Ricardo, King of Thebes, had four daughters, one of whom, having become a wanderer and altered her name of Costanza to Costanzo, arrived at the court of Cacco, King of Bettinia, who took her to wife on account of the many worthy deeds wrought by her.
I MUST tell you fair and gracious ladies, that the fable which Eritrea told to us on the evening last past has brought me into so bashful a mood that I feel but little in the humour to act the story teller to-night. Nevertheless, the sense of obedience I have for every command of the Signora, and the respect I feel for the whole of this honourable and gracious company, compels and encourages me to make trial with a certain story which, though it assuredly will not be found as pleasing as the one recently related by Eritrea, I will give you for what it is worth. You shall hear how a certain damsel, endowed with a noble soul and high courage, one who in the course of her noteworthy adventures was far better served by fortune than by reason, held it preferable to become a servant than to fall into a base manner of life; how; after enduring servitude for some time, she became the wife of King Cacco, and lived content with her reward. All this will be set forth to you in the story I am about to tell you.
In Egypt is situated the great and splendid city of Thebes, a place richly ornamented with noble buildings, public as well as private, situated in a country rich in cornfields growing white for the sickle, and favoured with fresh water in abundance; abounding, moreover, in all those things which go to make up a glorious city. In times long past this city was under the rule of a king called by name Ricardo, a man profoundly wise, of great knowledge, and of the highest valour. Now this monarch, desiring greatly to have an heir to his kingdom, took to wife Valeriana, the daughter of Marliano, King of Scotland, a lady who was, in truth, perfection itself, very fair to look upon, and exceedingly gracious. Of her he begot three daughters, who were gentle in their manners, full of grace, and fair as rosebuds in the morning. Of these one was called Valentia, another Dorothea, and the third Spinella. In the course of time it became manifest to Ricardo that Valeriana his wife had come to that season of life when women commonly cease from child-bearing, and that his three daughters were all of them ripe for marriage, wherefore he determined forthwith to dispose of the three princesses in honourable wedlock, and at the same time to divide his kingdom into three parts, whereof he proposed to give one to each of his daughters, only keeping for himself so much as he judged would suffice for the entertainment of himself, and of his family, and of his court. And all these plans he carried out as he had deliberated with himself, so that the result of his project proved to be exactly what he had wished it to be.
In due time the three maidens were given in marriage to three powerful kings, one to the King of Scardona, another to the King of the Goths, and the third to the King of Scythia; and to each one of them was assigned, by way of dowry, a third part of their father’s kingdom, Ricardo himself keeping back only a very small portion thereof to serve to satisfy his vital needs. And thus the good king, with Valeriana, his well-be loved wife, lived righteously in peace and comfort. But it happened, after a few years had passed, that the queen, of, whom the king expected no further offspring, proved to be with child, and at the end of her time was brought to bed with a very beautiful little girl, whom the king welcomed with affection and caresses as warm as he had given to the other three children. But the queen was not so well pleased with this last infant, not, however, on account of any dislike for the child herself, but because, seeing that the kingdom was now divided into three parts and given away, she feared that there would be no chance of furnishing this daughter with a dowry sufficient to win her a marriage worthy of their state. She desired at the same time that the child should receive the share due to a daughter of hers. But, having handed over the child to the care of a very competent nurse, she gave strict command to her to use the greatest care in her charge, to give the child good instruction, and to train her in the gentle and praiseworthy manners and carriage which become a fair and graceful maiden. The child, to whom the name of Costanza was given, grew day by day more lovely and her manners more engaging, nor could any subject from the most learned masters be brought forward which she would not at once apprehend most readily. By the time Costanza was twelve years of age she had already learned to embroider, to sing, to dance, to play the lute, and to do every one of those feats which are rightly held to mark a princess of rank. But, not content with these graces, she gave herself also to the study of polite letters, which proved to be to her so great a source of pleasure and delight that she would spend over them not merely the day, but the night as well, striving always to find out the exquisite beauties of the books she studied. And over and above all these excellencies she mastered completely the art of war in learning how to gentle horses, and to handle arms, and to run in the lists as if she had been a strong and well-trained man-at-arms and not a damsel. In jousting, indeed, she was so skilled that she ofttimes came out of the contest victorious, just as if she had been one of those valorous knights who are held worthy of the highest honour. Wherefore, on account of all these virtues, and on her own account as well, Costanza was greatly loved by the king and the queen and by all those around them, so that there seemed to be no limit to their affection.
When Costanza had come to a marriageable age, the king her father, finding that he had now neither the state nor the gold required to secure for her a match with some potent sovereign equal to her merits, was greatly troubled there anent, and often took counsel with the queen concerning the matter; but the prudent Valeriana, in whose sight the good qualities of their child appeared to be so many and so great that no other lady in the land could in any way be put on a level with her, was not disquieted at all, and consoled the king with gentle and loving words, bidding him keep a light heart, and not to doubt at all but that in the end some powerful sovereign, fired with love by the many virtues of their daughter, would not disdain to take her to wife, even though they might not be able to give her a dowry.
Before many months had passed the damsel was sought in marriage by divers gallant gentlemen, amongst whom was Brunello, the son of the Marquis of Vivien, whereupon the king and the queen called their daughter to them into their chamber, and when they were all seated, the king spake thus: ‘Costanza, my well-beloved child, the time is now come when it is meet that you should be married, and we have found for you as a husband a youth who ought to please your taste. He is no other than the son of the Marquis of Vivien, our good friend and neighbour; his name is Brunello, and he is a graceful seemly youth, the report of his valorous deeds having spread already throughout the world. And moreover he asks of us nought besides our own goodwill and your fair sweet self, upon which I put a value exceeding that of all the pomp and treasure of the world. You must know that, though you are the daughter of a king, yet I cannot, on account of my poverty, find for you a more exalted alliance. Wherefore you must be con tent with this establishment and conform to our wishes.’ The damsel, who was very prudent and conscious that she was sprung from high lineage, listened attentively to her father’s words, and, with out wasting any time over the matter, answered him as follows: ‘Sacred majesty, there is no need that I should spend many words in replying to your honourable proposal, but simply that I should speak as the question between us demands. And first I desire to testify to you my gratitude, the warmest I can express, for all the affection and benevolence you exhibit towards me in seeking to provide me with a husband without any request from me. Next—speaking with all submission and reverence—I do not purpose to let myself fall be low the race of my ancestors, who from all time have been famous and illustrious, nor do I wish to debase the crown you wear by taking for a husband one who is our inferior. You, my beloved father, have begotten four daughters, of whom you have married three in the most honourable fashion to three mighty kings, giving with them great store of gold and wide domains, but you wish to dispose of me, who have ever been obedient to you and observant of your precepts, in an ignoble alliance. Wherefore I tell you, to end my speech, that I will never take a husband unless I can be mated, like my three sisters, to a king of a rank that is my due.’ Shortly after this, Costanza, shedding many tears the while, took leave of the king and queen, and, having mounted a gallant horse, set forth from Thebes alone, and determined to follow whatever road fortune might lay open to her feet.
While she was thus journeying at hazard she deemed it wise to change her name, so in lieu of Costanza she called herself Costanzo, and donned a man’s attire. She passed over many mountain ranges, and lakes, and marshes, and saw many lands, and heard the tongues and took heed of the ways and manners of certain races who live their lives after the fashion of brutes rather than of men. At last, one day at the set of sun, she arrived at a famed and celebrated city called Costanza, the capital of all the country round, and at that time under the rule of Cacco, King of Bettinia. And, having entered therein, she forth with began to admire the superb palaces the straight roomy streets, the running water, the broad rivers, and the clear, soft, trickling fountains. Then, when she had come near to the piazza, she saw the spacious and lofty palace of the king, adorned with columns of the finest marble and porphyry, and, having raised her eyes somewhat, she saw the king, who was standing upon a gallery which commanded a view of the whole piazza, and taking off her cap from her head she made him a profound reverence. The king, when he perceived the fair and graceful youth down below, had him called and brought into his presence, and as soon as Costanzo stood before him he demanded from what country he had come, and by what name he was called. The youth, with a smiling face, gave answer that he had journeyed from Thebes, driven thence by envious and deceitful fortune, and that Costanzo was his name. He declared, moreover, that he desired greatly to attach himself to the service of some gentleman of worth, pledging himself to serve any such lord with all the faith and affection that good service merited. The king, who mean time was mightily pleased with the appearance of the youth, said to him: ‘Seeing that you bear the name of this my city, it is my pleasure that you tarry here in my court with no other duty laid upon you than to attend to my per son.’ The youth, who desired no better office than this, first rendered to the king his gratitude, and then joyfully accepted service under him as lord, offering at the same time to hold himself ready to discharge any duty which might be assigned to him.
So Costanza, in the guise of a man, entered into the service of the king, and served him so well and gracefully that every one who came near him was astonished beyond measure at his talents. And it chanced that the queen, when she had well observed and considered the graceful bearing, the pleasant manners, and the discreet behaviour of Costanzo, began to cast her eyes more diligently upon him, until at last, so hotly did she grow inflamed with love of him, neither by day nor by night did she turn her thoughts upon any other. And so soft and so loving were the glances that she would continually dart towards him, that not only a youth, but even the hardest rock, or the unyielding diamond even, might well have been softened. Where fore the queen, being thus consumed with passion for Costanzo, yearned for nothing else than that she might some day find occasion to foregather with him alone. And before long it came to pass that chance gave her the opportunity of conversing with him, so she straightway inquired of him whether it would be agreeable to him to enter into her ser vice, making it known to him likewise that by serving her he would gain, over and above the guerdon which she would give him, the approbation or even the reverence and respect of all the court.
Costanzo perceived clearly enough that these words which came out of the queen’s mouth sprang from no goodwill of hers for his advancement, but from amorous passion. Knowing moreover, that, being a woman like herself he could in no way satisfy the hot unbridled lust which prompted them, with unclouded face he humbly made answer to her in these words: ‘Signora, so strong is the obligation of service which binds me to my lord your husband, that it seems to me I should be working him a base in jury were I to withdraw myself from my obedience to his will. Therefore I pray you to hold me excused, and to pardon me that I am not ready and willing at once to take service with you, and to accept, as the reason of this my refusal of your gracious offer, my resolve to serve my lord even unto death, provided that it pleases him to retain me as his man.’ And, having taken leave of the queen, he withdrew from her presence. The queen, who was well aware that men do not fell to earth a hard oak-tree with a single stroke, many and many a time after this made trial, with the deepest cunning and art, to entice the youth to take service under her, but he, as constant and as strong as a lofty tower beaten by the winds, was not to be moved. As soon as the queen became conscious of this, the ardent burning love in her was turned to mortal bitter hatred, so that she could no longer bear the sight of him. And, having now grown anxious to work his destruction, she pondered day and night how she might best set to work to clear him out of her path, but she was in great dread of the king, for that he continued to hold the youth in high favour.
In a certain district of the province of Bettinia there was to be found a strange race of beings, in whom one-half of the body, that is to say, the upper part, was made after the fashion of a man, though they had ears like those of animals, and horns as well. But in their lower parts they had members resembling those of a rough shaggy goat, with a little tail, twisted and curling, of the sort one sees upon a pig. These creatures were called satyrs, and by their depredations they caused great loss and damage to the villages and the farms and the people living in the country thereabout. Wherefore the king desired greatly to have one of these satyrs taken alive and delivered over into his keeping, but there was found no one about the court with heart stout enough to undertake this adventure and capture a satyr for the king. By sending him on an errand of this sort the queen hoped to work Costanzo’s destruction, but the issue of the matter was not at all what she desired, for in this case, as in many others, the would-be deceiver, by the workings of divine providence and supreme justice, was cast under the feet of the one she purposed to beguile.
The treacherous queen, being well aware of the king’s longing, happened to be one day in converse with him concerning divers matters, and, while they were thus debating, she said to him: ‘My lord, have you never considered that Costanzo, your faithful and devoted servant, is strong and vigorous enough in body, and daring and courageous enough in soul, to go and capture for you one of these satyrs, and to bring him back to you alive, without calling on anyone else to aid him. If the matter should fall out in this wise, as I believe it would, you might easily make trial of it, and in the course of an hour attain the wish of your heart, and Costanzo, as a brave and valiant knight, would en joy the honour of the deed, which would be accounted to him for glory for ever.’ This speech of the cunning queen pleased the king greatly, and he straightway bade them summon Costanzo into his presence. When the youth appeared the king thus addressed him: ‘Costanzo, if indeed you love me, as you make show of doing, and as all people believe, you will now carry out fully the wish I have in my heart, and you yourself shall possess the glory of the fulfilling thereof. You are surely aware that what I desire more than aught else in the world is to have a satyr alive in my own keeping. Wherefore, seeing how strong and active you are, I reckon there is no other man in all my kingdom so well fitted to work my will in this affair as you; so, loving me as you do, you will not refuse to carry out my will.’ The youth, who suspected not that this demand sprang from aught else than the king’s desire, was anxious to give no cause of vexation to the king, and with a cheerful and amiable face thus made answer: ‘My lord, in this and in everything else you may command me. However weak and imperfect my faculties may be, I will on no account draw back from striving to fulfil your wishes, even though in the task I should meet with my death. But, before I commit myself to this perilous adventure, I beg you, my lord, that you will cause to be taken into the wood where the satyrs abide a large vessel with a wide mouth of the same size as those which the servants use in dressing smooth the shifts and other kinds of body linen. And besides this I would have taken thither a large cask of good white wine, the best that can be had and the strongest, together with two bags full of the finest white bread.’ The king forthwith bade them get in readiness everything which Costanzo had described, and Costanzo then journeyed towards the wood in question. Having arrived there he took a copper bucket and began to fill it with white wine drawn from the cask, and this he poured into the other vessel which stood near by. Next he took some of the bread, and, having broken it in pieces, he put these into the vessel full of wine. This being done he climbed up into a thick-leaved tree which stood hard by, and waited to see what might happen next.
Costanzo had not been long up in the tree before the satyrs, who had smelt the odour of the fragrant wine, began to draw near to the vessel, and having come close to it, each one swilled therefrom a good bellyfull of wine, greedy as the hungry wolves when they fall upon a fold of young lambs. And after they had filled their stomachs and had taken enough, they lay down to sleep, and so sound and deep was their slumber that all the noise in the world would not have roused them. Then Costanzo, seeing that the time for action had come, descended from the tree and went softly up to one of the satyrs, whose hands and feet he bound fast with a cord he had brought with him. Next, without making any noise, he laid him upon his horse and carried him off. And while Costanzo was on his way back, with the satyr tightly bound behind him, they came at the vesper hour to a village not far from the city, and the creature, who by this time had recovered from the effects of the wine, woke up and began to yawn as if he were rising from his bed. Looking around him he perceived the father of a family, who with a crowd around him was going to bury a dead child, weeping bitterly the while, and the priest, who conducted the service, was singing. When he looked upon this spectacle the satyr began to laugh mightily. Afterwards, when they had entered the city and were come to the piazza, the satyr beheld a great crowd of people who were staring open-mouthed at a poor lad who had just mounted the gallows to be hanged by the executioner, and the satyr laughed thereat even louder than he had laughed before. And afterwards, when they were come to the palace, a great joy seized upon the people standing by, and they all cried out ‘Costanzo! Costanzo!’ And the satyr, when he heard this shouting, laughed louder than ever.
When Costanzo was conducted into the presence of the king and of the queen and her ladies, he presented to the king the satyr, who thereupon laughed again, and so loud and long was his laughter that all those that were there present were not a little astonished. After this the king, seeing with what diligence Costanzo had fulfilled his dearest wish, held him in as high affection and esteem as ever lord extended to servant, but this humour of his only added fresh griefs to t load which already lay upon the queen’s heart; for that, having schemed to ruin Costanzo, she had done nothing but exalt him to yet greater honour. Wherefore the wicked queen, not being able to endure the sight of such great prosperity as had come to Costanzo, devised yet another snare for him, which was this. She knew that the king was wont to go every morning to the cell where the satyr was kept in hold, and for his diversion would essay to make the creature talk, but as yet he had in no wise succeeded in his efforts. Where—fore, having sought out the king, she said to him: ‘Sire, you have betaken yourself over and over again to the satyr’s cell, and you have wearied yourself in your endeavours to induce him to talk with you in order that you might take diversion therefrom, but the creature still shows no sign of speaking a word. Why, therefore, should you further worry your brains over this affair, for you may take it for certain that, if Costanzo were only willing, he could easily make the satyr converse and answer questions.’
The king, when he listened to these words, straightway bade them summon Costanzo into his presence, and when he came the king thus addressed him: ‘Costanzo, I am well assured that you know how great is the pleasure I get from the satyr you captured for me; nevertheless it irks me greatly to find that he is dumb, and will never make any answer to the words I say to him and the questions I put. If you would only do all that you might, I am sure that you would be able to make him speak.’ ‘Sire,’ Costanzo replied, ‘that the satyr is dumb is no fault of mine; it is not the office of a mortal, like me, to make him speak, but of a god. But if the reason of his mute ness comes not from any natural or accidental defect, but from stubborn resolve to keep silence, I will do all that lies in my power to make him open his mouth in speech.’ Then, having gone together to the satyr’s prison, they gave him some dainty food, and some wine still better, and called out to him, ‘Eat, Chiappino’ (for this was the name they had given to the satyr). But the creature only stared at them without uttering a word. Then they went on: ‘Come, Chiappino, tell us whether that capon and that wine are to your taste; ‘but still he was silent. Costanzo, perceiving how obstinate the humour of the creature was, said, ‘So you will not answer me, Chiappino. Let me tell you you are doing a very foolish thing, seeing that I can if I will let you die of hunger here in prison.’ And at these words the satyr shot a side- glance at Costanzo. After a little Costanzo went on: ‘Answer me, Chiappino; for if you speak to me (as I hope you will) I will liberate you from this place.’ Then Chiappino, who had listened with eagerness to all that had been said, answered, as soon as he heard speak of liberation,’ What will you of me?’ Costanzo then said, ‘Tell me, have you eaten and drunk well?’ ‘Yes,’ said Chiappino. ‘Now I want you, of your courtesy, to tell me,’ said Costanzo, ‘what thing it was that moved you to laughter in the village street when we met with the body of the child on its way to be buried?’ To this Chiappino answered,’ I laughed, indeed, not at the dead child, but at the so-called father, to whom the child in the coffin was in fact no kin at all, and I laughed at the priest singing the office, who was the real father,’ by which speech the satyr would have them understand that the mother of the child had carried on an intrigue with the priest. Then said Costanzo, ‘And now I want to know, my Chiappino, what it was that you laugh yet louder when we were come into the piazza?’ ‘I laughed .hen,’ replied Chiappino, ‘to see a thou sand or more thieves, who had robbed the public purse of crowns by the million, who deserved a thousand gibbets, standing in the piazza to feast their eyes on the sight of a poor wretch led to the gallows, who, perchance, had merely pilfered ten florins wherewith to buy bread for himself and his poor children. That was why I laughed.’ Then said Costanzo, ‘And besides this, I beg you to tell me how it was that, when we were come into the palace, you laughed longer and louder than ever?’ ‘Ah, I beg you will not trouble me more at present,’ said Chiappino, ‘but go your way and come back tomorrow, and then I will answer you and tell you certain things of which perchance you have no inkling.’ When Costanzo heard this, he said to the king, ‘Let us depart and come back tomorrow, and hear what this thing may be.’ Whereupon the king and Costanzo took their leave, and gave orders that Chiappino should be given to eat and drink of the best, and that he should be allowed to chatter as he would.
When the next day had come they both went to see Chiappino, and they found him puffing and blowing like a great pig, and, having gone close to him, cried out to him several times in a loud voice. But Chiappino, who had well filled his belly, answered nought. Then Costanzo gave him a sharp prick with a dart which he had with him, whereupon the satyr awoke and stood up and demanded who was there. ‘Now get up, Chiappino,’ said Costanzo, ‘and tell us that thing which yesterday you promised we should hear, and say why you laughed so loud when we came to the palace?’ To which question Chiappino made this reply: ‘For a reason which you ought t understand better than I. It was, forsooth, at hearing them all shouting, “Costanzo! Costanzo!” while all the time you are Costanza.’ The king when .he heard this could in no wise comprehend what this saying of Chiappino’s insight mean; but Costanzo, who immediately recognized its import, in order to keep him from speaking more, at once stopped the way for him by saying: And when you had been brought into the very presence of the king and queen, what made you laugh then as if nothing could stop you?’ To this Chiappino made answer: ‘I laughed then so outrageously because the king, and you as well, believed that the maidens who were in service on the queen were really maidens, whereas the greater part of them were young men.’ And then he was silent.
When the king heard these words he knew not what to think, but he said nothing; and, having left the wild satyr, he went out with Costanzo, wishing to learn clearly what might be the meaning of what he had heard. And after he had made due inquiry he found that Costanzo was in truth a woman, and not a youth, and that the supposed damsels about the queen were sprightly young men, as Chiappino had said. And straightway the king bade them light a great fire in the middle of the piazza, and into it, in the presence of all the people, he caused to be cast the queen and all her paramours. And, bearing in mind the praiseworthy loyalty and the open faithfulness of Costanza, and marking moreover her exceeding beauty, the king made her his wife in the presence of all his barons and knights. When he knew who her parents were, he greatly rejoiced, and forthwith despatched ambassadors to King Ricardo and to Valeriana his wife, and to the three sisters of Costanza, to tell them how she was now the wife of a king; whereupon they all felt the joy due to such good news. Thus the noble Costanza, in recompense for the faithful service she rendered, be came a queen and lived long with Cacco her husband. When Fiordiana had brought her fable to an end, the Signora made a sign to her to give her enigma. The damsel, who was somewhat haughty, rather by chance than by nature, set it forth in the following words:
Over savage lions twain
A spirit soft and mild doth reign.
By her side four damsels move,
Prudence, Valour, Faith, and Love.
She bears a sword in her right hand;
Before it calm the righteous stand,
But wicked men and souls unjust
It smites and lays them in the dust.
Discord nor wrong with her may rest,
And he who loves her wins the best.
This clever enigma set forth by Fiordiana, who indeed was a damsel of subtle mind, won the praise of all, and some found its meaning to be one thing, and some another. But there was no one of all the company who rightly divined it, seeing that all their solutions were far wide of the true one. When Fiordiana saw this she said in a lively tone, “Ladies and gentlemen, I see you are troubling yourselves in vain, seeing that my enigma means nothing else than that infinite and equal justice which like a gentle spirit rules and restrains both the hungry, savage lions, and likewise the proud, unconquerable spirit of man. More than that, justice makes steadfast her faith, holding in her right hand a sharp sword, and accompanied always by four virgins, Prudence, Charity, Fortitude, and Faith. She is gentle and kind to the good, and severe and bitter to the perverse and bad.” When Fiordiana ceased speaking, the listeners were greatly pleased with the interpretation of her enigma. Then the Signora bade the gracious Vicenza to follow in her turn with a fable, and she, eager to obey this command, spake as follows.