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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of Confidence in Women




A certain noble knight had grievously offended a king whose vassal he was. He sent messengers to the monarch to intercede for him, and they obtained his pardon, but on condition that he should enter the senate-house on foot and on horseback at the same time—that is, half walking, half riding. Moreover, he was to bring with him his most attached friend, the best joculator or jester (28), and his most deadly foe. The knight, exceedingly distressed, reflected how these strange conditions were to be fulfilled. One night, as he exercised the hospitality of his mansion towards a pilgrim, he said privately to his wife, "I know those pilgrims often carry considerable sums of money along with them. If you think fit, let us kill this fellow, and get possession of his money." "You say well," returned the lady; and when all were asleep, at an early hour in the morning, the knight arose, and awaking the pilgrim, bade him begone. He then slaughtered a calf, cut it into small pieces, and placed its mutilated body in a sack. Arousing his wife, he gave her the sack to hide in a corner of the house, observing, "I have only deposited the head, legs, and arms, in the sack; the body is interred in our stable." He then shewed her a little money, as if he had taken it from the murdered pilgrim.

Now when the day approached on which he was bound to appear before his liege lord, he took upon his right hand a dog, and on his left his wife and unweaned child. As they drew near the royal castle, he put one leg over the back of the dog, as if he were riding, while with the other he walked; and thus as a pedestrian and equestrian, he entered the palace. When the king observed his cunning, he was greatly surprized. "But," said the judge, "where is your most attached friend?" Instantly unsheathing his falchion, he severely wounded the dog, which fled howling away. The knight then called to him, and the dog returned. "Here," said he, "here is the most faithful of all friends." "True;" answered the king, "where is your joculator?" "Here also," replied the knight, pointing to his infant, "I never have so much pleasure as in the disportings of this child." "Well," continued the king, "where is your worst enemy?" Turning toward his wife, he struck her a violent blow, and exclaimed, "Impudent harlot, how darest thou look wantonly upon the king?" The wife, furious at the injustice of the attack, shrieked violently. "Cursed homicide," said she, "why dost thou smite me? Dost thou forget that in thine own house, thou perpetratedst the most atrocious murder, and didst kill a pilgrim for the sake of a little gold?" Again the knight beat her. "Wretch!" said she, "why dost thou fear to abuse thy child? Now see what thine ill-timed anger hath done. Come with me, and I will discover to you where the head and arms of the murdered pilgrim have been deposited in a sack: the body he has buried in his stable." Search was accordingly made; and digging where the wife directed, they were astonished to find manifest tokens of a calf's flesh. The attending nobles, recognizing in this the wit of the man, greatly extolled him; and he was ever after exceedingly valued and honoured by his feudal lord.


My beloved, the knight is any sinner who finds favor with the Lord; and who upon certain conditions pardons his offences. The pedestrian and equestrian condition is our nature, partly human and partly celestial; the dog typifies man's good angel, or a priest; who is wounded as often as the soul sins. The joculator, that is the infant, is conscience; the wife is the flesh.



Note 28.Page 164.

The Joculators were licensed jesters. "Latin terms were used by the middle-age writers so licentiously, and with such extreme carelessness, that in many cases it is difficult to obtain a precise idea of their meaning. Thus the jesters and minstrels were indefinitely expressed by the words joculator, scurra, mimus, minstrallus, &c. a practice that may admit of justification, when we consider that in early times the minstrel and buffoon characters were sometimes united in one person. It must be allowed, however, that in an etymological point of view, the term Joculator is much better adapted to the jester than the minstrel."—Douce on the Clowns and Fools of Shakspeare, Vol. 2. p. 307.