An anonymous fabliau. This is one of around 160 extant fabliaux, or short verse tales, which date from approximately 1175 to 1350 and were popularized by professional storytellers in medieval France, who would either read them aloud or recite them from memory. Most of the tales are coarse in tone and subject matter: there is one about a mourner who has sexual intercourse at a gravesite, another about a wife who is granted her wish to be surrounded by penises. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Reeve’s Tale” is known to have been based on a fabliau.
A short exemplum about Roger,
the suave, enfranchised master carver,
I now propose to undertake.
He had the skill one needs to make
statues and crucifixes; he,
no mere apprentice, artfully
carved sculptures in the finest fashion.
His wife, carried away by passion,
had taken a priest as her lover.
Her husband told her as a cover
he had to go to market, so
he’d bring a statuette in tow
to drop off for a tidy profit,
and she agreed promptly enough—it
elated her to see him leave,
and he was not slow to perceive
her joyful look, by which he knew
she had in mind to be untrue,
which was, for her, by now tradition.
Then he lifts up into position
a crucifix as a pretext
and steps out of the house, and next
goes into town and cools his heels
and waits around until he feels
that it’s time for their tête-â-tête.
Shaking from spite and all irate,
he hurries home. When he got back,
he looked in on them through a crack
and saw them sitting down to dine.
He called out, but it took some time
before someone let him inside.
The priest had no place he could hide.
He said, “Lord! What shall I do now?”
The lady said, “I’ll tell you how.
Go in the shop, take off your clothes,
and, standing still, assume a pose
among my husband’s holy carvings.”
Right willingly, or with misgivings,
the priest obeyed her then and there:
Without his clothes, completely bare,
among the images he stood
as if he’d been carved out of wood.
Seeing he isn’t in the room,
the good man is led to assume
he’s hidden with his sculpted figures.
Being intelligent, he figures
that first he’ll drink and have a bite
as if he thinks things are all right.
After his dinner, when he’d done,
he went and got a whetting stone
and started sharpening a knife.
The sturdy carver told his wife,
“Now, lady, light a candle quickly
and come into the workshop with me,
where I’ve some business to prepare.”
No word of protest did she dare,
but with her husband made her way
directly to his atelier,
holding a candle to give light.
The master carver soon caught sight
of the priest with his arms stretched out,
whom he could spot beyond a doubt,
seeing his hanging balls and cock.
“Lady,” he says, “I’ve made a shocking
image here by not omitting
those virile members. How unfitting!
I must have had too much to drink.
Some light! I’ll fix it in a wink.”
The terrified priest never stirred.
The husband, you can take my word,
cut off the prelate’s genitalia
and left him nothing, without failure,
to warrant further amputation.
The priest, feeling the laceration,
took to his heels and ran away.
The worthy man without delay
cried after him with piercing shrieks,
“Good people, catch my crucifix,
which is escaping down the street!”
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