By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
– That’s not true! – a mysterious voice echoes from the other side of the inn. Recovering from their surprise, our characters saw a man dressed in Indian garb and holding a bow and arrow. The man approached, now speaking in a much softer voice:
– Forgive my interruption, but I feel obliged to tell you that your hypothesis is false. Satyam nasti!
– My friend, if you wish, please tell us your story – the innkeeper said.
– Oum. Gentlemen, I’m sure you don’t know my name. My story is not famous, and if it were, only my people would hear it, because Sanskrit poetry is not appreciated in many places. My name is Rama, king of Ayodhya and the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu. My story is told in a 20,000-verse epic poem, but I will try to summarize it as much as possible. My beloved was called Sita. One day she was kidnapped by Ravana, a perverse demon who was burning with lust for her. For years I searched high and low for my wife, and when I found her on the Island of Lanka, my brother Lakshmana and I mobilized an army to defeat her sinister captor. After a successful war, we moved to a palace and never lacked money. Sita, though, soon became an avid reader of feminist writers like Simone de Beauvoir, and now she criticizes me for having won her as a prize in a Svayamvarah – a competition in which the winner gets the bride. What did she expect, living in India five millennia ago? That everyone was a feminist? Besides, in a Svayamvarah the bride is free to decline marriage to the winner. But will that woman listen to me? No! She has turned my life into a true Naraka*, because to her I am nothing but a chauvinist oppressor!
The various confessions of his new friends moved Romeo. He had the feeling the world had been turned upside down, or that he was living in a bad dream. Here were several stories with supposedly happy endings, and yet the heroes of those stories were all miserable in their marriages. At this moment, the immortal bard’s character, remembering his pristine teenage fury, got up on the table and delivered the following speech:
– My friends, “The world is out of joint. O cursed sprite, that I was ever born to set it right!”, as my rich brother Hamlet would have said. We all seem to share the same fate: we fall in love with a woman, we get married, but then we have a loveless marriage and are forgotten by the world. I ask you: why did this happen to each one of us? Does anyone know the answer? And, particularly, can any of you tell me why our respective authors, though splendidly talented, wrote stories about us which were later completely forgotten? My kingdom for an answer – thank goodness I am not a king!
A forty-year-old man, who had remained silent up to that point, approached the group. By his clothes, the others could see that he was Spanish. He was tall and had a stiff upper lip – a typical aristocrat – and was holding a glass of delicious Marzemino. He was accompanied by another man wearing humble clothes, clearly a servant. The aristocrat cleared his throat as if about to deliver a speech:
– Gentlemen, I believe I know the answer. However, before I answer, please allow me a brief instant of hilarity…
The gentleman’s laughter echoed throughout the tavern. His lung capacity was impressive, worthy of an opera singer. The man’s attitude angered the others, as they expected to hear anything but mockery. Romeo and Edgar had already drawn their swords. Paris and Rama had their bows ready to shoot a deadly arrow (and Rama had heavenly weapons that could cause a hecatomb). The innkeeper tried to appease his patrons:
– Pax! Pax! Please, respect the premises! This is no place for dueling. I have just cleaned the floor and blood stains are very difficult to scrub off!
The innkeeper now addressed the nobleman:
– Sir, if you have nothing better to say but only plan to mock these people’s misery, I suggest you find yourself another inn.
– I sincerely apologise for my laughter, but I couldn’t help it.
– It’s all right, sir – said Romeo – but we would like to know your name and where you come from.
– My dear Romeo, I would prefer it if my servant did the honours and introduced me to all of you. Leporello, andiamo. Canta la tua aria. Presto!
Then, signalling to the company and setting his feet, the servant broke into song:
Madamina, il catalogo è questo
delle belle che amò il padron mio;
un catalogo egli è che ho fatt’io;
Osservate, leggete con me.
In Italia seicento e quaranta;
In Alemagna duecento e trentuna;
Cento in Francia, in Turchia novantuna;
Ma in Ispagna son già mille e tre.
Madam, this is the catalogue of the beauties that my lord loved. It’s a catalogue I have made myself. Take a look and read it with me.
In Italy six hundred and forty,
In Germany, two hundred and thirty-one.
A hundred in France, ninety-one in Turkey, but in Spain it’s already a thousand and three.
When the fragment from the well-known Catalogue Aria was over, the innkeeper’s eyes shone, as if he were before a numen or a supernatural being. Seized with great joy, he said the following words while kissing the nobleman’s hands:
– Don Giovanni! Signore! It can’t be true! Is it a dream or a hallucination? What an honour! Give me your autograph! This is the happiest day of my life, for I have received in my humble establishment a man whose name was immortalized by the pen of Molière and the music of Mozart! And I hadn’t heard such a great performance of this aria in years. My dear Leporello, you are an amazing baritone. I would like your autograph as well!!
– It’s always nice meeting a fan. And thanks for the Marzemino. The taste is as grand as
– But, sir, that means you are not dead? I have seen the opera hundreds of times. Didn’t the ghost of the commendatore take you to Hell?
– That’s all theater, my friend! Mozart and Molière had to satisfy their respective puritanical societies. In fact, when the curtain falls, I am alive and well, and I go and have fun in a brothel!
Edgar could not contain himself at the sight of this bizarre scene and suddenly interrupted the dialogue between the well-known libertine and his admirer:
– One moment! That can’t be right! I dedicated many years of my life to Lucy. I did everything I could to make her happy. But I find myself in an awful situation, and the same goes for Romeo, Rama and Paris. On the other hand, you, sir, led a life dedicated to unbridled hedonism. Here you are, a rich and healthy man, drinking a glass of delicious Marzemino! I know quite a lot about you since my creator, Signor Donizetti, always talked about the opera that bears your name with great admiration. But when he spoke of you as a person, there was a look of repugnance on his face. Your lordship is a haughty aristocrat without the slightest respect for women. After seducing them you would desert them remorselessly. There are people who collect stamps; you, sir, collect female undergarments. How many times have I heard my creator mention the aria “Mi tradi quell’ anima ingrata” sung by the character Donna Elvira, whom you abandoned? What world is this that rewards the infamous and punishes the virtuous? Why does a misogynist like Don Giovanni get his name immortalized, while we, the heroes who remained true to our bonny lasses, are doomed to oblivion?
Don Giovanni seemed unaffected by the sermon. He smiled and prepared to answer Edgar’s harsh words with another speech. A man who has seduced so many women has to be a master in ars oratoria:
– Dear Edgar, your words have not offended me for they are pregnant with truth. If you had slandered me, I would have had to defend my honour. But I have nothing to hide as everybody knows about my lifestyle. As I say in the opera: Vivan le femine, viva il buon vino, sostegno e gloria d’umanità! That has always been my philosophy of life. Human life is too short, so we must live it to the fullest. We should keep in mind the principle of carpe diem and live fully aware that the days, minutes and seconds will never come back! I have always satisfied all my senses and sought every sort of pleasure the fair sex could afford me. I have collected women, adding them to the catalogue which is now in the care of my faithful servant, Leporello. I did the opposite of what you did – that is, I avoided committing to just one woman. Con una sola fedele, verso l’altre crudele, as the good Mozart says in the opera he composed in my honor. Love, monogamy, faithfulness – those are swear words for me. Anathema sit to whoever utters them! Now friends, let’s examine our respective situations. You are going through terrible hardship because of your choice of monogamy and obsessive love. That was a foolish choice! As my good friend and admirer, the Duke of Mantua, says: “La costanza, tirana del cor, detestiamo qual morbo, qual morbo crudele.” (“We hate faithfulness, that tyrant of the heart, like a
cruel illness.”) Therefore, your feelings for those muses of yours may be considered an ailment. In fact, Ovid wrote a book entitled Remedies for Love. Being aristocrats, Romeo and Edgar could have had a slew of mistresses hurling themselves at their feet. Rama is a Hindu god and as such could have had a “purdah”, but he chose not to. Now Paris, my dear Trojan friend, you are the greatest of fools! If you had chosen Hera as the winner of the divine beauty contest, you would have been a powerful king and could have had as many women as you wished! To sum up the whole thing, I am here appreciating a glass of Marzemino, in due moderation, while you are trying to drown your sorrows! Now let me ask you, which of us leads the better life? Which philosophy is better? One day I will write my memoirs. I will write them in French and you will see it become a best-seller!
The well-known libertine has finished his big speech, but next week he’ll receive an unexpected visitor. Who might that be? Find out next week!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.