Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Three Kings

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Three Kings



A Danish king had the greatest reverence for the three Eastern potentates (45) whom the star led to Jerusalem on the nativity of our blessed Lord; and he was usually in the habit of invoking them to his aid upon any dilemma. The pious king set out with a great company to the place where the bodies of these sainted kings are preserved with great splendour, taking with him three golden crowns, constructed after a wonderful and royal fashion. As he returned to his own dominions, he fell into a deep sleep; and dreamt that he beheld the three kings bearing upon their heads the crowns he had lately presented, from whence issued a dazzling lustre. Each appeared to address him in turn. The first, and the older of the three said, "My brother, thou hast happily arrived hither, and happily shalt thou return." The next said, "Thou hast offered much, but more shalt thou carry back with thee." The third said, "My brother, thou art faithful: therefore with us shalt thou conjointly reign in heaven for a period of thirty-three years." Then the elder presented to him a pyx (46) filled with gold—"Receive," said he, "a treasury of wisdom, by which thou wilt judge thy people with equity." The second presented a pyx of myrrh, and said "Receive the myrrh of prudence, which will bridle the deceitful workings of the flesh: for he best governs, who is master of himself." The third brought a pyx full of frankincense, saying, "Receive the frankincense of devotion and clemency; for thus shalt thou relieve and soothe the wretched. And as the dew moistens the herbage and promotes a large increase of fertility, so the clemency of a king lifts him to the stars." (47) The sleeping monarch surprised at the distinctness and singularity of his vision, suddenly awoke, and found the pyxes, with their rich contents, deposited by his side. Returning to his own kingdom, he devoutly fulfilled the purport of his dream, and on the conclusion of this transitory life, enjoyed, as he deserved, an everlasting throne.


My beloved, the Danish king is any good Christian who brings three crowns to three holy kings—that is, to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. These crowns are, faith, hope, and charity. The pyx of gold, is a heart full of virtues; that of myrrh, typifies repentance; and the pyx of frankincense denotes the Grace of God.

Note 45.Page 162.

We have here a curious instance of the anomalous introduction of saints. The three Magi one would have thought not exactly fitted for the Christian Calendar.

Note 46.Page 163.

Pyx is properly a box. "πυξις, από τοῦ πυξος quod nomen buxum significat, unde et pyxidem buxulum Itali vocant."—Fab. Thes. The Roman Catholics put the Host into this kind of box.

Note 47.Page 164.

"And as the dew moistens the herbage, and promotes a large increase of fertility, so the clemency of a king lifts him above the stars."

The Latin original is as follows: "Sicut ros herbam irrigat ut crescat; sic dulcis clementia regis usque ad sydera provehit et exaltat," which coincides remarkably with a passage in the "Merchant of Venice."

"The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath."—Act III. Sc. 1.