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From Il Novellino, The Hundred Old Tales, translated from the Italian by Edward Storer; George Routledge & Sons LTD; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.; pp. 35-72.



This book treats of flowers of speech, of fine courtesies and replies, of valiant actions and gifts, such as in time gone by have been made by noble men.



When Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke with us in human form, he said among other things, that the tongue speaks from the fulness of the heart.

You who have gentle and noble hearts above other men, shape your minds and your words to the pleasure of God, speaking of honouring and fearing Our Lord who loved us even before He created us, and before we ourselves loved Him. And if in certain ways we may, without giving Him displeasure, speak for the gladdening of our bodies, and to give ourselves aid and support, let 36 it be done with all the grace and courtesy that may be.

And since the noble and the gentle in their words and deeds are as a mirror for the lower folks, for that their speech is more gracious, coming from a more delicate instrument, let us call back to memory some flowers of speech, such fair courtesies and fine replies, valiant actions and noble gifts as have in time gone by been compassed by many.

So whosoever has a noble heart and fine intelligence may imitate in time to come, and tell and make argument about them, when just occasion offers, for the use and delight of such as know them not and fain would know.

If the flowers of speech we offer you be mixed with other words, be not displeased, for black is an ornament to gold, and a fair and delicate fruit may sometimes adorn a whole orchard; a few lovely flowers an entire garden.

Nor should the many readers who have lived long without scarcely uttering a fine phrase or contributing anything of merit by their speech take offence therein.



Of the rich embassy which Prester John sent to the noble Emperor Frederick

Prester John,1 most noble Indian lord, sent a rich and honourable embassy to the noble and powerful Emperor Frederick, he who was in truth a mirror to the world in matters of speech and manners, who delighted generally in fair speech and sought ever to return wise answers. The substance and intention of that embassy lay in two things alone, to prove at all hazards, if the Emperor were wise both in word and act.

So Prester John sent him by his ambassadors three most precious stones, and said to the ambassadors: question the Emperor and ask him on my behalf to tell you what is the best thing in the world. And take good notice of his answers and speech, and study well his court and its customs, and of what you shall learn bring me word, omitting nothing at all.


And when they came to the Emperor to whom they had been sent by their master, they greeted him in a manner suitable to his majesty, and on behalf of their master, whom we have named, they gave him the precious stones. The Emperor took them, asking nothing of their worth. He ordered them to be taken charge of, and praised their exceeding beauty. The ambassadors asked their questions, and beheld the court and its customs.

Then after a few days, they asked permission to return. The Emperor gave them his answer and said; tell your master that the best thing in this world is moderation.

The ambassadors went away and related to their master what they had seen and heard, praising mightily the Emperor’s court with its fine customs and the manners of its knights.

Prester John, hearing the account of his ambassadors, praised the Emperor and said that he was very wise in speech but not in deed, since he had not asked the value of the precious stones. He sent back his ambassadors with the offer that if it should please the Emperor they should become 39 seneschals2 of his court. And he made them count his riches and the number and quality of his subjects and the manners of his country.

After some time, Prester John, thinking that the gems he had given the Emperor had lost their value, since the Emperor was ignorant of their worth, called a favourite lapidary of his and sent him in secret to the Emperor’s court; saying to him: seek you in every way to bring me back those stones, whatever it may cost.

The lapidary set out, bearing with him many stones of rare beauty, and began to show them at the court. The barons and the knights came to admire his arts. And the man proved himself very clever. When he saw that one of his visitors had an office at the court, he did not sell, but gave away, and so many rings did he give away that his fame reached the Emperor. The latter sent for him, and showed him his own stones. The lapidary praised them, but temperately. He asked the Emperor if he possessed still more precious stones. Then the Emperor brought forth the three fine gems which the lapidary was 40 anxious to see. Then the lapidary grew exultant, and taking one of the stones, held it in his hand and said: this gem, Sire, is worth the finest city in your land. Then he took up another and said: this gem, Sire, is worth the finest of your provinces. Then he took up the third gem and said: Sire, this stone is worth more than all your empire. He closed his hand on the gems, and the virtue in one of them rendered him invisible,3 so that none could see him, and down the steps of the palace he went, and returned to his lord, Prester John, and presented him with the stones with great joy.


1  Prester Giovanni in orig. This Prester John or Prester Kan is the hero of many stories and fables. See Marco Polo.

2  Administrators, sometimes treasurers of a court.

3   The ancients believed that certain stones and one especially called the heliotrope, had the power of rendering a person invisible.


Of a wise Greek whom a King kept in prison, and how he judged of a courser

In the parts of Greece there was a nobleman who wore a king’s crown and had a mighty realm. His name was Philip, and he held in prison a 41 learned Greek for some misdeed of the latter. So learned was this Greek that his intellect was beyond the stars.

It happened one day that the king received from Spain the gift of a noble courser of great strength and perfect form. And the king called for his shoeing-smith that the might learn of the worth of the steed, and it was answered him that the wisest counsellor in all things lay in his majesty’s prison.

The horse was ordered to be brought to the exercising ground, while the Greek was set free from the prison. Look over this horse for me, said the king, for I have heard that you are instructed in many things. The Greek examined the courser and said: Sire, the horse is indeed a fine one, but I must tell you that it has been reared on asses’ milk. The king sent into Spain to learn how the horse had been reared, and heard that its dam having died, the foal had been reared on asses’ milk. This caused the king great surprise, and he ordered that half a loaf of bread should be given to the Greek every day at the expense of the court.


Then it happened one day that the king gathered all his precious gems together, and calling the Greek out of prison, said to him: master, you are a wise fellow and understand all things. Tell me, if you know aught of precious stones, which is the rarest of all these?

The Greek looked and said; which, Sire, is dearest to you? The king took up a stone, beautiful above the others, and said: master, this seems to me the loveliest and of the greatest value.

The Greek took it up and laid it in his hand and closed his fingers on it, and laid it to his ear and said: Sire, there is a worm in here. The king sent for his master jeweller and had the stone broken open, and found a live worm in it. Then he praised the marvellous science of the Greek, and ordered that a whole loaf of bread be given him each day at the expense of the court.

Then after many days, the king bethought himself that he was not the legitimate king. He sent for the Greek, and took him into a secret place and began to speak and said: I believe you are a master of great learning, as I have clearly seen you prove yourself in matters whereof I 43 have questioned you. I want you to tell me now whose son I am.

The Greek replied: you know well, Sire, you are the son of such a father. And the king said: do not answer me as you think merely to please me. Answer me truly, for if you do not I will send you to an evil death. Then the Greek spoke and said: Sire, I tell you you are the son of a baker. Then the king cried: I will learn this of my mother, and he sent for her, and with ferocious threats constrained her to speak. His mother confessed the truth.

Then the king closeted himself in a room with the Greek and said: my master, I have seen great proof of your wisdom. Tell me, I beg of you, how you knew these things. Then the Greek made answer. Sire, I will tell you. I knew that the courser was raised on asses’ milk from common mother wit, since I saw that its ears drooped, which is not the nature of horses. I knew of the worm in the stone, for stones are naturally cold, and this one was warm. Warm it could not be naturally, were it not for some animal possessing life. And how did you know I was a baker’s son, asked the king.


The Greek made answer: Sire, when I told you about the courser which was a marvellous thing, you ordered me the gift of half a loaf of bread a day, and when I spoke to you of the stone you gave me a whole loaf. Then it was I perceived whose son you were, for had you been the son of a king, it would have seemed a slight matter to you to give me a noble city, whereas it seemed a great thing to you to recompense me with bread as your father used to do.

Then the king perceived his meanness, and taking the Greek out of prison, made him noble gifts.


How a jongleur lamented before Alexander the conduct of a knight, to whom he had made a gift on condition that the knight should give him whatsoever Alexander might present him with4.

When Alexander was before the city of Gaza, with a vast besieging train, a noble knight escaped 45 from prison. And being poorly provided in raiment and accoutrement, he set forth to see Alexander who lavished his gifts more prodigally than other lords.

As the knight walked along his way, he fell in with a gentleman of the court5 who asked him whither he was going. The knight replied: I am going to Alexander to request some gifts from him, so that I may return with honour to my country. Then the man of the court said, what is it that you want, for I will give it to you, provided that you give me what Alexander may present you with. The knight, made answer: give me a horse to ride and a beast of burden and such things and money as will suffice for me to make return to my own country. The jongleur gave him these, and they went on in company together to Alexander, who having fought a desperate action before the city of Gaza, had left the battlefield and was being relieved of his armour in a tent.


The knight and jongleur came forward. The knight made his request to Alexander humbly and graciously. Alexander made no sign, nor did he give any reply. The knight left the man of the court and set out on the road to return to his own country.

He had not gone very far, however, when the citizens of Gaza brought the keys of the city to Alexander, submitting themselves entirely to him as their lord.

Alexander then turned to his barons and said; where is he who asked a gift of me? Then they sent for the knight who had asked the king for a gift. The knight came before the king, who said to him: take, noble knight, the keys of the city of Gaza which most willingly I give you. The knight replied: Sire, do not give me a city. I beg you rather to give me gold or silver or other things as it may please you.

Then Alexander smiled, and ordered that the knight should be given two thousand silver marks6. And this was set down for the smallest gift which Alexander ever made. The knight took the marks 47 and handed them to the jongleur. The latter came before Alexander, and with great insistence asked that he should be heard, and so much he argued that he had the knight arrested.

And he shaped his argument before Alexander in this wise: Sire, I found this man on the road and asked him whither he was going and why, and he told me he was going to Alexander to ask a gift. I made a pact with him, giving him what he desired on condition that he should give me whatsoever Alexander should make him a present of. Therefore he has broken the pact, for he refused the noble city of Gaza, and took the marks. Therefore, before your excellency, I ask that you heed my request and order him to make up the difference between the value of the city and the marks.

The knight spoke, and first of all he confessed that the pact had been so, and then he said: just Sire, he who asks me this is a jongleur, and a jongleur, and a jongleur’s heart may not aspire to the lordship of a city. He was thinking of silver and of gold, and such was his desire. I have fully satisfied his intention. Therefore, I beg your lordship 48 to see to my deliverance as may please your wise counsel.

Alexander and his barons set free the knight, and complimented him on his wisdom7


4  This story is of Oriental origin. It occurs in some versions of The Thousand and One Nights.

5  Giullare: court minstrel, story-teller, buffoon. As these men frequented the courts of kings and nobles, they were called men of the court.

6  A mark had the value of four-and-a-half florins.

7  This story appears in the French poem of Lambert Le Tort and Alexander de Bernay, with a slight variation.


How a king committed a reply to a young son of his who had to bear it to the ambassadors of Greece

There was a king in the parts of Egypt who had a first-born son who would wear the crown after him. The father began from the son’s very earliest years to give him instruction at the hands of wise men of mature age, and never had it happened to the boy to know the games and follies of childhood.

It chanced one day that his father committed to him an answer for the ambassadors of Greece.

The youth stood in the place of discourse to make answer to the ambassadors, and the weather 49 was unsettled and rainy. The boy turned his eyes to one of the palace windows, and perceived some lads gathering the rain water into little troughs and making mud pies.

The youth, on seeing this, left the platform, and running quickly down the palace stairs, went and joined the other lads who were gathering up the water, and took part in the game. The barons and knights followed him quickly, and brought him back to the palace. They closed the window, and the youth gave an answer such as was satisfactory to the ambassadors8.

After the council, the people went away. The father summoned philosophers and men of learning, and laid the point before them.

Some of the sages reputed it to be a matter of the lad’s nature; others suggested it portended a weakness of spirit; some went so far as to hint it betokened an infirmity of the mind.

Thus one gave one opinion, and another, according to their art and science.

But one philosopher said: tell me how the youth has been brought up. And they told him 50 the lad had been brought up with sages and men of ripe age, with nothing of childishness in them.

Then the wise man answered: do not marvel if nature ask for what she has lost, for it is right for childhood to play, as it is right for age to reflect.


8  lit.: “gave a sufficient reply”.


How it came into the mind of King David to learn the number of his subjects

King David, being king by the grace of God, who had raised him from a shepherd to be a noble, wished one day to learn at all hazards the number of his subjects: which was an act of vain-glory most displeasing to the Lord, who sent an angel who spoke thus: David, you have sinned. So your Lord sends me to tell you. Will you remain three years in hell9 or three months in the hands of His enemies which are yours, or will you leave yourself to the judgment of your Lord?

David answered: I put myself in the hands of my Lord. Let Him do with me what He will. Now what did God do? He punished him 51 according to his sin, taking away by death the greater part of his people in whose great number he had vaingloried. And thus he reduced and belittled their number.

One day it came to pass that while David was riding he saw the angel of the Lord going about slaying with the naked sword, and just as the angel was about to strike a man,10 David got off his horse and said: Highness, praise be to God, do not kill the innocent, but kill me; for the fault is all mine. Then for this good word, God pardoned the people and stayed the slaughter11.


9  Biagi reads: Infermo — ill.

10  This reading follows Biagi. Others give “striking as he willed”.

11  The origin of this novella is, of course, Kings ii, chap. 24. It is curious to note the variations.


Here it is told how the angel spoke to Solomon, and said that the Lord God would take away the kingdom from his son for his sins

We read of Solomon that he made another offence to God, for which he was condemned to the loss of his kingdom. The angel spoke to him 52 and said: Solomon, on account of your sins, it is meet that you should lose your realm. But our Lord sends to tell you that for the good merits of your father, He will not take it away from you in your life, but for your wrong-doing He will take it away from your son. Whereby we see the father’s merits enjoyed by the son, and a father’s sins punished in his child.

Be it known that Solomon laboured studiously on this earth, and with his learning and talent had a great and noble reign.

And he took provision that foreign heirs should not succeed him, that is, heir such as were outside his lineage.

So he took many wives and many concubines so that he might have many heirs, but God who is the supreme dispenser willed it that by all his wives and concubines, who were many, he had but one son.

Then Solomon made provision so as to dispose and order his kingdom under this son of his, whose name was Roboam, that for certain he should reign after him.

So from his youth upwards he ordered his 53 son’s life with many precepts and schoolings. And more he did, so that a great treasure should be amassed and laid in a safe place.

And further he took urgent care that there was concord and peace with all the lords whose lands were near to his own, and his own vassals he held in peace and without contentions. And further he taught his son the courses of the stars and how to have mastery over demons.

And all these things he did that Roboam should reign after him.

When Solomon was dead, Roboam took counsel of wise old men, and asked their advice as to how he should manage his people.

The old men counselled him: call your people together and with sweet words say you love them as yourself, that they are as your crown, that if your father was harsh to them, you will be gentle and benign, and whereas he oppressed them, you will let them live in ease and content. If they were oppressed in the making of the temple, you will assist them.

Such was the advice the wise old men of the kingdom gave him.


Roboam went away, and called together a counsel of young men, and asked them similarly their advice. And these asked him: how did they from whom you first sought advice counsel you? And he told them word for word.

Then the young men said: they deceive you, since kingdoms are not held by words but by prowess and courage. Whence, if you speak soft words to the people, it will seem to them you are afraid of them, and so they will cast you down, and will not take you for their lord nor obey you. Listen to our counsel who are all your servants, and a master may do with his servants as he will. Tell the people with vigour and courage that they are your servants, and that whosoever disobeys you , you will punish according to your harsh law. If Solomon oppressed them for the building of the temple, you too will oppress them if it shall please you. Thus the people will not hold you for a child, but all will fear you, and so you will keep your kingdom and your crown.

Foolish Roboam followed the young men’s advice. He called together his people and spoke 55 harsh words to them. The people grew angry, and the chiefs became disturbed. They made secret pacts and leagues. Certain barons12 plotted together, so that in thirty-four days after the death of Solomon, his son lost ten of the twelve parts of his kingdom through the foolish counsel of the young men13.


12  The original calls them “barons", though the word sounds strange in a Biblical connection.

13  Kings III, chap. xi-xii.


Of the gift of a king’s son to a king of Syria who had been driven from his throne

A lord of Greece who possessed a mighty kingdom and whose name was Aulix had a young son whom he had taught the seven liberal arts14. And he instructed him in the moral life, that is the life of fine manners.

One day this king took much gold and gave it to his son and said: spend it as you like. And he 56 told his barons not to instruct him how to spend it, but only to observe his behaviour and his habits.

The barons, following the young man, were with him one day at the palace windows.

The youth was pensive. He saw passing along the road folk who from their dress and person seemed very noble. The road ran at the foot of the palace.

The young man ordered that all these folk should be brought before him. His will was obeyed in this, and all the passers-by came before him.

And one of them who was bolder in heart and more cheerful in look than the others, came forward and asked: Sire, what do you want of me? I would know whence you come, and what is your state.

And the man replied: Sire, I come from Italy, and a rich merchant I am, and my wealth which I have gained I did not have as patrimony, but I earned it with my labour.

The king’s son asked the next man whose features were noble and who stood with timid face further off than the other, and did not dare advance so boldly.


And this man said: what do you ask of me, Sire? The youth replied: “I ask whence you come, and what is your state.

The man answered: I am from Syria and am a king, and I have acted so that my subjects have driven me out of my kingdom.

Then the youth took all the gold and silver and gave it to him who had been driven out.

The news spread through the palace.

The barons and the knights met in conclave, and at the court nothing else was spoken of but this gift of the gold.

All was related to the father, questions and answers, word for word. The king began to speak to his son, many barons being present, and said; how did you come to distribute the money in this manner? What idea was it that moved you? What reason can you offer us for not giving to him who had enriched himself through his ability, while to him who had lost all through his own fault you gave all? The wise young man made answer: Sire, I gave nothing to him who taught me nothing, nor indeed did I make a gift to anyone, for what I gave was a recompense, 58 not a present. The merchant taught me nothing, and nothing was due to him. But he who was of my own state, son of a kind who wore a king’s crown, and out of his folly did so act that his subjects drove him away, taught me so much that my subjects will not drive me out. Therefore, I made a small recompense to him who taught me so much.

On hearing the judgment of the youth, the father and his barons praised his great wisdom, saying that his youth gave good promise for the years when he should be ripe to deal with matters of state.

Tidings of the happenings were spread far and wide among lords and barons, and the wise men made great disputations about it.


14  These were: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, and algebra.


Here it is treated of an argument and a judgment that took place in Alexandria

In Alexandria, which is in the parts of Roumania — for there are twelve Alexandrias which 59 Alexander founded in the March before he died15 — in this Alexandra there are streets where the Saracens live, who make foods for sale, and the people seek out the street where the finest and most delicate foodstuffs are to be found, just as among us one goes in search of cloths.

On a certain Monday, a Saracen cook whose name was Fabrae was standing by his kitchen door, when a poor Saracen entered the kitchen with a loaf in his hand. Money to purchase viands he had none, so he held his loaf over the pot, and let the savoury steam soak into it, and ate it.

The Saracen Fabrae, who was doing a poor trade that morning, was annoyed at the action, and seized the poor Saracen, and said to him: pay me for what you have taken of mine.

The poor man answered: I have taken nothing from your kitchen save steam16. Pay me for what you have taken of mine, Fabrae continued to exclaim.


The dispute over this new and difficult question which had never arisen before, continued to such an extent that news of it reached the Sultan.

Owing to the great novelty of the argument, the Sultan called together a number of wise men. He laid the question before them.

The Saracen wise men began to dispute, and there were those who held that the steam did not belong to the cook, for which they adduced many good reasons. Steam cannot be appropriated, for it dissolves in the air, and has no useful substance or property. Therefore the poor man ought not to pay. Others argued that the steam was still part of the viand cooking, in fact that it belonged to it and emanated from its property, that a man sells the products of his trade, and that it is the custom for him who takes thereof to pay.

Many were the opinions given, and finally came the judgment: since this man sells his foodstuffs and you and others buy them, you must pay his viands according to their value. If for the food he sells and of which he gives the useful 61 properties he is accustomed to take useful money, then since he has sold steam which is the vaporous part of his cooking, you, sir, must ring a piece of money, and it shall be understood that payment is satisfied by the sound that comes therefrom.

And the Sultan ordered that this judgment be observed17.


15  Apart from Alexandria in Egypt, there were of course A. Troas on the sea-coast near Troy and Issum, seaport on the Syrian coast. Many of the cities so-called soon lost their names.

16  lit.: smoke.

17  The story appears in slightly different forms in many languages. See Lelli, Favole; Pappanti, Passano ed I novellieri in prosa.

[For a later German version, c. fifteenth century, here on this site: Eulenspiegel’s Pranks. — Elf.ed.]


Here it is told of a fine judgment given by the slave of Bari in a dispute between a townsmen and a pilgrim

A townsman of Bari went on a pilgrimage, and left three hundred byzantines18 to a friend on these conditions: I shall make my journey as God wills, and should I not return you will give this money for the salvation of my soul, but if I return 62 within a certain time, you shall return me the money, keeping back what you will. The pilgrim went on his pilgrimage, came back at the established time, and demanded his byzantines back.

His friend said: tell me over the pact again. The wanderer told it over again. You say well, quoth the friend: ten byzantines I give back to you, and two hundred and ninety I keep for myself.

The pilgrim began to get angry. What kind of faith is this? You take away from me wrongfully what is mine.

The friend replied calmly: I do you no wrong, but if you think I do, let us go before the governors of the city. A law-suit ensued.

The Slave of Bari was the judge,19 and heard both sides. He formulated the argument, and to him who held the money he said: give back the two hundred and ninety byzantines to the pilgrim, and the pilgrim must give you back the ten you 63 handed him. For the pact was so; what you want you will give to me. Therefore the two hundred and ninety which you want, give them to him, and the ten you do not want, take them.


18  Ancient gold money of the Eastern Empire of about the same value as a ducat. It changed naturally in the course of the centuries.

19  According to Malaspina, the Slave of the East was “an idiot or almost one, unlettered and unread, but of great natural talent, wit and wisdom”. Ambrosoli, on the contrary, asserts the he was a certain Michele Schiavo who was a Greek governor of Bari in the tenth century.


Here it is told how Master Giordano was deceived by a false disciple of his

There was once a doctor whose name was Giordano, and he had a disciple. A son of the king fell ill. Master Giordano went to him, and saw that the illness could be cured. The disciple, in order to injury his master’s reputation, said to the father: I see that he will certainly die.

And so disputing with his master, he made the sick youth open his mouth, and with his little finger inserted poison therein, making a great show to understand the nature of the illness from the state of the tongue.

The son died.

The master went away, and lost his reputation, while the disciple increased his.


Then the master swore that in future he would only doctor asses, and so he made physic for beasts and the lower animals20.


20  The source of the tale is Liber Ipocratis de infirmitibus equorum.


Here it is told of the honour that Aminadab did to King David, his rightful lord

Aminadab, general and marshall of King David, went with a vast army of men by order of King David to a city of the Philistines21.

Amindab hearing that the city would not resist long, and would soon be his, sent to King David, asking if it were his pleasure to come to the field of battle with many men, for he feared the issue of the battle.

King David started out hurriedly and went to the battlefield, and asked his marshall Aminadab: why have you made me come here?

Aminadab answered: Sire, since the city 65 cannot resist longer, I wished that the glory of the victory should come to your person rather than that I should have it.

He stormed the city, and conquered it, and the glory and honour were David’s22.


21  The city was Rabba and belonged to the Ammonites.

22  See Kings II, chap. xii. The compilator has mixed up the names, confounding Aminadab with Joab. The errors or variations occurring in the Biblical themes treated in the Novellino have given rise to the conjecture that the stories were taken from a book of Jewish legends, the Midras Rabbolh written not later than the VIIIth century.


Here it is told how Antigonus reproved Alexander for having a cythera played for his delight

Antigonus, the teacher of Alexander, when one day the latter was having a cythera played for his delight, took hold of the instrument and cast it into the mud23 and said these words: at your age it behoves you to reign and not to play the cythera. For it may be said that luxury debases the body and the country, as the sound of the cythera 66 enfeebles the soul24. Let him then be ashamed who should reign in virtue, and instead delights in luxury.

King Porrus25 who fought with Alexander ordered during a banquet that the strings of a player’s cythera should be cut, saying: it is better to cut than to play, for virtue departs with sweet sounds.


23  Other readings have “fire”.

24  The passage is obscure, but the above would seem to be the meaning.

25  An Indian king conquered by Alexander and afterwards turned into a friend and ally.


How a king had a son of his brought up in a dark place, and then showed him everything, and how women pleased him most

To a king a son was born.

The wise astrologers counselled that he should be kept ten years without ever seeing the sun. So he was brought up and taken care of in a darksome cavern.

After the time had gone by, they brought him 67 forth, and they set before him many fine jewels and many lovely girls, calling each thing by its name, and saying of the maidens that they were demons. Then they asked him which thing pleased him the most of all. And he answered: the demons.

At this the king marvelled mightily, saying: what a terrible thing is the tyranny and beauty of women!26.


26  The story appears in slightly different form in several authors. See the Decameron, Cavalca’s Lives of the Fathers of the Desert.


How a land steward plucked out his own eye and that of his son to the end that justice might be observed

Valerius Maximus in his sixth book narrates that Calognus27 being steward of some land, ordered that whoever should commit a certain crime, should lose his eyes.

When a little time had passed, his own son fell into this very crime. All the people cried out for 68 pity, and he remembering that mercy is a good and useful thing, and reflecting that no injury must be done to justice, and the love of his fellow citizens urging him, he provided that both justice and mercy should be observed.

He gave judgment and sentence that one eye be taken from his son, and one from himself28.


27  Other readings have Seleucus.

28   Appears also in Cicero, De Legg. II, 6.


Here it is told of the great mercy wrought by Saint Paulinus the bishop

Blessed Bishop Paulinus was so full of charity that when a poor woman asked a charity for her son who was in prison Blessed Paulinus replied: I have nothing to give to you, but do this. Lead me to the prison where your son is.

The woman led him there.

And he put himself in the hands of the prison-keepers29 saying to them: give back her son to this good woman, and keep me in his stead.30.


29  The word in the original is tortori, literally torturers, though it means, of course, the keepers of the prison.

30  Also in Saint Gregory, Dialogues, III, 1.



Of the great act of charity which a banker did for the love of God

Peter31 the banker was a man of great wealth, and was so charitable that he distributed all his possessions to the poor.

Then when he had given everything away, he sold himself and gave the whole price to the poor32


31  Peter or Piero.

32  The story appears in Cavalca’s Vite dei Santi Padri, and also in other forms elsewhere.


Of the judgment of God on a baron of Charlemagne

Charlemagne came to the point of death while fighting the Saracens in the field, and made his testament.

Among other things he left his horse and his arms to the poor. And he left them in charge of a baron of his that he should sell them, and give the money to the poor.


The baron kept them, however, instead of obeying. Charlemagne appeared to him and said: you have made me suffer eight generations of torment in purgatory on account of the horse and the arms which you received. But thanks be to God, I now go, purged of my sins, to heaven and you will pay dearly for your act.

Whereat, in the presence of a hundred thousand people, there descended a thunderbolt from sky, and bore the baron away to hell33.


33  Biagi’s version is a little more elaborate. The origin of the tale is to be found in the Pseudo-Turpino. See Gaspary, History of Italian Literature.


Of the great generosity and courtesy of the Young King

We read of the valour34 of the Young King35 in rivalry with his father through the offices of Beltram36.


This Beltram boasted that he had more sense than anyone else. Whence many judgments came into being, some which are written here.

Beltram plotted with the Young King that he should persuade his father to give him his share of inheritance. And so insistent was the son that he gained his request. And he gave all away to gentlefolk and to poor knights, so that nothing remained to him and he had no more to give away.

A court player asked him for a gift. He replied that he had given all away, but this only is left me,37 a bad tooth, and my father has promised two thousand marks to whomsoever shall prevail on me to have it taken out. Go to my father and make him give you the marks, and I will draw the tooth from my mouth at your request.

The minstrel went to the father and had the marks, and the son drew out his tooth.

On another occasion it happened that he gave two hundred marks to a gentleman. The seneschal or treasurer took the marks, and laid a carpet in a room and placed the marks 72 beneath it, together with a bundle of cloth so that the whole should seem larger.

And the Young King going through the room, the treasurer showed him the pile saying: Sire, see how you dispense your gifts, You see what a large sum is two hundred marks, which seem nothing to you.

And the Young King looked and said; that seems little enough to me to give to so valiant a man. Give him four hundred, for I thought two hundred marks much more than they seem now I see them38.


34  Bontà in original — goodness.

35  The young King was Henry, eldest son of Henry II of England. He was often known under this title.

36  Beltram, or Bertrand di Born.

37  This change from indirect to direct narrative occurs frequently in the Novellino.

38  The story of the tooth appears also in Conti di antichi cavalieri.


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