Saturday 11 April 2020


Alibech turns hermit, and a monk, Rustico, teaches her to put the Devil in Hell. Afterwards she is brought home, and married to Neerbale.

Gracious ladies, it may be you have not heard how the Devil is put in Hell. Therefore, and since it will not be far off the subject of this day's discourse, I will tell it you. Perhaps, hearing it, you may the better understand that albeit Love more affects gay palaces and luxurious bowers than the cabins of the poor, yet he by no means disdains to manifest his power even in the depths of the forest, on stark mountains and in the caves of the desert; and thus we must acknowledge that all things wheresoever they be are subject to him.

Coming, then, to my story, I must tell you that in Capsa, a city of Barbary, there dwelt aforetime a very rich man, who had among several children a little daughter, fair and of a docile temper, whose name was Alibech. This girl, a heathen in a place where many were Christian, used often to hear her neighbours extol the Christian faith and devotion to the service of God; wherefore she asked one of them how God could best be served and with the least hindrance. She was told that they best served Him who removed themselves farthest from the things of the world, as in particular the hermits who had withdrawn from the city to the wilds of Thebais.

The simple maiden, moved rather by a simple whim than any real vocation, set out on the morrow alone and telling nobody to walk into the desert. So firmly was she resolved that after several days of hardship she reached the wilderness of Thebais. From afar she descried a little hut, and coming up to it, found there a holy man. Amazed to see such a one there, he asked what she came to seek. Her answer was that, aspiring towards God, she came thither to serve Him, and in the hope of finding a teacher to that end.

The pious hermit, seeing her so young and fair, was afraid lest the Devil might ensnare him; so he praised her intent, and giving her roots, wild apples and dates to eat and a draught of water, said: "Daughter, not far from here there dwells a holy man such as thou seekest: a fitter man than I. Go thou to him." And he put her on the way.

The second hermit advised her as the first; and faring farther she came to the cell of a young hermit, a very pious and righteous man, whose name was Rustico. To him she repeated her mission. Willing to put his resolution to so great a test, he forebore to send her away, and took her into his cell. At nightfall he made her a bed of palm-leaves, and bade her lie down to rest.

Temptations did not long delay an assault on his constancy; and finding it much beyond his strength to withstand them, he soon gave up the battle, and confessed himself worsted. So putting away all saintly thoughts, prayers and mortifications, he let his mind dwell on the freshness and beauty of his companion. From this he passed to thinking of the best means of bringing her to his desires without giving her cause to suspect him of lewdness. Therefore, satisfying himself by a few questions that she had never had carnal knowledge of a man, and was indeed as innocent as she seemed, he thought of a plan to enjoy her under colour of serving God. He began expounding to her the Devil's enmity to the Almighty, and went on to impress upon her that the most acceptable service she could render to God would be to put the Devil in Hell, whereto the Lord had condemned him.

The maid asked him how this might be done. "Thou shalt soon learn," replied Rustico, "only do as thou seest me do." Thereupon he took off what few clothes he wore, and stood stark naked; and as soon as the girl had done likewise he fell on his knees as though to pray, and made her kneel face to face with him.

This done, Rustico's desire was more than ever inflamed at the sight of her beauty, and the resurrection of the flesh came to pass. Seeing this, and not knowing what it meant, Alibech asked: "Rustico, what is it thou hast that thrusts itself out in front, and that I have not?" "My daughter," quoth Rustico, "it is that same Devil of whom I have been telling thee. Dost thou mark him? Behold, he gives me such sore trouble that I can hardly bear it."

"The Lord be praised!" said she; "for now I see that I am more blessed than thou in that I have not this Devil."
Rustico retorted: "Thou sayest truly; but thou hast another thing that I have not, and hast it in place of this."
"What is that?" says Alibech.

To this Rustico replied: "Thou hast Hell; and will tell thee my belief that God gave it thee for the health of my soul. For, if thou wilt take pity on me for the troubling of this Devil, and suffer me to put him in Hell, thou wilt comfort me extremely, and at the same time please and serve God in the highest measure; to which end, as thou sayest, thou art come hither."

All unsuspecting, the girl answered. him: "My father, since I have this Hell, let the thing be done when thou desirest it."
Then Rustico said: "Bless thee, my dear daughter; let us go at once and put him in his place, that I may be at peace."
So saying, he laid her on one of their rough beds, and set about showing her how to shut the accursed one in his prison. The girl, who until then had no experience of putting devils in Hell, felt some pain at this first trial of it; which made her say to Rustico: "Father, this Devil must indeed be wicked, and in very sooth an enemy of God, for he hurts Hell itself, let alone other things, when he is put back in it."

"My daughter," said Rustico, "it will not always be so." And to make sure of it, before either of them moved from the bed they put him in six times, after which the Devil hung his head and was glad to let them be.
But in the succeeding days he rose up many times; and the girl, always disposing herself to subdue him, began to take pleasure in the exercise, and to say such things as: "I see now the truth of what the good folk in Capsa told me, that serving God is a delight; for I never remember doing anything that gave me as much joy and pleasure as this putting the Devil in Hell. So I think the people who spend their time otherwise than in serving God must be very foolish."

Often she would come to Rustico and say: "Father, I came hither to serve God, not to stand idle. Let us go put the Devil in Hell." And once, when it had been done, she asked: "Rustico, why does he want to get out of Hell? If only he would stay there as willingly as Hell takes him in and holds him, he would never want to come out at all." By thus constantly egging him on and exhorting him to God's service the girl so preyed upon Rustico that he shivered with cold when another man would have sweated. He had perforce to tell her that it was not just to punish the Devil by putting him in Hell save when he had lifted his head in pride; and that by God's mercy they had so chastened him that he only implored Heaven to be left in peace. Thus for a time he silenced her.

But she, finding that Rustico did not call on her to put the Devil in Hell, said one day: "Even though your Devil is punished and no longer troubles you, my Hell gives me no peace. You will do a charity if with your Devil you will quiet the raging of my Hell, as with my Hell I tamed the pride of your Devil To these demands Rustico on a diet of herbs and water could ill respond; and he told her that to appease Hell would need too many devils, none the less he would do all that in him lay. At times he could satisfy her, but so seldom that it was like feeding an elephant with peas. Therefore the girl thought she was not serving God as well as she would like, and she grumbled most of the time.
Whilst things stood thus amiss between Rustico's Devil and Alibech's Hell, for overmuch eagerness of the one part and too little performance of the other, a fire broke out in Capsa and burned the father of Alibech with his children and every one of his kin, so that Alibech became the sole heiress to his goods. Whereupon a certain Neerbale, a young man who had wasted his patrimony in high living, sought for Alibech in the belief that she was alive, and succeeded in finding her before the Court had declared her father's goods forfeit as being without an owner. Much to the relief of Rustico and against the girl's will, Neerbale brought her back to Capsa and married her, so becoming entitled in her right to a large fortune.

One day, when as yet Neerbale had not lain with her, some of her women asked how she had served God in the desert. She replied that she had served Him by putting the Devil in Hell, and that Neerbale had committed a grievous sin in taking her from such pious work. Then they asked: "How is the Devil put in Hell?" To which the girl answered with words and gestures showing how it had been done. The women laughed so heartily that they have not done laughing yet, and said to her: "Grieve not, my child; that is done as well here. Neerbale will serve God right well with thee in this way."
As one repeated the words to another throughout the town, it became a familiar saying that the most acceptable of all services to God is to put the Devil in Hell. The saying has crossed the sea and become current among us, as it still is.

Source: This was the 10th (and last) story on Day 3 in Boccaccio's original tales. John Florio or his publisher blushed so strong on reading it that it was left on the cutting room floor and replaced in the 1620 edition by something less bawdy.

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