Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of Christ, who died innocent
OF CHRIST, WHO DIED INNOCENT.
Seneca (34) relates, that there was a law in some city, by which a knight was obliged to be buried in armour; and further, that it was ordained if any one deprived the dead man of this armour, he should be put to death. It happened that the city was besieged by a tyrannical despot, who, planting ambuscades and pitfalls around the city, destroyed an infinite number of the inhabitants. Fear made them incapable of longer resistance; and, while thus situated, a noble and valiant knight entered the city, and compassionated the distresses of the despairing citizens. Knowing his extraordinary merit, they humbly petitioned him to undertake their defence, and free them from the imminent peril in which they stood. "My friends," replied he, "this cannot be done, except by a strong hand; and you perceive, I am unarmed. It is in vain therefore to expect that I should go out to fight." "My lord," observed one of the citizens, "but a few days since a knight was buried in this sepulchre, clad in most admirable armour; take it, and save our city." The knight assented; received the arms of the deceased, and encountering the enemy, put them to flight. He then restored the arms to their original destination. But certain men, envious of the fame which he acquired by the exploit, accused him before the judge of having despoiled the dead of his armour contrary to law. "My lord," answered he, "of two evils, the greater is to be avoided. Now I could not defend your city without armour; and having taken that of the deceased, I returned it when the exigence had ceased. A thief would not have acted in this manner; he would have kept the arms, which I did not; and therefore merit rather recompence than charges of such a nature. Besides, if a house be on fire in the midst of a city, would it not be better that a single dwelling should be ruined than that the whole city should be burnt to the ground? Apply this in my case. Was it not more beneficial that I should preserve your town by borrowing the armour, than by not borrowing, endanger all your lives?" "Away with him, away with him," shouted they, who were jealous and envious of his fame, "he deserves death; away with him." The judge could not resist their urgent petition, and condemned him to death. The sentence was accordingly executed, and the whole state lamented him with unfeigned regret.
My beloved, the besieged city is the world, The knight without arms is Christ; the armour is his humanity. The envious men are Jews, who put him to death.
- "De duobus malis majus malum est vitandum." Here is another English proverb, "Of two evils, chuse the least."
Note 34.Page 192.
Seneca is cited here, but I can give no reference. The story is a very singular one. In the old English Gesta [See the Introduction,] it forms the "Seventh Hystory;" although the termination somewhat different. The knight's pleading is successful with the judge; but the accusers, taking upon themselves the execution of the law, slay him in opposition to all justice.