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“Of a truth I confess they [the tales] are not mine, and if I said otherwise I
should lie, but nevertheless I have faithfully set them down according to the manner in which they are told…”

Le XIII Piacevoli Notti…
Giovanni Francesco Straparola (ca. 1480- ca. 1557)
In Venetia: 1580
PQ4634 S7 P5 1580

Le XIII Piacevoli Nottie (The Pleasant Nights,) a collection of seventy-five stories, was first published in 1550 with twenty-five stories. Giovanni Straparola added stories to the next two editions, including what are considered to be the first “fairy tales” printed in a European vernacular. The collection of stories was reprinted in at least twenty-three editions between 1550 and 1620 and translated into German, Spanish, and French within only a few years after the first printing. The book was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books the year this edition was published, for its seeming justification of magic. Pope Clement VIII placed it on the Prohibitorum again in 1601. After 1608, the work was no longer published in Italy until Giuseppe Rua’s scholarly 1899-1908 edition.

Almost nothing is known of Giovanni Francesco Straparola except what he tells of himself in this book: he was from Caravaggio. Whoever he (or she) is, he is considered to be the progenitor of the literary form of the fairy tale. The surname “Straparola” is not a typical family name of the period or location. It is likely a nickname, meaning “babbler.” Straparola anthologized already-known folk tales and presented them to an urban audience. Straparola’s Nights is modeled after Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decamaron. Sixteen characters are engaged in a thirteen night-long party on the island of Murano, near Venice, and tell seventy-four stories that range from bawdy to fantastic. Straparola’s work was a sourcebook for Shakespeare.

Several of these tales, such as “Beauty and the Beast” and the cunning “Puss-in-Boots,” were retold and made famous by Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers. In “Puss-in-Boots” a cat is inherited by the youngest of three brothers. The cat — a lowly gift to the last, and therefore most redundant, son — requests of his master a pair of boots and, through a series of magic tricks (he is a cat, afterall!), proceeds to introduce his master to the king’s court and have the king’s princess-daughter fall in love and marry him. Supernatural indeed: a talking animal, an ogre and magical transformations — all bringing good results: the acquisition of wealth and a rise in social standing.

And that is why we love cats (and books) and, perhaps, why Pope Clement did not.