Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of the pleasures of this World

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the pleasures of this World



The Emperor Vespasian had a daughter called Aglaës, whose loveliness was greater than that of all other women. It happened that as she stood opposite to him on a certain occasion, he considered her very attentively, and then addressed her as follows: "My beloved daughter, thy beauty merits a loftier title than thou hast yet received. I will change thy name: henceforward, be thou called the lady of comfort, in sign that whosoever looks upon thee in sorrow, may depart in joy."

Now the emperor possessed, near his palace, a delicious garden, in which he frequently walked. Proclamation was made, that whosoever wished to marry his daughter, should come to the palace and remain in this garden the space of three or four days; when they quitted it, the ceremony should take place. Immense crowds were allured by the apparently easy terms of the notice; they entered the garden, but were never again seen. Not one of them returned. But a certain knight, who dwelt in some remote country, hearing of the conditions by which the daughter of a great king might be espoused, came to the gate of the palace and demanded entrance. On being introduced to the emperor, he spoke thus: "I hear it commonly reported, my lord, that whoever enters your garden shall espouse your daughter. For this purpose I come." "Enter then," said the emperor; "on thy return thou shalt marry her." "But," added the knight, "I solicit one boon of your majesty. Before I enter the garden, I would entreat an opportunity of conversing a short time with the lady." "I have no objection to that," said the emperor. She was called, and the knight accosted her in these words. "Fair damsel, thou hast been called the Lady of Comfort, because every one who enters thy presence sorrowful, returns contented and happy. I, therefore, approach the sad and desolate—give me the means to leave thee in happiness: many have entered the garden, but never any re-appeared. If the same chance happen to me—alas! that I should have sought thee in marriage." "I will tell thee the truth," said the lady, "and convert thy unhappiness into pleasure. In that garden there is an enormous lion which devours every one who enters with the hope of marrying me. Arm thyself, therefore, cap-a-pee, and cover your armour with gummy flax. As soon as you have entered the garden the lion will rush toward you; attack him manfully, and when you are weary, leave him. Then will he instantly seize you by the arm or leg; but in so doing, the flax will adhere to his teeth, and he will be unable to hurt you. As soon as you perceive this, unsheath your sword and separate his head from his body. Besides the ferocious animal I have described, there is another danger to be overcome. There is but one entrance, and so intricate are the labyrinths, that egress is nearly impossible without assistance. But here also I will befriend you. Take this ball of thread, and attach one of the ends to the gate as you enter, and retaining the line, pass into the garden. But, as you love your life, beware that you lose not the thread." (61)

The knight exactly observed all these instructions. Having armed himself, he entered the garden; and the lion, with open mouth, rushed forward to devour him. He defended himself resolutely; and when his strength failed he leapt a few paces back. Then, as the lady had said, the lion seized upon the knight's arm; but entangling his teeth in the flax, he did him no injury; and the sword presently put an end to the combat. Unhappily, however, he let go the thread, and in great tribulation wandered about the garden for three days diligently seeking the lost clue. Towards night he discovered it, and with no small joy, hastened back to the gate. Then loosening the thread, he bent his way to the presence of the emperor; and in due time the lady of comfort became his wife. (62)


My beloved, the emperor is Christ; the lady of comfort, is the kingdom of heaven. The garden, is the world; the lion, the devil. The ball of thread, represents baptism, by which we enter into the world.

Note 61.Page 223.

"Beware that you lose not the Thread."

A fine moral, which might be oftener remembered with advantage. The Gospel is to the Christian, what the ball of thread was to the knight: pity that it should so frequently be lost!

Note 62.Page 224.

"Here seems to be an allusion to Medea's history."—Warton. It is surely more analogous to the story of the Minotaur, and the clue furnished by Adriadne to her lover. Warton should have explained the resemblance he has fancied.