Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of good Advice

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of good Advice



In the reign of the emperor Fulgentius, a certain knight named Zedechias married a very beautiful but imprudent wife. In the hall of their mansion a serpent dwelt. Now the knight's vehement inclination for tournaments and jousting, brought him to extreme poverty: he grieved immoderately, and like one who was desperate, walked backward and forward, ignorant of what he should do. The serpent, beholding his misery, like the ass of Balaam, was, on that occasion, miraculously gifted with a voice, and said to the knight, "Why do you lament? Take my advice, and you shall not repent it. Supply me every day with a certain quantity of sweet milk, and I will enrich you." This promise exhilarated the knight, and he faithfully followed the instructions of his subtle friend. The consequence was, that he became exceedingly wealthy. But it happened that his wife one day said to him, "My lord, how comes it that the serpent in our hall has such infinite profusion of gold? Let us kill him and get possession of the whole." The advice pleased the knight, and at the request of his wife he took a hammer to destroy the serpent, and a vessel of milk. Allured by the milk, it put its head out of the hole, as it had been accustomed; and the knight lifted the hammer to strike it. The serpent, observing his perfidy, suddenly drew back its head; and the blow fell upon the vessel. No sooner had he done this, than his offspring died, and he lost every thing that he formerly possessed. The wife, taught by their mutual loss, said to him, "Alas! I have ill-counselled you; but go now to the hole of the serpent, and humbly acknowledge your offence. Peradventure you may find grace." The knight complied, and standing before the dwelling-place of the serpent, shed many tears, and entreated that he might once more be made rich. "I see," answered the serpent, "I see now that you are a fool; and will always be a fool. For how can I forget that blow of the hammer which you designed me? or lose the apprehensions which your ingratitude has awakened? There can be no real peace between us." The knight, full of sorrow, replied thus: "I promise the most unshaken fidelity, and will never meditate the slightest injury, provided you relieve my necessities this once." "My friend," said the serpent, "it is the nature of my species to be subtle and venomous. Let what I have said suffice. The blow offered at my head is fresh upon my recollection; get you gone before you receive an injury." The knight departed in great affliction, saying to his wife, "Fool that I was, to take thy counsel!" But ever afterwards they lived in the greatest indigence. (39)


My beloved, the king is God; the knight is Adam, who by following his wife's advice lost Paradise. The serpent in the hall signifies Christ in the human heart, by virtue.

Note 39.Page 210.

The following apologue from the Latin Æsop, is probably from the "Gesta Romanorum," the former being collected in the early part of the fifteenth century.

Of the poor Man and the Serpent.

"He that applies himself to do other men harm, ought not to think himself secure; wherefore Æsop rehearseth this fable. There was a serpent which came into the house of a poor man, and lived of that which fell from the poor man's table, for the which thing there happened great fortune to this man, and he became rich. But on a day this man was very angrie against the serpent, and took a sword and smote at him; wherefore the serpent went out of the house, and came no more thither again. A little after, this man fell again into great poverty, and then he knew that by fortune of the serpent he was become rich; wherefore it repented him that he had driven away the serpent. Then he went and humbled himself to the serpent, saying, I pray thee that thou wilt pardon me the offence that I have done thee. And the serpent said, Seeing thou repentest thee of thy misdeed, I forgive thee; but as long as I shall live, I shall remember thy malice, for as thou hurtedst me once, so thou maiest again. Wherefore that which was once evil, shall ever so be held; men ought therefore not to insult over him of whom they receive some benefit, nor yet to suspect their good and true friends." p. 80.—1658.

There is also a fable attributed to Avian, (a Latin writer of the fourth century, who imitated Phædrus), to the following purport.

"He that seeketh to get more than he ought, oft-times getteth nothing; as saith the fable, of a man which had a goose that laid every day an egge of gold. The man, out of covetousness, commanded her that every day she should lay two eggs: and she said to him, 'Certainly, my master, I may not.' Wherefore the man was wroth with her, and slew her; by means whereof he lost his former profit, and afterwards waxed very sorrowful."—1658.

But these stories, with some of modern manufacture, have all, probably, originated from the apologue of Gabria or Babria, a Greek poet, who put the fables of Æsop into Iambic verse. The period in which he flourished is unknown.

Περὶ ὄρνιθος ὠὸν χρυσοην τικτουσης,
Kαὶ φιλαργύρού.

Eτικτε χρυσοην ὠὸν ὄρνις εἰσάπαξ.
Kαὶ τις πλανηθεὶς χρυσεραςὴς τὴν φρένα,
Eκτεινε ταυτην, χρυσὸν ως λαβεῖν θελων.
Ελπὶς δεῖ μεῖζον δῶρον ὠλεκεὶ τύχης.