Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections] | Annotated Tale

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Eight Pennies, The

WHEN Titus was Emperor of Rome, he made a decree that the natal day of his first-born son should be held sacred, and that whosoever violated it by any kind of labour should be put to death. Then he called Virgil to him, and said, "Good friend, I have made a certain law; we desire you to frame some curious piece of art which may reveal to us every transgressor of the law." Virgil constructed a magic statue, and caused it to be set up in the midst of the city. By virtue of the secret powers with which it was invested, it told the emperor whatever was done amiss. And thus by the accusation of the statue, an infinite number of persons were convicted and punished.

               Now there was a certain carpenter, called Focus, who pursued his occupation every day alike. Once, as he lay in bed, his thoughts turned upon the accusations of the statue, and the multitudes which it had caused to perish. In the morning he clothed himself, and proceeded to the statue, which he addressed in the following manner: "O statue! statue! because of thy informations, many of our citizens have been taken and slain. I vow to my God, that if thou accusest me, I will break thy head." Having so said, he returned home.

               About the first hour, the emperor, as he was wont, despatched sundry messengers to the statue, to inquire if the edict had been strictly complied with. After they had arrived, and delivered the emperors pleasure, the statue exclaimed: "Friends, look up; what see ye written upon my forehead?" They looked, and beheld three sentences which ran thus: "TIMES ARE ALTERED. MEN GROW WORSE. HE WHO SPEAKS TRUTH HAS HIS HEAD BROKEN." "Go," said the statue, "declare to his majesty what you have seen and read." The messengers obeyed, and detailed the circumstances as they had happened.

               The emperor therefore commanded his guard to arm, and march to the place on which the statue was erected; and he further ordered, that if any one presumed to molest it, they should bind him hand and foot, and drag him into his presence.

               The soldiers approached the statue and said, "Our emperor wills you to declare the name of the scoundrel who threatens you."

               The statue made answer, "It is Focus the carpenter. Every day he violates the law, and, moreover, menaces me with a broken head, if I expose him."

               Immediately Focus was apprehended, and conducted to the emperor, who said, "Friend, what do I hear of thee? Why hast thou broken my law?"

               "My lord," answered Focus, "I cannot keep it; for I am obliged to obtain every day eight pennies, which, without incessant work, I have not the means of getting."

               "And why eight pennies?" said the emperor.

               "Every day through the year," returned the carpenter, "I am bound to repay two pennies which I borrowed in my youth; two I lend; two I lose; and two I spend."

               "For what reason do you this?" asked the emperor.

               "My lord," he replied, "listen to me. I am bound each day to repay two pennies to my father; for, when I was a boy, my father expended upon me daily the like sum. Now he is poor, and needs my assistance, and therefore I return what I borrowed formerly. Two other pennies I lend to my son, who is pursuing his studies; in order, that if by any chance I should fall into poverty, he may restore the loan, just as I have done to his grandfather. Again, I lose two pennies every day on my wife; for she is contradictious, wilful, and passionate. Now, because of this disposition, I account whatsoever is given to her entirely lost. Lastly, two other pennies I expend upon myself in meat and drink. I cannot do with less, nor can I earn them without unremitting labour. You now know the truth; and, I pray you, judge dispassionately and truly."

               "Friend," said the emperor, "thou hast answered well. Go, and labour earnestly in thy calling."

               Soon after this the emperor died, and Focus the carpenter, on account of his singular wisdom, was elected in his stead by the unanimous choice of the whole nation. He governed as wisely as he had lived; and at his death, his picture, bearing on the head eight pennies, was reposited among the effigies of the deceased emperors.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Eight Pennies, The
Tale Author/Editor: Morley, Henry
Book Title: Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections]
Book Author/Editor: Morley, Henry
Publisher: George Routledge & Sons
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1884
Country of Origin: Europe
Classification: unclassified

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