The Project Gutenberg ebook of The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio, by

:)


Download 5.16 Mb.
Page3/78
Date conversion03.01.2017
Size5.16 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   78

divers fears and conceits were begotten in those who abode alive,

which well nigh all tended to a very barbarous conclusion, namely, to

shun and flee from the sick and all that pertained to them, and thus

doing, each thought to secure immunity for himself. Some there were

who conceived that to live moderately and keep oneself from all excess

was the best defence against such a danger; wherefore, making up their

company, they lived removed from every other and shut themselves up in

those houses where none had been sick and where living was best; and

there, using very temperately of the most delicate viands and the

finest wines and eschewing all incontinence, they abode with music and

such other diversions as they might have, never suffering themselves

to speak with any nor choosing to hear any news from without of death

or sick folk. Others, inclining to the contrary opinion, maintained

that to carouse and make merry and go about singing and frolicking and

satisfy the appetite in everything possible and laugh and scoff at

whatsoever befell was a very certain remedy for such an ill. That

which they said they put in practice as best they might, going about

day and night, now to this tavern, now to that, drinking without stint

or measure; and on this wise they did yet more freely in other folk's

houses, so but they scented there aught that liked or tempted them, as

they might lightly do, for that every one--as he were to live no

longer--had abandoned all care of his possessions, as of himself,

wherefore the most part of the houses were become common good and

strangers used them, whenas they happened upon them, like as the very

owner might have done; and with all this bestial preoccupation, they

still shunned the sick to the best of their power.

In this sore affliction and misery of our city, the reverend authority

of the laws, both human and divine, was all in a manner dissolved and

fallen into decay, for [lack of] the ministers and executors thereof,

who, like other men, were all either dead or sick or else left so

destitute of followers that they were unable to exercise any office,

wherefore every one had license to do whatsoever pleased him. Many

others held a middle course between the two aforesaid, not straitening

themselves so exactly in the matter of diet as the first neither

allowing themselves such license in drinking and other debauchery as

the second, but using things in sufficiency, according to their

appetites; nor did they seclude themselves, but went about, carrying

in their hands, some flowers, some odoriferous herbs and other some

divers kinds of spiceries,[7] which they set often to their noses,

accounting it an excellent thing to fortify the brain with such

odours, more by token that the air seemed all heavy and attainted with

the stench of the dead bodies and that of the sick and of the remedies

used.
[Footnote 7: _i.e._ aromatic drugs.]

Some were of a more barbarous, though, peradventure, a surer way of

thinking, avouching that there was no remedy against pestilences

better than--no, nor any so good as--to flee before them; wherefore,

moved by this reasoning and recking of nought but themselves, very

many, both men and women, abandoned their own city, their own houses

and homes, their kinsfolk and possessions, and sought the country

seats of others, or, at the least, their own, as if the wrath of God,

being moved to punish the iniquity of mankind, would not proceed to do

so wheresoever they might be, but would content itself with afflicting

those only who were found within the walls of their city, or as if

they were persuaded that no person was to remain therein and that its

last hour was come. And albeit these, who opined thus variously, died

not all, yet neither did they all escape; nay, many of each way of

thinking and in every place sickened of the plague and languished on

all sides, well nigh abandoned, having themselves, what while they

were whole, set the example to those who abode in health.

Indeed, leaving be that townsman avoided townsman and that well nigh

no neighbour took thought unto other and that kinsfolk seldom or never

visited one another and held no converse together save from afar, this

tribulation had stricken such terror to the hearts of all, men and

women alike, that brother forsook brother, uncle nephew and sister

brother and oftentimes wife husband; nay (what is yet more

extraordinary and well nigh incredible) fathers and mothers refused to

visit or tend their very children, as they had not been theirs. By

reason whereof there remained unto those (and the number of them, both

males and females, was incalculable) who fell sick, none other succour

than that which they owed either to the charity of friends (and of

these there were few) or the greed of servants, who tended them,

allured by high and extravagant wage; albeit, for all this, these

latter were not grown many, and those men and women of mean

understanding and for the most part unused to such offices, who served

for well nigh nought but to reach things called for by the sick or to

note when they died; and in the doing of these services many of them

perished with their gain.

Of this abandonment of the sick by neighbours, kinsfolk and friends

and of the scarcity of servants arose an usage before well nigh

unheard, to wit, that no woman, how fair or lovesome or well-born

soever she might be, once fallen sick, recked aught of having a man to

tend her, whatever he might be, or young or old, and without any shame

discovered to him every part of her body, no otherwise than she would

have done to a woman, so but the necessity of her sickness required

it; the which belike, in those who recovered, was the occasion of

lesser modesty in time to come. Moreover, there ensued of this

abandonment the death of many who peradventure, had they been

succoured, would have escaped alive; wherefore, as well for the lack

of the opportune services which the sick availed not to have as for

the virulence of the plague, such was the multitude of those who died

in the city by day and by night that it was an astonishment to hear

tell thereof, much more to see it; and thence, as it were of

necessity, there sprang up among those who abode alive things contrary

to the pristine manners of the townsfolk.

It was then (even as we yet see it used) a custom that the kinswomen

and she-neighbours of the dead should assemble in his house and there

condole with those who more nearly pertained unto him, whilst his

neighbours and many other citizens foregathered with his next of kin

before his house, whither, according to the dead man's quality, came

the clergy, and he with funeral pomp of chants and candles was borne

on the shoulders of his peers to the church chosen by himself before

his death; which usages, after the virulence of the plague began to

increase, were either altogether or for the most part laid aside, and

other and strange customs sprang up in their stead. For that, not only

did folk die without having a multitude of women about them, but many

there were who departed this life without witness and few indeed were

they to whom the pious plaints and bitter tears of their kinsfolk were

vouchsafed; nay, in lieu of these things there obtained, for the most

part, laughter and jests and gibes and feasting and merrymaking in

company; which usance women, laying aside womanly pitifulness, had

right well learned for their own safety.

Few, again, were they whose bodies were accompanied to the church by

more than half a score or a dozen of their neighbours, and of these no

worshipful and illustrious citizens, but a sort of blood-suckers,

sprung from the dregs of the people, who styled themselves

_pickmen_[8] and did such offices for hire, shouldered the bier and

bore it with hurried steps, not to that church which the dead man had

chosen before his death, but most times to the nearest, behind five or

six[9] priests, with little light[10] and whiles none at all, which

latter, with the aid of the said pickmen, thrust him into what grave

soever they first found unoccupied, without troubling themselves with

too long or too formal a service.
[Footnote 8: _i.e._ gravediggers (_becchini_).]
[Footnote 9: Lit. _four_ or six. This is the equivalent Italian

idiom.]
[Footnote 10: _i.e._ but few tapers.]


The condition of the common people (and belike, in great part, of the

middle class also) was yet more pitiable to behold, for that these,

for the most part retained by hope[11] or poverty in their houses and

abiding in their own quarters, sickened by the thousand daily and

being altogether untended and unsuccoured, died well nigh all without

recourse. Many breathed their last in the open street, whilst other

many, for all they died in their houses, made it known to the

neighbours that they were dead rather by the stench of their rotting

bodies than otherwise; and of these and others who died all about the

whole city was full. For the most part one same usance was observed by

the neighbours, moved more by fear lest the corruption of the dead

bodies should imperil themselves than by any charity they had for the

departed; to wit, that either with their own hands or with the aid of

certain bearers, whenas they might have any, they brought the bodies

of those who had died forth of their houses and laid them before their

doors, where, especially in the morning, those who went about might

see corpses without number; then they fetched biers and some, in

default thereof, they laid upon some board or other. Nor was it only

one bier that carried two or three corpses, nor did this happen but

once; nay, many might have been counted which contained husband and

wife, two or three brothers, father and son or the like. And an

infinite number of times it befell that, two priests going with one

cross for some one, three or four biers, borne by bearers, ranged

themselves behind the latter,[12] and whereas the priests thought to

have but one dead man to bury, they had six or eight, and whiles more.

Nor therefore were the dead honoured with aught of tears or candles or

funeral train; nay, the thing was come to such a pass that folk recked

no more of men that died than nowadays they would of goats; whereby it

very manifestly appeared that that which the natural course of things

had not availed, by dint of small and infrequent harms, to teach the

wise to endure with patience, the very greatness of their ills had

brought even the simple to expect and make no account of. The

consecrated ground sufficing not to the burial of the vast multitude

of corpses aforesaid, which daily and well nigh hourly came carried in

crowds to every church,--especially if it were sought to give each his

own place, according to ancient usance,--there were made throughout

the churchyards, after every other part was full, vast trenches,

wherein those who came after were laid by the hundred and being heaped

up therein by layers, as goods are stowed aboard ship, were covered

with a little earth, till such time as they reached the top of the

trench.
[Footnote 11: _i.e._ expectation of gain from acting as tenders of the

sick, gravediggers, etc. The word _speranza_ is, however, constantly

used by Dante and his follower Boccaccio in the contrary sense of

"fear," and may be so meant in the present instance.]

[Footnote 12: _i.e._ the cross.]
Moreover,--not to go longer searching out and recalling every

particular of our past miseries, as they befell throughout the

city,--I say that, whilst so sinister a time prevailed in the latter,

on no wise therefor was the surrounding country spared, wherein,

(letting be the castles,[13] which in their littleness[14] were like

unto the city,) throughout the scattered villages and in the fields,

the poor and miserable husbandmen and their families, without succour

of physician or aid of servitor, died, not like men, but well nigh

like beasts, by the ways or in their tillages or about the houses,

indifferently by day and night. By reason whereof, growing lax like

the townsfolk in their manners and customs, they recked not of any

thing or business of theirs; nay, all, as if they looked for death

that very day, studied with all their wit, not to help to maturity the

future produce of their cattle and their fields and the fruits of

their own past toils, but to consume those which were ready to hand.

Thus it came to pass that the oxen, the asses, the sheep, the goats,

the swine, the fowls, nay, the very dogs, so faithful to mankind,

being driven forth of their own houses, went straying at their

pleasure about the fields, where the very corn was abandoned, without

being cut, much less gathered in; and many, well nigh like reasonable

creatures, after grazing all day, returned at night, glutted, to their

houses, without the constraint of any herdsman.


[Footnote 13: _i.e._ walled burghs.]
[Footnote 14: _i.e._ in miniature.]

To leave the country and return to the city, what more can be said

save that such and so great was the cruelty of heaven (and in part,

peradventure, that of men) that, between March and the following July,

what with the virulence of that pestiferous sickness and the number of

sick folk ill tended or forsaken in their need, through the

fearfulness of those who were whole, it is believed for certain that

upward of an hundred thousand human beings perished within the walls

of the city of Florence, which, peradventure, before the advent of

that death-dealing calamity, had not been accounted to hold so many?

Alas, how many great palaces, how many goodly houses, how many noble

mansions, once full of families, of lords and of ladies, abode empty

even to the meanest servant! How many memorable families, how many

ample heritages, how many famous fortunes were seen to remain without

lawful heir! How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, how many

sprightly youths, whom, not others only, but Galen, Hippocrates or

Æsculapius themselves would have judged most hale, breakfasted in the

morning with their kinsfolk, comrades and friends and that same night

supped with their ancestors in the other world!


I am myself weary of going wandering so long among such miseries;

wherefore, purposing henceforth to leave such part thereof as I can

fitly, I say that,--our city being at this pass, well nigh void of

inhabitants,--it chanced (as I afterward heard from a person worthy of

credit) that there foregathered in the venerable church of Santa Maria

Novella, one Tuesday morning when there was well nigh none else there,

seven young ladies, all knit one to another by friendship or

neighbourhood or kinship, who had heard divine service in mourning

attire, as sorted with such a season. Not one of them had passed her

eight-and-twentieth year nor was less than eighteen years old, and

each was discreet and of noble blood, fair of favour and well-mannered

and full of honest sprightliness. The names of these ladies I would in

proper terms set out, did not just cause forbid me, to wit, that I

would not have it possible that, in time to come, any of them should

take shame by reason of the things hereinafter related as being told

or hearkened by them, the laws of disport being nowadays somewhat

straitened, which at that time, for the reasons above shown, were of

the largest, not only for persons of their years, but for those of a

much riper age; nor yet would I give occasion to the envious, who are

still ready to carp at every praiseworthy life, on anywise to

disparage the fair fame of these honourable ladies with unseemly talk.

Wherefore, so that which each saith may hereafterward be apprehended

without confusion, I purpose to denominate them by names altogether or

in part sorting with each one's quality.[15] The first of them and

her of ripest age I shall call Pampinea, the second Fiammetta, the

third Filomena and the fourth Emilia. To the fifth we will give the

name of Lauretta, to the sixth that of Neifile and the last, not

without cause, we will style Elisa.[16] These, then, not drawn of any

set purpose, but foregathering by chance in a corner of the church,

having seated themselves in a ring, after divers sighs, let be the

saying of paternosters and fell to devising with one another many and

various things of the nature of the time. After awhile, the others

being silent, Pampinea proceeded to speak thus:
[Footnote 15: Or character (_qualità_).]
[Footnote 16: I know of no explanation of these names by the

commentators, who seem, indeed, after the manner of their kind, to

have generally confined themselves to the elaborate illustration and

elucidation (or rather, alas! too often, obscuration) of passages

already perfectly plain, leaving the difficult passages for the most

part untouched. The following is the best I can make of them.

_Pampinea_ appears to be formed from the Greek [Greek: pan], all, and

[Greek: pinuô], I advise, admonish or inform, and to mean all-advising

or admonishing, which would agree well enough with the character of

Pampinea, who is represented as the eldest and sagest of the female

personages of the Decameron and as taking the lead in everything.

_Fiammetta_ is the name by which Boccaccio designates his mistress,

the Princess Maria of Naples (the lady for whom he cherished "the very

high and noble passion" of which he speaks in his Proem), in his

earlier opuscule, the "Elégia di Madonna Fiammetta," describing, in

her name, the torments of separation from the beloved. In this work he

speaks of himself under the name of Pamfilo (Gr. [Greek: pan], all,

and [Greek: phileô], I love, _i.e._ the all-loving or the passionate

lover), and it is probable, therefore, that under these names he

intended to introduce his royal ladylove and himself in the present

work. _Filomena_ (Italian form of Philomela, a nightingale, Greek

[Greek: philos] loving, and [Greek: melos], melody, song, _i.e._

song-loving) is perhaps so styled for her love of music, and

_Emilia's_ character, as it appears in the course of the work,

justifies the derivation of her name from the Greek [Greek: aimylios],

pleasing, engaging in manners and behaviour, cajoling. _Lauretta_

Boccaccio probably intends us to look upon as a learned lady, if, as

we may suppose, her name is a corruption of _laureata_,

laurel-crowned; whilst _Neifile's_ name (Greek [Greek: neios] [[Greek:

neos]] new, and [Greek: phileô], I love, _i.e._ novelty-loving) stamps

her as being of a somewhat curious disposition, eager "to tell or to

hear some new thing." The name _Elisa_ is not so easily to be

explained as the others; possibly it was intended by the author as a

reminiscence of Dido, to whom the name (which is by some authorities

explained to mean "Godlike," from a Hebrew root) is said to have been

given "quòd plurima supra animi muliebris fortitudinem gesserit." It

does not, however, appear that there was in Elisa's character or life

anything to justify the implied comparison.]


"Dear my ladies, you may, like myself, have many times heard that

whoso honestly useth his right doth no one wrong; and it is the

natural right of every one who is born here below to succour, keep and

defend his own life as best he may, and in so far is this allowed that

it hath happened whiles that, for the preservation thereof, men have

been slain without any fault. If this much be conceded of the laws,

which have in view the well-being of all mortals, how much more is it

lawful for us and whatsoever other, without offence unto any, to take

such means as we may for the preservation of our lives? As often as I

consider our fashions of this morning and those of many other mornings

past and bethink me what and what manner discourses are ours, I feel,

and you likewise must feel, that each of us is in fear for herself.

Nor do I anywise wonder at this; but I wonder exceedingly, considering

that we all have a woman's wit, that we take no steps to provide

ourselves against that which each of us justly feareth. We abide here,

to my seeming, no otherwise than as if we would or should be witness

of how many dead bodies are brought hither for burial or to hearken if

the friars of the place, whose number is come well nigh to nought,

chant their offices at the due hours or by our apparel to show forth

unto whosoever appeareth here the nature and extent of our distresses.

If we depart hence, we either see dead bodies or sick persons carried

about or those, whom for their misdeeds the authority of the public

laws whilere condemned to exile, overrun the whole place with unseemly

excesses, as if scoffing at the laws, for that they know the executors

thereof to be either dead or sick; whilst the dregs of our city,

fattened with our blood, style themselves _pickmen_ and ruffle it

everywhere in mockery of us, riding and running all about and flouting

us with our distresses in ribald songs. We hear nothing here but 'Such

an one is dead' or 'Such an one is at the point of death'; and were

there any to make them, we should hear dolorous lamentations on all

sides. And if we return to our houses, I know not if it is with you as

with me, but, for my part, when I find none left therein of a great

household, save my serving-maid, I wax fearful and feel every hair of

my body stand on end; and wherever I go or abide about the house,

meseemeth I see the shades of those who are departed and who wear not

those countenances that I was used to see, but terrify me with a

horrid aspect, I know not whence newly come to them.
By reason of these things I feel myself alike ill at ease here and

abroad and at home, more by token that meseemeth none, who hath, as we

have, the power and whither to go, is left here, other than ourselves;

or if any such there be, I have many a time both heard and perceived

that, without making any distinction between things lawful and

unlawful, so but appetite move them, whether alone or in company, both

day and night, they do that which affordeth them most delight. Nor is

it the laity alone who do thus; nay, even those who are shut in the




1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   78
:)


The database is protected by copyright ©hestories.info 2017
send message

    Main page

:)