Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
The Decameron






'Tis human to have compassion upon the unhappy. Much is required of those who are happy, especially if they have needed comforting in the past, and have received it. Now if any man ever needed compassion, or found it dear to him, or ever received comfort, that man am I. From my earliest youth until this time present I was taken with a lofty and noble love, one that was perhaps too high for my lowly birth. Although I was praised and more highly esteemed by discreet persons who heard of this love, yet it caused me great pain and suffering, not indeed through the cruelty of my beloved lady, but through the excessive fire kindled in my soul by ill-regulated appetite. And since this brought me to no satisfactory end, I often suffered more distress than was needful.

While suffering this unhappiness I was comforted by the pleasant talk and consolation of a friend, but for whom I am firmly persuaded I should now be dead. But He that is Infinite has been pleased to decree immutably that all things have an end. Thus my love, which was more fervent than any other love, my love which no resolve, no advice, no evident shame, no risk of danger could ever break or bend, at length by the passage of time diminished of itself, and now has left within my soul that delight which love is wont to grant those who do not adventure too far upon its dark seas. And whereas this love was once burdensome, now all torment is removed, and only delight remains.

But, though the pain has gone, I have not lost the memory of kindness received from those who were moved by sorrow on account of their affection for me; nor do I think I shall ever forget these things, save through death alone. Now I think that gratitude is highly to be praised among the other virtues, while the opposite is blameworthy. And since I do not want to appear ungrateful, now that I may say I am free, I have determined to do what little I can in exchange for what I received, to provide amusement for those who helped me. If their wisdom or their good fortune makes this unnecessary, then it may be for others who need it. And however slender my support or comfort may be to them, still I think it should be offered to those who most need it, since it will there be more useful and be more valuable to them. And who will deny that it is far more fitting to give this to beautiful women than to men?

In fear and shamefacedness they conceal within their delicate breasts the hidden flames of love, whose strength is far greater than those of evident love, as is well known to those who have suffered them. Moreover, women are restricted by the authority of fathers, mothers, brothers and husbands. They spend most of their time shut up in the narrow circuit of their rooms, sitting in almost complete idleness, wanting and not wanting a thing in the same hour, turning over different thoughts which cannot always be gay ones.

Now if the melancholy born of fierce desire should enter their minds, they must be forced to remain in sadness unless it is driven away by new discourse; moreover, they have much less endurance than men. This does not happen with men in love, as may be evidently seen. If men are afflicted with melancholy or heavy thoughts, they have many ways of lightening them or avoiding them; whenever they wish, they can go out and hear and look at things, they can go hawking, hunting, fishing, riding; they can gamble or trade. By these means every man can divert his mind from himself wholly or partly, and free it from uneasy thought, at least for a time; and thus in one way and another consolation comes to him or the anguish grows less.

Therefore I mean to atone for the wrong done by Fortune, who is ever most miserly of comfort where there is least strength, as we may see in the case of delicate women. As an aid and comfort to women in love (for the needle, the distaff and the winder should suffice the others) I intend to relate one hundred tales or fables or parable or stories -- whichever you choose to call them -- as they were told in ten days by a band of seven ladies and three young men during the time of the recent plague, and also certain songs sung for their delight by the said ladies.

In these tales will be seen the gay and sad adventures of lovers and other happenings both of ancient and modern times. The ladies who read them may find delight in the pleasant things therein displayed; and they may also obtain useful advice, since they may learn what things to avoid and what to seek. Nor can all this happen without some soothing of their melancholy.

If this happens (and God grant it may!) let them render thanks to Love who, by freeing me from its bonds, granted me the power to serve their pleasure.

  Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, tr. Richard Aldington.

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