The Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Man

Fables of Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 160
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2014


  1. The Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Man (India, The Panchatantra).

  2. The Traveler and the Goldsmith (India, Kalila and Dimna).

  3. Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman (India, The Kathasaritsagara).

  4. The Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Man (Tibet).

  5. Vitalis and the Woodcutter (England, attributed to Richard the Lionheart (Richard Coeur de Lion).

  6. Of Ingratitude (Gesta Romanorum).

  7. Adrian and Bardus (England, John Gower).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Man

India, The Panchatantra

In a certain place there lived a Brahmin whose name was Jadschnjadatta [Given to Sacrifice].

His wife, overcome by poverty, every day would say: "Oh, you cowardly, heard-hearted Brahmin. Do you not see how your children are tormented by hunger, while you stand by without caring! Set forth from here and with all your strength seek a way to get some food, then come back as soon as possible."

Exhausted from her complaints, he set forth on a lengthy journey. After a few days he found himself in a great forest. Tormented by hunger he began to look for water when he saw a deep pit covered over with leaves. At the bottom of the pit he saw a tiger, a monkey, snake, and a man; and they saw him as well.

Perceiving that he was a man, the tiger said, "Oh, you honorable one, remember that it is a great virtue to rescue a living being, and pull me out, so that I can return to the circle of my dear friends, my wife, and my family!"

The Brahmin said, "The mere mention of your name brings fear to all living creatures. Should not I too be afraid of you?"

The tiger replied, "Repentance is possible for the murderer of a Brahmin, for drunkards, hooligans, thieves, and promise-breakers, but not for those who are ungrateful. I swear with a three-fold oath that you have no cause to fear me. Therefore have mercy on me and pull me out!"

The Brahmin thought to himself, "Death would bring salvation, if suffered while saving the life of another living being," and he helped the tiger out of the pit.

Then the monkey said to him, "My good man, help me out too!"

Hearing this, the Brahmin pulled him out.

The snake said, "Oh, consecrated one, pull me out too."

The Brahmin replied, "Just saying your name causes one to tremble, much less touching you!"

The snake said, "We do not act arbitrarily. We only bite if we are provoked into doing so. I swear with a three-fold oath that you have no cause to fear me."

After hearing this the Brahmin pulled the snake out.

Then they all said to him, "The man down there embraces every kind of sin. Take note of this, and do not help him out. Do not trust him."

Then the tiger spoke up again, "My den is in a crack in the cliff on the north side of the many-peaked mountain that you can see. You must come to me there so I can repay you and not be in your debt in a future life." Having said this he departed for his home.

Then the monkey said, "I live next to a waterfall in the vicinity of the tiger's den. You must visit me there!" And with that he went on his way.

The snake said, "If your life is ever threatened, just think of me!" And he went on his way.

Then the man in the pit cried out repeatedly, "Oh, Brahmin, help me out!"

Overcome by pity, the Brahmin finally pulled him out too.

"I am a goldsmith," said the rescued man, "and if you ever need any gold-work done, just bring it to me." Then he too went on his way.

The Brahmin wandered about without finding anything to eat. Tormented by hunger he turned towards home, but then remembered what the monkey had said and went to him instead.

The monkey gave him fruits as sweet as ambrosia, saying, "Whenever you have need of fruit, just come back to me."

Then the consecrated one said, "You have done well. Now show me the way to the tiger."

The monkey led him to the tiger's den. Recognizing him, the tiger gave the Brahmin a gold necklace along with other ornaments in payment for his good deed.

The tiger explained: "A certain prince, whose horse ran away with him, came under my claws, and I killed him. These things came from him, and I brought them here for you. Take them and go in peace!"

The Brahmin remembered the goldsmith and thought, "He will know who I am, and will help me sell this gold."

The goldsmith received him with every courtesy: foot-washing, refreshment, and so forth, then said, "Just let me know what I can do for you."

The consecrated one said, "I have brought gold that you should sell for me."

The goldsmith said, "Show me the gold!"

The Brahmin showed him the pieces, and the goldsmith recognized them as work that he himself had done for the king's son.

"Just wait here," he said, "while I show the gold to someone."

Then he went to the palace and showed the gold to the king.

"Where did you get this?" asked the king.

"There is a Brahmin in my house who brought it to me."

The king thought, "He is the villain who killed my son. He shall pay for that!"

The king had his watchmen bind the Brahmin, with the order that he was to be impaled at the break of day.

As he was being bound, the Brahmin remembered the snake, and in that same instant the snake appeared before him, and said, "How can I serve you?"

The consecrated one said, "Set me free."

The snake replied, "I shall bite the king's favorite wife. Neither the incantations of the greatest sorcerers nor the medications of the best physicians shall free her from the poison. It will only go away when you touch her with your hand. And then you shall be set free."

After saying this, the snake bit the queen. A cry of despair arose at the palace, and the entire city was in shock. Sorcerer, healers, magicians, and physicians all tried to cure her, but their efforts had no effect on the poison.

Answering the call of the public drummer, the consecrated one said, "I can free her from the poison."

Thus the Brahmin was taken from prison and led to the king, who said, "Free her from the poison!"

The Brahmin went to the queen, and with a mere touch of his hand he freed her from the poison.

Seeing his wife alive and well once again, he approached the Brahmin with honor and respect. "Where did you get the gold?" he asked.

The consecrated one related to him everything that had happened, from the very beginning. Now knowing the truth of the matter, the king had the goldsmith thrown into prison and he appointed the Brahmin as his minister and gave him a thousand villages.

The Brahmin summoned his family and lived happily with his friends, taking pleasure in good works and enjoying the fruits of a virtuous preexistence.

The Traveler and the Goldsmith

Kalila and Dimna

A number of persons dug a pit, and there fell into it a goldsmith, a serpent, a monkey, and a tiger; and a traveler, who was passing by, stood over the pit, and saw the man and his companions, and said to himself, "I cannot perform any deed that will plead more strongly in my favor in the life to come, than by saving this man from the enemies by whom he is surrounded."

So he took a rope, and let it down into the pit; and the monkey, owing to his dexterity and nimbleness, was the first to cling to it, and climb up; he then let it down a second time, and the serpent twisted himself round it, and came out; then a third time, and the tiger took hold of it, and he drew him up.

Then the three beasts thanked him for his having assisted them to escape, but begged him not to release the goldsmith, adding, that men in general, and especially the person in question, were incapable of gratitude.

And the monkey said to him, "I live on a mountain near a city called Nawadarkht."

The tiger said, "I live in a wood close by this city."

And the serpent, "I dwell in the walls of the city, and if you pass in our neighborhood at any time, and have occasion for our services, call to us, and we will come and reward you for the kindness which you have shown us."

But the traveler paid no attention to what they had told him of the ingratitude of the man, but let down the rope again, and brought out the goldsmith, who thanked him for what he had done, and said, "If ever you come to Nawadarkht, enquire for my house; I am a goldsmith, and shall be happy to be of any use to you I can for the service you have rendered me."

Then the goldsmith returned to the city, and the traveler continued his journey.

Some time after the traveler had occasion to go to Nawadarkht, and as he was walking along, the monkey met him, and saluted him, and kissed his feet, and made apologies for the inability of monkeys to do much for a friend, but begged him to sit down, and wait till he returned; then the monkey went away, and very soon came back, bringing some choice fruit, which he placed before the traveler, who having eaten as much as he chose, continued his journey.

And as he approached the gate of the city, the tiger advanced towards him, and placing himself in an humble posture before him, said, "Wait a moment, and I will very soon come back to you."

Then the tiger went away, and entered the city by one of the walls, and killed the king's daughter, and tore off her trinkets, and brought them to the traveler, without informing him by what means he had procured them.

Then the traveler said to himself, "These beasts have rewarded me very handsomely, and I am now curious to see what the goldsmith will do. If he is poor, and has no means of showing his gratitude, he may at least sell these trinkets for their full value, with which of course he is acquainted, and divide with me the sum of money which he obtains for them."

So he went to the goldsmith, who, as soon as he saw him, saluted him, and made him enter his house; and observing the trinkets, he immediately recognized them to be those which he had made for the daughter of the king. He then told the traveler that he had no provisions in the house good enough for him, but if he would wait a little while, he would fetch him something to eat.

Then he went out, and said to himself, "This is an opportunity not to be lost; I will go to the king, and inform him of the discovery I have made, and he will no doubt acknowledge and reward my zeal."

Then he went to the antechamber of the king, and announced himself by a message to the following purport: "The person who has killed your majesty's daughter and stolen her trinkets is at this moment in my house."

Then the king desired the traveler, to be brought before him, and as soon as he saw the jewels in his possession, he immediately ordered him to be put to the torture, and after that to be led through the city, and in the end put to death.

Whilst the punishment was being executed, the traveler began to weep, and cry out with a loud voice, "If I had attended to the hints which the monkey, the serpent, and the tiger gave me of the ingratitude of this man, I should have escaped this misfortune."

And as he repeated the same words several times, the serpent heard what he said, and came out from her hole, and knew her benefactor again, and was so distressed at the situation in which she found him, that she immediately thought of some contrivance to release him, and went and stung the son of the king; and the king called together the wise men of his kingdom, who endeavored to charm the bite by their incantations and magical arts, but all to no purpose.

Now the serpent had a sister, who was one of the Genii; so she went to her, and informed her of the kindness she had experienced from the traveler, and of the misfortune into which he was fallen; and the sister felt pity for him, and went to the king's son, and rendering herself invisible told him that he would not get well, unless the man who had been punished so undeservedly pronounced an incantation over him.

Then the serpent went to the traveler in prison, and reproached him for not having attended to her advice concerning the goldsmith; and she gave him leaves, which she told him served as an antidote to her poison, and desired him, when he was called to charm the bite which the king's son had received, to make the young prince drink a decoction of the leaves, which would cure him; and if the king enquired into his circumstances, he must give a true account of himself, and by the favor of heaven he would by these means escape.

Then the king's son told his father, that he had heard the voice of someone speaking, who said to him, that he would not get well, unless the man who had been unjustly imprisoned charmed the sting of the serpent; upon which the king ordered the traveler to be sent for, and desired him to charm his son.

The traveler replied, "Incantations will be of no use to him, but if he drinks a decoction of these leaves, he will with the assistance of heaven be cured."

Then he made him drink, and the child got well, to the great joy and satisfaction of his father; and the king desired the traveler to give some account of himself, and the latter related his history.

Then the king thanked him, and made him a handsome present, and commanded that the goldsmith should be put to death in his stead; and the sentence was carried into execution, as a just punishment for the false evidence which he had given, and the bad return he had made to a good action.

So in the ingratitude of the goldsmith towards the traveler, and the gratitude on the other hand of the beasts towards their benefactor, by the means of one of whom he escaped from the danger which threatened him, is contained a salutary lesson for those who will listen to instruction, and matter of reflection for the considerate man, who will learn from this example to select, from motives of prudence as well as interest, those only as objects of his generosity and favor, who are possessed of integrity and honorable sentiments, in whatever rank or condition of life he may find them.

Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman

The Kathasaritsagara

Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman

There was a certain man of noble soul, who was an incarnation of a portion of a Bodhisattva, whose heart was melted by compassion only, who had built a hut in a forest and lived there, performing austerities. He, while living there, by his power rescued living beings in distress, and Pisachas and others he gratified by presents of water and jewels.

One day, as he was roaming about in the wood to assist others, he saw a great well and looked into it. And a woman, who was in it, said to him in a loud voice: "Noble sir, here are four of us, myself a woman, a lion, and a golden-crested bird, and a snake, fallen into this well in the night; so take us out; have mercy upon us."

When he heard this, he said: "Granted that you three fell in because the darkness made it impossible for you to see your way, but how did the bird fall in?"

The woman answered him: "It fell in by being caught in a fowler's net."

Then the ascetic tried to lift them out by the supernatural power of his asceticism, but he could not; on the contrary, his power was gone.

He reflected: "Surely this woman is a sinner, and owing to my having conversed with her, my power is gone from me. So I will use other means in this case."

Then he plaited a rope of grass, and so drew them all four up out of the well, and they praised him. And in his astonishment he said to the lion, the bird and the snake: "Tell me, how come you to have articulate voice, and what is your history?"

Then the lion said: " We have articulate speech and remember our former births, and we are mutual enemies; hear our stories in turns."

So the lion began to tell his own story as follows:

The Lion's Story

There is a splendid city on the Himalayas, called Vaiduryasringa; and in it there is a prince of the Vidyadharas named Padmavesa, and to him a son was born named Vajravega. That Vajravega, while he dwelt in the world of the Vidyadharas, being a vainglorious person, quarreled with anybody and everybody, confiding in his courage. His father ordered him to desist, but he paid no attention to his command.

Then his father cursed him, saying: "Fall into the world of mortals."

Then his arrogance was extinguished, and his knowledge left him, and smitten with the curse he wept, and asked his father to name a time when it should end. Then his father Padmavesa thought a little, and said immediately: "You shall become a Brahmin's son on the earth, and display this arrogance once more, and by your father's curse you shall become a lion and fall into a well. And a man of noble character, out of compassion, shall draw you out, and when you have recompensed him in his calamity, you shall be delivered from this curse."

This was the termination of the curse which his father appointed for him.

Then Vajravega was born in Malava as Devaghosha, the son of Harighosha, a Brahmin. And in that birth also he fought with many, confiding in his heroism, and his father said to him: "Do not go on in this way quarrelling with everybody."

But he would not obey his father's orders, so his father cursed him: "Become immediately a foolish lion, over-confident in its strength."

In consequence of this speech of his father's, Devaghosha, that incarnation of a Vidyadhara, was again born as a lion in this forest.

Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman

"Know that I am that lion. I was wandering about here at night, and as chance would have it, I fell into this well; and you, noble sir, have drawn me up out of it. So now I will depart, and, if you should fall into any difficulty, remember me; I will do you a good turn and so get released from my curse."

After the lion had said this, he went away, and the golden-crested bird, being questioned by that Bodhisattva, told his tale.

The Golden-Crested Bird's Story

There is on the Himalayas a king of the Vidyadharas, named Vajradamshtra. His queen gave birth to five daughters in succession. And then the king propitiated Siva with austerities and obtained a son, named Rajatadamshtra, whom he valued more than life. His father, out of affection, bestowed the knowledge of the sciences upon him when he was still a child, and he grew up, a feast to the eyes of his relations. One day he saw his eldest sister, by name Somaprabha, playing upon a pinjara.

In his childishness he kept begging for the pinjara, saying: "Give it me, I too want to play on it."

And when she would not give it him, in his flightiness he seized the pinjara, and flew up to heaven with it in the form of a bird.

Then his sister cursed him, saying: "Since you have taken my pinjara from me by force, and flown away with it, you shall become a bird with a golden crest."

When Rajatadamshtra heard this, he fell at his sister's feet, and entreated her to fix a time for his curse to end, and she said: "When, foolish boy, you fall, in your bird-form, into a blind well, and a certain merciful person draws you out, and you do him a service in return, then you shall be released from this curse."

When she had said this to her brother, he was born as a bird with a golden crest.

Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman

"I am that same golden-crested bird, that fell into this pit in the night, and have now been drawn out by you, so now I will depart. Remember me when you fall into calamity, for by doing you a service in return, I shall be released from my curse."

When the bird had said this, he departed.

Then the snake, being questioned by that Bodhisattva, told his story to that great-souled one.

The Snake's Story

Formerly I was the son of a hermit in the hermitage of Kasyapa. And I had a companion there who was also the son of a hermit. And one day my friend went down into the lake to bathe, and I remained on the bank. And while I was there, I saw a serpent come with three heads. And, in order to terrify that friend of mine in fun, I fixed the serpent immovable on the bank, opposite to where he was, by the power of a spell. My friend got through his bathing in a moment, and came to the bank, and unexpectedly seeing that great serpent there, he was terrified and fainted.

After some time I brought my friend round again, but he, finding out by meditation that I had terrified him in this way, became angry, and cursed me, saying: "Go and become a similar great snake with three crests."

Then I entreated him to fix an end to my curse, and he said: "When, in your serpent condition, you fall into a well, and at a critical moment do a service to the man who pulls you out, then you shall be freed from your curse."

Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman

"After he had said this, he departed, and I became a serpent, and now you have drawn me out of the well; so now I will depart. And when you think of me I will come; and by doing you a service I shall be released from my curse."

When the snake had said this, he departed, and the woman told her story.

The Woman's Story

I am the wife of a young Kshatriya in the king's employ, a man in the bloom of youth, brave, generous, handsome and high-minded. Nevertheless I was wicked enough to enter into an intrigue with another man. When my husband found it out, he determined to punish me. And I heard of this from my confidante, and that moment I fled, and entered this wood at night, and fell into this well, and was dragged out by you.

Story of the Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Woman

"And thanks to your kindness I will now go and maintain myself somewhere. May a day come when I shall be able to requite your goodness."

When the sinful woman had said this to the Bodhisattva, she went to the town of a king named Gotravardhana. She obtained an interview with him, and remained among his attendants, in the capacity of maid to the king's principal queen.

But because that Bodhisattva talked with that woman, he lost his power, and could not procure fruits and roots and things of that kind. Then, being exhausted with hunger and thirst, he first thought of the lion.

And, when he thought of him, he came and fed him with the flesh of deer, and in a short time he restored him to his former health with their flesh; and then the lion said: "My curse is at an end, I will depart."

When he had said this, the Bodhisattva gave him leave to depart, and the lion became a Vidyadhara and went to his own place.

Then that incarnation of a portion of a Bodhisattva, being again exhausted by want of food, thought upon that golden-crested bird, and he came, when thought of by him.

And when he told the bird of his sufferings, the bird went and brought a casket full of jewels and gave it him, and said: ''This wealth will support you for ever, and so my curse has come to an end, now I depart; may you enjoy happiness!"

When he had said this, he became a young Vidyadhara prince, and went through the air to his own world, and received the kingdom from his father.

And the Bodhisattva, as he was wandering about to sell the jewels, reached that city where the woman was living whom he had rescued from the well. And he deposited those jewels in an out-of-the-way house belonging to an old Brahmin woman, and went to the market, and on the way he saw coming towards him the very woman whom he had saved from the well, and the woman saw him. And the two fell into a conversation, and in the course of it the woman told him of her position about the person of the queen.

And she asked him about his own adventures. So the confiding man told her how the golden-crested bird had given him the jewels. And he took her and showed her the jewels in the house of the old woman, and the wicked woman went and told her mistress, the queen, of it.

Now it happened that the golden-crested bird had managed artfully to steal this casket of jewels from the interior of the queen's palace, before her eyes. And when the queen heard from the mouth of that woman, who knew the facts, that the casket had arrived in the city, she informed the king. And the king had the Bodhisattva pointed out by that wicked woman, and brought by his servants as a prisoner from that house with the ornaments. And after he had asked him the circumstances, though he believed his account, he not only took the ornaments from him, but he put him in prison.

Then the Bodhisattva, terrified at being put in prison, thought upon the snake, who was an incarnation of the hermit's son, and the snake came to him.

And when the snake had seen him, and inquired what his need was, he said to the good man: "I will go and coil round the king from his head to his feet. And I will not let him go until I am told to do so by you. And you must say here, in the prison: 'I will deliver the king from the serpent.' And when you come and give me the order, I will let the king go. And when I let him go, he will give you half his kingdom."

After he had said this, the snake went and coiled round the king, and placed his three hoods on his head.

And the people began to cry out: "Alas I the king is bitten by a snake."

Then the Bodhisattva said: "I will deliver the king from this snake."

And the king's servants, having heard this, informed him.

Thereupon the king, who was in the grasp of the snake, had the Bodhisattva summoned, and said to him: "If you deliver me from this snake, I will give you half my kingdom, and these my ministers are your guarantees that I will keep my promise."

When his ministers heard this, they said, "Certainly," and then the Bodhisattva said to that snake: "Let the king go at once."

Then the snake let the king go, and the king gave half his kingdom to that Bodhisattva, and thus he became prosperous in a moment. And the serpent, as its curse was at an end, became a young hermit, and he told his story in the presence of the court and went back to his hermitage.

Thus you see that good fortune certainly befalls those of good dispositions. And transgression brings suffering even upon the great. And the mind of women cannot be relied upon; it is not touched even by such a service as rescue from death; so what other benefit can move them?

The Grateful Animals and the Ungrateful Man


In long past times King Brahmadatta came to the throne in Varanasi. A man, who had gone with his axe and wood-basket into the forest to fetch wood, was frightened by a lion while looking for wood, and in running away fell into a pit. Into it fell likewise the lion which was intending to devour him. A mouse, which had been frightened by a snake, ran away from it, and a falcon pursued the mouse, in order to devour it. They all four fell into the pit, and they all entertained the evil design of putting each other to death.

But the lion said, "O honored ones, ye are all comrades of mine. As things are so, and we are suffering intolerable pain from woe, it is now no time for us to expose one another to danger. Therefore sit quietly without disturbing yourselves."

By the dispensation of destiny a hunter, who was looking for gazelles, came to that spot, and while he was looking at that pit, all those creatures exclaimed in confused words, "Ho, friend, rescue us!"

Understanding what they said, the hunter drew out first of all the lion. It touched his feet and said, "I shall prove grateful to you. But do not draw out that black-headed one who forgets accepted benefits."

Having thus spoken, the lion departed.

The hunter then proceeded to extricate them all by degrees from the pit. One day the hunter came again to that spot when the lion had killed a gazelle. The lion recognized the man, and touched his feet, and gave him the gazelle.

At another time King Brahmadatta had gone into the park with his spouse, and, after enjoying himself there, had lain down to sleep. Left at their ease, the women took off their clothes and exposed them to the air. And they laid aside their ornaments in divers places and roamed about, or sat, reposed, and slept in the grove. When one of the wives had laid aside her ornaments at a certain spot, and had gone to sleep, the falcon carried them off, and gratefully presented them to the hunter. When the king awoke from his sleep he went swiftly to Varanasi And away went quickly also the wives, princes, ministers, townspeople, and country-folk.

The wife, who looked for her ornaments but could not find them, said to the king, "O king, my ornaments are lost in the park."

The king gave orders to his ministers, saying, "O honored ones, as the ornaments are lost, find out who has carried them off."

When they began to make inquiries, the black-headed man, who had visited the hunter from time to time and knew that he was in possession of the ornaments, came with ungrateful heart and told the king. Then the king was very angry.

And the king's men summoned the hunter, and said to him, "Ho, friend, you stole the ornaments out of the park."

The hunter was terrified and related what had taken place. The ornaments were restored to the king. But the hunter was bound and cast into prison.

Then the mouse went to the snake and said, "By the contrivance of the black-headed sinner has our benefactor been bound and cast into prison."

The snake said, "O hunter, I will bite the king today. Then do you heal him with this spell and this remedy. If that is done, no doubt the king will set you at liberty, and will confer upon you gifts and good things."

The hunter said, "Good, so be it!"

The snake bit the king, and the hunter came and healed him with the spell and the remedy. Then the king joyfully released him from the prison, and bestowed upon him gifts and good things.

Vitalis and the Woodcutter

Attributed to Richard the Lionheart (Richard Coeur de Lion)

About this time [1195 A.D.] a remarkable circumstance happened to a rich and miserly Venetian, which we think it worth while to insert in this place:

His name was Vitalis; and when he was on the point of giving his daughter in marriage, he went into a large forest near the sea to provide delicacies for the table. As he wandered alone through the forest, with his bow and arrows ready, and intent on taking venison, he suddenly fell into a pitfall which had been cunningly set for the lions, bears, and wolves, out of which he found it impossible to escape, because the bottom of it was so wide and the mouth so narrow.

Here he found two fierce animals, a lion and a serpent, which had also by accident fallen in; and Vitalis signing himself with the cross, neither of them, though fierce and hungry, ventured to attack him. All that night he spent in this pit, crying and moaning, and expecting with lamentations the approach of so base a death.

A poor woodcutter, passing by chance that way to collect faggots, heard his cries, which seemed to come from beneath the ground, and following the sound till he came to the pit's mouth, he looked in and called out, "Who is there?"

Vitalis sprang up, rejoiced beyond measure, and eagerly replied, "It is I, Vitalis, a Venetian, who knowing nothing of these pitfalls, fell in, and shall be devoured by wild beasts, besides which I am dying of hunger and terror. There are two fierce animals here, a lion and a serpent, but, by God's protection and the sign of the cross, they have not yet hurt me, and it remains for you to save me, that I may afterwards show you my gratitude. If you will save me, I will give you half of all my property, namely, five hundred talents; for I am worth a thousand."

The poor man answered, "I will do as you request, if you will be as good as your word."

Upon this Vitalis pledged himself on oath to do as he had promised. Whilst they were speaking, the lion by a bland movement of his tail, and the serpent by a gentle hissing, signified to the poor man their approbation, and seemed to join in Vitalis's request to be delivered.

The poor man immediately went home for a ladder and ropes, with which he returned and let the ladder down into the pit, without anyone to help him. Immediately the lion and serpent, striving which should be first, mounted by the rounds of the ladder and gave thanks to the poor man, crouching at his feet, for their deliverance.

The woodcutter, approaching Vitalis, kissed his hand, saying, "Long live this hand! I am glad to say that I have earned my bargain," and with these words he conducted Vitalis until they came to a road with which he was acquainted.

When they parted, the poor man asked when and where Vitalis would discharge his promise.

"Within four days," said Vitalis, "in Venice, in my own palace, which is well known and easy to find."

The countryman returned home to dinner, and as he was sitting at table, the lion entered with a dead goat, as a present in return for his deliverance, and having laid it down, took his leave without doing any hurt. The countryman, however, wishing to see where so tame an animal lay, followed him to his den, the lion all the time licking his feet, and then came back to his dinner.

The serpent now came also, and brought with him in his mouth a precious stone which he laid in the countryman's plate. The same proceedings again took place as before.

After two or three days the rustic, carrying the jewel with him, went to Venice, to claim from Vitalis his promise.

He found him feasting with his neighbors in joy for his deliverance and said to him, "Friend, pay me what you owe me."

"Who art thou!" replied Vitalis, "and what dost thou want!"

"I want the five hundred talents you promised me."

"Do you expect," replied Vitalis, "to get so easily the money which I have had so much difficulty to amass!" and, as he said these words, he ordered his servants to cast the rash man into prison.

But the rustic by a sudden spring escaped out of the house and told what had happened to the judges of the city. When, however, they were a little incredulous, he showed them the jewel which the serpent had given him, and immediately one of them, perceiving that it was of great value, bought it of the man at a high price. But the countryman further proved the truth of his words by conducting some of the citizens to the dens of the lion and the serpent, when the animals again fawned on him as before. The judges were thus convinced of his truth, and compelled Vitalis to fulfil the promise which he had given, and to make compensation for the injury which he had done the poor man.

This story was told by King Richard to expose the conduct of ungrateful men.

Of Ingratitude

Gesta Romanorum

In the reign of a certain king there lived a proud and oppressive seneschal. Now, near the royal palace was a forest well stocked with game; and by the direction of this person various pits were dug there, and covered with leaves, for the purpose of entrapping the beasts.

It happened that the seneschal himself went into this forest, and with much exaltation of heart exclaimed internally, "Lives there a being in the empire more powerful than I am?"

This braggart thought was scarcely formed, ere he rode upon one of his own pitfalls, and immediately disappeared.

The same day had been taken a lion, a monkey, and a serpent.

Terrified at the situation into which fate had thrown him, he cried out lustily, and his noise awoke a poor man called Guido, who had come with his ass into that forest to procure firewood, by the sale of which he got his bread. Hastening to the mouth of the pit, he was promised great wealth if he would extricate the seneschal from his perilous situation.

"My friend," answered Guido, "I have no means of obtaining a livelihood except by the faggots which I collect. If I neglect this for a single day, I shall be thrown into the greatest difficulties."

The seneschal reiterated his promises of enriching him; and Guido went hack to the city, and returned with a long cord, which he let down into the pit, and bade the seneschal bind it round his waist. But before he could apply it to the intended purpose, the lion leaped forward, and seizing upon the cord, was drawn up in his stead. Immediately, exhibiting great signs of pleasure, the beast ran off into the wood.

The rope again descended, and the monkey, having noticed the success of the lion, vaulted above the man's head, and shaking the cord, was in like manner set at liberty, and hurried off to his haunts.

A third time the cord was let down, and the serpent, twining around it, was drawn up, gave signs of gratitude, and escaped.

"Oh, my good friend," said the seneschal, "the beasts are gone, now draw me up quickly, I pray you."

Guido complied, and afterwards succeeded in drawing up his horse, which the seneschal instantly mounted and rode back to the palace.

Guido returned home; and his wife observing that he had come without wood, was very dejected, and inquired the cause. He related what had occurred, and the riches he was to receive for his service. The wife's countenance brightened. Early in the morning her husband went to the palace. But the seneschal denied all knowledge of him, and ordered him to be whipped for his presumption. The porter executed the directions, and beat him so severely that he left him half dead.

As soon as Guido's wife understood this, she saddled their ass, and brought him home in a very infirm state. The sickness which ensued consumed the whole of their little property; but as soon as he had recovered, he returned to his usual occupation in the wood.

Whilst he was thus employed, he beheld afar off ten asses laden with packs, and a lion following close on them, pursuing the path which led towards Guido. On looking narrowly at this beast, he remembered that it was the same which he had freed from its imprisonment in the pit. The lion signified with his foot that he should take the loaded asses, and go home. This Guido did, and the lion followed. On arriving at his own door, the noble beast fawned upon him, and wagging his tail as if in triumph, ran back to the woods.

Guido caused proclamation to be made in different churches, that if any asses had been lost, the owners should come to him; but no one appearing to demand them, he opened the packages, and, to his great joy, discovered them full of money.

On the second day Guido returned to the forest, but forgot an iron instrument to cleave the wood. He looked up, and beheld the monkey whose liberation he had effected; and the animal, by help of teeth and nails, accomplished his desires. Guido then loaded his asses and went home.

The next day he renewed his visit to the forest; and sitting down to prepare his instrument, discerned the serpent, whose escape he had aided, carrying a stone in its mouth of three colors; on one side white, on another black, and on the third red. It opened its mouth and let the stone fall into Guido's lap. Having done this, it departed. Guido took the stone to a skillful lapidary, who had no sooner inspected it than he knew its virtues, and would willingly have paid him an hundred florins for it.

But Guido refused; and by means of that singular stone obtained great wealth, and was promoted to a military command. The emperor having heard of the extraordinary qualities which it possessed, desired to see it. Guido went accordingly; and the emperor was so struck with its uncommon beauty, that he wished to purchase it at any rate; and threatened, if Guido refused compliance, to banish him the kingdom.

"My lord," answered he, "I will sell the stone; but let me say one thing -- if the price be not given, it shall be presently restored to me."

He demanded three hundred florin, and then, taking it from a small coffer, put it into the emperor's hands.

Full of admiration, he exclaimed, "Tell me where you procured this beautiful stone."

This he did; and narrated from the beginning the seneschal's accident and subsequent ingratitude. He told how severely he had been injured by his command; and the benefits he had received from the lion, the monkey, and serpent.

Much moved at the recital, the emperor sent for the seneschal and said, "What is this I hear of thee?"

He was unable to reply.

"O wretch!" continued the emperor -- "monster of ingratitude! Guido liberated thee from the most imminent danger, and for this thou hast nearly destroyed him. Dost thou see how even irrational things have rendered him good for the service he performed? but thou hast returned evil for good. Therefore I deprive thee of thy dignity, which I will bestow upon Guido; and I further adjudge you to be suspended on a cross."

This decree infinitely rejoiced the noblemen of the empire; and Guido, full of honors and years, ended his days in peace.


My beloved, the emperor is God; the pauper, man. The forest is the world, which is full of pits. The lion is the Son of God, who assumed humanity; the monkey is conscience; and the serpent is a prelate or confessor. The cord is Christ's passion; the loaded asses are the divine precepts.

Adrian and Bardus

England, John Gower

Adrian, a great lord of Rome, while hunting in a forest, fell into a pit. He cried for help all day, but none heard till evening, when one Bardus, a woodcutter, came by with his ass, and heard Adrian promise to give half his goods to him who should help him.

He let down a rope, and first an ape and then a serpent was drawn up by it. Bardus was terrified, but still the voice implored help, and at length Adrian was drawn up. At once this lord departed without thanks, and threatened Bardus with vengeance if ever he should claim the promise.

The poor man went home, not daring to speak more, and on the next day, going to get wood, he found that the ape had requited his kindness by gathering for him a great heap of sticks, and so continued to do day by day; and the serpent brought him a precious stone in her mouth. This last he sold to a jeweler and afterwards found it again in his purse, and as often as he sold it, the same thing followed.

At length this came to be known, and the Emperor heard of it. Calling Bardus before him he listened to his tale, and gave judgment that Adrian should fulfil his promise.

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Revised September 18, 2014.