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Title: Il Novellino: The hundred old tales
Author: - To be updated
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Il Novellino: The hundred old tales" ***

                         Broadway Translations

                              IL NOVELLINO

                         THE HUNDRED OLD TALES

                     Translated from the Italian by
                             EDWARD STORER

                          With an Introduction

                      GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS LTD.
                      NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO.



    Introduction                                                      1

    Il Novellino

    I:        Proem                                                  35
    II:       Of the rich embassy which Prester John sent to the
              noble Emperor Frederick                                37
    III:      Of a wise Greek whom a King kept in prison, and how
              he judged of a courser                                 40
    IV:       How a jongleur lamented before Alexander the conduct
              of a knight, to whom he had made a gift on condition 
              that the knight should give him whatsoever Alexander 
              might present him with                                 44
    V:        How a king committed a reply to a young son of his
              who had to bear it to the ambassadors of Greece        48
    VI:       How it came into the mind of King David to learn the
              number of his subjects                                 50
    VII:      Here it is told how the angel spoke to Solomon, and
              said that the Lord God would take away the kingdom 
              from his son for his sins                              51
    VIII:     Of the gift of a king’s son to a king of Syria who
              had been driven from his throne                        55
    IX:       Here it is treated of an argument and a judgment that
              took place in Alexandria                               58
    X:        Here it is told of a fine judgment given by the slave
              of Bari in a dispute between a townsman and a pilgrim  61
    XI:       Here it is told how Master Giordano was deceived by a
              false disciple of his                                  63
    XII:      Here it is told of the honour that Aminadab did to
              King David, his rightful lord                          64
    XIII:     Here it is told how Antigonus reproved Alexander for
              having a cythera played for his delight                65
    XIV:      How a king had a son of his brought up in a dark
              place, and then showed him everything, and how women 
              pleased him most                                       66
    XV:       How a land steward plucked out his own eye and that
              of his son to the end that justice might be observed   67
    XVI:      Here it is told of the great mercy wrought by Saint
              Paulinus the bishop                                    68
    XVII:     Of the great act of charity which a banker did for
              the love of God                                        69
    XVIII:    Of the judgment of God on a baron of Charlemagne       69
    XIX:      Of the great generosity and courtesy of the Young
              King                                                   70
    XX:       Of the great liberality and courtesy of the King of
              England                                                72
    XXI:      How three necromancers came to the court of the
              Emperor Frederick                                      77
    XXII:     How the Emperor Frederick’s goshawk escaped to Milan   80
    XXIII:    How the Emperor Frederick found a countryman at a
              fountain and asked leave to drink, and how he took 
              away his drinking-cup                                  82
    XXIV:     How the Emperor Frederick put a question to two wise
              men, and how he rewarded them                          83
    XXV:      How the Sultan gave two hundred marks to a man and
              how his treasurer wrote down the entry in his 
              presence                                               85
    XXVI:     Here it is told of a burgher of France                 88
    XXVII:    Here it is told of a great Moaddo who was insulted     90
    XXVIII:   Here it is told of a custom that existed in the
              kingdom of France                                      91
    XXIX:     Here it is told how some learned astrologers disputed
              about the Empyrean                                     92
    XXX:      Here it is told how a Lombard knight squandered his
              substance                                              94
    XXXI:     Here it is told of a story-teller of Messer Azzolino   95
    XXXII:    Of the great deeds of prowess of Riccar Loghercio of
              the Isle                                               97
    XXXIII:   Here is told a tale of Messer Imberal del Balzo        98
    XXXIV:    How two noble knights loved each other with a great
              love                                                  100
    XXXV:     Here it is told of Master Thaddeus of Bologna         101
    XXXVI:    Here it is told how a cruel king persecuted the
              Christians                                            102
    XXXVII:   Here it is told of a battle between two kings of
              Greece                                                105
    XXXVIII:  Of an astrologer called Melisus, who was reprimanded
              by a woman                                            106
    XXXIX:    Here it is told of Bishop Aldebrandino, and how he
              was mocked by a friar                                 108
    XL:       Of a minstrel whose name was Saladin                  108
    XLI:      A tale of Messer Polo Traversaro                      110
    XLII:     Here is told an excellent tale of William of Borganda
              of Provence                                           112
    XLIII:    Here it is told of Messer Giacopino Rangone and what
              he did to a court player                              115
    XLIV:     Of a question that was put to a courtier              116
    XLV:      How Lancelot fought at a fountain                     116
    XLVI:     Here it is told how Narcissus fell in love with his
              own image                                             117
    XLVII:    Here it is told how a knight asked a lady for her
              love                                                  119
    XLVIII:   Here it is told of King Conrady father of Conradin    119
    XLIX:     Here it is told of a physician of Toulouse and how he
              took to wife a niece of the Archbishop of Toulouse    120
    L:        Here it is told of Master Francis, son of Master
              Accorso of Bologna                                    122
    LI:       Here it is told of a Gascon woman, and how she had
              recourse to the King of Cyprus                        123
    LII:      Of a bell that was ordered in King John’s days        124
    LIII:     Here it is told of a privilege granted by the Emperor
              to one of his barons                                  125
    LIV:      Here it is told how the parish priest Porcellino was
              accused                                               126
    LV:       Here is told a tale of a man of the court whose name
              was Marco                                             128
    LVI:      How a man of the Marches went to study in Bologna     129
    LVII:     The Woman and the Pear-tree                           130
    LVIII:    The Wisest of the Beasts                              134
    LIX:      Here it is told of a gentleman whom the Emperor had
              hanged                                                134
    LX:       Here it is told how Charles of Anjou loved a lady     137
    LXI:      Here it is told of the philosopher Socrates, and how
              he answered the Greeks                                141
    LXII:     Here is told a tale of Messer Roberto                 144
    LXIII:    Of good King Meladius and the Knight Without Fear     146
    LXIV:     A Tale told of the Court of Puy in Provence           146
    LXV:      Here it is told of Queen Iseult and Messer Tristan of
              Lyonese                                               154
    LXVI:     Here it is told of a philosopher who was called
              Diogenes                                              158
    LXVII:    Here it is told of Papirius and how his father
              brought him to the council                            159
    LXVIII:   Of a question which a young man proposed to Aristotle 160
    LXIX:     Here it is told of the great justice of the Emperor
              Trajan                                                161
    LXX:      Here it is told how Hercules went into the forest     163
    LXXI:     Here it is told how Seneca consoled a woman whose son
              had died                                              164
    LXXII:    Here it is told how Cato lamented against fortune     167
    LXXIII:   How the Sultan being in need of money, sought to
              find occasion to proceed against a Jew                168
    LXXIV:    The story of a vassal and a lord                      169
    LXXV:     How the Lord entered into partnership with a minstrel 171
    LXXVI:    Here it is told of the great killing done by King
              Richard                                               174
    LXXVII:   Here is told of Messer Rinieri, a knight of the Court 175
    LXXVIII:  Here is told of a philosopher much given to the
              vulgarisation of science                              177
    LXXIX:    Here it is told of a Court player who adored a lord   178
    LXXX:     The Pilgrim and the Ugly Woman                        181
    LXXXI:    Here below it is told of the council which was held
              by the sons of King Priam of Troy                     182
    LXXXII:   Here it is told how the Lady of Shalott died for love
              of Lancelot of the Lake                               184
    LXXXIII:  How Christ going one day with his disciples in a
              deserted place, they saw great treasure               186
    LXXXIV:   How Messer Azzolino Romano arranged a great charity   188
    LXXXV:    Of a great famine that was once in Genoa              192
    LXXXVI:   The Emperor and the Pilgrim                           193
    LXXXVII:  How a man went to shrive himself                      194
    LXXXVIII: Here is told of Messer Castellano da Cofferi of
              Mantua                                                194
    LXXXIX:   Here it is told of a Court player who began a story
              that never ended                                      195
    XC:       Here it is told how the emperor Frederick killed a
              falcon of his                                         196
    XCI:      How a certain man confessed to a friar                197
    XCII:     Here it is told of a good woman who had made a fine
              pie                                                   198
    XCIII:    Here it is told of a countryman who went to shrive
              himself                                               199
    XCIV:     Here it is told of the fox and the mule               199
    XCV:      Here it is told of a countryman who went to the town  201
    XCVI:     Here it is told of Bito and Messer Frulli of San
              Giorgio near Florence                                 201
    XCVII:    Here it is told how a merchant carried wine overseas
              in casks with two partitions and what happened        205
    XCVIII:   Here it is told of a merchant who bought caps         206
    XCIX:     Here is told a pretty tale of love                    207
    C:        How the Emperor Frederick went to the Old Man of 
              the Mountain                                          211


One day about the end of the thirteenth century or the beginning of the
fourteenth, when the Middle Ages still darkly curtained the Renaissance
from view, a “man of the Court”, or minstrel, of some Italian lord had
one of those inventive flashes which go to the making of literatures.
This “man of the Court” who was perhaps a minstrel or giullare in
little more than name—for his talent would be especially literary—knew
by heart the little archaic tales which make up the slender corpus of
the Cento Novelle Antiche, or Novellino. Often he told them or heard
them told in baronial halls, and in lordly places, in rough huts after
days of hunting, and in the encampments of battlefields. Before
audiences of seigneurs and knights, in the company of stately prelates,
and in the rollicking gatherings of dashing young donzelli, he had
narrated or heard narrated by humbler men of his craft these simple
stories, some of them redolent of the wisdom of ages, others piquant
with the flavour of his own times. Well he knew their effect, and could
choose one to suit his company and occasion. Thus for the entertainment
of graver and elderly lords he would select those of monkish or ascetic
origin, while when in the company of gay young cavalieri, he would not
hesitate to tell over some of the more libertine tales of his oral
anthology. And the beginnings of the new Italian tongue, liberating
itself from the secular thrall of its parent Latin, and having taken
shape in its Tuscan and Sicilian matrixes, sought an early literary
expression and found it in the work of our perhaps slightly pedantic
giullare who will in all probability remain for ever unknown to us.
That some such person existed is obvious, even if we cannot discover
his name, nor his place of birth, nor estate. He may indeed have been a
worldly type of monk rather than a “man of the court”, but the choice
of the novelle, included in the collection, would certainly seem rather
to point to the compiler being a man of the world rather than an
ascetic. As does the fact that the tales were not written in Latin, for
the tenacious Latin clung to the cloisters after it had died on the
tongues and pens of the lay world of those times. Our anthologist, who
was in fact a great deal more than an anthologist, had coadjutors and
rivals, successors and improvers, as the different manuscripts of the
Novellino prove, but the original compiler of the Cento Novelle
Antiche, as the work was previously called, was, one likes to believe,
a single individual rather than a group of giullari or ex-giullari at
the dependence of some medieval Medici. So the idea came to him of
grouping together in one manuscript, which maybe he gave for copying to
some Florentine monk, a selection of the knightly, moral, Biblical,
classical, and popular tales which were most in vogue in his epoch.
They were stories which had stood the test of time—some of them the
test of successive civilizations—and had met the full-throated approval
of numerous courts from Provence to Sicily, from Parma to Rome.
Hitherto they had lived only on the lips of the Court story-tellers and
wandering minstrels who narrated them. The tales which make up the
Novellino were, for the most part, “taught”, as we learn from our text
by one giullare or story-teller to another. And each man added or
altered them according to his wit and company. That the professional
story-tellers played tricks with the tales in vogue and added details
and colour of their own on occasion, we may well presume from Novella
LXXXIX, where a “man of the Court” is reminded that he is spinning out
his story at too great a length by one of the yawning company. The
collection here printed under the title of Il Novellino, most of which
tales appear in the original edition of the Cento Novelle Antiche, by
Gualteruzzi, formed part of a vast repertory of similar stories,
legends and anecdotes which were bandied about from province to
province, from country even to country, and closed full lived medieval
days of hunting and of battle.

Perhaps it was after some especially successful night when our unknown
compiler had won the approval of a generous signore for his tales, and
carried off a purse filled with a few gold coins to his lonely room,
that the idea came to him of framing the oral stories in a literary
form. He had probably no notion that he was making literature, or
founding one of the purest early classics of the young Italian tongue
which the wit of the people had shaped out of the mother Latin. For him
it was a matter of convenience and utility, though the urge to give a
literary shape to the spreading idiom was in the air, deriving as an
impellent necessity from the propagation of the spoken word which was
widespread in Tuscany and vigorous elsewhere though in dialect forms.
The first literary stirrings of the Italian conscience were in the air,
and writers brought up on Latin chronicles and used to the mixed French
and Italian of works like the Entrée en Espagne of Nicola da Padua were
anxious to try their hands on the wonderful virgin material within
their reach. We may reflect in passing what a marvellous opportunity it
was for poets and story-tellers, although they did not recognize it as
such—to find themselves in the privileged position of having a virgin
language at their command, not debased by the ready-made phrase, the
trite mechanical expression. With a new language coming into being,
nothing or almost nothing is conventionalized. The idea runs straight
from the dynamic thought to the natural phrase. There are no ready-made
channels to absorb the spontaneity, convenient and inevitable as such
moulds afterwards become.

So our “man of the Court” dreamed upon his great idea, developed it,
thought it over, took counsel maybe of some tale-loving signore and set
to work. We may, I think, fairly argue that it was some professional
teller of tales, some giullare of more than average education rather
than any monk or ascetic who wrote the first manuscript of the Hundred
Old Tales, and this for the extremely free, not to say bawdy character
of three or four of them. (These latter have not been translated.)
Moreover, the curious and often ridiculous errors in geography,
history, chronology and physics which we find in the Novellino is
surely proof that the person who compiled it was no great scholar or
man of learning. The mistakes which appear in it could hardly have been
perpetrated by a learned monk well read in history and the classics.
Again, Latin was still the language of science and such scholarship as
existed then. The times were rude in a certain sense, though perhaps
less rude than is generally imagined, but some of the errors to be
found in the tales are so gross and absurd that they could not have
been committed to a manuscript by anyone of real learning. Which gives
us ground for believing that the original anthologist was of the
minstrel class, a giullare of degree and some education, with literary
yearnings, stimulated perhaps by the exercises of his French and
Provençal colleagues in the arts of story-telling and song.

Italian critics and writers generally on the subject of early Italian
literature are by no means agreed as to the origins of the tales which
make up the Cento Novelle. It was during the latter half of the
thirteenth century, however, that the new tongue began to make headway
against the obstinacy of the Latin, but it is only towards the end of
the thirteenth century that original works in Italian prose appeared.
Before the thirteenth century practically no Italian literature
existed. Italian writers had written in Latin, in French, and in a kind
of mixed French and Italian. We have the Latin chronicles of the IXth,
Xth, XIth, and XIIth centuries which contain classical and mythological
allusions. Guido delle Colonne wrote his Trojan poem in Latin. In the
Bovo d’Antona, the Venetian dialect makes itself clearly felt. It was
from about the year 1250 that the national literature developed. In the
North of Italy, the poems of Giacomino da Verona and Bonvecino da Riva,
which were religious in character, showed traces of the movement which
prepared the way for the instrument that was to serve Dante and
Boccaccio. In the South of Italy, and in Sicily especially, at the
Sicilian court, there arose a school of poets who specialised in love
songs which were largely imitations of Provençal rhymers. To this
Siculo-Provençal school belonged Pier delle Vigne, Inghilfredi, Jacopo
d’Aquino and Rugieri Pugliese. The south of the Italian continent with
the exception of Naples and some monasteries like Salerno, was steeped
in ignorance, and rough dialects grew out of the Greco-Latin soil with
nothing literary about them. Frederick II himself, who ruled his
Sicilian court, was a poet of sorts himself, though his productions
were imitative and unoriginal like most of the members of the Sicilian
school. As to what is exactly the oldest prose writing in the Italian
language opinions differ, but certainly the Composizione del Mondo by
Ristoro d’Arezzo (a Tuscan) who lived about the middle of the
thirteenth century, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest. Matteo
Spinelli da Giovenazzo, too, may lay claim to be one of the very
earliest writers in the Tuscan dialect, which afterwards, and with
great rapidity, developed into the Italian language. Another name that
may be mentioned is that of Ricordano Malespina.

The French fabliaux, and the works of the French and Provençal singers
and makers of contes certainly inspired writings like the Novellino and
the few other contemporary works of a similar character. The former
reached a far higher degree of art than they ever attained to in Italy.
To the extensive works in thousands of lines which the other romance
languages can show, Italy can only put forward the bare skeleton tales
of the Novellino, the Conti dei Antichi Cavalieri, the Conti Morali del
Anonimo Senese. Earlier works there were in Latin, such as the famous
Gesta Romanorum and the Disciplina Clericalis. Several of the tales
which appear in the Novellino also figure in Disciplina Clericalis and
in the Gesta, as we shall see.

To all the poetry of the French and Provençal bards of the Middle Ages
Italy has nothing to oppose. Cantastorie or minstrels there were, but
the Italian giullare was considerably lower in the hierarchy of song
than his French or Provençal brothers. In Italy such poems or songs
lacked the profound impress of the people’s spirit. No memory of these
Italian songs has remained, though they must have existed, and perhaps
in plenty, but the versifiers of the period were plebian and lowly.
They lacked the protection of important courts. While France, Spain and
Germany can show a rich epic popular poetry, Italy can only boast a few
hundred novelle in prose.

The tale or novella was a literary product especially pleasing to the
Middle Ages, which was, in the matter of culture, an infantile age. The
period seems to have almost a childish affection for the marvellous
tale. Learning and intellectual sophistication of any kind was in the
hands of a few, was almost a kind of vested interest in which not only
the common people, but even the lords and knights themselves had no
interest or claim. This was especially the case in Italy, where no
vehicle existed for its propagation until the end of the thirteenth
century. Therefore to simple minds, unused to the mysteries of
literature, save those written in a hermetic and pompous tongue fast
disappearing from common use, the tale was a spiritual refreshment
aptly suited to the time. In England, too, we see examples of Latin
tales as in the De Naturis Rerum of Neckham.

But if Italian culture was backward at this time, or non-existent save
in Latin forms, it grew very quickly, and from its plebian sources
there came into being the new art of Boccaccio. For though the language
was new, the Italians were by no means a new people. They had behind
them a long uninterrupted literary tradition from which they could with
difficulty withdraw themselves. There was even a similarity of spirit
between those who clung to the old traditions and wrote in Latin, and
the people seeking to express themselves in their young language. The
two literatures had a great deal of the same spirit and character. The
early Italian prose developed to a great extent along the lines of the
earlier chroniclers who wrote in medieval Latin. Nor could it very well
be otherwise, for even a new literature of a new tongue requires
models, and where should the new nationalist scribes turn for models
save to the Latin writings of their own countrymen? It is not too much
to say that Italian grew quickly because of its Latin traditions. It is
astonishing to think how quickly it did grow, from the simple
beginnings of the Cento Novelle to Boccaccio. In less than one hundred
years Dante is reached. This rapid growth evidently depended on the
fact that Italian was a continuation of Middle-Age Latin. In its spoken
form, it had been in use for some time, and it merely required a
certain amount of independence and belief in the popular idiom to turn
it to literary uses.

In the tales which make up the Novellino, we can see how near the form
is to the spoken language, especially in those tales which are of
contemporary and local origin. The compiler did little more than put
into simple Tuscan prose tales that for the most part were well known
in oral tradition. When I come to examine the tales individually, we
shall see which came from the classics, which from Oriental sources,
which from Provence and which were the product of local wit.

It is alleged in some quarters that the Novellino or the Cento Novelle
Antiche was not the work of a single compiler. This thesis is supported
by arguments which point out the diversity of style and colour in the
tales. It seems to me that it may also be argued from this that, as
indisputably the stories derive from many stories, such as Provence,
the Bible, the Greek and Latin classics, and the tales of the moral and
ascetic writers, such a variety of style and colour is only to be
expected. If one prefers the theory of single authorship—an authorship
of course which is limited as the subject matter of the tales was
common property—one can find just as many arguments for it as the
upholders of the plural authorship theory can lay against it. There are
those who deny the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey to one poet. One
cannot pretend to settle a question which still perplexes Italian
critics of their own early literature. One may, however, refer briefly
to some of the best accredited opinion on the subject.

Francesco Costerò, who believes the tales to be written by several
hands, writes in his preface to a popular edition of the Novellino:
“Nobody has yet, in spite of all the efforts of the learned, arrived at
determining for certain the time or authorship of the Novellino. This
is very natural, in the case of a work which was obviously written by
several people and gathered in volume with time. In the Novellino,
Saladin is spoken of, and we know that he died in 1193, during a war
with the Christians of the Third Crusade. The book also makes reference
to the Cavaliere Alardo di Valleri, who contributed to the victory of
Charles d’Anjou at the battle of Tagliacozzo in 1268. From one date to
the other there pass some seventy-five years, whence we should have to
admit that the author was more than a hundred years old if he were one
and the same person. Further, we must take account of the style of the
book”. This argument of Costerò does not seem very difficult to answer.

Some people are of the opinion that Brunetto Latini was the author of
some of the tales and Professor Carbone writes that: “Latini added some
of the finest flowers of the collection and the two narratives of
Papirius and the Emperor Trajan are to be found with slight differences
in the Cento Novelle and in Fiore di Filosofi e di molti Savi”.

To give an idea of the close similarity that exists between the two
versions of the Trajan tale, I give a translation of both versions and
place them side by side. The Trajan story is No. LXIX of the present
collection. The version to be found in the Fiore di Filosofi runs:

    Trajan was a very just emperor. Having one day mounted his horse to
    enter into battle with his cavalry, a widow woman came before him,
    and taking hold of his foot, begged him very earnestly and asked
    him that he should do justice on those who had wrongfully killed
    her son, a most upright lad. The Emperor spoke to her and said: I
    will give you satisfaction on my return....

The version in the Novellino runs:

    The Emperor Trajan was a most just lord. Going one day with his
    host of cavalry against his enemies, a widow woman came before him,
    and taking hold of his stirrup, said: Sire, render me justice
    against those who have wrongfully killed my son. And the Emperor
    answered: I will give you satisfaction when I return.

As we see, the versions are almost identical, and the similarity
continues in about the same degree throughout the two versions of the
same tale.

The opinion has been put forward that Francesco da Barberino had a hand
in the shaping of the final collection of tales. This theory was
advanced by Federigo Ubaldini in 1640. Adolfo Ancona, certainly one of
the weightiest authorities on early Italian literature, is of the
opinion that the Novellino was the work of one man. The matter is
complicated by the existence of more than one manuscript.

The first edition of the tales was printed in Bologna in 1525 by Carlo
Gualteruzzi of Fano under the title Le Ciento Novelle antike. In 1572,
there appeared in Florence the Libro di Novelle et di bel Parlar
Gentile, under the editorship of Monsignor Vicenzo Borghini. This
latter edition differs considerably from the Gualteruzzian version,
contains tales which do not appear in the earlier version and omits
others contained therein. The discussions concerning the two versions
soon began. But the authenticity of the Gualteruzzian version is now
generally accepted, though the matter can by no means be considered as
finally settled. Borghini in his edition seems to have sought to remove
from the text all the moral and ascetic tales or those deriving from
monkish or ecclesiastical sources. According to D’Ancona, the version
of Borghini is an altered and much edited one, while the original
edition of Gualteruzzi corresponds with the different codexes of the
work, except in the case of the Codex Panciatichianus Palatinus, which
has recently come in for accurate examination at the hands of Professor
Sicardi, who has written a long essay prefacing his edition of the
Novellino. Sicardi, it may be mentioned, holds by the theory of the
plural authorship of the tales. A curious fact in connection with the
early editions of the Hundred Old Tales is that it has been alleged
that an earlier edition than that of Gualteruzzi published in Bologna
in 1525 exists in England. It is supposed to have been offered for sale
by a London dealer in first editions, and to have passed into private
hands. I have not been able to verify the truth of the existence or not
of this alleged early edition.

The manuscripts of the Cento Novelle Antiche are eight in number, and
seven of them correspond with the editio princeps of Gualteruzzi. Only
one, the Codex Panciatichianus, discovered by Wesselofsky, and
published by Biagi in 1880, differs materially, and contains some
thirty tales and proverbs which do not appear in either of the two
principal editions of Gualteruzzi or Borghini.

The eight codexes are: the Codex Marciana, which is in Venice; the
Vatican manuscript; while the other six are in Florence. Of these, one
is in the Laurentian library, three are in the Palatine section of the
National Library, while the remaining manuscripts are to be found in
the Magliabechiana section of the same institute.

The tales contained in the Novellino divide themselves into sections.
We have the Biblical stories founded on occurrences related in the Old
Testament, and generally containing inaccuracies and alterations in the
names and places of the characters referred to. This in itself, as may
also be argued in the case of some of the tales deriving from the
Greco-Roman sources, would seem to prove the popular origin of the
collection. The unknown compiler took the oral story as he found it,
even if it contained facts chronologically or historically at variance
with the Biblical narrative. We have an instance of this in story
number IV of the present collection, where, instead of the prophet Gad
giving David the choice of punishments, an angel is made to appear and
tell David that he has sinned. Again, in Novella XII, the compiler has
mixed up the names of Joab and Aminadab, while in Novella XXXVI, the
account of the second half of the tale is not according to the Biblical

Another portion of the stories derive from French and Provençal sources
and the Arthurian cycle is drawn on more than once. The story of how
“The Lady of Shalot died for love of Lancelot of the Lake”, which is
one of the most beautiful of the entire collection, is an instance in
point. The Novelle telling of the Lady Iseult and Tristan of Lyonesse,
and the short one numbered XLV are also from the Arthurian romance. Of
probable Provençal origin are the tales concerning the Young King and
William of Borganda, the tale of Messer Imberal del Balzo, and perhaps
the two tales regarding Richard Cœur de Lion, as well as the story on
the Doctor of Toulouse, that about Charles D’Anjou and “What happened
at the Court of Puys in Provence”. Many of the tales are taken from
French originals, such as those dealing with the Astrologers of France,
with Messer Roberto di Ariminimonte (LXII), while it is possible that
the stories dealing with the young King and Richard Cœur de Lion came
from the French and not the Provençal. The novelle deriving from the
knightly romances may also very well be of French origin.

Another section of the tales would appear to have their origins in the
classics, and among these are the stories dealing with Trajan, Cato,
Seneca, Socrates, Hector and Troy, Narcissus, Hercules, Aristotle and

A number are of oriental origin. Among these may be mentioned the
novella treating of Prester John, of “the Greek kept in prison”, “How a
jongleur lamented before Alexander”, “God and the Minstrel” and the
last one in the book about the Old Man of the Mountain.

As the reader will see, the stories in this collection, which represent
what is the oldest or almost the oldest work in prose in the Italian
language, and the first book of stories in that tongue, have a very
special and characteristic style of their own. Their language is the
language of the beginnings of a culture, simple to the point of
bareness, full of action, wisdom and wit. The narratives are the
narratives of a man unused to word-spinning and still a mediæval person
of action, a trifle afraid of the mystery of the written word, though
probably almost a pedant in comparison with the illiterate world of his
time. The language of the tales calls to mind very obviously the style
of the Bible, or of the early Hellenic poems, though it is ruder than
either. The very simplicity which is one of the charms of the narrative
has its drawbacks or rather surprises, especially to modern minds
accustomed to a more flexible and more elastic syntax. The personal
pronouns have a curious way of getting mixed up in the Novellino. One
feels that the story-teller has a perfect, even childish confidence in
the reader’s interest, and as a matter of fact, the tales are so short
and easily grasped that the doubt as to who is the particular “he” or
“she” or “they” referred to is little more than a pedantic one. I have
only altered these peculiarities of the prose where it has seemed
necessary in order to allow the meaning to come through clearly, for
certainly a great deal of the quality and charm of the book lies in its
quaint style. To smooth this out overmuch, would certainly destroy the
vigour of the original. Many of the tales, as I have said elsewhere,
are common to many nations, and it is largely due to the strong if
abrupt style of the narratives that they give us such a sharp sense of
the period to which they belong.

To read the tales in the present collection provides a remarkable
contrast with modern prose, which can never seem to say enough. The
compiler or author, if so we may call him, of the Hundred Old Tales,
eschews all psychology the meaning of which word he was ignorant of,
and abstains from comment unless it be in the nature of moral comment.
This latter, of course, comes from the older tradition of Latin tales
to which books like the Gesta Romanorum and Disciplina Clericalis
belong. But in this case, the moral is pointed out out of respect to
the older tradition, from which the author could not quite shake
himself free, writing, though he was, in a new idiom. These moralisings
which conclude some of the tales, or are allowed to be understood, are
more a tribute to the moral than the literary traditions of the times.

The beauty and dramatic effect of some of the tales is extraordinary.
The version given of the Lady of Shalot and how she died for love of
Lancelot is exquisite in its purity and tenderness. It is quite a
little masterpiece of literature.

   “The sail-less vessel was put into the sea with the woman, and the
    sea took it to Camelot, and drifted it to the shore. A cry passed
    through the court. The knights and barons came down from the
    palaces, and noble King Arthur came too, and marvelled mightily
    that the boat was there with no guide. The king stepped on to it
    and saw the damsel and the furnishings. He had the satchel opened
    and the letter was found. He ordered that it should be read, and it
    ran: ‘To all the Knights of the Round Table this lady of Shalott
    sends greetings as to the gentlest folk in the world. And if you
    would know why I have come to this end, it is for the finest knight
    in the world and the most villainous, that is my Lord Sir Lancelot
    of the Lake, whom I did not know how to beg that he should have
    pity on me. So I died for loving well as you can see’.”

It would be hard to surpass the pure simplicity of this even in verse.
The language moves directly from fact to the written word. There is no
hint of conscious colouring, no attempt to heighten the effect by a
single adjective. Adjectives indeed are extremely rare in the
Novellino, as in all good simple prose for the matter of that. The
writer rarely departs from “very beautiful” or “most gentle” or “very
rich”. As a rule, the tales are almost adjectiveless, and never are
adjectives used to round out an effect or disguise an impoverished
period. The rhythm of the tales, almost monotonous perhaps, yet
wonderfully strong, moves surely from subject to predicate with the
least possible adornment. Adornment, in fact, is not the word to use in
this connection, for as such it does not exist. Such adjectival or
adverbial phrases as are used are such as are only strictly demanded by
the accompanying nouns or verbs. This, of course, is one of the
characteristics of good literature in all ages, and especially is to be
found in early classic prose.

A typical story of the Middle Ages is the dramatic, macabre tale of the
knight who was charged with the custody of a hanged man, and found a
substitute for the body which had been taken away by the dead man’s
friends in the corpse of the husband of a woman to whom the knight
makes love. The love scene which takes place at night by the grave-side
of the woman’s husband whom she is desperately mourning is grim and
picturesque indeed. We have to go to our own Border and Scotch Ballads
to find anything similar. Though the tale is of ancient origin, and is
to be found in Petronius, it has all the characteristics of awe, swift
passion, gloom and mockery which we associate with the so-called dark
ages. The little story outlines a drama of great gloom and power in a
few rapid touches. The whole thing is told in some three or four
hundred words, but the content is packed with action, and not a word is
wasted in ornament or comment. If we take two or three of the lines of
the tale individually, we see how rich in action and picturesqueness
they are, though a chaster and more ascetic prose could hardly be used.

“Do as I say,” says the knight at the graveside; “Take me to husband,
for I have no wife, and save my life, for I am in danger.... Show me
how I may escape if you can, and I will be your husband and maintain
you honourably. Then the woman, hearing this, fell in love with the
knight.... She ceased her plaint, and helped him to draw her husband
from his grave....” We may note how in the next sentence the writer
passes quickly over what has happened on the journey to the scaffold,
discarding it as undramatic, for the same sentence goes on at once “...
and assisted him to hang him by the neck, dead as he was”.

A modern story-teller would have filled several pages describing the
lugubrious procession in the heart of the night from grave-yard to
scaffold, and have described at length the feelings of the knight and
the woman, with ample reflections on feminine nature; while the stars,
the countryside, black cypresses, notes of melancholy owls, the
sentinels at the city gates would all have been usefully dragged in to
impress the reader.

The Middle Ages was childish perhaps in its love of the marvellous and
marvellous stories, but the audiences of the old giullari and jongleurs
certainly did not lack imagination. In this they were like children who
are rich in it, and to whom a bare swift tale with sharply outlined
facts is dearer than all the considerations and artifices with which a
clever tale-teller may embellish it.

If it is not correct to state that people to-day have less imagination
than folk in the Middle Ages, it is very likely true that as they have
so many more calls on it, it easily becomes tired and loses in
elasticity. Those with lively imaginations like to add a good deal
themselves to a story that is told them, and such was the case with the
listeners to the stories given in this collection. They would probably
have resented the guillare overloading his narratives with subsidiary
facts, descriptions and artificial holding of the interest. They could
do that kind of thing very well themselves. In fact, we have internal
evidence from the Novellino itself that lengthy stories were not to the
taste of the listeners of those times. In Novella No. LXXXIX, we read
of a giullare “who began a story that never ended”. One of the hearers
interrupts the story-teller, and assures him that the person “who
taught him the tale did not teach him all of it”. The giullare ask why
and is answered: “Because he did not teach you the end”.

Some writers have put forward the theory that the stories contained in
the Cento Novelle Antiche were only the synopses of longer stories, the
index, so to speak of a much larger book that has been lost. But it
seems to me that for the considerations before mentioned this is not
the case. The novella in its infancy was always a brief narration, and
even when we come to Boccaccio and his wider manipulation of material,
the tales even then are not long as we judge the length of stories

Certainly the modern man who lives a much less physical existence than
his forbears, and has perforce to use his imagination and other
intellectual faculties to a far greater extent than did the elder folk,
requires his stories completely filled in so that they leave him little
work to do. The Tired Business Man who takes the place of the bold
baron and the fat bourgeois of the old days exacts from his modern
jongleurs that they give him the least possible intellectual fatigue.

A number of the tales seem to belong especially to the period, and
differentiate themselves from the older ones in the collection where
the monkish and Latin flavour clings still through the freer prose of
the new idiom. Many of them have quite a Boccaccio touch, and already
we seem to hear the round jovial laugh, the sensual yet humanistic
mockery of the great Florentine. Among these we may mention the story
of the Woman and the Pear-tree, which is not to be found in the
original Gualteruzzi edition of 1525, but comes from the Panciatichiano
MS. The picture of the two lovers up in the branches of the pear-tree,
while the blind husband clasps the trunk of the tree below is worthy of
the author of the Decameron. The ending of the story, however, seems to
be more in keeping with the period.

The curious dialogue between God and Saint Peter, blasphemous almost at
first sight and yet innocent in its curious naivete and simplicity, is
the kind of thing we find in our period. It is on a par with that other
extraordinary story of God and the minstrel who went partners together,
which is obviously an old and favourite tale and much in the style of
the duecento. Borghini left it out of his edition, perhaps thinking it
was offensive to religious sentiment.

Boccaccian is Novella No. XLIX, the story of the Physician of Toulouse,
though the tale would appear to come from the French. So too is the
story about the parish priest Porcellino, whose name is certainly
chosen to give further point to the tale. In the same category comes
Novella LXII, the tale of Messer Robert of Burgundy. The story in fact
appears in the Decameron.

Many of the narratives have quite a different character to this rich
mirthful mockery. Tales like that relating to Prester John, to the wise
Greek whom a king kept in prison, the “Argument and Sentence that were
given in Alexandria”, Antigonus and Alexander, the Land Steward who
plucked out his own eye, belong to another epoch altogether and form
part of the monkish and ascetic heredity of the Novellino.

A few (four or five) of the stories are frankly indecent, and are
always expurgated from popular editions of the work in Italy, a course
which I have followed here. Two or three of the present collection are
also a trifle free, but I have decided to leave them in their place,
with a few unimportant excisions and alterations.

Another outstanding feature of the stories is the number of them which
tell of smart sayings, clever retorts and elegant ripostes. Evidently a
great deal was thought of such kind of quick-wittedness in the days of
the duecento. The compiler in the Proem to the book lists his “fair
courtesies and fine replies, valiant actions and noble gifts”, though
there are a number of tales dealing with snubbing or sarcastic replies,
which do not seem to be included in the category outlined in the Proem.

There is a certain curious childishness in the almost awed admiration
which the compiler seems to feel for anyone who makes a witty retort,
or snubs an opponent neatly. It is part of the intellectual simplicity
of the time. Thus we have the answer of the pilgrim to the Emperor in
Tale LXXXVI, the answer of the man who went to confess himself to the
priest, the clever trick of the man who lent money to the student in
the “Man of the Marches who went to study at Bologna”.

Great importance, too, is laid on the knightly virtues of kindliness,
courtesy and generosity; Knights were expected to be brave, but also
gentle, in the sense which the word has taken on when allied with the
noun and transformed into our modern gentleman. This common vocable of
our daily life is a direct inheritance from the times of chivalry, and
retains in its best meaning a great deal of the old significance.

In the language of the stories there is a good deal of Latin grace,
order and sense of measure due to the old tradition. For the tales in
this collection passed in many cases from their original Latin forms to
the mouths of the people, taking on in the process a new originality,
character and colour before they were written again in the virgin prose
of Tuscany.

That these little tales can please modern readers there is good reason
to believe, for they have been tested by time and worn smooth by
repetition of all useless angles or unnecessary detail. There is in
them as their especial merit great humanity, passion, drama, and often
a wisdom so old and mysterious that it seems to reach back through half
a dozen civilizations to the very heart and mind of early man.

And so I close this note of introduction and open the way for the tales
themselves “for the use and delight of such as know them not and fain
would know” as the compiler says.


This book treats of flowers of speech, of fine courtesies and replies,
of valiant actions and gifts, such as in time gone by have been made by
noble men.



When Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke with us in human form, he said among
other things, that the tongue speaks from the fulness of the heart.

You who have gentle and noble hearts above other men, shape your minds
and your words to the pleasure of God, speaking of honouring and
fearing Our Lord who loved us even before He created us, and before we
ourselves loved Him. And if in certain ways we may, without giving Him
displeasure, speak for the gladdening of our bodies, and to give
ourselves aid and support, let it be done with all the grace and
courtesy that may be.

And since the noble and the gentle in their words and deeds are as a
mirror for the lower folks, for that their speech is more gracious,
coming from a more delicate instrument, let us call back to memory some
flowers of speech, such fair courtesies and fine replies, valiant
actions and noble gifts as have in time gone by been compassed by many.

So whosoever has a noble heart and fine intelligence may imitate in
time to come, and tell and make argument about them, when just occasion
offers, for the use and delight of such as know them not and fain would

If the flowers of speech we offer you be mixed with other words, be not
displeased, for black is an ornament to gold, and a fair and delicate
fruit may sometimes adorn a whole orchard; a few lovely flowers an
entire garden.

Nor should the many readers who have lived long without scarcely
uttering a fine phrase or contributing anything of merit by their
speech take offence herein.



Prester John, [1] most noble Indian lord, sent a rich and honourable
embassy to the noble and powerful Emperor Frederick, he who was in
truth a mirror to the world in matters of speech and manners, who
delighted generally in fair speech and sought ever to return wise
answers. The substance and intention of that embassy lay in two things
alone, to prove at all hazards, if the Emperor were wise both in word
and in act.

So Prester John sent him by his ambassadors three most precious stones,
and said to the ambassadors: question the Emperor and ask him on my
behalf to tell you what is the best thing in the world. And take good
notice of his answers and speech, and study well his court and its
customs, and of what you shall learn bring me word, omitting nothing at

And when they came to the Emperor to whom they had been sent by their
master, they greeted him in a manner suitable to his majesty, and on
behalf of their master, whom we have named, they gave him the precious
stones. The Emperor took them, asking nothing of their worth. He
ordered them to be taken charge of, and praised their exceeding beauty.
The ambassadors asked their questions, and beheld the court and its

Then after a few days, they asked permission to return. The Emperor
gave them his answer and said: tell your master that the best thing in
this world is moderation.

The ambassadors went away and related to their master what they had
seen and heard, praising mightily the Emperor’s court with its fine
customs and the manners of its knights.

Prester John, hearing the account of his ambassadors, praised the
Emperor and said that he was very wise in speech but not in deed, since
he had not asked the value of the precious stones. He sent back his
ambassadors with the offer that if it should please the Emperor they
should become seneschals [2] of his court. And he made them count his
riches and the number and quality of his subjects and the manners of
his country.

After some time, Prester John, thinking that the gems he had given the
Emperor had lost their value, since the Emperor was ignorant of their
worth, called a favourite lapidary of his and sent him in secret to the
Emperor’s court; saying to him: seek you in every way to bring me back
those stones, whatever it may cost.

The lapidary set out, bearing with him many stones of rare beauty, and
began to show them at the court. The barons and the knights came to
admire his arts. And the man proved himself very clever. When he saw
that one of his visitors had an office at the court, he did not sell,
but gave away, and so many rings did he give away that his fame reached
the Emperor. The latter sent for him, and showed him his own stones.
The lapidary praised them, but temperately. He asked the Emperor if he
possessed still more precious stones. Then the Emperor brought forth
the three fine gems which the lapidary was anxious to see. Then the
lapidary grew exultant, and taking one of the stones, held it in his
hand and said: this gem, Sire, is worth the finest city in your land.
Then he took up another and said: this gem, Sire, is worth the finest
of your provinces. Then he took up the third gem and said: Sire, this
stone is worth more than all your empire. He closed his hand on the
gems, and the virtue in one of them rendered him invisible, [3] so that
none could see him, and down the steps of the palace he went, and
returned to his lord, Prester John, and presented him with the stones
with great joy.



In the parts of Greece there was a nobleman who wore a king’s crown and
had a mighty realm. His name was Philip, and he held in prison a
learned Greek for some misdeed of the latter. So learned was this Greek
that his intellect saw beyond the stars.

It happened one day that the king received from Spain the gift of a
noble courser of great strength and perfect form. And the king called
for his shoeing-smith that he might learn of the worth of the steed,
and it was answered him that the wisest counsellor in all things lay in
his majesty’s prison.

The horse was ordered to be brought to the exercising ground, while the
Greek was set free from the prison. Look over this horse for me, said
the king, for I have heard that you are instructed in many things. The
Greek examined the courser and said: Sire, the horse is indeed a fine
one, but I must tell you that it has been reared on asses’ milk. The
king sent into Spain to learn how the horse had been reared, and heard
that its dam having died, the foal had been reared on asses’ milk. This
caused the king great surprise, and he ordered that half a loaf of
bread should be given to the Greek every day at the expense of the

Then it happened one day that the king gathered all his precious gems
together, and calling the Greek out of prison, said to him: master, you
are a wise fellow and understand all things. Tell me, if you know aught
of precious stones, which is the rarest of all these?

The Greek looked and said: which, Sire, is dearest to you? The king
took up a stone, beautiful above the others, and said: master, this
seems to me the loveliest and of the greatest value.

The Greek took it up and laid it in his hand and closed his fingers on
it, and laid it to his ear and said: Sire, there is a worm here. The
king sent for his master jeweller and had the stone broken open, and
found a live worm in it. Then he praised the marvellous science of the
Greek, and ordered that a whole loaf of bread be given him each day at
the expense of the court.

Then after many days, the king bethought himself that he was not the
legitimate king. He sent for the Greek, and took him into a secret
place and began to speak and said: I believe you are a master of great
learning, as I have clearly seen you prove yourself in matters whereof
I have questioned you. I want you to tell me now whose son I am.

The Greek replied: you know well, Sire, you are the son of such a
father. And the king said: do not answer me as you think merely to
please me. Answer me truly, for if you do not I will send you to an
evil death. Then the Greek spoke and said: Sire, I tell you you are the
son of a baker. Then the king cried: I will learn this of my mother,
and he sent for her, and with ferocious threats constrained her to
speak. His mother confessed the truth.

Then the king closeted himself in a room with the Greek and said: my
master, I have seen great proof of your wisdom. Tell me, I beg of you,
how you knew these things. Then the Greek made answer. Sire, I will
tell you. I knew that the courser was raised on asses’ milk from common
mother wit, since I saw that its ears drooped, which is not the nature
of horses. I knew of the worm in the stone, for stones are naturally
cold, and this one was warm. Warm it could not be naturally, were it
not for some animal possessing life. And how did you know I was a
baker’s son, asked the king.

The Greek made answer: Sire, when I told you about the courser which
was a marvellous thing, you ordered me the gift of half a loaf of bread
a day, and when I spoke to you of the stone you gave me a whole loaf.
Then it was I perceived whose son you were, for had you been the son of
a king, it would have seemed a slight matter to you to give me a noble
city, whereas it seemed a great thing to you to recompense me with
bread as your father used to do.

Then the king perceived his meanness, and taking the Greek out of
prison, made him noble gifts.



When Alexander was before the city of Gaza, with a vast besieging
train, a noble knight escaped from prison. And being poorly provided in
raiment and accoutrement, he set forth to see Alexander who lavished
his gifts more prodigally than other lords.

As the knight walked along his way, he fell in with a gentleman of the
court [5] who asked him whither he was going. The knight replied: I am
going to Alexander to request some gifts from him, so that I may return
with honour to my country. Then the man of the court said, what is it
that you want, for I will give it to you, provided that you give me
what Alexander may present you with. The knight made answer: give me a
horse to ride and a beast of burden and such things and money as will
suffice for me to make return to my own country. The jongleur gave him
these, and they went on in company together to Alexander, who having
fought a desperate action before the city of Gaza, had left the
battlefield and was being relieved of his armour in a tent.

The knight and the jongleur came forward. The knight made his request
to Alexander humbly and graciously. Alexander made no sign, nor did he
give any reply. The knight left the man of the court and set out on the
road to return to his own country.

He had not gone very far, however, when the citizens of Gaza brought
the keys of the city to Alexander, submitting themselves entirely to
him as their lord.

Alexander then turned to his barons and said: where is he who asked a
gift of me? Then they sent for the knight who had asked the king for a
gift. The knight came before the king, who said to him: take, noble
knight, the keys of the city of Gaza which most willingly I give you.
The knight replied: Sire, do not give me a city. I beg you rather to
give me gold or silver or other things as it may please you.

Then Alexander smiled, and ordered that the knight should be given two
thousand silver marks. [6] And this was set down for the smallest gift
which Alexander ever made. The knight took the marks and handed them to
the jongleur. The latter came before Alexander, and with great
insistence asked that he should be heard, and so much he argued that he
had the knight arrested.

And he shaped his argument before Alexander in this wise: Sire, I found
this man on the road and asked him whither he was going and why, and he
told me he was going to Alexander to ask a gift. I made a pact with
him, giving him what he desired on condition that he should give me
whatsoever Alexander should make him a present of. Therefore he has
broken the pact, for he refused the noble city of Gaza, and took the
marks. Therefore, before your excellency, I ask that you heed my
request and order him to make up the difference between the value of
the city and the marks.

The knight spoke, and first of all he confessed that the pact had been
so, and then he said: just Sire, he who asks me this is a jongleur, and
a jongleur’s heart may not aspire to the lordship of a city. He was
thinking of silver and of gold, and such was his desire. I have fully
satisfied his intention. Therefore, I beg your lordship to see to my
deliverance as may please your wise counsel.

Alexander and his barons set free the knight, and complimented him on
his wisdom. [7]



There was a king in the parts of Egypt who had a first-born son who
would wear the crown after him. The father began from the son’s very
earliest years to give him instruction at the hands of wise men of
mature age, and never had it happened to the boy to know the games and
follies of childhood.

It chanced one day that his father committed to him an answer for the
ambassadors of Greece.

The youth stood in the place of discourse to make answer to the
ambassadors, and the weather was unsettled and rainy. The boy turned
his eyes to one of the palace windows, and perceived some lads
gathering the rain water into little troughs and making mud pies.

The youth, on seeing this, left the platform, and running quickly down
the palace stairs, went and joined the other lads who were gathering up
the water, and took part in the game. The barons and knights followed
him quickly, and brought him back to the palace. They closed the
window, and the youth gave an answer such as was satisfactory to the
ambassadors. [8]

After the council, the people went away. The father summoned
philosophers and men of learning, and laid the point before them.

Some of the sages reputed it to be a matter of the lad’s nature; others
suggested it portended a weakness of spirit; some went so far as to
hint it betokened an infirmity of the mind.

Thus one gave one opinion, and another another, according to their art
and science.

But one philosopher said: tell me how the youth has been brought up.
And they told him the lad had been brought up with sages and men of
ripe age, with nothing of childishness in them.

Then the wise man answered: do not marvel if nature asks for what she
has lost, for it is right for childhood to play, as it is right for age
to reflect.



King David, being king by the grace of God, who had raised him from a
shepherd to be a noble, wished one day to learn at all hazards the
number of his subjects: which was an act of vain-glory most displeasing
to the Lord, who sent an angel who spoke thus: David, you have sinned.
So your Lord sends me to tell you. Will you remain three years in hell
[9] or three months in the hands of His enemies which are yours, or
will you leave yourself to the judgment of your Lord?

David answered: I put myself in the hands of my Lord. Let Him do with
me what He will. Now what did God do? He punished him according to his
sin, taking away by death the greater part of his people in whose great
number he had vain-gloried. And thus he reduced and belittled their

One day it came to pass that while David was riding he saw the angel of
the Lord going about slaying with the naked sword, and just as the
angel was about to strike a man, [10] David got off his horse and said:
Highness, praise be to God, do not kill the innocent, but kill me; for
the fault is all mine. Then for this good word, God pardoned the people
and stayed the slaughter. [11]



We read of Solomon that he made another offence to God, for which he
was condemned to the loss of his kingdom. The angel spoke to him and
said: Solomon, on account of your sins, it is meet that you should lose
your realm. But our Lord sends to tell you that for the good merits of
your father, He will not take it away from you in your life, but for
your wrong-doing He will take it away from your son. Whereby we see the
father’s merits enjoyed by the son, and a father’s sins punished in his

Be it known that Solomon laboured studiously on this earth, and with
his learning and talent had a great and noble reign.

And he took provision that foreign heirs should not succeed him, that
is, heirs such as were outside his lineage.

So he took many wives and many concubines that he might have many
heirs, but God who is the supreme dispenser willed it that by all his
wives and concubines, who were many, he had but one son.

Then Solomon made provision so as to dispose and order his kingdom
under this son of his, whose name was Roboam, that for certain he
should reign after him.

So from his youth upwards he ordered his son’s life with many precepts
and schoolings. And more he did, so that a great treasure should be
amassed and laid in a safe place.

And further he took urgent care that there was concord and peace with
all the lords whose lands were near to his own, and his own vassals he
held in peace and without contentions. And further he taught his son
the courses of the stars and how to have mastery over demons.

And all these things he did that Roboam should reign after him.

When Solomon was dead, Roboam took counsel of wise old men, and asked
their advice as to how he should manage his people.

The old men counselled him: call your people together and with sweet
words say you love them as yourself, that they are as your crown, that
if your father was harsh to them, you will be gentle and benign, and
whereas he oppressed them, you will let them live in ease and content.
If they were oppressed in the making of the temple, you will assist

Such was the advice the wise old men of the kingdom gave him.

Roboam went away, and called together a counsel of young men, and asked
them similarly their advice. And these asked him: how did they from
whom you first sought advice counsel you? And he told them word for

Then the young men said: they deceive you, since kingdoms are not held
by words but by prowess and courage. Whence, if you speak soft words to
the people, it will seem to them you are afraid of them, and so they
will cast you down, and will not take you for their lord nor obey you.
Listen to our counsel who are all your servants, and a master may do
with his servants as he will. Tell the people with vigour and courage
that they are your servants, and that whosoever disobeys you, you will
punish according to your harsh law. If Solomon oppressed them for the
building of the temple, you too will oppress them if it shall please
you. Thus the people will not hold you for a child, but all will fear
you, and so you will keep your kingdom and your crown.

Foolish Roboam followed the young men’s advice. He called together his
people, and spoke harsh words to them. The people grew angry, and the
chiefs became disturbed. They made secret pacts and leagues. Certain
barons [12] plotted together, so that in thirty-four days after the
death of Solomon, his son lost ten of the twelve parts of his kingdom
through the foolish counsel of the young men. [13]



A lord of Greece who possessed a mighty kingdom and whose name was
Aulix had a young son whom he had taught the seven liberal arts. [14]
And he instructed him in the moral life, that is the life of fine

One day this king took much gold and gave it to his son and said: spend
it as you like. And he told his barons not to instruct him how to spend
it, but only to observe his behaviour and his habits.

The barons, following the young man, were with him one day at the
palace windows.

The youth was pensive. He saw passing along the road folk who from
their dress and person seemed very noble. The road ran at the foot of
the palace.

The young man ordered that all these folk should be brought before him.
His will was obeyed in this, and all the passers-by came before him.

And one of them who was bolder in heart and more cheerful in look than
the others, came forward and asked: Sire, what do you want of me? I
would know whence you come, and what is your state.

And the man replied: Sire, I come from Italy, and a rich merchant I am,
and my wealth which I have gained I did not have as patrimony, but I
earned it with my labour.

The king’s son asked the next man whose features were noble and who
stood with timid face further off than the other, and did not dare
advance so boldly.

And this man said: what do you ask of me, Sire? The youth replied: I
ask you whence you come, and what is your state.

The man answered: I am from Syria and am a king, and I have acted so
that my subjects have driven me out of my kingdom.

Then the youth took all the gold and silver and gave it to him who had
been driven out.

The news spread through the palace.

The barons and the knights met in conclave, and at the court nothing
else was spoken of but this gift of the gold.

All was related to the father, questions and answers, word for word.
The king began to speak to his son, many barons being present, and
said: how did you come to distribute the money in this manner? What
idea was it that moved you? What reason can you offer us for not giving
to him who had enriched himself through his ability, while to him who
had lost through his own fault you gave all? The wise young man made
answer: Sire, I gave nothing to him who taught me nothing, nor indeed
did I make a gift to anyone, for what I gave was a recompense, not a
present. The merchant taught me nothing, and nothing was due to him.
But he who was of my own state, son of a king who wore a king’s crown,
and out of his folly did so act that his subjects drove him away,
taught me so much that my subjects will not drive me out. Therefore, I
made a small recompense to him who taught me so much.

On hearing the judgment of the youth, the father and his barons praised
his great wisdom, saying that his youth gave good promise for the years
when he should be ripe to deal with matters of state.

Tidings of the happenings were spread far and wide among lords and
barons, and the wise men made great disputations about it.



In Alexandria, which is in the parts of Roumania—for there are twelve
Alexandrias which Alexander founded in the March before he died [15]—in
this Alexandria there are streets where the Saracens live, who make
foods for sale, and the people seek out the street where the finest and
most delicate foodstuffs are to be found, just as among us one goes in
search of cloths.

On a certain Monday, a Saracen cook whose name was Fabrae was standing
by his kitchen door, when a poor Saracen entered the kitchen with a
loaf in his hand. Money to purchase viands he had none, so he held his
loaf over the pot, and let the savoury steam soak into it, and ate it.

The Saracen Fabrae, who was doing a poor trade that morning, was
annoyed at the action, and seized the poor Saracen, and said to him:
pay me for what you have taken of mine.

The poor man answered: I have taken nothing from your kitchen save
steam. [16] Pay me for what you have taken of mine, Fabrae continued to

The dispute over this new and difficult question which had never arisen
before, continued to such an extent that news of it reached the Sultan.

Owing to the great novelty of the argument, the Sultan called together
a number of wise men. He laid the question before them.

The Saracen wise men began to dispute, and there were those who held
that the steam did not belong to the cook, for which they adduced many
good reasons. Steam cannot be appropriated, for it dissolves in the
air, and has no useful substance or property. Therefore the poor man
ought not to pay. Others argued that the steam was still part of the
viand cooking, in fact that it belonged to it and emanated from its
property, that a man sells the products of his trade, and that it is
the custom for him who takes thereof to pay.

Many were the opinions given, and finally came the judgment: since this
man sells his foodstuffs and you and others buy them, you must pay his
viands according to their value. If for the food he sells and of which
he gives the useful properties he is accustomed to take useful money,
then since he has sold steam which is the vaporous part of his cooking,
you, sir, must ring a piece of money, and it shall be understood that
payment is satisfied by the sound that comes therefrom.

And the Sultan ordered that this judgment be observed. [17]



A townsman of Bari went on a pilgrimage, and left three hundred
byzantines [18] to a friend on these conditions: I shall make my
journey as God wills, and should I not return you will give this money
for the salvation of my soul, but if I return within a certain time,
you shall return me the money, keeping back what you will. The pilgrim
went on his pilgrimage, came back at the established time and demanded
his byzantines back.

His friend said: tell me over the pact again. The wanderer told it over
again. You say well, quoth the friend: ten byzantines I give back to
you, and two hundred and ninety I keep for myself.

The pilgrim began to get angry. What kind of faith is this? You take
away from me wrongfully what is mine.

The friend replied calmly: I do you no wrong, but if you think I do,
let us go before the governors of the city. A law-suit ensued.

The Slave of Bari was the judge, [19] and heard both sides. He
formulated the argument, and to him who held the money he said: give
back the two hundred and ninety byzantines to the pilgrim, and the
pilgrim must give you back the ten you handed him. For the pact was so;
what you want you will give to me. Therefore the two hundred and ninety
which you want, give them to him, and the ten you do not want, take



There was once a doctor whose name was Giordano, and he had a disciple.
A son of the king fell ill. Master Giordano went to him, and saw that
the illness could be cured. The disciple, in order to injure his
master’s reputation, said to the father: I see that he will certainly

And so disputing with his master, he made the sick youth open his
mouth, and with his little finger inserted poison therein, making a
great show to understand the nature of the illness from the state of
the tongue.

The son died.

The master went away, and lost his reputation, while the disciple
increased his.

Then the master swore that in future he would only doctor asses, and so
he made physic for beasts and the lower animals. [20]



Aminadab, general and marshall of King David, went with a vast army of
men by order of King David to a city of the Philistines. [21]

Aminadab hearing that the city would not resist long, and would soon be
his, sent to King David, asking if it were his pleasure to come to the
field of battle with many men, for he feared the issue of the battle.

King David started out hurriedly and went to the battlefield, and asked
his marshall Aminadab: why have you made me come here?

Aminadab answered: Sire, since the city cannot resist longer, I wished
that the glory of the victory should come to your person rather than
that I should have it.

He stormed the city, and conquered it, and the glory and honour were
David’s. [22]



Antigonus, the teacher of Alexander, when one day the latter was having
a cythera played for his delight, took hold of the instrument and cast
it into the mud [23] and said these words: at your age it behoves you
to reign and not to play the cythera. For it may be said that luxury
debases the body and the country, as the sound of the cythera enfeebles
the soul. [24] Let him then be ashamed who should reign in virtue, and
instead delights in luxury.

King Porrus [25] who fought with Alexander ordered during a banquet
that the strings of a player’s cythera should be cut, saying: it is
better to cut than to play, for virtue departs with sweet sounds.



To a king a son was born.

The wise astrologers counselled that he should be kept for ten years
without ever seeing the sun. So he was brought up and taken care of in
a darksome cavern.

After the time had gone by, they brought him forth, and they set before
him many fine jewels and many lovely girls, calling each thing by its
name, and saying of the maidens that they were demons. Then they asked
him which thing pleased him the most of all. And he answered: the

At this the king marvelled mightily, saying: what a terrible thing is
the tyranny and beauty of women! [26]



Valerius Maximus in his sixth book narrates that Calognus [27] being
steward of some land, ordered that whoever should commit a certain
crime, should lose his eyes.

When a little time had passed, his own son fell into this very crime.
All the people cried out for pity, and he remembering that mercy is a
good and useful thing, and reflecting that no injury must be done to
justice, and the love of his fellow citizens urging him, he provided
that both justice and mercy should be observed.

He gave judgment and sentence that one eye be taken from his son, and
one from himself. [28]



Blessed Bishop Paulinus was so full of charity that when a poor woman
asked a charity for her son who was in prison Blessed Paulinus replied:
I have nothing to give to you, but do this. Lead me to the prison where
your son is.

The woman led him there.

And he put himself in the hands of the prison-keepers [29] saying to
them: give back her son to this good woman, and keep me in his stead.



Peter [31] the banker was a man of great wealth, and was so charitable
that he distributed all his possessions to the poor.

Then when he had given everything away, he sold himself and gave the
whole price to the poor. [32]



Charlemagne came to the point of death while fighting the Saracens in
the field, and made his testament.

Among other things he left his horse and his arms to the poor. And he
left them in charge of a baron of his that he should sell them, and
give the money to the poor.

The baron kept them, however, instead of obeying. Charlemagne appeared
to him and said: you have made me suffer eight generations of torment
in purgatory on account of the horse and the arms which you received.
But thanks be to God, I now go, purged of my sins, to heaven and you
will pay dearly for your act.

Whereat, in the presence of a hundred thousand people, there descended
a thunderbolt from the sky, and bore the baron away to hell. [33]



We read of the valour [34] of the Young King [35] in rivalry with his
father through the offices of Beltram. [36]

This Beltram boasted that he had more sense than anyone else. Whence
many judgments came into being, some of which are written here.

Beltram plotted with the Young King that he should persuade his father
to give him his share of inheritance. And so insistent was the son that
he gained his request. And he gave all away to gentlefolk and to poor
knights, so that nothing remained to him and he had no more to give

A court player asked him for a gift. He replied that he had given all
away, but this only is left me, [37] a bad tooth, and my father has
promised two thousand marks to whomsoever shall prevail on me to have
it taken out. Go to my father and make him give you the marks, and I
will draw the tooth from my mouth at your request.

The minstrel went to the father and had the marks, and the son drew out
his tooth.

On another occasion it happened that he gave two hundred marks to a
gentleman. The seneschal or treasurer took the marks, and laid a carpet
in a room and placed the marks beneath it, together with a bundle of
cloth so that the whole should seem larger.

And the Young King going through the room, the treasurer showed him the
pile saying: Sire, see how you dispense your gifts. You see what a
large sum is two hundred marks, which seem nothing to you.

And the Young King looked and said: that seems little enough to me to
give to so valiant a man. Give him four hundred, for I thought two
hundred marks much more than they seem now I see them. [38]



The young King of England squandered and gave away all his possessions.

Once a poor knight beheld the cover of a silver dish, and said to
himself: if I could but hide that upon me, my household could thrive
thereon for many a day. He hid the cover on his person. The seneschal,
when the dinner was ended, examined the silver, and found that the dish
was missing. So they began to spread the news and to search the knights
at the door.

The young King had observed him who had taken it, and came to him
silently, and said to him very softly: give it to me, for I shall not
be searched. And the knight all shamefaced, obeyed his behest.

Outside the door, the young King gave it back to him and hid it on him,
and then he sent for him, and gave him the other half of the dish.

And his courtesy even went further; for one night some impoverished
gentlemen entered his room in the belief that he was asleep. They
collected his arms and clothes in order to steal them. One of them was
reluctant to leave behind a rich counterpane which was covering the
King, and he seized it and began to pull. The King, for fear he should
remain uncovered, took hold of the end of it and held it fast, while
the other tugged, and the knights present, in order to save time, lent
him a hand.

And then the king spoke: this is not theft but robbery—to wit, taking
by force. The knights fled when they heard him speak, for they had
believed him to be sleeping.

One day, the old King, the father of this young King, took him harshly
to task, saying, where is your treasure?

And he answered: Sire, I have more than you have. There was much
discussion. Both sides bound themselves to a wager.

The day was fixed when each was to show his treasure.

The young King invited all the barons of the country who were in the
neighbourhood. His father set up that day a sumptuous pavilion and sent
for gold and silver in dishes and plates and much armour and a great
quantity of precious stones, and laid all on his carpets and said to
his son: where is your treasure? Thereupon the son drew his sword from
its scabbard.

The assembled knights crowded in from the streets and the squares. The
entire city seemed to be full of knights.

The King was unable to defend himself against them. The gold remained
in the power of the young King, who said to his knights: take your
treasure. Some took gold, some plate, some one thing and some another,
so that in a little while everything was distributed. The father
gathered all his forces to take the treasure.

The son shut himself up in a castle, and Bertrand de Born was with him.
The father came to besiege him.

One day through being oversure, he was struck in the head by an arrow
(for he was pursued by misfortune) and killed.

But before his death he was visited by all his creditors, and they
asked him for the treasure which they had lent him. Whereat the young
King answered: sirs, you come at a bad season, for my treasure has been
distributed. My possessions are all given away. My body is infirm, and
it would be a poor pledge for you.

But he sent for a notary, and when the notary had come, that courteous
king said to him: write that I bind my soul to perpetual bondage until
such time as my creditors are paid. Then he died. After his death they
went to his father and asked for the money. The father answered them
roughly, saying: you are the men who lent to my son wherefore he waged
war upon me, and therefore under the penalty of your life and goods
take yourselves out of my dominions.

Then one of them spoke and said: Sire, we shall not be the losers, for
we have his soul in our keeping.

And the king asked in what way, and they showed him the document.

Then the king humbled himself and said: God forfend that the soul of so
valiant a man should be in bondage for money, and he ordered them to be
paid, and so it befell.

Then Bertran de Born came into his hands, and he asked for him and
said: you declared you had more sense than any man in the world; now
where is your sense? Bertran replied: Sire, I have lost it. And when
did you lose it? I lost it when your son died.

Then the King knew that he had lost his wit for love of his son [39],
so he pardoned him and loaded him with rich gifts.



The Emperor Frederick was a most noble sovereign, and men who had
talent flocked to him from all sides because he was liberal in his
gifts, and looked with pleasure on those who had any special talent.

To him came musicians, troubadours, and pleasant story-tellers, men of
art [40], jousters, fencers and folk of every kind.

One day the table was set and the Emperor was washing his hands, [41]
when there came to him three necromancers garbed in long pilgrims’
robes. [42] They greeted him forthwith, and he asked: which of you is
the master? One of them came forward and said: Sire, I am he. And the
Emperor besought him that he would have the courtesy to show his art.
So they cast their spells and practised their arts.

The weather began to grow stormy, and a sudden shower of rain with
thunder and lightning and thunder-bolts, and it seemed that a hail fell
like balls of steel. The knights fled through the halls, one going in
one direction, one in another.

The weather cleared up again. The necromancers [43] took their leave
and asked for a recompense.

The Emperor said: ask me then. And they made their request. The Count
of San Bonifazio was then near the Emperor. So they said: Sire, bid
this lord come and succour us against our enemies.

The Emperor laid this command upon him with affectionate insistence.
The Count set out on his way with the masters.

They took him to a noble city, showed him knights of high lineage, and
prepared for him a handsome horse and fine arms, and said: these are at
your command.

The enemy came up for battle. The Count defeated them, and delivered
the city. He won back the country. They gave him a wife. He had

After some time, he ruled the land.

The necromancers left him alone for a very long period.

Then they returned. The Count’s son was already full forty years old.
The Count was old. The necromancers came back and said that they wished
to go and see the Emperor and the court. The Count answered: the Empire
will by this time more than once have changed hands; the people will
all be new: where should I return? The necromancers answered: no
matter, we will take you with us all the same.

They set forth; they walked for a long time; they reached the court.

They found the Emperor among his barons, still pouring water over his
hands as he had been doing when the Count went away with the

The Emperor made him tell his tale, and he told it. I have taken a
wife. My children are forty years old. Three pitched battles have I
fought. The world is all topsy-turvy. How comes this?

The Emperor made him relate all this with great mirth for the barons
and knights. [44]



While the Emperor Frederick was besieging Milan, one of his goshawks
escaped and flew into Milan. He sent ambassadors to claim it.

The councillors called a meeting. There were very many speeches. All
agreed that it would be greater courtesy to send it back than to keep

A very old citizen of Milan advised the authorities and spoke thus: we
hold the goshawk as if it were the Emperor, so we shall make him repent
of what he has done to the dominions of Milan. Therefore I urge that it
should not be returned to him. [45]

The ambassadors went back and told how the council had gone.

When the Emperor heard this, he said: how came that to pass? Was there
anyone in Milan to contradict the proposal of the council? And the
ambassadors said: yes Sire, there was. And what manner of man was he?
Sire, he was an old man.

It cannot be, replied the Emperor, that an old man could make so vile a
speech. None the less, Sire, so it was. Tell me, said the Emperor, what
manner of man he was and how garbed. Sire, his hair was white, and his
coat was striped. [46]

It may well be, said the Emperor, that since his coat was striped he
was a madman.



Once when the Emperor Frederick went hunting, dressed, as was his wont,
in plain green, he came upon a countryman at a fountain who had spread
a gleaming white cloth on the green grass, and had a cup made of
tamerisk [47] and a nice clean loaf of bread. [48]

The Emperor came up and asked leave to drink. The countryman replied:
with what should I give you to drink? You shall not set your lips to
this cup. If you have a drinking horn, I will gladly give you some

The Emperor answered: lend me your cup, and I will drink so that it
does not touch my mouth. And the countryman handed it to him, and he
kept to his promise. He did not give it back though, but on the
contrary, spurred his horse and ran off with the cup.

The countryman was confident that the man was one of the Emperor’s

The following day he went to the court. The Emperor told his servants
if such and such a countryman come, let him in, and do not close the
door to him. The countryman came. He appeared before the Emperor. He
complained of the loss of his cup. The Emperor made him tell his story
many times to his great amusement.

The barons listened to it with glee. And the Emperor said: would you
recognise your cup? Yes, Sire. Then the Emperor drew forth the cup to
show that it had been he in person.

Then the Emperor, because of the man’s cleanliness, gave him rich



The Emperor Frederick had two exceedingly wise men about him; one was
called Bolgaro, the other Martino. [49]

One day the Emperor was in the company of these two wise men, one of
them on his right hand, and the other on his left.

And the Emperor put a question to them and said: can I give to any one
of my subjects and take away from another, according to my will and
without other cause? Since I am their lord, and the law says that what
pleases the lord shall be law to his subjects. Say then whether I may
do this, since such is my pleasure.

One of the two wise men replied: Sire, whatever is your pleasure, that
you may do to your subjects without causing wrong.

The other sage answered and said: to me it seems not, since the law is
utterly just, and its conditions must be observed and followed with an
extreme nicety. When you take away, it should be known from whom and
also to whom you give.

Since both of the wise men spoke the truth, he offered gifts to both.
To the one he gave a scarlet hat and a white palfrey; and to the other
he gave the right to make a law to please his fancy.

Whence there arose a great discussion among the learned as to which of
the two he had given the richer present.

It was held that to him who had said he could give and take away as it
pleased him he had given clothing and a palfrey as to a minstrel
because he had flattered him. To him who followed justice, he gave the
right to make a law.



Saladin [50] was a most noble lord, brave and generous. Once he gave
two hundred marks to a man who had given him a basket of winter roses
grown in a hot-house. His treasurer wrote down the sum in his presence,
and through a slip of the pen he wrote three hundred marks. Saladin
said: what are you doing? The treasurer answered: Sire, I have
blundered, and he was about to cancel the surplus. Then Saladin spoke:
do not cancel it; write four hundred instead. It would be ill for me
were your pen more generous than I.

This Saladin, at the time of his sultanate, ordered a truce between
himself and the Christians, and said he would like to behold our
customs, and if they pleased him, he would become a Christian.

The truce was made.

Saladin came in person to study the habits of the Christians; he beheld
the tables set for eating with dazzlingly white cloths, and he praised
them exceedingly.

And he beheld the disposition of the table where the King of France
ate, set apart from the others.

And he praised it highly. He saw the places where the great ones of the
realm ate, and he praised them highly.

He saw how the poor ate on the ground in humility, and this he
disapproved greatly.

Moreover, he blamed them for that the lord’s friends ate more lowly and
further down the table.

Then the Christians went to see the customs of the Saracens, and saw
that they ate on the ground grossly.

The Sultan had his pavilion, where they ate, richly draped and the
ground covered with carpets which were closely worked with crosses.

The stupid Christians entered, stepping with their feet on these
crosses and spitting upon them as on the ground.

Then the Sultan spoke and took them to task harshly: do you preach the
Cross and scorn it thus? It would seem then that you love your God only
with show of words and not with deeds. Your behaviour and your manners
do not meet with my liking.

The truce was broken off, and the war began again. [51]



A burgher of France had a wife who was extremely fair.

Once she was at a festival with other women of the city. And there was
present a very beautiful woman who was much looked at by all. The
burgher’s wife said to herself: if I had so fine a tunic as she has, I
should be no less looked at than she is.

She returned home to her husband and showed him a cross face.

Her husband asked her frequently why she was so aggrieved. And the
woman replied: because I am not dressed so that I can be with other
women. For at such and such a feast, the other women who were not so
fair as I am were looked at, but I was not for my ugly tunic. [52]

Then her husband promised her that with his first earnings he would buy
her a fine tunic.

But a few days passed when a burgher came to him and asked for the loan
of ten marks. And he offered him a gain of two marks at a certain date.
The husband replied: I will have none of it, for my soul would be in
danger of hell fire. And the wife said: Oh, you disloyal traitor, you
will not do it so that you need not buy me my tunic.

Then the burgher, through the urgings of his wife, lent the money for
an interest of two marks, and bought his wife the tunic. The wife went
to mass with the other women.

At that time there lived Merlin.

And one man spoke and said: by Saint John, that is a most fair lady.

And Merlin, the wise prophet, spoke and said: truly she is fair, if
only the enemies of God did not share that tunic with her.

And the lady turned and said: tell me in what way the enemies of God
have a share in my tunic.

He answered: lady, I will tell you. Do you remember when you went to a
certain feast, where the other women were more regarded than you
because of your ugly tunic? And you returned and showed yourself cross
to your husband? And he promised to buy you a tunic with his first
earnings? And a few days afterwards, a burgher came to borrow ten
marks, at a usury of two, whereon you urged your husband to do this? So
from this ungodly gain does your tunic come. Tell me, lady, if I have
erred in aught.

Certainly, sir, in naught have you erred, answered the lady. And God
forbid that such an ungodly tunic should remain upon me.

And before the whole crowd she doffed it, and begged Merlin to take it
and deliver her from such grievous peril.



A great Moaddo [53] went one day to Alexandria, and was going about his
business when another man came behind him, and pronounced many
insulting words, and made much mock of him, to which he did not reply a

So a man came forward and said: why do you not answer this fellow who
addresses you so villainously?

And he patiently replied: and said to the man who urged him to make
answer. I do not answer because I do not hear anything pleasing to me.



It was the custom in the kingdom of France that a man who deserved to
be dishonoured and condemned should go in a cart.

And if it happened that he was condemned to death, never was found
anyone willing to converse with him or stay with him for any reason.

Lancelot [54] when he became mad for love of Queen Guinevre went in the
cart, and was driven to many places.

And from that day on the cart was no more despised, and ladies and
knights of fine birth go in it now for their disport.

Alas! errant world and ignorant and discourteous people, how much
greater was Our Lord who made the heaven and earth, than Lancelot who
was made a knight [55] and changed and upset so great a usance in the
kingdom of France, which was not his kingdom.

And Jesus Christ, Our Lord, pardoning His own enemies could not make
men pardon theirs.

And this He did and willed in His kingdom to those who crucified Him.

He pardoned them, and prayed to His Father for them.



Some very learned men at a school in Paris were disputing about the
Empyrean [56], and spoke of it with great longing and how it was above
the other heavens.

They spoke of the heaven where Jupiter is and Saturn and Mars, and that
of the Sun and of Mercury and the Moon. And how that above all was the
Empyrean. And above that is God the Father in all His majesty.

As they were thus conversing, there came to them a fool who said to
them: gentlemen, what is there over the head of that gentleman? [57]
One of the learned men answered jestingly: There is a hat. And the fool
went away, and the wise men remained. One of them said: you think you
have given the fool a rebuff, but it is we who have suffered it [58].
Now let us say: what is there overhead? [59] They put all their science
to a test, but could find no answer. Then they said: a fool is he who
is so bold as to put his mind outside the circle. [60] And still more
foolish and rash is he who toils and meditates to discover his own
origin [61].

And quite without sense is he who would know God’s profoundest



A knight of Lombardy, whose name was G—— was a close friend of the
Emperor Frederick, and had no sons to whom to leave his estate,
although indeed he had heirs of his own kin. So he formed the resolve
to spend all he possessed during his life-time, that nothing should be
left after him.

He reckoned the number of years he might live, and added another ten.
But he did not add enough, for wasting and squandering his goods, he
was surprised by old age, and lived too long, and found himself in
poverty, for he had squandered his all.

He took counsel for his sad state, and remembered the Emperor
Frederick, who had shown him much friendship, and who had always spent
much and given away much at his court.

He resolved to go to him, believing that he would be received with
great affection [62].

So he went to the Emperor, and stood before him. He (the Emperor) asked
who he was, although he knew him well. The knight told his name. He
asked about his conditions. The knight told what had happened to him,
and how he had been outwitted by time.

The Emperor replied: leave my court, and do not under penalty of your
life, come into my territory again, for you are he who did not want
that others should inherit aught after your death.



Messer Azzolino [63] had a story-teller whom he made tell him tales
during the long nights of winter. It happened that one night the
story-teller had a great desire to sleep, while Azzolino urged him to
tell tales.

The story-teller began a tale of a countryman who had a hundred
byzantines [64] of his own which he took with him to the market to buy
sheep at the price of two per byzantine. Returning with his sheep he
came to a river he had passed before much swollen with the rains which
had recently fallen. Standing on the bank, he saw a poor fisherman with
a boat, but of so small a size that there was only room for the
countryman and one sheep at a time. Then the countryman began to cross
over with one sheep, and he began to row: the river was wide. He rowed
and passed over.

And here the story-teller ceased his tale.

Azzolino said: go on! And the story-teller replied: let the sheep cross
over and then I will tell you the tale. Since the sheep would not have
crossed in a year, he could meanwhile sleep at his ease. [65]



Riccar Loghercio was Lord of the Isle, and was a great gentleman of
Provence, and a man of great courage and prowess.

And when the Saracens came to attack Spain, he was in that battle
called the Spagnata, the most perilous battle that there has been since
that of the Greeks and the Trojans. Then were the Saracens in great
number, with many kinds of engines, and Riccar Loghercio was the leader
of the first battalion. And as the horses could not be put in the van
for fear of the engines, he bade his followers turn the hindquarters of
their horses towards the enemy; and they backed so long that they found
themselves in the enemy’s midst.

And so the battle proceeded and they continued to slay right and left,
so that they utterly destroyed the enemy.

And when, on another occasion, the Count of Toulouse was fighting
against the Count of Provence, Riccar Loghercio descended from his
steed, and mounted on a mule, and the Count said: What does this mean,
Riccar? Messer, I wish to show that I am good neither for pursuit nor
for flight.

Herein he showed his great liberality, which was greater in him than in
any other knight. [66]



Messer Imberal del Balzo [67] had a great castle in Provence, and he
made much account of auguries as the Spaniards do, and a philosopher,
whose name was Pythagoras and came from Spain [68], wrote an
astronomical table, in which were many meanings of animals, according
to the twelve signs of the zodiac. When birds quarrel. When a man finds
a weasel in the road. When the fire sings, and many meanings of jays
and magpies and crows and of many other animals, according to the moon.

And so Messer Imberal, riding one day with his company, was taking
great care to avoid these birds, for he feared to encounter an augury.
He found a woman on his path, and asked her and said: tell me, good
woman, whether you have this morning found or seen any birds such as
crows, ravens or magpies.

And the woman answered: Sir, I saw a crow on the trunk of a willow
tree. Now tell me, woman, in what direction was it holding its tail?
And the woman replied: Sir, it held it turned towards its behind. [69]
Then Messer Imberal feared the augury, and said to his companions:
before God, I will ride no more to-day nor to-morrow in the face of
this augury.

And often was this tale told in Provence, because of the novel reply
which that woman had inadvertently given.



Two noble knights loved each other with a great love. The name of one
was Messer G—— and the name of the other Messer S——.

These two knights had long loved each other.

Then one of them began to think and say to himself in this wise: Messer
S. has a fine palfrey. Were I to ask him, would he give it me? And so
thinking, would he or would he not, he came to believe at last that he
would not. The knight was much disturbed.

And he began to encounter his friend with a strange manner. And,
thinking over the thing every day, he grew more and more glum. He
ceased to speak to his friend and turned the other way when he met him.

The people wondered greatly, and he wondered too greatly himself.

It chanced one day that Messer S., he who owned the palfrey, could bear
it no longer. He went to his friend and said: my friend, why do you not
speak to me? Why are you angry? The other replied: because I asked you
for your palfrey and you denied it me.

And the other replied: that was never so. It cannot be. The palfrey and
my own person are yours, for I love you as myself.

Then the knight became reconciled with his friend and he turned to the
old amity, and recognised that he had not thought well [70].



Master Thaddeus, as he was instructing his medical scholars, propounded
that whoever should continue for nine days to eat egg-plant [71] would
go mad.

And he proved it according to the law of psychic [72].

One of his scholars, hearing this lesson, decided to put it to the
test. He began to eat egg-plant, and at the end of nine days went
before his master and said: master, that lesson you read us is not
true, because I have put it to the test, and I am not mad.

And he rose and showed him his behind.

Write, said the master, that all this about the egg-plant has been
proved, and he wrote a fresh essay on the subject.



There was once a most cruel king [73] who persecuted God’s people. And
his power was passing great, and yet he could achieve nothing against
that people, for God loved them.

This king spoke with Balaam the prophet, and said: tell me, Balaam, how
comes this matter with my foes? Am I indeed more powerful than they,
and yet can do them no harm?

And Balaam answered: Sire, because they are God’s people. But I will do
in this way, that I will go unto them and will curse them, and you
shall attack them and shall win the victory.

So this Balaam mounted his ass, and went up on to a mountain.

The people were almost all down in the valley; and he went up to curse
them from the mountain [74].

Then the angel of God went before him, and did not let him pass. And he
pricked his ass, thinking it was frightened, and it spoke and said: do
not beat me, for I see here the angel of the Lord with a sword of fire
in his hand, and he will not let me pass.

Then the prophet Balaam looked and beheld the angel. And the angel
spoke and said: why are you going to curse God’s people. You shall
bless them straightaway, just as you desired to curse them, unless you
wish to die.

The prophet went and blessed God’s people, and the king said: what do
you do? This is not cursing.

And he replied: it cannot be otherwise, for the angel of the Lord so
bade me. Therefore, do in this way [75]. You have beautiful women: they
have a lack of them. Take a number of them and dress them richly and
set on their breasts a buckle [76] of gold or silver for an ornament,
on which let there be carved the idol which you adore (for he adored
the statue of Mars) and you will speak to them as follows: that they do
not yield unless the men promise to adore that image and figure of
Mars. And then when they have sinned, I shall be free to curse them.

And so the king did.

He took some fair women in that manner, and sent them into the camp.

The men were desirous of them, and they consented and adored the idols
and then sinned with them.

Then the prophet went and cursed God’s people, and God did not succour

And that king gave battle, and defeated them all.

Wherefore the just suffered the penalty of those who sinned. They
repented and atoned and drove away the women, and became reconciled to
God and returned to their former freedom.



There were two kings in the parts of Greece, and one of them was more
powerful than the other. They went into battle together: the more
powerful one lost.

He went home and shut himself into a room, wondering if he had not
dreamed, and soon began to believe he had not fought at all.

Meanwhile the angel of God came to him, and said: how are you? Of what
are you thinking? You have not dreamed, but have fought indeed and were

And the king looked upon the angel and said: how can that be? I had
thrice as many troops as he; and the angel replied: and yet it has come
to pass, since you are an enemy of God.

Then the king replied: oh, is my enemy then such a friend of God that
he has beaten me for that reason?

No, said the angel, for God revenges Himself upon His enemies by means
of His enemies. Go you once more with your army, and you shall defeat
him even as he defeated you.

Then he went and fought anew with his foe, and defeated him and
captured him as the angel had foretold.



There was one named Melisus [77] who was exceedingly learned in many
sciences and especially in astrology, as can be read in the sixth book
of De Civitate Dei [78].

And it is said that this wise man once passed the night in the house of
a poor woman.

When he went to his rest in the evening, he said to the woman: look
you, woman, leave the house door open to-night, for I am accustomed to
get up and study the stars.

The woman left the door open.

That night it rained, and before the house there was a ditch filled
with water.

When the wise man rose, he fell into it. He began to cry for help. The
woman asked: what is the matter? He answered: I have fallen into a
ditch. Oh you poor fellow, said the woman, you gaze up at the sky and
cannot mind your feet.

The woman got up and helped him, for he was perishing in a little ditch
of water from absentmindedness. [79]



When Bishop Aldebrandino [80] was living in his Palace at Orvieto, he
was at table one day, in the company of various Franciscans, and there
being one of them who was eating an onion with much relish; the Bishop
watching him, said to a page: Go to that friar, and tell him that
gladly would I change stomachs with him.

The page went and told him.

And the friar answered: go, and tell Messere that I well believe he
would change with me, with regard to his stomach, but not with regard
to his bishopric.



Saladin was a minstrel who, being in Sicily one day at table with many
knights, was washing his hands; and a knight said to him: wash your
mouth and not your hands.

And Saladin replied: Messer, I have not spoken of you to-day.

Then as they were strolling about, to rest after eating, Saladin was
questioned by another knight, who said: tell me, Saladin, if I wished
to tell a story of mine, to whom must I tell it as being the wisest
amongst us? Saladin answered: Messer, tell it to whoever appears to you
to be the most foolish.

The knights questioned this answer, and begged him to expatiate upon

Saladin replied: to fools every fool appears wise because of his

Therefore whoever appears most foolish to a fool, will be the wisest,
because wisdom is the contrary of folly. To every fool wise men seem
fools. Therefore to wise men fools seem truly foolish and full of



Messer Polo Traversaro [82] came from Romagna, and was the greatest
noble in all that land, and he ruled over almost all of it without

There were three very swaggering knights, and they held that in all
Romagna there was no man worthy to sit with them as a fourth in

And so in their meeting-place they had a bench for three, and more
could not be seated thereon, and no one dared to seat himself there for
fear of their truculence.

And although Messer Polo was their superior and in other things, they
were obedient to his commands, yet in that desirable place he did not
dare to sit. They admitted, however, that he was the first lord of
Romagna and the one who came nearest of all to making a fourth in their

What did the three knights do, seeing that Messer Polo was pressing
them hard? They walled up half the door of their palace so that he
could not enter [83]. For the man was of a very stout build. Not being
able to enter, he undressed and went in in his shirt.

When they heard him, they got into their beds, and had themselves
covered up as though they were ill.

Messer Polo, who had thought to find them at table, discovered them in
bed. He comforted them, and interrogated them, and inquired as to their
ailments, and perceiving everything, took his leave and went away.

The knights said: this is no joke!

They went to the village of one of their number where he had a
beautiful little castle with moats and a draw-bridge.

They decided to winter there. One day Messer Polo went thither with a
numerous company, and when they wanted to enter, the three knights
raised the bridge. Say what they would, they did not succeed in

So they went away.

When the winter had passed, the knights returned to the city.

Messer Polo, at their return, did not rise, and they were astonished,
and one of them said: O Messer, alack, is this the courtesy you show?
When strangers come to your city, do you show them no honour?

And Messer Polo replied: pardon me, gentle sirs, if I do not rise save
for the bridge that rose for me.

Then the knights made much of him.

One of the knights died, and the other two sawed off the third of the
bench on which they sat, when the third was dead, because in all
Romagna they could not find any knight who was worthy to sit in his



William of Borganda [84] was a noble knight of Provence in the days of
Count Raymond Berenger [85].

One day it came to pass that some knights were boasting [86] and
William boasted that there was no nobleman in Provence whom he had not
knocked from his saddle, and then he said that there was no woman in
Provence who deserved the honour of a tournament [87]. And this he said
in the Count’s presence. And the Count answered: does that include me
too? William replied: yes, you, my lord; I say it to you.

He sent for his horse, saddled and well caparisoned, attached his
spurs, and set his feet in the stirrups, and when he was ready, he
turned to the Count and said: you sir, I neither include nor accept
[88]. And he mounted his horse and spurred it and went off. The Count
was so sore grieved that he did not return to the court.

One day some ladies were gathered together for a splendid banquet; and
they sent for William of Borganda, and the Countess was there and they
said: now tell us, William, why you have so insulted the ladies of
Provence? It shall cost you dear.

Each one of them had a stick hidden away.

The one who acted as spokeswoman said: lo! William for your folly it
behoves you to die.

And William spoke, and said, seeing that he was taken unawares in such
a fashion: I beg you, ladies, by your courtesy that you grant me one
favour. The ladies answered: ask, save that you ask not to escape.

Then William spoke and said: ladies, I beg you of your courtesy that
whoever among you be the greatest hussy be the first to strike me.

Then they looked at one another: no one was found willing to deal the
first blow, and so on that occasion he got away unscathed [89].



Messer Giacopino Rangone [90], a noble knight of Lombardy, being one
day at table, had two flasks of very fine white and red wine before

A buffoon being at the table, did not dare to ask for some of the wine,
much as he desired to. Getting up, and taking a beaker, he washed it
well and ostentatiously. Then when he had washed it, he flourished it
in his hand and said: sire, I have washed it.

And Messer Giacopino put his hand into the glass and said: Well you can
complete your toilet [91] somewhere else.

The buffoon remained there and had no wine.



Marco Lombardo [92] was a noble courtier and extremely wise. One
Christmas he was in a city, where they distributed many gifts, and he
received none. He found another courtier who was an ignorant man
compared with him, and yet he had received many presents. This gave
rise to a good remark, for that courtier said to Marco: how is this,
Marco, that I have received seven gifts and you none? And yet you are
far superior to me and wiser. What is the reason?

And Marco replied: only this, that you found more of your kind than I
of mine.



Sir Lancelot was fighting one day at a fountain with a knight of
Sansonia [93] whose name was Aliban; and they fought keenly, with their
swords, dismounted from their horses.

And when they paused to draw breath, they asked one another’s names.

Sir Lancelot replied: since you desire to hear my name, know that I am
called Lancelot.

Then the combat began once more, and the knight spoke to Lancelot, and
said: your name is deadlier to me than your prowess.

For when he knew that the knight was Lancelot, he began to mistrust his
own worth.



Narcissus [94] was a valiant knight of great beauty.

One day it befell that he was resting beside a lovely fountain. And in
the water he beheld his own most beautiful image. And he began to gaze
upon it, and rejoiced in seeing it in that fountain; and he thought
that the image had a life of its own, that it was in the water, and did
not perceive that it was but an image of himself. He began to love it,
and to fall so deeply in love with it, that he wished to seize it.

And the water grew troubled, and the image vanished, wherefore he began
to weep.

And the water became clear once more, and he beheld the image weeping.

Then he let himself slip into the fountain, so that he drowned.

The season was spring-time.

Some women came to the fountain for sport. They saw the fair Narcissus
drowned. They drew him from the fountain with great lamentation, and
set him by its rim.

The news of it came to the God of Love.

Wherefore the God of Love made of him a most lovely and verdant almond
tree, and it was and is the first tree that bears fruit and renews the
time for loving. [95]



A knight once begged a lady for her love, and told her among other
things that he was noble and rich and passing fair. And your husband is
so ugly, as you know.

And that husband was behind the wall of the room. He spoke and said:
Messer, by your courtesy further your own affairs, but do not mar those
of other men.

Messer di Val Buona was the ugly man. And Messer Rinieri da Calvoli was
the other. [96]



We read of King Conrad [97] that when he was a boy he enjoyed the
company of twelve boys of his own age. Whenever King Conrad was at
fault, the masters who were entrusted with his care did not beat him,
but they beat those boys who were his companions. And he would say: Why
do you beat these boys? The masters answered: Because of your
misdemeanours. And he said: Why do you not beat me, for I am to blame?
And the masters answered: Because you are our lord. But we beat them in
your place. Wherefore sorely should you be grieved if you have a gentle
heart, that others pay the penalty of your faults.

And therefore, we are told, King Conrad took great heed not to act
wrongly, for of pity them.



A physician of Toulouse took to wife a gentlewoman of Toulouse, niece
to the Archbishop. He took her home. In two months she was about to
give birth to a daughter. The physician showed no anger. On the
contrary, he comforted the woman, and showed her reasons, in accordance
with science, that the child could well be his.

And with these words and with a show of friendliness he prevented the
woman from thwarting his purpose. He showed her every attention during
the child-birth.

After her travail, he said to her: Madonna, I have honoured you as much
as I could. Now I beg you by the love you bear me, to return home to
your father’s house. And your daughter I will hold in all honour.

Matters went so far, that the Archbishop heard that the physician had
sent his niece away. He sent for him, and as he was a great man, he
addressed him with very high words, mingled with scorn and menaces.

And when he had had his say, the physician replied and said: Messer, I
took your niece to wife, thinking, with my riches, to be able to supply
and nourish my family; and it was my intention to have a son every
year, and no more. Whereas the woman has begun to give birth after two
months. For this reason I am not sufficiently opulent, if things are to
continue in this way, to be able to nourish them all; and for you it
would not be decorous that your kindred should live in poverty.
Wherefore I beg you humbly, to give her to a man wealthier than I am,
so that she may be no dishonour to you.



Master Francis, son of Master Accorso of the city of Bologna, [98] when
he returned from England, where he had long sojourned, put this problem
to the municipality of Bologna, and said: the father of a family left
his town in poverty and abandoned his sons, and went into remote parts.
After a certain time, he saw some men of his own country. Prompted by
love of his children, he questioned them, and they replied: Messer,
your children have had great gains, and are grown rich. When he heard
this, he decided to depart and returned home. He found his sons rich.
He asked them to reinstate him in his possessions as their father and
lord. The sons refused, saying: father, we have earned this: it has
naught to do with you. So that there came about a law-suit.

Now, in accordance with the law, the father became master of all the
sons had earned. And so I ask of the commune of Bologna that the
possessions of my sons come under my keeping, that is the possessions
of my scholars. For they have become great masters, and have earned
much since I left them.

May it please the commune of Bologna, now that I have returned, to make
me once more master and father, in obedience to the law which treats of
the father of a family.



There was a Gascon woman in Cyprus, who suffered such a villainous and
shameful offence that she could not endure it [99]. So she went before
the King of Cyprus [100] and said: Sire, you have already suffered ten
thousand insults, and I only one. I beg you who have borne so many,
pray teach me how to bear mine.

The King was ashamed, and began to avenge his wrongs, and not to endure



In the days of King John of Acre [101] a bell was hung for anyone to
ring who had received a great wrong, whereupon the King would call
together the wise men appointed for this purpose, in order that justice
might be done.

It happened that the bell had lasted a long time and the rope had
wasted, so that a vine clung to it.

Now it befell that a knight of Acre had a noble charger which had grown
old, so that it had lost its worth, and the knight, to avoid the
expense of its keep, let it wander about. The famished horse tugged at
the vine to eat it. As it tugged, the bell rang.

The judges assembled, and understood the petition of the horse who, it
seemed, asked for justice. They sentenced that the knight whom the
horse had served when it was young, should feed it now that it was old.

The King commanded him to do so under grave penalties.



The Emperor granted a privilege to one of his barons, that whosoever
should pass through his lands should pay him a penny as toll-traverse
for each manifest physical defect. The baron set a gate-keeper at his
door to gather the tolls.

One day it befell that a one-footed man came to the gate: the
gate-keeper asked him for a penny. The man refused and began to pick a
quarrel with him. The keeper took hold of him.

The man, in order to defend himself, drew forth the stump of his arm,
for he had lost one hand.

When the keeper saw this, he said: you shall now pay me two pence, one
for the hand, and one for the foot. So they went on fighting. The man’s
hat fell off his head. He had only one eye. The keeper said: you shall
pay me three pence. They took hold of each other by the hair. The
keeper felt his head: it was scabby. The keeper said: now you shall pay
me four pence.

So he who could have passed on without a quarrel, instead of one penny
had to pay four. [102]



A parish priest who was called Porcellino in the days of Bishop
Mangiadore [103] was accused before the bishop of conducting his parish
badly because of his light behaviour with women.

The bishop, holding an inquiry on him, found him most guilty.

And as he was dwelling at the bishop’s palace, waiting to be deposed,
his family, to help him, showed him how he might escape punishment.

They hid him at night under the Bishop’s bed.

And that night the Bishop sent for one of his paramours. And being with
her in bed, he sought to take hold of her, but the woman refused him,
saying: many promises you have made me, but you never keep your word.
The Bishop replied: light of my eyes, I promise and swear it. No, she
said, I want the money paid down.

The Bishop rose to fetch the money in order to give it to his mistress,
when the priest came from under the bed and said: Messer, for this do
they punish me? Now who could do otherwise?

The Bishop was ashamed and forgave him. But sorely did he take him to
task before the other clergy.



Marco Lombardo [104] who was wiser than any other man of his calling,
was one day approached by a poor but distinguished gentleman who
secretly accepted gifts of money from people of substance, but did not
take other gifts. He had a very sharp tongue, and his name was Paolino.
He put such a question to Marco as he thought Marco would not be able
to answer.

Marco, he said, you are the wisest man in all Italy, and you are poor,
and disdain to petition for gifts: why did you not take forethought so
as to be rich and not have to beg?

And Marco turned round and then said: no one sees us, and no one hears
us. And how did you manage? And Sharp-Tongue replied: I have indeed but
managed to be poor. And Marco said: then do not betray me, and I will
not betray you [105].



A man from the Marches [106] went to study in Bologna. His means ran
short. He wept. Another saw him, and learnt why he was weeping. He said
to him: I will furnish you with means to study, and do you promise me
that you will give me a thousand lire when you win your first law-suit.

The scholar studied and returned to his home.

The other went after him for the recompense.

The scholar, for fear of having to pay the sum, remained idle and did
not pursue his profession, and so both were losers, the one in his
learning, the other in his money.

Now what did that other man devise to get his money? He sued him, and
brought an action for two thousand lire against him, and said to him:
either you win or you lose. If you win, you shall pay me the sum agreed
upon. If you lose, you shall pay me what I sue you for.

Then the scholar paid, and refused to litigate with him.



There was once a rich man who had a very beautiful woman to wife, and
this man loved her much and was very jealous of her.

Now it happened, in God’s pleasure, that this man had an illness of the
eyes whence he became blind and saw the light no more.

Now it befell that this man did not leave his wife, nor ever let her
out of his reach, for he feared she might go astray.

Thus it chanced that a man of the countryside fell in love with this
woman, and not seeing how he could find an opportunity to converse with
her—for her husband was always at her side—he came near to losing his
reason for love of her.

And the woman seeing him so enamoured of her, said to him: you see, I
can do nothing, for this man never leaves me.

So the good man did not know what to do or say. It seemed he would die
for love. He could find no way of meeting the woman alone.

The woman, seeing the behaviour of this gentle man and all that he did,
thought of a way of helping him. She made a long tube of cane, and
placed it to the ear of the man, and spoke to him in this fashion so
that her husband could not hear. And she said to the good man: I am
sorry for you, and I have thought of a way of helping you. Go into the
garden, and climb up a pear-tree which has many fine pears, and wait
for me up there, and I will come up to you.

The good man went at once into the garden, and climbed up the
pear-tree, and awaited the woman.

Now came the time when the woman was in the garden, and she wished to
help the good man, and her husband was still by her side, and she said:
I have a fancy for those pears which are at the top of that pear-tree,
for they are very fine. And the husband said: call some one to pluck
them for you. And the woman said: I will pluck them myself; otherwise I
should not enjoy them.

Then the woman approached the tree to climb it, and her husband came
with her to the foot of the tree, and he put his arms around the trunk
of the tree, so that no one could follow her up it.

Now it happened that the woman climbed up the pear-tree to her friend,
who was awaiting her, and they were very happy together, and the
pear-tree shook with their weight, and the pears fell down on top of
the husband.

Then the husband said: what are you doing, woman, you are knocking all
the pears down? And the woman replied: I wanted the pears off a certain
branch, and only so could I get them.

Now you must know that the Lord God and Saint Peter seeing this
happening, Saint Peter said to the Lord God: do you not see the trick
that woman is playing on her husband? Order that the husband see again,
so he may perceive what his wife does.

And the Lord God said: I tell you, Saint Peter, that no sooner does he
see the light than the woman will find an excuse, so I will that light
come to him, and you shall see what she will say.

Then the light came to him, and he looked up and saw what the woman was
doing. What are you doing with that man? You honour neither yourself
nor me, nor is this loyal in a woman. And the woman replied at once: if
I had not done so, you would not have seen the light.

And the husband, hearing this, was satisfied.

So you see how women and females are loyal, and how quickly they find
excuses. [107]



The most understanding beasts are monkeys, dogs and bears. These are
the most understanding beasts that there are. God has given them more
cleverness than all the others.

So we find in the book of Noah Servus Dei that when he was in the ark
during the deluge, these three beasts kept closer to him than all the

And when they came out of the ark, they were the last to leave him, for
out of their cleverness, they feared that the deluge might begin again



The Emperor Frederick one day had a great nobleman hanged for a certain
misdeed. And that his justice might be visible to all, he had him
guarded by a noble knight with the severe command not to let him be
removed; but the knight paid little attention, and the hanged man was
carried away.

When the knight became aware of this, he took thought with himself as
to what he might do to save his head.

And during the night, deep in thought, he went to a neighbouring abbey
to see if he could find some one newly buried there, that he might
swing him from the gallows in the other one’s place.

That same night he reached the abbey, and found a woman in tears
dishevelled and ungirt and weeping loudly; and she was grievously
afflicted and bewailed her dear husband who had died that very day.

The knight asked her softly: what manner of grief is this?

And the lady replied: I loved him so much that I never wish to be
consoled but desire to end my days here in lamentation.

Then the knight said to her: lady, what sense is there in this? Do you
wish to die here of grief? Neither with tears nor with lamentations can
you bring back to life a dead body. Therefore what folly is this in
which you are indulging? Do as I say: take me to husband, for I have no
wife, and save my life, for I am in danger. And I do not know where to
hide, for at my lord’s bidding I was guarding a knight who had been
hanged by the neck, and some men of his kindred carried him off. Show
me how I may escape, if you can, and I will be your husband and
maintain you honourably.

Then the woman, hearing this, fell in love with the knight, and said: I
will do even as you bid me; so great is the love I bear you. Let us
take this husband of mine, and draw him out of his sepulchre, and hang
him in the place of the man who was taken from you.

And she ceased her plaint, and helped him to draw her husband from his
grave, and assisted him to hang him by the neck, dead as he was.

The knight said: lady, he had one tooth missing from his mouth, and I
fear that if they came and saw him again, I might be dishonoured. And
she, hearing this, broke off a tooth from his mouth, and if more had
been required, she would have done it.

Then the knight, seeing what she had done with her husband, said: lady,
since you showed so little regard for one towards whom you professed
such love, so would you have even less regard for me.

Then he left her, and went about his business, and she remained behind
in great shame. [109]



Charles, the noble king of Sicily and Jerusalem, when he was Count of
Anjou, loved deeply the fair Countess of Teti, who in her turn loved
the Count of Nevers. [110]

At that time the King of France[110] had forbidden all tourneying under
pain of death.

The Count of Anjou, wishing to put it to the proof whether he or the
Count of Nevers were more valiant in arms, took thought, and went most
beseechfully to Messer Alardo de’ Valleri and told him of his love,
saying that he had set his heart on measuring himself with the Count of
Nevers, and he begged him by the love he bore him to obtain leave of
the King that one sole tourney might be held with his licence. The
other sought a pretext.

The Count of Anjou showed him the way. The King is almost a bigot, he
said, and because of the great goodness of your nature, he hopes to
induce you to put on the habit of a religious, that he may have your
company. Therefore in putting this question, let it be asked as a boon,
that he allow you to hold a tournament. And you will do whatever he

And Messer Alardo replied: now tell me, Count, shall I give up all my
knightly company for a tourney?

And the Count replied: I promise you loyally that I will release you
from your pledge. And so he did, as I shall tell you later.

Messer Alardo went off to the King of France and said: Sire, when I
took arms on the day of your coronation, then all the best knights of
the world did bear arms; wherefore, since for love of you, I wish by
all means to leave the world, and to don the religious habit, so let it
please you to grant me a boon, that a tournament may be held in which
all noble knights bear arms, so that I may forsake my arms in as great
a feast as that in which I took them up.

Thereupon, the King gave the leave.

A tournament was ordered.

On one side, was the Count of Nevers, and on the other side was the
Count of Anjou. The Queen with countesses, ladies and damsels of high
lineage were in the tribunes, and the Countess of Teti was with them.

On that day the flower of knighthood was in arms from one end of the
world to the other. After much tourneying, the Count of Anjou and he of
Nevers had the field cleared [111], and moved against one another with
all the force of their weighty chargers and with great lances in their

Now it chanced that in the midst of the field the steed of the Count of
Nevers fell with the Count all in a heap, and the ladies descended from
the tribunes, and bore him in their arms most tenderly.

And the Countess of Teti was with them.

The Count of Anjou lamented loudly, saying, alas! why did not my horse
fall like that of the Count of Nevers, so that the Countess might have
been as close to me as she was to him?

When the tourney was ended, the Count of Anjou went to the Queen, and
begged of her a grace: that for love of the noble knights of France she
would make a show of being angry with the King, and when they made
peace, she would ask him for a boon, and the boon should be this: that
it should be the King’s pleasure that the youthful knights of France
should not lose so noble a companion as Messer Alardo de’ Valleri.

The Queen did as he said.

She feigned anger with the king, and when they made peace, she asked
him for her wish.

And the King promised her a boon.

And Messer Alardo was set free of his promise, and remained with the
other noble knights tourneying and performing feats of arms, so that
his fame spread throughout the world for his great skill and his most
wonderful prowess.



Socrates was a noble Roman philosopher [112], and in his days the
Greeks sent a great and noble embassy to the Romans.

The purpose of their embassy was to adduce arguments to free themselves
of the tribute they paid to the Romans. And the Sultan gave them these
instructions: go and make use of arguments, and if necessary, use

The ambassadors reached Rome.

The purpose of their embassy was set forth in the Roman Council.

The Roman Council decided that the reply to the Greeks’ question should
be made by the philosopher Socrates; it being decided without any
further conditions that Rome would stand by whatever Socrates answered.

The ambassadors went to Socrates’ dwelling, very far from Rome, to set
their arguments before him.

They arrived at his house, which was quite unpretending. They found him
picking parsley. They caught sight of him from a distance. He was a man
of simple appearance. They conversed with one another, and considered
the above-mentioned facts. And they said to one another: this man will
be an easy bargain for us, for he seemed to them to be poor rather than

They arrived and said: may God save you, O man of great wisdom, for so
you must be since the Romans have entrusted so weighty a matter as this
to you.

They showed him the decision of Rome, and said to him: we shall set our
reasonable arguments, which are many, before you. Your own sense will
ensure our rights. And know that we obey a rich master: you will take
these perperi [113] which are many, and yet for our lord are nothing,
though to you they may be very useful.

And Socrates answered the ambassadors, and said: first you will dine,
and then we will attend to your business.

They accepted the invitation and dined very poorly without leaving a

After dinner, Socrates spoke to the ambassadors and said: gentlemen,
what is better, one thing or two things? The ambassadors replied: two.
And he said: now go to the Romans with your persons, for if the city of
Rome has the persons of the Greeks, it will have their persons and
their goods. And if I took the gold, the Romans would lose their trust
in me.

Then the ambassadors left the philosopher, full of shame, and obeyed
the Romans.



Mount Arimini is in Burgundy, and there is a lord called Roberto, and
it is a great county.

The Countess and her maids had a sottish door-keeper, who was, however,
a man of robust build, and his name was Baligante. One of the maids
began to lie with him; then she spoke of him to another until the
Countess heard of him.

When the Countess heard how robust a man he was, she lay with him too.

The lord found them out. He had the man killed, and made a pie of his
heart, and presented it to the Countess and her maids, and they ate of

After the meal, the lord came to the hall, and asked how the pie had
been. They all answered: good! Then the lord said: it is no wonder,
seeing that you liked Baligante alive, that you should like him dead.

And the Countess and the maids when they heard this, were ashamed, and
saw clearly that they had lost their honour in this world.

They became nuns and founded a convent, which is called the Convent of
the Nuns of Rimino Monte.

The house grew apace, and became passing rich.

And this tale is told, and it is true. For there they have this custom
that whenever any gentleman passes with a great quantity of chattels
they invite him, and show him honour.

And the Abbess and the sisters come out to meet him, and after some
conversation [114] whichever he likes best, serves him and accompanies
him to board and to bed.

In the morning, when he rises, he finds water and fine linen, and when
he has washed, she prepares a needle for him with a silk thread, and he
must pass the thread through the eye of the needle, and if at the third
trial he finds he cannot succeed, then the women deprive him of all his
chattels, and give him nothing back.

And if at the third trial, he threads the needle, they give him back
his arms, and present him with beautiful jewels.



Good King Meladius and the Knight Without Fear were mortal enemies in
the field.

One day as this Knight Without Fear was wandering about disguised,
after the manner of knights-errant, he met his squires who loved him
dearly, but who did not recognize him.

And they said: tell us O knight-errant, by the honour of chivalry,
which is the better knight, the Knight Without Fear or good King

And the knight answered: may God prosper me! King Meladius is the best
knight who ever mounted a saddle.

Then the squires, who could not abide King Meladius, for love of their
master, took their lord by surprise, and lifted him thus armed from his
saddle, and set him on a jade, and said aloud that they were going to
hang him.

As they went on their way, they fell in with King Meladius. They found
him disguised as a knight-errant on his way to a tournament, and he
asked the fellows why they were treating that knight so villainously.

And they replied: Messer, because he has well deserved to die, and if
you but knew the reason, you would treat him worse yourself than we do.
Ask him of his misdeed.

King Meladius drew nearer and said: knight, what wrong have you done to
these fellows that they treat you so knavishly? And the knight replied:
naught. No wrong have I done to them unless it be that I favoured the
cause of truth.

Said King Meladius: that cannot be. Tell me more narrowly in what way
you offended. And he replied: gladly, sir. I was bent on my way, after
the fashion of a knight-errant. I came across these squires, and they
asked me, by the truth of chivalry to say whether good King Meladius or
the Knight Without Fear were the better knight. And I, to favour, as I
said before, the cause of truth, said that King Meladius was the
better, and I spoke but to tell the truth, considering that King
Meladius is my mortal enemy, and I hate him mortally. I do not wish to
lie. No other wrong have I done. And therefore they at once treated me
so shamefully.

Then King Meladius began to beat the servants, and had the knight
unbound, and gave him a rich charger with his own arms (worked on the
trappings) though they were covered, and he begged him not to raise the
cover before reaching his castle: and they departed, and each went his
way, King Meladius and the squires and the knight [115].

In the evening, the knight reached the castle. He took the cover off
the saddle. He found the arms of King Meladius who had set him free so
handsomely, and given him a rich gift, and yet was his mortal enemy



At the court of Puy-Notre-Dame in Provence, when the son of Count
Raymond [117] was made knight, a great court was held, to which were
invited all good people, and so many came willingly that the robes and
silver ran short. And it was necessary to have recourse to the knights
of the feud itself that sufficient might be supplied for the knights
who came to the court. Some refused, and some gave with good grace.

The day the feast was ordered a tame hawk was placed on a pole.

Now it was arranged that whosoever felt himself a man of courage and
means enough and should take the hawk in his hand, should provide a
feast for the court that year.

The knights and squires all joyous and gay, made beautiful songs and
poems, and four judges were chosen that those which had merit might be

Then they sang and said much good of their lord.

And their sons were noble knights and gentle.

Then it happened that one of those knights (whose name was Messer
Alamanno), a man of much valour and goodness, loved a very beautiful
woman of Provence who was called Madonna Grigia; and he loved her so
secretly that none could guess the truth.

It came about that the squires of Puy plotted together to deceive him
and make him boast of his love. They spoke thus to certain knights and
barons: we pray you that at the first tournament which is held, it be
ordered that there be boastings [118]. For they thought: Messer So and
So is a great knight, and will do well on the day of the tourney, and
will be exalted with delight. The knights will take up the boasts; and
he will not be able to hold himself from boasting of his lady.

Thus it was ordered.

The tournament took place. The knight won honour and was victorious. He
was excited with joy.

In the repose of the evening, the knights began the boasts: such a one
of a beautiful castle; another of a fine goshawk; another of a lucky

And the knight could not hold himself from boasting that he had such a
beautiful lady.

Then it happened that he returned to pay her homage as was the custom.
And the lady dismissed him [119].

The knight was all dismayed, and departed from her and the company of
the knights and went into a forest, and shut himself up in a hermitage,
so secret that none knew of it.

Then anyone who had seen the grief of the knights and the ladies and
the damsels who constantly lamented the loss of so noble a knight might
well have felt pity.

One day it came about that the young squires of Puy lost their prey and
their bearings during a hunt, and chanced upon the aforesaid hermitage.
The knight asked them if they were from Puy. They replied yes. He asked
them for news.

And the squires began to tell him how they had sad tidings; how for a
small misdeed they had lost the flower of knights, and how this lady
had dismissed him, and no one knew what had become of him. But soon,
they said, a tournament will be proclaimed at which there will be many
good people, and we think that he has so gentle a heart, that wherever
he may be, he will come and joust with us [120]. And we have marshalled
guards of great strength and knowledge who will surely bring him back.
So we hope to regain our great loss.

Then the hermit wrote to a faithful friend of his to send him secretly
on the day of the tournament arms and a horse. And he sent away the

The friend supplied the needs of the hermit, and on the day of the
tournament sent him arms and a horse, and it was the day of the
challenges between the knights, and he won the prize at the tournament.

The guards saw him and recognized him. They bore him among them in
triumph. And the people rejoiced, and lowered his visor, and begged him
for love that he would sing. And he replied: I shall never sing unless
I am at peace with my lady.

Then the noble knights were persuaded to go to the lady, and begged her
that she would pardon him.

The lady replied: tell him I will never pardon him unless a hundred
barons and a hundred knights, a hundred ladies and a hundred damsels
shall cry to me with one voice for mercy, and know not to whom they

Then the knight, who was a man of great wisdom, bethought himself that
the feast of Candlemass was approaching, when there would be great
rejoicing in Puy, and all good folk would go to the monastery. And he
argued: my lady will be there and many good people, such as she
(Madonna Grigia) has asked herself shall cry out to her for mercy.

Then he composed a very beautiful song; and in the morning early went
up into the pulpit and began to sing his song as best he knew, and well
he knew how to sing it, and thus it ran:

    Like the stag which has run a great course and comes to die 
    ’mid the sound of the hunters’ cries, so, lady, to your pity, 
    I turn.... [121]

Then all the folk who were in the church cried out mercy, and the lady
pardoned him.

And he entered into her good grace as he had been before.



Messer Tristan of Cornwall loved Iseult the fair [122], who was King
Mark’s wife, and between them they fashioned a love signal in this
wise: that when Messer Tristan wished to speak to her, he went to a
garden of the king where there stood a fountain, and he muddied the
water of the rivulet made by the fountain: which rivulet passed by the
palace where the lady Iseult lived.

So when she saw the water disturbed, she knew that Messer Tristan was
at the fountain.

Now it happened that an inquisitive gardener [123] perceived the plan
in such a manner that the two lovers could in no way be aware of his

This gardener went to King Mark and told him everything as it had
happened. King Mark believed him.

He ordered a hunt, and separated from his knights as though he had lost
his way. The knights searched for him, wandering about the forest. King
Mark climbed up the pine tree which stood above the fountain where
Tristan spoke with the queen.

And King Mark staying in the pine-tree at night, Messer Tristan came to
the fountain and disturbed its water.

A little while after, the queen came to the fountain. And by chance she
had a happy thought to look at the pine-tree. And she saw that its
shadow was deeper than usual. Then the queen became afraid, and being
afraid, she stopped and spoke with Tristan in this manner and said:
disloyal knight, I have made you come here to complain of your misdeed,
for never was such disloyalty in a knight as you have shown by your
words which have dishonoured me, and your uncle king Mark who has loved
you so much. And you have been saying things about me among the
wandering knights that could never have place in my heart. I would give
myself to the flames should I dishonour so noble a king as my lord the
king Mark. Therefore I no longer recognise you as my knight, and I
dismiss you as an unloyal knight with all my force and with no respect.

Tristan, hearing these words, doubted strongly, and said: my lady, if
some malicious knights of Cornwall speak of me in this fashion, I say
first of all that I was never guilty of such things. May it please your
ladyship, but by the Lord, these knights are envious of me. I have
never said or done anything that meant dishonour for you or for my
uncle, the king Mark. But since it is your pleasure, I will obey your
commands. I will go away to other parts to end my days. And maybe
before I die, the malicious knights of Cornwall will have felt need of
me as they did at the time of Amoroldo [124], when I delivered them and
their lands from a vile and painful servitude.

And he went away without saying another word.

King Mark who was above the two when he heard this, grew glad with a
great gladness.

When morning came, Tristan made feint to go riding. He had horses and
pack mules shod. Valets ran to and fro, some carrying saddles, others
bridles. The commotion was great.

The king grew angry at Tristan’s departure, and summoned his barons and
knights. He sent an order to Tristan not to depart without his leave
under pain of incurring his displeasure. Thus ordered the king, and so
vigorously, that the queen sent to Tristan and bade him not to go.

And so Tristan remained there, and did not depart.

Nor was he surprised or deceived again owing to the shrewd
circumspection that grew up between the two.



There was a very wise philosopher whose name was Diogenes. This
philosopher had been taking a bath in a pool and was standing by a cave
in the sun. Alexander of Macedon passed with a great force of cavalry.
He saw the philosopher, spoke to him and said: O man of miserable
existence, ask me something, and whatever you wish I will give it you.

And the philosopher replied: I beg you to remove yourself from my



Papirius was a Roman, a powerful man, wise and very fond of war. And
the Romans wishing to defend themselves against Alexander, put their
trust in the valour of this Papirius.

When Papirius was a child, his father took him with him to the council.
One day the council ordered that its sittings should be kept secret.
And his mother, who wanted to know what the Romans had been discussing,
plied him with many questions.

Papirius perceiving the desire of his mother, concocted a splendid lie,
and said thus: the Romans were discussing which was better: for the men
to have two wives, or the women two husbands, so that the race may
multiply to meet those who are rebellious against Rome. The council
decided that it was better and more convenient that the men should have
two wives.

The mother, who had promised the boy to keep the matter a secret, told
the thing to another woman, who told it to yet another.

Thus it went from one to another until all Rome knew of it. The women
came together and went to the senators, and made great complaint. And
they feared still graver novelties. Hearing the complaints, they
courteously dismissed the women, and commended Papirius for his wisdom.

And then the commune of Rome decided that no father should take his son
with him to council [125].



Aristotle was a great philosopher.

There came to him one day a young man with a singular question. Master,
he said, I have seen a thing which much displeases my mind. I have seen
an old man ripe in years doing wanton follies. Now if the cause of such
things be age, I have decided to die young. Therefore for the love of
God give me counsel, if you can.

Aristotle replied: I cannot do other than tell you that when the nature
of man grows old, the good natural heat changes into weakness, while
the reasonable virtue fails and alters [126]. For your instruction I
will teach you what I can. Do so that in your youth you practice all
beautiful, pleasant and honest things, and guard yourself from
indulging in what is contrary to these; so when you are old, you will
live without evil, not from nature or from reason, but owing to the
long pleasant and noble habit you have formed.



The Emperor Trajan was a most just lord.

Going one day with his host of cavalry against his enemies, a widow
woman came before him, and taking hold of his stirrup said: Sire,
render me justice against those who have wrongfully put my son to
death. And the Emperor answered: I will give you satisfaction when I
return. And the woman said [127]: and if you do not return? To which he
replied: my successor will give you satisfaction. And if your successor
should fail me, you will be my debtor. And supposing that he give me
satisfaction, the fact of another man rendering me justice will not
absolve you of blame. Moreover, your successor may have enough to do to
think of himself.

Then the Emperor got down from his horse, and did justice on those who
had killed the woman’s son, and then rode off and defeated his enemies.

And not a long time after his death [128] there came holy Saint Gregory
the pope, and learning of his work of justice, went to his monument.
And with tears in his eyes, he honoured the Emperor with mighty praise
and had him disinterred. It was found that all the body had turned to
dust save the bones and the tongue.

And this showed how just a man he had been, and how justly he had

And Saint Gregory prayed to God for him. And it is related that by
evident miracle, owing to the prayers of this holy pope, the soul of
the Emperor was freed from the torments of hell and passed into eternal
life, pagan though he had been [129].



Hercules was a very strong man beyond other men’s strength, and he had
a wife who caused him much trouble.

One day he went off suddenly and entered a great forest where he found
bears and lions and very fierce wild beasts. He tore them apart, and
killed them all with his mighty strength. No beast did he find strong
enough to be able to protect itself from him.

And he remained a long time in this forest.

He returned to his wife and house with his garments all torn and
wearing lion skins on his back. His wife came forward to meet him,
making great festivity, and began to say: welcome, my lord, what news
have you?

And Hercules replied: I come from the forest. I have found all the wild
beasts more gentle than you, for I have subdued all those I have come
across save you. Indeed it is you who have subdued me. You are
therefore the strongest thing [130] I have ever encountered, for you
have conquered him who has conquered all the others.



Seneca wishing to console a woman whose son had died, as we read in the
Book of Consolation [131], he said these words: if you were a woman
like other women, I should not speak to you as I am going to speak. But
for the fact that you, though woman, have the intellect of a man, I
will speak to you so. There were two women in Rome, and the son of each
of them died. One was one of the dearest lads in the world, and the
other was most lovable, too. One woman let herself receive consolation,
and was content to be consoled; the other woman hid herself in a corner
of the house and refused every consolation, and gave herself to tears.
Which of these two acted the more wisely? If you say she who was
willing to be consoled, you say rightly. Therefore, why weep? If you
tell me: I weep for my son, because his goodness did me honour, I tell
you you are not mourning him, but rather your own loss, whence it is
for yourself you are weeping, and it is a very ugly thing to weep over
oneself. And if you will say to me: my heart is weeping because I loved
him so much, it is not true, for you love him less now that he is dead,
than when he was alive. And if your grief be for love, why did you not
weep when he was alive, knowing that he had to die? Hence, do not
excuse yourself: cease your tears. If your son is dead, it cannot be
otherwise. Death is second nature, and therefore a thing meet and
necessary for all.

And so he consoled her.

We read further of Seneca that being Nero’s master, he beat him when he
was young and his scholar, and when Nero was made emperor, he
remembered the beatings received from Seneca, and he had him taken and
condemned to death.

But he did him the favour of letting him choose what kind of death he
would have.

And Seneca chose to have his veins opened in a hot bath.

And his wife wept and cried out: alas! my lord, what grief that you
should die for no fault of yours.

And Seneca replied: it is better that I should die without fault than
through some fault of mine. For then he who kills me wrongfully would
be excused.



Cato the philosopher, one of Rome’s greatest men, being in prison and
in poverty, rallied against his fate, and was sorely grieved and said:
why have you taken so much away from me? Then he answered himself in
the place of fate and said: my son, how finely have I not brought you
up and educated you. I have given you all you have asked me. I have
given you the lordship of Rome. I have made you master of many
delights, of great palaces, of much gold, fine horses and beautiful
accoutrements. O my son, why do you complain? Is it because I leave

And Cato answered: yes, I grieve for this. And fate replied: my son,
you are a wise man. Do you not remember that I have other little sons,
whom I must take care of? Do you want me to abandon them? That would
not be right. Ah! what a host of children I have to support! My son, I
cannot stay longer with you. Do not complain, for I have taken away
from you nothing, since what you have lost was not yours. For what can
be lost is not one’s own. And what is not personal to you is not yours.



The Sultan, being in need of money, was advised to proceed against a
rich Jew, who lived in his country, and to try to take away his
substance from him.

The Sultan sent for this Jew and asked him what was the best religion,
thinking he will say surely the Jewish faith, when I will tell him that
he sins against mine. And if he says the Saracen, I will ask him why he
is a Jew.

The Jew, hearing the question, replied: Sire, there was a father who
had three sons, and he had a ring with a precious stone, one of the
finest in the world. Each of the sons begged this father that he should
leave him this ring at his death. The father, seeing that each of them
desired it, sent for a good jeweller and said to him: master, make me
two rings just like this one, and set in each of them a stone
resembling this one. The jeweller made the rings so that no one knew
the real gem apart save the father. He sent for his sons one by one,
and to each he gave a ring in secret, and each believed he had the true
ring, and no one knew the truth save the father. And so I tell you of
the faiths which are three. God above knows best of all, and his sons
who are ourselves each of us thinks he has the true one.

Then the Sultan hearing the man get out of the difficulty in this
manner, did not know how to entrap him, and let him go [132].



A vassal of a lord who held his lands, it being at the season of the
new figs, and the lord walking through his land, saw a fine ripe fig at
the top of a fig-tree. The lord told the vassal to pluck it for him.

The vassal then thought: since he likes them, I will keep them for him.
So he tended the tree and watched it carefully.

When the figs were ripe, he brought the lord a basketful, thinking so
to win his favour. But when he brought them, the season was past, and
there was such an abundance of figs that they were almost given to the

The lord, seeing the figs, grew indignant, and ordered his servants to
bind the vassal and take the figs from him and to throw them one by one
in his face. And when a fig came near his eye, he cried out: my lord, I
thank you.

The servants owing to the strangeness of this, went and told their lord
who said: why did he say so? And the man answered: Sire, because I had
in mind to bring peaches, and if I had brought them, I should now be

Then the lord began to laugh, and had the man unbound and gave him
wherewith to dress himself again, and made him a present for the novel
thing he had said [133].



The Lord once formed a partnership with a minstrel.

Now it befell one day that it had been made known that wedding
festivities were to be held, and it had also been made known that a
rich man had died. The minstrel said: I will go to the wedding, and you
shall go the funeral. The Lord went to the funeral, and succeeded in
raising the dead man. He received a reward of one hundred ducats.

The minstrel went to the wedding, and ate his fill. And he returned
home, and found his companion, who had earned his reward. He praised
him. The Lord had eaten nothing. The minstrel obtained some money from
him, and bought a fat kid, and roasted it. And as he roasted it, he
drew out the kidneys, and ate them.

When it was set before his companion, the latter asked for the kidneys.
The minstrel replied: the kids in this region have no kidneys.

Now it befell, on another occasion, that another wedding was announced,
and another rich man died. And God said: this time I wish to go the
wedding, and do you go to the funeral; and I will show you how to raise
the dead man. You shall make the sign of the cross on him, and you
shall bid him to rise, and he will arise. But first of all, let them
promise you a reward. The minstrel said: indeed, so I will.

He went, and promised to raise him; but he did not rise, for all his

The dead man was the son of a great lord.

The father waxed wroth, seeing that this man was making a mock of him.
He sent him away to be hanged by the neck.

The Lord went out to meet him, and said: Do not fear, for I will raise
him; but tell me, on your honour, who did eat the kidneys of the kid?
The minstrel replied: By that holy world whither I must go, oh my
partner, I did not eat them. The Lord, seeing that he could not make
him confess, had pity on him. So he went, and raised the dead man. And
the other was set free, and received the recompense that he had been
promised. They returned home. The Lord said: O my partner, I wish to
leave you, because I have not found you to be as loyal as I thought you

And he, seeing that it must be so perforce, said: I am content. Do you
divide, and I will take my share. The Lord divided the money into three
parts. And the minstrel said: What are you doing? We are but two. Said
the Lord: That is indeed so; but this one part shall belong to him who
ate the kidneys, and the others shall be, one yours and one mine.

Then the minstrel said: By my faith, since you speak this, I must
indeed tell you that I did eat them. I am so old, that I may tell no
more lies. And so such things can be proved for money, which a man will
confess who would not confess them in order to save his own life [134].



Good King Richard of England once crossed the seas with his barons,
counts and brave and valiant knights, but he brought no horses, and so
he arrived in the land of the Sultan.

And it came about that he gave the order for battle, and made such a
great killing of the Saracens that the nurses say there to the children
when they cry: Here comes King Richard, for like death was he feared.

They tell that the Sultan seeing his men fly, asked: how many are these
Christians who do such great slaughter, and they answered him: Sire,
there is only King Richard with his folk. Then the Sultan said: May God
forbid that so noble a man as King Richard should go on foot. He
ordered a fine steed to be sent to him.

The messenger brought the fine steed and said: Sire, the Sultan sends
you this horse so that you need not remain on foot.

But the King was wise, and ordered a squire of his to mount the horse
that he might try it.

And this the squire did. The horse was trained to come back to the
Sultan’s camp. The horseman could not hold it in, for it raced with all
its might to the Sultan’s pavilion. The Sultan had been expecting to
see King Richard, but he did not come.

Thus we see that we should have little trust in the kind offers of our



Messer Rinieri of Monte Nero [135], a knight of the court, went to
Sardinia, and dwelt with the lord of Alborea, and fell in love with a
Sardinian lady who was very beautiful. He lay with her. The husband
found them out. He did them no harm, but went to his lord, and made
great complaint.

The Lord loved this Sardinian. He sent for Messer Rinieri; he spoke to
him words of severe menace. And Messer Rinieri begged his pardon, and
told him to send for the woman, and to ask her, whether what she had
done was for aught but for love. The lord did not like to be made fun
of. He ordered him to leave the country under penalty of his life. And
not having yet been rewarded for his services, Messer Rinieri said: May
it please you to send to Pisa to your seneschal to provide for me. That
will I do right gladly. He wrote him a letter and gave it to him.

Now when he had reached Pisa, and went to the aforesaid seneschal, and
sat at table with many noble persons, he narrated what had happened,
and then gave this letter to the seneschal. This man read it, and found
that he was to give him a pair of linen hose without feet, and nothing
else. And he wished to receive them before all the knights present.

When he had them, there was great merriment and much laughter. He was
not at all angered by this, for he was an exceedingly gentle knight.

Now it befell that he entered into a boat with a horse and a servant of
his, and returned to Sardinia.

One day when his lord was riding out with other knights, he met Messer
Rinieri who was tall and had long legs, and was sitting on a worn jade,
and had these linen hose on his legs. The lord recognised him, and with
angry mien sent for him, to come before him, and said: What does this
mean, Messer Rinieri, why have you not left Sardinia? Certes, said
Messer Rinieri. I did but return for the feet of the hose. He stretched
out his legs, and showed his feet.

Then the lord was amused, and laughed, and forgave him, and presented
him with the robe that he wore, and said: Messer Rinieri, you have been
wiser than I, and know more than I taught you. And he rejoined: Messer,
that redounds to your honour.



There was once a philosopher, who was much given to vulgarising
science, to please some lords and other persons.

One night he saw in a vision the Goddesses of science, in the form of
beautiful women, in a bawdy-house. And seeing this, he wondered much,
and said: What is this? Are you not the Goddesses of Science? And they
replied: Of a surety we are. How is this that you are in a bawdy-house?
And they rejoined: Indeed it is true, for you are he who makes us to be

He awoke, and considered that to vulgarise science is to lower the
divinity. He ceased to do so, and repented sorely.

So know that not all things are adapted to all persons.



There was a lord who had a player at his court, and this player adored
his lord as though he were his god.

Another player of the court, seeing this, spoke ill of him and said:
who is this man whom you call your god? He is nobody. And the first,
being bold for the favour he enjoyed of his lord, beat the other fellow
unmercifully. This man, being unable to defend himself, went to
complain to the lord and related the whole event.

The lord made a jest of the matter.

The beaten jongleur went away, and hid himself among people of mean
rank, for he feared to remain among better folk for the shame that had
come to him.

Now it happened that the lord heard of this and was displeased, so that
he decided to dismiss his player and send him away.

It was the custom in this court that when a man received a present from
his lord he knew himself dismissed from service. The lord took a great
deal of money and placed it in a tart, and when his jongleur came
before him, he gave it him, saying to himself: since I am constrained
to discharge him, I want him to be a wealthy man.

When the jongleur saw the tart, he became distressed. He thought and
said to himself: I have eaten; I will keep it and give it to my

Taking it with him to the inn, he found there the man whom he had
beaten, and he was wretched and sad. The player feeling pity for him,
went towards him, and gave him the tart. And he took it, and went off
with it, and was well repaid for the punishment he had taken from the

Then the jongleur going back to his lord to take farewell of him, the
lord said: what, you are still here? Did you not have the tart? Sir, I
had it. What did you do with it? Sir, I had eaten then. I gave it to a
poor court player, who spoke ill of me because I called you my god.

Then the lord said: go and bad fortune go with you, for certainly his
god is a better one than yours.

And he told him all about the tart.

The jongleur felt himself lost, and did not know what to do. He
separated from his lord and had nothing further from him.

And he went out to seek for the man to whom he had given the tart.

Nor was it true that he ever found him.



A pilgrim who had committed a crime was arrested; and it was made known
that he should pay a thousand franks or else lose the use of his eyes.

Since the pilgrim was unable to pay, he was bound and blindfolded, as
is the custom of that place.

When he was led through the town to the place of punishment, a woman,
who had great possessions, although she was extremely ugly, saw this
pilgrim, who was young and handsome, and asked why he was led to the
place of punishment. She was told that it was because he could not pay
a thousand franks.

The woman sent word to him that if he would take her to wife, she would
pay the thousand franks. The pilgrim consented; he was brought before
the woman.

When the pilgrim saw that the woman was so ugly, he said to those who
had taken off his bandage that he might see the woman: quickly,
quickly, blindfold me again, for it is better never to see, than always
to see something unpleasant.

The lord of that country learned what the pilgrim had said: therefore
he sent for him, and condoned his punishment, and set him free [136].



When the sons of king Priam had re-made Troy, which the Greeks had
destroyed, and Talamon and Agamemnon had taken the lady Hesione, the
sons of Priam called a meeting of their powerful allies and spoke so
among their friends: dear friends, the Greeks have done us a great
wrong. They have killed our folk, and destroyed our city, and our lady
they have taken away. And we have re-made our city and strengthened it.
Our alliance is a powerful one. Moreover, we have gathered together no
little treasure. Now let us send and tell them they must make amend for
the injuries done us, that they must give us back our lady. And this
Paris said.

Then the good Hector who surpassed in valour at that time all the
valorous men, spoke thus: my lords, war is not to my liking, nor do I
advise it, for the Greeks are more powerful than we are. They have
valour and wealth and science, and so we are not in a position to
combat them, for this great strength of theirs. And I say this not from
cowardice. For if it shall be that the war cannot be avoided, I will
uphold my part in it like anyone else. And I will support the weight of
the battle. And this is against those who would make the enterprise.

Now the war came about. Hector was in the battle together with the
Trojans, and was as valiant as a lion. And with his own hands he killed
more than two thousand of the Greeks.

Hector killed the Greeks and supported the Trojans and escaped death.

But in the end Hector was slain, and the Trojans abandoned every
defence. The bold spirits who had urged the war grew fainter in their
hardihood, and Troy was again conquered by the Greeks and subjugated by
them. [137]



The daughter of a great vassal [138] loved Lancelot of the Lake beyond
measure, but he did not wish to give her his love, since he had given
it to Queen Guinevere. So much did the girl love Lancelot that she came
to death thereby, and she commanded that when her soul had left her
body, a rich boat should be prepared to be covered with a vermilion
cloth, and a fine bed laid therein with rich and noble coverings of
silk and adorned with precious stones.

And her body was to be laid in this bed dressed in her finest garments
with a lovely crown on her head, rich in gold and ornamented with
precious stones, and she was to have a rare girdle and a satchel too.

And in the satchel there was to be a letter of the following tenour.

But first of all let us tell of what happened before the letter. The
damsel died of the sickness of love, and it was done with her as she
wished [139] about the vessel with no sails or oars and no one aboard.

The sailless vessel was put into the sea with the woman, and the sea
took it to Camelot, and drifted it to the shore.

A cry passed through the court. The knights and barons came down from
the palaces, and noble King Arthur came too, and marvelled mightily
that the boat was there with no guide.

The king stepped on to it and saw the damsel and the furnishings. He
had the satchel opened and the letter was found. He ordered that it
should be read, and it ran: to all the knights of the Round Table this
lady of Shallot sends greetings as to the gentlest folk in the world.
And if you would know why I have come to this end, it is for the finest
knight in the world and the most villainous, that is my lord Sir
Lancelot of the Lake, whom I did not know how to beg that he should
have pity on me. So I died there for loving well as you can see.



Christ one day going with his disciples through a deserted place, the
disciples who followed Him saw some great pieces of fine gold shining

So they, calling Christ, and marvelling that He had not stayed to
observe, said to Him: Lord, let us take this gold which will serve us
for many needs.

And Christ turned to them and reproved them and said: you want those
things which take from our kingdom the greatest number of souls. And
that this is true, on our return you will see the proof.

And He passed on.

A little while after, two dear companions found the gold and were
greatly rejoiced thereat, and one went to the nearest village to get a
mule, while the other remained on guard.

Now listen to the guilty deeds that followed the guilty thoughts sent
them by the devil [140]. The one with the mule returned and said to his
companion: I have eaten in the village, and you must be hungry. Eat
these two fine breads and then we will load up. The other replied: I
have no great will to eat now. Therefore, let us load up first.

And they began to load the mule.

And when they had almost finished loading, the one who had gone for the
mule bent down to tie the bundle fast, and the other ran behind him
treacherously with a pointed knife, and killed him. Then he gave one of
the breads to the mule, and ate the other himself. The bread was
poisoned. The man fell down dead, and so did the mule, before they
could leave the spot, and the gold remained untouched as it had been
before [141].

Our Lord then passed with His disciples the same day, and showed them
the example He had spoken of [142].



Messer Azzolino Romano once announced a great charity in his territory,
and invited the people there and elsewhere to attend.

And so all the poor men and women were summoned to his meadows on a
certain day, that each should be given a new habit and plenty to eat.
The news spread abroad. Folk came from all parts.

When the day of the assembly arrived, the seneschals [143] were ready
with the clothes and the food, and each person was made to undress and
cast off his old shoes, when new clothes were given and food handed

The poor people wanted their old clothes back, but it was of no avail,
for they were all piled up in a heap and fire was laid thereto.

Then so much gold and silver were given as compensated them, and they
were told to go home in the name of God.

It was in his [144] time that a certain peasant charged a neighbour
with having stolen his cherries. When the accused appeared, he said:
send and see if that be true, for the cherry tree is covered with
fruit. Then Messer Azzolino had proof that this was so, and condemned
the accuser to pay a sum of money, telling the other to look after his
cherries rather than rely on his lord’s justice.

And the man decided to do this.

For fear of his tyranny, a woman brought him a sack of walnuts of
splendid quality. And dressed up as well as she could contrive, she
reached the spot when he [145] was with his knights and said: Sire, may
God give you long life.

And he was suspicious and asked: why do you say so? She replied:
because if it is so, we shall have a long rest. And Azzolino laughed
and ordered that she be given and put on a fine skirt which came to her
knees, and he made her hold it up and had all the nuts scattered on the
floor, and then he made the woman pick them up again one by one and
place them in the sack, and then he rewarded her handsomely.

In Lombardy and the Marches, the pans are called pots [146]. Azzolino’s
retainers had, out of mischief, taken a potter one day to bring him to
judgment, and Messer Azzolino was in the room. He said: who is this
man? Some one answered: Sire, he is a potter. Go and hang him then.
But, sire, he is a potter. Therefore I say go and hang him. Sire, we
are only saying that he is a potter. Well, I say again that you take
him and hang him.

Then the judge perceived the origin of the misunderstanding. And he
explained it, but it was of no avail for Azzolino had said it three
times, and the man had to be hung.

It would take too long to tell how feared he was, and it is within the
knowledge of many.

It is recorded how one day being with the Emperor on horseback with all
their followers, the two of them made a challenge which had the finer
sword. The Emperor drew his sword from its sheath, and it was
magnificently ornamented with gold and precious stones.

Then said Messer Azzolino: it is very fine, but mine is finer by far.

And he drew it forth.

Then six hundred knights who were with him all drew forth theirs. When
the Emperor saw the swords, he said that Azzolino’s was the finer.

Azzolino was taken in battle at a place which is called Casciano [147],
and he banged his head so hard against the pole supporting the tent
where he was imprisoned and bound, that he killed himself.



There was once a great famine in Genoa, and there were more poor people
to be found there than in any other place.

The authorities seized a number of galleys, and they impressed sailors
and paid them, and published a notice that all the poor people should
go down to the sea-shore, where they would have bread from the commune.

Everybody went, and it was a great marvel, and this was because many
who were not in need disguised themselves as beggars.

And the officials said to the people: we cannot distinguish between all
these folk, but let the citizens go on to this ship here, and the
foreigners on to that one there; the women and children on to that
other, and all must go aboard. The sailors set to work at once, and put
their oars into the water, and bore the folk off to Sardinia.

And there they left them, for there was plenty there, and the famine
ceased in Genoa.



The Emperor [148] riding through the streets of Rome, saw a pilgrim who
seemed to him to bear a close resemblance to his own person, and he
asked his barons whether the said pilgrim was like him.

Everyone said he was. Then the Emperor believed it was true what he
thought about the pilgrim, namely that the pilgrim’s mother might have
been in Rome, and that his Imperial father might have had to do with
her. He asked the pilgrim: Pilgrim, was your mother ever in Rome? And
the pilgrim understood why the Emperor said that, and replied: Sire, my
mother was never in Rome, but my father was, often.

The Emperor appreciated how well the pilgrim had answered: he let him
come to his court, and showed him much honour [149].



A man went to a priest to confession; and among other things he said: I
have a sister-in-law, and my brother is far away; and whenever I go
home, her familiarity is so great that she sits down on my lap; how
should I behave?

The priest answered: if she did so to me, she would be well requited
for it.



When Messere Castellano of Mantua was the governor [150] of Florence,
there arose a quarrel between Messer Pepo Alemanni and Messer Cante
Caponsacchi, so that they threatened one another direly.

Wherefore the governor, to put an end to the difference, sent them both
over the frontier. Messer Pepo he sent in one direction and Messer
Cante, since he was a great friend of his, he sent to Mantua. And he
recommended him to his family; and Messere Cante rewarded him in this
way: he lay with his wife.



A company of knights were dining one night in a great house in
Florence, and there was with them a court buffoon who was a famous

When the knights had supped he began a story which never ended.

A youth of the house who was waiting and was perhaps impatient, called
the story-teller by name, and said: he who taught you this story did
not teach you all of it. The other replied: why is that?

And the young man said: because he did not teach you the end.

Then the story-teller was ashamed and stopped.



The emperor Frederick went hunting one day with his falcons, of which
he was fonder than of a city. He cast it at a crane, and the latter
flew high. The falcon too flew high, much above the other bird. He saw
below him an eagle. He drove it to earth and held it and killed it.

The emperor ran up, thinking it was a crane, but soon saw what bird it

Then in anger he called his executioner, and ordered that the falcon’s
head should be cut off, because he had killed his lord and master



A certain man confessed to a friar, and told him that being once at the
plundering of a house it was my intention [152] to find in a certain
drawer a hundred gold florins. But I found the drawer empty; therefore
I believe that I did not sin.

The friar replied, certainly you did sin just the same as if you had
found the florins. The man showed himself much troubled and said: for
the love of God give me the absolution [153]. The friar replied: I
cannot absolve you unless you make restitution. And the man answered,
that I will do with pleasure, but I do not know to whom to make it. The
friar answered: make it to me, and I will dispose of it in the name of
God. The man promised to do this, and went away, and so familiar [154]
had he become with the friar that he returned on the morrow.

Talking with the friar, he said that some one had sent him a fine
sturgeon, and that he would send it to him for dinner. For this the
friar rendered him many thanks.

The man went away, and sent the friar nothing at all, but he returned
to see him a day after with cheerful mien. The friar said: why have you
kept me waiting, and not sent me the sturgeon? [155] The other replied:
did you expect to have it? Yes, certainly, said the friar. And you
haven’t had it? No. Well, then, it is just the same as if you had had



There was a woman who had made a fine eel pie, [156] and had put it in
the cupboard. She saw a mouse enter by the window, attracted by the
good smell. The woman called the cat, and put it in the cupboard to
catch the mouse. The mouse hid itself among the flour, and the cat ate
the pie. When the woman opened the door the mouse jumped out.

And the cat, because it was satisfied, did not catch it.



A countryman went one day to shrive himself. And he took holy water,
and saw the priest working in the fields. He called him and said: Sir,
I should like to be shriven.

The priest replied: did you confess last year? and he rejoined: Yes.
Then put a penny in the alms-box, and for the same fine, I absolve you
this year as I did last year.



The fox going through a wood, happened upon a mule, and it had never
seen a mule before.

The fox was greatly afraid, and fled and fleeing happened upon a wolf.
The fox said she had discovered a very strange beast [157], and did not
know its name. The wolf said: let us go and see it. And they came to
it. To the wolf it appeared very strange. The fox asked it its name.
The mule replied: to tell the truth I cannot remember very well, but if
you can read, you will find it written on my back right hoof. The fox
replied: never mind, I cannot read, much as I should like to. The wolf
then took up: leave it to me, for I can read very well indeed. The mule
then showed his right hoof, the cleaving whereof seemed like letters.
The wolf said: I cannot see them very well. The mule answered: come a
little closer, for the letters are very small. The wolf came nearer and
looked closely. The mule then gave him a kick which killed him.

The fox went off saying: not everyone who can read is wise [158].



A peasant from the country came to Florence to buy a doublet. He asked
at a shop where the proprietor was. He was not there. But a youth in
the shop said: I am the master; what is it you want? I want a doublet.
The youth found him one. Try it on, he said. They argued over the
price. The countryman had only a quarter of the money. The apprentice,
pretending to help him with the doublet, sewed the man’s shirt to it
and then said: take it off. And the other removed it, remaining naked.

The other apprentices were ready with sticks and they chased and beat
the man all through the city.



Bito was a Florentine and a fine courtier, and dwelt at San Giorgio
beyond the city. There was also an old man called Ser Frulli, who had a
farm over at San Giorgio which was very pleasant, so that he lived
there almost the whole year with his family, and every morning he sent
his servant to sell fruit and vegetables at the market by the bridge.

And he was so miserly and suspicious that he made up the bundles of the
vegetables, and counted them over to the servant, and then counted over
all that she brought back.

His especial warning to her was not to loiter in San Giorgio, because
there were women thieves there.

One morning the servant passed with her basketful of cabbages. Bito,
who had thought the thing out beforehand, had put on his finest fur
coat. And sitting by the bench outside, he called the serving-maid who
went over to him unthinkingly, and many women had called her even
before this, but she had not wished to go to them.

Good woman, he said: how do you sell these cabbages? Two for a danaio
[159]. Surely that is cheap. But I tell you, said Bito, there are only
myself and my servant in the house, for all my family are in the town;
and two bunches are too much. Moreover, I like them fresh.

At this time, there were in use in Florence the medaglie, two of which
were worth a danaio. Bito said: you pass by every morning; give me a
bunch now and give me a danaio, and take this medaglia, and to-morrow
morning when you return, you can give me the other bunch. It seemed to
the woman that what he said was right, and so she did as he asked.
[160] Then she went off to sell the rest of her vegetables at the price
which her master had fixed. She returned home and gave Messer Frulli
the money. He, counting it over several times, found it a danaio short.
And he told the servant. She replied: it cannot be so.

Then the master, getting angry with her, asked her if she had not
dallied at San Giorgio. She sought to deny the fact, but he plied her
so with questions, that she admitted: yes, I stopped for a fine
gentleman, who paid me properly. And I must tell you that I have still
to give him a bunch of cabbages. [161] Messer Frulli replied: so you
are now a danaio out.

He thought over the matter, and perceived the trick, and spoke very
roughly to the servant, and asked where the man lived exactly.

And she told him.

He perceived then it was Bito, who had already played some tricks on

Burning with rage, he got up early next morning, and put a rusty sword
under his coat, and came to the head of the bridge, and there found
Bito sitting in company of many excellent folk. He drew out the sword,
and would have wounded his man, if some one had not held him by the
arm. The people were amazed, wondering what was the matter, and Bito
was mightily afraid. But then remembering what had happened, he began
to smile.

The folk who were standing around Messer Frulli asked him what it was
all about. He told them breathlessly as best he could. Bito ordered the
people to stand back (for he said), I want to come to an explanation
with you. Let us have no more words about it. Give me back my danaio
and keep your medaglia. And keep the cabbage with God’s curse on it.
Messer Frulli said: it pleases me well so. And if you had said this
before, all this would not have happened.

And not perceiving the trick, he gave him a danaio and took a medaglia,
and went away content.

There was great laughter thereat.



A merchant carried wine overseas in casks with two partitions [162]. At
the top and the bottom (of the casks) there was wine, and in the middle
water, so that half of the cask was wine, and half water. There were
spigots at the top and the bottom, but none in the middle. He sold the
water for wine, and doubled his gains, and as soon as he was paid, he
got aboard a ship with his money. And by the will of God there was a
big monkey aboard the ship, who took the money from the merchant’s
pocket, and climbed up to the top of the mast with it.

The man, fearing that the monkey might throw the purse into the sea,
went after it, trying to coax it. The beast sat down and opened the
purse with his mouth, and took out the gold pieces one by one. He threw
first one in to the sea and let another fall on to the deck. And he so
acted that one half of the money remained on the ship, which was the
just gain of the merchant.



A merchant was travelling with caps. They got wet and he laid them out
to dry. Many monkeys appeared, and each one put a cap on its head, and
ran off up into the trees. This seemed a grievous matter to the man. He
went back and bought stockings (and there was bird-lime in them) and he
got back his caps (from the monkeys) and did good business [163].



A young man of Florence loved a gentle virgin carnally. She did not
love him at all, but loved another youth beyond measure, who loved her
too, but not nearly so much as the first one.

And this was evident, for the other had abandoned everything, and had
worn himself out, and was quite beside himself; and especially on those
days when he did not see her.

A friend of his was sorry for him. After much persuasion he took him
away to a most pleasant place; and there they stayed quietly for a

In the meantime, the girl quarrelled with her mother. She sent her
maid-servant, and let her tell him whom she loved that she desired to
elope with him. He was exceedingly glad. The maid said: she desires you
to come on horse-back when it is fully night; she will pretend to go
down to the cellars. You will be ready at the door, and she will leap
on to the horse behind you; she is light, and can ride well. He
replied: I am well agreed.

When they had thus arranged matters, he prepared everything at a place
of his. And there were his friends with him, on horse-back, and he let
them wait at the gate [164], lest it be closed. And he went on a fine
horse, and passed before her house. She had not been able to come yet
because her mother watched her too carefully. He went away to rejoin
his friends. But that other was all worn out in the country, and could
no longer contain himself. He had mounted his horse. And his companion
was unable to persuade him to remain, and he did not want his company.

That evening he arrived at the wall. All the gates were closed, but he
went around the town until he chanced upon that gate where they were.
He entered; he went towards her dwelling, not with the hope of finding
or of seeing her, but only to see the place. As he stopped opposite the
house, the other had but shortly before gone away. The girl unlocked
the gate, and called him in an undertone, and told him to draw his
horse nearer. This he was not slow in doing; he approached, and she
leaped on the horse’s back, and away they went.

When they reached the gate, the other youth’s companions did not molest
them, for they did not know them. Seeing that if it had been he for
whom they were waiting, he would have stayed with them. They rode for
well-nigh ten leagues, till they arrived at a fair meadow surrounded
with very tall fir-trees. Here they alighted, and bound their horse to
a tree; and he began to kiss her. Then she recognised him. She became
aware of her mishap, and commenced to weep bitterly. But he took to
comforting her, shedding tears, and showed her such respect, that she
ceased to weep, and began to grow fond of him, seeing that fortune too
was on his side.

And she embraced him.

That other youth rode to and fro several times, till he heard her
father making a noise in the privy, and learned from the servant the
manner of her escape.

He was aghast.

He returned to his companions, and told them. And they replied: Indeed,
we did see him pass with her, but we did not know him; and it is so
long since, that he may have gone very far, and be off on such and such
a road. They forthwith set off to pursue them. They rode until they
found them sleeping wrapt in one another’s arms; and they gazed upon
them in the light of the moon which had risen. Then they were loath to
disturb them, and said: Let us wait here till they wake, and then we
will do what we have to do: and so they waited until drowsiness came
upon them, and they all fell asleep. The other two meanwhile awoke, and
found themselves in this situation.

They marvelled. And the youth said: These men have shown us such
courtesy, that God forbid we should do them any hurt. So he mounted his
horse, and she jumped on to another, among the best that were there,
and they rode off.

The others awoke, and raised a great lamentation, because they could
not continue to search for them.



The Emperor Frederick once went to the Veglio, or Old Man of the
Mountain, and great honour was done him [165].

The Old Man, in order to show how he was feared, looked up and saw on a
tower two of his band who were called assassins [166]. And then he took
hold of his great beard, and the two men cast themselves down to earth
and died immediately [167].


[1] Presto Giovanni in orig. This Prester John or Prester Kan is the
hero of many stories and fables. See Marco Polo.

[2] Administrators, sometimes treasurers of a court.

[3] The ancients believed that certain stones and one especially called
the heliotrope, had the power of rendering a person invisible.

[4] This story is of Oriental origin. It occurs in some versions of The
Thousand and One Nights.

[5] Guillare: court minstrel, story-teller, buffoon. As these men
frequented the courts of kings and nobles, they were called men of the

[6] A mark had the value of four-and-a-half florins.

[7] The story appears in the French poem of Lambert Le Tort and
Alexander de Bernay, with a slight variation.

[8] lit.: “gave a sufficient reply”.

[9] Biagi reads: Infermo—ill.

[10] This reading follows Biagi. Others give “striking as he willed”.

[11] The origin of this novella is, of course, Kings ii, chap. 24. It
is curious to notice the variations.

[12] The original calls them “barons,” though the word sounds strange
in a Biblical connection.

[13] Kings III, chap, xi.–xii.

[14] These were: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music,
geometry, and algebra.

[15] Apart from Alexandria in Egypt, there were of course A. Troas on
the sea-coast near Troy and Issum, seaport on the Syrian coast. Many of
the cities so-called soon lost their names.

[16] lit.: smoke.

[17] The story appears in slightly different forms in many languages.
See Lelli, Favole; Pappanti, Passano ed i novellieri in prosa.

[18] Ancient gold money of the Eastern Empire of about the same value
as a ducat. It changed naturally in the course of the centuries.

[19] According to Malaspina, the Slave of the Bari was “an idiot or
almost one, unlettered and unread, but of great natural talent, wit and
wisdom”. Ambrosoli, on the contrary, asserts that he was a certain
Michele Schiavo who was a Greek governor of Bari in the tenth century.

[20] The source of the tale is Liber Ipocratis de infirmitibus equorum.

[21] The city was Rabba and belonged to the Ammonites.

[22] See Kings II, chap xii. The compilator has mixed up the names,
confounding Aminadab with Joab. The errors or variations occuring in
the Biblical themes treated in the Novellino have given rise to the
conjecture that the stories were taken from a book of Jewish legends,
the Midras Rabbolh written not later than the VIIIth century.

[23] Other readings have “fire”.

[24] The passage is obscure, but the above would seem to be the

[25] An Indian king conquered by Alexander and afterwards turned into a
friend and ally.

[26] The story appears in slightly different form in several authors.
See the Decameron; Cavalca’s Lives of the Fathers of the Desert.

[27] Other readings have Seleucus.

[28] Appears also in Cicero, De Legg. II, 6.

[29] The word in the original is tortori, literally torturers, though
it means, of course, the keepers of the prison.

[30] Also in Saint Gregory, Dialogues, III, 1.

[31] Peter or Piero.

[32] The story appears in Cavalca’s Vite dei Santi Padri, and also in
other forms elsewhere.

[33] Biagi’s version is a little more elaborate. The origin of the tale
is to be found in the Pseudo-Turpino. See Gaspary, History of Italian

[34] bontà in original—goodness.

[35] The young King was Henry, eldest son of Henry II of England. He
was often known under this title.

[36] Beltram, or Bertrand di Born.

[37] This change from indirect to direct narrative occurs frequently in
the Novellino.

[38] The story of the tooth appears also in Conti di antichi cavalieri.

[39] The passage is not clear and is probably corrupt. I have added the
word “lost”. For Bertran see Dante, Inf. XXVIII, 134, 22.

[40] uomini d’arti: men of arts literally, artificers, necromancers or

[41] Seated at table in accordance with the mediæval custom.

[42] schiavine. Sacchetti says: “the first thing a pilgrim does when he
sets out is to put on his long cloak.”

[43] lit.: the two masters.

[44] A similar enchantment is told of in a Turkish tale translated by
Petit de la Croix: The Story of Sheik Schehabbedin.

[45] An immense importance was attached to a good hawk at this time.

[46] To wear striped cloth was considered unsuitable for a serious man.
Fantastic clothing of almost any kind was the property of the court
buffoons, story-tellers and the whole world of mediæval Bohemianism.

[47] tamarix gallica, a wood supposed to have medicinal properties.

[48] or else good clean food.

[49] The incident is apparently historical, and the Emperor, is
Barbarossa. The wise men or savi being Bolgaro or Bulgaro and Martino,
sometimes called Gossia. The story seems to confuse two separate
episodes in the life of the Emperor. The titles are different in the
versions of Gualteruzzi and Borghini.

[50] Selah-eddyn (1137–93), Sultan of Egypt, after 1174 famous
throughout medieval Christendom for his knightliness. He is one of the
chief characters of Scott’s Talisman.

[51] The second part of this tale is to be found in the Cronaca of
Turpino, and in F. Sacchetti’s 125th tale.

[52] cotta. This antiquated form has survived in the cotta which
priests put on during certain religious ceremonies of the Catholic

[53] The meaning of this word is uncertain. Probably it is a kind of
Oriental wise man from the Arabic Muaddab, meaning sage or wise man.
There are several conjectures on this point. Another reading is Mago,

[54] Lancelot of the Lake.

[55] cavaliere di scudo in the original. Sacchetti says cavalieri di
scudo were those made knights by lords or by the people.

[56] The Empyrean is the seventh and outermost Heaven of Paradise.

[57] (sitting there). This novella is particularly abrupt and
characteristic in its elliptical constructions.

[58] An untranslatable play on words: Cappello meaning hat and also
sometimes rebuff, snub.

[59] lit.: over head what is? sopra capo che ha?

[60] The circle that limits human knowledge.

[61] The First Cause, or the Divinity.

[62] Another reading is “honour”: onore instead of amore.

[63] Azzolino or Ezzelino da Romano, born 1194, died 1259 in battle
against the Milanese. Known as tyrant of Padua and the Marca
Trevigiana. Dante (Inf. XII, 110, and Par. IX, 29) places him among the

[64] Ancient coin belonging to the Eastern Empire.

[65] Appears elsewhere in slightly different forms. See Don Quixote and
Disciplina clericalis.

[66] It has been suggested that this Riccar dell’ Illa was a Riccar di
Lilla, Lille, in Flanders.

[67] En Barral, or Sire Barral, lord of the noble house of Balzo in
Provence. He was a lover of letters, philosophy and the arcane arts.

[68] The famous philosopher, reputed the founder of mathematics, was
not born in Spain but in Samos. This is another of the numerous
instances of the fantastic geographical and historical notions of the
compiler of the Novellino.

[69] Imberal expects her to say towards which of the cardinal points
the bird’s tail was turned.

[70] This novel probably derives from the ascetic or ecclesiastical
collections and purports to show the dangers of too lively a fantasy on
the morals.

[71] Solanum insanum. Another reading is melon.

[72] Medicine or science.

[73] Balak, son of Zippor, king of the Moabites; see Numbers, chaps. 22
and 23.

[74] The high places of Baal: Numbers xxii, 41.

[75] This second part of the story is of course in contradiction to the
Biblical account. Another instance of extra-Biblical sources of the Old
Testament tales in the Novellino.

[76] Another reading is “set on their breasts a fly”, reading mosca
fly, for nosca, buckle.

[77] It would appear that the compiler of the Novellino is referring to
Thales of Miletus, one of the seven wise men of Greece, who lived
639–564 B.C.

[78] St Augustine speaks of Thales in Book VIII, not Book VI.

[79] The original version of this anecdote is to be found in Diogenes
Laertius, Book I. See also Æsop’s fable of the Astronomer.

[80] Fra Aldobrandino, a Dominican of the noble family of the
Cavalcanti. He was the Pope’s Vicar in Rome during his absence at the
Council of Lyons, having been made a Bishop in 1271.

[81] Perhaps Saladin of Pavia is meant, a poet who lived about 1250.

[82] Paolo, or Paul. The Traversaro family was one of the principal
families of Ravenna. See Dante, Purg. XIV, 98 and 107. Also Boccaccio,
Decameron, Giorno X, Nov. 8.

[83] Following the reading of Biagi.

[84] Or “Bergdam”.

[85] The last count of Provence, who died in 1245. See Dante, Par. VI,

[86] The boasts of the knights figure greatly in knightly legend and

[87] Underlined so in the original.

[88] Orig.: ne metto, ne traggo. I do not put you among the number of
knights defeated by me nor do I exclude you from them. In other words:
I don’t know what to make of you. The tale is probably corrupt in the

[89] The story is told of other knights in several different places.
See Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry.

[90] Giacopino Rangone, son of Gherardo, was podestà (governor) of
Bologna in 1240. Also possibly at Cremona. There are doubts as to the
personality of the Giacopino referred to here.

[91] lit.: do your combing elsewhere.

[92] Marco Lombardo is mentioned by Dante (Purg. XVI, 46).

[93] Saxony?

[94] Narcis in the text.

[95] The almond is the first tree to blossom but not to bear fruit. In
Ovid (Metam. III) Narcissus is, of course, changed into the flower that
bears his name.

[96] These two knights are mentioned by Dante in the 14th Canto of the
Purgatorio, vv. 88–90 and 97.

[97] Conrad IV of Svevia, son of Frederick II, elected Emperor of
Germany in 1250, came to Italy to take possession of the Kingdom of the
Two Sicilies.

[98] Francis, son of the famous jurist of Florence, Accorso da Bagnolo,
was professor of Civil Law in the University of Bologna. He went to
England at the request of Edward I, where he remained until 1281. See
Dante, Inferno, XV, 110.

[99] Guasca, a woman from Gascony.

[100] The reference may be to Guido di Lusignano, fourth son of Hugh
VII. Called to the throne of Jerusalem in 1186, he was soon made
prisoner by Saladin. He ceded his title, when released to King Richard
of England, receiving in exchange the kingdom of Cyprus.

[101] Or Atri. See Longfellow’s poem The Bell of Atri.

[102] The tale is from Disciplina Clericalis.

[103] Mangiadore was Bishop of Florence from 1251–74. Therefore the
ordinary editions are wrong when they write: mangiadore meaning
gluttonous. The tale is to be found in Wright’s Anecdota literaria,
London 1884, under the title “the Bishop and the Priest”.

[104] See Novella XLIV.

[105] No doubt this is thirteenth century wit, though to us neither of
the two minstrels seems to have had a particularly sharp tongue. In
original: tiello credenza a me et io a te. In other words: do not say
we are poor. Neither shall you say it to me, nor I to you.

[106] Le Marche, the province of which Ancona is now the chief town.

[107] This novella is not in the Gualteruzzi edition, but is to be
found in that by Papanti founded on the Panciatichiano MS.

[108] From the Panciatichiano MS.

[109] This story is well-known in many countries. The best known
version of it is perhaps The Ephesian Widow in Petronius’s Satyricon.

[110] The king is Louis IX, the saint who forbade tourneys under pain
of death. The Count of Anvers or Universa, or Anversa or Unvers.

[111] The tournament became a jousting bout.

[112] Various commentators have observed that this tale is only a
garbled version of the story told of Curio by Cicero in his De
Senectute, 55. See also Gesta Romanorum, ch. LXI.

[113] The perpero was a Byzantine gold coin.

[114] Orig.: in sul donneare. The meaning is uncertain. The tale is of
course to be found in the Decameron, IV, 9.

[115] I have changed the punctuation here considerably—to the benefit,
I hope, of the sense.

[116] This story, according to Manni, is taken from one of the Round
Table romances. Meliadus (or Meliodas or Meliardus), King of Lyonesse,
was the son of King Felix, and husband of Eliabella, daughter of old
King Audrey of Sobis, and sister to King Mark of Cornwall.

[117] Raimondo Berlinghieri, father-in-law of St Louis, King of France,
referred to in Novella XII.

[118] The boasts formed a usual part of tournaments.

[119] Sent him away in disgrace.

[120] The narrative changes abruptly into the direct form here as in
several other places. I have kept to the original form here as

[121] The original of the “song” runs:—

    Aissi co’l sers que cant a fait lonc cors
    Torna murir als crit del chassadors,
    Aissi torn eu, dompna, en vostra mersé.

A longer “song” is given in some of the readings.

[122] Iseult la bionda, to distinguish her from Iseult dalla bianca
mano “of the white hand”.

[123] Biagi has “an ill-disposed knight”.

[124] Amoraldo, King of Ireland, who, in order to extort a tribute from
King Mark, laid siege to one of his towns, and was killed by Tristan.

[125] See Aulus Gelius, Macrobius, and Polibius.

[126] This passage is obscure and defective.

[127] “she said”.

[128] The compilator is considerably out of his reckoning here, as, of
course, Pope Gregory lived more than four centuries after Trojan. He
was elected Pope in 570.

[129] The story probably originated from an episode mentioned by Dion

[130] The text is subject to various readings. Biagi has “thing” (cosa)
while other versions give “woman” and “wild beast,” femina and fiera.

[131] A book of Seneca’s.

[132] The story derives from Jewish sources, and appeared for what was
probably the first time in the Scebet Jehuda. It is to be found in
several other places in slightly different forms. See Gesta Romanorum,
Avventuroso Ciciliano of Busone da Gubbio, etc.

[133] Suetonius (Vita Tiber.) has a somewhat similar story of the
Emperor Tiberius.

[134] This tale was widely known throughout Europe and a part of Asia
during the Middle Ages, and is still frequently found on the lips of
popular tellers of tales. The oldest version of it is to be found in
the Persian poet Ferid-ed-din-’Attar: see translation by Ruckert in
Zeitschrift deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, XIV, 280.

[135] Monte Nero is a little hill-town near Leghorn, with a famous
sanctuary of the Madonna. Rinieri, or rather Ranieri, is the name of
the patron-saint of Pisa.

[136] I have taken this tale from the Magliabechiana MS, as given in
Papanti, No. 31.

[137] The account is of course full of anachronisms and absurdities,
such as the two thousand Greeks killed by Hector. It is based on the
legend of Darete Frigio, it would seem, popularized in Italy by the
Poet Guido delle Colonne, a Sicilian. See also the Roman de Troie.

[138] Vassal to a king, a lord, or noble.

[139] The versions differ here. Biagi gives the lines about the
sailless vessel with oars and no one aboard.

[140] lit.: the enemy (’l nemico).

[141] lit.: free, unpossessed, libero.

[142] See Rappresentazione di S. Antonio, Le Monnier (1872), II, 33.

[143] Superior servants, major-domos.

[144] Azzolino’s of course.

[145] Throughout this novella Azzolino is nearly always referred to as

[146] “si chiamano le pentole, olle.” The point of this novella depends
on the play of the words untranslatable in English. They told Azzolino
that the man was “un olaro” a potter, while the tyrant understood them
to say uno laro, that is un ladro, or a thief.

[147] Cassano on the Adda.

[148] The Emperor Frederick II.

[149] This tale comes from the Magliabechiana MS, as given in Papanti,
No. 27.

[150] Podestà.

[151] The eagle being the king of birds, the Emperor considered the
falcon as a kind of regicide, and so ordered it to be killed.

[152] This brusque change into the direct narration is characteristic
of the Novellino. I have followed the original here, and elsewhere,
where it has been possible as tending to preserve the quality of the
quaint original.

[153] consigliatemi, a rather unusual form.

[154] The meaning may also be: he was so content.

[155] “and not sent me the sturgeon” is missing in some texts. Biagi
gives the version as printed here.

[156] crostate also means tart.

[157] lit.: “a very new beast.”

[158] The novella appears elsewhere, as in the Proverbi of Cinto de’

[159] A small piece of money. Two medaglie, which was a coin of mixed
silver and copper, were worth a danaio.

[160] lit. “and so did”.

[161] The text of this novella is corrupt. There are several slightly
different readings.

[162] The cask was divided into three compartments.

[163] The text is probably defective, but this seems to be the meaning
of this novella.

[164] Of the town. Even in modern Italy the gates of many small towns
are closed at night.

[165] The Veglio, or Old Man of the Mountain, spoken of in mediæval
legends, was an Arabian prince, who lived between Antioch and Damascus,
in an inaccessible mountain fastness. He was a tyrant, and had an army
of faithful followers. He was probably little more than a superior kind
of brigand.

[166] Those who followed the Veglio were called assassins.

[167] Touching his beard was the sign which the Old Man gave to his
followers to kill. See Marco Polo.

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