The Enchanted Pear Tree

Boccaccio's Story of Lydia and Pyrrhus

Chaucer's Merchant's Tale

and other tales of type 1423

selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1998-2012


  1. The Story of Lydia and Pyrrhus (abstracted from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio).

  2. The Merchant's Tale (abstracted from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer).

  3. The Simpleton Husband (1001 Nights).

  4. The Twenty-Ninth Vizier's Story (Turkey, The History of the Forty Viziers).

Return to: D. L. Ashliman's index of folklore and mythology electronic texts.

The Story of Lydia and Pyrrhus

Giovanni Boccaccio

Nicostratus, a wealthy patrician, married Lydia, a woman of great distinction and unsurpassed beauty. He was well advanced in years, while she was still a paragon of youth and vitality. Consequently, to state the matter delicately, their marriage did not leave the young wife entirely satisfied. Thus, it is quite understandable that Lydia found herself paying ever more attention to one of her husband's servants, Pyrrhus by name, who was elegant, handsome, young, and energetic. He was attracted to her as well, and gladly would have accepted her invitations to love, but the old man gave them no opportunity. What he lacked in vigor he made up with jealousy and perseverance, rarely leaving his beautiful young wife alone.

Their unrequited passion aglow, Lydia and Pyrrhus devised a daring scheme through which, even in the master's presence, they might satisfy their longing for one another. Accordingly, one day when the three were walking in the garden, as they often did, Lydia requested a pear from a certain tree. Pyrrhus climbed after the fruit, but once in the tree, he called to his master, "Have you no shame, making love like that in broad daylight?"

The master demanded an explanation for the strange remark, and Pyrrhus concluded that the pear tree was enchanted, giving the impression of unreal happenings below. To test the theory, he asked his master to climb the tree, and see if he too would behold impossible things below. His curiosity piqued, Nicostratus mustered enough strength to climb onto one of the pear tree's lower branches. Looking down, what did he behold but Pyrrhus and Lydia making fervent love. From his precarious perch, he shouted curses, threats, and insults at them. but they -- engaged with other pursuits -- quite ignored him.

Nicostratus climbed down from the tree, only to find Pyrrhus and Lydia seated discretely on a garden bench. Their innocent demeanor convinced him that nothing unseemly had happened. Fearing that only a bedeviled tree could be responsible for the vile images that he had perceived, he sent for an ax and had it cut down immediately.

From that time forth Nicostratus relaxed his watchful vigil over his young wife, and thus Pyrrhus and Lydia were able to pluck the fruits of their love at regular intervals, even without the help of their enchanted pear tree.

The Merchant's Tale

Geoffrey Chaucer

In the town of Pavia in Lombardy there lived a worthy knight by the name of January. Although throughout his long and prosperous life he had partaken often of the fruits of love, he felt no need for marriage until he passed his sixtieth year, when suddenly he was overcome by a violent urge to become a wedded man.

"A young and beautiful wife," he concluded, "would be the fulfillment of my wealth and glory. Obedient, loyal, and untiring, she would attend to my every need in my waning years, and further, she may well present me with an heir."

"Not so!" argued some. "A wife's interest will be more toward your fortune than toward your well being, and further, her unbridled passions may place your honor at risk."

But January listened not to these negative voices, paying heed instead to those who praised the virtues of womanhood and the benefits of marriage. And thus he soon announced to his friends his resolve to find a bride, "But," he asserted, "she must be under twenty years of age, for young veal is tastier than old beef."

His friends tried to dissuade him from this resolve, but to no avail, and at last -- driven onward by unrelenting fantasies -- he found the woman who satisfied his dreams. Although not of high rank, she was young and beautiful, and, in his love-blinded perception, she was also compliant and self-disciplined. Further, like old January himself, she too bore the name of a season: May.

Marriage documents were executed, the holy sacrament of marriage was duly performed, and the priest united January and May as husband and wife.

One wedding guest was particularly moved, a robust young man named Damian, who served as a squire to Knight January. Ravished by May's fresh beauty, the squire fell madly in love with his master's young bride.

No one knows what young May was thinking in her heart as old January -- with his beard of stubble and loose skin shaking about his throat -- labored in the field of love. But Damian's thoughts were not entirely secret. He poured out his soul with pen and ink, then managed to slip the letter into the hand of his beloved May without being seen by the ever-watchful January.

May's only opportunity to read the letter came in that small place where everyone goes alone. There she committed Damian's message to memory, then tore the letter into pieces and threw them into the privy. But one thing is certain. She took no offense at the young squire's forwardness, for as soon as she could steal a few minutes' time, she composed a letter to the young squire, promising him the satisfaction he desired of her as soon as the time and place might present themselves.

In the meantime old January's fortune turned against him, and he lost his sight. The curse of blindness increased the knight's possessiveness and jealousy toward his young wife. Fearing that she might succumb to some temptation under the cover of his darkness, he never let her go out unless he himself had her by the hand. Nevertheless, by using private hand signals and smuggled letters, she communicated her forbidden love to Damian, and invented a plan whereby it might be consummated.

The tryst was to take place in a private garden where January and May often walked together. Following his beloved's plan, Damian let himself into the garden at the appointed time, then hid himself in the branches of a pear tree that grew there. A little later January and May, hand in hand, approached the tree, when May suddenly declared an intense appetite for a pear from the nearby tree.

"Do let me climb the tree and pluck a pear," she begged of her husband. Then recalling his blind jealousy, she added, "You can hold your arms around the tree to make sure that I am alone."

Not wanting to deny her this innocent request, he stooped over and let her step onto his back. Taking hold of a branch, she pulled herself into tree and into the arms of the waiting Damian. Now ladies, please take no offence, but I must tell the story as it actually happened. Damian forthwith lifted her smock and thrust away, with the deceived husband blindly hugging the tree beneath them.

However, this shameful tryst was not entirely unseen. The king and queen of Fairyland saw all, and the king -- horrified at the cuckoldry -- resolved at once to restore the old knight's sight immediately and thus expose his wife's and his squire's faithlessness. "Do that!" replied the fairy king's wife. "But nothing bad will come to the young woman, for I will give her a bold and quick answer that will excuse her and her lover from all guilt."

And thus it happened. As granted by the fairy king, sight miraculously returned to January's aging eyes. But his rejoicing was short lived, for looking up, the first thing he saw was his wife engaged in an act that polite words cannot describe.

"Strumpet!" he called out angrily. "What are you up to?"

Now it was the fairy queen's turn to ply her magic, and -- as promised -- she put a quick response onto the wayward wife's tongue.

"Sir," replied May, "have patience. Don't you see what I have done? I was told that the only cure for your blindness would be for me to struggle with a man upon a tree."

"Struggle?" said he. "It went right in!"

"Oh no!" said she. "You caught a hazy glimpse, my good sir, but your sight is still poor. Things are not as they first appeared to you." Then she continued, "This slander is my reward for helping you to see."

"Never mind!" said he. "Come down. But it did appear to me that Damian was enjoying you with your smock upon his breast."

"Think what you will," said she, "but it was only a false vision following your long blindness."

With that she jumped down from the tree, and January led her happily back home.

The Simpleton Husband

1001 Nights

There was once in olden time a foolish and ignorant man who had abounding wealth, and his wife was a beautiful woman who loved a handsome youth. The gallant used to watch for the husband's absence and come to her, and this went on for a long while.

One day, when the woman was in seclusion with her lover, he said to her, "Oh my lady and my beloved, if you desire me and love me, give me possession of yourself and satisfy my need in the presence of your husband, otherwise I will never again come to you nor draw near you as long as I live."

Now she loved him with exceeding love and could not suffer his separation an hour, nor could she endure to anger him, so when she heard his words, she said to him, "Bismillah, so be it, in Allah's name, oh my darling, and the coolness of my eyes. May he not live who would vex you!"

Said he, "Today?"

And she said, "Yes, by your life," and made an appointment with him for this.

When her husband came home, she said to him, "I want to go on an outing."

And he said, "With all my heart." So he went until he came to a goodly place, abounding in vines and water. Then he took her there and pitched a tent by the side of a tall tree. She went to a place alongside the tent and made there an underground vault, in which she hid her lover

The she said to her husband, "I want to climb this tree."

And he said, "Do so."

So she climbed it, and when she came to the treetop, she cried out and slapped her face, saying, "Oh, you lecher! If these are your dealings with me before my eyes, what do you do when you are absent from me?"

"Said he, "What is wrong with you?"

And she said, "I saw you futter the woman before my very eyes."

Cried he, "Not so, by Allah! But hold your peace until I go up and see."

So he climbed the tree, and no sooner did he begin to do so than out came the lover from his hiding place and taking the woman by the legs fell to shagging her.

When the husband came to the top of the tree, he looked and beheld a man futtering his wife, so he called out, "Oh whore, what doings are these?" and he made haste to come down from the tree to the ground.

But meanwhile the lover had returned to his hiding place, and the wife asked her husband, "What did you see?"

He answered, "I saw a man shag you."

But she said, "You lie. You saw nothing. It was only your fantasy."

They did the same thing three or four times, and every time he climbed the tree the lover came up out of the underground place and mounted her, while her husband looked on, and she still said, "Do you see anything, you liar?"

"Yes," he would answer, and come down in haste, but saw no one, and she said to him, "By my life, look and speak nothing but the truth!"

Then he cried to her, "Arise, let us depart this place, for it is full of jinn and marids."

Accordingly, they returned to their house and spent the night there, and the man arose in the morning, assured that this was all but fantasy and fascination.

And so the lover won his wicked will.

The Twenty-Ninth Vizier's Story


There was in the palace of the world a grocer, and he had a wife, a beauty of the age, and that woman had a lover.

One day this woman's lover said, "If your husband found us out, he would not leave either of us sound."

The woman said, "I am able to manage that I shall make merry with you before my husband's eyes."

The youth said, "Such a thing cannot be."

The woman replied, "In such and such a place there is a large tree. Tomorrow I will go on an outing with my husband to the foot of that tree. Hide yourself in a secret place near that tree, and when I make a sign to you, come."

As her lover left, her husband arrived. The woman said, "Man, I would like to go on an outing with you tomorrow to such and such a tree."

The man replied, "So be it."

When it was morning the woman and her husband went to that tree. The woman said, "They say that he who eats this sweetmeat sees single things as though they were double," and she ate some and gave her husband some to eat.

Half an hour afterward the woman climbed up the tree and turned and looked down and began, "May you be struck blind! May God punish you! Man, what are you doing? Is there anyone who has ever done such a thing? You are making merry with a strange woman under the eyes of your wife. Quick, divorce me!" And she cried out.

Her husband said, "What is with you, woman? Have you gone mad? There is no one with me."

Said the woman, "Be silent, you unblushing and shameless fellow. The woman is with you, and you deny it."

Her husband said, "Come down."

She replied, "I will not come down so long as that woman is with you."

Her husband began to swear, protesting, and the woman came down and said to him, "Where is that harlot? Quick, show her to me, or else!"

Again the man swore, and the woman said, "Can it then be the work of the sweetmeat?"

The man said, "May be."

Said the woman, "You too go up and look down on me, and let us see."

Her husband took hold of the tree, and while he was climbing, the woman made a sign to her lover. The man looked down and saw the woman making merry with a youth.

This time the man cried out, "Away with you! What is with you, you shameless boy?"

The woman said, "You are lying."

But the man could not endure it and began to come down, and the youth ran off.

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Revised March 19, 2013.