The 13 Most Pleasant and Delectable Questions of Love is the title of a small work that is actually an excerpt from a larger book. The larger work of which this is an excerpt is the Italian book Il filocolo, by Giovanni Boccaccio. Some time ago, a certain translator (whose name I can’t remember, and I can’t find, since hard copies of this book are rare – I’ll edit this when I finally get it), found the Il filocolo far too long and boring to translate for mass publication. He did find, however, that 15 consecutive chapters of the rather lengthy work were very entertaining. They centred around a group of people who go out into the countryside to spend an afternoon. While there they decide to play a little game: they elect one of the women amongst them to be the “Queen of love,” and they each tell a love story. At the end of each story a question dealing with love is posed to the entire group. The group then debates the questions and the Queen of love is the final arbiter of who is right.
As it turns out, however, no one is ever right as far as the book is concerned . . . every question is left up in the air – it is up to the reader to ponder which of the various responses to the questions is correct, or if any are correct at all.
The rest of this write up is a synopsis of each of the questions, not the debates that the characters have. Several of the questions are great, some are dated, others are obvious. On the whole, they are entertaining and provide one with great cocktail party conversation.
Note: I am writing a synopsis of these questions because they are the essence of the book, and Boccaccio shows himself to be all the greater the writer for not definitively answering any of them. The fact that each of the questions is left without a definite answer is an important part of the work. Please do not post preposed answers.
Question the first:
Two young bachelors, one of whom is wearing a hat, are at party and are in a disagreement about which of them a young woman prefers. They ask her mother to solicit an answer from her on their behalf. The mother calls her fair daughter over and asks her to chose between the two young bachelors. The daughter responds that it would be her pleasure to respond and, without saying another word she removes her own hat and places it upon the head of the young man without a hat. She then takes the other young man’s hat, places it upon her own head, and walks away, announcing that she has made her choice.
The question, then, is whether she preferred the man to whom she gave her own hat, or the man from whom she took a hat, and wore it herself.
Question the second:
A young man who secretly loved a girl was looking for a way to tell her of his love without her family learning of it. Seeing an old woman come to her house every day to ask for alms, he one day asked her to escort him through her families gates and to the young woman’s room so that he might declare his love to her. The two are caught in the process by her brothers, who, by some arcane Italian point of honour are able to punish the young man for his disgraceful act.
They give the young man two options: 1) he can live with the old woman for a year and then live the rest of his life with their sister, but for the next year he will be able to show their sister no more affection than he showed the old woman, or 2) he can live with their sister for a year but then must live with the woman for the next year and however much affection he showed their sister he must duplicate with the old woman.
What is this poor young man to do?
Question the third:
A young woman is perplexed as to whether she should love an extremely handsome man, a courteous and liberal man, or a wise man.
Nothing special here.
Question the fourth: (which turns out to actually be about liberality):
A woman married to a knight became the object of affection of another knight who knew not that she was married. She refrained from telling him for a while because she liked the attention he heaped upon her. Concerned about her reputation she decides to rid herself of this knight without telling him that she is married by sending him on an impossible quest: she wants him to build a garden that will bear fruit and flowers in January.
The love stricken knight travels around awhile until he meets a mystical middle aged man who is described as “a man not young nor of too many years, bearded, small and very spare of person, whose attire showed him poor, who roamed hither and thither gathering herbs with a little knife . . . and it is this man who, through various magical incantations, can build this garden. He does so in return for half the knight’s riches. When the woman sees the garden the jig is up: but her husband declares that he loves her too much to see her lose her reputation by breaking her word, and allows her to fulfill her obligation to the other knight; the other knight, meanwhile, says that he loves her too much to see her marriage ruined, and so frees her of her obligation to himself; the mystic then gives up his reward . . .
After all that, the question is posed: who is the most generous? The husband, the "other" knight, or the mystical man? You decide.
Question the fifth:
This one can be boiled down to this: Is it more painful to be hated by someone you are madly in love with, or to be in a relationship with them and know that they love another person more, but had to “settle” for you?
Question the sixth:
Two young women who are both in love with the same man wish to find out if he is in love with either of them. They both decide to make a pass at him and judge by his response if he is in love with either. The first is too bashful to carry out her plan and keeps her distance, obviously smitten by him but too shy to approach any further. The second woman takes the straight forward approach: she kisses the lucky young man and professes her love to him.
The question posed is whether bashfulness and timid behaviour, or open and uninhibited professions of love are a better sign of true love.
Question the seventh:
This question essentially boils down to whether, in attempting to impress the opposite sex, love brings out the best or the worst in people: Will it make people more honest, liberal, courageous, or, in short, more virtuous, or will it make people lie, become greedy, underhanded, and lose all morality?
Question the eighth: (A straight forward matter):
Should a man fall in love with a woman who is richer and smarter than him or with a woman who is poorer and not-so-smart.
Question the ninth:
This one is so short I’ll just quote it:
“I desire to understand of you which of these three a young man should bring his desire to a most happy end, ought soonest to be enamoured of either of her that is married, or of the maid, or of the widow?”
Question the tenth:
A widow, who had been courting two knights, was convicted of some undefined impropriety and sentenced to death. The only way for the sentence to be reversed was for a knight to declare that he would fight in her name, and overcome one of her accusers. One of the knights whom she was courting quickly declared that he would fight on her behalf . . . the other knight, not so quick on the draw, was worried that his counterpart might lose. He knew that he could not stand to see the young lady put to death, and so he decided to pretend to be one of her accusers and throw the fight so that she would not die – even if it meant that he himelf would be killed. He did so, and barely escaped the fight with his life.
Both the knights told the woman that she was free from the sentence and of what they did (independently of one another) to ensure that she would not be killed. She promised to reward them both; but only one, of course, could be rewarded with marriage.
The question: Whom should she marry?
Question the eleventh:
The question is: Is it more pleasing for a lover to be in the presence of a loved one, or to be thinking of them?
Hmmm . . . .
Question the twelfth:
This one is best paraphrased by Alfred Tennyson’s words, rephrased so as to form a question: Is it better to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all? (Rephrased from Tennyson’s poem Memoriam:21)
Question the thirteenth:
Well now, I can’t do all the work, and there are, and forever will be, free online versions of this work, so I’ll leave this one for people to look up if they are interested. I’ll warn you: its weird and not for the timid.