Thursday, March 24, 2011
The Slings and Arrows of Fairy Tales
From the Gesta Romanorum: The Slings and Arrows of Kingship
A very noble king reigned in ancient times. He was wise and rich and had a very dear wife. But the woman, in guilty love with another man, bore three sons outside of her marriage. These sons plotted viciously against the king and did not resemble the monarch in any way. Finally the queen bore a son from her union with the king and raised him. Now it happened that when the king’s days were over, he died and his royal corpse was placed in a coffin and sealed. After his death the four sons began to quarrel about who would rule the kingdom. Finally they agreed: they would go to an old warrior who was formerly an honorable scribe of the deceased king and do whatever he decided. And so it happened. When the warrior patiently had listened to all they said, he spoke: “Hear my judgment! And if you follow these words, all shall go well. It is now fitting that you remove the corpse of the blessed king from his coffin. Each of you shall then take your bow and arrow in hand. Whoever bores deepest with his arrow into the corpse shall receive the kingdom.”
This advice was well received by the sons. They dug up the corpse and removed it from its place of rest and fastened it to a tree. The first son, who shot his arrow, wounded the right hand of the king. The shot was so good, the onlookers almost immediately made him sole heir and ruler of the kingdom. The second son now shot his arrow and it more or less happily arrived very close to the king’s face. He thought with certainty that victory was now his. The third son shot his arrow and it bored through the king’s heart. He now thought the matter undisputed and he would certainly receive the kingdom from his brothers. When the fourth brother now stepped forward to take a shot, he sobbed uncontrollably and spoke with wavering voice: “Woe and misery, my dear father, that I must see your corpse wounded by your own sons. I shall never shoot the body of my father, alive or dead.”
When the fourth son had uttered these words, the dukes and all people of the kingdom lifted him on their shoulders and placed him on the throne as true heir of the kingdom. The other three were stripped of riches and wealth and driven from the country.