Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections] | Annotated Tale

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Lower than the Beasts

IN THE reign of a certain king there lived a proud and oppressive seneschal. Now near the royal palace was a forest well stocked with game; and by the direction of this person various pits were dug there, and covered with leaves, for the purpose of entrapping the beasts. It happened that the seneschal himself went into this forest, and with much exaltation of heart exclaimed internally, "Lives there a being in the empire more powerful than I am?" This braggart thought was scarcely formed, ere he rode upon one of his own pitfalls, and immediately disappeared.

               The same day had been taken a lion, a monkey, and a serpent. Terrified at the situation into which fate had thrown him, he cried out lustily; and his noise awoke a poor man called Guido, who had come with his ass into that forest for firewood, by the sale of which he got his bread. Hastening to the mouth of the pit, and finding the cause of the noise, he was promised great wealth if he would lift the seneschal out.

               "My friend," answered Guido, "I have no means of obtaining a livelihood except by the faggots which I collect; if I neglect this for one day, I shall starve."

               The seneschal renewed his promises of enriching him. Guido went back to the city, and returned with a long cord, which he let down into the pit, and bade the seneschal bind it round his waist. But before he could do so, the lion leaped forward, and seizing upon the cord, was drawn up in his stead. Immediately, in high glee, the beast ran off into the wood. The rope again descended, and the monkey having noticed the success of the lion, vaulted above the man's head, and shaking the cord, was in like manner set at liberty. Without staying to return thanks, he hurried off to his haunts. A third time the cord was let down, and the serpent twining around it, was drawn up, and escaped.

               "O my good friend," said the seneschal, "the beasts are gone, now draw me up quickly, I pray you."

               Guido complied, and afterwards succeeded in drawing up his horse, which the seneschal instantly mounted and rode back to the palace.

               Guido returned home; and his wife observing that he had come without wood, was very dejected, and inquired the cause. He related what had occurred, and the riches he was to receive for his service. The wife's countenance brightened, and early in the morning she posted off her husband to the palace. But the seneschal denied all knowledge of him, and ordered him to be whipped for his presumption. The porter executed the directions, and beat him so severely that he left him half dead. As soon as Guido's wife understood this, she saddled their ass, and brought him home. The sickness which ensued, consumed the whole of their little property; but as soon as he had recovered, he went back to his usual occupation in the wood.

               Whilst he was thus employed, he saw afar off ten asses laden with packs, and a lion by the last of them, coming along the path. On looking narrowly at this beast, he remembered that it was the same which he had freed from its imprisonment in the pit. The lion signified with his foot that he should take the loaded asses, and go home. This Guido did, and the lion followed. When he had come to his own door, the noble beast fawned upon him, and wagging his tail as if in triumph, ran back to the woods. Guido caused proclamation to be made in different churches,[1] that if any asses had been lost, the owners should come to him; but no one appearing to demand them, he opened the packages, and to his great joy discovered them full of money.

               On the second day Guido returned to the forest, but forgot an iron instrument to cleave the wood. He looked up, and saw the monkey whom he had set free; and the animal, by help of teeth and nails, worked for him. Guido then loaded his asses and went home.

               The next day he renewed his visit to the forest; and sitting down to prepare his axe, discerned the serpent, whose escape he had aided, carrying a stone in its mouth of three colours; the one white, another black, and the third red. It opened its mouth and let the stone fall into Guido's lap. Having done this, it departed. Guido took the stone to a skilful lapidary, who had no sooner inspected it than he knew its virtues, and would willingly have paid him a hundred florins for it. But Guido refused; and by means of that singular stone, obtained great wealth, and was promoted to a military command.

               The emperor having heard of the extraordinary qualities which it possessed, desired to see it. Guido went accordingly; and the emperor was so struck with its uncommon beauty, that he wished to purchase it at any rate; and threatened, if Guido refused compliance, to banish him the kingdom.

               "My lord," answered he, "I will sell the stone; but let me say one thing--if the price be not given, it shall be presently restored to me."

               He demanded three hundred florins, and then taking it from a small coffer, put it into the emperor's hands. Full of admiration, he exclaimed, "Tell me where you procured this beautiful stone?"

               This he did; and related from the beginning the seneschal's accident and subsequent ingratitude. He told how severely he had been whipped by his command; and the benefits he had received from the lion, the monkey, and serpent.

               Much moved at the recital, the emperor sent for the seneschal, and said, "What is this I hear of thee?" He was unable to reply. "O wretch!" continued the emperor--"monster of ingratitude! Guido liberated thee from the most imminent danger, and for this thou hast nearly destroyed him. Dost thou see how even irrational things have rendered him good for the service he performed? but thou hast returned evil for good. Therefore I deprive thee of thy dignity, which I will bestow upon Guido; and I further adjudge you to be hung on a cross." This decree infinitely rejoiced the noblemen of the empire; and Guido, full of honours and years, ended his days in peace.



[1] "Per ecclesias proclamare fecit." This may either mean that a notice was fastened to the church door, or given out from the pulpit. The last is most probable.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Lower than the Beasts
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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