It is truly a great proverb--"Rather a crooked sight than a crooked judgment"; but it is so difficult to adopt it that the judgment of few men hits the nail on the head. On the contrary, in the sea of human affairs, the greater part are fishers in smooth waters, who catch crabs; and he who thinks to take the most exact measure of the object at which he aims often shoots widest of the mark. The consequence of this is that all are running pell-mell, all toiling in the dark, all thinking crookedly, all acting child's-play, all judging at random, and with a haphazard blow of a foolish resolution bringing upon themselves a bitter repentance; as was the case with the King of Shady-Grove; and you shall hear how it fared with him if you summon me within the circle of modesty with the bell of courtesy, and give me a little attention.
IT IS said that there was once a king of Shady-Grove named Milluccio, who was so devoted to the chase, that he neglected the needful affairs of his state and household to follow the track of a hare or the flight of a thrush. And he pursued this road so far that chance one day led him to a thicket, which had formed a solid square of earth and trees to prevent the horses of the Sun from breaking through. There, upon a most beautiful marble stone, he found a raven, which had just been killed.
The King, seeing the bright red blood sprinkled
upon the white, white marble, heaved a deep sigh and exclaimed, "O
heavens! and cannot I have a wife as white and red as this stone, and
with hair and eyebrows as black as the feathers of this raven?"
And he stood for a while so buried in this thought that he became a
counterpart to the stone, and looked like a marble image making love
to the other marble. And this unhappy fancy fixing itself in his head,
as he searched for it everywhere with the lanthorn of desire, it grew
in four seconds from a picktooth to a pole, from a crab-apple to an
Indian pumpkin, from barber's embers to a glass furnace, and from a
dwarf to a giant; insomuch that he thought of nothing else than the
image of that object encrusted in his heart as stone to stone. Wherever
he turned his eyes that form was always presented to
At length his brother Jennariello, seeing him so pale and half-dead, said to him, "My brother, what has happened to you, that you carry grief lodged in your eyes, and despair sitting under the pale banner of your face? What has befallen you? Speak--open your heart to your brother: the smell of charcoal shut up in a chamber poisons people--powder pent up in a mountain blows it into the air; open your lips, therefore, and tell me what is the matter with you; at all events be assured that I would lay down a thousand lives if I could to help you."
Then Milluccio, mingling words and sighs, thanked him for his love, saying that he had no doubt of his affection, but that there was no remedy for his ill, since it sprang from a stone, where he had sown desires without hope of fruit--a stone from which he did not expect a mushroom of content--a stone of Sisyphus, which he bore to the mountain of designs, and when it reached the top rolled over and over to the bottom. At length, however, after a thousand entreaties, Milluccio told his brother all about his love; whereupon Jennariello comforted him as much as he could, and bade him be of good cheer, and not give way to an unhappy passion; for that he was resolved, in order to satisfy him, to go all the world over until he found a woman the counterpart of the stone.
Then instantly fitting out a large ship,
filled with merchandise, and dressing himself like a merchant, he sailed
for Venice, the wonder of Italy, the receptacle of virtuous men, the
great book of the marvels of art and nature; and having procured there
a safe-conduct to pass to the Levant, he set sail for Cairo. When he
arrived there and entered the city, he saw a man who was carrying a
most beautiful falcon, and Jennariello at once purchased it to take
to his brother, who was a sportsman. Soon afterwards he met another
man with a splendid horse, which he also bought; whereupon he went to
an inn to refresh himself after the fatigues
The following morning, when the army of the Star, at the command of the general of the Light, strikes the tents in the camp of the sky and abandons the post, Jennariello set out to wander through the city, having his eyes about him like a lynx, looking at this woman and that, to see whether by chance he could find the likeness to a stone upon a face of flesh. And as he was wandering about at random, turning continually to this side and that, like a thief in fear of the constables, he met a beggar carrying an hospital of plasters and a mountain of rags upon his back, who said to him, "My gallant sir, what makes you so frightened?"
"Have I, forsooth, to tell you my affairs?" answered Jennariello. " Faith I should do well to tell my reason to the constable."
"Softly, my fair youth!" replied the beggar, "for the flesh of man is not sold by weight. If Darius had not told his troubles to a groom he would not have become king of Persia. It will be no great matter, therefore, for you to tell your affairs to a poor beggar, for there is not a twig so slender but it may serve for a toothpick."
When Jennariello heard the poor man talking sensibly and with reason, he told him the cause that had brought him to that country; whereupon the beggar replied, "See now, my son, how necessary it is to make account of every one; for though I am only a heap of rubbish, yet I shall be able to enrich the garden of your hopes. Now listen--under the pretext of begging alms, I will knock at the door of the young and beautiful daughter of a magician; then open your eyes wide, look at her, contemplate her, regard her, measure her from head to foot, for you will find the image of her whom your brother desires." So saying, he knocked at the door of a house close by, and Liviella opening it threw him a piece of bread.
As soon as Jennariello saw her, she seemed
to him built after the model which Milluccio had given him; then he
gave a good alms to the beggar and sent him away, and going to the inn
he dressed himself like a pedlar, carrying in two caskets all the wealth
of the world. And thus he walked up and down before Liviella's house
crying his wares, until at length she called him, and took a view of
the beautiful net-caps, hoods, ribands, gauze, edgings, lace, handkerchiefs,
collars, needles, cups of rouge, and head-gear fit for a queen, which
he carried. And when she had examined all the things again and again,
she told him to show her something else;
Liviella, who was full of curiosity, not to belie the nature of her sex, replied, "If my father indeed were not out he would have given me some money."
"Nay, you can come all the better if he is out," replied Jennariello, "for perhaps he might not allow you the pleasure; and I'll promise to show you such splendid things as will make you rave --such necklaces and earrings, such bracelets and sashes, such workmanship in paper--in short I will perfectly astound you."
When Liviella heard all this display of
finery she called a gossip of hers to accompany her, and went to the
ship. But no sooner had she embarked than Jennariello, whilst keeping
her enchanted with the sight of all the beautiful things he had brought,
craftily ordered the anchor to be weighed and the sails to be set, so
that before Liviella raised her eyes from the wares and saw that she
had left the land, they had already gone many miles. When at length
she perceived the trick, she began to act Olympia the reverse way; for
whereas Olympia bewailed being left upon a rock, Liviella lamented leaving
the rocks. But when Jennariello told her who he was, whither he was
carrying her, and the good fortune that
As they were sailing merrily along they
heard the waves grumbling beneath the ship; and although they spoke
in an undertone, the captain of the ship, who understood in an instant
what it meant, cried out, "All hands aboard! for here comes a storm,
and Heaven save us!" No sooner had he spoken these words than there
came the testimony of a whistling of the wind; and behold the sky was
overcast with clouds, and the sea was covered with white-crested waves.
And whilst the waves on either side of the ship, curious to know what
the others were about, leaped uninvited to the nuptials upon the deck,
one man baled them with a bowl into a tub, another drove them off with
a pump; and whilst every sailor was hard at work--as it concerned his
own safety--one minding the rudder, another hauling the foresail, another
the mainsheet, Jennariello ran up to the topmast, to see with a telescope
if he could discover any
As he spoke, the tempest ceased, and the rage of the sea and the fury of the wind subsided. But a far greater tempest arose in Jennariello's breast, from what he had heard, and more than twenty times he was on the point of throwing all the things into the sea, in order not to carry to his brother the cause of his ruin. But on the other hand he thought of himself, and reflected that charity begins at home; and fearing that, if he did not carry these things to his brother, or if he warned him of the danger, he should turn to marble, he resolved to look rather to the fact than to the possibility, since the shirt was closer to him than the jacket.
When he arrived at Shady-Grove, he found
his brother on the shore, awaiting with great joy the return of the
ship, which he had seen at a distance. And when he saw that it bore
her whom he carried in his heart, and confronting one face with the
other perceived that there was not the difference of a hair, his joy
was so great that he was almost weighed down under the excessive burden
of delight. Then embracing his brother fervently, he said to him, "What
falcon is that you are carrying on your fist?" And Jennariello
answered, "I have bought it on purpose to give to you." "I
see clearly that you love me," replied Milluccio, "since you
When they arrived at the royal palace, he invited all the lords and ladies of the city to a grand feast, at which the hall seemed just like a riding-school full of horses, curveting and prancing, with a number of foals in the form of women. But when the ball was ended, and a great banquet had been despatched, they all retired to rest.
Jennariello, who thought of nothing else than to save his brother's life, hid himself behind the bed of the bridal pair; and as he stood watching to see the dragon come, behold at midnight a fierce dragon entered the chamber, who sent forth flames from his eyes and smoke from his mouth, and who, from the terror he carried in his look, would have been a good agent to sell all the antidotes to fear in the apothecaries' shops. As soon as Jennariello saw the monster, he began to lay about him right and left with a Damascus blade which he had hidden under his cloak; and he struck one blow so furiously that it cut in halves a post of the King's bed, at which noise the King awoke, and the dragon disappeared.
When Milluccio saw the sword in his brother's hand, and the bedpost cut in two, he set up a loud cry, "Help here! hola! help! This traitor of a brother is come to kill me!" Whereupon, hearing the noise, a number of servants who slept in the antechamber came running up, and the King ordered Jennariello to be bound, and sent him the same hour to prison.
The next morning, as soon as the Sun opened
his bank to deliver the deposit of light to the Creditor of the Day,
the King summoned the council; and when he told them what had passed,
confirming the wicked intention shown in killing the falcon and the
horse on purpose to vex him, they judged that Jennariello deserved to
die. The prayers of Liviella were all unavailing to soften the heart
of the King, who said, "You do not love me, wife, for you have
more regard for your brother-in-law than for my life. You have seen
with your own eyes this dog of an assassin come with a sword that would
cut a hair in the air to kill me; and if the bedpost (the column of
my life) had not protected me, you would at this
When Jennariello heard this sentence, and
saw himself so ill-rewarded for doing good, he knew not what to think
or to do. If he said nothing, bad; if he spoke, worse; and whatever
he should do was a fall from the tree into the wolf's mouth. If he remained
silent, he should lose his head under an axe; if he spoke, he should
end his days in a stone. At length, after various resolutions, he made
up his mind to disclose the matter to his brother; and since he must
die at all events, he thought it better to tell his brother the truth,
and to end his days with the title of an innocent man, than to keep
the truth to himself and be sent out of the world as a traitor. So sending
word to the King that he had something to say of
As he spoke, he felt his legs stiffen and turn to marble. And when he went on to relate the affair of the horse in the same manner, he became visibly stone up to the waist, stiffening miserably-- a thing which at another time he would have paid in ready money, but which now his heart wept at. At last, when he came to the affair of the dragon, he stood like a statue in the middle of the hall, stone from head to foot. When the King saw this, reproaching himself for the error he had committed, and the rash sentence he had passed upon so good and loving a brother, he mourned him more than a year, and every time he thought of him he shed a river of tears.
Meanwhile Liviella gave birth to two sons,
who were two of the most beautiful creatures in the world. And after
a few months, when the Queen was gone into the country for pleasure,
and the father and his two little boys chanced to be standing in the
middle of the hall, gazing with tearful eyes on the statue--the memorial
of his folly, which had taken from him the flower of men-- behold a
stately and venerable old man entered, whose long hair fell upon his
shoulders and whose beard covered his breast. And making a reverence
to the King, the old man said to him, "What would your Majesty
give to have this noble brother return to his
Then the King, partly out of the love he bore Jennariello, and partly from hearing himself reproached with the injury he had done him, answered, "Believe me, my good sir, I would give my own life for his life; and provided that he came out of the stone, I should be content to be enclosed in a stone."
Hearing this the old man said, "Without
putting your life to the risk--since it takes so long to rear a man--the
blood of these, your two little boys, smeared upon the marble, would
suffice to make him instantly come to life." Then the King replied,
"Children I may have again, but I have a brother, and another I
can never more hop to see." So saying, he made a pitiable sacrifice
of two little innocent kids before an idol of stone, and besmearing
the statue with their blood, it instantly became alive; whereupon the
King embraced his brother, and their joy is not to be told. Then they
had these poor little creatures put into a coffin, in order to give
them burial with all due honour. But just at that instant the Queen
So saying, he showed the Queen the little
boys in the coffin; and when she saw this sad spectacle, she cried aloud
like one mad, saying, "O my children! you props of my life, joys
of my heart, fountains of my blood! Who has painted red the windows
of the sun? Who has without a doctor's licence bled the chief vein of
my life? Alas, my children, my children! my hope now taken from me,
my light now darkened, my joy now poisoned, my support now lost! You
are stabbed by the sword, I am pierced by grief; you are drowned in
blood, I in tears. Alas that, to give life to an uncle, you have slain
your mother! For I am no longer able to weave the thread of my days
without you, the fair counterpoises of the loom of my unhappy life.
The organ of my voice must be silent, now
So saying, she ran to a window to throw
herself out; but just at that instant her father entered by the same
window in a cloud, and called to her, "Stop, Liviella! I have now
accomplished what I intended, and killed three birds with one stone.
I have revenged myself on Jennariello, who came to my house to rob me
of my daughter, by making him stand all these months like a marble statue
in a block of stone. I have punished you for your ill-conduct in going
away in a ship without my permission, by showing you your two children,
your two jewels, killed by their
And as he spoke, the little children came, and the grandfather was never satisfied with embracing and kissing them; and in the midst of the rejoicings Jennariello entered, as a third sharer in them, who, after suffering so many storms of fate, was now swimming in macaroni broth. But notwithstanding all the after pleasures that he enjoyed in life, his past dangers never went from his mind; and he was always thinking on the error his brother had committed, and how careful a man ought to be not to fall into the ditch, since--
"All human judgment is false and perverse."
The next story in Il Pentamerone is The Months.
These tales came from:
Basile, Giambattista. Stories from the Pentamerone. E. F. Strange, editor. Warwick Goble, illustrator. London: Macmillan & Co., 1911. The text of this book is based on John Edward Taylor's translation from 1847.