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[Permission to use this text has been kindly granted by Dr. Hilary Putnam — with profound thanks]

From The Works of Aretino, Translated into English from the original Italian, with a Critical and Biographical Essay by Samuel Putnam, Illustrations by The Marquis de Bayros in Two Volumes, Volume I., Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1926; pp. 147-158.



Why isn’t there some one to write down all these
things and have them printed?

The third and last day of the Pleasing Dialogues of Aretino, in which Nanna and Pippa, seated in a garden, listen to a Godmother and a Nurse conversing on the Art of the Procuress.




I am astonished Solomon did not lay hold of such
subtleties as these.

GODMOTHER:   The art of the Procuress and that of the Whore, my dear Nurse, are not merely sisters but twins; and Madonna Lust is the mother and Messer Bordello the father, so say the chronicles. But I believe, rather than that the art of the Procuress is the daughter of the Whore’s trade, that the Whore’s trade comes from the belly of the Procuress.

NURSE: Why do you enter into this dispute with me?

GODMOTHER:   By the leg which I hope he breaks who took away my right hand, because it must be that the art of the Procuress gives birth to that of the Whore; you may be assured of this, for so it is, and since it is so, we should not be regarded as the offspring of every great and stinking prostitute who happens to sit above us on the feast days.

NURSE: Well, well! I am astonished to think that Solomon did not lay hold so such subtleties as these.

GODMOTHER:   But let us go on, being content with our art; which I hope to revive by recounting to you and, in the right time and place, making you see how the Whore renders us honor, having none of her own, and how even the Signori confess it by placing us, when they talk among themselves in secret, destram patribus. Listen, then, and afterwards tell me what you think.

NURSE: You see I am all attention.

GODMOTHER:   Nurse, I am more certain of this than of anything which Nanna here may have been able to teach 150 her Pippa. I know that the whore’s is not a trade for everyone. Her life is a game of chance, and for one that wins, there are a thousand blanks; but the procuress’ demands even more acuteness. I believe that when the whores would separate themselves from us, they are as mad as a pair of hands would be which should try to wash themselves by pouring the water upon themselves. The Procuress’ art fishes at the bottom of the Whore’s, and she need not turn up her nose at us, for that is the case.



They gave him Morgante’s laugh.

GODMOTHER:   Where were we?

NURSE: We had come to the one about the fox and the mule-drivers.

GODMOTHER:   Ah, that is a fine one. There was a certain fox, so old her fur was turning white, very wicked and malicious, and as crafty as the one who said to Godfather Wolf, when that big blockhead fell into a bucket he was drawing out of the well: “The world is a ladder, and some go up and some go down.1

NURSE: And he was right, wasn’t he?

GODMOTHER:   This fox, desiring to get her belly full of fish, went to the lake of Perugia to see what she could steal; and having stood there a while on the side of a hill, with her tail drooping peacefully, with her snout in the air and her ears pricked, she saw coming toward her a band of mule-drivers. Their mules, tethered by a rope, were munching the straw in the bags which they wore on their mouths, and the muleteers were chattering about the scarcity of certain fish and the abundance of pike, praising a certain tench which they had devoured that morning with cabbage and sauce and planning how they would kill a great eel as soon as they had unloaded their pack-saddles. As soon as Monna Fox saw them, she smiled in her way and, throwing herself across their path, pretended to be dead. When she felt them draw near, she held her breath, as one does who crouches under water, and spread out her legs; nor did she so much as move, and anyone would have sworn that she was dead. The mules, which had glimpsed her 152 from some little distance away, had more felling in the matter than their drivers. The latter, when they saw her, gave vent to an “Oh, Oh, Oh” as one does who sees a hare dart from a cluster of grain no higher than a hand. They ran up in a crowd to seize her and take her hide. All laid hold of her at once, each one claiming her for his own; and they came near cutting themselves to pieces in that way mule-drivers have, each one crying, “I saw her first,” “I got her before you did;” and if it had not been for an old man, who put a black stone and a number of white ones in a hat, shook them up, and made the crowd draw lots, there is no doubt that a number of them would have done for each other. As it was, they were satisfied.

NURSE: Talk often leads to sword-points and lances.

GODMOTHER:   The one who drew the fox, bending over and touching her, perceived that she was warm. “By God,” he said, “she’s only just dead, and she’s fat enough, so far as I can see.” Saying this, he put her into the hamper of his mule and went back to join the others, whose anger had now passed. They went along in as friendly a fashion as ever and in their usual manner. The fine dame of a fox took advantage of this. Perceiving that she was not seen, she turned over very gently and, being half-starved, made a hole in the fish of those villains. Having devoured those in both hampers, she gave a leap, as one does who hurtles a wide ditch, leaving behind her only the patter of her heels. One of the mule-drivers saw her and gave a cry. When he ran up to the place where the fox that was supposed to be dead had been left, he did not see it. There was much scorn then for that brave fellow who had wanted to fight for it. Indeed, they gave him Morgante’s laugh.

NURSE: Margutte’s, you mean to say, don’t you?

GODMOTHER:   Morgante’s!

NURSE: Margutte’s, I tell you, Margutte’s.


1  il mondo e fatto a scale, per cie, chi scende e chi sale, a well known proverb.



And they could all go on waiting.

GODMOTHER:   Sometimes, after lunch, I used to go for a walk among the Benches, through the Borough and all the way to St. Peter’s, just to look over the softies from the country. There is a way of knowing these, just as there is of knowing melons, though it is not the same way. When I saw that I had one, I would approach him giddily and speak to him. “From what country are you, my good man?” Then I would learn how long he had been at Rome and that he was looking for a master. There would be other talk of this sort, and I would make myself quite at home with him from the very first. And so, we would strike up a friendship, wondering together at the crowd which passed the Ponte Santo Angelo. Finally, I would say to him: “Would you mind coming with me to where I live, for I have to settle with my landlady, and I don’t know these four-farthing pieces, these giulii and other coins; in fact, I don’t know one ducat from another.” Then the simpleton, with a “Certainly, I will,” and without being the least bit on his guard, would come trotting after me. I would take him to a house where there was a young whore; and when we got there, I would say to her, “Call your mother.: And she, who knew the game would reply: “She’s waiting for you at her aunt’s house, and she left word you were to go there by all means; she has something or other to tell you, and you can come back later and settle your bill.”

NURSE: Such goings-on I never did hear of.


GODMOTHER:  Sta bene,” I would say, and then, turning to the old crow who was with me: “I’ll be back right away; you can have your supper while I am gone.” He, seeing how things were, would say: “Go on; I’ll wait for you a year if necessary.” And then, after they had spent the day in talk, the poor fellow, not being able to withstand the strumpet’s caresses any longer, would give in, thinking he would be able to go scot-free. But when he would go to leave, she would raise an uproar and take his cloak, shoving him out of the house with insults.

NURSE: Ah, eh, oh.

GODMOTHER:   Every day I used to get them in this manner, and he who did not have a farthing might leave the clothes on his back behind him. And they could all go on waiting for me to return!



And all who come to see must say
“She is a pearl in every way.”

GODMOTHER:   A certain jealous husband, one of the most obstinate wretches you ever saw, was so jealous that at night he would bar not only the room but the windows of the bedroom, the hall and the kitchen; nor did he ever retire without first having given a look under and above the bed, the trunks and every possible place. He was suspicious of his relatives and his friends, and he did not even want his own mother to talk to his innamorata. If anyone even passed by her, he would fall into a fury, with a “Who is he?” and “Who is she?” When he left the house, he would lock and seal her in, in order to find out if she was deceiving him. No man or woman ever knocked at the door, but he would at once cry out, “Away, ruffians!” Now I knew all this which I am telling you, and I also knew something about incantations and cures; so I watched to see if there was anything the matter with the husband, and I discovered he had a tooth which often killed him. Then it was I laid my plans, and I said to a certain one, who was very much in love with the pretty prisoner: “Don’t despair.”

NURSE: You encourage me simply by telling me how you encouraged him.

GODMOTHER:   Having put heart into the dejected one, I sent a certain big glutton that I knew to the house of the jealous husband, where he kept the young wench under lock and key. I told this fellow that, when the 156 crowd was passing, he should fall down in anguish, writhe and cry out: “I’m mad, I’m dying! This tooth is killing me!” He did so, and while he was crying and frothing at the mouth, a crowd of more than thirty pious persons gathered about him. Even the Madonna, who had been commanded not to appear at the window or the door, was attracted by the noise and came to the balcony. At this point, I came by, and, seeing him lying there, inquired what was the cause. When I learned that he was crucified with the tooth-ache, I said: “Give me room. I’ve no doubt I shall be able to cure him. Open your mouth.” And the rascal opened his mouth and showed me the tooth, and I placed on it a bit of straw in the form of a cross, mumbled some prayer or other, and made him repeat three times, “Credo, credo, credo.” His pain was banished at once, and everyone was astonished at the miracle, and I left with a flock of ragamuffins at my heels, who, in their simplicity, were telling everybody about the tooth.

NURSE: Why isn’t there someone to write down all these things and have them printed?

GODMOTHER:   While I was returning home, the jealous husband appeared and, seeing a crowd about his door, was afraid that some mischief had been done him; but when he heard about my little trick, he ran to his wife and said: “Did you see that tooth cured?” “What tooth?” she replied. “Since I came into this house I’ve never had the air, nor do I know anything about what the people in the street are doing, as you see well enough.” When the suspicious wretch heard this story, he came to hunt me up and showed me his own tooth, which made his very mouth stink. I looked at it, and said to him: “I don’t want to wrong the dentist, and I have a conscience in the matter, but still, I want to relieve your pain. Where do you live? The more he tried to tell me, the farther I was from understanding. It ended by 157 his taking me home with him and introducing me to her whom I was to convert to the love of etcetera.

NURSE: You mean to tell me you made yourself at home in his house through such a trick as that?

GODMOTHER:   That’s just what I’m telling you, nothing else.

NURSE: You don’t say.

GODMOTHER:   I had time, and more than time, to worm my way into My Lady’s heart, to convince her of the death-in-life she was leading, locked up like that, and to present the petition of my gentleman friend. Since she had not entirely lost her reason, it did not take her long to come over to my way of thinking. She not only consented to see a certain fine youth, but she ended by eloping with him. That, however, is not what I wanted to tell you. The joke comes at the end.

NURSE: I’d like to hear it.

GODMOTHER:   The jealous poltroon had not had the pain he used to have for perhaps twenty days, while I was practising at his house. He was afraid he would lose me; and so, with gifts, promises and all sorts of foolish talk, he tried to get out of me the secret prayer which I used in curing teeth; that is, he thought he was going to get it out of me. I, who had neither prayer nor legend, as soon as his wife had fled, went to hunt him up. I found him in church talking with one of his friends and went up to him and handed him the following incantation:

My lady surely is divine;
She passes orange water and has the stink
Of musk and ambergris and civet, too, I think,
And when she combs her pretty hair,
Rubies rain down through the air.
That nectar of her mouth, you see,
Is as ambrosia to me.
And in those parts that are most nice
Are emeralds in place of lice.
158 And all who come to see must say
She is a pearly in every way.

You can imagine Nurse, what happened then, and what this jealous madman said when he read the joke, and when he went home and did not find his lady friend there.

NURSE: I can imagine it well enough.

Here ends the third and last day
of the
Pleasing Dialogues of M. Pietro Aretino.


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