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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Story of Griselda

By Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)

A LONG time ago, in the family of the Marquis Saluzzo, the head of the house was a young man called Walter, who, having neither wife nor children, spent his time entirely in hunting and hawking, and never troubled himself to marry or to have a family,—on account of which he was considered very wise. This thing not being pleasing to his retainers, they many times begged of him that he should take a wife, in order that he should not be without an heir and they without a master, offering to find him one descended from such a father and mother that he might hope to have successors and they be satisfied. To which Walter replied:—“My friends, you urge me to what I have never been disposed to do, considering how grave a matter it is to find a woman who adapts herself to one’s ways, and on the contrary how great are the burdens and how hard the lives of those who happen on wives who do not suit them. And to say that you know daughters from the fathers and mothers, and from that argue that you can give me what will satisfy me, is a foolishness; since I do not know how you can learn the fathers or know the secrets of the mothers of these girls, since even knowing them oft-times we find the daughters very different from the fathers and mothers: but since you desire to entangle me in these chains, I wish to be satisfied; and in order that I should not have to suffer through others than myself if any mistake should be made, I wish myself to be the finder, assuring you that if I do not take this responsibility and the woman should not be honorable, you would find out to your very great loss how much opposed to my desire it was to have taken a wife at your supplication.”

The good men were satisfied, so long as he would take a wife. For a long time the ways of a poor young woman who belonged to a little house near his own had attracted Walter, and as she was sufficiently beautiful, he considered that with her he might have a life peaceful enough; and on that account, without going any further, he proposed to marry this one, and calling upon her father, who was very poor, arranged with him to marry her. This being arranged, he convoked his friends and said to them: “My friends! it has pleased and pleases you that I should dispose myself to marry, and I am so disposed more to please you than for the desire that I should have a wife. You know what you promised me,—that is, to be satisfied with and to honor as your lady whoever I should select; and, for that the time has come that I should keep my promise to you, and I wish you to keep yours to me, I have found very near here a young woman according to my heart, whom I intend to take for my wife and to bring her in a few days to my house; and for this you must think how the entertainment of the day shall be attractive and how you will honorably receive her, in order that I may show myself satisfied with the fulfillment of your promise as you may consider yourselves with mine.”

The good men, joyful, all replied that that gave them pleasure, and whoever it might be, they would accept her for lady and would honor her in everything as their lady. This being arranged, all set themselves to making a magnificent, joyful, and splendid festa, which also did Walter. He prepared for the wedding festivities very abundantly and magnificently, and invited many of his friends, great gentlemen, his relatives and others from all around. And beyond this he had dresses cut and made up by the figure of a young woman who, he thought, had the same figure as the woman he proposed to marry. And besides this, he arranged girdles and rings and a rich and beautiful coronet, and everything that a newly married bride should demand.

On the day settled for the wedding, Walter, about the third hour, mounted his horse, as did all those who had come to honor him, and having arranged everything conveniently, said, “Gentlemen, it is time to go to take the bride;” and starting with his company he arrived at the little villa, and going to the house of the father of the girl, and finding her returning in great haste with water from the spring, in order to go with the other women to see the bride of Walter, he called her by name,—that is, Griselda,—and asked her where her father was, to which she modestly replied, “My lord, he is in the house.” Then Walter, dismounting and commanding his men that they should wait for them, went along into the little house, where he found her father, whose name was Giannucoli, and said to him, “I have come to marry Griselda, but I wish to learn certain things in your presence.” He then asked her if, should he take her for his wife, she would do her best to please him, and at nothing that he should do or say would she trouble herself, and if she would be obedient, and many such-like questions, to all of which she replied “yes.” Then Walter took her by the hand, and in the presence of all his company and all the other persons had her stripped naked, and calling for the dresses which he had had made, immediately had her dressed and shod, and on her hair, disheveled as it was, had the crown put; and all this being done while everybody marveled, Walter said:—“Gentlemen, this is she whom I intend shall be my wife if she wishes me for husband;” and then, turning to her, who stood by herself abashed and confused, said to her, “Griselda, will you take me for your husband?” To which Griselda replied, “Yes, my lord;” and he said, “I desire her for my wife, and in the presence of the assembly to marry her;” and mounting her on a palfrey he led her, honorably accompanied, to his house. There the marriage ceremonies were fine and great, and the festivities were not less than if he had married the daughter of the king of France.

It seemed as if the young bride, in changing her vestments, changed her mind and her manners. She was, as we have said, in figure and face beautiful; and as she was beautiful she became so attractive, so delightful, and so accomplished, that she did not seem to be the daughter of Giannucoli the keeper of sheep, but of some noble lord, which made every man who had known her astonished; and besides this, she was so obedient to her husband and so ready in service that he was most contented and delighted; and similarly, toward the subjects of her husband she was so gracious and so kind that there was no one who did not love her more than himself; and gentlemen honored her with the best good-will, and all prayed for her welfare and her health and advancement. Whereupon they who had been accustomed to say that Walter had done a foolish thing in marrying her, now said that he was the wisest and the most far-seeing man in the world, because no other than he would have been able to see her great virtue hidden under the poor rags of a peasant’s costume. In a short time, not only in his own dominions but everywhere, she knew so well how to comport herself that she made the people talk of his worth and of his good conduct, and to turn to the contrary anything that was said against her husband on account of his having married her.

She had not long dwelt with Walter when she bore a daughter, for which Walter made great festivities; but a little afterwards, a new idea coming into his mind, he wished with long experience and with intolerable proofs to try her patience. First he began to annoy her with words, pretending to be disturbed, and saying that his men were very discontented with her low condition, and especially when they saw that she had children; and of the daughter, that she was born most unfortunately; and he did nothing but grumble. But the lady, hearing these words, without changing countenance or her demeanor in any way, said, “My lord, do with me what you think your honor and your comfort demand, and I shall be satisfied with everything, as I know that I am less than they, and that I was not worthy of this honor to which you in your courtesy called me.” This reply pleased Walter much, knowing that she was not in any arrogance raised on account of the honor which he or others had done her.

A little while afterwards, having often repeated to his wife that his subjects could not endure this daughter born of her, he instructed one of his servants and sent him to her, to whom with sorrowful face he said, “My lady, if I do not wish to die, I am obliged to do what my lord commands me; he has commanded that I should take your daughter and that I—” and here he stopped. The lady, seeing the face of the servant and hearing the words that he said, and the words said by her husband, bethinking herself, understood that this man had been ordered to kill the child; upon which, immediately taking her from the cradle, kissing her, and placing her as if in great sorrow to her heart, without changing countenance she placed her in the arms of the servant and said, “Take her and do exactly what your and my lord has imposed on you to do, but do not leave her so that the beasts and the birds shall devour her, unless he should have commanded you that.” The servant having taken the child and having repeated to Walter what his wife had said, he, marveling at her constancy, sent him with her to Bologna to one of his relatives, beseeching him that without ever saying whose daughter she might be, he should carefully rear her and teach her good manners. It happened that the lady again in due time bore a son, who was very dear to Walter. But not being satisfied with what he had done, with greater wounds he pierced his wife, and with a countenance of feigned vexation one day he said to her, “My lady, since you have borne this male child I have in no way been able to live with my people, so bitterly do they regret that a grandchild of Giannucoli should after me remain their lord; and I make no question that if I do not wish to be deposed, it will be necessary to do what I did before, and in the end leave you and take another wife.” The lady with patience heard him, and only replied, “My lord! think of your own content, and do your own pleasure, and have no thought of me; because nothing is so agreeable to me as to see you satisfied.” A little after, Walter, in the same manner as he had sent for the daughter, sent for the son, and in the same way feigned to have ordered it to be killed, and sent him to nurse in Bologna as he had sent the daughter. On account of which thing the lady behaved no otherwise and said no other word than she had done for the daughter. At this Walter marveled greatly, and declared to himself that no other woman could have done what she did; and had it not been that he found her most affectionate to her children, as he saw her to be, he would have believed that she could only do so because she did not care for them, although he knew her to be very prudent. His subjects, believing that he had had the child killed, blamed him greatly and considered him a most cruel man, and had great compassion for the lady, who, with the women who came to condole with her on the death of her children, never said other thing than that that pleased her which pleased her lord who had begotten them.

But many years having passed since the birth of the daughter, it seemed time to Walter to make the last proof of her patience; and so he said to many of his people that in no way could he endure any longer to have Griselda for his wife, and that he recognized that he had done badly and like a boy when he took her for wife, and that on that account he intended to apply to the Pope for a dispensation that he might take another wife and leave Griselda. On which account he was much reproved by very good men, to which he replied in no other wise than that it was convenient that he should do so. The lady, hearing these things, and seeing that it was necessary for her to look forward to returning to her father’s house, and perhaps to watch the sheep as she had in other times done, and to see that another should have him to whom she wished nothing but good, suffered greatly in her own mind; but also, as with the other injuries which she had endured from fortune, so with a firm countenance she disposed herself to support even this. Not long afterwards, Walter had caused to be sent to him counterfeit letters from Rome, which he showed to all his subjects to inform them that the Pope had given him the dispensation to take another wife and leave Griselda. After which, having called her to him, in the presence of many people he said:—“Lady, by the dispensation made to me by the Pope I may take another wife and leave you; and because my ancestors were great gentlemen and lords in this country, whereas yours have always been workmen, I mean that you shall not longer be my wife, but that you shall return to the house of your father with the dowry which you brought me, and that I shall take another wife whom I have found more fitting for me.” The lady, hearing these words, not without great difficulty and contrary to the nature of women kept back her tears, and replied:—“I knew always my low condition not to suit in any way your nobility, and what I have done, by you and by God will be recognized: nor have I ever acted or held it as given to me, but simply always had it as a loan; it pleases you to take it back, and to me it ought to give pleasure to return it to you. Here is your ring with which you married me; take it. You command me to take back the dowry which I brought you; to do which neither of you to pay it nor of me to receive it will demand either a purse or a beast of burden, because it has escaped your mind that you took me naked: and if you consider it honest that this body by which I have borne the children begotten by you shall be seen by everybody, I will go away naked; but I pray you in consideration of my virginity, which I brought to you and which I cannot take away, that at least a single shirt more than my dowry it will please you that I shall take.” Walter, who had more desire to weep than anything else, remained with a hard face and said, “You may take with you a shirt.” He was prayed by all who were about him that one garment more he should give, that it should not be seen that she who had been his wife for thirteen years or more should leave his house so poorly and shamefully as to go away in her shirt; but in vain were the prayers made. On which account the lady in her shirt, and barefoot, and without anything on her head, went out of the house and returned to the house of her father with the tears and lamentations of all who saw her.

Giannucoli, who had never been able to consider it a reality that Walter should have taken his daughter for a wife, and expected every day this end, had kept the clothes which had been taken from her that morning that Walter married her; so that bringing them to her, she dressed herself in them and returned to the little service of her father’s house as she had been accustomed, supporting with a strong mind these savage attacks of fortune. When Walter had done this, he gave his people to understand that he had taken the daughter of one of the Counts of Panago for a wife, and having great preparations made for the marriage, sent for Griselda that she should come; to whom, having come, he said:—“I bring this lady whom I have now taken, and intend on her arrival to honor her, and you know that I have not in the house women who know how to arrange the chambers and to do many things that pertain to such festivities; on which account you, who better than anybody else know the things in this house, shall put in order whatever there is to be done, and cause to be invited the ladies whom you see fit, as if you were mistress here; then, after the marriage ceremony, you can go back to your house.” Although these words were like so many knives in the heart of Griselda, as she had not been able to divest herself of the love which she bore him as she had of her good fortune,—she replied, “My lord, I am ready and prepared;” and so entered with her coarse peasant’s clothing in the house from which she had shortly before gone in her shirt, and began to sweep and put in order the rooms, the hangings and carpets for the halls, and to put the kitchen in order, and in every respect as if she had been a little servant in the house, did she put her hand. Nor did she pause until she had put everything in order and arranged it as it was most convenient. And having done this, and Walter at her indications having invited all the ladies of the country, she began to arrange the festivities; and when the day of the marriage came, with the apparel which she had on her back, but with the mind and manner of a lady, received with a cheerful countenance all the ladies who came. Walter, who had had his children educated carefully by a relative in Bologna who had married into the house of the Counts of Panago,—the girl being already of the age of twelve years and the most beautiful creature that ever was seen, and the boy being of six,—had written to his relative at Bologna, praying him that he would be kind enough to come with this his daughter to Saluzzo, and to arrange to bring with him a fine and honorable company, and to say to all that these things were brought for his wife, without telling anything to anybody that it was otherwise. Having done what the Marquis asked of him, the Count started on his way after several days with the girl and her brother and with a noble company, and arrived at Saluzzo at the hour of dinner, when all the peasants and many neighbors were present waiting for the new bride of Walter; who being received by the ladies and going into the hall where the tables were set, Griselda came forward joyfully to meet her, saying, “Welcome, my lady.” The ladies (who had much, but in vain, prayed Walter that he would arrange that Griselda should remain in the chamber, or that he would give her some one of the dresses which had been hers, in order that she should not appear in this way before his strangers) were set at the table and had begun to be served. The girl was looked at by every man, and everybody said that Walter had made a good exchange: but amongst the others Griselda praised her most; both her and her little brother.

Walter, who seemed to have finally learned as much as he desired of the patience of his lady, and seeing that the enduring of these things produced no change in her, and being certain that this did not happen from hypocrisy, because he knew that she was very wise, considered it time to lighten her of the bitterness which he felt that she held hidden in her heart under her strong self-control. Therefore, calling her in presence of all the company, and smiling, he said, “What do you think of our bride?” “My lord,” replied Griselda, “she seems to me very good, and if she is as wise as she is beautiful, as I believe, I do not doubt in the least that you will live with her the most comfortable gentleman in the world. But I pray you as much as I can that these cruelties which you bestowed on the other which was yours you will not give to this one, because I believe that she could not support them; partly because she is young, and again because she has been brought up delicately, while the other has been always accustomed to hardships from a child.” Walter, seeing that she firmly believed that this one was his wife, nor on that account spoke otherwise than well, made her sit down at his side and said:—“Griselda, it is time now that you should feel the rewards of your long patience, and that those who have considered me a cruel, wicked, and brutal man should know that that which I have done was done for a purpose, wishing to teach you to be a wife, and them to know how to take and to keep one, and for myself for the establishment of unbroken quiet while I live with you. Because when I came to take a wife I had great fear that this could not be the case, and on that account, and to assure myself in all the ways which you know, I have tried to pain you. And yet I have never perceived that either in thought or deed have you ever contradicted my pleasure: convinced that I shall have from you that comfort which I desire, I now intend to return to you all at once what I took from you on several occasions; and with the greatest tenderness to heal the wounds which I have given you; and so with a happy soul know this one whom you believed to be my bride, and this one her brother, as your and my children; they are those whom you and many others have long believed that I had cruelly caused to be killed; and I am your husband who above all things loves you, believing that I may boast that there is no other man who may be as well satisfied with his wife as I am.” And so saying he embraced her and kissed her, and with her, who wept for joy, rising, went where the daughter sat stupefied, hearing these things; and, embracing her tenderly and her brother as well, undeceived her and as many as were there. The ladies, joyfully rising, went with Griselda to her chamber, and with the most joyful wishes dressed her as a lady,—which even in her rags she had seemed,—and then brought her back to the hall; and there, making with the children a wonderful festivity, every person being most joyful over these things, the rejoicings and the festivities were kept up for many days, and they all considered Walter the wisest of men, as they had considered bitter and intolerable the proofs which he had imposed on his wife; and especially they considered Griselda most discreet.

The Count of Panago returned after a few days to Bologna, and Walter, having taken Giannucoli from his work, settled him in the condition of his father-in-law, so that he lived with great honor and with great comfort and so finished his old age. And Walter afterwards, having married his daughter excellently, long and happily lived with Griselda, honoring her always as much as he could. And here we may say that as in royal houses come those who are much more worthy to keep the hogs than to have government over men, so even into poor houses there sometimes come from Heaven divine spirits besides Griselda, who could have been able to suffer with a countenance not merely tearless but cheerful the severe, unheard-of proofs imposed on her by Walter; to whom it would perhaps not have been unjust that he should have happened on one who, when he turned her out of his house in her shirt, should have become unfaithful with another, as his actions would have made fitting.