Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Praise due to a Just Judge

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Praise due to a Just Judge



Valerius informs us, that the emperor Zelongus made a law, by which, if any one abused a virgin he should lose both his eyes. It happened that his only son trespassed in this manner with the daughter of a certain widow, who immediately hastened into the presence of the emperor, and spoke thus; "My Lord, you have righteously decreed, that he who denies a virgin shall lose his sight. Your only son has dishonoured my daughter; command him to be punished." These words greatly distressed the emperor, but he gave instant orders respecting the punishment of his son. On this, two noblemen observed: "The young man is your only child, and heir to the throne: it were impious, if for this he should lose his eyes." The emperor answered, "Is it not evident to you, that I myself ordained this very law? disgraceful as the occasion is, it may break my heart, but not my resolution. My son has been the first to transgress the law, and therefore, shall be the first to undergo the penalty." "Sire," said the noblemen, "let us implore you, for the sake of Heaven, to forgive the errors of your child." Somewhat subdued by the urgency of their entreaties, the emperor, after a moment's pause, said, "My friends, listen to me: my eyes are the eyes of my son; and his, are in like manner, mine. Pluck out, therefore, my right eye, and let him surrender his left; thus, the law will be satisfied." The paternal affection of the emperor was indulged, and the whole kingdom extolled the prudence and justice of their prince. (51)


My beloved, the emperor is Christ; the eyes are divine grace, and eternal happiness, which he who sinned would have totally lost, had not the compassion and consequent sufferings of the Son of God, meliorated the condign punishment.

Note 51.Page 170.

Zaleucus[1], not Zelongus, was the name of the king who preformed this striking act of justice. It is thus told by Valerius Maximus. "Zaleucus, urbe Locrensium à se saluberrimis atque utilissimis legibus munita, cum filius ejus adulterii crimine damnatus, secundum jus ab ipso constitutum, utroque oculo carere deberet, ac tota civitas in honorem patris pœnæ necessitatem adolescentulo remitteret, aliquamdiu repugnavit. Ad ultimum precibus populi evictus, suo prius, deinde filii oculi eruto, usum videndi utrique reliquit. Ita debitum supplicii modum legi reddidit, æquitatis admirabili temperamento, se inter misericordem patrem et justum legislatorem partitus."—Lib. vi. c. 5. Ex. 3.[2]

  1. Some copies read Seleucus.
  2. Rough translation of the Latin: Zaleucus had provided the city of the Locrians with highly useful and salutary laws. When his son was convicted of the crime of adultery, and condemned to the loss of both eyes, according to the law he himself had constituted, the entire city, in the father's honor, was willing to remit the penalty for the young man, but Zaleucus for some time refused this. Finally, prevailed upon by the populace, he first had one of his own eyes plucked out, and then one of his son's, leaving both with the ability to see. Thus he fulfilled the punishment required by the law with a moderation of admirable fairness, reflecting both his roles as merciful father and just legislator. (Wikisource contributor note)