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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.10
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,
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.
* 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.
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.
* 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:
* 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 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.
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.16
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:
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.
* 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.18
* 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 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.”
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.