Let Generosity be painted there

From Boccaccio’s Decameron – the eighth tale of the first day. The translation is the Penguin of G.H. McWilliam, though I’m trying the Naxos audiobook with a Guido Waldman rendering.

In Genoa, then, a long time ago, there lived a gentleman called Ermino de’ Grimaldi, who was generally acknowledged, on account of his vast wealth and huge estates, to be by far the richest citizen in the Italy of his day. Not only was he richer than any man in Italy, he was incomparably greedier and more tight-fisted than every other grasper or miser in the whole wide world. For he would entertain on a shoestring, and in contrast to the normal habits of the Genoese (who are wont to dress in the height of fashion), he would sooner go about in rags than spend any money on his personal appearance. Nor was his attitude to food and drink any different. It was therefore not surprising that he had lost the surname of Grimaldi and was simply known to one and all as Ermino Skinflint.

Now, it so happened that whilst this fellow, by spending not a penny, was busily increasing his fortune, there arrived in Genoa a worthy courtier, Guiglielmo Borsiere by name, who was refined of manner and eloquent of tongue … the aforesaid Guiglielmo received a warm and ready welcome from all the best families in Genoa. And after he had spent a number of days in the city, and listened to several accounts of Ermino’s greed and miserliness, he was eager to see what manner of man he was.

Ermino had already been told what an excellent fellow Guiglielmo Borsiere was, and since, for all his meanness, he still preserved a glimmer of civility, he received him very sociably, with cheerful countenance, and began to converse with him on various different topics. As they talked, he conveyed him, along with certain other Genoese who were present, to a splendid house he had recently caused to be built for his use. And having shown him all over the building, he said:

‘Well now, Guiglielmo, as one who has seen and heard many things in his time, could you perhaps suggest a thing that no man has ever seen, which I could commission to be painted in the main hall of this house of mine?’

To which Guiglielmo, on hearing him talk in this unseemly fashion, replied:

‘Sir, I do not think I could suggest a thing that no man has ever seen, unless it were a fit of the sneezes or something of that sort. But if you like, I can certainly suggest a thing I do not believe that you yourself have ever seen.’

‘Ah,’ said Ermino, who was not expecting the answer he was about to be given, ‘then I beg you to tell me what it is.’

Whereupon Guiglielmo promptly replied:

‘Let Generosity be painted there.’

When Ermino heard this word, he was so overcome with shame, that his character was suddenly and almost totally transformed.

‘Guiglielmo,’ he said, ‘I shall have it painted there in such a way that neither you nor anyone else will ever again have cause to tell me that I have not seen and known it.’

Guiglielmo’s remark had such a potent effect upon Ermino that from that day forth he became the most courteous and generous gentleman in the Genoa of his time, and was respected above all others, not only by his fellow-citizens, but by visitors to the city.

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