The canterbury tales, p.103
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.103

           Geoffrey Chaucer
688–91 Medieval clerks who wished to advance in the Church were bound to a life of celibacy; antifeminist literature played a role in persuading them of the wisdom of this choice. Cf. Cl 935.

  692 The reference is to a widespread beast fable, in which a man and a lion argue over which of them is the stronger. To support his case, the man shows the lion a sculpture or painting of a man overpowering a lion; the lion asks, ‘And who made the sculpture/painting?’ – to which the answer is, of course, a man. The version of this story included in the fables of Avianus (fl. ad c. 400?) probably had the widest circulation, but there the work of art is a sculpted tombstone (fable XXIV). A painting rather than a sculpture appears in the Latin prose collection of beast fables known as the Romulus and its derivatives, direct and indirect; see Hervieux, Les fabulistes latins, II, 231, 544–5, 623. The marginal Latin gloss in El, ‘Quis pinxit leonem?’, suggests a Latin source, and so makes less likely Pratt’s suggestion (CT, p. 269) that Chaucer took the tale directly from Marie de France’s Fables (no. 37). However, the phrase is not exactly matched in the Latin translation of Marie’s collection, which has ‘A quo facta est pictura hec, ab homine vel a leone?’ (Hervieux, II, 263); closer is the Romulus Nilantii (Marie’s source) ‘Quis hanc ymaginem pinxit?’ (Hervieux, II, 545).

  701–5 A marginal gloss in El quotes a passage of Almansor’s Aphorisms (no. 2, pp. 64–5, in the 1641 Ulm edition; see n. to WB 609–12), which explains that the ‘exaltation’ of any planet is the sign of the zodiac in which its influence is at its height, and that of a contrary planet at its lowest. Venus, which signifies ‘song, gaieties, and whatever is pleasing to the body’, and Mercury, which signifies ‘knowledge and philosophy’, are contraries of this sort; thus, when Venus has her exaltation in Pisces, Mercury’s influence is at its lowest, and when Mercury has his exaltation in Virgo, Venus suffers a ‘fall’ or ‘dejection’ (Eisner, Kalendarium, p. 180).

  715 Eva: Eve’s role in the Fall of man (Genesis 3) is mentioned as indicative of female disobedience in the Dissuasio Valerii (pp. 292–3), and was made a subject of reproach to women throughout the Middle Ages.

  717–20 These lines are not in Hg. The text is based on El.

  721–3 The Israelite Samson was betrayed by his mistress Delilah, who cut off the hair which was the miraculous source of his strength, so that his enemies the Philistines were able to overpower and blind him (Judges 16; cf. Mk 2015–94).

  725–6 Dianire: For the details of how Deianira unwittingly caused the death of Hercules, see n. to Kn 1942–6, and cf. Mk 2119–35. His story is included as an example of the banefulness of women in the Dissuasio Valerii, pp. 304–7, and he is similarly linked with Samson in RR (9153–76, tr. Horgan, p. 141).

  727–32 The story is told by Jerome, Against Jov. I.48 (though Xanthippe there douses Socrates with dirty water rather than urine).

  732 Proverbial (though this is the earliest recorded instance); see Whiting T267.

  733–6 Phasipha: Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete, had sex with a bull, and gave birth to the Minotaur, half man, half bull. She is cited, along with Clytemnestra and Eriphyle (see following notes), as an example of the banefulness of women, by Jerome, Against Jov. I.48; the passage is quoted as a marginal gloss in El.

  737–9 Clitermystra: Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus killed her husband Agamemnon on his return home from the Trojan war; see also preceding n.

  740–46 Amphiorax … Eriphilem: The seer Amphiaraus was reluctantto join the expedition of the Seven Against Thebes (see n. to Kn 932) because he foresaw its failure and his own death; according to the mythographer Hyginus (Fabulae, ed. H. I. Rose, Leiden, n.d., LXXIII), he hid himself, but his hiding-place was betrayed by his wife Eriphyle, who had been bribed by her brother Adrastus with a splendid golden necklace he had made. Chaucer may have taken this version of the story from Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium (I.18), where it appears in the context of an antifeminist diatribe (Boccaccio, Opere, ed. Branca, IX, 97). In the more usual version, Eriphyle persuades her husband to go to Thebes, having been bribed by Polynices with the magnificent necklace of Harmonia, made by Vulcan, which had passed into the possession of Argia, Polynices’ wife (Statius, Thebaid II.265–305, IV.187–213). Jerome mentions Eriphyle’s treachery in Against Jov. I.48; see n. to WB 733–6. ouche: Boccaccio says that Eriphyle was bribed with a necklace (‘monile’). Statius also uses the word ‘monile’ for the jewelled ornament given to Harmonia by Vulcan (Thebaid II.266), but Chaucer refers to it as a ‘broche’ in The Complaint of Mars (245). Both broche and ouche could be used for a wide range of jewelled artifacts (see MED s.vv. broche and nouche), and Chaucer probably had in mind a pendant or amulet worn as a neck ornament.

  747–56 Livia … Lucye: These stories of Livia and Lucilia are taken from the Dissuasio Valerii, pp. 304–5.

  757–64 The story is told in the Dissuasio Valerii, pp. 302–3; the name Latumius seems to be Chaucer’s substitution for Pacuvius.

  775–7 Ecclesiasticus 25:23. Cf. Proverbs 21:19, quoted at Mel 1087.

  778–9 ‘It is better to sit in a corner of the housetop, than in a house shared with a brawling woman’ (Proverbs 21:9, 25:24, quoted by Jerome, Against Jov. I.28).

  782–3 This saying of Herodotus is quoted by Jerome, Against Jov. I.48.

  784–5 A translation of Proverbs 11:22; the Latin is quoted as a marginal gloss in El.

  794 as dooth a wood leoun: A proverbial expression; see Sum 2152 and Whiting L326–7.

  801 The Wife has already transferred her property to Jankin (see WB 630–31 and n.); the assumption here is presumably that if he murdered her he would enjoy sole possession of it. Since dower usually reverted to the husband’s family after the widow’s death, the implication must be that there are no surviving children from the Wife’s previous marriages or other collateral heirs with a superior claim on the property.

  813–14 These lines do not go so far as to say that Jankin restores the gift of property that the Wife had earlier made him, but he allows her day-to-day control of it, and of the income it produced, which was legally the right of the husband (see nn. to WB 204, 630–31).

  835–6 Proverbial; see Whiting F336.

  838 paas] pees El Hg. The word ‘pees’ does not fit well into this sequence. Manly and Rickert (III, 460) mention the suggestion of J. Koch that it should be emended to ‘pace’ (v), meaning ‘go’. More likely is ‘paas’, which like ‘amble’ and ‘trot’ is a specific term for a horse’s gait (according to Hyland, Horse, p. 28, it resembles the trot in that it is two-time, but instead of each diagonal pair moving together, each lateral pair moves at the same time). Cf. CY 575, and see MED s.v. pas(e), n (1), 2a, though the word is not recorded elsewhere as a verb at this date.

  847 Sidingborne: This reference to Sittingbourne, a town about 40 miles from London and 17 miles from Canterbury, has been the source of great confusion in Chaucer scholarship, since at a very much later point in CT (Mk 1926) the pilgrims are clearly said to be at Rochester, which is some ten miles nearer to London. In response to the supposed contradiction, Henry Bradshaw suggested emending the Ellesmere order of CT by moving the entire block of tales from the Shipman’s Tale to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale forwards, so that it followed the Man of Law’s Tale (and thus confirmed the reading ‘Shipman’ at ML 1179); this change (the so-called ‘Bradshaw shift’) restores the place-names to their correct geographical position. (For a more recent defence of the ‘Bradshaw shift’, see G. R. Keiser, ChauR, 12 (1978), 191–201.) Scholars have generally defended the Ellesmere tale-order on the grounds that the unfinished nature of CT at Chaucer’s death meant that he had not yet had opportunity to eliminate inconsistencies of this sort (for a particularly eloquent argument along these lines, see E. T. Donaldson, in Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies: Essays in Honor of Francis Lee Utley, ed. J. Mandel and B. A. Rosenberg (New Brunswick, NJ, 1970), pp. 193–204, 363–7). However, an even more important consideration is that the Summoner does not say that the pilgrims a
re at Sittingbourne, but that he will tell two or three tales about friars before they reach Sittingbourne – which precisely means that they are some way off it, and that the Summoner mentions it simply as a place further down the road, not the next one they will reach (see S. B. Greenfield, MLR, 48 (1953), 51–2, and H. Cooper, in The Ellesmere Chaucer: Essays in Interpretation, ed. M. Stevens and D. Woodward (San Marino, CA, 1995), pp. 245–61, at p. 255). The supposed geographical contradiction does not, therefore, exist; it is simply a product of inattentive reading of the text. This line thus gives no cause to quarrel with the Ellesmere order or to attribute it to anyone other than Chaucer.


  The two main motifs of the Wife of Bath’s Tale – the task of finding out what women most desire, and the enforced marriage to an ugly old woman who is then magically transformed into a beautiful young one – are paralleled in Gower’s tale of Florent (CA I.1396–1861), in a fifteenth-century romance (The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell), and in a ballad of uncertain date (The Marriage of Sir Gawain). These analogues are printed in SA, pp. 223–68, and SA2 II; for a full study of similar story-types, see S. Eisner, A Tale of Wonder (Wexford, 1957). But only in Chaucer’s version is the knight’s imposed task a punishment for rape. The nature of the choice presented to the knight by the ugly old lady after their marriage also differs. In Gower and the Wedding, the lady has already been transformed by the knight’s reciprocation of her embrace when she asks him whether he will have her fair by day or by night (rather than ugly and faithful, or beautiful and possibly unchaste). (The fragmentary nature of the ballad leaves the exact process of the transformation unclear, but the choice offered is as in the other analogues.) As in Chaucer, the knight leaves the choice to his wife, and is rewarded by having her young and beautiful all the time. The ugly lady’s long speech on ‘gentilesse’ and poverty is Chaucer’s addition to the story.

  857–9 king Arthour: Although adopted as a national hero by the English, Arthur was king of the Britons (the original Celtic inhabitants of Britain, represented in the Middle Ages by the Welsh and the Cornish), whom he allegedly defended against the invading Romans. Medieval writers often credited Breton story-tellers, the continental cousins of the insular Britons, with spreading tales of Arthur and the Round Table.

  876 Like monks and canons, friars were obliged to recite daily, at fixed times of the day and night, the eight liturgical offices which made up the Canonical Hours: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. The obligation was in force not only when they were in their convent but also when they were travelling outside it. Matins (which was strictly speaking a night office) and Lauds were often sung together in the early morning. Cf. n. to Mil 3655.

  880–81 According to legend, an incubus was an evil spirit which had sexual intercourse with women in their sleep. D. Yamamoto (ChauR, 28 (1994), 275–7) has shown that there is no evidence to support F. N. Robinson’s statement that the incubus always made a woman pregnant (in supposed contrast to the friar), but she does not entirely succeed in making a case that the incubus is contrasted with the friar because it brought other kinds of disaster. The claim that the friars had expelled the incubi is made in earnest in a fourteenth-century collection of exempla; see P. Mroczkowski, Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny, 8 (1961), 191–2.

  887–8 Such casual rapes of country girls are a regular feature of the medieval French lyric genre known as the pastourelle, which usually shows the girl’s struggles giving way to pleased acquiescence; see K. Gravdal, Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law (Philadelphia, PA, 1991), pp. 104–21, and (on WBT’s relation to this tradition) Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, p. 71.

  893 The legal punishment for rape was technically blinding and castration or hanging, but it was seldom enforced in the fourteenth century; offenders were usually fined or imprisoned. See Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England, II, 414–15, and Carter, Rape, pp. 119–37.

  894 On the intercessory role conventionally played by fourteenth century English queens, see n. to Kn 1748.

  909 A year and a day was the period frequently specified as a time limit for the fulfilment of certain actions in English law (Pollock and Maitland, II, 102).

  950 Proverbial; see Whiting W534. Cf. Mel 1062 and RR 19190 (tr. Horgan, p. 296).

  951 ff. Mida: Ovid tells the story of Midas in Metamorphoses XI.174–93, but there it is the slave who cuts his hair who reveals the secret, not his wife.

  1109 ff. The idea that nobility derives from virtue rather than high birth or riches was a commonplace idea in the Middle Ages; see G. M. Vogt, JEGP, 24 (1925), 102–24. Chaucer’s short poem ‘Gentilesse’ is devoted to this theme. As WB 1125–7 make clear, Chaucer here draws on Dante (see following notes), and will also have known RR 18577–866 (tr. Horgan, pp. 287–8). Cf. Pars 462–3.

  1116 the gretteste gentil man*] In El, ‘gentil man’ is added by another hand after ‘grettest’, but this is the generally attested reading; Hg’s ‘the gentileste man’ is shared with only one other manuscript.

  1119–24 Cf. RR 18589–604, tr. Horgan, p. 287.

  1125–6 The nature of true gentilezza is the theme of Book IV of Dante’s Convivio; see esp. the introductory canzone and chs. 3, 7, 10, 14–16.

  1128–30 ‘Rarely does human worth rise through the branches, and this He wills who gives it, in order that it may be asked of Him’ (Dante, Purgatorio VII.121–3); the origin of nobility in divine grace is also expounded in Convivio IV.20–21.

  1139–49 Boethius draws a similar contrast between the natural properties of fire and the adventitious properties of worldly honour; Boece III pr.4.64–77. Cf. also Servius’s Commentary on the Aeneid, ed. G. Thilo and H. Hagen, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1881–4), II, 101.15–21.

  1140 Kaukasous: The Caucasus, an Asian mountain range stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian.

  1165–7 Valerius … Tullius Hostillius: According to legend, Tullus Hostilius rose from humble origins to become the third king of Rome; see Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings III.iv.1–3. As with preceding quotations from Valerius (see n. to WB 460–62), the intermediate source may well be the Communi loquium of John of Wales (see Pratt, Speculum, 41 (1966), 624).

  1168 Senek: See Seneca, Moral Epistles XLIV, which asserts that ‘the soul alone makes us noble, and it may rise above Fortune out of any state of life’, and On Benefits III.28, which argues that ‘no one is more noble than another, except he who has a mind which is more upright and more inclined to virtuous conduct’. Boece: See Boece III pr.6.32–51 and m.6.

  1177–1200 The quotations from 2 Corinthians, Seneca, Gregory, Juvenal and Secundus the Philosopher cited in the following notes to these lines, as well as the quotation from Revelation 3:17 in the El gloss to line 1186, had already been brought together in the discussion of poverty in John of Wales’s Communiloquium (III.iv.2), which may well have been Chaucer’s immediate source; see n. to WB 460–62, and Pratt, Speculum, 41 (1966), 625–7.

  1178–9 Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9. In Chaucer’s day, the poverty of Christ was a highly controversial subject, bordering on heresy, since it was appealed to as a basis for trenchant criticism of the established possessions and substantial income of monks and the secular clergy.

  1183–4 As a gloss in El makes clear, the quotation is from Seneca’s Moral Epistles II.5; lines 1185–90 paraphrase the rest of the Senecan passage.

  1187–90 A marginal Latin gloss in El quotes Gregory the Great’s Homilies on Ezekiel II (VI.16; CCSL 142, p. 307): ‘he who feels the lack of what he does not have is poor, but he who neither possesses nor wishes to possess anything is rich’, followed by the opening words of Revelation 3:17: ‘You say: “I am rich [and made wealthy and have need of nothing”, and you do not know that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked].’ The idea that the covetous man is always poor is a medieval commonplace; see Mel 1131–2 and n.

  1192–4 ‘The empty-handed traveller will
sing in the presence of the robber’: Juvenal, Satires X.22 (quoted in a marginal gloss in El). The saying was also proverbial; see Whiting M266.

  1195–1200 El’s marginal Latin gloss identifies the source of these lines in an apophthegm of Secundus the Philosopher (2nd c. ad, Syriac author of a Greek collection of Sententiae, translated into Latin c. 1180 by William of St-Denis), which is quoted by Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale X.71 (IX.71 in several early editions), and also by John of Wales (see n. to WB 1177–1200): ‘Poverty is a hateful good [line 1195], the mother of good health, the remover of cares [line 1196], the restorer of wisdom [line 1197], possession without trouble [line 1200].’ A fuller version is quoted and expounded at PPl XIV.275–319; this passage also incorporates the quotation from Juvenal used by Chaucer at WB 1193–4.

  It is obvious from the Latin original (‘curarum remocio’) that ‘bringere out of bisinesse’ in line 1196 does not mean ‘one that brings out, encourages, industry’, as glossed in Riverside, and similarly in other editions of CT, but a remover of ‘bisinesse’ in the pejorative sense of ‘trouble, cares’ (the error is corrected in Riverside CT).


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