He Promised to Raise the Dead: 14th Century

shrouded ghost


The Man Who Promised to Raise the Dead.

Toward the middle of the fourteenth century there suddenly appeared in Florence, Italy, a personage calling himself Dr. Attrapeccini. Whence he came, no one knew. His name indicated an Italian origin; but, from his accent in speaking, one would have supposed him to be a German, while his long beard, grave expression, and majestic bearing seemed suggestive of the Orient. Certain manuscripts, indeed, declare him to have been a native of Gascony; but the authenticity of these manuscripts has not been proved.

Whatever might be his nationality, however, the doctor had no sooner arrived in Florence than he caused to be announced, with a grand flourish of trumpets, cornet, and drum, that on Tuesday, the first of May, at precisely six o’clock in the morning, he would repair to the city’s cemetery, and there restore to life five persons of his own choosing.

At last the excitement grew so intense that the podestat, or chief magistrate of Florence, resolved to send for Dr. Attrapeccini and demand an explanation. A  man who was able to restore five dead persons to life could have no difficulty in guessing what was passing in the mind of a podestat, and, accordingly, the magistrate was just about to strike his gong to summon an usher, when the doctor himself was announced.

“You come just in time, doctor,” said the magistrate; “I was about to send for you.”

“I knew it, my lord, and wish to anticipate your orders,” was the reply, uttered in a calm tone that filled the podestat with amazement.

He recovered himself, however, and was going to interrogate the newcomer, when the latter exclaimed:

“I understand, my lord, that some of your people here have doubts of my science and even my honest–in short, that I am suspected of coming to Florence for the purpose of making dupes.”

“Something of that kind has been intimated,” replied the magistrate.

“They say, moreover,” continued Dr. Attrapeccini, “that I intend to decamp a day or two before the first of May.”

“That also has been said,” assented the podestat.

“You can understand,” said the stranger, slowly, “that I owe it to myself to put an end to these reports. I have come to request of you that a guard of ten, twenty, thirty, or more men be stationed round my house, so as to make it impossible for me to leave Florence before releasing from their tombs five persons, as I have promised. You can not say that my request is an unreasonable one, since you had determined before seeing me to have me watched.”

“Your request is granted,” he said. “I shall have your house guarded night and day by twenty men, until the time comes for you to fulfill your promise, or until you change your mind, and acknowledge you were not in earnest. It would, perhaps, be wiser for you to leave the city at once; believe me, it is not safe to put a whole town in commotion. I know the Florentines, and I believe them to be capable of falling upon you in fury, perhaps of hanging you, when they find they have been mocked at and tricked. The least serious mishap that could be befall you would be a sojourn of several months in prison while you waited for the public indignation to subside.”

“I should deserve even more severe treatment if I failed to carry out my programme,” said the doctor.

The doctor’s interview with the magistrate was soon known all over Florence, and the news of it served to increase the popular interest and confidence in the stranger.

A week before the first of May a man about forty years old, and dressed completely in black, entered the doctor’s study. He was the Senator Arozzo, celebrated for the violent grief he had displayed on the death of his wife six months before.

“Signor Attrapeccini,” said he, briskly, “I do not wish to waste words. Although what you promise is generally considered impossible, I admit that it may be possible, and I have come here to beg you to leave my wife at rest in the cemetery.”

“What!” exclaimed the man of science, with a laugh; and the widower repeated his own words earnestly.

“I beg of you!” he cried; ” I am about to marry again — the banns will be published next month. You would not like to put a man in such a predicament, would you?” As he spoke he placed a purse full of gold on the table.

“Set your mind at rest,” said the doctor, “and continue the preparation for your wedding.”

The next day he received a visit from Philippini, the most famous physician of Florence, and indeed, of all Tuscany; out of every hundred Florentines at least eighty were at one time or another in his care.

“Learned and honored brother,” said he to Attrapeccini. “I trust that you would not do me the injury of bringing back to the light of day any of the unfortunate people who have chanced to pass away while in my hands.”

“Certainly not,” replied the other; “just give me the names of the persons you mean.”

“That would be a very difficult matter,” said Philippini; “would it not be more simple for you to exclude from your ceremony all my former patients?” and with these words he laid on the table a heap of gold coins.

“It shall certainly be as you wish, my dear brother,” said the foreign physician.

The door had hardly closed upon Philippini when it was opened again to admit two brothers, named Gavazza. The Duke Pierre Gavazza and his brother, the Marquess Paul, had risen, partly by their own merits and partly by good luck, to the first rank of the Italian nobility; but their journey had been long and difficult, as their father had been a miller. It was this miller whom they did not wish to see restored to life.

Dr. Attrapeccini was shocked, and exclaimed angrily that he could not believe it possible that two persons could be so unnatural as to oppose the resuscitation of their own father. It was nothing less than parricide, and he would not connive at such baseness! He had not had any intention of reviving the miller, but now he would take good care to do so, and unless he changed his mind, the old Gavazza would be the first person resuscitated in the cemetery.

The dismay of the duke and the marquess may be imagined. They offered money, but, although they had brought a large sum with them, it was not sufficient to allay the scruples of Attrapeccini, and each of the brothers was obliged to sign a note.

The eve of the first of May arrived, and the guards around his house were doubled, and received the strictest orders, for the chief magistrate knew that the people would blame him if the invoker of the dead were allowed to escape. It was estimated that fifty thousand persons were assembled in the cemetery or its vicinity on the first of May, at six in the morning, and, as the doctor did not appear at the first stroke of the hour as he had promised, fifty thousand voices cried out:

“Attrapeccini! Attrapeccini!”

At the same time the chief magistrate presented himself at the stranger’s house, and found the interior of it just as empty as the exterior was well guarded.

The restorer of the dead had departed by way of the cellar, where there was an opening into the next house, and the chronicle reports that he took with him a sum equivalent to fifty thousand florins, which had been paid to him on consideration of his not performing a miracle, and of leaving the dead in their graves.

Translated from the Italian.

The Argonaut  [San Francisco CA] 13 February 1915

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The earliest version of this amusing tale that Mrs Daffodil has located is from 1801–it had a long and popular run and one can well imagine an origin in some earlier set of saucy tales such as the Decameron. One newspaper, which gave it the byline, “from the French of Jean Grange,” added a further scathing paragraph:

What wicked people the Florentines must be! It would be very different in Paris if someone were to come and to propose to resuscitate the bodies in Père Lachaise cemetery, for we should then see widowers, physicians, and millers’ sons turned dukes and marquises, throwing themselves at the feet of the magician, embracing his knees, and not rising until he had promised to restore to them their wives, patients and fathers. So true it is that mankind is improving, and that cupidity, pride and ingratitude have given place to self-sacrifice, modesty, gratitude and all the sweetest and most generous sentiments.

Mrs Daffodil is reminded of several tales of rich and disagreeable people believed to have been buried alive by their undutiful sons so that they could inherit. Plus ça change…

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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