Filenio Sisterno, a student of Bologna, having been tricked by certain ladies, takes his revenge upon them at a feast to which he has bidden them.
I SHOULD never have believed or imagined that the Signora would have laid upon me the task of telling a story, seeing that in the due order of things we should call upon Signora Fiordiana to give us one. But since it is the pleasure of the company, I will take upon myself to tell you something which may peradventure fit in with your humour. But if by chance my narrative (which God forbid) should prove tiresome to you, or should over step the bounds of civility, I must crave your indulgence therefor, and that the blame may be laid on Signora Fiordiana, to whom it is in fact due.
In Bologna, the chief city of Lombardy, the parent of learning, and a place furnished with everything needful for its high and flourishing estate, there lived a young scholar of graceful and amiable parts named Filenio Sisterno, born in the island of Crete. It chanced one day that a magnificent feast was given, to which were invited the most beautiful and distinguished ladies of Bologna, and many gentlemen, and certain of the scholars, amongst whom was Filenio. After the manner of gallants, he went dallying now with this and now with that fair dame, and finding no difficulty in suiting his taste, resolved to lead out one of them for a dance. His choice fell upon the Signora Emerentiana, the wife of a certain Messer Lamberto Bentivogli, and she, who was very gracious, and no less sprightly than beautiful, did not say him nay. During the dance, which Filenio took care should be very gentle and slow, he wrung her hand softly, and thus addressed her in a whisper: ‘Ah! Signora, how great is your beauty; surely it transcends any that has yet met my eye; surely the lady does not live who could ensnare my heart as you have ensnared it. If only I might hope you would give me back the like, I should be the happiest man in the world; but if you should prove cruel, you will soon see me lying dead at your feet, and know yourself as the cause of my bane. Seeing that I love you so entirely — and indeed I could do no other thing— you ought to take me for your servant, disposing both of my person and of the little I can call mine as if they were your own. Higher favour from heaven I could not obtain than to find myself subject to such a mistress, who has taken me in the snare of love as if I had been a bird.’ Emerentiana, while she listened earnestly to these sweet and gracious speeches, like a modest gentlewoman made as though she had no ears, and held her peace. When the measure had come to an end, Emerentiana sat down, and straightway Filenio led out another lady as his partner, but the dance had scarcely begun before he began to ad dress her in like fashion: ‘Of a truth, most gracious Signora, there is no need for me to waste words in setting forth how deep and ardent is the love I have for you, and ever shall have, so long as this soul of mine inhabits and rules my unworthy frame. And I would hold my self blest indeed if I could possess you as the lady of my heart and my peculiar mistress. Therefore, loving you as I do, and being wholly yours, as you may easily understand, I beg you will deign to take me for your most humble servant, seeing that my life and everything I have to live for depends on you and on no other.’ The young lady, whose name was Panthemia, although she understood all this, made no reply, but modestly went on with the dance, and, when it had come to an end, she sat down with the other ladies, smiling a little the while.
But short time had passed before the gallant scholar took a third partner by the hand; this time the most seemly, the most gracious, and the fairest lady in Bologna, and began to tread a measure with her, making all those who pressed round to admire her, give way; and before the dance was ended he thus addressed her: ‘ Most estimable lady, perhaps I shall seem to you out of measure presumptuous to reveal the secret love which I have borne, and still bear towards you, but for this offence blame not me, but your own beauty, which raises you high above all others, and makes me your slave. I speak not now of your delightful manners, nor of your surpassing virtues, which are great enough and many enough to bring all the world to your feet. If then your loveliness, the work of nature, and owing nought to art, fascinates everyone, there is no wonder that it should constrain me to love you and to guard your image in my inmost heart. I beseech you then, sweet lady, the one comfort of my life, to spare some tenderness for one who dies for you a thousand times a day. If you grant me this grace I shall know I owe my life to you; so to your kindness I now recommend myself.’
The fair lady, who was called Sinforosia, when she heard the sweet and loving words which came from Filenio’s ardent bosom, could not forbear sighing, but taking heed of her honour as a married woman she answered him nought and when the dance was come to an end returned to her seat.
It happened that all these three ladies found themselves sitting in a ring close to one another, and disposed for sprightly talk, when Emerentiana, the spouse of Messer Lamberto, moved by jocund humour and not by spite, said to her two companions, c Dear friends, I have to tell you of a diverting adventure which has this evening befallen me.’ ‘And what is it?’ they inquired. Said Emerentiana, ‘This evening, in the course of the dancing, I have gotten for myself a cavalier, the handsomest, the trimmest, the most gracious you could find anywhere, who protests himself to be so hotly inflamed with my beauty that he can find no rest day or night.’ And word by word she related all that the scholar had said to her. As soon as Panthemia and Sinforosia heard her story, they told her that the same had happened to them, and before they left the feast they had satisfied themselves that it was the same gallant who had made love to all three of them. Where fore they clearly comprehended that the words of this gallant sprang not from loyal feeling, but from deceit and feigning of love, and they gave to them no more credence than one is wont to give to the babblings of a sick man or to the romancer’s fables, and they did not go from thence before they had agreed, each one of them, to put a trick upon him such as he would not readily for get; for ladies, too, may play jokes. Filenio meantime was bent on amorous design, and went on making love, now to one lady now to another. Judging from their carriage that they looked not un kindly upon him, he set himself the task, if it were possible, of moving each one of them to grant him the supremest favour of love, but the issue of the affair was not according to his desire, for all his schemes went astray.
Emerentiana, who could no longer bear with the mock love-making of the silly scholar, called to a pretty buxom handmaid of hers, and charged her to find some excuse for speaking with Filenio, in order to disclose to him the love which her mistress had conceived for him, and to let him know that he might whenever he would spend a night with her in her own house. When Filenio heard this he was much elated, and said to the maid, ‘Hasten home forthwith and commend me to your mistress, and tell her in my behalf that she may expect me this evening at her house, provided that her husband be not at home.’ When this word had been brought to Emerentiafla, she straightway caused to be collected a great store of prickly thorns, and having strewn these under the bed where she lay at night, she awaited the coming of her gallant. When it had become dusk the scholar took his sword and stole towards the house of his fancied mistress, and the door, when he had given the password, was immediately opened. Then, when the two had held some little converse and supped daintily, they withdrew into the bedchamber for the night.
Scarcely had Filenio taken off his clothes to go to bed when Messer Lamberto was heard without, and hereupon the lady, feigning to be at her wits’ end where she should hide her lover, bade him get under the bed. Filenio, seeing how great the danger was, both to the lady and to himself, made haste to betake himself thither, without putting on any more clothes than the shirt he wore, and was in consequence so grievously pricked by the thorns prepared for him that there was no part of his body, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, which was not running with blood. And the more he essayed in this dark hole to defend himself from the pricks, the more grievously was he wounded, and he dared not make a sound lest Messer Lamberto should hear him and slay him. I leave you to figure in what plight the poor wretch found himself that night, seeing that he dared not call out, though he was like to lose a good part of his breech through the torment he was suffering. When the morning was come, and the husband had left the house, the wretched scholar clothed himself as best he could, and made his way back to his lodging, bleeding and in great fear lest he should die. But being well treated by his physician, he got well and recovered his former health.
Many days had not passed before Filenio essayed another bout of lovemaking, casting amorous eyes on the other two ladies, Panthemia and Sinforosia, and went so far as to find one evening an occasion to address Panthemia, to whom he rehearsed his continued woes and torments, and besought her that she would have pity upon him. Panthemia, who was full of tricks and mischief, while feigning to compassionate him, made excuse that it was not in her power to do his will; but at last, as if vanquished by his tender prayers and ardent sighs, she brought him into her house. And when he was undressed, and ready to go to bed with her, she bade him go into a cabinet adjacent, where she kept her orange water and perfumes, to the intent that he might well perfume his person, and then go to bed. The scholar, never suspecting the cunning of this mischief-working dame, entered the cabinet, and having set his foot upon a board unnailed from the joist which held it up, he and the board as well fell down into a warehouse below, in which certain merchants kept their store of cotton and wool, and al though he fell so far he suffered no ill. The scholar, finding himself in this dark place, began to search for some ladder or door to serve his exit, but coming upon none lie cursed the hour and the place where he had first set eyes on Panthemia. The morning dawned at last, and then the unhappy wight began to realize by degrees the full treachery of Panthemia. He espied on one side of the storehouse certain outlets in the wall, through which streamed in a dim light, and, finding the masonry to be old and moss-grown, he set to work with all his strength to pull out the stones in the spot which had fallen most to decay, and soon made a gap big enough to let him out. And, finding himself in an alley, clad only in his shirt, and stockingless, he stole back to his lodging without being seen of any
And next it happened that Sinforosia, having heard of the tricks which the two others had played the scholar, resolved to treat him with a third, no less note worthy; so, the next time she saw him, she began to ogle him with the tail of her eye, by way of telling him that a passion for him was burning her up. Filenio, forgetting straightway his former mishaps, began to walk up and down past her house, and play the lover. Sinforosia, when she saw from this that he was deeply smitten with love for her, sent him a letter by an old woman to let him know that he had so completely captured her fancy by his fine person and gracious manners that she could find rest neither night nor day, and to beg him that, whenever it might please him, he would come and hold converse with her, and give her a pleasure greater than any other. Filenio took the letter, and having mastered the contents, was at once filled with more glee and happiness than he had ever known before, clean forgetting all the tricks and injuries he had suffered hitherto. He took pen and ink, and wrote a reply, that, though she might be enamoured of him, he, on his part, was just as much in love with her, or even more, and that at any time she might appoint he would hold himself at her service and commands. When she had read this reply, Sinforosia made it her business to find full soon an opportunity for the scholar to be brought to her house, and then, after many feigned sighs, she said: ‘O my Filenio, of a truth I know of no other gallant who could have brought me into such plight, but you alone; since your comeliness, your grace, and your discourse have kindled such fire in my heart that I burn like dry wood.’ The scholar, while he listened, took it for certain that she was melting with love for him, and, poor simpleton as he was, kept on some time bandying sweet and loving words with her, till it seemed to him that the time had come to go to bed and to lie down beside her. Then Sinforosia said: ‘Before we go to bed it seems meet that we should regale ourselves somewhat. And having taken him by the hand, she led him into an adjoining cabinet, where there was a table spread with sumptuous cakes and wines of the finest, in which the mischievous dame had caused to be mingled a certain drug, potent to send her gallant to sleep for a certain time. Filenio took a cup and filled it with wine, and suspecting no fraud he emptied it straightway. Enlivened by the banquet, and having washed himself in orange water and dainty perfumes, he got into bed, and then immediately the drug began to work, and he slept so sound that even the uproar of great artillery would scarce have awakened him. Then, when Sinforosia perceived that he was in a heavy slumber and that the drug was doing its work well, she called one of her maids, a strong wench whom she had made privy to the jest, and the two of them took Filenio by the legs and arms, and, having opened the door softly, they placed him in the street, about a stone’s cast from the house, and there left him.
It was about an hour before dawn when, the drug having spent its force, the poor wretch came to himself and, believing that he had been in bed with the lady, found himself instead stockingless, and clad only in his shirt, and half dead with cold through lying on the bare ground. Almost helpless in his arms and legs, he found it a hard matter to get on his feet, and, when he had done so much, it was with difficulty that he kept from falling again; but he managed, as best he could, to regain his lodging and to care for his health. Had it not been for his lusty youth, he would surely have been maimed for life; but he re gained his former health, and when he went abroad again he showed no signs of remembering his injuries and vexations which had been put upon him; but, on the other hand, he bore himself toward the three ladies as if he loved them as well as ever, and feigned, now to be enamoured of one, and now of another. The ladies, never suspecting malice on his part, put a good face on the matter, and treated him graciously as if they were dealing with a real lover. Filenio was many times tempted to give his hand free play, and to mark their faces for them, but he prudently took thought of the condition of the ladies, and of the shame that would be cast on him should he offer violence to them, and he restrained his wrath. Day and night he considered how he might best wreak his vengeance on them, and when they could hit on no plan he was in great perplexity. But in the course of time he devised a scheme by which he might readily work his purpose, and fortune aided him to prosecute it as he designed. He hired for himself in the city a very fine house, containing a magnificent hall and many dainty chambers, and in this he purposed to give a great and sumptuous feast, and to invite thereto a company of gentlefolk, Emerentiana, and Panthemia, and Sinforosia amongst the rest. They accepted the scholar’s invitation without demur, suspecting nothing sinister in the same, and when they were come to the feast the wily scholar led them with many courteous speeches into a room and begged them to take some refreshment. As soon as the three ladies—foolish and imprudent indeed— had entered the room, Filenio locked the door, and, advancing towards them, said: ‘Now, my pretty ladies, the time is come for me to take my revenge upon you, and to give you some repayment for all the ills you put upon me, just because I loved you so well.’ When they heard these words, they seemed more dead than alive, and began to re pent heartily that they had ever abused him, and at the same time to curse their own folly in having trusted the word of one they ought to have treated as a foe. Then the scholar with fierce and threatening looks commanded them that they should, if they set any store on their lives, strip themselves naked, and the ladies, when they heard this speech, ex ‘changed glances one with the other and began to weep, begging him the while, not only for the sake of love, but also for the sake of his natural gentleness, that their honour might be left to them. Filenio, exulting in his deed, was exceedingly polite to them, but at the same time informed them that he could not suffer them to remain clothed in his presence. Hereupon the ladies cast themselves down at Filenio’s feet, and with piteous weeping humbly besought him not to be the cause of so great shame to them. But he, whose heart was now grown as hard as a stone, cried out that what he would do to them was in no sense blameworthy: it was nothing but just revenge; so the ladies were forced to take off their clothes and to stand as naked as when they were born, in which condition they appeared fully as fair as when apparelled. When this had come to pass even Filenio began to feel some pity for them; but, remembering his recent wrongs, and the mortal perils he had undergone, he chased away his pitying humour and once more hardened his heart. He then craftily conveyed all the clothes and linen they had lately worn into a neighbouring cabinet, and bade them with threatenings all to get into one bed. The ladies, altogether astounded and shaking with terror, cried out, ‘Wretched fools that we are! What will our husbands and our friends say when it shall be told to them that we have been found here slain in this shameful case? ‘The scholar, seeing them lying one by the other like married folk, took a large sheet of linen, very white, but not fine enough to suffer their bodies to be seen and recognized, and covered them therewith from head to foot; then he left the chamber, locking the door behind him, to go and find the three husbands, who were dancing in the hall. Their dance being finished, Filenio led them with him into the chamber where the ladies were lying in the bed, and said to them: ‘Gentlemen, I have brought you hither for your diversion, and to show you the prettiest sight you have ever seen;’ and, having led them up to he bed with a torch in his hand, he began softly to lift up the covering at their feet, and to turn it back so as to disclose the fair limbs beneath it as far as the knees, thus giving the three husbands something wondrous fair to look upon. Next he uncovered them as far as their stomachs, which he then disclosed entirely by lifting the sheet in the same way. I leave you to imagine how great was the diversion the three gentlemen got from this jest of Filenio’s, also in what distressful plight these poor wretched ladies found themselves when they heard their husbands join in mocking them. They lay quite still, not daring even to cough, lest they should be discovered, while their husbands kept urging the scholar to uncover their faces; but he, wiser in other men’s wrongs than in his own, would not oblige them so far. Not content with this, he brought forth their garments which he showed to their husbands, who, when they looked thereon, were astonished and somewhat perturbed at heart, and, after examining them closely, said one to another: ‘Is not this the gown which I once had made for my wife?’ ‘Is not this the coif which I bought for her?’ ‘Is not this the pendant that she hangs round her neck? Are not these the rings she wears on her fingers?’
At last Filenio brought the three gentlemen out of the chamber, and bade them, so as not to break up the company, to remain to supper. The scholar, learning that the supper was ready and everything set in order by the major domo, gave the word for everyone to take his place. And while the guests were setting their teeth to work, Filenio returned to the chamber where the three ladies were, and as he uncovered them said: ‘Good evening, fair ladies; did you hear what your husbands were saying? They are now without, waiting impatiently to see you. Get up; surely you have slept enough; give over yawning and rubbing your eyes. Take your clothes and don them without delay, and go into the hall where the other guests await you.’ With such words as these he mocked them; while they, disconsolate and despairing, feared lest this adventure might come to some fatal is sue, and wept bitterly. At last, full of anguish and terror, and looking for no thing less than death at his hands, they arose and turning to the scholar said to him: ‘Filenio, you have taken more than vengeance upon us. Now nothing remains but for you to draw your sword and make an end of our lives, for we desire death beyond any other thing. And if you will not grant us this boon, at least suffer us to return unobserved to our homes, so that our honour may be saved.’
Filenio, seeing that he had carried the affair far enough, gave them back their garments, and directed them to clothe themselves quickly, and when this was done he sent them out of the house by a secret door, and they went back to their homes. At once they laid aside their fine clothes, which they had lately worn, and put them away in their presses, and with great prudence sat down to work instead of going to bed. When the feast had come to an end, the three husbands thanked the scholar for the fine entertainment he had given them, and in particular for the sight of the beauties laid out for their benefit in the chamber, beauties surpassing the sun himself, and, having taken leave of him, they returned to their homes) where they found their wives sewing beside the hearth. Now the sight of the clothes, and the rings, and the jewels, which the scholar had exhibited to them, had made them somewhat suspicious: so each one now demanded of his wife where she had spent that evening, and where her best garments were. To this questioning each lady replied boldly that she had not left the house that evening, and, taking the keys of the coffers wherein was disposed her apparel, she showed this to her husband, with the rings and other jewels which he had given her. When the husbands saw these they were silent, and knew not what to say, but after a little they told their wives word by word what they had seen that evening. The ladies made as if they knew nothing of it, and, after jesting a little over the matter, they undressed and went to bed. And in after times Filenio often met the three ladies in the streets, and would al ways inquire of them: ‘Which of you was in the greatest fear? and did I suffer most from your jests, or you from mine?’ But they always held their eyes down on the ground, and said nothing. And in this fashion the scholar avenged him self as well as he could of the tricks he had suffered, without violence or out rage.
When they had listened to the story of Molino, the Signora and all the other ladies declared that the revenge, worked upon the three gentlewomen by the scholar for the tricks they had played him, was no less revolting than cowardly; but when they came to consider the severe punishment which the poor fellow had suffered in couching upon the thorns, and the danger of breaking his bones he had incurred in falling down into the warehouse, and the biting cold he had been exposed to when laid out in the open street upon the bare earth clad only in his shirt, they admitted that his vengeance was no heavier than was due. The Signora, though she had excused Fiordiana from telling her story in due order, now demanded of her that she should at least give her enigma, which ought to have some reference to the story of the scholar; and she, in obedience to this word, said: ‘Signora, it happens that the enigma which I have to submit to the company has nothing in keeping with deeds of grave and terrible vengeance such as the ingenious Signor Antonio has set forth in his fable, but at the same time it will be one which may be of interest to every studious youth.’ And without further delay she propounded her enigma:
From two dead block a living man
Gave life to one whose spirit ran
To vivify another wight,
Who thus from darkness rose to light.
Two living ones together bide,
The creature by the maker’s side,
And by the creature’s radiance led,
The master communes with the dead.
This subtle riddle of the Signora Fiordiana was interpreted in various wise, but not one of the company hit upon its exact meaning. And seeing that Fiordiana kept on shaking her head at the essays made by the company, Bembo remarked with a quiet smile, “Signora Fiordiana, it seems to me to be foolishness to waste our time in this fashion. Tell us what you will, and we shall be contented.” “Since this noble company decrees,” replied Fiordiana, “that I should be my own interpreter, I will gladly do this; not be cause I deem myself in any way competent for this task, but because I wish to oblige all you here, to whom I am bound by so many kindnesses. My enigma shows simply a student who rises from bed early in the morning, and he, a living thing, by the working of two dead things, the flint and the steel, gives life to the dead tinder, and this in its turn en livens the dead candle. Thus the first living one, the student, by the help of these other two living ones who lately were dead, sits down to converse with the dead, that is, with the books writ by learned men of times long past.” The explication of this most ingenious riddle by Fiordiana pleased the company greatly, and the Signora directed Lionora to be gin her story at once.