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:
Ninth Fable:
Filomena the
Hermaphrodite

A certain damsel, named Filomena, having been placed in a convent, falls into grave sickness. She is treated by divers physicians, and in the end is discovered to be hermaphrodite.

THE secrets of nature, most gracious ladies, are indeed mighty and beyond counting, nor does there live in all the world a man who by the powers of his intellect is able to realize the character thereof. On this account the thought has come into my mind to relate to you something which happened (for in sooth this is no fable) no great time ago in the city of Salerno.

In Salerno, a city of high renown, and one in which handsome women especially abound, there lived a certain gentleman belonging to the house of Porti, the head of a family and the father of one daughter, a damsel in the full flower of her beauty and not yet past the sixteenth year of her age. This maiden, who was called Filomena, found somewhat irk some the pursuit of the many gallants of the city who flocked about her on account of her great beauty and sought to have her to wife. The father, seeing that his daughter was in a position of some danger, and fearing lest some ignominy or other should fall upon her by reason of the provocations she daily received, determined to take her to the convent of San Iorio in the city of Salerno; not indeed with the view of let ting her make formal profession of the monastic life, but in order that the sisters might have charge of her until such time as she should find a husband.

It happened that while this damsel was abiding in the convent she fell a victim to a grave attack of fever, during which she was nursed and tended with the greatest care and diligence. At the out set of her illness certain herbalists came to minister to her cure, and these, with weighty oaths and professions, pledged themselves to bring her back to her for her good health in a very short space of time. But all their efforts were of no avail. Whereupon her father caused to be brought to her divers physicians of great skill and experience, and some old women as well, who promised forthwith to give her a remedy which should work a cure of her malady. In the meantime the fair and gracious maiden was further afflicted by a grievous swelling of the groin, which grew to the bigness of a large ball. By reason of this ailment she suffered so great pain that she did nought else but groan and lament in piteous wise; so that it seemed as if she were in deed come very near to the end of her days. Her kinsfolk, deeply moved by the wretched lot of the young girl, sent to minister to her surgeons of renown, men highly commended as professors of their art; and some of these, after they had carefully viewed and examined the spot where the swelling was, declared that the root of the herb marsh mallow, well cooked and mixed with the lard of swine, ought to be applied to the place in order to alleviate the pain and the swelling; others prescribed different treatment, while others denied that there would be any use in applying to the patient either this or that of the remedies which had been suggested. On one point they were all agreed, namely, that they must, in any case, cut open the swelling in order to remove therefrom the cause of the pain.

As soon as they had come to this decision they bade summon all the inmates of the convent, as well as divers matrons and kinsfolk of the gracious damsel who was sick. Then one of the aforesaid surgeons, a man who in skill greatly ex celled all his colleagues, having taken his operating knife, made a light incision therewith, and with the greatest dexterity cut through the swelling in the twinkling of an eye, and perforated the skin. And when they looked to see come forth from the wound either blood or putrefaction, lo and behold! nothing of the sort happened - the only result of their operation being the transformation of their patient from a damsel into a young man. Though I am now telling you the sober truth in lieu of a fable, I cannot keep back my laughter. All the nuns fell straightway to weeping with grief, not indeed because of the wound which had been inflicted upon the damsel, or be cause of the distemper she had suffered, but rather on their own account, seeing that they would vastly have preferred that this event, which came to pass openly, should have happened in secret and without the knowledge of anyone except themselves. After what had occurred, for the sake of their good name they must needs send the damsel at once forth from the convent, whereas they would dearly have loved now to keep her amongst themselves. The physicians who were standing by could do nought else but laugh, and thus in a trice the damsel, restored to health, became both man and woman. Now I, forsooth, have told you in place of something fictitious, something which is true - something, moreover, which I can speak of from the testimony of mine own eyes, forasmuch as I saw her after the event described above clad as a man, she partaking the while of the nature both of the one sex and of the other.

The Signora, when she saw that Molino's fable had come to a laughable end, and marked at the same time the rapid flight of the hours, addressed him, telling him that it behoved him to propound his enigma forthwith, according to the rule they had hitherto observed. Where upon Molino, unwilling to keep the company any longer in suspense, spake thus:

From a mother born alone,
Other parent I have none.
Unwilling to my mother's side
I oft return, and there abide.
I am a strong and pungent wight,
And some in me find great delight;
Others hate me for the bane
I bring to them, and loud complain.
Thus my destined part I play,
Working ever night and day;
But children none, by fate's decree,
Will ever take their life from me.

Not one of the company could imagine what might be the meaning of Molino's enigma except Cateruzza, who had been chosen to tell the next fable. "Signor Antonio," said the damsel, "the obscurely-devised enigma you have set us to guess can mean nothing else than salt, which has no father, and has for its mother water. And to this mother the child will often return. Likewise, by its flavour it pleases some, and displeases others." Having thus given her solution of the riddle the damsel was silent for a short space; but, re marking that no one else spake a word, she opened her pretty lips and thus began.

Next: Night the Thirteenth: Tenth 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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