Second Diversion

Of the First Day

A countrywoman of Miano giveth birth to a myrtle-tree. A prince falleth in love with it, and out of it issueth a beautiful fairy. The prince goeth out and leaveth her inside the myrtle-tree, with a little bell attached to it. Some light women enter the prince's chamber in his absence, and being jealous, they touch the myrtle-tree, and the fairy cometh forth, and they kill her. The prince returneth, and findeth this misfortune, and cometh near unto death for grief; but, by a strange adventure recovering his fairy, he commandeth the courtesans to be slain, and taketh the fairy to wife.

Deepest silence reigned whilst Zoza recounted her story; but no sooner had she ceased speaking than all began to talk, and no mouth would keep silent because of the evacuation of the ass and the charmed mace: they kept saying that it would be very useful to own such maces, that at least servants and cheaters would be rightly treated, since one commonly met with more asses than ground flour. And after discussing all these things, the prince ordered Cecca to continue the storytelling, at which command she began, saying thus: If man could think what evils, and what ruin, and what loss of honour and home happen through the accursed women of the world, he would be more prudent, and would fly instead of following the footsteps of a dishonest woman, as when sighting a scorpion, and would not lose his reputation for the dregs of a brothel, and his life for a lazaretto, and all his rent-rolls for a public whore, who for the smallest coin maketh him swallow disgusting pills and fits of anger: as you will hear from what happened to a prince who had had some traffic with this evil race.

In the village of Miano there lived a husband and wife who had no children, and they longed, and pined, and prayed God to grant them an heir; and the wife above all things kept saying, 'O God, could I bring to light something in the world, I would not care even though it were a myrtle-bough': and for so long did she sing this song that at last she tired Heaven with her prayers, and her belly began to swell, and became round, so that at the end of nine months she gave birth, in the arms of the midwife, instead of a pretty man-child, to a myrtle-bough which, with great affection, she had laid in a fine flowerpot, and carefully tended it morning and evening. But one day the son of the king, who had gone out a-hunting, passed that way; and he took a fancy for the pretty myrtle-bough, and sent a message to the owner, asking her to sell it to him, stating that he would pay her whatever she demanded. After much denial and opposition, at last, caught by great offers, and taken by good promises, and frightened by threats, and won by prayers, she gave to him the tree, beseeching him to hold it with care, as she loved it more than a child, and held it as dear as if it had come out of her entrails. The prince, with the greatest joy, had the tree brought into his chamber and put in the balcony: and with his own hands he tended, and watered, and dug around it.

Now it so happened that one night the prince went to bed, and put out the candle, but could not sleep. All the folk around were slumbering, and all the world was quiet, when the prince heard a soft footstep pattering about the room. And it came towards the bed, and the prince bethought him that mayhap it was some servant who wanted to lighten his purse; but like the courageous youth that he was, whom Satan himself would not have frightened, he feigned sleep, and waited for what would follow. And he felt some one come near and touch him very lightly, and very gently he put forth his hands, and felt something soft and tender, with skin like velvet, and more tender and delicate than bullfinch's feathers, and softer than Barbary wool, and more flexible than a marten's tail; and believing that it must be a fairy (as it really was), he caught her in his arms, and began to play with her at dumb-sparrow. But before sunrise she arose and disappeared, leaving the prince full of all sweetness, and curiosity, and surprise. And this joyance continued for seven days; and he burned with great desire to know what good was this which rained on him from the stars, and what vessel loaded with sweetness and love had anchored at his bed. And one night, whilst the beauty slept, he tied a lock of her hair to his arm so that she could not escape, and calling one of his servants, bade him light the candles. He then beheld the princess and flower of beauties, the marvel of womankind, another Venus, goddess of love; perceived a doll, a dove, the Fairy Morgana, a golden bough, a huntress falcon-eyed, a full moon in her fourteenth night, a face of pigeon, a mouthful fit for kings, a jewel; he beheld, in fact, a being that made him lose his senses: and looking at her, he said, 'Now mayest thou hide thyself, O goddess of love: and thou, Helen, mayest return to Ilium and put a rope round thy neck, as thy beauties, so much descanted, are as nought compared with this beauty by my side, beauty accomplished like a sun, worthy a throne, solid, graceful, and full of pride, wherein I cannot find a single blemish. O sleep, O sweet sleep, weighten down with poppy-juice the eyelids of this beautiful joy: deprive me not of the enjoyance of beholding this the end of all my desires, this triumph of beauty. O beautiful lock that closely binds me! O beautiful eyes that burn me! O sweet lips that give me such joy! O beautiful breasts that console me! O beautiful hand that holds me close! In which shop of the marvels of nature was made this perfect form? What part of India gave the threads of gold to that hair? What part of Ethiopia gave the ivory for that brow? which place the carbuncles for those eyes? what part of Tyre the purple for that face? and what part of the East the pearls to make those teeth? And from which mountain came the snow to cover that neck and breast: snow against nature, that maintaineth the flowers and warmeth the heart?' Thus saying, he put his arms around her as a creeping vine, to enjoy his life; and whilst he clung to her neck, she awoke from sleep, and answered with a trembling and soft sigh the enamoured prince, who, on seeing her awake, said to her, 'O my beloved, if, holding thee without candles, this temple of love was nearly burnt to ashes, what will there be now of my life, that I can behold those two lights? O dear eyes, that with a lightning glance rival the stars, ye, and ye alone, have burnt a hole in my heart, and ye alone may salve it, as new-laid eggs; and thou, O beauteous doctoress mine, be moved to pity for this my stress, and be careful of one sickening for thy love, so that, for having changed the night to day and beheld the light of thy beauty, a direful fever burneth his entrails. Put thine hand upon my breast; feel my pulse; order a prescription. But what do I say? what prescription do I seek? O my soul, kiss me on the lips with thy sweet mouth; I do not want other cure for my life than a handling of thy dear hand; and with the cordial of thy sweet grace, and the root of this thy tongue, I shall be well and free.' Hearing these words, she became red as a flame of fire, and answered, 'Do not praise me so much, O dear my lord. I am thy slave, and to serve thy kingly person I would throw myself into the privy; and I hold it great fortune that this myrtle-tree, planted in that earthen pot, hath become a branch of laurel, and hath found a resting-place in a heart of flesh, a heart where dwelleth so much greatness and virtue.' The prince, hearing these words, melted like a tallow candle, and again embracing her, sealed that letter with a kiss, and held out his hand to her, saying, 'Here I plight thee my troth: thou shalt be my wife, thou shalt trend the sceptre, and thou shalt have the key of my heart as thou holdest the wheel of my life.' And after this they continued their joyance, and then arose, and took food and drink, and continued so doing for about five days. But fate and fortune upset all play, and divide matrimony, and are always contrary to love, and are as a black dog which easeth itself amidst the pleasures of those who love: so it happened that the prince was called to go to the chase of a big wild boar that infested the country, for which cause he was obliged to quit his wife, and to leave behind two-thirds of his heart.

And because he loved her better than his life, and saw her beauteous above all beauty and love, he burned and melted: for it was as a tempest in the sea of amorous joyance, a copious rain of the joy of love, a cobweb dropping into a saucepan full of the butter of the pleasures of lovers: it was as a serpent that bites, a moth that nibbles, the gall which embitters, the coldness which freezes, that for which life wearies, and the mind becomes unstable, and the heart suspicious: therefore, calling the fairy, he said to her, 'O my heart, I am obliged to remain two or three nights away from home. God knoweth with what grief I fare forth from thee, who art my soul; Heaven knoweth if before I go to this chase I will be able to endure it; but I cannot avoid it, as I must go to satisfy my father: and therefore I must leave thee: and I beseech thee, for that love which thou bearest me, to enter inside the earthenware pot, and not come out of it until my return, which will be before long.' 'I will do so,' answered the fairy, 'because I know not, and I will not, and I cannot disobey what pleaseth thee: therefore go in peace, and God-speed, as I will serve thee as thou wilt: but do me a kindness, leave attached at the end of the myrtle-bough a silken thread tied to a small bell, and when thou shalt arrive, pull the thread and ring, and I will come forth and welcome thee.' And thus did the prince, and calling one of his valets, said to him, 'Come here, come here thou, open thine ears, and hearken to me well. Make this bed every evening, just as if in it had to take rest my own person; water always this myrtle-tree, and be careful that nothing should happen to it, as I have counted its leaves: and if I find only one missing, I will kick thee out.' And having thus spoken, he mounted his steed and departed, sad at heart, more like a sheep going to the slaughter-house than a hunter going to chase a boar.

In the meantime seven women of pleasure whom the prince had kept, seeing that he had cooled towards them, and had no more love for them, and worked no more in their territory, began to suspect that he had in hand some new intrigue, which had made him forget the old friendship. And being desirous to discover country, they sent for a builder, and giving him a good sum of money, bade him build a passage under their house which reached to the chamber of the prince, where, as soon as it was ready, they quickly entered to see what new thing they could find, and if another wanton had taken their place and stopped accounts. But finding no one, and looking all round, they perceived only the beautiful myrtle-tree. Each one took a leaf from it, and the youngest took all the end to which was tied the tiny bell, which was no sooner touched than it rang; and the fairy, thinking it was the prince, came out at once; but the dirty bitches, as soon as they beheld the beauteous fairy, laid their claws upon her, saying, 'Thou art the one who drawest to thy mill all the waters of our hopes; thou art the one who hast won in thy hand a fine balance of the prince's good grace; thou art the splendid creature who hast put thyself in possession of our flesh. Mayest thou be welcome! Thou mayest go now, as thou hast reached to the last dregs; better, far better, had not thy mother shited thee! Go, for thou art ready: thou hast taken the bean, but thou art caught this time. May we not have been born at nine months if thou shalt escape!' And thus saying, they hit her a blow of the mace on her head, smashing her into five pieces' and each took a piece: but the youngest would have no part in this cruelty, and invited by her sisters to do as they had done, she would accept nothing else than a lock of the golden hair. And having done thus, they took their departure by the same way they had come.

In the meanwhile came the valet to make the bed, and to water the plant according to his master's orders; and finding what had happened, nearly died with affright, and picking up the hands and teeth, lifted up what was left of the flesh and the bones, and wiping up the blood from the ground, he buried it inside the pot, and having watered the tree, made the bed, shut the door, and putting the key under it, took to his heels out of the country.

Now the prince, having returned from the chase, pulled the silken string and rang the bell: but ring and catch quails, and ring that the bishop passeth, he could ring as much as he liked, for the fairy was deaf, by which reason as he went to the door of the chamber, and being unable to keep cool and call the valet with the key, he kicked the lock and pushed the door open. And he entered and ran to the balcony, where he beheld the myrtle-tree despoiled of its leaves, at which sight he began to cry out with loud cries, and weep with bitter weeping and wailing, 'O unlucky, O unfortunate, O miserable that I am, who hath made me this tow-beard? who hath ruined and crushed a prince? O my leafless myrtle-tree' O my lost fairy! O my darkened life! O my joys ended in smoke! O my pleasures turned to vinegar! What wilt thou do, O unfortunate Cola Marcione? What will become of thee, O unhappy one? Jump over this pit; arise from this dunghill: thou art fallen from every good thing, and thou dost not kill thyself? thou hast lost every treasure, and thou canst live? thou hast lost all pleasure in life: why dost thou not end it? Where art thou, where art thou, O myrtle mine? And what hellish arm hath ruined thy beautiful head? O accursed chase, that hast been the cause of my great loss! Alas! I am forlorn, my days are ruined: it is impossible that I can live without my life, and there is no help for it but that I stretch my feet, as without my love, sleep will not restore me; the food will be poison, and life and pleasure desert.' And thus weeping and lamenting enough to move to compassion even the very stones in the road, the prince, unable to take food or take rest, sickened, and his colour yellowed, and the carmine of his lips became white.

Now the fairy, being charmed, had begun to form herself again from the flesh and bones buried in the pot by the valet, and after a short time became the same as before; and seeing the sorrowful plight of her lover, who had become of the colour of a sick Spaniard, and like unto a lizard, and juice of leaven, and wolf's fart, had compassion upon him, and coming out of the pot, like the glimmer of candle out of a dark lantern, came in sight of Cola Marcione, and clasping him in her arms, said, 'Cheer up, cheer up, O my prince, leave off this lamenting, put an end to thy weeping, wipe thy tears, abate thine anger, show a happy visage. Here am I, alive and beautiful, in spite of those strumpets who brake my head, and did with my flesh that which Tesone did with the monk's.'

The prince, on beholding her when least he expected her, returned from death to life: the colour came back to his face, the warmth to his blood, the spirit to his breast, and after a thousand caresses, and sporting, and playing, he bade her tell him how all had happened, and hearing that the valet was not to blame, sent for him; and having ordered a banquet, with the consent of his father, he wedded the fairy: and having invited all the grandees of the realm, he ordered that the seven serpents who had so ill-treated that lamb should be present. And when they had eaten their fill, said the prince to each one of his guests, 'What would the persons deserve who would do a damage to this beauteous girl?' pointing to the fairy, whose radiant loveliness shone, and glittered, and took all hearts by storm. Now all those that were sitting at table, beginning with the king, said, one that they deserved to be hanged, another that they should be put to the wheel, one decreeing one thing and the other another: and at last it came to the turn of the seven vipers. Although this discussion was not pleasing to them, still they dreamt not of the bad night which awaited them: and as all truth lieth where wine playeth, they answered that he who could have the heart even to touch that jewel embodiment of all the joys of love would deserve to be thrown into the privy. The bitches having given this sentence with their own mouth, the prince said, 'Yourselves have discussed the cause, and yourselves have decreed the sentence: it only remaineth that your orders should be executed, as ye are the ones that, with a heart like Nero's and cruelty similar to Medea's, wanted to make a fricassee of that graceful form and beauteous shape: therefore quick, we must lose no time: let them be thrown into a large public privy, where they will end their life.' And the prince's order was at once executed, sparing only the youngest, whom he married to his valet, giving her a good dowry; and then he sent for the father and mother of Myrtle, and presented them with the wherewithal to live in ease and plenty to the end of their days; and the prince and the fairy lived happily together: and those daughters of Satan, escaping with great difficulty with life, certified the truth of the old proverb,

'Passeth e'en a lame goat,
If she findeth none to stop.'

Il Pentamerone Contents

Publishers' Note

First Day
  1. Story of the Ghul
  2. The Myrtle-Tree
  3. Peruonto
  4. Vardiello
  5. The Flea
  6. The Cat Cinderella
  7. The Merchant
  8. Goat-Face
  9. The Charmed Hind
  10. The Old Woman Discovered
Eclogue--The Crucible

Second Day
  1. Petrosinella
  2. Verde Prato
  3. Viola
  4. Gagliuso
  5. The Serpent
  6. The She-Bear
  7. The Dove
  8. The Young-Slave
  9. The Padlock
  10. The Gossip
Eclogue--The Dye

Third Day
  1. Cannetella
  2. Penta the Handless
  3. The Face
  4. Sapia the Glutton
  5. The Large Crab-louse
  6. The Wood of Garlic
  7. Corvetto
  8. The Ignorant Youth
  9. Rosella
  10. The Three Fairies
Eclogue--The Stove

Fourth Day
  1. The Cock's Stone
  2. The Two Brothers
  3. The Three Anamal Kings
  4. The Seven Pieces of Pork-Skin
  5. The Dragon
  6. The Three Crowns
  7. The Two Cakes
  8. The Seven Pigeons
  9. The Crow
  10. Pride Punished
Eclogue--The Hook

Fifth Day
  1. The Goose
  2. The Months
  3. Pinto-Smauto
  4. The Golden Root
  5. Sun, Moon, and Talia
  6. The Wise Woman
  7. The Five Sons
  8. Nennillo and Nennella
  9. The Three Citrons
  10. End of the Tale of Tales