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Title: A Story of Ravenna
Author: Giovanni Boccaccio
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0605471.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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A Story of Ravenna
Giovanni Boccaccio




RAVENNA being a very ancient city in Romagna, there dwelt sometime a
great number of worthy gentlemen, among whom I am to speak of one more
especially, named Anastasio, descended from the family of Onesti, who
by the death of his father, and an uncle of his, was left
extraordinarily abounding in riches and growing to years fitting for
marriage. As young gallants are easily apt enough to do, he became
enamoured of a very beautiful gentlewoman, who was daughter of Messer
Paolo Traversario, one of the most ancient and noble families in all
the country. Nor made he any doubt, by his means and industrious
endeavour, to derive affection from her again, for he carried himself
like a brave-minded gentleman, liberal in his expenses, honest and
affable in all his actions, which commonly are the true notes of a
good nature, and highly to be commended in any man. But, howsoever,
fortune became his enemy; these laudable parts of manhood did not any
way friend him, but rather appeared hurtful to himself, so cruel,
unkind, and almost merely savage did she show herself to him, perhaps
in pride of her singular beauty or presuming on her nobility by birth,
both which are rather blemishes than ornaments in a woman when they be
especially abused. The harsh and uncivil usage in her grew very
distasteful to Anastasio, and so insufferable that after a long time
of fruitless service, requited still with nothing but coy disdain,
desperate resolutions entered into his brain, and often he was minded
to kill himself. But better thoughts supplanting those furious
passions, he abstained from such a violent act, and governed by more
manly consideration, determined that as she hated him, he would
requite her with the like, if he could, wherein he became altogether
deceived, because as his hopes grew to a daily decaying, yet his love
enlarged itself more and more.

Thus Anastasio persevering still in his bootless affection, and his
expenses not limited within any compass, it appeared in the judgment
of his kindred and friends that he was fallen into a mighty
consumption, both of his body and means. In which respects many times
they advised him to leave the city of Ravenna, and live in some other
place for such a while as might set a more moderate stint upon his
spendings, and bridle the indiscreet course of his love, the only fuel
which fed his furious fire.

Anastasio held out thus a long time, without lending an ear to such
friendly counsel; but in the end he was so closely followed by them,
as being no longer able to deny them, he promised to accomplish their
request. Whereupon making such extraordinary preparation as if he were
to set out thence for France or Spain, or else into some further
country, he mounted on horseback, and accompanied with some few of his
familiar friends, departed from Ravenna, and rode to a country
dwelling-house of his own, about three or four miles distant from the
city, at a place called Chiassi; and there upon a very good green
erecting divers tents and pavilions, such as great persons make use of
in the time of progress, he said to his friends which came with him
thither that there he determined to make his abiding, they all
returning back unto Ravenna, and coming to visit him again so often as
they pleased.

Now it came to pass that about the beginning of May, it being then a
very mild and serene season, and he leading there a much more
magnificent life than ever he had done before, inviting divers to dine
with him this day and as many to-morrow, and not to leave him till
after supper, upon a sudden falling into remembrance of his cruel
mistress, he commanded all his servants to forbear his company, and
suffer him to walk alone by himself a while, because he had occasion
of private meditations, wherein he would not by any means be troubled.
It was then about the ninth hour of the day, and he walking on
solitary all alone, having gone some half a mile distance from the
tents, entered into a grove of pinetrees, never minding dinner-time or
anything else, but only the unkind requital of his love.

Suddenly he heard the voice of a woman seeming to make most mournful
complaints, which breaking off his silent considerations, made him to
lift up his head to know the reason of this noise. When he saw himself
so far entered into the grove before he could imagine where he was, he
looked amazedly round about him, and out of a little thicket of bushes
and briars round engirt with spreading trees, he espied a young damsel
come running towards him, naked from the middle upward, her hair lying
on her shoulders, and her fair skin rent and torn with the briars and
brambles, so that the blood ran trickling down mainly, she weeping,
wringing her hands, and crying out for mercy so loud as she could. Two
fierce bloodhounds also followed swiftly after, and where their teeth
took hold did most cruelly bite her. Last of all, mounted on a lusty
black courser, came galloping a knight, with a very stern and angry
countenance, holding a drawn short sword in his hand, giving her very
dreadful speeches, and threatening every minute to kill her.

This strange and uncouth sight bred in him no mean admiration, as also
kind compassion to the unfortunate woman, out of which compassion
sprung an earnest desire to deliver her, if he could, from a death so
full of anguish and horror; but seeing himself to be without arms, he
ran and plucked up the plant of a tree, which handling as if it had
been a staff, he opposed himself against the dogs and the knight, who
seeing him coming, cried out in this manner to him: "Anastasio, put
not thyself in any opposition, but refer to my hounds and me to punish
this wicked woman as she hath justly deserved." And in speaking these
words, the hounds took fast hold on her body, so staying her until the
knight was come nearer to her, and alighted from his horse, when
Anastasio, after some other angry speeches, spake thus to him: "I
cannot tell what or who thou art, albeit thou takest such knowledge of
me, yet I must say it is mere cowardice in a knight, being armed as
thou art, to offer to kill a naked woman, and make thy dogs thus to
seize on her, as if she were a savage beast; therefore, believe me, I
will defend her so far as I am able."

"Anastasio," answered the knight, "I am of the same city as thou art,
and do well remember that thou wast a little lad when I, who was then
named Guido Anastasio, and thine uncle, became as entirely in love
with this woman as now thou art with Paolo Traversario's daughter. But
through her coy disdain and cruelty, such was my heavy fate that
desperately I slew myself with this short sword which thou beholdest
in mine hand; for which rash sinful deed I was and am condemned to
eternal punishment. This wicked woman, rejoicing immeasurably in mine
unhappy death, remained no long time alive after me, and for her
merciless sin of cruelty, and taking pleasure in my oppressing
torments, dying unrepentant, and in pride of her scorn, she had the
like sentence of condemnation pronounced on her, and was sent to the
same place where I was condemned.

"There the three impartial judges imposed this further infliction on
us both--namely, that she should fly in this manner before me, and I,
who loved her so dearly while I lived, must pursue her as my deadly
enemy, not like a woman that had a taste of love in her. And so often
as I can overtake her, I am to kill her with this sword, the same
weapon wherewith I slew myself. Then am I enjoined therewith to open
her accursed body, and tear out her heart, with her other inwards, as
now thou seest me do, which I give to my hounds to feed on.
Afterward--such is the appointment of the supreme powers--that she re-
assumeth life again, even as if she had not been dead at all, and
falling to the same kind of flight, I with my hounds am still to
follow her, without any respite or intermission. Every Friday, and
just at this hour, our course is this way, where she suffereth the
just punishment inflicted on her. Nor do we rest any of the other
days, but are appointed unto other places, where she cruelly executed
her malice against me, who am now, of her dear affectionate friend,
ordained to be her endless enemy, and to pursue her in this manner for
so many years as she exercised months of cruelty towards me. Hinder me
not, then, in being the executioner of Divine justice, for all thy
interposition is but in vain in seeking to cross the appointment of
supreme powers."

Anastasio having heard all this discourse, his hair stood upright,
like porcupines' quills, and his soul was so shaken with the terror,
that he stepped back to suffer the knight to do what he was enjoined,
looking yet with mild commiseration on the poor woman, who kneeling
most humbly before the knight, and sternly seized on by the two
bloodhounds, he opened her breast with his weapon, drawing forth her
heart and bowels, which instantly he threw to the dogs, and they
devoured them very greedily. Soon after the damsel, as if none of this
punishment had been inflicted on her, started up suddenly, running
amain towards the seashore, and the hounds swiftly following her, as
the knight did the like, after he had taken his sword and was mounted
on horseback, so that Anastasio had soon lost all sight of them, and
could not guess what could become of them.

After he had heard and observed all these things, he stood a while as
confounded with fear and pity, like a simple silly man, hoodwinked
with his own passions, not knowing the subtle enemy's cunning
illusions in offering false suggestions to the sight, to work his own
ends thereby, and increase the number of his deceived servants.
Forthwith he persuaded himself that he might make good use of this
woman's tormenting, so justly imposed on the knight to prosecute, if
thus it should continue still every Friday. Wherefore setting a good
note or mark upon the place, he returned back to his own people, and
at such times as he thought convenient, sent for divers of his kindred
and friends from Ravenna, who being present with him, thus he spake to
them:

"Dear kinsmen and friends, ye have long while importuned me to
discontinue my over-doating love to her whom you all think, and I find
to be my mortal enemy; as also to give over my lavish expenses,
wherein I confess myself too prodigal; both which requests of yours I
will condescend to, provided that you will perform one gracious favour
for me--namely, that on Friday next, Messer Paolo Traversario, his
wife, daughter, with all other women linked in lineage to them, and
such beside only as you shall please to appoint, will vouchsafe to
accept a dinner here with me. As for the reason thereto moving me, you
shall then more at large be acquainted withal." This appeared no
difficult matter for them to accomplish. Wherefore being returned to
Ravenna, and as they found the time answerable to their purpose, they
invited such as Anastasio had appointed them. And although they found
it somewhat a hard matter to gain her company whom he had so dearly
affected, yet notwithstanding, the other women won her along with
them.

A most magnificent dinner had Anastasio provided, and the tables were
covered under the pine-trees, where he saw the cruel lady so pursued
and slain; directing the guests so in their seating that the young
gentlewoman, his unkind mistress, sate with her face opposite unto the
place where the dismal spectacle was to be seen. About the closing up
of dinner, they began to hear the noise of the poor persecuted woman,
which drove them all to much admiration, desiring to know what it was,
and no one resolving them they rose from the tables, and looking
directly as the noise came to them, they espied the woful woman, the
dogs eagerly pursuing her; the knight galloping after them with his
drawn weapon, and came very near unto the company, who cried out with
loud exclaims against the dogs, and the knights stepped forth in
assistance of the injured woman.

The knight spake unto them as formerly he had done to Anastasio, which
made them draw back possessed with fear and admiration, while he acted
the same cruelty as he did the Friday before, not differing in the
least degree. Most of the gentlewomen there present, being near allied
to the unfortunate woman, and likewise to the knight, remembering well
both his love and death, did shed tears as plentifully as if it had
been to the very persons themselves in usual performance of the action
indeed. Which tragical scene being passed over, and the woman and
knight gone out of their sight, all that had seen this strange
accident fell into diversity of confused opinions, yet not daring to
disclose them, as doubting some further danger to ensure thereon.

But beyond all the rest, none could compare in fear and astonishment
with the cruel young maid affected by Anastasio, who both saw and
observed all with a more inward apprehension, knowing very well that
the moral of this dismal spectacle carried a much nearer application
to her than any other in the company. For now she could call to mind
how unkind and cruel she had shown herself to Anastasio, even as the
other gentlewoman formerly did to her lover, still flying from him in
great contempt and scorn, for which she thought the bloodhounds also
pursued her at the heels already, and a sword of vengeance to mangle
her body. This fear grew so powerful upon her, that to prevent the
like heavy doom from falling on her, she studied, and therein bestowed
all the night season, how to change her hatred into kind love, which
at the length she fully obtained, and then purposed to procure in this
manner: Secretly she sent a faithful chambermaid of her own to greet
Anastasio on her behalf, humbly entreating him to come see her,
because now she was absolutely determined to give him satisfaction in
all which, with honour, he could request of her. Whereto Anastasio
answered that he accepted her message thankfully, and desired no other
favour at her hand but that which stood with her own offer, namely, to
be his wife in honourable marriage. The maid knowing sufficiently that
he could not be more desirous of the match than her mistress showed
herself to be, made answer in her name that this motion would be most
welcome to her.

Hereupon the gentlewoman herself became the solicitor to her father
and mother, telling them plainly that she was willing to be the wife
of Anastasio; which news did so highly content them, that upon the
Sunday next following the marriage was very worthily solemnised, and
they lived and loved together very kindly. Thus the Divine bounty, out
of the malignant enemy's secret machinations, can cause good effects
to arise and succeed. For from this conceit of fearful imagination in
her, not only happened this long-desired conversion of a maid so
obstinately scornful and proud, but likewise all the women of Ravenna,
being admonished by her example, grew afterward more tractable to
men's honest motions than ever they showed themselves before. And let
me make some use hereof, fair ladies, to you not to stand over-nicely
conceited of your beauty and good parts when men solicit you with
their best services. Remember then this disdainful gentlewoman, but
more especially her, who being the death of so kind a lover was
therefore condemned to perpetual punishment, and he made the minister
thereof whom she had cast off with coy disdain, from which I wish your
minds to be free, as mine is ready to do you any acceptable service.



THE END



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