The canterbury tales, p.113
The Canterbury Tales,
470 For the tavern as the devil’s temple, see the ME parallels quoted in SA, p. 438. The sins against which the Pardoner preaches – gluttony, gambling and blasphemous oath-swearing – were conventionally associated with the tavern; see F. Tupper, JEGP, 13 (1914), 553–65, and R. F. Yeager, SP, 81 (1984), 42–55.
474–5 The notion that swearing by God’s blood, nails, bones, etc. re-enacts Christ’s torture and crucifixion has a parallel in a story told by the thirteenth-century Dominican friar Thomas of Can-timpré (Liber de apibus, ed. Georges Colveneere, 3rd edn (Douai, 1627), II.xlix.10; translated in Kolve and Olson, p. 417), in which a man leaving a tavern where young revellers were blaspheming and swearing found a wounded and bleeding stranger lying in the street. The stranger claimed that his wounds had been inflicted by the men in the tavern, but when they were brought out to protest their innocence, they found that the stranger had disappeared. They realized that he was Christ, and his wounds had been caused by their oaths. See also Pars 591.
483–588 This long tirade against gluttony draws at several points on Jerome’s treatise Against Jovinian, Book II, and Innocent III’s De Miseria II.17–20; relevant passages are printed with translation in SA2 I, 282–7. See further following notes.
483–4 A marginal gloss in El and Hg quotes Ephesians 5:18: ‘be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury’, which is also quoted (with slightly different wording) in Innocent III, De Miseria II.19.
485 Loth: Lot’s two daughters made him drunk and had sex with him in order to conceive children by him and carry on the family line; see Genesis 19:30–38. This story, like the succeeding one of Herod (488–91), is referred to in Innocent III’s denunciation of gluttony: ‘Gluttony … beheaded the Baptist’ (II.18), ‘Drunkenness … committed incest’ (II.20, tr. Lewis).
488–91 Herodes: The biblical stories of Herod’s slaying of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1–12, Mark 6:17–28) mention that Herod’s rash vow to give Herodias’s daughter whatever she asked was made at his birthday feast, but they do not say that he was drunk at the time. See, however, the quotation from Innocent III in the preceding note.
492–7 Senec: Seneca makes this comparison between drunkenness and insanity in his Moral Epistles, LXXXIII.18.
508–11 A marginal gloss in El (defective in Hg) identifies the source of these lines as Jerome, Against Jov. II.15: ‘So long as Adam fasted, he remained in paradise; he ate, and was cast out, and straightway took a wife.’ Cf. Sum 1915–17 and n., Pars 819. See also Innocent III, De Miseria II.18: ‘Gluttony closed paradise’ (tr. Lewis).
513–16 Cf. Ecclesiasticus 37:32–4: ‘Be not greedy in any feasting, and pour not out thyself upon any meat: For in many meats there will be sickness, and greediness will turn to choler. By surfeiting many have perished: but he that is temperate, shall prolong life.’ These verses are quoted by Innocent III, De Miseria II.17.
517–20 Cf. Jerome, Against Jov. II.8: ‘On account of the brief pleasure of the throat, lands and seas are scoured.’ Cf. also Innocent III, De Miseria II.17: ‘the fruits of the trees are not sufficient for gluttons, nor the varieties of vegetables, nor the roots of plants, nor the fish of the sea, nor the beasts of the earth, nor the birds of the sky … Yet the pleasure of gluttony is so brief that as to the size of the place it is scarcely four inches, as to length of time scarcely as many moments’ (tr. Lewis).
521–3 A marginal gloss in El and Hg quotes 1 Corinthians 6:13: ‘Meat for the belly, and the belly for the meats; but God shall destroy both it and them.’ Quoted by Jerome, Against Jov. II.6, and Innocent III, De Miseria II.17.
527–8 That is, the glutton vomits up what he has consumed, instead of evacuating it in the normal way. Chaucer may be thinking of Jerome’s reference to the use of emetics by gluttons, Against Jov. II.10, or he may be referring to involuntary vomiting as a result of excess.
530–33 A marginal gloss in El and Hg gives the source of this quotation as Philippians (3:18–19). It is also quoted at Pars 820.
534–6 Cf. Innocent III, De Miseria II.18: ‘Gluttony demands a costly tribute, but it returns the smallest value, because the more delicate the foods are, the more stinking the excrements are. What goes in vilely comes out vilely, expelling a horrible wind above and below, and emitting an abominable sound’ (tr. Lewis).
538–40 Cf. Innocent III, De Miseria II.17, on the skill of cooks: ‘One grinds and strains, another mixes and prepares, turns substance into accident, changes nature into art, so that satiety turns into hunger, squeamishness recovers an appetite; to stimulate gluttony, not to sustain nature; not to fill a need, but to satisfy a desire’ (tr. Lewis). The terms ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ are borrowed from Aristotelian philosophy; the ‘accidents’ of any physical body are its particular characteristics, such as colour, size, shape, material, and so on, while its ‘substance’ is that in which all these characteristics inhere. The joke here suggests that in the hands of the cooks, the substance of the food is changed into such different forms that it disappears. The terms were used in the latter part of the Middle Ages to explain the transformation of the bread and wine of the Eucharist into Christ’s body and blood: it was said that the ‘substance’ of the Eucharistic elements changed, while the ‘accidents’ of bread and wine remained intact. The fourteenthcentury Oxford theologian John Wyclif rejected this theory as philosophically untenable, and was followed in this by the Lollards; their view was denounced as heretical (see Hudson, Wycliffite Writings, pp. 18, 142–3). At the time that PardT was written, therefore, these terms were suggestive of controversy, whether or not Chaucer intended them to have that connotation here (see P. Strohm, SAC, 17 (1995), 23–42). It is possible that they form part of the vein of religious parody in the tale; cf. n. to Pard 710, and see D. Lawton, Blasphemy (New York, 1993), pp. 100–102.
547–8 A marginal gloss in El and Hg quotes 1 Timothy 5:6: ‘Who lives in pleasures is dead while living’ (the subject is grammatically masculine in the gloss, although feminine in the Bible).
549–50 A marginal gloss in El and Hg quotes Proverbs 20:1: ‘Wine is a luxurious thing, and drunkenness riotous’, which is also quoted in the sections on gluttony in Jerome, Against Jov. (II.10) and Innocent III, De Miseria (II.19). For wine as a source of ‘fights and brawls, disputes and quarrels’, see Innocent III, De Miseria II.19 (tr. Lewis).
551–2 Cf. Innocent III, De Miseria II.19: ‘What is more unsightly than a drunkard, in whose mouth is a stench … whose face is transformed?’ (tr. Lewis).
555 Sampsoun: Samson was a Nazirite; the Nazirites were ‘a body of Israelites specially consecrated to the service of God who were under vows to abstain from eating or drinking the produce of the vine, to let their hair grow, and to avoid defilement with a dead body’ (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, s.v.). See Numbers 6:3 and Judges 13:5–7.
558–9 The phrase ‘sepulchre of reason’ is applied to drunkenness in Walter of Châtillon’s Alexandreis (ed. Colker, I.171–2): ‘Imperat et suadet rationis uile sepulcrum | Ebrietas.’ Cf. Pars 822 and n. It seems to have been a well-known tag; see Alan of Lille, Sententiae 34 (PL 210, col. 249): ‘Quid est gula, nisi luxuriae seminarium, rationis sepulcrum?’ The idea is commonplace: see Jerome, Against Jov. II.12: ‘Nothing is so destructive to the mind as a full belly’, and Innocent III, De Miseria II.19 (of the drunkard): ‘[his] reason is taken away’ (tr. Lewis). Innocent goes on to quote Hosea 4:11: ‘Fornication, and wine, and drunkenness take away the understanding.’
560–61 Proverbs 31:4; see n. to Pard 583–7. The quotation appears in Innocent III, De Miseria II.19. Cf. MLT 771–7 and Mel 1194.
563 Lepe is the name of a town near Huelva in south-west Spain. White wines are still produced in the region (Condado de Huelva); see H. Duijker, The Wine Atlas of Spain and Traveller’s Guide (London, 1992), pp. 206–9.
564 Fisshstrete … Chepe: Chaucer may be referring to Newe Fisshstrete (now Fish Street Hill), which ran northwards from London Bridge, and Estchepe (now Eastcheap), which intersected
571 Rochel … Burdeux: French wines from La Rochelle and Bordeaux were imported into London in Chaucer’s day (Barron in Lobel, ed., The City of London, p. 54).
574–8 Examples of Old Testament victories that were won through fasting are given by Jerome, Against Jov. II.15.
579–81 Attila, king of the Huns, died on his wedding night from a nose-bleed, which was the result of heavy drinking (E. A. Thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns (Oxford, 1948), p. 149).
583–7 Proverbs 31:4: ‘Give not to kings, O Lamuel, give not wine to kings: because there is no secret where drunkenness reigneth’; the second half of the quotation (which is not in the AV) is reproduced in Pard 560–61. The first few words of this verse are quoted as a marginal gloss in El and Hg.
591–4 A marginal gloss in El and Hg quotes from the chapter on gambling in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus (I.5): ‘Dicing is the mother of lies and perjuries.’ There are further parallels to Chaucer’s lines in the rest of the chapter: ‘Gambling … is prodigal as the result of her lust for others’ possessions … it seems the more ruinous in that nothing is less profitable than to expend much labour on that by which one profits little … It arms men for strife’ (tr. Pike, pp. 27–8). Cf. Pars 793.
603–20 Stilbon: The story is taken from the chapter on gambling in the Policraticus of John of Salisbury (I.5; see SA, p. 438), but the name of the ambassador who was sent from Corinth to Sparta (both cities in the Greek Peloponnese) is Chilo, not Stilbo. Stilbon is a Greek name for the planet Mercury, and also the name of a Greek philosopher mentioned by Seneca (Moral Epistles IX.18–19; On Firmness (Moral Essays II) 5). Chaucer may have confused the names in his memory.
Lacedomie: Lacedaemon is the ancient Greek name for Sparta.
621–6 This story immediately follows the story of Chilo (see preceding n.) in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus I.5. Parthes: the people of Parthia, in northern Persia (Magoun, p. 123).
631–2 Cf. Pars 600.
633–4 A marginal gloss in El and Hg underscores this reference to Matthew 5:34, where Christ forbids any kind of oath.
635–7 See Jeremiah 4:2: ‘And thou shalt swear: [As the Lord liveth,] in truth, and in judgment, and in justice.’ A marginal gloss in El and Hg gives the Latin version of these words (without the bracketed phrase). Cf. Pars 592.
639 the firste table: The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God were written on two stone ‘tables’ or tablets (Exodus 31:18, 34:28–9; see n. to Sum 1885–90). The medieval exegetical tradition interpreted these two tablets in the light of Mark 12:29–31, where Christ collapses these commandments into two: love of God and love of one’s neighbour. The first tablet was thus supposed to have held the first three commandments, setting out man’s duty to God, and the second to have held the remaining seven, setting out man’s duty to his neighbour. See, for example, The Lay Folks’ Catechism, ed. T. F. Simmons and H. E. Nolloth, EETS o.s. 118 (London, 1901), p. 30, and Dives and Pauper, ed. P. H. Barnum, vol. I, Part 1, EETS o.s. 275 (London, 1976), p. 298.
641–2 For the Ten Commandments in their most generally used form, see Deuteronomy 5:6–21. In Protestant reckoning, the commandment ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain’ is the third commandment, but medieval reckoning counted the first two (against worshipping other gods, and against worshipping graven images) as one; see The Lay Folks’ Catechism, p. 36, and Dives and Pauper I.1, pp. 81 and 221 (both as cited in the preceding note). To compensate, the last commandment is split into two by distinguishing between covetousness of immovable and movable goods.
649–50 Cf. Ecclesiasticus 23:12, 14: ‘A man that sweareth much, shall be filled with iniquity, and a scourge shall not depart from his house … And if he swear in vain, he shall not be justified: for his house shall be filled with retribution.’
652 Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire possessed a phial allegedly containing the blood of Christ (L. Butler and C. Given-Wilson, Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain (London, 1979), p. 258); it could be seen only by those who had pure consciences – a ruse worthy of the Pardoner (see the ME poem printed in Altenglische Legenden, ed. C. Horstmann (Heilbronn, 1881), pp. 275–81).
653 Skeat (see his notes to MLT 124, Pard 653) interprets this line in terms of the rules of the game of hazard, in which only one player throws the dice; before making his throw, the caster calls one of the numbers five, six, seven, eight or nine. This number is called his ‘main’. If he calls a seven and then throws seven or eleven, he wins; if he throws two ones, two-one or two sixes, he loses. If he throws any other number, it is called his ‘chance’. He continues to throw until either the main reappears and he loses or the chance reappears and he wins. It is not clear, however, exactly which of the many medieval dice-games is in question here (the references to ‘hasard’ at Pard 465, 591, 608 seem to mean simply dicing in general), and there is no mention of a main. Probably, therefore, ‘chaunce’ means no more than ‘throw’ (for examples of this meaning, and discussion of Skeat’s proposal, see F. Semrau, Würfel und Wü rfelspiel im alten Frankreich (Halle a/S., 1910), pp. 52–6).
662 Prime is the third in the series of eight liturgical Offices sung daily by the regular clergy (see n. to Mil 3655), and the first of the so-called ‘Little Hours’ (the others being Terce, Sext and None). The ‘riotoures’, who are clearly not early risers, must have been up all night.
664 For the custom of ringing a handbell before a corpse on its way to burial, see Daniell, Death and Burial, pp. 44–5.
679 Chaucer darkens the mood of his tale by setting it against the background of the Black Death. See n. to GP 442. Some contemporary reactions to the plague are quoted and related to PardT by P. G. Beidler, ChauR, 16 (1982), 257–69.
696–7 For another example of sworn brotherhood which ends disastrously, see Fri 1404–5.
709 Cf. Pard 474–5 and n.
710 The oath sworn by the three men is a bizarre echo of God’s words in Hosea (13:14): ‘O death, I will be thy death’; these words were taken to be a prophecy of the Crucifixion (cf. PPl XVIII.35). The literalism of the revellers thus leads them to a parodic restatement of this divine paradox, which is part of PardT’s exploration of the levels on which language makes contact with reality (see Introduction, pp. xl–xli).
728–38 These lines are based on a passage in the first elegy of the sixth-century Latin poet Maximian; lamenting his own old age and loss of his powers, he paints a vivid picture of a typical old man, shrunken and wrinkled, striking the earth with his cane as he pleads:
Take me, my mother, pity the sufferings of your child. I seek to rest my tired limbs in your bosom. Children shudder at me; I have lost the appearance I once had. Why do you allow your offspring to become loathsome? I have nothing to do with the living; I have used up the gift of life. Return my lifeless limbs to their native soil, I beg. What profit is there in dragging wretches through varied tortures? It’s not the sign of a motherly heart to allow this.
(ed. R. Webster, The Elegies of Maximianus
(Princeton, NJ, 1900), I.227–34; my translation)
A complete English translation can be found in L. R. Lind, Gabriele Zerbi, Gerontocomia: On the Care of the Aged, andMaximianus, Elegies on Old Age and Love (Philadelphia, PA, 1988). Lengthy excerpts, with facing translation, are printed in SA2 I, 312–19. Maximian’s Elegies were well known, si
743–4 A marginal gloss in El and Hg quotes the source in Leviticus 19:32: ‘Rise up before the hoary head, and honour the person of the aged man.’
760–65 In some analogues to PardT, the story begins with the finding of the gold by a hermit, who immediately runs away, and when asked by the three companions what he is fleeing from, replies ‘Death’. For text and translation, see SA2 I, 286–9, 290–93.
770 florins: The florin was a Florentine gold coin, which circulated throughout medieval Europe and was imitated in other currencies. Since PardT is set in Flanders, Chaucer may be referring to the Flemish florin rather than to the English florin, which was minted only from January to August of 1344, or he may be using the term simply to mean ‘gold coins’ in general (D. C. Baker, Speculum, 36 (1961), 282–7; Grierson, Coins, pp. 110, 220).
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