The Ninth Story

Guido Cavalcanti With A Pithy Speech Courteously Flouteth Certain Florentine Gentlemen Who Had Taken Him By Surprise

The queen, seeing Emilia delivered of her story and that it rested with none other than herself to tell, saving him who was privileged to speak last, began thus, "Although, sprightly ladies, you have this day taken out of my mouth at the least two stories, whereof I had purposed to relate one, I have yet one left to tell, the end whereof compriseth a saying of such a fashion that none, peradventure, of such pertinence, hath yet been cited to us.

You must know, then, that there were in our city, of times past, many goodly and commendable usances, whereof none is left there nowadays, thanks to the avarice that hath waxed therein with wealth and hath banished them all. Among these there was a custom to the effect that the gentlemen of the various quarters of Florence assembled together in divers places about the town and formed themselves into companies of a certain number, having a care to admit thereinto such only as might aptly bear the expense, whereof to-day the one and to-morrow the other, and so all in turn, hold open house, each his day, for the whole company. At these banquets they often entertained both stranger gentlemen, whenas there came any thither, and those of the city; and on like wise, once at the least in the year, they clad themselves alike and rode in procession through the city on the most notable days and whiles they held passes of arms, especially on the chief holidays or whenas some glad news of victory or the like came to the city.

Amongst these companies was one of Messer Betto Brunelleschi, whereinto the latter and his companions had studied amain to draw Guido, son of Messer Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, and not without cause; for that, besides being one of the best logicians in the world and an excellent natural philosopher (of which things, indeed, they recked little), he was very sprightly and well-bred and a mighty well-spoken man and knew better than any other to do everything that he would and that pertained unto a gentleman, more by token that he was very rich and knew wonder-well how to entertain whomsoever he deemed deserving of honour. But Messer Betto had never been able to win and to have him, and he and his companions believed that this betided for that Guido, being whiles engaged in abstract speculations, became much distraught from mankind; and for that he inclined somewhat to the opinion of the Epicureans, it was reported among the common folk that these his speculations consisted only in seeking if it might be discovered that God was not.

It chanced one day that Guido set out from Orto San Michele and came by way of the Corso degli Ademari, the which was oftentimes his road, to San Giovanni, round about which there were at that present divers great marble tombs (which are nowadays at Santa Reparata) and many others. As he was between the columns of porphyry there and the tombs in question and the door of the church, which was shut, Messer Betto and his company, coming a-horseback along the Piazza di Santa Reparata, espied him among the tombs and said, 'Let us go plague him.' Accordingly, spurring their horses, they charged all down upon him in sport and coming upon him ere he was aware of them, said to him, 'Guido, thou refusest to be of our company; but, harkye, whenas thou shalt have found that God is not, what wilt thou have accomplished?' Guido, seeing himself hemmed in by them, answered promptly, 'Gentlemen, you may say what you will to me in your own house'; then, laying his hand on one of the great tombs aforesaid and being very nimble of body, he took a spring and alighting on the other side, made off, having thus rid himself of them.

The gentlemen abode looking one upon another and fell a-saying that he was a crack-brain and that this that he had answered them amounted to nought seeing that there where they were they had no more to do than all the other citizens, nor Guido himself less than any of themselves. But Messer Betto turned to them and said, 'It is you who are the crackbrains, if you have not apprehended him. He hath courteously and in a few words given us the sharpest rebuke in the world; for that, an you consider aright, these tombs are the houses of the dead, seeing they are laid and abide therein, and these, saith he, are our house, meaning thus to show us that we and other foolish and unlettered men are, compared with him and other men of learning, worse than dead folk; wherefore, being here, we are in our own house.' Thereupon each understood what Guido had meant to say and was abashed nor ever plagued him more, but held Messer Betto thenceforward a gentleman of a subtle wit and an understanding."
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