From Tale to Telling–“Virgil’s Inheritance”

Another “story diary” entry, of a tale from a collection rendered on Captain Cox’s / Laneham’s bibliography as “Virgil’s Life”.        The text is from a secondary (I think) source:   “A Collection of Early Prose Romances” (Vol. II), William J. Thoms, Ed.,    London (William Pickering, Chancery Lane).

Blog entry for “Virgil’s Life” is here:  https://sndsfnny.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/daily-captain-cox-virgils-life/

Direct link to Thoms’ collection on Google Books is here:
http://books.google.com/books/about/The_lyfe_of_Virgilius_From_the_ed_by_Doe.html?id=2d1OeSMOQVkC

The primary source would be “The Life of Virgilius”, printed circa 1520 in Antwerp by Johan Doesborcke.

I have standardized / modernized the spelling in Thoms’  text as an aid to reading.   Any italics are my additions; I rendered chapter headings in boldface:

 

(Excerpt from the prior section)

“…than called she (Virgil’s mother) one of her servant, and said to him, “Ye must to Tolleten, and tell Virgilius my son that he come and redress his inheritance within and without Rome, and give up the school, for he should be by right one of the greatest of all Rome.”    The messenger departed and went toward Tolleten where Virgilius was, and when he came there, he found Virgilius teaching and learning the greatest lords of the land…”

(Snip and summary:   Virgil sends goods to his mother and decides to go to Rome for her sake rather than for goods, “For Virgilius had goods enough”.     He goes to Rome and reunites with his mother.)

Howe Virgilius did make his complaint to the emperor as he was come to Rome.

“As Virgilius was come to Rome he was received right worshipfully of his poor kinsfolk, and not of the rich, for they withheld his lands out of his hand;   for that cause was he not welcome to them, but were angry of his coming, for they would not eat with him nor drink with him.    Then was Virgilius angry, and then gave he to all his poor kinsfolk that with held nothing from his mother, lands, harness, horses, silver and gold and other thinges.   And he gave to his neighbours great thanks for the kindnes that they showed to his mother in his absence; after this did Virgilius abide long time with his mother, till the time that the emperour raised a new custom or tax;  than went all the lords to the emperour that held any land of him, and also Virgilius with all his company and many kinsfolk and friends;  and when he came before him, he saluted him, and shewed unto him how he was inherited of his lands and tenements, and of those that with held it, and desired that he might have it again.   Than answered the Emperour, that he should take thereof counsel:  and forthwith he went to counsel with them that loved not Virgilius; and they answered to the Emperour:  “Me thinketh that the land is well divided to them that hath it, for they may help you in your need;   what needeth you for to care for the disinheriting of one school master:  and bid him take heed and look of his school, for he hath no right to any land here about the city of Rome;” and thus said that he must take patience by the space of iiij. or v. year that they might examine with in our self whether ye be right heir or no.     And with that answer was Virgilius very angry, and said that he should be avenged.

“And when he came home he sent for all his poor kinsfolk and friends and put them in his houses and dwellinge places that he had within Rome, and purveyed them of meat and drink, and bid them make merry till July that the corn and fruit is ripe.    And when it was ripe, Virgilius by his necromancy  did cast the air over all the fruit and corn of his lands that his enemies held from him, and caused it to be gathered and brought in to his houses, that none of his enemies had none thereof.   In this manner of wise did Virgilius deceive his enemies of all the fruit, and corn, insomuch that they had not on penny’s worth of that goods that they withheld from him.   And when Virgilius’ enemies saw the fruit so gathered, they assembled a great power, and came toward Virgilius to take him and smite off his head;    and when they were assembled, they were so strong, that the emperour for fear fled out of Rome, for they were xij. senators that had all the world under them; and Virgilius had had right he had been one of the xij.   but they had disherited hym and his mother;  and when Virgilius knew of their comming, he closed all his lands with the air round about all his land, that none living creature might there come in to dwell against his will or pleasure.

“Howe the emperoure of Rome beseged Virgilius beynge in his castell.

“As Virgilius enemies came to destroy and take him, and when they came before his castle, he closed them with the air that they had no might to go nor forward nor back- ward, but abide still, where of they marveled;  and then Virgilius answered, “Ye come to disinherit me, but ye shall not; and know ye well that you shall have no profit of the fruits as long as I live; and ye may tell to the emperour that I shall tary iiij. or v. years till he take counsel.   I design not to plead in the law, but I shall take my good where I find it; and also tell the emperour I care not for all his war nor all that he can do to me.”

“Then returned Virgilius and made rich all his poor kinsfolk.   And when Virgilius was returned, then went they home and knew not what they should do;  than came they to the emperour and complained of Virgilius, and said, that Virgilius said, that he set naught by the emperoure and all that he could make;  and when the emperoure heard this, he was greatly amoved and sore angered, and said, that I shall burn and set on fire all his houses, and also I shall smite off his head; and there with all not long tarrying, he caused his lords and knights that held land of him, that they should raise all their men of arms that they had under them, to be ready at a day at his commandment;  and at the day appointed the emperour and all his host were assembled;     they took their way toward the place of Virgilius, that was round about well walled and closed with air;  that when the emperour came before the walls with all his host, they might not go nor forward nor backward.   And than went from his castle forth Virgilius, and with his necromancy, he made also a light in such manner that they could not go forward nor return, but stand still; and he made also by his cunning, that the emperoure thought that he was closed round about with a great water, in so much that they might not come to the castle, nor for to come from the castle, but stood still;    and thus did Virgilius serve the emperoure and all his host:  and  moreover came Virgilius to the emperor, and said, “Lord emperor, ye have no power with all your strength to do me harm nor my lands also;  for by right ye should make of me as one of your greatest lords and nearest of your kindred, for I at your need may help you more than all your other folk.”

Then answered the Emperor to Virgilius:  “You beguiler, may I once get you under my hands, I will give thee that thou has deserved.”

Then answered Virgilius, and said, “Lord emperor, I fear you not, but think you well, that I shall tame you well enough, that ye shall be glad to know me for one of your kinsfolk and one of your blood; but ye would disinherit me, but ye shall not.”

Then caused Virgilius much meat to be dressed between his house and the host, that the emperor and his folk might see it, and how they dressed it, but they might have none thereof but the smoke or reek, for they of the host was shut in with the air as though it had been a great water.    And so did Virgilius serve the emperor and his folk, nor was there no body in his host that could find any remedy to help them there again.

Upon a time as they were in that thralldom afore the castle, there came a man that could skill in the science of necromancy, and came afore the emperor, and said that he would by his practice make sleep all Virgilius’ folk;  and so he did, in so much that Virgilius his self might scant withdraw him from sleeping;  then was he sorry and wist not what to do, for the emperor’s folk was delivered, and began to come upon Virgilius’ walls;   And when Virgilius saw that, he looked in his book of necromancy where in he was very perfect, and there he found in what manner he might deliver his folk from sleep;  and then he conjured that he made the emperor stand still again, that he might not remove out of his place, nor all his folk, nor the master of necromancy, might not remove nor stir, as though they were dead:  and they that were upon the ladders, one foot up, another down, and so stood still, and also some stood with one foot on the ladder, and another upon the wall, and so for to stand still til it pleased Virgilius.    Whereof the emperor was sore a-vexed and angry, and asked his master if they should stand still in that manner?   and he gave him no answer, but he spake to Virgilius and said that he would show upon him his cunning.

“And then Virgilius answered, and bad him do his best, “For I set not a straw by you nor all that you can do to me.”    And thus held Virgilius the emperor and all his folk closed in this manner with the air, by the space of a day.    And in the night came Virgilius to the emperor, and said,  “It is a shame for so noble a prince thus to stop the way, and take upon him that he can not do.”

“Then said the emperor to Virgilius:  “Help me out of this danger, and I shall restore again to you all your lands and tenements, and have all things at your own will.”

“Then answered Virgilius to the emperor,  “I will deliver you out of this danger so that ye will give me grace.”      “Yea, by my crown, and I know you for one of my kindred and I desire to have you with me in fellowship.”

“And then Virgilius put away the closing, and received the emperor and all his folk into the castle, where gold and riches were plenty, and served them with meat and drink right plentiously, after their degree, of the daintiest and strangest that might be got, that they never saw afore.     And the emperor was there more richly served then ever he was before or after.     And Virgilius rewarded every person after his degree, and with many costly and marvelous gifts.

How the Emperor restored again unto Virgilius all his inheritance and goods, and gave to him many other things.

“Then took they leave of Virgilius and returned home again;  and when they were returned home the emperor gave to Virgilius his land again and all that he asked, and Virgilius was the greatest lord of the emperor’s counsel.”

—————————————————————–

As you can see, the story as related in the primary source is…really long.

When wrestling with a story which was written down when people had longer attention spans,   I look for the “beats” of the story, which either give necessary exposition, or move the action forward, or  (if the story is a funny one) contains punchlines, and memorable sentences or phrases, which will sound good when repeated verbatim.    Such an analysis for the above piece might contain the following beats:

Virgil was a teacher

He was summoned by his mother, who told him he had been disinherited (by certain Senators), for while he “had goods enough”,  “he should be by right one of the greatest (Senators, we later learn) of all Rome.’

–He went to make his case before the Emperor and claim his inheritance

–The Emperor sought counsel from the Senators who held Virgil’s lands

The Senators made light of the disinheriting and advised the Emperor to send Virgil back to his teaching (“What needeth you for to care for the disinheriting of one school master:  and bid him take heed and look of his school, for he hath no right to any land here about the city of Rome;”)

–The Emperor bade Virgil to “take patience by the space of 4 or 5 years”  while the Emperor examined Virgil’s claim

–“And with that answer was Virgilius very angry, and said that he should be avenged.”

–By necromancy, Virgil caused all the “ripe fruit and corn (grain)” of the disputed lands to be magically gathered into his own house.

–The Senators gathered an army (mob?) to smite off  Virgil’s head and were magically stopped in their tracks.    (This is also where the Emperor’s words are used by Virgil:  “Here I shall tarry 4 or 5 years til he take counsel.”)    He planned to “take my good where I find it; and also tell the emperour I care not for all his war nor all that he can do to me.”

–The defeated Senators went back to the Emperor with news of their defeat and Virgil’s defiant words for the Emperor.

The enraged Emperor gathered another (bigger?) host of war and led them to the walls of Virgil’s castle, where they were stopped by the same (“closed with the air”) charm as before.  

Virgil defied the Emperor, and claimed to be more potentially helpful than any of the Senators, should the Emperor choose to do right by him

The Emperor called Virgil a beguiler and vowed to “give him what he deserves”

Virgil said he would “tame” the Emperor, and caused much meat to be prepared between his house and the trapped besiegers, so that they could see it (and smell it), but not get any of it.

— Another necromancer came along and put Virgil and his kin to sleep, which freed the Emperor and his army.    “and then he conjured that he made the emperor stand still again, that he might not remove out of his place, nor all his folk, nor the master of necromancy, might not remove nor stir, as though they were dead:  and they that were upon the ladders, one foot up, another down, and so stood still, and also some stood with one foot on the ladder, and another upon the wall, and so for to stand still til it pleased Virgilius.”    (The discription of the different poses is a useful action to use during performance)

–The Emperor complains to the other necromancer, who is unable to break the spells or hurt Virgil.   Virgil taunted the Emperor–“It is a shame for so noble a prince thus to stop the way, and take upon him that he can not do.”

The Emperor vowed to restore Virgil’s inheritance, after which Virgil received the Emperor and his host with feasting and “many costly and marvelous gifts”.

The Emperor kept his word, restoring the disputed lands, and “Virgilius was the greatest lord of the emperor’s counsel.”

—————————————————————

I made two deliberate, major “compressions” the last time I performed this story:

–I made the confrontations with the Senators and the Emperor into a single siege.

–I omitted the other necromancer

I also repeated Virgil’s claim of being disinherited, in a shorter, balder fashion than the original does, although the story does repeat the theme several times.    Since there is such repetition in primary source stories, I will use it when I see it.     I have frequently seen, and I practice myself, the repetition of a short phrase during a story.      Sometimes it’s short and memorable enough to give the audience the task of repeating the phrase.    One of my busking teachers advised giving the audience (or individual audience members) tasks to do during your performance for another level of audience engagement.

In the performance I link to below, I had forgotten to specify that Virgil was being encouraged to reclaim his standing as well as his lands by his mother.    I also turned the phrase “wait for the space of 4 or  years” in a way that Virgil didn’t in the original tale (I may have misread it the first time through).    I am undecided whether the reversal needed to be made or if it works just as well as written.     Fortunately the performance worked on the day    8)

 

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