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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of the Vicissitude of every Thing good, and especially of a right Judgment




The emperor, Theodosius, had the misfortune to lose his sight. He put up a bell in his palace; and when there was any cause to be tried, he was accustomed to pull the string with his own hands. When the bell rang, a judge, appointed to this end, descended and administered justice. It chanced that a serpent made her nest immediately under the bell-rope, and in due time brought forth young. When they were old enough, at a certain hour every day, she conducted them forth into an open space beyond the city. Now while the serpent was absent, a toad entered and occupied her nest. When, therefore, the former returned with her young, she found the toad in possession, and instantly began an attack. But the latter baffled her attempts, and obstinately maintained his station. The serpent, perceiving her inability to eject the intruder, wrapped herself around the bell-rope, and forcibly rang the bell; as though it had said, "Descend judge, and give me justice; for the toad has wrongfully seized my nest." The judge, hearing the bell, descended; but not seeing any one, returned. The serpent, finding her design abortive, once more sounded the alarm. The judge again appeared, and upon this occasion, seeing the serpent attached to the bell-rope, and the toad in possession of her nest, declared the whole circumstance to the emperor. "Go down, my lord," said the latter, "and not only drive away the toad, but kill him; let the serpent possess her right." All which was done. On a subsequent day, as the king lay in his bed, the serpent entered the bed-chamber, carrying a precious stone in her mouth. The servants perceiving this, informed the emperor, who gave directions, that they should not harm it, "for," added he, "it will do me no injury." The serpent, gliding along, ascended the bed, and approaching the emperor's eyes, let the stone fall upon them, and immediately left the room. No sooner, however, had the stone touched the eyes, than their sight was completely restored. Infinitely rejoiced at what had happened, the emperor made inquiry after the serpent, but it was not heard of again. He carefully treasured this invaluable stone, and ended his days in peace. (13)


My beloved, the emperor is any worldly-minded man, who is blind to spiritual affairs. The bell, is the tongue of a preacher; the cord, is the bible. The serpent is a wise confessor, who brings forth young—that is—good works. But prelates and confessors are often timid and negligent, and follow earthly more than heavenly matters; and then the toad, which is the devil, occupies their place. The serpent carries a stone—and the confessor, the Sacred Writings, which alone are able to give sight to the blind.



Note 13.Page 82.

"This circumstance of the Bell of Justice occurs in the real history of some eastern monarch, whose name I have forgot.

"In the Arabian philosophy, serpents, either from the brightness of their eyes, or because they inhabit the cavities of the earth, were considered as having a natural, or occult, connection with precious stones. In Alphonsus's Clericalis Disciplina, a snake is mentioned, whose eyes were real jacinths. In Alexander's romantic history, he is said to have found serpents in the vale of Jordian, with collars of huge emeralds growing on their necks. The toad, under a vulgar indiscriminating idea, is ranked with the reptile race: and Shakspeare has a beautiful comparison on the traditionary notion, that the toad has a rich gem inclosed within its head. Milton gives his serpent eyes of carbuncle.—Paradise Lost, ix. 500."—Warton.