[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

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 published c. 1824]; pp. 22-37.


Novels of Giovanni Boccaccio.




THE voluminous notices contained in the writings of Villani, of Manni, and of Mazzuchelli, together with those prefixed to the various editions of the “Decameron,”* relating to the life of this distinguished Florentine, render it quite unnecessary to enter here into any very detailed view of the subject. So many extracts from these have, moreover, appeared in the English language, that it may be deemed sufficient to refer such readers as feel more particularly interested to those more enlarged sources of information; not omitting to mention some judicious remarks from the pen of Mr. Dunlop. A brief and rapid sketch of the chief incidents in the life of this facile princeps of Italian novelists will be all that the translator now presumes to offer on the subject. And even in this, it has been his object wholly to confine himself to the more essential points connected with the character and productions of one of the great masters of the Tuscan language: one who, with the happy audacity of true genius, first ventured to adopt and bring into repute the lingua volgare of his country.

Boccaccio was born at Florence in the year 1313. His family was from Certaldo, a village in the Valdelsa, about twenty miles from Florence, a place from which his father derived his patronymic of Da Certaldo. He was a reputable merchant, and early apprenticed his son Giovanni to the same business. Of his mother there is little known, beyond what we learn from the author’s contemporary, Villani, to whom much credit is seldom due, who mentions her as a Parisian lady of middle rank, to whom Boccaccio’s father became passionately attached during one of his commercial visits to the French capital. It is generally agreed, however, that their son Giovanni was born without the pale of wedlock, a fact which further appears from a Papal dispensation having been granted at Avignon permitting our author, though illegitimate, to assume the ecclesiastical habit.

Of the early development of his genius in the career in which it was destined to reach such unrivalled excellence we have some account in the novelist’s own words: — “I well remember,” he observes, “that 24 before I was seven years of age, and when I had never seen or known what fictions were, nor had received any instructions from masters, I had already a natural turn for fiction, and produced some trifling tales.” One of Boccaccio’s earliest preceptors was Giovanni Strada, from whom he acquired the elements of the Latin language. He was soon afterwards instructed by him, at the instance of his father, in a knowledge of arithmetic, preparatory to entering upon some commercial employment at Paris. With this view he set out for France, but quickly disgusted with a pursuit so little congenial to his inclinations, after spending some time in travelling from place to place, whence he gathered much of the local information and adventure exhibited in his works, he visited Naples, and at the tomb of Virgil is said to have first renounced the pursuit of commerce in favour of a more engaging intercourse with the Muses.

After long and vain expostulations, he wrung from his father a reluctant consent; and this only on condition of applying himself to the study of the canon law under Cino da Pistoja, in which, however, he made little progress, although he was afterwards supposed to have become versed in the different branches of legal knowledge. But he was yet young; and ardently devoting himself to the acquisition of philosophy and letters, to recover the time he conceived he had lost, he made rapid advances in every science he pursued.

In the course of his studies, he was fortunate enough to obtain the acquaintance of the celebrated Petrarch, who encouraged him to persevere, and became equally his friend and his preceptor; though it is difficult to say to which of these great characters the literature of Italy and of all Europe is most deeply indebted. The value of the works which they produced is still surpassed by those which they rescued from the oblivion of ages; and their letters upon so interesting a pursuit are, perhaps, among the most curious and rare furnished by history.

In the science of mathematics and astrology, our author received the instructions of Andalo di Negro, a Genoese, together with those of Francesco da Barberino, who was likewise an advocate and a poet. His Greek preceptor was Leontius Pilatus, who had been expressly invited and accompanied by Boccaccio himself to take up his residence at Florence, where he became professor of the Grecian language.

At what period of his life he assumed the ecclesiastical dress does not appear; although it is ascertained that in the year 1373, two years previous to his decease, he had entered into one of the monkish orders. Like his great predecessor, Dante, no less than his illustrious contemporary, the poet of Vaucluse, our author was frequently intrusted with embassies by the Florentine republic. Three of these were successively to the reigning pontiffs at Rome; the first to Pope Innocent VI., in 1354, and the two latter to Urban V., in the years 1365 and 1367. But perhaps the most remarkable was that with which he was invested by the Commune of Florence for the express purpose of inviting Petrarch to return and take up his residence in 25 Florence, after the repeal of the ban of exile against his father. Another was undertaken into Germany, with the view of prevailing upon Louis of Bavaria to make a descent into Italy, as we find recorded in the Florentine annals relating to that period.

But the chief objects which seemed to absorb nearly the whole of Boccaccio’s existence, and were alternate rivals for his regard in almost an equal degree, were a passionate devotion to literature and to the society of his beautiful countrywomen. The freedom in which he is said, in this respect, to have indulged himself, has likewise, by some, been extended to his religious opinion; a charge, which, if we may be permitted to judge by inference from his writings, has certainly not been lightly advanced. In many of his tales there is as little of a devotional as of a moral cast. Yet we ought perhaps to thank our great novelist that they are sufficiently voluminous to admit of such a selection as may prove at once harmless and amusing; an object which, throughout this work, has, as far as possible, been invariably kept in view.

In regard to the names of the ladies whom Boccaccio is supposed to have admired, there is much difference of opinion among his critics and biographers. But though their respective claims have never yet been satisfactorily adjusted, we have the attractions of some of them pretty minutely described in different portions of our author’s works. Drawn by the hand of a complete master in the descriptive art, many of these portraits of beauty are quite unrivalled in their way. But the poet has thrown a veil over them all, and who they really were, under their fictitious dress, is a question still open to the old courts of love. Enumerated in the list are an Elena, a Lucia, and more particularly a Maria, said to have been a natural daughter of Robert, King of Naples, of whom Boccaccio was extravagantly fond. This passion gave rise to several exquisite descriptions — pictures of perfect truth and nature — delineations of disappointed affection, expressed in a sweetness and fervour of language which place the Fiammetta of Boccaccio beyond the reach of any of his numerous imitators; though, upon more doubtful authority, Giovanna, Queen of Naples, is said likewise to have attracted our author’s regards. Be this, however, as it may, Boccaccio never married —

“A worshipper at many a shrine,
   He laid his heart on none;”

though it would appear that his attachments were not altogether poetical, inasmuch as hear of a daughter of the name of Violante, whom, losing early in life, he frequently afterwards mentions under the name of Olympia. Some time previous to his decease, he is said to have renounced his errors, expressing his regret no less for portions of his writings than of his life, influenced by the efforts of a Carthusian monk of the name of Pietro Petroni, whose repeated expostulations, received by our author through his friend Ciani, belonging to the same Order, had at length their due effect.

The death of Boccaccio took place in 1375, in the sixty-second year of his age, owing, it is said, to a disorder of the stomach induced by 26 excessive study. He was interred in the Church of SS. Jacopo and Filippo at Certaldo, the birthplace and the sepulchre of his family.

Although the author of various compositions, as well in the Latin as in the Tuscan language, which he so beautifully modelled to his purpose, Boccaccio’s reputation chiefly rests upon the “Decameron,” a work written in the maturity of his powers. It was composed soon after the year 1348, rendered remarkable by the great pestilence which desolated Florence. Of this he himself informs us in his introductory discourse, which may be said to vie with the appalling descriptions handed down to us by Thucydides and Lucretius of the same dreadful malady; such is the force and vividness of its colouring. At what period the work was brought to a conclusion does not appear, though, as far as we can now learn, it was chiefly composed at Fiesole, delightfully situated near Florence, where he is believed to have passed much of his time. That the author himself considered it in the light of a laborious undertaking, is clear from his repeated mention of it towards the conclusion, where he terms it “una lunga fatica.”

Perhaps the beauty and eloquence of the language of the “Decameron,” or “Ten Days’ Relation of Tales,” are entitled to still higher praise than the invention or the interest of the stories it contains. In this view it stands unrivalled, and the respective merits of subsequent imitators are best estimated in proportion as they approach the ease and elegance of their model. When this standard was once abandoned, the language fell into comparative barbarism, and it is with difficulty we recognise, in some of the novelists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the successors of the great Boccaccio.

In tracing the origin of many of the tales in the “Decameron,” some will be found to be of an historical, some of a fictitious, and others of a mixed character. A few are modelled on the “Novelle Antiche,” and on materials still more remote, whose origin it is now impossible to ascertain. In general, those derived from the East, and from the French Fabliaux, may, perhaps, be pronounced the most ingenious and pleasing. But, however much indebted to the Northern Trouveurs, Boccaccio and his successors gathered little from the Troubadours of the South, to whom the poets of Italy owed so much of their reputation.

The series of novels entitled, “Il Decameroni” has also frequently appeared under the name of “Il Principe Galeotto,” derived, it is supposed, from a similar interesting production, thus entitled, whose attractions are celebrated by Dante, as having fostered the unhappy loves of Paulo and Francesca:

Galeotto fu il libro e chi lo scrisse,” &c.

In the “Decameron” we possess the first collection of Italian tales, following the “Cento Novelle Antiche” not later than half a century, though the progress during that time, in the taste and language of Italy, is truly astonishing, such at least as the genius of Boccaccio can alone account for. To convey an idea of this, it will be sufficient to remark upon the improvement which took place in our own language between the intervening periods of Gower and Chaucer and 27 our early English dramatists: nor do we think that in such a comparison we are going much beyond the point.

In his use of the lingua volgare, indeed, Boccaccio would appear to have outstripped his age, and acquired, as if by intuition, the polished ease and freedom of an Augustan era; after which, at no distant period, the language underwent a decline. From his talents, his knowledge of life, and the various scenes in which he had been engaged, from which many of his incidents are drawn, no one could have come better prepared for the accomplishment of the arduous task of becoming at once the framer of his fictions and of the language in which they were written. Eastern, Grecian, Roman, and chivalric sources were alike resorted to, not less for purposes of fable than for the language affording new terms of art. To these were likewise added the early historical materials of his own country. Still it is maintained by some that the chief portion of the tales in the “Decameron” are entirely of the author’s own invention; and there are certainly many in which no traces of their origin can be discovered.

Doubtless, many are of this nature, in which we meet with real historical names; from which it has been argued by Manni and other Italian critics, that the incidents related are themselves true. This opinion is combated by the ingenious author of the “History of Fiction,”§ so far supporting Boccaccio’s claim to their pure invention; and we think he combats it with success. “Manni,” says Mr. Dunlop, “appears to have thought that if he could discover a merchant of a certain name existed at a certain period, the tale related concerning him must have had a historical foundation.” But though this would appear to have escaped the observation of the Italian editor of the “Decameron,” it is nevertheless probable that many incidents both of a private and historical character, which we meet with in the work, though no longer upon record, may really have occurred during the author’s own times, however much they may have been modified by him to suit his purposes.

Among these, and not the least amusing of this character, are such as exhibit the immoralities and abuses of the clerical orders, with much of the spirit of our old English satirists, though under the finer veil of prose fiction, and with less bitter invective than we find in the Vision of Piers Plowman, or indeed in any work from the times of Gower and Chaucer to those of Withers and Donne.

The boldness of all these secular writers, at so early a period, is at first calculated to excite surprise, until we come to reflect that, however severe against the avowal of heretical opinions, it was one of the indulgences of the Holy Church to overlook and even to listen to the scurrility and abuse of its more witty children, as long as they took care to preserve, as was often the case with the most outrageous of these satirists, an outward conformity to its doctrines. And thus we perceive that Boccaccio himself entered into holy orders before he died; while many a truly religious heretic afterwards probably sealed his faith at the stake. It is the want of this consideration which 28 appears so frequently to perplex the critics and commentators on the lives of many of the early authors; but it is an apparent contradiction, easily in this way explained.

Such were the freedoms taken by the authors of the Fabliaux, of Piers Plowman, and, in particular, in many of Chaucer’s tales, such as that of the Sompnour; and by Jean de Meun, where he introduces Faux Semblant, habited as a monk, in his “Roman de la Rose.” In all these the wandering friars are held up to the scorn and derision of the people. But in the hands of Boccaccio, we find this species of satire contained rather in the incidents and adventures of his heroes than in his moral reflections; and it is often so finely and intimately inwrought with his descriptions, that we have to gather it rather from inference than from observation. The charm of his language is likewise so great, that it was sufficient to have disarmed the Pope and his satellites, and his easy and graceful way of saying the harshest things was calculated, with the power of the enchanted spear, at once to wound and to heal.

The simple and natural manner of his introductions is by no means the least triumph of Boccaccio’s genius: that which in all other writers is esteemed the most difficult, induces his reader to pursue the subject, and to regret its close. His characters are always perfect of their sort, admirably in keeping, and fitted to the scenes in which they engage. There is also an airy and buoyant spirit about them truly refreshing; and this, even when contrasted with the scenes of misery and desolation around them, has something in it not unpleasing; nor is it improbable in the circumstances in which they are. The period chosen, the descriptions of the surrounding scenery, the manner in which they meet to relate their stories, which the ladies and their companions take in turn, are in the highest degree natural. The following selections will be found sufficient, it is hoped, to convey a pretty just idea of the varied powers possessed by our unequalled novelist —

“From grave to gay, from sprightly to severe;”

in which pictures of rural beauty and repose are succeeded by the sombre and terrific scenes of jealousy, hatred, or revenge.


*  Historia del Decameron, Florence, 4to, 1742. Villani, Lives of Illustrious Florentines, 4to, Venice. Vita del Boccaccio, by Squarciafico, — by Lodovico Dolce, — by Sansovino, — by Massone, Bayle, Betussi, &c. Prefaces to the various editions of Florence, Venice, &c.

  Dunlop’s “History of Fiction,” vol. ii. p. 222.

  Genealogy of the Gods, Book xv.

§  Mr. Dunlop’s “History of Fiction,” vol. ii. pp. 224, 225.

  Dunlop’s “History of Fiction,” vol. ii. pp. 228.

**  Elf.ed: For an earlier biographical notice about Boccaccio, by Paolo Giovio (Paulus Jovius): a fellow Italian, in his An Italian Portrait Gallery, go here.



THE country bordering on the sea-coast on the way from Reggio to Gaeta has ever been esteemed the most delightful region of Italy, and that part of it near to Salerno, which looks direct upon the sea, and which the inhabitants call the coast of Malfi, is full of small towns, gardens, and fountains, and abounds in trade and merchandise. In 29 one of these towns, called Ravello, many rich men are still to be found, and not long since a very wealthy man dwelt there, named Landolfo Ruffolo, who not being content with the riches he had acquired, but coveting to double them, was in danger of losing both his fortune and life together. This man, after the custom of merchants, having made his calculations, purchased a large ship, and lading her with an assortment of merchandise, sailed to the Isle of Cyprus. When, however, he arrived there with his cargo, he found a number of vessels which had anticipated him with goods of the same description as his own; in consequence of which he was not only obliged to sell his cargo at a cheap rate, but almost to give it away, to his great loss and mortification. Whereupon grieving exceedingly, and not knowing what to do, seeing himself thus suddenly reduced from a state of affluence to low poverty, he resolved to die, or to indemnify himself for his losses on other people, rather than to return home a beggar, after having always maintained the rank of a wealthy man. Having found a purchaser for his own ship, he with the money arising from it, and from the proceeds of his merchandise, purchased a small swift-sailing brigantine, well calculated for a pirate vessel, which he fitted up with everything requisite for a service of that nature. He now began to capture the vessels of other merchants, but particularly of the Turks, and fortune in this enterprise favoured him more than she had done in his mercantile adventures. In the space of one year he had robbed and taken so much from the Turks, that he was not only indemnified for the loss of all his merchandise, but his wealth was wholly doubled. Finding his misfortunes thus liberally requited, and being now content, and thinking it would be folly to hazard this second fortune, he concluded on returning home, and resolved not to risk his money in the purchase of any more merchandise. But to return in the same vessel in which he had repaired his losses. He accordingly ordered his men to put forth their oars with all expedition. When they were now in the mid-ocean, a gale arose which was not only contrary to their course, but caused such a dreadful sea, that the small boat being unable to live in it, they made all haste to land, and in the expectation of a more friendly wind entered a little port in a small island, and there sheltered themselves. A little time after, two great carracks of Genoa, on their return from Constantinople, driven by the same storm, also sought a refuge in the same port. The people on board the latter seeing the owner’s name, and hearing him to be very rich, blocked up her passage; and as men are naturally addicted to covet after money and spoil, they resolved to make her their own as a prize at sea. Landing, therefore, some of their men, well armed with crossbows and other weapons, they prevented any person issuing out of the vessel, and entering on board, took full possession of her, throwing all the men overboard, and sparing only Landolfo himself, whom they put on board one of the carracks, leaving him nothing but his clothes; and having rifled the vessel of all her treasure, they sunk her in the sea.

On the day following, the storm having abated, the carracks again set sail, and had a prosperous voyage until evening, when the wind 30 began to blow with more violence than before, and swelled the sea in such rude storms, that the two vessels were separated from each other. The carrack in which the wretched Landolfo lay was by the fury of the tempest driven against a rock (beneath the isle of Cephalonia), and, like a glass against a wall, dashed into a thousand pieces, the goods and merchandise, chests, coffers, and beds, and other things, floating in the sea. But notwithstanding the darkness of the night and raging of the waves, the crew attempted to save their lives, some by swimming, and others by catching hold of such things as floated near them, amongst whom the miserable Landolfo, desirous to save his life if possible, espied a chest or coffer before him, ordained to be the means of saving him from drowning. Now, although the day before he had wished for death infinite times rather than to return home in such wretched poverty, yet, seeing how other men strove to save their lives, he took advantage of this favour offered him, and keeping fast hold of the coffer as well as he could, and being driven at will by the winds and waves, he supported himself till day appeared. He then looked all around him, and saw nothing but clouds, the sea, the coffer, which one while slipped from under him, and at another time supported him, as the winds and waves drove it. All that day and the ensuing night he floated on the water, drinking more than he wished, and nearly perishing for food. The next morning, by the will of Providence or the force of the winds, Landolfo, who was well-nigh become a sponge, holding his arms strongly about the chest, as a man in fear of drowning snatches at the smallest succour, drew near unto the shore of the island of Corfu, where, by good fortune, a poor woman, but a notable housewife, was scouring her dishes with the salt water and sand. When she saw the chest drawing near her, and not being able to discover what it was, she grew fearful, and retiring from it, cried out aloud. Landolfo had not the power to speak to her, if he had seen her, being exhausted and almost senseless; but even as the winds and waves pleased, the chest was driven still nearer to the land, and then the woman perceived that it had the form of a coffer, and looking more carefully, beheld two arms extended over it, and afterwards she perceived the face of a man, though she was not able to judge whether or not he were alive. Moved by charitable and womanly compassion, she stepped in among the billows, and getting fast hold of Landolfo by the hair of his head, drew both the chest and him to land, and calling for her daughter to help her, with much difficulty she unfolded his arms from the chest, setting it upon her daughter’s head, and then between them Landolfo was led into the town, and there conveyed into a warm room, where, by care, he soon recovered his strength, having been benumbed with extreme cold. After administering to him broth and wine, his senses became somewhat restored, and he saw where he was, but knew not in what manner he had been brought thither, until the good woman showed him the coffer that had kept him floating on the waves, and, next to God, had been the means of saving his life. The chest seemed of such slender weight that nothing of any value could be expected in it, either to recompense the woman’s great pains and kindness bestowed on him, or for any matter 31 of his own benefit. Nevertheless, the woman being absent, he opened the chest, and found innumerable precious stones therein, some costly and curious set in gold, and others not fixed in any metal. Being instantly aware of their great worth and value, from his knowledge of such articles, he became much comforted, thanking God for his great success, and such an admirable means of deliverance from danger. Then reflecting that in a short space of time he had been twice beaten and buffeted by fortune, lest a third misfortune might follow, he consulted with himself how he might safely bring so rich a booty to his own house. Wherefore, that no suspicion might attach to him, having taken out the jewels, he told the good woman that the chest was of no further service to him; but if she pleased to lend him a small sack or bag, she might keep the coffer, as it might be useful to her in divers ways in her house. The woman gladly conformed to his desires, and Landolfo returned her infinite thanks for the kindness she had shown him; and throwing his sack on his neck, passed by sea to Branditio, and from thence to Tranium, where the merchants of the city bestowed good garments on him, he acquainting them with his disastrous fortunes, but not a word concerning his last good success. Being come home in safety to Ravello, he fell on his knees and thanked God for all His mercies to him. Then opening the sack, and viewing the jewels more at leisure than he had formerly done, he found them to be of such great value, that, selling them only at a very reasonable price, he was three times richer than when he departed from his home. Having disposed of them all, he sent a large sum of money to the good woman at Corfu, who had rescued him out of the sea, and saved his life in a danger so dreadful. The like he did at Tranium to the merchants that had newly clothed him, living richly upon the remainder, and never adventuring more on the sea, but ending his days in wealth and honour.



THERE dwelt not long since in our city of Florence, a place which has indeed always possessed a variety of character and manners, a painter named Calandrino, a man of simple mind, and much addicted to novelties. The most part of his time he spent in the company of two brother painters, the one called Bruno and the other Buffalmacco, both men of humour and mirth, and somewhat satirical. These men often visited Calandrino, and found much entertainment in his original and unaffected simplicity of mind. There lived in Florence at the same time a young man of very engaging manners, witty, and agreeable, called Maso del Saggio, who hearing of the extreme simplicity of Calandrino, resolved to derive some amusement from his love of the marvellous, and to excite his curiosity by some novel and wonderful tales. Happening, therefore, to meet him one day in the Church of St. 32 John, and observing him attentively engaged in admiring the painting and sculpture of the tabernacle, which had been lately placed over the altar in that church, he thought he had found a fit opportunity of putting his scheme in execution, and acquainting one of his friends with his intentions, they walked together to the spot where Calandrino was seated by himself, and seeming not to be aware of his presence, began to converse between themselves of the qualities of various kinds of precious stones, of which Maso spoke with all the confidence of an experienced and skilful lapidary. Calandrino lent a ready ear to their conference, and rising from his seat, and perceiving from their loud speaking that their conversation was not of a private nature, he accosted them. Maso was not a little delighted at this, and pursuing his discourse, Calandrino at length asked him where these stones were to be found. Maso replied : “They mostly abound in Berlinzone, near a city of the Baschi, in a country called Bengodi, in which the vines are tied with sausages, a goose is sold for a penny, and the goslings given into the bargain; where there is also a high mountain made of Parmesan grated cheese, whereon dwell people whose sole employ is to make macaroni and other dainties, boiling them with capon broth, and afterwards throwing them out to all who choose to catch them; and near to the mountain runs a river of white wine, the best that was ever drunk, and without one drop of water in it.” “Oh!” exclaimed Calandrino, “what a delightful country to live in! But pray, sir, tell me what do they do with the capons after they have boiled them?” “The Baschi,” said Maso, “eat them all!” “Have you,” said Calandrino, “ever been in that country?” “How,” answered Maso, “do you ask me, if I were ever there? A thousand times at the least!” “And how far, I pray you, is this happy land from our city?” quoth Calandrino. “In truth,” replied Maso, “the miles are scarcely to be numbered; but for the most part we travel when we are in our beds at night, and if a man dream aright, he may be there in a few minutes.” “Surely, sir,” said Calandrino, “it is further hence than to Abruzzo?” “Undoubtedly,” replied Maso, “but to a willing mind no travel is tedious.” Calandrino observing that Maso delivered all these speeches with a steadfast and grave countenance, and without any gesture that he could construe into distrust, gave as much credit to them as to any matter of manifest truth, and said with much simplicity, “Believe me, sir, the journey is too far for me to undertake; but if it were somewhat nearer, I should like to accompany you thither to see them make this macaroni, and take my fill of it. But now we are conversing, allow me, sir, to ask you whether or not any of the precious stones you just now spoke of are to be found in that country?” “Yes, indeed,” replied Maso; “there are two kinds of them to be found in those territories, and both possessing eminent virtues. The one kind are the sandstones of Settigniano and of Montisci, which are of such excellent quality, that when millstones or grindstones are to be made, they knead the sand as they do meal, and make them in what form they please, in which respect they have a saying there, that grace is from God and millstones from Montisci! Such plenty are there of these millstones, so lightly here esteemed among us as 33 emeralds are with them, that there are whole mountains of them far greater than our Montemorello, which shine with a prodigious brightness at midnight, if you will believe me. They moreover cut and polish these millstones, and enchase them in rings, which are sent to the great Soldan, who gives whatever price they ask for them. The other is a stone which most of our lapidaries call heliotropium, and is of admirable virtue, for whoever carries it about his person is thereby rendered invisible as long as he pleases.” Calandrino then said, “This is wonderful indeed; but where else are these latter kind to be found?” To which Maso replied, “They are not unfrequently to be found on our Mugnone.” “Of what size and colour is this stone?” said Calandrino. “It is of various sizes,” replied Maso, “some larger than others, but uniformly black.” Calandrino treasuring up all these things in his mind, and pretending to have some urgent business on hand, took leave of Maso, secretly proposing to himself to go in quest of these stones, but resolved to do nothing until he had first seen his friends Bruno and Buffalmacco, to whom he was much attached. He went therefore immediately in pursuit of them, in order that they three might have the honour of first discovering these stones, and consumed the whole morning in looking for them. At last recollecting that they were painting in the convent of the sisters of Faenza, neglecting all other affairs, and though the cold was extreme, he ran to them in all haste, and thus addressed them: “My good friends, if you will follow my advice, we three may shortly become the richest men in Florence, for I have just now learnt from a man of undeniable veracity that in Mugnone there is to be found a stone which renders any person that carries it about him invisible at his pleasure; and if you will be persuaded by me, we will all three go there before any one else to look for it; and we shall find it to a certainty, because I know its description; and when we have found it, we have nothing to do but to put it in our pockets, and go to the tables of the bankers and money-changers, which we see daily loaded with gold and silver, and help ourselves to as much as we please. Nobody can detect us, for we shall be invisible, and we shall thus speedily become rich without toiling all day on these church walls like slimy snails, as we poor artists are forced to do.” Bruno and Buffalmacco hearing this, began to smile, and looking archly at each other, seemed to express their surprise, and greatly commended the advice of Calandrino. Buffalmacco then asked Calandrino what the stone was called. Calandrino, who had but a stupid memory, had utterly forgotten the name of the stone, and therefore said, “What need have we of the name, since we are so well assured of its virtues? Let us not delay any longer, but go off in search of it.” “But of what shape is it?” said Bruno. Calandrino replied, “They are to be found of all shapes, but uniformly black: therefore it seems to be that we had better collect all the stones that we find black, and we shall then be certain to find it among them; but let us depart without further loss of time.” Bruno signified his assent, but turning to Buffalmacco, said, “I fully agree with Calandrino, but I do not think that this is the proper time for our search, as the sun is now high, and is so hot that 34 we shall find all the stones on Mugnone dried and parched, and the very blackest will now seem whitest. But in the morning, when the dew is on the ground, and before the sun has dried the earth, every stone will have its true colour. Besides, there are many labourers now working in the plain, who, seeing us occupied in so serious a search, may guess what we are seeking for, and may chance to find the stones before us, and we may then have our labour for our pains. Therefore, in my opinion, this is an enterprise that should be taken in hand early in the morning, when the black stones will be easily distinguished from the white, and a festival day were the best of all others, as there will be nobody abroad to discover us.” Buffalmacco applauded the advice of Bruno, and Calandrino assenting to it, they agreed that Sunday morning next ensuing should be the time when they would all go in pursuit of the stone, but Calandrino entreated them above all things not to reveal it to any person living, as it was confided to him in strict secrecy. Falling therefore on other subjects, Calandrino told them the wonders he had heard of the land of Bengodi, maintaining with solemn oaths and protestations that they were all true. Calandrino then took his departure, and the other two agreed upon the course they should pursue with him for their own amusement. Calandrino waited impatiently for the Sunday morning, when he called upon his companions before break of day. They all three went out of the city at the gate of San Gallo, and did not halt until they came to the plain of Mugnone, where they immediately commenced their search for the marvellous stone. Calandrino went stealing on before the other two, persuading himself that he was born to find the heliotropium; and looking on every side of him, he rejected all other stones but the black, with which he first filled his breast, and afterwards both his pockets. He then took off his large painting apron, which he fastened with his girdle in the manner of a sack, and filled it also; and still not satisfied, he spread abroad his cloak, which being also loaded with stones, he bound up carefully for fear of losing the very least of them. Buffalmacco and Bruno during this time attentively eyed Calandrino, and observing that he had now completely loaded himself, and that their dinner hour was drawing nigh, Bruno, according to their scheme of merriment, said to Buffalmacco, pretending not to see Calandrino, although he was not far from them, “Buffalmacco, what is become of Calandrino?” Buffalmacco, who saw him close at hand, gazing all around as if desirous to find him, replied, “I saw him even now before us, hard by.” “Undoubtedly,” said Bruno, “he has given us the slip, and gone secretly home to dinner, and making fools of us, has left us to pick up black stones on these scorching plains of Mugnone.” “Indeed he has served us right,” said Buffalmacco, “for allowing ourselves to be gulled by such stories, nor could any but we two have been so credulous as to believe in the virtues of this heliotropium.” Calandrino hearing them make use of these words while he stood so near to them, imagined that he had possessed himself of the genuine stone, and that by virtue of its qualities he was become invisible to his companions. His joy was now unbounded, and without saying a word he resolved to return 35 home with all speed, leaving his friends to provide for themselves. Buffalmacco perceiving his intent, said to Bruno, “Why should we remain here any longer? Let us return to the city.” To which Bruno replied, “Yes, let us go; but I vow to God Calandrino shall no more make a fool of me, and were I now as near him as I was not long since, I would give him such a remembrance on the heel with this flint stone as should stick by him for a month, and teach him a lasting lesson for abusing his friends,” and ere he had well finished his words, he struck Calandrino a violent blow on the heel with the stone. Though the blow was evidently very painful, Calandrino still preserved his silence, and only mended his pace. Buffalmacco then selecting another large flint stone, said to Bruno, “Thou seest this pebble! If Calandrino were but here, he should have a brave knock on the loins,” and taking aim, he threw it, and struck Calandrino a violent blow on the back; and then all the way along the plain of Mugnone they did nothing but pelt him with stones, jesting and laughing until they came to the gates of San Gallo. They then threw down the remainder of the stones they had gathered, and stepping before Calandrino into the gateway, acquainted the guards with the whole matter, who, in order to support the jest, would not seem to see Calandrino as he passed by them, and were exceedingly amused to observe him sweat and groan under his burthensome load. Without resting himself in any place, he proceeded straight to his own house, which was situated near to the mills; fortune favouring him so far in the course of his adventures, that as he passed along the riverside, and afterwards through part of the city, he was neither met nor seen by any one, as everybody was then at dinner. Calandrino, ready to sink under his burthen, at length entered his own house. His wife, a handsome and discreet woman of the name of Monna Tessa, happened to be standing at the head of the stairs on his arrival, and being disconcerted and impatient at his long absence, somewhat angrily exclaimed, “I thought that the devil would never let thee come home! All the city have dined, and yet we must remain without our dinner.” When Calandrino heard these words, and found that he was not invisible to his wife, he fell into a fit of rage, and exclaimed, “Wretch as thou art, thou hast utterly undone me; but I will reward thee for it;” and ascending into a small room, and there ridding himself of his burthen of stones, he ran down again to his wife, and seizing her by the hair of the head, and throwing her on the ground, beat and kicked her in the most unmerciful manner, giving her so many blows, in spite of all her tears and submission, that she was not able to move. Buffalmacco and Bruno, after they had spent some time in laughter with the guards at the gate, followed Calandrino at their leisure, and arriving at the door of his house, and hearing the disturbance upstairs between Calandrino and his wife, they called out to him. Calandrino, still in a furious rage, came to the window, and entreated they would come up to him. They, counterfeiting great surprise, ascended the stairs, and found the chamber floor covered with stones, and Calandrino’s wife seated in a corner, her limbs severely bruised, her hair dishevelled, and her face bleeding, 36 and on the other side Calandrino himself, wearied and exhausted, flung on a chair. After regarding him for some time, they said, “How now, Calandrino, art thou building a house, that thou hast provided thyself with so many loads of stones?” and then added, “And Monna Tessa! what has happened to her? You surely have been beating her! What is the meaning of this?” Calandrino, exhausted with carrying the stones and with his furious gust of passion, and moreover with the misfortune which he considered had befallen him, could not collect sufficient spirits to speak a single word in reply. Whereupon Buffalmacco said further, “Calandrino, if you have cause for anger in any other quarter, yet you should not have made such mockery of your friends as you have done to-day, carrying us out to the plains of Mugnone, like a couple of fools, and leaving us there without taking leave of us, or so much as bidding us good-day. But be assured this is the last time thou wilt ever serve us in this manner.” Calandrino, somewhat recovered, replied, “Alas! my friends, be not offended; the case is very different to what you imagine. Unfortunate man that I am! the rare and precious stone that you speak of I found, and will relate the whole truth to you. You must know then, that when you asked each other the first time what was become of me, I was hard by you, not more than two yards’ distance; and perceiving that you saw me not, I went before you, smiling to myself to hear you vent your rage upon me,” and proceeding in his discourse, he recounted all that had happened on his way home; and to convince them, showed them where he was struck on the back and on the heel; and further added, “As I passed through the gates, I saw you standing with the guards, but by virtue of the stone I carried in my bosom, was undiscovered of you all, and in going through the streets I met many friends and acquaintances, who are in the daily habit of stopping and conversing with me, and yet none of them addressed me, as I passed invisible to them all. But at length arriving at my own house, this fiend of a woman waiting on the stairs’ head, by ill luck happened to see me, as you well know that women cause all things to lose their virtue; so that I, who might have called myself the only happy man in Florence, am now the most miserable of all. Therefore did I justly beat her as long as my strength would allow me, and I know no reason why I should not yet tear her in a thousand pieces, for I may well curse the day of our marriage, and the hour she entered my house.” Buffalmacco and Bruno, when they heard this, feigned the greatest astonishment, though they were ready to burst with laughter, hearing Calandrino so confidently assert that he had found the wonderful stone, and lost it again by his wife’s speaking to him. But when they saw him rise in a rage, with intent to beat her again, they stepped between them, protesting that his wife was in nowise to blame, but rather he himself, who knowing beforehand that women cause all things to lose their virtue, had not expressly commanded her not to be seen in his presence all that day, until he had satisfied himself of the real qualities of the stone; and that doubtless Providence had deprived him of his good fortune, because though his friends had accompanied him and assisted him in the search, he had deceived 37 them, and had not allowed them to participate in the benefit of the discovery. After much more conversation they with difficulty reconciled him to his wife, and leaving him overwhelmed with grief for the loss of the heliotropium, took their departure.

More Boccaccio


[Back] [Blueprint] [Next ]
Valid CSS!