Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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STORY 25: The Prince and the Advocate's Wife, cont.

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

Remember that these stories are supposed to be true stories - either stories that actually happened to the person telling the story, or else a story that they heard from one of the people actually involved (in this case, Longarine says that he heard this story from the prince himself). Based on the way that the story is told, and the details of characters and plots, does it sound to you like a believable story? What specific aspects of the story make it seem more like a true story?

So saying, he went out, shut the door after him, that he might not be followed to the staircase, and entered the garderobe, where the fair one joined him as soon as her husband was asleep. She took him into a cabinet as elegant as could be, but in truth there was nothing in it handsomer than he and she; and I doubt not that she kept word with him as to all she had promised. He left her at the hour he had told his people, and found them at the place where he had desired them to wait for him.

As the intrigue was of long duration, the prince chose a shorter way to go to the advocate's; this was to pass through a monastery. He managed matters so well with the prior, that every night the porter opened the door for him towards midnight, and did the same when he returned. The advocate's house not being far from the monastery, he took no one with him.

Notwithstanding the prince led the life I have described, still he loved and feared God, so true it is that man is a whimsical mixture of good and evil, and a perpetual contradiction. On his way to the advocate's he only passed through the monastery, but on his return he never failed to remain a long time at prayer in the church. The monks seeing him on his knees as they went to matins, or returned from them, believed he was the most pious of men.

The prince had a sister who was much in the habit of frequenting that convent. As she loved her brother above all men, she used to commend him to the prayers of all the good people she knew. One day when she was thus speaking for him with great earnestness to the prior of this monastery, the good father replied, "Why, madam, what is this you ask of me? You name the very man above all others to whose prayers I most desire to be myself commended; for if he is not pious and righteous, I never expect to see one that is so." Thereupon he quoted the text which says that "Blessed is he who can do evil, and doeth it not." The sister, who longed to know what proof the prior had of her brother's sanctity, questioned him so earnestly that he said to her, as if he was revealing a secret of the confessional, "Is it not a marvellous and goodly thing to see a young and handsome prince abandoning pleasures and repose to come frequently to our matins? He does not come like a prince who seeks to be honored of men, but quite alone like a simple monk, and he goes and hides himself in one of our chapels. This devotion so confounds my brethren and myself, that we do not think ourselves worthy to be called men of religion in comparison with him?"

The sister did not know what to think of this; for though her brother was very mundane, she knew, nevertheless, that he had a good conscience, that he believed in God and loved him much; but she could never have imagined that he would make a practice of going to church at that hour. As soon as she saw him, she told him what a good opinion the monks had of him. He could not help laughing, and in such a manner, that she, who knew him as she did her own heart, readily guessed that there was something concealed under this pretended devotion. She teased him so much that at last he told her the whole truth as you have heard from me, and as she did me the honor to relate it to me.

You see by this, ladies, that there are no advocates so crafty, or monks so shrewd, but that they may be tricked in case of need, when one loves well. Since, then, love teaches how to trick the tricksters, how much reason have we to fear it, we who are poor simple creatures?

"Though I guess pretty well," said Geburon, "who is the hero of this tale, I cannot help saying that he is to be praised for having kept the secret; for there are few great lords who give themselves any concern either about the honor of women or public scandal, provided they have their pleasure. Frequently, even, they act in such a manner as to make people believe more than the truth."

"It would be well," said Oisille, "if all young lords followed this example, for often the scandal is worse than the sin."

"You may well believe," said Nomerfide, "that the prayers he offered up in church were very sincere and very acceptable to God."

"That is not a question for you to decide," said Parlamente; "for, perhaps, his repentance was such on his return from his assignation, that his sin was forgiven."

"It is very difficult," said, Hircan, "to repent of a thing that gives such pleasure. For my part, I have often confessed, but hardly repented it."

"If one does not repent, it were better not to confess," observed Oisille.

"Sin displeases me, madam," rejoined Hircan; "I am vexed at offending God; but pleasure pleases me."

"You would be very glad, you and others like you," remarked Parlamente, "that there were neither God nor law but what agreed with your own inclination."

"I confess," said Hircan, "I should be glad if my pleasures were as pleasing to God as they are to me. In that case, I would often give matter for rejoicing."

"You will not make a new God, however," said Geburon; "and so the best thing we can do is to obey the one we have." [...]

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did the prince do after visiting the lawyer's wife each time?
  • why was the prince's sister surprised by the holy reputation that he had earned?
  • what were the reasons why the people in the group praised the prince's behavior?

Source: The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. Translated by Walter K. Kelly. Website: A Celebration of Women Writers. (Kelly's translated is not dated; it is based on a French edition published in 1853.)

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM