Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of the destruction of ungrateful men

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the destruction of ungrateful men



A certain king had an only son, whom he ardently loved. When the boy arrived at man's estate, day after day he solicited his father to resign the kingdom, and deliver to himself the sovereign power. "My dear son," said the king, "if I were satisfied that you would treat me honourably and kindly during the remainder of my life, I should have no objection to relinquish the throne to you." The son answered, "My lord, I will bind myself by an oath before all the noblemen of the empire, to do in every respect, as a son ought to do. Be confident that I will shew greater honour to you than to myself." The old king trusted to his assurances, and resigned the supreme command. But no sooner was he crowned and seated on the throne of his ancestors, than his heart underwent a total change. For a few years he gave due honour to his indulgent parent, but after that entirely neglected him. This unexpected and unmerited treatment, naturally exasperated the old king, and he began to complain to the wise men of the empire, that his son had broken the contract. They, therefore, having always loved the father, reproved the son for his ingratitude. But the new king spurned them from him with fury; imprisoned his father in a castle, and permitted not the smallest access to him. Here he often endured the extremity of hunger, and every other species of wretchedness.

It happened that the king himself once passed the night in the same castle; and the father sent to him the following message—"Oh my son, pity thy old father who gave up every thing to thee. I suffer thirst and hunger; and deprived of all comfort—even of wine to cheer me in my infirmity—I draw out my life." "I know not," said the king, "that there is wine in this castle." He was told that there were five casks reposited in that place, but that without his permission the seneschal refused to draw wine from them. "Suffer me, my dear son," said the unhappy father, "suffer me at least to recruit my wasted form with the first of these casks." The son refused, alleging that it was new, and therefore prejudicial to old men. "Then," said the old man, "give me the second cask." "I will not do that," answered the king, "because it is kept for my own drinking, and for the young noblemen who attend me." "Yet you will surely permit me to take the third," continued his father; "No" replied the other, "it is very strong, and you are so weak and infirm that it would kill you." "The fourth cask then?" said he, "give me that."

"It is sour, and would do you much injury."

"But," urged the father, "there is a fifth, allow me to retain it." "Oh," said the king, "it is nothing but dregs; the noblemen sent it to destroy thee in case thou wert permitted to drink of it." The poor father hearing excuses like these, went away very sorrowful; but secretly wrote letters to the noblemen, declaring how he had been treated, and imploring them to relieve him from the misery he was compelled to endure. His ill usage excited their pity and indignation; they restored the father, and threw the son into prison, where he died[1].


My beloved, the king is Christ; and the son is any bad Christian.

  1. Our nursery-books contain a story not unlike the present. A father resigns his estates to an ungrateful son, and is driven into the garret, and left to neglect and poverty. The grandson pities, and by a pointed speech—hardly characteristic of a child—reproves, and touches his parent's heart.