Cesarino di Berni, a Calabrian, quits his home in company with a lion, a bear, and a wolf, and coming to Sicily, finds the king's daughter about to be devoured by a monster. This beast, Cesarino, by the aid of his three animals, destroys, and gets to wife the princess, after having rescued her.
IN turning over the records of ancient and modern history I always remark that prudence holds a place as one of the most illustrious and noteworthy of the virtues with which human beings are endowed, for the man who uses prudence aright may call back his past experience and plumb the stream of current events, and, with his judgment matured thereby, pro vide for the future. Wherefore, seeing that I have to take my turn of story telling this evening, I will give you a little fable which has been recalled to my mind by the one recently told by Arianna, and, although it is neither very laughable nor very long, it may perchance conduce in some measure to your amusement and your profit as well.
In Calabria there lived not long ago a poor woman of low estate, who had an only son called Cesarino di Berni, a youth of great discretion, and one endowed more richly with the gifts of nature than with those of fortune. It chanced on a certain day that Cesarino left his home and went into the country, and, having come into a deep and thick-leaved forest, he made his way into the midst of it, enchanted by the verdant beauty of the place. As he went on, he came upon a rocky cavern, in which he found in one place a litter of lion cubs, in another a litter of bear cubs, and in another a litter of wolf cubs, and having taken one each of these, he carried them home with him, and with the greatest care and diligence brought them up together. The animals in course of time came to be so much attached one to another that they could not bear to be apart, and, besides this, they had become so tame and gentle with the people of the house that they hurt nobody. But, seeing that they were by nature wild animals, and only domesticated by chance, and that they had now attained the full strength of maturity, Cesarino would often take them with him to follow the chase, and would always come back laden with the spoil of the woods and rejoicing at his good luck. Thus by his hunting Cesarino supported both his old mother and himself, and after a time the old woman, marvelling at the great quantity of game which her son always brought home with him, asked him by what means he contrived to en trap so fine a spoil, whereupon Cesarino answered that he got his game by the help of the animals which she must often have seen about the house. At the same time he begged her to be careful not to let this secret be known to anyone, lest the animals should be taken away from them.
Before many days had passed it happened that the old mother foregathered with a neighbour of hers whom she held very dear, not merely because she was a worthy upright woman, but because she was kindly and obliging as well. And as they were talking of this thing and that, the neighbour said: 'Neighbour, how is it that your son manages to take such great quantities of game?' And in answer thereto the old woman, forgetful of her son's warning, told her all she asked, and, having taken leave of her, went back to her home.
Scarcely had the old mother parted from her neighbour when the husband of the latter came in, whereupon the wife went to meet him with a joyful face, and told him all the news she had just heard from her old neighbour. The husband, when he had learned how the matter stood, went straightway to find Cesarino, and, having fallen in with him, thus ad dressed him: 'How is it, my son, that you go so often a-hunting, and never offer to take a comrade with you? Such behaviour is hardly in agreement with the friendship which has always subsisted between us.' Cesarino, when he heard these words, smiled somewhat, but made no answer to them, and on the morrow, without saying a word of farewell to his old mother or to his well-beloved sisters, he left his home, taking with him his three animals, and went out into the world to seek his fortune.
After he had travelled a very long distance, he came into Sicily, and there he found himself one day in a solitary uninhabited spot in the midst of which stood a hermitage, which he approached, and, after having entered it and found it void, he and his three animals bestowed themselves to rest therein. He had not been there very long when the hermit to whom the place belonged came back, and when he entered the door and saw the animals lying there, he was over come with terror and turned to fly. But Cesarino, who had watched the hermit's approach, cried out: 'My father, be not afraid, but come into your cell without fear, because all these animals you see are so tame and gentle that they will in no way do you any hurt.' Whereupon the hermit, assured by these words of Cesarino, went into his humble cell. Now Cesarino was much worn out by the length of his journeying, and, turning to the hermit, he said, ' My father, have you here by chance a morsel of bread and a drop of wine you can give me to bring back a little of my strength?' 'Assuredly I have, my son,' replied the hermit, 'but not, perhaps, of quality so good as you may desire.' Then the hermit, when he had flayed and cut up some of the game he had brought in with him, put it upon a spit to roast, and, having got ready the table and spread it with such poor viands as were at hand, he and Cesarino took their supper merrily together.
When they had finished their meal the hermit said to Cesarino: 'Not far from this place there lives a dragon whose poisonous breath destroys and annihilates everything around, nor is there found anyone in the country who can withstand him, and so great is the ruin he works that before long all the peasants of the land will be forced to abandon their fields and fly elsewhere. And over and beyond this, it is necessary to send him every day the body of some human being to devour, for, failing this, he would destroy everything far and near. By a cruel and evil fate the one chosen by lot for to-morrow is the daughter of the king, who in beauty and worth and goodness excels every other maiden now alive, nor is there aught to be found in her which is not worthy of the highest praise. Of a truth, it is a foul mischance that so fair and virtuous a damsel should thus cruelly perish, and she herself all the while free of any offence.'
Cesarino, when he had listened to these words of the hermit, thus replied: 'Let not your courage fail you, holy father, and fear not that evil will befall us, for in a very short time you will see the maiden set free.' And the next morning, almost before the first rays of dawn had appeared in the sky, Cesarino took his way to the spot where the dreadful monster had made his lair, taking along with him his three animals, and, having come there, he beheld the daughter of the king, who had already been conveyed thither to be devoured by the beast. He went straightway towards her, and found her weeping bitterly, and comforted her with these words: 'Weep not, lady, nor lament, for I am come hither to free you from your peril.' But even as he spake, behold! the ravenous dragon came forth with a mighty rush from its lair, and with its jaws open wide made ready to tear in pieces and devour the delicate body of the beautiful maiden, who, smitten with fear, trembled in every limb. Then Cesarino, stirred by pity for the damsel, took courage and urged on the three animals to attack the fierce and famished monster before them, and so valiantly did they grapple with him that they bore him to the ground and slew him. Whereupon Cesarino, taking a naked knife in his hand, cut out the tongue from the throat of the dragon and put it carefully in a bag; then, without speaking a word to the damsel whom he had delivered from this horrible death, he took his leave and went back to the hermitage, and gave the holy father an account of the deed he had wrought. The hermit, when he understood that the dragon was indeed destroyed, and the young maiden set at liberty, and the country delivered from the horrible scourge which had lately vexed it, was wellnigh overcome with joy.
Now it happened that a certain peas ant, a coarse worthless rogue of a fellow, was passing by the spot where lay stretched out the dead body of the fierce and horrible monster, and as soon as he caught sight of the savage fearsome beast he took in hand the knife which he carried at his side and struck off therewith the dragon's head from the body, and having placed the same in a large bag which he had with him, he took his way towards the city. As he went along the road at a rapid pace he overtook the princess, who was going back to the king her father, and, having joined company with her, he went with her as far as the royal palace and led her into the presence of the king, who, as soon as he saw his daughter come back safe and sound, al most died from excess of gladness. Then the peasant with a joyful air took off the hat he wore on his head and thus addressed the king: 'Sire, I claim by right this fair daughter of yours as my wife, seeing that I have delivered her from death.' And having thus spoken the peasant, as a testimony of his words, drew forth from his bag the horrible head of the slain monster and laid it be fore the king. The king, when he beheld the head of the beast, once so fierce but now a thing of nought, and considered in his mind how his daughter had been rescued from death and his country freed from the ravages of the dragon, gave orders for universal rejoicings, and for the preparation of a sumptuous feast, to which should be bidden all the ladies of the city. And a great crowd of these, splendidly attired, came to offer to the princess their good wishes for her delivery from death.
It happened that, at the very same time when they were getting ready all these feasts and rejoicings, the old hermit went into the city, where the news soon came to his ears how a certain peasant had slain the dragon, and how as a re ward for his deed and for the liberation of the king's daughter he was to have the damsel to wife. When the hermit heard this he was heavily grieved, and putting aside for the time all thought of seeking for alms, he returned forthwith to his hermitage and made known to Cesarino the thing he had just heard. The youth when he listened to this was much grieved, and having brought forth the tongue of the slain dragon, he exhibited it to the hermit as a trustworthy proof that he himself had destroyed the wild beast. When the hermit had heard his story, and was fully persuaded that Cesarino was the slayer of the dragon, he betook himself to the presence of the king, and having withdrawn his ragged cowl from his head, he thus spake: 'Most sacred majesty, it would in any case be a shameful thing if a malignant rascally fellow, one for whom a hole in the ground is a home good enough, should become the husband of a maiden who is the very flower of loveliness, the example of good manners, the mirror of courtesy, and richly dowered with every virtue; but it becomes much worse when such a rogue seeks to win this prize by deceiving your majesty, and by declaring the lies which issue from his throat to be the truth. Now I, who am very jealous of your majesty's honour, and eager to be of service to the princess your daughter, am come here to make it manifest to you that he who goes about making boast of having delivered your daughter is not the man who slew the dragon. Wherefore, O most sacred majesty, keep open your eyes and your ears likewise, and listen to one who has your welfare at heart.'
The king, when he heard the bold utterances of the hermit, was fully assured that the old man's words were those of faithful and devoted love, and gave heed to them forthwith. He is sued orders at once that all the feasts and rejoicings should be countermanded, and directed the hermit to tell him the name of the man who was the true rescuer of his daughter. The hermit, who wished for nothing better, said: 'Sire, there is no need to make any mystery about his name; but if it will fall in with your majesty's wishes, I will bring him here into your presence, and you will see a youth of fair aspect, graceful, seemly, and lovable, gifted with manners so noble and honest that I have never yet met another to equal him.' The king, who was already greatly taken with this picture of the young man, bade the hermit bring him into his presence straightwav. The hermit, having gone out of the king's palace returned to his cabin and told Cesarino what he had done.
The youth, after he had taken the dragon's tongue and put it in a wallet, went, accompanied by the hermit and the three animals, to the king's presence, and kneeling reverently on his knees, spake thus: 'Most sacred majesty, the fatigue and the labour were indeed mine, but the honour belongs to others. I and these three animals of mine slew the wild beast in order to set your daughter at liberty.' Then the king said: 'What proof can you give me that you really slew this beast, inasmuch as this other man has brought to me the head there of, which you see suspended here?' Cesarino answered: 'I do not ask you to take the word of your daughter, which would assuredly be an all-sufficient testimony. I will simply offer to you one token, of a nature no one can gainsay, that I and no other was the slayer of the beast. Examine well the head you have in your keeping, and you will find that the tongue is lacking thereto.' Where upon the king caused the dragon's head to be examined, and found it without a tongue; so Cesarino, having put his hand in his bag, drew forth the tongue of the dragon, which was of enormous size- so great a one had never before been seen-and showed clearly thereby that he had slain the savage beast. The king, after having heard confirmation from his daughter, and on account of this production of the tongue by Cesarino, and divers other proofs which were offered, commanded them at once to take the villainous peasant and to strike off his head from his body. Then with great feasts and rejoicings the nuptials of Cesarino and the princess were celebrated.
When the news was brought to the mother and the sisters of Cesarino that he had slain the wild beast and had rescued the princess, and that moreover the damsel had been given him to wife, they resolved to travel to Sicily, and, having taken passage in a ship, they were quickly borne thither before a favourable wind, and met with a very honourable reception. But these women had not been long in the land before they grew so envious of Cesarino's good fortune that they took thought of nothing else than how they might work his downfall, and their hatred, which increased day by day, at last stirred them to cause him to be privily murdered. Then, having considered in their minds divers deadly strata gems, they determined at last to take a bone and to sharpen the point thereof, then to dip the same in venom, and to place it in Cesarino's bed with the point upwards, so that, when he should go to rest and throw himself down on the bed, as is the wont of young people, he should give himself a poisonous wound. Having thus determined, they set to work to carry out their wicked design forthwith. One day, when the hour for retiring to rest had come, Cesarino went with his wife into the bedchamber, and, having thrown off all his clothes and his shirt, he lay down on the bed and struck his left side against the sharp point of the bone. And so severe was the wound, that his body forthwith swelled on account of the poison, and when this reached his heart he died. His wife, when she saw that her husband was dead, began to cry aloud and to weep bitterly, and the courtiers, attracted by the noise, ran to the chamber, where they found Cesarino dead. Having turned the corpse over and over again, they found it inflated and black as a raven, and on this account they suspected that he had been killed by poison. When the king heard what had occurred, he caused the strictest inquisition to be made; but, having come upon no clue, he gave over the search, and, together with his daughter and the whole court, put on the deepest mourning, and ordered the body of Cesarino to be buried with the most solemn funeral rites.
While these stately obsequies were being carried out, the mother and sisters of Cesarino began to be sore afraid lest the lion and the bear and the wolf (when they should find out that their master was dead) might scent out the treachery that had been used against him; so, having taken counsel one with another, they hit upon the plan of sealing up the ears of the three animals, and they managed to carry out their design. But they did not seal up the ears of the wolf so close but that he was able to hear a little with one of them as to what had been going on. So, after the dead body had been taken to the sepulchre, the wolf said to the lion and the bear, 'Comrades, it seems to me that there is bad news about.' But these two, whose ears were completely stopped, could not hear what he said, and when he repeated the same words they understood him no better. But the wolf went on making signs and gestures to them, so that at last they knew what he wanted to tell them, name ly, that someone was dead. Then the bear set to work, with his hard crooked claws, and dug down into the lion's ears, deep enough to bring out the seal. And the lion did the same to the bear and to the wolf.
As soon as they had all got back their hearing, the wolf said to his companions, 'It seems to me as if I had heard men talking of our master's death.' And seeing that their master came not as was his wont, to visit them and to give them their food, they held it for certain that he must be dead. Whereupon they all left the house together, and came straight to the spot where the dead body was being borne to the grave. As soon as the priests and the others who were assisting at the funeral saw the three animals, they all took to flight, and the men who were bearing the corpse put it down and fled likewise, but some there were of firmer courage who wished to see the end of the affair. Immediately the animals began to work hard with their teeth and claws, and before long they had stripped the grave-clothes off their master's body, and, having examined it very closely, found the fatal wound. Then the lion said to the bear, 'Brother, now is the time that we want a little of that grease which you carry in your inside; for if we shall be able to anoint our master's wound therewith, he will straightway recover.' Then answered the bear, 'No need to say another word. I will open my mouth as wide as I possibly can; then you may put your paw down my throat, and bring up as much grease as you will want.' So the lion put his paw down the bear's throat - the bear drawing himself together the while, so that he might be able to thrust it deep down when he had extracted all the grease he wanted, he anointed his master's wound there with on all sides, and within and with out. When the wound had become somewhat softened he sucked it with his mouth, and then thrust into it a certain herb the virtue of which was so potent that it immediately began to work upon the heart, and in a very short time re kindled its fire. Then Cesarino little by little recovered his strength and was brought back to life.
When those who were standing by saw this marvel they were struck with amazement, and straightway ran to the king to tell him that Cesarino was re stored to life. The king, when he heard these tidings, went to meet him, accompanied by his daughter, whose name was Dorothea; and they embraced him and kissed him in the joy they felt over this unexpected ending of the affair, and with gladsome feasting and rejoicing led him back to the king's palace.
The news of Cesarino's resurrection soon came to the ears of his mother and sisters, and disturbed them mightily; nevertheless, feigning to be overjoyed thereat, they repaired to the palace to felicitate him with the rest; but, as soon as they came into Cesarino's presence, his wound immediately threw out a great quantity of blood. On seeing this they were struck with confusion, and their faces turned pale, whereupon the king, growing suspicious of their guilt, bade his guards seize them and put them to the torture. Which having been done, they confessed all; so the king forthwith commanded them to be burned alive, and Cesarino and Dorothea lived long and happily together, and left children to rule in their stead. The three animals, until they died in the course of nature, were tended with the utmost care and affection.
When Alteria had come to the end of her story, she gave her enigma in the following words without waiting for any further instruction from the Signora:
I bear myself a woman's name;
Alteria's enigma was so clever and ingenious that no one could lay claim to the least notion of its meaning, save only she who had recited it. So when she saw that they could not bring their wits together enough to disentangle it, she said: "My enigma, ladies and gentle men, is intended to represent the night, which has a woman's name, and has a brother who is called the day. When the day dies the night is born, and again, the night being dead, the day revives. She and the day can never go on their course together, and she flies like a bird, never suffering herself to be captured. And again, she is always with us at sup per time."
Everyone was pleased at this pretty interpretation of the subtle enigma, and it was declared by all to be a work of great learning. But in order to prevent the present night from flying away and being overtaken by the day, the Signora gave the word to Eritrea to go on with her story at once, and the damsel gaily began to tell the following fable.
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.