Gesta Romanorum

Gesta Romanorum, meaning Deeds of the Romans, is a Latin collection of anecdotes and tales that was 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, Thomas Hoccleve, William Shakespeare, and others.[1]

Of its authorship nothing certain is known. It is conjecture to associate it either with the name of Helinandus or with that of Petrus Berchorius (Pierre Bercheure). It is debated whether it originated in England, Germany or France.[1]


The work was evidently intended as a manual for preachers, and was probably written by one of the clerical profession. The name, Deeds of the Romans, is only partially appropriate to the collection in its present form, since, besides the titles from Greek and Latin history and legend, it comprises fragments of different origins, Asian and European. The unifying element of the book is its moral purpose, but the work contains a variety of material.[1] It includes, for example:


Owing to the loose structure of the book, it was easy for a transcriber to insert any additional story into his own copy, and consequently the manuscripts of the Gesta Romanorum exhibit considerable variety. Hermann Oesterley recognizes an English group of manuscripts (written always in Latin), a German group (sometimes in Latin and sometimes in German), and a group which is represented by the vulgate or common printed text.[1]

Early printed editions and translationsEdit

The earliest printed editions are those of Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt at Utrecht, of Arnold Hoenen at Cologne, and of Ulrich Zell at Cologne; but the exact date is in all three cases uncertain.[6]

An English translation, probably based directly on the manuscript Harl. 5369, was published by Wynkyn de Worde about 1510–15, the only copy of which now known to exist is preserved in the library of St John's College, Cambridge. In 1577 the London printer Richard Robinson published a revised edition of Wynkyn de Worde, as Certain Selected Histories for Christian Recreations, and the book proved highly popular.[1]

Between 1648 and 1703 at least eight impressions were issued. In 1703 appeared the first vol. of a translation by BP, probably Bartholomew Pratt, from the Latin edition of 1514. A translation by the Rev. Charles Swan, first published in 2 vols in 1824, forms part of Bohn's Antiquarian Library, and was re-edited by Wynnard Hooper in 1877 (see also the latter's edition in 1894).[7][1]

A Welsh translation was completed by Llywelyn Sion in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.[8]

The German translation was first printed at Augsburg, 1489. A French version, under the title of Le Violier des histoires romaines moralisez, appeared in the early part of the 16th century, and went through a number of editions; it has been reprinted by Pierre-Gustave Brunet (Paris, 1858).[1]

Critical Latin editionsEdit

Critical editions of the Latin text have been produced by Adelbert von Keller (Stuttgart, 1842)[9] and Hermann Oesterley (Berlin, 1872).[10] See also:

  • Warton, "On the Gesta Romanorum", dissertation iii., prefixed to the History of English Poetry
  • Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare, vol. ii.
  • Frederic Madden, Introduction to the Roxburghe Club edition of The Old English Versions of the Gesta Romanorum (1838).

Modern translationsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Margaret Schlauch (1969). Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens. New York: Gordian Press. p. 111.
  3. ^ D. L. Ashliman, Of Women, Who Not Only Betray Secrets, but Lie Fearfully
  4. ^ Blamires, David. "Folktales and Fairytales in the Middle Ages". In: Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 74 (1992): 102-103. [1]
  5. ^ Laura A. Hibbard (1963). Medieval Romance in England. New York: Burt Franklin. p. 3.
  6. ^ "Gesta Romanorum". The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes. Printed first at Utrecht, then at Cologne, c. 1472–5. First English edition printed by Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1510–15. For a full discussion of the different MSS. used, the sources of the groups, etc., see the indispensable edition of Oesterley, H., Berlin, 1872.
  7. ^ Charles Swan (1905). Wynnard Hooper (ed.). Gesta Romanorum. London: George Bell & Sons. (at Wikisource)
  8. ^ "'Gesta Romanorum', - National Library of Wales Archives and Manuscripts". Retrieved 2021-09-09.
  9. ^ Keller, H. Adelbert von (1842). Gesta Romanorum. Harvard University. Stuttgart, Tübingen, J.G. Cotta.
  10. ^ Oesterley, Hermann (1872). Gesta Romanorum;. Robarts - University of Toronto. Berlin, Weidmann.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit