At the foot of the mountains where the Po escapes from its bed of reeds to the neighboring plain, there once lived a youthful and gallant prince, the favorite of the whole countryside. Combining in himself all the gifts of body and spirit, he was strong, clever, skillful in war, and displayed great enthusiasm for the arts. He loved fighting and victory, too, along with all mighty endeavors and deeds of glory -- everything which makes one's name live in history. But more than all these, his greatest pleasure lay in the happiness of his people.
This splendid disposition was obscured, however, by a somber cloud, a melancholy mood which caused the prince to feel, in the depths of his heart, that all women were faithless and deceivers. Even in a woman of the highest distinction he saw only the heart of a hypocrite, elated with pride. To him she was a cruel enemy whose unbroken ambition was to gain the mastery over whatever unhappy man might surrender to her.
Each day the prince gave his morning to his royal business. He ruled wisely, doing everything he felt best for his people -- the frail orphan, the oppressed widow, protecting the rights of all. The remainder of the day was devoted to the chase, either the stag or the bear. These, in spite of their ferocity, frightened him less than the charming women whom he shunned daily.
His subjects, nevertheless, kept urging him to provide them with an heir to the throne, someone who would rule them with the same affection that the prince had always shown.
In reply to their urgings, the prince said, "This zeal with which you urge me to marry pleases me greatly. I am deeply touched. But I am convinced," he added, "that happiness can be found in a marriage only when one of the two partners is dominant over the other. If, therefore, you wish to see me wed, find me a young beauty without pride or vanity, obedient, with tried and proved patience and, above all, without a domineering will of her own. Once you have found her, I will marry!"
The prince, having finished these comments, flung himself on his horse and galloped off to join his hounds. Over field and meadow he flew, to find his fellow huntsmen waiting for him, ready and alert. Therefore, he ordered the chase to begin at once and urged the dogs after the stag. The blare of the horns, the thunder of the horses' hooves, and the baying of the hounds filled the forest with tumult so that the echoes were repeated endlessly, growing louder and louder in the hollows of the woods.
By chance, or perhaps by destiny, the prince turned one day into a winding road where none of the huntsmen followed him. The further he went, the more widely he became separated from them, until finally he reached a point where he no longer heard either the hounds or the horns of the huntsmen.
The place where his strange adventure had led him, with its clear streams and shadowy trees, filled the prince with awe. The simple and unspoiled nature about him was so beautiful and pure that a thousand times he blessed his wanderings from the well-known paths.
Filled with the reveries which pervaded the woods, fields and streams, his heart and his eyes were suddenly confronted by a most delightful object, the sweetest and kindliest ever seen under heaven. It was a young shepherdess.
She would, indeed, have tamed the most savage heart. Her complexion was like a lily whose fresh whiteness had always been shielded from the sun. Her lips were most engaging. Her eyes, softened by dark lashes, were bluer than the sky and even more bright.
The prince, transported with delight, slipped back quietly into the wood where he might gaze unseen on the beauty by which his heart was possessed. The noise which he made, however, caused the girl to glance in his direction. The moment she saw him she blushed deeply and this, in turn, added to her beauty. Under this innocent veil of modesty the prince discovered a simplicity, a sweetness and a sincerity which he did not believe possible in any woman. He drew nearer to her, and even more timid and confused than she, he explained in a trembling voice that he had lost all trace of the other huntsmen and asked her if perchance the chase had passed through that part of the wood.
"No one has been seen in this solitary place except you," she said, "but do not be disturbed. I will put you on the right road again."
"For this extraordinary good fortune," said the prince, "I cannot be thankful enough to heaven. For a long time I have been accustomed to visit such places as these, but until today I have not realized how precious they might be to me."
As the maiden saw the prince kneel on the edge of the stream to quench his thirst, she called to him to wait, and hurrying to her little cottage, she returned with a cup which she graciously handed him. All the precious goblets of crystal, agate and gold, sparkling and artfully designed, never had for him, in their silly uselessness, half the beauty of this clay cup which the shepherdess had just given him.
To find an easy road whereby the prince might return to his palace, together they journeyed through the woods, over steep rocks and across torrents, and as he followed along this unfamiliar route, the prince observed all the landmarks carefully. He was dreaming already that he would wish some day to return, and his love was making a faithful map for him to do so.
From a dark grove where finally the shepherdess had led him he spied through the branches the golden roofs of his magnificent palace. Separated shortly from the beautiful girl, he was soon beset by a deep grief. The recollection of his recent adventure filled him with pleasure, yet on the morrow he was depressed with weariness and sorrow.
As soon as he could, he arranged another hunt and cleverly giving his followers the slip, sought again the woods and hills where the young shepherdess dwelt. There he found her, living with her father, and learned that her name was Griselda. Together the girl and the old man lived simply on the milk of their flock and wove their garments from the fleece.
As the days went by, the more he saw of her, the brighter the prince's love burned for the shepherdess. He was filled with an extreme happiness and, finally, one day he called his counselors together and spoke to them, "In accordance with your wishes, I am at last planning to wed although I shall not take a wife from a strange land but from someone among us -- someone lovely, wise and well bred. I shall eagerly await the great moment to inform you of my choice."
When this news was released, it was carried everywhere and no one could measure the joy with which it was received on every side.
It was amusing to see the useless trouble to which the belles of the town went to win the approval of their prince for whom modesty and simplicity had a charm above all else, as he had told them a hundred times. They changed their manners and their dress; they lowered their voices; they even coughed in a pious tone; they reduced their hairdos a half foot; they covered their necks and lengthened their sleeves, so that one scarcely saw the ends of their fingers.
The workmen and artists of the town labored diligently for the wedding day which they knew was approaching. Magnificent floats were contrived in an entirely new style in which gold which was used lavishly was the least of their ornaments. Here, on one side, grandstands were set up from which the pomp and ceremony might better be seen. There, in another direction, great arches were erected, celebrating the glories of their warrior prince and the brilliant victory of love over him.
Here were forges of the industrial arts whose fires, with harmless thundering, frightened the earth, their sparks like a thousand new stars adorning the heavens. There a clever ballet was devised, with merry foolishness, and there, too, in an opera lovelier than any which had ever been produced in Italy, were heard a thousand melodious songs.
At last the famous wedding day arrived! The very heavens mingled the crimson of the dawn with their gold and blue as the lovely maidens of the land wakened from their slumbers. Sightseers arrived from all directions. In many places guards were posted to hold the crowds in check. The palace echoed with the sounds of horns, flutes, oboes and rustic bagpipes, while on every side could be heard the drums and trumpets.
At last the prince came out from his palace, surrounded by his courtiers. A great cry of joy arose, but a moment later everyone was amazed when, at the first turn of the road, he took the path into the nearby forest, just as he had done many times before. "There," everyone mistakenly said, "is where his interest lies. In spite of his love, the hunt holds the first place in his heart."
The prince quickly crossed the open farm lands and, reaching the hills, entered the woods, to the astonishment of the troop of courtiers who accompanied him.
After having passed along several by-paths which his heart with its happiness remembered, he found himself at the rustic cottage where his precious loved one lived.
Griselda had heard, too, about the wedding and, dressed in her best, was waiting outside her little house, before going to see the celebration.
"Where are you going so gaily and in such haste?" asked the prince, drawing near and gazing on her tenderly. "Stop hurrying, my dear shepherdess. The wedding for which you are so ready to leave here and in which I am to become a husband will never take place without you as part of it. Yes, I love you and I have chosen you from among a thousand young beauties to spend the rest of my life with, if, of course, my hopes are not disappointed."
"My lord," she replied, "I could never dare believe that I might be destined for such an honor. Are you seeking to make sport with me?"
"Not for a moment," the prince answered. "I am most sincere.
But before we pledge an eternal vow between us it will be necessary for you to swear that you will never have any other wishes than what I shall desire."
"I swear it," she said, "and give you my promise. If I were to marry the least important man in the world, I should agree to obey him. His yoke would be a gentle one for me. How much rather, then, would I obey you if I found you my lord and master."
So the prince had spoken and while the court applauded his choice, he asked the shepherdess please to be patient as she was instructed in those graces and deportment which should belong to the bride of a king. Those whose duty it was displayed all their skill in making these adjustments for her.
Whereupon there slipped from the little cottage, stately and radiant, the charming shepherdess. Not only was there applause everywhere for her beauty, but beyond this for her real ornament, an innocent simplicity.
In a magnificent coach of gold and ivory, which had followed the course of the prince, the shepherdess was seated in full majesty, and the prince, proudly there with her, found no less glory in his role of a lover than when marching in triumph following a great victory. The courtiers followed them as they moved gaily toward the palace.
Meanwhile the whole town impatiently awaited the prince's return. Suddenly he appeared and they rushed to meet him.
Surrounded by a great crowd of people, the wedding coach could scarcely move. At the shouts of joy, doubled and redoubled, the horses were frightened. They reared, stamped their hooves, dashed forward and then drew back again further than they had advanced. But at long last they reached the church and with solemn vows the two lovers were united in marriage.
When they finally reached the palace, a thousand diversions awaited them. Dancing, games, racing and tournaments spread merriment throughout the city. And the love of the prince and the shepherdess was like a crowning glory of the day!
On the next day, the various sections of the country joined in congratulating the prince and princess in speeches by their leaders. Surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting, Griselda, without showing any surprise, listened to them like a princess and like a princess she replied. In everything she did, she acted so wisely that it seemed as though heaven had given her its richest blessings of the mind as well as of the body. She easily accustomed herself to the ways of the new world about her and was quickly as much at home there in the court as she had been formerly in taking care of her sheep.
Before a year had passed their marriage was blessed with a child, not a prince as might have been desired but a little princess, so lovely and endearing that every moment her father kept coming back to gaze on her again. Her mother, still more enraptured, never Look her eyes off her. She even determined to nurse the infant herself, for "How can I refuse her," she said, "when her cries insist on having me? Can I be only a part mother of the child I love so much?"
In time the love of the prince became a little less ardent than formerly, so that his evil mood seemed to grow again. It was as though a thick fog had obscured his senses and corrupted his heart. In everything that the princess did he imagined that he saw little real sincerity. Her outstanding goodness offended him; it was a snare, he thought, for his credulity. His unhappy state of mind led him to believe every suspicion. As a result of the melancholy with which his mind had been tainted, he followed her about, watching her. He seemed to enjoy limiting her pleasures and alarming her, mixing the false with the true.
"I must not be lulled asleep," he said. "If these virtues of hers are indeed genuine, then even my most unreasonable actions will only strengthen them."
And so she was confined to the palace and retired to her rooms, far from the pleasures of the court. Convinced that one's wardrobe and its accessories are the dearest delight of a woman, the prince rudely demanded her pearls, rubies, rings and jewels, all of which he had given her as a token of his affection when he became her husband.
She whose life was stainless, who had never been punished in any way, who had performed her every duty well, had been happy in giving as she had been in receiving, "My husband plagues me only to test my love," she said, "and he only makes me suffer to arouse my sleeping virtues which might have perished in a long and peaceful repose. Let us be happy, then, in this harsh but worthwhile severity. For one is often happy only as one suffers."
The prince was chagrined to see her obey freely all of his strictest orders. "I see," he said, "what lies behind this false goodness of hers and makes all my efforts useless. My blows have been directed only where there is no longer any love. But for her infant child, for the little princess, she has shown the greatest tenderness. If I am to succeed in my testing her, it is there that I must direct my efforts."
At the moment she was about to nurse the baby who was lying against her heart, smiling.
"I see that you love her," said the prince. "It will be necessary, however, that while she is still very young I separate her from you so that she will be brought up with the right manners and will be protected from the bad habits into which she will surely fall if she remains with you. By the best of good luck I have found a lady who will bring her up with all the virtues and good manners which a princess should have. You will arrange, then, to part with her. They will be coming soon to take her away."
At these words, he left her, not having the courage to watch them snatch from her arms this pledge of their love. A thousand tears bathed her face as she watched in mournful dejection the darkest moment of her unhappiness.
As soon as those who were to carry out this cruel and sad undertaking appeared, she told them, "I must obey." Then, taking up her child, she gazed on her and kissing her with a mother's love, weeping, she gave her up. Alas, how bitter was her sorrow. To tear an infant from its mother's heart, this is Grief itself.
Not far from the city was a convent, famous for its antiquity, where the nuns lived according to strict rules under the eyes of an abbess, renowned for her piety. It was here in silence and without revealing the secret of her birth that they took the infant.
The prince tried to escape, by hunting, from the sharp remorse which embarrassed him over his extreme show of cruelty. He hesitated to visit the princess, as one might fear to meet again a fierce tigress from whom its cub had been taken. Nevertheless, he was received tenderly by his wife and with the same affection which she had formerly shown during their happiest days.
At this remarkable and unexpected courage, he was touched with regret and shame, but the strange mood that had come over him was still strong. And so, two days later, with affected tears, in order to deliver the final and supreme blow, he came to her to announce the death of the amiable child.
This unexpected blow wounded her deeply. Nevertheless, in spite of her sadness, having noticed how her husband seemed changed in appearance, she forgot her own grief and exerted every effort to console him in his false sorrow.
This goodness, this unique marvel of love, suddenly softened the prince's harshness. It changed his heart so that he was inclined to announce that their child still lived. But his bitterness of spirit was still strong and fiercely upheld him in not revealing the mystery which it was so useless to conceal.
And so for fifteen years the sun moved through the various stages along its orbit and brought the changing seasons. Meanwhile the little princess in the convent grew in wisdom and stature. To the sweetness and simplicity which she inherited from her mother she added her father's pleasing and proud dignity, a combination which gave her a rare beauty of character. She shone like a bright star and, by chance, one of the noblemen at the court, young, well bred and gallant, having glimpsed her through the gate of the convent, fell in love with her.
By that instinct which nature has given the fairer sex of noticing the invisible wounds which their eyes make, at the moment they are made, the princess knew that she had found a tender lover. And having resisted for a little, as one has a right to do before giving in, she, for her part, fell completely in love, too.
Nothing was lacking in this young lover. He was handsome, courageous and came from an illustrious family. For a long time the prince had been observing him. And so it was with great joy that he learned that the two young people were in love. But he took a strange satisfaction in making them win the supreme happiness of their lives only by a series of vexations and torments. He told his subjects, for instance, that since they wanted an heir to the throne of distinguished birth he had decided to take a wife of a most illustrious family who had actually been brought up in a convent. The people, of course, did not know that he was speaking of his own daughter. She, too, did not realize that the prince was actually her father and that it was only his strangely twisted mind which had led him to make this foolish announcement which, even though he never intended to carry out the plan, would bring so much unhappiness to so many people. He even arranged another match for the young man with whom the princess had fallen so deeply in love.
One can only guess how cruel the news was to the two young lovers. Next, without any sign of concern for her, the prince told his faithful wife that it was necessary for him to leave her in order to avoid extreme misfortune later on. He explained that his people, shocked by her low birth, were urging him to make a more suitable alliance elsewhere. "You," he said, "will have to go back to your little thatched cottage, after having once more put on the dress of a shepherdess, as I have arranged for you."
Calmly and with a quiet firmness, the princess listened as he pronounced this sentence on her. Her face serene, she hid her grief and without her sorrow in any way lessening her charms, great tears fell from her eyes. So also, sometimes in April, the rain falls while the sun still is shining.
"You are my husband, my lord and master," she said, sighing, "and whatever else you may hear, you must remember that nothing is nearer my heart than to obey you completely." Therefore she retired alone to her apartments, stripped herself of her expensive wardrobe and, quietly and without a complaint, put on the clothes she had once worn while guarding her sheep.
In her humble carriage she left the prince with these words, "I cannot leave you without your pardon for having displeased you. I can bear the load of my own sorrow, but I cannot, my lord, endure your anger. Have pity on my sincere regret, and I will live willingly in my sad abode, knowing that time will never change my humble regard for you or my unbroken love."
Such obedience and nobleness of spirit from one so meanly dressed aroused in the heart of the prince some remembrance of his early love for her and almost ended the banishment. Moved by her charms and on the verge of tears, he was about to put his arms around her when his domineering vanity suddenly overcame his love. And so he said harshly, "Of days that are gone I have lost all recollection. I am satisfied with your confession. Come, let us go."
She left immediately and turning to her father who was also dressed once more in his rustic clothes and whose heart was weeping bitterly over this sudden and unexpected change, she said, "Let us return to our shady groves and our simple life and leave without regret the pomp of this palace. Our cottage is not very elaborate, but it does offer more of honesty and rest for us and peace of mind."
When they arrived at their wilderness home, she took up her distaff and spindle and began her spinning on the bank of the same stream where the prince had first discovered her. A hundred times a day her heart, peaceful and with no bitterness, implored heaven to bless her husband with fame and riches and to refuse him none of his wishes. A love fed on caresses could not have been warmer than hers.
But her dear husband of whom she was thinking still insisted on testing her further, and so he ordered her once again to come and visit him.
"Griselda," he said, when she presented herself, "it is necessary that the princess, to whom I give my hand tomorrow in the church, should understand completely where you and I stand. I therefore insist on your attendance on her and that you help me in every way in pleasing her. You know in what manner I must be served -- nothing held back, and nothing too good. Everyone must see in me a prince -- more than that, a prince in love.
"Use all your energies in preparing her apartment with abundance of everything: richness, neatness and elegance all combined. And finally, always keep in mind that she is a young princess whom I love tenderly. And so that you may carry out your duties completely you must understand that to serve her in every way is my strictest order to you."
As radiant as the morning sun appears in the East, so, too, the lovely princess seemed on her arrival at the palace. At first, in the depths of her heart Griselda felt an ecstasy of mother love when she saw her. Days that were gone, happier days, came back to her in memory. "Alas! my daughter," she said to herself. "If a kind heaven had heard my prayers, she would be almost as tall and perhaps just as beautiful as this new princess."
For this young princess she felt so deep a love she could not help saying to the prince, "Permit me to warn you, my lord, that this charming princess who is to be your wife, reared in a life of ease and luxury, will not be able to endure the sort of treatment I have received from you.
"Necessity and my humble station in life have hardened me for work and I can endure all sorts of misfortune without pain and without complaint. But she who has never known grief will die under the least hardship, at the least sharp or unkind word. Do, my lord, I beg you, always treat her with kindness."
"Try to serve me " said the prince severely, "as well as you can. It is hardly necessary for a simple shepherdess like you to give me lessons or to meddle in my affairs by explaining my duties to me."
At this rebuke, Griselda, lowering her glance, quickly with. drew from his presence.
And now the lords and ladies from far and near began to assemble for the wedding. In a magnificent reception room where they were called together before the ceremony, the prince addressed them. "Nothing in the world," he said, "is more deceitful than appearances. Here you can see a shining example. Who among you would not think that this young woman, so soon to be my wife, would be most happy and contented. But she is not at all!
"Who would dare believe that this young man, eager for fame, would not be happy in this marriage we have arranged for him, triumphing over all his rivals? Yet this is not true! Again, who would imagine that, with justifiable anger, Griselda would not weep in despair at her lot? Yet she has complained of nothing, has consented to everything I asked of her and nothing whatever has been able to provoke her patience. And, finally, who would dream that anything could match my happy outlook for the future in beholding the charms of the object of my vows? If, however, fate should deal unkindly with me in these matters, I shall be most deeply grieved and of all the princes in this world the most unhappy. If anything I have said is difficult for you to understand, a word or two further should explain everything -- words which should make all the unhappiness of which you may have heard rumors vanish at once.
"Know then," he went on, "that the charming person who has stolen my heart is, in fact, my own daughter and that the woman who is the attendant to the lady, who loves her extremely and is, in turn, loved by her, is really still my beloved wife. Know further that, moved by the patience of this wise and faithful wife whom I have driven away and humiliated, I here and now take her back again as far as I can atone for the cruel and harsh treatment she has received from my jealous spirit. It will be my purpose in the future to prevent anything which might bring about this regrettable situation again. And if the memory of these cruel days in which her heart was not once borne down should in after times remain, I hope that even more than this people will speak of the fame with which I have crowned her surpassing virtue."
Just as when a thick cloud has cut off the sun and all the heavens are darkened by a fearful storm, if these clouds are parted by the winds and a brilliant burst of sunlight shines down on the landscape, so that the whole world smiles again and renews its beauty -- so in all eyes where sadness had reigned suddenly now a new happiness shone everywhere. For at this announcement, the young princess was enraptured in realizing that she had won back her life again from the prince. Falling to her knees she embraced him warmly, but her father, who had also won back his beloved daughter, lifted her to her feet, blessed her and led her to her mother.
So much happiness, coming all at once, almost robbed the mother of all feelings. Her great heart which had endured grief so well, almost broke now with the burden of this new joy. Scarcely could she hold in her arms this lovely child of hers whom heaven had returned to her. All she could do was to weep.
"We have years to come in which to be happy," the prince told her. "Put on the new wardrobe which your rank demands."
And so together they led the two young lovers to the church where they were married. A thousand diversions followed -- tournaments, games, dances, music, and great banquets. And everywhere everyone's eyes were on Griselda whose patience under the greatest adversity was praised by all. Indeed, the people even praised the prince's cruelties because they had produced so remarkable a proof of Griselda's constancy that people saw in her a model for women everywhere in the world.
Revised November 13, 2003.