
put his hands in his trousers pockets, and looked so
frank and fearless that they could not help admiring
him, and wondering that one who was so young could be
so learned and yet look just like other people.
"Well, how are you getting on?" said the lad. "Cannot
all your learning help you to open your mouths, so
that I can have an answer to my question?" he said.
Then they began to ponder and meditate, and then they
glanced at the ceiling, and then they stared at the
walls, and then they fixed their eyes upon the floor.
But they could not give him any answer, nor could the
King himself, although he was much more learned than
all the others together. They had to give it up, and
the lad got the Princess and half the kingdom. This he
ruled in his own way, and if it did not fare better,
it did not fare worse for him than for the King with
all his fundamental principles.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics