The canterbury tales, p.120
The Canterbury Tales, p.120Geoffrey Chaucer
2095–2110 This list of the deeds performed by the Greek hero Hercules is drawn from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (Boece IV m.7.28–62); the twelve feats referred to do not exactly correspond to the traditional list of Twelve Labours imposed on Hercules by King Eurystheus (see following notes). Chaucer probably also knew Ovid, Metamorphoses IX.181–98, in which the dying Hercules recalls his exploits (repr. and tr. in SA2 I, 417–21).
2098 The slaying of the Nemaean lion was the first of the twelve Labours of Hercules; he afterwards wore its skin.
2099 Centauros: During his pursuit of the Erymanthian Boar, Hercules was offered hospitality by the centaur Pholus. Other centaurs, inflamed by the smell of wine, besieged Pholus’s cave; Hercules defended himself by shooting poisoned arrows at them, but in doing so he accidentally killed both Pholus and his old friend Chiron.
2100 Arpies: The Harpies were monstrous birds with the faces of young women, who spoiled or carried off food when diners approached it (see Aeneid III.225). Chaucer seems to have confused them with the Stymphalian birds, eaters of human flesh, whom Hercules shot with arrows (his sixth labour).
2101 The eleventh labour of Hercules was to fetch the golden apples entrusted by Hera (Juno) to the women known as the Hesperides; the tree on Mount Atlas on which the apples grew was guarded by the dragon Ladon. According to one version of the story, Hercules killed the dragon and seized the apples himself; according to another, he persuaded Atlas to fetch the apples, and held up the weight of heaven in his place while he was gone. On his return, Atlas refused to resume his burden, and had to be tricked into doing so.
2102 Riverside punctuates ‘Cerberus, the hound of helle’, but this leaves ‘drow out’ rather meaningless. It is better to take ‘of helle’ with ‘drow out’ (‘he brought/dragged the dog Cerberus out from hell’), as the myth confirms: Hercules obtained permission from Pluto, king of the Underworld, to carry Cerberus to the upper world, provided he could do so without force of arms. Hercules succeeded in this feat (his twelfth labour), and then took Cerberus back to the lower world.
2103 The eighth labour of Hercules was to capture the mares of the Thracian king Diomedes, which were fed on human flesh; Hercules killed Diomedes and fed his body to his mares. Diomedes is here confused with Busiris, a king of Egypt who sacrificed to Zeus all strangers who came to his land, and who was likewise killed by Hercules. Chaucer’s translation of Boethius’s Consolation had correctly distinguished between these two tyrants (see Boece II pr.6.67–70 and IV m.7.37–41), so that his error here is hard to understand. For a discussion of possible sources for the confusion, see R. L. Hoffman, Ovid and the Canterbury Tales (London, 1966), pp. 186–9.
2105 The Hydra was a monster with nine heads, of which the middle one was immortal; every time one head was cut off, two new ones grew in its place. Hercules killed it (his second labour) by burning away its heads and burying the immortal one under a rock. The Hydra was not ‘firy’; W. C. McDermott suggested that Chaucer’s mistake arose from a misreading of Aeneid VI.287–8 (Classica et Mediaevalia, 23 (1962), 216–17).
2106 Achilois: Achelous was a river-god, who fought Hercules for the hand of Deianira. In the course of the battle, Achelous took the form of a snake and then a bull, but Hercules overcame him and deprived him of one of his horns, which, according to Ovid (Metamorphoses IX.85–8), was turned into the horn of plenty.
2107 Cakus: According to Vergil (Aeneid VIII.190–302), the giant Cacus stole some of the oxen of Geryon from Hercules (their capture was his tenth labour), and dragged them into his cave. Hercules fought with Cacus inside the cave, slew him, and retrieved the oxen.
2108 Antheus: The giant Antaeus was the son of Poseidon and Gaia (Earth); he was invincible so long as his body remained in contact with the earth, his mother. Hercules fought with him while in search of the golden apples of the Hesperides (see n. to Mk 2101); realizing the source of his strength, he lifted him off the ground and crushed him to death.
2109 The capture of the Erymanthian Boar was the fourth labour of Hercules; he wore it out by chasing it through deep snow, and then trapped it in a net. Since he had been ordered to bring it back alive to King Eurystheus, he did not in fact kill the boar.
2110 See n. to Mk 2101.
2117 Trophee: No writer of this name is known. A marginal gloss in both El and Hg (as well as other manuscripts) reads ‘Ille vates C(h)aldeorum Trophaeus’ (‘Trophaeus, prophet of the Chaldaeans’), but F. Tupper (MLN, 31 (1916), 11–14) plausibly suggested that this conflates two originally separate glosses, adjacent to each other on the inner margins of the page; the first will have been a simple author reference, reading ‘Trophaeus’, and the second, referring to Daniel, who appears in the following section on Nebuchadnezzar, ‘vates Chaldeorum’ (cf. Mk 2157). Skeat suggested in the notes to his edition of Chaucer (II, liv–lvi; V, 233) that ‘Trophee’ referred to Guido delle Colonne, since the Latin trophaeum can (he alleged) refer to a column or pillar; this suggestion was accepted by Tupper (ibid.), and by O. F. Emerson (MLN, 31 (1916), 142–6). However, trophaeum properly means ‘monument’ and only contextually refers to a pillar, so that such an allusion is unlikely to have been understood. G. L. Kittredge proposed that the name arose from blurred recollection of a passage in the Latin Epistle of Alexander to Aristotle, referring to ‘Herculis Liberique trophaea’ (‘the pillars of Hercules and Bacchus’); see Putnam Anniversary Volume (New York, 1909; repr. Cambridge, MA, 1976), pp. 545–66. Pratt objected that if ‘trophaea’ is here interpreted as a proper name, there is no word for pillars (Studies in Honor of Ullman, ed. L. B. Lawler, D. M. Robathan and W. C. Korfmacher (St Louis, MO, 1960), pp. 118–25, at p. 119); V. DiMarco has attempted to answer this objection by suggesting another passage of the Epistle as the source of the error (Names, 34 (1986), 275–83).
The obscurity of ‘Trophee’ is further increased by the fact that Lydgate (Fall of Princes I.283–7) declares it to be the title of the book (in ‘Lumbard tunge’) that Chaucer used as his source for Troilus and Criseyde.
2118 According to a medieval tradition, Hercules is said to have marked the limits of his travels by erecting two pillars on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar and another pair at the limits of the oriental world; see Kittredge, Putnam Anniversary Volume, pp. 545–57. Pratt (Studies in Honor of Ullman, pp. 119–21) cites examples of this tradition in the Latin commentaries on the Dissuasio Valerii of Walter Map (see n. to WB 671).
2119–34 Dianira: Deianira was jealous of Hercules’ love for Iole; she was deceived by the dying centaur Nessus into thinking that the shirt dipped in his blood would restore her husband’s affections (cf. n. to Kn 1942–6). Nessus was killed by Hercules for attempting to rape Deianira as he carried her across a river, and devised this method of taking his revenge. The blood of Nessus was infected by the poison on Hercules’ arrows; when, therefore, Hercules put on the shirt, the poison was reactivated by the warmth of his body. Unable to remove the shirt without tearing off chunks of his flesh, he lit a funeral pyre on Mount Oeta and burned himself alive. (His father Jove took pity on him and immortalized him.) The story is recounted by Ovid, Metamorphoses IX.101–272; see SA2 I, 417–21.
2136 Proverbial; see Whiting F546.
2139 Proverbial; see Whiting K100.
2145 Nabugodonosor: The ultimate source for this story of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (c. 605–562 BC), is the biblical book of Daniel, chs. 1–4. On the blend of history and fiction in Daniel, see Jerome Biblical Commentary, I, 446–7. Chaucer’s version differs from the biblical account in some details (see following notes), suggesting that he may have had an intermediate source.
2147–8 The two sieges of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar are recounted in 2 Kings 24–5 and 2 Chronicles 36; the first was against King Jehoiachin in 597 BC, and the second against King Zedekiah in 588–587 BC (Jerome Biblical Commentary, I, 208, 449). On both occasions, he is said to have carried off gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem, and also to have brought
2151–2 The Bible reports that Daniel and his companions were in the charge of the chief eunuch (Daniel 1:9–16), but does not say that they were themselves castrated; this detail goes back to Joesphus’ history of the Jews, and is found in the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor (Daniel, cap. 1) and the Bible historiale of Guyart Desmoulins (see Johnson, PMLA, 66 (1951), 833–5).
2155–8 On Daniel’s skill in dream-lore, see n. to NP 3128.
2159–66 According to the book of Daniel (3:1), Nebuchadnezzar’s image was six cubits broad, not seven. His command that it should be worshipped was disobeyed by three Jews called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into a fiery furnace but miraculously survived unharmed (Daniel 3). Despite what is said in lines 2165–6, Daniel was not one of the three. For suggestions as to the source of the error, see Aiken, Speculum, 17 (1942), 60, and Johnson, PMLA, 66 (1951), 836.
2173 Riverside punctuates so as to make a break after ‘In rein’, but there seems no reason to link the phrase with 2172 rather than 2173.
2183 Balthasar: The historical Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar, but of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon (556–539 BC); see Jerome Biblical Commentary, I, 447, 453–4. The source for the story of Belshazzar’s feast is ch. 5 of the book of Daniel.
2194 Gooth bringeth: Riverside takes these to be two parallel imperaives and separates them with a comma, but the verb ‘go’ frequently loses its full semantic force in imperative constructions and functions as a quasi-auxiliary, while ‘the other verb, carrying the main verbal function, has been given the same form as the auxiliary, obviously for clarity and emphasis’ (Mustanoja, p. 476), rather than taking the form of the infinitive.
2206 Mane techel phares: Interpreted as follows in the (Douai-Rheims) Bible: ‘Mane: God hath numbered thy kingdom and hath finished it. Thecel: thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting. Phares: thy kingdom is divided, and is given to the Medes and Persians’ (Daniel 5:26–8).
2234–8 Darius, king of the Medes, to whom Belshazzar’s kingdom passes in Daniel 5 (31), is not a historical personage; according to history, Belshazzar fell in battle against the Persians, and his father’s kingdom passed to Cyrus, the Persian emperor (Jerome Biblical Commentary, I, 447, 454).
2244–5 An echo of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (Boece III pr.5.66–8), and also proverbial; see Whiting A56, F667.
2247 Cenobia… Palimerye: Zenobia was the queen of Palmyra in Syria, in the third century ad. Her story is included in Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium (see Headnote), but only the final stanza of Chaucer’s version draws on this source. The remainder of his narrative closely follows the fuller account of her life in Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris, Opere, ed. Branca, vol. X, ch. 98; for the Latin text and a translation, see SA2 I, 422–7 (also tr. Guarino, pp. 226–30). For a modern account of her reign, see R. Stoneman, Palmyra and its Empire. Zenobia’s Revolt Against Rome (Ann Arbor, MI, 1992).
2248 No Persian writings about Zenobia have been identified; Chaucer may have misread Boccaccio’s ‘priscis testantibus literis’ (‘as ancient writings witness’) as ‘persis testantibus literis’ (‘as Persian writings witness’). See H. Lüdeke, Festschrift zum 75. Geburtstag von Theodor Spira, ed. H. Viebrock and W. Erzgräber (Heidelberg, 1961), pp. 98–9, and cf. Mk 2252 and n.
2252 Perce: Persia; but according to Boccaccio (De mulieribus claris, ch. 98), Zenobia was descended from the Ptolemies, rulers of Egypt.
2272 Odenake: See n. to Mk 2327.
2289 wikes*] dayes El Hg. Only two manuscripts read ‘wikes’, but since what is required by the context is something equivalent to the length of pregnancy, ‘wikes’ makes much better sense. Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris, which Chaucer is here following closely, confirms this reading.
2307–8 Boccaccio specifies the languages that Zenobia knew as Egyptian, Greek, Latin and Syrian.
2311–16 According to Boccaccio, Zenobia conquered ‘all the Eastern Empire which belonged to the Romans’ (De mulieribus claris, ch. 98; tr. Guarino, p. 227. Cf. SA2 I, 425).
2320 Sapor: Shopus I, king of Persia, ad c. 240–72, had occupied much of Mesopotamia, but was driven out by Zenobia.
2325 Petrak: It is unclear why Chaucer should mention Petrarch here, since his source is Boccaccio; for a hypothesis, see P. Boitani, MÆ, 45 (1976), 69, n. 35. He never in fact mentions Boccaccio, despite using his writings as sources on a number of occasions, and this may therefore be a deliberate obfuscation.
2327 ‘Odaenathus was condemned and killed together with his son Herodes by his cousin Maeonius. Some authors say Maeonius acted through envy. Others believe that Zenobia had consented to Herodes’ death because she had often condemned his softness and so that her sons Herennianus and Timolaus [Mk 2345], whom she had borne to Odaenathus, might succeed to the kingdom’ (Boccaccio, De mulieribus claris, ch. 98; tr. Guarino, p. 227. Cf. SA2 I, 425).
2335–7 Claudius… Galien: The emperors Claudius Gothicus (ad 268–70) and Gallienus (ad 253–68). Chaucer is again echoing Boccaccio in saying that neither of them dared oppose Zenobia.
2345 Hermanno… Thimalao: See n. to Mk 2327.
2347 The contrast between honey and gall is proverbial; see Whiting G12, H433.
2351 Aurelian: The Roman emperor Aurelianus (ad 270–75) defeated Zenobia in 272.
2367–74 These lines echo the conclusion of the Zenobia story in Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium (VIII. 6):
She who just lately was fearful to Persian and Syrian kings is now spurned by commoners! She who just lately was admired by emperors is now pitied by plebeians! She who just lately, with helmet on head [galeata], was wont to harangue the troops, now wears a veil [velata] and is forced to listen to women’s chit-chat! She who, just lately, bore the sceptre as ruler of the Orient, now subject to Rome, carries a distaff like other women!
(For the Latin text, see SA, p. 633.)
2372 vitremite: This word, which is spelled in a wide variety of ways in manuscripts of CT (see MED, s.v.), is not found elsewhere in ME, and its etymology and meaning are uncertain. T. Atkinson Jenkins suggested that the two elements of the word derive, through OF, from Latin vitta (‘headband’) and mitra (‘headdress’); see Mélanges de linguistique et de littérature offerts à M. Alfred Jeanroy (Paris, 1928), pp. 141–7. Riverside and the MED opt for an alternative explanation offered by R. Pratt, in an unpublished note, that the first element might represent ME vitry, from OF vitré, and refer to a kind of light canvas made at Vitreé in Brittany, while the second element represents OF mite, ‘headdress’ (see Riverside n. to this line); however, neither of these meanings for the OF words is attested in Tobler Lommatzsch Altfranzösisches Woörterbuch (Wiesbaden, 1925–), nor does ‘vitry’ appear in the MED. Since ‘vitremite’ clearly contrasts with ‘helmed’ (2370), paralleling Boccaccio’s contrast between ‘galeata’ and ‘velata’ (see preceding n.), it must refer to some kind of feminine headgear.
2375–2462 The placing of these lines, containing the stories of Pedro of Spain, Peter of Cyprus, Bernabò Visconti, and Ugolino of Pisa (the so-called ‘Modern Instances’) constitutes a major textual problem in the Monk’s Tale. In both El and Hg (and in thirteen other manuscripts), they appear at the end of the tale, following the story of Croesus. But in a majority of manuscripts (29) they appear in the order adopted here, after the story of Zenobia; for details, see Manly and Rickert II, 406–9, IV, 511–12, and D. K. Fry, JEGP, 71 (1972), 355–68, esp. pp. 361–2. The Modern Instances may be a later addition, especially if the Monk’s Tale was an earlier, independent work which was later incorporated into CT (see Headnote). The stanza on Bernabò Visconti must have been written after his death in December 1385, and the group hangs together as a whole by virtue of the fact that the central figures belong to the thirteenth–fourteenth centuries, rather than to classical antiquity or biblical times. General uncertainty in the manuscripts as to the placing of the Modern Instances (two manus
In Fry’s view, the placing of the Modern Instances at the end of the Monk’s Tale represents Chaucer’s final intentions. The reason for preferring medial placing is that in the Nun’s Priest’s Prologue (2782–3), the Host echoes line 2766 (and also, probably, 2761) as if he has just been listening to the story of Croesus. The Host’s allusion belongs to the passage of the Nun’s Priest’s Prologue which is lacking in a number of manuscripts (including Hg), and which may be a later addition by Chaucer (see n. to NP 2771–90). Since the Host’s speech certainly reads like authentic Chaucer, and I can see no reason why it should have been cancelled later, I have assumed that Chaucer’s latest discernible intention was to place the story of Croesus last.
If the Modern Instances were originally added at the end of the Monk’s Tale, Chaucer may have changed his mind about their placing because he thought it inappropriate that the Knight’s interruption should appear to have been provoked by the story of Ugolino, which achieves a genuine pathos that sets it well above the general level of the other stories. However, he may have wished to place this tale more centrally as a way of sustaining interest through the tale as a whole.
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