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From Il Novellino, The Hundred Old Tales, translated from the Italian by Edward Storer; George Routledge & Sons LTD; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.; pp. 181-211.



The Pilgrim and the Ugly Woman

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 182 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 free1.


27  I have taken this tale from the Magliabechiana MS, as given in Papanti, No. 31.


Here below it is told of the council which was held by the sons of King Priam of Troy

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 183 gathered together no little treasure. Now let us sent 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 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 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 184 spirits who had urged the war grew fainter in their hardihood, and Troy was again conquered by the Greeks and subjugated by them2.


2   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.


Here it is told how the Lady of Shalott died for love of Lancelot of the Lake

The daughter of a great vassal3 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 her love, and it was done with her as she wished4 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 186 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.


3   Vassal to a king, a lord, or noble.

4  The versions differ here. Biagi gives the lines about the sailless vessel with oars and no one aboard.


How Christ going one day with his disciples in a deserted place, they saw great treasure

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

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 187 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 devil5. 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 188 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 before6.

Our Lord then passed with His disciples the same day, and showed them the example He had spoken of7.


5  lit. the enemy (’l nemico).

6  lit. free, unpossessed, libero.

7  See Rappresentazione di S. Antonio, Le Monnier (1872), II, 33.


How Messer Azzolino Romano arranged a great charity

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 seneschals8 were ready with the clothes and the food, and each person was made to undress and cast of his old shoes, when new clothes were given and food handed out.

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 his9 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 190 up as well as she could contrive, she reached the spot when he10 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. 11 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. 191 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 to 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 glance which 192 is called Casciano,12 and he banged his head so hard against the pole supporting the tent where he was imprisoned and bound, that he killed himself.


8  Superior servants, major-domo.

9  Azzolino’s of course.

10  Throughout this novella Azzolino is nearly always referred to as “he”.

11  “il chiamanbo le pentole, olle.” The point of this novella depends on the play of the words untranslatable in English. They told Azzolino that he man was “un olaro” a porter, while the tyrant understood them to say uno laro, that is un ladro, or a thief.

12  Cassano on the Adda.


Of a great famine that was once in Genoa

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 193 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 and the Pilgrim

The Emperor13 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 honour14.


13  The Emperor Frederick II.

14  This tale comes from the Magliabechiana MS, as given in Papanti, No. 27.


How a man went to shrive himself

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.


Here is told of Messer Castellano da Cafferi of Mantua

When Messere Castellano of Mantua was the governor15 of Florence, there arose a quarrel between Messer Pepo Alemanni and Messer 195 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 Messer Cante rewarded him in this way: he lay with his wife.


15  Podestà.


Here is told of a Court player who began a story that never ended

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

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 196 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.


Here is told how the emperor Frederick killed a falcon of his

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 flew too 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 was.

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 master16.


16  The eagle being the king of birds, the Emperor considered the falcon as a kind or regicide, and so ordered it to be killed.



How a certain man confessed to a friar

A certain man confessed to a friar, and told him that being once at the plundering of a house it was my intention17 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 absolution18. 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 familiar19 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 a cheerful mien. The friar said: why have you kept me waiting, and not sent me the sturgeon?20. 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 it.


17  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.

18  consigliatemi, a rather unusual form.

19  The meaning may also be: he was so content.

20  “and not sent me the sturgeon” is missing in some texts. Biagi gives the version as printed here.


Here it is told of a good woman who had made a fine pie

There was a woman who had made a fine eel pie,21 and 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 199 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.


21  crostate also means tart.


Here it is told of a countryman who went to shrive himself

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.


Here it is told of the fox and the mule

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 on fleeing happened upon a wolf. The fox said she had discovered a very strange beast,22 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 wise23.


22  lit. “a very new beast.”

23  The novella appears elsewhere, as in the Proverbi of Cinto de’ Fabrizi.



Here it is told of a countryman who went to the town

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.


Here it is told of Bito and Messer Frulli of San Giorgio near Florence

Bito was a Florentine and a fine courtier, and dwelt at San Giorgio beyond the city. There 202 was also a 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 before hand, 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 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 danaio24. Surely that is 203 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 asked25. 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 at 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 gentlemen, who paid me properly. And I must tell you that I have still to give him a 204 bunch of cabbages26. 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 him.

Burning with rage, he got up early next morning, and put a rusty sword under his coat, 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 205 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.


24  A small piece of money. Two medaglie, which was a coin of mixed silver and copper, were worth a danaio.

25  lit. “and so did”.

26  The text of this novella is corrupt. There are several slightly different readings.


Here it is told how a merchant carried wine overseas in casks with two partitions and what happened

A merchant carried wine overseas in casks with two partitions27. 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 206 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 so he acted that one half of the money remained on the ship, which was the just gain of the merchant.


27  The cask was divided into three compartments.


Here it is told of a merchant who bought caps

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 207 and bought stockings (and there was bird-lime in them) and he got back his caps (from the monkeys) and did good business28.


28   The text is probably defective, but this seems to be the meaning of this novella.


Here it is told a pretty tale of love

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 as 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 fortnight.

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 208 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,29 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 209 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 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, theY 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. 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 211 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.


29  Of the town. Even in modern Italy the gates of many small towns are closed at night.


How the Emperor Frederick went to the Old Man of the Mountain

The Emperor Frederick once went to the Veglio, or Old Man of the Mountain, and great honour was done him30.

The Old Man, in order to show him how he was feared, looked up and saw on a tower two of his band who were called assassins31. And then he took hold of his great beard, and the two men cast themselves down to earth and died immediately32.


30  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.

31  Those who followed the Veglio were called assassins.

32  Touching his beard was the sign which the Old Man gave to his followers to kill. See Marco Polo.

[The End of Il Novellino, The Hundred Old Tales by Edward Storer]


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