Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of the Suggestions of the Devil

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There was a celebrated magician, who had a very beautiful garden, in which grew flowers of the most fragrant smell, and fruits of the most delicious flavour. In short, nothing on earth could exceed it. But he invariable refused admittance to all except to fools, or such as were his enemies. When suffered to pass in, however, their wonder was extreme; and few having entered it wished to return. On the contrary, the delights which they experienced, so infatuated their minds, that they easily yielded to the demands of the magician, and resigned their inheritances to him without the slightest reserve. The fools, of course, believing it to be Paradise, and that the flowers and fruits were of immortal growth, while they themselves were the chosen and happy possessors of the land, gave not another thought to the future. They luxuriated in voluptuousness, and surrendered the whole heart to impure gratification. The consequence was, that in a moment of sensual intoxication, the magician cut them off; and thus, through the instrumentality of a factitious Eden, perpetrated the foulest enormities. (23)


My beloved, the magician is the world. It supplies what is called wealth; and this, when men have obtained, they close their hand upon it, and believe themselves rich. Presently they open their hands, and the treasure has disappeared. (24)



Note 23.Page 112.

This figment is clearly eastern. There is a similar story in the veritable "Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandevile."

"There was a man that was called Catolonapes, he was ful rich, and had a fair castle on a hill, and strong, and he made a wal all about ye hill right strong and fayre, within he had a fair gardeine wherein were many trees bearing all maner of fruits yt he might fynd, and he had planted therin al maner of herbs of good smel and that bare flowers, and ther wer many faire wels, and by them were made many hals and chambers wel dight wt gold and asure, and he had made there dyverse stories of beastes and birds yt song and turned by engin and orbage as they had been quick, and he had in his gardeine al thing that might be to man solace and comfort, he had also in that gardeine maydens within ye age of xv yeare, the fairest yt he myght find, and men children of the same age, and they were clothed with cloth of gold, and he said that they were aungels, and he caused to be made certain hils and enclosed them about wt precious stones of jasper and christal, and set in gold and pearls, and other maner of stones, and he had made a condute[1] under ye earth, so that whan he wold ye wals ran sometime with milke, sometime with wine, sometime with honey, and this place is called Paradise, and when any yong bachelor of the countrey, knight or sqyer, cometh to him for solace and disport, he ledeth them into his paradise, and sheweth them these things as the songs of birds, and his damosels, and wels; and he did strike diuerse instruments of musyke, in a high tower that might be heard, and sayd they were aungels of god, and that place was paradise, that god hath graunted to those that beleued, when he sayd thus: Dabo vobis terram fluentem lacte et melle; that is to say, I shall give you land flowing with mylk and hony. And than this rych man dyd these men drinke a maner of drinke, of which they were dronken, and he sayd to them, if they wold dye for his sake, when they were dead, they shold come to his paradise, and they should be of the age of those maydens, and shold dwell alway with them, and he shold put them in a fayrer paradise where they should se god in joy, and in his maiesty; and then they graunted to do that he wold, and he bade them go and sleay such a lord, or a man of the countrey that he was wroth with, and that they shold haue no dread of no man. And if they were slaine themselfe for his sake, he sholde put them in his paradise when they were dead. And so went these bachelors to sleay great lords of the countrey, and were slain themselfe in hope to have that paradise, and thus he was avenged of his enemies thro his desert, and when rich men of the countrey perceived this cautell and malice, and the will of this Cotolonapes, they gathered them together and assayled the castel and slew hym and destroyed all his goods and his faire places and riches that were in his paradise; and the place cf the walls is there yet, and some other things, but the riches are not, and it is not long ago since it was destroyed." Chap. xc.

The latter part of this fable is the story of the Assassins, whose Iman or leader was known by the appellation of the "Old Man of the Mountains."

From Mandeville (or rather from Purchas's "Pilgrim," where similar accounts are met with,) Mr. Southey, in his splendid poem of "Thalaba," has borrowed the idea of Aloadin's enchanted garden. See Book VII.

Note 24.Page 112.

Gay appears to have taken the idea of his xlii fable from the moral of this tale. "Talis ponit scutellam," says the Latin, "et nihil ponit intus: interim fabulatur et trufat et ludificat circumstantes: posteà quærit quid est ibi: et apparent denarii. Distribuit et dat circumstantibus. Accipiunt gratanter; et cum clauserint manus, credentes se habere denarium: posteà aperientes manus nihil inveniunt."

[Such a one lays down a dish, but he puts nothing in it. In the mean time he prates, cheats, and mocks the spectators. Presently he enquires what is there? and a number of pennies appear, which he distributes to the standers-by. They receive them gratefully; close their hands, and believe that they hold them fast. By and by, they open their hands and find nothing.]

"Trick after trick deludes the train.
He shakes his bag, and shews all fair,
His fingers spread, and nothing there,
Then bids it rain with showers of gold;
And now his ivory eggs are told.
A purse she to a thief exposed;
At once his ready fingers closed.
He opes his fist, the treasure's fled,
He sees a halter in his stead."

Gay's Fables, ed. 1727


  1. Conduit.