Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Avarice and its Subtlety



A certain king had an only daughter, remarkable for the beauty and dignity of her person. She was called Rosamond; and at the early age of ten years, she proved so swift a runner, that she invariably attained the goal before her competitor had proceeded half way. The king caused it to be proclaimed, that whosoever should surpass his daughter in speed, should marry her, and succeed to the throne: but in the event of a failure he should lose his head. This latter clause was wisely annexed; for the lady being so beautiful, and the reward so vast, an infinite crowd of rivals would have eagerly presented themselves. And even with the heavy penalty before them, numbers permitted themselves to be buoyed up by the hope of success, to attempt, and to perish in the attempt. But it happened that a poor man, called Abibas, inhabited that country, who thus communed with himself. "I am very poor, and of a base extraction; if I may overcome this lady and marry her, not only shall I be promoted myself, but all who are of my blood." The incitement was too powerful for his resistance, and he determined to make the trial. But wiser than the rest, he took the three following precautions. First, he framed a curious garland of roses, of which he had ascertained that the lady was devotedly fond. Then, he procured a zone of the finest silk, from a conviction that most damsels were partial to this sort of clothing. And, lastly, he bought a silken bag, in which he deposited a golden ball bearing the following inscription; "Whosoever plays with me, shall never satiate of play." These three things he placed in his bosom, and knocked at the palace-gate. The porter enquired his business; and he stated his wish in the usual form.

It happened that the princess herself stood at a window close by, and heard Abibas express his intention to run with her. Observing that he was poor, and his attire threadbare and rent, she despised him from her very heart. However she prepared to run; and every thing being in readiness, they commenced the race. Abibas would soon have been left at a considerable distance; but taking the garland of roses from its respository, he skilfully pitched it upon her head. Delighted with the odour and beauty of the flowers, the young lady paused to examine it; and Abibas took advantage of her forgetfulness and advanced rapidly toward the goal. This awoke her to a recollection of what was going forward, and crying aloud, "Never shall the daughter of a prince be united to this miserable clown," she threw the garland from her into a deep well, and rushed onward like a whirlwind. In a few moments she overtook the youth, and extending her hand, struck him upon the shoulder, exclaiming, "Stop, foolish thing; hopest thou to marry a princess?" Just as she was on the point of repassing him, he drew forth the silken girdle, and cast it at her feet. The temptation again proved too strong for her resolution, and she stooped to gather it. Overjoyed at the beauty of its texture she must bind it round her waist; and whilst she did this, Abibas had recovered more ground than he had lost. As soon as the fair racer perceived the consequences of her folly, she burst into a flood of tears, and rending the zone asunder, hurried on. Having again overtaken her adversary, she seized him by the arm, striking him smartly at the same time: "Fool, thou shalt not marry me;" and immediately she ran faster than before. But Abibas, springing forward, threw at her feet the bag with the golden ball. It was impossible to forbear picking it up; and equally impossible not to open it and peep at its contents. She did so; but reading the inscription, "Who plays with me shall never satiate of playing," she played so much and so long, that Abibas came first to the goal and married her. (59)


My beloved, the king is Christ; the daughter is the soul, and Abibas is the devil, who provides various seductions to draw us from the goal of heaven.

Note 59.Page 212.

"This is evidently a Gothic innovation of the classical tale of Atalanta. But it is not impossible, that an oriental apologue might have given rise to the Grecian fable."—Warton.

The story of Atalanta, I consider the origin of many subsequent fables. Amongst these, the "Hare and the Tortoise" may be noticed.