Sismonda and Saladin


Sismonda possibly has the same or a similar etymology as Ghismunda, the female name featured on the G day. I don’t want to make any pronouncements about it being some Medieval Italian female form of Sigmund just because the names look alike, since it’s entirely possible Sismonda has a completely different etymology. But I just had to feature Monna Sismonda over Salvestra (eighth story of the fourth day) since I love her so much.

Sismonda is in the eighth story of the seventh day, the wife of the jealous, controlling scumbag Arriguccio Berlinghieri of Florence. Arriguccio is a wealthy merchant who thinks he can better his status by marrying into an aristocratic family, and to this end chooses Sismonda, a young noblewoman to whom he’s very poorly matched.

Since Arriguccio is on the road so much, Sismonda falls in love with Ruberto, who’s been courting her for awhile. Once Arriguccio hears the rumours about the affair, he starts watching Sismonda like a hawk. Not easily deterred, Sismonda arranges to tie a long string to her big toe and extend it out her bedroom window. Ruberto will pull on the string, and if Arriguccio is sleeping like a log, Sismonda will invite Ruberto inside.

Arriguccio discovers this string one unlucky night, and ties it to his own toe to see what it’s all about. Since it’s not tied so tightly, it drops right into Ruberto’s hands. Arriguccio then goes to attack him. Ruberto, however, runs away, and finally engages Arriguccio in a swordfight. While this is happening, Sismonda convinces her maid to take her place in the bed, where she gets a brutal beating and hair-cutting when Arriguccio returns.

Arriguccio then tattles to Sismonda’s mother and three brothers, who come running to confront her. Her mother believes her innocence, but the brothers take Arriguccio’s side. When they arrive, Sismonda is quietly sitting on the steps and sewing, not a mark on her, her hair uncut under her veil. She convinces them he’s a drunkard and must’ve done all this to another woman, but since he’s still half-drunk, he believes it was she.

Saladin is the Anglicised form of Salah al-Din, an Arabic name meaning “righteousness of religion.” Of course, the most famous bearer was Sultan Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (1137/8–4 March 1193), who was renowned in the West for his righteousness, kindness, generosity, fairness, wisdom, and intelligence. He appears in two Decameron stories, the third story of the first day and the ninth story of the tenth day.

In the first story, a Jewish usurer named Melchisedech (typically, anti-Semitically depicted as selfish and money-hungry, in spite of Christians specifically hiring Jews for usury because their own religion forbade it) is summoned to Saladin in the hopes of providing some much-needed money. Saladin asks which of the three main faiths he believes to be true, and Melchisedek answers the trick question by telling a story about a ring whose ownership comes down to three brothers. Saladin knows he’s been outsmarted, and Melchisedech agrees to loan all the money. Saladin later repays him in more than full, becomes his friend, and keeps him at court.

In the second story, Saladin, disguised as a merchant, meets Messer Torello of Stra. Messer Torello lavishly entertains Saladin and his entourage, treats them to fine dining, provides them with sumptuous lodgings, and gives them luxurious parting gifts. By their speech, conduct, bearing, and actions, Messer Torello refuses to believe they’re just merchants. Saladin, for his part, vows to honour Messer Torello just as highly should they ever cross paths again.

The Third Crusade brings Messer Torello to Jerusalem, where he’s captured and sent to various prisons. He refuses to reveal his true identity, fearful of what might happen to him. His skill at training hunting birds comes to Saladin’s attention, and he’s freed from prison and appointed his falconer. Once they recognise one another, Messer Torello is raised to an even higher position. Then, to get Messer Torello home before his wife can give him up for dead and remarry, Saladin has him spirited back to Pavia Province through magic, giving him many riches and gifts on the magical bed which transports him.

3 thoughts on “Sismonda and Saladin

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections | Onomastics Outside the Box

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