Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of Terror

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Terror



A king made a law, by which whosoever was suddenly to be put to death, in the morning, before sun-rise should be saluted with songs and trumpets; and, arrayed in black garments, should receive judgment. This king made a great feast; and convoked all the nobles of his kingdom, who appeared accordingly. The most skilful musicians were assembled, and there was much sweet melody. (40) But the sovereign was discontented and out of humour; his countenance expressed intense sorrow, and sighs and groans ascended from his heart. The courtiers were all amazed; but none had the hardihood to enquire the cause of his sadness. At last, the king's brother whispered to him the surprise of his guests, and entreated that he might understand the occasion of his grief. "Go home now," answered the king, "to-morrow you shall know." This was done. Early in the morning the king directed the trumpets to sound before his brother's house; and the guards to bring him to the court. The brother, greatly alarmed at the sounding of the trumpets, arose, and put on sable vesture. When he came before the king, the latter commanded a deep pit to be dug, and a rotten chair with four decayed feet, to be slightly suspended over it. In this chair he made his brother sit; above his head he caused a sword to hang, attached to a single silk thread[1]; and four men, each armed with an extremely sharp sword, to stand near him, one before and one behind; a third on the right hand, and the fourth on the left. When they were thus placed, the king said, "The moment I give the word, strike him to the heart." Trumpets, and all other kind of musical instruments were brought; and a table, covered with various dishes, was set before him. "My dear brother," said the king, "what is the occasion of your sorrow? Here are the greatest delicacies—the most enrapturing harmony; why do you not rejoice?' "How can I rejoice?" answered he, "In the morning, trumpets sounded for my death; and I am now placed upon a fragile chair, in which, if I move ever so little, I shall probably be precipitated upon the pointed sword beneath. If I raise my head, the weapon above will penetrate to my brain. Besides this, the four torturers around stand ready to kill me at your bidding. These things considered, were I lord of the universe, I could not rejoice." "Now then," answered the king, "I will reply to your question of yesterday; I am, on my throne, as you on that frail chair. For my body is its emblem, supported by four decayed feet, that is, by the four elements. The pit below me, is hell; above my head is the sword of divine justice, ready to take life from my body. Before me is the sword of death; behind, the sword of sin, ready to accuse me at the tribunal of God. The weapon on the right hand is the devil; and that on the left, is the worms which after death shall gnaw my body. And, considering all these circumstances, how can I rejoice? If you to-day feared me, who am mortal, how much more ought I to dread my Creator and my Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ? Go, dearest brother, and be careful that you do not again ask such questions." The brother rose from his unpleasant seat, and rendering thanks to the king for the lesson he had given him, firmly resolved to amend his life. All who were present commended the ingenuity of the royal reproof. (41)

  1. This circumstance seems to appertain to the story of the tyrant Dionysius and his flatterer.

Note 40.Page 214.

"In the days of chivalry, a concert of a variety of instruments of music constantly made a part of the solemnity of a splendid feast. So in an unprinted metrical romance of Emare. MSS. Cott. Calig. A. 2. fol. 72. a.

"Sir Ladore let make a feast,
That was fair and honest,
With his lord the king;
There was much minstrelsy,
Tromp-es, tabors, and psaltery,
Both harp and fiddl-e-ing:"

And in Chaucer's "January and May," v. 1234.

"At every course came the loud minstrelsy."


Note 41.Page 217.

"Gower, in the "Confessio Amantis," may perhaps have copied the circumstance of the morning trumpet from this apologue.

"It so befell, that on a day
There was ordained by the lawe
A trump with a stern breath,
Which was cleped the trump of death:
And in the court where the king was,
A certain man this trumpe of brass
Hath in keeping, and thereof serveth,
That when a lord his death deserveth.
He shall this dreadful trump-e blow,
Before his gate, to make it know,

How that the judg-e-ment is give
Of death, which shall not be forgive.
The king when it was night anon,
This man hath sent, and bade him gone,
To trumpen at his brother's gate;
And he, which he might do algate[1],
Goeth forth, and doth the king's hest.
This lord which heard of this tempest
That he to-fore his gate blew,
Then wist he by the law, and knew
That he was surely dead," &c.

"But Gower has connected with this circumstance a different story, and of an inferior cast, both in point of moral and imagination. The truth is, Gower seems to have altogether followed this story as it appeared in the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, who took it from Damascenus's romance of Barlaam and Josaphat. Part of it is thus told in Caxton's translation of that legend, fol. 393.

"'And the kynge hadde suche a custome, that when one sholde be delyvered to deth, the kynge sholde send hys cryar wyth hys trompe that was ordeyned thereto. And on the even he sente the cryar wyth the trompe tofore hys brother's gate, and made to soune the trompe. And whan the kynges brother herde this, he was in despayr of sauinge hys lyfe, and colde not slepe of all the nyght, and made his testament. And on the morne erly, he cladde hym in blacke: and came with wepyng with hys wyf and chyldren to the kynges paleys. And the kynge made hym to come tofore hym, and sayd to hym, a fooll that thou art, that thou hast herde the messagere of thy brother, to whom thou knowest well thou hast not trespaced, and doubtest so mooche, howe oughte not I then ne doubte the messageres of our Lorde agaynste whom I have soo ofte synned, which signefyed unto me more clerely the deth than the trompe.'"—Warton.

  1. Always.