Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of good Rulers, who are not to be changed

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of good Rulers, who are not to be changed



Valerius Maximus (54) states, that when all the Syracusans desired the death of Dionysius, king of Sicily, a single woman every morning entreated the Gods to continue his life and his sovereignty. Dionysius, surprised at this solitary exception, inquired the reason. She answered, "When I was a girl, and governed by a tyrant, I wished for his removal, and presently we obtained a worse instead. Having got rid of him, a worse still succeeded; and therefore, under the justifiable apprehension that your place may be filled up by a very devil, I pray earnestly for your longer continuance[1]." Dionysius, hearing this, gave her no farther trouble.


My beloved, be not desirous of change. God is merciful and gracious—be content with His government.

  1. The sentiment is similar to that of Shakspeare.

    "And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
    Than fly to others that we know not of."

    Hamlet, Act III. Sc. 1.

Note 54.Page 174.

The anecdote is thus recorded by the historian: "Senectutis ultimæ quædam, Syracusanis omnibus Dionysii tyranni exitum, propter nimiam morum acerbitatem et intolerabilia onera, votis expetentibus, sola quotidie matutino tempore deos, ut incolumis ac sibi superstes esset, orabat. Quod ubi is cognovit, non debitam sibi admiratus benevolentiam, arcessit eam, et quid ita hoc, aut quo suo merito faceret, interrogavit. Tum illa, certa est, inquit, ratio propositi mei, puella enim, cum gravem tyrannum haberemus, carere eo cupiebam: quo interfecto, aliquanto tetrior arcem occupavit. Ejus quoque finiri dominationem magni æstimabam: tertium te superioribus importuniorem habere cœpimus rectorem. Itaque timens, ne, si tu fueris absumptus, deterior in locum tuum succedat, caput meam pro tua salute devoveo. Tam facetam audaciam Dionysius punire erubuit."[1]

Val Max. Lib. vi. c. 2. Ex. 2.

This must remind the reader of Æsop's fable of the frogs who desired a king. Which is the original? It occurs among some translated Dutch fables by De Witt, under the title of "A woman praying for the long Life of Dionysius the Tyrant." See the Appendix.

  1. Rough translation of the Latin: While all the Syracusans were praying ardently for the death of the tyrant Dionysius, because of the harshness of his ways and the intolerable burdens, a single solitary woman of extreme old age was every morning imploring the gods to keep him safe and sound until after her own decease. When Dionysus learned of this, surprised at this ill-merited benevolence towards himself, he had her summoned, and queried why she did so, and whether this was due to some merit on his part. "I have a specific reason," she said, "for what I do, for when I was a girl, and we had an oppressive tyrant, I wished to be free of him. When he was killed, a rather harsher one then occupied the citadel. I longed for the end of his rule as well, but now we have got you as our third ruler, even crueler than the previous ones. So fearing lest you be destroyed and an even worse one succeed you, I devote my life to your well-being." Dionysius blushed to punish such elegant effrontery. (Wikisource contributor note)


Note I.

Tale LIII.  Vol. I. p. 174.

This tale has been copied in a story cited by Mr. Douce in his Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. ii. and dated about the reign of Henry III.

"Quidam abbas dedit monachis suis tria fercula. Dixerunt monachi, Iste parum dat nobis. Rogemus Deum ut cito moriatur. Et sive ex hac causa, sive ex alia, mortuus est. Substitutus est alius, qui eis tamen dedit duo fercula. Irati monachi contristati dixerunt, Nunc magis est orandum, quia unum ferculum subtractum est, Deus subtrahat ei vitam suam. Tandem mortuus est. Substitutus est tertius, qui duo fercula subtrahat. Irati monachi dixerunt, Iste pessimus est inter omnes, quia fame nos interfecit; rogemus Deum quod cito moriatur. Dixit unus monachus, Rogo Deum quod det ei vitam longam, et manu teneat eum nobis. Alii admirati quærebant quare hoc diceret: qui ait, Vide quod primus fuit malus, secundus pejor, iste pessimus; timeo quod cum mortuus fuerit alius pejor succedit qui penitus nos fame perimet. Unde solet dici,[1] Seilde comed se betere." [Seldom comes a better.]

  1. Translation of the Latin: A certain abbot gave his monks three plates of food. The monks said, "He gives us little. Let us pray God that he dies soon." Whether from this cause or from another, he died. Another replaced him, who gave them two plates. The angry monks said gloomily, "Now all the more so we should pray: since one plate has been taken from us, may God take from him his life." And he died as well. A third replacement came, who took away two plates. The angry monks said, "This one is worst of all, because he has starved us to death; let us pray that he dies soon." But one monk said, "I pray God to give him a long life, and protect him for us." The others were amazed and asked why he said so. He replied, "See how the first was bad, the second worse, this one the worst; I fear that if he dies another ever worse will succeed him who truly will starve us to death." Thus it is customary to say, ... (Wikisource contributor note)