Download from Apple Store
Download from Google Play

Giovanni Boccaccio - Decameron (Day the Seventeenth) lyrics

The Sixth Story

Madam Beritola, Having Lost Her Two Sons, Is Found On A Desert Island With Two Kids And Goeth Thence Into Lunigiana, Where One Of Her Sons, Taking Service With The Lord Of The Country, Lieth With His Daughter And Is Cast Into Prison. Sicily After Rebelling Against King Charles And The Youth Being Recognized By His Mother, He Espouseth His Lord's Daughter, And His Brother Being Likewise Found, They Are All Three Restored To High Estate

Ladies and young men alike laughed heartily at Andreuccio's adventures, as related by Fiammetta, and Emilia, seeing the story ended, began, by the queen's commandment, to speak thus: "Grievous things and woeful are the various shifts of Fortune, whereof,—for that, whenassoever it is discoursed of them, it is an awakenment for our minds, which lightly fall asleep under her blandishments,—methinketh it should never be irksome either to the happy or the unhappy to hear tell, inasmuch as it rendereth the former wary and consoleth the latter. Wherefore, albeit great things have already been recounted upon this subject, I purpose to tell you thereanent a story no less true than pitiful, whereof, for all it had a joyful ending, so great and so longsome was the bitterness that I can scarce believe it to have been assuaged by any subsequent gladness.

You must know, dearest ladies, that, after the death of the Emperor Frederick the Second, Manfred was crowned King of Sicily, in very high estate with whom was a gentleman of Naples called Arrighetto Capece, who had to wife a fair and noble lady, also of Naples, by name Madam Beritola Caracciola. The said Arrighetto, who had the governance of the island in his hands, hearing that King Charles the First[102] had overcome and slain Manfred at Benevento and that all the realm had revolted to him and having scant assurance of the short-lived fidelity of the Sicilians, prepared for flight, misliking to become a subject of his lord's enemy; but, his intent being known of the Sicilians, he and many other friends and servants of King Manfred were suddenly made prisoners and delivered to King Charles, together with possession of the island.

Madam Beritola, in this grievous change of affairs, knowing not what was come of Arrighetto and sore adread of that which had befallen, abandoned all her possessions for fear of shame and poor and pregnant as she was, embarked, with a son of hers and maybe eight years of age, Giusfredi by name, in a little boat and fled to Lipari, where she gave birth to another male child, whom she named Scacciato,[103] and getting her a nurse, took ship with all three to return to her kinsfolk at Naples. But it befell otherwise than as she purposed; for that the ship, which should have gone to Naples, was carried by stress of wind to the island of Ponza,[104] where they entered a little bight of the sea and there awaited an occasion for continuing their voyage. Madam Beritola, going up, like the rest, into the island and finding a remote and solitary place, addressed herself to make moan for her Arrighetto, all alone there.

This being her daily usance, it chanced one day that, as she was occupied in bewailing herself, there came up a pirate galley, unobserved of any, sailor or other, and taking them all at unawares, made off with her prize. Madam Beritola, having made an end of her diurnal lamentation, returned to the sea-shore, as she was used to do, to visit her children, but found none there; whereat she first marvelled and after, suddenly misdoubting her of that which had happened, cast her eyes out to sea and saw the galley at no great distance, towing the little ship after it; whereby she knew but too well that she had lost her children, as well as her husband, and seeing herself there poor and desolate and forsaken, unknowing where she should ever again find any of them, she fell down aswoon upon the strand, calling upon her husband and her children. There was none there to recall her distracted spirits with cold water or other remedy, wherefore they might at their leisure go wandering whither it pleased them; but, after awhile, the lost senses returning to her wretched body, in company with tears and lamentations, she called long upon her children and went a great while seeking them in every cavern. At last, finding all her labour in vain and seeing the night coming on, she began, hoping and knowing not what, to be careful for herself and departing the sea-shore, returned to the cavern where she was won't to weep and bemoan herself.

She passed the night in great fear8 and inexpressible dolour and the new day being come and the hour of tierce past, she was fain, constrained by hunger, for that she had not supped overnight, to browse upon herbs; and having fed as best she might, she gave herself, weeping, to various thoughts of her future life. Pondering thus, she saw a she-goat enter a cavern hard by and presently issue thence and betake herself into the wood; whereupon she arose and entering whereas the goat had come forth, found there two little kidlings, born belike that same day, which seemed to her the quaintest and prettiest things in the world. Her milk being yet undried from her recent delivery, she tenderly took up the kids and set them to her breast. They refused not the service, but sucked her as if she had been their dam and thenceforth made no distinction between the one and the other. Wherefore, herseeming she had found some company in that desert place, and growing no less familiar with the old goat than with her little ones, she resigned herself to live and die there and abode eating of herbs and drinking water and weeping as often as she remembered her of her husband and children and of her past life.

The gentle lady, thus grown a wild creature, abiding on this wise, it befell, after some months, that there came on like wise to the place whither she had aforetime been driven by stress of weather, a little vessel from Pisa and there abode some days. On broad this bark was a gentleman named Currado [of the family] of the Marquises of Malespina, who, with his wife, a lady of worth and piety, was on his return home from a pilgrimage to all the holy places that be in the kingdom of Apulia. To pass away the time, Currado set out one day, with his lady and certain of his servants and his dogs, to go about the island, and not far from Madam Beritola's place of harbourage, the dogs started the two kids, which were now grown pretty big, as they went grazing. The latter, chased by the dogs, fled to no other place but into the cavern where was Madam Beritola, who, seeing this, started to her feet and catching up a staff, beat off the dogs. Currado and his wife, who came after them, seeing the lady, who was grown swart and lean and hairy, marvelled, and she yet more at them. But after Currado had, at her instance, called off his dogs, they prevailed with her, by dint of much entreaty, to tell them who she was and what she did there; whereupon she fully discovered to them her whole condition and all that had befallen her, together with her firm resolution [to abide alone in the island].

Currado, who had know Arrighetto Capece very well, hearing this, wept for pity, and did his utmost to divert her with words from so barbarous a purpose, offering to carry her back to her own house or to keep her with himself, holding her in such honour as his sister, until God should send her happier fortune. The lady not yielding to these proffers, Currado left his wife with her, bidding the latter cause bring thither to eat and clothe the lady, who was all in rags, with some of her own apparel, and charging her contrive, by whatsoever means, to bring her away with her. Accordingly, the gentle lady, being left with Madam Beritola, after condoling with her amain of her misfortunes, sent for raiment and victual and prevailed on her, with all the pains in the world, to don the one and eat the other.

Ultimately, after many prayers, Madam Beritola protesting that she would never consent to go whereas she might be known, she persuaded her to go with her into Lunigiana, together with the two kids and their dam, which latter were meantime returned and had greeted her with the utmost fondness, to the no small wonderment of the gentlewoman. Accordingly, as soon as fair weather was come, Madam Beritola embarked with Currado and his lady in their vessel, carrying with her the two kids and the she-goat (on whose account, her name being everywhere unknown, she was styled Cavriuola[105]) and setting sail with a fair wind, came speedily to the mouth of the Magra,[106] where they landed and went up to Currado's castle. There Madam Beritola abode, in a widow's habit, about the person of Currado's lady, as one of her waiting-women, humble, modest and obedient, still cherishing her kids and letting nourish them.

Meanwhile, the corsairs, who had taken the ship wherein Madam Beritola came to Ponza, but had left herself, as being unseen of them, betook themselves with all the other folk to Genoa, where, the booty coming to be shared among the owners of the galley, it chanced that the nurse and the two children fell, amongst other things, to the lot of a certain Messer Guasparrino d'Oria,[107] who sent them all three to his mansion, to be there employed as slaves about the service of the house. The nurse, afflicted beyond measure at the loss of her mistress and at the wretched condition where into she found herself and the two children fallen, wept long and sore; but, for that, albeit a poor woman, she was discreet and well-advised, when she saw that tears availed nothing and that she was become a slave together with them, she first comforted herself as best she might and after, considering whither they were come, she bethought herself that, should the two children be known, they might lightly chance to suffer hindrance; wherefore, hoping withal that, sooner or later fortune might change and they, an they lived, regain their lost estate, she resolved to discover to no one who they were, until she should see occasion therefor, and told all who asked her thereof that they were her sons. The elder she named, not Giusfredi, but Giannotto di Procida (the name of the younger she cared not to change), and explained to him, with the utmost diligence, why she had changed his name, showing him in what peril he might be, an he were known. This she set out to him not once, but many and many a time, and the boy, who was quick of wit, punctually obeyed the enjoinment of his discreet nurse.

Accordingly, the two boys and their nurse abode patiently in Messer Guasparrino's house several years, ill-clad and worse shod and employed about the meanest offices. But Giannotto, who was now sixteen years of age, and had more spirit than pertained to a slave, scorning the baseness of a menial condition, embarked on board certain galleys bound for Alexandria and taking leave of Messer Guasparrino's service, journeyed to divers parts, without any wise availing to advance himself. At last some three or four years after his departure from Genoa, being grown a handsome youth and tall of his person and hearing that his father, whom he thought dead, was yet alive, but was kept by King Charles in prison and duresse, he went wandering at a venture, well nigh despairing of fortune, till he came to Lunigiana and there, as chance would have it, took service with Currado Malespina, whom he served with great aptitude and acceptance. And albeit he now and again saw his mother, who was with Currado's lady, he never recognized her nor she him, so much had time changed the one and the other from that which they were used to be, whenas they last set eyes on each other.

Giannotto being, then, in Currado's service, it befell that a daughter of the latter, by name Spina, being left the widow of one Niccolo da Grignano, returned to her father's house and being very fair and agreeable and a girl of little more than sixteen years of age, chanced to cast eyes on Giannotto and he on her, and they became passionately enamoured of each other. Their love was not long without effect and lasted several months ere any was ware thereof. Wherefore, taking overmuch assurance, they began to order themselves with less discretion than behoveth unto matters of this kind, and one day, as they went, the young lady and Giannotto together, through a fair and thickset wood, they pushed on among the trees, leaving the rest of the company behind. Presently, themseeming they had far foregone the others, they laid themselves down to rest in a pleasant place, full of grass and flowers and shut in with trees, and there fell to taking amorous delight one of the other.

In this occupation, the greatness of their delight making the time seem brief to them, albeit they had been there a great while, they were surprised, first by the girl's mother and after by Currado, who, chagrined beyond measure at this sight, without saying aught of the cause, had them both seized by three of his serving-men and carried in bonds to a castle of his and went off, boiling with rage and despite and resolved to put them both to a shameful death. The girl's mother, although sore incensed and holding her daughter worthy of the severest punishment for her default, having by certain words of Currado apprehended his intent towards the culprits and unable to brook this, hastened after her enraged husband and began to beseech him that it would please him not run madly to make himself in his old age the murderer of his own daughter and to soil his hands with the blood of one of his servants, but to find other means of satisfying his wrath, such as to clap them in prison and there let them pine and bewail the fault committed. With these and many other words the pious lady so wrought upon him that she turned his mind from putting them to death and he bade imprison them, each in a place apart, where they should be well guarded and kept with scant victual and much unease, till such time as he should determine farther of them. As he bade, so was it done, and what their life was in duresse and continual tears and in fasts longer than might have behoved unto them, each may picture to himself.

What while Giannotto and Spina abode in this doleful case and had therein already abidden a year's space, unremembered of Currado, it came to pass that King Pedro of Arragon, by the procurement of Messer Gian di Procida, raised the island of Sicily against King Charles and took it from him, whereat Currado, being a Ghibelline,[108] rejoiced exceedingly, Giannotto, hearing of this from one of those who had him in guard, heaved a great sigh and said, 'Ah, woe is me! These fourteen years have I gone ranging beggarlike about the world, looking for nought other than this, which, now that it is come, so I may never again hope for weal, hath found me in a prison whence I have no hope ever to come forth, save dead.' 'How so?' asked the gaoler. 'What doth that concern thee which great kings do to one another? What hast thou to do in Sicily?' Quoth Giannotto, 'My heart is like to burst when I remember me of that which my father erst had to do there, whom, albeit I was but a little child, when I fled thence, yet do I mind me to have been lord thereof, in the lifetime of King Manfred.' 'And who was thy father?' asked the gaoler. 'My father's name,' answered Giannotto, 'I may now safely make known, since I find myself in the peril whereof I was in fear, an I discovered it. He was and is yet, an he live, called Arrighetto Capece, and my name is, not Giannotto, but Giusfredi, and I doubt not a jot, an I were quit of this prison, but I might yet, by returning to Sicily, have very high place there.'

The honest man, without asking farther, reported Giannotto's words, as first he had occasion, to Currado, who, hearing this,—albeit he feigned to the gaoler to make light of it,—betook himself to Madam Beritola and courteously asked her if she had had by Arrighetto a son named Giusfredi. The lady answered, weeping, that, if the elder of her two sons were alive, he would so be called and would be two-and-twenty years old. Currado, hearing this, concluded that this must be he and bethought himself that, were it so, he might at once do a great mercy and take away his own and his daughter's shame by giving her to Giannotto to wife; wherefore, sending privily for the latter, he particularly examined him touching all his past life and finding, by very manifest tokens, that he was indeed Giusfredi, son of Arrighetto Capece, he said to him, 'Giannotto, thou knowest what and how great is the wrong thou hast done me in the person of my daughter, whereas, I having ever well and friendly entreated thee, it behoved thee, as a servant should, still to study and do for my honour and interest; and many there be who, hadst thou used them like as thou hast used me, would have put thee to a shameful death, the which my clemency brooked not. Now, if it be as thou tellest me, to wit, that thou art the son of a man of condition and of a noble lady, I purpose, an thou thyself be willing, to put an end to thy tribulations and relieving thee from the misery and duresse wherein thou abidest, to reinstate at once thine honour and mine own in their due stead. As thou knowest, Spina, whom thou hast, though after a fashion misbeseeming both thyself and her, taken with love-liking, is a widow and her dowry is both great and good; as for her manners and her father and mother, thou knowest them, and of thy present state I say nothing. Wherefore, an thou will, I purpose that, whereas she hath unlawfully been thy mistress, she shall now lawfully become thy wife and that thou shalt abide here with me and with her, as my very son, so long as it shall please thee.'

Now prison had mortified Giannotto's flesh, but had nothing abated the generous spirit, which he derived from his noble birth, nor yet the entire affection he bore his mistress; and albeit he ardently desired that which Currado proffered him and saw himself in the latter's power, yet no whit did he dissemble of that which the greatness of his soul prompted him to say; wherefore he answered, 'Currado, neither lust of lordship nor greed of gain nor other cause whatever hath ever made me lay snares, traitor-wise, for thy life or thy good. I loved and love thy daughter and still shall love her, for that I hold her worthy of my love, and if I dealt with her less than honourably, in the opinion of the vulgar, my sin was one which still goeth hand in hand with youth and which an you would do away, it behoveth you first do away with youth. Moreover, it is an offence which, would the old but remember them of having been young and measure the defaults of others by their own and their own by those of others, would show less grievous than thou and many others make it; and as a friend, and not as an enemy, I committed it. This that thou profferest me I have still desired and had I thought it should be vouchsafed me, I had long since sought it; and so much the dearer will it now be to me, as my hope thereof was less. If, then, thou have not that intent which thy words denote, feed me not with vain hope; but restore me to prison and there torment me as thou wilt, for, so long as I love Spina, even so, for the love of her, shall I still love thee, whatsoever thou dost with me, and have thee in reverence.'

Currado, hearing this, marvelled and held him great of soul and his love fervent and tendered him therefore the dearer; wherefore, rising to his feet, he embraced him and kissed him and without more delay bade privily bring Spina thither. Accordingly, the lady—who was grown lean and pale and weakly in prison and showed well nigh another than she was won't to be, as on like wise Giannotto another man—being come, the two lovers in Currado's presence with one consent contracted marriage according to our usance. Then, after some days, during which he had let furnish the newly-married pair with all that was necessary or agreeable to them, he deemed it time to gladden their mothers with the good news and accordingly calling his lady and Cavriuola, he said to the latter, 'What would you say, madam, an I should cause you have again your elder son as the husband of one of my daughters?' Whereto she answered, 'Of that I can say to you no otherwhat than that, could I be more beholden to you than I am, I should be so much the more so as you would have restored to me that which is dearer to me than mine own self; and restoring it to me on such wise as you say, you would in some measure re-awaken in me my lost hope.' With this, she held her peace, weeping, and Currado said to his lady, 'And thou, mistress, how wouldst thou take it, were I to present thee with such a son-in-law?' The lady replied, 'Even a common churl, so he pleased you, would please me, let alone one of these,[109] who are men of gentle birth.' 'Then,' said Currado, 'I hope, ere many days, to make you happy women in this.'

Accordingly, seeing the two young folk now restored to their former cheer, he clad them sumptuously and said to Giusfredi, 'Were it not dear to thee, over and above thy present joyance, an thou sawest thy mother here?' Whereto he answered, 'I dare not flatter myself that the chagrin of her unhappy chances can have left her so long alive; but, were it indeed so, it were dear to me above all, more by token that methinketh I might yet, by her counsel, avail to recover great part of my estate in Sicily.' Thereupon Currado sent for both the ladies, who came and made much of the newly-wedded wife, no little wondering what happy inspiration it could have been that prompted Currado to such exceeding complaisance as he had shown in joining Giannotto with her in marriage. Madam Beritola, by reason of the words she had heard from Currado, began to consider Giannotto and some remembrance of the boyish lineaments of her son's countenance being by occult virtue awakened in her, without awaiting farther explanation, she ran, open-armed, to cast herself upon his neck, nor did overabounding emotion and maternal joy suffer her to say a word; nay, they so locked up all her senses that she fell into her son's arms, as if dead.
[Lyrics from: https:/]

The latter, albeit he was sore amazed, remembering to have many times before seen her in that same castle and never recognized her, nevertheless knew incontinent the maternal odour and blaming himself for his past heedlessness, received her, weeping, in his arms and kissed her tenderly. After awhile, Madam Beritola, being affectionately tended by Currado's lady and Spina and plied both with cold water and other remedies, recalled her strayed senses and embracing her son anew, full of maternal tenderness, with many tears and many tender words, kissed him a thousand times, whilst he all reverently beheld and entreated her. After these joyful and honourable greetings had been thrice or four times repeated, to the no small contentment of the bystanders, and they had related unto each other all that had befallen them, Currado now, to the exceeding satisfaction of all, signified to his friends the new alliance made by him and gave ordinance for a goodly and magnificent entertainment.

Then said Giusfredi to him, 'Currado, you have made me glad of many things and have long honourably entertained my mother; and now, that no whit may remain undone of that which it is in your power to do, I pray you gladden my mother and bride-feast and myself with the presence of my brother, whom Messer Guasparrino d'Oria holdeth in servitude in his house and whom, as I have already told you, he took with me in one of his cruises. Moreover, I would have you send into Sicily one who shall thoroughly inform himself of the state and condition of the country and study to learn what is come of Arrighetto, my father, an he be alive or dead, and if he be alive, in what estate; of all which having fully certified himself, let him return to us.' Giusfredi's request was pleasing to Currado, and without any delay he despatched very discreet persons both to Genoa and to Sicily.

He who went to Genoa there sought out Messer Guasparrino and instantly besought him, on Currado's part, to send him Scacciato and his nurse, orderly recounting to him all his lord's dealings with Giusfredi and his mother. Messer Guasparrino marvelled exceedingly to hear this and said, 'True is it I would do all I may to pleasure Currado, and I have, indeed, these fourteen years had in my house the boy thou seekest and one his mother, both of whom I will gladly send him; but do thou bid him, on my part, beware of lending overmuch credence to the fables of Giannotto, who nowadays styleth himself Giusfredi, for that he is a far greater knave than he deemeth.' So saying, he caused honourably entertain the gentleman and sending privily for the nurse, questioned her shrewdly touching the matter. Now she had heard of the Sicilian revolt and understood Arrighetto to be alive, wherefore, casting off her former fears, she told him everything in order and showed him the reasons that had moved her to do as she had done.

Messer Guasparrino, finding her tale to accord perfectly with that of Currado's messenger, began to give credit to the latter's words and having by one means and another, like a very astute man as he was, made enquiry of the matter and happening hourly upon things that gave him more and more assurance of the fact, took shame to himself of his mean usage of the lad, in amends whereof, knowing what Arrighetto had been and was, he gave him to wife a fair young daughter of his, eleven years of age, with a great dowry. Then, after making a great bride-feast thereon, he embarked with the boy and girl and Currado's messenger and the nurse in a well-armed galliot and betook himself to Lerici, where he was received by Currado and went up, with all his company, to one of the latter's castles, not far removed thence, where there was a great banquet toward.

The mother's joy at seeing her son again and that of the two brothers in each other and of all three in the faithful nurse, the honour done of all to Messer Guasparrino and his daughter and of him to all and the rejoicing of all together with Currado and his lady and children and friends, no words might avail to express; wherefore, ladies, I leave it to you to imagine. Thereunto,[110] that it might be complete, it pleased God the Most High, a most abundant giver, whenas He beginneth, to add the glad news of the life and well-being of Arrighetto Capece; for that, the feast being at its height and the guests, both ladies and men, yet at table for the first service, there came he who had been sent into Sicily and amongst other things, reported of Arrighetto that he, being kept in captivity by King Charles, whenas the revolt against the latter broke out in the land, the folk ran in a fury to the prison and slaying his guards, delivered himself and as a capital enemy of King Charles, made him their captain and followed him to expel and slay the French: wherefore he was become in especial favour with King Pedro,[111] who had reinstated him in all his honours and possessions, and was now in great good case. The messenger added that he had received himself with the utmost honour and had rejoiced with inexpressible joy in the recovery of his wife and son, of whom he had heard nothing since his capture; moreover, he had sent a brigantine for them, with divers gentlemen aboard, who came after him.

The messenger was received and hearkened with great gladness and rejoicing, whilst Currado, with certain of his friends, set out incontinent to meet the gentlemen who came for Madam Beritola and Giusfredi and welcoming them joyously, introduced them into his banquet, which was not yet half ended. There both the lady and Giusfredi, no less than all the others, beheld them with such joyance that never was heard the like; and the gentlemen, ere they sat down to meat, saluted Currado and his lady on the part of Arrighetto, thanking them, as best they knew and might, for the honour done both to his wife and his son and offering himself to their pleasure,[112] in all that lay in his power. Then, turning to Messer Guasparrino, whose kindness was unlooked for, they avouched themselves most certain that, whenas that which he had done for Scacciato should be known of Arrighetto, the like thanks and yet greater would be rendered him.

Thereafter they banqueted right joyously with the new-made bridegrooms at the bride-feast of the two newly-wedded wives; nor that day alone did Currado entertain his son-in-law and other his kinsmen and friends, but many others. As soon as the rejoicings were somewhat abated, it appearing to Madam Beritola and to Giusfredi and the others that it was time to depart, they took leave with many tears of Currado and his lady and Messer Guasparrino and embarked on board the brigantine, carrying Spina with them; then, setting sail with a fair wind, they came speedily to Sicily, where all alike, both sons and daughters-in-law, were received by Arrighetto in Palermo with such rejoicing as might never be told; and there it is believed that they all lived happily a great while after, in love and thankfulness to God the Most High, as mindful of the benefits received."


[102] Charles d'Anjou.

[103] i.e. the Banished or the Expelled One.

[104] An island in the Gulf of Gaeta, about 70 miles from Naples. It is now inhabited, but appears in Boccaccio's time to have been desert.

[105] i.e. wild she-goat.

[106] A river falling into the Gulf of Genoa between Carrara and Spezzia.

[107] More familiar to modern ears as Doria.

[108] The Ghibellines were the supporters of the Papal faction against the Guelphs or adherents of the Emperor Frederick II. of Germany. The cardinal struggle between the two factions took place over the succession to the throne of Naples and Sicily, to which the Pope appointed Charles of Anjou, who overcame and killed the reigning sovereign Manfred, but was himself, through the machinations of the Ghibellines, expelled from Sicily by the celebrated popular rising known as the Sicilian Vespers.

[109] i.e. Beritola's sons.

[110] i.e. to which general joy.

[111] Pedro of Arragon, son-in-law of Manfred, who, in consequence of the Sicilian Vespers, succeeded Charles d'Anjou as King of Sicily.

[112] Or (in modern phrase) putting himself at their disposition.

Correct these Lyrics