The canterbury tales, p.95
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.95

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  2281 Smokinge the temple: Presumably, with incense. The elliptical phrase is generally explained as a misreading of the Boccaccian original, ‘Fu mondo il tempio’ (‘the temple was clean’) as ‘Fumando il tempio’ (‘the temple [was] smoking’).

  2294 Stace of Thebes: The Thebaid of Statius (see n. to Rubric of KnT) is named here because it is a suitably antique authority on pagan ritual (see, in particular, IV.443–72), but the more directly relevant source is Boccaccio’s detailed description of the rites followed by Emily at Teseida VII.71–6.

  2297–9 The goddess Hecate was credited with a threefold existence as Luna (the Moon) in the heavens, Diana on earth, and Proserpina, wife of the god Pluto, in hell (cf. Kn 2313). This is explained in Boccaccio’s gloss to Teseida VII.77.

  2303 See n. to Kn 2065.

  2367 See n. to Kn 2217.

  2385–90 Vulcan, god of fire and of metal-forging, trapped his wife Venus and her lover Mars in a net which fell over them as they were making love.

  2421 The prayere stint: ‘Stint’ is not a past tense but a past participle.

  For this type of absolute nominative construction, which imitates the Latin ablative absolute, see Mustanoja, pp. 114–16. Chaucer’s use of it seems to have been influenced by his Italian sources.

  2437 A proverbial comparison. See Whiting F561, and cf. Sh 38, 51.

  2442 Jupiter’s action here accords with the nature of his planetary influence, which was benevolent, bringing peace and concord.

  2443 In the Teseida, Saturn does not appear, and it is Venus herself who devises the means by which she can get her own way (IX.3–5). Saturn is represented as old not only because he is the father of Jupiter, but also because his Greek name, Kronos, was interpreted as ‘time’ (Greek chronos). He is ‘cold’ because he is associated with the complexion of melancholy (cold and dry); see n. to GP 333. See R. Klibansky and F. Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy (London, 1964).

  2448 Cf. Mel 1164, quoting Job 12:12.

  2449 Proverbial; see Whiting O29.

  2453 Venus was daughter of Jupiter, as Chaucer knew (Kn 2222), and thus Saturn’s granddaughter; Saturn uses the term ‘doghter’ in the general sense of ‘female descendant’.

  2454 ff. In the cosmological system accepted in the Middle Ages, Saturn’s was the outermost of the planetary spheres (see n. to Kn 2217). His course is therefore wider than that of the other planets (2454), and exerts power on the planets beneath it (2455). His planetary influence was conceived as malevolent, resulting in disasters of the kind listed at Kn 2456–69 (see North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 410–11).

  2462 the signe of the Leoun: The zodiacal sign of Leo. For sources that Chaucer might have had in mind in saying that Saturn’s malevolent influence was increased in this sign, see North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 410.

  2466 On the death of Samson, see n. to ML 201.

  2475 Venus’s ‘complexioun’ (see n. to GP 333) is sanguine (hot and moist), whereas Mars’s is choleric (hot and dry).

  2491 ff. The details of the tournament – the procession to the lists, the careful seating arrangements, the use of spears and then of swords (2549–50), and the pause allowed for refreshments (2621–2) – match those of the tournament held by Richard II at Smithfield in 1390, as described by Froissart (S. Robertson, JEGP, 14 (1915), 238–40). As Clerk of the King’s Works, Chaucer was involved in the construction of the lists for this tournament (Life-Records, pp. 456, 472). If, however, the Knight’s Tale is substantially the same as the story ‘of Palamon and Arcite | Of Thebes’ which is included in the list of Chaucer’s writings in the Prologue to LGW (F 420–21, G 408–9), the earliest version of which is usually dated 1386–8, then it predates the Smithfield tournament; for an argument that Chaucer revised KnT in 1390, see J. Parr, PMLA, 60 (1945), 307–24.

  2581 For the simultaneous entry by the west and east gates, see n. to Kn 1887–92.

  2598 Do now your devoir: The same phrase is prescribed for the initiation of judicial combat in Thomas of Woodstock’s chivalric rules (Black Book of the Admiralty, I, 323).

  2639 For omission of Riverside’s comma at the end of this line, see E. Brown, ChauR, 21 (1986), 133–41.

  2655–6 Line 2655 is found in El and Hg (as well as other MSS), but omitted in a large group of MSS, which make line 2656 the first line of the couplet, and follow it with a new line: ‘Ne non shal lenger to his felawe gon’. Kane (p. 227) argues that this version is more likely to be authentic than the one found in El/Hg.

  2681–2 These lines are not in El or Hg; they are here taken from Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 198. Manly and Rickert (III, 434) suggest that if they were in O1 (the presumed archetype of all surviving MSS), they were marked for omission, probably because they ‘badly break the connection between 2680 and 2683’. Kane (p. 227) points out that the loss is more probably due to eyeskip from one ‘And she’ to the next (obscured in Manly and Rickert by their adoption of the El reading ‘And was’ in 2683). Hanna’s suggestion (Pursuing History, p. 307, n. 20) that the lines were suppressed by ascribe, ‘because impolite’, probably over-estimates the gallantry of scribes. Chaucer himself may have suppressed the lines because they appeared misogynistic, but that need not mean that he intended them as such; they are a humorous reminder of the human, and conventionally feminine, propensity to change, which has tragic consequences in TC, but which in this tale takes on a positive form in the openness to ‘pitee’ shown by Theseus and Emily (see Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 18–25, 132–44).

  2689 E. T. Donaldson (Middle English Studies Presented to Norman Davis, ed. D. Gray and E. G. Stanley (Oxford, 1983), pp. 65–7), noting that the sense ‘crown [of the head]’ for ‘pomel’ is not found elsewhere in ME (see OED 4a, MED 2c), suggests that the word has its ordinary meaning ‘saddle-bow’, and that the line means ‘Arcite impaled himself (or: Arcite’s horse impaled him) on his saddle-bow’. Donaldson is, however, unable to suggest a meaning for the phrase ‘of his heed’ that would fit this interpretation, and Riverside, which glosses ‘pomel’ as Donaldson does, does not supply a gloss for the following phrase.

  2743–56 Medieval medicine conceived of the human body as regulated by three physiological forces, the virtus naturalis (natural power), virtus spiritualis or vitalis (spiritual power), and the virtus animalis (animating power). The virtus naturalis apprehends the presence of substances harmful to itself, which the virtus animalis then acts to expel by coughing. In Arcite’s case, the clotted blood resulting from his internal bleeding obstructs this process of expulsion, and neither emetics nor laxatives are of any assistance; the corrupted blood remains in the body and poisons him (see Curry, pp. 139–45).

  2779–82 These lines are omitted in Hg, but the echo of line 2779 in Mil 3204 is strong evidence for their being authorial rather than scribal. The phrase ‘Allone withouten any compaignye’ also appears at Mel 1560.

  2832 See n. to ML 198.

  2843–6 In the Teseida, these lines introduce Theseus’s concluding speech (XII.6); Egeus is represented as ineffectually trying to console Palamon and the Athenians with stories of life’s mutability (XI.10–12).

  2892 that were grete and white*] grete and white El Hg. The El/Hg line is obviously defective metrically, and the defect is shared by a large number of MSS. Two, however, make good the deficiency with ‘that weren’, which may reflect the original reading, or be a good scribal guess.

  2919–66 This passage is an extended example of the rhetorical device known as occupatio, in which the writer describes something while protesting that he is not going to describe it.

  2921–3 Such catalogues of trees are a medieval poetic convention; see P. Boitani, Reading Mediaeval Studies, 2 (1976), 28–44, and cf. PF 176–82.

  2987 ff. The First Mover, which, itself unmoved, is the source of motion in the planetary spheres, is an Aristotelian concept (Physics VIII.6.259b, Metaphysics XII.7.1072b); Christian philosophy naturally identified the First Mover with God, as did Boethius (‘thow that duellest thiselve
ay stedefast and stable, and yevest alle othere thynges to ben meved’: Boece III m.9.5–7). By referring to the First Mover, Chaucer enlarges the poem’s perspective beyond the spheres of the planets, which seemed in the planetary debate to be controlling earthly events, to focus on the ultimate cause which governs the planets themselves. When Theseus identifies the First Mover as Jupiter (3035), therefore, it is not in his role as planet (which is not as powerful as Saturn’s), but in his mythological role as supreme deity, the pagan equivalent of the Christian God. The only cosmological basis for this identification known to me is Macrobius’s statement that ‘to cosmogonists Jupiter is the soul of the World’ (Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, tr. Stahl, p. 158).

  The core of Theseus’s speech is taken from the Teseida; cf. Kn 3017–34 and Teseida XII.7–10, Kn 3041–56 and Teseida XII.11–14. Chaucer has, however, created a Boethian framework for Teseo’s reflections on the inevitability of death and the advantages of dying before age has destroyed one’s fame: for the notion that the cosmos is bound together by love, which reconciles the discord between the four elements of fire, air, earth and water, see Boece II m.8; for the notion that to recognize imperfection in the nature of things implies a pre-existing concept of perfection, and that just as a part implies the whole from which it is taken, so all imperfect, corruptible things must derive from this perfection, see III pr.10; for the notion that God’s eternal providence (‘purveiaunce’) realizes itself in time as an ‘ordinaunce’ giving events an ordered pattern, and controlling growth and decay, see IV pr.6; and for the notion that this ‘ordinaunce’ governs all changes in the natural world and brings them back to their beginning – that is, God – see IV m.6.

  3028 nedes*] nedeth El Hg. The error was introduced at an early stage, and was presumably due to a scribe mistaking ‘nedes’ as a Northern form of the 3rd pers pres indic, and consciously or unconsciously substituting the Southern form (Manly and Rickert III, 438).

  3041–2 The phrase echoes Teseida XII.11.1–2, but is also a well-known proverb (see Whiting V43 and Hassell V79). Chaucer uses it elsewhere in his works (Sq 593, TC IV.1586); it expresses the flexible response to disaster and difficulty which characterizes his idea of patience (cf. Fkl 773–86).


  3115 Cf. Pars 26. The phrase seems to have become proverbial in connection with tale-telling after Chaucer; see MED mal(e n (2) 1c.

  3124 in Pilates vois: In stentorian tones. The medieval mystery plays represented biblical ‘villains’, such as Pilate and Herod, as blustering tyrants.

  3155–6 These lines are in El (and other MSS) but absent from Hg (and other MSS). Since they are a reversal of the Solomonic dictum that in a thousand women one will not find a single good one, which is a focus for debate elsewhere in CT (Mch 2247–8, 2277–90, Mel 1057, 1076–80), they are likely to be original.

  3159 for the oxen in my plough: This sounds proverbial, but is not recorded in Whiting, and MED gives no other examples.


  The two main narrative motifs of the Miller’s Tale, the ‘misdirected kiss’ and the story of Noah’s flood, can be paralleled in numerous other tales, but most of them post-date Chaucer, and none can be confidently identified as his source (see the analogues assembled in SA, and in Benson and Andersson). Only in Chaucer’s version is it the woman, rather than one of her lovers, who sticks her behind out of the window to be kissed. Chaucer’s version is also highly unusual in the vividness of its descriptions and its detailed presentation of provincial life. In its interest in sexual intrigue and trickery, the Miller’s Tale resembles the medieval French tales known as fabliaux, but they are much briefer (typically 200–300 lines only), and their narrative style is very much sparser than the one Chaucer adopts for this tale. The long descriptions of Nicholas, Alison and Absalon, the account of Noah’s Flood, and the details of Oxford life, are narrative embellishments not normally found in fabliaux.

  3192 astrologye: The medieval term included astronomy. Nicholas’s interest in the heavens is characteristic of fourteenth-century Oxford, where Merton College was in the forefront of scientific studies.

  3202 lik a maiden meke for to see: Medieval clerks were supposed to be maidenly in demeanour (see n. to Cl 2), but in Nicholas’s case the maidenliness is purely superficial.

  3204 This line repeats, in a very different context, Kn 2779. Its use at Mel 1560 suggests that it is a proverbial phrase.

  3208 Almageste: The Almagest of the Greek astronomer Ptolemy (2nd c. ad) was ‘the basic text for all mathematical and astronomical study’ (Bennett, p. 80). It was known to the Middle Ages in a Latin translation by Gerard of Cremona. A modern English translation of the Greek original by R. C. Taliaferro is included in Vol. 16 of the Great Books of the Western World (Chicago, 1952).

  3209 astrelabye: An astrolabe is a metal disc bearing a map of the heavens, overlaid with various moving parts which can be used to calculate the relative positions of the various astral bodies at any particular time. Chaucer himself translated a treatise explaining its use. For a photograph of a late medieval astrolabe, see Wood, frontispiece, and for a detailed diagram of its parts and explanation of its function, see North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 40–42.

  3210 augrim-stones: ‘Augrim’ is the ME form of ‘algorism’, a medieval term for arithmetic. Because Roman numerals made written calculations cumbersome and difficult, it was customary to use instead stones or counters laid out on a board (known as an abacus) in columns representing units, tens, hundreds, thousands, and so on. Later, the stones were inscribed with arabic numerals indicating their value, thereby reducing the number of stones it was necessary to use (thus a stone marked 2 would be worth 20 when placed in the tens column). For a detailed description of the way such calculations were carried out, see F. A. Yeldham, The Story of Reckoning in the Middle Ages (London, 1926), pp. 36–45. It was far from usual for a poor scholar to possess such aids to study; the Fellows of Merton had only three astrolabes and one set of augrim-stones between them (Bennett, p. 33).

  3212 A ‘presse’ was a wooden cupboard, which was fitted with shelves for linen or pegs on which to hang clothes (H. C. R. Edwards, The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture (London, 1964), s.vv. Cupboards, Presses and Wardrobes). Medieval furniture terminology was very imprecise, and it is impossible to tell whether the press was full height, with the red cloth hung in front as a kind of dust-sheet, or a lower cupboard, fitted with solid doors, with the cloth laid over the top of it.

  3213–15 sautrye: A stringed instrument similar to a zither (see n. to GP 296). Since the strings were of metal, this instrument made a great deal of noise, so that it is not surprising that the chamber ‘rang’.

  3216 Angelus ad virginem: ‘The angel to the Virgin [said]’; these are the first words of a highly popular medieval song on the Annunciation; text and music have been edited by J. Stevens in Medieval Studies for J. A. W. Bennett: Aetatis Suae LXX, ed. P. L. Heyworth (Oxford, 1981), pp. 297–328.

  3217 the kinges note: None of the various attempts to identify this piece of music has won general acceptance.

  3220 See n. to GP 301–2.

  3227 Catoun: Chaucer means the Distichs of Cato (Disticha Catonis), a collection of two-line proverbs, which was the first in a group of texts (collectively known as the ‘Liber Catonianus’), which were widely used as a first reader for young students of Latin (see P. M. Clogan, MedHum, n.s. 11 (1982), 199–209, and for Chaucer’s use of ‘Cato’ in CT, see R. Hazelton, Speculum, 35 (1960), 357–80). The carpenter’s ‘wit’ is so ‘rude’ that he has not reached this elementary stage of education. However, the maxim cited here is not to be found in ‘Cato’, but in another Latin school-text of the same type, the Facetus ‘Cum utilius’, in which maxim 37 reads: ‘Duc tibi prole parem morumque vigore venustam, | Si cum pace velis vitam deducere iustam’ (‘Take a wife who is your peer in birth and beautified by moral excellence if you want to lead a righteous life in peace’); see A. Brusendorff, S
tudies in English Philology … in Honor of Frederick Klaeber, ed. K. Malone and M. B. Rudd (Minneapolis, 1929), pp. 320–39, at pp. 337–8). For a translation of the Facetus, see R. E. Pepin, An English Translation of Auctores Octo (Lewiston, NY, 1995), pp. 41–54.

  3233 ff. The long and detailed portraits of Alison and Absolon (3314 ff.) correspond in general form to the rhetorical figure called descriptio or effictio, which anatomized a character’s personal appearance from head to toe; however, the model examples given in medieval handbooks of rhetoric do not include the particularized details of clothing or the vivid similes that characterize these descriptions. For examples, see Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria Nova, 563–621, tr. Nims, pp. 36–8, and Matthew of Vendome, Ars Versificatoria I.50–58, tr. R. R. Parr (Milwaukee, WI, 1981), pp. 29–39.

  3274 Oseneye: Osney abbey (a large and wealthy house of Augus-tinian canons) lay on the west side of Oxford, just across the river Thames; it is later made clear (3664–8) that Alison’s carpenter husband is regularly employed by the abbey, where ‘there would always be jobs for a carpenter, including the building or repair of houses on the abbey’s city properties’ (Bennett, p. 55).

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