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 Eleventh:
Fifth Fable:
Frate Bigoccio
and Gliceria

Frate Bigoccio becomes enamoured of Gliceria, and, having put on lay attire, fraudulently takes her to wife; then, having gotten her with child, forsakes her, and returns to his monastery; where upon the superior, hearing of this deed, causes her to be honorably married.

DEAR ladies, I have heard it said many a time and often, that virtue is surely fated to come to ruin through persistence in deceitful courses - a saying which may well be illustrated by what happened to a certain monk, who was held by all to be a man of piety and wisdom. This same man, having been seized with love for a young damsel, whom he ultimately took to wife, was found out in his transgression, and forced to do s penance therefor, while the damsel herself was honourably bestowed in marriage. All this you will be able to understand from the story I am going to tell.

In Rome there once lived a certain Frate Bigoccio born of high and noble family. He was a very young man, and one furnished with many graces of per son and gifts of fortune. But it chanced that the unfortunate youth became so hotly inflamed with love for a damsel of exceeding beauty that he came perilously near to make an end of his life by reason of his amorous passion. He could get no rest either by day or by night; h grew ghastly and lean in seeming; neither physicians nor drugs worked him any benefit; he took pleasure in nothing; neither the hopes of youth nor the prospect of the abundant wealth he might hope to inherit yielded him any solace. On this account (and for the reason that he let his thoughts ever run on in this same mood, now conjuring up one fantastic remedy for his ills and now an other) he resolved at last to write and address to the superior of his monastery certain forged letters, demanding for himself leave to quit the place. Having thus made up his mind, he set to work to concoct the letters as aforesaid, making believe by means of the fraudulent words therein that they came from the hand of his father, who was very sick and infirm. He wrote in these terms: 'Reverend father, forasmuch as it is the pleasure of God, the supreme and all- powerful, to put an end to my life, and seeing that death, who is now very near to me, will not long delay to fetch me away, I have determined before I shall take leave of this world to make my last will and testament, and to appoint as my heir my only son, who has taken vows in the monastery of your reverence. And because there is left to me in my old age no other son but this one alone, whom I desire most earnestly to see once more, and to embrace and to kiss and to bless before I die, I beg you that of your kindness you will let him come to me with all speed; otherwise, be your reverence well assured that, dying in despair, I shall go straightway to the realms of Tartarus.'

The letter having been duly presented to the superior of the monastery, and the leave to depart therein prayed for obtained, the aforesaid Bigoccio took his way to Florence, where his father dwelt, and, after he had received from his father a good store of gems and money, he purchased therewith many costly garments and horses and all other effects necessary for the maintenance of a household. Then he departed for Rome, where he hired for himself a house close beside that of his lady-love, attiring himself every day in some fresh suit of silken clothes of varied fashion. In the course of a few days he contrived to become intimate with the father of the beloved damsel, and bade him to come several times as a guest to his house, presenting to him as a gift now this thing and now that. After some long time had passed in this wise, Bigoccio found a fitting and opportune season for the forwarding of his design; for one day, when the two were talking together after they had dined concerning divers matters, and especially of their business affairs (as is the common practice of men at such times), the love- stricken youth, in the course of conversation, told his companion how he was strongly inclined to take a wife. Furthermore, he said that, having ascertained his guest to be the father of a daughter exceedingly fair and graceful, and dowered with every virtue under the sun, it would give him the supremest pleasure were he to win this fair damsel to wife, and be firmly united to her by the necessary bond. He declared at the same time that he was desirous of this union solely on account of the many and excellent reports which had been brought to him concerning the lady.

The father of the damsel, who was a man of somewhat low condition, made answer that his daughter was not of the same rank, or of like condition of life to Bigoccio; moreover, that he must bear in mind, in celebrating nuptials with her, how she was poor and he rich, she of plebeian, he of noble birth. Seeing, however, that he was so ardently set on having the damsel about his house, the father agreed to give her to him, not to fill a wife's place so much as a servant's. Then said the young man,' Of a surety it would not be seemly that so dainty a maid should come to me in the office of a servant, because, by reason of her many excellent gifts, she is well worthy of a man of far nobler lineage than mine. However, if it should be your pleasure to give her to me, not for a handmaid, but for my beloved wife, I will take her gladly, and I will ever accord to her that real fellowship which is the due and lawful estate of a true matron.' In the end the two companions came to an agreement, and the nuptials were celebrated; so that Frate Bigoccio got to wife the young maiden he desired.

When the night was come the husband and wife went duly to bed, and after a little, in the course of their mutual endearments, Frate Bigoccio perceived that Gliceria his wife had put gloves upon her hands; therefore he said to her, 'Gliceria, take off the gloves from your hands and put them aside; forasmuch as it is not seemly that you should be thus gloved while we are abed together.' To this Gliceria answered: 'Oh! my good husband, I could never bring myself to touch a man at such times as these with my naked fingers.' Frate Bigoccio, when he heard these words of his wife, said nothing, but occupied himself as a bridegroom should. The next evening, when the pair were making ready for bed, Frate Bigoccio took secretly some hawk's jesses with a lot of little bells affixed thereto, and having tied these around his middle, he got into bed thus accoutred, without letting his wife perceive what he had done, and began at once to caress and embrace and kiss her, she being gloved as on the pre ceding night. Now because she had by this time acquired a taste for the delights of married love, she made sign to her husband that she was at his disposal, and forthwith, to her great amazement, be came aware of the presence of the hawk's jesses. Whereupon she cried out,' Oh! my husband, what thing is this? Surely it was not here last night.' To this Frate Bigoccio replied, 'What you feel are hawk's jesses, such as men use when they go a-fowling.' Then turning to wards his wife he made as if he would embrace her, but poor Gliceria found that the pleasure she longed for was not to be hers. After a little she cried out, 'Ah! husband, these hawk's jesses are not at all to my taste.' Frate Bigoccio answered, 'If you find hawk's jesses displeasing to you, I can tell you that the gloves you wear are just as much an of fence to me.' And so it happened that from this moment the pair agreed by mutual consent to cast aside both gloves and jesses, and henceforth they took much pleasure one with another, so that in course of time Gliceria became with child.

For the space of a year they lived together as husband and wife, and, when the time of Gliceria's delivery was drawing nigh, Frate Bigoccio laid hands secretly on all the best and richest things in the house and took to flight, taking these chattels with him and leaving his wife pregnant. Then, after he had put on his former habit, he went back to the monastery he had quitted; and his wife, having been brought to bed of a son, waited for a long time in vain the return of her husband.

It happened that Gliceria was in the habit of going now and then to the chapel of the before-named monastery to hear mass, and one day, by chance-or rather by the will of God, who governs all things she discovered that the Frate who did the office was no other than her husband, and recognized him forth with. Whereupon, with all the speed she knew how to use, she went to find the superior of the monastery, and told him, with the greatest care and circumspection, all the adventures which had befallen her, as are written above. The superior, when he had been informed of all the facts, and had satisfied himself of the truth of them, at once issued a process against Frate Bigoccio, and, after he had signed it, sent it on to the general of the congregation, who thereupon bade them lay hold of the Frate and make him do such a penance as he should re member for the rest of his days. Then from the moneys of the monastery they gave Gliceria a dowry and caused her to be secretly married to another, and, having taken possession of the child, they had it brought up at their own charges.

Here the gracious Vicenza brought to an end her fable, which all the listeners without exception praised heartily, and found much to divert them therein, especially when they were told how the lady with her gloved hands discovered the jesses with the little bells attached thereto. And because the hour was al ready late, the Signora directed Vicenza to let her enigma be given forthwith, and she, waiting for no farther order, set it before the company in the following terms:

From everyone I something take,
But on myself no claim I make.
Mark well my nature. If you gaze
Into my face I mock your ways:
For if you sorrow, I am sad;
But if you smile, you make me glad.
Because I tell truth from a lie,
Men call me wicked, false, and sly;
Strange saying this, but true I ween.
So I, to let it clear be seen
That truth nor honesty I lack,
Will never tell you white is black.

Not a single one of all the company had wit enough to say what Vicenza's enigma was designed to mean, seeing that the true sense thereof was so carefully hidden under the rind. But Vicenza, like a sensible maiden, gave the solution in the following terms, in order that it might not be left unguessed: "The meaning of my enigma," she said, "is the mirror into which men, and ladies as well, are wont to gaze. This same thing catches the likeness of everyone who looks into it, but not its own. It does not show you one thing for another, but shows you to be that which you are in truth."

The enigma was indeed ingenious, and quite as ingenious was the solution. But, for the reason that the whitening dawn was now beginning to appear, the Signora gave leave to everyone to go home to rest, with the understanding, however, that they should all return well equipped on the following evening, forasmuch as it was her wish that every one of the company should tell a short fable, completed as hitherto by an enigma. And to this they all gave their assent.


Next: Night the Twelfth: 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.

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