The canterbury tales, p.109
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.109

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  2277–90 Proserpina’s arguments here are also used by Prudence against her husband Melibee (Mel 1076–80).

  2290 Proserpina is referring to Christ’s words to a man who had addressed him as ‘Good master’: ‘Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God’ (Mark 10:18; cf. Matthew 19:17 and Luke 18:19).

  2293–2302 The building of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon is described in 1 Kings, chs. 5–7. He had, however, many wives of different faiths, and in his old age they persuaded him to worship their gods and build shrines to them, for which God decreed that the kingdom should be lost to his son after his death (1 Kings 11:1–13).

  lechour: On Solomon’s lechery, see n. to WB 35–6.

  2307 The reference is not precise enough to make it clear which passage of the Solomonic books of the Bible is here referred to; women are represented as quarrelsome shrews in Proverbs 19:13, 21:9, 19, 25:24, 27:15, and Ecclesiasticus 25:27, 26:9.

  2315 The romance convention that a king cannot go back on his word once it has been pledged plays a crucial role in Sir Orfeo (ed. Burrow and Turville-Petre, Book of Middle English, lines 449–71; cf. n. to Mch 2038–9).

  2335–7 plit: It appears from this that May is pregnant, and pretends to be subject to one of the cravings for particular food that women in this condition often experience.


  Mch 2419–40/Sq 1–8 Editors have conventionally divided these lines into the ‘Merchant’s Epilogue’ and the ‘Introduction to the Squire’s Tale’, with a break at line 2440. However, they form a continuous unit in all the manuscripts in which they occur (though in Hg, ‘Frankelein’ is substituted for ‘Squier’ in line 2441, to cope with the fact that the Franklin’s Tale had already been copied after the Merchant’s Tale when the link reached the scribe). In El, the heading ‘The Prologe of the Squieres Tale’ is placed before line 2419. For the sake of conformity with the current practice of line-numbering in CT, this transitional passage has been divided between Sq and Mch, and the El heading has been omitted.

  2422 bisy as bees: A proverbial comparison; see Whiting B165, and cf. SN 195.

  2426 trewe as … steel: Also a proverbial comparison; see Whiting S709.

  2435–7 Since there are only three women among the Canterbury pilgrims, and it seems unlikely that the Prioress or the Second notes to the squire’s tale 941

  Nun would indulge in tell-tale gossip of this sort, it appears that the Host is making a fairly obvious reference to the Wife of Bath.


  There is no single source or analogue which provides a close parallel to the narrative of this fragmentary tale, or which makes it possible to conjecture how it would have ended; rather, it appears to be an assemblage of motifs, most of which are taken from the world of oriental legend or romance (see SA2 I, 169–209, and nn. to Sq 115–28, 132–6).

  The core of the narrative, at least in the form we have it, or what Chaucer calls the ‘knotte’ of the tale (401, 407), is Canacee’s encounter with the female falcon lamenting the infidelity of her lover. The theme of betrayal is of major importance in Chaucer’s works (see Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, ch. 1), and this episode draws on a passage of Boethius (Boece III m.2) on the ineradicability of natural instinct (see n. to Sq 607–20), which Chaucer also paraphrases in the Manciple’s Tale (163–74). In both cases, natural instinct in men is said to take the form of ‘newfangelnesse’ (610; cf. Mcp 187–95), the changeability which takes a tragic shape in the act of betrayal, but which in benign form manifests itself as the ‘pitee’ that characterizes the ‘gentil herte’ of Canacee, as of Theseus in the Knight’s Tale (see n. to Sq 479–83). So, although this tale is unfinished, it is possible to recognize in it some central Chaucerian themes and significant links with some of the other tales.

  9 Sarray: ‘Sarai … the imperial capital of the Golden Horde in Russia during the fourteenth century, was a flourishing metropolis and international trade center which attracted merchants and statesmen from all over the world’ (C. Jordan, ChauR, 22 (1987), 128–40). The Golden Horde was the name given to the thirteenth-century Mongol invaders, led by Genghis Khan, who came down from the Mongolian steppes and conquered China, eventually establishing an empire that stretched from Persia to Korea.

  Tartarye: A loose geographical term, here referring to the western Mongol empire in the steppes of southern Russia (Magoun, p. 151). For knowledge of this region in medieval Europe, and the travellers’ tales that gave it its romantic associations in Chaucer’s day, see D. Bethurum, ed., Chaucer. The Squire’s Tale (Oxford, 1965), pp. vii–xvii, and M. Cornelia, Dalhousie Review, 57 (1977), 81–9.

  10 werreyed Russie: For the constant struggles between Russia and the Mongols, see C. J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde (Bloomington, IN, 1985).

  12 Since ‘Khan’ was the title given to Mongol rulers, it has been suggested that ‘Cambiuskan’ is a westernized version of Ghengis Khan (see n. to Sq 9). However, it was only after his death that the Mongols overran Russia, where Sarai was situated (C. McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (Harmondsworth, 1961), pp. 74–7).

  29–33 Elpheta is the name of a star (α Coronae Borealis), and because of this, some scholars have attempted to read SqT as an astrological allegory (North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 263–88; D. Metlitzki, The Matter of Araby in Medieval England (New Haven, CT, 1977), pp. 77–80), but since Algarsif, Cambalo and Canacee are not star names, it seems probable that Chaucer chose all of them for their exotic sound rather than for an occult meaning. Canace is the name of one of Ovid’s heroines (see n. to ML 77–8), but the tale told of her incestuous relationship with her brother has no point of contact with SqT as it stands.

  47–51 According to the Roman calendar, the Ides of March fall on the 15th of the month. On this date, the sun has travelled 3° into the zodiacal sign of Aries (see nn. to GP 8 and Mch 2222–4), which is a domicile or ‘mansion’ of Mars – that is, one of the two signs over which this planet exerts special influence. In addition, each sign of the zodiac is subdivided into three equal parts of ten degrees each, known as faces, and each face is governed by one of the planets; the first face of Aries is governed by Mars, who is thus doubly influential at this point. The sun is near its ‘exaltation’ or position of greatest influence (see n. to WB 701–5), which occurs at 19° in Aries (Eisner, Kalendarium, pp. 180–81; North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 265).

  colerik hote signe: The signs of the zodiac were each characterized in terms of the four ‘humours’ which were held to determine the nature of the cosmos as well as of the human body (see n. to GP 333); Aries has the characteristics of choler (hot and dry); see The Kalender of Shepherdes, ed. H. O. Sommer, 3 vols. in 1 (London, 1892), III, 100, and North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 197.

  64 a someres day: Specified because the ‘artificial’ day (the time between sunrise and sunset) is longer in summer than in winter.

  80–81 The ME romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight likewise begins with a strange knight riding into the king’s hall during a feast, and the mention of ‘Gawain, with his olde curteisye’ (95) makes it tempting to suppose that Chaucer had it in mind here, but there are numerous parallels in other romances (see B. J. Whiting, Mediaeval Studies, 9 (1947), 189–234, at p. 232). It also happened in real life; for example, at the coronation feasts of the English kings, it was customary for the king’s champion to ride into the hall to defend, if necessary, his claim to the crown against all comers; see the Anonimalle Chronicle, ed. V. H. Galbraith (Manchester, 1970), p. 115 (Richard II), and Froissart, Chronicles, tr. G. Brereton (Harmondsworth, 1968), p. 466 (Henry IV).

  95 For exhaustive documentation of Gawain’s reputation for courtesy in medieval Arthurian romance, see Whiting, Mediaeval Studies, 9 (1947), 189–234, esp. pp. 215–30. It is referred to in RR 18668–9 (tr. Horgan, p. 288).

  96 The magical events which take place in Arthurian romances must have led Chaucer to associate them with the fairy
world (cf. WBT 857–61), although they are actually set in Britain.

  103–4 Rhetorical treatises regularly prescribed that voice, expression and gesture should match the subjectmatter of a speech; see, for example, Horace, Ars poetica 99–118; Ad C. Herennium III.15; Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria Nova 2031–65 (tr. Nims, pp. 90–91). See further B. Rowland, SAC, 4 (1982), 33–51.

  110 of Arabe and of Inde: R. Pratt (CT, p. 375, n.) ‘identifies Arabe and Inde with Mameluke Egypt, that is, Egypt and the Arab countries of the Near East, or India Minor, as it was called … It is, of course, unproved whether or not, whatever title Chaucer used, he had a precise idea of the geography’ (D. C. Baker, ed., A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: The Squire’s Tale (Norman, OK, 1990), p. 152, n.; see further SA2 I, 173).

  115–28 A flying horse which is operated by turning various pins plays an important part in two long romances in medieval French: the Roman de Cléomadé s of Adenès li Rois (see the excerpts in SA, pp. 364–74), and the M éliacin of Girard of Amiens (see the excerpts in SA2 I, 176–80). In both cases, the horse is one of a number of amazing gifts presented by strangers arriving at a king’s feast.

  131 seel: MED (sel(e n (3) 4b) glosses this as ‘a seal having some function in magic’ (see also Skeat’s note on this line). bond: MED classifies this quotation under 5a, ‘A force that dominates, controls, compels, constrains, or restrains … ’ Riverside explains it as ‘the controlling force of the practitioner’s knowledge’, unless ‘used in a more technical sense (elsewhere unattested)’; this seems to extend sense 5a further than is natural, and the immediate meaning is still not clear. The proximity of ‘bond’ to ‘seel’ suggests rather that it is used here in the sense of ‘legal document’ (see MED 4), but the precise meaning of the whole line remains elusive.

  132–6 A similar magic mirror appears in the legends concerning Prester John, the mythical Christian ruler of a remote land in Asia (SA, pp. 357–63, and SA2 I, 187). See also n. to Sq 231.

  146–52 The magical ability to communicate with birds and/or animals is a recurrent feature of romance narratives and popular tales in both East and West. For a collection of examples, see the section on ‘The Language of Animals’, pp. 348–71 in W. A. Clouston, Notes on the Magical Elements in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, and Analogues, printed in John Lane’s Continuation of Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, ed. F. J. Furnivall (London, 1888–90). See also n. to Sq 247–51.

  164–5 See n. to Sq 236–40.

  171 The comparison is proverbial; see Whiting S772, and cf. Mch 1818.

  193–5 Lumbardye … Poileis: Lombardy (N. Italy) and Apulia (S. Italy) ‘had produced quality horses for centuries’; see Hyland, Horse, p. 27.

  203 An English version of the Latin proverb ‘Quot homines, tot sententiae’ (‘There are as many opinions as men’); see Walther 26216 and Whiting H230.

  207 Pegasee: The winged horse Pegasus sprang from the blood of Medusa when the Greek hero Perseus struck off her head. He was later caught by Bellerophon, who tried to ascend to heaven on his back, but fell to earth; Pegasus, however, continued his ascent and took up a place among the stars.

  209–10 The Greek Sinon, posing as a renegade, deceived the Trojans into believing that the Greek army had sailed for home, leaving behind a huge wooden horse as an appeasement to Pallas Athene for the theft of the sacred image known as the Palladium. The Trojans then broke down their city walls in order to drag the horse inside, and at night Sinon let out the body of armed Greeks concealed within its belly, who set about the destruction of Troy (Aeneid II.57–267).

  217–19 For the elaborate theatrical illusions produced as entertainments at medieval feasts, see nn. to Fkl 1142–51 and 1189–1201.

  228–35 Alocen (Latin, Alhazen) is the Arab Ibn al-Haithan (c. 965–1039), author of an influential treatise on optics. Vitulon (Latin Vitello) is the thirteenth-century Pole Witelo, who wrote a treatise on perspectives which drew on Alhazen’s work. Aristotle may be mentioned because of his explanations of rainbows in Meteorologica III.2–4, or because he is cited, along with Alhazen, in a discussion of optics, rainbows and mirrors in RR 18000–30 (tr. Horgan, p. 278). For translated extracts from medieval works discussing mirrors and angles of reflection, see Grant, Source Book, pp. 410–35.

  231 In the Middle Ages, the Roman poet Vergil enjoyed an entirely mythical reputation as a magician and inventor, and he was said to have made a magic mirror, placed on a tower, which revealed approaching enemies (see D. Comparetti, Vergil in the Middle Ages, tr. E. F. M. Benecke (Hamden, CT, 1966), pp. 303–5). This mirror is mentioned in Cléomadè s (SA2 I, 188), and also in Gower, CA V.2031–2224); the legend seems to have been well known. Cf. SA2 I, 186–95.

  236–40 Thelophus: The Greek hero Achilles wounded and healed Telephus, king of Mysia, with the same magic spear; see Ovid, Metamorphoses XII.112, XIII.171–2; Tristia V.ii.15; Remedies of Love 44–8. Further references in SA2 I, 200–201.

  247–51 According to legend, Moses got rid of his Ethiopian wife Tarbis by making two rings set with magic stones, one of which induced memory and the other forgetfulness, and giving the latter to his wife. This story is found in Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica, PL 198, col. 1144, repeated verbatim by Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale, II.ii (p. 48). It also appears in Nicholas Trevet’s Chronicle (R. M. Correale, ChauR, 25 (1991), 238–65, at pp. 260–61), and in Gower, CA IV.647. See SA2 I, 196–200.

  The idea that Solomon could speak with animals arose from a misinterpretation of 1 Kings 4:33, which represents him as speaking about animals.

  254 Skeat’s note to this passage explains that ‘Glass contains two principal ingredients, sand and some kind of alkali’. Ferns were burned to supply the latter until long after Chaucer’s time (F. de Tollenaere, English Studies, 31 (1950), 97–9). Chaucer may have learned of the making of glass from ashes of ferns in RR (16066–75, tr. Horgan, p. 249). The whole process is described in the technical treatise On the Colours and Arts of the Romans written by Eraclius, ed. Mrs Merrifield, Original Treatise … on the Arts of Painting, vol. I (London, 1849), pp. 212–13.

  263–5 angle meridional: This is the tenth of the twelve ‘houses’ into which astrologers divided the heavens, and which were numbered counterclockwise round the earth from a starting-point on the eastern horizon (see n. to ML 302–8). The meridian is a notional line which passes from north to south through the zenith (the point immediately over an observer’s head), and it is crossed by the sun at midday (Grimm, Astronomical Lore, p. 81). Hence, the time is just after noon. The zodiac, as part of the sphere of fixed stars, rotates daily round the earth; since the sun is rising in Aries, this sign moves with him round the sky, and when it is passing through the meridian, Leo is, in Chaucer’s latitude, rising on the eastern horizon. Aldiran was the name given to a star in the constellation Leo (North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 268–70).

  272 Those born under the influence of a planet partook of its qualities and were known as its ‘children’; see J. Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods, tr. B. F. Sessions (New York, 1953), pp. 70–76.

  273 The zodiacal sign of Pisces (the Fishes) is Venus’s ‘exaltation’ (the sign in which she exerts greatest influence); see Eisner, Kalendarium, p. 180, North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 268, and n. to WB 701–5.

  287 Lancelot is mentioned as the prime representative of Arthurian chivalry (cf. Sq 95–7) rather than as someone notable for narrative skill.

  306 See n. to Sq 209–10. According to Vergil, the Trojan horse was made of wood (Aeneid II.16), but according to Guido delle Colonne, Bk XXX (ed. Griffin, p. 230; tr. Meek, p. 221), who is followed by Gower (CA I.1131), it was made of brass.

  352 According to The Kalender of Shepherdes (ed. Sommer, III, 117), the ‘humour’ of blood (see n. to GP 333) was dominant from midnight until 6 a.m.

  376–7 The syntax in these two lines is strangely back to front; what is meant is clearly, ‘Her governess, being one of these old women who like to be held wise, an
swered … ’

  385 the yonge sonne: See n. to GP 7.

  386 the Ram: On 16 March, the sun was at 4° 35' in Aries (Eisner, Kalendarium, p. 77; see n. to Sq 47–51); Eade (pp. 143–4) argues that lines 386–7 also imply that the sun was only 4° above the horizon when Canacee went out.

  428–9 Since the Latin peregrinus means ‘traveller, pilgrim’, the notion that the bird was ‘from a foreign land’ seems to derive from a fanciful interpretation of its name.

  479–83 The affinity between ‘pitee’ and the ‘gentil herte’ is demonstrated in Theseus (Kn 1761), King Alla (ML 660) and Alcestis (LGW F 503, G 491), as well as Canacee. It appears in parodic form in Chaucer’s comment on May’s receptiveness to Damian (Mch 1986).

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