Next Filostrato sat Lauretta, who, after she had heard Bergamino's address commended, perceiving that it behoved her tell somewhat, began, without awaiting any commandment, blithely to speak thus: "The foregoing story, dear companions,[64] bringeth me in mind to tell how an honest minstrel on like wise and not without fruit rebuked the covetise of a very rich merchant, the which, albeit in effect it resembleth the last story, should not therefore be less agreeable to you, considering that good came thereof in the end.

There was, then, in Genoa, a good while agone, a gentleman called Messer Ermino de' Grimaldi, who (according to general belief) far overpassed in wealth of lands and monies the riches of whatsoever other richest citizen was then known in Italy; and like as he excelled all other Italians in wealth, even so in avarice and sordidness he outwent beyond compare every other miser and curmudgeon in the world; for not only did he keep a strait purse in the matter of hospitality, but, contrary to the general usance of the Genoese, who are won't to dress sumptuously, he suffered the greatest privations in things necessary to his own person, no less than in meat and in drink, rather than be at any expense; by reason whereof the surname de' Grimaldi had fallen away from him and he was deservedly called of all only Messer Ermino Avarizia.

It chanced that, whilst, by dint of spending not, he multiplied his wealth, there came to Genoa a worthy minstrel,[65] both well-bred and well-spoken, by name Guglielmo Borsiere, a man no whit like those[66] of the present day, who (to the no small reproach of the corrupt and blameworthy usances of those[67] who nowadays would fain be called and reputed gentlefolk and seigniors) are rather to be styled asses, reared in all the beastliness and depravity of the basest of mankind, than [minstrels, bred] in the courts [of kings and princes]. In those times it used to be a minstrel's office and his won't to expend his pains in negotiating treaties of peace, where feuds or despites had befallen between noblemen, or transacting marriages, alliances and friendships, in solacing the minds of the weary and diverting courts with quaint and pleasant sayings, ay, and with sharp reproofs, father-like, rebuking the misdeeds of the froward,—and this for slight enough reward; but nowadays they study to spend their time in hawking evil reports from one to another, in sowing discord, in speaking naughtiness and obscenity and (what is worse) doing them in all men's presence, in imputing evil doings, lewdnesses and knaveries, true or false, one to other, and in prompting men of condition with treacherous allurements to base and shameful actions; and he is most cherished and honoured and most munificently entertained and rewarded of the sorry unmannerly noblemen of our time who saith and doth the most abominable words and deeds; a sore and shameful reproach to the present age and a very manifest proof that the virtues have departed this lower world and left us wretched mortals to wallow in the slough of the vices.

But to return to my story, from which a just indignation hath carried me somewhat farther astray than I purposed,—I say that the aforesaid Guglielmo was honoured by all the gentlemen of Genoa and gladly seen of them, and having sojourned some days in the city and hearing many tales of Messer Ermino's avarice and sordidness, he desired to see him. Messer Ermino having already heard how worthy a man was this Guglielmo Borsiere and having yet, all miser as he was, some tincture of gentle breeding, received him with very amicable words and blithe aspect and entered with him into many and various discourses. Devising thus, he carried him, together with other Genoese who were in his company, into a fine new house of his which he had lately built and after having shown it all to him, said, 'Pray, Messer Guglielmo, you who have seen and heard many things, can you tell me of something that was never yet seen, which I may have depictured in the saloon of this my house?' Guglielmo, hearing this his preposterous question, answered, 'Sir, I doubt me I cannot undertake to tell you of aught that was never yet seen, except it were sneezings or the like; but, an it like you, I will tell you of somewhat which me thinketh you never yet beheld.' Quoth Messer Ermino, not looking for such an answer as he got, 'I pray you tell me what it is.' Whereto Guglielmo promptly replied, Cause Liberality to be here depictured.'

When Messer Ermino heard this speech, there took him incontinent such a shame that it availed in a manner to change his disposition altogether to the contrary of that which it had been and he said, 'Messer Guglielmo, I will have it here depictured after such a fashion that neither you nor any other shall ever again have cause to tell me that I have never seen nor known it.' And from that time forth (such was the virtue of Guglielmo's words) he was the most liberal and the most courteous gentleman of his day in Genoa and he who most hospitably entreated both strangers and citizens."

Footnotes

[64] Fem.

[65] Uomo di corte. This word has been another grievous stumbling block to the French and English translators of Boccaccio, who render it literally "courtier." The reader need hardly be reminded that the minstrel of the middle ages was commonly jester, gleeman and story-teller all in one and in these several capacities was allowed the utmost license of speech. He was generally attached to the court of some king or sovereign prince, but, in default of some such permanent appointment, passed his time in visiting the courts and mansions of princes and men of wealth and liberty, where his talents were likely to be appreciated and rewarded; hence the name uomo di corte, "man of court" (not "courtier," which is cortigiano).

[66] i.e. those minstrels.

[67] i.e. the noblemen their patrons.
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Decameron (Day The Eighth) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Eighth) Lyrics