The canterbury tales, p.102
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.102

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  376–7 The saying is taken from Jerome, Against Jov. I.28 (who is giving an antifeminist form to Proverbs 25:20): ‘Like a worm in wood, so a wicked woman destroyeth her husband.’

  386 Proverbial, as Anel 157 shows, but otherwise recorded only after Chaucer (Whiting H530).

  389 The first recorded use of this proverb in English; see Whiting M558.

  393–4 For parallels to the Wife browbeating her husbands by accusing them of having mistresses, see Matheolus 686–7, 1045–6 (tr. Jehan le Fe`vre, II.77–9, 1080–84).

  401–2 The Latin proverb which the Wife is translating (‘Fallere, flere, nere | Statuit deus in muliere’) is entered as a marginal gloss to this line in a number of MSS.

  415 Proverbial; see Whiting H89 and Singer, I, 115; cf. Rv 4134. For its use in a sexual context, see RR 7488–94, tr. Horgan, p. 115. The lure was a device made of feathers attached to a long string, from which hawks were fed during their early training, so that they would later return to the falconer’s hand when he twirled it in the air, in expectation of food.

  435 MED glosses ‘spiced conscience’ as ‘an overly scrupulous or fastidious conscience’, as at GP 526, but the context, and the modifying ‘swete’ (‘sweetly’), suggest that it here means a mild or benign disposition, as proposed by K. A. Rockwell (NQ, 202 (1957), 84).

  436 Jobes pacience: The biblical book of Job recounts Job’s patient endurance of the evils which the devil, with God’s permission, inflicted on him. Cf. Cl 932–8. Job’s patience would have been enjoined on the Wife to counteract the anger which was in the Middle Ages considered a typically female characteristic (Mann, Estates Satire, p. 123); for patience as a remedy against ‘ire’, see Pars 654.

  447–50 Cf. RR 13090–92: ‘You alone will have the rose, fair sir, and no one else will ever have a share. May God fail me if I divide it!’ (tr. Horgan, p. 202).

  460–62 A marginal gloss in El gives the source of this anecdote as Valerius Maximus’s Memorable Doings and Sayings VI.iii.9; in some manuscripts the husband is called Egnatus Mecennius, not Metellius. However, as the wording of the El gloss indicates, this anecdote (and the further two from Valerius quoted at WB 643–6 and 647–9) may have reached Chaucer via the Communilo quium of John of Wales (late 13th c.), a vast compendium of quotations from classical and medieval authors (R. A. Pratt, Speculum, 41 (1966), 619–42, at p. 621).

  464–8 The idea that drinking leads to sexual arousal is found in Ovid’s Art of Love (I.229–44), and was commonplace in the Middle Ages. (Cf., for example, Phys 58–60, Pard 480–87, Pars 836, 951.) The anecdote from Valerius referred to in the preceding note is cited in the Communiloquium of John of Wales in the context of some quotations from St Jerome’s letters which offer a fairly close parallel to these lines (see Pratt, Speculum, 41 (1966), 621). See also Jerome, Against Jov. II.7: ‘The eating of flesh, and drinking of wine, and fulness of stomach, is the seedplot of lust.’

  466 Proverbial, though this is the first recorded use in English (Whiting M753, Tilley T395).

  469–75 The Wife echoes La Vieille in RR: ‘now I must sigh and weep when I gaze at my ravaged face, with its inevitable wrinkles, and remember how my beauty made the young men skip … And yet, by God, the memory of my heyday still gives me pleasure, and when I think back to the gay life that my heart so desires, my thoughts are filled with delight and my limbs with new vigour. The thought and the recollection of it rejuvenates my whole body; it does me all the good in the world to remember everything that happened, for I have at least had my fun, however I may have been deceived’ (12735–9, 12902–12, tr. Horgan, pp. 197, 199).

  477–8 Perhaps proverbial, but no other instances are recorded (Whiting F229).

  483 Seint Joce: St Judoc, a seventh-century Breton saint whose English cult was centred on Winchester. His usual emblem was a pilgrim’s staff. Chaucer’s reason for choosing him here was probably that his name makes a convenient rhyme with ‘croce’, as Chaucer could have noticed in the Testament of Jean de Meun, lines 461–4).

  487 Proverbial; see Whiting G443.

  489–90 In the Lamentations of Matheolus, God answers a typical husband’s complaints by explaining that he has designed marriage as another, but more cruel, version of purgatory; if the husband endures its torments patiently, he will go straight to heaven when he dies (3024–38; tr. Jehan le Fèvre, III.1675–1720). Cf. Mch 1668–73.

  492 The expression is proverbial (Whiting S266), but its use in a marital context goes back to a story told by Jerome, Against Jov. I.48: ‘We read of a certain Roman noble who, when his friends found fault with him for having divorced a wife, beautiful, chaste, and rich, put out his foot and said to them, “And the shoe before you looks new and elegant, yet no one but myself knows where it pinches.”’ Cf. Mch 1553. See also Dissuasio Valerii, pp. 302–3, and John of Salisbury, Policraticus V.10.

  496 roode-beem: A beam running across the entrance to the choir in a church, on which a crucifix was usually placed. Although frequently prohibited by ecclesiastical authorities, burial in church was a regular practice throughout the Middle Ages; it was a privilege generally enjoyed by the wealthier members of the community, although not exclusively reserved to them. The nearer to the altar, the more prestigious was the burial-place. See Daniell, Death and Burial, pp. 95, 96–9.

  498–9 A marginal gloss in El refers to the Alexandreis of Walter of Châtillon, a twelfth-century Latin epic which enjoyed wide circulation as a school-text, and which describes how Darius, king of the Persians, was killed in battle against his long-time enemy Alexander the Great. The splendid tomb of marble, gold and silver, elaborately carved, which was made for Darius by the craftsman Apelles, is described in Book VII (not VI, as El has it) of the Alexandreis, lines 379–430. Cf. Phys 16.

  505–14 The favourite lover of La Vieille (RR 14446–77, tr. Horgan, p. 223) likewise beat her black and blue, but managed to appease her by his performance in bed.

  515–19 The idea of wanting something the more because it is forbidden goes back to a much-quoted line of Ovid (‘nitimur in vetitum semper cupimusque negata’; Amores III.iv.17), but there it is applied to men desiring the wives of jealous husbands. Its application to women is proverbial (see Whiting W549 and Singer, II, 174).

  521–3 La Vieille similarly explains that a woman ‘will be held more dear because she was dearly bought’, since ‘we have nothing but scorn for the things we get for nothing’ (RR 13671–4, tr. Horgan, p. 211).

  527 Oxenford: R. A. Pratt has shown that a number of medieval commentaries on the Dissuasio Valerii (see n. to WB 671) can be connected with Oxford, and concludes that the antifeminist tradition flourished there (AnM, 3 (1962), 5–27).

  551–9 La Vieille advises that women should take care to be seen and admired by going out to church, on visits, Jovrneys, to weddings, games, feasts and round dances (RR 13487–98, tr. Horgan, p. 208). Cf. Matheolus’s Lamentations 988–9 (tr. Jehan le Fèvre, II.947–51).

  556 vigilies: The Wife may be referring to the vigils before funerals (see n. to GP 377), which were sometimes the source of unseemly merry-making (see Riley, Memorials, p. 463, n. 2), or (more probably) to the vigils before important saints’ days, which were the occasion of great festivities. For the Midsummer festivities surrounding the vigils before the feasts of John the Baptist and the Beheading of St Paul (24 and 29 June), see J. Stow, A Survey of London, Reprinted from the Text of 1603, ed. C. L. Kingsford, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1908), I, 101–3.

  processions: Processions, both secular and religious, were a regular feature of urban life in the Middle Ages, and were occasions of festive splendour (see, for example, Robertson, Chaucer’s London, pp. 75–7, 136–7, 172, 213–14, 217).

  572–4 Proverbial, though this is the only recorded instance in Whiting (M739). See Singer I, 103–4, and II, 89, for many continental European examples. La Vieille applies the proverb to the same end as the Wife (RR 13120–22, tr. Horgan, p. 202).

  575–84 These lines are not in Hg (see n. to WB 44a–f). T
he text is based on El.

  576 My dame: This may be a reference to the Wife’s mother, since antifeminist writings often accused mothers of teaching their daughters how to deceive men (see RR 9290–9320, tr. Horgan, p. 143).

  581 The notion that blood signifies gold is found in a work on dreams by Arnold of Villanova (see n. to CY 1428–9); see Curry, pp. 212–13.

  587–92 It was a commonplace charge in medieval antifeminist literature that women’s tears at their husband’s funeral were feigned, and that they were already looking for their next husband, even among the mourners (cf. 596–9); see, for example, the Lamentations of Matheolus 862–5 (tr. Jehan le Fèvre, II.597–601, 847–52) and Deschamps, Miroir de Mariage, 1971–7. The idea goes back as far as Ovid (Art of Love III.431–2).

  604 preente of Seinte Venus seel: Curry cites two – unfortunately, post-medieval – writers who state that when Venus is the dominant star in a nativity, she imprints a birthmark on a (variously identified) part of the body (pp. 106–7).

  608 The Latin word quoniam (meaning ‘since’) is used as a euphemism for the female genitals in the Lamentations of Matheolus (1237, 1369; also in Jehan le Fèvre’s translation, II.1749).

  609–13 Lines 609–12 are not in Hg (see n. to WB 44a–f); the text is based on El. This passage gives only a sketchy indication of the Wife’s horoscope (North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 291–2). At the time of her birth, the zodiacal sign of Taurus was in the ascendant (i.e., rising on the eastern horizon at the point where it intersects with the ecliptic), and the planet Mars was in this sign. Taurus is a ‘domicile’ of Venus (that is, a sign ruled by her influence), and this would make her powerful in the nativity, but we are not given any specific information about her position or its relation to Mars, and are thus unable to analyse in detail what the Wife says about the different contributions of the two planets. A marginal gloss in El quotes one of Almansor’s Aphorisms: ‘When malign [planetary] influences are in anyone’s ascendant, he will suffer a foul mark on the face’ (no. 14; printed in Astrologia Aphoristica, Ulm, 1641, p. 66), followed by one of the Aphorisms of Hermes Trismegistus: ‘In the nativities of women, when any of the houses [domiciles] of Venus is in the ascendant and Mars is in them, or vice versa, the woman will be unchaste. Likewise if she has Capricorn in the ascendant’ (no. 25; ibid., p. 21). See also E. S. Laird, ELN, 28.1 (1990), 16.

  The Wife’s astrological determinism would not have been generally accepted in the Middle Ages; planetary influence was held merely to create inclinations, which could be curbed by the exercise of free will (Wood, pp. 37–43).

  619–26 These lines are not in Hg (see n. to WB 44a–f). The text is based on El.

  Martes mark: See the passage from Almansor quoted in n. to 609–12.

  630–31 Jankin was already entitled to control of his wife’s property during their marriage, but it appears that the Wife gives him outright ownership of it by means of a ‘fine’ or legal deed to which she would have given her consent in court (see Margulies, cited in n. to WB 204).

  643–6 A marginal gloss in El gives a reference to Valerius Maximus’s Memorable Doings and Sayings VI.iii.10, where the story is told of Sulpicius, not Simplicius, Gallus. See also n. to WB 460–62.

  647–9 This is also a story told by Valerius Maximus (VI.iii.12) of P. Sempronius Sophus. See also n. to WB 460–62.

  someres game: In fourteenth-century England, this term referred to the traditional festivities held on Midsummer Day (24 June, the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist), which involved the crowning of a young man and girl as ‘summer king’ and ‘summer queen’ to preside over the day’s entertainments. See R. E. Parker, Studies in Honor of John C. Hodges and Alwin Thaler (Knoxville, 1961), pp. 19–26, and S. Billington, Midsummer: A Cultural Sub-Text from Chrétien de Troyes to Jean Michel (Turnhout, 2000), pp. 22–3. Though these amusements were doubtless innocent enough, they were viewed with hostility by puritanical clerics.

  651–3 Ecclesiaste: The biblical book of Ecclesiasticus (see n. to Mil 3530) contains many maxims concerning the dangers of women and the need to control them; the one quoted here is in 25:34.

  655–8 These lines sound proverbial, but the other instances given by Whiting (H618) are later than Chaucer.

  662–3 The Friend advises the Lover in RR: ‘Women do not like to be corrected … every woman, however foolish, knows through her own natural judgement that in absolutely everything she does, good or bad, wrong or right, everything you like, she is always acting as she ought, and so she hates anyone who corrects her’ (9933–56, tr. Horgan, pp. 152–3).

  671 Valerie and Theofraste: ‘Valerie’ most probably refers not to Valerius Maximus, although he supplied the anecdotes in 460–62 and 643–9, but to the Dissuasio Valerii (Dissuasion of Valerius to Rufinus), an argument against marrying which shows the influence of Jerome’s Against Jovinian. Chaucer may have thought that its author was Valerius Maximus, as some medieval manuscripts ascribed it to him (Hanna and Lawler, Jankyn’s Book, I, 61), but the twelfth-century writer Walter Map claimed authorship of this piece when incorporating it into his De Nugis Curialium (pp. 288–313). The Dissuasio had an independent manuscript circulation, and often travelled in company with Jerome and/or Theophrastus (see below). An edition and translation are provided in Jankyn’s Book; substantial portions are also translated in Miller, pp. 437–46.

  ‘Theofraste’ refers to the large section of Theophrastus’s dissuasion against marriage quoted by St Jerome (see Headnote); it too circulated independently in MSS (C. B. Schmitt, Viator, 2 (1971), 251–70, at p. 267).

  Jankin’s antifeminist book resembles a number of surviving medieval manuscripts: Hanna and Lawler have identified sixteen which combine Map’s Dissuasio with Theophrastus, eight which combine Theophrastus with antifeminist selections from Jerome, and eleven which have all three texts (Jankyn’s Book, I, 6).

  673–5 Jerome spent much of his life in Rome, but was not a cardinal; the tradition that says he was goes back to a sixth-century Life (PL 22, cols. 202, 204), and in medieval art he was often represented with a cardinal’s hat (SA, pp. 488–9, n. 5). For Jerome’s treatise Against Jovinian, see Headnote.

  676 Tertulan: Tertullian was an early Church Father (c. 155–c. 220), of pronounced ascetic tendencies. Among his many works, the most likely candidates for inclusion in Jankin’s collection are his treatise ‘On the Dress of Women’, a diatribe against female adornments, and three treatises inveighing against second marriages: ‘To His Wife’, ‘Exhortation to Chastity’ and ‘Monogamy’.

  677 Crisippus: Chrysippus was a Greek Stoic philosopher, whose works were not available in Latin translation in the Middle Ages, and so could not have been known to Chaucer; nor do they have anything to do with women or marriage. Jerome quotes him as saying ‘jokingly’ that a wise man should marry (Against Jov. I.48), but this is hardly enough to link him with antifeminist writing. Horace refers to him as a moralist (Epistles I.ii.4), in a passage which seems to have supplied Chaucer with the name of the fictitious author ‘Lollius’ whom he claims as his source for TC.

  Trotula: Trotula di Ruggiero was an eleventh-century woman physician; two works on gynaecology and a work on female cosmetics are attributed to her in manuscripts. See Rawcliffe, Medicine, pp. 176–7, and M. H. Green, SAC, 14 (1992), 53–88. It is not immediately obvious why she should appear in a list of antifeminist writings; for an attempted explanation, see L. Y. Baird-Lange, SAC, Proceedings, 1 (1984), 245–56. Helowis: Heloise was successively the pupil, lover and wife of the renowned twelfth-century scholar Peter Abelard. She was reluctant to marry him because it would block his road to promotion in the Church, and in his autobiography he recounts how she tried to dissuade him, drawing on Theophrastus’s arguments against marriage, as quoted by St Jerome (Historia Calamitatum, tr. B. Radice in The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Harmondsworth, 1974), pp. 70–74). After their marriage, her uncle Fulbert mistakenly thought Abelard was trying to get rid of Heloise, and had him castrated; in a
letter to Abelard written some years later, Heloise blames herself as the cause of this calamity, and compares herself with women notorious in antifeminist literature for having been the downfall of men, such as Eve, Delilah and Solomon’s wives (ibid., p. 131). See further Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 41–5. Heloise’s arguments against marriage would also have been known to Chaucer through the speech of the Jealous Husband in RR (8729–8802, tr. Horgan, p. 135).

  678 After Abelard’s castration, Heloise became a nun in the convent of Argenteuil near Paris, of which she eventually became prioress. Later, she and her community were expelled from the monastery, and removed to the abbey of the Paraclete in the district of Troyes.

  679 Parables of Salomon: The biblical book of Proverbs (the Latin word parabolae denotes both proverbs and exemplary stories), which was attributed to Solomon. It contains many misogynistic sayings (see, for example, nn. to WB 278–80, 362–7, 371–5, 778–9, 784–5).

  680 Ovides Art: Ovid’s Art of Love instructs men in how to seduce women, and takes up a generally cynical attitude towards the female sex.

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