Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Fidelity
The subject of a certain king fell into the hands of pirates, and wrote to his father for ransom. But the father would not redeem him; so the youth wasted away in prison. Now he who detained him in chains had a daughter of great beauty and virtue. She was at this time in her twentieth year, and frequently visited the young man with the hope of alleviating his griefs. But he was too disconsolate to hearken. At length, after some time had passed in this manner, believing her prejudiced in his favor, and disposed to succour him, he asked her to obtain his freedom. She replied, "But how am I to effect it? Thy father, thine own father will not ransom thee: on what ground then should I, a stranger, attempt it? And suppose that I were induced to do so, I should incur the wrath of my parent, because thine denies the price of thy redemption. Nevertheless, on one condition thou shalt be liberated." "Amiable creature," returned he, "impose what thou wilt; so that it be possible, I will accomplish it." "Promise, then," said she, "to marry me, whenever an opportunity may occur." "I promise," said the youth joyfully, "and plight thee an unbroken faith." The girl immediately commenced her operations; and during her father's absence effected his release, and fled with him to his own country. When they arrived, the father of the youth welcomed him, and said, "Son, I am overjoyed at thy return; but who is the lady under thy escort?" He replied, "It is the daughter of a king, to whom I am betrothed." The father returned, "On pain of losing thy inheritance, I charge thee, marry her not." "My father," exclaimed the youth, "what hast thou said? My obligations to her are greater than they are to you; for when imprisoned and fettered by my enemy, I implored you to ransom me; but this you cruelly denied. Now she not only released me from prison, but from the apprehensions of death—and, therefore, I am resolved to marry her." The father answered, "Son, I tell thee, that thou canst not confide in her, and consequently ought not to espouse her. She deceived her own father, when she liberated thee from prison, secretly carrying off the price of thy redemption. Therefore, I am of opinion, that thou canst not confide in her, and consequently ought not to espouse her. Besides, there is another reason. It is true, she liberated thee, but it was for the gratification of her passions, and in order to oblige thee to marry her. And, since an unworthy passion was the source of thy liberty, I think, that she ought not to be thy wife." When the lady heard such reasons assigned, she answered, "To your first objection, that I deceived my own parent, I reply, that it is not true. He deceives who takes away or diminishes a certain good. But my father is so rich that he needs not any addition. When, therefore, I had maturely weighed this matter, I procured the young man's freedom. And if my father had received a ransom for him, he had been but little richer; and therefore cannot be much impoverished by the want of it. Now, in acting thus, I have served you, who refused the ransom, and have done no injury to my parent. As for your last objection, that an unworthy passion urged me to do this, I assert that it is false. Feelings of such a nature arise either from great personal beauty or from wealth, or honours; or finally, from a robust appearance. None of which qualities your son possessed. For imprisonment had destroyed his beauty; and he had not sufficient wealth even to effect his liberation; while much anxiety had worn away his strength, and left him emaciated and sickly. Therefore, compassion rather persuaded me to free him." When the father had heard this, he could object nothing more. So his son married the lady with very great pomp, and closed his life in peace. (3)
My beloved, the son captured by pirates, is the whole human race, led by the sin of our first parent into the prison of the devil—that is, into his power. The father who would not redeem him, is the world, which aids not man's escape from the evil one, but rather loves to retain him in thraldom. The daughter who visited him in prison, is the Divinity of Christ united to the soul; who sympathised with the human species—and who, after his passion, descended into hell and freed us from the chains of the devil. But the celestial Father has no occasion for wealth, because he is infinitely rich and good. Therefore Christ, moved with compassion, came down from Heaven to visit us, and took upon himself our form, and required no more than to be united in the closest bonds with man. So Hosea ii. "I will marry her to me in faithfulness." But our father, the world, whom many obey, ever murmurs and objects to this. "If thou unitest thyself to God, thou shalt lose my inheritance"—that is, the inheritance of this world; because, it is "impossible to serve God and mammon." Matt. vi.—"He who shall leave father, or mother, or wife, or country, for my sake, he shall receive an hundred fold and possess everlasting life." Which may Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, vouchsafe to bestow upon us; who with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
Note 3.Page 19.
The deliverance of the youth by the lady, resembles the 236th Night of the Arabian tales.—The Gest is mentioned by Warton as the second tale in his analysis; and two or three other variations occur. What edition he followed I know not. I have examined five.—The sentiment conveyed by this tale, (p. 18), that she who has deceived her father will deceive her husband, is thus expressed by Shakspeare—
"Look to her, Moor; have a quick eye to see;
Othello, Act I. Sc. 3.
- In an 18mo. edition of the Gesta Romanorum, published at Leyden, 1555, there is prefixed to the fourth tale, by way of argument, the following remarkable passage. "Justitia nempe et misericordia Deorum maximè est: ad quos non possumus expeditius et proprius accedere, quàm his ducibus." This is literally what Shakspeare makes Portia observe in the "Merchant of Venice."
"But Mercy is above this sceptered sway,
It is an attribute of God himself;
An earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice."—Act. IV. Sc. 1.