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Gesta Romanorum Tales

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Emperor Gallus hired a particularly skilful carpenter to help in building a great palace. At that time there also lived a certain knight who had a remarkably beautiful daughter. The knight noticed how unusually wise and skilful the carpenter was, and determined to give him his daughter in marriage. Calling him, therefore, he said, "Good friend, ask of me what you will, and if it is at all possible I will do it, if only you marry my daughter."

The carpenter agreed, and the marriage was celebrated. Then the knight's wife said to the carpenter, "Son, since you have become one of our family, I will give you a shirt that will neither be rent, nor worn, nor stained as long as you and your wife are faithful to each other. But if - Heaven forbid - either of you are unfaithful, it will not work like that any longer."

The carpenter, very happy about what he heard, took the shirt and thanked his mother-in-law a whole lot for the gift.

A short while afterwards the carpenter was sent to supervise the building of the emperor's palace, and took with him the valuable shirt. He was away from home till the structure was complete; and many who saw how much he worked, admired his clean-looking shirt. Even the emperor noticed it and said to him, "How is it that your shirt stays clean and tidy no matter how long you work while wearing it?"

"This is how it is," he said. "So long as my wife and I remain faithful to each other, my shirt stays white and beautiful. But if either of us forgets our wedding vows, it will sully like any other cloth."

A soldier overheard this and thought, "If I can, I will make you wash your shirt." And right away he secretly hastened to the carpenter's house and enticed his wife to dishonour. She received him politely and looked pleased, and also seemed to share his feelings. "But," she added, "in this place others may observe us. Come with me, and I will take you into a private room."

He followed her. Closing the door, she said, "Wait here for a while. I will soon return." And next day she returned and supplied him with bread and water through a tiny opening in the very solid door. The soldier saw there was nothing else for him to do but to endure this humiliation.

Before long, two other soldiers came to her from the emperor's court with the same purpose in mind, one by one. And she likewise tricked them into the chamber where they were fed with bread and water only.

That three soldiers had disappeared from the emperor's court, gave rise to many questions and investigations at the place while the carpenter, who had done what he came for, received his pay and returned home. His wife met him with joy and exclaimed as she looked on his spotless shirt, "Hurra, there is not a single stain on the shirt."

He replied, "Dear, while the building was nearly completed, three soldiers, one after another, came to ask questions about the shirt. I told about it, and since then nothing has been heard of them."

His noble wife smiled and said, "All the soldiers came here and tried to seduce me. I tricked them one by ine into a remote room, and have fed them only with bread and water since."

The carpenter, delighted with this proof that his wife had been faithful to him, spared their lives and set them free, and he and his wife lived happily for the rest of their lives. [69]

The carpenter is any good husband, and the soldiers stand for pride and lust.

That sort of justice

During the reign of Caesar a law was enacted: If a man mistreated a woman and overcame her by violence, it should remain with the offended woman to decide whether the man should be put to death or married to her without a portion.

Now, a certain fellow violated two women on the same night, and one of the women wanted him put him to death, and the other to be married to him. The violator was seized and brought before the judge.

The first woman insisted on her right to have the man put to death; while the second claimed him for her husband according to the law. She said, "Because my demand is less severe and more charitable, I hope that the judge will rule in my favour."

When either side had been heard, the judge ordered that the second woman should have the man for her husband. [4]

Let us study to please God.

Of reasons

The Emperor Heraclius was remarkable for his inflexible justice. Once a certain man accused a knight of the murder of another knight, in this form: "Two knights went out to war in company with another, but there was no battle, and only one knight returned. Therefore we think he murdered his companion."

The king seemed to be satisfied with this guesswork, and commanded the prisoner to be executed. But as they approached the place of execution, the lost knight came walking towards them, alive and well.

The judge got enraged at this interruption of the sentence, and said to the accused knight, "I order you to be put to death, because you have already been sentenced to death."

Then turning to the accusing man, "And you also, because you are the cause of his death."

"And you, too," addressing the restored knight, "because you were sent to war to kill, and did not." [140]

The mad judge is [the Christian] God.

Once Severity Availed Less than Lenience

King Medrus had an only son, and put him up as his heir. However, the son was ungrateful to his father, and was soon disinherited. Under these circumstances the son fled to the king of the Persians, who was the rival and enemy of his parent. He said that he was ready to serve him to the death, and was ready to make war on his father too.

War was declared, and the armies fought against each other for some time with equal fortune. Then it happened that King Medrus was grievously wounded, and the blood flowed. When his son perceived this and had thought about it, he straightway hurried to his father's side and attacked the troops of the Persian king, and put them to flight.

After this, his deal with the king of Persia was made void, and he returned to his father, meekly sought forgiveness, and got it. When peace had thus been established, he was again appointed his father's heir. * [138]

The two kings are God and the devil.

* "We have here a new version of the story of Coriolanus." (Note)

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