From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900, first edition published, c. 1824]; pp. 398-404.
He had no doubt very conscientiously announces, “that he should be defrauding the reader of much valuable moral improvement, and the author of his just fame, were he to deprive the world of the labours of so learned and distinguished a youth.” But whatever allowance we ought to make for the praises bestowed upon a young acquaintance by a critic to whom he presented his work, such is its remaining merit as to induce the translator to present a few specimens of a production which Dolce declares to be “in every point deserving of the very highest applause.”
Erizzo bore the reputation of a good poet, as well as of a novelist, antiquary, and philosopher. He was intrusted with many important commissions by his country; sat in the Council of Ten; and died at the age of sixty in Venice. Honourable mention is made of him by Crescimbeni and other literary historians.
* Le Sei Giornate di Messer Sebastiano Erizzo, date in luce da Messer Lodovico Dolce, all’ Illustrissimo Signore Federico Gonzaga, Marchese di Gazuolo. Venezia, Gio. Varisco e Compagni: 1567.
† Dolce’s “Dedicatory Epistle,” dated Venice, June 15, 1567.400
Now as soon as Don Pietro, steward of the royal household, heard the tenor of the proclamation, though he had formerly been greatly indebted, and even owed his life, to Giovanni, who had cleared him from some unjust accusations for which he would otherwise have suffered, yet, unmindful of all the past kindness and obligations which he had received and instigated by the amount of the reward, he was ungenerous enough to use every means of discovering his former friend’s retreat. Accidentally hearing from an acquaintance travelling from Biscay that Giovanni had there sought refuge, he carefully concealed these tidings from the rest of the court; but took occasion, in an audience with the king, to acquaint him that he had at length discovered the place of his retreat; intimating that it would not be long before he should present his majesty with the criminal’s head. After receiving, therefore, full assurance of the promised reward, Pietro, being well armed and mounted, departed the next morning with all speed towards Biscay, and arriving within a few days at Vilvao, he secretly proceeded to discover traces of Giovanni. When he had succeeded in this object, he next took some apartments near his residence, where he determined to await a favourable occasion of carrying his nefarious project into execution. Unhappily for the object of his treachery, this was too soon afforded, Giovanni being engaged to go as far as the port of San Sebastian, where he was to await the arrival of one of his brothers returning from a long voyage, The insidious Pietro observed the preparations for his departure, and suspecting that he was about to leave the city, resolved to keep him company the 401 better to effect his design. Watching the hour when he set out, shortly afterwards the traitor himself secretly took horse, and following some part of the way at a convenient distance, he at length perceived him approaching the foot of a high mountain. In a few moments he was at his side, and turning suddenly upon him, he seized the reins of Giovanni’s horse, accosting him at the same time with a fierce and threatening aspect: “Stand, villain, traitor as thou art, and yield me, as in spite of thee thou shalt, thy coward life! Lo! thou art taken in the same snares which thou didst most maliciously and traitorously prepare for one of the noblest knights of Portugal; but thou shalt no longer live to boast thee of that vile and savage deed!” The wretched Giovanni hearing these words, while he recognised the features of his friend Pietro, with trembling and conscience-smitten voice thus replied: “I know not, O Pietro, whether I ought to yield credit to my senses, and whether it can be really you whom I see before me, whose voice I hear and whose hand I thus clasp in mine. An unhappy man am I if you be no longer the same friend whom I once knew at the court of our monarch! Do I say friend? Nay, my most dear and intimate companion, in whose love and honour I ever reposed the utmost trust; and more yet, whose very life I saved from the malice of enemies and the indignation of the king. Is it, then, with such a countenance, with such words — nay, look not thus fiercely on me — that you repay all the favours I conferred upon you? Say, did you not one promise in the fulness of your heart, grateful for the life you had received, to watch ever faithfully and fondly over mine? Could I even have dreamed that I had need to guard my bosom from the secret dagger of one who, indebted to me for his life, had sworn to shield me from every harm? When did I in thought or word since that time offend you, that I should receive so bitter a recompense for all my love? I know not, unless you resent my having rescued you from an ignominious death. Yet common humanity, to say nothing of reason and gratitude, should lead you to take compassion on me, on my young wife and infant boy, and not to think of depriving them of their only protector in so savage a way. If you have a father, Pietro, then think of mine, whose sole support I am: he is bent down with grief and age; come with me, and restore me to him: let him to live to hear that you have cut me off in the summer of my days. Besides, I am gong far, very far, to see one of my brothers, whom I had long wept as dead. He is but just arrived, and you will not refuse to let me behold him before I die. Nay, do not strike me: I am unarmed; but put yourself for a moment in my place, and then act as you would yourself be treated. Grant but my life, and my whole fortune shall be at your disposal. What gain, what triumph can be yours, to slay me thus unarmed? You say it was thus I slew my enemy; but he was not my friend, and by repeated insults he provoked his fate. He too would have done the like by me, had not just Heaven disposed it otherwise, and favoured the righteous cause. Venture not, therefore, to imbrue your hands in innocent blood, — nay, worse, in the blood of your friend and benefactor, drawing down upon yourself the malediction of Heaven and of mankind.” Here he ceased; but the savage and avaricious 402 Pietro, deaf to all his entreaties and to his last prayers for mercy, as if he took pleasure in prolonging his torment, having seized him by the throat, slowly raised his weapon, and proceeded to execute his ferocious purpose. Striking him a violent blow upon the neck, he half severed his head from his body, and repeating his strokes with the utmost fury on various parts of his person, he soon laid the unhappy Giovanni dead at his feet. With the same unrelenting ferocity he then separated the head from the yet warm and reeking corpse; and bearing it along with him, he hastened from that wild and terrific scene with the feelings rather of a demon than of a man. Insensible as yet to the retributive pangs that awaited him, he took his dark and solitary way back to the Portuguese capital, accompanied only by the bloody witness of his crime, over lonely plain, valley, and mountain, heedless alike of the smiles or frowns of Nature, and of the sleeping vengeance of the heavens above him. He did not scruple to present the head of his friend at court, claiming the reward due for the death of a criminal, whom he boasted to have slain with his own had. Nor did he for a long period seem at all troubled with the recollection of so foul an offence, though, doubtless, however slow, his punishment would be no less sure, either here or hereafter. For it is almost impossible, indeed, to estimate the iniquity of an action which, added to its cold-blooded ferocity, involved such an extent of enormous and unexpected ingratitude.
The noble citizen was in this way seized and carried before the tyrant, who, having feasted his eyes with the sight of his victim, and thrown him into one of his most horrid dungeons, condemned him on the very same day to die. But as it was the custom of those times that such as were found guilty of capital crimes should be executed during the night within the walls of their dungeon, when their cries could not be heard, Timocrates was thus condemned to suffer on the following evening. When tidings of this terrible punishment came to the ears of his poor consort, Arsinoe, who was most tenderly attached to her husband, so great was her surprise and terror as well-nigh to deprive her of existence. On recovering sufficiently to dwell upon the dreadful subject, she long revolved every means that her affection could suggest of averting so heavy and unexpected a calamity. She well knew how worse than unavailing it would be to pour her prayers and tears at the feet of the tyrant, a measure that might crown their sufferings by bringing along with it the dishonour as well as the death of her husband. She resolved, then, to think and to act only for herself; and it was not long before her ingenuity supplied her with an idea, which with fearless breast she prepared to carry into speedy effect. On the evening that her consort was to suffer, no sooner was it twilight, than, wrapping herself in a dark cloak and veiling her beauty in deep black crape, she took her fearful and solitary way, without acquainting a single friend with her purpose, towards the dungeon prepared for the tomb of all she held most dear. On her arrival, taking aside one of the guards, she besought him, bitterly weeping while she spoke, to permit her to see her husband for a few moments before he died, and to yield her the sad consolation of a last tear, a last embrace, without which they should neither of them die in peace. Touched at her deep and passionate distress, the rest of the guards gathered round her, and unable long to resist her entreaties, they all of them, catching the soft infection from each other, at length agreed to let her pass.
On beholding her husband, however, instead of longer giving way to womanly lamentations and tears, Arsinoe assumed all the fortitude of a heroine, boldly yet sweetly advising and consoling him, while she entreated him, no longer to despair. Then, hastily acquainting him with her plan, she began to array him in her own dress, and having disguised his face in the thick veil, and thrown the cloak over his shoulders, she took one kiss, breathed a soft farewell, and quietly assumed his place. The guards, believing that it was the lady returning apparently drowned in grief, offered no sort of opposition; and in a little while Timocrates was beyond the limits of the tyrant’s sway. But the hour was come when the executioner proceeded with the guards to receive his victim from their hands, bearing along with him the infernal implements of his trade. What was their surprise, on approaching nearer, to lay their unhallowed hands upon a gentle and beauteous lady, who was immediately borne by the executioner into the tyrant’s presence, to learn in what way he was to proceed. Here she was received with scowling and terrific looks, while she appeared wholly unable to answer the threats and inquiries of the incensed prince. Vainly attempting to hide her terror, she again and again 404 burst into tears whenever she prepared to speak, so as even to awaken some touch of compassion in the tyrant’s obdurate breast. “Be not so much alarmed, lady,” he continued in an altered tone; “what is it you fear? Only reveal the real motives which led you to set my power at defiance, to rescue my prisoner, a traitor doomed to death, and to deceive my guards.” “Neither,” replied Arsinoe, “was it to defy your power nor to deceive your officers; it was love, only love and pity for my unhappy husband that impelled me to it; and I would hazard much, much more, even more than life itself, did I possess it, for his sake. When the fearful tidings burst upon me, when I heard that he was condemned to suffer an ignominious death, and when I reflected upon his whole life and conduct, nor found the slightest cause for blame or for your princely displeasure, I was determined to peril everything for his rescue. This I have done, and succeeded; and I willingly yield me a victim, if such I must be, in his place. Yet I would still hope that you will not behold my affliction and my tears unmoved; but attribute all my error and my crime to the tender love I bore him, a love which grew up with our earliest years, and which is such that you must tear away my heart-strings before I can quietly see him perish. Surely, then, you cannot pretend to exercise any law against true and devoted affection: severe as you are esteemed to be, you would not punish me for feelings over which I have no control.”
Such was the affecting appeal of the wretched Arsinoe, which produced so extraordinary an effect upon the mind of Nicocles, that, cruel and unforgiving as he naturally was, and vehemently exasperated against Timocrates in particular, he yet felt his fury and indignation die away within him at the sound of her mournful words. He therefore admitted her conjugal affection to be a sufficient justification of her conduct, and dismissed her uninjured from his presence. But not so fortunate were the guards, whose humanity was deserving of a better fate. Against them his wrath burned with unmitigated fury. “And now seize me those caitiff villains,” cried the tyrant, “who, false to their trust, permitted access to my prisoner. Their blood be upon their own heads, for I will never consent to be thus wholly cheated out of my revenge;” and the unhappy guards were accordingly led to execution by the hired mercenaries of the tyrant. In the course of a short time, Arsinoe, having obtained tidings of her husband, disguised herself in male attire, and accompanied by a single faithful servant fled secretly from her house, and joined the object of her love in a distant and secure retirement.