Calandrino and the heliotrope

Calandrino and the heliotrope

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This is an adaptation of a short story belonging to Decameron, a book written between 1349-1351 by Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the most important Italian writers, whose works highly contributed to the development of the Italian language. Decameron in Greek means “Ten days”, as the book is made up of 100 short stories that are supposedly narrated by ten characters in a  ten days lapse. The narrators are seven girls and three boys that have decided to escape the plague and go to Fiesole, a town in the hills near Florence Every day is devoted to a different topic: happy ending love stories, love stories with a sad ending, adventures, real facts, etc. The following story is narrated on the eighth day, whose topic is “jokes and pranks”.

Once upon a time in Florence there was a painter called Calandrino, who was a very simple and gullible guy. He liked to hang out with two other painters, named Bruno and Buffalmacco, that very often made fun of him, without him knowing. One day a gentleman named Maso the Wise passed by Florence and hearing about Calandrino’s stupidity thought of playing a prank on him. He went to a church with a friend and saw Calandrino looking carefully at the beautiful altar. So, Maso started speaking with his friends about certain stones that had magic properties. Calandrino of course became very interested and asked the man: “Excuse me sir, could you tell me where is it possible to find these prodigious stones?”. “Most of them can be found in the far far land of Wellenjoy, a wonderful place where sausages lean from vineyards, a river of wine flows and a mountain made of grated parmesan cheese is located, upon which hundreds of macaroni and ravioli are being cooked in chicken broth”. “Oh, that sounds incredible, have you ever been there?”, asked Calandrino, slightly suspicious. Maso answered: “Yes, thousands of times”, and his face looked so serious and so honest that Calandrino didn’t doubt his word anymore. 

“Well, I wish I could go there, but I cannot leave Florence right now. Do you know if there are closer places where you can find magic stones?”. Maso said: “There is a stone named heliotrope, which has the magic property to make the person that carries it invisible. They said you can find it also in the Mugnone Valley”. “Oh, it is right here! And how does this heliotrope look like?”. “There are different dimensions, it can be bigger, it can be smaller, and it’s quite dark, almost black”. Calandrino, after hearing this, immediately thought of going and looking for it. He decided to share the news with his friends Bruno and Buffalmacco, so he reached them and told them his plan. They had it tough not to laugh at what he said, because they understood that Maso had just played a joke to him, but they agreed on searching for the magic heliotrope the following morning.

 It was a Sunday, so the city was very quiet and almost nobody was around. The three friends arrived in the Mugnone Valley and started collecting the stones that seemed to be darker than the others. After some time, Calandrino had many stones in his hands, pockets and in his lap. Bruno and Buffalmacco thought it was the right moment to make fun of him.”Have you seen Calandrino, Bruno?”, said Buffalmacco. “He was here behind me a minute ago, and now he has disappeared. Ah, for sure he played a prank on us, making us believe the heliotrope story, just to waste a Sunday morning looking for stones in the valley, like two fools! We should get back home”. Since his friends said they could not see him, Calandrino thought that he had found the helithrope and that he had become invisible, and decided to go home without telling them.  “You’re right Bruno…We should leave as well. But I swear that if could find him now I would throw this stone right on his leg, for kidding us in such a way”, and while saying so Buffalmacco threw a stone exactly on Calandrino’s leg. He was hurt, but didn’t make any sound, and slowly kept walking towards the city. “And I would also hit him, for what he had done to us!”, said Bruno, throwing another stone on Calandrino’s foot. So, tired from carrying many stones and wounded by his friends, Calandrino headed back home, where his wife was waiting for him. “Where have you been? Lunchtime has already passed! And what are these stones?”, his wife said when she saw him at the door. Calandrino, surprised that she could see him, thought that she broke the spell, so he got angry and wanted to beat her. Luckily, in that moment Bruno and Buffalmacco reached them, and they saw the poor scared woman in a corner and Calandrino shouting at her. “What is going on in here? Do you think this is an appropriate behaviour towards your wife? And did you think it was funny to leave us in the valley, looking for non-existent magic stones?”, said Bruno. Calandrino answered: “Things are not as they seem, my friends! In fact, I did find the heliotrope, and when you were wondering where I went, I was right next to you, but you could not see me! Then, this woman somehow broke the spell, and I re-became visible, so that’s why I am angry at her!”. Buffalmacco said: “You should not blame her, as she didn’t do anything against you. I think the stone lost its magic powers because you behaved dishonestly, not telling us that you found it!”. So, in the end Calandrino apologised to his friends and to his wife and they finally had lunch, in the house that was then full of black stones. 

[Original version: Giovanni Boccaccio, Calandrino e l’elitropia. Giornata Ottava. Novella Terza, in Decameron, edited by Vittore Branca, Arnoldo Mondadori, Milano, 1985]

Tags: jokes; stupidity; magic stone; anger.

Question: The land of Wellenjoy is:

  1. A fictional place, very popular in Medieval literature and iconography 
  2. A real place, very far from Florence

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