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 Twelfth:
Fifth Fable:
Pope Sixtus IV and

Sixtus, the Supreme Pontiff,1 by a single speech enriches a servant of his named Gierolomo.

THE tales hitherto told by these our sisters have been so charming and witty, that I fear greatly lest I may fail to please you on account of the meanness of my skill when compared with theirs. How ever, I will not on this account hold aloof from the pleasant custom we have here adopted, and although it happens that the fable which I am about to relate to you has been already told by Messer Giovanni Boccaccio in his 'Decameron,' 2 still he has not there set it forth exactly after the manner in which I propose to treat it, seeing that I have added thereto somewhat which may serve to make it more acceptable to your taste.

Pope Sixtus IV., a man of Genoese extraction, was born at Savona, a city on the seacoast. Before becoming Pope he was known by the name of Francesco da Rovere, and in his youthful days he was sent to school at Naples, where amongst his mates was a certain boy, a citizen and compatriot of his own, called Gierolomo da Riario.'3 To this young Da Rovere Gierolomo was faithfully devoted, serving him continually both while he was a schoolboy and afterwards when he became a monk and a prelate. And when he was elevated to high episcopal office, this same man still continued instant in his service, and grew old in the faithful discharge of his duties. When Sixtus had been elevated to the highest pontifical dignity through the sudden death of Pope Paul, he followed the ordinary custom and called over in his mind the names of all his servants and attendants, bestowing upon them rewards which were munificent, and in some cases even beyond reason, with the exception of this same Gierolomo, who in return for his long years of faithful service, and for all his too great love and devotion, got no other recompense than forgetfulness and ingratitude. Which thing, I opine, must rather have happened to him through some malice of fortune than for any other reason. On this account the said Gierolomo, overcome with grief and disappointment, desired to ask leave of the Pope to quit the place and return to his own country; so, after he had gone down on his knees in the presence of His Holiness, the licence he desired was granted to him. So great indeed was the ingratitude of the Pope towards his old servant, that he refused to give him either money, or horses, or varlets for the journey; and furthermore (which was the worst blow of all) he required Gierolomo to render a strict account of his stewardship - a thing which happened likewise to Scipio Africanus, who publicly displayed to the Roman people the wounds he had received in the ser vice of the state, and found himself afterwards rewarded with exile as a guer don for his great deeds.

It has been said with great truth of avarice that it works its greatest evil when it shows itself ungrateful. Gierolomo, after he had departed from Rome, went towards Naples, but as he journeyed not a single word fell from his lips until he came to a certain pond which lay by the roadside. As he was passing by this there came upon the horse he was riding the desire to stale; whereupon the beast eased nature then and there, thus adding water to water. And when Gierolomo marked this, he said: 'Of a truth I see that you are like the Pope my patron, who, following no righteous rule in what he does, has let me go away to my home without recompense of any sort, only giving me his gracious leave and licence as the payment for my long labour in his service. Is there in sooth a more miserable thing in all the world than the man from whom benefits drop away and perish, arid upon whom injuries of all sorts close round on every side?' The servant who was in Gierolomo's company stored up these words in his mind, reckoning that in patience the speaker of them surpassed Mutius, and Pompey, and Zeno. And journeying in this wise they came to Naples.

Then the servant, after he had taken leave of Gierolomo, returned to Rome, and related to the Pope word by word everything that had happened, and Sixtus, when he had well considered the words which had been told to him, bade the servant go back straightway to Naples with a letter commanding Gierolomo to return and present himself before the Pope under pain of excommunication. Gierolomo, when he had read the Pope's letter, rejoiced greatly, and took his way back to Rome as quickly as he might. The Pope, after Gierolomo had duly kissed his feet, commanded him to pre sent himself on the following day in the senate, at the hour of the council, after the trumpets had sounded. In the mean time the Pope had caused to be made two very beautiful vases of exactly the same size, and in one of these he placed a great number of pearls, rubies, sapphires, and other precious stones and jewels of very great value, while in the other there was nothing but pieces of metal, both vases when filled being exactly the same weight.

The next morning, when the priests, bishops, presidents, ambassadors and prelates had come into the senate house and the Pope had taken his seat upon his tribunal, he caused the two aforesaid vases to be brought into his presence, and then called Gierolomo before him and addressed the assembly in the following words: 'My dear and well-beloved sons, this man whom you see before you has been faithful and obedient to my commands beyond all others who have ever served me, and I cannot praise him too highly for the manner in which he has borne himself since the first years of his service. Wherefore, in order that he may now obtain the due reward for his devotion, and no longer have occasion to complain of his fortune and of my ingratitude, I will give him the choice between these two vases, allowing him to be his own arbiter and to take and enjoy the one upon which his choice may fall.'

After listening to those words of the Pope, Gierolomo set himself to choose one or other of the vases, but the luck less and unhappy wight, after considering and reconsidering, fixing now upon one and now upon the other, ended (as bad luck would have it) by choosing the one which was filled with pieces of metal. When the other vase was uncovered and Gierolomo saw the great treasure which it contained, how it was filled with emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, rubies, topazes, and other kinds of precious stones, he was overcome with amazement and was like to die of vexation. The Pope, when he observed how disappointed and grief-stricken the poor fellow looked, exhorted him straightway to confess himself, declaring that this thing must have happened to him as a punishment for certain sins which he had neglected to acknowledge. Then, after Gierolomo had duly confessed himself and received absolution, the Pope imposed upon him as a secret penance, that for a whole year he should come every day at a fixed time into the senate (into which place it was lawful for no man to enter unbidden), where the private affairs of kings and of states and of great nobles were debated, and then and there whisper an Ave Maria into the Pope's ear. Sixtus also gave command that every door at which Gierolomo might present himself should straightway be opened to him, and that he should have continued free access to the papal presence with all the honour that it was possible to bestow.

Therefore, when the next day had come, Gierolomo, without saying a word to anyone, went into the Pope's presence, bearing himself in worshipful wise, but having at the same time a certain air of presumption about him. Having gone up beside the seat of Peter, he straightway did the penance which had been imposed upon him. As soon as he had finished whispering into the Pope's ear he turned and went out, whereupon all those who were present were mightily astonished at what they had seen, and the ambassadors wrote tidings to their sovereigns saying that Gierolomo was the real Pope, and that all questions coming before the senate were dealt with and settled as he willed. By reason of this report Gierolomo very soon gathered together a great sum of money made up of the many gifts which were sent to him by all Christian princes, so that in the whole of Italy there was to be found no man richer than he. And in this wise it came to pass that by the end of his year of penance he found himself well content with his lot, and the possessor of great riches. Next the Pope created him a noble of Naples and of Forli, and of many other cities besides. So Gierolomo, from the low condition in which he was born, became distinguished and illustrious in the same way as Tullus Hostilius and David, who spent their youth in feeding sheep, but later on in their lives the one reigned over and doubled the extent of the Roman empire, and the other became the chief of the kingdom of the Jews.

As soon as the fable told by Isabella had come to an end in the fashion they all desired, Molino rose to his feet and said: "There was no need, Signora Isabella, for you to excuse yourself in any way at the beginning of your fable, seeing that it has far outdone all those which have been told this evening." To this Isabella replied: "Signor Antonio, if I indeed believed what you say to be the honest truth I should be greatly elated, because in that case I should have won the praise of him who is praised by all. But because you say this by way of jest, I am content to remain in my ignorance, leaving the glory of success to these my sisters, who are of more brilliant parts than I am." But, in order that the discussion might not be farther prolonged, the Signora made a sign that Isabella should let follow her enigma at once; whereupon the damsel, still elated with the praise given her, spake thus:

Good sir, there was a time I trow,
Which time is gone for ever now;
Wherefore the thought comes back to me,
That once I something gave to thee
Which I had not. Now I decline
To give it, though 'tis really mine.
Hard must it be for you to dream
Of what I was, what now I seem;
How once I had what now I lack.
Therefore into the streets go back,
And call on one who lacks it too,
And beg her give this boon to you.

Here Isabella brought her enigma to an end, and because it was one full of deep mystery, it was interpreted by the company in varying wise, but not a single one fully grasped its meaning. When Isabella perceived this, with bright and merry face she said: "With your leave, ladies and gentlemen, I will at once explain the meaning of the enigma which I have just recited to you. In sooth, it is intended to describe a love sick lady not yet married who was altogether subdued by the love of a certain gentleman. But after she was married to another she would have no more dealings with her lover, and on this ac count she persuaded him to take his way about the streets, seeking the love of those ladies who had no husbands."

The skilful solution of Isabella's subtle enigma delighted the company greatly, and they one and all praised it. But now already the crested cock had announced the coming of the bright morning; so the illustrious company took leave of the Signora, who, with a joyous face, begged them all to return in good time to the meeting-place on the following evening, and they one and all promised with the best grace to obey her.

1. Francesco della Rovere. He was born at Celle, a village near Savona, in 1414, became general of the Franciscan order, and was elected Pope, as Sixtus IV., on the death of Paul II., in 1471. He died in 1484.
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2. Decameron," x., I. Told by Boccaccio of Alfonso, King of Spain, and Ruggieri di Figiovanni. Straparola has added the concluding incident.
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3. According to Bayle there were other versions cur rent as to the relations between Della Rovere and Riario. Some held the latter to be the Pope's nephew, some his son; while others hinted at a more sinister Connection.
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Next: Night the Thirteenth: 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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