Read PALERMO : CHAPTER II - MALAGIGI of Castellinaria and Other Sicilian Diversions , free online book, by Henry Festing Jones, on

Next morning I called on the buffo in his workshop. His two combustible Turkish pavilions were finished, ready to be fired by Ettorina, and he was full of his devils. I inquired why we were doing Guido Santo so soon; it was only a year since my last visit to Palermo, when I had witnessed his lamented end after a fortnight of starvation in prison, and, at this rate, the story would be over in fourteen months instead of lasting eighteen. The buffo said they had made the experiment of shortening it. If one has to shorten a story, probably the Paladins of France with its continuations would suffer less from the process than many others. At all events it could scarcely grow longer, as a work of art so often does when one tries to shorten it.

The devils were naturally among the dramatis personae of the teatrino, but they had to be got ready and repaired and provided with all things necessary for them to make the subterranean road. I said:

“I am not sure that I quite followed all you told me last night.”

“There was perhaps a little confusion?” he inquired apologetically.

“Not at all,” I replied politely; “but I never heard of Argantino before. Did you say he was the son of Malagigi?”

“That is right. He did not happen to be at Roncisvalle, so he was not killed with Orlando and the other paladins. An angel came to him and said, ’Now the Turks will make much war against the Christians and, since the Christians always want a magician, it is the will of heaven that you shall have the rod of Malagigi, who is no longer here, and that Guido Santo shall have la Durlindana, the sword of Orlando.’ And it was so, and Argantino thereafter appeared as a pilgrim.”

“I remember about Malagigi; he made all Rinaldo’s armour.”

“Excuse me, he made some of his armour; but he did not make his helmet, nor his sword Fusberta, nor his horse Baiardo. First you must know that Rinaldo was one of the four brothers, sons of Amone, and their sister was Bradamante.”

“I saw her die at Trapani. The Empress Marfisa came and found her dying of grief in a grotto for the loss of her husband, Ruggiero da Risa.”

“Precisely. She was Marfisa’s sister-in-law because she married Marfisa’s brother Ruggiero da Risa.”

“Then who was the cavalière errante, Ruggiero Persiano?”

“He was the son of Marfisa and Guidon Selvaggio, and this Guidon Selvaggio was the son of Rinaldo.”

“Had Bradamante no children?”

“Guido Santo is the son of Bradamante and Ruggiero da Risa.”

“I heard something about Guido Santo at Castellinaria the other day let me see, what was it? Never mind. I hope he left children.”

“I told you last year that he never married.”

“Oh yes, of course; that is what I was thinking of. One cannot remember everything at once and pedigrees are always confusing at first. Then it is for love of Bradamante’s nephew by marriage, Ruggiero Persiano, that Ettorina has now gone mad?”

“Bravo. And Malagigi was Bradamante’s cousin.”

“How was that?”

“Amone had a brother Buovo, and Malagigi was the son of Buovo. Therefore Malagigi was the cousin of Rinaldo and of Bradamante. And that is all you need know about the pedigree for the present. Malagigi was Emperor of Magic. Other magicians only commanded a devil or two each, but Malagigi dominated all the hosts of the inferno, all the devils, harpies, serpents, gorgons, hydras, furies and also the monster Briareus.”

“Just as the buffo dominates all the marionettes in the teatrino,” I interpolated.

He bowed and proceeded: “Rinaldo’s helmet used to belong to Mambrino.”

“I have read about it in Don Quixote.”

“Ah! but that was not a real helmet; that was only a barber’s basin because Cervantes wanted to laugh at Don Quixote. Rinaldo slew Mambrino and took his helmet, but Mambrino was a giant and his helmet was too large for Rinaldo, so Malagigi took it down into the laboratory of the inferno and altered it to fit.”

“And do the audience see all that done on the stage?”

“Most of it; and what they do not see they imagine. Fusberta, Rinaldo’s sword, formerly belonged to another giant, Atlante. Malagigi always intended it for Rinaldo, but he was a wise magician and knew that people do not value things unless they pay for them, so he would not let him have it till he had earned it by killing Atlante.”

“It’s rather like what you told me last year about Orlando’s dream and his going to the river-bank where Carlo Magno and that other giant, Almonte, were fighting, and his killing Almonte and his taking his sword and horse and armour.”

“I did not say that Orlando had a dream; it was Carlo Magno who had the dream about a young man whom he did not know, and I told you that afterwards, when Orlando came and helped him to fight Almonte, Carlo Magno recognised him as the young man in his dream.”

“Sorry, Buffo; my mistake. But it is rather like it, isn’t it?”

“About his taking the giant’s sword it is rather like it, but that is not a bad thing in the teatrino, the people must not be puzzled by too much variety.”

Then he told me about Baiardo, Rinaldo’s horse, who formerly belonged to Amadigi di Gaula, to whom he was given by Berliante, another magician, who found him in the desert. After the death of Amadigi, Berliante chose but seven devils, put them inside Baiardo and turned him loose in the forest, saying: “This horse can only be dominated by a man as strong as Amadigi.” After this, several things happened, of which I only remember that Baiardo kicked all the sense out of Isolier, a Spanish cavalier who was trying to tame him with his sword, not knowing the right way to do it, and a nameless Englishman was involved in a duel. At last Rinaldo came and, after working hard at Baiardo for an hour, struck him a blow between the eyes with his mailed fist and thus tamed him. Then Rinaldo mounted him and boasted of his triumph, shouting in his humorous way: “Now Baiardo is carrying eight devils.”

“And so you see Rinaldo getting Baiardo is not at all like Orlando getting his horse Vegliantino; besides, Baiardo is red, the colour of fire, and Vegliantino is white all over, without one black hair.”

“Why do you call Orlando’s horse Vegliantino? Last year he was Brigliadoro.”

“One moment, if you please. Almonte called him Brigliadoro because he had a golden bridle; but when Orlando took him he called him Vegliantino because he was so wide-awake only slept with one eye at a time always kept the other open. You have good horses also in England. I read in the Giornale di Sicilia that your King Edward has a good horse who won the great race this year, but I do not remember his name. It was not a reasonable name.”

“The name was Minoru. Do you think that a bad name for a good horse?”

“I think Vegliantino is better.”

“Perhaps it is. Let us return to Malagigi. Are you not going to tell me why he is no longer giving the Christians the benefit of his services as magician?”

So he told me about Malagigi, who, it seems, had a quarrel with Carlo Magno, in the course of which Malagigi boasted:

“You are the Emperor of the World, but I am the Emperor of the Inferno.”

Carlo Magno did not quite like this and responded by cursing Malagigi, saying that he would not go to heaven when he died. One would think that Malagigi must have had the substance of this remark addressed to him before by persons who had not troubled to wrap it up in the imperial language employed by Carlo Magno. If so, it had never made any impression on him, but now he began to think there might be something in it. He had been a good man on the whole and a Christian, nevertheless, as a sorcerer he had no doubt diabolised a little too freely. To be on the safe side, he determined to repent and, as these things do not get over the footlights unless they are done in the grand manner, he began by burning his magical books, all except one, and they were the books of Merlin, whose disciple he had been. He next dropped his name of Malagigi, because it had been given him by the devils in council, and called himself Onofrio. He still kept on terms with his confidential private devil, Nacalone, whom he now summoned and to whom he spoke these words:

“Convey me to some peaceful shore where I may repent of my sins and die of grief in a grotto.”

When we came to this I could not help it, I was full of small complaints that morning I exclaimed:

“But, my dear Buffo, this makes consecutive fifths with his cousin Bradamante dying of grief in the grotto at Trapani.”

He admitted that it would have been better if one of them had had the originality to die in bed as a Christian or an ordinary man does, or to be killed in mortal combat, but there it was, it was the will of heaven and could not be altered. It seemed rather an invitation to the shortener of the story, but the same people do not come to the theatre every night and those who had missed the death of Bradamante would be pleased to see Malagigi die.

The nearest peaceful shore with a suitable grotto known to Nacalone happened to be in Asia; he put his master on his back and flew off with him apologising for carrying him so far, but there was not really much trouble about it, because his wings were strong and the journey was accomplished in safety.

Malagigi sat repenting in his Asian grotto, like S. Gerolamo in the pictures. He found a stone with a hole in it into which he stuck a cross made of two pieces of wood tied together with dried grass, and to this cross he prayed. In the intervals of prayer and repentance he gathered the herb malva, dried it, powdered it, mixed it with water into paste, formed it into cakes, baked them in the sun and ate them. When his time came, he died, and gradually his corpse became a skeleton, but his spirit still dwelt within because it was so ordained. His dying did not surprise me to be born is to enter upon the path which even magicians must tread and which leads to the inevitable door nor was I alarmed about his spirit remaining inside his skeleton it gave him a touch of originality after all and differentiated his death from that of Bradamante whose soul I had seen extracted by an angel; but I could not help being seriously uneasy about his burning all his books. Each book had a devil chained inside it, and when Malagigi opened a book its devil used to appear for instructions. As long as he was repenting, they might perhaps be trusted to behave themselves; but after his death, in spite of its being somewhat equivocal, I was afraid that all these devils, and Merlin had an extensive library, would escape and be free to do as they chose. The buffo assured me, however, that no harm would come of it, and as he knew what was ordained by the will of heaven I was ready to take his word; besides, there was still the one unburnt book and this was the home of Nacalone, who might be powerful enough to avert disasters. So Malagigi’s body remained in the grotto, dead and yet not dead.

Then a time came when his son Argantino happened to be travelling in Asia with his second cousin Guido Santo. Accompanied by Costanzo, a Turk, whom Argantino had defeated and baptised, the two knights came to the dreadful enchanted grotto and entered it to see whether perhaps it might contain anything good to eat. Costanzo did not enter, they sent him off to collect a quantity of wood to make a fire because it was a chilly evening. When their eyes had become accustomed to the dim light, they discerned a tomb whereon was this inscription:


Guido knelt down to pray, saying: “I perceive here a sepulchre.”

“Yes,” replied Argantino kneeling by his side; “I wonder who in this peaceful grotto is sleeping his last long sleep.”

Presently the tomb opened by a miracle and a voice disturbed their devotions:

“Malagigi parlerà.”

The two cousins trembled with horror as a skeleton rattled up from the sepulchre and spoke thus:

“I am the great magician Malagigi, and in obedience to the command of heaven my spirit has here waited for this day. To you, O my son Argantino! I confide the one book of magic which remains to me. To you, O Guido! I confide the horse Sfrenato.”

Here he delivered the two compliments to the two paladins; but for the moment Sfrenato took the magical book and carried it in his mouth as a cat carries her kitten.

“And now, listen to me. Terrible times are in store for the Christians and it is God’s ordinance that you two shall preserve the faith. Swear to me therefore, O Guido! that you will” and so forth.

When he had concluded his address, his prophetic spirit was exhausted, as might perhaps have been anticipated, for the speech was of portentous length, and the skeleton clattered down again into the tomb, which closed by another miracle while a ball of fire ran along upon the ground across the stage and back again. Then Guido took his oath and spoke thus to Argantino:

“Let us now depart. And you Turks! all of you, tremble! for Guido shall be your destruction.”

With this he vaulted upon Sfrenato, who curveted and whinnied with joy at recognising his master. And so the two paladins continued their journey; but before leaving the neighbourhood they naturally made arrangements with the local marble-mason to have the tomb closed in a proper and hygienic manner.

“And all this,” said the buffo, “happened only last Friday, and why did you not come in time to see it? It was very emotional.”