Maestro Lattantio, a tailor, undertakes to train his apprentice Dionigi in his craft the latter, however, learns little of this, hut acquires great skill in a certain art which the tailor secretly practised. Where fore great enmity sprang up between them, Dionigi in the end devouring his master and espousing Violante, the daughter of the king.
THE judgments of men are indeed varied, and of many kinds, and varied likewise are their desires and wishes; while every single man (as the sage says) is full of his own conceit. On this account it is that, of the race of men, certain ones there are who give themselves up to the study of the law, others cultivate the art of oratory, and others indulge in the speculations of philosophy; one being inclined to this thing, and another to that—nature, who after all is the mistress of our actions, guiding the course of each one; for she, like a kindly mother, impels each one to that pursuit which is most delightful to him. This thing will be made quite clear to you, provided you will lend a gracious hearing to what I am about to say.
In Sicily, an island which in antiquity surpasses all others we know of, there is situated a noble city called in the vulgar tongue Messina, renowned everywhere for the secure and deep anchor age of its port. In this city was born one Maestro Lattantio, a man who put his hand to two crafts, and was highly skilled in the exercise both of the one and of the other. One of these, however, he practised openly in the eyes of the world, namely, his trade of a tailor; while the other, the art of necromancy, he kept a secret from all. It came to pass that Lattantio took for his apprentice the son of a poor man in order to make a tailor of him. This youth was called by name Dionigi, an industrious and prudent lad, who learnt with ease whatever his master attempted to teach him.
One day it chanced that Maestro Lattantio, having locked himself up alone in his chamber, was making trial of certain experiments in necromancy, and Dionigi, who had got some inkling of what his master was about, crept noiselessly up to the chamber door, and through a crack therein saw plainly what thing it was that Lattantio his master was doing inside. As soon as Dionigi understood the purport of the thing he had seen he was ardently possessed with a desire to practise this art himself, and thought of nothing else but necromancy all day long, entirely casting aside all interest in his tailor’s craft, not daring, however, to tell aught of what he had discovered to his master. Lattantio, when he perceived the change that had come over Dionigi; how, instead of the skilled and industrious fellow he formerly was, he had become ignorant and a know-nothing, and how he no longer gave any heed to his tailoring work as hitherto, dismissed him straightway and sent him home to his father.
The father of Dionigi, who was a very poor man, lamented sorely when his son came home again, and, after he had reproved the boy, and given him punishment, sent him back to Lattantio, begging the good tailor urgently that he would still retain him in his employ, that he would keep him under sharp discipline and give him his board. The father asked for nothing more in return than that Lattantio should teach Dionigi the tailor’s craft. Lattantio, who was well aware how poor the father of his apprentice was, consented to take back the boy, and every day did his best to teach him how to use his needle; but Dionigi seemed to have become altogether a sleepy-head, and could or would learn nothing. On this account a day rarely passed when Lattantio did not kick him or beat him by way of chastisement, and often broke his poll so that the blood ran down over his face. In sooth, his back was better served with bastings than his belly with provender. But Dionigi took with patience all his punishments, and went every night secretly to the chink in the door and watched all that was being done inside the chamber. Now Maestro Lattantio, when he perceived what a chucklehead the youth was, and how he could learn nothing of the trade he was being taught, troubled himself no longer to keep secret the necromancy he practised, deeming that if Dionigi had a brain too dense to learn the trade of tailoring, he would assuredly never be able to fathom aught of the deep and intractable secrets of necromancy. On this account Lattantio did not try to keep aloof from his apprentice but worked his spells freely in his presence. Dionigi, in sooth, was mightily pleased at this turn of things; for, although it seemed to his master that he was dull and a simpleton, he found it no hard task to learn the whole art of necromancy; indeed, he soon became so skilled and expert therein that he was able to work wonders which were even far beyond the powers of Maestro Lattantio.
One day Dionigi’s father went to the tailor’s shop, and there remarked that his son, instead of working with needle and thread, was engaged in carrying the fuel and water for the service of the kitchen, and sweeping the floors and doing other household work of the meanest kind. When he saw this he was mightily grieved and disturbed in mind and, having taken the boy straightway out of Lattantio’s service, he led him home. The good man had already spent much money in the purchase of clothes for his son, and in providing for his instruction in the tailor’s craft; wherefore now, finding that he could not persuade the lad to learn his trade, he grieved amain, and spake thus to him: ‘My son, you know well enough how much money I have laid out to make a man of you, while on your part you have never given me the least help by the trade I set you to learn. On this account I find myself now in the greatest want, and I know not whither I shall turn to find you food. I would, my son, that you could light upon some honest calling in which you might get yourself a living.’ To this the son made answer: ‘My father, be fore all else I wish to thank you for all the money and trouble you have spent in my behalf, and at the same time I beg you that you will cease to disquiet yourself because I have not learnt the trade of a tailor as was your intention and desire, forasmuch as I have acquired the mastery of another art which will be of far greater service to us in the satisfying of our wants. Therefore, my dear father, do not disturb yourself or be sorrowful, because I will soon let you see what great profit I am able to make, and how, with the fruits of my art, you will be able to support your family and keep good cheer in your house. I, by the working of magic art, will transform myself into the most beautiful horse ever seen, whereupon you, having provided yourself with a saddle and bridle, will lead me to the fair and there sell me. On the following day I will resume the form I now bear, and will return home. I must, however, bid you be careful that you give not the bridle to the buyer of the horse, for should you part with it I would not be able to return to you, and peradventure you would never see me again.’
Thereupon Dionigi straightway transformed himself into a beautiful horse, which his father led away to the fair and exhibited to many people who were present. All of these were greatly astonished at the wonderful beauty of the horse, and at the marvellous feats it performed. It happened that at this very same time Lattantio was also at the fair, and when his eyes fell upon the horse he knew there was something supernatural about it; so, having re turned to his house, he transformed himself into the guise of a merchant. Then he went back to the fair, taking with him a great quantity of money. When he approached the horse and examined it closely he perceived at once that it was really Dionigi, whereupon he demanded of the owner whether the horse was for sale, and to this question the old man replied that it was. Then, after great chaffering, Lattantio offered to give in exchange for the horse two hundred forms of gold, with which price the owner was fully content, only stipulating that the horse’s bridle should not be included in the sale. Lattantio, however, by persuasive words, and by offers of yet more money, induced the old man to let him have the bridle also, and, having led the horse home to his own house and stalled him there, he tied him up securely and began straightway to beat him severely. This, more over, he did every morning and every evening, until at last the horse became such a wasted wreck that it was a pitiable thing to look upon it.
Lattantio was the father of two daughters, and these damsels, when they saw the cruel treatment of the horse by their inhuman father, were greatly moved to compassion thereby, and every day they would go to the stable to fondle it and to bestow upon it many tender caresses. And one day it happened that they took the horse by the halter, and led it out of the stable down to the river, so that it might drink. As soon as the horse had come to the river’s brink, it rushed at once into the water, and forthwith changed its form to that of a small fish, and straightway sought the deepest part of the stream. When the daughters saw this strange and unlooked-for thing they were altogether overcome with amazement, and after they had returned to their home they began to shed bitter tears, beating their breasts and tearing their fair locks.
Before very long time had passed Lattantio came back to his house and went at once to the stable, in order that he might beat the horse according to his wont, but he found it was no longer there. Whereupon he flew into a furious fit of anger, and, having gone into the house, he found there his two daughters weeping bitterly, and, without questioning them as to the cause of their tears (for he knew well enough already of their fault), he said to them: ‘My daughters, tell me straightway without any fear for yourselves, what has become of the horse, in order that I may make an attempt to get it back.’ The daughters, being somewhat reassured by their father’s words, told him exactly all that had befallen them. As soon as Lattantio had heard and understood what had happened, he at once took off all his clothes, and, having gone to the bank of the river, he cast himself therein, transforming himself at the same time into a tunny, and pursued the little fish wherever it went in order to devour it. The little fish, when it knew that the voracious tunny was in pursuit, began to fear lest it might be eaten up; so it swam close to the brink of the stream, and, having changed itself into a very precious ruby ring, leapt out of the water and secretly conveyed itself into a basket carried by one of the hand- maidens of the king’s daughter, who, for her diversion, was gathering certain pebbles along the river’s bank, and concealed itself amongst them.
When the damsel had returned to the palace and had taken the pebbles out of the basket, Violante, the only daughter of the king, chanced to observe the ruby ring, and, having taken it up, she put it on her finger, and treasured it with the utmost care. And when night had come Violante retired to rest, wearing the ring still upon her finger, when suddenly the ring transformed itself into a handsome young man, who, embracing tenderly the snowy bosom of Violante, felt her two firm round little breasts, and the damsel, who was not yet asleep, was greatly alarmed thereat, and would have screamed aloud. But the young man, having put his hand upon her balmy mouth, would not suffer her to cry out, and, kneeling down before her, he craved her pardon, imploring her to aid him in his trouble, forasmuch as he had not come thither to put any shame upon her or to sully her pure mind, but driven by untoward des tiny. Then he told her who he was, and the cause which had brought him into her chamber, and how and by whom he was persecuted. Violante recovered somewhat of her composure on listening to these words of the young man, and, perceiving by the light of the lamp which was burning in the chamber of what a graceful and seemly presence he was, felt greatly moved to pity thereby, and said to him: ‘Young man, of a truth you have been guilty of great arrogance in coming here unsummoned, and greater still has been your presumption in touching that to which you have no right. However, now that I have heard the tale of your misfortunes which you have told to me, and as I am not made of marble, with a heart as hard as a diamond, I am prepared to lend you any aid which I can give honestly, provided that you will promise faithfully to respect my honour.’ The young man at once tendered to Violante many words of due gratitude for her kindly speech, and, as the dawn was now growing bright in the sky, he changed himself once more into a ring, which Violante put away amongst her most precious jewels. But she would often take it out so that it might assume human form and hold sweet discourse with her.
It happened one day that the king, Violante’s father, was stricken with a grievous distemper which could be healed by none of the physicians, who all affirmed that his malady was one beyond the aid of medicine, and from day to day the condition of the king grew worse and worse. By chance this news came to the ears of Lattantio, who, having arrayed himself as a physician, went to the royal palace and gained admission to the bed- chamber of the king. Then, having inquired of the king the nature of his malady and carefully observed his countenance and felt his pulse, Lattantio said: ‘Gracious king, your malady is indeed grave and dangerous, but be of good heart. You will soon be restored to health, for there is known to me a certain remedy which will cure the deadliest disease in a very short time. Be, therefore, of good cheer, and do not be dismayed.’ Whereupon the king said: ‘Good master physician, if you will rid me of this infirmity I will reward you in such a fashion that you may live at ease for the rest of your days.’ But Lattantio replied that he wanted neither lands nor gold, but only one single favour. Then the king promised to grant him anything which might be within his power, and Lattantio thus made answer: ‘Sacred king, I ask for no other reward than a single ruby stone, set in gold, which is at present in the keeping of the princess your daughter.’ The king, when he heard this modest demand, said: ‘Master physician, if this be all the re ward you claim, be assured that it will be readily granted to you.’ After this Lattantio applied himself diligently to work a cure upon the king, who in the course of ten days found himself entirely rid of his dangerous malady.
When the king was quite recovered from his ailment and brought back to his former state of health, he one day bade them summon his daughter into the presence of the physician, and when she appeared he ordered her to fetch thither all the jewels she had. The daughter, obedient to her father’s word, did what he commanded her, omitting, however, to bring back with her that one jewel which she held dear above all others. Lattantio, when he had examined the gems, declared that the ruby which he so much desired to have was not amongst them, and that the princess, if she should make diligent search for it, would assuredly find it. The damsel, who was by this time deeply enamoured of the ruby, denied that she had it; whereupon the king, hearing these words of hers, said to Lattantio, ‘Go away now and come back to-morrow, for in the interim I will bring such effective persuasion to bear upon my daughter that to-morrow the ruby will assuredly be yours.’
When the physician had taken his departure, the king called Violante to him, and the two having gone together into a room and closed the door, he asked her in a kindly manner to tell him about the ruby which the physician so ardently desired to have, but Violante firmly denied that she knew aught of it. When she had gone out of her father’s presence, Violante went forthwith to her own chamber, and having fastened the door thereof, in her solitude she began to weep, and took the ruby and embraced and kissed it and pressed it to her heart, cursing the hour in which the physician had come across her path. As soon as the ruby saw the hot tears which fell from the lovely eyes of the princess, and heard the deep and woeful sighs which came from her loving heart, it was moved to pity, and straightway took upon itself the form of Dionigi, who with tender words thus addressed her: ‘Dear lady, to whom I owe my life, do not weep or sigh on my account, seeing that I am your very slave, but rather let us seek for some remedy in this our calamity. Know, then, that this physician, who desires so keenly to get possession of me under the form of a ruby, is my bitter foe, who wishes to make an end of me, but you, as a wise and prudent damsel, will not, I am well assured, deliver me into his hands, but when he shall again demand me of you, you must then hurl me violently against the wall, feigning the while to be full of wrathful indignation, and I will provide for what may come after.’
On the following morning the physician went back to the king, and when he listened to the unfavourable answer given by the princess, he became somewhat angered, affirming over and over again that the ruby was indeed somewhere in the damsel’s keeping. The king having once more called his daughter into the physician’s presence, said to her, ‘Violante, you know well enough that by the skill of this physician I have regained my health, and moreover that, as a guerdon for his services, he did not demand of me great gifts of land or of treasure, but simply a certain ruby stone which he declares you have in your pos session. I should have thought that you, on account of the love you bear me, would have given me, not merely a ruby, but even your own blood. Where fore, because of the love in which I hold you, and because of the suffering and trouble your mother has undergone for your sake, I implore you that you will not deny this favour which the physician demands.’ The damsel, as soon as she had heard and comprehended the wishes of her father, withdrew to her chamber, and having taken the ruby, together with many other jewels, she went back into her father’s presence and showed the stones one by one to the physician, who immediately his eye fell upon that one which he so greatly desired to have, cried out, ‘Behold, here it is!’ and made as if he would lay hands on it. But Violante, as soon as she perceived what he would do, said, ‘Master physician, stand back somewhat, for you shall have the stone.’ Then taking the ruby in her hand and feigning to be possessed with fierce anger, she said, ‘Seeing that this is the precious and lovely jewel which you are searching for, the loss of which I shall regret for the rest of my life, you must know that I do not give it to you of my own free will, but because I am compelled to surrender it in obedience to my father’s wishes.’ And while she spake these words she threw the beautiful gem with all her strength against the wall, and the ruby, as it fell to the ground, opened forthwith and became a fine large pomegranate, which in bursting open scattered its seeds on all sides. When the physician saw that the pomegranate seeds were spread all over the floor of the room, he immediately transformed himself into a cock, and believing that he might thus make an end of Dionigi, began to pick up the seeds with his beak, but he was frustrated in this cruel design of his, because a certain one of the seeds hid itself in such a fashion that it escaped the notice of the cock. The pomegranate ate seed thus hidden waited for an opportune moment, and then changed itself into a crafty cunning fox, which swiftly and silently crept up to the crested cock, and, having seized it by the throat, slew it and devoured it in the presence of the king and of the princess. When the king saw what was done he stood as one confounded, and Dionigi, having taken upon himself his original form, told everything to the king from the beginning, and then with full consent was united in lawful marriage to Violante, with whom he lived many years of tranquil and honourable peace. The father of Dionigi was rendered from his poor estate and became rich, and Lattantio, full of envy and hatred, came thus to a miserable end.
Here the diverting fable told by Alteria  came to an end, and forthwith all the listeners declared that it had given them great pleasure. Then the Signora made a sign to her that she should complete her duty by giving an enigma, and the damsel with a pleasant smile proposed one in the following terms:
Of lovers mine is sure the best;
He holds me close upon his breast.
He fondles me; our lips then meet
With kisses and caressing sweet;
His tongue my mouth in fondness seeks,
And with such tender accent speaks,
That hearts with love are all afire;
But brief the space of our desire.
For soon his lips from mine must stray,
To wipe the dews of toil away;
And from me gently he doth move.
Now say, is this the end of love?
This enigma furnished matter for no little talk amongst the men, but Arianna, who a short time ago had suffered some what from Alteria’s bantering, now said: “Signori, do not give yourselves any trouble, nor in your hearts think aught that is unfavourable of this enigma which my sister has just set us to guess, for in sooth it can mean nothing else except the trombone, which is held close and swayed up and down by the player, and the water which gathers thereabout has to be wiped away in order that he who plays upon it may make music with less difficulty.” Alteria, when she heard given the true interpretation of her riddle, was greatly disturbed in mind, and began to show signs of anger, but after a little, when she remembered that she had only been paid back in her own coin, she laid aside her vexation. Then the Signora begged Madonna Veronica to give them a story, and she, without any preamble, began forthwith her fable in the following words.