GUIDO CAVALCANTI 

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Decameron. Day VI Story IX. Trans. John Payne. New York: Walter Black, n.d. 309-311. Project Gutenberg. Web. 29 December 2014. 

THE NINTH STORY

Day the Sixth

GUIDO CAVALCANTI WITH A PITHY SPEECH COURTEOUSLY FLOUTETH CERTAIN FLORENTINE GENTLEMEN WHO HAD TAKEN HIM BY SURPRISE

The queen, seeing Emilia delivered of her story and that it rested with none other than herself to tell, saving him who was privileged to speak last, began thus, "Although, sprightly ladies, you have this day taken out of my mouth at the least two stories, whereof I had purposed to relate one, I have yet one left to tell, the end whereof compriseth a saying of such a fashion that none, peradventure, of such pertinence, hath yet been cited to us.

You must know, then, that there were in our city, of times past, many goodly and commendable usances, whereof none is left there nowadays, thanks to the avarice that hath waxed therein with wealth and hath banished them all. Among these there was a custom to the effect that the gentlemen of the various quarters of Florence assembled together in divers places about the town and formed themselves into companies of a certain number, having a care to admit thereinto such only as might aptly bear the expense, whereof to-day the one and to-morrow the other, and so all in turn, hold open house, each his day, for the whole company. At these banquets they often entertained both stranger gentlemen, whenas there came any thither, and those of the city; and on like wise, once at the least in the year, they clad themselves alike and rode in procession through the city on the most notable days and whiles they held passes of arms, especially on the chief holidays or whenas some glad news of victory or the like came to the city.

Amongst these companies was one of Messer Betto Brunelleschi, whereinto the latter and his companions had studied amain to draw Guido, son of Messer Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, and not without cause; for that, besides being one of the best logicians in the world and an excellent natural philosopher (of which things, indeed, they recked little), he was very sprightly and well-bred and a mighty well-spoken man and knew better than any other to do everything that he would and that pertained unto a gentleman, more by token that he was very rich and knew wonder-well how to entertain whomsoever he deemed deserving of honour. But Messer Betto had never been able to win and to have him, and he and his companions believed that this betided for that Guido, being whiles engaged in abstract speculations, became much distraught from mankind; and for that he inclined somewhat to the opinion of the Epicureans, it was reported among the common folk that these his speculations consisted only in seeking if it might be discovered that God was not.

It chanced one day that Guido set out from Orto San Michele and came by way of the Corso degli Ademari, the which was oftentimes his road, to San Giovanni, round about which there were at that present divers great marble tombs (which are nowadays at Santa Reparata) and many others. As he was between the columns of porphyry there and the tombs in question and the door of the church, which was shut, Messer Betto and his company, coming a-horseback along the Piazza di Santa Reparata, espied him among the tombs and said, 'Let us go plague him.' Accordingly, spurring their horses, they charged all down upon him in sport and coming upon him ere he was aware of them, said to him, 'Guido, thou refusest to be of our company; but, harkye, whenas thou shalt have found that God is not, what wilt thou have accomplished?' Guido, seeing himself hemmed in by them, answered promptly, 'Gentlemen, you may say what you will to me in your own house'; then, laying his hand on one of the great tombs aforesaid and being very nimble of body, he took a spring and alighting on the other side, made off, having thus rid himself of them.

The gentlemen abode looking one upon another and fell a-saying that he was a crack-brain and that this that he had answered them amounted to nought seeing that there where they were they had no more to do than all the other citizens, nor Guido himself less than any of themselves. But Messer Betto turned to them and said, 'It is you who are the crackbrains, if you have not apprehended him. He hath courteously and in a few words given us the sharpest rebuke in the world; for that, an you consider aright, these tombs are the houses of the dead, seeing they are laid and abide therein, and these, saith he, are our house, meaning thus to show us that we and other foolish and unlettered men are, compared with him and other men of learning, worse than dead folk; wherefore, being here, we are in our own house.' Thereupon each understood what Guido had meant to say and was abashed nor ever plagued him more, but held Messer Betto thenceforward a gentleman of a subtle wit and an understanding."

 

Julia Laeta - Anatole France. “Messer Guido Cavalcanti.” The Well of St Clare. Trans. W. Allinson. London: Bodley Head, n.d., 51-73. Project Gutenberg.  Web. 29 December 2014.

“In those days the Church of San Giovanni was surrounded with Roman tombs. Thither would Messer Guido often come at Ave Maria and meditate far into the silent night. He believed, as the Chronicles reported, that this fair Church of San Giovanni had been a Pagan Temple before it was a Christian Church, and the thought pleased his soul, which was enamoured of the old-world mysteries. Especially he loved to look on these tombs, where the sign of the Cross found no place, but which bore Latin inscriptions and were adorned with carven figures of men and gods. They were long cubes of white marble, on the sides of which could be made out representations of banquets and hunting parties, the death of Adonis, the fight of Lapiths and Centaurs, the refusal of the chaste Hippolytus, the Amazons. Messer Guido would read the lettering with anxious care, and try hard to penetrate the meaning of these fables. One tomb in particular occupied him more than all the rest, for it showed him two Loves, each holding a torch, and he was curious to discover the nature of these two Loves. Well! one night that he was pondering on these things more deeply than ever, a shadow rose up above the lid of the tomb a luminous shadow, as when you see, or fancy you see, the moon shining faintly through a cloud. Gradually it took the shape of a beautiful virgin, and said thus in a voice softer than the reeds waving in the wind: 

‘I am she that sleeps within this tomb, and I am called Julia Laeta. I lost the light on my marriage-day, at the age of sixteen years, three months and nine days. Since then, whether I am, or am not, I cannot tell. Never question the dead, stranger, for they see naught, and a thick night environs them. 'Tis said that such as in life knew the cruel joys of Venus roam the glades of a dense forest of myrtles. For me who died a virgin, I sleep a dreamless sleep. They have graven two Loves on the stone of my sepulchre. One gives mortals the light of day; the other quenches it in their tender eyes for ever. The countenance of both is the same, a smiling countenance, for birth and death are two twin brothers, and all is joy to the Immortal Gods. I have spoken.’ 

The voice fell silent, like the rustling of leaves when the wind drops. The transparent shadow vanished away in the light of dawn, which descended clear and white on the hills; and the tombs of San Giovanni grew wan and silent once again in the morning air. And Messer Guido pondered: 

"The truth I foresaw, hath been made manifest to me. Is it not writ in the Book the Priests use, ‘Shall the dead praise Thee, O Lord? ' The dead are without thought or knowledge, and the divine Epicurus was well advised when he enfranchised the living from the vain terrors of the life to come." (61-63).      

 

Cavalcanti. Compagni, Dino. The Chronicle of Dino Compagni. Trans. Else C. M. Benecke. London: Dent, 1906. Warburg.sas.ac.uk. The Warburg Institute. Web. 29 December 2014.

A young man of gentle birth, named Guido (son of a noble knight, M. Cavalcante Cavalcanti), courteous and bold, but disdainful, solitary and intent on study, an enemy of M. Corso, had several times determined to attack him. M. Corso feared him greatly, because he knew him to be high- spirited, and when Guido was going on a pilgrimage to S. James (n), he sought to murder him, but did not succeed. Wherefore Guido, hearing of this on his return to Florence, stirred up against M. Corso many young men, who promised to help him. One day when he was riding with some of the House of the Cerchi, having a dart in his hand, he spurred his horse against M. Corso, believing he would be followed by the Cerchi, whom he meant to lead into the fray. And as his horse was gal- loping on he hurled his dart, but without effect. With M. Corso there were present Simone, his son, a strong and bold young man, Cecchino de' Bardi, and many others with their swords they pursued Guido, but not overtaking him, they cast stones after him, and some were thrown at him from the windows, so that he was wounded in the hand. (56)

 

References

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Decameron. Day VI Story IX. Trans. John Payne. New York: Walter Black, n.d. 309-311. Project Gutenberg. Web. 29 December 2014. 

Compagni, Dino. The Chronicle of Dino Compagni. Trans. Else C. M. Benecke. London: Dent, 1906. Warburg.sas.ac.uk. The Warburg Institute. Web. 29 December 2014.

France, Anatole. “Messer Guido Cavalcanti.” The Well of St Clare. Trans. W. Allinson. London: Bodley Head, n.d., 51-73. Project Gutenberg.  Web. 29 December 2014.