A Medieval Storybook

A Medieval Storybook

selected and edited by Morris Bishop
drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury
Copyright Date: 1970
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Medieval Storybook
    Book Description:

    From the rich store of medieval tales, Morris Bishop brings together a delightful collection of thirty-five stories. Some are romantic, some religious, some realistic, some even scurrilous. There are merry tales and moral tales, sagas, allegories, and fables. They vary widely in theme and their characters represent every class of medieval society. The tales in A Medieval Storybook vividly illustrate medieval life and thought. Above all they excel as stories, and demonstrate the high level attained by narrative art in the Middle Ages and the great gift the medieval writers had for creating lively and memorable characters. Some of the stories in the book were translated by Bishop; others were translated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Line drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury add considerably to the charm of this collection.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6834-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. I Romances of King Arthur’s Court

    • The Story of Merlin
      (pp. 3-12)

      When constaunce, King of Britain, who had freed the people from their enemies round about, was dead, his eldest son, Moyne the Monk, was taken from the cloister at Winchester to sit upon the throne. And seeing him to be an unwarlike prince, Angys the Dane gathered together an army of Danes and Saxons and sailed for Britain with many high-banked ships full of kings and earls. Then king Moyne looked that Sir Fortager, which was his father’s steward and captain of the host, should lead the Britons out to fight against Angys. But Fortager feigned sickness and would not...

    • The Sword in the Stone
      (pp. 13-22)
      Thomas Malory

      It befell in the days of Uther Pendragon, when he was king of all England and so reigned, that there was a mighty duke in Cornwall that held war against him long time. And the duke was named the duke of Tintagil. And so by means King Uther sent for this duke, charging him to bring his wife with him, for she was called a fair lady, and a passing wise, and her name was called Igraine. So when the duke and his wife were come unto the king, by the means of great lords they were accorded both. The...

    • Launcelot, Elaine, and Guenever
      (pp. 23-44)
      Thomas Malory

      Now leave we Sir Tristram de Liones, and speak we of Sir Launcelot du Lake, and of Sir Galahad, Sir Launcelot’s son, how he was gotten, and in what manner, as the book of French rehearseth. Afore the time that Sir Galahad was gotten or born, there came in an hermit unto King Arthur upon Whitsunday, as the knights sat at the Table Round. And when the hermit saw the Siege* Perilous, he asked the king and all the knights why that siege was void. Sir Arthur and all the knights answered: There shall never none sit in that siege...

    • Tristan’s End
      (pp. 45-62)

      Tristan saw Brittany again, Carhaix, Duke Hoёl, and his wife Iseult of the White Hands. All welcomed him, but Iseult the Fair had driven him away: nothing else mattered. Long he languished, far from her, till on a day he knew he must see her again, even if she had him basely beaten by her men-at-arms and valets. Far from her, death came surely; and he had rather die at once than day by day. Who lives in sorrow is like a man dead. And he desired some death, but that the Queen might know it was for love of...

  4. II Adventures and Escapades

    • The Story of Frithjof and Ingebjorg
      (pp. 65-91)

      King belé of Norroway had a little daughter named Ingebjorg. The boy Frithjof was her playfellow in her father’s palace. No King’s son nor royal prince was Frithjof: he was only Thane Thorsten’s boy. But the king and the thane were friends; and because friendship makes all men equal, there was no more constraint betwixt king and thane than betwixt their two children which played together in the palace.

      When Ingebjorg was six years old it came into King Belé’s mind to send her to the sage Hilding, to learn the wisdom of men and the knowledge of the gods;...

    • Amleth’s Revenge
      (pp. 92-102)
      Saxo Grammaticus

      Seeing this, but not wanting to arouse his uncle’s suspicions by intelligent action, Amleth behaved like a witless fool, pretending to have taken leave of his senses; by which ruse he not only concealed his intelligence but also saved his life. Day in and day out he sat listless at his mother’s hearth, covered in dust and dirt, or he flung himself on the floor and rolled in all the grime and filth. With befouled face and smeared visage he resembled a grotesque and ridiculous fool. His every word was utter nonsense, and all his actions denoted profound folly. In...

    • A Knight Who Made a Bargain with a Merchant
      (pp. 103-108)

      Celestinus, Roman Emperor, a very careful and prudent man, had a beautiful daughter. And a certain knight was much enamored of the girl. He reflected: “There is no doubt that the Emperor will never give me his daughter to wife, since I am not of fit rank. Yet if by some means I could capture the young lady’s love, that would be enough for me.”

      Often he held converse with her, and questioned her closely about her desire. But she replied: “You are wasting your time. Do you think you can gull me with your cajoling words? You will never...

    • A Story of beyond the Sea
      (pp. 109-137)

      In times gone by there lived a Count of Ponthieu, who loved chivalry and the pleasures of the world beyond measure, and moreover was a stout knight and a gallant gentleman. In the self-same day there lived a Count of St. Pol, who was lord of much land, and a right worthy man. One grief he had, that there was no heir of his body; but a sister was his, a prudent woman and a passing good gentlewoman, who was dame of Dommare in Ponthieu. This lady had a son, Thibault by name, who was heir to this County of...

    • The Cruelty of Francesco Orsini
      (pp. 138-141)
      Giovanni Fiorentino

      Not long ago there lived in Rome a gentleman named Messer Francesco Orsino da Monte Giordano, who had to wife a certain Donna Lisabetta, a lady fair and prudent and of very seemly manners. She had lived with him some time, and had borne him two sons. But it chanced that a youth fell in love with this lady, and she with him; and, as they were not wise enough to keep hidden their love, Messer Francesco was told divers times of the same; but he refused to believe the report, seeing that the youth was neither comely, nor well-born,...

    • A Night in Naples
      (pp. 142-154)
      Giovanni Boccaccio

      There was once in Perugia, as I have heard tell aforetime, a young man, a horse-dealer, by name Andreuccio di Pietro, who, hearing that horses were good cheap at Naples, put five hundred gold florins in his purse and betook himself thither with other merchants, having never before been away from home. He arrived there one Sunday evening, towards vespers, and having taken counsel with his host, sallied forth next morning to the market, where he saw great plenty of horses. Many of them pleased him and he cheapened one and another, but could not come to an accord concerning...

  5. III Lovers’ Weal and Woe

    • The Dapple-Gray Palfrey
      (pp. 157-176)
      Huon Leroi

      This tale is set in writing to portray and call to remembrance the worth, gentleness and honour that can be drawn from women; for well should we hold in mind the virtues that may be seen in them. Right sorry am I, and much it irketh me that they are not exalted and praised of all men to the height of their deserts. God! if but their hearts were sound and steadfast, strong and true, there were in all the world no treasure like unto them. It is great loss and great pity that they take not more heed to...

    • The Lay of the Nightingale
      (pp. 177-180)
      Marie de France

      Now will I tell you a story, whereof the Breton harper already has made a Lay. Laustic, I deem, men name it in that country, which, being interpreted, means rossignol in French, and nightingale in good plain English.

      In the realm of Brittany stands a certain rich and mighty city, called Saint Malo. There were citizens of this township two knights, so well spoken and reputed of all, that the city drew therefrom great profit and fame. The houses of these lords were very near the one to the other. One of the two knights had to wife a passing...

    • The Falcon
      (pp. 181-186)
      Giovanni Boccaccio

      You must know that Coppo di Borghese Domenichi, who was of our days and maybe is yet a man of great worship and authority in our city and illustrious and worthy of eternal renown, much more for his fashions and his merit than of the nobility of his blood, being grown full of years, delighted often-times to discourse with his neighbors and others of things past, the which he knew how to do better and more orderly and with more memory and elegance of speech than any other man. Amongst other fine things of his, he was used to tell...

  6. IV Wonders and Prodigies

    • The Life of Saint Brandon
      (pp. 189-204)
      Jacobus de Voragine

      S. brandon, the holy man, was a monk, and born in Ireland, and there he was abbot of a house wherein were a thousand monks, and there he had a full strait and holy life in great penance and abstinence, and he governed his monks full virtuously. And then within short time after, there came to him a holy abbot that bight Birinus to visit him, and each of them was joyful of other. And then S. Brandon began to tell to the abbot Birinus of many wonders that he had seen in divers lands, and when Birinus heard that...

    • The Famous History of Friar Bacon
      (pp. 205-218)

      In most men’s opinions he was born in the west part of England and was son to a wealthy farmer, who put him to school to the parson of the town where he was born—not with intent that he should turn friar (as he did), but to get so much understanding that he might manage the better that wealth he was to leave him. But young Bacon took his learning so fast that the priest could not teach him any more; which made him desire his master that he would speak to his father to put him to Oxford,...

  7. V Moral Tales

    • The Execrable Devices of Old Women
      (pp. 221-223)

      In the kingdom of a certain empress there lived a knight, who was happily espoused to a noble, chaste, and beautiful wife. It happened that he was called upon to take a long journey, and previous to his departure he said to the lady, “I leave you no guard but your own discretion; I believe it to be wholly sufficient.” He then embarked with his attendants. She meanwhile continued at her own mansion, in the daily practice of every virtue. A short period had elapsed, when the urgent entreaties of a neighbour prevailed with her to appear at a festival;...

    • Of the Cunning of the Devil, and of the Secret Judgments of God
      (pp. 224-226)

      There formerly lived a hermit, who in a remote cave passed night and day in the service of God. At no great distance from his cell a shepherd tended his flock. It happened that this person one day fell into a deep sleep, and in the mean time a robber, perceiving his carelessness, carried off his sheep. When the keeper awoke and discovered the theft, he began to swear in good set terms that he had lost his sheep; and where they were conveyed was totally beyond his knowledge. Now, the lord of the flock, when he heard this, was...

    • Of the Transgressions and Wounds of the Soul
      (pp. 227-229)

      In the reign of Titus there lived a certain noble and devout knight, who had a beautiful wife; but she dishonoured herself, and persisted in her dishonour. The knight, therefore, was very sorrowful, and resolved to visit the Holy Land. In this determination he said to his wife, “My beloved, I go to the Holy Land, and leave you to the guidance of your own discretion.” No sooner had he embarked than the lady sent for a certain skilful necromancer, whom she loved; and he dwelt with her. It happened that, as they lay in bed, the lady observed, “If...

    • Of Extreme Fear
      (pp. 230-232)

      Alexander had an only son, called Celestinus, whom he loved with the utmost tenderness. He desired to have him well instructed, and sending for a certain philosopher, said, “Sir, instruct my son, and I will bountifully remunerate you.” The philosopher acquiesced, and took the boy home with him. He diligently performed his duty; and it happened that one day, entering a meadow with his pupil, they perceived a horse lying on the ground, grievously affected with the mange. Near the animal two sheep were tied together, which busily cropped the grass that grew in abundance around them. It so chanced...

    • The Marvelous Conversion of the Blessed Hildegund, Virgin,
      (pp. 233-238)
      Caesarius of Heisterbach

      The monk. In the town of Neuss, five miles from Cologne, lived a burgher who had a beautiful and well-beloved daughter, named Hildegund. His wife died when the girl was still in her tender years. The burgher went pilgrim to Jerusalem to make his devotions and took his daughter with him. But on his return journey the father fell ill and in Tyre departed this life. Dying, he confided the girl and all his possessions to the fidelity of his servant. But this servant ill served his master, showing no pity for the dead. Impious and avaricious, he slipped away...

    • The Cleric Who Deflowered a Jewish Maiden
      (pp. 239-241)
      Caesarius of Heisterbach

      The monk. In an English city lived a girl, daughter of a Jew, and very pretty, as is often the case among that people. Now a young cleric, related to the bishop of the city and a canon of the cathedral, saw her and lusted for her; and with cajoling words he strove to persuade her to his lewd desires. Longing for her embraces and inflamed with passion, he made daily proposals for their union. Eventually she said: “I am very dear to my father, who watches me so close that I cannot come to you, nor you to me,...

    • How the Novice Theobald Conquered His Pride
      (pp. 242-243)
      Caesarius of Heisterbach

      The monk. There was once among us a monk named Theobald, something of a wastrel before his conversion, much given to wine and dice, well known for his buffooneries throughout Cologne. I have often seen him walking naked through the city’s public places. At last he repented of his clownishness, and by the intercession of the clerical eminences of Cologne he was accepted by our abbot, Dom Gevard, and was received in our house as a novice. During his probation, thinking that nothing was more acceptable to God than works of humility, he asked and received permission to wash the...

    • Friar Juniper
      (pp. 244-258)

      Friar juniper was one of the most chosen disciples and first companions of St. Francis. He was a man of deep humility and of great zeal and charity; and of him St. Francis said, speaking on a time with those holy companions of his, “He were a good friar that had so overcome himself and the world as Friar Juniper hath.” One day, as he was visiting a sick friar at St. Mary of the Angels, all aflame with charity, he asked with great compassion, “Can I serve thee in aught?” The sick man answers, “Much comfort and great solace...

  8. VI Merry Tales and Salty Fictions

    • Of the Churl Who Won Paradise
      (pp. 261-263)

      We find in writing a wondrous adventure that of old befell a churl. He died of a Friday morning, and it so chanced, neither angel nor devil came thither, and at the hour of his death when the soul departed out of his body, he found none to ask aught of him or to lay any command upon him. Know ye that full glad was that soul for he was sore afraid. And now as he looked to the right towards Heaven, he saw Saint Michael the Archangel who was bearing a soul in great joy; forthright he set out...

    • A Dean and a Magician
      (pp. 264-269)
      Juan Manuel

      One day Count Lucanor was conversing with Patronio, whose advice he sought under the following circumstances.“Patronio,” said he, “a man came to me and begged I would assist him, knowing I was able to do so, promising to serve me in return, at any time, either for the promotion of my interest or honour. I rendered him all the assistance in my power, when, before his trouble was removed (although he believed it to be so), a circumstance happened in which I knew he could render me assistance; which I begged him to do; but he made me some excuse....

    • King Ben Abit and Queen Romaquía
      (pp. 270-272)
      Juan Manuel

      The count conversed with Patronio one day in the following manner:—“There is a man,” said he, “who has begged me frequently to assist him, and, whenever I have done so, he has always given me to understand how grateful he feels. Lately, he has again called upon me for aid, but I find if I do not do as he requires, he becomes angry, and does not fail to give me to understand, by his manner, that he has forgotten all his previous obligations. Now, as you are a man of good understanding, I beg you advise me how...

    • A Profound Judgment
      (pp. 273-274)

      In alexandria, the one in the Levant—for there are twelve Alexandrias which Alexander founded in the March before he died—well, in that Alexandria there are streets where the Saracens set up their cook-shops. And men seek out these streets to get fine foods and delicate, just as with us a man seeks out the location of the best cloths. One Monday a Saracen cook named Fabratto was standing in his shop and a poor Saracen came to his kitchen with a piece of bread in his hand. He had no money to buy the cook’s wares; he held...

    • The Pear Tree
      (pp. 275-276)

      There was once a rich man and he had a very beautiful wife. And this man was mad about her, and he was very jealous. Now it pleased God that this man should be afflicted by a malady of the eyes, whereby he was stricken blind and could not tell the light from the dark. Now this man would not leave his wife’s side; rather he kept her so close that she could not take a step away, and this through his fear that she would deceive him.

      Well, it chanced that a fellow-townsman fell in love with the lady,...

    • Fra Cipolla
      (pp. 277-285)
      Giovanni Boccaccio

      Each of the company being now quit of his story, Dioneo perceived that it rested with him to tell; whereupon, without awaiting more formal commandment, he began on this wise: “Charming ladies, albeit I am privileged to speak of that which most liketh me, I purpose not to-day to depart from the matter whereof you have all very aptly spoken; but, ensuing in your footsteps, I mean to show you how cunningly a friar of the order of Saint Anthony, by name Fra Cipolla, contrived with a sudden shift to extricate himself from a snare which had been set for...

    • A Father’s Wise Counsel
      (pp. 286-289)
      Franco Sacchetti

      Not long since there was in Siena a rich citizen with only one son, a lad of twenty. As his death neared, he gave his son much good advice, and in especial these three capital counsels. The first was, not to frequent anyone to the point of boring him; the second was, that if he had bought something and could sell at a profit, to do so, and not begrudge the purchaser any further profit; and the third, that when he should come to marriage, to pick a girl from near by, and if he couldn’t find one near by,...

    • The Rustic Ambassadors
      (pp. 290-293)
      Franco Sacchetti

      When bishop guido ruled in Arezzo, the Communes of the Casentino appointed two ambassadors to make certain pleas to him. They were informed of what they were to tell the Bishop; and late one evening they were ordered to be on their way next morning. So they went to their homes and packed their saddle-bags, and in the morning they started off on their journey.

      After they had gone a few miles, one said to the other: “Do you have our mission well fixed in mind?”

      The other said he couldn’t remember it.

      And the first: “But I was depending...

    • The Noble Crest
      (pp. 294-296)
      Franco Sacchetti

      There was a gentleman in Florence, one of the Bardi family, very short of stature. He had had little or no practice in the use of arms, and even very little in horsemanship. He was elected Mayor of Padua; and having accepted, he began to collect the martial harness suitable for such an office. And needing a helmet with crest, he took counsel of his relations, to find what he ought to do about it. The relations met together and concluded thus: “He is very slight and undersized; and so it seems to us that we should do the contrary...

    • Sacchetti and the Astrologer
      (pp. 297-299)
      Franco Sacchetti

      A few years ago, happening to be in Genoa, I found myself in the Merchants’ Square with a group of clever fellows from all over. Among them were Messer Giovanni dell’ Agnello, exiled from Pisa, and some of his relatives, and a number of Florentines banished from their city, and some Lucchesi banned from Lucca, and Sienese refugees from Siena. There were even a few Genoese. We fell into talk on such subjects as exiles often vainly discuss—that is, the news, and lies, and hopes for the future. And from that we came to astrology. On this theme an...

    • The Blind Man of Orvieto
      (pp. 300-304)
      Franco Sacchetti

      There was a barber in Orvieto named Cola, who lost his sight when about thirty. As he was a poor man who could no longer ply his trade, or any other, he was forced to beg for alms. It was his practice to take his stand every day before the door of the chief church of Orvieto, at least until mid-morning. There, for God’s love, he received so much charity from most of the faithful that before long he had a hundred florins stored up. He kept these hidden in a little bag under his rags.

      The money kept coming...

    • The Reeve’s Tale
      (pp. 305-312)
      Geoffrey Chaucer

      At trumpington, not far from Cambridge, there runs a brook, with a bridge over it. By this brook stands a mill; and there lived for many a day a miller, proud and gay as a peacock. He could pipe, and fish, mend nets, make cups, wrestle, and shoot. He wore a long dirk at his belt, and flaunted a sharp sword, and in his pouch he carried a dainty dagger. “Touch me not!” proclaimed his bearing. He had even a little Sheffield whittling-knife in his hose. His face was round, his nose was pug, his skull bare as an ape’s....