Don Pomporio, a monk, is charged before his abbot with excessive gluttony, and saves himself from punishment by telling a fable which hits somewhat sharply the weaknesses of the abbot himself.
I WOULD fain have been left free this evening and absolved from the burden of telling a table, because in truth I find I cannot recall to memory a single one which will be likely to please you. But, in order to avoid any interruption of the rule which we have followed heretofore, I will do my best and relate one which, though you will hardly gather much pleasure therefrom, may nevertheless be worth listening to.
In times now long past there lived in a famous monastery a certain monk, a man of mature age, of some mark, and a huge eater; indeed, he was wont to boast that it would be a light task for him to eat at a single meal a well-fattened quarter of veal and a pair of capons to boot. This good monk, who was called by name Don Pomporio, had a platter which he jestingly termed his oratory of devotion, and this platter was big enough in size to hold seven good ladlesful of soup. And over and above his due allowance of food, he made it his habit every day, both at dinner and at supper as well, to empty this platter, filled with broth or soup of one kind or another, without letting a single drop go to waste. Besides this, all the leavings which remained as overplus on the plates of the other monks, whether they were many or few, were gathered up as gifts to the oratory and put to the uses of devotion. And however foul and dirty they might be, it mattered nought to him, forasmuch as no scraps of any sort came amiss for the purpose of his oratory, and he devoured them as greedily as if he had been a famished wolf. The other brethren of the monastery, when they remarked the unbridled gluttony of this man and his inordinate rapacity, were mightily astonished at the baseness of his nature, and would often essay to remonstrate with him, now with kindly and now with sharp-tongued speeches, over his detestable courses. But the more the brethren busied themselves in trying to bring him into a better mind, the more there grew within him the lust to add to the heap of scraps for his oratory, and he took no heed whatever of any words of counsel or reproach. I must not neglect to say that this swinish monk had one solitary virtue, that is to say, he never lost his temper, and his fellows might hurl at him what hard words they liked without rousing in him any spite or animosity.
But one day it came to pass that they carried an accusation against him before the father abbot, who, as soon as he heard what the charge against him was, caused him to be summoned into his presence and thus addressed him: 'Don Pomporio, there has been laid be fore me the testimony of your brethren as to your behaviour, and this, besides being in itself a crying shame to you, begets great scandal in the monastery.' To this speech Don Pomporio made reply: 'Tell me then what is the charge that my accusers make against me. I am in sooth the meekest and the most peacefully-minded monk now abiding in your monastery. I never interfere with anyone or cause any disturbance whatever, preferring to pass my days in tranquillity and quiet, and if per chance I should suffer aught of injury at the hands of another, I bear my trouble patiently, and give no cause of offence therefor.' Then said the abbot: 'But does this seem to you to be a seemly and praiseworthy thing? You have a certain trencher which you use, not like a decent monk, but rather like a dirty, stinking pig. Into this you gather, over and above your own allowance of food, all the fragments which your brethren leave as superabundant, and this mess you devour without consideration and without shame, not as if you were a human creature, or a man vowed to religion, but rather as if you were some famished wild beast. Can not you see, gross beast and good-for-nothing as you are, that all the others in the monastery look upon you as a buffoon?' Don Pomporio answered: 'And for what reason, good father abbot, ought I to he ashamed? Where in all the world shall be found any shame nowadays, and who has fear or respect for the same? If indeed you will give me leave and licence to speak freely, and without fear of consequences, I will answer you; but if you refuse this boon, I will simply yield you my obedience and keep silence.' Then said the abbot, 'Say anything you like, for I am con tent to listen to you.' Don Pomporio, assured by these words, then spake as follows: 'Father abbot, we in sooth are in the condition of men who carry dossers upon their backs, that is to say, we can see what lies upon our neighbour's shoulders, but not what lies upon our own. I, if I had the chance of filling my belly with rich and delicate food after the fashion of those who it in high places, would assuredly eat vastly less of the stuff which I now swallow; but, seeing that I eat rough simple food which is very easily digested, it seems to me in no wise a shameful thing to eat a good quantity of it.' The abbot, who was wont, together with the prior and with certain others of his friends, to feast sumptuously off choice capons and pheasants and godwits, took good heed of the words which the monk had spoken, and, fearing lest he should publish abroad what he evidently knew about the table kept by his superior, excused him forthwith, enjoining him at the same time to feed in the manner which pleased him best, and telling him that it would be his own loss if he should not discover the art of good eating and drinking.
Thereupon Don Pomporio went out of the abbot's presence carrying his par don with him, and henceforth from day to day redoubled his allowance, heaping up his sacred oratory of devotion with more and more good things. The other monks still went on with their reproaches against him on account of his bestial greed; so one day, by reason of their censures, he mounted the pulpit of the refectory and wittily related to them the following fable: 'In times now long past it chanced one day that Wind and Water and Shame foregathered in the same hostelry. Then, as they sat at meat together and talked, now of this thing and now of that, Shame spake in these words to Wind and Water: "When, O brother and sister! have we ever before met together so peacefully as we are at this present moment? " To this Water made answer: "Of a truth Shame speaks with reason, and forsooth God above only knows when again will be found another opportunity for our meeting; but in case I should desire at any time to find you, O brother, tell me whereabouts your dwelling lies." The Wind said: "My sister, if you should wish ever to come to me, and to take your pleasure in my company, you need only search in the midst of every open place of outgoing, and in every narrow street, and you will quickly find me, for in such places as these I make my home. And you, Water, where do you live?" "I abide," said Water, "in the lowest lying marshes, and amongst the watercourses, and however dry and parched the earth may be you will always find me there. And now tell me, Shame, where is your home?" "Of a truth," said Shame, "I cannot tell; forasmuch as I am a wretched creature and rejected by all. If you look amongst the great ones of the earth, and seek me, you will assuredly never find me there, because they never desire to behold me, and make their jests upon me. If you search for me amongst the people of low estate, you will see that they are so debased that they care little for me. If you go in quest of me amongst women, whether they be matrons, widows, or maids, you will find your labour equally vain, seeing that all of these flee from me as from a monstrous thing. If you would see me amongst monks, or priests, or nuns, I shall be found nowhere near them, for it is their wont to drive me away with sticks and scars; and so it comes to pass that up to this hour I have not been able to light upon any dwelling-place where I can abide continually. Where fore, unless I may be suffered to bestow myself with you, I shall be as one deprived of every hope." Wind and Water, when they listened to this speech, were strongly moved to compassion and let Shame live in their company. But before many days had passed there arose a great tempest, and the wretched creature, vexed both by the wind and the water, and not finding any place of rest, was sunk and overwhelmed in the sea. From this time forth I have sought to find her in divers places and I am still seeking her, but I have met with no trace of her, neither have I heard tidings of her from any man I have encountered. And for the reason that I have not been able to find her, I trouble myself little or nothing on her account; so I will live the life which seems good to me, and you can do the same, forasmuch as in this our day such a thing as Shame is not to be found in all the world.'
Although Diana in her opening words had led the company to expect little merit in her story, it won nevertheless the favourable notice of the company. But the damsel, who was free from ambition and little disposed to care for praise of any sort, at once set forth her enigma in these terms:
A goddess great, and fair, and strong,
The meaning of this enigma was divined, if not by all, by the greater part of the listeners. They declared this fair strange lady to be nothing else than gluttony, which weakens the bodies of all those who eat too much, and uproots every sort of virtue, and also is the cause and source of death itself, seeing that the tale of those who die on account of gluttony is vastly greater than that of those who fall by the sword. Isabella, who was sitting by Diana's side, remarked that they had now brought to a fitting end the discussion concerning the enigma, so she at once began to tell her fable in the following words.
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.