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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Ancelmus the Emperour
Gesta Romanorum
ANCELMUS 1 reigned emperour in the cite of Rome, and he wedded to wife the Kinges doughter of Jerusalem, the which was a faire woman and long dwelte in his company…. Happing in a certaine evening as he walked after his supper in a fair green, and thought of all the worlde, and especially that he had no heir, and how that the Kinge of Naples strongly therefore noyed [harmed] him each year; and so whenne it was night he went to bed and took a sleep and dreamed this: He saw the firmament in its most clearnesse, and more clear than it was wont to be, and the moon was more pale; and on a parte of the moon was a faire-colored bird, and beside her stood two beasts, the which nourished the bird with their heat and breath. After this came divers beasts and birds flying, and they sang so sweetly that the emperour was with the song awaked.  1
  Thenne on the morrow the emperoure had great marvel of his sweven [dream], and called to him divinours [soothsayers] and lords of all the empire, and saide to them, “Deere frendes, telleth me what is the interpretation of my sweven, and I shall reward you; and but if ye do, ye shall be dead.” And then they saide, “Lord, show to us this dream, and we shall tell thee the interpretation of it.” And then the emperour told them as is saide before, from beginning to ending. And then they were glad, and with a great gladnesse spake to him and saide, “Sir, this was a good sweven. For the firmament that thou sawe so clear is the empire, the which henceforth shall be in prosperity; the pale moon is the empresse…. The little bird is the faire son whom the empresse shall bryng forth, when time cometh; the two beasts been riche men and wise men that shall be obedient to thy childe; the other beasts been other folke, that never made homage and nowe shall be subject to thy sone; the birds that sang so sweetly is the empire of Rome, that shall joy of thy child’s birth: and sir, this is the interpretacion of your dream.”  2
  When the empresse heard this she was glad enough; and soon she bare a faire sone, and thereof was made much joy. And when the King of Naples heard that, he thought to himselfe: “I have longe time holden war against the emperour, and it may not be but that it will be told to his son, when that he cometh to his full age, howe that I have fought all my life against his fader. Yea,” thought he, “he is now a child, and it is good that I procure for peace, that I may have rest of him when he is in his best and I in my worste.”  3
  So he wrote lettres to the emperour for peace to be had; and the emperour seeing that he did that more for cause of dread than of love, he sent him worde again, and saide that he would make him surety of peace, with condition that he would be in his servitude and yield him homage all his life, each year. Thenne the kyng called his counsel and asked of them what was best to do; and the lordes of his kyngdom saide that it was goode to follow the emperour in his will:—“In the first ye aske of him surety of peace; to that we say thus: Thou hast a doughter and he hath a son; let matrimony be made between them, and so there shall be good sikernesse [sureness]; also it is good to make him homage and yield him rents.” Thenne the kyng sent word to the emperour and saide that he would fulfill his will in all points, and give his doughter to his son in wife, if that it were pleasing to him.  4
  This answer liked well the emperour. So lettres were made of this covenaunt; and he made a shippe to be adeyned [prepared], to lead his doughter with a certain of knightes and ladies to the emperour to be married with his sone. And whenne they were in the shippe and hadde far passed from the lande, there rose up a great horrible tempest, and drowned all that were in the ship, except the maid. Thenne the maide set all her hope strongly in God; and at the last the tempest ceased; but then followed strongly a great whale to devoure this maid. And whenne she saw that, she muche dreaded; and when the night come, the maid, dreading that the whale would have swallowed the ship, smote fire at a stone, and had great plenty of fire; and as long as the fire lasted the whale durst come not near, but about cock’s crow the mayde, for great vexacion that she had with the tempest, fell asleep, and in her sleep the fire went out; and when it was out the whale came nigh and swallowed both the ship and the mayde. And when the mayde felt that she was in the womb of a whale, she smote and made great fire, and grievously wounded the whale with a little knife, in so much that the whale drew to the land and died; for that is the kind to draw to the land when he shall die.  5
  And in this time there was an earl named Pirius, and he walked in his disport by the sea, and afore him he sawe the whale come toward the land. He gathered great help and strength of men; and with diverse instruments they smote the whale in every part of him. And when the damsell heard the great strokes she cried with an high voice and saide, “Gentle sirs, have pity on me, for I am the doughter of a king, and a mayde have been since I was born.” Whenne the earl heard this he marveled greatly, and opened the whale and took oute the damsell. Thenne the maide tolde by order how that she was a kyng’s doughter, and how she lost her goods in the sea, and how she should be married to the son of the emperour. And when the earl heard these words he was glad, and helde the maide with him a great while, till tyme that she was well comforted; and then he sent her solemnly to the emperour. And whenne he saw her coming, and heard that she had tribulacions in the sea, he had great compassion for her in his heart, and saide to her, “Goode damsell, thou hast suffered muche anger for the love of my son; nevertheless, if that thou be worthy to have him I shall soon prove.”  6
  The emperour had made III. vessells, and the first was of clean [pure] golde and full of precious stones outwarde, and within full of dead bones; and it had a superscription in these words: They that choose me shall find in me that they deserve. The second vessell was all of clean silver, and full of worms: and outwarde it had this superscription: They that choose me shall find in me that nature and kind desireth. And the third vessell was of lead and within was full of precious stones, and without was set this scripture [inscription]: They that choose me shall find in me that God hath disposed. These III. vessells tooke the emperour and showed the maide, saying, “Lo! deer damsell, here are three worthy vessellys, and if thou choose [the] one of these wherein is profit and right to be chosen, then thou shalt have my son to husband; and if thou choose that that is not profitable to thee nor to no other, forsooth, thenne thou shalt not have him.”  7
  Whenne the doughter heard this and saw the three vessells, she lifted up her eyes to God and saide:—“Thou, Lord, that knowest all things, graunt me thy grace now in the need of this time, scil. that I may choose at this time, wherethrough [through which] I may joy the son of the emperour and have him to husband.” Thenne she beheld the first vessell that was so subtly [cunningly] made, and read the superscription; and thenne she thought, “What have I deserved for to have so precious a vessell? and though it be never so gay without, I know not how foul it is within;” so she tolde the emperour that she would by no way choose that. Thenne she looked to the second, that was of silver, and read the superscription; and thenne she said, “My nature and kind asketh but delectation of the flesh, forsooth, sir,” quoth she; “and I refuse this.” Thenne she looked to the third, that was of lead, and read the superscription, and then she, saide, “In sooth, God disposed never evil; forsooth, that which God hath disposed will I take and choose.”  8
  And when the emperour sawe that he saide, “Goode damesell, open now that vessell and see what thou hast found.” And when it was opened it was full of gold and precious stones. And thenne the emperour saide to her again, “Damesell, thou hast wisely chosen and won my son to thine husband.” So the day was set of their bridal, and great joy was made; and the son reigned after the decease of the fadir, the which made faire ende. Ad quod nos perducat! Amen.  9

  DEERE frendis, this emperour is the Father of Heaven, the whiche made man ere he tooke flesh. The empress that conceived was the blessed Virgin, that conceived by the annunciation of the angel. The firmament was set in his most clearnesse, scil. the world was lighted in all its parts by the concepcion of the empress Our Lady…. The little bird that passed from the side of the moon is our Lord Jesus Christ, that was born at midnight and lapped [wrapped] in clothes and set in the crib. The two beasts are the oxen and the asses. The beasts that come from far parts are the herds [shepherds] to whom the angels saide, Ecce annuncio vobis gaudium magnum,—“Lo! I shew you a great joy.” The birds that sang so sweetly are angels of heaven, that sang Gloria in excelsis Deo. The king that held such war is mankind, that was contrary to God while that it was in power of the Devil; but when our Lord Jesus Christ was born, then mankind inclined to God, and sent for peace to be had, when he took baptism and saide that he gave him to God and forsook the Devil. Now the king gave his doughter to the son of the emperour, scil. each one of us ought to give to God our soul in matrimony; for he is ready to receive her to his spouse [etc.].
Note 1. The story of the three caskets in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ [back]

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