Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Consideration of Life

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Consideration of Life



We read that Alexander the Great was the disciple of Aristotle, from whose instructions he derived the greatest advantage. Amongst other important matters, he enquired of his master, what would profit himself, and at the same time be serviceable to others. Aristotle answered, "My son, hear with attention; and if you retain my counsel, you will arrive at the greatest honors. There are seven distinct points to be regarded. First, that you do not overcharge the balance. Secondly, that you do not feed a fire with the sword. Thirdly, carp not at the crown; nor, Fourthly, eat the heart of a little bird. Fifthly, when you have once commenced a proper undertaking, never turn from it. Sixthly, walk not in the high road; and Seventhly, do not allow a prating swallow to possess your eaves."—The King carefully considered the meaning of these enigmatical directions; and observing them, experienced their utility in his subsequent life. (30)


My beloved, the balance is human life; do not overcharge it, but weigh every thing accurately, and deliberate upon what you do. As in the fable of the vulture. A vulture swooping upon her prey, struck it with her talons. After it was killed, she first endeavoured to carry off the whole; but finding this beyond her power, she tore off as much as she could fly away with, and left the remainder behind. "Do not feed a fire with the sword,"—that is, provoke not anger with sharp words. "Carp not at the crown,"—that is, respect the established laws. "Eat not the heart of a little bird," which being weak and timid, becomes not the condition of a Christian man. "When you have commenced a befitting design, do not turn from it,"—and especially having begun repentance, persevere to the end. A viper, wishing to espouse a kind of eel called the lamprey, was rejected by the latter, because of the poison it conveyed. The viper, determining to carry its object, retired to a secret place and cast up the venom; but after the nuptials were solemnized, went back to the place where the virus was deposited, and resumed the whole. In like manner do all sinners. They are awhile penitent, but soon return to their vomit—that is, to their sins. "Walk not by the high road,"—which is the road of death. "Permit not a prating swallow to possess your eaves,"—that is, suffer not sin to dwell upon thy heart.

Note 30.Page 134.

"This, I think, is from the Secreta Secretorum. Aristotle, for two reasons, was a popular character in the dark ages. He was the father of their philosophy; and had been the preceptor of Alexander the Great, one of the principal heroes of romance. Nor was Aristotle himself without his romantic history; in which he falls in love with a queen of Greece, who quickly confutes his subtlest syllogisms." Warton.