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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 73 for many a day. He hid the cover on his person. The seneschal, when the dinner was ended, examined the silver, and found 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 and held it fast, while the other tugged, and the knights present, in order to save him, lent him a hand.74
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 75 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. Whereas the young King answered: sir, you come at a bad season, for my treasure has been distributed. My possession are all given away. My body is infirm, and it would be 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 76 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 Bertrand 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 son1, so he pardoned him and loaded him with rich gifts.
1 The passage is not clear and is probably corrupt. I have added the word “lost”. For Bertran see Dante, Inf. XXVIII, 154, 22.77
The Emperor Frederic 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,2 jousters, fencers and folk of every kind.
One day his table was set and the Emperor was washing his hands3 when there came to him three necromancers garbed in long pilgrims’ robes4. 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 78 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 necromancers5 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.79
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 children.
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 be all 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 necromancers.
The Emperor made him tell his tale, and he told it. I have taken a wife. My children are 80 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 knights6.
2 uomini d’arti: men of arts, literally, artificers, necromancers or magicians.
3 Seated at table in accordance with the mediæval custom.
4 schiavine. Sacchetti says: “the first thing a pilgrim does when he sets out is to put on his long cloak.
5 lit.: the two masters.
6 A similar enchantment is told of in a Turkish tale translated by Petit de la Croix: The Story of Sheik Schehabbedin.
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 it.
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 81 Milan. Therefore I urge that it should not be returned to him7.
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 striped8.
It may well be, said the Emperor, that since his coat was striped he was a madman.
6 An immense importance was attached to a good hawk at this time.
7 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.82
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 tamarisk9 and a nice clean loaf of bread10.
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 his cup. If you have a drinking horn, I will gladly give you some wine.
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 83 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 knights.
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 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 gifts.
9 tamarix gallica, a wood supposed to have medicinal properties.
10 or else good clean food.
The Emperor Frederick had two exceedingly 84 wise men about him; one was called Bolgaro the other Martino. 11
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.85
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.
11 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.
Saladin12 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 86 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: 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 dazzling 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.87
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 sow 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 again13.
12 Shelah-eddyn (1137-9), Sultan of Egypt, after 1174 famous throughout mediæval Christendom for his knightliness. He is one of the chief characters of Scott’s Talisman. .
13 The second part of the tale is to be found in the Cronaca of Turpino, and in F. Sacchetti’s tale.88
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 woman who were not so fair as I am were looked at, but I was not for my ugly tunic14.
Then her husband promised her that with his first earnings he would buy her a fine tunic.89
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 90 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.
14 cotta. This antiquated form has survived in the cotta which priests put on during certain religious ceremonies of the Catholic Church.
A great Moaddo15 went one day to Alexandria, and was going about his business when another man came behind him, and pronounced many 91 insulting words, and made much mock of him, to which he did not reply a word.
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.
15 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, mage.
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.
Lancelot16 when he became mad for love of Queen Guinevere went in the cart, and was driven to many places.
And from that day on the cart was no more 92 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 knight17 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.
16 Lancelot of the Lake.
17 cavaliere di scudo in the original. Sacchetti says cavalieri di scudo were those made knights by lords or by the people.
Some very learned men at a school in Paris were disputing about the Empyrean18 and spoke 93 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?19. 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 it20. Now let us say: what is there overhead?21. 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 circle22. And still more foolish 94 and rash is he who toils and meditates to discover his own origin23.
And quite without sense is he who would know God’s profoundest thoughts.
18 The Empyrean is the seventh and outermost Heaven of Paradise.
19 (sitting there). this novella is particularly abrupt and characteristic in its elliptical constructions.
20 An untranslatable play on words: Cappello meaning hat and also sometimes rebuff, snub.
21 lit.: over head what is? sopra capo che ha?
22 The circle that limits human knowledge.
23 The First Cause, or the Divinity.
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 95 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 affection24.
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.
24 Another reading is “honour”: onore instead of amore.
Messer Azzolino25 had a story-teller whom he made tell him tales during the long nights of 96 winter. It happened that one night he 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 byzantines26 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 ease27.
25 Azzolino or Ezzolino da Romano, born 1194, died 1259 in battle against the Milanese. Known as tyrant of Padua and the Marca Trevigiana. Dane (Inf. XII, 110, and Par. IX, 29) places him along the tyrants.
26 Ancient coin belonging to the Eastern Empire.
27 Appears elsewhere in slightly different forms. See Don Quixote and Disciplina clericalis.97
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 98 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 knight28.
28 It has been suggested that this Riccar dell’ Illa was a Riccar di Lilla, Lille, in Flanders.
Messer Imberal del Balzo29 had a great castle in Provence, and he made such account of auguries as the Spaniards do, and a philosopher, whose name was Pythagoras and came from Spain,30 wrote an astronomical table, in which were 99 many meanings of animal, 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 in 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 behind31. 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 100 of the novel reply which that woman had inadvertently given.
29 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.
30 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.
31 Imberal expected her to say towards which of the cardinal points the bird’s tail was turned.
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 to 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.101
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 to 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 reconciled with his friend and he turned to the old amity, and recognized that he had not thought well32.
32 This novel probably derives from the ascetic or ecclesiastical collections and purports to show the dangers of too lively a fantasy on the morals.
Master Thaddeus, as he was instructing his medical scholars, propounded that whoever should continue for nine days to eat egg-plant33 would go mad.102
And he proved it according to the law of physic.34
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.
33 Solanum insanum. Another reading is melon.
34 Medicine or science.
There was once a most cruel king35 who persecuted God’s people. And his power was passing great, and yet he could achieve nothing against that people, for God loved them.103
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 mountain36.
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.104
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 way37. 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 buckle38 of gold or silver for an ornament, on which let there be carved the idol which you adore (for he adored that 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 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 105 consented and adored the idols and then sinned with them.
Then the prophet went and cursed God’s people, and God did not succour them.
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.
35 Balak, son of Zipper, king of the Moabites; see Numbers, chaps. 22 and 23.
36 The high places of Baal: Numbers xxii, 41.
37 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.
38 Another reading is “set on their breasts a fly”, reading mosca fly, for nosca, buckle.
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 beaten.106
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 Melisus39 who was exceedingly learned in many sciences and especially 107 in astrology, as can be read in the sixth book of De Civitate Dei40
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 absentmindedness41.
39 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.
40 St Augustine speaks of Thales in Book VIII, not Book VI.
41 The original version of this anecdote is to be found in Diogenes Laertius, Book I. See also Æsop’s fable of the Astronomer.108
When Bishop Aldebrandino42 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.
42 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.