The Human Tragedy
by By Anatole France
"All the life of man is full of pain, and there is no surcease of
sorrow. If there be aught better elsewhere than this present life, it is
hid shrouded in the cloaks of darkness." - Euripides.
In those days the holy man, who, born though he was of human parents,
was veritably a son of God, and who had chosen for his bride a maiden
that folk open the door to as reluctantly as Death itself, and never
with a smile - the poor man of Jesus Christ, St. Francis, was gone up to
the Skies. Earth, which he had perfumed with his virtues, kept only his
body and the fruitful seed of his words. His sons in the spirit grew
meantime, and mutiplied among the Peoples, for the blessing of Abraham
was upon them.
Kings and queens girded on the cord of St. Francis, the poor man of
Jesus Christ. Men in multitudes sought in forgetfulness of self and of
the world the secret of true happiness; and flying the joys of life,
found a greater joy. The Order of St. Francis spread fast through all
Christendom, and the House of the Poor Men of the Lord covered the face
of Italy, Spain, the two Gauls and the Teutonic lands. In the good town
of Viterbo arose a House of peculiar sanctity. In it Fra Giovanni took
the vows of Poverty, and lived humble and despised, his soul a garden of
flowers fenced about with walls.
He had knowledge by revelation of many truths that escaped clever and
world-wise men. And ignorant and simple-minded as he was, he knew things
unknown to the most learned Doctors of the age.
He knew that the cares of riches make men ill-conditioned and wretched,
and that coming into the world poor and naked, they would be happy, if
only they would live as they were born.
He was poor and merry-hearted. His delight was in obedience; and
renouncing the making of plans of any sort for the future, he relished
the bread of the heart. For the weight of human actions is a heavy load,
and we are trees bearing a poisoned fruit. He was afraid to act, for is
not all effort painful and useless?
He was afraid to think, for thought is evil.
He was very humble, knowing how men have nothing of their own that they
should boast of, and that pride hardens the heart. He knew moreover,
that they whp possess for all wealth only the riches of the spirit, if
they make boast of their treasure, so far lower themselves to the level
of the great ones of the earth.
And Fra Giovanni outdid in humility all the Monks of the House of
Viterbo. The Superior of the Monestery, the holy Brother Sylvester, was
less righteous than he, forasmuch as the master is less religious than
the servant, the mother less innocent than the babe.
Observing that Fra Giovanni had a way of stripping himself of his gown
to clothe the suffering members of Jesus Christ, the Superior forbade
him, in the name of holy obedience, to give away his garments to the
poor. Now the same day this command was laid on him, Giovanni went, as
his wont was, to pray in the woods that cover the Slopes of Monte
Cunino. It was Winter time; snow was falling, and the wolves coming down
into the villages.
Fra Giovanni kneeling down at the foot of an oak, spoke to God, as might
one friend to another, and besought Him to take pity on all orphans,
prisoners and captives, to take pity on the master of the fields sorely
harried by the Lombard usurers, to take pity on the stags and hinds of
the forest chased by the hunters, and on all trapped creatures, whether
of fur or feathers. And lo! he was rapt away in an ecstasy, and saw a
hand pointing in the sky.
When presently the sun had slipped behind the mountains, the man of God
arose from his knees and took the path to the Monastery. On the white,
silent road thither, he met a beggar, who asked him for alms for the
love of God.
"Alas!" he told him, "I have nothing but my gown, and the Superior has
forbidden me to cut it in two so as to give away the half. Therefore I
cannot divide it with you. But if you love me, my son, you will take it
off me whole and undivided."
On hearing these words, the beggar promptly stripped the Friar of his
So Fra Giovanni went on his way naked under the falling snow, and
entered the city. As he was crossing the Piazza with nothing on but a
linen cloth about his loins, the children who were running at play in
the Great Square made mock at him. In derision, they shook their fists
in his face with the thumbs stuck between the first and middle fingers,
and threw snow at him mixed with mud and small stones.
Now there lay in the Great Square some logs of timber for the woodwork
of a house, and one of the logs happened to be balanced across the
other. Two children ran and took their places, one at each end of the
beam, and began playing see-saw - two of the same children who had made
mock of the holy man and thrown stones at him.
He went up to them now smiling, and said: "Dear little children, will
you suffer me to share your game?"
And sitting down on one end of the beam, he see-sawed up and down
against the two little ones. And some citizens happening to pass that
way, said, wondering:
"Truly and indeed the man is out of his wits."
But after the bells had rung the Ave Maria, Fra Giovanni was still at
see-saw. And it chanced that certain Priests from Rome, who had come to
Viterbo to visit the Mendicant Friars, whose fame was great through the
world, just then crossed the Great Square. And hearing the children
shouting, "Look! little Brother Giovanni's here," the Priests drew near
the monk, and saluted him very respectfully. But the holy man never
returned their salute, but making as though he did not see them, went on
see-sawing on the swaying beam. So the Priests said to each other: "Come
away; the fellow is a mere dunce and dullard!"
Then was Fra Giovanni glad, and his heart overflowed with joy. For these
things he did out of humility and for the love of God. And he put his
joy in the scorn of men, as the miser shuts his gold in a cedar chest,
locked with a triple lock.
At nightfall he knocked at the Monastery door, and being admitted,
appeared among the Brethren naked, bleeding, and covered with mire. He
smiled and said: "A kind thief took my gown, and some children deemed me
worthy to play with them."
But the Brothers were angry, because he had dared to pass through the
city in so undignified a plight.
"He feels no compunction." they declared, "about exposing the Holy Order
of St. Francis to derision and disgrace. He deserves the most exemplary
The General of the Order, being warned a great scandal was ruining the
sacred Society, called together all the Brethren of the Chapter, and
made Fra Giovanni kneel humbly on his knees in the midst of them all.
Then, his face blazing with anger, he chid him harshly in a loud, rough
voice. This done, he consulted the assembly as to the penance it was
meet to impose on the guilty Brother.
Some were for having him put in prison or suspended in an iron cage from
the Church steeple, while others advised he should be chained up for a
Anf Fra Giovanni, beaming with satisfaction, told them: "You are very
right, my Brethren; I deserve these punishments, and worse ones still. I
am good for nothing but foolishly to waste and squander the goods of God
and of my Order."
And brother Marcian, who was a man of great sternness both of life and
doctrine, cried: "Hear him! he talks like a hypocrite; that honeyed
voice of his issues from a whited sepulchre."
And Fra Giovanni said again: "Brother Marcian, I am indeed capable of
every infamy - but for God's good help."
Meantime the General was pondering over the strange behaviour of Fra
Giovanni, and he besought the Holy Spirit to inspire the judhement he
was to give. And lo! as he prayed, his anger was changed into
admiration. He had known St. Francis in the days when that Angel of
Heaven, born of woman, was a sojourner in this world, and the example of
the favourite follower of Christ had taught him the love of spiritual
So his soul was enlightened, and he recognized in the works of Fra
Giovanni a divine innocence and beauty.
"My brethren," he said at length, "far from blaming our Brother, let us
admire the grace he receives so abundantly from God. In very truth he is
a better man than we. What he has done, he has done in imitation of
Jesus Christ, who 'suffered the little children to come unto Him,' and
let the Roman soldiers strip Him of his garments."
Then he addressed the kneeling Fra Giovanni: "This, my Brother, is the
penance I lay upon you. In the name of that holy obedience you owe St.
Francis, I command you to go forth into the country, and the first
beggar you meet, beg him to strip you of your tunic. Then, when he has
left you naked, you must come back into the city, and play in the Public
Square with the children."
Having so said, the General of the Order came down from his chair of
state, and raising Fra Giovanni from the ground, fell on his own knees
before him and kissed his feet. Then, turning to the assembled Monks, he
said to them: "In very truth, my Brethren, this man is the good God's
In those days the truth was revealed to Fra Giovanni that the riches of
this world come from God and should be the heritage of the poor, who are
the favourite children of Jesus Christ.
Christian folk were busy celebrating the Saviour's birth; and Fra
Giovanni had come to the town of Assisi, which is set upon a
mountain-top, and from this mountain first rose the Sun of Charity.
Now the day before Christmas Eve, Fra Giovanni was kneeling in prayer
before the Altar under which St. Francis sleeps in a stone coffin. And
he was meditating, dreaming how St. Francis was born in a stable, like
Jesus. And while he was pondering, the Sacristan came up to him and
asked him of his goodness to look after the Church while he ate his
supper. Church and Altar were both loaded with precious ornaments; gold
and silver were there in abundance, for the sons of St. Francis had long
fallen from their poverty, and had received gifts from the Queens of the
Fra Giovanni assured the Sacristan: "Go, Brother, and enjoy your meal. I
will guard the Church as Our Lord would have it guarded."
And so saying he went on with his meditations. And as he knelt there
alone in prayer, a poor woman entered the Church and asked an alms of
him for the love of God.
"I have nothing," the holy man replied; "but the Altar is loaded with
ornaments, and I will go see if I cannot find something to give you." A
golden lamp hung above the Altar, decked about with silver bells.
Examining the lamp, he said to himself: "Those little bells are but idle
vanities. The true ornament of yonder Altar is the body of St. Francis,
which reposes naked under the flags with a black stone for a pillow."
And drawing his knife from his pocket, he detached the little silver
bells, one after the other, and gave them to the poor woman.
Presently, when the Sacristan, his meal finished, returned to the
Church, Fra Giovanni, the holy man of God, said to him: "Never trouble,
my brother, about the little bells that belonged to the lamp. I have
given them away to a poor woman who had need of them."
THE LOAF ON THE FLAT STONE
Gorasmuch as the good St. Francis had bidden his sons to "Go, beg for
your bread from door to door," Fra Giovanni was one day sent to a
certain city. Having passed the Gate, he went up and down the streets to
beg his bread from door to door, according to the rule of the Order, for
the love of God.
But the folk of that city were more covetous than the men of Lucca, and
harder than they of Perugia. The bakers and tanners who were dicing
before their shop-doors, repulsed the poor man of Jesus Christ with
harsh words. Even the young women, holding their newborn babes in their
arms, turned their faces from him. And when the good Brother, whose joy
was in dishonour, smiled at the refusals and insults he received.
"He is laughing at us," said the townsmen to each other. "He is a born
fool - or say rather a vagabond imposter and a drunkard. He has
overdrunk himself with wine. It were a sin and a shame to give him so
much as a crumb of bread from our hutch."
And the good Brother answered: "You say true, my friends; I am not
worthy to stir your pity, nor fit to share the food of your dogs and
The children, who were just then coming out of school, overheard what
was said, and ran after the holy man shouting: "Madman! Madman!" - and
pelted him with mud and stones.
Then Fra Giovanni went forth into the country. The city was built on the
slope of a hill,and was surrounded with vineyards and oliveyards. He
descended the hill by a hollow way, and seeing on either side the grapes
of the vines that hung down from the branchesof the elms, he stretched
out his arm and blessed the clusters. Likewise he blessed the olive and
the mulbeery trees and all the wheat in the lowlands.
Meantime he was both hungry and thirsty; and he took delight in thirst
At the end of a cross-road he saw a wood of laurels; and it was the
habit of the Begging Friars to go and pray in the woods, amongst the
poor animals cruel men hunt and harry. Accordingly Fra Giovanni entered
the woods, and fared on by the side of a brook that ran clear and
singing on its way.
Presently he saw a flat stone beside the brook, and at the same moment a
young man of wonderous beuty, clad in a white robe, laid a loaf of bread
on the stone, and disappeared.
And Fra Giovanni knelt down and prayed, saying: "O God, how good art
Thou, to send Thy poor man bread by the hand of one of Thy Angels. O
blessed poverty! O very glorious and sumptuous poverty!"
And he ate the loaf the Angel had brought, and drank the water of the
brook, and was strengthened in body and in soul. And an invisible hand
wrote on the wall of the city: "Woe, woe to the rich!"
THE TABLE UNDER THE FIG TREE
Following the example of St. Francis, his well-beloved Father, Fra
Giovanni used to visit the hospitol of Vioterbo to help the lepers,
giving them drink and washing their sores.
And if they blasphemed, he used to tell them, "You are the Chosen Sons
of Jesus Christ." And there were some lepers of a very humble spirit
whom he would gather together in a chamber, and with whom a mother does
surrounded by her children.
But the hospital walls were very thick, and daylight entered only by
narrow windows high up above the floor. The air was so fetid the lepers
could scarcely live in the place at all. And Fra Giovanni noted how one
of them, by name Lucido, who showed an exemplary patience, was slowly
dying of the evil atmosphere.
Fra Giovanni loved Lucido, and would tell him: "My brother, you are
Lucido, and no precious stone is purer than your heart, in the eyes of
And observing how Lucido suffered more sorely than the others from the
poisonous air they breathed in the Leper's Ward, he said to him one day:
"Friend Lucido, dear Lamb of the Lord, while the very air they breathe
in this place is pestilence, in the gardens of Santa Maria degli Angeli
we inhale the sweet scent of the laburnums. Come you with me to the
House of the Poor Brethren, and you will find relief."
So speaking he took the leper by the arm, wrapped him in his own cloak
and led him away to Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Arrived at the gate of the Monastery, he summoned the Doorkeeper with
happy shouts of exultation: "Open!" he cried, "open to the friend I am
bringing you. His name is Lucido, and a good name it is, for he is a
very pearl of patience."
The Brother opened the Gate; but the instant he saw in Fra Giovanni's
arms a manwhose face , livid and all but expressionless, was covered
with scales, he knew him for a leper, and rushed off in terror toward
the Brother Superior. The latter's name was Andrea of Padua, and he was
a man of very holy life. Nevertheless when he learned that Fra Giovanni
was bringing a leper into the House of Santa Maria degli Angeli, he was
very wroth, and coming to him with a face burning with anger, bade him:
"Stay there outside with the man. You are a senseless fool to expose
your brethren thus to contagion."
Fra Giovanni only looked on the ground without venturing any reply. All
the joy was gone from his face; and Lucido, seeing him troubled:
"Brother," said he, "I am grieved you are made sad because of me."
And Fra Giovanni kissed the leper on the cheek.
Then he said, turning to the Superior: "Will you suffer me, my Father,
to stay outside the Gate with this man, and share my meal with him?" -
to which the Father Superior answered: "Even do as you please, seeing
you set up yourself above the holy rule of obedience."
And with these harsh words he went back again into the Monastery.
Now in front of the Gate was a stone bench under a fig-tree, and on this
bench Fra Giovanni set down his bowl. But while he was supping with the
Leper, the Father Superior had the Gate thrown open and came and sat
under the fig-tree and said: "Forgive me, Fra Giovanni, for having given
you offense. I have come hither now to share your meal."
Then Satan sat him down on the brow of a hill and gazed down at the
House of the Poor Brethren. He was black and beautiful like a young
Egyptian. And he thought in his heart: "Forasmuch as I am the Enemy of
Mankind and the Adversary of God, therefore will I tempt these Monks,
and I will tell them what is kept hid by Him who is their Friend. Lo! I
will afflict these men of Religion by telling them the truth, and I will
darken their spirit, uttering to them words of verity and
reasonableness. I will plunge reflection like a sword into their veins;
and so soon as they shall know the reality of things, they will be
unhappy. For joy there is none but in illusion, and peace is only to be
found in ignorance. And because I am the master of such as study the
nature of plants and animals, the virtue of stones, the secrets of fire,
the courses of the stars and the influence of the planets, for this
reason men have named me the Prince of Darkness. Likewise they call me
the Wily One, because by me was constructed the plummet-line whereby
Ulpian straightened out the Law. And my kingdom is of this world. Well
then, I will try these Monks, and I will make them to know their works
are evil, and that the tree of their Charity bears bitter fruit. Yea! I
will tempt them without hate and without love."
Thus said Satan in his heart. Meantime, as the shades of evening were
lengthening along the base of the hills and the cottage chimneys were
smoking for the evening meal, the holy man Giovanni issued from out the
wood where he was wont to pray, and turned into the road leading to
Santa Maris degli Angeli saying: "My house is the house of joy and
delight, because it is the house of poverty."
And seeing Fra Giovanni wending his way homewards, Satan thought: "Lo!
here is one of those men I have come to tempt;" - and drawing his black
cloak over his head, he advanced along the high road, which was bordered
with terebinths, to meet the holy man.
Now Satan had made himself like a widow-woman with a veil, and when he
had joined Fra Giovanni, he put on a honeyed voice and asked an alms of
him, saying: "Give me an alms for the love of Him who is your friend,
and whom I am not worthy so much as to name."
And Fra Giovanni answered: "It happens so, I have with me a little
silver cup a nobleman of the countryside gave me, to have it melted down
and used for the Altar of Santa Maria degli Angeli. You may take that,
lady; and I will go tommorrow and ask the nobleman to let me have
another of the same weight for the Blessed Virgin. Thus will his wishes
be accomplished, and over and above, you will have gotten an alms for
the love of God."
Satan took the cup and said: "Good brother, suffer a poor widow-woman to
kiss your hand. For verily the hand that gives gifts is soft and
And Fra Giovanni replied: "Lady, be heedful not to kiss my hand. On the
contrary, begone with all speed. For, methinks you are winsome of face,
abeit black as the Magian King that bore the frankincense and myrrh: and
it is not becoming I should look on you longer, seeing how danger is
forever clogging the lonely man's steps. Wherefore suffer me now to
leave you, commending you to God's care. And forgive me, if I have
failed aught in politeness towards you, lady. For the good St. Francis
was used to say: 'Courtesy shall be the ornament of my sons, as the
flowers bedeck the hillsides.'"
But Satan said again: "Good Father, inform me at the least of a
guest-house, where I may pass the night honestly."
Fra Giovanni replied: "Go mistress, to the House of St. Damian, where
dwell the poor ladies of Our Lord. She who will welcome you is Clare,
and indeed she is a clear mirror of purity; the same is the Duchess of
And Satan said again: "My father, I am an adulterous woman, and I have
lain with many men."
And Fra Giovanni said: "Lady, if I really deemed you laden with the sin
you tell of, I would crave of you as a high honor to kiss your feet, for
I am less worthy than you, and your crimes are little compared with
mine. Yet I have received greater favours of Heaven than have been
accorded to you. For in the days when St. Francis and his twelve
disciples were still upon earth, I lived with Angels of Heaven."
And Satan returned: "My Father, when I asked you an alms for the love of
Him who loves you, I was cherishing in my hearta wicked intent, and I am
fain to tell you what this was. I wander the roads a-begging, in order
to collect a sum of money I destine for a man of Perosa who is my
paramour, and who has promised me, on handling this money, to kill
traitorously a certain knight I hate, because when I offered my body to
him, he scorned me. Well! the total was yet incomplete; but now the
weight of your silver cup has made it up. So the alms you have given me
will be the price of blood. You have just sold a man to death. For the
knight I told you of is chaste, temperate and pious, and I hate him for
this cause. 'Tis you will have brought about his murder. You have laid a
weight of silver in the scale of crime, to bear it down."
Hearing these words, the good Fra Giovanni wept, and drawing aside, he
fell on his knees in a thorn-brake, and prayed to the Lord, saying: "O
Lord, make this crime to fall neither on this woman's head nor on mine
nor on that of any of Thy creatures, but let it be put beneath Thy feet,
which were pierced with the nails, and be washed in Thy most precious
blood. Distill on me and on this my sister of the highway a drop of
hyssop, and we shall be purified, and shall overpass the snow in
But the Enemy fled away, thinking: "This man I have not been able to
tempt by reason of his utter simplicity."
THE SUBTLE DOCTOR
Satan returned and sat on the Mountain that looked toward Viterbo,
laughing under its crown of olives. And he said in his heart: "I will
tempt that man yonder."
He conceived this purpose in his spirit, because he had seen Fra
Giovanni, girt about with a cord, and a sack over his shoulder crossing
the meadows below on his way to the city to beg his bread there
according to the rules.
So Satan took on the appearance of a holy Bishop, and came down into
the. plain, A mitre was on his head sparkling with precious stones, that
flashed like actual fire in the sunlight. His cope was covered with
figures embroidered and painted so beautifully no craftsman in all the
world could have wrought their like. Amongst the rest he was despicted
himself, in silk and gold, under the guise of a St. George and a St.
Sebastian, as also under that of a Virgin St. Catherine and the Empress
Helena. The loveliness of the face troubled the mind and saddened the
heart. The garment was truly of a wondrous workmanship and nothing so
rich and rare is to be seen in the Treasuries of Churches.
Thus decked in cope and mitre, and majestic as St. Ambrose, the glory of
Milan, Satan pursued his way, leaning on his crozier, over the flowery
Presently nearing the holy man, he hailed him and said: "Peace be with
But he said not of what sort this peace was and Fra Giovanni supposed it
was the peace of the Lord. He thought to himself: "This Bishop who gives
me the salutation of' peace was doubtless in his lifetime a sainted
Pontif and a blessed Martyr unshakable in his constancy. That is why
Jesus Christ has changed the wooden cross to a golden in the hands of
this gallant Confessor of the Faith. Today he is powerful in Heaven; and
lo! after his holy and happy death, he walks in these meadows that are
painted with flowers and broidered with pearls of dew."
Such were the good Giovanni's thoughts and he was in no wise abashed. So
saluting Satan with a deep reverence, he said: "Sir! you are exceedingly
gracious to appear to a poor man such as I. But indeed these meadows are
so lovely, 'tis no wonder if the Saints of Paradise come to walk here;
they are painted with flowers and broidered with pearls of dew. The Lord
did very kindly when He made them."
And Satan said to him "It is not the meadows, it is your heart I am fain
to look at; I have come down from the Mountain to speak with you. I
have, in bygone Centuries, held many high disputations in the Church.
Amid the assembled Doctors my voice would boom forth like thunder, and
my thoughts flash like lightning. I am very learned, and they name me
the Subtle Doctor. I have disputed with God's Angels. Now I would hold
dispute with you."
Fra Giovanni made answer: "Nay! but how should the poor little man that
I am hold dispute with the Subtle Doctor? I know nothing and my
simplicity is. such I can keep nothing in my head but those songs in the
vulgar tongue where they have stuck in rhymes to help the memory, as in
Jesus, mirror of my soul Cleanse my heart and make it whole,
Holy Mary, Maid of Flowers Lead me to the Heavenly Bowers."
And Satan answered: "Fra Giovanni, the Venetian ladies amuse their
leisure and show their adroitness in fitting a multitude of little
pieces of ivory into a box of cedar-wood, which at the set-off seemed
all too small to contain many. In the same fashion I will pack ideas
into your head that no one would have dreamed it could ever hold; and I
will fill you with a new wisdom. I will show that, thinking to walk in
the right way you are straying abroad all the while like a drunken man,
and that you are driving the plow without any heed to draw the furrows
Fra Giovanni humbled himself, saying: "It is most true I am a fool, and
do nothing but what is wrong."
Then Satan asked him: "What think you of poverty?"-and the holy man
"I think it is a pearl of price."
But Satan retorted: "You pretend poverty is a great good; yet all the
while you are robbing the poor of a part of this great good, by giving
Fra Giovanni pondered over this, and said: "The alms I give I give to
Our Lord Jesus Christ whose poverty cannot be diminished, for it is
infinite. It gushes from Him as from an inexhaustible fountain; and its
waters flow freely for His favourite sons. And these shall be poor
always, according to the promise of the Son of God. In giving to the
poor, I am giving not to men, but to God as the citizens pay taxes to
the Podesta, and the rate is for the City, which of the money it so
receives supplies the town's need. Now what I give is for paving the
City of God. It is a vain thing to be poor in deed, if we be not poor in
spirit. The gown of frieze, the cord, the sandals, the wallet and the
wooden bowl are only signs and symbols. The Poverty I love is spiritual,
and I address her as Lady, because she is an idea, and all beauty
resides in this same idea."
Satan smiled, and replied: "Your maxims, Fra Giovanni are the maxims of
a wise man of Greece, Diogenes by name, who taught at their Universities
in the times when Alexander of Macedon was waging his wars."
And Satan said again: "Is it true you despise the goods of this world?"
And Fra Giovanni replied: "I do despise them."
And Satan said to him: "Look you! in scorning these, you are scorning at
the same time the hard-working men who produce them, and so doing
fulfill the order given to your first father, Adam, when he was
commanded, 'In the sweat of thy face, shalt thou eat bread.' Seeing work
is good, the fruit of this work is good, too. Yet you work not, neither
have any care for the work of others. But you receive and give alms, in
contempt of the law laid on Adam and on his seed through the ages."
"Alas!" sighed Brother Giovanni, "I am laden with crimes, and at once
the most wicked and the most foolish man in all the world. Wherefore
never heed me, but read in the Book. Our Lord said, 'Consider the lilies
of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin.' Again He said, 'Mary
hath chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from her."
Then Satan lifted up his hand, with the gesture of one who disputes and
prepares to count off his arguments on his fingers. And he said:
"Giovanni, Giovanni! what was written in one sense, you read in another;
you are less like a doctor at his desk than an ass at the manger. So I
must correct you, as a master corrects his scholar. It is written the
lilies of the field have no need to spin-because they are beautiful, and
beauty is a virtue. Again it is written how Mary is not to do the
household tasks, because she is doing lovingly to Him who has come to
see her. But you, who are not beautiful, nor yet instructed, like Mary
in the things of love, you drag out a contemptible existence wandering
Giovanni made reply: "Sir! just as a Painter will depict on a narrow
panel of wood an entire city with its houses and towers and walls so you
have painted in a few words my soul and my similitude with a wondrous
exactness. And I am altogether what you describe. But if I followed
perfectly the rule established by St. Francis, that Angel of God, and if
I practiced spiritual poverty to the full, I should be the lily of the
fields and I should have the good part of Mary."
But Satan interrupted him, and cried: "You profess to love the poor, yet
you prefer the rich man and his riches, and adore Him who possesses
treasures to give away."
And Fra Giovanni answered: "He I love possesses not the good things of
the body, but those of the spirit."
And Satan retorted: "All good things are of the flesh, and are tasted of
through the flesh. This Epicurus taught, and Horace the Satirist said
the same in his verses."
At these words the holy man only sighed and said: "Sir! I cannot tell
what you mean."
Satan shrugged his shoulders and said: "My words are exact and literal,
yet the man cannot tell what I mean. I have disputed with Augustine and
Jerome, with Gregory and him of the Golden Mouth, St. Chrysostom. And
they comprehended me still less. Miserable men walk groping in the dark,
and Error lifts over their head her monstrous canopy. Simple and sage
alike are the plaything of eternal falsehood."
And Satan said again to the holy man, Giovanni: "Have you won happiness?
If you have happiness, I shall not prevail against you. A man's thoughts
are only stirred by sorrow, and their meditations by grief. Then,
tortured by fears and desires, he turns anxiously in his bed and rends
his pillow with lies What use to tempt this man? He is happy."
But Fra Giovanni sighed.
"Sir! I am less happy since listening to you. Your words trouble my
On hearing this, Satan cast away his pastoral staff, his mitre and his
cope; and stood there naked and unashamed. He was black and more
beautiful than the loveliest of the Angels. He smiled gently, and said
to the holy man: "Friend, be comforted. I am the Evil Spirit."
THE BURNING COAL
Now Brother Giovanni was simple of heart and spirit, and his tongue was
tied; he knew not the secret of speaking to his fellow-men.
But one day when he was praying, as his habit was, at the foot of an
ancient holm-oak, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and saluting
him, said: "I salute you, because it is I who visit the simple-minded,
and announce the mysteries to virgins."
And the Angel held in his hand a burning coal. This he laid on the holy
man's lips, and spoke again, and said: "By virtue of this fire shall
your lips remain pure, and they shall glow with eloquence. I have burned
them, and they shall be burned. Your tongue shall be loosed, and you
shall speak to your fellows. For men must hear the word of life, and
learn how they shall not be saved but by innocency of heart. For this
cause the Lord has unloosed the tongue of the simple and innocent."
Then the Angel went back again to Heaven. And the holy man was seized
with terror, and he prayed, saying: "O God, my heart is sore troubled, I
cannot find on my lips the sweet savour of the fire Thy Angel has
touched them with.
"Thou wouldst chasten me, O Lord, seeing Thou dost send me to speak to
the folk, who Will not hearken unto my words. I shall be hateful to all
men, and Thy priests themselves will declare, 'He is a blasphemer!'"
"For Thy reason is contrary to the reason of men. Nevertheless Thy will
Then he rose up from his knees, and set out on his way citywards.
THE HOUSE OF INNOCENCE
On that day Fra Giovanni had left the Monastery at early dawn, the hour
when the birds awake and begin singing. He was on his way to the city
and he thought within himself: "I am going to the city to beg my bread
and to give bread to other beggars, I shall give away what I receive,
and take back what I have given. For it is good to ask and to receive
for the love of God. And he who receives is the brother of him who
gives. And we should not consider too curiously which of the twain
brothers we are, because truly the gift is naught, but everything is in
the gracious giving.
"He that receives if he have gracious charity, is the equal of him that
gives. But he who sells is the enemy of him who buys, and the seller
constrains the buyer to be his foe. Herein lies the root of the curse
that poisons cities, as the venom of the serpent is in his tail. And it
needs must be a Lady set her foot on the serpent's tail and that Lady is
Poverty. Already hath she visited King Louis of France, in his tower;
but never yet entered among the Florentines, because she is chaste and
will not put her foot in a place of ill repute. Now the money-changer's
shop is an ill place, for it is there Bankers and Changers commit the
most hideous of sins. Harlots sin in the brothels; but their sin is not
so great as is that of the Bankers, and whosoever grows rich by banking
"Verily I say unto you, Bankers and Moneychangers shall not enter into
the Kingdom of Heaven nor yet bakers, nor dealers in drugs, nor such as
practice the trade of wool, which is the boast of the city of the Lily.
Forasmuch as they give a price to gold, and make a profit out of
exchange, they are setting up idols in the face of men. And when they
declare, 'Gold has a value,' they tell a lie. For gold is more vile than
the dry leaves that flutter and rustle in the Autumn wind under the
terebinths. There is nothing precious save the work of men's hands, when
God gives it His countenance."
And lo! as he was meditating in this wise, Fra Giovanni saw that the
Mountain side was torn open, and that men were dragging great stones
from its flank. And one of the quarrymen was lying by the wayside, with
a rag of coarse cloth for all covering, and his body was disfigured by
bitter marks of the biting cold and scorching heat. The bones of his
shoulders and chest showed all but bare beneath the meagre flesh, and
Despair looked out grim and gaunt from the black cavern of his eyes.
Fra Giovanni approached him, saying: "Peace be with you!"
But the quarryman made no answer, and did not so much as turn his head.
So Fra Giovanni, thinking he had not heard, repeated:
"Peace be with you! "-and then the same words again for the third time.
At last the quarryman looked up at him sullenly, and growled: "I shall
have no peace till I am dead. Begone, cursed black crow! you wish me
peace that shows you are a glozing cheat! Go to and caw to simpler fools
than I! I know very well the quarryman's lot is an utterly miserable
one, and there is no comfort for his wretchedness. I hale out stones
from dawn to dark, and for price of my toil, all I get is a scrap of
black bread. Then when my arms are no longer as strong as the stones of
the mountain, and my body is all worn out, I shall perish of hunger."
"Brother!" said the holy man Giovanni, "it is not just or right you
should hale out so much stone, and win so little bread."
Then the quarryman rose to his feet, and pointing, "Master Monk," said
he, "what see you up yonder on the hill?"
"Brother, I see the walls of the City."
"And above them?"
"Above them I see the roofs of the houses, which crown the ramparts."
"And higher still?"
"The tops of the pines, the domes of the Churches and the Belltowers."
"And higher still?"
"I see a Tower overtopping all the rest, and crowned with battlements.
It is the Tower of the Podesta."
"Monk, what see you above the battlements of the Tower?"
"I see nothing, brother, above the battlemeets save the sky."
"But I," cried the quarryman, "I see upon that Tower a hideous giant
brandishing a club, and on the club is inscribed, OPPRESSION Yea!
Oppression is lifted up above the citizens' heads on the Great Tower of
the Magistrates and the City's Laws."
And Fra Giovanni answered: "What one man sees, another cannot see, and
it may be the horrid shape you describe is set on the Tower of Podesta
yonder, in the city of Viterbo. But is there no remedy for the ills you
endure, my brother? The good St. Francis left behind him on this earth
so full a fountain of consolation that all men may draw refreshment
Then the quarryman spoke after this fashion: "Men have said, 'This
mountain is ours.' And these men are my masters, and it is for them I
hew stone. And they enjoy the fruit of my labour."
Fra Giovanni sighed: "Surely men must be mad to believe they own a
But the quarryman replied: "Nay! they are not mad, the Laws of the City
guarantee them their ownership. The citizens pay them for the stones I
have hewn, which are marbles of great price."
And Fra Giovanni said: "We must change the Laws of the City and the
habits of the citizens. St. Francis, that Angel of God, has given the
example and shown the way. When he resolved, by God's command, to
rebuild the ruined Church of St. Damian, he did not set out to find the
master of the quarry. He did not say, 'Go out and buy me the finest
marbles, and I will give you gold in exchange.' For the holy man, who
was called the son of Bernardone and who was the true son of God knew
this, that the man who sells is the enemy of the man who buys, and that
the art of Trafficking is more mischievous, if possible, than the art of
War. Wherefore he did not apply to the master-masons or any of them that
gave marble and timber and lead in exchange for money. But he went forth
into the Mountain and gathered his load of wood and stones, and bore it
himself to the spot hallowed to the memory of the blessed Damian. With
his own hands, by help of the mason's line, he laid the stones to form
the walls, and he made the cement to bind together the stones one to
another. Finished, it was a lowly circuit of roughly fashioned stones,
the work of a weakling. But who considers it with the eyes of the soul
recognizes therein an Angel's thought. For the mortar of this wall was
not worked with the blood of the unfortunate: this house of St. Damian
was not raised with the thirty pieces of silver paid for the blood of
that Just Man, which, rejected by Iscariot, go travalling the world ever
since, passing from hand to hand to buy up all the injustice and all the
cruelty of the earth.
"For, alone of all others, this house is founded on Innocence,
established on Love, based on Charity, and alone of all others it is the
House of God.
"And I tell you verily, quarryman and brother, the poor man of Jesus
Christ, in doing these things, gave to the world an example of Justice,
and one day his foolishness shall shine forth as wisdom. For all things
in this earth are God's and we are His children; and it is meet the
children should share alike in His inheritance. That is, each should get
what he has need of. And seeing grown men do not ask for broth, nor
babies for wine, the share of each shall not be the same but each shall
have the heritage that is fitting for him.
"And labour shall be a Joyful thing, when it is no longer paid. 'Tis
gold only, the cursed gold, that makes the Sharing uneven. When each man
shall go severally to the Mountain for his stone, and carry his load to
the city on his own back, the stone shall weigh light and it shall be
the stone of cheerfulness. And we will build the house of Joy and
gladness, and the new city shall rise from its foundations. And there
shall be neither rich nor poor, but all men will call themselves poor
men, because they will be glad to bear a name that brings them honour."
So spoke the gentle Fra Giovanni, and the unhappy quarryman thought to
himself: "This man clad in a shroud and girt with a cord has proclaimed
new tidings. I shall not see the end of my miseries, for I am going to
die of hunger and exhaustion. But I shall die happy, for my eyes, before
they close, will have beheld the dawn of the day of Justice."
THE FRIENDS OF ORDER
Now in those days there was in the very illustrious city of Viterbo a
Confraternity of Sixty old men. These counted among their number many of
the chief men of the place; and their objects were the accumulation of
honours and riches and the pursuit of virtue. The Brotherhood included a
Gonfalonier of the Republic, Doctors of either faculty, Judges,
Merchants, Money-changers of conspicuous piety, and one or two old
Soldiers of Fortune grown too ancient and feeble for the Wars.
Seeing they were banded together for the purpose of stirring up their
fellow-citizens to goodness and good order, and to bear mutual witness
to the practice of these virtues, they gave themselves the title of The
Friends of Order. This name was inscribed on the banner of the
Confraternity, and they were all of one mind to persuade the poor to
follow goodness and good order, to the end no changes might be made in
Their habit was to meet on the last day of each month, in the Palace of
the Podesta to make inquiry of each other what of good had been done in
the city during the month. And to such of the poorer citizens as had
done well and, orderly, they used to present pieces of money. Now on a
certain day the Friends of Order were holding meeting. At one end of the
hall was a raised platform covered with velvet, and over the platform a
magnificent canopy of state, held up by four figures carved and painted.
These figures represented Justice, Temperance, Strength and Chastity;
and beneath the canopy sat the officers of the Brotherhood. The
President, who was entitled the Dean, took his place in the middle on a
golden chair, which in richness was scarce inferior to the throne that
once upon a time the disciple of St. Francis saw prepared in Heaven for
the poor man of the Lord. This seat of state had been presented to the
Dean of the Brotherhood to the end that in him should be honoured all
the goodness done in the city.
And as soon as the Members of the Confraternity were ranged in the
fitting order, the Dean got up to speak. He congratulated any
serving-maids that served their masters without receiving wages, and
spoke highly of the old men who, having no bread to eat, did not ask for
And he said: "These have done well, and we shall reward them. For it
behooves that goodness be rewarded, and it is our bounden duty to pay
the price of it, being as we are the first and foremost citizens of the
And when he finished speaking, the crowd of the general folk that stood
under the platform clapped their hands.
But no sooner had they done applauding him than Fra Giovanni lifted up
his voice from the midst of the miserable, poverty-stricken band, and
asked loudly: "What is goodness?"
At this great clamour rose in the assembly, and the Dean shouted: "Who
was it spoke?"
And a red-haired man who was standing among the people, answered: "It
was a Monk, by name Giovanni, who is the disgrace of his Cloister. He
goes naked through the streets carrying his clothes on his head and
gives himself up to all sorts of extravagances."
Next a Baker spoke up and said: "He is a madman or a miscreant! He begs
his bread at the Bakers' doors."
Then a number of those present, shouting noisily and dragging Fra
Giovanni by the gown, tried to hustle him out of the hall, while others,
more angry still, began throwing stools and breaking them over the holy
man's head. But the Dean rose from his seat under the canopy, and said:
"Leave the man in peace, so that he may hear me and be confounded. He
asks what goodness is because goodness is not in him and he is devoid of
virtue. I answer him, 'The knowledge of goodness resides in
virtuous-men; and good citizens carry within them a proper respect for
the laws. They approve what has been done in the city to ensure to each
man enjoyment of the riches he may have acquired. They support the
established order of things, and are ready to fIy to arms to defend the
same. For the duty of the poor is to defend the good things belonging to
the rich; and this is how the union betwixt citizens is maintained. This
is goodness and good order. Again, the rich man has his serving-man
bring out a basket full of bread, which he distributes to the poor; and
this is goodness again.' These are the lessons this rough, ignorant
fellow required to be taught."
Having so said, the Dean sat down, and the crowd of poor folks raised a
murmur of approval. But Fra Giovanni, stepping on one of the stools that
had been thrown at his head with contempt and insult, addressed them all
and said: "Hear the words of comfort; Goodness resides not in men, for
men know not of. themselves what is good. They are ignorant of their own
nature and destiny. What seems good may be evil all the while, and what
is deemed useful, harmful. No man can choose the things meet for him,
because he knows not his own needs, but is like the little child sitting
in the meadows, that sucks for wholesome milk the juice of the deadly
nightshade. The babe does not know that the nightshade is a poison, but
its mother knows. This is why goodness is to do the will of God.
"It is false to say, 'Tis I teach goodness, and goodness is to obey the
city laws.' For the Laws are not of God; they are of man, and share in
man's craft and cunning and imperfection. They are like the rules
children make in the Square of Viterbo, when they are playing ball.
Goodness is not in customs nor in. Iaws, it is in God and in the
accomplishment of God's will upon earth, and it is neither by law-makers
nor magistrates that God's will is accomplished upon the earth.
"For the great men of this world do their own will, and their will is
contrary to God's. But they who have stripped off pride and know there
is no goodness in them, these men receive noble gifts, and God Himself
distils His sweetness within them like honey in the hollow of the oaks.
"And we must be the oak tree full of honey and dew. Humble, ignorant and
simple folks these have knowledge of God; and by them shall God's
kingdom be established on earth. Salvation is not in the strength of
laws, nor in the multitude of soldiers; it is in poverty and humbleness
"Say not, 'Goodness is in me, and I teach goodness.' Rather say,
'Goodness is in God on high.' Over long have men hardened their hearts
in their own wisdom. Over long have they set up the Lion and the
She-Wolf above the Gates of their Cities. Their wisdom and their
prudence have brought about slavery and wars and tlie shedding of much
innocent blood. Wherefore you should put your guidance in God's hand as
the blind man trusts himself to his dog's guidance. Fear not to shut the
eyes of your spirit and have done with Reason, for has not Reason made
you unhappy and wicked? By Reason have you grown like the man who,
having guessed the secrets of the Beast, crouching in the cavern, waxed
proud of his knowingness, and deeming himself wiser than his fellows,
slew his father and wedded his mother.
"God was not with him; but He is with the humble and simple-minded.
Learn not to will and He will put His will in you. Seek not to guess the
riddles of the Beast. Be ignorant, and you shall not fear to go astray.
'Tis only wise men that are deceived."
Fra Giovanni having thus spoken, the Dean got up and said. "The
miscreant has insulted me, and I willingly forgive him the insult. But
he has spoken against the laws of Viterbo, and it is meet he should be
So Fra Giovanni was led before the Judges who had him loaded with chains
and cast him into the city gaol.
THE REVOLT OF GENTLENESS
The holy man Giovanni was chained to a massive pillar in the middle of
the dungeon over which the river flowed.
Two other prisoners were plunged along with him in the thick and fetid
darkness. Both these had realized and proclaimed the injustice of the
Laws. One was for overthrowing the Republic by force. He had been guilty
of startling assassinations, and his hope was to purify the city with
fire and sword. The other trusted to be able to change men's hearts, and
had delivered very persuasive discourses. Inventor of wise laws, he
counted on the charms of his genius and the innocency of his life to
induce his fellow citizens to submit to them. But both had met with the
same doom. When they learned how the holy man was chained alongside of
them for having spoken against the laws of the city, they congratulated
him. And the one who had invented wise laws, said unto him: "If ever,
brother, we are restored to liberty, seeing you think as I do, you shall
help me persuade the citizens that they ought to set up above them the
empire of just laws."
But the holy man Giovanni answered him:
"What matter of Justice being in the Laws if it is not in men's hearts?
And if men's hearts are unjust, what gain shall it be that Equity reign
in the Courts of Law?
"Say not, 'We shall establish just laws, and we will render to every man
what is his due.' For no one is just, and we know not what is meet for
men. We are no less ignorant what is good for them and what is evil. And
whensoever the Princes of the People and the Chiefs of the Commonwealth
have loved justice, they have caused the slaying of many folk.
"Give not the compass and the level to the false measurer, for with true
instruments, he will make untrue apportionments. And he will say, 'See,
I carry on me the level, the rule and the square, and I am a good
measurer.' So long as men shall be covetous and cruel, will they make
the most merciful laws cruel, and will rob their brethren with words of
love on their lips. This is why it is vain to reveal to them the words
of love and the laws of gentleness.
"Set not up laws against laws, nor raise tables of marble and tables of
brass before men's eyes. For whatever is written on the tables of the
Law, is written in letters of blood."
So spoke the holy man, and the other prisoner,-he who had committed
startling murders, and contrived the ruin that was to save the city,
approved his words, and said: "Comrade, you have spoken well. Know you,
I will never set up law against law, right rule against crooked rule, my
wish is to destroy the law by violence and compel the citizens to live
thence-forth in happy freedom. And know further that I have slain both
judges and soldiers, and have committed many crimes for the public
Hearing these words, the man of the Lord rose, stretched out his
manacled arms in the heavy darkness and cried: "Ill betide the violent!
for violence ever begets violence. Who-soever acts like you is sowing
the earth with hate and fury, and his children shall tear their feet
with the wayside briars, and serpents shall bite their heel.
"Ill betide you! for you have shed the blood of the unjust judge and the
brutal soldier, and lo! you are become like the soldier and the judge
himself. Like them you bear on your hands the indelible stain.
"A fool is the man who says, 'We will do evil-doing in our turn, and our
heart shall be comforted. We will be unjust, and it shall be the
beginning of justice.' Evil-longing is in evil desiring. Desire nothing,
and evil-doing will be done away with. Injustice hurts only the unjust.
I shall suffer no harm of it if I am just. Oppression is a sword whose
hilt wounds the hand of him who holds it; but its point can not pierce
the heart of the man who is simpleminded and good and kind.
"For such a one nothing is dangerous, if he fear nothing. To endure all
things is to endure nothing. Let us be good and kindly, and the whole
round world shall be the same. For the sword will be an instrument for
your goodness, and your persecutor will work to make you better and more
"You love life, and this is an affection which rules the heart of every
man. Then love suffering, for to live is to suffer. Never envy your
cruel masters, rather have compassion for the commanders of armies. Pity
the Publicans and Judges; the proudest of them have known the stings of
grief and the terrors of death. Happier you, because your consciences
are void of offense for you, let grief lose its bitterness and death its
"Be ye God's children, and tell yourselves, 'All is well in Him.' Beware
of pursuing even the public good with overmuch violence and avidity, for
fear something of cruelty mar your integrity. Rather should your desire
of universal lovingkindness have the unction of a prayer and the soft
fervour of a hope.
"Fair the table, whereat every man shall get his just portion, and the
guests shall each one wash the other's feet. But say not, 'I will set up
this table by force in the streets of the city and in the public
squares.' For it is not knife in hand you must call together your
brethren to the feast of Justice and Gentleness. Of its own accord must
the board be spread in the Campo di Marte, by virtue of graciousness and
"This shall be a miracle; and be sure, miracles are not wrought save by
faith and love. If you disobey your masters, let it be by love. Neither
fetter nor kill them, but tell them rather, "I shall never slay my
brothers, nor throw them into chains.' Endure, suffer, submit, will what
God wills, and your will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. What
seems evil is evil, and what seems good is good Striving and discontent
is the true curse of mankind Let us then be peaceful and content, and
never strike the wicked, for fear we make ourselves like them."
WORDS OF LOVE
Then the Judges had the holy man Giovanni brought before them chained to
him who had thrown Greek fire into the Palace of the Priors. And they
said to the holy man: "You are alongside of the guilty because you are
not on our side. For whosoever is not with good citizens is with evil."
And the holy man answered them: "There are neither good nor evil among
men; but all alike are unhappy. And they who suffer neither hunger nor
contumely, they are afflicted by riches and power. It is not given to
any man born of woman to escape the miseries of life, and the son of
woman is like a fever patient, who turns and turns in his bed, and can
find no rest, because he will not lie down on the Cross of Jesus, his
head among the thorns and take his joy in suffering. Yet is it in
suffering that joy is found; and they who love know this.
"I companion with Love, but that man with Hate; and for this cause we
can never come together. And I say to him, 'Brother, you have done ill,
and your crime is great and grievous.' And I speak so, because Charity
and Love urge me. But you, you condemn yonder guilty man in the name of
Justice. But invoking Justice, you take a vain oath, for there is no
such thing as Justice among men. We are all of us guilty. And when you
say, 'The life of peoples is in our hands,' you are lying, you are the
coffin which declares, 'I am the cradle.' The life of peoples is in the
harvest of the fields, which grow yellow beneath the Lord's sight It is
in the vines hanging from the elms, and in the smiles and tears wherein
heaven bathes the fruits of the trees in the orchard closes. It is not
in the laws, which are made by the rich and powerful for the maintenance
of their own power and riches.
"Ye forget how ye are all born poor and naked. And He who came to lie in
a manger at Bethlehem, has come without profiting you. And He must needs
he born again and be crucified a second time for your salvation.
"The man of violence has laid hold of the arms you forged, and is well
compared to the warriors you hold in honour because they have destroyed
cities. What is defended by force shall be attacked by force. And if you
have wit to read the books you have written, you will find what I say
therein. For you have put in your book that the right of nations is the
right of' war, and you have glorified violence, paying honours to
conquering generals and raising statues in your public squares to them
and their war-horses.
"And you have laid it down, 'There is violence that is right, and
violence that is wrong And this is the right of nations and this is the
law.' But so soon as the men shall have put you outside the law, they
will be the law, even as you became the law, when you had overthrown the
tyrant that was the law before you.
"Now, he assured, it is very certain that there is no true right save in
the renouncing of right. There is no hallowed law save in love. There is
no Justice save in Charity. 'Tis not by force we should resist force,
for strife only hardens the fighters' hearts and the issue of battle is
aye dubious. But if we oppose gentleness to violence, this latter
getting no hold upon its adversary falls dead of itself.
"It is related by learned men in the Bestiaries how the unicorn, which
bears on its head a flaming sword, transfixes the hunter in his
coat-of-mail, but falls to its knees before a pure virgin. Be ye
gentle-hearted, therefore, and simple-souled; keep your heart pure, and
ye shall fear nothing.
"Put not your trust in the sword of the Condottieri for did not the
shepherd boy's smooth stone pierce Goliath's brow? But be ye strong in
love, and love them that hate you. Hate, when unreturned is robbed of
half its sting; and what is left Is weak, widowed, and like to die.
Strip yourselves, that other men strip you not. Love your enemies, that
they become your friends. Forgive, that ye may be forgiven Say not,
"Gentleness is a bane to the shepherds of the peoples." For how can you
know, seeing these have never tried? They profess by harshness to have
lessened the evil of the world. Yet is evil still rampant among men, and
there is never a sign of its growing less.
"I said to some, 'Be not oppressors,' and to others, 'Rise not in revolt
against Oppression,' -and neither hearkened to me. They cast the stone
of derision at me. Because I was on all men's side, each reproached me
and said, 'You are not on my side.'
"I said, 'I am the friend of the wretched.' But you never thought I was
your friend, because in your pride, you know not that you are wretched.
Nevertheless the wretchedness of the master is more cruel than that of
the slave. My tender pity for your woes only made you think I was
mocking you; and the oppressed deemed me to be of the party of the
oppressors. 'He has no bowels,' they said. Nay! but I am on the side of
love and not of hate. This is why you scorn me: and because I preach on
earth, you hold me for a fool. You think my words wander all ways, like
the steps of a drunken man. And it is very true I walk your fields like
those harpers who, on the eve of battles, come to play before the tents.
And the soldiers say, as they listen: "Tis some poor simpletons come
playing the tunes we heard long ago in our mountains.' I am this harper
that roams between the hosts in battle array of hostile armies. When I
think whither human wisdom leads, I am glad to be a madman and a
simpleton, and I thank God, that He has given me the harp to handle and
not the sword."
The holy man Giovanni was very straitly confined in gaol, where he was
fastened by chains to rings built into the wall. But his soul was
unfettered, and no tortures had been able to shake his firmness. He
promised himself he would never betray the faith that was in him, and
was ready to be witness and martyr of the Truth, to the end he might die
in God. And he said to himself, "Truth shall go along with me to the
scaffold. She shall look at me and weep and say, 'My tears flow, seeing
it is for my sake this man is going to his death.'"
And as the holy man was thus holding colloquy of his own thoughts in the
solitude of his dungeon, a knight entered into the prison, without ever
the doors having been opened. He was clad in a red mantle, and carried
in his hand a lighted lantern.
Fra Giovanni accosted him and said: "What is your name, Subtle Sir, that
slips through prison walls?"
And the knight made answer: "Brother, what use to tell you the names
folk give me? For you I will bear the one you shall call me by. Know
this, I am come to you full of helpfulness and goodwill, and being
informed you dearly love the Truth, I bring you a word couching this
same Truth that you have taken for lady and companion."
And Fra Giovanni began to tender thanks to his visitor. But the knight
stopped him in the midst, saying: "I warn you, this word of mine will
seem to you at the first empty and of no account, for it is with it as a
tiny key, that the heedless man throws away without using.
"But the careful householder tries it in lock after lock, till he finds
at last it opens a chest full of gold and precious stones.
"Wherefore I say to you, Fra Giovanni, seeing you have chosen
peradventure to take Truth for your Lady and darling, it behooves you
greatly to know concerning her in all that may be known. Well then, know
that she is white. And from her appearance, which I will describe you,
you shall gather her nature, which will be very useful to you in making
up to her and kissing her fair body with all sorts of pretty caresses,
after the fashion of a lover fondling his mistress. Therefore- take it
as proven, brother mine, that she is white."
After hearkening to these words' the holy man Giovanni answered: "Subtle
Sir, the meaning of your discourse is not so hard to guess as you would
seem to fear. And my wit, albeit, naturally thick and dull, was
instantly transfixed by the fine point of your allegory. You say that
Truth is white to manifest the perfect purity that is in her, and show
clearly she is a lady of immaculate virtue. And truly I picture her to
myself such as you describe, overpassing in whiteness the lilies of the
garden and the snow that in winter clothes the summits of Monte
But the visitor shook his head and said: "Nay! Fra Giovanni, that is not
the meaning of my words, and you have no wise broken the bone to extract
the marrow. I instructed you that Truth is white, not that she is pure;
and it shows little discernment to think that she is pure."
Grieved at what he now heard, the holy man Giovanni replied: "Even as
the Moon, when the Earth hides the Sun's light from her, is darkened by
the thick shadow of this World, where was wrought the crime of our
mother Eve, so, most Subtle Sir, you have obscured a plain saying under
baffling phrases. Thus we have you astray in the dark; for indeed Truth
is pure, coming from God, the fountain of all purity."
But the Opponent retorted: "Fra Giovanni, your logic is at fault, or you
would know that purity is an inconceivable quality. That is what the
shepherds of Arcady did, so they say, who named pure gods the gods they
knew not the nature of."
Then the good Fra Giovanni sighed and said:
"Sir! your words are dark and wrapped in sadness. At times in my sleep
Angels have visited me. Their words I could not comprehend; but the
mystery of their thought was full of joy."
Hereupon the subtle visitor resumed: "Come, Fra Giovanni, let us argue
it out both of us according to the rules of syllogism."
But the holy man answered: "Nay! I cannot argue with you; I have neither
wish nor wit for the task."
"Well then!" returned the Subtle Sophist, "I must needs find another
And in a moment, lifting the index finger of his left hand, he made with
his right out of a corner of gown a red cap for his finger. Then holding
it up before his nose, `'Look!" he said, "look at this finger. He's a
learned Doctor now, and I am going to hold a learned argument with him.
He's a Platonist, maybe Plato himself.
"Messer Plato, what is purity? I wait your answer, Messer Plato. Oh! you
say. Consciousness is pure. Consciousness only when it is devoid of
everything which may be seen, heard, handled, in one word, proved by the
senses. You grant me further-yes! you nod your cap, that Truth will be
pure Truth under the same conditions, that is to say, provided only you
make her dumb, blind deaf, legless, paralytic, crippled of all her
limbs. And I am quite ready to allow in this state she will escape the
delusions that make meek of mankind, and will have no temptations to
play the runagate. You are a scoffer, and you have made much mock at the
world. Doff your cap."
And the Opponent, dropping the corner of his gown, once more addressed
the holy man Giovanni. "My friend, these old Sophists knew not what
Truth was. But I, who am a student of physics and a great observer of
natural curiosities, you may believe me when I tell you she is white,
or, more strictly speaking, whiteness itself.
"From which we must not conclude, I have told you before, that she is
pure. Consider the Lady Eletta, of Verona, whose thighs were like milk;
think you for this they were abstract from the world in general,
withdrawn in the invisible and intangible, which is the pure according
to the Platonic doctrine? You would be much mistaken if you supposed so.
"I do not know this Lady Eletta you speak of," said the holy man
"She gave herself and her living body," said the Opponent "to two Popes,
sixty Cardinals fourteen Princes, eighteen merchants, the Queen of
Cyprus, three Turks, four Jews, the Lord Bishop of Arezzo's ape, a
hermaphrodite, and the Devil. But we are wondering from our subject,
which is to discover the proper character of Truth.
"Now, if this character is not purity, as I have just established it
cannot be in argument with Plato himself, it is conceivable it may be
impurity, which impurity is the necessary condition of all existing
things. For have we not just seen how the pure has neither life nor
consciousness? And you must, yourself, I trow have learned amply from
experience that life and all pertaining thereto is invariably compound,
blended, diversified, liable to increase and decrease, unstable,
soluble, corruptible- never pure."
"Doctor," replied Giovanni, "your reasons are nothing worth, forasmuch
as God, who is all pure, exists."
But the Subtle Doctor retorted: "If you would read your books more
carefully, my son, you would see it is said by Him you have just named,
not 'He that exists,' but 'He is.' Now to exist and to be are not one
and the same thing but two opposite things. You are alive, and do you
not say yourself, 'I am nothing; I am as if I were not ?' And you do not
say, 'I am he who is.' Because to live, is each moment to cease to be.
Again you say, 'I am full of' impurities,' forasmuch you are not a
single thing, but a blending of things that stir and strive."
"Now do you speak wisely," answered the holy man, "and I see by your
discourse that you are very deep read, Subtle Sir, in the sciences,
divine as well as human. For true indeed it is God is He who is."
"By the body of Bacchus," exclaimed the other, "He is, and that
perfectly and universally. Wherefore are we dispensed from seeking Him
in any single place, being assured He is to be discovered neither more
nor less in any one spot than in any other, and that you can not find so
much as a pair of old splatterdashes without their due share of Him."
"Admirably put, and most true," returned Giovanni. "But it is right to
add that He is more particularly in the sacred elements, by the way of
"More than that!" added the learned Doctor; "He is actually edible in
them. Note moreover, my son, that He is round in an apple, longshaped in
an aubergine, sharp in a knife and musical in a flute. He has all the
qualities of substances, and likewise all the properties of figures. He
is acute and He is obtuse, because: He is at one and the same time all
possible triangles, his radii are at once equal and unequal, because he
is both the circle and the ellipse-and He is the hyperbola besides,
which is an indescribable figure."
When the holy Giovanni was still pondering these sublime verities, he
heard the Subtle Doctor suddenly burst out a laughing. Then he asked
him: "Why do you laugh?"
"I am laughing," replied the Doctor, "to think how they have discovered
in me certain oppositions and contradictions, and have reproached me
bitterly for the same. It is very true I have many such. But they fail
to see that, if I had them all, I should then be like the Other."
The holy man asked him: "What other is it you speak of?"
And the Adversary answered: "If you knew of whom I speak you would know
who I am. And my wisest words you would be loath to listen to, for much
ill has been said of me. But, if you remain ignorant who I am, I can be
of much use to you. I will teach you how intensely sensitive men are to
the sounds that the lips utter, and how they let themselves be killed
for the sake of words that are devoid of meaning. This we see with the
Martyrs-and in your own case, Giovanni, who look forward with joy to be
strangled, then burned to the singing of the Seven Psalms in the great
square of Viterbo, for this word Truth, for which you could not by any
possibility discover a reasonable interpretation.
"Verily, you might ransack every hole and corner of your dim brain, and
pick over all the spiders' webs and old iron that cumber your head,
without ever lighting on a picklock to open me, my friend, you would get
yourself hanged and your body burned for a word of one syllable which
neither you nor your Judges know the sense of, so that none could ever
have discovered which to despise the most, the hangmen or hanged.
"Know then that Truth, your well-beloved mistress, is made up of
elements compacted of wet and; dry, hard and soft, cold and hot, and
that it is with this lady as with women of common humanity, in whom soft
flesh and warm blood are not diffused equally in all the body,"
Fra Giovanni doubted in his simplicity whether this discourse was
altogether becoming. The Adversary read the holy man's thoughts, and
reassured him, saying: "Such is the learning we are taught at school, I
am a Theologian, I!"
Then he got up and added: "I regret to leave you, friend; but I cannot
tarry longer with you. For I have many contradictions to pose to many
men. I can taste no rest day or night, but I must be going ceaselessly
from place; to place, setting down my lantern now on the scholar's desk,
now at the bed's head of the sick man who cannot sleep."
So saying, he went away as he had come. And the holy man Giovanni asked
himself: "Why did this Doctor say, Truth was white, I wonder?" And lying
in the straw he kept revolving this question in his head. His body
shared the restlessness of his mind, and kept turning first one side and
then the other in search of the repose he could not find.
And this is why, left alone in his dungeon, he prayed to the Lord,
"O Lord! Thy lovingkindness is infinite toward me, and Thy favour
manifest, seeing Thou hast so willed I should lie on a dunghill, like
Job and Lazarus, whom Thou didst love so well. And Thou hast given me to
know how filthy straw is a soft and sweet pillow to the just man. And
Thou, dear Son of God, who didst descend into Hell, bless Thou the sleep
of Thy servant where he lies in the gloomy prison-house. Forasmuch as
men have robbed me of air and light, because I was steadfast to confess
the truth, deign to enlighten me witb the glory of the everlasting day
spring and feed me on the flames of Thy love, O living Truth, O Lord my
Thus prayed the holy man Giovanni with his lips. But in his heart he
remembered the sayings of the Adversary. He was troubled to the bottom
of his spirit, and in much trouble and anguish of mind he fell asleep.
And seeing the thought of the Adversary weighed heavy on his slumbers,
his sleep was not like the little child's lying on its mother's breast,
a gentle sleep of smiles and milk. And in his dreams he beheld a vast
wheel that shone with colours of living fire.
It was like those rose windows of flowerlike brilliancy that glow over
the doors of the churches, the masterpieces of Gothic craftsmen, and
display in the translucent glass the history of the Virgin Mary and the
glory of the Prophets. But the secret of these rose-windows is unknown
to the Tuscan artificer.
And this wheel was great and dazzling and brighter a thousandfold than
the best wrought of all the rose windows that ever were divided by
compass and painted with brush in the lands of the North. The Emperor
Charlemagne saw not the like the day he was crowned.
The only man who ever beheld a wheel more splendid was the poet who, a
lad leading him entered clothed in flesh into Holy Paradise. The rose
was of living light, and seemed alive itself. Looking well at it, you
saw it was made of a multitude of breathing figures and that men of
every age and every condition, in an eager crowd, formed the nave and
spokes and felloe. They were clad each according to his estate, and it
was easy to recognize Pope and Emperor, Kings and Queens, Bishops,
Barons, Knights, ladies, esquires, clerks, burghers, merchants,
attorneys, apothecaries, labourers, ruffians, Moors and Jews. Moreover,
seeing all that live on this earth were shown on the wheel, Satyrs, and
Cyclenes were there, and Pygmies and Centaurs such as Africa nurses in
her burning deserts, and the men Marco Polo the traveller found, who are
born without heads and with a face below their navel.
And from betwixt the lips of' each there issued a scroll, bearing a
device. Now each device was of a hue which did not appear in any other,
and in all the incalculable multitude of devices, no two could have been
discovered of the same appearance. Some were dyed purple, others painted
with the bright colours of the sky and sea, or the shining of the stars,
yet others greens as grass. Many were exceedingly pale, many again
exceedingly dark and sombre, the whole so ordered that the eye found in
these devices every one of the colours that paint the universe. The holy
man Giovanni began to decipher them, by this means making himself
acquainted with the divers thoughts of divers men. And after reading on
a good while, he perceived that these devices were as much diversified
in the sense of the words as in the hues of the letters, and that the
sentences differed one from the other in such sort that there was never
a single one did not flatly contradict every other. But at the same time
he noted that this contradiction which existed in the head and body of
the maxims did not continue in their tail, but that they all agreed
together very accurately in their lower extremity, all ending in the
same fashion, seeing each and all terminated in these words, Such is
And he said in his Heart: "These mottoes are like the flowers young men
and maidens pluck in the water-meadows by the Arno, to make them into
posies. For these flowers are readily gathered together by the tails,
while the heads keep separate and fight amongst themselves in hue and
brilliancy. And it is the same with the opinions of human beings."
And the holy man found in the devices a host of contradictions regarding
the origin of sovereignty, the fountain of knowledge, pleasure and pain,
things lawful and things unlawful And he discovered likewise mighty
difficulties in connection with the shape of the Earth and the 'Divinity
of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by reason of the Heretics and Arabs and Jews,
the monsters of the African deserts and the Epicureans who all had their
place, a scroll in their lips, on the wheel of fire.
And each sentence ended in this way, Such is Truth. And the holy man
Giovanni marvelled to see so many truths all diversely coloured. He saw
red, and blue, and green, and yellow, but he saw no white -not even the
one the Pope made proclamation of, to wit, "On this rock I have built my
Church and committed thereto the crowns of all the world." Indeed this
device was all red as if blood-stained. And the holy man sighed: "Then I
am never to find on the wheel of the universe the pure white Truth, the
immaculate and candid Truth I would find."
And he called upon Truth, crying with tears in his eyes: "Truth! Truth!
for whose sake I am to die, show yourself before your martyr's eyes."
And lo! as he was wailing out the words the living wheel began to
revolve, and the devices, running one into the other, no longer kept
distinct, while on the great disk came circles of every hue, circles
wider and wider the further they were from the center.
Then as the motion grew faster, these circles disappeared one by one;
the widest vanishing first, because the speed was swifter near the
felloe of the wheel. But directly the wheel began to spin so fast the
eye could not see it move and it seemed to stand motionless, the
smallest circles too, disappeared, like the morning-star when the sun
pales the hills of Assisi. Then at last the wheel looked all white, and
it overpassed in brilliance the translucent orb where the Florentine
poet saw Beatrice in the dewdrop. It seemed as though an Angel, wiping
the eternal pearl to cleanse it of all stains, had set it on the Earth,
so like was the wheel to the Moon, when she shines high in the heavens
lightly veiled under the gauze of filmy clouds. For at these times no
shadow of a man carrying sticks, no mark at all, shows on her opalescent
surface. Even so never a stain was visible on the wheel of light.
And the holy man Giovanni heard a voice which said to him: "Behold that
same white Truth you were fain to contemplate. And know it is built up
of the divers contradictory truths, in the same fashion as all colours
go to make up white. The little children of Viterbo know this, for
having spun their tops striped with many colours on the flags of the
Great Market. But the doctors of Bologna never guessed the reasons for
this appearance. Now in every one of the devices was a portion of the
Truth, and all together make up the true and veritable device."
"Alas! and alas!" replied the holy man, "how am I to read it? For my
eyes are dazzled."
And the voice answered: "Very true, there is naught to be seen there but
flashing fire. No Latin letters, nor Arabic, nor Greek, no cabalistic
signs, can ever express this device; and no hand is there may trace it
in characters of flame on palace walls.
"Friend, never set your heart on reading what is not written. Only know
this, that whatsoever a man has thought or believed in his brief
lifetime is a parcel of this Infinite Truth; and that, even as much dirt
and disorder enter into what we call the order of nature, that is the
clean and proper ordering of the universe, so the maxims of knaves and
fools, who make the mass of mankind, participate in some sort in that
general and universal Truth-which is absolute, everlasting and divine.
Which makes me sore afraid, by the by, it may very like not exist at
And with a great burst of mocking laughter, the voice fell silent.
Then the holy man saw a long leg stretched out, in red hose, and inside
the shoe the foot seemed cloven and like a goat's, only much larger. And
it gave the wheel of light so shrewd a kick on the rim of its felloe,
that sparks flew out as they do when the blacksmith smites the iron with
his hammer, and the great wheel leapt into the air to fall far away,
broken into fragments. Meantime the air was filled with such piercing
laughter that the holy man awoke.
And in the livid gloom of the dungeon, he thought sadly:
"I have no hope or wish left to know Truth if, as has been manifested to
me, she only shows herself in contradictions and inconsistencies. How
shall I dare by my death to be witness and martyr of what men must
believe, now the vision of the wheel of the universe has made me see how
every particular falsehood is a parcel of general Truth, absolute and
unknowable? Why, O my God, have you suffered me to behold these things,
and let it be revealed to me before my last sleep, that Truth is
everywhere and that she is nowhere?"
And the holy man laid his head in his hands and wept.
Fra Giovanni was led before the Magistrates of the Republic to be judged
according to the laws of Viterbo. And one of the Magistrates said to the
guards: "Take the chains off him. For every person accused should appear
freely before us."
And Giovanni thought: "Why does the Judge pronounce words that are not
And the first of the Magistrates began to question the holy man, and
said to him:
"Giovanni, bad man that you are, being thrown in prison by the august
clemency of the laws, you have spoken against those laws. You have
contrived with wicked men, chained in the same dungeon as yourself, a
plot to overthrow the order established in this city."
The holy man Giovanni made answer: "Nay! I spoke for Justice and Truth.
If the laws of the city are agreeable to Justice and Truth, I have not
spoken against them. I have only spoken words of loving kindness. I
said: 'Strive not to destroy force by force. Be peaceable in the midst
of wars, to the end the spirit of God may rest on you like a little bird
on the top of a poplar in the valley that is flooded by the torrent.' I
said, 'Be gentle toward the men of violence.'"
Then the Judge cried out in anger: "Speak! tell us who are the men of
But the holy man said: "You are for milking the cow that has given all
her milk, and would learn of me more than I know."
However the Judge imposed silence on the holy man, and he said: "Your
tongue has discharged the arrow of your discourse and its shot was aimed
at the Republic. Only it has lighted-lower, and turned back upon
And the holy man said: "You judge me not by my acts and my words which
are manifest, but by my motives, which are visible only to God's eye."
And the Judge replied: "Nay! if we could not see the invisible and were
not gods upon earth, how could it be possible for us to Judge folk? Do
you not know a law has just been passed in Viterbo, which punishes even
men's secret thoughts? For the police of cities is forever being
perfected, and the wise Ulpian, who held the rule and the square in the
day of Caesar, would be astonished himself, if he could see our rules
and squares, improved as they are."
And the Judge said again: "Giovanni, you have been conspiring in your
prison against the common weal." But the holy man denied having ever
conspired against the weal of Viterbo. Then the Judge said: "The gaoler
has given testimony against you."
And the holy man asked the Judge: "What weight will my testimony have in
one scale when that of the gaoler is in the other?"
The Judge answered: "Why! yours will kick the beam."
Wherefore the holy man held his peace henceforth.
Then the Judge declared: "Anon you were talking and the words you said
proved your perfidy. Now you say nothing, and your silence is the avowal
of your crime. So you have confessed your guilt twice over."
And the Magistrate they entitled the Accuser, arose and said: "The
illustrious city of Viterbo speaks by my voice, and my voice shall be
grave and calm, because it is the public voice. And you will think you
are listening to a bronze statue speaking, for I make accusation not
with my heart and bowels, but with the tablets of bronze whereon the Law
And straightway he began to gesticulate furiously and utter a raging
torrent of words. And he disclaimed the argument of a play, in imitation
of Seneca the Tragedian: and this drama was filled full of crimes
committed by the holy man Giovanni. And the Accuser represented in
succession all the characters of the tragedy. He mimicked the groans of
the victims and the voice of Giovanni, the better to strike awe into his
audience, who seemed to hear and see Giovanni himself, intoxicated with
hate and evildoing. And the Accuser tore his hair and rent his gown and
fell back exhausted on his august seat of office.
And the Judge who had questioned the accused before took up the word
again and said:
"It is meet a citizen defend this man. For none, so says the law of
Viterbo, may be condemned without having first been defended."
Thereupon an Advocate of Viterbo got up on a stool and spoke in these
terms: "If this monk has said and done what is laid to his charge, he is
very wicked. But we have no proof that he has spoken and acted in the
manner supposed. Moreover, good sirs, had we this proof, it would
behoove us to consider further the extreme simplicity of the man and the
feebleness of his understanding. He was the laughing-stock of the
children in the Public Square. He is ignorant, he has done a thousand
extravagances. For my own part I believe he is beside himself. What he
says is worthless nonsense, and there is nothing sensible he can do. I
think he has been frequenting seditious societies, and goes about
repeating what he heard there, without understanding a word of it. He is
too dull-witted to be punished. Look out for his instructors; it is they
are to blame. There are many difficulties in the matter, and the wise
man has told us 'in doubt refrain from action.'"
Having so said, the Advocate stepped down from his stool. And Brother
Giovanni received his death sentence. And he was informed he was to be
hanged in the Square where the peasant women come to sell fruit and
vegetables and the children to play knuckle-bones.
Next a very illustrious Doctor of Law, who was one of the Judges, got up
and said: "Giovanni, it behooves you to subscribe a consent to the
sentence condemning you, for being pronounced in the name of the city,
it is pronounced by yourself, inasmuch as you are a part and parcel of
the city. You have an honourable part in it, as citizen, and I will
convince you that you ought to be well content to be strangled by the
"Know this, satisifaction of the whole comprehends and embraces the
satisfaction of the parts, and seeing you are a part-a vile and
miserable part, yet still a part-of the noble city of Viterbo, your
condemnation which satisfies the community should be no less
satisfactory to yourself.
"And I will further prove you that you should rightly consider death
doom agreeable and fitting. For there is no other thing so useful and
becoming as is the law, which is the just measure of things, and you
ought to be pleased to have received this same just and proper measure.
In accordance with the rules established by Caesar Justinian, you have
got your due. Your condemnation is just and therefore a pleasant and
good thing. But were it unjust and tainted and contaminated with
ignorance and iniquity (which God forbid) still it would be incumbent
upon you to approve the same.
"For an unjust sentence, when it is pronounced in the inscribed forms of
law, participates in the virtue of the said forms and through them
continues august, efficacious and of high merit. What it contains of
wrong is temporary and of little consequence, and concerns only the
particular instance, whereas the good in it derives from the fixity and
permanence of the organization of the laws, and therefore it is
agreeable to the general dictates of justice. Wherefore Papinian
declares it is better to give false judgment than none at all, seeing
how men without justice are no better than wild beasts in the woods,
whereas by justice is made manifest their nobleness and dignity, as is
seen by the example of the Judges of the Areopagus, who were held in
special honour among the Athenians. So, seeing it is necessary and
profitable to give judgment, and that it is not possible to do so
without fault or mistakes, it follows that mistake and faultiness are
comprised in the excellence of Justice and participate in the said
excellence. Accordingly, supposing you deemed your sentence unfair, you
should find satisfaction in this unfairness, inasmuch as it is united
and amalgamated with fairness, just as tin and copper are fused together
to make bronze, which is a precious metal and employed for very noble
purposes, in the fashion Pliny describes in his Histories."
The learned Doctor then proceeded to enumerate the conveniences and
advantages which flow from expiation and wash away sin as the maids
every Saturday wash the courtyards of their masters' houses. And he
demonstrated to the holy man what a boon it was for him to be condemned
to death by the august good pleasure of the Commonwealth of Viterbo
which had granted him judges and a defender. And so soon as the Doctor's
eloquence was exhausted and he fell silent, Fra Giovanni was fettered
once more and led back to prison.
THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD
Now on the morning appointed for his hanging, the holy man Giovanni was
lying sound asleep. And the Subtle Doctor came and opened the door of
his prison cell, and pulling him by the sleeve, cried: "Ho! there, son
of woman, awake! The day is just unclosing his grey eyes. The lark is
singing, end the morning mists kissing the mountain sides. Clouds glide
along the hills, soft and sinuous, snow white with rosy
reflections-which are the flanks and bosoms and loins of immortal
nymphs, divine daughters of the river and the sky, maidens of the morn
old Oceanus leads forth along the heights-a flock multiform as his
waves, and who welcome to their cool, fresh arms, on a couch of
hyacinths and anemones, the gods, masters of the world, and the shepherd
swains loved of goddesses. For there are shepherds their mothers bore
beautiful and worthy the bed of the nymphs that dwell in the water"
springs and woodlands.
"As for myself, who have deeply studied the secrets of nature, seeing
but now these clouds curling wantonly round the bosom of the hill, I was
filled with mysterious longings at the sight, longings I know nothing of
but that they spring from the region of my loins, and that, like the
infant Hercules, they showed their strength from the very cradle. And
those longings were not merely after rosy mists and floating clouds,
they pictured very precisely a wench named Monna Libetta I made
acquaintance with once in travelling at Castro, at an inn where she was
serving-maid and at the free disposal of the muleteers and soldiers
"But the picture I framed in my mind of Monna Libetta, this morning, as
I fared along the slopes of the hills, was wondrously embellished by the
tenderness and recollection and the regrets of separation, and she was
tricked out with all the pretty fancies that, springing from the loins
as I said, presently sent their fragrant fire coursing through all the
body's soul, transfusing it with languishing ardours and pains that are
a delicious pleasure.
"For I would have you know, my Giovanni, that looking at her calmly and
coldly, the girl was not greatly different from all the rest of the
country wenches that, in the plains of Umbria and the Roman Marches, go
afield to milk the cattle. She had dark eyes, slow and sullen, a
sunburnt face, a big mouth, the bosom heavy, the belly tanned and the
forepart of the legs, from the knees shaggy with hair. Her laugh was
ready and rude, in a general way; but in act with a lover, her face grew
dark and transfigured as if with wonder at the presence of a god. 'Twas
this had attached me to her, and I have many a time pondered since on
the nature of this attachment, for I am learned and curious to search
out the reasons of things.
"And I discovered the force that drew me toward this girl Monna Libetta,
maid-servant at the inn of Castro, was the same that governs the stars
in heaven and that there is one force and one only in the world, which
is Love. And it is likewise Hate, as is shown by the case of this same
Monna Libetta, who was fiercely fondled, and just as fiercely beaten.
"And I mind me how a groom in the Pope's stables, who was her chief
lover, struck her so savagely one night in the hay loft where he was
bedding with her, that he left her lying there for dead. And he rushed
out crying through the streets that the vampires had strangled the girl.
These be subjects a man must needs ponder if he would gain some notion
of true physics and natural philosophy."
Thus spoke the Subtle Doctor. And the holy man Giovanni sitting up on
his bedding of dung, answered: "Nay! Doctor, is this language meet to
address to a man that is to be hanged in a very short while? Hearing
you, I am filled with doubt whether your words are the words of a good
man and a great Theologian, or if they do not rather come from an evil
dream sent by the Angel of Darkness."
But the Subtle Doctor made answer: "Who talks of being hanged? I tell
you, Giovanni, I am come hither, at the earliest peep of day, to set you
free and help you to fIy. See! I have donned a gaoler's habit, the
prison door stands open. Quick! up and away!" At this the holy man rose
to his feet and answered: "Doctor, take heed what you are saying. I have
made the sacrifice of my life, and I admit it has cost me dear to make
it. If trusting to your word that I am restored to life, I am then led
to the place of execution, I must needs make a second sacrifice more
grievous than the first, and suffer two deaths instead of one. And I
confess to you my desire of martyrdom is vanished away, and a longing
come upon me to breathe the air of day under the branches of the
The Subtle Doctor made reply: "It happens that was just my intent to
lead you away under the pines rustling in the wind with the soft sighing
of a flute. We will break our fast sitting on the mossy slope
overlooking the city. Come with me! Why do you tarry?"
And the holy man said. "Before going hence with you, I would fain know
clearly who you are. I am fallen from my first constancy; my courage is
no better now than a straw blown about on the wasted threshing-floor of
my virtue. But I am left my faith in the Son of God, and to save my
body, I would ill like to lose my soul."
"Verily," cried the Subtle Doctor, "think you verily I have any desire
for your soul! Is it then so fair a maid and sweet a lady you are afraid
I would rob you of? Nay! keep it friend: I could make nothing of it."
The holy man was scarce assured by what he heard, for the other's words
breathed no pious odour. But, as he was exceeding eager to be free, he
asked no more questions, but followed the Doctor and passed the wicket
of' the prison by his side.
Only when he was without, he inquired: "Who are you, you who send dreams
to me and set prisoners free? You have the beauty of a woman and the
strength of- a man, and I admire you, though I cannot love you."
And the Subtle Doctor answered: "You will love me so soon as I have made
you suffer. Men cannot love but those who make them suffer, and there is
no love except in pain."
And so conversing, they left the city and began climbing the mountain
paths. And after faring far, they saw at the entering in of a wood a
red-tile house, before which was a wide terrace overlooking the plain,
planted with fruit trees and bordered with vines.
So they sat in the courtyard at the foot of a vine trunk; its leaves
were gilded by the Autumn and from the boughs hung clusters of grapes.
And a girl brought them milk and honey and cakes of maize.
Presently the Subtle Doctor, stretching out his arm, plucked a
scarlet-cheeked apple, bit into it and gave it to the holy man. And
Giovanni ate and drank, and his beard was all white with milk and his
eyes laughed as he gazed up at the sky, which filled them with blue
light and joy. And the girl smiled.
Then the Subtle Doctor said: "Look at yonder child; she is far comelier
than Monna Libetta."
And the holy man, intoxicated with milk and honey, and made merry with
the light of day, sang songs his mother was used to sing when she
carried him as a babe in her arms. They were songs of shepherds and
shepherdesses, and they spoke of love. And as the girl stood listening
on the threshold of the door, the holy man left his seat and ran
staggering towards her, took her in his arms and showered on her cheek
kisses full of milk, laughter and joy.
And the Subtle Doctor having paid the reckoning, the two travellers hied
themselves toward the plain. As they were walking between the silvery
willows that border the water, the holy man said: "Let us sit; for now I
So they sat down beneath a willow, and watched the water-flags curling
their sword-coloured flies flashing over the surface. But Giovanni's
laughter was ceased, and his face was sad.
And the Subtle Doctor asked him: "Why are you so pensive?"
And Giovanni answered him: "I have felt through you the sweet caress of
living things, and I am troubled at heart. I have tasted the milk and
the honey. I have looked on the serving-maid standing at the threshold
and seen that she was comely. And disquietude is in my soul and in my
"What a long road I have travelled since I have known you. Do you
remember the grove of holm-oaks where I saw you the first time? For be
sure, I recognize you.
"You it was visited me in my hermit's cell and stood before me with a
woman's eyes sparkling through a transparent veil, while your alluring
mouth instructed me in the entanglements of Right and Wrong. Again it
was you appeared in the meadow clad in a golden cope, like an Ambrose or
an Augustine Then I knew not the curse of thought, but you set me
thinking. You put pride like a coal of fire on my lips; and I learned to
speculate. But as yet in the untrained freshness of my wit and raw
youthfulness of mind, I felt no doubt. But again you came to me, and
gave me uncertainty to feed on and doubt to drink like wine. So comes
it, that this day I taste through you the entrancing illusion of things
and that the soul of woods and streams, of sky and earth, and living
shapes, penetrate my breast.
"And lo! I am a miserable man, because I have followed after you, Prince
And Giovanni gazed at his companion, who stood there beautiful as day
and night. And then he said to him: "Through you it is I suffer and I
love you. I love you because you are my misery and my pride, my joy and
my sorrow, the splendour and the cruelty of things created, because you
are desire and speculation, and.because you have made me like unto
yourself. For verily your promise in the Garden, in the dawn of this
world's days, was not vain, and I have tasted the fruit of the knowledge
of good and evil, O Satan."
Presently Giovanni resumed again: "I know, I see I feel, I will, I
suffer. And I love you for all the ill you have done me. I love you,
because you have undone me."
And leaning on the Archangel's shoulder, the man wept bitterly.