Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections] | Annotated Tale

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Three Caskets, The

SOME time dwelt in Rome a mighty emperor, named Anselm, who had married the king's daughter of Jerusalem, a fair lady, and gracious in the sight of every man, but she was long time with the emperor ere she bare him any child; wherefore the nobles of the empire were very sorrowful, because their lord had no heir of his own body begotten: till at last it befell, that this Anselm walked after supper, in an evening, into his garden, and bethought himself that he had no heir, and how the king of Ampluy warred on him continually, for so much as he had no son to make defence in his absence; therefore he was sorrowful, and went to his chamber and slept. Then he thought he saw a vision in his sleep, that the morning was more clear than it was wont to be, and that the moon was much paler on the one side than on the other. And after he saw a bird of two colours, and by that bird stood two beasts, which fed that little bird with their heat. And after that came more beasts, and bowing their breasts toward the bird, went their way. Then came there divers birds that sung sweetly and pleasantly: with that the emperor awaked.

               In the morning early this Anselm remembered his vision, and wondered much what it might signify; wherefore he called to him his philosophers, and all the states of the empire, and told them his dream, charging them to tell him the signification thereof on pain of death, and if they told him the true interpretation thereof, he promised them good reward. Then said they, "Dear lord, tell us your dream, and we shall declare to you what it betokens." Then the emperor told them from the beginning to the ending, as is aforesaid. When the philosophers heard this, with glad cheer they answered, and said, "Sir, the vision that you saw betokeneth good, for the empire shall be clearer than it is.

               "The moon that is more pale on the one side than on the other, betokeneth the empress, that hath lost part of her colour, through the conception of a son that she hath conceived. The little bird betokeneth the son that she shall bare. The two beasts that fed this bird betoken the wise and rich men of the empire which shall obey the son. These other beasts that bowed their breasts to the bird betoken many other nations that shall do him homage. The bird that sang so sweetly to this little bird betokeneth the Romans, who shall rejoice and sing because of his birth. This is the very interpretation of your dream."

               When the emperor heard this, he was right joyful. Soon after that, the empress travailed in childbirth, and was delivered of a fair son, at whose birth there was great and wonderful joy made.

               When the king of Ampluy heard this, he thought in himself thus: "Lo, I have warred against the emperor all the days of my life, and now he hath a son who, when he cometh to full age, will revenge the wrong I have done against his father; therefore it is better that I send to the emperor and beseech him of truce and peace, that the son may have nothing against me when he cometh to manhood." When he had thus said to himself, he wrote to the emperor, beseeching him to have peace. When the emperor saw that the king of Ampluy wrote to him more for fear than for love, he wrote again to him, that if he would find good and sufficient sureties to keep the peace, and bind himself all the days of his life to do him service and homage, he would receive him to peace.

               When the king had read the tenor of the emperor's letter, he called his council, praying them to give him counsel how he best might do, as touching this matter. Then said they, "It is good that ye obey the emperor's will and commandment in all things. For first, in that he desired of you surety for the peace; to this we answer thus: Ye have but one daughter, and the emperor one son, wherefore let a marriage be made between them, and that may be a perpetual covenant of peace. Also he asketh homage and tribute, which it is good to fulfil." Then the king sent his messengers to the emperor, saying, that he would fulfil his desire in all things, if it might please his highness that his son and the king's daughter might be married together. All this well pleased the emperor, yet he sent again, saying, "If his daughter were a pure maid from her birth unto that day, he would consent to that marriage." Then was the king right glad, for his daughter was a pure maid.

               Therefore, when the letters of covenant and compact were sealed, the king furnished a fair ship, wherein he might send his daughter, with many noble knights, ladies, and great riches, unto the emperor, for to have his son in marriage.

               And when they were sailing in the sea, towards Rome, a storm arose so extremely and so horribly that the ship brake against a rock, and they were all drowned save only the young lady, which fixed her hope and heart so greatly on God, that she was saved, and about three of the clock the tempest ceased, and the lady drove forth over the waves in that broken ship which was cast up again. But a huge whale followed after, ready to devour both the ship and her. Wherefore this young lady, when night came, smote fire with a stone, wherewith the ship was greatly lightened, and then the whale durst not adventure toward the ship for fear of that light. At the cock-crowing, this young lady was so weary of the great tempest and trouble of sea, that she slept, and within a little while after the fire ceased, and the whale came and devoured the virgin. And when she awaked and found herself swallowed up in the whale's belly, she smote fire, and with a knife wounded the whale in many places, and when the whale felt himself wounded, according to his nature he began to swim to land.

               There was dwelling at that time in a country near by a noble earl named Pirris, who for his recreation walking on the sea-shore, saw the whale coming towards the land; wherefore he turned home again, and gathered a great many of men and women, and came thither again, and fought with the whale, and wounded him very sore, and as they smote, the maiden that was in his belly cried with a high voice, and said: "O gentle friends, have mercy and compassion on me, for I am a king's daughter, and a true maid from the hour of my birth unto this day." When the earl heard this he wondered greatly, and opened the side of the whale, and found the young lady, and took her out. And when she was thus delivered, she told him forthwith whose daughter she was, and how she had lost all her goods in the sea, and how she should have been married unto the emperor's son. And when the earl heard this, he was very glad, and comforted her the more, and kept her with him till she was well refreshed. And in the meantime he sent messengers to the emperor, letting him to know how the king's daughter was saved.

               Then was the emperor right glad of her safety, and coming, had great compassion on her, saying, "Ah, good maiden, for the love of my son thou hast suffered much woe; nevertheless, if thou be worthy to be his wife, soon shall I prove." And when he had thus said, he caused three vessels to be brought forth. The first was made of pure gold, well beset with precious stones without, and within full of dead men's bones, and thereupon was engraven this posie: "WHOSO CHOOSETH ME, SHALL FIND THAT HE DESERVETH." The second vessel was made of fine silver, filled with earth and worms, the superscription was thus: "WHOSO CHOOSETH ME, SHALL FIND THAT HIS NATURE DESIRETH." The third vessel was made of lead, full within of precious stones, and thereupon was insculpt this posie: "WHOSO CHOOSETH ME, SHALL FIND THAT GOD HATH DISPOSED FOR HIM." These three vessels the emperor showed the maiden, and said: "Lo, here daughter, these be rich vessels. If thou choose one of these, wherein is profit to thee and to others, then shalt thou have my son. And if thou choose that wherein is no profit to thee, nor to any other, soothly thou shalt not marry him."

               When the maiden heard this, she lift up her hands to God, and said, "Thou Lord, that knowest all things, grant me grace this hour so to choose, that I may receive the emperor's son." And with that she beheld the first vessel of gold, which was engraven royally, and read the superscription, "Whoso chooseth me, shall find that he deserveth;" saying thus, "Though this vessel be full precious, and made of pure gold, nevertheless I know not what is within, therefore, my dear lord, this vessel will I not choose."

               And then she beheld the second vessel, that was of pure silver, and read the superscription, "Whoso chooseth me, shall find that his nature desireth." Thinking thus within herself, "If I choose this vessel, what is within I know not, but well I know, there shall I find that nature desireth, and my nature desireth the lust of the flesh, and therefore this vessel will I not choose."

               When she had seen these two vessels, and had given an answer as touching them, she beheld the third vessel of lead, and read the superscription, "Whoso chooseth me, shall find that God hath disposed." Thinking within herself, "This vessel is not very rich, nor outwardly precious, yet the superscription saith, "Whoso chooseth me, shall find that God hath disposed;" and without doubt God never disposeth any harm, therefore, by the leave of God, this vessel will I choose."

               When the emperor heard this, he said, "O fair maiden, open thy vessel, for it is full of precious stones, and see if thou hast well chosen or no." And when this young lady had opened it, she found it full of fine gold and precious stones, as the emperor had told her before. Then said the emperor, "Daughter, because thou hast well chosen, thou shalt marry my son." And then he appointed the wedding-day; and they were married with great solemnity, and with much honour continued to their lives' end.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Three Caskets, 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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