Mediæval Tales [Gesta Romanorum Selections] | Annotated Tale

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Verse Exercise, A

ALEXANDER had an only son called Celestinus, whom he loved with the utmost tenderness. He desired to have him well instructed; and sending for a certain philosopher, said, "Sir, instruct my son, and I will pay you bountifully." The philosopher agreed, and took the boy home with him. He diligently performed his duty; and it happened, that one day entering a meadow with his pupil, they saw a horse lying on the ground, grievously affected with the mange. Near the animal two sheep were tied together, which busily cropped the grass that grew around them. It so chanced that the sheep were on each side of the horse, and the cord with which they were bound passed over his back, and chafing the sores, galled him exceedingly. Disturbed by this, he got up; but the cord, then loaded with the weight of the sheep, afflicted him more and more; and filled with fury, he began to run off at a great speed, dragging along the unfortunate sheep. And in equal proportion to their resistance was the increase of the horse's suffering, for the cord, having worn itself into a hollow, sunk, at every struggle, deeper into the wound.

               Adjoining the meadow was the house of a miller, toward which the horse, impelled by the anguish of his wound, galloped, and entered, with the sheep hanging as we have said. The house was then unoccupied; but there was a fire burning upon the hearth; and the horse plunging and striking his hoofs, so scattered the fire, that the flame caught hold of the building, and burnt all to ashes, together with the horse and the sheep. "Young man," said the preceptor to his pupil, "you have witnessed the beginning, the middle, and the end of this incident: make me some correct verses upon it; and show me why the house was burnt. Unless you do this, I promise I will punish you severely."

               Celestinus, during the absence of his master, applied himself diligently to study, but he was unable to do his task. This much troubled him; and the devil, ever on the alert, met him in the likeness of a man, and said, "My son, what has made you so sorrowful?"

               Celest. "Never mind; it is no use telling you."

               Devil. "You know not that; tell me, and I will help you."

                Celest. "I am charged, under a heavy punishment, to make some verses about a scabby horse and two sheep, and I don't know how."

               Devil. "Young man, I am the devil in a human form, and the best poet going; care nothing about your master, but promise to serve me faithfully, and I will compose such delectable verses for you that they shall excel those of your pedagogue himself."

               Celestinus, tempted by this insidious proposal, gave his word to serve him faithfully if he fulfilled his engagement.

               The devil then produced the following verses:--

Bound by a thong, that passed along    
A horse's mangy hide;  
Two sheep there lay, as I you say,    
One upon either side.

The steed uprose, and upward goes    
Each sheep with dangling breech;  
Borne by the horse's rapid course,    
The miller's hut they reach.

Scattering the fire, with reckless ire,    
The rafters caught the flame;  
And bleating breed and scabby steed    
Were roasted in the same.

Now had that wight, that miller hight,    
Vouchsafed his house to keep;  
Ere he returned, it had not burned,     
Nor burned his horse and sheep. [1]

               The boy, made happy by the present, returned home.

               Master. "My child, have you stolen your verses, or made them?"

               Celest. "I made them, sir."

               He then read what we have given above; and the master, struck with the greatest astonishment at their uncommon beauty, exclaimed, "My dear boy, tell me if any one made these verses for you?"

               Celest. "No, sir; no one did."

               Master. "Unless you tell me the truth, I will flog you till the blood run."

               The lad, fearful of what might follow, declared all that occurred, and how he had bound himself to the devil. The preceptor, grieved at the communication, induced the youth to confess himself, and renounce this fearful confederacy. When this was done he became a holy man; and after a well-spent life, gave up his soul to God.



[1] As these are probably the only verses on record of the devil's composition (at least, so well authenticated), I transcribe them for the information of the curious.

"Nexus ovem binam, per spinam traxit equinam;
 Læsus surgit equus, pendet utrumque pecus.
 Ad molendinum, pondus portabat equinum,
 Dispergendo focum, se cremat atque locum.
 Custodes aberant; singula damna ferant."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Verse Exercise, A
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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