Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Envy

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Anonymous2268466Gesta Romanorum Vol. I — Of Envy1871Charles Swan



Before Tiberius ascended the throne he was remarkable for his wisdom. His eloquence was of the most persuasive character, and his military operations invariably successful. But when he became emperor his nature seemed to have undergone a perfect revolution. All martial enterprizes were abandoned, and the nation groaned beneath his relentless and persevering tyranny. He put to death his own sons, and therefore it was not to be expected that he should spare others. The patricians threatened, and the people cursed him. Formerly, he had been noted for temperance; but now he showed himself the most intemperate of a dissolute age; insomuch that he obtained the surname of Bacchus. (42) It happened that a certain artificer fabricated a plate of glass, which being exhibited to the emperor, he attempted, but ineffectually, to break it. It bent, however, beneath his efforts, and the artificer, applying a hammer and working upon the glass as upon copper, presently restored it to its level. Tiberius inquired by what art this was effected; and the other replied, that it was a secret not to be disclosed. Immediately he was ordered to the block, the emperor alleging, that if such an art should be practised, gold and silver would be reckoned as nothing. (43)


My beloved, Tiberius is any man who in poverty is humble and virtuous, but raised to affluence forgets every honest feeling. The artificer is any poor man who presents the rich with unacceptable gifts.

Note 42.Page 156.

"Obtained the surname of Bacchus."

The orgies of Tiberius might qualify him for this title; but it does not appear that it was ever conferred. Seneca said pleasantly of this emperor, that "he never was drunk but once; and that once was all his life."

Note 43.Page 157.

"This piece of history, which appears also in Cornelius Agrippa De vanitate Scientiarum, is taken from Pliny, or rather from his transcriber Isidore[1]. Pliny, in relating this story, says, that the temperature of glass, so as to render it flexible, was discovered under the reign of Tiberius.

"In the same chapter Pliny observes, that glass is susceptible of all colours. 'Fit et album, et murrhenum, aut hyacinthos sapphirosque imitatum, et omnibus aliis coloribus. Nec est alia nunc materia sequacior, aut etiam picturæ accommodatior. Maximus tamen honor in candido[2].' But the Romans, as the last sentence partly proves, probably never used any coloured glass for windows. The first notice of windows of a church made of coloured glass, occurs in Chronicles quoted by Muratori. In the year 802, a pope built a church at Rome, and 'fenestras ex vitro diversis coloribus conclusit atque decoravit.' And in 856 he produces 'fenestra vero vitreis coloribus,' &c. This, however, was a sort of Mosaic in glass. To express figures in glass, or what we now call the art of painting in glass, was a very different work: and, I believe, I can shew it was brought from Constantinople to Rome before the tenth century, with other ornamental arts. Guiccardini, who wrote about 1560, in his Descrittione de tutti Paesi Bassi, ascribes the invention of baking colours in glass for church-windows to the Netherlanders; but he does not mention the period, and I think he must be mistaken. It is certain that this art owed much to the laborious and mechanical genius of the Germans; and, in particular, their deep researches and experiments in chemistry, which they cultivated in the dark ages with the most indefatigable assiduity, must have greatly assisted its operations. I could give very early anecdotes of this art in England."—Warton.

  1. Isidore was a favourite repertory of the middle ages.
  2. Pliny Nat. Hist, xxxvi. 26.