Living for what is livelier in the flesh. Saint Thomas Aquinas’s law of the Church: suppress all sensual feelings by force of reason. It is the antithesis of comedy which is the triumph of la forza di natura, the force of nature. Boccaccio showed the futility of even legislated abstinence in the Decameron. La forza di natura will always prevail, and this is precisely what human comedy presents: the triumph of instinct over intellect. …
From the tale of the Matron of Ephesus in Pteronius’s Satyricon….She refuses, but her maidservant cannot. And, having eaten, she joins the soldier’s attempts to persuade her mistress. She even quotes Virgil, “Do you think shades and ashes can really feel anything?” …
At last the woman relents and eats, a step back toward life. The soldier begins a second campaign, again abetted by the maid. Here, too, the result is felicitous: “nor did the woman abstain with that part of her body either.”
Then, and on nights thereafter, the bright glow is not seen across the tombs. The door has been shut while the lovers consummate their passion, nuptias fecerunt. But the family of the crucified criminals seizes the occasion to steal his body. The next morning the soldier emerges from the tomb, only to realize that he himself will be condemned to death. Rather than await judicial sentence, he will act the noble Roman and fall on his sword.
Now it is the woman’s turn to preach life. She offers to sacrifice her husband’s corpse to preserve her lover’s body. At her insistence, they substitute the dead man for the stolen criminal. Here, eros literally triumphs over thnatos in the spirit of Petronius, whose entire work is infused with the doctrine of “give me life.” The Woman of Ephesus fable has been told in many tongues and times; there is even a parallel in a Chinese Buddhist novella. La Fontaine caps his version with the moral “mieux vaut goujat debout qu’empereur enterre,” “a lackey on his feet outranks an emperor in his grave,” echoing Achilles’ very words to Odysseus, the quintessential comic credo!
There are many similarities between the tales of the Woman of Ephesus and Boccaccio’s Filippo Balducci. Both celebrate the triumph of la foza di natura, the victory of instinct over intellect. And we note that instinct tends to center near the stomach, especially “that part of the body” the soldier afterward attends to. But then, there is that distinctive feature of the Woman of Ephesus tale, the reaction of the audience: “Risu excepere fabulam nautae.” “The sailors greeted the tale with laughter.” ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…There was a married woman in Ephesusuch famous virtue that she drew women even from the neighboring states to gaze upon her.
So when she had buried her husband, the common fashion of following the procession with loose hair, and beating the naked breast in front of the crowd, did not satisfy her. She followed the dead man even to his resting place, and began to watch and weep night and day over the body, which was laid in an underground vault in the Greek fashion. Neither her parents nor her relations could divert her from thus torturing herself, and courting death by starvation. The officials were at last rebuffed and left her. Everyone mourned for her as a woman of unique character, and she was now passing her fifth day without food. A devoted maid sat by the failing woman, shed tears in sympathy with her woes, and at the same time filled up the lamp, which was placed in the tomb, whenever it sank.
There was but one opinion throughout the city, every class of person admitting this was the one true and brilliant example of chastity and love.
At this moment the governor of the province gave orders that some robbers should be crucified near the small building where the lady was bewailing her recent loss. So on the next night, when the soldier who was watching the crosses, to prevent anyone taking down a body for burial, observed a light shining plainly among the tombs, and heard a mourner’s groans, a very human weakness made him curious to know who it was and what he was doing. So he went down into the vault, and on seeing a very beautiful woman, at first halted in confusion, as if he had seen a portent or some ghost from the world beneath. But afterwards noticing the dead man lying there, and watching the woman’s tears and the marks of her nails on her face, he came to the correct conclusion, that she found her regret for the lost one unendurable.
He therefore brought his supper into the tomb, and began to urge the mourner not to persist in useless grief, and break her heart with unprofitable sobs: for all men made the same end and found the same resting place, and so on with the other platitudes which restore wounded spirits to health. But she took no notice of his sympathy, struck and tore her breast more violently than ever, pulled out her hair, and laid it on the dead body.Read More:http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/widow.html#ephesus