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 Ninth:
Fourth Fable:
Papiro Schizza the Fool

Pre Papiro Schizza makes pretence of great learning, but in truth knows nothing. Like an ignorant fool he flouts the son of a certain peasant, who by way of revenge sets fire to his house and destroys it and all therein.

IF we, kindly ladies, were to investigate with due diligence how great the number of fools and ignorant persons around us might be, we would find it an easy matter to set them down as too numerous to be counted. And if we should be desirous to know, in addition, what are the mischances which arise from ignorance, it would behove us to consult experience, the teacher of all things, and she, like a kindly mother, would duly instruct us. Now in order that we may not, as the vulgar say, go away with our hands full of flies, I will here tell you that from ignorance there springs, amongst other vices, that one which men call vanity, the real foundation of every ill and the source of every human error, seeing that an ignorant man is ever prone to claim acquaintance with subjects concerning which he knows nought, and will desire to show himself to the world in a character which he has no claim to assume. It happened in this wise to a certain village priest, who accounted him self to be a man of learning, but who was, in truth, the greatest numskull nature ever created; and this man, cajoled by his imagined knowledge, lost in the end all his worldly riches, and narrowly escaped with his life, as you will be able to understand clearly from the following fable - a story which, perchance, you may have heard before.

I must tell you that in the territory of Brescia, a very rich, noble, and populous city, there lived, no great time ago, a priest whose name was Papiro Schizza, the rector of the church of the village of Bedicuollo, a place situate not far distant from the city. This man, who was really a grossly ignorant loon, was wont to assume the part of the scholar and to exhibit himself to anyone he might meet as a person of parts and learning; where fore the country people round about regarded him with great favour, and honoured and esteemed him as a man of deep science.

It happened that, on the occasion of the celebration of the day of Saint Macario, it was appointed by the bishop that a pious and solemn procession should be made in Brescia, a special charge having been issued to all the priests of the city, as well as to those of the villages round about, that, under the penalty of a fine of five ducats, they should present themselves cum cappis et coctis [with copes and tunics] to do honour to this solemn festival, as was deserving to the memory of so pious a saint. In his round the bishop's nuncio went to the village of Bedicuollo, and having found Messer Pre Papiro at home, he delivered to him the summons of monsignor the bishop that he should, under the penalty of five ducats, duly repair to the cathedral of Brescia on the day of Saint Macario cum cappis et coctis, in order that he might, together with the other priests, pay the reverence that was due to the appointed celebration. When the nuncio had taken his leave, Messer Pre Papiro began to consider and to turn over in his mind what might be the purport of this summons which directed him to attend the; solemn festival cum cappis et coctis, and pondering at hazard, now here, now there, he cudgelled his brains, by the aid of the small knowledge and learning he possessed, in order to beat out of them peradventure some notion as to the significance of the aforesaid words. After he had spent some time in struggling to grasp their meaning, it occurred to him at last that cappis et coctis must needs mean capons cooked, and nothing else. Having satisfied himself like the fool he was, that this interpretation was the right one, without taking counsel of anyone else he picked out a pair of his finest capons and gave orders to his housekeeper to cook them with the greatest care.

When the following morning had come Pre Papiro mounted his horse at break of day, and, having ordered the capons to be placed in a dish, he carried them with him to Brescia and presented himself forthwith before monsignor the bishop, to whom he gave the roast capons, at the same time saying that he had received a command from the nuncio to come and do honour to the feast of San Macario cum cappis et coctis, and, in order to carry out these instructions to the letter, he had brought with him a pair of capons well cooked. The bishop, who was both wily and astute, and at the same time fond of a joke, marked that the capons were fat and well roasted, and, when he understood what an ignorant fool the priest really was, he was forced to press his lips tight together in order that he might not laugh aloud; so with a face full of merriment and good humour he accepted the capons, and in return gave Pre Papiro a thousand thanks.' Now Messer Pre Papiro, though he heard these words of the bishop clearly enough, had no inkling of their meaning through being such a stupid fellow, but deemed in his own mind that what the bishop meant by mille gratis was that he further required of him a thousand brush- wood hurdles.' [Grato: a hurdle.] Whereupon the stupid loon, falling down on his marrowbones at the feet of the bishop, cried out: 'Monsignor, I pray you by the love which you bear to God, and by the high reverence in which I hold you, that you will not lay so heavy a burden upon me, forasmuch as our village is sore stricken with poverty, and to supply a thousand brushwood hurdles would be too grievous a tax for such poor folk as we are; hut at the same time, if five hundred hurdles will content you, I will promise that you shall have them whenever you may want them.' The bishop, although he was a man of keen wit, failed altogether to understand what was the meaning of Pre Papiro's words, but, in order that it might not be apparent how he had missed the drift of them, he agreed to the priest's proposal without saying a word thereanent.

Pre Papiro, as soon as the festival was over, took leave of the bishop, and, having duly received his benediction, re turned to his own house. When he got home he collected all the waggons of the village, and after he had caused them to be laden with brushwood hurdles, he sent them into the city on the following morning as a present to the bishop. The bishop, when he saw the waggon-loads of hurdles and heard who it was who had sent them, burst into loud laughter and made no scruple about accepting them, and in this fashion the lubberlv fool of a priest, through feigning knowledge which he possessed not, lost both his capons and his hurdles, and was put to shame and dishonour at the same time.

It happened that in the aforesaid village of Bedicuollo there lived a certain peasant, Gianotto by name, who, al though he was a mere peasant and able neither to read nor to write, entertained nevertheless such a profound reverence for scholars of all kinds that, for their sakes, he would willingly have become a slave in chains. This man had a son, a youth of goodly aspect, and one who gave fair signs of growing up to be a man of science and a scholar, and Pirino was his name. Gianotto, who held his son in great affection, made up his mind to send the youth to study at Padua, resolving at the same time not to let him stand in need of any of the things which a student might require, and in the course of time he fully carried out this resolution. After having passed certain months in Padua, the youth, who was now well grounded in the grammarian's art, returned to his home, not, indeed, to abide there, but to pay a short visit to his parents and his friends. Gianotto, who was very anxious to do honour to his son, and at the same time curious to learn whether he was getting any profit from his studies, determined to bid his relations and friends to a fine feast at his house, and beg Messer Pre Papiro to come likewise, and then and there to examine Pirino in the presence of them all, in order that they might judge whether or not he was spending his time and labour in vain.

When the day of the feast had come, all the relations and friends of the family came together at the house of Gianotto in answer to the invitation they had received, and after the benediction had been pronounced by Messer Pre Papiro, they all sat down at the table according to their age. When the dinner was finished and the board cleared, Gianotto rose to his feet, and said: 'Messer Papiro, I greatly desire (should it likewise he the pleasure of all here present) that you should now examine Pirino, my son, in order that we may see whether he may be gaining aught of good from his studies.' To this Messer Pre Papiro answered: 'Gianotto, my good gossip, the burden that you would lay upon me by this request of yours is as nothing at all compared with what I would willingly do for you. It is in sooth a very trifling matter for a man of my capabilities.' Then turning his face towards Pirino, who sat over against him, he said: 'Pirino, my son, we are all come together here for one and the same end. We all of us desire to promote your honour; therefore we are curious to know whether you have well spent your time while you have been studying in Padua; so, for the satisfaction of Gianotto, your good father, and for the contentment of this honourable company, I will now proceed to examine you in the subjects you have been studying, and if (as we all hope you may) you acquit yourself worthily, it will be a cause of no small gratification to your father and his friends and to myself. Tell me, therefore, Pirino, my son, what is the Latin for a priest?' Pirino, who was exceedingly well versed in all the rules of grammar, answered with confidence, 'Presbyter.' Pre Papiro, when he heard the prompt and ready answer which Pirino gave to his question, said, 'But how can it be Presbyter, my son? Of a truth you are mightily mistaken.' But Pirino, who was well assured of his knowledge, answered boldly that the word which he had given was indeed the right one, and advanced many authorities to prove it. Upon this there arose between the examiner and the pupil a long dispute, Pre Papiro being in no wise willing to give way to the superior intelligence of the youth, and finally, having turned to those who sat at table, spake these words: 'Tell me, my dear brothers and sons, supposing that in the middle of the night something should happen to you of so grave a nature that you should wish to confess your sins, or require the eucharist, or any other sacrament which might be necessary for the salvation of your souls, would you not send forthwith to fetch the priest? Most assuredly ! And then what would you do first? Would you not knock at the priest's door? Of a surety you would. Then would you not say, "Hey presto, presto, good sir! Get up at once, and come as quickly as you can to give the sacraments to a sick man who is at the point of death"?' The peasants sitting round the table could not gainsay Pre Papiro's words, and declared them to be the truth. Then said Pre Papiro, 'To speak of a priest in Latin you must not say Presbyter but Prestule, [Prestule (Italian): a prior, a prelate.] because he comes "presto, presto," to the sick man's aid. But, Pirino, I do not wish to press hard upon you on account of this first mistake; so I will now ask you to tell me what is the Latin for a bed?' Pirino answered promptly, 'Lectus or Thorus.' When Pre Papiro heard this answer he cried out again, 'Oh, my son, you are once more mistaken! Your teacher has in deed taught you badly.' Then, turning towards Gianotto, he said, 'Gianotto, when you come back home weary from the fields, do you not say immediately after you have supped, " I would fain go and repose myself"?' To this Gianotto answered, 'Yes.' 'Therefore,' said the priest, 'a bed is called Reposorium.' And all those present with one voice declared that this must be the truth. But Pirino, though he was by this time beginning to make a mock of the priest, did not dare to openly contradict him, lest he should thereby offend his kinsfolk who were present.

Pre Papiro, continuing his examination, went on: 'And what is the Latin for the table off which we eat our food?' 'Mensa,' replied Pirino. Then Pre Papiro said, addressing the company, 'Alas, alas, with what little profit has Gianotto laid out his money, and how ill has Pirino spent his time, seeing that he knows nought of the Latin vocabulary or of the rules of grammar! I must tell you that the table at which men sit to eat is called Gaudium, arid not Mensa, forasmuch as man, as long as he is at table, is in a state of joy and gladness.' This explanation seemed a wise and laud able one to the company assembled, and they praised the priest highly, holding him to be a man of the deepest wit and learning. Pirino, though it went sorely against the grain, was forced to give way to Pre Papiro's ignorance, from the fact that he was restrained by the presence of his parents and kinsfolk. When Pre Papiro remarked how he had won the approbation of all the guests, he began to strut about as proudly as any peacock, and raising his voice, he asked in a loud tone, 'And what is the Latin for a cat, my son?' 'Felis,' answered Pirino. 'Oh, you silly gull!' cried the priest. 'Is not a cat called Saltagraffa, because when you hold out to it any food, it quickly leaps up and attacks it with its paws, and grips it, and then runs off.' All the villagers were struck with wonder at the priest's exposition, and listened with the greatest attention to the prompt way in which Pre Papiro put his queries and gave the answers, judging him on this account to be a highly learned man.

When the priest once more began his questionings, he said to Pirino, 'Now tell me what is the Latin word for fire?' 'Ignis,' answered Pirino. 'What do you mean by ignis?' cried the priest, and turning towards the assembled guests afresh, he said to them, 'Brethren, when you take home the meat which you de sign for your dinner, what do you first do with it? Do you not cook it?' And all the listeners answered 'Yes.' 'Then,' said the priest, 'fire is not called Ignis, but Carniscoculum. And now tell me truly, Pirino, what is the Latin word for water?' 'Limpha,' answered Pirino. 'Alas, alas!' cried Pre Papiro. 'What is this you say? A fool you went to Padua, a fool you have come back!' And then, addressing the company, he went on: 'You must know, my good brethren, that experience is the mistress of everything in the world, and that water is not called Limpha, but Abundantia, for if you should happen to go to the river to draw water, or to water your beasts, you will never find there any want of water, and for this reason it is called Abundantia.' By this time Gianotto was almost like a man out of his wits owing to what he had heard, and he began to lament sorely over the time lost and the money ill-spent. When Pre Papiro perceived that the good peasant was thus mightily vexed, he said to Pirino, 'I will now ask you one thing more. Tell me what riches are called in Latin, and then we will have done with questioning.' 'Diviti Divitia rum,' answered Pirino. 'Oh, my son,' said the priest, 'you are wrong again, and completely mistaken, for riches are called in Latin Sustantia, seeing that they are the sustenance of man.'

When the feast and the questionings had come to an end, Pre Papiro drew Gianotto aside and said to him: 'Gianotto, my good gossip, you must by this time see plainly enough how little good your son has got by going to Padua; therefore, if you take my advice, you will not send him back to his studies, merely to lose his time and your money. Indeed, if you act in such wise, you will surely repent it.' Gianotto, who knew nothing of the true value of Pre Papiro's words, believed them fully, and, after he had stripped Pirino of his city-made clothes, he caused him to put on others of coarse homespun cloth, and sent him to tend the pigs. Pirino, when he found how he had been unjustly overborne by the priest's ignorance, and forced to sit silent instead of meeting him in argument (not forsooth because he was wanting in knowledge for the task, but because he was unwilling to vex his parents, who were doing him honour), was plunged in sore distress at finding himself de graded from the condition of a scholar to that of a swineherd. Moreover, he was inflamed with so great anger and fury that he determined to seek revenge for the ignominy and scorn that had been cast upon him, and in carrying out this design of his Fortune was favourable to him, forasmuch as one day, when he was leading out the pigs to pasture in front of the priest's house, he saw there a cat, which he first allured with a piece of bread and next caught with his hand. Then, having got a large bunch of flax, he tied it to her tail and set it on fire, and then let her go. The cat, feeling something tightly bound to her tail, and the fire scorching her hinder parts, fled straightway into Pre Papiro's house, and, darting through a crevice in the wall, she ran into the chamber next to the one in which the priest lay still asleep. Maddened with terror she ran under the bed, where there was stored a great quantity of linen, and in a very short space of time the linen and the bed and the whole room was ablaze. Pirino, when he saw that Pre Papiro Schizza's house was on fire, and that there was now no possibility of extinguishing the flames, began to scream out in a loud voice, 'Prestule, prestule, get up quickly from your reposoriurn, and take care that you do not stumble over the gaudium, because the saltagrafa is coming and is bringing car niscoculum along with her, and unless you come to the rescue of your house with abundantia you will see the end of all your sustantia.'

Pre Papiro, who was still lying fast asleep in bed when Pirino began his shouting, woke up and strained his ears to catch the words, but he had no notion as to what Pirino meant, because he had clean forgotten the meaning of the words he had lately employed when questioning the youth. By this time the fire was doing its work at all four corners of the house, and in a very little time Pre Papiro's own chamber would likewise be ablaze. At last, when he smelt the smoke, he got up quickly and found that his house was being burnt. Then he went straightway to try and extinguish the flames, but it was now too late, for the fire was burning fiercely on all sides, and he barely escaped from the house with his life. Thus Pre Papiro, being stripped of all his worldly goods, was left with no other cloak than his own ignorance: and Pirino, having fully avenged himself for the injuries he had received, gave over the care of his father's pigs and returned, as best he could, to Padua, where he prosecuted the studies he had already begun to such good purpose that he became at last a man of great renown.

After Vicenza had brought her laugh able fable to an end, and had been highly praised therefor by all the company, the Signora gave command that she should forthwith propound her enigma, and the damsel, although the laughter still went round, spake it in these words:

Dead to men I seem to be,
Yet surely breath there is in me;
Cruel is my fate, I trow,
Buffeted now high, now low.
But assaults of fist and heel,
Vex me not, for nought I feel.
Backwards, forwards, urged and driven,
Soaring high from earth to heaven,
Blameless I midst all my woes,
Yet find all men my bitter foes.

Vicenza, when she saw that no one of the company understood this ambiguous riddle of hers, thus in graceful and seemly fashion cut the knot: "This enigma of mine, which you have listened to with such close attention, is meant to typify the football, which, though it is dead, has breath inside it when it is blown out. It is thrown about by the players, now here, now there, now with the hands, now with the feet, and assaulted by all as if it were their chief foe."

Fiordiana, to whom had been allotted the last turn of story-telling for the night, rose from her seat, and said in her sprightly manner: "Signora, it would give me no small delight if the Signor Ferier Beltramo would, of his kindness, do me a certain favour, on account of which I should hold myself ever bound to him." The Signor Ferier, hearing himself thus named and called upon to grant a favour, said: "Signora Fiordiana, it is your part to command, and mine to obey. Bid me therefore do whatever may please you, for I will use my best endeavour to carry out your full wishes." The damsel, when she heard this kindly answer, first thanked him heartily for his gracious consent, and then said: "I ask nothing less of you, Signor Ferier, than that you should now take the turn of story-telling which by right belongs to me, and recount a fable in my stead." Signor Ferier, when he heard this modest request, at first, as was always his custom, began to excuse himself, but after a little, perceiving that his own inclination and the wishes of all the company were inclined to support Fiordiana's prayer, he threw aside all show of demur, and said: "Signora Fiordiana, to gratify your wishes and the wishes of this honourable company I am inclined to do what you ask; but, if you find that you do not get from me what you desire, and what I, on my part, wish to give you, do not blame me, who am but a feeble instrument and little versed in such accomplishments, but blame your selves, seeing that you will have been the prime cause." And, having thus made his excuse, he at once began his fable in these words.

Next: Night the Ninth: Fifth 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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