THE facetia1, as a literary form, has an ancient lineage, while, if we regard it merely as a humorous tale or jocular anecdote, its history must be almost as old as the first laughs and smiles of prehistoric man. To go back no further, we may trace it in a direct line through Latin literature, to the Greek apophthegm. Facetiæ, in the literary sense, are also to be found in Oriental literature, especially the Persian and the Arabian.
The Greek apophthegm and its Roman successor had a different character from the Florentine facetiae, but the difference is one rather of matter than of form. The ribald, licentious note is not so common in the classic facetiæ, and the historical anecdotes treating of kings, princes, and persons of high estate were mostly reverent and often 2 adulatory. Satire and disrespect appeared in the humorous tales of Poggio and his peers. The apophthegm was, as a rule, a brief narrative, as often as not enclosing a moral lesson in an historical anecdote. Or else it was the saying of some wise or great man.
Though comparatively few of the Greek facetiæ — or, more properly speaking, apophthegm — have come down to us, we may deduce that they were produced in great quantity from the evidence of Cicero, who speaks of the apophthegmatic form as being one of the commonest.
We may say that the antique apophthegms were the nearest thing to journalism in those times, for they dealt generally with living persons and actual events. And like all journalistic writings, they were mostly short-lived, for a great part of their value and interest lay in their treating of contemporary persons and events. Cicero and Cæsar may be cited as leading exponents among the Romans of the literary form, which in the Florence of the quattro and cinque cento developed into the full-bodied facetia.
Besides the facetiæ and witty sayings collected 3 by Cicero, Quintillian tells us that the Roman orator's brother Quinto also made a compilation. Cato's remark "quam ridiculum habemus consulem" may be imagined to have had some reference to Cicero's fondness for the light and even scurrilous anecdote or jest. The Emperor Augustus is said to have made a collection of facetiæ, while, during his reign, the jurisconsult Cascellius put together a volume of humorous sayings and tales. Under Nero, Domitius Aphrus entered this field of Literature.
Nothing or very little of these classis excursions into the light literature or journalism of the time has come down to us, though no doubt a great deal of the material was used by later writers, such as Aulus Gellius, who in his Attic Nights, written near Athens, has left us many extracts from Greek and Latin writers of sayings and anecdotes.
The survival of this light literature of Greece and Rome would have given us a new and valuable sidelight on antiquity, for it is in the fleeting and ephemeral writings of an age that its interests and spirit are most easily revealed. We have 4 numerous works in ancient literature which deal with the lighter and more frivolous side of things, but such works are chiefly the creations of literary men or poets, concerned with style and image and not merely 'reportage', or a simple unadorned chronicling of everyday events, on their humble and unheroic side.
And in the facetiae proper, the matter is ninety per cent of the writing. It is the curious tale, the witty reply, the broad jest which is the thing of importance. There is little room for style as such. This becomes more evident when we come to the facetiæ which form the present collection.
In the Novellino2, one of the first, if not the first, collection of tales and anecdotes written in the Italian language, style is of the utmost importance, for the author or authors were using an untried instrument, and a translator soon finds that it is practically impossible to change a phrase or use another word than the one of the original text without impairing the value of the whole. In these early tales, the language itself 5 has a rare beauty and attraction, but in the later facetiæ, written in Latin by professional humanists like Poggio Bracciolini, the content is nearly all. Told in almost any words, the import of the facetiæ is instantly revealed, for there is nothing subtle or illusive about them. They are solid, concrete, of the earth earthy. This is not to deny Poggio's qualities as a writer of experimental Latin used in a way that was at the time a regular tour de force.
The fourth-century grammarian Macrobius in his Saturnalia has left us a number of anecdotes, notes, and dissertations which may allow us to link him up with the tradition of the facetiæ. Theophrastus may also be mentioned in connection with the genre under discussion, as well as Philostratus.
In the earlier centuries of the Christian era, there were also monkish writers of tales and historical anecdotes.
To come to the medieval period, the tradition of jocular literature arranged in the form of little tales or humorous sayings may be picked up again in the French fabliaux as well as in Latin works of 6 the Middle Ages, such as the Gesta Romanorum, the Alphabetum Narrationum, the Golden Legend, and the Speculum Exemplorum.
But these monkish productions have little in common with the modern spirit of the Florentine facetiæ of the succeeding centuries. The medieval Latin tales, which in Italy preceded or were contemporaneous with the Novellino (The Hundred Old Tales) were impregnated with mysticism and seriousness. They have none of the irreverence and cynicism of the collections of Poggio or of Domenichi.
In the Novellino, the new spirit has already begun to appear, and it is in those tales of the collection which were woven from popular story and legend that the origins of the Italian facetiæ may best be studied. The story of the Parish Priest Porcellino and the tale of the Woman and the Pear-tree might be literature of a century later. The tales of the Physician of Toulouse and Messer Roberto and the Nuns are typical facetiæ, in which the jovial, unbelieving, liberated spirit that inspired Poggio and Boccaccio are plainly to be perceived.7
The influence of the Church and the use of Latin as a monkish monopoly tend to imbue the greater part of the early novelle with a sense of reverence, respect, and pious ingenuousness. The brilliant light of the Renaissance, which, on one side at any rate, was the assertion of the divine humanity of man, master and not slave of his religious beliefs, had not yet scattered the gloom and mysticism of the so-called Dark Ages.
Modern writers have also seen analogies between the Florentine facetiæ and the writings of Rabelais, while Les Cents Nouvelles Nouvelles and the Fouberies of Sî Djih â have been pointed out as having an association with the type.
Fabliaux like Le Prêtre aux mûres and Le Vilain mire composed, it is thought, by jongleurs or trouvères in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, illustrate the continuity of this kind of light literature.
The modern facetiæ, that is the facetiæ of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with their typically Italian, or rather Tuscan, characteristics may be said to have arisen somewhere about 1440 8 or 1450, and the chief master of the art was the humanist and pseudo-cleric Bracciolini, known as Poggio or Poggio Fiorentino. In the Preface to his Liber Facetiarum, written as has been said in Latin, Poggio declares that he wrote it to sharpen his wits and refresh his spirit, therein following the example of the ancients, "who though men of great learning and wisdom, took delight in jests, witticisms, and fables.".
It was Poggio who by entitling his work "Facetiæ" gave the name to this genre of literature.
According to Shepherd, the Englishman who wrote a Life of Poggio Bracciolini, the Italian humanist wrote his book of jests to practice his Latin.
Poggio, at the conclusion of his work, which, like most successful books, inspired many imitators, tells us how it came into being.
"I have in mind", he wrote, "before concluding this series of little tales to add in what place or theatre one might say, the greater part of them were told. This place was our 'Bugiale'3 9 a kind of lie-factory,4 found by the secretaries5 to give us a laugh. Since the times of Pope Martin, we had the habit of choosing a quiet place in which we could tell one another the news, and speak of various matters, either serious or frivolous, to distract our minds."
The "Bugiale", we see, was thus a kind of ecclesiastical club, where what were really the smoking-room stories of those times passed from mouth to mouth, much as they do in our clubs to-day. That full licence and freedom were allowed in this room in the Vatican, Poggio frankly tells us with that same frankness which, coming from a secretary who enjoyed the favour of the Pope, casts an interesting light on the manners of the times.
"Here", continues our jest-maker, "nobody was spared, and we spoke ill of whatever or whomsoever displeased us. Often the Pope himself provided material for our criticisms, and this was the reason why many attended at our gatherings, for fear of being ridiculed in their absence." This latter touch is perfectly in keeping with 10 Poggio's sense of irony and his knowledge of human nature.
"Among the story-tellers", continues Bracciolini, "was Razello of Bologna, many of whose tales I have gathered here. Antonio Lusco also, who is often referred to, was a clever man. And there was Cencio Romano, much given to jesting. And some of my own tales, which are by no means stupid, I added to the collection. Now my friends are dead, and the Bugiale is no more, and, through the fault of the times and of men, that habit of jesting and pleasant talk is falling out of use."
We may set this latter reflection of Poggio down to his advancing age, for it must be remembered that he wrote or compiled his facetiæ — a selection from which makes up about one third of the present volume — when he was an old man of seventy.
Though Bracciolini is the most outstanding writer of facetiæ, and the one who practically invented the form, there are several other writers or compilers to be considered.
Before touching on Poggio's interesting life, 11 we must note the work of Pontano6. The author draws his illustrations from both classical and contemporary sources. He was distinguished by a greater severity of style and matter as compared with the free and often vulgarly obscene Poggio.
A number of Pontano's facetiæ were included in the collection of Lodovico Domenichi, which has been largely drawn on to furnish the material for this English translation.
Pontano's facetiæ have a more classical character than those of Poggio. They are severer and more literary. While those of Poggio smack of the rotund hilarity of the Bugiale, where we may be sure flasks of encouraging wine were passed round to loosen the clerical clubmen's tongues, Pontano's collection is staider, and approaches more in style to the Greek apophthegm.
Ludovico Carbone also wrote a small volume of facezie, a few of which are included in the present collection.
The citizens of Perugia, Siena, and Florence were those who were most given to the making of 12 facetiæ. But the Florentines of the Medici times were the true masters of this kind of literature.
If we include among the creators of jests the authors of humorous novelle, the field for the gathering together of a collection becomes greatly extended. The present writer has included here four or five novelle, which are perhaps not strictly facetiæ, in that they do not appear with that label, but for their humour and quaintness they seem well worthy of a place here.7
Without attempting to follow the progress of the facetiæ in other European countries, we may note in passing that many collections of jests were made in Germany about this time (fifteenth century) and a little later. Thus we have Heinrich Bebel (1472-1516), poet laureate of the Emperor Maximilian, who published a popular collection of humorous tales towards the end of the quattrocento. In 1508 Johann Mülich issued 13 his Margarita facetiarum, which includes some examples from Panormita.8
In Italy the model produced by Poggio was duly imitated, and facetiæ were invented, copied, rewritten, and repeated until they became a regular part of the local literatures depending on the Tuscan tongue. Types, something like those in the Commedia dell' Arte developed: only these were authors rather than actors or characters. Thus at Padua there were Il Toretto; at Bologna, L'Umore; in Florence, "The Etruscan" and Alfonso dei Pazzi, who is several times referred to in this collection.
Ludovico Domenichi's compilation contained a great number of examples, and his collection has been largely drawn on to furnish material for this book.
Domenichi was a native of Piacenza, a learned and scholarly man who wrote on a number of subjects. In the history of the literary genre under discussion, he is to be considered more in the light of a compiler or editor than an original writer.
Domenichi made two collections of facetiæ, 14 the first containing some examples of German jests; the second, published more than twelve years later, being more strictly national in character. Domenichi's incursion into the field of jocular literature would seem to have been due to his reading a book lent him by Stradino about 1540 or 1550: "Un bel libretto di facezie piacevoli e di motto arguti di molti eccellentissimi e nobilissimi ingegni."
Domenichi's second collection of jests was published in Florence by Torrentino in 1562. The book had an immediate and great success, and was reprinted many times.
This compiler drew his matter from many sources, which he does not always cite. This is not unnatural, however, since the same story evidently appeared under different hands quite frequently. Of all forms of literature, humorous writing is perhaps the form which least easily crystallizes into a definite and final shape. The atmosphere of jesting and humour is so volatile a thing that the telling of the same story is nearly always varied by the character of the teller and his audience.15
While Domenichi is important in the history of the Italian facetiæ, because he compiled the most extensive and most popular collection of jests and humorous anecdotes, drawing on countless sources, such as Stradino, Spini, and Mondella of Brescia, it is Poggio the Florentine who may be called the father of the jocular tale.
Poggio Bracciolini was born at Terranuova near the city of Arezzo in Tuscany in 1380. He was a remarkable figure in many ways and the Facetiæ, written in his declining years, form only an inconsiderable portion of his literary labours.
He studied Greek with the famous Emmanuel Chrysoloras, one of the men who took a considerable part in the teaching of the ancient tongue and the spreading of humanistic ideas in Italy.
Poggio, at any early age, seems to have perceived that for a man not born to wealth and nobility, entry into the ranks of the Roman curia was about the best profession open to talent at the time. Without taking Holy Orders, but wearing the ecclesiastical habit, Poggio went with Pope John XXII to the Council of Constance. Then 16 for a while Poggio, who had his own ideas about the Church, and disliked religious squabbles, took to travelling, visiting Germany and Switzerland. Here his love of scholarship and learning, which was his true passion, led him to search for ancient manuscripts in the monasteries and convents. In this search he was rewarded with considerable success, coming across — it is suggested obtaining by any means in his power — works by Quintilian, Cicero, Plautus, and Petronius, besides many other minor manuscripts.
Poggio visited England in 1425, where for a while he was the guest of Cardinal Beaufort. We have some very curious and interesting comments and criticisms of Poggio on his English sojourn, which are quoted in Shepherd's and Vespasiano's Lives of the Florentine humanist from his letters.
"The English", wrote Bracciolini, "prefer to live in the country in their villas, amid the woods and fields. This nobility is measured by the extent of its possession. They go in largely for agriculture and trading in wool."
It would seem from Poggio's letters, in which 17 he manifests no particular sympathy for England or English ways, that England was then much in advance of most other European countries in its sociological economy, even though the new learning had hardly reached it.
The Tuscan observed "with great astonishment: that the rich merchants retired in ease to their country-houses, where they were treated as friends and equals by the hereditary nobles. This fact was to Poggio a detestable thing, but it is interesting to note from the comments of an impartial foreigner how the England of those times had on its social and sociological sides certain natural originating affinities with the England of to-day.
Bracciolini also confided to his Italian correspondent that the English aristocracy ate and drank in copious fashion. Though our clerical humanist does not mention it, we can see from his own Facetiæ that excellent trenchermen and three-bottle heroes were not lacking in the Italy of this period.
Poggio's visit to England took place at a time when the Renaissance was glowing in Italy with a 18 fervour it is difficult nowadays to understand, and the Italian no doubt felt himself something of a superior person, an early "highbrow", one might say. He was one of the not numerous band of persons in the lay world who not only knew Latin and Greek well, but could write and speak in both languages. England, which does not assimilate new movements any the worse for assimilating them rather late, had hardly yet begun to feel the Greco-Roman madness, and suffer the thrill of humanism.
To Poggio, the English aristocracy of those days probably seemed a gross and material crew. Poggio, pupil of the great Crysalaros [Chrysoloras], no doubt marvelled at the lack of intellectual interest on the part of his hosts, much as a product of our modern civilization might marvel at a people ignorant of the mysteries of radio-telephony or television. Yet, from his own confession, we see how surprised he was at finding social conditions really much more advanced in England than in Florence, which boasted her new-found theoretical democracy.
Poggio, after his English sojourn, returned to 19 Rome, where we find him acting as secretary to the Roman curia, or Papal Court, a sinecure for a smooth-tongued humanist. Here, while ostensibly engaged in ecclesiastical labours, Poggio wrote his dialogues on Avarice and Hypocrisy, and regularly attended, if he did not actually found, the "Bugiale" club, where religion, cardinals, and the Pope himself were all subjected to torrents of irony and criticism, such as could spring only from minds saturated in the iconoclastic agnosticism of the Renaissance.
In the mornings Poggio attended to his official duties, which were probably light, while the evenings in the genial smoking-room atmosphere of the Bugiale drew from him and his companions jests and sayings, which were sometimes witty, but oftener both witty and obscene, and on occasion only obscene.
There is something very Roman in the grossness of many of the Poggian facetiæ, although in others the Florentine spirit, not less carnal but lighter, is equally evident.
Bracciolini was a small, almost inconsequent figure of fifteenth-century Italian humanism, 20 but he is able to throw considerable light on his times. We can realize through him how strong was the pressure of the dead hand of antiquity, of the countless Hellenes and Romans, clamoring for an immortality in the human spirit, an immortality, which, if they have gained it, will be largely due to the spacious, mocking, joyous, tumultuous days of the Italian cinquecento.
Poggio came to Florence after Pope Eugenius IV had ascended the Papal throne, and met about this time, Francesco Filelfo, colleague and rival in humanism, learning, wit, and scurrility. Filelfo, who is frequently referred to in Poggio's Facetiæ, wrote squibs and pamphlets against his colleague, while the latter replied with abundant abuse and consummate indecency.
Filelfo is another typical figure of these times. He was born in 1358, studied Greek in the East, and was one of the first men to speak and write the classic tongue in Italy. He possessed all that intellectual arrogance which seems to have been one of the special failings of these early humanists, who, in spite of their learning, were, as often as not, intolerant, vain, and full of that traditional 21 irritability which formerly, at any rate, was always supposed to be a characteristic of literary men.
Filelfo became tutor in the noble house of Filippo Visconti, Duke of Milan, where he was expected to act as a kind of tame poet, to the family, writing epithalamaia, funeral odes, panegyrics, and lampoons against the Duke's enemies. It was here that Filelfo acquired his skill in the art of diatribe and literary abuse, in which art he often crossed swords with Poggio. Filelfo was also a maker of facetiæ, though he left no collection or compilation to rival that of his friend and sometime enemy. Among his works, all written in Latin, we have Opus Satyrarum, which is consistently obscene, and Fabulae, and De Morali Disciplina.
Filelfo fell foul of the Medici, against whom he wrote lampoons or libels, and he was obliged to leave Florence. He attacked Poggio, of whom he was always rather jealous, and a battle of gross and scurrilous abuse began between the two men who did so much for the spread of humanism in their time.22
This mixture of indecency and learning, of base wit and absorbing passion for what was fine and beautiful in literature and art, is one of the most remarkable features of the period.
Poggio wrote his Invectives against Filelfo in a villa surrounded with noble relics of the classic world, statues, and busts of ancient Greeks and Romans and with a library that must have contained many precious manuscripts.
Poggio speaks of Filelfo as "vomiting his libels from the fetid drain of his mouth", and goes on to cast reflections on the honour of his mother quite in the fashion of a stevedore or porter in some Mediterranean port.
The affection for the obscene and for vulgar abuse of these early humanists would appear to have had partly a literary origin. The epigrams of Martial and of other Latin and Greek writers evidently served as models for these torch-carriers of the new light. Maybe in their intellectual superiority, which is patent in their lives and writings, they felt themselves above the ordinary conventions. Moreover, they derived delight from using the Latin tongue to express thoughts 23 and ideas which had not been expressed in it since classic times. Then, too, the language in which they wrote was not understood of the vulgar, and a liberal display of salaciousness seemed to them no doubt 'the right thing', and altogether in the classic tradition of Martial.
Humanism and the spiritual fervour of the Renaissance was almost a religion in the beginning. These early rediscoverers of the magic of Hellas did not certainly carry their paganism so far as to attempt to believe in the ancient mythology, but we cannot help thinking that their classical studies were to a great extent the cause of their 'losing their faith' in Christianity. They practiced the Christian religion, and men like Poggio attached themselves to the Church, but chiefly as a matter of convenience. A scholar and writer in those days had, as a general rule, to gain the favour of a rich noble or else lend his services to the Church. Poggio's violent attacks, or rather the disrespectful way in which he treats the clergy and religion, sometimes even the very sacraments and dogmas of the Church, read to us very like the writings of a man who, if he had 24 not found a new religion, had at any rate no more use for the old one.
An interesting consideration on this period — making too much of a parenthesis to be treated here — would be to trace how the Church, later, and even to some extent at this very time, absorbed the new movement for its own ends, and, instead of perishing under the assault of humanism, drew fresh strength and new might from it, becoming indeed its patron and supporter.
While part of Poggio's scurrility and indecency, like that of his colleagues, had no doubt to some extent a classic and literary origin, a good deal of it had its roots in the Florentine passion for the biting retort, the risposte and the "beffa", or jest.
After a long period of sojourn in Florence or the neighbourhood, and after having married at the age of 55 a young girl of good family, Poggio returned to Rome under the Pontificate of Nicholas V. During this period, Bracciolini wrote other works, and later, when he was nominated Secretary to the Florentine Republic, he composed his work, the History of Florence. 25Here he sought to imitate the Latin historians, with unfortunate results for the clarity and limpidity of the history.
Poggio Fiorentino died in his villa at Florence in 1459, and was buried in the church of Santa Croce.
Of the facetiae as a literary form or type there is not a great deal to be said. It presents an obvious likeness to the novella, or little tale, and while many facetiæ may be classed equally well as novelle, certain novelle clearly approximate to the facetia.
The moral and ascetic sense which permeates many of the little tales of the Novellino and other early collections of stories has all but vanished. It survives in a number of the jests in Domenichi's collection, but in Bracciolini it is practically absent. Poggio likes the broad laugh, the deep guffaw, and the bawdy jest. He shows us a world not unlike that of Boccaccio, but without any of Boccaccio's poetry or grace. But between the two worlds of characters and scenes, there are plain similarities. Both picture a society of 26 unrestrained carnal longings, of disbelief, of comfortable cynicism and happy despair.
A material world, it may be said, but a very frank, unhypocritical one, where learning has stimulated the carnal appetites rather than asceticizing them, and wit is hardly recognized unless it savours richly of the earth.
All wives are assumed to be unfaithful, and most husbands are either rakes or cuckolds, or both, in Poggio's pages. The confessional is a trap for women's virtue or a convenient resource of the licentious cleric. Convents and monasteries are, as a rule, little better than lupanars. For religion, no respect is shown in the facetiæ, and Poggio makes fun of the holy rites and sacraments. When the friars and priest are not immoral rascals, they are sciocchi, or fools, Like the parish priest who did not know when Easter fell. Or else they are knaves, like the friar of St. Anthony, who promised protection to a shepherd's flocks in return for a gift of money, and promised of course without result.
A certain respect is shown by Poggio for men with clever tongues, men of talent, or ingegno, 27 while Greek and Latin learning are apparently the highest virtues in the whole world.
The stupidity of humanity, especially among the lower orders, such as peasants and tenders of flocks, is sorely castigated. Women are generally represented as being cleverer and smarter than men, though, in some instances, we have ingenuous girls who, however, usually assume such characteristics in order to provide the excuse for a salacious story.
Poggio's is not a moral world, but it would be foolish to look for very strict morality in him who portrayed what must, after all, have been a large side, though by no means the whole of the manners of his time.
It is interesting to note that what we now understand as humour in the Anglo-Saxon sense, which, it may be suggested in passing, has in modern times practically supplanted Latin wit throughout the world, appears for perhaps the first time in Italian literature in the facetiæ and analogous novelle. Wit and witty sayings had been hitherto — following the classical tradition — more a matter of words than facts. The old 28 affection for the clever play on words, the barbed reply and the mot juste appear frequently in these pages, but the broader humour, which is drawn from life rather than literature, the humour of incongruousness and ridiculousness, was the new note in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century jocular tales.
The story of the Friar's Breeches, honoured as a sacred relic, is a case in point, as is also the narrative of the priest who said 100 when he meant 1000.
Examples of the facetiæ where the point lies in a play on words or a witty turn are LXIV and XCIV which come from Domenichi's collection.
Quite a number of the facetiæ are devoted to showing the folly of fools. The bumpkin and the clodhopper were satirized in those times, as 'Farmer Giles' and 'Old Garge' are still ridiculed, from time to time, in our comic papers of to-day.
Not a few of the jests appear somewhat pointless to us nowadays, and the compiler seems generally to have had small respect for the intelligence of his readers, for he often underlines 29 the joke with a phrase such as "and at this witty saying all laughed", or "and this was a very witty remark".
An outstanding feature of many of the facetiæ is their grossness and their often coarse indecency. It is curious how a learned and scholarly man like Poggio could have revelled so in loose talk and bawdy jests, but we must not judge Bracciolini according to too Puritan a standard, for he did but reflect what was a part of the spirit of his times.
We must remember, too, that practically all the facetiæ were written in Latin, and it was partly for the pleasure and pride of showing that every kind of subject could be treated in the ancient tongue that writers like Poggio delighted in dealing with everyday subjects, drawing their material from the rough and tumble of common life.
In the present translation, made from Italian versions of such facetiæ as were originally written in Latin.9, only about one third or less of Poggio's facetiæ have been included, the rest being chiefly 30 taken from Carbone and Pontano through Domenichi's compilation. Several of the facetiæ in Domenichi's collection are from foreign, and especially German, sources.
One may conclude by quoting Poggio's own apologia for his facetiæ:
"I think there will be many", he wrote, "who will blame these conversations, either as being things of no account and unworthy of the seriousness of man, or because they would have in them a greater elegance and a more animated style. But, I answer them that I have read that our elders, men of the greatest prudence and learning, took, delight in jests, facetiæ, and fables for which they were praised rather than blamed. I shall have done enough, it seems to me, to have regained their good opinion. Therefore, who will want to believe that I have done a base thing in imitating them in this, since I am not able to imitate them in other things, by consecrating to the cares of writing that time which others lose in society and conversation, when this is not an indecorous work and may give pleasure to the reader? It is, moreover, an honourable, indeed 31 a necessary, thing, praised by the philosophers, to comfort the mind weighed down by troubles and reflections, and to lead it to gaiety by means of some light recreation.
"Moreover, to expect a fine style in matters of trifling account, or in those expressed with common and facetious words, or in giving the content of what others have said seems to me a wearisome idea. For there are certain things which revolt from ulterior ornament, and seek instead to be written down as they came from the mouths of them who spoke them.
"There may be those who will think that this apology of mine comes from lack of talent: and this is indeed my own opinion.
"Therefore let those who believe this take these fables themselves and present them and deck them out to their fancy, and I exhort them to do so, for the Latin tongue in our age has grown rich even in light things, and the practice of writing such will help to enrich the great art of literature.
"I myself wished to make a trial to see if many things which were reputed as being unable to be said or written in Latin could nevertheless be so 32 written without falling into baseness. So I did not seek either elegance, or an ample style, but I contented myself and am now content that my tales do not seem badly told.
"And in any case, let all those who are over-rigid censors and too bitter critics spare themselves the reading of these conversations — for it is so I would call them — and, as once Lucilius said, I like my readers to be of serene and happy mind.
"If, on the other hand, they are too little cultured, I do not deny them the right to think as they will, provided they do not grow angry with the author, who has written only to exercise his talent and refresh the spirit."
1 Jest, witty or amusing anecdote, very short humorous tale or saying. Ital: facezia. — Tr.
2 Il Novellino, the Hundred Old Tales (English translation, by Edward Storer: Broadway Translations, 1926).
3 Bugia means lie.
4 Mendaciorum officina.
5 Pontifical secretaries.
6 De Sermone.
7 No. CXVII by an Anonymous Author (XV century); No. CIX by Giovanni Sercambi (XIV century); No. CXIII by Lorenzo Magalotti (XVII century).
8 Author of L'Ermafrodita.
9 Poggio's facetiæ were all written in Latin.