The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 30

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[Day the Sixth]


The queen, seeing Emilia delivered of her story and that it rested with none other than herself to tell, saving him who was privileged to speak last, began thus, "Although, sprightly ladies, you have this day taken out of my mouth at the least two stories, whereof I had purposed to relate one, I have yet one left to tell, the end whereof compriseth a saying of such a fashion that none, peradventure, of such pertinence, hath yet been cited to us.

You must know, then, that there were in our city, of times past, many goodly and commendable usances, whereof none is left there nowadays, thanks to the avarice that hath waxed therein with wealth and hath banished them all. Among these there was a custom to the effect that the gentlemen of the various quarters of Florence a.s.sembled together in divers places about the town and formed themselves into companies of a certain number, having a care to admit thereinto such only as might aptly bear the expense, whereof to-day the one and to-morrow the other, and so all in turn, hold open house, each his day, for the whole company. At these banquets they often entertained both stranger gentlemen, whenas there came any thither, and those of the city; and on like wise, once at the least in the year, they clad themselves alike and rode in procession through the city on the most notable days and whiles they held pa.s.ses of arms, especially on the chief holidays or whenas some glad news of victory or the like came to the city.

Amongst these companies was one of Messer Betto Brunelleschi, whereinto the latter and his companions had studied amain to draw Guido, son of Messer Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, and not without cause; for that, besides being one of the best logicians in the world and an excellent natural philosopher (of which things, indeed, they recked little), he was very sprightly and well-bred and a mighty well-spoken man and knew better than any other to do everything that he would and that pertained unto a gentleman, more by token that he was very rich and knew wonder-well how to entertain whomsoever he deemed deserving of honour. But Messer Betto had never been able to win and to have him, and he and his companions believed that this betided for that Guido, being whiles engaged in abstract speculations, became much distraught from mankind; and for that he inclined somewhat to the opinion of the Epicureans, it was reported among the common folk that these his speculations consisted only in seeking if it might be discovered that G.o.d was not.

It chanced one day that Guido set out from Orto San Michele and came by way of the Corso degli Ademari, the which was oftentimes his road, to San Giovanni, round about which there were at that present divers great marble tombs (which are nowadays at Santa Reparata) and many others. As he was between the columns of porphyry there and the tombs in question and the door of the church, which was shut, Messer Betto and his company, coming a-horseback along the Piazza di Santa Reparata, espied him among the tombs and said, 'Let us go plague him.'

Accordingly, spurring their horses, they charged all down upon him in sport and coming upon him ere he was aware of them, said to him, 'Guido, thou refusest to be of our company; but, harkye, whenas thou shalt have found that G.o.d is not, what wilt thou have accomplished?'

Guido, seeing himself hemmed in by them, answered promptly, 'Gentlemen, you may say what you will to me in your own house'; then, laying his hand on one of the great tombs aforesaid and being very nimble of body, he took a spring and alighting on the other side, made off, having thus rid himself of them.

The gentlemen abode looking one upon another and fell a-saying that he was a crack-brain and that this that he had answered them amounted to nought seeing that there where they were they had no more to do than all the other citizens, nor Guido himself less than any of themselves.

But Messer Betto turned to them and said, 'It is you who are the crackbrains, if you have not apprehended him. He hath courteously and in a few words given us the sharpest rebuke in the world; for that, an you consider aright, these tombs are the houses of the dead, seeing they are laid and abide therein, and these, saith he, are our house, meaning thus to show us that we and other foolish and unlettered men are, compared with him and other men of learning, worse than dead folk; wherefore, being here, we are in our own house.' Thereupon each understood what Guido had meant to say and was abashed nor ever plagued him more, but held Messer Betto thenceforward a gentleman of a subtle wit and an understanding."


[Day the Sixth]


Each of the company being now quit of his[309] story, Dioneo perceived that it rested with him to tell; whereupon, without awaiting more formal commandment, he began on this wise, silence having first been imposed on those who commended Guido's pregnant retort: "Charming ladies, albeit I am privileged to speak of that which most liketh me, I purpose not to-day to depart from the matter whereof you have all very aptly spoken; but, ensuing in your footsteps, I mean to show you how cunningly a friar of the order of St. Anthony, by name Fra Cipolla, contrived with a sudden shift to extricate himself from a snare[310] which had been set for him by two young men; nor should it irk you if, for the complete telling of the story, I enlarge somewhat in speaking, an you consider the sun, which is yet amiddleward in the sky.

[Footnote 309: "Or her."]

[Footnote 310: Lit. to avoid or elude a scorn (_fuggire uno scorno_).]

Certaldo, as you may have heard, is a burgh of Val d' Elsa situate in our country, which, small though it be, was once inhabited by gentlemen and men of substance; and thither, for that he found good pasture there, one of the friars of the order of St. Anthony was long used to resort once a year, to get in the alms bestowed by simpletons upon him and his brethren. His name was Fra Cipolla and he was gladly seen there, no less belike, for his name's sake[311] than for other reasons, seeing that these parts produce onions that are famous throughout all Tuscany. This Fra Cipolla was little of person, red-haired and merry of countenance, the jolliest rascal in the world, and to boot, for all he was no scholar, he was so fine a talker and so ready of wit that those who knew him not would not only have esteemed him a great rhetorician, but had avouched him to be Tully himself or may be Quintilian; and he was gossip or friend or well-wisher[312] to well nigh every one in the country.

[Footnote 311: _Cipolla_ means onion.]

[Footnote 312: The term "well-wisher" (_benivogliente_), when understood in relation to a woman, is generally equivalent (at least with the older Italian writers) to "lover." See ante, pa.s.sim.]

One August among others he betook himself thither according to his wont, and on a Sunday morning, all the goodmen and goodwives of the villages around being come to hear ma.s.s at the parish church, he came forward, whenas it seemed to him time, and said, 'Gentlemen and ladies, it is, as you know, your usance to send every year to the poor of our lord Baron St. Anthony of your corn and of your oats, this little and that much, according to his means and his devoutness, to the intent that the blessed St. Anthony may keep watch over your beeves and a.s.ses and swine and sheep; and besides this, you use to pay, especially such of you as are inscribed into our company, that small due which is payable once a year. To collect these I have been sent by my superior, to wit, my lord abbot; wherefore, with the blessing of G.o.d, you shall, after none, whenas you hear the bells ring, come hither without the church, where I will make preachment to you after the wonted fashion and you shall kiss the cross; moreover, for that I know you all to be great devotees of our lord St. Anthony, I will, as an especial favour show you a very holy and goodly relic, which I myself brought aforetime from the holy lands beyond seas; and that is one of the Angel Gabriel's feathers, which remained in the Virgin Mary's chamber, whenas he came to announce to her in Nazareth.'

This said, he broke off and went on with his ma.s.s.

Now, when he said this, there were in the church, among many others, two roguish young fellows, hight one Giovanni del Bragioniera and the other Biagio Pizzini, who, after laughing with one another awhile over Fra Cipolla's relic, took counsel together, for all they were great friends and cronies of his, to play him some trick in the matter of the feather in question. Accordingly, having learned that he was to dine that morning with a friend of his in the burgh, they went down into the street as soon as they knew him to be at table, and betook themselves to the inn where he had alighted, purposing that Biagio should hold his servant in parley, whilst Giovanni should search his baggage for the feather aforesaid, whatever it might be, and carry it off, to see what he should say to the people of the matter.

Fra Cipolla had a servant, whom some called Guccio[313] Balena,[314]

others Guccio Imbratta[315] and yet others Guccia Porco[316] and who was such a scurvy knave that Lipo Topo[317] never wrought his like, inasmuch as his master used oftentimes to jest of him with his cronies and say, 'My servant hath in him nine defaults, such that, were one of them in Solomon or Aristotle or Seneca, it would suffice to mar all their worth, all their wit and all their sanct.i.ty. Consider, then, what a man he must be, who hath all nine of them and in whom there is neither worth nor wit nor sanct.i.ty.' Being questioned whiles what were these nine defaults and having put them into doggerel rhyme, he would answer, 'I will tell you. He's a liar, a sloven, a slugabed; disobedient, neglectful, ill bred; o'erweening, foul-spoken, a dunderhead; beside which he hath divers other peccadilloes, whereof it booteth not to speak. But what is most laughable of all his fashions is that, wherever he goeth, he is still for taking a wife and hiring a house; for, having a big black greasy beard, him-seemeth he is so exceeding handsome and agreeable that he conceiteth himself all the women who see him fall in love with him, and if you let him alone, he would run after them all till he lost his girdle.[318] Sooth to say, he is of great a.s.sistance to me, for that none can ever seek to speak with me so secretly but he must needs hear his share; and if it chance that I be questioned of aught, he is so fearful lest I should not know how to answer, that he straightway answereth for me both Ay and No, as he judgeth sortable.'

[Footnote 313: Diminutive of contempt of Arrigo, contracted from Arriguccio, _i.e._ mean little Arrigo.]

[Footnote 314: _i.e._ Whale.]

[Footnote 315: _i.e._ Dirt.]

[Footnote 316: _i.e._ Hog.]

[Footnote 317: A painter of Boccaccio's time, of whom little or nothing seems to be known.]

[Footnote 318: _Perpendo lo coreggia._ The exact meaning of this pa.s.sage is not clear. The commentators make sundry random shots at it, but, as usual, only succeed in making confusion worse confounded. It may perhaps be rendered, "till his wind failed him."]

Now Fra Cipolla, in leaving him at the inn, had bidden him look well that none touched his gear, and more particularly his saddle-bags, for that therein were the sacred things. But Guccio, who was fonder of the kitchen than the nightingale of the green boughs, especially if he scented some serving-wench there, and who had seen in that of the inn a gross fat cookmaid, undersized and ill-made, with a pair of paps that showed like two manure-baskets and a face like a cadger's, all sweaty, greasy and smoky, leaving Fra Cipolla's chamber and all his gear to care for themselves, swooped down upon the kitchen, even as the vulture swoopeth upon carrion, and seating himself by the fire, for all it was August, entered into discourse with the wench in question, whose name was Nuta, telling her that he was by rights a gentleman and had more than nine millions of florins, beside that which he had to give others, which was rather more than less, and that he could do and say G.o.d only knew what. Moreover, without regard to his bonnet, whereon was grease enough to have seasoned the caldron of Altopascio,[319] and his doublet all torn and pieced and enamelled with filth about the collar and under the armpits, with more spots and patches of divers colours than ever had Turkey or India stuffs, and his shoes all broken and hose unsewn, he told her, as he had been the Sieur de Chatillon,[320] that he meant to clothe her and trick her out anew and deliver her from the wretchedness of abiding with others,[321] and bring her to hope of better fortune, if without any great wealth in possession, and many other things, which, for all he delivered them very earnestly, all turned to wind and came to nought, as did most of his enterprises.

[Footnote 319: Said by the commentators to have been an abbey, where they made cheese-soup for all comers twice a week; hence "the caldron of Altopascio" became a proverb; but _quaere_ is not the name Altopascio (high feeding) a fancy one?]

[Footnote 320: It does not appear to which member of this great house Boccaccio here alludes, but the Chatillons were always rich and magnificent gentlemen, from Gaucher de Chatillon, who followed Philip Augustus to the third crusade, to the great Admiral de Coligny.]

[Footnote 321: Sic (_star con altrui_); but "being in the service of or dependent upon others" seems to be the probable meaning.]

The two young men, accordingly, found Guccio busy about Nuta, whereat they were well pleased, for that it spared them half their pains, and entering Fra Cipolla's chamber, which they found open, the first thing that came under their examination was the saddle-bags wherein was the feather. In these they found, enveloped in a great taffetas wrapper, a little casket and opening this latter, discovered therein a parrot's tail-feather, which they concluded must be that which the friar had promised to show the people of Certaldo. And certes he might lightly cause it to be believed in those days, for that the refinements of Egypt had not yet made their way save into a small part of Tuscany, as they have since done in very great abundance, to the undoing of all Italy; and wherever they may have been some little known, in those parts they were well nigh altogether unknown of the inhabitants; nay the rude honesty of the ancients yet enduring there, not only had they never set eyes on a parrot, but were far from having ever heard tell of such a bird. The young men, then, rejoiced at finding the feather, laid hands on it and not to leave the casket empty, filled it with some coals they saw in a corner of the room and shut it again. Then, putting all things in order as they had found them, they made off in high glee with the feather, without having been seen, and began to await what Fra Cipolli should say, when he found the coals in place thereof.

The simple men and women who were in the church, hearing that they were to see the Angel Gabriel's feather after none, returned home, as soon as ma.s.s was over, and neighbor telling it to neighbor and gossip to gossip, no sooner had they all dined than so many men and women flocked to the burgh that it would scarce hold them, all looking eagerly to see the aforesaid feather. Fra Cipolla, having well dined and after slept awhile, arose a little after none and hearing of the great mult.i.tude of country folk come to see the feather, sent to bid Guccio Imbratta come thither with the bells and bring his saddle-bags.

Guccio, tearing himself with difficulty away from the kitchen and Nuta, betook himself with the things required to the appointed place, whither coming, out of breath, for that the water he had drunken had made his belly swell amain, he repaired, by his master's commandment, to the church door and fell to ringing the bells l.u.s.tily.

When all the people were a.s.sembled there, Fra Cipolla, without observing that aught of his had been meddled with, began his preachment and said many words anent his affairs; after which, thinking to come to the showing of the Angel Gabriel's feather, he first recited the Confiteor with the utmost solemnity and let kindle a pair of flambeaux; then, pulling off his bonnet, he delicately unfolded the taffetas wrapper and brought out the casket. Having first p.r.o.nounced certain e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.ns in praise and commendation of the Angel Gabriel and of his relic, he opened the casket and seeing it full of coals, suspected not Guccio Balena of having played him this trick, for that he knew him not to be man enough; nor did he curse him for having kept ill watch lest others should do it, but silently cursed himself for having committed to him the care of his gear, knowing him, as he did, to be negligent, disobedient, careless and forgetful.

Nevertheless, without changing colour, he raised his eyes and hands to heaven and said, so as to be heard of all, 'O G.o.d, praised be still thy puissance!' Then, shutting the casket and turning to the people, 'Gentlemen and ladies,' quoth he, 'you must know that, whilst I was yet very young, I was dispatched by my superior to those parts where the sun riseth and it was expressly commanded me that I should seek till I found the Privileges of Porcellana, which, though they cost nothing to seal, are much more useful to others than to us. On this errand I set out from Venice and pa.s.sed through Borgo de' Greci,[322]

whence, riding through the kingdom of Algarve and Baldacca,[323] I came to Parione,[324] and from there, not without thirst, I came after awhile into Sardinia. But what booteth it to set out to you in detail all the lands explored by me? Pa.s.sing the straits of San Giorgio,[325]

I came into Truffia[326] and Buffia,[327] countries much inhabited and with great populations, and thence into the land of Menzogna,[328]

where I found great plenty of our brethren and of friars of other religious orders, who all went about those parts, shunning unease for the love of G.o.d, recking little of others' travail, whenas they saw their own advantage to ensue, and spending none other money than such as was uncoined.[329] Thence I pa.s.sed into the land of the Abruzzi, where the men and women go in clogs over the mountains, clothing the swine in their own guts;[330] and a little farther I found folk who carried bread on sticks and wine in bags. From this I came to the Mountains of the Bachi, where all the waters run down hill; and in brief, I made my way so far inward that I won at last even to India Pastinaca,[331] where I swear to you, by the habit I wear on my back, that I saw hedge-bills[332] fly, a thing incredible to whoso hath not seen it. But of this Maso del Saggio will confirm me, whom I found there a great merchant, cracking walnuts and selling the sh.e.l.ls by retail.

[Footnote 322: Apparently the Neapolitan town of that name.]

[Footnote 323: The name of a famous tavern in Florence (_Florio_).]

[Footnote 324: _Quaere_ a place in Florence? One of the commentators, with characteristic carelessness, states that the places mentioned in the preachment of Fra Cipolla (an amusing specimen of the patter-sermon of the mendicant friar of the middle ages, that ecclesiastical Cheap Jack of his day) are all names of streets or places of Florence, a statement which, it is evident to the most cursory reader, is altogether inaccurate.]

[Footnote 325: Apparently the island of that name near Venice.]

[Footnote 326: _i.e._ Nonsense-land.]

[Footnote 327: _i.e._ Land of Tricks or Cozenage.]

[Footnote 328: _i.e._ Falsehood, Lie-land.]

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The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 30 summary

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