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

[ LIX. ]
FULGENCIUS A WISE EMPEROURE.
(HOW A SERPENT PUNISHED THE INGRATITUDE OF A KNIGHT.)
Harl. MS. 7333.

[leaf 191, col. 1 (cont'd)]

Story.

FVlgencius was a wise Emperoure Reignyng in the citee of Rome; in the Empir̛ of whome þere was a knyght namid̛ sedechias; and̛ this knyght weddid̛ a fair woman̛, of þe kynrede of levi, but she was fon, & biter; and̛ in hir house dwelte Page  243 a serpente of longe tyme, in his cave. this knyȝt lovid̛ welle tornementes & Iustinges, and̛ he hauntid̛ hem̛ so muche, that he was I-come to grete nede & pouerte by hem̛; and̛ þerfor̛ he wepte, & made muche lamentacion̛. so in certen daye, as the knyȝt in his hevines walkid̛ by the cave of the serpente, he harde a voyse seing to him, "Whi erte thowe so hevy? do aftir my consaiƚƚ, and̛ thow shalt have consolacion̛." "yis, sir," quod̛ the knyȝt, "that I wolle do Redelye, withe conducion̛ that thow deliuer me from̛ this anger þat I dwelle in." thenne saide the sarpent, "I am a beste, and̛ I have her̛ in myn hole kytlingis, that I have browt forthe; & they bethe Rygℏt feble, for favte off noreshynge, and̛ þou haste mylke I-nowhe in thi house; and̛ yf thow wolte eche day serve my chylderin̛ of sufficeant milke, wherby we mowe be susteynid̛, I shalle make the to be avauncid̛ þerfor̛ vnto ful grete avauncement." when̛ the knyȝt harde thes wordes, he grauntid̛ to do as þe serpente seide, with oute faile. Anoon̛ he ordeynid̛ a vessel afor̛ hir hole, and̛ put þerin eueri daye milke, that the serpent withe his briddis myght licke hit oute; and̛ thus he norisshid̛ hem be mony dayes. And̛ with in shorte tyme the knyȝt [leaf 191, col. 2] was avaunsid̛ to his Richesses, and̛ grete dignite he hadde; and̛ his wyf hadde a faire sonne, & þere faylid̛ no thinge that he desirid̛ to have. hit happid̛ afterward̛, in a certeyne nyght þe wyf saide to hir husbonde, as thei laye on̛ bed̛, "My lorde, we be now Riche peple, & we han̛ yonge childerin̛, [the whiche lackyn] þe litle porcion̛ of milke that we vsyn to yeve to the serpente; for oure children̛ haue none, and̛ we haue longe tyme fedde þere with þe serpente & hir whelpes." Þenne saide he, "what yf she go thenne fro owre howse awey?" Þenne saide she, "I Rede thenne, that she and̛ alle hir whelpis be slayne; and̛ thenne we shuƚƚ be deliuerid̛ fro a grete servitute." And̛ the knyȝt ordeynid̛ a grete hamoure, and̛ yede to the hole, and̛ waytid̛ þere, whenne þat the serpent̘ wolde putte oute hir hede, to licke milke of the vessel; & whenne he saw hir hede oute, he smote in al the myght of his body to the serpent; but the serpente drow hir hede a-yene so appelye, and̛ so sodenlye, that the strook hitte al vpon̛ the vesselle. and̛ soone aftir this fals traytorie, that the knyght dude to the Page  244 serpent, he loste his childe, his goodes, and̛ al his dignites; and̛ that he was in as grete nede and̛ myschef as euere he was afore. And̛ whenne he sawe that, he seyde to his wyf, "Allas and̛ woo may be to vs bothe, that euere I dude aftir thi counsaille; for as longe as we norisshed̛ the serpente, we hadde alle goodes!" Þenne spake she, & saide, "I yafe the eville consaiƚƚ; but goo ayene to the hole, and̛ meke the to hir, & loke yf she wolle be graciouse to sende vs oure goodes a-yene." Þe knyȝt went a-yene to the denne, & wepte bitterly, and̛ prayde the serpente of grace and̛ foryevenes; and̛ he behite hir fro that day forthewardes, that he wolde serve hir as welle as he dude before, and̛ muche better. thenne seide the serpent, "Nowe I see thow erte a foole, for wherto prayst þou by movthe and̛ not withe þyne herte? For thow may not saye bute that the stroke of þe hamour̛, that felle vpon̛ the vesselle, sholde have smetin̛ me; & þerefor̛ I smothe þe a-yene withe oute faylinge, what tyme that I smote thi childe to dethe for the, & took al thi goodes fro the; and̛ so be cause of thin evil wille that thow mentist to me, and̛ also of the grevis that I dude to the ayene, þere may noo pes Regne betwene vs two." whenne the knyȝt herde þes wordes, he yede aweye, and̛ endid̛ a feble lyfe.

MORALITEE

[leaf 191, back, col. 1]

DEre frendes, this Emperoure is þe fadir of hevene. the knyght is eche Crystin̛ man̛, in the house of whom, scil. in his herte dwellithe a serpent, scil.Crist, aftir þe baptim̛ dwellithe in him. Of that serpent spekithe moyses thus, Fac serpentem eneum &c. this is to seye, make a serpent of bras. and̛ that crist may congruli be callid̛ a serpent, is a goode Resom̛. The serpent berithe medecyne & venym̛, scil. medecyne in his tonge, & venym̛ in his tayle; so doth oure lorde Ihesu Crist; he berithe medecyne of euerlastinge lyf, and̛ venym̛ of euerlastynge peyne, scil. he shaƚƚ yeve to his chosyn̛ childerin̛ medecyne of euerlastynge lyfe, and̛ to the wickid̛ venym̛ of euerlastynge peyne. Þis serpent, scilicet Ihesus, dwellid̛ after tyme off baptyme in the cave of thine herte; and̛ he wolle that thow fede him eche day withe þe milke of goode devocion̛, Page  245 for that he shulde dwelle withe his whelpis, scil. his vertues, in the howse of thin herte; and̛ yf we do so, certenly we shulle mow have a chylde, scil. þe werkes of mercy, & of the grace of god̛, & þe Riches of the kyngdom̛ of hevene, þat neuere shalle Ende. But allas! for while þat a man dwellithe & stondithe in swiche goode state, the wyf, scil. the wrecchid̛ fleshe, stiritℏ a man̛ to kylle the serpente, scil. criste, by dedlye synne; and̛ so at the stiringe of the fleshe, the wrecchid̛ man̛ havinge no thouȝt of parilis to come, takithe the hamoure of synne, & purposithe to sle Criste. but þe serpent takithe in hir hede; so doþe Criste with vs; he witℏ drawithe his power̛ fro vs, and̛ latithe the strooke falle vpon̛ the vesselle, scil. oure soule; for the soule shaƚƚ be y-smyten of the synnes of the body. But whenne a man̛ seeþe the venieaunce of god̛ come to him þerfor̛, by weye of sekenes, lost of godis, deþ, pouerte, angre, or eny oþere tribulacion̛, þenne he begynnythe to aske his grace, & his mercye. For swiche men̛ sorowithe moor̛ for the wrecchidenesse that thei han her̛, þenne thei do for þe wrethe of god̛; and̛ þerefor̛ seithe the wyse man of swiche offencion̛, and̛ lowli askynge of grace, Est qui nequiter se humiliat, cuius interiora dolo sunt plena, He lowiþe him wickidlye, þat is with ynne ful of falshede. As þe thef whenne he goþe to the Iebette, he sorowþe mor̛ for the wrecchidnesse that he is bounden̛ ynne, thenne he dothe for the wrethe of god̛; and̛ þere buþe many swiche men nowe [leaf 191, back, col. 2] a dayis, that sorowithe not symplely for that that they offende god̛, but for thei wante hir wille. and̛ þerfor̛ late vs be euer besye to plese god̛, that we mowe have the kyngdome of heven. Ad quod nos &c.