Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

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Night the Tenth:
Fifth Fable:
Rosolino da Pavia the Criminal

Rosolino da Pavia, a murderer and a thief, having been captured by the officers of the Podestà, is tortured, but confesses nothing. But afterwards, when he sees his innocent son put to the question, he straightway confesses, whereupon the praetor grants him his life, but banishes him the country. Rosolino becomes a hermit, and thus saves his soul.

HOW great may be the ardent and clinging love of a father towards a right-minded and well-conducted son no one can fully understand save the man who has children of his own, for the father not only strives to give the child every thing that may be necessary for his bodily sustenance, but will often put his own life in jeopardy, and shed his blood for the exaltation and enrichment of his son. This saying I will prove to you to be true in the short fable which I propose now to relate to you; and, as this story will rather move your pity than your laughter, I think it will be of no little service for your instruction and learning.

In Pavia, a city of Lombardy famous both as a seat of learning and as the spot wherein is buried the most holy corpse of the venerable and divine Augustine, the smiter of the heretics, the lamp and effulgence of the Christian religion, there lived, not a great time ago, a certain lawless and wicked man, a murderer and a thief, one prone to every evil deed, and known to men by the name of Rosolino. And for the reason that he was a rich man, and the head of a faction, many citizens attached them selves to him and followed him. When ever he took to the road, he despoiled, and robbed, and killed, now this man, and now that. Besides this, the whole region round about held him in great dread on account of the numerous following he had. Though it happened that Rosolino was the author of so much wrong-doing, and though many com plaints were lodged against him, nevertheless there was not a single citizen gifted with courage enough to prosecute him, for so powerful was the countenance and protection granted to him by divers knavish and evil-minded men, that the complainants, much against their will, were almost forced to abandon any process they might have taken against him.

This man had one child, a son who in his nature was the complete opposite to his father, and led a life pure and worthy of all praise. Often, with soft and loving words, he would reprove his father for his wicked and ungodly life, and gently beseech him that he would now make an end of his nefarious career, drawing for him pictures of the yawning gulfs of peril amongst which he continually moved. But, to tell the truth, the wise and dutiful admonitions of the son proved to be altogether fruitless and vain, seeing that Rosolino only applied himself every day more assiduously to his infamous calling, and every week it was reported that such and such a man had been robbed, or that such and such a man had been killed. Wherefore, seeing that Rosolino was obstinately set in persevering in his ill courses, and becoming day by day more barbarous and wicked, it pleased God that he should at last be captured by the officers of the praetor and led back to Pavia securely bound. Being brought before the judges, he was accused of all manner of premeditated wickedness, but all the charges brought against him he impudently denied.

After the praetor had listened to his words, he straightway commanded the officers to bind Rosolino with strong chains and to throw him into prison, at the same time directing that he should be carefully watched, and allowed for his sustenance three ounces of bread and three ounces of water a day. At this point there arose a great contention amongst the judges whether or not they should now condemn him upon the charges against him; but, after spending much time in wrangling, it was decided by the praetor and his court that Rosolino should be put to the torture in order that by this means they might extort a confession from his mouth. When the following morning had come, the praetor commanded his officers to bring Rosolino into his presence. He laid before the prisoner once more the charge against him, and he was once more met with a complete denial of the same. The praetor perceiving what the fellow's humour was, gave orders that he should at once be bound for the strappado,1 and then hoisted up on high. But, although Rosolino's frame was several times cruelly shattered by the tormentors, they were unable to make him confess anything concerning his offences; nay, rather, with the most robust courage he cried out, heaping all manner of abuse upon the praetor and upon his court. He declared they were wretches, thievish knaves and villains) adding that they themselves deserved the gallows a thousand times on account of the evil lives they led, and on account of the injustice they worked as administrators of the law. Not content with this, he went on to assert that he him self was a man of worth and good life, and that no one in the city could with justice bring any charge against him.

The praetor, after having taken the severest measures with Rosolino over and over again, and having left untried no form of torture in order to make him con fess, found that he could extract nothing from the prisoner, who stood as firm in his resolve as a solidly-built tower, and mocked at the efforts of his torturers. This thing caused the praetor great trouble; because, although he was well assured of Rosolino's guilt, he could not condemn him to death unless he should first confess. It happened that during the night, while he was reflecting upon the wickedness of Rosolino's nature, and likewise considering his steadfast determination, he found himself at fault, because he could not use any farther torments upon him, seeing that he had already cleared himself of the charges while under torture. Therefore he determined on the morrow to assemble his court and propose a certain course of action which I will now explain to you.

When the following day had come, and the court had met, the praetor addressed the other judges, and said: 'Excellent and learned sirs, of a truth the courage and firmness of Rosolino, the accused, is very great, but we must not forget that his villainy is greater still, and that he would rather die under torture than confess to any of the charges made against him. Therefore it seems to me expedient (supposing that you all are of my mind) that we should, as a last resource, make trial of a certain method, which is this: Let us send our officers to fetch Bargetto, the son of Rosolino, and then, in the presence of the father, put the son to the torture. Then, when Rosolino shall see his innocent son under the hands of the tormentors, he will readily enough confess his crimes.'

This proposition of the praetor won the approval of the rest of the court; wherefore the praetor at once gave command that Bargetto should be seized and bound and brought into his presence. When this had been done, and Bargetto haled before the praetor the latter preferred certain charges against him and Bargetto, who was innocent of all crime, made answer that he knew nought of the matters of which they spoke. The praetor, when he heard this, straightway caused him to be taken to the torture chamber, and then, after he was stripped naked, he was put to the question in the presence of his father. Rosolino, seeing that they had taken his son a prisoner, and were now delivering him to torments, stood as one confounded, with his heart sharply wrung with grief. Thereupon the praetor (with Rosolino present all the while) commanded that Bargetto should be hoisted up on high, and, this done, he began to put many questions to the youth, who, being entirely innocent, knew not what to answer thereto. Then the praetor feigning to be greatly angered, said, 'I will soon let you know what I mean,' and with these words he gave command that Bargetto should be strung up still higher. The wretched youth, who now felt the greatest pain and anguish, cried out in a loud voice, 'Have mercy, Signor praetor have mercy, for I am innocent, and have committed none of these crimes! 'Thereupon the praetor, hearing him lament and weep in this fashion, said, 'Confess then forthwith, and do not let yourself be thus torn in pieces. We know all from beginning to end, but we wish to hear the facts from your own mouth.'

To this Bargetto answered that he had no knowledge of what the praetor was talking about, and that there was no truth in the charges that were made against him. Hereupon the praetor who had already instructed the chief torturer as to what he should do, made a sign to him to let Bargetto fall from top to bottom without mercy. Bargetto, on account of the words of the judge, and of the agony which he suffered in his arms, feeling, moreover, that he could not endure any torture sharper than that which he now felt, made up his mind to confess to any crime they might charge him with, al though he might be entirely innocent thereof; so he cried out, 'Sirs, let me come down, and I will confess everything in full.' Then, when the cord had been relaxed little by little, and Bargetto stood once more in the presence of the praetor and his court and of his own father, he confessed that he had indeed committed all the crimes which were laid to his charge.

Rosolino, as soon as he listened to the false confession of his son, took counsel with himself concerning what had been done, and at last, stirred up by love of his son, and by the spectacle of his innocence, said, 'Sirs, I beg you torture no more this son of mine, but let him go free, for he is innocent, and I am guilty.' Then, without being put farther to the question, Rosolino confessed his crimes one and all.

The praetor, after he had listened to the confession of Rosolino, and had caused it to be fully written down and ratified, said to the prisoner (as he was very curious to know the cause which had led him to confess), 'Rosolino, you endured the sharpest torture with great courage, and for a long time we were unable to extract any confession from you, but as soon as you saw your son Bargetto put to the question, and heard the confessions made by him, you changed your mind, and, without being put farther to the torture, you confessed all your crimes. Now, if God will give you grace, and have mercy upon your soul, I would gladly learn what was the reason of this change in your purpose.' 'Ah!' replied Rosolino, 'is it possible that your worships cannot divine this?' The praetor said, 'Of a truth we cannot.' Rosolino answered, 'If it is indeed true that you know it not, I will tell it to you, if you will deign to lend me your attention. You, noble sirs, merciful humane men and lovers of justice, you have seen and had exhibited to you clear proof of my endurance under torture; but this was nothing to marvel at, because then you were torturing what was nothing else than a dead body. But when you put Bargetto, my only son, to the question, I then felt you were torturing a living thing.' Then said the praetor 'You must be a dead man yourself if you say that your flesh is dead.' 'No,' replied Rosolino, 'I am not dead; neither is my flesh dead, but living; because when you put me to the torture I suffered nought, for the reason that this flesh which you now see (the same you tortured a short while ago) is not my flesh at all, but the flesh of my dead father, decayed and already fallen to dust. But when you set to torment my son, you tormented my own flesh, because the flesh of the son is verily and indeed the flesh of the father.'

When the praetor heard this reasoning of Rosolino, he was powerfully moved to grant him free pardon for all his offences, but because justice would not suffer that such great crimes as his should go unpunished, he decided to send him into perpetual banishment; not, indeed, that his wickedness deserved a punishment so light as this, but because of the love which as a father he bore to his son. Rosolino, when it was made known to him how light a sentence had been passed on him, lifted his hands to heaven and gave thanks to God, promising Him with many oaths to put off his evil ways and live a holy life. Rosolino straight- way departed from Pavia, and betook himself to a certain hermitage, where he passed a life of great sanctity, and did so great penance for his sins that, by the grace of God, he was held worthy of salvation, leaving a memory which from that time to this present day has been serviceable as an example for the good and as a warning to the wicked.

When Cateruzza's fable was finished, the Signora directed her to let follow her enigma at once, and the damsel, with a gentle voice, spake thus:

In a flowering meadow green,
A lovely gentle thing is seen;
Gorgeous are its robes to view,
Bright with yellow, green, and blue.
It wears upon its head a crown,
And proudly paces up and down;
Its splendid train it raises high,
And seeks its love with jealous cry;
But gazing at its feet below,
It shrieks aloud for shame and woe.

Cateruzza's enigma was understood by the greater part of the company to refer to the peacock, the bird dedicated to the goddess Juno, which, with its feathers studded with eyes, and painted in various colours, gazes round about upon all, and bears itself proudly, but when it beholds its soiled and muddy feet, it lets down its gorgeous tail and stands stricken with shame.

As soon as the enigma had been explained, all the company rose to their feet and took leave of the Signora, promising her that they would all return on the following evening according to their wont.

1. The strappado was chiefly used as a military punishment. The offender was drawn up to the top of a beam and then suddenly let fall.
Return to place in story.


Next: Night the Eleventh: Proem

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.

Available from

Fairy Godfather: Straparola, Venice, and the Fairy Tale Tradition by Ruth B. Bottigheimer

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