Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of deliverance from Hell

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of deliverance from Hell



In the reign of a certain king, there lived a poor man who was accustomed to go every day to a neighbouring forest to cut wood for sale. On one occasion, as he went with an ass, the thickness of the underwood caused him to lose his footing, and he fell unawares into a pit, from which he was unable to deliver himself. In this pit lay a horrible dragon, whose scaly length completely encompassed it. The higher part was occupied by a number of serpents; and at the bottom, or mid-way, was a round stone, which the serpents daily ascended, and licked. After that, the dragon licked it. The poor man wondered at what he saw, and deliberated upon the meaning. "I have already remained here many days," thought he, "without sustenance; and unless I can obtain food, without doubt, I must perish. I will do therefore, as the serpents and dragon do; they exist, and why should not I?" Accordingly, he went up to the stone, and began to lick it, when, to his astonishment, he found that it partook of every delicious flavour that imagination could devise. Thus invigorated, he continued in his dungeon a few days longer; and, in the end, a dreadful thunder-storm burst over head; insomuch that the serpents left their retreat one after another; and when they had departed, the dragon which lay at the bottom of the well, raised itself above, and would have flown away; but the pauper observing this, caught hold of it by the tail, and by these means succeeded in escaping from the pit. The dragon carried him to a considerable distance, and dropped him in the same wood, but ignorant of his situation, he was unable to find the way out. A company of merchants, however, happening to travel through that forest, shewed him the path he wanted. Very happy at his marvellous deliverance, he returned to his own city, and published what had occurred; but his death followed immediately afterwards.


My beloved, the king is our heavenly Father; the poor man is as men are naturally, who enter a wood—that is, the world. The pit is mortal sin. The round stone in the centre is Christ. The thunder-storm typifies confession, which being heard, the serpents, that is, sins and devils, are affrighted, and depart[1]. The dragon is the devil, and the merchants are preachers.

  1. Here we trace the Roman Catholic; and here the fountain of gross licentiousness and unrepented iniquity may be fixed.