An ass escapes from his master, the miller, and comes by chance to a certain mountain, where he meets a lion, who asks of him what his name may be, whereupon the ass, by way of answer, inquires of the lion his name. The latter replies that he is the lion, while the ass proclaims that his name is Brancaleone [the clawed lion], and, having been challenged by the lion to give proofs of his valour, carries off in the end the honours of the contest.
THE diversity of human affairs, the vicissitudes of time, the manner of life of evil-minded men, ofttimes bring it to pass that what is beautiful seems to be ugly, and that what is ugly seems to be beautiful. On this account, if it should hap pen that in this fable which I propose now to relate to you there should be found aught in any way offensive to your ears, I beg that you will give me your pardon, reserving for some other occasion any punishment which you may consider to be my due.
In Arcadia, a region of the Morea which gets its name from Arcadius, the son of Jove, a land in which was first discovered the rustic woodland shepherd's pipe, there dwelt in times now long past a certain miller, a brutal and cruel fellow, and one so irascible by nature that it needed but very little provocation to produce in him a violent access of rage. This man was the owner of an ass with long ears and down-drooping lips, who, whenever he raised his voice, would make the whole plain re-echo with the sound of his braying. This poor ass, on ac count of the niggardly provender he got from the miller, both in eating and in drinking, was no longer able to undergo the hard work of the fields, or to endure the cruel beatings with the stick which his barbarous master was for ever inflicting upon him. Wherefore the wretched animal presented such a picture of lean and wasted misery that one could see nothing but his hide stretched over his miserable bones. One day it happened that the poor ass, exasperated beyond endurance by the many and heavy blows which were rained upon him every day by his cruel master, and by the scant supply of food he received, took flight from the miller, and went off bearing his pack-saddle still on his back.
The wretched beast travelled a long way on the road, and when he was almost worn out with hunger and fatigue he came to the foot of a very delightful mountain, which had little about it that was savage or wild, but seemed more like a fair and cultivated domain. The ass, remarking how green and beautiful it was, deter mined to ascend this mountain and to spend there all the rest of his life. Whilst he was deliberating over this question, he cast his eyes round about on all sides to make sure that he might not be ob served of anybody, and, not seeing anyone round about who was likely to trouble him, he courageously mounted the hill, and with the greatest delight and pleasure began to take his fill of the sweet herbage which grew there, at the same time thanking God who had delivered him from the hands of that wicked and cruel tyrant his master, and had guided him to this place, where was to be found such abundant and excellent food for the sustenance of his wretched life. Whilst our good ass was thus living upon the mountain, feeding every day upon tender and fine grass, and having all the while his pack-saddle upon his back, lo and behold! a savage lion issued from a dark cave and saw the ass. Having looked at him for some time very attentively, he was mightily astonished that this beast should have been arrogant enough to dare to come up upon this mountain without his licence and knowledge. And for the reason that the lion had never before beheld an animal of this sort, he was afraid to go near him, and the ass, when he saw the lion, felt every hair on his body bristle and stand on end. Be cause of the sudden fear that seized him, he left off eating straightway, and did not dare to stir from the place where he stood feeding.
The lion, having plucked up a little courage, came forward and said to the donkey, 'What is it that you do here, my good friend? Who gave you leave to mount into these parts? And who may you be?' To these questions the ass, with rising pride and with arrogant spirit, said, 'And who may you be your self who venture to ask me who I am?' The lion, greatly amazed at hearing this retort, answered, 'I am the king of all the animals.' 'And what may your name be?' inquired the ass. The other answered, 'Lion is my name. But you, what do men call you?' At these words the ass, putting on a still more braggart air, said, 'And I am called Brancaleone [clawed lion].' When the lion heard this speech, he said to himself, 'By his name, in truth, this animal before me may well be more powerful than I am myself.' Then he said to the ass: 'Ser Brancaleone, both your name and your manner of speech show tome clearly that you are more puissant and stronger withal than I am. But nevertheless it would please me greatly that we two should make certain trials of our prowess, one against the other.' At these words the valour of the ass in creased mightily, and, having turned his hinder parts towards the lion, said: 'Do you see this pack-saddle, and the piece of artillery I carry under my tail. Be sure if I were to give you a sample of its powers you would straightway die with fright.' And as he spake thus he gave a couple of kicks high in the air and at the same time let off divers crackers which were so loud that they set the lion's brain in a whirl. The latter, when he heard the resounding noise of the donkey's kicks, and of the cracking bombardment of his field-piece, fell in sooth into a fit of terror, and, because by this time evening was drawing near, he said to the ass: 'Good brother, it is in no wise my will that there should be any bandying of words between us, or that we should kill one another, seeing that there is in this world nothing that is worse than death. I would counsel, however, that we should both of us lay ourselves down to rest, and when the morrow shall have come we will meet, and then and there we will thrice make trial of our strength and prowess. Who ever of us two shall prove himself to be the worthier in these encounters shall remain the supreme lord and master of this mountain.' And so they agreed that it should be.
When the morning of the next day had come and the two competitors were duly met together, the lion, who desired especially to witness some proof or other of skill, said: 'Brancaleone, I am in sooth become filled with the warmest regard for you, and I shall know no rest until such time as I shall have seen some wondrous deed wrought by you.' Whereupon they set out on their way, and as they journeyed together they came to a certain gorge of the mountain, very wide and deep. Then said the lion: 'Good comrade, the time is now come when we may see which one of us can best leap over this gorge.' The lion, who was very strong and active, no sooner went up to the gorge than he found himself on the other side of it. Then the ass, presenting himself with a great show of boldness at the brink of the gorge, made an effort leap it, but in the course of his spring he fell right in the middle of the abyss, and there he remained suspended on a heap of up rooted timber, so that his fore part hung down on one side and his hind part on the other, thus leaving him in the greatest danger of breaking his neck. When the lion saw what had happened, he cried out, 'What is it you are doing, comrade?' but the ass, who for the moment had come to the end of his powers, made no reply. Whereupon the lion, fearing amain lest the ass should die, descended forthwith into the gorge and went to succour him. As soon as Brancaleone had been delivered from all pressing danger, he turned towards the lion with renewed arrogance, and heaped the most villainous abuse upon him that one creature could use to another. The lion, confounded beyond measure at what he heard, was filled with amazement, and demanded of the ass forth with what might be the cause of this savage outburst of abuse, considering that he had, out of the love he felt towards him, saved him from death. Hereupon the ass, in order to show that he was in sooth greatly angered, answered haughtily, 'Wretched knave that you are! Do you ask me why I thus abuse you? I tell you that you have robbed me of the greatest pleasure I ever felt in the course of all my life. You indeed must needs fancy that I was dying, whereas all the time I was enjoying the purest delight.' Then asked the lion, 'And what was this great de light of yours? ' The ass replied, 'I had bestowed myself carefully on the top of that wood, with one part of me hanging on this side thereof and the other on that, desiring the while to learn for certain which part of me weighed the heavier, my head or my tail.' 'Now, I promise you, on my faith,' said the lion, 'that for the future I will not interfere with you on any account, and as far as I can see and clearly understand, you will surely be the lord and sovereign of this mountain.'
Thereupon they once more set forth, and after a time came to a river, very wide and swift in its current. Then said the lion, 'My good Brancaleone, I would that we should both of us now make an exhibition of our prowess by swimming over this river.' 'I could think of no trial which I would more readily undertake,' said Brancaleone, 'but I will ask you to take the water first.' The lion, who was mightily ex pert as a swimmer, swam over the river with great dexterity, and, after he had crossed, he stood upon the bank of the stream and cried out, 'Comrade, it is now your turn to swim over.' The ass, when he perceived that he could in no way go back from his promise to face the trial, cast himself into the river, and swam in such fashion that, by the time he was come into the middle thereof, he was so greatly hampered by the whirling eddies of the water that he was borne along, now with his head uppermost, and now his feet, and sometimes sinking so deep in the stream that little or nothing of him was to be seen. The lion, looking upon this sight, and at the same time turning over in his mind the insulting words spoken by the ass, felt, on the one hand, that he dare not go to his rescue, and, on the other, the greatest fear lest he should be drowned if he were not succoured at once. Where fore, standing in debate between yes and no, he determined (let anything happen which might) to go to his aid; so, having plunged into the water, he swam up close to the donkey's side, and seized him by the tail, and dragged him along until he got him out of the water safe on shore. The ass, as soon as he found himself standing upon the river's bank and now in no danger from the threatening waves, flew into a violent passion, and, all inflamed with rage, cried out in a loud voice, 'Ah! wretch that you are, and loutish knave, of a truth I know not what holds me back from making play with my artillery and letting you have experience of something which you might not find entirely to your liking. You are indeed the plague of my life and the destroyer of all my pleasure. When, forsooth, unfortunate wight that I am, shall I find another delight as great as the one you have just taken from me 'On hearing this, the lion, now more overwhelmed with fear than ever, said, 'But, my good comrade, I feared horribly lest you should be suffocated in the stream, wherefore I swam out to you and gave you my aid, thinking thereby to render you a service which would please you, and not an of fence.' 'I bid you cease your prating at once,' replied the ass; 'but, first of all, there is one thing I want you to tell me. What gain, what advantage, have you reaped through your swimming across the river?' 'None at all,' answered the lion. Then the ass, turning towards him, said: 'Now look well here, and see whether, whilst I w in the river, I must not have found abundant diversion.' And with these words he shook himself violently, and straight- way from his ears, which were filled with water, there came forth a great quantity of little fishes and of other small water- beasts, which he showed to the lion, saying the while in a tone of grief and complaint, 'Now do you see what a huge mistake you have made? If you had only allowed me to go down to the bottom of the river, I should have had the greatest pleasure in capturing fish of a sort which would have made you stand aghast with wonder. Therefore, take care for the future that you molest me no more; for if you do we shall become foes instead of friends, and that assuredly will be the worse for you. Indeed, should I at any time appear to you to be dead, I do not wish that you should give yourself trouble on my account, for as much as that thing in me which may seem to you to be death will be in reality nought but contentment and life.'
Now the sun was already sinking beneath the horizon and making deeper and duskier the shadows on the earth, when the lion said to his companion that the time was now come when they ought to retire to rest, with the agreement that they should meet again on the following morning. And when another day had broken brightly the ass and the lion met as they had duly covenanted, and then and there settled that they would go to the chase, the one in this quarter, and the other in that, and afterwards, at a certain fixed hour, they should both return, and whichever of the two should then be found to have taken the greatest number of beasts of the chase should be adjudged to be the lord and master of the mountain. Forthwith the lion went in search of game, and in his hunting contrived to capture a great quantity of wild animals; but the ass, having found standing open the gate of a farm made his way into the same and came upon a vast heap of rye stacked in the midst of the court. He straightway went up to this, and ate thereof such a huge quantity that his belly had like to burst. After he had thus filled himself he returned to the spot where he had agreed to meet the lion, and lay down at full length, whereupon, through the crowding of his belly, his battery of artillery kept up a bombardment loud and long. It happened that a chough which was flying through the air above beheld the ass lying prostrate upon the earth and moving not a limb, wherefore the bird concluded that he must be dead, and, having cautiously approached him, began to peck at his buttocks. The ass, as soon as he felt the sharp beak of the chough at work upon his hinder parts, gave a quick twist with his tail and caught the chough between it and his rump, and thus crushed the life out of him.
A short time after this the lion came back to the appointed place, charged with the prey he had captured, and when he beheld the ass lying prone on the ground, he cried out and said to him: 'See, good comrade! here are the beasts of the chase which I have taken.' Then said the ass, 'Tell me now in what fashion did you contrive to capture them,' and the lion at once recounted to him what manner of venery he had followed. But the ass, breaking in upon his discourse, said, 'What a fool and witless loon you must be! You have half killed yourself with fatigue this morning, ranging round the thickets and the woods and the mountains, while I have never moved from this same place, and, as I lay upon the earth, have managed to catch with my tail and my buttocks such a vast quantity of choughs and of all sorts of animals that (as you may easily see) I have filled my carcass plentifully there with. This one here is all I now have left, and this I reserved on your behalf, wherefore I beg that you will accept it as a mark of my high esteem.'
At hearing these words of Brancaleone, the lion was more stricken with astonishment even than before, and, having accepted the gift of the chough for the respect he had for the ass, took it, and without uttering another word re turned to his own booty. Then, as he was making his way at full gallop through the forest (not without a certain fear in his heart), he met a wolf, who was also going along at a great pace. The lion hereupon said to the wolf, 'Goodman wolf, where are you going all alone and so fast?' The wolf replied,' I am bound on the execution of a certain business, which is of the highest moment to me.' Hearing these words, the lion sought to know what this business might be; but the wolf, as if he were in terror of his life, begged to be let go and not further delayed. Then the lion, perceiving the great peril into which the wolf was about to run, besought him earnestly that he would not go forward along that path; 'for,' said he, 'a little further on you will of a surety meet with Brancaleone, a very fierce and dreadful animal, who carries under his tail a certain piece of artillery which goes off with a mighty explosion, and ill-fated indeed is he who comes within its fire. Besides this, he bears upon his back a certain thing made of leather, which covers the greater part of his body. He is covered with grey hair, and works all manner of wonderful deeds, and is a thing of terror to all those who come near him.' But the wolf, who perceived clearly enough from the account given by the lion what manner of animal this was concerning whom the lion spake, cried out, 'Good gossip, I beg you not to be at all afeard, for of a surety this one you speak of is nothing more nor less than a donkey, the vilest beast that nature ever made, and one fit for nothing else than to carry heavy burdens and to be well belaboured with the stick. I alone, in the course of my life, have eaten more than a hundred of this sort. Let us, therefore, go on together, good gossip, with assurance, and you shall witness the proof of all I say.' Then said the lion, 'Good gossip, I have indeed no mind to go with you, but if you feel that you needs must go, go in peace.' Hereupon the wolf once more replied that there was no reason why the lion should have fear of aught, and the lion, when he perceived that the wolf stood quite firm in his contention, said: 'Since you wish so earnestly that I should be your companion in this enterprise, and since, furthermore, you give me full assurance that we shall run into no danger, it seems to me that it would be more prudent for us to approach him with our tails well knotted together, so that when we shall have come into his presence there may be no danger that one of us may run away and the other be left in his power.' Whereupon, after they had tied their tails tightly together, they issued forth to find Brancaleone.
The ass, who by this time had once more got up on his four feet and was cropping the grass, espied the lion and the wolf while they were yet far off, and straightway fell into such a fit of terror that he deliberated whether he should not take to flight. But the lion, who had pointed out Brancaleone to the wolf, said: 'There he is, good gossip. See, he is coming towards us. Let us not tarry here, for if we do, we shall of a surety both of us die.' The wolf, who by this time had seen the ass, and recognized what manner of beast he was, said: 'Let us stand our ground here somewhat, good gossip, and set your mind at ease, for I assure you that what we see over there is no other than an ass.' But the lion, whose fears seemed to grow greater every time he caught sight of Brancaleone, here turned tail and took to flight, and whilst he was thus fleeing through rough brambles and jumping now over one thicket and now over another, a sharp thorn struck him as he was leaping and tore out his left eye. When he felt the prick of the thorn, he at once imagined it to be caused by a shot from that terrible cannon which Brancaleone carried under his tail, and, coursing the while at the top of his speed, said to the wolf, 'Did I not tell you how it would be? Let us now fly for our lives. Do you not see that he has al ready shot out one of my eyes with his field-piece?' And quickening his pace every moment, he dragged the wolf along with him through sharp-piercing brambles, over scattered rocks, through thick woods, and other waste desolate places, till at last the poor wolf, all mangled and shattered, gave up the ghost.
After running some long distance the lion, deeming that they had by this time come to a place of safety, said to the wolf, ' Good gossip, now it seems to me that we might well untie our tails,' but to this the wolf answered nothing, and the lion, looking towards him, saw that he was dead. Wherefore, stricken with amazement, he said: 'Alas! did I not tell you the truth when I said that he would kill you? See what has befallen us through going to meet him. You have lost your life and I have lost my left eye. But it is better to have lost a part than the whole.' Then, having un tied the knotted tails, he left behind him the dead wolf and departed, dwelling hereafter in the caves of the rocks, while the ass remained lord and master of the mountain, upon which he lived joyfully for many years. And for this reason it happens that nowadays asses are always found inhabiting civilized and cultivated regions, and lions in deserted and savage places, forasmuch as the common beast, by his fraud and cunning, proved him self to be the master of the ferocious lion.
The fable told by Arianna in such becoming wise here came to an end, and although it was somewhat indifferent in matter and wanting in strength, still the fair and honourable company did not withhold their due meed of praise. And so that they might keep the same order which had been diligently observed upon every other evening, the Signora commanded her to set forth her enigma, and Arianna, without further hesitation, opened her lips as follows:
Rough, long, and round am I to sight,
This enigma which Arianna pro pounded won praise far warmer than did her fable, for the reason that it gave much more occasion for laughter, and was, moreover, interpreted by the men in a somewhat lascivious sense. The damsel, when she perceived that their ex position of it went far wide of the truth, said: "Signori, what this enigma of mine is intended to describe is the staff upon which our ladies are wont to embroider with a needle lace or any other delicate work. It is round and thick, and they have to hold it between the thighs when they are at work therewith. They turn it, handle it, prick it with their needles, and do with it whatsoever they will." This subtle interpretation of the enigma was highly praised by the whole company, whereupon Alteria, as soon as she saw that all were silent and waiting for her, rose from her seat and thus began.
Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.