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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 33-47.



Born at Terranova, in the territory of Florence, 1380. Studied Latin under John of Ravenna, and Greek under Manuel Chrysoloras. An able copyist, he was received into the service of the Roman curia about 1402. Here he served as secretary for a period of fifty years. Poggio acquired fame as a discoverer of classical manuscripts. In 1452, returned to Florence, and the following year was made chancellor and historiographer to the republic. Died here in 1459. Chief works are a History of Florence, the Facetiae and various moral essays.


XXVII. Concerning a tailor of Visconti, by manner of comparison.

Pope Martin had charged Antonio Lusco with the preparation of a letter. After having read the same he ordered him to submit it to one of my friends, in whom he had the greatest confidence. This friend, who was at the table and a little warmed with wine, perhaps, disapproved of the letter completely and said that it ought to be re-written. Here Antonio said to Bartholomew de’ Bardi, who happened to be present: “I will correct my letter in the same way that the tailor widened the breeches of Gian Galeazzo Visconti; to-morrow, before dinner, I will return and the letter will be satisfactory.” Bartholomew asked him what he meant by that. “Gian Galeazzo Visconti, father of the elder Duke of Milan,” said Antonio, “was a man of high stature, and excessively corpulent. One day, when he had lined his stomach, as frequently happened, with an abundance of food and drink, and betaken himself to bed, he summoned his tailor and overwhelmed him with reproaches, charging him with having made his breeches too narrow, and ordering him to enlarge them in such a way that they would not longer inconvenience him. ’It shall be done,’ replied the tailor, ‘according to your desire: to-morrow morning this garment will fit you to perfection.’ The tailor took the breeches and hung them upon a peg without changing them in the least. Somebody said to him: ‘Why don’t 34 you widen this garment which the great belly of Monsignor filled to bursting?’ ‘To-morrow,’ said the tailor, ‘when Monsignor rises, his digestion finished, the breeches will be quite large enough for him.’ Next morning he returned with the breeches and Visconti, drawing them on, remarked: ‘Now you see they fit me perfectly; they no longer bind me anywhere.’ And in the same way will the letter please,” Antonio said, “when once the wine has been slept away.”

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

XIX. Exhortations of a cardinal to the soldiers of the Pope.

It was in Piceno, during the war which the Cardinal of Spain waged against the enemies of the Pope. The two armies found themselves face to face, and it was necessary that the partisans of the Pope should once for all conquer or be conquered. The Cardinal encouraged the soldiers to fight with fair words: he swore that those who fell in the battle should sup with God and with the angels; that all their sins should be forgiven; hoping by these means to spur them on to give themselves to death. Having come to the end of his promises, he was retiring from the fray, when one of the soldiers said to him: “How about you? don’t you want to sup with us too?” “No,” he replied, “this is not my hour for supper; I am not hungry.”

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

XXII. Concerning a priest who, instead of priestly vestments, carried capons to his bishop.

A bishop of Arezzo, Angelo by name, an acquaintance of ours, convoked one day his clergy for a synod, and ordered all who were clothed with any dignity whatsoever to set out upon the journey with the priestly habits, or as they say in Italian, with cappe e cotte. A certain priest who did not possess these vestments, reflected sadly to himself, not knowing how he might procure them. His housekeeper, seeing him thoughtful with downcast head, asked the reason of his grief. He replied that, according to the orders of the bishop, it was necessary to go the synod with cappe e cotte. “But, my good man,” replied the housekeeper, “you have not grasped the meaning of this order: Monsignor does not demand cappe e cotte, but rather capponi cotti; that is what 35 you must take him.” The priest followed the woman’s advice. He arrived along cooked capons, and was exceedingly well received. The bishop went so far as to say, with a smile, that he alone, among all his brethren, had comprehended the true sense of the command.

XXXVI. Concerning a priest who gave burial to a pet dog.

There was in Tuscany a wealthy country priest. He lost a little dog, of which he was very fond, and buried him in the churchyard. This came to the ears of the bishop, who, coveting the priest’s money, summoned him for punishment, as if he had committed a great crime. The parish priest, who understood his bishop quite well, presented himself before his superior with fifty golden ducats. The prelate reproached him sternly with having given burial to a dog, and ordered him to be thrown into prison. “O father,” replied the cunning fellow, “if you only knew the wisdom of that little dog, you would not wonder that he deserved burial along with human beings. His intelligence was more than human in his lifetime, and especially at the moment of his death.” “What do you mean by that?” asked the bishop. “At the close of his life,” the priest continued, “he made his will, and, knowing that you were needy, he left you fifty golden ducats. Here they are.” The bishop then approved the will and the burial, pocketed the money and dismissed the priest.

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

LV. A story of Mancini.

Mancini, a peasant of my village, used to carry grain to Figlino upon a drove of asses, which he hired for the purpose. One time, as he was returning from market, tired with the journey, he mounted upon the best of the animals. As he approached home he counted the asses ambling along before him, and, forgetting the one upon which he was riding, imagined that one of them was lacking. Greatly agitated, he left the asses with his wife, telling her to return them to their owners, and returned to the market, more than seven miles away, without dismounting. On the way, he inquired of every passer-by if he had not seen a stray ass. 36 Each one replied that he had not. At night he returned home sad and totally discouraged at having lost an ass. Finally, upon his wife’s entreaty, he dismounted and discovered that which he had sought with so great pains.

LVII. Ingenious retort of Dante, the Florentine poet.

Dante Allighieri, our Florentine poet, received for some time at Verona the hospitality of the elder Cane della Scala, a most generous prince. Cane had ever in his company another Florentine, a man without birth, learning or tact, who was good for nothing but to laugh and play the fool. His silly jokes, for they were not worthy the name of wit, so pleased Cane that he made him rich presents. Dante, a man of the greatest learning, modest as he was wise, regarded this person as a stupid beast, as he had reason to. “How does it come to pass,” said one day the Florentine to Dante, “that you are poor and needy, you who pass for learned and wise, while I am rich, I who am stupid and ignorant?” “When I shall find,” replied Dante, “a master like myself, and whose tastes are similar to my own, as you have found one, then he will enrich me too.” Excellent and just reply; for the great are ever pleased with the company of their like.

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

LVIII. Witty reply of the same poet.

Dante was one time at the table between the elder and the younger of the Cani della Scala. In order to put the joke upon him the attendants of the two lords threw stealthily all the bones at the feet of Dante. On arising from the table the whole company turned toward Dante, astonished to see so great a quantity of bones at his place. But he, quick to take advantage of the situation, said: “Surely it is nothing to wonder at if the Dogs have eaten their bones. I myself am no dog.”

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

LX. Concerning a man who searched for his drowned wife in the river.

Another man, whose wife was drowned, searched for her body up the stream. A passer-by, much surprised, said to him that he ought to search for her down the current. “I 37 should never find her that way,” replied the man. “She was, when living, so stubborn and self-willed, and so contrary in her habits, that even after death she would never have been willing to float except against the stream.”

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

LXXI. Concerning a shepherd who made an incomplete confession.

A shepherd of that part of the kingdom of Naples where brigandage is a profession, came once to seek a confessor, to whom he might relate his sins. Kneeling at the priest’s feet in tears, he said: “Pardon me, father, for I have sinned deeply.” The priest urged him to confess all, but he hesitated for a long time, like a man who had committed some horrible crime. Finally, as the confessor urged him, he said: “One fast-day, as I was making cheese, some drops of milk from the curd which I was pressing flew into my mouth, and I neglected to spit them out.” The priest, who knew the customs of the neighborhood, smiled when he heard this man accuse himself of having failed to observe the fast, as if it were a great sin, and asked him if there were not some other misdeeds upon his conscience. The shepherd said there were not. “Have you not, you and your comrades, robbed or assassinated any traveler, as so often happens in your neighborhood?” “O, as for that,” replied the other, “I have killed and robbed more than one of them, I and my friends; but that happens so often with us that nobody attaches any importance to it.” The confessor had difficulty in making him understand that these were two grave crimes. The shepherd, unable to believe that murder and robbery, which were habitual occurrences in his country, could be productive of serious results, desired absolution only for the milk which he had drunk. Sad result of the habit of sin, which causes the greatest crimes to be regarded as trivial occurrences.

LXXV. Concerning the Duke of Anjou, who showed to Ridolfo a rich treasure.

They were censuring, in a group of learned men, the foolish anxiety of those who give themselves so many pains and so much labor in searching for and in buying precious 38 stones. “Ridolfo de Camerino,” said one of the company, “very cleverly chided the stupidity of the Duke of Anjou, on his departure for the kingdom of Naples. Ridolfo had come to see him in his camp; the Duke showed him objects of great cost and amongst others, pearls, sapphires, carbuncles and other stones of immense value. After having looked at them, Ridolfo asked what these stones were worth and of what good they were. The Duke replied that their cost was enormous, and that they produced nothing. “Indeed,” said Ridolfo, “I will show you, myself, two stones which have cost me ten florins, and which bring me in two hundred yearly.” The Duke was astonished; Ridolfo conducted him to a mill which he had caused to be built, and showed him a pair of mill stones: “Behold,” he said, “those which surpass in usefulness and profit all your precious stones.”

CXXIV. Pleasantry at the expense of an envoy from Perugia.

At the time when the Florentines were at war with Pope Gregory, the people of Perugia, who had deserted the party of the sovereign pontiff for those of Florence, sent to that city certain ambassadors to demand aid. One of them, who was a Doctor, began a long discourse, and at the start, as an introduction to the matter in hand, pronounced these words: “Date nobis de oleo vestro.” Another of the party, a humorous fellow, who detested such circumlocutions, interrupted him: “What is this about oil?” he cried. “You ask for oil when it is soldiers that we are in need of. Have you forgotten that we have come here to ask for arms, and not oil?” “But these are the very words of the Scripture,” replied the Doctor. “A fine reason for their use,” retorted the other. “We are the enemies of the church, and you call the Holy Scriptures to our aid!” The humor of the man caused the whole company to laugh; the flow of useless words which the Doctor had prepared was cut short, and they came at once to the point of negotiation.

CXXV. Concerning the Ambassadors from Perugia to Pope Urban.

The people of Perugia had also sent three ambassadors to 39 Pope Urban V. at Avignon. On their arrival the pope happened to be severely ill; however, in order not to keep them too long in suspense, he gave orders that they should be introduced, but requesting in advance that they should present their affairs in as brief a manner as possible. One of them, a grave Doctor, during the journey had committed to memory a long discourse with which he intended to address the pontiff; and, disregarding utterly the fact that his Holiness was sick and confined to his bed, he set himself to speaking at such length that the Holy Father, at various intervals, betrayed the annoyance which he felt. When the thoughtless individual had come at length to the end of his oration, Urban asked the others, with his usual courtesy, if they had anything to add. One of the ambassadors, who was sensible of the stupidity of his colleague and of the annoyance of the pope as well, thereupon said: “Most Holy Father, our orders read expressly that if you do not consent at once to our request we shall not retire until our colleague has repeated his discourse.” This pleasantry caused the sovereign pontiff to smile, and he gave orders that their business should receive immediate attention.

[For Edward Storer’s translation, on this site, go HERE. — Elf.Ed.]

CCXXX. How a loud preacher was put to shame.

A religious, who preached often, had the habit of crying very loud, as some fools do. One of the women who were present began to weep at the sound of these formidable outbursts, so that finally the religious noticed her. Persuaded that it was his sermons which had recalled to this woman’s mind the love of God, moved her conscience and brought her to tears, he summoned her to him and asked of her the cause of her groans; whether perchance it might be his words that had moved her into pious tears, as he believed. The woman replied to the preacher that she was profoundly moved and saddened by his cries, and by the sound of his voice. “I am a widow,” she said, “and my late lamented left me an ass, by the labor of which I have managed to subsist. This ass had the habit of braying night and day, like your worship; but it is dead, and now I 40 am miserable, without the means of living. So, when I heard you speak so loud and with a voice that seemed to me in every way like that of my ass, the thought of the poor beast made me weep in spite of myself.” So was put to shame the stupidity of this preacher, who merited rather the name of brayer.


Poggio to Leonardo Aretino, S. P. D.

When for several days I was staying at the baths I wrote thence a letter to our Nicholas which I suppose you will read. When I returned to Constance, or a few days later, the case of Jerome was taken up, whom they call heretic, and indeed publicly. I have determined to review this case for you, both because of its importance, and more particularly on account of the eloquence and learning of the man. I confess that I have never seen any one, who in a matter of pleading, involving life or death, came so near the eloquence of the ancients. whom we so greatly admire. It was wonderful to see with what words, with what eloquence, with what arguments, with what countenance, with what language and with what confidence he replied to his adversaries, and how justly he put his case: so that it is impossible not to regret that so noble and prominent a genius should be diverted to the interests of heresy, if indeed those things are true, which are charged against him. For I have no disposition to pass judgment upon such a case: I leave that to be determined by those who are held to be more expert. Nor do I intend to give a detailed report of the case, after the manner of court reporters; it would be too long, and the work of many days. I shall touch upon certain of the more important points, in which you may observe the learning of the man. Although many things had been brought against this Jerome, which seemed to indicate the existence of 41 heresy, and these were confirmed by the testimony of witnesses; yet it pleased the assembly that he should reply publicly to those charges one by one which had been brought against him. So he was led into the assembly, and when he was ordered to reply to these things he still refused, saying that he ought to be allowed to state his own case, rather than to reply to the slanders of his adversaries. In the same way he asserted that he ought first to be heard upon his own behalf, and later he might take up the calumnies which his adversaries had directed against himself. But when this concession was denied him, still standing in the midst of the assembly, he said: “How great a wrong is this, that while for three hundred and forty days I have languished in strictest confinement, in squalor and filth, shackled and deprived of everything, you have constantly given audience to my opponents and detractors, and yet refuse to hear me one single hour. Hence it follows, that while the ears of each of you have been open told these things, and after so long a time, they have persuaded you that I am a heretic, an enemy of the faith, a persecutor of the clergy, yet to me no opportunity is given for defending myself. If you have prejudged me in your minds an evil man, how will you be able to determine what I really am? And (he said) you are men, not gods; not immortal, but mortal, liable to fall into error, to mistake, to be deceived, duped and led astray. In this gathering are said to be the lights of the world, the wiser ones of earth. Most of all it becomes you then to take great pains, lest anything be done inconsiderately or unadvisedly against justice. For my part I am a human being, whose life is in the balance; but I say these things not for my own sake, who am but mortal. It seems to me unworthy of your wisdom to set against me so many men in violation of all justice, and a think likely to be harmful not so much in this instance as by example. These and many things beside he said most elegantly, interrupted in his speech with the noise and murmurings of many present. Then it was decreed that he should reply first to the errors which were urged against him; and that afterwards 42 an opportunity be given him to speak as he chose. Thereupon the heads of the accusation were read one by one from the pulpit and afterwards substantiated with testimony. Then he was asked if he desired to make objection. It is incredible how adroitly he replied, and with what arguments he defended himself. He advanced nothing unworthy of a good man; as though he felt confident, as he publicly asserted, that no just reason could be found for his death nor even for his conviction of the least offence. He declared all the charges to be false, invented by his rivals. Among other things, when in the reading he was branded as a slanderer of the apostolic see, an opponent of the Roman pontiff, an enemy to the cardinals, a persecutor of prelates, and hostile to the Christian clergy, then rising with a voice of complaint and hands outstretched: “Whither shall I turn now, O conscript fathers? Of whom shall I seek aid? Whose intercession shall I seek? whom call in my behalf? Not you! For these my persecutors have turned your minds from my welfare; branding me as the general enemy of those who are to sit in judgment upon me. They have indeed trusted that even if those things which they have invented against me should seem trivial, you would nevertheless crush with your verdict the common enemy and opponent of all, which they have most falsely made me out to be; therefore if you trust their words, there is no longer any hope for my safety.” Many he touched with humor, many with satire, many he often caused to laugh in spite of the sad affair, jesting at their reproaches. When he was asked what he believed concerning the sacrament, he said, “First it is bread and afterwards the true body of Christ, and the rest according to the faith.” Then a certain one remarked: “They say you have declared that it remains bread after consecration.” He replied, “At the baker’s it remains bread.” To a certain other one, of the order of Dominicans, who inveighed bitterly against him, he said, “Peace, hypocrite!” To another who swore against him on his conscience, he said: “This is the surest way of deceiving.” A certain distinguished opponent he never 43 spoke of except as a dog or an ass. When on account of the number and weight of the charges, it was impossible to complete the matter on this day, it was continued to a third day; when the heads of the various accusations were repeated and afterwards confirmed by many witnesses. Thereupon the accused, rising, said: “Since you have listened so attentively to my adversaries; it is right and proper that you should hear me with unbiased minds.” Then notwithstanding much confusion, permission was granted him to speak. He, in the beginning, prayed that God should grant him such understanding and such power of speaking as might be turned to the profit and safety of his soul. Then: “I know most reverend doctors,” he said, “that many very excellent men, bearing up bravely against indignities, overwhelmed with false witnesses, have been condemned with iniquitous judgments.” At first he took them back to Socrates, unjustly condemned by his fellow-citizens, he who, when occasion offered, was yet unwilling to escape, lest he should thereby yield to the fear of those two things which seem most bitter to men, imprisonment and death. Then he mentioned the captivity of Plato, the flight of Anaxagoras, and the torture of Zeno, and the unjust condemnation of many other pagans; the exile of Rupilius, the unworthy death of Boetius and others whom Boetius himself mentions. Thence he passed to Hebrew examples; and first instanced Moses, the liberator of his people and their legislator, how he had often been calumniated by his people, called the betrayer and the despiser of his race. Joseph, first of all sold by his brethren through envy, then thrown into chains upon suspicion of adultery. Along with these Isaiah, Daniel and almost all the prophets assailed with unjust judgments as despisers of God or seditious. Then he brought forward the judgment of Susanna; and of many others of the greatest sanctity, who nevertheless perished by false judgments. Afterward coming down to John the Baptist, and then to our Saviour, he proceeded to show how in each case they were condemned by false witnesses and false judges. Then Stephen, put to death by the priesthood, and the 44 Apostles, all of them, condemned to death, not as good men, but as inciting the people to sedition, as despisers of the Gods and doers of evil deeds. It was a crime that a priest should be unjustly condemned by a priest, and he showed that it was the greatest crime that this should be done by a company or priests, and proved it by example, but most iniquitous of all, by a council of priests; and he showed that this had happened. These things he clearly set forth, much to the interest of all, and since the whole weight of the case depended upon the witnesses, he showed with much reason that no confidence was to be placed in them, particularly when they spoke, not out of conviction, but from hatred, illwill and envy. Then he laid bare the causes of their hatred in such a way that he lacked little of bringing conviction. They were of such a character that (except in a matter of faith) little credence would have been given to their evidence. The minds of all were moved and turned toward mercy; for he added that he had come to Constance of his own free will, to clear himself. He described his life and studies, full of services and virtues. Such he said was the custom of the most learned and holiest men of old, that they held diverse opinions in matters of faith, not to the injury of the faith, but to the discovery of the truth. In this way Augustine and Jerome differed, not alone that they held diverse opinions, but also contrary ones; and this with no suspicion of heresy. But all expected that either he should purge himself of heresy, by retracting the things charged against him, or should ask pardon for his errors. But he asserted that he had not erred, and pointing out the falsity of the charges made by others, was unwilling himself to retract. So coming down to praise John Huss, who had been condemned to be burnt, he called him a good man, just and holy, unworthy of such a death, saying that he himself was prepared to go to any punishment whatsoever, with brave and steadfast mind; even to deliver himself to his enemies and to those lying witnesses, who sometime, in the presence of God, whom they could not deceive, would be called to account for the things which they had said. Great was the 45 grief of those present; for they desired to see so worthy a man saved, if he had shown a reasonable disposition. But he persevered in his opinion, and seemed moreover to seek death. In his praise of John Huss he said that Huss had never held opinions hostile to the Church of God itself, but only against the abuses of the clergy, against the pride, the arrogance and the pomp of prelates. For since the patrimony of the churches was first intended for the poor, then for the hospitals, then for the building of churches, it seemed to this good man a shame that it should come to be wasted upon harlots, banquets, food for horses and dogs, elegant garments and other things unworthy of the religion of Christ. But here he displayed the greatest cleverness; for when his speech was often interrupted with various disturbances, and he was assailed by some who carped at his opinions, he left no one of them unscathed, but turned trenchantly upon them, forced them either to blush or to be still. When murmurs rose he was silent, occasionally rebuking the throng. Then he proceeded with his discourse, beseeching them and imploring that they should suffer him to speak (when they were no longer disposed to give him audience). He never showed fear of these outcries, but his mind remained firm and fearless. Indeed his argument is worthy of remembrance. For 340 days he lay in the bottom of a foul, dark tower. He himself complained of the harshness of this treatment, but asserted that he, as became a good and brave man, did not complain because he had to bear these indignities, but because he wondered at the inhumanity shown him. In the dungeon he had not only no facilities for reading, but not even for seeing. I leave out of consideration the mental anxiety which must have tortured him daily, all memory of which he sought to put aside. Yet when he cited in testimony of his opinions so many of the most learned and wisest of men, and brought forward so many doctors of the church in proof of his contention, that it would have been sufficient and more than sufficient, if during all this time, with perfect comfort and quiet he could have devoted himself to the study of wisdom; 46 his voice was full, clear and soft; his posture oratorical with a certain dignity, expressing indignation and moving pity, which, however, he neither sought, nor desired to obtain. He stood there fearless and unterrified, not alone despising death, but seeking it; so that you would have said he was another Cato. O, man worthy of the everlasting memory of men! I praise not that which he advanced, if anything, against the institutions of the church; but I admire his learning, his comprehensive knowledge, his eloquence, his persuasiveness of speech, his cleverness in reply. But I fear that nature had given all these things to him for his destruction. A space of two days was given him for repentance. Many of the most learned men approached him, seeking to move him from his way of thinking. Among them the Cardinal of Florence went to him, in order to bring him into the right path. But when with even greater obstinacy he persevered in his errors, and was condemned by the council for heresy and burned with fire, he went to his fate with joyful and willing countenance; for he feared not the fire, nor any kind of torture or death. None of the Stoics ever suffered death with a mind so steadfast and brave, so that he seemed to have longed for it. When he came to the place of death, he laid aside his garments. Then kneeling down, on bended knee he saluted the stake, to which he had been bound. He was bound first with wet ropes, then with a chain, naked to the stake, and about him were placed great pieces of wood up to his breast, with stakes driven about. When the fire was brought he began to sing a hymn, which the smoke and fire scarcely interrupted. But what most showed his strength of courage was this: when the executioners wished to start the fire behind his back (that he might not see it), “Come here,” he said, “and light the fire in front of me. If I had been afraid of it, I should never have come to this place (which it was possible to avoid.)” In this manner a man worthy (except in respect of faith), was burned. I saw this death, and watched its stages, one by one. Whether moved by perfidy or stubbornness, you would surely have said that this was the end 47 of a man schooled in philosophy. I have chatted to you so at length, because of idleness, for doing nothing, I wished something to do, and to tell you of these things, so like the histories of the ancients. For not Mutius himself suffered his arm to burn with such high courage as did this man his whole body. Nor did Socrates drink the poison so willingly as he accepted fire. But enough of this. Be economical of my words, if I have been too long. The affair really demands a longer description; but I do not wish to be verbose. Farewell, my excellent Leonardo. Constance, the third day before the Calends of June, the same day on which this Jerome suffered the penalty of heresy. Farewell, and love me.


*  Les Facéties de Pogge Traduites en Français, avec le Texte Latin. 2 v. Paris, 1878.

  Ortvin Gratius: Fasciculus Rerum, etc. Ed. Brown. London, 1690. Vol. I., pp. 170-174.

[For More Poggio, see his Biography, and for more of his Facetiae here translated by William Storer and here by an anonymous translator. — Elf.Ed.]

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