Old Fortunatus Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Fortunatus has never assiduously pursued virtue. He has been compelled, however, by his poverty to lead a life of patience and temperance. One day, after wandering for three days in a forest and sustaining himself by eating nuts, he unexpectedly encounters the goddess Fortune. This meeting is to transform his life. The goddess, who enjoys both the praises and the curses of men as tokens of her power, chooses to smile on the old man. Of her six gifts—wisdom, strength, health, beauty, long life, and riches—she offers him one. Believing that all other blessings will naturally flow from it, Fortunatus chooses wealth. To effect his wish, she gives to him a magic purse that will always contain ten pieces of gold, no matter how frequently he draws from it. This gift, she tells him, will last until he and his sons die. After reproaching him for his foolish choice, she sends him on his way home.

At home, Fortunatus finds his sons, Ampedo and Andelocia, in a despondent mood. Andelocia, the worldly son, has been lamenting his lack of food and money, while his more virtuous brother, Ampedo, has been greatly worried about their father’s plight. Fortunatus, returning in rich attire, tells them they need sorrow no longer, for he is presenting them with four bags of gold and will give them more when it is gone. Then he announces his intention to travel and associate with the mighty men of the world.

Meanwhile, Fortune is joined in the forest by Virtue and Vice, goddesses who have come to Cyprus to plant trees of good and evil. Virtue’s tree has withered leaves and little fruit, while Vice’s flourishes. Although Virtue has experienced defeats and is forced to endure the taunts of Vice, she resolves once again to seek fertile ground for her tree. Fortune, who advances both the virtuous and the vicious, cares not whose tree flourishes, but agrees to judge the contest and declare the winner.

Fortunatus, once scorned, is now honored in every court. Among other rulers, he visits the soldan of Babylon, who has heard of the purse and wishes it for himself. The crafty Fortunatus says that he has given away three of the purses and will make another for him. In gratitude, the soldan proposes to show the old man the wondrous sights of Babylon. He starts with his most highly valued possession, a hat that carries its wearer wherever he wishes to be. Tricking the soldan into letting him try on the hat, Fortunatus wishes himself in Cyprus and disappears.

Convinced of the supreme value of money, he returns home at the height of his triumph. His self-congratulations are interrupted, however, by a second encounter with Fortune, who, this time,...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)