Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of a Sinful and Leprous Soul

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of a Sinful and Leprous Soul



In the kingdom of a certain prince, there were two knights, one of whom was avaricious, and the other envious. The former had a beautiful wife, whom every one admired and loved. But the spouse of the latter was ugly and disagreeable. Now the envious knight had a piece of land adjoining the estate of his covetous neighbour, of which the last exceedingly desired possession. He made him many offers, but the envious person invariably refused to sell his inheritance at whatever rate. At last, being struck with the beauty of the other's wife, he determined to barter his land for the lady. The covetous wretch immediately assented; and bade his wife submit herself to his will. This diabolical contract adjusted, the envious knight instantly infected himself with the leprosy, and communicated the disease to the lady, for which he assigned the following reason. He said, that being filled with envy at the beauty and grace which he observed in his neighbour's wife, while his own was so deformed and hateful, he had resolved to remove the disparity. The lady wept exceedingly; and related to her husband what had happened. This troubled him, but he bethought himself of a remedy. "As yet," said he, "no symptoms of the disorder are perceptible. At a short distance from hence, there is a large city, and in it a university. Go there; stand in the public way, and entice every passenger to you. By this means, you will free yourself from the distemper." (47) The lady, whose disposition seems to have been remarkably complying, did as she was directed; and the emperor's son passing by, fell violently in love with her. Afraid to infect a person so near the throne, she resisted his advances; and informed him that she was a leper. This, however, altered not the feelings of the young man; and accordingly the leprosy of the woman adhered to him. Ashamed of what had befallen, and at the same time fearful of discovery, he went to his mistress, and abode with her. This circumstance she stated to her husband, and he, much troubled, set his bed-chamber in order, and there the prince dwelt in the strictest seclusion, attended upon only by the lady. Here he continued seven years.

It chanced in the seventh year, that there was an intolerable heat, and the leprous man had a vessel of wine standing by his side, designed to refresh his exhausted spirits. At this moment, a serpent came out of the garden, and, after bathing itself in the vessel, lay down at the bottom. The prince, awaking from sleep, under the influence of an excessive drought, took up the vessel and drank; and, without knowing it, swallowed the serpent. The creature finding itself thus unexpectedly imprisoned, began to gnaw his bowels so grievously as to put the leper to inconceivable anguish. The lady greatly compassionated him; and indeed for three days, he was an object of pity. On the fourth, however, an emetic being administered, he vomited; and cast up, together with the inward disease, the serpent which had tormented him. Immediately the pain ceased; and by little and little, the leprosy left him. In seven days, his flesh was as free from the disorder, as the flesh of a child; and the lady, much delighted, clothed him in sumptuous apparel, and presented him a beautiful war-horse, on which he returned to the emperor. He was received with all honor, and after his father's death, ascended the throne, and ended his days in peace.


My beloved, the two knights are the devil and the first man. The first, envious of human happiness, possesses a deformed wife, that is, pride; the second had a beautiful wife, which is the soul. The leprosy is iniquity, which drove us from Paradise into the university of the world. The son of the emperor is Christ, who took upon himself our nature; but by his sufferings freed us from the consequence of sin. As the leper thirsted, so did Christ thirst upon the cross; but not for wine; it was for the salvation of our souls. The serpent is his crucifixion; the war-horse, the divine and human nature, with which he ascended into heaven.

Note 47.Page 228.

For an account of the leprosy see Note 18, in this volume; the qualities attributed to it are as whimsical as fabulous.