Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of worldly Glory and Luxury

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of worldly Glory and Luxury



There formerly lived a king who had two knights resident in one city. One of them was old, the other young. The old knight was rich, and had married a youthful damsel on account of her exquisite beauty. The young knight was poor; and espoused an old woman in consequence of her immense wealth. It happened that the young knight walked by the castle of the elder, and in a window his wife sat, and sang deliciously. The youth was much taken with her, and said in his heart, "It would be ten thousand times better if that sweet girl were united to me; and her old doting husband possessed of my infirm wife." From that hour he conceived a violent affection for her, and made her many valuable presents. The lady entertained a similar feeling, and whenever she could, permitted him to visit her. She endeavoured also to secure him for her husband in the event of the man's death. Now near the window of the castle which the old knight occupied, there grew a fig-tree on which a nightingale stationed herself every evening, and uttered the most ravishing harmony. This circumstance drew the lady thither; and it became a custom with her to remain at the window a long time to listen to the song of the nightingale. When her husband, good man! noticed this extreme watchfulness, he said, "My dear, what is the reason that you get up every night with so much regularity?" "A nightingale," answered she, "sings upon the fig-tree, opposite my window; and her song is so delightful that I cannot resist the pleasure of listening to it." The old knight hearing this, arose early in the morning; and, armed with bow and arrow, hastened to the fig-tree. He shot the nightingale, and taking out the heart, presented it to his wife. The lady wept exceedingly, and said, "Sweet bird, thou didst but what became thee. I alone am the occasion of thy death." Immediately she despatched a messenger to the youthful knight, to inform him of her husband's cruelty. The intelligence grieved him[1], and he exclaimed internally, "Although it is evident to this cruel old wretch how much his wife and I are attached to each other, yet he would treat me even still more vilely!" This reflection determined him; he cased himself in a double coat of mail, and entering the castle, retaliated upon his rival the death of the bird. Soon after this, his old wife dying, he married the relict of the old knight. They lived many years, and ended their days in peace[2].


My beloved, the two knights are Moses and Christ. The latter, who is the old knight, married a young wife, that is, the new law. The old wife is the old law. The fig-tree is the Cross; the nightingale, Christ's humanity, which the Jews destroyed. The heart of the bird, is the love exhibited by our Saviour. The double arms, are the Jewish ceremonies, &c.

  1. "Commota sunt omnia viscera ejus," says the original. I hope the reader is satisfied with the rendering.
  2. This is strange justice; but I suppose the Monk meant to inculcate what Pope, after Chaucer, has since observed, that—

    "No greater folly can be seen,
    "Than crooked eighty, coupled to eighteen."

    The maxim is indisputable; but I wish the writer of the Gest had otherwise expressed it.

    The above story is among the Lays of Marie, (a French poetess, Temp. Henry III. resident in England,) under the title of Laustic. Mr. Ellis, in his abstract, has not noticed its occurrence in the "Gesta Romanorum."