November 3, 2020
Saffredent tells the story of a jealous nobleman who seduces the Queen of Naples, whose husband the king is having an affair with the nobleman’s wife. The two love affairs continue for many years, to the delight and pleasure of all four parties and without the king’s knowledge, even though the nobleman has a clever inscription placed on a set of antlers in his home that should suggest to the king that he may be wearing a cuckold’s horns: “Io porto le corna, ciascun lo vede, / Ma tal le porta, che no lo crede” (“I wear horns, everyone can see it, / But another wears them, who does not believe it”).
Sigmund Freudenberger’s depiction of this novella for the eighteenth-century illustrated Heptameron shows the unwitting king admiring the handsome antlers as his lover, the nobleman’s embarrassed wife, looks away.
Saffredent’s lesson to the ladies is clear: “When your husbands give you little roe-deer horns, make sure that you give them great big stag’s antlers!” It falls to Ennasuite to provide a counterpoint to this lesson, with another tale of a virtuous woman.
3 thoughts on “Story Three”
Although this story is billed as light relief, I’ve always found it a bit depressing – all the characters are so self-deceiving, and self-serving, the women perhaps more so than the men, as they lack initiative and are so easily manipulated … perhaps this is funny, in a way, and the irony of the inscription works also on a more fundamental level of the narrative. What is fabulous, however, is the character sketches that you get in the debate: Ennasuite laughs at Saffredent as a kind of aging lothario, someone else (Parlamente, presumably?) laughs at Ennasuite for thinking herself the object of Saffredent’s desire, Saffredent is complacently satisfied that his message has found its destination… in this really short discussion, the complex emotional connections between the storytellers are sketched out with economy and wit.
I find this story vastly entertaining: it always reminds me of the medieval fabliau in that, in the end, it is the less powerful man who has the last laugh. The fact that the nobleman shares his revenge with the Queen, albeit in complete secrecy, equalizes an otherwise helpless situation for her. It is interesting that the king arrives at the nobleman’s house wearing a mask, a sign of his deceit to come, but in the end, he is not perceptive enough to decipher the sign about the horns, which proves to be a more effective mask. The nobleman’s comment that soft horns do not mess up one’s hat alludes to the king’s lack of discernment and makes fun of his crown by calling it a mere “bonnet”, as in “un bonnet d’âne”, worn by gullible people.
The role of this tale, is, perhaps to give the reader a break from the two destabilizing tales. The way the Queen of Naples responds to her husband cheating, by doing the exact same thing made me very much amused. The fact that both male and female are at fault in the story appears as an echo to the first and second tale, which have on one side a female evil deed and on the other a male evil deed. This tale puts both genders in the same bag, expressing the idea that ill-turns are part of human nature and have nothing to do with gender.