*** ALTHOUGH the Western versions (or imitations, rather) of the Book of Sindibād, known generally under the title of the Seven Wise Masters, possess but little in common with the Eastern texts, besides the outline of the connecting tale, yet a brief analytical account of one of the old English metrical texts may perhaps add somewhat to the usefulness of the present work. This version, entitled the Seven Sages, is believed to have been composed—probably from the French—about the end of the 14th century, and has been printed, from a MS. in Cambridge University Library, in the publications of the Percy Society, vol. xvi, with an interesting introductory essay by Thomas Wright. An analysis of another version, in the famous Auchinleck MSS., is given by Ellis, in his Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, and the text was after­wards printed in Weber's Northern Romances. “Few works,” remarks Dunlop, “are more interesting and curious than the Seven Wise Masters, in illustrating the genealogy of fiction, or its rapid and almost unaccount­able transition from one country to another.”


IN Rome was a renowned emperor, “as the book tellys us;” his name was Diocclecius; and he had a wife, called Helie. He had one only son, and when the child was seven years old, he was entrusted to the care of Seven Wise Masters, who undertook to instruct him in the space of seven years. They took him from the city into the country, in order that he should not learn any wickedness; and at once began to teach him the seven sciences, by means of lessons which they painted upon the wall of his chamber.* Thus when the prince lay on his bed he might con his lesson upon the wall. Ere the seven years were gone he was master of the seven sciences—“there was none but he had good skill in.” Then said the masters to each other: “This child waxeth very wise. Let us therefore prove him.” So they secretly placed beneath each of the posts of his bed four ivy leaves. And in the morning the prince said to them: “Of a surety, either the roof of my room has become lower, or the floor is risen.” “He is a wise man, I wis,” they exclaimed.

Now while the child was thus with his masters, his mother died—“as we schalle alle dye.” And soon after she was dead, the emperor's courtiers urged him to take another wife; and as he was “jolyf of blode,” he desired them to seek out for him a fitting wife, which they did, and the emperor was married to the woman according to the law, and for some time he lived in great solace with her.* One day she was told of the child, the emperor's lawful heir, how he was so comely and so wise, and she began to hate the child from that hour, and resolved to have him put to death. So she bribed a magician to contrive that if the prince should speak a word during seven days and seven nights he should instantly die.* After this, “in a merry morning of May,” she said to the emperor that she longed to see his son, whom she loved as if he was her own, though she had not yet beheld him; and the emperor promised to despatch messengers at once to bring his son to court:

But the emperour wist nought
What was hire wickkyd thought—
An evyl deth mot scho dey!

The messengers arrive at the house of the Seven Wise Masters, and command them, in the emperor's name, to bring the prince to court within three days. They go into an arbour in the evening, “for solace,” and there one of them discovers from the aspect of the moon and stars that the prince's stepmother has by magic planned his death. The prince himself takes an observation of the heavenly bodies, and perceives the danger he should be in if he spoke during the next seven days and seven nights, and proposes that each of his masters should, by their wisdom, save his life one day, to which they readily agree.*

When the prince appears before his father he is dumb. His stepmother comes with her maidens, and welcomes him, but he utters not a word. She then obtains leave to take him with her into her own chamber, where having tempted him in vain, she accuses him to the emperor of having sought to dishonour his couch.* —During the seven following days the Queen and the Seven Wise Masters by turns relate tales to the emperor, who alternately condemns to death and reprieves his son, according as he is moved by the arguments of the accuser and defenders.

I—The Queen relates the story of