Maestro Gasparino, a physician, by the virtue of his art works a cure on certain madmen.
THE burden which the Signora has laid upon me, in bidding me relate to you a fable, is indeed a very heavy one, forasmuch as in my opinion this office pertains to ladies rather than to men; but, since it is her desire and the desire of this honourable and worshipful company as well, that I should play the story-teller, I will set to work with all my strength to satisfy your wishes, and though I may not succeed in pleasing you entirely, I hope I may divert you somewhat by what I am going to tell you.
In England there once lived a certain man, very rich, and the head of his family, who had only one son, a youth named Gasparino, whom he sent in course of time to Padua in order that he might apply himself to the study of letters. The youth, however, took very little care to acquire any knowledge of literature, and much less in endeavouring to surpass his fellow-students in the pursuit of learning, seeing that he employed almost the whole of his time in playing cards and other games of chance, which he practised diligently in the company of certain dissolute companions of his who were entirely given up to lascivious and worldly pleasures. In this course of life he consumed the whole of his time, and his money as well, and, instead of studying medicine and the learned works of Galen, as he was in duty bound to do, he spent his energies in mastering the game of bowls, in playing cards, and in indulging himself in such practices as alone gave him delight.
When five years had passed away he returned to his native country, where upon all those who met him saw clearly enough that during his course of study he had gone backwards instead of for wards. He wished, forsooth, to make believe to be a Roman, but all his friends set him down as a barbarian and a Chaldean, and after a little he fell into such ill repute amongst all the people of the city in which he dwelt, that men pointed at him with their fingers, so that he be came a byword and the talk of the town. I leave you to picture to yourselves how great must have been the grief of his unfortunate father, who in any case would much liefer have lost all his money, and his daily bread as well, than have laid aside the pride which he had nourished of making his son a man of mark, and was now in a fair way to lose both the one and the other. Wherefore, one day, the father, hoping by this means to assuage somewhat the grief which tormented him, called his son to him, and having opened the chest in which he kept his money and his jewels, he gave the youth, who of a truth was in no way deserving of such bounty, the half of all his goods, saying to him, 'My son, take this your share of your paternal heritage and get you gone from my presence, so that I may see your face no more; for I would rather be a childless man than have living with me a son who brings shame upon me through his infamous life.'
In less time than it takes me to tell the son laid hands on the money and jewels, and, readily obeying his father's injunction, took his departure. Having travelled a great way from his home, he came one day to the outskirts of a forest, near which he perceived a mighty river. On this spot he set to work to build a great house of marble, fitted with bronze doors, and round about it he caused the river to flow on all sides, cutting certain trenches and watercourses in such wise that he could make the water rise and fall according as it best suited his purpose. Thus he dug some of the trenches in such manner that the water could be made to rise therein to the full height of a man, in others it would rise up to a man's eyes, in others to his throat, in others to his breast, in others to his navel, in others to his thigh, and in others to his knees. To the side of each of these trenches he caused to be attached an iron chain, and over the entrance door of this great house he set up a tablet with the following inscription written thereon, 'The place where madmen are cured.'
In the course of time the fame of Gasparino's house spread abroad, and it became known to all men; so that from various quarters madmen were brought thither to be cured in such vast numbers that it might have been said to rain mad men. When they were brought in the master of the place caused them to be put in the trenches he had made, according to the degree of the madness which afflicted them. Some of them he treated with blows, others with vigils and fasts, others needed only to breathe the fine pure air round about, and thus, little by little, he would bring them back to their right minds. In front of the entrance door in the spacious courtyard he was accustomed to keep some of the mad men, and men of weak intellect, whose wits had been disordered through being struck by the exceeding hot rays of the sun.
It chanced one day that a huntsman passed by this spot carrying a hawk upon his fist, and accompanied by a great number of hounds. As soon as the madmen who were in the courtyard caught sight of him, they were greatly astonished at the spectacle of a man thus riding by with his hawks and his dogs, and one of them straightway began to question him as to what might be the nature of the bird which he carried on his fist, and whether it was a trap or a snare wherewith to catch other birds, and for what reason he kept and nurtured it. The huntsman at once answered, 'This bird which you see here is called a hawk, and is very rapacious by nature; these other animals are dogs, who go a-searching for certain fat birds, very good to eat, called quails. When they have found them, this hawk captures them, and then I eat them.' Whereupon the madman questioned him again, saying, 'Now tell me, I pray you, what is the price you paid for these dogs, and for the hawk, and for the horse which you are riding?' The huntsman answered, 'I bought my horse for the sum of ten ducats, my hawk cost me eight ducats, and my dogs twelve. Besides this, they cost me twenty ducats every year for their nutriment.' 'Now, prithee, tell me,' said the madman, 'and tell me truly, how many quails do you catch in the course of the year, and what is the value of the same?' The huntsman made answer, 'I take two hundred or more, and they are worth to me at least two ducats.' Then the madman (who in this matter was assuredly no madman, but rather one of good sense) raised his voice and cried, 'Get you gone quickly, madman that you are! You spend fifty ducats a year in order that you may gain two, and in this reckoning you take no account of the time you lose in getting them. Fly, for God's sake, fly! For if the master of this place should chance to find you here, he will certainly put you into one of these trenches, where you will be drenched and half drowned. I myself am a poor fool, but you forsooth are a bigger fool than I am - bigger, indeed, than the worst of the madmen in this place.'
The fable told by the Signor Ambassador won the praise of all the company, although it partook little of the nature of a fable, being a record of sober truth, seeing that huntsmen as a rule surpass all other fools in their folly; that is to say, a man, when he has not enough to live upon, loses his time and his money as well in following the chase. The Signor Ambassador, not wishing to fall behind any of the others in his task of story-telling, next propounded a choice enigma in the following words:
Say, have you heard them tell
The graceful enigma set by the Signor Ambassador gave the company no less delight than the fable he had told to them, for it presented to the minds of the ladies a suggestion of unknown delight, and, though all guessed its meaning, nevertheless not one of the company was disposed to declare it, but prudently waited until the ambassador himself should unfold it. After a while, he, with a smiling face, declared that the answer to it was the unicorn, an animal which, although it is treacherous and immoderate, holds the estate of virginity in such high esteem that it will hide its head in a damsel's lap, and let itself be there killed by the huntsman. The Signora, who was sitting by the side of the ambassador, now began her fable in the following wise.
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.