Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of real Friendship




A certain king had an only son, whom he much loved. The young man was desirous of travelling, and obtained his father's permission to this end. After an absence of seven years[1], he returned, and his father, overjoyed at his arrival, asked what friends he had acquired. "Three," said the son; "the first of whom I love more than myself; the second, equally with myself; and the third, little or nothing." "You say well," returned the father; "but it is a good thing to prove them before you stand in need of their assistance. Therefore kill a pig, put it into a sack, and go at night to the house of him whom you love best, and say that you have accidentally killed a man, and if the body should be found I shall condemn you to an ignominious death. Intreat him if he ever loved you, to give his assistance in this extremity." The son did so; and the friend answered, "Since you have rashly destroyed a man, you must needs be crucified. Now because you were my friend, I will bestow upon you three or four ells of cloth to wrap your body in." The youth hearing this, went in much indignation to the second of his friends, and related the same story. He received him like the first, and said, "Do you believe me mad, that I should expose myself to such peril? But since I have called you my friend, I will accompany you to the cross, and console you as much as possible upon the way." This liberal proposal not meeting the prince's approbation, he went to the third, and said, "I am ashamed to speak what I have done: but, alas! I have accidentally slain a man." "My friend," answered the other, "I will readily lay down my life in your defence; and should you be condemned to expiate your misfortune on the cross, I will be crucified either for you or with you." This man, therefore, proved that he was his friend (33) .


My beloved, the king is God; the only son is any Christian. The first friend is the world; and if it gives, in your necessity, two or three ells of cloth, it is much indeed. The second friend is your wife, and sons, and daughters; they will bewail you to your sepulchre, but soon forget you after you are laid there[2]; the third friend is Christ, who loves us even upon the Cross, and joyfully gave away his life for our preservation.


  1. The moral says twelve; meaning, however, the term of human life.
  2. Massinger has a sentiment so similar, that if the experience of all ages were not alike, one might fancy that the Poet had borrowed from the Monk.

    ————"When dead, we are
    With solemn pomp brought hither, and our heirs
    Masking their joy in false dissembled tears,
    Weep o'er the hearse: but earth no sooner covers
    The earth brought hither, but they turn away
    With inward smiles—the dead no more remembered."

    The Maid of Honour, Act II. Sc. 3.



Note 33.Page 183.

This story is in Alphonsus. "It is remarkable that Le Grand, as well as Barbazan, seems to have known nothing about Petrus Alphonsus, whom he classes under his Frenchified name of Pierre Anfors, amongst the Norman fableours." Douce.