Rex erat ignote quondam regionis et urbis
sed nomen regis pagina nulla docet.
hic sibi consortem regni thalamique sodalem
sortitus fuerat nobilitate parem.
quos licet imperii maiestas alta bearet
amplaque congeries nobilitaret opum,
hic tamen adversa parum Lucina negaret
gratis enim Veneris excoluere iocos.
hinc dolor, hinc gemitus ambos vexabat,
heredem regni non habuere sui.
denique regina misero compassa marito
tali sive pari voce frequenter ait:
“quid facimus? nil proficimus: iam vivere tedet
nocturnisque piget sepe vacasse iocis.
femina sum misera sterilique simillima terre
qui sine spe messis semina iacta vorat.
pertuso sacco iuste me comparo, qui quod
ore patente capit hoc aliunde vomit.
heu, quid nobilitas, quid opes, quid gloria regni
prosunt, heredem si michi fata negant?”
continuis igitur precibus pia numina pulsans,
ut mater fiat nocte dieque rogat.
quod petit assequitur et fit mater sed aselli!
eius enim partus pulcher asellus erat.
o qualis partus, ubi femina gignit asellum!
o res miranda, plus miseranda tamen!
hoc fetu viso mater, que plauserat olim
se concepisse, iam peperisse dolet.
ergo non esse mater quam mater aselli
mallet, et ut detur piscibus esca iubet.
(Asinarius 1-30)

Once upon a time there was a king of an unknown region and city, and, what is more, no page tells the king’s name. This king had acquired for himself as consort of his realm and companion of his bedchamber a woman who was his peer in nobility. Although the high majesty of an empire blessed them, and an ample mass of wealth ennobled them, all the same Lucina was hostile to them and had denied offspring; for they practiced the games of Venus to no effect. Hence grief and moans afflicted both of them, for the reason that they had no heir for their realm. In the end the queen, taking pity upon her unfortunate husband, said repeatedly in such a speech or one like it: “What are we doing? We are accomplishing nothing. It has become dreary now to live and it is tiresome to have been intent so often on nighttime games. I am an unfortunate woman, most similar to a barren land that without hope of a harvest swallows the seeds that are cast. Rightly do I compare myself to a punctured sack, which spews out elsewhere what it receives with open mouth. Alas, what does nobility avail, what does wealth, what does the glory of the realm, if the fates deny me an heir?” Therefore, entreating the faithful gods with uninterrupted prayers, she asks by night and day that she be made a mother. What she seeks, she obtains and she becomes a mother—but of a little donkey, for her offspring was a beautiful little donkey! O what a delivery, when a woman gives birth to a little donkey! O what a marvelous, yet rather miserable, thing! Having seen this newborn, the mother, who had earlier applauded that she had conceived, now grieves at having given birth. Therefore, rather than to be the mother of a little donkey, she prefers not to be a mother and orders that he be given as food to fishes. (tr. Jan M. Ziolkowski, slightly adapted)

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