The canterbury tales, p.123
The Canterbury Tales,
2849 The animals in beast fable are characteristically nameless; it is in the beast epic tradition that they are given names, which are often carried over from one work to another. ‘Chantecler’ (‘sing-beautifully’) is the name given to the cock in Branch II of the Roman de Renart (see Headnote).
2851 orgon: As the following verb (‘gon’) shows, the word is plural, probably because it derives from the Latin neuter plural organa (see OED s.v. organ1, 2b). At SN 134, the form ‘organs’ is unequivocally plural, though only one organ is in question.
Medieval organs were worked by bellows, and existed in various sizes, the smallest being portable instruments that could sit on the player’s lap. The church-organ referred to here will have been larger, but still probably of modest size. See C. Clutton and A. Niland, The British Organ (London, 1963), ch. 2, esp. pp. 46–7, and J. Perrot, The Organ from its Invention in the Hellenistic Period to the End of the Thirteenth Century, tr. N. Deane (London, 1971), ch. 14.
2854 Mechanical, weight-driven clocks were invented in the late thirteenth century and were still relatively rare in Chaucer’s day. They were found only in important buildings such as cathedrals, abbeys or royal residences. The earliest examples were located inside at ground level; later on they were placed in a tower and later still the clock-face appeared on the outside wall. See C. F. Beeson, English Church Clocks 1280–1850 (London, 1971), ch. 1. The earliest types rang a bell every hour (the word ‘clock’ is cognate with the French cloche, bell); the later type, with a face or dial, was known as an ‘horologe’. By Chaucer’s time, however, the two terms seem to have been interchangeable (see L. Mooney, SAC, 15 (1993), 91–109, at pp. 101–9).
2855 knew*] krew El Hg. Kane (p. 218) defends the quasi-transitive use of ‘krew’ as a ‘harder reading’ (on which see n. to Cl 508), but as Pearsall points out, ‘know by nature’ is a more idiomatic collocation than ‘crow by nature’ (Variorum: Nun’s Priest’s Tale, p. 149).
2855–8 equinoxial: The equinoctial is the celestial equator, an imaginary line projected on to the celestial sphere on the plane of the terrestrial equator. The equinoctial circles the earth from east to west with the daily rotation of the celestial sphere; Chauntecleer recognizes instinctively each degree of its ascension above the horizon (whereas a human astrologer would have to use an astrolabe to work out its movement from the changing position of the heavenly bodies). Since the complete circle of its revolution comprises 360°, the equinoctial will pass through 15° in each of the 24 hours of the day. The cock, that is, crows every hour, on the hour.
2870 See n. to NP 2849 on the naming of animals in beast literature. The hen in Branch II of the Roman de Renart is called Pinte, not Pertelote; Chaucer may have changed it for the sake of finding easier rhymes.
2874–6 The romantic love between Chauntecleer and Pertelote is Chaucer’s addition to the narrative; see Pratt, Speculum, 47 (1972), 657–8.
2879 This is the first line of a song found in Trinity College, Cambridge, MS 599 (R.3.19), which is printed in R. H. Robbins, Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1955), p. 152:
My lefe is faren in a lond.
Allas, why is she so?
And I am so sore bound
I may nat com her to.
She hath my hert in hold
Where ever she ride or go,
With trew love a thousand fold!
The fifth line is echoed in NP 2874.
2884 See n. to NP 2832.
2912–17 For these husbandly qualities, cf. Sh 173–7.
2923 ff. On the medieval medical theory of the bodily ‘humours’, see n. to GP 333. Curry (pp. 222–3) cites numerous examples of medical authorities explaining dreams of red things as caused by an excess of red choler, and of black things as caused by an excess of black choler, or melancholia. P. Aiken cites passages of a similar tenor in Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum naturale and Speculum doctrinale (Speculum, 10 (1935), 281–7, at pp. 281–2). Robert Holcot, in his commentary on Wisdom (see n. to NP 2984 ff.), also discusses the effects of an imbalance of the humours on dreaming (R. A. Pratt, Speculum, 52 (1977), 538–70, at pp. 543–5).
2940–41 ‘Cato’ is the pseudonymous author of the Distichs of Cato (cf. n. to Mil 3227), a Latin proverb-collection which contains the maxim ‘Somnia ne cures [nam mens humana quod optat, | dum vigilans sperat, per somnium cernit id ipsum]’ (‘Pay no attention to dreams [for what the human mind wishes and hopes for when awake, that it sees in sleep]’; II.31). With a slightly different ending, it also circulated as a Latin proverb: ‘Somnia ne cures, nam fallunt plurima plures’ (‘Pay no attention to dreams, since many of them deceive many people’); see Walther 30027, and cf. 30026.
2963–6 With the exception of ‘gaitris beryis’(see below), all these herbs are recommended as purgatives in the Speculum doctrinale and Speculum naturale of Vincent of Beauvais (Aiken, Speculum, 10 (1935), 281–7, at pp. 283–4). See further Curry, pp. 225–6, and the notes in Pearsall, Variorum: Nun’s Priest’s Tale, pp. 170–73. gaitris beryis: Apart from this line, the only examples of the word ‘gaitris’ cited by the MED are place-names. In later usage, ‘gaiter’ is associated with the dogwood, but its berries have no medicinal properties (Pearsall, ibid., p. 172). Skeat (V, 252) suggested that the word represents ‘gayt-tre’ (‘goat-tree’), and refers to the buckthorn, which is given similar names in Swedish dialects (see MED), and whose berries are a purgative.
herbe yve: Not the plant commonly known as ground ivy (Nepeta glechoma), but, according to MED, either buck’s horn plantain (Plantago coronopus) or the European ground pine (Ajuga chamaepitys). The name derives from OF herbe yve (see the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, ed. L. W. Stone and W. Rothwell (London, 1977–), s.v. herbe).
2984 ff. This story, and the one that follows (3067–3104) are presented as a pair (but in the reverse order) by Cicero, De divinatione I.27. Some manuscripts (though not El or Hg) have a marginal gloss identifying the ‘auctor’ of line 2984 as ‘Tullius’ (Manly and Rickert III, 520). Cicero’s brief narratives were paraphrased by Valerius Maximus in his Memorable Doings and Sayings (I.7.ext.10, and I.7.ext.3; both excerpts printed in SA, pp. 662–3), but again, so far from the second story following the first ‘Right in the nexte chapitre’ (3065), they are in reverse order, and also separated by several other anecdotes about dreams. The two stories are related in Chaucer’s order, and separated by only one sentence, in Giraldus Cambrensis’s Expugnatio Hibernica (Opera, vol. V, ed. J. F. Dimock (London, 1867), pp. 294–5); Giraldus took them from Valerius, but the first story is retold in abbreviated form. The first story is loosely paraphrased by Albertus Magnus in De somno et vigilia III.10 (mid-13th c.), where it is incorrectly attributed to Book II of Cicero’s De natura deorum (‘Tullius in secundo de natura deorum’); see Opera omnia, ed. P. Jammy (Lyons, 1651), V, 100. Finally, Valerius’s versions of both stories are quoted almost verbatim by the fourteenth-century Dominican friar Robert Holcot in his celebrated commentary on the book of Wisdom; here they are in the same order as in NPT but widely separated, the first appearing in lectio 103 and the second in lectio 202 (text and translation in SA2 I, 486–9; on Chaucer’s probable familiarity with Holcot’s work, see p. 450). Chaucer may also have known Valerius Maximus directly (but see Pratt’s contrary opinion, quoted in n. to WB 460–62). Pratt’s detailed analysis of all these versions concludes that Chaucer’s narratives have unique points of resemblance with each of them except for Giraldus, so that it is impossible to identify a single source with confidence (Speculum, 52 (1977), 538–70, esp. pp. 548–63).
3013 Only in Chaucer and Albertus Magnus are there three dreams; Cicero and Valerius Maximus have only one warning dream, not two, before the murder takes place (see Pratt, Speculum, 52 (1977), 551).
3052, 3057 Mordre wol out: Proverbial. See Pri 576 and n.
3076 This is a metrically dense line, but can be read as follows: ‘But hérkneth: to that ó man fíl a gréet merváille.’
3110 Kenelm was th
3123–4 th’avisioun… Cipioun: The Dream of Scipio was actually written by Cicero (it forms Book VI of his De republica), but it was known in the Middle Ages only as quoted in the lengthy commentary by Macrobius (fl. ad c. 400); see the edition of Macrobius’s Commentary by J. Willis, with the text of the Dream on pp. 155–63, and the translation by W. H. Stahl, with the Dream on pp. 69–77. The Dream relates that the Roman consul Scipio Africanus the Younger dreamed that his dead grandfather, Scipio Africanus the Elder, conqueror of Carthage, led him up through the stars to the Milky Way, explained the nature of the planetary system, foretold his future glory and potential dangers, and discoursed to him of his public duties. Macrobius’s commenary on this text begins with an analysis of different types of dreams, and the importance to be attached to each (I.3).
In Affrike: The opening of the Dream explains that Scipio was visiting Masinissa, king of Numidia, when he had his vision.
3128 The Old Testament prophet Daniel had understanding in ‘all visions and dreams’ (Daniel 1:17). He won the favour of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, by interpreting his dream of a colossal statue made out of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay as a symbol of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and its increasingly inferior successors (ch. 2). He also interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the felling of a mighty tree as a sign of the king’s downfall (ch. 4). Chs. 7–12 of the book of Daniel describe a series of apocalyptic visions granted to Daniel. Cf. Mk 2155–8, Pars 126.
3130 Joseph dreamed two dreams which foretold his future dominion over his parents and brothers (Genesis 37:5–10).
3133–4 Joseph interpreted two dreams of the Egyptian Pharaoh as prophesying seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:1–36). He also correctly interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s imprisoned butler as a sign of his restoration to favour, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker as a sign of his impending execution (Genesis 40:5–23).
3138 Cresus: On Croesus and his dream, see Mk 2740–60, and n. to Mk 2727–66.
3141–8 Andromacha… Ector: The tradition that Andromache had a premonitory dream the night before her husband Hector was killed in battle, and vainly tried to dissuade him from going out to fight the next day, is not Homeric, but is found in the Latin prose history of the fall of Troy allegedly by ‘Dares the Phrygian’ (6th c. ad), and became widespread in medieval literature (for references, see Pratt, Speculum, 47 (1972), 648, and J. Mann, in The European Tragedy of Troilus, ed. P. Boitani (Cambridge, 1989), p. 237, n. 57). Pratt points out (pp. 649–50) that this story is used by the hen Pinte in Renart le Contrefait (see Headnote) to persuade her husband Chantecler of the value of women’s counsel; since, however, Pinte is discounting the importance of dreams, she fails to notice that the story contradicts her position. In giving the exemplum to Chauntecleer, Chaucer creates an opposite kind of paradox: the story supports the cock’s case about dreams, but might equally be used to imply that he should listen to his wife’s advice.
3163 In principio: ‘In the beginning…’ These are the opening words of the book of Genesis, and also of St John’s Gospel. The allusion is probably to the latter; Chauntecleer is asserting that what he says is ‘gospel truth’ (cf. MED s.v. gospel 4).
3164–6 The Latin means ‘woman is the confusion of man’; it forms part of a misogynist definition of woman which enjoyed wide circulation (for manuscript examples, see C. Brown, MLN, 35 (1920), 479–82). ‘Quid est mulier? Hominis confusio, insaturabilis bestia, continua solicitudo, indesinens pugna, viri continentis naufragium, humanum mancipium’ (‘What is woman? The confusion of man, an insatiable beast, a continual trouble, ceaseless strife, the downfall of a continent man, human bondage’). Cf. Mel 1106. It is not clear whether Chauntecleer’s obvious mistranslation is to be attributed to his condescending deception of Pertelote, or to his own ignorance; for attempts to explain it, see Pearsall, Variorum: Nun’s Priest’s Tale, p. 201. Whatever it implies about the cock, the unmediated yoking of condemnation and adulation makes evident the contradictory stereotyping of women and the male oscillation from one view to the other, as convenience dictates (see Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 148–9).
3187–8 The belief that God created the world at the spring equinox was widespread in Chaucer’s time (North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 119).
3190 was gon] bigan El Hg. All manuscripts read ‘bigan’, but this yields a date in early April, which does not square with the position of the sun in Taurus indicated in lines 3194–5; the implication is that the 32 days mentioned in line 3190 follow the end of March, fixing the date as 3 May (also a significant date at Kn 1462–3 and TC II.56). The emendation ‘was gon’ is made in Riverside (see Textual Notes, p. 1132).
3193–9 The calendar of Nicholas of Lynn, which Chaucer consulted when writing his Treatise on the Astrolabe, confirms that the details given here of the sun’s position in the zodiac, and its height in the heavens at 9 o’clock (‘prime’), are correct for 3/4 May. See Eisner, Kalendarium, pp. 31–2, and North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 119–21.
3205 Three manuscripts (but not El or Hg) have a marginal gloss attributing this sentiment to Solomon; cf. Proverbs 14:13, ‘Laughter shall be mingled with grief, and woe is the end of rejoicing.’ Cf. ML 424 and n.
3212 The reference is to the long French prose romance (13th c.) entitled Lancelot (ed. A. Micha, 9 vols. (Paris and Geneva, 1978–83); tr. S. N. Rosenberg and C. W. Carroll, Lancelot-Grail. The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, ed. N. J. Lacy, vol. III (New York and London, 1993)). This is the work that Dante’s Paolo and Francesca were reading when they fell in love (Inferno V.127–38).
3217 N. Davis (MÆ, 40 (1971), 75–80, at p. 79) compares the use of ‘forncast’, meaning ‘planned or arranged beforehand, premeditated’, at Pars 448 and TC III.521, and cites examples of similar combinations with ‘imagine’ or ‘imaginacioun’ to show that the phrase means something like ‘malice aforethought’. (The same conclusion was reached independently by K. P. Wentersdorf, Studia neophilologica, 52 (1980), 31–4.) The phrase thus refers to the fox’s treacherous scheming rather than to divine foreknowledge or to Chauntecleer’s dream.
3227 Scariot… Geniloun: Judas Iscariot was the betrayer of Christ (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13, 18). On Ganelon, the famous traitor of the Song of Roland, see n. to Sh 194 and cf. Mk 2389.
3228 Sinoun: On the Greek Sinon, who tricked the Trojans into taking the Trojan horse into their city, see n. to Sq 209–10.
3234–44 Chaucer (in the persona of the Nun’s Priest) here comically assumes a helpless incompetence on the subject of the relationship between destiny and free will, of which he elsewhere shows a deep understanding (see Mann, ‘Chance and Destiny’, and cf. Kn 1663–9 and n.). The major influence on Chaucer’s thinking on this question was Boethius, whose Consolation of Philosophy Chaucer had translated; for Boethius’s attempt to resolve the apparent conflict between God’s knowledge of things to come and the freedom of the human will by distinguishing between time and eternity, see next n. Chaucer also invokes St Augustine (ad 354–430), whose treatise ‘On Grace and Free Will’ (tr. P. Holmes, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. P. Schaff, vol. V (New York, 1887; repr. Grand Rapids, MI, 1971), pp. 443–65) was directed against the followers of the contemporary heretic Pelagius,
3245–50 This distinction between simple necessity and conditional necessity derives from Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy V pr.6. Simple necessity inheres in the nature of things (the examples given are that all men are mortal, or that the sun rises), whereas conditional necessity inheres in a reciprocally defining relationship between the knower and the known (thus, if one knows that a man is walking, then of necessity he must be walking – otherwise the knowledge is not knowledge). Since God knows all things, whether past, present or future, in his eternally present moment, his knowledge of a contingent event at any of these times means that it is bound by conditional necessity. But that does not destroy the free will of the human agent to determine her/his course of action, since he/she is not acting in an eternal present but in linear time. This sort of necessity, therefore, exists when things are seen from the perspective of divine knowledge, but not when they are considered in themselves.
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