The canterbury tales, p.108
The Canterbury Tales, p.108Geoffrey Chaucer
1582–7 After falling in love with Criseyde, Troilus likewise makes ‘a mirour of his mynde’ in which he contemplates her image (TC I.365–6).
1598 The blindness of love, represented visually by the figure of the blind Cupid, was proverbial (see Whiting C634, and cf. Kn 1965, HF 137–8, TC III.1808).
1601–4 The details of May’s beauty, and the language in which it is described, fit the conventional pattern of a rhetorical descriptio (see n. to Mil 3233 ff., and cf. the description of Criseyde at TC III.1247–50).
1640–41 Cf. Pars 388 and n.
1662 That is, ‘before you are buried’ (W. B. Ewald III, ELN, 15.4 (1978), 267–8).
1668–73 For the idea that the pains of marriage may replace the torments of purgatory, see n. to WB 489–90.
1685 This reference to the Wife of Bath by a character within the Merchant’s story disrupts verisimilitude, and has been seen as a careless slip which Chaucer would have erased on revision. But it is not fundamentally different from the blurring of the boundaries between the fictional and the real worlds that occurs when the Man of Law cites Chaucer as a famous story teller, or indeed when Chaucer includes himself as a character in CT.
1697–8 That is, January designated part of his property as May’s dower, which would pass to her on his death; cf. nn. to WB 204, 801.
1703 The priest comes out of the church in order to perform the ceremony publicly at the church door; see n. to GP 460, and cf. WB 6.
1704 Sarra … Rebekke: Sarah was wife of Abraham, Rebecca of Isaac (see n. to Mch 1362–74). The reference here is to the prayer in the marriage service that the wife may be ‘wise as Rebecca, long lived and faithful as Sara’ (Miller, p. 381).
1716 In classical myth, Orpheus was a famous harpist whose music exerted such a powerful effect on the hearers that not only wild animals but also trees and rocks were drawn to him by the sound; see Boece III m.12; J. B. Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA, 1970). According to legend, Amphion, ruler of Thebes, built the walls of the city by playing music of such charm that the rocks moved of their own accord from the mountain side (Statius, Thebaid I.9–10, VIII.232–3, X.873–7; Ovid, Metamorphoses VI.177–9; Horace, Art of Poetry 394–6. Cf. nn. to Kn 1546 and Mcp 116–18. Martianus Capella (see n. to Mch 1732) has Orpheus and Amphion play beautiful music at the marriage of Philology and Mercury (tr. Stahl, pp. 351–2).
1719 Joab was a commander of King David’s army; for his trumpet blowing, see 2 Samuel 2:28, 18:16, 20:22. He is also linked with Thiodamas at HF 1245–6.
1720 Thiodamas, a member of the expedition of the Seven Against Thebes (see n. to Kn 932), became the priestly augur of the attacking army after the death of Amphiaraus (Statius, Thebaid VIII.270–93). Statius does not represent him as blowing a trumpet, but trumpets sounded on the occasion of an assault on Thebes following a successful attack on the Theban encampment outside the walls, which Thiodamas had inspired (X.552–3).
1722–3 It seems that two participants in the wedding festivities were dressed as the classical gods Bacchus and Venus, representing wine and love respectively. Chaucer speaks as if the deities themselves were rendering the occasion auspicious by their presence.
1727 Venus’s torch is a metaphor for sexual passion in the Romance of the Rose (3406–8, tr. Horgan, p. 52); the lady’s final yielding to her lover is achieved when Venus uses her torch to set fire to the castle that represents her body (20755–66, 21221–32, tr. Horgan, pp. 320, 327).
1730 Imeneus: Hymen was the god of marriage in classical mythology.
1732 Marcian: Martianus Capella, a fifth century Latin poet, was the author of a long allegorical work entitled The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, which was widely used as an educational text in the Middle Ages. The bulk of the work is an outline of the Seven Liberal Arts, which are metaphorically ‘deified’ by the marriage of Philology to the god. For a translation, see W. H. Stahl, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, 2 vols. (New York and London, 1971).
1734–5 Martianus describes the songs sung by each of the Nine Muses in turn in honour of the marriage between Philology and Mercury (II.117–26, tr. Stahl, pp. 40–45).
1736–9 Another example of an ‘inexpressibility topos’ (see n. to Mch 1341).
1744–5 On Esther and King Ahasuerus, see n. to Mch 1362–74. In order to save her people, Esther approached the king without being summoned, an action punishable by death unless the king held out his golden sceptre; her humble and timorous appearance as she did so is described in an apocryphal chapter (15) of the book of Esther.
1754 Paris … Eleine: The passionate love between Paris, prince of Troy, and Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Lacedaemon, was the cause of the siege of Troy; cf. ML 70 and n.
1763 When Jupiter made love to Alcmena, he caused the night to be extended to twice (or three times, in some sources) its normal length; January wishes to have even greater scope for the satisfaction of his sexual appetite.
1773 On the squire’s duty to carve his master’s meat, see n. to GP 100 and cf. Sum 2244.
1784 famulier foo: Chaucer may have borrowed the phrase from Innocent III, who calls lechery a ‘familiar enemy’ (‘Familiaris inimicus’) because it lives not outside but within the person (De Miseria II.22), or from Boethius, who warns of the danger of ‘a famylier enemy’ (Boece III pr.5.70).
1786 This proverbial simile (Whiting A42) refers to the well known fable in which a man warms a frozen snake in his bosom and takes it into his home, only to find that when revived it spreads poison everywhere (Hervieux, Les fabulistes latins, II, 199, 320).
1810–11 Constantinus Africanus was an eleventh century medical authority whose books were for the most part translations of Arabic works (cf. GP 433); late in life he became a monk at Monte Cassino in southern Italy. His treatise De Coitu describes the biological treatments for sexual disorders, and concludes with a number of recipes for aphrodisiacs (M. Bassan, Mediaeval Studies, 24 (1962), 127–40); for an English translation by P. Delany, see ChauR, 4 (1970), 55–65.
1817 Wine was drunk as a bed time drink; cf. GP 819–20 and TC III.674.
1818 as stille as stoon: The comparison is proverbial; see Whiting S772, and cf. Sq 171.
1819 The blessing of the marital bed and bedroom often formed part of the ceremonial rites of medieval marriage; see Miller, pp. 383–4.
1839–41 January has got this saying upside down, as can be seen from Pars 859. The analogy appears in Friar Lorens of Orléans’s Somme le Roi, and the popularity of this work gave it wide currency as a warning against indulgence in lechery within marriage. See Whiting M154 and P. J. C. Field, NQ, 215 (1970), 84–6.
1843 A piece of bread dipped in wine was a normal medieval breakfast; cf. GP 334.
1885–7 Taur … Cancre: Taurus and Cancer are signs of the zodiac (see n. to Mch 2222–4). The moon’s course passes through the zodiac approximately once every month; at noon on the day of January’s marriage it was 2° into the sign of Taurus, and then passed through the remaining 28° of the sign and the whole 30° of the following sign of Gemini before entering the first degree of Cancer – that is, 59° in all. To cover this distance within four days, as Mch 1893 implies, the moon would have to be travelling faster than her average rate of motion, which is around 13° a day (Eade, pp. 133–4).
1926 True to Italian custom, January takes a siesta after the midday meal.
1951 That is, to the latrine or privy.
1967–81 Chaucer here ironically suggests a number of grandiose explanations for May’s favourable response to the handsome young Damian, which needs no further explanation at all; the cosmic machinery of chance, destiny and planetary influence which plays a serious role in KnT (see Mann, ‘Chance and Destiny’, and cf. n. to Kn 1663–9) is here rendered comically superfluous.
1972 The maxim comes from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes (3:1); see further Fri 1475 and n., Cl 6.
1986 See n. to Kn 1761.
2014 dogge for the bowe: Proverbial; see
2021–2 At GP 336–8, this belief is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus (see n.).
2029 January’s walled garden evokes the ‘garden enclosed’ of the Song of Solomon (see n. to Mch 2138–48), which was interpreted in medieval biblical exegesis as a metaphor for the Virgin Mary’s conception of Jesus without violation of her sexual intactness, and was thus a familiar motif in religious iconography. The walled garden also, however, appeared in secular contexts; see next n.
2032 The Romance of the Rose opens with a description of a surpassingly beautiful walled garden, in which the dreamer falls in love with the rosebud which represents his lady.
2034–5 In classical mythology, Priapus was the god of fruitfulness, and images of him were often placed in gardens. The story of the god’s unbridled sexual desire for a nymph, and its humiliating exposure, which Chaucer alludes to in PF 253–6, is also relevant to January’s uses for his garden, and the later development of the story.
2038–9 In Roman mythology, Pluto was the god who ruled over hell; he abducted Proserpina, daughter of Ceres, goddess of crops and fertility, as she gathered flowers in the fields of Enna, and although Ceres rescued her, she was obliged to return to the Underworld for six months every year because she had eaten six pomegranate seeds while there. The identification of Pluto and Proserpina with the King and Queen of ‘Fairye’ is unusual; Chaucer may have borrowed the idea from the ME romance Sir Orfeo, a reworking of the Orpheus myth in which the role played by Pluto in the classical story is played by a fairy king who presides over a Celtic otherworld rather than the pagan hell (ed. J. A. Burrow and T. Turville-Petre, A Book of Middle English, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1996), pp. 112–31). Sir Orfeo is contained in the large composite manuscript known as the Auchinleck MS, which Chaucer probably knew (L. H. Loomis, SP, 38 (1941), 14–33).
2048 On sex as a marital ‘debt’ see WB 129–30 and n.
2057–9 The comparison of Fortune to a scorpion is traditional; see Patch, Goddess Fortuna, p. 52, and cf. BD 636–41.
2080 The turtle-dove’s fidelity to its mate was legendary; see PF 578–88 and Whiting T542.
2111–13 For the blinding of Argus, see n. to WB 358.
2115 Passe over is an ese: The expression is proverbial; see Whiting P44.
2125–7 love*] he El Hg. The quotation from Ovid confirms that ‘love’ is the correct reading; ‘What is it that Love does not notice?’ is his comment on Piramus and Thisbe’s discovery of the crack in the wall between their parents’ houses, through which they communicated (Metamorphoses IV.68).
2128–30 For the story of Piramus and Thisbe, see n. to ML 62–3.
2133 All manuscripts read ‘Juil’, but the mention of the zodiacal sign of Gemini in Mch 2222 led Manly and Rickert (III, 477) to conclude that this is an error for ‘Juin’. Riverside adopts this reading, and also changes ‘er’ in this line to ‘of’, giving a date ‘on or shortly before June 8’. Neither emendation seems necessary; if the sun is in Gemini but not far off crossing into Cancer, the date is early to mid-June (see n. to Mch 2222–4), and thus ‘before the month of July’ (cf. North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 447). The ‘dayes eighte’ (2132) are counted not from the beginning of June, but from the time when Damian copied the key; ‘eighte dayes’ is a conventional phrase meaning ‘a week’ (MED s.v. eighte 4), and is here used to indicate the shortness of the period rather than a precise date.
2138–48 January’s ‘olde lewed wordes’ (2149) are a tissue of reminiscences of the biblical Song of Solomon, a passionate love-song uttered by two main speakers (man and woman). The erotic content was rendered acceptable to the Middle Ages by allegorical interpretations which explained it as an image of the love between Christ and his church (as, for example, in Jerome, Against Jov. I. 30–31); January’s lyrical invitation to May restores its literal meaning. The biblical verses alluded to are as follows (Song of Solomon 2:10–11, 12, 14; 4:1, 7, 9, 10, 12):
See, my beloved says to me, Rise up, make haste, my love, my dove, my fair one, and come. For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone [cf. lines 2138–40] … the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land [cf. line 2139] … My dove [cf. line 2139] … thou hast doves’ eyes [cf. line 2141] … Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no spot in thee [cf. line 2146] … Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse [cf. line 2145] … thy breasts are fairer than wine [cf. line 2142] … A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse [cf. line 2143].
2172–3 January has already settled part of his property on May as her dower (see n. to Mch 1697–8); he is now proposing to bequeath her the entirety of his estate.
2220 Phoebus is a Latin name for Apollo, god of the sun in classical mythology, and is here used as a synonym for the sun.
2222–4 The zodiac is an imaginary band round the earth lying on either side of the ecliptic, the sun’s annual path through the heavens as it rises (in summer) or falls (in winter) in the sky. This band of the heavens is divided into 12 segments, each measuring 30°, and each named after a different sign of the zodiac. In the course of the year, each of these signs in turn serves as a background against which the sun rises and sets each day. In Chaucer’s time, the sun rose and set in the sign of Gemini from 13 May to 12 June; it then passed into the sign of Cancer, in which its annual course reached its highest point in the sky at the summer solstice (21 June). This point represents the sun’s greatest ‘declinacion’ or angular distance from the celestial equator, the imaginary band circling the earth at the level of the terrestrial equator (see Boyde, Dante Philomythes, pp. 144–9). The time specified thus seems to be the second week in June. The planet Jupiter has its ‘exaltation’ or greatest influence in the sign of Cancer (see n. to WB 701–5), and this influence would be of a benevolent character.
2229–33 Line 2230 was originally left blank in Hg; a later hand filled it with ‘Whos answere hath doon many a man pine’ (rhyming with ‘Proserpine’). El has a different but equally spurious line, added in different ink: ‘Ech after oother, right as a line’. Manly and Rickert (III, 477–8) plausibly suggest that the scribe of O1 (the presumed archetype of all surviving MSS) erroneously copied ‘Proserpina’ at the end of line 2230 (an error preserved in many manuscripts), and that scribal attempts to recover the original reading led to worse corruption. What must be the correct version of Mch 2230 is found in only two manuscripts.
On Pluto’s abduction of Proserpina, see n. to Mch 2038–9. The fifth-century Roman poet Claudian wrote a Latin poem on the subject called ‘The Rape of Proserpina’ (De Raptu Proserpinae), which vividly describes the terror and lamentations of the helpless girl as she is carried off, hair streaming in the wind, in Pluto’s gloomy chariot (II.247–72). The work was widely known, since it formed part of the collection of school-texts (known as the ‘Liber Catonianus’) traditionally used in the Middle Ages as an initial reading programme for those learning Latin (see n. to Mil 3227). On Chaucer’s knowledge of Claudian, see R. A. Pratt, Speculum, 22 (1947), 419–29. For the conflation of the concepts of rape and abduction in medieval thought, see C. Saunders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (Cambridge, 2001), esp. p. 20.
Ethna: Proserpina’s abduction took place in a flowery meadow near Enna in the island of Sicily. Mount Etna is the most prominent geographical feature of Sicily, and is frequently mentioned in Claudian’s poem.
2235 Turf benches, made by laying pieces of turf on a supporting base of earth or wood, were a popular form of seating in medieval gardens (see T. McLean, Medieval English Gardens (London, 1981), p. 104, and cf. LGW F 203–5).
2240 tales] om. El Hg. The line as it stands is obviously defective in sense; a few manuscripts supply ‘stories’ or ‘histories’, but it is more likely that ‘tales’ was omitted through homeoarchy with ‘thousand’ and ‘telle’.
2242 Salomon: Solomon, son of David, king of Israel, when offered a gift by God, asked for wisdom, and was granted riches and honour in addition (2 Chroni
2247–8 Pluto is quoting the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which was attributed to Solomon: ‘One man among a thousand have I found, [but] a woman among them all I have not found’ (7:29; AV 7:28). The text is also quoted by Melibee as a reason for rejecting the advice of his wife Prudence (Mel 1057).
2249 On Solomon’s misogyny, see n. to WB 679.
2250 filius Sirak: The apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus (see n. to Mil 3530) is attributed to one Jesus, son of Sirach; it contains numerous misogynist maxims (see, for example, 9:1–13, 26:5–15, 42:9–14). Cf. WB 651–3 and n.
2265 The father of Proserpina’s mother Ceres was Saturn, father of the gods, and, as planet, wielder of great power (see n. to Kn 2454 ff.).
2272–5 The women in medieval fabliaux (see Headnote to MilT) often manage to persuade their husbands to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes when they have seen their wives with their lovers. In addition to the analogues to MchT referred to in the Headnote, see, for example, Marie de France, Fables, nos. 44–5, and Boccaccio, Decameron VII.9 (a tale involving a peartree), which is based on the early medieval Latin poem Lydia. Nature’s priest Genius in the Romance of the Rose also claims that, if only Venus had been able to cover up her nakedness before being found by her husband Vulcan with her lover Mars, she would easily have managed to make him believe the adultery had never happened: ‘Even if he had actually seen it, she would have told him that his sight was dim and disturbed’ (18079–99, tr. Horgan, p. 279).
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