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BEWARE: There is a very small chance, that this text is not in the public domain. If we are violating any copyright law, we are abjectly sorry and will immediately beg for permission to use it or take it down. After several months research and several letters, the question of the copyright status and the holder of it remain a deep, dark mystery. But we couldn't bear it that Poggio and Mr. Storer's work is as good as lost to most of the world. They deserve so much better. We welcome any input on this matter. For others who wish to steal any portion of this text, this is not a good text to lift because you, too, are operating under the same risk. Know this: if we get in big trouble we will share our pain with you.


Elf.ED Note: the punctuation in this text is different from today's. In sections of conversation, the comma is after the closing apostrophe. We don't change this to help document the evolution in writing styles through time.


Old Wine

Messer Matteo Franco, walking with Lorenzo de' Medici, and coming to an inn where some bad wine was served them, which, however, the host declared to be very old, said:

"It seems to me in its second childhood."


How a Friar's Breeches became Sacred Relics

A pleasant story which ought to have its place among these little tales happened some time ago in Amalia.

A married woman, moved it would seem by piety, went to confess her sins to a friar of the minor orders. The friar, listening to the woman's 34 confession, was moved with desire, and plied her so with words and youthful supplications that finally he won her to his passion, and it only remained between them to arrange the manner of their meeting.

They made their plan out of the light-heartedness of their youth, that the woman should feign a great sickness, and should call her confessor to her bedside. It is the custom to leave confessor and penitent alone together for the greater liberty of the soul.

So the woman feigned her malady, and put herself to bed, complaining of a mortal pain, and asked for her confessor, who entered her chamber alone, everyone else having carefully retired.

And the two of them played Cupid's game not once but several times. The confessor's visit was so protracted that some one came into the room to see if all was well, whereat the friar took his leave of the woman, saying that he would return the next day to hear the remainder of the confession, for it was very long.

He returned next day, and was left alone with 35 the woman. Removing his breeches, he laid them over a chair, and continued to hear the confession in the same manner as on the previous day.

The husband, who was not at all suspicious, nevertheless marvelled at the length of the sacrament, and suddenly entered the room. The friar slipped away, leaving his breeches behind him in his haste.

The husband protested loudly, saying that the man was not a friar but an adulterer, and he went to the prior of the monastery and made a great disturbance, violently threatening the guilty man with death.

The prior, who was an old man, sought to calm the man's ire, saying that his loud-mouthed anger and violent reproaches turned little to the honour of his family, and that it was best to keep quiet about everything, and hide it.

The husband argued that the thing was manifest enough on account of the breeches, and could not be hidden, but the old prior found a way out of this, too, saying that the breeches could pass for those of St. Francis, which the 36 friar had taken as a holy relic to cure the wife. He would come and fetch them back with great solemnity and pomp.

So the prior convoked the monks, and, dressed in their sacred vestments, and with a large Cross at the head of the procession, they repaired to the man's house, and took the breeches away devoutly as if they were a holy relic, and they placed them on a silken cushion, and made the husband and the wife kiss them, as they did all they met on the way.

With chants and prayers and ceremonies, they bore the breeches back to the monastery, and placed them with the other relics.

But later, the facts were discovered, and a commission of inquiry was sent from Rome to look into the sacrilege.


The Sleepy Confessor

A confessor used often to fall asleep while hearing confessions. A woman went to him to confess, and accused herself of having stolen a 37 kettle. Then seeing the priest fall asleep, she got up and went away.

Another woman took her place, whereupon the confessor woke up, and thinking it was the same woman said: "Well, what about that kettle you stole?"


Worst of all

Messer Marsillo says that priests are worse than laymen, friars worse than priests, monks worse than friars, hermits worse than monks, and women worse than all.


The Worst Men in the World

The worst men in the world live in Rome, and worse than the others are the priests, and the worst of the priests they make cardinals, and the worst of all the cardinals is made Pope.


Francesco Sachetti

Cosmo de' Medici used to say that Francesco Sachetti, who was always in the company of 38 learned men and yet remained an ignoramus, was like the kidney which is surrounded by fat, and yet is always lean.


The Old Woman's Prayer

There was a certain Duke so hated in Milan for his intolerable cruelties that day and night everyone prayed that ill-fortune should come upon him.

A decrepit old woman, however, was in the habit of entering the church every evening at sundown, and praying to God to give the tyrant health and long life.

The Duke, hearing of this, and knowing that he did not merit any such intercession, had the old woman brought before him, and asked her the reason of her praying to God for him.

"It is true", she said; "this thing which I have done with regularity up till now, and for this reason. When I was a girl, the Milanese had a lord who was very cruel, so that I desired his ruin and death; but no sooner had he died than 39 there succeeded to him a man who was in no way better, so that I thought it would be a very good thing were he to be killed too. Now we have you, our third lord, much worse and more cruel than the other two. So fearing that after your death there may come another worse yet than you, I never cease to pray to God that He may let you live for a very long time."

Ashamed of himself, the tyrant had the woman killed for her rash wit.


The Peace of the Monastery

"The peace of the monastery" means perfect peace and bad will, because there was once a monk in a monastery, who for over forty years had said his paternosters every day before a crucifix which one day fell down upon his head and hurt him.

The monk could not pardon this, but, urged by the prior, he came to make peace and be resigned, saying, however, that there was some bad will somewhere.



An Excommunicated Peasant eaten by the Priests

In Dalmatia, where the Hungarians live side by side with the Croats, a certain terrible and cruel lord commanded that a dead peasant, who had been excommunicated in life, should be buried in the cemetery. The parish priest, however, in agreement with the clerics of the district and by the order of the eldest of them, refused to give the man Christian burial.

Whereat the lord rose up in his rage, and said: "May I die if I do not succeed in placing this servant of mine in holy ground before a month passes."

So, soon after, having invited to his castle all the priests of the district, almost as though wishing to make amends for his crimes, and having had the body of the peasant cut up into pieces and seasoned with pepper and skillfully cooked, he set it before the priests to eat. And they, thinking it was some other flesh, set to, and ate it, and thanked the lord afterwards.


And he, in his turn, said to them: "It is I who must thank you, for that peasant you refused to receive in your cemetery, you have laid in the holier ground of your stomachs."

At these words many of the priests, disgusted at the horror of the thing, began to feel pains in their stomachs, and many of them cast up again the food they had swallowed into the lord's bosom, while others, waiting a while, got rid of it in the privy.

So that the discussion still goes on as to the place of sepulture of the peasant: the lord saying that it reposes in the bodies of the priests, while they maintain it is in the privy or the knight's bosom.


Of a Curate who buried a Little Dog

There was once in Tuscany a country curate who was very rich, and when a little dog of his died, of which he was very fond, he buried it in the cemetery.

The fact came to the earls of the bishop, who, 42 being anxious to get hold of the curate's money, had him brought up before him as guilty of a grave offence. The priest, knowing the character of the bishop, went to see him with fifty ducats in his pocket.

The bishop, seeing the curate before him, reproved him severely for giving burial to a dog in sacred ground, and ordered that he be sent to prison.

"My lord", said the crafty priest, "had you known the intelligence of that little dog, you would not have marvelled at his being given burial along with men, because both alive and dead he had as much intelligence as any man."

"What does this mean?" said the bishop.

"The little dog", replied the curate, "left a will, and, knowing your Lordship's poverty, he left you fifty ducats, which I have brought with me."

The bishop then approved of both the will and the burial; took the money and acquitted the priest.



Of a Countryman who wished to marry a young Girl

A countryman of Pergola wanted to marry the daughter of a neighbour, but, when he saw her, she seemed to him much too young and childish.

The father of the young girl, in answer to the remarks of the peasant, said: "She is much older and more mature than you think. She has already had three children by our parish priest."


Of a Doctor who betrayed the wife of a Tailor who was ill

A certain tailor of Florence begged a doctor to visit his wife, who was ill. The doctor came to the house when the tailor was away on business, and took advantage of the wife, even as she lay on her bed of sickness, and against her will.

When the tailor returned, the doctor was just about to go, and informed the other that he had nearly cured his wife.


The tailor found the woman in tears, however.

Learning fully of the doctor's treachery, the tailor said nothing. But a little while afterwards, the doctor's wife called him to make her a certain garment called a cotta.

The tailor went to the doctor's house to take the woman's measure, but for this, it was necessary, he said, that the doctor's wife, who had a beautiful figure, should remove most of her clothes. And, when she was nearly naked, the tailor took his revenge on the doctor, and afterwards he did not fail to tell him about it.


Of a hermit who had many Women

There used to live in Padua a hermit of the name of Ausmirio, during the time of Francesco, who was the seventh Duke of Padua, and, under the pretext of confession, he who had the fame of being a most holy man, knew many women, and some of them were even of the nobility.

Finally, since his hypocrisy could no longer remain hidden, his evil manner of life was 45 bruited abroad. He was seized by the podestà1 and confessed many of his crimes, and at last he was taken before Duke Francesco.

The latter sent for his secretary, and, to enjoy a laugh over the affair, asked the hermit for details of his licentious conduct and the names of the women he had seduced.

The secretary wrote the names down, and many of them were wives of members of the Duke's Court.

When at last the hermit had finished with the list of names, the Duke asked him if there were not still others, but the hermit obstinately denied that there were any other names. The secretary spoke to him severely, threatening him with torture if he did not give all the names.

Then the hermit, drawing a sigh, said: "Write then the name of your own wife, and put her among the others."

When he heard this, the pen fell from the secretary's hand, so great was his sorrow, but the 46 Duke laughed loudly and said it was right that a man who had listened with such delight to the misfortunes of others should come at last to find himself in their company.

1  Governor of town or city, like mayor, but appointed by the Central Government. The office has been revived under modern Fascism.


Messer Nicholas

Nicholas Porcinaro, a very severe judge, having sentenced three malefactors to death for a certain crime, there came before him a fourth criminal. The judge asked him his name, and the man answered: "My name is Sedicesimo (Sixteenth)."

Messer Nicholas marveled greatly at this name, and had the following explanation from the criminal.

"My lord judge, I have this name owing to the fact that three of my companions have been given the rope by you, and so I shall be glad that another dozen may come to their punishment before it is my turn."

The judge was amused at the man's answer, and let him off lightly.



The Choristers

One day some choristers were singing some madrigals of Vicenzo Ruffo--madrigals with five-voice parts.

One of the singers stopped, and failed to take up his part at the right moment, whereat the others also stopped singing, and asked him why he had ceased singing.

"I stopped singing", he said, "to hear how the thing sounded with four voices."


Kings and Asses

Alfonzo, King of Naples, being bothered while he was eating by an importunate old man to such an extent that he could not enjoy his meal in peace, shouted out aloud for everyone to hear that the state of an ass was much better than that of a king, for, while asses eat, their masters leave them alone, but such is not the case with kings.



The Unrepentant Smith

A certain smith, being near to death, confessed his sins to a priest, and, as he did not wish to express forgiveness towards his enemies, the priest said to him; "If you do not do as I tell you, you will go to hell for certain."

"If such be indeed the case", said the smith, "then you can leave me without giving me extreme unction, for I want the devil to eat me up raw, as I am, without any oil or salt."1

Words worthy of a beast rather than a Christian.

1 Those in danger of death are anointed with blessed oil and holy water.


Of Lorenzo de' Medici

Lorenzo de' Medici was asked by Ugolino Martelli why he had got up so late in the morning. In return, Lorenzo asked the other what he had done early in the morning.


And when Ugolino told him of certain light and foolish things he had done, Lorenzo replied:

"What I was dreaming, then, was worth more than all you were doing."


Of an Englishman

A beaker of wine was once brought to an Englishman at a banquet, and all present took their wine from it.

And while the Englishman was putting it to his lips, he saw a dead fly in it, which he took out. Then, after having taken his drink, he replaced the dead fly in the wine.

Asked why he did this, he replied: "I, personally, do not like flies in my wine, but how am I to know if some of you do not like them?"

And he handed on the beaker.



One day, the sea being very rough, all those aboard the ship were ordered by the 50 captain to throw overboard their heavy belongings.

There was among the company a man who then took hold of his wife to cast her overboard, for he said that she was the heaviest and most burdensome thing he possessed.


Of Lorenzo de' Medici

Lorenzo de' Medici was once requested to favour a certain man at the elections for the Governors of Florence. The fellow in question was of dubious character, and given to overmuch wine.

His friends, however, recommended him to Lorenzo, saying: "You can make him do what you like with a glass of wine."

Lorenzo said: "Yes, and suppose some one else gives him a whole bottle, where do I stand?"


Of Lorenzo de' Medici

One day an ambassador of the Duke of Milan being in Florence, in the times of Lorenzo de' 51 Medici, the latter, in order to entertain him, had brought in a boy of some five or six years, who had an extraordinary talent and wit, and made remarks far beyond his years.

When the boy had made everyone wonder, Lorenzo turned to the ambassador and asked him what he thought about the child. "The boy's brain", said the ambassador, "will increase in size for certain when he grows up, and children who are very clever when they are little become commonplace and stupid when they mature."

The boy turned to the ambassador and said:

"Sir, you must have been extremely clever when you were young."

[This story was so good, that it was included (without the names) in the most famous joke book (on this site) of the 19th century, 400 years later, 1864, see Jest CCLXXXVIII, The Joe Miller Jest Book, by Mark Lemon. However, it had been in a more obscure collection a couple of decades before that, in The Treasury of Wit, printed for T. Allman, in 1836. — Elf.Ed.]


Of a Priest who did not know when Palm Sunday fell

Aello is a town in the heart of the countryside among our Apennines. Here there dwelt a certain priest, rougher and more ignorant than the 52 peasants themselves. As he did not know the time and seasons of the year, he never told his people when Lent fell due.

He went to Terranova to the market which is held there the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and he saw the priests preparing the olive-branches and the palm-leaves for the following day. He marveled greatly, and then perceived his error, and realized that Lent had passed without his parishioners having in any way observed it.

He returned to his own town, and prepared the olive-branches and the palm-leaves for the following day, and calling the faithful together on the Sunday, told them:

"To-day is the day when it is customary to give away olive-branches and palm-leaves, for Easter is a week to-day. This year we shall not protract our fast, for only a week of penitence remains. The reason is this. Carnival was very late this year, on account of the cold weather, and its journey up to these mountains was difficult owing to the state of the roads and paths. For this reason, Lent was late in arriving, and came only after great effort, and could bring 53 with it but one week of penitence, having left the others on the way.

"Come all of you, therefore, to confession in the little time that remains to you, and do you all penitence."


Of Some Peasants who bought a Crucifix

From this same town some peasants were sent to Arezzo to buy a wooden crucifix, which was to be placed in the church; and, being come to a man who sold these objects, the latter, seeing that he had to do with ignorant bumpkins, thought to play a jest on them.

After hearing their request, he asked them if they wanted the crucifix alive or dead. They took some little time to discuss the matter between them, and came to the conclusion that they would prefer it alive, for, if their fellow-townsman did not like it so, they could kill it in a minute, they said.



Of Messer Paolo Marchese

Messer Paolo Marchese, a Neapolitan and a doctor of great repute, having heard that a certain friend of his, who in a brief space of time had consumed all his substance, was about to be divorced by his wife because he was impotent and had not been able to consummate the marriage, said: "It is a remarkable thing that this man who has consumed1 his substance so quickly, has not yet consummated1 his marriage."

1 Italian play on the word "consumato", meaning consumed or dissipated and consummated.


The Host's Fee

A gentleman who was on his travels took lodging in an inn, where there was set before him a supper consisting for the most part of a scanty salad and some watered wine.

After the wretched repast, the traveller called for the doctor, saying that he wished to 55 pay him. The host came forward and said: "Sir, you are wasting your time looking for a doctor in this village."

The gentleman replied: "It seems that you do not know yourself. I am going to pay you as a doctor, and not as a host, for you have given me a supper fit only for a sick man. Here is your fee!"


Pirrinicilo the Gascon

Pirrinicilo, the Gascon, having gone to the inn, sat down at the table, and found himself before a fat, well-cooked duckling.

Almost at the same moment a Spanish wayfarer entered the dining-room, and said to Pirrinicilo: "Sir, could you not be good enough to let a friend share your meal, and come to table with you?"

"What is your name?" asked the Gascon.

"Alopanzio, Ansimarchide, Iberoneo, Alorchide," said the Spaniard.

"What!" cried the Gascon in amazement, 56 "one little bird for four Spanish barons! God forbid! This is just enough for Pirrinicilo,1 for small things are best suited to small men."

1 The diminutive ending denotes small, little. Piccino: little, and piccirillo (Neapolitan dialect), little.


Of Roderigo Carrasio

Roderigo Carrasio, like many of the townsmen of Valencia, old as well as young, was a man given over to love and the lighter pleasures of life. Although he was eighty years old, he began to learn to play the flute.

Riboglietta, a witty and pleasant man, passing before the old man's house, asked the servants who it was that was learning to dance. To which the servants answered that it was their master.

"Has Roderigo had news then," said Riboglietta, "that they are getting ready to have a ball in the next world?"



Big Fish and Little Fish

A jester was sitting at table with certain gentlemen. Before the gentlemen some fine large fish were set. While to the jester were given only small miserable ones.

The buffoon picked his fish up, and put them first close to his mouth and then to his ear, pretending to be talking secretly to them, and at last he began to weep.

When they asked him why he was crying, he said:

"My father was a fisherman, and was drowned in a river. When I asked these little fish if they had seen him, they said they were too young, and told me to ask those bigger fish who are older."

The gentlemen, understanding, had some bigger fish given to him in order that he might question, or rather devour, them.


Of Jacopo Sannazzaro

Jacopo Sannazzaro, a man of great nobility, with a simple but facetious nature, being in the 58 presence of King Federigo, started a discussion among some doctors as to what thing is of the greatest benefit to the eyes.

Whereupon some one said fennel, while another suggested the use of spectacles, and one said one thing, and another another.

But Jacopo said: "Envy."

The doctors marveled at this saying, which seemed to imply a mockery of them, but then Jacopo continued:

"Don't you know that envy makes the things of others seem fine and large to us? And what greater benefit can there be for the eyes than to see everything big and handsome?"


Of Francesco Elio

Francesco Elio, who in his time was a very learned man and courteous, having seen that the French soldiers had shoes broad at the toes like the feet of oxen, said: "Where are the horns of these oxen?"

Whereat a French gentleman, who was also 59 of a facetious turn, said: "They carry them in their hands, for they never throw away their arms."

And Francesco added: "I see, their arms are their drinking-glasses."


Of Roberto da Lecce

It is said by those who saw him that Fra Savonarola at certain times, when much in wrath against the sins of the people, would suddenly descend from the pulpit, leaving his sermon unfinished, and would go away to his house.

I do not know how this custom may have become him, but I do not think that others should follow his example.

Still worse is that which is related of Roberto da Lecce, who, having with great vehemence of words stirred up the princes and the people against the Turks and other enemies of the Christian faith, became much affected by his own discourse, and at the height of his eloquence 60 began to weep, seeing that no one was offering himself for the Holy cause.

Thereupon he said: "If needs must be, here am I, who am not afraid of removing my habit, and offering myself as a soldier."

So saying, he divested himself of his habit, and showed himself all armed in gleaming white armour with a sword at his side. And, thus arrayed as a captain of soldiery, he preached for half an hour.

Asked by some cardinals with whom he was familiar what new idea was this, he replied that he had done it to please his lady-love, who had confided in him that the only thing she did not like in him was his friar's habit. And when he had asked her how she wished him dressed, she had said as a warrior, and begged him to preach armed.


The Fair Penitent

A friar heard one day the confession of a lovely Florentine widow. And while she was speaking, 61 the woman drew up close to the friar, and brought her face near to his, for she was telling her sins under her breath.

The friar, moved in his senses by her fresh young breath, was tormented by the lusts of the flesh.

"Go away, woman!" he cried; but she asked him what penitence he was going to give her.

"Penitence!" exclaimed the friar. "It is I who will have to do penitence."


Of a Man who made his Wife believe him to be Dead

At Montevarchi, which is a township near to us, a nursery-gardener of my acquaintance who had a young wife, conceived the idea, while his spouse was out of the house washing soiled linen, to she how she would act if her were to die.

So he stretched himself down on the ground as if he were really dead.

The woman returned home laden with the washing, and found her husband dead, or so it 62 seemed to her, and she remained for a while doubtful as to whether she should begin at once to mourn her loss or set about eating, for she was very hungry. She yielded to the pangs of appetite, and, setting a pot containing salted meat on the stove, ate it quickly as soon as it was hot.

Then as she had partaken of salted meat, she grew thirsty, and, taking a flask, went down into the cellar to fetch some wine.

Meanwhile a neighbour called to ask her for some red-hot coals to light the fire. Whereat the woman, throwing down the flask of wine, burst into tears and began to lament, just as it her man had died at that moment.

Attracted by her violent sobs and cris, the neighbours arrived, and were surprised at the man's sudden death. He lay on the ground, and held his breath, and closed his eyes as if he were in truth dead.

When it seemed to him that the jest had lasted long enough, he sat up, opened his eyes, and spoke to his wife, who kept on saying: "Oh, my husband, what is to become of me? Oh, what am I to do?


"You had best go and get the wine", said the man. And everyone turned from tears to laughter, especially when they heard the story and the reason of the woman's thirst.


Saying of a Cook to the Illustrious Duke of Milan

The old Duke of Milan, a Prince of singular elegance in all things, had a wonderful cook whom he had even sent to France to learn how to make certain dishes.

During the great war which the Duke waged with the Florentines, there came to him one day bad news, which perturbed him greatly.

A few moments later, being at table, there was laid before him some dish of which he violently disapproved, as if the flavour did not please him or it were badly served. He sent it away, and called his cook and reproved him angrily for being a fool at his art, and the cook, who was a man used to speak out his mind, answered:


"If", he said, "the Florentines have taken away your appetite, what fault of mine is that? My dishes are savory and prepared with rare art. It is the Florentines, sir, who rouse you to rage, and take away your appetite."

And the Duke, who was a most human man, laughed at the frank reply of his cook.


A Request of the same Cook to the same Prince

The same cook, seeing that many solicited the Prince's favours, begged him to change him into an ass. The Duke, surprised at hearing such a request, asked his servant why he preferred to be an ass rather than a man.

"Because", said the cook, "I see that all those whom you have raised to power, to whom you have given magistratures and high honours, are so swollen up with pride and have become so insolent as to become asses in truth. And I would ask you to change me into an ass."



Of Giovanni Visconti

Antonio Lusco was a man of great wisdom and gaiety of spirit. One day when a friend of his brought him a letter for the Pope, he told him to alter and correct it in certain points. The other brought him back the letter next day exactly as it was before, and Lusco, having glanced at it, said: "You have taken me for Giovanni Visconti."

And when we asked him what this meant, he said:

"Giovanni Visconti was once our podestà1 in Vicenza, and he was an excellent man, though fat and stupid. He often called in his secretary to write a letter to the old Duke of Milan, and he himself would dictate that part of the letter which was taken up with compliments, while the rest he would leave to his secretary, who would bring it to him shortly afterwards.

The Gianozzo took it and read it, but he always 66 found that there was something wrong about it, either in the form or the matter.

"This won't do", he would say. "Go and correct it."

The secretary, who understood the habits and stupidity of his master, would shortly afterwards return with the identical letter, which he had not altered in one word, though he would declare that he had changed and re-copied it.

The Gianozzo would take it in his hand as though to read it, give it a glance and say: "It is all right now. Put my seal on it and send it to the Duke."

And so it was with all the letters he wrote.

1 Governor.


Of King Ludovic of France

A servant, having seen a louse on the coat of King Ludovic of France, knelt down with a gesture of wishing to render him some service and removed the louse, throwing it away secretly.

When the King asked him what it was, he was ashamed to say. But, on the King's insistence, 67 he confessed that it was a louse. The King thought it was a good sign, as such vermin came principally to men who were young, and for this service he had forty scudi1 counted out to the servant.

Several days later another servant of the Court, knowing how for so small a matter the other had earned so much; and, not considering the difference between a spontaneous act and an artifice, made the same gesture towards the King, and, when the King leaned over as before, he pretended to remove something from his person and cast it away.

The King, wishing to know what the man had done, asked him, but he pretended to be ashamed to say. Finally he confessed that it was a flea.

The king, perceiving his craftiness, said:

"What is that you say? Do you wish to make me out a dog?"

Whereupon, he caused the servant to be put on a horse, and, instead of the forty scudi he had hoped to earn, he was given forty lashes.

1 The scudo was a silver piece, equivalent to the Crown.

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