Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of the Sin of Pride

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the Sin of Pride



We read in the Roman annals, (i. e. Gesta Romanorum) of a prince called Pompey. He was united to the daughter of a nobleman, whose name was Cæsar. It was agreed between them to bring the whole world into subjection; and with this view Pompey gave instructions to his associate to possess himself of certain distant fortresses: for the latter being a young man, it became him to be most active and vigilant. In the mean while, Pompey, as the chief person of the commonwealth, endeavoured to guard it against the machinations of their enemies; and appointed a particular day for the return of Cæsar—in failure of which, his property was to be confiscated to the use of the Roman empire. Five years were allowed him; and Cæsar, assembling a large army, marched rapidly into the country he was about to attack. But the inhabitants being warlike, and aware of his approach, he was unable to subdue them in the specified time. Caring, therefore, to offend Pompey, less than to relinquish his conquests, he continued abroad considerably beyond the five years; and was consequently banished the empire, and his wealth appropriated by the government. When Cæsar had concluded the campaign he turned towards Rome, marching with his forces across a river, distinguished by the name of Rubicon. Here a phantom of immense stature, standing in the middle of the water, opposed his passage. It said, "Cæsar, if your purpose be the welfare of the state—pass on; but if not, beware how you advance another step." Cæsar replied, "I have long fought for, and am still prepared to undergo every hardship in defence of Rome; of which I take the gods whom I worship to be my witnesses." As he said this, the phantom vanished. Cæsar then turning a little to the right, crossed the river; but having effected his passage, he paused on the opposite bank:—"I have rashly promised peace;" said he, "for in this case, I must relinquish my just right." From that hour he pursued Pompey with the utmost virulence, even to the death; and was himself slain afterwards by a band of conspirators. (19)


My beloved, by Pompey understand the Creator of all things; Cæsar signifies Adam, who was the first man. His daughter is the soul, betrothed to God. Adam was placed in Paradise to cultivate and to guard it; but not fulfilling the condition imposed upon him, like Cæsar, he was expelled his native country. The Rubicon is baptism, by which mankind re-enters a state of blessedness.

Note 19.Page 99.

This story is evidently built upon a confused tradition of Cæsar and Pompey. "It was impossible," says Warton, "that the Roman History could pass through the dark ages without being infected with many romantic corruptions. Indeed, the Roman was almost the only ancient history which the readers of those ages knew: and what related even to pagan Rome, the parent of the more modern papal metropolis of Christianity was regarded with a superstitious veneration, and often magnified with miraculous additions." Diss. on the Gest. Rom.