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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 1, Ch. 14: Their wit and pleasantry

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Their wit and pleasantry

The heads of different families, in order to excite the laughter of their guests, and gain credit by their sayings, make use of great facetiousness in their conversation; at one time uttering their jokes in a light, easy manner, at another time, under the disguise of equivocation, passing the severest censures. For the sake of explanation I shall here subjoin a few examples. Tegeingl is the name of a province in North Wales, over which David, son of Owen, had dominion, and which had once been in the possession of his brother. The same word also was the name of a certain woman with whom, it was said, each brother had an intrigue, from which circumstance arose this term of reproach, "To have Tegeingl, after Tegeingl had been in possession of his brother."

At another time, when Rhys, son of Gruffydd, prince of South Wales, accompanied by a multitude of his people, devoutly entered the church of St. David's, previous to an intended journey, the oblations having been made, and mass solemnised, a young man came to him in the church, and publicly declared himself to be his son, threw himself at his feet, and with tears humbly requested that the truth of this assertion might be ascertained by the trial of the burning iron. Intelligence of this circumstance being conveyed to his family and his two sons, who had just gone out of the church, a youth who was present made this remark: "This is not wonderful; some have brought gold, and others silver, as offerings; but this man, who had neither, brought what he had, namely, iron;" thus taunting him with his poverty. On mentioning a certain house that was strongly built and almost impregnable, one of the company said, "This house indeed is strong, for if it should contain food it could never be got at," thus alluding both to the food and to the house. In like manner, a person, wishing to hint at the avaricious disposition of the mistress of a house, said, "I only find fault with our hostess for putting too little butter to her salt," whereas the accessory should be put to the principal; thus, by a subtle transposition of the words, converting the accessory into the principal, by making it appear to abound in quantity. Many similar sayings of great men and philosophers are recorded in the Saturnalia of Macrobius. When Cicero saw his son-in-law, Lentulus, a man of small stature, with a long sword by his side: "Who," says he, "has girded my son-in-law to that sword?" thus changing the accessary into the principal. The same person, on seeing the half- length portrait of his brother Quintus Cicero, drawn with very large features and an immense shield, exclaimed, "Half of my brother is greater than the whole!" When the sister of Faustus had an intrigue with a fuller, "Is it strange," says he, "that my sister has a spot, when she is connected with a fuller?" When Antiochus showed Hannibal his army, and the great warlike preparations he had made against the Romans, and asked him, "Thinkest thou, O Hannibal, that these are sufficient for the Romans?" Hannibal, ridiculing the unmilitary appearance of the soldiers, wittily and severely replied, "I certainly think them sufficient for the Romans, however greedy;" Antiochus asking his opinion about the military preparations, and Hannibal alluding to them as becoming a prey to the Romans.

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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