Cimarosta, a jester, goes to Rome, and confides a secret to Pope Leo, thereby procuring a beating for two of the private chamberlains.
THE fable, gracious and lovesome ladies, which has been so ingeniously told by Fiordiana, has given occasion for the shedding of many tears on account of its woeful nature, but as this is a spot better suited for laughter than for weeping, I have decided to tell you one which I hope will give you no small pleasure, for I will let you hear therein concerning the buffooneries done by a Brescian who went to Rome, thinking that he was about to become a rich man, but, failing in his schemes, ended his days in poverty and misadventure.
In the city of Brescia, which is situated in the province of Lombardy, there once lived a jester, Cimarosta by name, a very cunning fellow, but held in mean repute by his neighbours for the reason that he was much given to avarice, a vice which mars everything it touches, and also be cause he was a Brescian himself, and no prophet is well received in his own country.
When Cimarosta saw that he did not get the full appreciation which it seemed to him that his witty sayings merited, he was very indignant in his heart, and, without making his intentions known to anyone, he departed from Brescia and took his way towards Rome, thinking that he might there gather together a great sum of money, but things did not happen to him exactly according to his wishes, for in Rome men do not care for sheep that have got no wool.
The supreme Pontiff of Rome in those days was Leo, a German by birth, who, although he was a man of great learning, was prone at certain times (after the manner of divers great lords) to take delight in buffooneries and other diversions of a like character, but it was rare indeed that any jester would receive from the Pope any guerdon for his fooling. Cimarosta, who had no acquaintances in Rome, and did not know by what means he should bring himself to the notice of the Pope, made up his mind that he would go to him in person and exhibit before him some proof of his wit. Wherefore he took his way to the palace of St. Peter's, where the Pope dwelt, and directly he entered therein he was accosted by a chamberlain, a stout fellow with a thick black beard, who called out to him, 'Where are you going?' And having put his hand on Cimarosta's breast he pushed him back. Cimarosta, when he saw the ruffled humour of the chamberlain, said with an humble tone of voice, 'Ah, my brother, do not deny me entrance, I beg you, for I have some most important questions to discuss with the Pope.' Then the chamberlain said, 'Get you away from this place as quickly as you may, otherwise you will get for yourself a reward which you will not find to your taste.' Cimarosta, however, still insisted on entering the palace, declaring over and over again that the business he wanted to discuss with the Pope was of a most important character. The chamberlain being at last persuaded by Cimarosta's pertinacity that some weighty business was afoot, and furthermore reckoning that an affair of this sort would of a certainty bring to Cimarosta a liberal reward out of the holy father's purse, agreed to let him in, but before opening the door he struck a bargain with him, which was that Cimarosta should, on his return from the Pope's presence, hand over to him the half of what had been awarded him, and Cimarosta promised readily that he would abide by this agreement.
Cimarosta, having passed over the threshold, entered into a second chamber, which was in the custody of a very affable young man, who, when he saw him, rose from his seat and came towards him, saying, 'What would you here, my friend?' And to him Cimarosta replied, 'I would speak with the Pope.'
To this the young man made answer, 'You cannot speak with him at present, for he is engaged with other affairs, and heaven knows when it will be convenient for you to have speech with him.' 'Ah,' cried Cimarosta, 'do not keep me back, for the things that I have to tell him are of the highest importance.' 'When the young man heard these words, there came into his mind at once the same notion which had suggested itself to the other chamberlain, and he said, 'If you wish to go in you must promise to hand over to me the half of whatever His Holiness may give you. And Cimarosta readily promised to do this.
When Cimarosta at last made his way into the sumptuous papal chamber, his eye fell first upon a German bishop, who was standing in a corner of the room at some distance from the Pope, and, having gone up to this prelate, he began to talk to him. The bishop, who had not the Italian idiom, spoke now in German, now in Latin, and Cimarosta, feigning to speak German (after the manner of buffoons), answered him, blurting out at random any words that happened to come to his lips. And they spoke in such a fashion that neither the one nor the other understood a word of what was being said. The Pope, who was at the time occupied in talking with a cardinal, said to the latter, 'Do you hear the chattering that is going on over there? 'Yes, holy father,' replied the cardinal. And when the Pope, who knew all languages perfectly, saw plainly that Cimarosta was playing a joke on the bishop, he was mightily amused thereat, and laughed aloud at the pranks which were going on. But in order that he might not spoil the sport by stopping the joke, he turned his back upon them and pre tended to talk with the cardinal on other matters.
Cimarosta and the bishop, therefore, having gone on with their wrangle for some time without one understanding a word which the other said-the Pope laughing heartily at the jest meantime-the buffoon at last said to the bishop in his mock Latin, 'From what city do you come?' The bishop answered, 'I am from the city of Nona.' Then Cimarosta said, 'Monsignor, it is no longer wonderful to me that you do not under stand my language, nor I yours, for, you see, you come from the Nones and I come from the Complines.' When the Pope heard this prompt and witty answer, he began to laugh so heartily with the cardinal, whom he was holding in conversation, that he almost burst his sides. Then, having called the fellow up to him, he asked him who he was, and whence he came, and what was his business. Cimarosta, throwing himself down upon the ground before the holy father and kissing his feet, told him that he was a Brescian named Cimarosta, and that he had come from Brescia to Rome in order to obtain a favour of His Holiness. The Pope said, 'Ask me what ever you desire.' 'I ask nothing else of your Holiness,' said Cimarosta, 'than twenty-five of the sharpest whip-cuts that are to be had.' When the Pope heard this foolish request he was mightily astonished and laughed heartily there at, but still Cimarosta went on begging persistently that this boon and no other should be granted to him. The Pope, seeing that he was firm in this his wish, and being fully persuaded that he really meant what he said, bade them call a stalwart young fellow, to whom he gave orders then and there to lay on Cimarosta's back twenty-five good sharp cuts with a lash, and to put his whole heart into his work. The young man, obedient to the Pope's commands, straightway stripped Cimarosta as naked as on the day he was born; then he took a tough lash in his hand, and set himself to carry out the command given to him by the Pope. But Cimarosta with a loud voice cried out, 'Stop, stop, young man, and do not beat me!' The Pope who saw this was part of the antics of the fellow, and did not know what he was about to do next, burst into loud laughter and commanded the youth to hold his hand.
When the young man had lowered his lash, Cimarosta, all naked as he was, knelt down before the Pope and with a flood of hot tears exclaimed: 'Holy father! there is nothing in this world which is more displeasing to God than broken faith. I, for my part, will keep my troth if your Holiness will give me aid and countenance. I, much against my will, promised to hand over, first to one of your chamberlains, and then to another, half of whatever your Holiness might be pleased to give me. I asked you for twenty-five sharp cuts with a lash, and you, in your natural kind ness and courtesy, have consented to let me have them. Will you, therefore, in my name, give twelve and a half blows to one of the chamberlains and twelve and a half to the other. By this means you will be granting my request, and I shall perform my promise.'
The Pope, who as yet scarcely under stood the drift of this matter, cried out, 'What is the meaning of this?' Then Cimarosta said, 'Holy father, when I wished to come in here and present my self to your Holiness, I was forced most unwillingly to chaffer and bargain with two of your chamberlains, who made me bind myself by oath and promise that I would hand over half of whatever your Holiness might of your beneficence grant to me. Wherefore, as I do not wish to fail in my given promise, I feel I am bound to hand to each of them his due share, and I will myself forego any part of the reward.'
When the Pope heard what Cimarosta said, he was greatly angered, and caused the chamberlains to be brought before him forthwith, and commanded J they should be stripped and beaten according to the terms of the bargain made between them and Cimarosta. This order was promptly carried out, and when the young man had given each one of them twelve stripes, there yet remained one more stripe due to somebody to make up the full number of twenty five. Wherefore the Pope commanded that the chamberlain who had been logged last should have thirteen. But Cimarosta, interrupting him, cried out, 'That would hardly be fair, for in that case he would get more than I promised him.' 'What shall we do, then?' said the Pope. Cimarosta answered, 'Have them both tied together on one table, with their backsides uppermost, and then let the young man lay on to them together a single stroke, and a good sound one, that will include the two. And thus each one will receive his share, and I shall have righteously discharged my debt.
When Cimarosta had left the Pope's presence without any reward in his pocket he was soon surrounded by a crowd of people who had heard rumours of the ready wit he had displayed. And a certain prelate, who was a good fellow, having come up to him, said to him, 'What is the latest news?' And Cimarosta immediately replied, 'Nothing less than that to-morrow we shall hear cries of peace.' The prelate, who could not believe this (nor was there any reason why he should believe it), said to Cimarosta, 'You do not know what you are saying, for the Pope has been at war with France for a long time, and until now we have not heard a word about peace.' And after they had held a long dispute together Cimarosta said to the prelate, 'Messer, are you willing to make a wager with me of a good dinner that to-morrow there will not be cries of peace?' 'Yes,' answered the prelate. And forthwith in the presence of several witnesses they each deposited ten forms with the understanding that the loser should bear the cost of the dinner. Then the prelate took leave of Cimarosta in a merry humour, thinking that on the morrow he would hold high revel at the latter's cost. But Cimarosta, who in the meantime was not asleep, went to his lodgings, and having found the master of the house, said to him, 'My master, I would that you would do me a favour which may turn out to be both to your pleasure and to my profit.' 'What do you wish me to do?' said the landlord. 'Do you not know that you have but to command me?' ' I ask nothing less of you,' said Cimarosta, 'than that to morrow your wife should don the old suit of armour which you have in your chamber, and you need not fear that aught of harm or dishonour will befall her, but leave the rest to me.
It chanced that the landlord's wife was named Madonna Pace. The armour Cimarosta had spoken of was that of a powerful man, very rusty, and of such great weight that anyone being dressed in it and stretched upon the ground, could not possibly raise him self without help, however valiantly he might strive. The landlord, who was a merry soul, and one well liked, knew Cimarosta to be full of banter, and for that reason wished to comply with his request.
When the morrow had come, the landlord made his wife put on all the armour, and, thus arrayed, he bade her lie down on the floor of her room. Then he said to the woman, 'Stand up now on your feet,' and she several times tried to get up, but could not move. Cimarosta, seeing that his plan was in a fair way to come to the issue he desired, said to the landlord, 'Let us go away.' And having closed the door of the room, which looked out on the public street, they departed. The landlord's wife, when she perceived that she was shut up alone in the room, and unable to rise, feared greatly that some untoward mishap was about to bechance and began to cry out with a loud voice. The neighbourhood, hearing the outcry and the clash of arms, ran to the landlord's house. Cimarosta, when he heard the tumult made by the men and women who had flocked together, said to his host: 'Do not move nor speak, but leave everything to me, for the laugh will soon be on our side.' So he went down the stairs and into the street, and asked this man and that who it might be who was screaming so vigorously, and they all with one voice replied,' Do you not know they are the cries of Madonna Pace.' And having had these words repeated to him twice or thrice, he called several men to bear witness that they had heard the cries of Madonna Pace.
When the hour of the compline had passed, the prelate came and said, 'You have lost your wager of a dinner, brother, for so far we have heard no cries of peace.' 'I take it to be otherwise,' said Cimarosta. So between them there arose a sharp contention, and it became necessary to find a judge who should decide the case. And this judge, when he heard the reasoning of one side and of the other, and listened to the witnesses, who roundly declared that the whole neighbourhood had recently heard the cries of Madonna Pace, sentenced the prelate to pay for the feast.
Two days had scarcely gone by when Cimarosta, as he was passing through the city, encountered a Roman lady who was very rich, but ugly as the devil. This woman had managed to get a handsome youth for a husband, to the astonishment of all those who knew her. It happened that at the same moment a little she-ass passed, and Cimarosta turning to her said: 'Ah, poor little thing! if you had as much money as this woman you could easily get married.' It chanced that this saying was overheard by a gentleman who was a kinsman of the ugly woman, and he took a stick and gave Cimarosta such a blow on the head that he had to be carried by his arms and his legs back to his landlord's house.
The surgeon, in order that he might the better dress his wounds, had his head shaved. His friends when they came to see him said: 'Cimarosta, what have they done to you? Your head has been shaved.' And he said: 'By my faith, be silent and do not make mock of me, for if the skin of my head were of satin or of damask it would be well worth a florin an ell, and now the whole of me is worth nothing
Now when the last hour of his life was approaching, a priest came to give him extreme unction, and when he was about to put the oil on his feet, Cimarosta said: 'Alas, good sir! do not oil me any more. Do you not see that my life is running off the reel fast enough?' All the bystanders when they heard this began to laugh, and thus Cimarosta, jesting even to the last moment of his life, died, and in this wise he and his buffoon- cries came to an unfortunate end.
Old was I before my day,
This subtle enigma commanded no small approbation from the whole of the honourable company, but not one listener was found clever enough to solve it. Whereupon Lodovica, like the prudent girl she was, as soon as she saw that her riddle was likely to remain unguessed, said with a smile: "It is not because I am anxious to give a lesson to others, but because I do not wish to let this present company be any longer in suspense, that I propose to explain the meaning of the enigma I have just spoken. This, unless I am greatly in error, can be taken to mean nothing else but the flax. Because this plant is brought forth by its mother, that is to say the earth, of the male sex, then it is placed in cold running water to be steeped, then dried by the sun, next in a warm place, and heavily beaten by a mallet, and finally torn to pieces with iron, that is the shuttle, and also with thorns."
Everyone was greatly pleased with this explanation, and held it to be most learned. Then Lionora, who was seated next to the speaker, rose to her feet, and having made due salutation began her 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.