Belphagor by Anonymous

We find in the ancient records of Florence, that a most holy man, whose life was, in after years, celebrated for sanctity, being one night deeply engaged in meditation, fell into a dream and saw numbers of the souls of wretched mortals, who had died under the displeasure of the gods, and inhabited the dark regions of Pluto; complaining, at least most part of them, of having been driven to such misery by marriage; the which greatly surprised Minos, Radamanthus, and other infernal judges, as they did not credit those falsehoods against the sex. But these complaints increasing daily, after informing Pluto of it, it was resolved to hold a council of all the infernal deities upon the subject, and ultimately determine upon what might be best to do, in order to ascertain the whole truth of the case. These being called to council, Pluto spoke in the following manner:—"Although, my dearly beloved, by celestial power and irrevocable fate, I possess this realm, and am wholly unaccountable to any celestial or mortal being, yet as it is more wise to listen to the opinions of others, I have resolved to take your advice in a case that might eventually be of great dishonour to our empire; all the souls of men that come into our infernal kingdom, say that their wives are the cause of it; this appearing impossible to us, we therefore fear that in passing sentence on this subject, we may, perhaps, be accused of too much cruelty, or of not being sufficiently severe, and unfriendly to justice; being desirous to avoid both these charges, we have called upon you for your advice and assistance, in order that this realm may remain, as it ever hath been, without disgrace."

It appeared to all the infernal lords that it was a most momentous case, and they unanimously agreed that it ought to be sifted to the very bottom, but disagreed about the means and manner of carrying the investigation into effect; some were of opinion that one of them should be sent into the world, in the shape of a man, to ascertain personally the truth; others thought it might be done with less difficulty, by compelling several souls, by various torments, to tell the truth; but the majority decreeing that some one should be sent, they decided upon the former opinion. No one being inclined to take this business upon himself, it was settled that chance should determine, the which fell to the lot of the arch-devil Belphagor, who, before he was kicked out of heaven, was called archangel; he, though against his will, was compelled by Pluto's power to accept the office, and prepared to do that which the council should determine, and bound himself to such compacts as had solemnly been stipulated between them; the which were, that he who should be deputed should immediately receive a hundred thousand ducats, with which he was to come into the world with the features of man—take to him a wife—live ten years with her—then, feigning death, should return; and, by his own experience, prove to his superiors, what are the sorrows and comforts of the married state. It was moreover fixed, that he should be subject to all the misfortunes, and all the evils incident to man—that of poverty, imprisonment, diseases, and other calamities which men draw on themselves, unless he could extricate himself from them by deceit or cunning. Belphagor, having assumed the man, and taken the cash, came to the world, and after having ordered his horses and attendants, he made cheerfully towards Florence, the which city he chose in preference to any other, as the one where roguery and usury were most likely to thrive; and, taking the name of Roderigo, he hired a house in the Borgo d'Ogrissanti. In order that they might not enquire who he was, he gave out that he had quitted Spain, when very young, and going to Syria, had gained all his wealth at Aleppo, and that his object in coming to Italy was to take a wife, as being a more civilized country, and more congenial to his feelings. Roderigo was a very handsome man, about thirty, and being in a very few days known to possess immense riches, and it appearing that he was liberal and humane, many noble citizens who had plenty of daughters, and a scarcity of money, made offers to him; out of the number, Roderigo selected a most beautiful young lady called Onesta, daughter of Amerigo Donati, who had three other daughters almost marriageable, and three sons grown to man's estate. Although he was of a noble family, and greatly esteemed in Florence, yet, in consequence of a style of living suited to his rank, he was very poor.

Roderigo's wedding was most splendid; nothing usual on such occasions was forgotten or neglected; it having been decreed before he left the dark regions, that he should be subject to all the passions of men, he soon took delight and pride in the pomp and vanities of the world, and the praises of men, the which cost him dear enough; besides this, he had not been long with his wife before he fell desperately in love with her, and was wretched if she happened to look otherwise than cheerful, or was displeased at any thing. Madonna Onesta had not only brought youth and beauty to Roderigo, but such a share of pride, that he, who was a tolerable judge, thought the pride of Lucifer himself was a mere nothing to it; this greatly increased the very instant she perceived how much her husband doated upon her, and as she thought she could rule him as she pleased, she commanded him imperiously, nor did she hesitate, if he denied her any thing, to abuse and maltreat him, the which greatly annoyed him, yet the ties of matrimony, and the love he bore her, made him endure all with patience. I make no mention of the very enormous expenses he was at to please her in new fashions, which naturally often vary in this our city, and which he was obliged to submit to for the sake of peace. He was compelled to help his father-in-law in portioning the other girls; then again, to be on good terms with her, he was compelled to equip one brother for the Levant with clothes, &c., and the other to the west with silks; and, lastly, to open a goldbeater's shop for the third, all of which consumed the best part of his fortune. Moreover, in the carnival time and festival of St. John, when the whole city is nothing but feasting and revels, and when the noblemen treat each other with splendid entertainments, Madonna Onesta would not yield to any lady in splendour and show, but insisted that her Roderigo should outdo them all in magnificence. Quietly did Roderigo bear all these things for the reasons above-mentioned—peace and quietness; nor would he have grudged the expense, though very annoying, nay, would have even borne more, could he but have had peace in the house; or could he have waited quietly the moment of his ruin: but, on the contrary, it was quite the reverse, for besides the ruinous extravagance she led him into, her diabolical nature wearied him daily, nor was there a servant in the house that could stay any time. Roderigo, of course, suffered much in not being able to keep a single servant that could take care of his property, for the very devils he had brought with him, under the shape of servants, rather chose to return to hell, among their native fire and smoke, than dwell in the world under her controul. Roderigo going on in this dreadful way, and having wasted all his property in the above manner, began to live on the hopes of remittances from the east and west, which he expected to receive, but being put to shifts and having good credit still, he borrowed on promissory notes. At this juncture the intelligence arrived from the east and west that one of the Madonna Oliesta's brothers had gambled away all Roderigo's property, and that the other, on his return with a ship laden with goods uninsured, had been drowned, and the ship sunk. The instant the news was made known, the creditors assembled, and judging he was a ruined man, they being prevented from making any demands, the notes not being as yet due, agreed it was proper to keep a watchful eye over him, in order that he might not give them the slip. Roderigo, on the other hand, seeing his situation desperate, and thinking of the infernal law that bound him to this sublunary world, determined to be off at any rate. He mounted his horse one morning, and living near the gate Alprato, he rode through on his way. No sooner was his departure heard of, than the creditors were roused up to action, and applying to the magistrate, they flew with the police, and even the populace, after him. Roderigo was scarcely one mile off, when he heard the outcry behind him. Conceiving the road was but an indifferent protection, he thought that striking across the fields would be a far safer way; but in so doing he found so many ditches in his road, the which are frequent in that part, that he alighted, left his horse, and ran on foot through fields covered with vines and reeds, with which that country abounds. He arrived at Peretola, at the house of Matteo del Bricea, a labourer of Giovanni del Bene, and as chance would have it, found Matteo feeding the oxen. Roderigo begged of him to save him from the hands of his enemies, who, he said, pursued him, to take him and shut him up in gaol to die; promising him a great reward, and adding, that he would enrich him, and would, before he left him, give him such proofs that he could no longer doubt; and should he not keep his word, he would allow him to deliver him up to his pursuers. Matteo, though but a labourer, was a man of spirit, and kind-hearted; and thinking he could lose nothing by protecting him, he promised so to do, and concealed him behind a dunghill, covered him up with lumber, and sticks which he had brought for firewood. Roderigo had scarcely time to conceal himself properly, before his pursuers reached the place, who, however, could not obtain from Matteo an avowal that he had seen any such a one as they described. They, therefore, continued their way; being unsuccessful in their search, after two days pursuit, they returned back to Florence. When the bustle was over, Matteo took him out of his concealment. Roderigo said to him, "Matteo, I am under the greatest obligation to you, and will reward you, and that thou mayest believe me, I will tell thee who I am,"—upon this he related to him who he was, and the orders he received on going out of hell; his taking a wife; the eternal plague he had with her, and, moreover, the means he should use to enrich him, which was this:—when he should hear that there was a young woman possessed with the devil, to be quite assured that it was he who was within her, and that he should not cast himself from her until he himself should come, by which means he might get such payment from her friends as he might choose. Thus agreed, he disappeared. Very few days had elapsed, when it was reported in Florence that a daughter of Ambrogio Amadeo, who had married Buonijuto Zebalducci, was possessed by the devil. The friends, of course, tried all the remedies usually recurred to in such cases, such as placing the head of Saint Zarobi on her head, and Saint John of Gualberto's cloak, which things were rendered of no avail by Roderigo, and to make it clear that the deceased had really and truly an evil spirit within her, he made her speak Latin, and hold a disputation on philosophy. She made public the sins of people, and particularly those of a monk, who had kept a female more than four years under the dress of a young friar; which things people much marveled at. Messer Ambrogio, however, was truly miserable, and had lost all hopes of a cure, when Matteo having heard of the case, came to him, and told him that if he would give him five hundred florins to purchase a little farm at Ponterolo, he would restore the lady to her perfect senses. Ambrogio accepted the offer, upon which Matteo having ordered several masses to be said, and numerous mysterious ceremonies to be performed, in order the better to conceal the business, he accosted the lady, and whispering into her ear, said, "Roderigo, I am now come to thee that thou mayest perform thy promise," to which Roderigo answered, "but this sum is not enough to make thee rich, therefore as soon as I depart from this, I will cast myself into the daughter of Charles, King of Naples, nor will I depart from her until thou comest to me. Thou wilt then make thy own demand to the king, and after this, never trouble me more." This said, he came forth from the lady, to the great amazement and joy of all present. It was but a few months after, that the news was spread through Italy of the accident which had befallen King Charles's daughter. All the attempts of the monks proving ineffectual to relieve her, and the King having heard of Matteo, immediately dispatched a messenger to Florence to fetch him. Matteo arrived soon at Naples, and, after some artful practices, removed the evil spirit from the lady; but before Roderigo quitted his hold, he said, "Matteo, thou seest I have kept my word with thee in enriching thee; I therefore am now under no obligations whatever to thee; do not thou ever attempt to appear before me, because I might hereafter do thee much harm, instead of the good I have done thee." Matteo, returning to Florence very rich, for the king had given him fifty thousand ducats, thought of enjoying his wealth in comfort, unconscious that Roderigo would ever do him any injury; but this hope was soon frustrated by news arriving that the daughter of Louis the Seventh of France was possessed of the evil spirit; this quite upset the mind of Matteo, considering the power of that king, and coupling, withal, the threat of Roderigo, if ever he appeared before him. Meanwhile, Louis unable to find a cure for his daughter, and being told of Matteo's power of exorcism, sent at first a messenger to request his attendance; but Matteo alleging indisposition as an excuse, the king was obliged to apply to the government, who compelled Matteo to obedience. In great grief and perturbation of mind did Matteo arrive at Paris; he told the king that certainly there were such things by which he had formerly cured persons possessed with the devil, but that was not the case with all such, because there were some of so wicked a nature, that neither threats, exorcism, or religious ceremonies could move them; yet that he would certainly do his best, but, that should his endeavours prove useless, he entreated his majesty to pardon him. The king, greatly disappointed and incensed, replied, that if he did not cure his daughter, he certainly should be hanged. Matteo, of course, felt much alarmed at his ticklish situation; nevertheless, summoning up his whole stock of courage, he desired the lady might be called in, and with all humility, in a whisper, entreated Roderigo to take pity on him, reminding him of what he had formerly done by him: to which Roderigo answered, "treacherous villain, hast thou the boldness to appear before me? dost thou forget I made thee the rich man thou art? I will now show thee and the world how I can bestow gifts, and bereave mortals of them at my pleasure, and before thou quittest this place, I'll have thee gibbeted." Matteo, conceiving he was lost, and seeing no other means of escape, determined to try his fortune in another way; therefore, desiring the lady might be dismissed, he said to the king, "Sire, I have already told your majesty, that there are such malignant spirits, against which nothing will avail, and this is one; however, I will try one last experiment, which, should it succeed, will make your majesty and myself most happy; should it fail, I hope your majesty will feel that compassion towards me that my innocence deserves. To this effect your majesty will please to order that a large platform be erected at the piazza of Our Lady, large enough to contain all your barons and clergy, decking the railing with cloths, silks, and gold fringes; in the middle of this platform I wish an altar to be placed, and on Sunday morning next I wish your majesty to attend in solemn and royal pomp, with all your barons and clergy in their richest canonicals, when high mass shall be chaunted, and the lady brought forth. Besides these things, I do request that a group of at least twenty persons be placed at one corner of the square, with each a trumpet, horn, bugle, cymbals, drums, kettle-drums, or other terrific instruments, who, at the waving of my hat, shall immediately strike up and walk on towards the platform; this and certain other exorcisms will, I hope, drive the evil spirit from the lady." Every thing was ordered by his majesty which Matteo desired; on the Sunday morning the king, barons, clergy, and populace being assembled, the mass was celebrated, and the lady brought up to the platform by two bishops, and several noblemen. Roderigo, when he beheld such a multitude collected together, was almost confounded: "what the devil does this dastardly scoundrel mean to do," said he to himself; "does he think to frighten me by all this show and bustle; does he not know that I am used to the pomp and splendour of heaven, and the fire and furies of hell? but I will punish him, that I will." Matteo approached him, and entreated him to be gone.

"What do you mean," said Roderigo, "do you think to terrify me by all these preparations? dost thou think to shelter thyself from my power and the king's rage? Wretch! scoundrel that thou art! I will have thee hanged, cost what it may," and at it they went, abusing each other, till at last Matteo thought it would be useless to lose any more time, and gave the signal by waving his hat. All those that had been ordered played up, and with an infernal noise approached the scaffold. Roderigo, at this horrid cry and noise, pricked up his ears, and remained stupified, not knowing what it could be, and asking Matteo what all that meant. Matteo, seeming quite alarmed, said, "Oh, Roderigo, it is your wife, it is your wife that is coming to you!" At the hearing of his wife's name, no one would credit the agitation, fright, and terror it threw him into; and without considering the improbability of its being so, he was so thunderstruck that he instantly made off in a bustle, and left the lady free, preferring to go back to hell and give an account of his mission, to encountering the vexations, spite, troubles, hardships, and dangers to which the marriage yoke had subjected him. Thus Belphagor returned to the infernal regions, gave a true and circumstantial account of all the evils which a wife brings into a house, and Matteo, highly delighted at his exploit, and at having outwitted the devil, returned home in raptures.