The canterbury tales, p.94
The Canterbury Tales, p.94Geoffrey Chaucer
Medieval ‘faculty psychology’ conceived of the brain as divided into three cells, controlling the imagination, judgement and memory. The ‘imaginative’ cell, situated at the front (‘Biforen’), was the seat of ‘fantasye’; it turned the information transmitted by the five bodily senses into images, which were then passed on to the ‘estimative’ or judging faculty to assess (as familiar or unfamiliar, threatening or harmless, good or bad, etc.), and were finally stored in the memory, the rearmost cell. (See Bartholo-maeus Anglicus, On the Properties of Things V.3, and E. R. Harvey, The Inward Wits. Psychological Theory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (London, 1975), pp. 10, 17, 38, 44–5, 52–3). The ‘fantasye’ also has the power to produce images independent of sense-impressions. Arcite’s ‘mania’, his fixation on the single image of Emily, blocks off all other images and thus leads to an imbalance of his cerebral functions generally.
1385 Mercury is the messenger of the gods in pagan mythology; his intervention in the narrative is original with Chaucer.
1387 slepy yerde: Mercury’s staff, the caduceus, is ‘sleepy’ because he used it to put to sleep the hundred-eyed Argus, whom Juno had set to guard Io, object of Jupiter’s love.
1391–2 Mercury’s words are accurate but ambiguous, as is the way of oracular prophecies. Arcite’s woes will indeed be ended, but by his death, not by a happy life with Emily. Among his other characteristics, Mercury was the god of deceit.
1418–41 Arcite’s rapid promotion seems to represent an idealized, not a realistic, version of medieval court life (R. F. Green, ELN, 18.4 (1981), 251–7).
1428 Chaucer took the name Philostrate from Boccaccio, whose Filostrato was the source of Troilus and Criseyde. Boccaccio interpreted the name (erroneously) as meaning ‘prostrated by love’; this interpretation makes it a suitable pseudonym for Arcite.
1462–3 May 3 is also the date specified for Chauntecleer’s encounter with the fox at NP 3187–90; the reason for the choice is not clear in either case.
1522 For other examples of the proverb, see Whiting F127 and Singer, I, 72, and II, 44.
1524 Another proverb; see Whiting M210.
1529 roundel: Rondeau, a short poem using only two rhymes, with the opening line used as a refrain in the middle and at the end (for an example, see PF 680–92). Cf. n. to Fkl 948.
1533 For other examples of the bucket-image to express the rise and fall of Fortune, see Patch, Goddess Fortuna, pp. 53–4.
1534–5 Whiting (F621) lists this as proverbial, but has no other medieval examples.
1539 Proverbial; see Whiting F622, and Alexander Neckam, De naturis rerum I.7 (ed. T. Wright (London, 1863; repr. Nendeln, 1967)).
1546 Cadmus founded the city of Thebes with the warriors who sprang up from the ground where he had sown the teeth of a dragon he had slain. Amphion built the city’s walls through the power of his music; see nn. to Mch 1716 and Mcp 116–18.
1606 love is free: Proverbial; see Whiting L516, and cf. Fkl 767, echoing RR 9411–12 (tr. Horgan, p. 144).
1625–6 Proverbial; see Whiting L495. Cf. Ovid, Art of Love III.564: ‘non bene cum sociis regna Venusque manent’ (‘kingdoms and love do not take well to being shared’).
1663–9 Chaucer derived this notion of the relation between providence and destiny from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (Boece IV pr.6): God’s providence, existing in a timeless present, beholds the pattern of events in a single eternal moment, while destiny executes this pattern in the temporal sequence of past, present and future. Strictly speaking, therefore, God’s providence does not foresee (‘sein biforn’) the future, but simply sees it. The pattern of ‘destinal ordenaunce’ is ‘strong’ in that it sometimes thwarts the patterns projected by human will or expectation; nevertheless, in Boethius’s view, it is the result of a spontaneous confluence of events, each of which can be individually the result of human will. Thus, the sequence of chances (‘aventures’) that brings Palamon and Arcite together in the grove is sealed into a destinal pattern by the equally chance arrival of Theseus, which gives events a development unenvisaged by any of the participants. For fuller discussion, see Mann, ‘Chance and Destiny’, pp. 106–7.
1697 Under the sonne: Possibly ‘towards the sun’, but this phrase occurs in ballads as a set expression meaning simply ‘everywhere, on all sides’ (R. M. Smith, MLN, 51 (1936), 318).
1712–13 Theseus is angry that Palamon and Arcite are fighting privately, and so flouting the regulations governing battle in judicial combat. For a set of such rules, drawn up by Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester and uncle of Richard II, to whom the rules are dedicated, see Monumenta Juridica: The Black Book of the Admiralty, ed. T. Twiss, 4 vols. (London, 1871–6; repr. 1965), I, 300–329. For historical instances of judicial combat, see G. Neilson, Trial by Combat (Glasgow, 1890), esp. pp. 147–93.
1748 Royal women often played the role of intercessors in medieval life as well as literature; for examples and discussion, see P. Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow (Princeton, NJ, 1992), ch. 5. Queen Philippa played the role of mediator when Edward III pardoned the rebellious citizens of Calais, as did Queen Anne when Richard II was reconciled with the citizens of London in 1392. The chronicler Henry Knighton likewise attributed Richard’s issuing of a general pardon in 1382, after the uprising led by John Ball, to the Queen’s solicitations. Doubtless this regal yielding to feminine pleas was often a graceful fiction which dramatized a previous decision on the king’s part; but Queen Anne’s dramatic intervention on behalf of John of Northampton, when he had angered King Richard by a tactless remark, seems to have been quite spontaneous (Saul, Richard II, pp. 132–3), and when Anne pleaded on her knees before the earl of Arundel for the life of Sir Simon Burley in 1388, she was unsuccessful (ibid., p. 194), so that not all instances of female intercession can have been staged.
1761 This maxim is repeated several times in Chaucer’s poetry: see ML 660, Mch 1986, Sq 479 and LGW F 503 (G 491).
1821–5 Riverside places a full stop at the end of line 1824, but it makes more sense to take ‘And’ in line 1821 as meaning ‘If’, and the whole of 1821–5 as one sentence, as in Riverside CT.
1850 ff. The style of combat ordained by Theseus is an odd mixture of the duel (in which two knights engaged in a battle that could well result in death for one) and the tourney (in which a large number of knights engaged in jousting, with sporting rather than hostile intentions). As put into effect, however, the tournament conforms with fourteenth-century rules and practices (see G. A. Lester, Neophilologus, 66 (1982), 460–68).
1885 theatre: On jousting as a theatrical spectacle, with the knights often adopting the role of characters in a fictional drama, see G. Wickham, Early English Stages 1300 to 1600, vol. I (London, 1963), ch. 2.
1887–92 Lists were usually temporary structures made of wood, and square in outline. Thomas of Woodstock’s chivalric rules (see n. to Kn 1712–13) specify that they should be sixty paces long and forty paces wide (Black Book of the Admiralty, I, 307). The lists described by Chaucer, who is here following Boccaccio, are not only unusually splendid but also impossibly large. Thomas of Woodstock (ibid. I, 307, 309) also specifies that there shall be two gates, one in the west and one in the east, through which the combatants are to enter, as at Kn 2581 and 2585.
1906 gate*] om. El Hg. A great deal of scribal variation and confusion at this point suggests that the omission occurred at a very early stage, and that some scribes tried to mend matters. Those manuscripts which have ‘gate’ place it before ‘westward’, but this is not so satisfactory metrically, and since their scribes are probably emending a corrupt text, there is no reason against placing it more felicitously.
1936 mount of Citheroun: Chaucer, like Boccaccio (Teseida VII.43) and other medieval authors (e.g., RR 15631–40), confused the island of Cythera, celebrated for worship of Venus, with Mount Cithaeron, home of Bacchus and the Muses.
1940–41 Idleness is the keeper of the gate to the garden of love in the Romance of the Rose (cf. SN 2–
1942–6 Venus’s power over Solomon was demonstrated by the number of his wives (see WB 35–6 and n.). Hercules fell in love with Iole, and died when his wife Deianira caused him to put on a poisoned shirt, in the mistaken belief that it had the magic power to restore his affection for her; cf. Mk 2119–34 and n. Medea could not prevent her lover Jason from abandoning her, nor could Circe retain Ulysses on her island for more than a year, despite the fact that both women were skilled in magic (cf. RR 14374–8, tr. Horgan, p. 222). Turnus, the betrothed of Lavinia, was supplanted and killed by Aeneas. Croesus is not known as a victim of love (see Mk 2727–66); he is cited here as a conventional example of wealth, which, like wisdom (Solomon), strength (Hercules), magic (Medea, Circe) and bravery (Turnus), is powerless against love.
1945 Turnus*] of Turnus El Hg. The ‘of’ seems to be a scribal repetition of the construction in the preceding line. It does not make sense, since Turnus did not enchant anyone (as did Medea and Circe), nor was he enchanted.
1955–62 Chaucer’s description of Venus (and of Mars and Diana) is more easily visualized as a painting than as a ‘statue’. Venus is represented as floating in the waves because, according to legend, she was born from the sea after Jupiter castrated his father Saturn and threw his genitals into the ocean (RR 5505–12, tr. Horgan, p. 85). The roses and the doves are her traditional attributes; the ‘citole’ (a kind of lute) is more unusual, but representations of the planetary Venus sometimes show her playing a stringed instrument (M. Twycross, The Medieval Anadyomene (Oxford, 1972), pp. 50–70; on the citole, see Page, Voices and Instruments, p. 147). Boccaccio’s description of Venus (Teseida VII.64–6) takes a quite different form; Chaucer incorporated it into PF (260–79).
1967 ff. The description of the temple (though not of Mars himself) is largely taken from Teseida VII.29–37, but Chaucer makes the pictures of death and disaster both more numerous and more detailed.
1972–4 Boccaccio explains in a gloss to the Teseida that the temple of Mars is in Thrace (in northern Greece) because cold climates produce men of sanguine complexion, who are naturally warlike.
1995–2028 Since medieval manuscripts do not regularly use capital letters to signal personifications, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether an abstract noun in this passage should be regarded as a fully-fledged personification or not.
2031–2 Julius Caesar was murdered in the Roman senate at the height of his powers (cf. Mk 2695–2718); the Emperor Nero committed suicide during a rebellion against him (cf. Mk 2527–50); Mark Antony committed suicide after losing the sea-battle of Actium (cf. LGW 651–62). R. H. Nicholson’s suggestion (ELN, 25.3 (1988), 16–22) that ‘Antonius’ refers rather to the emperor Antonius Bassianus, better known as Caracalla, is unconvincing.
2045 Puella … Rubeus: These are names given to two figures in geomancy, a means of casting horoscopes without actually consulting the heavens. Random dots are jotted down, then counted; according to whether they are odd or even in number, either one or two dots are entered in the geomantic figure. Repeating this procedure two or three times produces a pattern made up of four rows of either one or two dots, and this pattern is identified with an astrological equivalent. A treatise contemporary with Chaucer identified Rubeus as Mars direct (beneficent), and Puella as Mars retrograde (maleficent) (Canterbury Tales, ed. J. M. Manly [London, n.d.], pp. 553–4).
2051 ff. Boccaccio does not describe the temple of Diana in detail (Teseida VII.72); Chaucer invents a description to match the two preceding ones.
2056–61 Calistopee: Boccaccio’s gloss to Teseida VII.50 relates how Callisto was expelled from Diana’s band of virgin nymphs because she had become pregnant by Jupiter. It was Jupiter’s jealous wife Juno, not Diana, who transformed her into a bear, and Jupiter eventually further transformed her into the constellation known as the Great Bear. Her son Arcas was turned into the Lesser Bear, in which is situated the Pole Star.
2062 Dane: Daphne, a nymph who aspired to emulate Diana’s perpetual virginity, was turned into a laurel-tree by her father, the river-god Peneus, to save her from being raped by the god Apollo.
2065 Attheon: Actaeon unexpectedly came upon Diana and her nymphs bathing while he was out hunting; Diana transformed him into a stag and he was torn to pieces by his own hounds.
2070–71 Atthalante … Meleagree: Diana sent a monstrous boar to ravage the country of Calydon because its king, Oeneus, had neglected her worship; the boar was killed by the king’s son Meleager, with the help of the maiden Atalanta. Cf. TC V.1464–78.
2081–2 See n. to Kn 2297–9.
2085 Lucina: A name applied to Diana and Juno in their role as goddesses of childbirth.
2119–20 Since Chaucer here seems to be working from the inside out, naming first the haubergeoun or coat of chain-mail, and then the plate-armour which was buckled on over it, it seems probable that the ‘light gipoun’ is a tight-fitting surcoat (elsewhere called ‘cote-armure’; see Kn 1016, Th 857–68 and nn.), worn over the plate-armour. The term ‘gipoun’ was sometimes used for this outer garment as well as for the heavier padded gipoun worn under the chain-mail (see MED, s.v. jupon, and n. to GP 73–6).
2129 ff. Lygurge: Lycurgus appears in the Teseida (VI.14), but the details of his description here are original with Chaucer; Curry argued that they corresponded to the features ascribed in medieval astrological tracts to someone born under the influence of Saturn (pp. 134–7). See also North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 407–8, and n. to Kn 2156 ff.
king of Trace: Boccaccio’s Lycurgus comes from Nemea; Chaucer seems to have confused him with Lycurgus of Thrace, mentioned in Statius’s Thebaid (IV.386, VII.180).
2141 The bear’s claws have been gilded, as was customary with animal pelts worn as cloaks. Cf. Teseida VI.22.
2156 ff. The figure of Emetreus, and the details of his description, are original with Chaucer. Curry argued that he is a Martian type, opposed to the Saturnalian influence represented by Lycurgus (pp. 131–4); D. Brooks and A. Fowler (MÆ, 39 (1970), 123–46, at pp. 131–3) claim the influence of the Sun as well as Mars. But the explicit comparison with Mars at Kn 2159 raises the question of why there is no matching ‘clue’ to an astrological significance in the case of Lycurgus; perhaps Chaucer simply wanted the visual contrast between the dark, shaggy figure of Lycurgus and the golden, sparkling appearance of Emetreus.
2202 chaunten best] dauncen best El; daunse best Hg. The El/Hg reading repeats ‘best daunsinge’ in the previous line and is an obvious error. The error seems to have occurred at a very early stage; some scribes try to repair it by substituting ‘carolle’ or ‘pley’, but ‘chaunten’ is closer to ‘daunsen’ graphically and thus a more likely basis for the misreading (see Manly and Rickert III, 433).
2217 hir hour: On the ‘hours of the planets’, see n. to GP 416. The first hour after sunrise was assigned to the planet whose day it was (the Moon for Monday, Mars for Tuesday, Mercury for Wednesday, and so on) and the succeeding hours in the day were assigned to the other planets in order of their distance from the earth in the medieval cosmological scheme, working from the outside in – viz.: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. Working through the list in regular order brings one, as if by magic, to the ‘correct’ planet to preside over the first hour of the succeeding day (thus if one starts with the Moon on Monday, the order of succession quite naturally brings Mars into position at the first hour on Tuesday). Cf. Astrol, II.12. Since the first hour after sunrise on Monday belongs to the Moon, Venus’s hour will be two hours before sunrise (the intervening one being Mercury’s), and Palamon carefully chooses this as the time when the goddess is likely to be favourable to human prayers (or, to put it astrologically, when the planet’s influence may be turned to human ends). Similarly, Emily goes to the temple of Diana, goddess of the Moon, immediately after sunrise, in the hour of the Moon (Kn 2271–4), and Arcite goes
2224 Adoon: The beautiful youth Adonis, beloved of Venus, was killed by a wild boar while hunting.
2245–6 Both Riverside and Donaldson (Chaucer’s Poetry, p. 78) interpret line 2245 as meaning ‘I do not care if/whether it is better … ’, but such a use of but to mean ‘whether’ has no parallel in MED. Chaucer regularly follows ‘recche’ with the infinitive (Kn 1398, Cl 1090, Mch 1994), which suggests that ‘but it may be bettre be’ should be taken as a parenthesis: ‘I don’t care – if it can’t be any better – whether I have victory … .’ This is the interpretation followed in J. H. Fisher, ed., The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2nd edn (New York, 1989).
2271 The thridde hour inequal: See nn. to GP 416 and Kn 2217. In calling the Moon’s hour the third hour after that of Venus (when Palamon had gone to her temple), Chaucer is counting inclusively; the sequence of hours is Venus, Mercury, Moon.
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