The canterbury tales, p.119
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.119

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  1621–3 Cicero, On Duties II.xv.55.

  1628–9 Proverbs 15:16.

  1630–31 Psalm 36:16 (AV 37:16).

  1634 2 Corinthians 1:12.

  1635 Ecclesiasticus 13:30.

  1638 Proverbs 22:1.

  1639 The biblical text has ‘name’ only, not ‘friend’: ‘Take care of a good name: for this shall continue with thee, more than a thousand treasures precious and great’ (Ecclesiasticus 41:15). Manly and Rickert (IV, 506) trace the error to the variant reading ‘amy’, which is attested in one manuscript of Chaucer’s French source.

  1642 Cassiodorus, Variae I.4 (CCSL 96, p. 15). Chaucer’s ‘gentil’ goes back to Albertano’s substitution of ‘ingenui’ for ‘indigni’ in this passage; see Robinson’s note.

  1643–5 Augustine, Sermo CCCLV.1 (PL 39, cols. 1568–9).

  1647 dispiseth*] displeseth El Hg. The El/Hg reading is shared by most manuscripts, but does not make good sense. ‘Dispiseth’ better renders the reading of the French source, which is ‘neglige’ (‘neglects’).

  1651–2 Unidentified.

  1653 Ecclesiastes 5:10 (AV 5:11).

  1658–63 Judas Maccabeus (d. 161 BC) led the revolt of the Jews against the king of Syria; his exploits are recounted in the apocryphal biblical books of Maccabees. In the Middle Ages he was revered as one of the martial heroes known as the Nine Worthies (three Jewish, three pagan and three Christian).

  1663 cometh*] come El Hg. El/Hg interpret ‘but’ as concessive rather than adversative, and therefore use the subjunctive. The biblical source (1 Maccabees 3:18–19) supports the indicative (‘For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven’).

  1664 Apparently an allusion to Ecclesiastes 9:1 (in the Vulgate version; the AV text differs): ‘and yet man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love, or hatred’.

  1667 Cf. Kn 3030, and Whiting D101, K49.

  1668 See the Vulgate text of II Kings (II Samuel in the AV) 11:25 (the AV text differs), which in the Douai-Rheims translation reads: ‘various is the event of war: and sometimes one, sometimes another is consumed by the sword’.

  1671 Ecclesiasticus 3:27.

  1676–7 All manuscripts attribute this quotation to St James, but it is in fact from Seneca (Moral Epistles XCIV.46). One manuscript of the French source reads ‘Saint Jacques’ instead of ‘Senecques’ and the manuscript used by Chaucer must have contained the same error (SA2 I, 396).

  1680 Matthew 5:9.

  1686 Proverbial; see Whiting H426.

  1691 From the ps.-Senecan De moribus (see Headnote), 49.

  1692–3 Psalm 33:15 (AV 34:14).

  1696 Proverbs 28:14.

  1701 Chaucer has ‘prophete’ instead of the French philosophe. The quotation has not been traced.

  1704–5 Proverbs 28:23.

  1707–8, 1709–10 Apparently a free rendering of Ecclesiastes 7:4, 6–7 (AV 7:3, 5–6): ‘Anger is better than laughter: because by the sadness of the countenance the mind of the offender is corrected… It is better to be rebuked by a wise man, than to be deceived by the flattery of fools. For as the crackling of thorns burning under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool…’

  1719–20 Proverbs 16:7.

  1728 whan she saugh hir time: Chaucer is here translating his French source, but on his introduction of this phrase elsewhere in Mel, see n. to Mel 980.

  1735 Psalm 20:4 (AV 21:3): ‘You have outstripped him with sweet blessings; you have set a crown of precious stones on his head.’

  1740 Ecclesiasticus 6:5.

  1750 The reference to Prudence’s ‘wommanly pitee’ is Chaucer’s own addition (cf. SA2 I, 401), and serves to harmonize Mel with other representations of this womanly quality in CT and his other works (cf. Kn 3083, Sq 479–87).

  1754–6 Ecclesiasticus 33:19–20. Partially quoted at Mel 1060.

  1775–6 Not from Seneca, but from the ps.-Senecan De moribus (see Headnote), 94.

  1777 Publilius Syrus, 537. Hg lacks the main clause of this quotation (‘He is worthy… foryifnesse’), leaving two half-lines blank for its later insertion; El lacks the quotation entirely. Other manuscripts have similar lacunae or attempts at correction; only one (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS McClean 181) fills Hg’s gap intelligibly and in a way that accurately renders the French source (‘Celui est presque innocent qui…’), and its reading is adopted here. Other manuscripts repair the defect by supplying similar main clauses after ‘knowelecheth it’.

  1783 Justinian, Digest L.xvii.35 (IV, 959).

  1794–5 For this proverb, see Whiting T348.

  1816–25 Chaucer expands and alters this speech of submission in comparison with the French source; in particular, lines 1825–6 appear to be entirely his own addition (SA2 I, 403–4).

  1832 whan that dame Prudence saugh hir time: Chaucer’s addition. See n. to Mel 980.

  1840 1 Timothy 6:10, quoted at Mel 1130 (see n.).

  1842 Publilius Syrus, 527.

  1846 Publilius Syrus, 333.

  1850 From the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, III.xxxi.18 (Corpus Iuris Canonici, II, col. 576).

  1857 Seneca, On Mercy I.xxiv.1.

  1859 Not from Seneca, but from Publilius Syrus, 77.

  1860–61 Cicero, On Duties I.xxv.88.

  1866 Not from Seneca, but from Publilius Syrus, 407.

  1869 James 2:13.

  1871–2 Chaucer adds these two lines emphasizing Melibee’s submission to his wife’s will (cf. SA2 I, 407), thus aligning Mel with the male surrenders of ‘maistrye’ found in WBPr, WBT and FklT (see Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 97–8).

  1885–8 This final sentence is Chaucer’s own addition to his source (cf. SA2 I, 408). Cf. John 1:9.


  1892 corpus Madrian: ‘The body of [St] Madrian’. No saint of this name is known, and this seems to be yet another of the Host’s garbled oaths (see Pard 310, 314, Sh 435, Mk 1906, and nn.)

  1906 corpus bones: See n. to Pard 314.

  1926 Rouchestre: On the problems that have been caused by this reference to Rochester, a town about 30 miles from London, see n. to WB 847.

  1928–30 Though the Monk does not reply to this question about his name, the Host later (NP 2792) confidently addresses him as ‘daun Piers’.

  1956 Cf. Whiting T465.

  1962 lussheburghes: A name given to coins which imitated English sterling in appearance but were of poorer quality. The name reflects the fact that most such imitations originated in Luxembourg. See Grierson, Coins, p. 157.

  1970 Seint Edward: Probably Edward the Confessor, king of England 1042–66 (rather than Edward the Martyr, king of England 975–8). His reputation for holiness began during his life, and was confirmed by miracles both during his life and after his death; he was canonized in 1161 (Farmer, Dictionary of Saints). There were numerous lives of Edward the Confessor in Latin, French and ME (for full details, see The Middle English Verse Life of Edward the Confessor, ed. G. E. Moore (Philadelphia, PA, 1942), pp. iii–vi, xxxiii–lii, lvii–lxii, 72–3). Richard II had a particular reverence for this royal saint, and in the Wilton Diptych Edward and Edmund of East Anglia (king and martyr) are shown, together with John the Baptist, presenting Richard to the Madonna and child (see S. Mitchell, pp. 115–24 in The Regal Image of Richard II and the Wilton Diptych, ed. D. Gordon, L. Monnas and C. Elam (London, 1997), pp. 115–24). There may also be a secondary allusion to Edward II, Richard’s greatgrandfather, whose canonization Richard tried to secure (see A. W. Astell, SAC, 22 (2000), 399–405).

  1973 This definition of tragedy agrees with Chaucer’s translation of a gloss on Boethius (Boece II pr.2.70–72): ‘Tragedye is to seyn a dite of a prosperite for a tyme, that endeth in wrecchidnesse.’ The gloss appears to be have been borrowed from Nicholas Trevet’s commentary on Boethius (see Chaucer’s Boece and the Medieval Tradition of Boethius, ed. A. J. Minnis (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 107–8). Cf. Mk 1991–4, 2761–4.

  1978–81 Like most people in the Middle Ages, Chaucer
did not conceive of tragedy as a primarily dramatic form; instead he describes tragedies as verse or prose narratives. The hexameter, a line divided into six metrical units known as ‘feet’, is the usual verse form of Latin epic, such as Vergil’s Aeneid (which Dante’s Vergil refers to as a ‘high tragedy’ at Inferno XX.113). For discussion of other works in hexameters that Chaucer might have thought of as tragedies, see H. A. Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 61–2. As for tragedies in prose, Kelly suggests (p. 61) that Chaucer might have been thinking of Boccaccio’s De casibus (see Headnote, below) and Guido delle Colonne’s History of the Destruction of Troy. The other metres that seem to be implied in line 1981 may include elegiac couplets (a hexameter followed by a pentameter). The stanza-form that Chaucer uses for MkT (eight lines rhyming ababbcbc) is one he employs for some of his shorter lyric poems, including his ballade ‘Fortune’; it is not found elsewhere in CT.

  1985–90 These lines cannot be used to determine the correct placing of the ‘Modern Instances’ (see n. to Mk 2375–2462), since their occurrence in the middle of MkT is by no means the only violation of chronological order in the tale. Whereas Boccaccio’s Decasibus has a ‘determinedly chronological order’, Chaucer ‘is fairly chronological up through Zenobia, though unlike Boccaccio he places Samson before Hercules. But then he moved from Zenobia’s third-century Christian era back to the first with Nero, and then back to the sixth century before Christ with Holofernes, a general of Nabuchodonosor. He ended in the same century with Croesus, following upon Antiochus, Alexander, and Julius Caesar, who date from the second, third, and first centuries before Christ, respectively’ (Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy, pp. 67–8).


  The Monk’s Tale is an example of the medieval literary genre known as the Fall of Princes; in some manuscripts (including El) it bears the title De casibus virorum illustrium (On the Fall of Famous Men). As this title suggests, Chaucer’s general model was probably Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium, a Latin prose work in nine books (Boccaccio, Opere, ed. Branca, vol. IX; selections are translated by L. B. Hall as The Fates of Illustrious Men (New York, 1965)). Stories of this sort were intended to act as a warning of the fickleness of Fortune, and were considered especially appropriate for those in postions of power; see R. F. Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages (Toronto, 1980), pp. 143–9. It may be, therefore, that Chaucer originally composed this tale-collection as an independent work, intending to dedicate it to an aristocratic patron (e.g., the young Richard II), and later incorported it into CT, but there is no hard evidence for this. D. Wallace has also suggested that the Modern Instances in particular (see n. to Mk 2375–2462) might have been intended as a curb to Richard II’s tyrannical tendencies in later life (Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford, CA, 1997), p. 331).

  As Kelly has pointed out (Chaucerian Tragedy, p. 11), Boccaccio nowhere calls the De casibus a tragedy, whereas Chaucer lays great stress on this definition of the genre of the Monk’s Tale (see Mk 1973–82, 1991–4, 2761–4). ‘Chaucer seems to have been the first major author of postclassical times who considered himself to be a composer of tragedies’ (Kelly, p. 39) – not only the Monk’s Tale, but also Troilus and Criseyde (see V.1786). Chaucer’s definition of tragedy seems to have been derived mainly from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and its accompanying glosses (see n. to Mk 1973 and Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy, pp. 50–65). His repeated emphasis on Fortune’s responsibility for the tragic downfall of the heroes and heroines whose stories he summarizes is also reminiscent of Boethius’s urgent questioning of the role of Fortune in human affairs. But as L. Scanlon has pointed out (Narrative, Authority and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (Cambridge, 1994), p. 221), the Monk’s Tale, unlike the Knight’s Tale, bears no trace of the complex framework of Boethian philosophy; instead, Chaucer presents Fortune ‘as Boethius argued she appears most immediately to the philosophically unsophisticated’ – that is, as a malevolent personal agent, rather than as a simple name given to the workings of chance.

  If Boccaccio’s De casibus was Chaucer’s general model, it is not the primary source for the individual stories that he includes in the Monk’s Tale; they are eclectically drawn from classical legend and history, the Romance of the Rose, Dante, the Bible and (it would appear) oral reports of contemporary events (see SA2 I, 409–47; the Boccaccian elements in the compilation are usefully summarized by P. Boitani, MÆ, 45 (1976), 50–69, at pp. 50–54). For his biblical stories, Chaucer seems also to have drawn on the tradition represented in medieval biblical histories such as the Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor and the Bible historiale of Guyart Desmoulins (see D. R. Johnson, PMLA, 66 (1951), 827–43), and possibly on the Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais (P. Aiken, Speculum, 17 (1942), 56–68).

  1999 Lucifer (‘light-bearer’) is the name of the morning star. It was applied to Satan in his character as fallen angel because Isaiah 14:12 (‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning’) was interpreted as a reference to his fall.

  2007–14 This stanza was originally omitted in Hg (as in some other manuscripts), the most likely cause being eyeskip to the ‘Lo’ of the following stanza (see Manly and Rickert II, 406, and Hanna, Pursuing History, p. 151); it was added in the margin by a later (15th-c.) hand.

  2007 feeld of Damissene: Tradition had it that Adam was created in a field which was later the site of the city of Damascus; the detail is found in biblical histories (see Aiken, Speculum, 17 (1942), 57, and Johnson, PMLA, 66 (1951), 829 and n. 8) and also in Boccaccio’s De casibus (SA, p. 625).

  2009 Cf. Innocent III, De Miseria I.1: ‘Man is formed… from the filthiest sperm’ (‘de spurcissimo spermate’), and I.3: ‘But perhaps you will reply that Adam himself was made from the slime of the earth but that you were created from human seed. On the contrary, he was made from earth, but virgin; you were created from seed, but unclean.’ A similar phrase (‘de immundo semine’) is used by Vincent of Beauvais in his Speculum historiale (Aiken, Speculum, 17 (1942), 57).

  2014 Adam was condemned to win his bread by labour as a punishment for eating the apple (Genesis 3:17–19).

  2015 The story of Samson is retold in Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium I.17 (see Headnote), but Chaucer’s reference to the book of Judges at Mk 2046 suggests he is drawing directly on the Bible. For the announcement of Samson’s birth by an angel, see Judges 13:2–21.

  2023–30 The events recounted in this stanza appear in Judges 14. Samson married a woman of the Philistines (the enemies of Israel); on his way to visit her, he killed a lion, and when returning, he found a swarm of bees and honey inside the lion’s carcase. At his wedding feast, he made this occurrence the subject of a riddle, which he posed to his wife’s people for a wager: ‘Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness’ (14:14). His wife pleaded with him to tell her the answer, and then revealed it to her people, thus losing Samson the wager. In anger, he killed thirty of the Philistines and returned home; his wife was given to another.

  2031–46 The events of these two stanzas are narrated in Judges 15. Angry that his wife had been given to another man, Samson tied together 300 foxes by their tails, with firebrands between them, and sent them into the Philistines’ crops, vineyards and olivegroves. The Philistines burned the wife and her father and went to attack Samson and the Israelites. Samson was delivered to them in cords, but he broke his bonds, seized the jawbone of an ass and slew a thousand of his enemies. When the slaughter was over, he was thirsty, but in answer to his prayer, God made water spring miraculously from the ass’s jawbone and he revived.

  2046 Iudicum: ‘Liber Judicum’, the Latin name of the biblical book of Judges. On the citation of titles in the genitive case, see n. to ML 93.

  2047–54 Samson’s enemies planned to attack him while he was spending the night with a
prostitute in the city of Gaza, but he rose at midnight and left the city, carrying off with him its gates, barred as they were, which he took to the top of a hill (Judges 16:1–3).

  2055–8 See n. to Pard 555.

  2059–60 These lines echo Judges 15:20 and 16:31.

  2063–70 Dalida: Delilah, see n. to WB 721–3.

  2068 this craft: So El Hg. Other manuscripts read ‘his craft’, and this reading is adopted by Riverside. But this makes the line overlap in meaning with line 2065, and it makes better sense to take ‘this craft’ as referring to Delilah’s trickery, observed by the Philistines lying in wait to seize Samson once his strength was gone (see Judges 16:20–21, and cf. 16:12).

  2079–90 On the death of Samson, see n. to ML 201.

  2091–4 The moral echoes Jean de Meun’s comment on the story of Samson and Delilah at RR 16661–70, tr. Horgan, p. 257.

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