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amain for mercy. Flanking her are two large, fierce mastiffs, who ofttimes bite her cruelly, and behind on a black courser follows a dark rider, wrathful in face, with a rapier in his hand, threatening her.
Nastagio breaks off a bough to serve as weapon, and prepares to go to her aid. But the knight, dismounting, tells him that he was called Messer Guido degli Anastagi, when Nastagio was a little boy—the similarity of their names is, and was probably intended to be, suggestive — and that what Nastagio witnesses is a punishment of slighted love rehearsed every Friday on that very spot. More horrors ensue, of which the young hermit is a passive beholder, and then Nastagio reflects. If this was an event of weekly occurrence, then he might make capital out of the affair by ordering a feast in the pine-wood, and inviting his friends, the haughty damsel included, to share in it. With some difficulty the notion is carried into effect, and just when the conviviality is at its height, everything is brought to a standstill by the uncanny spectacle of disembowelling. The lady is profoundly impressed, and as she is now fully apprised of her fate, should she persist in her contumacy, she contrives to let Nastagio know that she no longer opposes his wishes, and accordingly they wed.
It is in every way probable that Boccaccio borrowed
this story either from the Speculum Historiale of Vincent
of Beauvais, or from Passavanti's Italian
Whtncet . .
version in the Specchio delta Vera Penitenza. According to Passavanti's account, the ghostly cavalier is the Count of Nevers, and the persecuted female a lady who, for love of him, has murdered her husband; and, of course, the story, as told there, is intended to have an edifying influence. Boccaccio, however, has quite other intentions, and points the moral after this fashion: "E non fu questa paura cagione solamente di questo bene, anzi si tutte le ravignane donne paurose ne divennero, che seinpre poi troppo piu arrendevoli a' piaceri degli uomini furono, che prima state non erano."
This, then, appears to have been the source of the
narrative, but as Boccaccio was certainly familiar with
Danu-a Dante's portrayal of the Hell of Suicides,
adaptation. the following passage may be cited for the
sake of comparison. Quite possibly it was adapted
"Awl two behold! upon our left-hand side,
He who was in advance: "Now help, Death, help!"
Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo .'"
And then perchance, because his breath was failing,
Behind them was the forest full of black
On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
For the idea of a pitiless maiden who cares not
what becomes of her lovers, may be compared a A scottuh nue Scots ballad, "Proud Lady Margaret."' analogy. jn this a damsel propounds a riddle to her
suitors. Failing to solve it, they must die.
"' And but ye read them richt,' she said,
At length a knight is successful. He is the ghost
of Margaret's brother, who rises from his grave to
warn Margaret of the consequences if she does not mend her ways.
"' Leave off your pride, Margaret,' he says,
With regard to the merits of Boccaccio's prose, opinions vary. He himself professes to have written in a " fiorentino stile umilissimo." Whatever he may have intended by this apologetic, self-depreciatory phrase, it can hardly be that he aimed at a simple unaffected manner, or, if he did, he is very far from having attained it. His prose is a tissue of Ciceronian periods which, a priori, most people would instantly condemn in a work of fiction, and which, a posteriori, indulgent critics defend on the ground that, before Boccaccio, Italian prose can hardly be said to have existed. How closely Boccaccio had studied ancient models may be seen from a comparison of his tale Thc Lover in thc Cask (vii. 2) with Apuleius's treatment of the same theme.1 In the main the tale is little else than a translation from the ninth book of the Metamorphoses, as such verbal coincidences as the following plainly show.
1 The Legendary Ballads of England and Scotland. Compiled and edited by John Roberts. London. P. 154.
"Ego mulier et intra hospitiuni contenta, jamduduui septeui denariis vendidi."
"Io feminella die uou fui mai appena fuor dell' uscio . . . 1' ho venduto sette."
Some writers, like Emiliani - Giudici, have proclaimed an utter distaste for the ponderosity of the style, and this particular judge does not scruple to own that he would find it no light task to read through a giornata of the Decameron at a breath. With him it is a question of "dragging oneself through all the delectable windings of the most elegant of our prose-styles." Nor is it only this literary free-thinker that has felt the irksomeness of a style that is undeniably laboured, and by the influence of which Italian prose even now is in some measure controlled. If Coleridge he right, and the best prose is, like Southey's, unobtrusive and thoroughly subordinated to the matter, then there is no more to be said, for this Boccaccio's prose is not. It resembles rather Coleridge's own style, which, as Hazlitt long ago observed, tends to be too majestic for its subject. However, a great master of our own generation—Carducci—takes up the cudgels valiantly on Boccaccio's behalf, and insists that seldom or never has instrument been adapted more perfectly to its ends. "This tongue of the Ciompi he is pleased to wind with all the cries and laments of every passion, to cause it to render with the variations of all the notes all the cries and laments of every passion, to cause it to follow with the blendings of all the tints all the adumbrations of an image" (Diseorso mi Parentali del Boccaccio). The truth probably lies about midway between this perfervid estimate and the nihilism of Emiliani-Giudici, though even destructive criticism must, and does, recognise the grandeur of the art. The question really is, whether this art is not out of place, is not artificiality, and the answer to this question will vary with the individual and the age. Properly constructed, the period is an organism of exquisite formation, but it asks some attention; and this the latter-day reader, not being of German nationality, refuses. The refusal is significant—but of what? Is the abruptness of contemporary prose, the dispensing with literary ceremony, a concession to busier habits and inferior power of
1 It is worthy of remark that, in borrowing tales from the ancients, Boccaccio Italianised them, and adapts them to existing conditions of life.