Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections] | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in December 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Humbling of Jovinian, The

WHEN Jovinian was emperor, he had very great power, and as he lay in bed reflecting upon the extent of his dominions, his heart was elated.

               "Is there," he impiously asked, "is there any other god than me?" Amid such thoughts he fell asleep.

               In the morning, he reviewed his troops, and said, "My friends, after breakfast we will hunt."

               Preparations being made accordingly, he set out with a large retinue. During the chase, the emperor felt such extreme oppression from the heat, that he believed his very existence depended upon a cold bath. As he anxiously looked around, he discovered a sheet of water at no great distance. "Remain here," said he to his guard, "until I have refreshed myself in yonder stream." Then spurring his steed, he rode hastily to the edge of the water. Alighting, he stripped off his clothes, and experienced the greatest pleasure from its invigorating freshness and coolness. But whilst he was thus employed, a person similar to him in every respect--in countenance and gesture--arrayed himself unperceived in the emperor's dress, and then mounting his horse, rode off to the attendants. The resemblance to the sovereign was such, that no doubt was entertained of the reality; and straightway command was issued for their return to the palace.

               Jovinian, however, having quitted the water, sought in every possible direction for his horse and clothes, and to his utter astonishment, could find neither. Vexed beyond measure at the circumstance (for he was completely naked, and saw no one near to assist him) he began to reflect upon what course he should pursue. "Miserable man that I am," said he, "to what a strait am I reduced! There is, I remember, a knight who lives close by; I will go to him, and command his attendance and service. I will then ride on to the palace and strictly investigate the cause of this extraordinary conduct. Some shall smart for it."

               Jovinian proceeded, naked and ashamed, to the castle of the aforesaid knight, and beat loudly at the gate. The porter, without unclosing the wicket, inquired the cause of the knocking. "Open the gate," said the enraged emperor, "and you will see who I am." The gate was opened; and the porter, struck with the strange appearance he exhibited, replied, "In the name of all that is marvellous, what are you?" "I am," said he, "Jovinian, your emperor; go to your lord, and command him from me to supply the wants of his sovereign. I have lost both horse and clothes." "Infamous ribald!" shouted the porter, "just before thy approach, the Emperor Jovinian, accompanied by the officers of his household, entered the palace. My lord both went and returned with him; and but even now sat with him at meat. But because thou hast called thyself the emperor, however madly, my lord shall know of thy presumption." The porter entered, and related what had passed. Jovinian was introduced, but the knight retained not the slightest recollection of his master, although the emperor remembered him. "Who are you?" said the knight, "and what is your name?" "I am the Emperor Jovinian," rejoined he; "canst thou have forgotten me? At such a time I promoted thee to a military command." "Why, thou most audacious scoundrel," said the knight, "darest thou call thyself the emperor? I rode with him myself to the palace, from whence I am this moment returned. But thy impudence shall not go without its reward. Flog him," said he, turning to his servants. "Flog him soundly, and drive him away."

               This sentence was immediately executed, and the poor emperor, bursting into a convulsion of tears, exclaimed, "Oh, my God, is it possible that one whom I have so much honoured and exalted should do this? Not content with pretending ignorance of my person, he orders these merciless villains to abuse me! However, it will not be long unavenged. There is a certain duke, one of my privy councillors, to whom I will make known my calamity. At least, he will enable me to return decently to the palace." To him, therefore, Jovinian proceeded, and the gate was opened at his knock. But the porter, beholding a naked man, exclaimed in the greatest amaze, "Friend, who are you, and why come you here in such a guise?" He replied, "I am your emperor; I have accidentally lost my clothes and my horse, and I have come for succour to your lord. Inform the duke, therefore, that I have business with him." The porter, more and more astonished, entered the hall, and told of the man outside. "Bring him in," said the duke. He was brought in, but neither did he recognize the person of the emperor. "What art thou?" was again asked, and answered as before. "Poor mad wretch," said the duke, "a short time since, I returned from the palace, where I left the very emperor thou assumest to be. But ignorant whether thou art more fool or knave, we will administer such remedy as may suit both. Carry him to prison, and feed him with bread and water." The command was no sooner delivered, than obeyed; and the following day his naked body was submitted to the lash, and again cast into the dungeon.

               Thus afflicted, he gave himself up to the wretchedness of his untoward condition. In the agony of his heart, he said: "What shall I do? Oh! what will be my destiny? I am loaded with the coarsest contumely, and exposed to the malicious observation of my people. It were better to hasten immediately to my palace, and there discover myself--my wife will know me; surely, my wife will know me!" Escaping, therefore, from his confinement, he approached the palace and beat upon the gate. The same questions were repeated, and the same answers returned. "Who art thou?" said the porter. "It is strange," replied the aggrieved emperor, "it is strange that thou shouldst not know me; thou, who hast served me so long!" "Served thee!" returned the porter indignantly; "thou liest abominably. I have served none but the emperor." "Why," said the other, "thou knowest that I am he. Yet, though you disregard my words, go, I implore you, to the empress; communicate what I will tell thee, and by these signs, bid her send the imperial robes, of which some rogue has deprived me. The signs I tell thee of are known to none but to ourselves." "In verity," said the porter, "thou art specially mad; at this very moment my lord sits at table with the empress herself. Nevertheless, out of regard for thy singular merits, I will intimate thy declaration within; and rest assured thou wilt presently find thyself most royally beaten." The porter went accordingly, and related what he had heard. But the empress became very sorrowful, and said: "Oh, my lord, what am I to think? The most hidden passages of our lives are revealed by an obscene fellow at the gate, and repeated to me by the porter, on the strength of which he declares himself the emperor, and my espoused lord!" When the fictitious monarch was apprised of this, he commanded him to be brought in. He had no sooner entered, than a large dog, which couched upon the hearth, and had been much cherished by him, flew at his throat, and, but for timely prevention, would have killed him. A falcon also, seated upon her perch, no sooner beheld him than she broke her jesses and flew out of the hall. Then the pretended emperor, addressing those who stood about him, said: "My friends, hear what I will ask of yon ribald. Who are you? and what do you want?" "These questions," said the suffering man, "are very strange. You know I am the emperor and master of this place." The other, turning to the nobles who sat or stood at the table, continued: "Tell me, on your allegiance, which of us two is your lord and master?" "Your majesty asks us an easy thing," replied they, "and need not to remind us of our allegiance. That obscene wretch cannot be our sovereign. You alone are he, whom we have known from childhood; and we intreat that this fellow may be severely punished as a warning to others how they give scope to their mad presumption." Then turning to the empress, the usurper said: "Tell me, my lady, on the faith you have sworn, do you know this man who calls himself thy lord and emperor?" She answered: "My lord, how can you ask such a question? Have I not known thee more than thirty years, and borne thee many children? Yet, at one thing I do admire. How can this fellow have acquired so intimate a knowledge of what has passed between us?"

               The pretended emperor made no reply, but addressing the real one, said: "Friend, how darest thou to call thyself emperor? We sentence thee, for this unexampled impudence, to be drawn, without loss of time, at the tail of a horse. And if thou utterest the same words again, thou shalt be doomed to an ignominious death." He then commanded his guards to see the sentence put in force, but to preserve his life. The unfortunate emperor was now almost distracted; and urged by his despair, wished vehemently for death. "Why was I born?" he exclaimed. "My friends shun me, and my wife and children will not acknowledge me. But there is my confessor, still. To him will I go; perhaps he will recollect me, because he has often received my confessions." He went accordingly, and knocked at the window of his cell. "Who is there?" said the confessor. "The Emperor Jovinian," was the reply; "open the window and I will speak to thee." The window was opened; but no sooner had he looked out than he closed it again in great haste. "Depart from me," said he, "accursed thing: thou art not the emperor, but the devil incarnate." This completed the miseries of the persecuted man; and he tore his hair, and plucked up his beard by the roots. "Woe is me," he cried, "for what strange doom am I reserved?" At this crisis, the impious words which, in the arrogance of his heart, he had uttered, crossed his recollection. Immediately he beat again at the window of the confessor's cell, and exclaimed: "For the love of Him who was suspended from the cross, hear my confession." The recluse opened the window, and said, "I will do this with pleasure;" and then Jovinian acquainted him with every particular of his past life; and principally how he had lifted himself up against his Maker.

               The confession made, and absolution given, the recluse looked out of his window, and directly knew him. "Blessed be the most high God," said he, "now I do know thee. I have here a few garments: clothe thyself, and go to the palace. I trust that they also will recognize thee." The emperor did as the confessor directed. The porter opened the gate, and made a low obeisance to him. "Dost thou know me?" said he. "Very well, my lord!" replied the menial; "but I marvel that I did not observe you go out." Entering the hall of his mansion, Jovinian was received by all with a profound reverence. The strange emperor was at that time in another apartment with the queen; and a certain knight going to him, said, "My lord, there is one in the hall to whom everybody bends; he so much resembles you, that we know not which is the emperor." Hearing this, the usurper said to the empress, "Go and see if you know him." She went, and returned greatly surprised at what she saw. "Oh, my lord," said she, "I declare to you that I know not whom to trust." "Then," returned he, "I will go and determine you." And taking her hand he led her into the hall and placed her on the throne beside him. Addressing the assembly, he said, "By the oaths you have taken, declare which of us is your emperor." The empress answered: "It is incumbent on me to speak first; but heaven is my witness, that I am unable to determine which is he." And so said all. Then the feigned emperor spoke thus: "My friends, hearken! That man is your king and your lord. He exalted himself to the disparagement of his Maker; and God, therefore, scourged and hid him from your knowledge. But his repentance removes the rod; he has now made ample satisfaction, and again let your obedience wait upon him. Commend yourselves to the protection of heaven." So saying, he disappeared. The emperor gave thanks to God, and surrendering to Him all his soul, lived happily and finished his days in peace.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Humbling of Jovinian, 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

Prev Tale
Hungry Flies

Back to Top