Home > Uncategorized > Giovanni Boccaccio: Avarice armed mankind in violence

Giovanni Boccaccio: Avarice armed mankind in violence

Giovanni Boccaccio
From The Fates of Illustrious Men
Translated by Louis Brewer Hall

(With gratitude to the translator and for fair use only.)

What does great power bring with it except a covering of gold and purple, mantles and gems, the certain envy of many, the greatest misfortune, and very often a lamentable and ignominious end. Among all these things is mixed deceptive love, which brings the greatest danger to those who receive it. This delight, by the delicacies which sets it free, infects the spirit with its poison. If Troy was not enough to demonstrate this fact, how many conflagrations, how many ruins, how many killings are necessary? And in addition, slaughtered Agamemnon bears witness to it.

***

People should not be threatened with force, trampled underfoot, nor tortured. Rulers should always remember that people are not slaves but fellow servants of God. Because it is the sweat of the people that makes the royal eminence shine, the king should be diligent to guard peace and the welfare of the people. How many rulers perform this today, God knows. Rule has been transferred into tyranny. Rulers despise the feelings of their subjects. They want to glitter with gems and gold; they want to be surrounded by great bands of servants, to build palaces into the sky, to spend their time with groups of parasites, prostitutes and fools. They feast their eyes on obscenities. They spend their nights in endless debauchery, drunkenness and scandal. Their days they spent in deepest sleep while the people guard their well-being.

***

Nature has hidden gold in the most secret depths of the earth, as it is dangerous to the human species. But Avarice, the prospector, searches voraciously and brings it to light. Avarice taught us to dig out the mountains, tunnel the bowels of the earth, and even to invade the depths of the sea with fish hooks. First, Avarice leveled the height of the mountains and cut down the woods to make roads. Then he showed us how to occupy foreign shores, to sign false contracts, to deceive wild beasts, to put serpents to sleep, to spread discord, to lie. He armed mankind in violence, invented poisons and treacheries. By all these methods and others as well, he gathered this glittering peril for some men in vast quantities.

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