Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Reflection

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Reflection



The emperor Claudius had an only daughter who was incomparably beautiful. As he lay in bed, he reflected seriously upon the best mode of disposing of her. "If," thought he, "I should marry her to a rich fool, it will occasion her death. But if I bestow her upon a wise man, although he be poor, his own wit will procure him riches[1]."

Now it happened, that there dwelt in the city a philosopher called Socrates, whom the king very greatly esteemed. This person was sent for, and thus addressed, "My good friend, I design to espouse you to my only daughter." Socrates, overjoyed at the proposal, expressed his gratitude as he best could. "But," continued the emperor, "take her with this condition; that if she die first, you shall not survive her." The philosopher assented; the nuptials were solemnized with great splendour, and for a length of time their happiness was uninterrupted.

But at last she sickened, and her death was hourly expected. This deeply afflicted Socrates, and he retired into a neighbouring forest and gave free course to his alarm. Whilst he was thus occupied, it chanced that king Alexander (60) hunted in the same forest; and that a soldier of his guard discerned the philosopher, and rode up to him. "Who art thou?" asked the soldier. "I am," replied he, "the servant of my master; and he who is the servant of my master is the lord of thine." "How?" cried the other, "there is not a greater person in the universe than he whom I serve. But since you are pleased to say otherwise, I will presently lead you to him; and we will hear who thy lord is." Accordingly he was brought before Alexander. "Friend," said the king, "concerning whom dost thou say, that his servant is my master?" The philosopher answered, "My master is reason; his servant is the will. Now dost thou not govern thy kingdom according to the dictates of thy will? Therefore, thy will is thy master. But the will is the servant of my master. So that what I said is true, and thou canst not disprove it." Alexander wondering at the man's wit, candidly answered in the affirmative, and ever after ruled both himself and his kingdom by the laws of reason.

Socrates, however, entered farther into the forest, and wept bitterly over the expected decease of his wife. In the midst of his distress he was accosted by an old man who inhabited that part of the wood; "Master," said he, "why art thou afflicted?" "Alas!" answered the other, "I have espoused the daughter of an emperor upon the condition, that if she die I should die with her: she is now on the point of death, and my life therefore will certainly be required." "What!" said the old man, "grievest thou for this? Take my counsel, and thou shalt be safe enough. Thy wife is of royal descent; let her besmear her breast with some of her father's blood. Then, do thou search in the depths of this forest, where thou wilt find three herbs: of one of them make a beverage and administer it to her; the other two beat into a plaster, and apply it to the afflicted part. If my instructions are exactly attended to, she will be restored to perfect health." Socrates did as he was directed; and his wife presently recovered. When the emperor knew how he had striven to find a remedy for his wife's disorder, he loaded him with riches and honours.


My beloved, the emperor is our Lord Jesus Christ; the daughter is the soul, given to man on condition that should it be destroyed by sin, he also should lose eternal life. The priest is the church, where health and safety may be found. The old man is a wise confessor, and Alexander is the world.

  1. It was a maxim of Themistocles, that his daughter had better marry a man without an estate, than an estate without a man.

Note 60.Page 214.

The introduction of Alexander the Great, Socrates, and a Roman emperor, is a strange jumble of times and persons.

Note II.

Tale LXI.  Vol. I. p. 213.

The latter part of this apologue is in Alphonsus, 'De Clericali Disciplina. It is the last of the Latin copy; but not noticed in Mr. Douce's analysis, as occurring in the Gesta.