Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of false Allegations

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the Life of Alexius, son of the Senator Eufemian



When the emperor Leo reigned, his chief pleasure consisted in a beautiful face. Wherefore, he caused three female images to be made, to which he dedicated a stately temple, and commanded all his subjects to worship them. The first image stretched out its hand over the people, and upon one of its fingers was placed a golden ring bearing the following device: "My finger is generous." The second image had a golden beard, and on its brow was written, "I have a beard; if any one be beardless, let him come to me, and I will give him one." The third image had a golden cloak, and purple tunic, and on its breast appeared these words, in large golden characters, "I fear no one." These three images were fabricated of stone. Now when they had been erected according to the command of the Emperor, he ordained that whosoever conveyed away either the ring, or golden beard, or cloak, should be doomed to the most disgraceful death. It so chanced that a certain fellow entering the temple, perceived the ring upon the finger of the first image, which he immediately drew off. He then went to the second, and took away the golden beard. Last of all, he came to the third image, and when he had removed the cloak, he departed from the temple. The people, seeing their images despoiled, presently communicated the robbery to the Emperor. The transgressor was summoned before him, and charged with pilfering from the images, contrary to the edict. But he replied, "My Lord, suffer me to speak. When I entered the temple, the first image extended towards me its finger with the golden ring—as if it had said, 'Here, take the ring.' Yet, not merely because the finger was held forth to me, would I have received it; but, by and by, I read the superscription, which said, 'My finger is generous,—take the ring.' Whereby understanding that it was the statue's pleasure to bestow it upon me, good manners obliged me not to refuse it. Afterwards, I approached the second image with the golden beard; and I communed with my own heart, and said, 'The author of this statue never had such a beard, for I have seen him repeatedly; and the creature ought, beyond question, to be inferior to the Creator. Therefore it is fitting and necessary to take away the beard.' But although she offered not the smallest opposition, yet I was unwilling to carry it off, until I distinctly perceived, 'I have a beard; if any one be beardless, let him come to me, and I will give him one.' I am beardless, as your Majesty may see, and therefore, for two especial reasons, took away the beard. The first was, that she should look more like her author, and not grow too proud of her golden beard. Secondly, that by these means, I might protect my own bald pate. Again, I came to the third image, which bore a golden cloak. I took away the cloak, because, being of metal, in the winter time, it is extremely cold; and the image itself is made of stone, Now stone is naturally cold; and if it had retained the golden cloak it would have been adding cold to cold, which were a bad thing for the image. Also, if it had possessed this cloak in summer, it would have proved too heavy and warm for the season. However, I should not have borne it away even for these causes if there had not been written upon the breast, 'I fear nobody.' For I discovered in that vaunt, such intolerable arrogance, that I took away the cloak, merely to humble it." "Fair Sir," replied the Emperor, "does not the law say expressly that the images shall not be robbed, nor the ornaments upon them molested on any pretence? You have impudently taken away that which did not belong to you, and therefore, I determine that you be instantly suspended on a gallows." And so it was done. (6)


My beloved, that Emperor is our Lord Jesus Christ. The three images are three sorts of men, in whom God takes pleasure—as it is written, "thy delight is in the sons of men." If we live piously and uprightly, God will remain with us. By the first image with extended hand, we may conceive the poor and the simple of this world; who, if they have business in the halls of princes and noblemen, will prevail but little unless the hand is put forth to present a gift. Gifts blind the eyes of a judge. But if it should be asked of such a one, or of his servants, "Why fleecest thou the poor?" it is instantly replied, "Can I not receive with a good conscience, what is voluntarily presented? If I took not the offering, people would say I was besotted; and therefore, to curb their tongues I take it." By the second image we are to understand the rich of the world, who, by the grace of God, are exalted to great wealth. So the Psalmist: "Thou raisest the poor out of the mire, and they are accused before their rivals." Some wretched man hath a golden beard—that is, great riches, which he inherited from his father; and straightway we oppress him, either with a legal pretext or without. A just man is overborne and robbed; for they say, "We are bald"—that is, we are poor; and it is fitting that he divide his riches with us: nay, he is often murdered for his property. "Covetousness," says St. Paul to Timothy, "is the root of all evil." By the third image with the golden cloak, we are to understand men raised to great dignities. Such are the prelates and princes of the earth, who are appointed to preserve the law, to cultivate virtue, and to root out vice. Wherefore, evil-doers, who refuse to submit to necessary discipline, lift themselves up, and conspire against their ecclesiastical governors and superiors, saying, "We will not have him to reign over us." St. Luke. The Jews seeing Christ performing miracles, and proving that they had sinned against the law, immediately contrive his death. But these conspirators, and the like to them, shall die the death. Therefore, let us diligently study to correct what is amiss in this life present, that we may, &c.

Note 6.Page 32.

This fable is very well told by Gower, but with some variations.

[The letters printed in Italics are to be pronounced as separate syllables; the acute mark denotes the emphasis.]

Ere Rom-e came to the creánce[1]
Of Christ-es faith, it fell perchance
Cæsar, which then was emperour,
Him list-e for to do honóur
Untó the temple Apollinis;
And made an image upon this,
The which was cleped[2] Apolló,
Was none so rich in Rom-e tho[3].
Of plate of gold, a beard he had,
The which his breast all over spradde[4].
Of gold also, withouten fail,
His mantle was of large entayle[5].

Be-set with perrey[6] all about.
Forth right he stretched his finger out,
Upon the which he had a ring—
To see it, was a rich-e thing,
A fine carbuncle for the nones[7],
Most precious of all stones.
And fell that time in Rom-e thus,
There was a clerk, one Lucius,
A courtier, a famous man;
Of every wit[8] somewhat he can,
Out-take,[9] that him lacketh rule,
His own estate to guide and rule;
How so it stood of his speaking,
He was not wise in his doing;
But every riot-e at last
Must need-es fall, and may not last.
After the need of his desert,
So fell this clerk-e in povérte,
And wist not how for to rise
Whereof in many a sundry wise
He cast his wit-es here and there,
He looketh nigh, he looketh far.
Fell on a tim-e that he come
Into the temple, and heed nome[10]

Where that the god Apollo stood;
He saw the riches, and the good[11];
And thought he wold-e by some way,
The treasure pick and steal away.
And thereupon so slily wrought,
That his purpóse about he brought.
And went away unaperceived:
Thus hath the man his god deceived—
His ring, his mantle, and his beard,
As he which nothing was afeared,
All privily with him he bare;
And when the wardens were aware
Of that, their god despoiled was,
They thought it was a wondrous case,
How that a man for any weal,
Durst in so holy plac-e steal,
And nam-e-ly, so great a thing!—
This tale cam-e unto the king,
And was through spoken over-all.
But for to know in special,
What manner man hath done the deed,
They soughten help upon the need,
And maden calculatión
Whereof by demonstratión
The man was found-e with the good.
In judgment, and when he stood,

The king hath asked of him thus—
"Say, thou unsely[12] Lucius,
Why hast thou done this sacrilege?"
"My lord, if I the cause allege,"
(Quoth he again,) "me-thinketh this,
That I have done nothing amiss.
Three points there be, which I have do,
"Whereof the first-e point stands so,
That I the ring have ta'en away—
Unto this point this will I say.
When I the god beheld about,
I saw how he his hand stretched out,
And proffered me the ring to yeve[13];
And I, which wold-e gladly live
Out of povérte thro' his largéss,
It underfang[14], so that I guess;
And therefore, am I nought to wite[15].
And overmore, I will me 'quit[16],
Of gold that I the mantle took
Gold in his kind, as saith the book,
Is heavy both, and cold also;
And fór that it was heavy so,
Methought it was no garn-e-ment[17]
Unto the god convenient,

To clothen him the summer tide[18]:
I thought upon that other side,
How gold is cold, and such a cloth
By reason ought-e to be lothe[19]
In winter tim-e for the chiel.
And thus thinking thought-es fele[20]
As I mine eye about-e cast,
His larg-e beard-e then at last
I saw; and thought anon therefore
How that his father him before,
Which stood upon the sam-e place,
Was beardless, with a youngly face.
And in such wise, as ye have heard
I took away the son-nes beard,
For that his father had-e none,
To make him like; and hereupon
I ask for to be excused."
Lo, thus where sacrilege is used,
A man can feign his consciénce;
And right upon such evidénce
In lov-es cause if I shall treat,
There be of such-e small and great
If they no leisure find-e else,
They will not wend-e for the bells;

Not tho' they see the priest at mass—
That will they letten over-pass:
If that they find their lov-e there
They stand, and tellen in her ear;
And ask of God none other grace,
Whil-e they be in that holy place.
But ere they go, some advantáge
There will they have; and some pilláge
Of goodly word, or of behest;
Or else they taken at the least
Out of her hand a ring or glove,
So nigh, the weder[21] they will hove[22]
As who saith, "She shall not forget
Now I this token of her have get."
Thus hallow they the high-e feast,
Such theft-e may no church arrest[23],
For all is lawful that them liketh,
To whom that els-e it misliketh,
And ekè right in the self kind[24]
In great cities men may find.
Thus lusty folk, that make them gay,
And wait upon the holy day,
In churches, and in minsters eke,
They go the women for to seek,

And where that such one goeth about,
Before the fairest of the rout;
Where as they sitten all a row,
There will he most his body show;
His crooked kempt[25] and thereon set
An ouch-e[26] with a chap-e-let,
Or else one of green leaves,
Which late come out-e of the greves[27].
All for[28] he should seem fresh:
And thus he looketh on his flesh,
Right as a hawk which hath a sight
Upon the fowl, there he shall light:
And as he were a faëry,
He sheweth him before her eye,
In holy plac-e where they sit,
All for to make their heart-es flytte[29]
His eye no where will abide,
But look and pry on every side,
On her and her, as him best liketh,
And other while, among he siketh[30];
Thinketh "One of them that was for me,"
And so there thinketh two or three;

And yet he loveth none at all,
But where as ever his chanc-e fall.
And nath-e-less to say a sooth
The cause why that he so doth,
Is for to steal a heart or two,
Out of the church ere that he go.
And as I said it here above,
All is that sacrilege of love,
For well may be that he stealeth away.
That he never after yield may[31].
"Tell me for this, my son, anon,
Hast thou done sacrilege, or none[32],
As I have said in this mannèr?"
"My father, as of this matter,
I will you tellen readily
What I have done; but tru-e-ly
I may excus-e mine intent
That I never yet to church went
In such mannér as ye me shrive[33],
For no woman that is alive.
The cause why I have it laft[34],
May be, for[35] I unto that craft,
Am nothing able for to steal,
Though there be women not so fele[36].

But yet will I not say-e this,
When I am where my lady is,
In whom lieth wholly my quarrél,
And she to church or to chapél,
Will go to matins or to mess[37],
That time I wait-e well and guess.
To church I come, and there I stand,
And tho'[38] I take a book in hand,
My countenance is on the book,
But toward her is all my look;
And if so fallen[39] that I pray
Unto my God, and somewhat say
Of Pater Noster, or of creed,
All is for that I wold-e speed,
So that my bead in holy church,
There might-e some mirácle wirche[40],
My lady's heart-e for to change,
Which ever hath been to me so strange,
So that all my devotión,
And all my contemplatión,
With all mine heart, and my couráge,
Is only set on her imáge,
And ever I wait-e upon the tide,
If she look any thing aside,

That I me may of her advise:
Anon I am with covertise[41]
So smit, that me were lefe[42]
To be in holy church a thief.
But not to steal, a vest-e-ment,
For that is nothing my talént;
But I would steal, if that I might,
A' glad word, or a goodly sight.
And ever my servíce I proffer,
And namely, when she will go, offer;
For then I lead her, if I may:
For somewhat would I steal away
When I beclip her on the waist;
Yet at least, I steal a taste.
And other while 'grant mercy[43],'
She saith. And so were I thereby
A lusty touch, a good word eke,
But all the rem-e-nant to seek,
Is from my purpose wonder far.
So may I say, as I said ere[44],
In holy church if that I vow,
My con-sci-énce I would allow
Be so, that on amend-e-ment,
I might-e get assign-e-ment[45];

Where, for to speed in other place,
Such sacrilege I hold a grace.
"And thus, my father, sooth to say,
In church-e right as in the way,
If I might ought of lov-e take
Such hansel[46] have I nought forsake.
But finally, I me confess,
There is in me no holinéss,
While her I see in holy stead;
And yet for aught that ever I did,
No sacrilege of her I took,
But[47] it were of word or look,
Or els-e if that I her freed[48]
When I towárd offering[49] her lead,
Take thereof what I take may,
For els-e bear I nought away.
For tho' I wold-e ought else have,
All other thing-es be so safe,
And kept with such a privilege,
That I may do no sacrilege.
God wote[50] my will nath-e-less,
Tho' I must need-es keep-e peace,

And maugre mine so let it pass,
My will thereto is not the lass[51],
If I might otherwise away.
"For this, my father, I you pray
Tell what you thinketh thereupon,
If I thereof have guilt or none."
"Thy will, my son, is for to blame,
The rem-e-nant is but a game
That I have thee told as yet.
But take this lore into thy wit,
That all things have time and stead.
The church serveth for the bead[52],
The chamber is of an other speech:
But if thou wistest of the wreche[53],
How sacrilege it hath abought,
Thou woldest better be bethought."

Confessio Amantis, Lib. V,
fol. 122, ed. 1532.

I have transcribed the whole of this tale, (though the latter part of it is but the moral) because of the truth and nature with which it is replete. Our churches are filled in this day with too many of the characters described so admirably by Gower.

Ibid. "For two especial reasons took away the beard. The first was, that she should look more like her author and not grow too proud of her golden beard." P. 31.

This idea seems to have arisen from a witticism of Dionysius the tyrant of Syracuse, recorded by Valerius Maximus, lib. 1. Cap. 1. ex. 37.

"Idem Epidauri Æsculapio barbam auream demi jussit: quod affirmaret, non convenire patrem Apollinem imberbem, ipsum barbatum."

  1. Belief.
  2. Called.
  3. Then.
  4. Spread.
  5. Cut; from the French entailler.
  6. Pearls.
  7. Purpose.
  8. Knowledge.
  9. Except.
  10. Took.
  11. Goods.
  12. Foolish.
  13. Give.
  14. Accepted.
  15. Blame
  16. Acquit.
  17. Garment.
  18. Time.
  19. Warm.
  20. Many.
  21. Madder. Sax. ∇edan, insanire.
  22. Heave or go.
  23. Stop.
  24. Self-same kind.
  25. i. e. His crooked or disorderly hair, combed.
  26. Brooch.
  27. Woods.
  28. In order that.
  29. Beat, palpitate.
  30. Sigheth.
  31. Restore again.
  32. Not.
  33. Confess to me.
  34. Left.
  35. Because.
  36. Never so many.
  37. Mass.
  38. If
  39. Befallen.
  40. Work.
  41. Desire.
  42. Fain.
  43. Great thanks
  44. Before.
  45. Assignation.
  46. "Estreiné; handselled: that hath the handsell or first use of." Cotgrave. The word is still extant.
  47. Except.
  48. This perhaps signifies made free with.
  49. Altar; place of offering.
  50. Knows.
  51. Less.
  52. Prayer.
  53. Work.