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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1089

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...

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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, decrees his death. His dying wish that his sons might have wisdom instead of wealth is denied. Bequeathing them the purse and the wishing hat, he asks that the two gifts be kept together and shared equally. No sooner had he died than Andelocia insists that they be exchanged each year.

Andelocia, in possession of the purse, follows the example of his father by going to court. His first destination is England, where he plans to test the effect of gold on the beautiful Agripyne, daughter of King Athelstane. When Athelstane observes the lavish spending of Andelocia, he advises his daughter to try to discover the source of this wealth. With ease she draws the secret from the foolish young man, then drugs him and takes the purse.

Awaking and discovering the theft, Andelocia, discouraged, determines to return home, steal from his brother the hat of Misery, and there make his home. He carries out his resolution to possess the magic hat; but, instead of seeking Misery, he returns to England, abducts Agripyne, and carries her away into the wilderness. She is able to outsmart him, this time accidentally gaining possession of the hat and wishing herself in England.

The hapless Andelocia, after having eaten an apple, discovers that he has grown horns. The goddess Vice stands before him and mocks him, for it is her apple that has caused his deformity. Virtue also stands before him, grieving and offering him apples that will remove the horns. He accepts Virtue’s apples and pledges himself to be her minion.

Andelocia’s resolve is short-lived, however, for his love of money is much more compelling than his promise to Virtue. He returns to England, determined to recover the purse and hat. Disguised as Irish costermongers, he and his servant peddle the apples of Vice, which he has brought with him. By falsely representing the effect of eating the apples, he sells them to Agripyne and two courtiers, Longaville and Montrose. While thus employed, he is discovered by his brother Ampedo, who had come to England to find the purse and hat and to burn those sources of grief and shame.

Longaville, Montrose, and Agripyne grow horns; and Agripyne is promptly deserted by all but one of her many suitors. After they discover that the horns grow back after being cut, they seek the help of a French physician, who is, in reality, Andelocia in another disguise. By using a medicine taken from the apples of Virtue, he removes Longaville’s horns. As he turns to treat Agripyne, he spies the magic hat. Warning everyone to look the other way so that his cure will work, he grabs the hat, takes Agripyne by the hand, and wishes himself with his brother.

After he recovers the purse, Andelocia removes the horns from Agripyne and releases her. He is not destined to enjoy his possessions long. Ampedo, according to his pledge, burns the hat. Soon afterward, Longaville and Montrose find Andelocia and take the magic purse. Seeking revenge for the indignities they had suffered, they place the brothers in the stocks, where Ampedo dies of grief and Andelocia is strangled.

Longaville and Montrose then turn to quarreling between themselves over the purse, but are interrupted by the arrival of members of the court and the three goddesses. The purse is reclaimed by Fortune, and the two courtiers are condemned by Vice to spend their lives wandering with tormented consciences.

Again a quarrel breaks out between Virtue and Vice. This time Fortune turns to the audience for judgment. For her judge, Virtue singles out Queen Elizabeth. At the sight of this paragon of virtue, Vice flees. Fortune bows to this superior force, and Virtue admits that she, by comparison, is a mere counterfeit.

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