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BOCCACCIO, Giovanni

Decamerone

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The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death; but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumours. In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumour had been and still remained.

No doctor's advice, no medicine could overcome or alleviate this disease, An enormous number of ignorant men and women set up as doctors in addition to those who were trained. Either the disease was such that no treatment was possible or the doctors were so ignorant that they did not know what caused it, and consequently could not administer the proper remedy. In any case very few recovered; most people died within about three days of the appearance of the tumours described above, most of them without any fever or other symptoms.

The violence of this disease was such that the sick communicated it to the healthy who came near them, just as a fire catches anything dry or oily near it. And it even went further. To speak to or go near the sick brought infection and a common death to the living; and moreover, to touch the clothes or anything else the sick had touched or worn gave the disease to the person touching.

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As they were going along in this way, the son asking and the father answering, they met by chance a company of pretty and well-dressed young women, coming from a wedding. As soon as the young man saw them, he asked his father what manner of things these were. “My son,” answered Filippo, “cast your eyes on the ground and do not look at them, for that they are a wicked thing.”

The son asked, “But how are they called?” The father, to avoid waking in the young man's mind a less than beneficial carnal appetite, would not name them by the proper name, namely, women. Instead he said, “They are called young geese.” To his surprise, the young man who had never seen a woman before and who had no regard for palaces or oxen or horses or asses or money or anything else he had seen, suddenly said, “Father, I beg you, get me one of these young geese.”

“Alas, my son,” replied the father, “be quiet; I tell you they are a wicked thing.”

“How?” asked the youth. “Are all wicked things then made this way?''

      “Yes.” answered Filippo.

Then the son said, “I do not understand what you are saying or why these are a wicked thing. For my part, it seems to me that I never yet saw anything so good or pleasing as these are. They are fairer than the painted angels you have shown me before. For God's sake, if you have any feelings for me, arrange it so that we may carry one of those young geese back with us up the mountain, and I will feed it.”

      “No,” answered the father, “I will not: you do not know what they feed on.” And he realized that a passionate instinct was stronger than his wisdom and regretted having brought the young man to Florence.

        But that is a far as I need to go with the present story, and now I should return to those for whose benefit I have told it.

      Some of my censurers, then, say that I am wrong, young ladies, to take so many pains to please you and that you please me far too much. These things I confess openly, namely, that you please me and that I study to please you. Furthermore, I ask them why they are amazed at this. Setting aside my having known the dulcet kisses, amorous embraces and delightful couplings often received from you, most sweet ladies, they have to consider only that I have seen and am still seeing your dainty manners, loveable beauty, sprightly grace and above all your womanly courtesy.

     How can they be amazed at me when Filippo who had been reared and bred on a wild and solitary mountain and within the bounds of a little cell, without other company than his father, no sooner set eyes on you than you alone were desired of him, you alone sought, you alone followed with passionate eagerness. Will they, then, blame me, backbite me, rend me with their tongues if I—whose body heaven created expressly to love you, I, who from my childhood vowed my soul to you, feeling the potency of the light of your eyes, the sweetness of your honeyed words and the flame kindled by your compassionate sighs—if I say you please me or that I study to please you, seeing that you over all else pleased an apprentice hermit, a lad without understanding, no, rather, a wild animal? Certainly, it is only those, who, with neither sense nor understanding of the pleasures and potency of natural affection—who do not love you nor desire to be loved of you—that scold me in this way. And of these I take little account.

As for those who go railing about my age, it would seem they little know that even though the leek has a white head, its tail is green. But, laying joking aside, to these I answer that never, no, not to the extreme limit of my life, shall I think it shameful to seek to please those whom Guido Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri, when already stricken in years, and Messer Cino da Pistoja, when a very old man, held in honor and whose approval was dear to them. And if it would not be breaking away from the accepted pattern of storytelling, I would cite sufficiently from history to show it to be full of stories of ancient and noble men who in their ripest years have still studied above all to please the ladies. If my critics do not know this, let them go learn.

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