The canterbury tales, p.117
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.117

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  897–900 For comparable roll-calls of knightly names, designed to create a heroic atmosphere, see SA, pp. 556–9. Horn Child: The reference is either to the ME romance King Horn (ed. in Four Romances of England, ed. R. B. Herzman, G. Drake and E. Salisbury (Kalamazoo, MI, 1999)), in which Horn is often called ‘Horn child’, or to the tail-rhyme version which is preserved (incompletely) only in the Auchinleck MS (see Headnote), where it is titled ‘Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild’ (printed in the Appendix to J. Hall’s edition of King Horn (Oxford, 1901), pp. 179–92). The lengthy romances relating the exploits of the English heroes Bevis of Hampton (ed. in Four Romances of England) and Guy of Warwick (ed. J. Zupitza, EETS e.s. 42, 49, 59, 3 vols. in 1 (London, 1883; repr. 1966)) are also contained in the Auchinleck MS (and elsewhere); both were highly popular.

  Libeux: The knight known as Libeaus Desconus (‘The Fair Unknown’), the hero of a tail-rhyme romance of the same name (ed. M. Mills, EETS o.s. 261 (London, 1969)). For fuller descriptions of the above romances, see A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, vol. I, ed. J. B. Severs (New Haven, CT, 1967).

  No romance with a hero named Pleindamour (‘full of love’) is known. Ipotis is an odd man out here; he is the hero of a didactic verse tale which relates how he instructed the emperor Hadrian in the Christian faith. The work is found alongside romances in London, BL, MS Cotton Caligula A.ii, and edited by C. Horstmann, Altenglische Legenden (Heilbronn, 1881), pp. 341–8.

  909 knight auntrous: ‘No word in the romances more compactly suggests fantastic knight-errantry than does auntrous’ (Loomis, SA, p. 547). For numerous examples of its use in ME popular romances, see SA, pp. 547–9. Chaucer uses the word only here.

  915–16 These lines parody the opening of the tail-rhyme romance Sir Perceval of Galles (lines 5–7): ‘His righte name was Percyvell, | He was ffosterde in the felle, | He drank water of the welle’ (Middle English Metrical Romances, ed. French and Hale, vol. II).

  917 worly under wede: ‘Alliterative phrases of the fair-under-garment type (‘lovely under linen’, ‘seemly under sark’, ‘comely under kell’, etc.) are among the most overworked clichés of Middle English poetry’ (Burrow, Essays on Medieval Literature, p. 75). Burrow defends ‘worly’, the reading found in both El and Hg (and two other manuscripts), against the alternatives ‘worthy’, ‘worthly’ and ‘worthily’; although a rare word, ‘worly’ occurs in contexts that show it to belong ‘to that general stock of well-worn native poetic words and forms which Chaucer picks over elsewhere in Sir Thopas’ (ibid., p. 78).

  918 The rhyme gives a clue to the way this line will end: ‘it so bifel’ (cf. Th 748, where the two conventional components are reversed). See Burrow, Essays on Medieval Literature, p. 74. The final irony of Th is that the reader’s mental completion of the line serves only to defeat the expectation of action (at last!) which is raised by the opening ‘Til on a day’.


  933 ‘Geste’ (from OF geste, Latin gesta, ‘deeds’) usually refers to tales of heroic deeds (see P. Strohm, Speculum, 46 (1971), 348–59, at pp. 353–4, and cf. ML 1126, WB 642, LGW G 87, etc.). Here, it seems to refer to a literary form that is neither rhymed verse nor prose. At Pars 43 (see n.) the Parson uses the verb ‘geste’ while evidently referring to alliterative verse, and this type of verse may also be referred to here, but there is no other evidence of this meaning for the word.

  955–7 For an assessment of the accuracy of this claim, see Headnote to Mel.


  The ultimate source of Melibee is a Latin prose treatise called The Book of Consolation and Counsel (Liber consolationis et consilii), written by Albertano of Brescia, a thirteenth-century Italian judge; it was one of three treatises which Albertano wrote and presented to each of his three sons. (For Chaucer’s use of On the Love of God (De amore dei), see nn. to MchT, and for his use of the Book of Speaking and Keeping Silent (Liber de doctrina dicendi et tacendi), see nn. to McpT.) A French version, which drastically abridges and changes the Latin original, was composed sometime after 1336 by Renaud de Louens, a Dominican friar, and it is on this version that Chaucer’s translation is based. The Latin text was edited by Thor Sundby, Chaucer Society (London, 1873); it is also available on the following website: http// The French version is printed in SA2 I, 331–408, interlarded with English translations of the portions of the Latin text not represented in the French; unfortunately, these translations of the Latin text are wildly inaccurate. Chaucer’s Melibee generally follows Renaud’s version closely. Some changes that he made towards the end of Melibee bring it into line with other examples in CT of the desirability of male submission to women (see Mel 1750, 1871–2 and nn.). The subjectmatter of Melibee might also have had a special relevance to the members of Richard II’s court, which was sharply divided between those who favoured aggressive pursuit of war with France, and those (including the king himself) who favoured diplomatic methods. See Saul, Richard II, pp. 204–34, and G. Stillwell, Speculum, 19 (1944), 433–44.

  Melibee belongs to the body of ancient and medieval writings known collectively as ‘wisdom literature’, intended largely but not exclusively for the young, which aims to furnish the memory with a store of anecdotes and wise sayings, to be drawn on as a practical guide in appropriate circumstances. Hence it is densely packed with proverbs, maxims and apophthegms, many of which are taken from other examples of wisdom literature, such as the Solomonic books of the Bible: Wisdom, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the book known as Ecclesiasticus or Jesus Sirach (included in the Vulgate Bible, but not the AV), which was likewise attributed to Solomon. Also part of this tradition are the late antique Distichs of Cato (see n. to Mil 3227), and the proverb-collection excerpted from the mimes of Publilius Syrus, both of which enjoyed a wide circulation in the Middle Ages (for editions of both, see the Abbreviated References). Albertano also quotes sayings garnered from the Stoic tradition, represented by the Moral Epistles and other writings by (or attributed to) Seneca, and the De officiis (On Duties) and other writings of Cicero, which he will probably have taken from medieval florilegia rather than directly from the texts themselves. The textual transmission of Publilius is a good example of the growth and proliferation of such florilegia (see the Introduction to the Loeb edition, pp. 7–8); some manuscripts incorporate proverbs from the pseudo-Senecan De moribus, and entitle the collection as a whole Senecae sententiae or Senecae proverbia (‘Proverbs of Seneca’). This explains why Albertano frequently misattributes to Seneca sayings which are actually from Publilius or the De moribus (see nn. below). I cite the De moribus from the edition by E. Woelfflin, Publilii Syri Sententiae (Leipzig, 1869), pp. 136–52, where the proverbs are individually numbered, rather than the text in PL 72, cols. 29–32, where they are grouped into six sections (and where the text is attributed to Martin of Braga; however, see Barlow, pp. 285–6, as cited in n. to Mel 1071). Other maxims are drawn from the Disciplina Clericalis (The Scholar’s Guide) of Petrus Alfonsi (1062–c. 1140), a converted Spanish Jew; in this work, proverbial sayings are interspersed with instructive anecdotes.

  In the Prologue to Melibee, Chaucer claims to have increased the number of proverbs it contains, but comparison with the French text reveals only three possible instances of this sort (see nn. to Mel 1054 and 1325–6), and even here we cannot be certain that the proverbs were not additions already present in the manuscript of the French text that he was using. His claim may therefore be simply a way of drawing attention to the heavily proverbial nature of his source, and beyond this, to the importance of proverbs, and the communal experience they embody, within his own poetry (see Introduction, pp. xxiii–xxv).

  967 Melibeus: Meliboeus is the name of one of the shepherds in Vergil’s first Eclogue, but Albertano’s choice of it was probably influenced by an epigram by Godfrey of Winchester (1050?–1107), which he quotes in the Liber consolationis (ed. Sundby, p. 53): ‘Consilio juvenum fidis, Melibee; ruinam | Expectare
potes, dum sine consilio es.’ (‘You trust in young men’s counsel, Melibeus; you may expect disaster, since you are devoid of counsel.’ For the original, see Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets and Epigrammatists of the Twelfth Century, ed. T. Wright, Rolls series, vol. II (London, 1872), p. 127, CLIV.)

  Sophie: The daughter’s name appears in neither the Latin original nor the French version of Melibeus, and seems to have been Chaucer’s own addition (SA2 I, 332, n.). ‘Sophia’ means ‘wisdom’ in Greek, and may have been intended to evoke Melibee’s own wisdom, which for most of the tale is in need of healing (see Z. Thundy, NM, 77 (1976), 582–98, at p. 596).

  968 into the feeldes: This detail is added by Chaucer (but see SA2 I, 332, n.).

  976 The reference is to Ovid, Remedies of Love 127–30.

  980 whan she say hir time: Here and at Mel 1728, Chaucer is translating his French source (cf. SA2 I, 332:2.1), but he later adds a similar phrase at two separate points where there is no warrant for it in the French (see Mel 1051, 1832, and cf. SA2 I, 337:2.45, and 404:49.58). This stress on Prudence’s ability to await the right moment to act accords with the passage on patience in Fkl 785–6: ‘After the time moste be temperaunce | To every wight that kan on governaunce.’

  984–5 Senek: Seneca, Moral Epistles LXXIV.30.

  987 John 11:33–5.

  989 Romans 12:15.

  992 Seneca, Moral Epistles LXIII.1.

  993 Seneca, Moral Epistles LXIII.11.

  995 Jesus Sirak: Jesus, son of Sirach, is the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus (see Headnote), but this quotation is from Proverbs 17:22. The error was taken over by Chaucer from his source.

  996 Ecclesiasticus 30:25.

  997 Proverbs 25:20 (Vulgate; not in the AV version): ‘As a moth doth by a garment, and a worm by the wood: so the sadness of a man consumeth the heart.’

  999–1000 Job 1:21. The first part of this verse is echoed by Griselda at Cl 871–2.

  1003 Ecclesiasticus 32:24. Also quoted at Mil 3530 (see n.) and Mch 1485–6.

  1008–10 Melibee’s indication of the kind of counsel he would like to receive resembles January’s behaviour in MchT (1399–1468).

  Cf. Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 45–6.

  1017 Proverbial; see Whiting C414 and Walther 35738b.

  1030 Proverbial; see Publilius Syrus 32; cf. 293. Also quoted at Mel 1135.

  1031 Although this is claimed as a popular saying in Albertano’s Latin original (‘dici enim vulgo consuevit’; ed. Sundby, p. 9), it is not recorded in Walther’s Proverbia, and Mel 1031 is the only example given in Whiting J75.

  1032 Cf. Whiting T44: ‘In long tarying is noys.’

  1033 John 8:3–11.

  1036 Proverbial in Chaucer’s day as now: see Whiting I60, Hassell F51, and cf. TC II.1276.

  1039 For another (later) example of this saying, see Whiting W41.

  1045 Ecclesiasticus 22:6: ‘A tale out of time is like music in mourning.’

  1047 Ecclesiasticus 32:6: ‘Where there is no hearing, pour not out words.’ Cf. NP 2801–2.

  1048 A proverb found in the collection of Publilius Syrus (see Headnote), 653; see also Whiting C458.

  1051 whan she say hir time: Chaucer’s addition. See n. to Mel 980.

  1053 Piers Alfonce: On Petrus Alfonsi, see Headnote. The reference is to Disciplina Clericalis, ‘De rege bono et malo’, p. 37.24–5 (tr. Jones and Keller, p. 93).

  1054 This sentence seems to be Chaucer’s own addition (see SA2 I, 338:2.46 and n.). For the proverbs, see Whiting H171, H166. For the first, cf. TC I.956 and (more distantly) IV.1567–8, and for the second, cf. Pars 1003.

  1057 Ecclesiastes 7:29 (AV 7:28). This text also forms a subject of dispute between Pluto and Proserpina in MchT (2247–8); see n. to Mel 1076–80.

  1059 Ecclesiasticus 25:30. Cf. Pars 927.

  1060 This quotation from Ecclesiasticus (33:20–22) is also used by Prudence later on (Mel 1754–6).

  1062–3 The passage within brackets is a translation of the conclusion of Melibee’s speech as it appears in Chaucer’s French source (see SA2 I, 338:3.5–6). Although no CT manuscript has anything corresponding to these lines, their omission is unlikely to have been intentional on Chaucer’s part, since Prudence’s reply refers to the points they make (see Mel 1084–94). For that reason, modern editors have usually supplied the French original or a translation of it, and included it within the line-numbering of Mel.

  The first quotation is from Seneca the Elder (Controversiae II.v.12); cf. Whiting W534, W485 and WB 950 and n. The second quotation is from Publilius Syrus, 365.

  1065 Seneca, On Benefits IV.xxxviii.2.

  1067 Unidentified.

  1069 See the Novellae of Justinian, Collatio II tit.5 (Corpus JurisCivilis, III, 93): ‘multitudo enim numerosa nihil habet honesti’ (‘a numerous multitude has nothing reputable about it’).

  1070 He that al despiseth, al displeseth: Untraced.

  1071 The work quoted is the Formula honestae vitae, which is erroneously attributed to Seneca by Albertano of Brescia both at this point and elsewhere in the Latin original of Mel; it is actually by the sixth-century bishop Martin of Braga (see Martini Episcopi Bracarensis Opera Omnia, ed. C. W. Barlow (New Haven, CT, 1950), pp. 236–50; the passage quoted here is at 4.67–71).

  1075 The first appearance of the risen Christ was to Mary Magdalene; see Mark 16:9–11, John 20:14–18, and cf. Matthew 28:9–10.

  1076–80 Prudence’s arguments here are also used by Proserpina in MchT (2277–90). For the reference to the Gospel in 1079, see n. to Mch 2290.

  1084 See n. to Mel 1062–3.

  1086 For this misogynist commonplace, see n. to WB 278–80.

  1087 Proverbs 21:19; cf. Ecclesiasticus 25:23, quoted at WB 775–7.

  1094 The French source and Latin original go on to say that women sometimes restrain men when they want to follow evil counsel (see SA2 I, 340); this is omitted in Chaucer.

  1098–1102 These biblical examples of women’s counsel are repeated at Mch 1362–74 (see n.).

  1104 Genesis 2:18. Cf. Mch 1325–9.

  1106 Cf. NP 3164 and n.

  1107 two vers: A later gloss in Hg supplies the ‘two lines’ (a hexameter followed by a pentameter – that is, an elegiac distich) which are the Latin original of this saying: ‘Auro quid melius? Jaspis. Quid jaspide? Sensus. | Sensu quid? Mulier. Quid muliere? Nichil.’ The verses were well known; see Hervieux, Les fabulistes latins, V, 622, and Walther 24980.

  1113 Proverbs 16:24.

  1117–18 Thobie: The quotation is from the book of Tobias (4:20), which is included in the Vulgate though not in the AV; it forms part of the advice given to Tobias by his father Tobit, which is a small-scale example of wisdom literature (see Headnote).

  1119 James 1:5.

  1121–2 See n. to Mel 1246.

  1125 Cf. Distichs of Cato II.4.

  1127 The source is not Seneca but Publilius Syrus, 319.

  1130 1 Timothy 6:10 (quoted again at Mel 1840). It is on this text that the Pardoner preaches all his sermons (Pard 333–4); cf. Pars 739.

  1131–2 This is Renaud de Louens’s addition. The idea that the covetous man is always poor is a classical and medieval commonplace: see, for example, Juvenal, Satires XIV.139; Boece II m.2 and pr.5.114–21, III pr.3; Alan of Lille, The Complaint of Nature, m.7 (tr. Sheridan, p. 182); Innocent III, De Miseria II.6, ‘Of the Insatiable Desire of Covetous Men’ (quoting Ecclesiasticus 14:9, Ecclesiastes 5:9 and Proverbs 30:15); RR 18531–8 (tr. Horgan, p. 286).

  1135 Publilius Syrus, 32. Also quoted at Mel 1030 (see n.).

  1141–2 Ecclesiasticus 19:8–9.

  1143 Unidentified in Latin sources. Sundby’s edition of Albertano’s Liber consolationis cites a parallel in Plutarch (p. 40, n.)

  1144–5 Petrus Alfonsi, Disciplina Clericalis, ‘De consilio’, p. 6.35–7 (tr. Jones and Keller, p. 42).

  1147 Not from Seneca, but from the ps.-Senecan De moribus (see Headnote), 16.

  1158 Proverbs 27:9.

1159–60 Ecclesiasticus 6:15.

  1161 Ecclesiasticus 6:14.

  1162 Part of the advice given to Tobias by his father (Tobias 4:19; see n. to Mel 1117–18). Cf. Proverbs 22:17.

  1164 The French source of Mel attributes this saying to Job, and the Latin original enables it to be identified as Job 12:12. Cf. Kn 2448.

  1165 Tullius: Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Old Age VI.17.

  1167 Ecclesiasticus 6:6.

  1171 Proverbs 11:14.

  1173 Ecclesiasticus 8:20.

  1174 Cicero, Tusculan Disputations

  1176 Cicero, On Friendship XXV.91.

  1177 Martin of Braga, Formula honestae vitae, ed. Barlow, 4.45–6.

  1178 Not from the Bible, but found in a tenth-century florilegium which survives in a Munich manuscript (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 6292, ff. 84r–91r); it is there attributed to Zeno. This proverb-collection was erroneously identified by E. Woelfflin as a fragment of a work by the mysterious ‘Caecilius Balbus’ cited in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus (III.14). I cite Woelfflin’s edition, Caecilii Balbi De Nugis Philosophorum Quae Supersunt (Basle, 1855), p. 27 (XXIV.1). For a demolition of Woelfflin’s attribution to Caecilius, see A. Reifferscheid, Rheinisches Museum, n.s. 16 (1861), 1–26.

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