Ancient History

"The Smith And The Devil" Is The World's Oldest Fairy Tale

Ah, a tale as old as time: The Smith and the Devil. Haven't heard of it? What if we told you that this European fairytale is way older than those Brothers Grimm classics from your childhood—around 7,000 years old. This classic tale hails from Asia Minor and has been told in more than 35 languages. Take that, Beauty and the Beast.

Related: The Dark Details Of The Original Tellings Of Fairy Tales

The Smith and the Devil illustration from 1916

Tale As Old As The Bronze Age

As the world's oldest tale, the premise of The Smith and The Devil might seem pretty familiar. It's about a blacksmith who sold his soul in a pact with the devil. Why? For supernatural powers, of course. According to Discover Magazine, the smith eventually uses those same powers to trap the malevolent creature. The devil definitely should have seen that one coming.

Related: Scientists Find The Six Emotional Arcs of Storytelling

The Genetics Of A Story

Folklorists (cool job alert!) have long assumed The Smith and the Devil to be ancient, and in 2016, an anthropologist and a social scientist proved their theory with the same phylogenetic techniques scientists use to map evolutionary relationships between organisms. The duo mapped out The Smith and the Devil on a tree of Indo-European languages, finding that it appears in a whopping total of 35 tongues. As the BBC explains, the tale's basic plot was found to be "stable throughout the Indo-European speaking world, from India to Scandinavia." So there you have it—the world has been telling virtually the same story since the Bronze Age. Kind of makes you feel better about repeating the same story from high school over and over, doesn't it?

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The Dark Details Of The Original Tellings Of Fairy Tales

Key Facts In This Video

  1. In the original “Cinderella,” the step-sisters also saw off parts of their feet to attempt to fit into the glass slipper. 00:45

  2. In the original “Snow White,” the step-mother is forced to put on hot-iron shoes at Snow White's wedding and dance until she dies. 01:18

  3. In the original “Rapunzel,” the prince is forced to jump from the tower and gets his eyes gauged out by thorns upon landing. 02:27

Written by Curiosity Staff April 28, 2017

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