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On branch on twig on bush : on tree:
So at it they went with beak and claw
A person anoints
The one, was an antiquated crow,
He cheerfully would”—
He stood alone—for the crowd was gone,
Binghampton, Feb. 1845.
The use of Allegories for the purpose of conveying instruction is of the most rimitive origin. It is impossible to trace it back to any particular period or nation. In written forms they are among the earliest embodiments of thought existing. The Hebrew writings—of which the received Scriptures form the greater part extant—furnish many examples, as do also the sacred writings of the Persians, the Chinese, and the most ancient people of Egypt and Hindostan, with the more polished and poetical creations of classic Mythology. The rude Myths of the Scandinavian nations, and the yet ruder oral traditions of the American Indians exhibit the same covered representations of ideas. It seems, in fact, to have been the tendency of the human mind in the imaginative early ages of nations to represent the varieties of human thought and action under a guise of personification and fictitious incident. Nearly all the characters in the mythology of different countries would be found, on a curious investigation, to have been merely various abstract attributes, personified and clothed by the inventive and restless imaginations of men. The “Gesta Romanorum ” is a collection of stories, invented, as far as can be determined, by some monk, or monks, of the middle ages. They are mostly of an allegorical design, made to represent the nature, relations and tendencies of the virtues and passions of men, under the guise of a great variety of persons, high and low, mostly taken from the first centuries after the Christian Era, and under Roman domination. Like Pilgrim's Progress, however—that finest of all allegories—they are not the less delightful fictions for their sober application; nor would the unadvised reader be likely to suspect their secret design. There is a vast deal of magic and necromancy in many of them, showing an evident Eastern origin—elements altogether in keeping with the simple and credulous age in which they were written. Many of the tales are very beautiful; and no less writers than Shakspeare, Chaucer, Schiller, Scott, Southey and Parnell are indebted to those old monks for many of their fine plots and striking incidents. The choosing of the three caskets in “The Merchant of Venice,” and the con
duct of the three daughters in “Lear,” are taken directly from two of the stories.
As for the present version of the Gesta, they are well executed; but the machinery of the three college students, Thompson, Herbert, and Lathom, might as well be spared. With their angular commentaries, stiffly endeavoring at ease, they form no very graceful links between the beauties of the antique fictions. The story of Queen Semiramis, which we extract, is not in the character of the book, as it is not allegorical; but we remember to have been delighted with it many years ago, and it will doubtless please our readers now.
“‘OF all my wives,” said king Ninus to Semiramis, “it is you I love the best. None have charms and graces like you, o for you I would willingly resign them > “‘Let the king consider well what he says,’ replied Semiramis. “What if I were to take him at his word ** “‘Do so,' returned the monarch ; ‘whilst beloved by you, I am indifferent to all others.” “‘So, then, if I asked it,” said Semiramis, “you would banish all your other wives, and love me alone 2 I should be alone your consort, the partaker of your power, and queen of Assyria * “‘Queen of Assyria! Are you not so already,' said Ninus, ‘since you reign by your beauty over its king * “‘No—no,' answered his lovely mistress; “I am at present only a slave whom you love. I reign not; I merely charm. When I give an order, you are consulted before I am obeyed.’ *** And to reign, then, you think so great a pleasure ? “‘Yes, to one who has never experienced it.” “‘And do you wish, then, to experience it Would you like to reign a few days in my place o' “‘Take care, O king! do not offer too much.” “‘No, I repeat it,” said the captivated monarch. “Would you like, for one whole day, to be sovereign mistress of Assyria *** And all which I command, then, shall be executed * “‘Yes, I will resign to you, for one entire day, my power and my golden sceptre.” “ . And when shall this be *
* New York: Wiley & Putnam, 161 Broadway.
“‘To morrow, if you like.’ “‘I do,” said Semiramis; and lether head fall upon the shoulder of the king, like a beautiful woman asking pardon for some caprice which has been yielded to. “The next morning Semiramis called her women, and commanded them to dress her magnificently. On her head she wore a crown of precious stones, and appeared thus before Ninus. Ninus, enchanted with her beauty, ordered the officers of the palace to assemble in the state chamber, and his golden sceptre to be brought from the treasury. He then entered the chamber, leading Semiramis by the hand. All prostrated themselves before the aspect of the king, who conducted Semiramis to the throne, and seated her upon it. . Then ordering the whole assembly to rise, he announced to the court that they were to obey, during the whole day, Semiramis as himself. So saying, he took up the golden sceptre, and placing it in the hands of Semiramis—“Queen,” said he, “I commit to you the emblem of sovereign power; take it, and command with sovereign authority. All here are your slaves, and I myself am nothing more than your servant for the whole of this day. Whoever shall be remiss in executing your orders, let him be punished as if he had disobeyed the commands of the king.” “Having thus spoken, the king knelt down before Semiramis, who gave him, with a smile, her hand to kiss. The courtiers then passed in succession, each making oath to execute blindly the orders of Semiramis. When the ceremony was finished, the king made her his compliments, and asked her how she had managed to go through it with so grave and majestical an alr. “‘Whilst they were promising to obey me,” said Semiramis, “I was thinking what I should command each of them to do. I have but one day of power, and I will employ it well.” “The king laughed at this reply. Semiramis appeared more piquante and amiable than ever. “Let us see,' said he, “how you will continue your part. By what orders will you begin o' “‘Let the secretary of the king aproach my throne,’ said Semiramis, with a oud voice. “The secretary *o-two slaves placed a little table before him. “‘Write,’ said Semiramis: “Under penalty of death, the governor of the citadel of Babylon is ordered to yield up the command of the citadel to him who shall bear to him this order.” Fold this order, seal it with the king's seal, and give it to me. Write now : “Under penalty of death, the governor of the slaves of the palace is ordered to resign the command of the slaves into the hands of the person who shall present to him this order.” Fold, seal it with
the king's seal, and deliver to me this decree. Write again: “Under penalty of death, the general of the army encamped under the walls of Babylon is ordered to resign the command of the army to him who shall be the bearer of this order.” Fold, seal, and deliver to me this decree.” “She took the three orders thus dictated, and put them in her bosom. The whole court was struck with consternation; the king himself was surprised. “‘Listen,' said Semiramis. “In two hours hence let all the officers of the state come and offer me presents, as is the custom on the accession of new princes, and let a festival be prepared for this evening. Now, let all depart. Let my faithful servant Ninus alone remain. I have to consult him upon affairs of state.’ “When all the rest had gone out—“You see,' said Semiramis, “that I know how to play the queen.’ “Ninus laughed. “‘My beautiful queen,” said he, “you play your part with astonishment. But, if your servant may dare question you, what would you do with the orders you have dictated o' “‘I should be no longer queen, were I obliged to give an account of my actions. Nevertheless, this was my motive. I have a vengeance to execute against the three officers whom these orders menace.” “‘Wengeance——and wherefore ?' “‘The first, the governor of the citadel, is one-eyed, and frightens me every time I meet him; the second, the chief of the slaves, I hate, because he threatens me with rivals; the third, the general of the army, deprives me too often of your company; you are constantly in the camp." “This reply, in which caprice and flattery were mingled, enchanted Ninus. * Good,” said he, laughing. ‘Here are the three first officers of the empire dismissed for very sufficient reasons.” “The gentlemen of the court now came to present their gifts to the queen. Some gave precious stones; others, of a lower rank, flowers and fruits; and the slaves, having nothing to give, gave nothing but homage. Among these last, there were three young brothers, who had come from the Caucasus with Semiramis, and had rescued the caravan in which the women were from an enormous tiger. When they passed before the throne— “‘And you,' said she to the three brothers, ‘have you no present to make to your queen o' “‘No other, replied the first, Zopire, ‘than my life to defend her.” “‘None other, replied the second, Artaban, “than my sabre against her enemies.” “‘None other,’ replied the third, Assar, ‘ than the respect and admiration which her presence inspires.” “‘Slaves, said Semiramis, “it is you who have made me the most valuable present of the whole court, and I will not be ungrateful. You, who have offered me your sword against my enemies, take this order, carry it to the general of the army encamped under the walls of Babylon, give it to him, and see what he will do for you. You, who have offered me your life for my defence, take this order to the governor of the citadel, and see what he will do for you ; and you who offer me the respect and admiration which my presence inspires, take this order, give it to the commandant of the slaves of the palace, and see what will be the result.” “Never had Semiramis displayed so much gaiety, so much folly, and so much grace, and never was Ninus so captivated. Nor were her charms lessened in his eyes, when a slave not having executed promptly an insignificant order, she commanded his head to be struck off, which was immediately done. Without bestowing a thought on this trivial matter, Ninus continued to converse with Semiramis till the evening and the fête arrived. When she entered the saloon which had been prepared for the occasion, a slave brought her a plate in which was the head of the decapitated eunuch—‘’Tis well,” said she, after having examined it. ‘Place it on a stake in the court of the palace, that all may see it, and be you there on the spot to proclaim to every one that the man to whom this head belonged lived three hours ago, but that having disobeyed my will, his head was separated from his body.” “The fête was magnificent; a sumptuous banquet was prepared in the gardens, and Semiramis received the homage of all with a grace and majesty perfectly regal; she continually turned to and conversed with Ninus, rendering him the most distinguished honor. “You are,” said she, “a foreign king, come to visit me in my palace. I must make your visit agreeable to you.” “Shortly after the banquet was served, Semiramis confounded and reversed all ranks. Ninus was placed at the bottom of the table. He was the first to laugh at this caprice; and the court, following his example, allowed themselves to be placed, without murmuring, according to the will of the queen. She seated near herself the three brothers from the Caucasus. “‘Are my orders executed 2' she demanded of them. “‘Yes,’ replied they. ... “The fête was very gay. A slave having, by the force of habit, served the king first, Semiramis had him beaten with rods. His cries mingled with the laughter of the guests. Every one was inclined to merriment. It was a comedy, in which each played his part. Towards the end of the repast, when wine had added to the gene
ral gaiety, Semiramis rose from her elewated seat, and said—“My lords, the treasurer of the empire has read me a list of those who this morning have brought me their gifts of congratulation on my joyful accession to the throne. One grandee ; of the court has failed to bring his ift.” go. Who is it?’ cried Ninus. be punished severely.” “‘It is yourself, my lord—you who speak; what have you given to the queen this morning 2" “Ninus rose, and came with a smiling countenance to whisper something into the ear of the queen. “The queen is insulted by her servant,' exclaimed Semiramis. “‘I embrace your knees to obtain my pardon, beautiful queen,” said he ; “pardon me, pardon me;’ and he added in a lower tone, ‘I wish this féte were finished.” “‘You wish, then, that I should abdicate * said Semiramis. “But no—I have still two hours to reign;' and at the same time she withdrew her hand, which the king was covering with kisses. “I pardon not,’ said she with a loud voice, “such an insult on the part of a slave. Slave, prepare thyself to die.’ “‘Silly child that thou art, said Ninus, still on his knees, “yet will I give way to thy folly; but patience, thy reign will soon be over.” “‘You will not, then, be angry,” said she in a whisper, “at something I am going to order at this moment 2' “‘No,' said he. “‘Slaves 1’ said she aloud, “seize this man—seize this Ninus !’ “Ninus, smiling, put himself into the hands of the slaves. “‘Take him out of the saloon, lead him into the court of the seraglio, prepare everything for his death, and wait my orders.” “The slaves obeyed, and Ninus followed them, laughing, into the court of the seraglio. They passed by the head of the disobeying eunuch. Then Semiramis placed herself on a balcony. Ninus had suffered his hands to be tied. “‘Hasten,” said the queen, “hasten, Zopire, to the fortress; you to the camp, Artaban; Assar, do you secure all the gates of the palace.” “These orders were given in a whisper, and executed immediately. “‘Beautiful queen,” said Ninus, laughing, ‘this comedy wants but its conclusion; pray, let it be a prompt one.’ “‘I will,” said Semiramis. “Slaves, recollect the eunuch. Strike '' “They struck; Ninus had hardly time to utter a cry: when his head fell upon the pavement, the smile was still upon his lips. “‘Now I am queen of Assyria, exclaimed Semiramis; “and perish every one, like the eunuch and Ninus, who dare . disobey my orders.’”
* He must