A friar once heard the confession of a charming widow from Florence. During the hearing, in order to whisper softly, she pressed closer and closer to him, until the sweet odor of her young body overcame him; and that which till now he had kept peacefully concealed soon raised its head and pained him mightily.
The friar turned away from the window, tortured by the desires of his flesh, and gave her to understand that she should go. But the woman insisted that he sentence her to some form of penance. To which the monk replied heatedly: “It is I, madam, who will have to do penance.”
A woman from my native city, who appeared to be mad, was taken by her husband and her relatives to a soothsayer, by whose help they hoped to cure her. Their journey led across the river Arno, and the strongest man was chosen to carry the ailing woman across. No sooner was she astride his shoulders, however, when she began to wiggle her buttocks violently, and cried out loudly: “I want a man! I want a man!”
With these words the cause of her ailment was made clear. The fellow who was carrying her was seized with such a fit of laughter that he tumbled into the water, together with his burden. And the rest likewise fell to laughing, realizing that the poor woman required no magic to cure her disease. Turning to her husband, they said: “You, yourself, are the best doctor for your wife.”
And so they journeyed back, and when the husband had done his duty, the good woman quickly regained her former health. . . . And this, as a matter of fact, is the best cure for the madness of women.
The story is told of an old concubine, whom the burden of years had reduced to begging for a living. “Have pity,” she would say, “upon one who has renounced the sin of whoring!”
One day, meeting an old friend who asked her why she was begging, she replied: “What shall I do? No one will have me any longer!”
Whereupon the other, seeing that she had reformed not of her own free will but because she had lost the ability to ply her trade, passed her contemptuously by.
The Florentine nobleman, Rosso de Ricci, a wise and sincere man, had a very old and ugly wife, named Telda. Now, it came to pass that he cast desirous eyes upon a young servant girl in his household. He pressed his attentions upon her ceaselessly without success, until the latter reported the matter to her mistress.
When Telda heard this, she instructed the maid to grant him a rendezvous in a dark place, at a definite hour; and at the agreed time she secretly took the place of the maid.
Rosso found her there, and believing her to be the buxom servant girl, he proceeded to caress her ardently. But it was all to no avail: his little one refused to stand up.
Telda was furious, and, revealing herself, cried out: “Scoundrel! If you had found the maid lying here, you would have had no trouble to do your part!”136
Whereupon Rosso replied: “Is it then you, Telda, my wife? By God, my little friend has a better nose than I have! For the moment I touched you, thinking it was the maid, he recognized that you are a poor dish, indeed, and withdrew.”
A harlot, one morning, hung out to air before her window an assortment of fine clothes, which she had received as gifts from her lovers.
A matron, passing by and seeing the display of expensive garments, remarked:
“As the spider weaves its web, so has this woman woven her clothes with her buttocks, and flaunts the work of her shame proudly in the public eye.
A man was consoling his wife on her death-bed. He reminded her that he had always been a good husband, and begged forgiveness if he had done her any wrong. He recalled also that among his other marital obligations he had not failed in his conjugal duties, save at such times when she was ill and he feared to weary her.
With this, the dying woman, gathering together her last energies, reproved him bitterly, saying: “Verily, I will never forgive you this; for at no time was I so ill and depleted that I could not lie comfortably on my back.
In such matters, therefore, men should always do their duty thoroughly, so that they need never seek forgiveness from their wives of a kind that the latter might very well refuse.
There exists in Florence a court of public morals, which is chiefly concerned with matters affecting the rights of prostitutes, and which seeks to protect them against hindrance in the performance of their public function.
Before this court, there once appeared a courtesan to lay claim for damages against a certain barber, whom she had called in to shave her lower parts. It appeared that the latter had so cut her about the loins with his razor, that for many days she was unable to ply her trade. On this ground she claimed damages in accordance with the number of patrons she had lost.
I wonder what was the verdict of the court?
One of my countrymen, a witty man, was requested by a neighbor, during the vintage season, to lend him a number of his wine casks. Upon which he made the following retort:
“Inasmuch as I feed my wife the whole year through, I intend to enjoy her myself when the lean season comes.”
He meant to convey to his neighbor that one should not demand from others that which the latter requires themselves.
My countryman, Pietro, told me one day a lusty tale to illustrate the cunning of a deceitful woman. He had an affair with the wife of a dull peasant, who often spent the night in the open fields, in order to escape his creditors. One night, just when my friend was in the arms of this woman, her husband suddenly returned. Quickly concealing her lover under the bed, she began to reprove her husband bitterly for coming back, charging him with doing his utmost to land in prison. “Only a moment ago,” she said, “the governor’s soldiers were here to arrest you, and searched the house from top to bottom. I told them that you generally pass the night out-of-doors, and they went away, threatening to return soon.”
Terrified, the poor wretch pleadingly 142besought the counsel of his wife, who was already prepared with a deceitful trick. “Here, climb up in the dovecote,” she answered quickly, “and spend the night there. I will lock the door and take the ladder away, so that nobody will suspect you are there.”
The man obeyed his wife’s advice, and the latter, having locked him in and removed the ladder, thereupon called her lover from his hiding-place. And he, pretending that the governor’s men had returned, made a great commotion as of ten men, while the wife loudly defended her husband, so that the fugitive was overcome with terror in his concealment.
Finally when the tumult had been sufficiently carried through and allowed to die down, the lovers betook themselves to bed and consecrated the night to Venus, abandoning the husband to the pigeons and the dung of the dovecote.
At a polite gathering one day, the talk turned on the subject of hypocrites, and one of those present was moved to relate the story of a certain holy man, called Paolo, who lived in Pisa, and was accustomed to go from door to door, cowering humbly and yet asking for nothing. Because of the holiness of his life, he was known as il beato, the blessed one.
Now Paolo often sat before the door of a widow, who gave him alms in the form of food and drink. He was fair to look upon, and after frequent visitation, the widow found herself deeply in love with him, and besought him each day to come again without fail, for she would prepare him a fine repast. This the friar did not fail to do, till one day she bade him come indoors to eat. Paolo, nothing loath, accepted willingly and 144proceeded to stuff himself with food and wine.
As soon as he was done eating, the widow embraced and kissed him so warmly that he could barely restrain himself. She swore, moreover, that she would not let him forth until he had satisfied her. Paolo pretended that the sport did not interest him, and even made a show of righteous indignation at her shameless passion. But, finally, when she pressed upon him even more closely, he said, as one who submits to force:
“Since you insist upon this evil deed, I summon God to witness that you are wholly to blame; I have no share in it. Here, take the cursed thing yourself and use it as you wish. Far be it from me even to touch it.” And in this manner he satisfied the poor woman against his will, and since he was careful not to touch his member, he was able to shift all guilt upon his seducer.
Bernabo, Prince of Milan, was a familiar figure among the female sex. One day, as he took his pleasure alone in his garden with a woman he loved and was at the very height of his joy of her, there entered unexpectedly a friar who acted as his personal confessor. Because of his wisdom and the esteem in which he was held, the doors of the palace were open to him at all times.
Bernabo blushed with confusion and at the same time was irritated by the untimely visit of his confessor. He quickly regained his composure, however, and in order to escape the painful awkwardness of the situation, he asked the friar: “What would you do if you found yourself in bed with a woman as lovely as this one?”
“I know what I ought to do,” replied the friar, “but what I would do I cannot say.”148
And with this answer he relieved the anger of the prince, in that he confessed himself to be a man capable of human feeling.
A woman of my acquaintance, named Giovanna, was taken sick with the fever. The doctor who was called in, an ignorant quack, requested a sample of her urine, in the usual way, and instructed the young, unmarried daughter of the house to see to it. On the following day, the girl, having forgotten to set the urine aside and fearing to be reproved, gave the doctor a sample of her own instead of her mother’s. The sly quack immediately prescribed a dose of sex intercourse for the invalid.
Hearing this, Giovanna’s husband sat down and ate a hearty meal, and then went in to her to carry out the doctor’s prescription. The woman, knowing nothing of what had transpired, was horrified and protested that it would kill her. But he assured 150 her that it was the only way to cure her ailment. And his words proved true, for after he had overcome her for the fourth time, lo and behold, on the following morning the fever was gone.
In this manner, the very circumstance, by which the quack had thought to deceive them, became the means of her recovery.
A poor man, who earned a meagre living by ferrying people across a river in a little boat, was in despair because he had no passengers. At nightfall, as he was about to turn sadly to his home, a stranger appeared who desired his services. The ferryman eagerly transported his solitary passenger and thereupon demanded his pay. But to his dismay the other declared that he had not a penny on his person, and offered him instead a piece of excellent advice.
“How, then,” cried the ferryman, “shall I feed my starving family with advice in place of bread?” Having no other recourse, however, he was compelled to listen. And this is what the stranger told him:
“In the first place, never take a passenger across the river till you have been paid in 152advance. Secondly, never tell your wife that another has a larger member than yours.
With this the ferryman had to be content, and returning disconsolately home, related the incident to his wife. The latter was immediately torn with curiosity. “Are, then, the organs of men not all alike in size?” she asked. “Of course not,” he replied, “our friar, for instance, exceeds us all by a tremendous measure.” And he illustrated the size of the friar’s member by stretching out his arm.
Hearing this, the woman was seized with a great desire for the priest’s company and did not rest until she had personally established the truth of her husband’s statement. And thus the ferryman learned too late the wisdom of the stranger’s advice.
The learned Antonio Lusco, who was called upon to alter a letter which he had written for a gentleman who had drunk too much of wine, remarked that he would do as a certain tailor once did, who was ordered by Gian Visconti to alter his night-drawers. “I will come again tomorrow,” he said, “without changing a word, and my host being then sober will find the letter remarkably improved.” And then he explained his reference to the tailor in the following tale:
“Giovanni Visconti, father of the old Duke of Milan, was a large, stout man, with an immense paunch. Often at a single sitting he would consume an enormous amount of food and drink, and on such occasions, as soon as he lay down to sleep, he would summon his tailor and charge him angrily with having made the waistband of his drawers too tight. 154 The tailor, promising to enlarge the band immediately, humbly assured him that the matter would be attended to by the morning. Then, taking up the garment, he hung it carelessly on a clothes-rack, without any effort to alter it.
Other members of the household, wondering at his neglect, pressed him for an explanation. Whereupon the tailor replied: “In the morning, when the master awakes, he will go to the privy and empty his bowels, and thereafter the drawers will be amply wide enough for him.”
Early the following day, he brought the garment to the duke, who drew it on and finding it comfortable again, complimented the tailor upon his skill.
“In the same manner,” concluded Antonio, “will my letter be approved when the effect of the wine has vanished.”
Giannini, chief cook to Baronto of Pistoja, tells a tale of a dull-witted Venetian who had unjustly received a painful thrashing. Being keenly desirous of a son to avenge the injury, in that his wife was sterile, he sought the help of a friend, who was reputed to have remarkable skill in the production of children. The latter promised to do his utmost and went in to his wife.
Meanwhile the Venetian, in order to let his friend work undisturbed, went walking through the city and chanced to meet his enemy, who threatened him with further punishment.
Thereupon the cuckold answered scornfully: “Be quiet, you fool. You do now know what is now being prepared in my house for you. If you knew, you would 156withdraw your threats. For I am having something made which will avenge me for your insults.
In Avignon there lived a French notary who was well known in the circle of the Roman curia. This notary, finding himself in love with a harlot, put his own trade aside and earned his living as the keeper of a brothel.
At the beginning of the new year, he changed his vestments for a new robe and had inscribed in silver letters upon his sleeve: “From good to better.”
By this he indicated that he looked upon the business of a brothel keeper as a distinct advance over his former profession.
Outside the gates of Perugia there stood the church of St. Mark, and here on a holy day Cicero, the parish priest, delivered the customary sermon to the assembled people of the town, and in conclusion said:
“Dear brethren, I should like you to relieve me of a grave doubt. When, during the lenten days, I heard the confessions of your wives, I did not find one who did not maintain that she had zealously preserved her fidelity to her husband. You men, on the other hand, almost without exception confessed that you had sinned with the wives of your neighbors. Therefore, in order to clear away this confusion in my mind, I pray you tell me who are these women and where do they come from?”
Sarda is a small place in our native mountains. Here a poor, trusting fellow once surprised his wife making merry in the arms of another man. Realizing her predicament in a flash, the woman sank lifeless to the ground, as if suddenly overcome by a fatal stroke.
Believing her to be dead, the stricken husband fell at her side and began tearfully to stroke her arms. With this she opened her eyes slightly as one who slowly returns to life by a supreme effort; and in answer to his anxious queries, she explained that she had been seized with a horrible fright.
Thereupon the simple fellow comforted her and desired to know what he could do for her. To which she replied: “I want you to swear that you saw nothing.” And no sooner did he comply than she instantly recovered her health.
A man from Gubbio, called Giovanni, was fearfully jealous of his wife and did not know by what means he could positively assure himself that she was not deceiving him with other men.
Finally he hit upon a plan worthy of a jealous man; he castrated himself, saying: “Now, if my wife should become with child, I will be convinced that she has committed adultery.”
In our city of Terranova there lived a carpenter, called Guglielmo, who was blessed with a male organ of unusual measure. This fact was made known by his wife to a neighbor. And when the former died and the carpenter took an innocent young girl, Antonia by name, to wife, this neighbor took it upon herself to inform the young girl concerning the mighty weapon of her husband.
And so it chanced that on the night of their nuptials, the untutored wife avoided his embraces and confessed her terror over what had been confided to her. Whereupon the carpenter consoled her, saying: “What they say is true: but I have two members, a large and small one. In order that you be completely undisturbed, I shall use only the small one tonight. Of it you need have no fear.”
Believing what he said, the young wife 162surrendered to her husband without further complaint and found no cause to object. After a month had elapsed in this manner and she was become freer and bolder, she said to her husband, during an affectionate embrace:
“Dearest! Don’t you think it is time now to try the big fellow?”
At this the carpenter laughed heartily to see how his wife’s appetite was grown.
It seems to me proper, at the close, to say something about the place which in a sense was the stage where most of these anecdotes were narrated. I mean the “Bugiale,” a kind of story-foundry, which was founded by the papal secretaries for their amusement.
Since the days of Pope Martin, in fact, we were accustomed to gather in an isolated part of the papal court, where we exchanged current news and discussed the topics of the day. Generally, there came up much that was amusing, and sometimes things of earnest import. There nobody was spared; we seized upon everything which gave us cause for displeasure, and often it was the pope himself upon whom our first censure fell, so that each one of us was in constant fear that he would be the next to be brought up for ridicule.164
The chief story-teller was Razello of Bologna, from whom I derived many pieces for my collection. Then there was Antonio Lusco, an exceedingly clever fellow, whom I have also often quoted; and also Cencio, the Roman, who was likewise a great lover of waggery. Many of the tales, and not the worst, were contributed by myself.
Today my friends are gone, and the “Bugiale” is a thing of the past. For this the times as well as the people are to blame: for the custom of amusing oneself with jest and anecdote has also completely disappeared.