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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Luigi Pulci (1432–1484)

The Ridiculous End of Morgante and Margutte

From “Morgante the Great” (Leigh Hunt’s Transcription)

MORGANTE took his master’s advice and went straightforward with him through many great adventures, helping him with loving good-will as often as he was permitted, sometimes as his pioneer, and sometimes as the finisher of troublesome work, such as the killing of a few thousand infidels. Now he hurled a spy into a river, now felled a rude ambassador to the earth (for he did not stand upon ceremony), now cleared a space round him in battle with the clapper of an old bell he had found at the monastery, now doubled up a king in his tent and bore him away, tent and all, and a paladin with him, because he would not let the paladin go.

In the course of these services the giant was left to take care of a lady, and lost his master for a time; and the office being at an end, he set out to rejoin him, when, arriving at a cross-road, he met with a very extraordinary personage. This was a giant huger than himself, swarthy-faced, horrible, brutish. He came out of a wood, and appeared to be journeying somewhere. Morgante, who had the great bell-clapper above mentioned in his hand, struck it on the ground with astonishment, as much as to say, “Who the devil is this?” And then he set himself on a stone by the wayside to observe the creature.

“What is your name, traveler?” said Morgante, as it came up.

“My name is Margutte,” said the phenomenon. “I intended to be a giant myself, but altered my mind, you see, and stopped half-way, so that I am only twenty feet or so.”

“I am glad to see you,” quoth his brother giant. “But tell me, are you Christian or Saracen? Do you believe in Christ or in Apollo?”

“To tell you the truth,” said the other, “I believe neither in black nor blue, but in a good capon, whether it be roast or boiled. I believe sometimes also in butter, and, when I can get it, in new wine, particularly the rough sort; but, above all, I believe in wine that’s good and old. Mahomet’s prohibition of it is all moonshine. I am the son, you must know, of a Greek nun and a Turkish bishop, and the first thing I learned was to play the fiddle. I used to sing Homer to it. I was then concerned in a brawl in a mosque, in which the old bishop happened to be killed; so I girded my sword to my side and went to seek my fortune, equipped with all the possible sins of Turkey and Greece. People talk of the seven deadly sins; but I have twenty-seven that never leave me, summer or winter, by which you may judge of the amount of my venial ones. I am a gambler, a cheat, a ruffian, a highwayman, a pickpocket, a glutton (at beef or blows); have no shame whatever; love to let everybody know what I can do; lie about what I cannot do; have a particular attachment to sacrilege; swallow perjury like figs; never give a farthing to anybody; beg of everybody, and abuse them into the bargain; look upon not spilling a drop of liquor as the chief of all cardinal virtues, but must own that I am not much given to assassination, murder being inconvenient; and one thing I am bound to acknowledge, which is, that I never betrayed a comrade.”

“That is as well,” observed Morgante; “because, you see, as you don’t believe in anything else, I’d have you believe in this bell-clapper of mine. So now, as you have been candid with me, and I am well instructed in your ways, we will pursue our journey together.”

The best of giants, in those days, were not scrupulous as to their mode of living, so that one of the best and one of the worst got on pretty well together, emptying the larders on the road, and paying nothing but douses on the chops. When they could find no inn, they hunted elephants and crocodiles. Morgante, who was the braver of the two, delighted to banter and sometimes to cheat Margutte, and he ate up all the fare, which made the other, notwithstanding the credit he gave himself for readiness of wit and tongue, cut a very sorry figure, and seriously remonstrate:

“I reverence you in other matters, but, in eating, you really do not behave well. He who deprives me of my share at meals is no friend; at every mouthful he robs me of, I seem to lose an eye. I am for dividing everything fairly, even if it be no more than a fig.”

“You are a fine fellow,” said Morgante; “you grow upon me very much.”

So saying, he made him put some wood on the fire, and perform a hundred other offices to render everything snug; and then he went to sleep. Next day he cheated his great scoundrelly companion at drink, as he had done the day before at meat; and the poor, shabby devil complained; and Morgante laughed till he was nigh bursting, and continued to cheat him again and again. There was a levity, nevertheless, in Margutte which restored his spirits on the slightest glimpse of good fortune; and if he realized a hearty meal, he became the happiest, beastliest, and most confident of giants.

The companions, in the course of their journey, delivered a damsel from the clutches of three other giants. She was the daughter of a great lord, and when she got home she did honor to Morgante as an equal, and put Margutte into the kitchen, where he was in a state of bliss. He did nothing but swill, stuff, surfeit, vomit, play at dice, cheat, filch, go to sleep, guzzle again, and laugh, chatter, and tell a thousand lies.

When Morgante took leave of the young lady, she made him rich presents. Margutte, seeing this, and being, as usual, drunk and impudent, daubed his face like a Christmas clown, and, approaching her with a frying-pan in his hand, demanded “something for the cook.” The fair one gave him a jewel; and the vagabond showed such brutal eagerness in seizing it with his filthy hands, without making the least acknowledgment, that when they got out of the house Morgante was tempted to strike him to the ground. He called him scoundrel and poltroon, and said he had disgraced him forever.

“Softly!” said the brute-beast. “Did you not take me with you knowing what sort of fellow I was? Did I not tell you I had every sin and shame under heaven? And have I ever deceived you by the exhibition of a single virtue?”

Morgante could not help laughing at this excessive candor. So they went on their way, till they came to a wood, where they rested themselves by a fountain. Here Margutte fell fast asleep. He had a pair of boots on, which Morgante felt an inclination to draw off, that he might see what he would do on waking. He accordingly did so, and threw them to a little distance among the bushes. The sleeper awoke in due time, and, looking and searching round about, suddenly burst into roars of laughter. A monkey had got the boots and sat pulling them on and off, making the most ridiculous grimaces and gestures. The monkey busied himself with the boots, and the light-minded drunkard laughed; and at every fresh gesticulation of the new boot-wearer the laugh grew louder and more tremendous, till at length it was found impossible to restrain it. The glutton had a laughing fit. In vain did he try to stop himself; in vain would his fingers have loosened the buttons of his doublet, to give his lungs room to play. They could not do it; so he laughed and roared till he burst. The snap was like the splitting of a cannon. Morgante ran up to him. But it was too late. He was dead.

Alas! this was not the only death. It was not even the most trivial cause of a death. Giants are big fellows; but Death’s a bigger, though he may come in a little shape.

Morgante had succeeded in joining his master. He helped him to take Babylon; he killed a whale for him at sea that obstructed his passage; he played the part of a mainsail during a storm, holding out his arms with a large hide between them. But, on coming ashore, a crab bit him in the heel, and behold the lot of the great giant—he died! He laughed, and thought it a very little thing; but it proved a mighty one. “He made the East tremble,” said his master, “and the bite of a crab has killed him.”

Oh, weak, fallacious life of ours!