The Garden of Romance/The Story of Cymon and Iphigenia

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From The Decameron


Now began the sun to dart forth his golden beams, when Fiammetta, incited by the sweet singing birds, which since the break of day sate merrily chanting on the trees, arose from her bed, as all the other ladies likewise did; and the three young gentlemen descended down into the fields, where they walked in a gentle pace on the green grass, until the sun was risen a little higher. On many pleasant matters they conferred together as they walked in several companies, till at length the Queen, finding the heat to enlarge itself strongly, returned back to the castle, where, when they were all arrived, she commanded that after this morning's walking their stomachs should be refreshed with wholesome wines, and also divers sorts of banqueting stuff. Afterward they all repaired into the garden, not departing thence until the hour of dinner was come: at which time the master of the household having prepared everything in decent readiness, after a solemn song was sung by order of the Queen, they were seated at the table.

When they had dined to their own liking and contentment they began, in continuation of their former order, to exercise divers dances, and afterward voices to their instruments, and many pretty madrigals and roundelays. Upon the finishing of these delights the Queen gave them leave to take their rest, when such as were so minded went to sleep; others solaced themselves in the garden. But after midday was past over, they met, according to their wonted manner, and, as the Queen had commanded, at the fair fountain, where she being placed in her seat royal, and casting her eye upon Pamfilo, she bade him begin the day's discourses of happy success in love after disastrous and troublesome accidents, who, yielding thereto with humble reverence, thus began:

Many novels, gracious ladies, do offer themselves to my memory wherewith to begin so pleasant a day as it is her highness's desire that this should be, among which plenty I esteem one above all the rest, because you may comprehend thereby not only the fortunate conclusion wherewith we intend to begin our day, but also how mighty the forces of love are, deserving to be both admired and reverenced. Albeit there are many, who scarcely know what they say, do condemn them with infinite gross imputations, which I purpose to disprove, and, I hope, to your no little pleasing.

Cymon by falling in love became wise, and by force of arms winning his fair lady Iphigenia on the seas was afterwards imprisoned at Rhodes. Being delivered by one named Lysimachus, with him he recovered his Iphigenia again, and fair Cassandra, even in the midst of their marriage. They fled with them into Crete, where after they had married them, they were called home to their own dwelling.

According to the ancient annals of the Cypriots, there sometime lived in Cyprus a noble gentleman, who was commonly called Aristippus, and exceeded all other of the country in the goods of fortune. Divers children he had, but (amongst the rest) a son, in whose birth he was more unfortunate than the rest, and continually grieved in regard that, having all complete perfections of beauty, good form, and many parts, surpassing all other youths of his age or stature, yet he wanted the real ornament of the soul—reason and judgment, being indeed a mere idiot or fool, and no better hope to be expected from him. His true name, according as he received it by baptism, was Galeso; but because whether by the laborious pains of his tutor's indulgence, with great care and fair endeavour of his parents, or by ingenuity of any other, he could not be brought to civility of life, understanding of letters, or common carriage of a reasonable creature; for his gross and deformed kind of speech, for his qualities also savouring rather of brutish feeling than any way derived from manly education; as an epithet of scorn and derision generally, they gave him the name of Cymon, which in their native country-language, and divers other beside, signifieth a very sot or fool, and so was he termed by every one.

This lost kind of life in him was no mean burthen of grief unto his noble father. All hope being already spent of any future happy recovery, he gave command, because he would not always have such a sorrow in his sight, that he should live at a farm of his own in a country village, among his peasants and plough-swains. This was not anyway distasteful to Cymon, but well agreed with his own natural disposition; for their rural qualities and gross behaviour pleased him beyond the cities' civility. Cymon living thus at his father's country village, exercising nothing else but rural demeanour, such as then delighted him above all other, it chanced upon a day, about the hour of noon, as he was walking over the fields with a long staff on his neck, which commonly he used to carry, he entered into a small thicket, reputed the goodliest in all those quarters, and by reason it was then the month of May, the trees had their leaves fairly shot forth.

When he had walked through the thicket it came to pass that, even as good fortune guided him, he came into a fair meadow, on every side engirt with trees; and in one corner thereof stood a goodly fountain, whose current was both cool and clear. Hard by it upon the green grass he espied a very beautiful damsel, seeming to be fast asleep, attired in such loose garments as hid very little of her white body; only from the girdle downward she wore a kirtle made close unto her of interwoven delicate silk, and at her feet lay two other damsels sleeping, and a servant in the same manner. No sooner had Cymon fixed his eye upon her but he stood leaning on his staff, and viewed her advisedly, without speaking a word, and in no mean admiration, as if he had never seen the form of a woman before. He began then to feel in his rural understanding (whereunto never till now, either by painful instruction or any good means used to him, any honest civility had power of impression) a strange kind of humour to awake, which informed his gross and dull spirit that this damsel was the very fairest which any living man beheld.

Then he began to distinguish her parts, commending the tresses of her hair, which he imagined to be of gold, her forehead, nose, mouth, neck, arms, but, above all, her breasts, appearing as yet but only to show themselves like two little mountains. So that from being a rustic clownish lout he would needs now become a judge of beauty, coveting earnestly in his soul to see her eyes, which were veiled over with sound sleep that kept them fast enclosed together; and only to look on them he wished a thousand times that she would awake, for in his judgment she excelled all the women that ever he had seen, and doubted whether she were some goddess or no; so strangely was he metamorphosed from folly to a sensible apprehension, more than common. And so far did this sudden knowledge in him extend that he could conceive of divine and celestial things, and that they were more to be admired and reverenced than those of human or terrene consideration; wherefore the more gladly he contented himself to tarry till she awaked of her own accord. And although the time of stay seemed tedious to him, yet notwithstanding, he was overcome with such extraordinary contentment as he had no power to depart thence, but stood as if he had been glued to the ground.

After some indifferent respite of time, it chanced that the young damsel, who was named Iphigenia, awaked before any of the others with her, and lifting up her head with her eyes wide open, she saw Cymon standing before her leaning still on his staff. Whereat marvelling not a little she said unto him, "Cymon, whither wanderest thou, or what dost thou seek for in this wood?" Cymon, who not only by his countenance but likewise by his folly, nobility of birth, and wealthy possessions of his father, was generally known throughout the country, made no answer at all to the demand of Iphigenia; but so soon as he beheld her eyes open he began to observe them with a constant regard, and was persuaded in his soul that from them flowed such an unutterable singularity as he had never felt till then. Which the young gentlewoman well noting, she began to wax fearful lest these steadfast looks of his should incite his rusticity to some attempt which might redound to her dishonour; wherefore awaking her women and servants, and they all being risen, she said, "Farewell, Cymon, I leave thee to thine own good fortune;" whereto he presently replied, saying, "I will go with you." Now although the gentlewoman refused his company as dreading some act of incivility from him, yet could she not devise any way to be rid of him till he had brought her to her own dwelling, where taking leave mannerly of her, he went directly home to his father's house, saying nothing should compel him to live any longer in the muddy country. And albeit his father was much offended hereat, and all the rest of his kindred and friends, yet not knowing how to help it, they suffered him to continue there still, waiting to know the cause of this his so sudden alteration from the course of life which contented him so highly before.

Cymon being now wounded to the heart, where never any civil instruction could before get entrance, with love's piercing dart, by the bright beauty of Iphigenia, falling from one change to another, moved much admiration in his father, kindred, and all else that knew him. For first he requested of his father that he might be habited and respected like to his brethren, whereto right gladly he condescended. And frequenting the company of civil youths, observing also the carriage of gentlemen, especially such as were amorously inclined, he grew to a beginning in a short time, to the wonder of every one, not only to understand the first instruction of letters, but also became most skilful even amongst them that were best exercised in philosophy. And afterward, love to Iphigenia being the sole occasion of this happy alteration, not only did his harsh and clownish voice convert itself more mildly, but also he became a singular musician and could perfectly play on any instrument. Beside he took delight in the riding and managing of great horses, and finding himself of a strong and able body he used all kinds of military disciplines, as well by sea as on the land. And to be brief, because I would not seem tedious in the repetition of all his virtues, scarcely had he attained to the fourth year after he was thus fallen in love, but he became generally known to be the most civil, wise, and worthy gentleman, as well for all virtues enriching the mind as any whatsoever to beautify the body, that very hardly he could be equalled throughout the whole kingdom of Cyprus.

What shall we say then, virtuous ladies, concerning this Cymon? Surely nothing else but that those high and divine virtues infused into his gentle soul, were by envious Fortune bound and shut up in some small angle of his intellect, which being shaken and set at liberty by Love, as having a far more potent power than Fortune in quickening and reviving the dull and drowsy spirits, so declared his mighty and sovereign authority in setting free many fair and precious virtues unjustly detained, and let the world's eye behold them truly, by manifest testimony from whence he can deliver those spirits subjected to his power, and guide them, afterward, to the highest degrees of honour. And although Cymon by affecting Iphigenia failed in some particular things, yet notwithstanding his father Aristippus, duly considering that love had made him a man, whereas, before, he was no better than a beast, not only endured all patiently, but also advised him therein to take such courses as best liked himself. Nevertheless Cymon, who refused to be called Galesus, which was his natural name indeed, remembering that Iphigenia termed him Cymon, and coveting, under this title, to compass the issue of his honest amorous desire, made many motions to Cipseus, the father of Iphigenia, that he would be pleased to let him have her in marriage. But Cipseus told him that he had already passed his promise for her to a gentleman of Rhodes, named Pasimunda, which promise he religiously intended to perform.

The time being come which was concluded on for Iphigenia's marriage, in regard that the affianced husband had sent for her, Cymon thus communed with his own thoughts. "Now is the time," quoth he, "to let my divine mistress see how truly and honourably I do affect her, because, by her, I am become a man. But if I could be possessed of her, I should grow more glorious than the common condition of a mortal man, and have her I will, or lose my life in the adventure." Being thus resolved, he prevailed with divers young gentlemen, his friends, making them of his faction, and secretly prepared a ship furnished with all things for a naval fight, setting suddenly forth to sea, and hulling abroad in those parts by which the vessel should pass that must convey Iphigenia to Rhodes to her husband. After many honours done to them who were to transport her thence unto Rhodes, being embarked they set sail upon their voyage.

Cymon, who slept not in a business so earnestly importing him, set on them, the day following, with his ship, and standing aloft on the deck, cried out to them that had the charge of Iphigenia, saying, "Strike your sails, or else determine to be sunk in the sea." The enemies to Cymon, being nothing daunted with his words, prepared to stand upon their own defence; which made Cymon, after the former speeches delivered, and no answer returned, to command the grappling-irons to be cast forth, which took so fast hold on the Rhodians' ship that, whether they would or no, both the vessels joined close together. And he showing himself fierce like a lion, not tarrying to be seconded by any, stepped aboard the Rhodians' ship as if he made no respect at all of them, and having his sword ready drawn in his hand, incited by the virtue of unfeigned love, laid about him on all sides very manfully. Which when the men of Rhodes perceived, they cast down their weapons, and all of them, as it were, with one voice yielded themselves his prisoners, whereupon he said: "Honest friends, neither desire of booty, nor hatred to you, did occasion my departure from Cyprus, thus to assail you with drawn weapons, but that which hereto hath moved me is a matter highly importing to me, and very easy for you to grant and so enjoy your present peace. I desire to have fair Iphigenia from you, whom I love above all other ladies living, because I could not obtain her of her father to make her my lawful wife in marriage. Love is the ground of my instant conquest, and I must use you as my mortal enemies, if you stand upon any further terms with me, and do not deliver her as mine own, for your Pasimunda must not enjoy what is my right, first by virtue of my love, and now by conquest. Deliver her, therefore, and depart hence at your pleasure."

The men of Rhodes being rather constrained thereto than of any free disposition in themselves, with tears in their eyes delivered Iphigenia to Cymon, who beholding her in like manner to weep, thus spake unto her: "Noble lady, do not anyway discomfort yourself, for I am your Cymon, who have more right and true title to you, and much better do deserve you, by my long-continued affection to you, than Pasimunda can anyway plead, because you belong to him but only by promise." So bringing her aboard his own ship, where the gentlemen his companions gave her kind welcome, without touching anything else belonging to the Rhodians, he gave them free liberty to depart.

Cymon being more joyful by the obtaining of his heart's desire, than any other conquest else in the world could make him, after he had spent some time in comforting Iphigenia, who as yet sate sadly sighing, he consulted with his companions, who joined with him in opinion, that their safest course was by no means to return to Cyprus; and therefore all, with one accord, resolved to set sail for Crete, where every one made account, but especially Cymon, in regard of ancient and new combined kindred, as also very intimate friends, to find very worthy entertainment, and so to continue there safely with Iphigenia. But fortune, who was so favourable to Cymon in granting him so pleasing a conquest, to show her inconstancy, so suddenly changed the inestimable joy of our jocund lover into as heavy sorrow and disaster. For, four hours were not fully completed since his departure from the Rhodians, but dark night came upon them, and he sitting conversing with his fair mistress in the sweetest solace of his soul, the winds began to blow roughly, the seas swelled angrily, and a tempest rose impetuously, that no man could see what his duty was to do in such a great unexpected distress, nor how to warrant themselves from perishing.

If this accident were displeasing to poor Cymon, I think the question were in vain demanded; for now it seemeth to him that the gods had granted his chief desire, to the end he should die with the greater anguish in losing both his love and life together. His friends likewise felt the self-same afflictions, but especially Iphigenia, who wept and grieved beyond all measure, to see the ship beaten with such stormy billows as threatened her sinking every minute. Impatiently she cursed the love of Cymon, greatly blamed his desperate boldness, and maintaining that so violent a tempest could never happen but only by the gods' displeasure, who would not permit him to have a wife against their will; and therefore thus punished his proud presumption, not only in his unavoidable death, but also that her life must perish for company.

She continuing in these woeful lamentations, and the mariners labouring all in vain because the violence of the tempest increased more and more, so that every moment they expected wrecking, they were carried contrary to their own knowledge, very near to the Isle of Rhodes, which they being no way able to avoid, and utterly ignorant of the coast, for safety of their lives they laboured to land there if possibly they might. Wherein fortune was somewhat furtherous to them, driving them into a small gulf of the sea, whereinto, but a little while before, the Rhodians, from whom Cymon had taken Iphigenia, were newly entered with their ship. Nor had they any knowledge each of other till the break of day, which made the heavens to look more clearly, and gave them discovery of being within a flight's shoot together. Cymon looking forth, and espying the same ship which he had left the day before, he grew exceeding sorrowful, as fearing that which after followed, and therefore he willed the mariners to get away from her by all their best endeavour, and let fortune afterwards dispose of them as she pleased, for into a worse place they could not come, nor fall into the like danger.

The mariners employed their utmost pains, and all proved but loss of time, for the wind was so stern, and the waves so turbulent, that still they drove them the contrary way; so that striving to get forth of the gulf, whether they would or no, they were driven on land, and instantly known to the Rhodians, whereof they were not a little joyful. The men of Rhodes being landed, ran presently to the near neighbouring villages, where dwelt divers worthy gentlemen, to whom they reported the arrival of Cymon, what fortune befell them at sea, and that Iphigenia might now be recovered again, with chastisement to Cymon for his bold insolence. They being very joyful of this good news, took so many men as they could of the same village, and ran immediately to the seaside, where Cymon being newly landed and his people, intending flight into a near adjoining forest for defence of himself and Iphigenia, they were all taken, led thence into the village, and afterward unto the chief city of Rhodes.

No sooner were they arrived, but Pasimunda, the intended husband for Iphigenia, who had already heard the tidings, went and complained to the senate, who appointed a gentleman of Rhodes, named Lysimachus, and being that year sovereign magistrate over the Rhodians, to go well provided for the apprehension of Cymon and his company, committing them to prison, which accordingly was done. In this manner the poor unfortunate lover Cymon lost his fair Iphigenia, having won her in so short a time before, and scarcely requited with so much as a kiss. But as for Iphigenia, she was royally welcomed by many lords and ladies of Rhodes, who so kindly comforted her that she soon forgot all her grief and trouble on the sea, remaining in company of those ladies and gentlemen until the day determined for her marriage.

At the earnest entreaty of divers Rhodian gentlemen who were in the ship with Iphigenia, and had their lives courteously saved by Cymon, both he and his friends had their lives likewise spared, although Pasimunda laboured importunately to have them all put to death; only they were condemned to perpetual imprisonment, which, you must think, was most grievous to them, as being now hopeless of any deliverance. But in the meantime, while Pasimunda was ordering his nuptial preparation, Fortune seeming to repent the wrongs she had done to Cymon, prepared a new accident whereby to comfort him in his deep distress, and in such manner as I will relate unto you.

Pasimunda had a brother, younger than he in years, but not a jot inferior to him in virtue, whose name was Ormisda, and long time the case had been in question for his taking to wife a fair young gentlewoman of Rhodes, called Cassandra, whom Lysimachus the governor loved very dearly, and hindered her marriage with Ormisda by divers strange accidents. Now Pasimunda perceiving that his own nuptials required much cost and solemnity, he thought it very convenient that one day might serve for both their weddings, which else would launch into more lavish expenses, and therefore concluded that his brother Ormisda should marry Cassandra at the same time as he wedded Iphigenia. Hereupon he consulted with the gentlewoman's parents, who liking the motion as well as he, the determination was set down, and one day to effect the duties of both.

When this came to the hearing of Lysimachus, it was greatly displeasing to him, because now he saw himself utterly deprived of all hope to attain the issue of his desire if Ormisda received Cassandra in marriage. Yet being a very wise and worthy man, he dissembled his distaste, and began to consider on some apt means whereby to disappoint the marriage once more, which he thought impossible to be done except it were by stealth; and that did not appear to him any difficult matter in regard of his office and authority, only it would seem dishonest in him by giving such an unfitting example. Nevertheless, after long deliberation, honour gave way to love, and resolutely he concluded to steal her away, whatsoever became of it.

Nothing wanted now but a convenient company to assist him, and the order how to have it done. Then he remembered Cymon and his friends, whom he detained as his prisoners, and persuaded himself that he could not have a more faithful friend in such a business than Cymon was. Hereupon, the night following, he sent for him into his chamber, and being alone by themselves, thus he began: "Cymon," quoth he, "as the gods are very bountiful in bestowing their blessings on men, so do they therein most wisely make proof of their virtues, and such as they find firm and constant in all occurrences which may happen, them they make worthy, as valiant spirits, of the very best and highest merit. Now, they being willing to have more certain experience of thy virtues than those which heretofore thou hast shown within the bounds and limits of your father's possessions, which I know to be superabounding, perhaps do intend to present thee other occasions of more important weight and consequence.

"For first of all, as I have heard, by the piercing solicitudes of love, from a senseless creature they made thee to become a man endued with reason. Afterward, by adverse fortune, and now again by wearisome imprisonment, it seemeth that they are desirous to make trial whether thy manly courage be changed or no from that which heretofore it was, when thou hast won a matchless beauty and lost her again in so short a while. Wherefore if thy virtue be such as it hath been, the gods can never give thee any blessing more worthy any acceptance than she whom they are now minded to bestow on thee; in which respect, to the end that thou mayest reassume thy wonted heroic spirit, and become more courageous than ever heretofore, I will acquaint thee more at large.

"Understand then, noble Cymon, that Pasimunda, the only glad man of thy misfortune, and diligent suitor after thy death, maketh all haste he can possibly devise to celebrate his marriage with thy fair mistress, because he would plead possession of the prey, which Fortune, when she smiled, did first bestow, and, afterward frowning, took from thee again. Now, that it must needs be very irksome to thee—at least if thy love be such as I am persuaded it is—I partly can collect from myself, being intended to be wronged by his brother Ormisda, even in the self-same manner and on his marriage-day, by taking from me fair Cassandra, the only jewel of my love and life. For the prevention of two such notorious injuries, I see that fortune hath left us no other means but only the virtue of our courages, and the help of our right hands, by preparing ourselves for arms, opening a way to thee by a second seizure or stealth, and to me the first, for absolute possession of our divine mistresses. Wherefore, if thou art desirous to recover thy loss, I will not only pronounce liberty to thee—which I think thou dost little care for without her—but dare also assure thee to have Iphigenia, so thou wilt assist me in mine enterprise, and follow me in my fortune, if the gods do let them fall into our power."

You may well imagine that Cymon's dismayed soul was not a little cheered at these speeches, and therefore, without craving any longer respite of time for answer, thus he replied: "Lord Lysimachus, in such a business as this is, you cannot have a faster friend than myself, at least if such good hap may betide me as you have more than half promised; and therefore do no more but command what you would have to be effected by me, and make no doubt of my courage in the execution." Whereupon Lysimachus made this answer: "Know then, Cymon," quoth he, "that three days hence these marriages are to be celebrated in the houses of Pasimunda and Ormisda; upon which day thou, thy friends, and myself, with some others, in whom I repose especial trust, by the friendly favour of night, will enter into their houses while they are in the midst of their jovial feasting, and seizing on the two brides, bear them thence to a ship which I will have lie in secret, waiting for our coming, and kill all such as shall presume to impeach us." This direction gave great contentment to Cymon, who remained still in prison without revealing a word to his own friends, until the appointed time was come.

Upon the wedding-day, performed with great and magnificent triumph, there was not a corner in the brethren's houses but it sung joy in the highest key. Lysimachus, after he had ordered all things as they ought to be, and the hour for despatch approached near, he made a division in three parts, of Cymon, of his followers, and his own friends, being all well armed under their outward habits. Having first used some encouraging speeches for more resolute prosecution of the enterprise, he sent one troop secretly to the port, that they might not be hindered of going aboard the ship when the urgent occasion should require it. Passing with the other two trains to Pasimunda, he left the one at the door, that such as were in the house might not shut them up fast, and so hinder their passage forth. Then with Cymon and the third band of confederates he ascended the stairs up into the hall, where he found the brides with store of ladies and gentlewomen all sitting in comely order at supper. Rushing in roughly among the attendants, down they threw the tables, and each of them laying hold of his mistress, delivered them into the hands of their followers, commanding that they should be carried aboard the ship for avoiding of further inconveniences.

This hurry and amazement being in the house—the brides weeping, the ladies lamenting, and all the servants confusedly wondering—Cymon and Lysimachus, with their friends, having their weapons drawn in their hands, made all opposers to give them way, and so gained the stairs for their own descending. There stood Pasimunda, with a huge long staff in his hand, to hinder their passage down the stairs, but Cymon saluted him so soundly on the head that, it being cleft in twain, he fell dead before his feet. His brother Ormisda came to his rescue, and sped likewise in the self-same manner as he had done; so did divers others beside, whom the companions to Lysimachus and Cymon either slew outright or wounded.

So they left the house filled with blood, tears, and outcries, going on together without any hindrance, and so brought both the brides aboard the ship, which they rowed away instantly with their oars. For now the shore was full of armed people, who came in rescue of the stolen ladies, but all in vain, because they were launched into the main, and sailed on merrily towards Crete; where being arrived they were worthily entertained by honourable friends and kinsmen, who pacified all unkindness between them and their mistresses; and having accepted them in lawful marriage, there they lived in no mean joy and contentment, albeit there was a long and troublesome difference about these captures between Rhodes and Cyprus.

But yet in the end, by the means of noble friends and kindred on either side, labouring to have such discontentment appeased, endangering war between the kingdoms, after a limited time of banishment, Cymon returned joyfully with Iphigenia home to Cyprus, and Lysimachus with his beloved Cassandra unto Rhodes, each living in their several countries with much felicity.