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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. 1-21.



Novelle Antiche.


Of which the following is the ancient title: “Novelle Antiche:” and in the frontispiece: “Fiori di parlare, di belle cortesie, e di belle valentie e doni, seconde ke per lo tempo passata anno fatto molti valentuomini,” &c.








THE work thus entitled, containing the Cento Novelle Antiche, or Hundred Ancient Tales, is a collection of the earliest prose fictions now extant in the Italian tongue. The exact period of their production, and the names of their respective authors, are equally unknown to us; a circumstance, which, combined with their own intrinsic character, seems to establish their claim to equal antiquity with the rise and formation of the lingua volgare of the South. Many of them are referred by Italian critics and historians to an age anterior to that of Dante, while it is agreed that few of them are the production of the same or of a subsequent era.

Those who have made the most minute researches into the subject, Salviati, Salvini, Manni, Tiraboschi, &c., differ greatly in their opinion, both as to the period and the origin of the Ancient Tales. Yet the learned Manni, editor of the “Novelliero,” to whom, perhaps, the greatest degree of credit is due, conjectures they must have been written in the thirteenth century, not long after the death of the tyrant Ezzelin da Romano, about the year 1259. The same author further supposes that they derived their origin, for the most part, from Provence; one of the chief sources, no less of the poetical than of the prosaic fictions of Italy. Nor is it improbable that they were first introduced along with the songs of the Troubadours, whose language was so frequently adopted by the earliest poets of Italy; and were thus, together with their style of narrative, first naturalised, and then so admirably improved upon, by the genius of Boccaccio.

Not a few of the stories in the “Decameron” may in this way be traced to the Provençal, and others to the romance of the “Seven Wise Men,” entitled “DOLOPATHOS,” written in Latin by the monk Giovanni, of the monastery of Altaselva.

That Italy is indebted for her Novelle Antiche to foreign sources, would further appear from many of the stories being founded on incidents drawn from the romance of the ROUND TABLE, a beautiful 4 copy of which was known to be in possession of Brunetto Latini, the master of Dante, a great admirer of its marvellous adventures, and probably the author of those pieces we find taken from the materials of that romance. Such are the novels of the “Lady of Scalot,” and of the “Good King Meliadus,” which with a few others of the same exotic character, among the best, says Mr. Dunlop, in the whole collection, we have ventured to give, as the most favourable specimens the work could afford. But it is rather with regard to their merits in exhibiting the progress of language and manners, together with several curious historical facts, than from any intrinsic excellence they may be said to possess, that they are at all deserving of notice. And even this remark will chiefly apply to the work in its original language, of which the ancient edition, the earliest work known in the lingua volgare, and from which the subsequent editions have been taken, has been included among the test di lingua of Italy. The most correct of these the Italians owe to the labours of Borghini and Vettori, although the edition published under the auspices of Cardinal Bembo, by Gualteruzzi at Bologna, has been always held in the highest repute. Besides that of the Giunti, there is a still more recent one, edited by Ferraio, and bearing the date of Milan, 1804.

Among the supposed authors of these elements of Italian fiction, may be enumerated the names of Dante da Majano, Brunetto Latini, Francesco da Barberino, with those of several other poets and scholars who flourished during the same period, fragments of whose works remain, but whose names have perished. Many of the tales were added, in order to complete the cento, long after those contained in the MSS. or in the old edition made their appearance. These, however, are referred to the period in which they were written, so as not to interrupt the chronological view of the subject, preserved throughout the entire work. It is for this reason, indeed, that the following specimens from the Novelle Antiche have been inserted; certainly not from any peculiar merit they can boast.




IN a certain part of Greece there lived a king of great sway, of the name of Philip. This king, for some alleged crime or other, had imprisoned a Greek, a man of great learning, whose wisdom mounted to the skies. It happened one day that this monarch received from the king of Spain a present of a noble horse, of great size, and of a beautiful form. The king sent for his farrier to learn his opinion of the horse, but he was told that he had better apply to the learned Greek, who was reputed a man of universal knowledge. He therefore 5 ordered the horse to be led into the field, and then commanded the Greek to be brought from his prison, and addressing him, said: “Master, let me have your opinion of this horse, for I have heard a great report of your wisdom.” The Greek inspected the horse, and replied: “Sire, this horse is indeed a beautiful courser, but in my opinion he has been nurtured on asses’ milk.” The king sent to Spain to inquire how the horse had been brought up, and found that the dam had died, and that the foal, as the Greek had asserted, had been reared on asses’ milk. This circumstance astonished the king not a little, and as a reward, he ordered half a loaf of bread a day to be given to the Greek at the expense of the court. It fell out on another occasion, that as the king was inspecting his jewels, he sent again for the Greek, and said to him: “Master mine, your knowledge is great, and it seems that you know all things. Tell me, I pray you, whether or not you understand the virtue of these stones, and which of them seems to you the most valuable.” The Greek replied: “Sire, which of them do you yourself consider as the most precious one?” The king then took up one of the most beautiful amongst them and said: “This one, master, seems to me the most beautiful, and one of the highest value.” The Greek examined it, and straining it closely in the palm of his hand, and placing it to his ear, said: “This stone, sire, appears to me to have a living worm in it.” The king sent for his lapidary, and ordered him to break the stone, and to their surprise the animal was found within. The king now looked upon the Greek as a man of surprising wisdom, and ordered a whole loaf of bread to be given him daily at the expense of the court. It happened not many days after this, that the king, entertaining some suspicions of his own legitimacy, again sent for the Greek, and taking him into his closet, said: “Master, I hold you for a man of great penetration, which indeed has been manifested in your answers to the questions I have proposed to you. I wish you now to inform me whose son I am.” The Greek then replied: “Sire, how strange a request! You well know that you are the son of your honoured predecessor.” But the king dissatisfied, said: “Do not evade my question, but tell me the truth implicitly; for if you hesitate, you shall instantly die the death of a traitor.” “Then, sire,” answered the Greek, “I must inform you that you are the son of a baker.” Upon this, the king being anxious to know the real truth, sent for the queen-mother, and by threats compelled her to confess that the words of the Greek were true. The king then shut himself up in his chamber with the Greek, and said: “Master mine, I have received singular proofs of your wisdom, and I now entreat you to tell me how you have obtained a knowledge of these things.” Then the Greek replied: “Sire, I will inform you. With respect to the horse, I knew that he had been nourished with asses’ milk from his hanging his ears, which is not natural to a horse. And that there was a live worm in the stone I knew from the fact that stones are naturally cold, but this one I found to be warm, and it was therefore evident that the heat could only proceed from a living animal within.” “And how,” said the king, “did you discover that I was the son of a baker?” The Greek then replied: “Because when I told you of the 6 wonderful circumstance of the horse, you ordered me a gift of half a loaf a day, and when I told you of the stone with the living worm in it, you ordered me a whole loaf. I then felt assured whose son you were; for if you had really been a king’s son, you would have presented me with a city, as my merits deserved; whereas your origin then betrayed itself, and your natural disposition was satisfied in giving me a loaf, as your father the baker would have done.” The king was then sensible of his own meanness, and immediately liberated the Greek from prison, and loaded him with gifts of value.




KING JOHN of England was celebrated for his singular kindness and courtesy towards the poorer chevaliers of his court. It one day happened that during an entertainment, one of these gentlemen being in great distress, cast his eye upon a rich silver cover, thinking within himself: “If I could only obtain possession of that, my poor family would be rich indeed!” The next moment he contrived to hide it under his vest, when one of the stewards, on removing the covers, finding it had disappeared, an order was issued that every guest on leaving the place should be examined. But the king, being the only one whose eye had caught the poor knight in the fact, took an opportunity of accosting him, saying in a whisper: “Slip it under my coat, for I think they will hardly be bold enough to search me,” — an order with which the wretched chevalier immediately complied. When he had undergone his examination at the porter’s gate, his sovereign sent a messenger after him, and on his entering trembling into the presence, presented him with the utmost courtesy, not only with the cover, but with the more massy portion of plate belonging to it.

On another occasion he showed still greater courtesy to his poor chevaliers. They entered his chamber one evening with an intent to pillage, and having collected all the valuables they could lay their hands on, one of them, believing the king to be in a deep slumber, had the temerity to seize a rich embroidered counterpane over the king’s couch, and beginning to pull it off, the king, without being perceived, held it fast. The others came to their comrade’s assistance, and his majesty finding he had the worst of it, raised up his head a little saying: “Nay, friends, this is no thieving; it is downright assault and battery! As for the rest, you do not steal them — I give them to you.”

On hearing his majesty’s voice, the ungrateful wretches fled, forgetting to take even the treasure already collected, which the king had given them.

When this prince’s father was alive, he one day reproached his 7 son John, saying: “Thou spendthrift, where dost thou keep thy treasures?” The prince replied: “With your leave, my liege, I can show more than can your majesty still.” Arguments upon this ensued, until at length both parties and their friends agreed to fix upon a certain day for the exhibition of their respective wealth. Prince John invited all the young nobility, who were his friends, to attend on the day appointed at the rendezvous, where a magnificent tent was prepared, underlaid with rich carpets and cloths of gold, to receive the immense treasures of gold and silver and precious gems in the possession of the king. The latter then turning to the prince, cried out in a triumphant tone: “Now let us see your wealth, my son!” On which the prince, drawing his sword like lightning from its sheath, a thousand blades on every side instantly sprang from their scabbards; and his young friends all rushed forward in a moment, as if the very streets and squares were filled with them, and possessed themselves of the royal treasures, in the face of the king and his attendants.

It was now too late for his majesty to repair his error; for the young prince, turning to his noble followers, exclaimed: “Make the best of the booty you have won;” and in a short time the enchanting scene of wealth and splendour totally disappeared from view.*

The king quickly assembled his forces to recover his lost treasures, while his son retired into a strong castle, with the valiant Bertrand de Born. Here he was besieged by his father, and one day exposing his person, as usual, to every kind of danger, he was unfortunately shot through the head with an arrow upon the walls.

On hearing this, the whole of his creditors throughout the kingdom assembled together, petitioning payment of the various sums they had from time to time supplied; and they were admitted to an audience with the prince, just before his decease. To all the complaints that were preferred, the prince invariably replied; “I am sorry, my dear sir, you are come the day after the fair; but your money is spent. The truth is, I have given away all the fine things you supplied me with. My body is so very sick, that I am afraid it is no longer worth offering you, by way of pledge; but if my soul will be of any use to you, it is quite at your service. Suppose you send for an attorney forthwith, and let us see, gentlemen, what we can do.” Insisting upon compliance, a notary was instantly sent for, whom the courteous 8 prince addressed in the following words: “Write, Mr. Attorney, and write quickly, lest it should be too late, — ‘I, Prince John, to wit of England, being sound in mind, but grievously sick in my body, do hereby will and bequeath my soul to perpetual purgatory, until all my creditors of all sums shall be paid and satisfied.’” Soon after uttering these words the obliging prince expired. The whole train of creditors then proceeded in a body with their petition to the king, who, instead of discharging the debts, flew into a violent passion with them, charging them with furnishing the prince with arms to rebel against his royal father. He, moreover, condemned them, under pain of forfeiture of their goods and persons, to leave his dominions speedily. One of the creditors, being so deeply implicated that he believed nothing worse could happen to him, here came forward, observing to the king: “But, sire, we shall not be losers in the end, inasmuch as we have got your poor son’s soul in prison for his debts.” “Ah, ah!” replied the king, “you are cunning fellows; how have you managed that?” They then handed to his majesty a copy of the will, who, on perusing it, assumed another tone; and after having consulted his father confessor, as well as his chancellor of the exchequer, returned to his son’s creditors, who were rejoiced to hear him say, that it was not the will of Heaven that the soul of so brave a prince should remain in purgatory for his bills, which should be forthwith discharged. Immediately afterwards came Bertrand de Born, with his whole force, to submit to the pleasure of the king. “So!” cried his majesty, “I think you are the man who boasted you had more sense than all the world beside.” “True, my liege,” replied Bertrand, “but I have since lost it all.” “When was that?” inquired his majesty. “Alas! my liege, when your noble son died, I lost all I had in the world.” The king perceiving that he spoke from the strong regard he bore the prince, not only pardoned, but gave him his liberty, and wherewithal to subsist in decent state.


*  It is curious to observe the manner in which the unknown authors of the “Novelle Antiche,” the rudiments of Italian prose fiction, have, in many instances, selected historical names and characters on which to ground their imaginary narratives, for the purpose of giving them a local truth and interest, doubtless with the same view as our “great unknown” of the present day. However destitute of intrinsic excellence or historical correctness, these stories will be found, in the original, extremely valuable, as conveying a just idea of the rise of Italian language and Italian fiction in an age preceding, it is supposed, that of Dante. The English reader may here require to be informed that the old king is no other than Henry II.

  Beltramo, or Bertrand de Born, as well as his son, were, like King Richard, the Troubadours of their age. His “Rime” are still preserved in the Vatican Library, and many of the pieces have been recently published by M. Raynouard, in his “Poésies des Troubadours,” vol. iv. Bertrand de Born was, in fact, alternately leagued with the rebellious sons of Henry II.; and after the death of Prince Henry, the son of that monarch, in 1183, was besieged in his little castle of Hauteford by the English king, and compelled to surrender. Henry, however, respected the friend of his deceased son, and restored Bertrand to the full enjoyment of his possessions. This incident is alluded to at the termination of the novel.




THE Sultan Saladin was one of the noblest, the most valiant, and munificent princes that ever sat upon an Eastern throne.* In one of his victorious battles, he took captive, together with many other noble 9 prisoners, a French cavalier, who by his singular merits soon acquired the favour of the conqueror. While his companions remained in captivity, he was permitted to accompany the Sultan, nobly treated and apparelled, and consulted by him as a friend on many occasions. Such was his master’s affection towards him, that observing him one day apparently depressed in mind, he tenderly inquired into the reason. On entering into the Sultan’s presence, the captive knight had appeared very thoughtful, and on this question being put, shaking his head sorrowfully, he declined giving any answer. But Saladin becoming more urgent, and repeating that he must be made acquainted with the truth, the cavalier replied: “Noble Sultan, I was thinking of my country, and my friends.” “Then since you no longer wish to stay with me,” returned the Sultan, “you are free; you shall go to your country and to your friends.” The captive bowed his head, but could not utter a word. The monarch then called his treasurer into his presence, and bade him count two thousand marks in silver, and place it to his captive friend’s account. The treasurer immediately wrote down the sum, but his pen blotting it, he entered three thousand marks instead of the former sum, and handed it to the Sultan. “How, what have you done?” cried the latter. “I blotted the first entry,” was the reply, “and I wished to mend it.” “If that be the case,” said the Sultan, “do not cancel anything I say, but write down four thousand: strange indeed if your pen should exceed the reach of mine!”

On another occasion the great Saladin, in the career of victory, proclaimed a truce between the Christian armies and his own. During this interval he vistied the camp and the cities belonging to his enemies, with the design, should he approve of the customs and manners of the people, of embracing the Christian faith. He observed their tables spread with the finest damask coverings ready prepared for the feast, and he praised their magnificence. On entering the tents of the king of France during a festival, he was much pleased with the order and ceremony with which everything was conducted, and the courteous manner in which he feasted his nobles; but when he approached the residence of the poorer class, and perceived them devouring their miserable pittance upon the ground, he blamed the want of gratitude which permitted so many faithful followers of their chief to fare so much worse than the rest of their Christian brethren.

Afterwards several of the Christian leaders returned with the Sultan to observe the manners of the Saracens. They appeared much shocked on seeing all ranks of people take their meals sitting upon the ground. The Sultan led them into a grand pavilion where he feasted his court, surrounded with the most beautiful tapestries and rich foot-cloths, on which were wrought large embroidered figures of the cross. The Christian chiefs trampled them under their feet with the utmost indifference, and even rubbed their boots and spat upon them.


On perceiving this, the Sultan turned towards them in the greatest anger, exclaiming: “:And do you, who pretend to preach the cross, treat it thus ignominiously? Gentlemen, I am shocked at your conduct. Am I to suppose from this that the worship of your Deity consists only in words, not in actions? Neither your manners nor your conduct please me;” and on this he dismissed them, breaking off the truce and commencing hostilities more warmly than before.


*  The character here drawn of the great Saladin is similar to that given by Sozomeno, a writer of Pistoria, about the year 1194, where he says, Saladinus Soldanus vir magnificus, strennuus, largus. Many other great actions attributed to him are commemorated by the same author, as may be gatehred from an edition of his works published at Florence, besides the testimony of several contemporary writers quoted by Tiraboschi and Muratori. Saladin is said to have risen from the lowest origin; but his astonishing qualities raised him to the dignity of Sultan and king of Egypt. He triumphed over Guido, king of Jerusalem, whom he made prisoner, and possessed himself of his dominions. Dante, in the fourth canto of the Inferno, says,

“E solo in parte vidi il Saladino,”

distinguishing him as eminently soaring above the baseness of his birth and country.

  This practice of preaching the cross, and everywhere exposing it to the insults of the people, so humorously touched upon by the Sultan, has been likewise seriously treated of by a Tuscan pen, not many years ago.




MESSER AZZOLINO was in the habit of listening to one of his Novellatori, or story-tellers, previous to going to rest. It happened that one evening the Novellatore, as well as his master, felt a great inclination to go to sleep, just as he was commanded to furnish one of his best stories. For want of a better, the weary fabulist began to relate the adventures of a certain grazier, who went to market with the whole of his earnings, about two hundred pieces, for the purpose of purchasing sheep, obtaining at least two for a single piece. Returning with his stock in the evening to his farm, he found the river he had crossed so swollen with the rains, that he was greatly puzzled in what way to get them across it. In this dilemma he observed not far off a poor fisherman with a little boat, so small that it would only carry one sheep and the grazier at a passage. So he jumped in with a single fleece, and began to row with all his might. The river was broad, but he rowed and he rowed away. . . . Here the fabulist came to a full stop and nodded. “Well, and what then?” cried his master; “get on, sirrah; what next?” “Why,” replied the drowsy story-teller, “let him get over the remainder of the sheep, and then I will proceed; for it will take him a year at least, and in the meantime your excellency may enjoy a very comfortable slumber.” And again he nodded his head.


*  The Messer Azzolino here alluded to is not the same who in those times was made Podestà of Arezzo, under the name of Azzolino d’ Arringario degli Azzi d’ Arezzo, in the year 1270; it is the tryant Ezzelino da Romano, or d’ Arezzo, as he is variously denominated by the seigniories which belonged to him, and who made himself so terrible both to friends and foes by his revolting and sanguinary actions. Yet we are to suppose, that in the intervals of his ferocious exploits, when satiated with cruelty and revenge, he could still indulge himself in the more soothing pastime of listening to the adventures related by the wandering jongleurs and troubadours, or those of his sleepy jester. This story is taken from the eleventh tale of Petrus Alphonsus, and is introduced in “Don Quixote,” as being related by Sancho to his master (Part I. b. iii. c. 6). Dunlop’s “History of Fiction,” vol. ii. p. 217.





RICCAR LOGHERICO, the lord of Illa, was one of the richest gentlemen in Provence, and a man of singular intrepidity and prowess in every feat of arms. When the Saracens made a descent upon Spain, he was present at that terrible engagement which, from its sanguinary nature, and its grand results, is known under the name of La Spagnata,* unequalled, it is supposed, in ferocity, by any battle fought since the time of the Greeks and Trojans. The Moors bore down upon their enemies with an overwhelming force, amidst the clang of warlike instruments, and bands of troops of various nations. Riccar Logherico was the leader of the van of the Christian army, and when he found his squadrons recoil in their charge, owing to the terrific music of the Moorish bands, he commanded his cavaliers to turn their horses’ cruppers round towards the enemy, and to back them until they came close enough to make a cruel charge. When they found themselves approaching into the midst of the hostile squadrons, they suddenly wheeled about, and facing them, furiously dashed into the thickest of the battle, dealing their blows on all sides, until the Moors were completely put to the rout.

On another occasion, when the Count of Toulouse was arrayed in battle against the Count of Proenza, as they approached to action, the valiant Riccar was observed to give his steed to his squire, and to mount a strong mule. The Count inquired into the reason, saying: “What now, good Riccar, what are you about?” “I merely wish to show, my Lord, that I come here neither to pursue nor to fly. I will kill no man behind his back, nor flee from any man’s face. That flighty beast will run away, but my mule will stand his ground.” And herein he evinced his noble nature no less than his great prowess, in which he surpassed every other cavalier of his age.


*  La Spagnata, or the Spanish fight, a name given it by the people in commemoration of the feats of arms performed there.




A CERTAIN knight was one day entreating a lady whom he loved to smile upon his wishes, and among other delicate arguments which he 12 pressed upon her was that of his own superior wealth, elegance, and accomplishments, especially when compared with the merits of her own liege lord, “whose extreme ugliness, madam,” he continued, “I think I need not insist upon.” Her husband, who overheard this compliment from the place of his concealment, immediately replied, “Pray, sir, mend you own manners, and do not vilify other people.” The name of the plain gentleman was Sicio di Val Buona, and Messer Rinieri da Calvoli that of the other.


*  The suitor here mentioned was Messer Rinieri da Calvoli, of whom the greatest of Italy’s poets makes mention in the fourteenth canto of his Purgatorio:

Questi è Rinier, questi è ’l pregio, e l’ onore
Della Casa da Calboli, ove nullo
Fasto s’ è reda poi del suo valore.




IN the reign of King Giovanni d’Atri, there was ordered to be erected a certain great bell for the especial use of individuals who might happen to meet with any grievous injuries, when they were to ring as loud as they could, for the purpose of obtaining redress. Now it so fell out that the rope in the course of time was nearly worn away, on which a bunch of snakeweed had been fastened to it, for the convenience of the ringers. One day a fine old courser belonging to a knight of Atri, which being no longer serviceable, had been turned out to run at large, was wandering near the place. Being hard pressed by famine, the poor steed seized hold of the snakeweed with his mouth, and sounded the bell pretty smartly. The council, on hearing the clamour, immediately assembled, as if to hear the petition of the horse, whose appearance seemed to declare that he required justice. Taking the case into consideration, it was soon decreed that the same cavalier whom the horse had so long served while he was young should be compelled to maintain him in his old age; and the king even imposed a fine in similar instances to the same effect.*


*  The Cav. Saba da Castiglione mentions a like incident; and an account of it is also contained in a pleasing little Italian work, whose antiquity deprives us of the name of the author; in which it is stated that the bell was placed in the middle of a church in Atri, a noble city of Abruzzo, where the steed sought shelter, and from the same motive began to sound the bell. In addition to this instance of gratitude on the part of the council of Atri, other and real proofs are not wanting in various cities of Italy of the high esteem in which true knights have held the virtues of their chargers. There are three bronze figures with public inscriptions in Florence. A mule is commemorated by Luca Pitti, for his obstinate good qualities, in the Court of the Palazzo de’ Pitti; and the statue of a horse, which belonged to the Venetian ambassador, Carlo Capello, is raised near the Piazza, on the side of the river Arno, by the menage of San Marco.





THE Emperor Frederic had one day occasion to order the execution of a certain gentleman for some heinous offence. In order the better to preserve the ends of justice, he selected an officer of great authority to keep watch over the body of the culprit, exposed for the sake of example, lest by his friends it should be carried away. These being actually on the watch, and the officer remiss in his duty, so it turned out to be the case. When he found the body was missing, he began to be afraid, lest, in his sovereign’s anger, who had imposed the heaviest penalty on such a fault, he might be compelled to occupy the lost man’s place. In this dilemma he resolved, after much consideration, to apply at a neighbouring abbey, desirous, if possible, of obtaining another dead body in the place of that he had lost. Arriving during the same night at the wished-for spot, he perceived before he entered a certain lady.* weeping bitterly, with her hair flying all abroad, lamenting the death of her dear husband who had died only that day. This was just what the unlucky knight wanted, and he straightway accosted her in the most polite terms, inquiring what was the matter. The lady on this replied: “Alas! I loved him so tenderly! No, I shall never be reconciled to my loss; I will weep and no one shall comfort me.” “Why,” returned the cavalier, “what strange, what absurd conduct is this? You may die of grief, my poor lady, but will your husband return again to life the sooner, think you, for that? He hears not, he cares not for you; and will a woman of sense, like you, continue thus foolishly to bewail what cannot be helped? I will tell you what you had far better do: take me for your husband in his place, and let me put him in the place of somebody else I have lost. I have no wife, and besides I am in extreme danger, and cannot tell what to do. I was set to watch over the body of an unfortunate gentleman just hanged, yet who has some way escaped out of my hands; no thanks to his relations! and I suppose I shall be fixed upon to supply his place. In the name of heaven, madam, let us prevent this, and I will become the kindest and most indulgent husband to you in the world.” At these words the lady suddenly became enamoured of the good knight, saying in a submissive tone: “Indeed I will do anything you command me, and I am far from being insensible to the love you bear me. Come, let us remove the body of my poor dear husband to the place you wish; he is buried 14 just by, and we can put him in the stead of the gentleman you have just lost.” She then dried her tears, and assisted her intended spouse to bring the body from the grave, and suspend it by the neck in the very same way the real culprit had been executed. “But he had two teeth,” cried the cavalier, “wanting in his upper jaw, and I know the body will be inspected narrowly! Oh! what shall I do?” “Do you thing,” cried the lady in the softest tone, “we could not break two of his teeth?” and two of his teeth were speedily knocked out; and so pleased was she with the appearance of her knight, that she would have slit the ears of the old gentleman likewise, had he requested her. Now, observing the manner in which she treated her husband when she had done with them, the officer began seriously to reflect on the propriety of fulfilling the conditions, saying: “Madam, if you really think so little of the person whom you profess to love so much, what would you do with me in the like case?” And he left her overwhelmed with rage and vexation.


*  The same lady, tearing her hair and beating her breast, yet so easily consoled for the loss of her husband, is likewise to be found in Lorenzo Astemio di Macerata, Hecatomythum, De viduâ, quæ operarium suum sibi conjugio copulavit. One would almost imagine that with a change of the name and period, it had been taken from a fable of the ancient Æsop, could we suppose him to have been accessible to the author at that period. Mr. Dunlop observes that this story, the same as that of the Widow of Ephesus, originally written by Petronius Arbiter, probably came to the author of the “Cento Novelle Antiche” through the medium of the “Seven Wise Masters.” — History of Fiction, vol. ii. p. 219.




CHARLES the celebrated king of Sicily, when he was formerly Count of Anjou, had the unhappiness to be deeply smitten with the beauty of the Contessa di Zeti, who on her part was as passionately enamoured of the Conte d’Universa. It happened that about the same period the king of France had forbidden, under penalty both of goods and person, the practice of tourney tilting throughout all his dominions. Now the Count of Anjou being very desirous of proving whether he or the Conte d’Universa were the better knight, had recourse to the assistance of his friend Messer Alardo di Valleri, beseeching him, with many entreaties, to apply for leave from the king to hold a single tourney, as he was determined to enter the lists against the Conte d’Universa at all hazards.

His friend Alardo then inquired in what way he thought he should proceed to obtain permission; and the Count directed him in the following words: “You know the king is now grown very devout, and such is his regard for you that not long since he was very nearly going into holy orders, and making you go too, for the sole pleasure 15 of having your company. So say nothing about me; but ask it as a particular favour to yourself, that he will just let you break a spear or two before you die, and in everything else you will always be at his majesty’s commands.” “But,” said Messer Alardo, “do not you think, Count, I shall be banished out of our chivalric company, drummed out of the regiment, and all for a single tourney?” “Trouble not your head about that,” replied the Count; “I give you the word of a true knight that you shall run no risks.” The knight then promised to proceed with the affair as directed, and walked out boldly to seek the king. “My good liege,” said M. Alardo, as he entered the king’s presence, “when I embraced the cause of arms, the day you were crowned, I think some of the best knights that ever mounted steeds were present. Now as I intend, out of compliance to your wishes, to retire shortly from the world, and assume the priest’s cowl for a helm-piece, I have to entreat that your majesty will indulge me in one of my last worldly wishes, which is, to proclaim a little tournament, that I may once more try my mettle among the gay cavaliers here, and thus yield up my sword with decency where I first unsheathed it, amidst the pomp and revelry of your court.” The king granted the knight’s request with the utmost courtesy, and a grand tournament was accordingly proclaimed.

On one side gathered the followers of the Conte d’Universa, on the other those belonging to Anjou. The queen, with the chief beauties of the court, in all the glow of youth and pleasure, were present at the scene. The lodges, the balustrades, and the whole surrounding field seemed animated with joy and love, while the air rang with music, as the ladies, led by the Contessa di Zeti, took their seats. When a number of spears had been already broken, the two Counts of Anjou and Universa cast their eyes upon each other, and unable to restrain their rivalry, ordered the ground to be staked out, and their heralds to sound a charge. At the same moment they sprang forward to the shock, with the full force of their fiery steeds, their lances levelled at each other’s breasts. Just as he had reached the middle of the ring, the charger of the Conte d’Universa fell with him, and both came together to the ground. Many of the nearest ladies, and among them the Contessa di Zeti, hastily lefty their lodge, and courteously assisted the Count to rise, the latter giving him her arm, and conducting him kindly to a seat.

On observing this, the Count d’Anjou began to complain bitterly that he had not had the same good fortune, exclaiming: “Alas! my noble steed, why didst thou not fall headlong like that clumsy beast, and bring the sweet Countess to my side, walking, alas! as she now walks there with him!”

After the tournament was concluded, the Count d’Anjou went to the queen, and begged, as an especial favour, that she would consent to wear the semblance of being piqued with her royal lord, and that afterwards, making the reconciliation of love, she would insist on his first consenting to grant her one thing, which was to be, that he would not deprive the young cavaliers of France of the glorious society of their famed friend, Messer Alardo di Valleri.


The queen very graciously did exactly as she was requested; for she picked a quarrel with her majesty, and on making it up again, required the above-mentioned terms. These the king also promised her; and M. Alardo was thus released from his promise of becoming a saint, long remaining a member of the chivalric brotherhood of the kingdom, celebrated for his wonderful prowess even among the chief nobles, and no less esteemed for his singular virtues than for his courage.


*  Charles, the brother of king Louis XI. of France, was in love with the Countess of Anjou, but then of Zeti, being himself at that time Count of Anjou. In the year 1263, Pope Urban IV. proclaimed him king of Sicily and Puglia, anterior to the period, here stated, of his chivalric attachment. For when he obtained the crown of Sicily, in 1265, he had already been united to the daughter of Count Berlinghieri of Provence. His father, St. Louis, had strictly prohibited the celebration of tournaments throughout his dominions, so that he was compelled thus artfully to extort from the Saint permission to engage in a single tourney. We have mention of the redoubted person of M. Alardo in a line of Dante, which is as follows:

Ove senz’ arme vinse il vecchio Alardo




THE good King Meliadus and the Knight without Fear were mortal enemies to each other in the field. The cavalier being upon one of his secret undertakings, happened to meet with some of his own squires, who, unable to recognise him, though they had the utmost regard for their master, thus accosted him: “Now, Sir Knight, tell us, on the faith of your chivalry, whether is the Knight without Fear or the good King Meliadus the better sword?” “Why, squires,” replied the cavalier, “so may Heaven grant me fair adventure, the good king, I think, is the best knight that ever pressed a steed.”

His squires, who bore the King Meliadus no good-will, out of the love they felt for their own lord, expressing at all times their abhorrence of the king, now fell unawares upon their master, and traitorously making him their prisoner, placed him, armed as he was, across the back of a poor palfrey, saying among each other that they would take him and have him hanged.

As they went along their way, however, they fell in with the King Meliadus, who was also proceeding in the disguise of a wandering knight to a certain tournament, in full equipment for the joust. As he passed, he thus addressed the squires: “And why do you wish to hang this cavalier, gentlemen? who is he, that you should use him thus vilely?” To this they replied: “Because he has well deserved to die, and if you knew why as well as we, you would execute him at once. Convict him of his own fault out of his own mouth, if you please!” The king then approached the captive knight, saying: “What have you been guilty of, that these fellows should treat you thus ignominiously?” “I have done nothing,” replied the cavalier, “nothing but telling them the simple truth.” “How?” exclaimed the king, “that is hardly possible! Let me hear what you have really done?” “Most willingly, sir,” replied the captive. “I was proceeding on my way, in the guise of a simple knight-errant, when I met with these squires, who inquired of me, on the faith of chivalry, whether the good King Meliadus or the Cavalier without Fear were the better knight. Always desirous that the truth should prevail, I declared that the King Meliadus was the best; in which I meant to speak the 17 truth, although the same king is one of the bitterest enemies I have in the field. I bear him the deepest hatred and defiance, and yet I spoke the truth. This is the whole of my offence, and for this I am punished as you see.” The King Meliadus directly fell upon the squires, and quickly dispersing them, unbound the captive cavalier, mounting him upon a rich charger, and presenting him with his coat of arms, which were, however, concealed, entreating him not to behold them until he had reached his destination. They then each went their several ways, as well as the squires. The cavalier, when he dismounted at his quarters, raised the covering of his saddle and found the arms of King Meliadus, who had thus rescued him from his own squires, although his mortal enemy.




THE Sultan, finding himself at a loss for money, was persuaded by some of the courtiers to seek occasion of quarrelling with a rich Jew who had amassed considerable wealth in his dominions. The Israelite was immediately summoned to appear before him, when the Sultan insisted upon his informing him which he believed to be the best creed in the world, flattering himself that if he should prefer that of Moses, he might inflict upon him a heavy fine, and if he should declare for Mahomet’s, he would accuse him of professing the Jewish, as he was known to do. But the wary Israelite replied to the question in the following manner: “You must know, great Sultan, there was once a father who had three sons, each of whom had frequently entreated him to bestow upon him a large diamond ring which he possessed, set round with other precious gems; and each was so very pressing, that, desirous of obliging them all three, the father sent for a goldsmith to attend him without loss of time. ‘Do you think,’ said the father, ‘you could make me two rings exactly resembling this in appearance?’ which the goldsmith promised, and equally well performed. No one being acquainted with his intentions, he sent severally for each of the youths, presenting him, under promise of keeping it secret, with one of the rings, which each of them esteemed the real diamond, and no one knew the truth except the father himself. And thus do I confess, great Sultan, that neither do I pretend to know it, being unable to throw the least light upon a secret which is known only to the Father of all.” The Sultan, on receiving this unexpected answer, had nothing further to urge, and was compelled, for want of a reason to the contrary; to let the Jew go where he pleased.


*  We find the same story improved upon by the elegant Boccaccio himself (vide Giorno i. Nov. iii. p. 73). Nor is this by any means a solitary instance in which he has drawn his subjects from these rude specimens of early Italian fiction.





THE good King Richard, surnamed Lion-heart, set out on an expedition over seas with a vast train of barons, the most doughty knights and cavaliers of every rank, all taking ship for the Holy Land, and all consisting of foot. When in the presence of the Sultan’s army, King Richard, leading on his men, soon made such dreadful havoc among the Saracens, that the nurses used to say to the infants, when they chid them, “Be quiet, or King Richard will hear you:” for he was as dreadful in their eyes as death itself. It is said that the Sultan, on seeing the rout of his finest troops, cried out, “How many are those Christians who thus deal with my people?” And when he was told that there were only King Richard with his English axemen and archers, and the whole on foot, he added, “It is a scandal to our Prophet that so brave a man as King Richard should be seen to fight on foot; bear him my noblest charger.” And a steed was instantly after the battle despatched to the king’s tent, with a message from the Sultan that he trusted he should no longer behold him fight on foot. Casting his eye upon the horse, Richard commanded one of his squires to mount him, to observe his paces. The squire found him very hard in the mouth, and in a short time, losing his command over him, he was borne full speed into the Sultan’s camp, who came forward expecting to greet King Richard. The king very wisely, by this contrivance, escaped, and showed how imprudent it always is to confide in the good offices of an enemy.


*  Though there is, perhaps, little historical authority for the incident here reported to have taken place between the lion-hearted Richard and his foe, it is by no means an improbable one. For though Sir Walter Scott ahs been polite enough to present his majesty with a coal-black steed in “Ivanhoe,” it is generally known that the British Lion was accustomed to engage his enemies on his feet; and why should not the Sultan, as well as Sir Walter, present him with a horse? We subjoin the following portion of the canzone, in which the hero laments his captivity in Germany.

Or sachan ben mos homs, e mos barons
Angles, Normans, Peytasins, e Gascons,
Qu’ yeu non ay ia si paûre compagnon
Que per aver lou laissesse en prison.

Yet know full well, my chiefs of every land,
Proud English, Normans, Gascons, Poitiers’ band,
I would not leave the poorest of their train
To linger thus his prison-hours in pain.

The whole of the original, with a translation, may be seen in Burney’s “History of Music,” vol. ii. p. 238.





A DAUGHTER of the great Barbassoro became passionately attached to Launcelot of the Lake; but so far from returning her love, he bestowed all his affections on the fair Queen Ginevra. To such a degree did her unhappy attachment arise, that she at length fell a victim to it, and died, leaving a bequest that, as soon as her soul had departed, her body should be transported on board a barge fitted up for the purpose, with a rich couch, and adorned with velvet stuffs and precious stones and ornaments; and thus arrayed in her proudest attire, with a bright golden crown upon her brows, she was to be borne alone to the place of residence of her beloved. Beneath her silver zone was found a letter to the following tenor; but we must first mention what ought to precede the letter itself. Everything was exactly fulfilled as she had appointed, respecting the vessel without a sail or oars, helmsman, or hands to guide her; and so, with its lifeless freight, it was launched upon the open waves. Thus she was borne along by the winds, which conveyed her direct to Camalot, where the barge rested of itself upon the banks.

A rumour immediately spread through the court, and a vast train of barons and cavaliers ran out of the palace, followed soon by King Arthur himself. They stood mute with astonishment on observing the strange vessel there, without a voice or a hand to stir her out of the dead calm in which she lay. The king was the first to set his foot upon her side, and he there beheld the gentle lady surrounded with the pomp of death. He too first unclasped the zone, and cast his eye over the letter, directed — “To all the Knights of the Round Table, greeting, from the poor lady of Scalot, who invokes long health and fortune for the proudest lances of the world. Do they wish to learn how I am thus fearfully brought before them? Let my last hand witness that it was at once for the sake of the noblest and vilest of the cavaliers of the land — for the proud knight, Launcelot of the Lake. For neither tears nor sighs of mine availed with him to have compassion on my love. And thus, alas! you behold me dead, — fallen a victim only for loving too true.”




A GENTLE hermit one day proceeding on his way through a vast forest, chanced to discover a large cave nearly hidden under ground. Being 20 greatly fatigued, he entered to repose himself a while, and observing something shine brightly in the distance, he approached, and found it was a heap of gold. At the sight of the glittering bait he turned away, and hastening through the forest again as fast as possible, he had the further misfortune to fall into the hands of three fierce robbers, always on the watch to despoil the unwary travellers who might pass that way. But, though inmates of the forest, they had never yet discovered the treasure from which the hermit now fled. The thieves on first perceiving him thus strangely flying, without any one in pursuit, were seized with a sort of unaccountable dread, though, at the same time, they ventured forward to ascertain the cause. On approaching to inquire, the hermit, without relaxing his pace, answered, “I flee from death, who is urging me sorely behind.” The robbers, unable to perceive any one, cried out, “Show us where he is, or take us to the place instantly.” The hermit therefore replied, in a hurried voice, “Follow me, then,” and proceeded towards the grotto. He there pointed out to them the fatal place, beseeching them, at the same time, to abstain from even looking at it, as they had far better do as he had done, and avoid it. But the thieves, resolving to know what strange thing it was which had alarmed him, only bade him lead the way: which, being in terror of his life, the hermit quickly did; and showing them the heap of gold, “Here,” he said, “is the death which was in pursuit of me;” and the thieves, suddenly seizing upon the treasure, began to rejoice exceedingly.

They afterwards permitted the good man to proceed upon his way, amusing themselves when he was gone with ridiculing his absurd conduct. The three robbers, guarding the gold in their possession, began to consider in what way they should employ it. One of them observed, “Since Heaven has bestowed such good fortune upon us, we ought by no means to leave the place for a moment without bearing the whole of it along with us.” “No,” replied another, “it appears to me we had better not do so; but let one of us take a small portion, and set out to buy wine and viands at the city, besides many other things he may think we are in want of;” and to this the other two consented.

Now the great demon, who is very ingenious and busy on these occasions to effect as much mischief as possible, directly began to deal with the one fixed upon to furnish provisions from the city. “As soon,” whispered the devil to him, “as I shall have reached the city, I will eat and drink of the best of everything, as much as I please, and then purchase what I want. Afterwards I will mix with the food I intend for my companions something which I trust will settle their account, thus becoming sole master of the whole of the treasure, which will make me one of the richest men in this part of the world;” and as he purposed to do, so he did.

He carried the poisoned food to his companions, who, on their part, while he had been away, had come to the conclusion of killing him on his return, in order that they might divide the booty between themselves, saying, “Let us fall upon him the moment he comes, and afterwards eat what he has brought, and divide the money between 21 us in much larger shares than before.” The robber who had been at the city now returned with the articles he had bought, when the other two instantly pierced his body with their lances, and despatched him with their knives. They then began to feast upon the provisions prepared for them, and upon satiating their appetite, both soon after were seized with violent pangs, and fell dead upon the ground. In this manner all three fell victims to each other’s avarice and cruelty, without obtaining their ill-gotten wealth; a striking proof of the judgment of Heaven upon traitors; for, attempting to compass the death of others, they justly incurred their own. The poor hermit thus wisely fled from the gold, which remained without a single claimant.


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