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 Thirteenth:
Twelfth Fable:
King Guglielmo
and the Three Maxims of Maestro Gotfreddo

Guglielmo, King of Bertagna, being grievously afflicted by a certain malady, causes to be summoned all the physicians for the restoring and preservation of his health. One Maestro Gotfreddo, a doctor and a very poor man, gives him three maxims, by which he rules his life and recovers his health.

IN sooth those may well account themselves born under a lucky star, or even somewhat more than mortal, whose judgment naturally leads them to avoid with success all such things as are noxious, and to seek such things as may be most beneficial and profitable to them. But men of this sort, who are willing to observe certain rules in their manner of life, have in all times been hard to find, and nowadays there are very few of them left. Nevertheless, it happened entirely otherwise in the case of a certain king, who, having received from a physician three rules for the preservation of his health, regulated his life strictly thereby.

I think, nay, I am sure, gracious ladies, that you have never heard tell of the story of Guglielmo, King of Bertagna, who in his day had no peer either in prowess or in courtesy, and who was, as long as he lived, the special favourite of fortune. In a certain year it happened that this king fell grievously sick, but, being young and full of courage, he gave little thought to the malady; but, as his illness continued and grew worse from day to day, things came to such a pass that all hope of preserving his life was gone. On this account the king gave orders that all the physicians of the city should come together into his presence, and then and there freely give their opinions concerning his state. As soon as the will of the king had been made known, every one of the medical faculty, of whatever grade or condition he might be, repaired to the royal palace and presented himself before the king. Amongst this crowd of physicians there was one named Maestro Gotfreddo, a man of seemly life and of adequate learning, but very poor, and meanly clad, and shod still worse. And, forasmuch as he was so badly accoutred, he had not confidence enough to put himself for ward in an assembly of so many learned and illustrious men, but, through very shame, stationed himself behind the door of the king's chamber, where he could hardly be seen, and there he stood concealed, listening the while to all the opinions pronounced by the careful and learned physicians within.

As soon as all the physicians had come into the presence of the king, he thus addressed them: 'Most worthy and excellent doctors, I have summoned you all here into my presence for no other reason than to learn of you what may be the cause of the grave distemper which now assails me, and to beg of you that you will exercise all your skill and diligence in curing the same, giving me such remedies as my condition may re quire, and thus restoring me to my former health. And as soon as you shall have made me well again, you shall give me whatever rules may seem to you the most fitting in my case for the preservation of my health for the future.' To this the physicians made answer: 'Sacred majesty, to confer the boon of health is beyond our power. Power such as this lies only in the hands of Him who rules all things with His nod. Nevertheless, we will endeavour, as far as within us lies,, to supply you with every remedy which may possibly serve for the restoration of your health, and for the conservation of the same when you shall have recovered it.'

And hereupon the learned physicians began to dispute amongst themselves as to the source of the king's illness, and as to the remedies which they proposed to prescribe therefor, each one of them (as is the custom of the faculty) giving out his own opinion, citing the authority of Galen, of Hippocrates, of Avicenna, of Aesculapius, and of the other great doctors. The king, as soon as their opinions had been clearly set before him, happened to turn his eyes towards the door of the chamber, and caught sight of some sort of shadowy form which was there manifest. Whereupon he demanded of them whether there remained any one of their number who had not yet spoken. They answered him that there was none. But the king, who was fully assured that he had seen someone, said: 'If I am not a blind man, it is plain to me that there is something, I know not what, behind that door. Now what may this be ' To the king's question one of the learned doctors made answer: 'Est homo quidam,' making mock the while, and playing jests upon the poor physician, never considering that it often comes to pass that art is made the sport of art. Hereupon the king made Gotfreddo understand that he was to come into his presence, and he perceived that this man, ill clad as he was, was in truth a physician. He came forward, and, trembling with fear, bent himself down in humble reverence, and made a courteous obeisance to the king, who, after having first bidden him be seated with all due honour, asked him what might be his name. To this he made answer: 'Sacred majesty, my name is Gotfreddo.' Then said the king' Maestro Gotfreddo, you must needs have got sufficient intelligence of my condition from listening to the wrangling which these right worshipful doctors have made since they have come into my chamber, wherefore there is no necessity that the whole story should be told over again. Now tell me what you have to say concerning my illness.' 'Sacred majesty,' answered Gotfreddo, 'although I may, with due desert, style myself the meanest, the least learned, and the poorest speaker in all this gathering of venerable masters, by reason of my penury and of the low esteem in which I am held, nevertheless, in order to show myself obedient to the commands of your highness, I will labour with all the strength which in me lies to make clear to you the origin of your distemper, and to give to you a certain regimen and rule of life, by following which you will be able to ensure sound health for the future. You must know, gracious sire, that this infirmity of yours is in no sense a mortal one, seeing that it springs not from any fundamental element of your nature, but from some violent and unseen accident. This ailment, indeed, in like manner as it came suddenly upon you, shall suddenly dissipate itself. In order that you may re gain your former health, I ask no harder task of you than that you should be careful in your diet, taking at the same time a little of the flower of cassia for the cooling of your blood. If you will do this, in eight days you will be sound and well again. And when your health shall have been restored to you, you must, if you desire to keep yourself well for any long time, carefully observe these three precepts. The first is, that your head be always dry. The second is, that you keep your feet warm. The third is, that in taking your food you follow the ex ample of the beasts of the field. If you will put these precepts of mine into execution, you will long keep out of harm's way, and will be a robust and healthy man.

The physicians standing round, as soon as they heard the good advice given by Maestro Gotfreddo to the king concerning his rule of life, began to laugh so long and loud that they were like to burst their chaps with laughter, and, turning towards the king, they cried: 'These, in sooth, are the canons; these are the rules of Maestro Gotfreddo; here we see the fruit of his studies! Fine remedies, indeed, are these - fine provision to have made for such an illustrious king!' and in this fashion they went on, making mock of him. The king, when he heard the loud laughter which arose from the assembled physicians, gave command straightway that every one should be silent and should give over laughing, and furthermore directed Maestro Gotfreddo to bring forth his reasons in favour of the course he had recommended. 'My lord and king,' said Gotfreddo, 'these my fathers in learning, men highly to be honoured, and greatly skilled in the art of medicine, have shown themselves not a little amazed anent the rule I have laid down for the governance of your health, but if they would bring their sound and sober judgment to the consideration of those causes from which spring the diseases of men, perchance they would not laugh so heartily, but would be disposed to listen with attention to the words of one who maybe (with all respect be it spoken) is both wiser and more skilled than they themselves. Be not astonished, sacred majesty, at this proposition of mine, but set it down as a certain truth that all the infirmities with which men are afflicted derive their origin either from an excess of bodily heat, or from taking cold, or from a superfluity of noxious humours. Wherefore, as soon as ever a man finds himself in a sweat through weariness or through the great heat, he ought forthwith to wipe himself dry in order that the moisture which has come out of his body may not return thereinto and so produce a distemper. Again, a man ought to keep his feet warm to prevent the damps and chills which the earth gives forth from ascending to his stomach, and from his stomach to his head, thus to generate pains in the head, an unwholesome habit of the stomach, and innumerable other ills. What I meant by the example of the beasts of the field, is that man ought to eat only such food as is fitted for his habit of body, as do the animals which have no reason, nourishing themselves with diet suitable to their nature. Let us flow take the case of the ox or of the horse. If you were to offer to either of these a capon, or a pheasant, or a partridge, or a bit of fine fat veal, or any other meat, he assuredly would not eat thereof seeing that food of this sort is not what his nature requires. But if you should place before him hay or any other provender, he would at once fall to eating, because the food is what is fitting for him. Again, give the capon, or the pheasant, or the meat, to a dog, or even to a cat, and it will straightway devour it, because it is appropriate food. And on the contrary, these beasts will not touch the hay or the corn, because it is not the diet they require, but unfitted for their nature. Therefore I beg you, O my lord! to give up eating all such food as is not suited to your habit of body, and to take only the things which agree with your temperament. If you will do as I tell you, you will enjoy a long and healthy life.'

The advice which Gotfreddo gave greatly pleased the king, who, putting Thu faith therein, kept to it closely, and, having dismissed the other physicians, retained Maestro Gotfreddo about his person, holding him in high reverence on account of his virtue and worth. Thus, from being very poor, Gotfreddo became a rich man, a reward he well merited, and having been appointed sole guardian of the king's health, he lived happily ever after.

Isabella, whose fable had greatly delighted the whole assembly, here paused, having brought her story-telling to an end, but almost immediately went on with her enigma in these words:

Marvel not, O lady fair!
At what I now to you declare;
For truth itself is not more true,
Though it may worthless seem to you.
One time, when pressed by danger fell,
A friend I found who served me well;
But had I not, with force amain,
Sent him into his place again,
I should have met my death straightway,
And vanished from this world away.

For some reason the meaning of this enigma appeared to the ladies to be somewhat immodest, but in truth it was nothing of the sort, because under the husk there lay another sense different altogether from the one which it bore, as they imagined, on the surface. It was as follows: a youth being chased by catchpoles, took to flight, and, as he was running, he saw standing open the door of a house; whereupon another man, to save him, thrust him into this house and closed the door thereof, and shot the bolt into its place, that is, into the hole it fitted. If he had not acted thus the youth would have been undone, because he would have had to go to prison.

Scarcely had Isabella brought to an end the exposition of her enigma, when Vicenza, without waiting for any command from the Signora, took up her turn with the following discourse.

Next: Night the Thirteenth: Thirteenth Fable

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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