Early English versions of the Gesta Romanorum
Sidney J.H. Herrtage
Page  136

THEODOSIUS A WISE EMPEROURE.
(THE HARPER AND THE FISHES.)

[ XXXV. ]
Harl. MS. 7333.

Story.

[leaf 173, col. 2]

Theodosius Reigned̛ a wyse Emperoure in the citee of Rome, the whiche louid̛ afore al othir thinges the melody of þe harpe. hit happenid̛ on̛ a certeyne day, as he Rode in huntinge, that he harde the soune of a Swete harpe, and̛ hit was so swete to his hert, that he thowte that he was Ravishid̛ in him selfe. he Rode aboute this forest, & sowte wher this harpe myght be founde; and̛ at the laste he sawe a pore man, sytting be a water syde, harpynge: & þer come oute of that water so swete a melody, that the Emperour̛ hard̛ neuer non suche afor̛. And̛ therfore the Emperoure Spake to him, and̛ saide, "how is this, that so swete a melody passithe oute of thin harpe?" "Sir," quod̛ he, "I shalle telle yowe the sothe. I have dwelt by this watir with my wyf and̛ with my chylderin xxx.ti yer̛; and̛ god̛ hathe yeve me swiche grace, that euer when I harpe ther is so gentil a melodie, that alle the fishis in the water comithe evin to myn̛ honde, and̛ so I take my sustenaunce, wherby I, & my wyf, Page  137 & my childerin̛ bethe I-founde and̛ susteynid̛. but, sir, ther [is] a muche sorowful cas ayenste me, for in that oþere side is an hisser or a siblatour, and he hissithe so swetlye, that nowe a-dayes the fisshe drawithe to him, & levithe me; and̛ þerfor, sir, I praye yow of your helpe a-yenst this hisser̛." "I shalle yeve the goode counseiƚƚ," quod̛ the Emperour, "For I have her̛ in my purse a golden̛ hoke, the whiche I shalle yeve to the; and̛ þer-for take hit, and̛ bynde it to the ende of a longe yerde, and̛ then smite vpon̛ thin harpe, and̛ what tyme þou seist hem meve in the water, draw hem with the hoke to the londe; þan þou shalt see the hissinge of the hisser shaƚƚ do the none harme." Þenne the pore man was glad̛, and̛ dud̛ al as the Emperour comaundid̛ him. And̛ when he beganne to harpe, the fisshis gonne meve to him-warde; and̛ when̛ the hisser saw that, he turnid̛ from̛ that place withe gret confusion̛, and̛ the pore man̛ dwelt stille al the tyme of his lyfe, and̛ endid̛ gode lyfe.

MORALITEE.

NOw, sirs, this Emperoure is Criste Ihesu, that lovid̛ welle to go aboute huntinge of soulis [leaf 173, back, col. 1] in forest, scil. in holy chirche; he Page  138 lovithe wel the harpe of holy Scripture and̛ of theologie. Þe pore man̛, that sittithe by the water, is a prechoure or a prelat, the wiche owithe to sitte by the worlde, & not al in hit, scil. not to yeve his herte in worldlinesse; and̛ he owithe to have an harpe in his honde of holy scripture, and̛ ther with to worshipe god̛, after the seinge of the salme, Laudate eum in psalterio et cithera, þis is to seye, preysithe your̛ lord̛ god̛ in the sawtrie & in the harpe. But in dayes that bethe now prechours may seye, Allas! for while þey smitithe the harpe, scil. speke the wordes of god̛, þere comithe an hisser, scil. þe devil, & he whistelithe so swetly, þat fisshis, scil. synners, herithe no worde of god̛, but turnithe hem to dilectacion̛ of synne, to whiche the deuil temptithe hem. for the devil hissithe be mony diuerse weyes,—& how? For he makiþe some to slepe, that they her̛ not the wordes of god̛ and̛ som he makithe to chatir faste; and̛ hem þat he may not make chatery ne slepe, he makithe hem to have litle swettnesse or non̛ to the worde of god̛; and̛ some he makithe to leve þe gode wordes of god̛, so that in some snare or grynne he wolle cacche hem. loo! man̛, al thes hissinges hathe þe deville, for to der̛ the, and̛ to drawe the fro þe worde of god̛; and̛ therfor it is nedefulle to euery prelate or prechoure, that hathe sogettes to gouerne, to take an hoke, scil. to aske the grace of god̛ aȝenst thes Page  139 hissinges; & so with grace he shalle drawe many synneres oute of synne to hevene. he bringe vs thedir, Qui cum patre & spiritu sancto regnat per secula! Amen.

Page  136

[ Second Version. VIII. ]
Addit. MS. 9066.

[leaf 14]

Story.

THeodosius reigned̛ in Rome, that amonge aƚƚ the goodes of the world̛ he chose the harpe, and also for to hunte, in resonable tyme. ¶ It happed̛ *on a tyme, as *. [ones whanne] he wente to hunte, he herde the melodie of an harpe witℏ so swete a sowne, that he was ravisshed̛ from hym self̘ for swetnesse. He went aboute the forest to *. [for to] fynde the melodie, And in the ende of the Forest he founde *. [saw] sittyng a poore man, beside a watir, havyng in his honde an harpe, *and harped̛ *. [omitted]; of̘ [leaf 14, back] the whiche wente oute so swete a melodie, that the Emperour̛ *thought he *. [had] herde never *. [omitted] none suche before. ¶ The Emperour said̛, "frende, I pray the telle me, how so swete a melodie gothe out of thyn̛ harpe?" ¶ he said̛, "I and my wyf̘ and my children̛ have dwelled̛ beside *this water *. [here this] xxx. wyntir, and god̛ hathe yoven̛ *. [gyf] me grace, that whan I touche myn̛ harpe, there gothe out so swete a sownde, that the fisshes of this watir, for the *. [omitted] swetnesse *of myn̛ harpe *. [omitted] cometℏ *. [comyne] toPage  137 myn̛ honde, and so I take hem; and by hem I and my wyf̘ and my meyne have oure sustenaunce in grete plente. ¶ But allas for sorow! for *from the *. [on that] other partie of the watir there *. [omitted] cometℏ an hissar̛, that hissetℏ so swetely, that many daies the fisshes levetℏ *. [leve] me, and gotℏ *. [gone] to his hissyng; and therfore *. [therfor, sir] in this nede I aske youre helpe agayn̛ this hissar̛, that thus disceivetℏ me." The Emperour̛ said̛, "I have here in my *. [this] purse a golden̛ hoke, the whiche I shaƚƚ yeve the. have it, and bynde it fast in the ende of a yerde, and touche thyn harpe; and witℏ this hoke thou shalt draw the fishes to the *. [omitted] lond̛, and the hissyng of the hissar̛ shaƚƚ not availe agayn̛ the melodie of thyn̛ harpe." ¶ The poore man did̛ as he badde; and whan he smote on his harpe, the fisshes began for to stere. The hissare, whan he sawe this, witℏ shame and confusion̛ he went away; And the poore man dwelled̛ there aƚƚ his lyfe aftir.

Declaracio.

Frendes, this Emperour̛ is our lord̛ Ihesu crist, that mekeƚƚ loved̛ to hunte after soules in the Forest, that is, in holyPage  138 chirche; and moche he loved̛ the harpe of dyvynyte, and of the wysedome of god̛. ¶ The poore man, that satte by the watir, is the prelate or the prechour̛ of goddes worde, that owetℏ to sitte beside the world̛ and not in the world̛, that owetℏ to have the harpe of holy scripture, and witℏ that praise god̛, and fisshes, that be synners, to draw hem out of this world̛; ¶ unde Psalmista, In tympano et Choro, &c. But the prechour may sey, Allas! allas! for while I smyte on the harpe, that is, while I preche or teche holy writte, the hissar̛ is there, that is, the deveƚƚ, that strengtℏ hymself̘ so swetely to hysse, that the fisshes, that be synners, here not the worde of god̛, but turnetℏ hem to delites and vanytees. ¶ For the deveƚƚ hyssetℏ and temptetℏ men in many maners in the sermon̛. Some he maketℏ for to slepe; Some he maketℏ to Iangle; and some he maketℏ to have no savour̛ in goddes worde; and some he maketℏ for to go away from the Sermon. ¶ Therfore it is fuƚƚ spedefuƚƚ for every prelate or prechour̛, that he put the hoke of goddes gracePage  139 agayn̛ the Sibilacions and temptacions of the fende, [leaf 15] by the whiche he may the rather̛ drawe hem to heven̛. To the whiche place god̛ brynge vs! Amen.