Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Love

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Pompey[1] was a wise and powerful king. He had an only daughter, remarkable for her beauty, of whom he was extremely fond. He committed her to the custody of five soldiers; and charged them, under the heaviest penalties, to preserve her from every possible injury. The soldiers were on guard night and day; and before the door of her bed-chamber, they suspended a burning lamp, that the approach of an intruder might be the more easily detected. And, to omit no means of security, a dog, whose watchfulness was unremitting, and whose bark was clamorous and piercing, maintained its station near the threshold of the apartment. From all these circumstances, it would appear, that every precaution had been taken: but, unhappily, the lady panted for the pleasures of the world. She longed to mingle in the busy scenes of life, and to gaze upon its varied shows. As she was one day looking abroad, a certain duke passed by, who regarded her with impure and improper feelings. Observing her beauty, and ascertaining that she was the reputed heir to the throne, he became enamoured; and used numerous devices to accomplish his treacherous designs. He promised her every species of gratification; and at length prevailed with her to overturn the lamp, destroy the guardian dog which had protected her, and elope with him, during the night. In the morning, however, enquiries were set on foot; and messengers despatched in pursuit of her. Now there was at that time in the Emperor's palace, a champion of remarkable prowess, and with whom the execution of justice was never dilatory. When he understood the contempt and ingratitude which the lady had exhibited towards her parent, he armed himself, and hastened after the fugitives. A battle speedily ensued, in which the champion triumphed, and decapitated the seducer on the spot. The lady he conveyed back to the palace; but being refused admittance to the presence of her father, thenceforward she passed her time in bitterly bewailing her misdeeds. It happened that a wise person in the Emperor's court heard of her repentance. On all occasions when his services were required, he had proved himself an active mediator between majesty and its offenders; and being now moved with compassion, he reconciled her to her indignant parent, and betrothed her to a powerful nobleman. He afterwards made her several valuable presents. In the first place, he presented a tunic, which extended to the heel, composed of the finest and richest woof, having the following inscription: "I have raised thee up, be not again cast down." From the Emperor she received a golden coronet, bearing the legend, "Thy dignity is from me." The champion, who had conquered in her behalf, gave a ring, on which was sculptured, "I have loved thee, do thou return that love." The mediator also bestowed a ring inscribed as follows, "What have I done? How much? Why?" Another ring was presented by the King's son; and there was engraved upon it, "Thou art noble; despise not thy nobility." Her own brother bestowed a similar gift, of which the motto ran thus:—"Approach; fear not—I am thy brother." Her husband likewise added a golden signet, which confirmed his wife's inheritance, and bore this superscription, "Now thou art espoused, be faithful."

The penitent lady received these various presents with gratitude, and kept them as long as she lived. She succeeded in regaining the favour of those whose affections her former conduct had alienated, and closed her days in peace. (1)


My beloved, the Emperor is our Heavenly Father, who hath drawn away his children from the jaws of the devil by the sufferings of his blessed Son. He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Deut. xxxii. "Is he not thy Father who hath obtained thee by conquest, made, and established thee?" The only daughter is the human soul, which is delivered to five soldiers, that is, to the five senses, to guard; being armed by powers received in baptism. These senses are, sight, hearing, &c. which have in charge to preserve it from the devil, the world, and the flesh. The burning lamp is the will, subjected in all things to the control of God, and which in good works should shine out brilliantly, dispersing the gloom of sin. The barking dog is Conscience, which has to struggle against error; but, alas! the soul, desirous of gazing upon the objects of this world, looks abroad as often as it acts contrary to the divine command; and then is willingly seduced by a duke—that is, by the Infernal Ravisher. And thus, the lamp of good works is extinguished, and the dog of conscience destroyed: and thus, the soul follows the devil in the dark night of sin. These things, when our champion had heard, namely, God—because, "there is no other that fights for us, but only Thou, our God,"—instantly he combats with that wicked mis-leader the devil, gains a victory, and leads the soul to the palace of the heavenly King. The wise mediator is Christ; as the apostle says, I Tim. ii. "There is one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus." The son of the king is Christ. So the Psalmist witnesses—"Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee." Christ is also our brother. Gen. xxxvii. "He is our brother." And he is our spouse, according to that of Hosea ii. "I will marry thee in faithfulness." Again, "Thou shalt be the spouse of my blood." By him, we are reconciled to our heavenly Father, and restored to peace." For he is our peace, who hath made both one." Ephes. ii. From him we received the aforesaid gifts: first, a cloak descending to the ancle—that is, his most precious skin; (2) and said to be of delicate texture, because it was woven with stripes, blood, bruises, and other various instances of malice. Of which texture, nothing more is meant than this—"I have raised thee up," because I have redeemed thee; do not throw thyself into further evil. "Go," said our Lord, "and sin no more." This is the vest of Joseph—the garment dyed in the blood of a goat. Gen. xxxvii. That same Christ our King, gave to us an all glorious crown; that is, when he submitted to be crowned for our sakes. And of a truth, "Thy dignity is from me"—even from that crown. John xix. "Jesus went forth, bearing the crown of thorns." Christ is our champion, who gave us a ring—that is, the hole in his right hand; and we ourselves may perceive how faithfully it is written—"I have loved thee, do thou also love." Rev. i. "Christ our mediator loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood." He gave us another ring, which is the puncture in his left hand, where we see written, "What have I done? how much? why?"—"What have I done?" I have despoiled myself, receiving the form of a servant. "How much?" I have made God and man. "Why?" To redeem the lost. Concerning these three—Zachary xiii. "What are the wounds in the middle of thy hands? And he answered, saying, I am wounded by these men in their house, who loved me." Christ is our brother, and son of the eternal King. He gave us a third ring—to wit, the hole in his right foot; and what can be understood by it, except "Thou art noble, despise not thy nobility!" In like manner, Christ is our brother-german. And he gave us a fourth ring, the puncture in his left foot, on which is written, "Approach; fear not—I am thy brother." Christ is also our spouse; he gave us a signet, with which he confirmed our inheritance: that is, the wound made in his side by the spear, on account of the great love, with which he loved us. And what can this signify but "Thou art now joined to me through mercy; sin no more."

Let us study, my beloved, so to keep the gifts of the world, that we may be able to exclaim, as in St. Matthew, "Lord, thou gavest to me five talents;" and thus, unquestionably, we shall reign in the bosom of bliss. That we may be thought worthy the Father, Son, &c.


  1. The fair Reader who has not condescended to notice my prolegomena (and I hope the suspicion is not treasonable!) may require to be informed that "Gesta Romanorum" supplies a very inadequate idea of the contents of these volumes. The Romans have little to do in the matter, and King Pompey must not be confounded with Pompey the Great, though they are unquestionably meant for the same person. Such blunders are perpetual.



Note 1.Page 4.

"The latter part of this story is evidently oriental. The feudal manners, in a book which professes to record the achievements of the Roman people, are remarkable in the introductory circumstances. But of this mixture we shall see many striking instances."—Warton.

Note 2.Page 6.

"Precious skin."

Attempts, like the present, to strain every thing into an allegory, are very frequent in these "mystical and moral applications." It is for this reason, among others, that I thought it right to abridge them; for while the reader's patience was exhausted his feelings would revolt, as well at the absurdity, as at the apparent impiety of the allusion.