Gesta Romanorum

medieval Latin collection of anecdotes and tales

Gesta Romanorum is a Latin collection of anecdotes and tales, probably compiled about the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th. It still possesses a two-fold literary interest, first as one of the most popular books of the time, and secondly as the source, directly or indirectly, of later literature, in Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare, and others.

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  • We read of a certain Roman emperor who built a magnificent palace. In digging the foundation, the workmen discovered a golden sarcophagus ornamented with three circlets, on which were inscribed, “I have expended; I have given; I have kept; I have possessed; I do possess; I have lost; I am punished. What I formerly expended, I have; what I gave away, I have.”
    • Tale xvi. Compare: "Howe: Howe: who is heare: I, Robin of Doncaster, and Margaret my feare. That I spent, that I had; That I gave, that I have; That I left, that I lost, A. D. 1579.", epitaph of Robert Byrkes, which may be found in Doncaster Church, “new cut” upon his tomb in Roman capitals, reported by Richard Gough, Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain; "What we gave, we have; What we spent, we had; What we left, we lost", epitaph of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire, according to Cleaveland, Genealogical History of the Family of Courtenay, p. 142.
  • See how the world rewards its votaries.
    • Tale xxxvi. Compare: "Ecce quomodo mundus suis servitoribus reddit mercedem" (translated: see how the world its veterans rewards"), Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, epistle 1, line 243.
  • Si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit.
    • If the end be well, all is well.
    • Tale lxvii. Probably the origin of the proverb, “All's well that ends well.”
  • Whatever you do, do wisely, and think of the consequences.
    • Tale ciii.

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