Part 10 out of 19
With face pale, in dread and busy thought,
She hath at school and elleswhere him sought,
Till finally she gan so far espy,
That he was last seen in the Jewery.
With mother's pity in her breast enclosed,
She went, as she were half out of her mind,
To every place, where she hath supposed
By likelihood her little child to find:
And ever on Christ's mother meek and kind
She cried, and at the laste thus she wrought,
Among the cursed Jewes she him sought.
She freined,* and she prayed piteously *asked* <11>
To every Jew that dwelled in that place,
To tell her, if her childe went thereby;
They saide, "Nay;" but Jesus of his grace
Gave in her thought, within a little space,
That in that place after her son she cried,
Where he was cast into a pit beside.
O greate God, that preformest thy laud
By mouth of innocents, lo here thy might!
This gem of chastity, this emeraud,* *emerald
And eke of martyrdom the ruby bright,
Where he with throat y-carven* lay upright, *cut
He Alma Redemptoris gan to sing
So loud, that all the place began to ring.
The Christian folk, that through the streete went,
In came, for to wonder on this thing:
And hastily they for the provost sent.
He came anon withoute tarrying,
And heried* Christ, that is of heaven king, *praised
And eke his mother, honour of mankind;
And after that the Jewes let* he bind. *caused
With torment, and with shameful death each one
The provost did* these Jewes for to sterve** *caused **die
That of this murder wist, and that anon;
He woulde no such cursedness observe* *overlook
Evil shall have that evil will deserve;
Therefore with horses wild he did them draw,
And after that he hung them by the law.
The child, with piteous lamentation,
Was taken up, singing his song alway:
And with honour and great procession,
They crry him unto the next abbay.
His mother swooning by the biere lay;
Unnethes* might the people that were there *scarcely
This newe Rachel bringe from his bier.
Upon his biere lay this innocent
Before the altar while the masses last';* *lasted
And, after that, th' abbot with his convent
Have sped them for to bury him full fast;
And when they holy water on him cast,
Yet spake this child, when sprinkled was the water,
And sang, O Alma redemptoris mater!
This abbot, which that was a holy man,
As monkes be, or elles ought to be,
This younger child to conjure he began,
And said; "O deare child! I halse* thee, *implore <12>
In virtue of the holy Trinity;
Tell me what is thy cause for to sing,
Since that thy throat is cut, to my seeming."
"My throat is cut unto my necke-bone,"
Saide this child, "and, as *by way of kind,* *in course of nature*
I should have died, yea long time agone;
But Jesus Christ, as ye in bookes find,
Will that his glory last and be in mind;
And, for the worship* of his mother dear, *glory
Yet may I sing O Alma loud and clear.
"This well* of mercy, Christe's mother sweet, *fountain
I loved alway, after my conning:* *knowledge
And when that I my life should forlete,* *leave
To me she came, and bade me for to sing
This anthem verily in my dying,
As ye have heard; and, when that I had sung,
Me thought she laid a grain upon my tongue.
"Wherefore I sing, and sing I must certain,
In honour of that blissful maiden free,
Till from my tongue off taken is the grain.
And after that thus saide she to me;
'My little child, then will I fetche thee,
When that the grain is from thy tongue take:
Be not aghast,* I will thee not forsake.'" *afraid
This holy monk, this abbot him mean I,
His tongue out caught, and took away the grain;
And he gave up the ghost full softely.
And when this abbot had this wonder seen,
His salte teares trickled down as rain:
And groff* he fell all flat upon the ground, *prostrate, grovelling
And still he lay, as he had been y-bound.
The convent* lay eke on the pavement *all the monks
Weeping, and herying* Christ's mother dear. *praising
And after that they rose, and forth they went,
And took away this martyr from his bier,
And in a tomb of marble stones clear
Enclosed they his little body sweet;
Where he is now, God lene* us for to meet. *grant
O younge Hugh of Lincoln!<13> slain also
With cursed Jewes, -- as it is notable,
For it is but a little while ago, --
Pray eke for us, we sinful folk unstable,
That, of his mercy, God so merciable* *merciful
On us his greate mercy multiply,
For reverence of his mother Mary.
Notes to the Prioress's Tale
1. Tales of the murder of children by Jews were frequent in the
Middle Ages, being probably designed to keep up the bitter
feeling of the Christians against the Jews. Not a few children
were canonised on this account; and the scene of the misdeeds
was laid anywhere and everywhere, so that Chaucer could be at
no loss for material.
2. This is from Psalm viii. 1, "Domine, dominus noster,quam
admirabile est nomen tuum in universa terra."
3. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou
ordained strength." -- Psalms viii. 2.
4. The ghost that in thee light: the spirit that on thee alighted;
the Holy Ghost through whose power Christ was conceived.
5. Jewery: A quarter which the Jews were permitted to inhabit;
the Old Jewry in London got its name in this way.
6. St. Nicholas, even in his swaddling clothes -- so says the
"Breviarium Romanum" --gave promise of extraordinary virtue
and holiness; for, though he sucked freely on other days, on
Wednesdays and Fridays he applied to the breast only once, and
that not until the evening.
7. "O Alma Redemptoris Mater," ("O soul mother of the
Redeemer") -- the beginning of a hymn to the Virgin.
8. Antiphonere: A book of anthems, or psalms, chanted in the
choir by alternate verses.
9. Souded; confirmed; from French, "soulde;" Latin, "solidatus."
10. "And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and
before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn
that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which
were redeemed from the earth.
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are
virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he
goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the
firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb."
-- Revelations xiv. 3, 4.
11. Freined: asked, inquired; from Anglo-Saxon, "frinan,"
"fraegnian." Compare German, "fragen."
12. Halse: embrace or salute; implore: from Anglo-Saxon
"hals," the neck.
14 A boy said to have been slain by the Jews at Lincoln in 1255,
according to Matthew Paris. Many popular ballads were made
about the event, which the diligence of the Church doubtless
kept fresh in mind at Chaucer's day.
CHAUCER'S TALE OF SIR THOPAS.
WHEN said was this miracle, every man
As sober* was, that wonder was to see, *serious
Till that our Host to japen* he began, *talk lightly
And then *at erst* he looked upon me, *for the first time*
And saide thus; "What man art thou?" quoth he;
"Thou lookest as thou wouldest find an hare,
For ever on the ground I see thee stare.
"Approache near, and look up merrily.
Now ware you, Sirs, and let this man have place.
He in the waist is shapen as well as I; <2>
This were a puppet in an arm t'embrace
For any woman small and fair of face.
He seemeth elvish* by his countenance, *surly, morose
For unto no wight doth he dalliance.
"Say now somewhat, since other folk have said;
Tell us a tale of mirth, and that anon."
"Hoste," quoth I, "be not evil apaid,* *dissatisfied
For other tale certes can* I none, *know
Eut of a rhyme I learned yore* agone." *long
"Yea, that is good," quoth he; "now shall we hear
Some dainty thing, me thinketh by thy cheer."* *expression, mien
Notes to the Prologue to Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas
1. This prologue is interesting, for the picture which it gives of
Chaucer himself; riding apart from and indifferent to the rest of
the pilgrims, with eyes fixed on the ground, and an "elvish",
morose, or rather self-absorbed air; portly, if not actually stout,
in body; and evidently a man out of the common, as the closing
words of the Host imply.
2. Referring to the poet's corpulency.
THE TALE <1>
The First Fit* *part
Listen, lordings, in good intent,
And I will tell you verrament* *truly
Of mirth and of solas,* *delight, solace
All of a knight was fair and gent,* *gentle
In battle and in tournament,
His name was Sir Thopas.
Y-born he was in far country,
In Flanders, all beyond the sea,
At Popering <2> in the place;
His father was a man full free,
And lord he was of that country,
As it was Godde's grace. <3>
Sir Thopas was a doughty swain,
White was his face as paindemain, <4>
His lippes red as rose.
His rode* is like scarlet in grain, *complexion
And I you tell in good certain
He had a seemly nose.
His hair, his beard, was like saffroun,
That to his girdle reach'd adown,
His shoes of cordewane:<5>
Of Bruges were his hosen brown;
His robe was of ciclatoun,<6>
That coste many a jane.<7>
He coulde hunt at the wild deer,
And ride on hawking *for rivere* *by the river*
With gray goshawk on hand: <8>
Thereto he was a good archere,
Of wrestling was there none his peer,
Where any ram <9> should stand.
Full many a maiden bright in bow'r
They mourned for him par amour,
When them were better sleep;
But he was chaste, and no lechour,
And sweet as is the bramble flow'r
That beareth the red heep.* *hip
And so it fell upon a day,
For sooth as I you telle may,
Sir Thopas would out ride;
He worth* upon his steede gray, *mounted
And in his hand a launcegay,* *spear <10>
A long sword by his side.
He pricked through a fair forest,
Wherein is many a wilde beast,
Yea, bothe buck and hare;
And as he pricked north and east,
I tell it you, him had almest *almost
Betid* a sorry care. *befallen
There sprange herbes great and small,
The liquorice and the setewall,* *valerian
And many a clove-gilofre, <12>
And nutemeg to put in ale,
Whether it be moist* or stale, *new
Or for to lay in coffer.
The birdes sang, it is no nay,
The sperhawk* and the popinjay,** *sparrowhawk **parrot <13>
That joy it was to hear;
The throstle-cock made eke his lay,
The woode-dove upon the spray
She sang full loud and clear.
Sir Thopas fell in love-longing
All when he heard the throstle sing,
And *prick'd as he were wood;* *rode as if he
His faire steed in his pricking were mad*
So sweated, that men might him wring,
His sides were all blood.
Sir Thopas eke so weary was
For pricking on the softe grass,
So fierce was his corage,* *inclination, spirit
That down he laid him in that place,
To make his steed some solace,
And gave him good forage.
"Ah, Saint Mary, ben'dicite,
What aileth thilke* love at me *this
To binde me so sore?
Me dreamed all this night, pardie,
An elf-queen shall my leman* be, *mistress
And sleep under my gore.* *shirt
An elf-queen will I love, y-wis,* *assuredly
For in this world no woman is
Worthy to be my make* *mate
All other women I forsake,
And to an elf-queen I me take
By dale and eke by down." <14>
Into his saddle he clomb anon,
And pricked over stile and stone
An elf-queen for to spy,
Till he so long had ridden and gone,
That he found in a privy wonne* *haunt
The country of Faery,
For in that country was there none
That to him durste ride or gon,
Neither wife nor child.
Till that there came a great giaunt,
His name was Sir Oliphaunt,<15>
A perilous man of deed;
He saide, "Child,* by Termagaunt, <16> *young man
*But if* thou prick out of mine haunt, *unless
Anon I slay thy steed
Here is the Queen of Faery,
With harp, and pipe, and symphony,
Dwelling in this place."
The Child said, "All so may I the,* *thrive
To-morrow will I meete thee,
When I have mine armor;
And yet I hope, *par ma fay,* *by my faith*
That thou shalt with this launcegay
Abyen* it full sore; *suffer for
Thy maw* *belly
Shall I pierce, if I may,
Ere it be fully prime of day,
For here thou shalt be slaw."* *slain
Sir Thopas drew aback full fast;
This giant at him stones cast
Out of a fell staff sling:
But fair escaped Child Thopas,
And all it was through Godde's grace,
And through his fair bearing. <17>
Yet listen, lordings, to my tale,
Merrier than the nightingale,
For now I will you rown,* *whisper
How Sir Thopas, with sides smale,* *small <18>
Pricking over hill and dale,
Is come again to town.
His merry men commanded he
To make him both game and glee;
For needes must he fight
With a giant with heades three,
For paramour and jollity
Of one that shone full bright.
"*Do come,*" he saide, "my minstrales *summon*
And gestours* for to telle tales. *story-tellers
Anon in mine arming,
Of romances that be royales, <19>
Of popes and of cardinales,
And eke of love-longing."
They fetch'd him first the sweete wine,
And mead eke in a maseline,* *drinking-bowl
And royal spicery; of maple wood <20>
Of ginger-bread that was full fine,
And liquorice and eke cumin,
With sugar that is trie.* *refined
He didde,* next his white lere,** *put on **skin
Of cloth of lake* fine and clear, *fine linen
A breech and eke a shirt;
And next his shirt an haketon,* *cassock
And over that an habergeon,* *coat of mail
For piercing of his heart;
And over that a fine hauberk,* *plate-armour
Was all y-wrought of Jewes'* werk, *magicians'
Full strong it was of plate;
And over that his coat-armour,* *knight's surcoat
As white as is the lily flow'r, <21>
In which he would debate.* *fight
His shield was all of gold so red
And therein was a boare's head,
A charboucle* beside; *carbuncle <22>
And there he swore on ale and bread,
How that the giant should be dead,
Betide whatso betide.
His jambeaux* were of cuirbouly, <23> *boots
His sworde's sheath of ivory,
His helm of latoun* bright, *brass
His saddle was of rewel <24> bone,
His bridle as the sunne shone,
Or as the moonelight.
His speare was of fine cypress,
That bodeth war, and nothing peace;
The head full sharp y-ground.
His steede was all dapple gray,
It went an amble in the way
Full softely and round
Lo, Lordes mine, here is a fytt;
If ye will any more of it,
To tell it will I fand.* *try
The Second Fit
Now hold your mouth for charity,
Bothe knight and lady free,
And hearken to my spell;* *tale <25>
Of battle and of chivalry,
Of ladies' love and druerie,* *gallantry
Anon I will you tell.
Men speak of romances of price* * worth, esteem
Of Horn Child, and of Ipotis,
Of Bevis, and Sir Guy, <26>
Of Sir Libeux, <27> and Pleindamour,
But Sir Thopas, he bears the flow'r
Of royal chivalry.
His goode steed he all bestrode,
And forth upon his way he glode,* *shone
As sparkle out of brand;* *torch
Upon his crest he bare a tow'r,
And therein stick'd a lily flow'r; <28>
God shield his corse* from shand!** *body **harm
And, for he was a knight auntrous,* *adventurous
He woulde sleepen in none house,
But liggen* in his hood, *lie
His brighte helm was his wanger,* *pillow <29>
And by him baited* his destrer** *fed **horse <30>
Of herbes fine and good.
Himself drank water of the well,
As did the knight Sir Percivel, <31>
So worthy under weed;
Till on a day - . . .
Notes to Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas
1. "The Rhyme of Sir Thopas," as it is generally called, is
introduced by Chaucer as a satire on the dull, pompous, and
prolix metrical romances then in vogue. It is full of phrases
taken from the popular rhymesters in the vein which he holds up
to ridicule; if, indeed -- though of that there is no evidence -- it
be not actually part of an old romance which Chaucer selected
and reproduced to point his assault on the prevailing taste in
Transcriber's note: The Tale is full of incongruities of every
kind, which Purves does not refer to; I point some of them out
in the notes which follow - marked TN.
2. Poppering, or Poppeling, a parish in the marches of Calais of
which the famous antiquary Leland was once Rector. TN: The
inhabitants of Popering had a reputation for stupidity.
3. TN: The lord of Popering was the abbot of the local
monastery - who could, of course, have no legitimate children.
4. Paindemain: Either "pain de matin," morning bread, or "pain
de Maine," because it was made best in that province; a kind of
fine white bread.
5. Cordewane: Cordovan; fine Spanish leather, so called from
the name of the city where it was prepared
6. Ciclatoun: A rich Oriental stuff of silk and gold, of which was
made the circular robe of state called a "ciclaton," from the
Latin, "cyclas." The word is French.
7. Jane: a Genoese coin, of small value; in our old statutes
called "gallihalpens," or galley half-pence.
8. TN: In Mediaeval falconry the goshawk was not regarded as
a fit bird for a knight. It was the yeoman's bird.
9. A ram was the usual prize of wrestling contests. TN:
Wrestling and archery were sports of the common people, not
10. Launcegay: spear; "azagay" is the name of a Moorish
weapon, and the identity of termination is singular.
12. Clove-gilofre: clove-gilliflower; "Caryophyllus hortensis."
13. TN: The sparrowhawk and parrot can only squawk
14. TN: The sudden and pointless changes in the stanza form
are of course part of Chaucer's parody.
15. Sir Oliphaunt: literally, "Sir Elephant;" Sir John Mandeville
calls those animals "Olyfauntes."
16. Termagaunt: A pagan or Saracen deity, otherwise named
Tervagan, and often mentioned in Middle Age literature. His
name has passed into our language, to denote a ranter or
blusterer, as be was represented to be.
17. TN: His "fair bearing" would not have been much defence
against a sling-stone.
18. TN: "Sides small": a conventional description for a woman,
not a man.
19. Romances that be royal: so called because they related to
Charlemagne and his family.
20. TN: A knight would be expected to have a gold or silver
21. TN: The coat-armour or coat of arms should have had his
heraldic emblems on it, not been pure white
22. Charboucle: Carbuncle; French, "escarboucle;" a heraldic
device resembling a jewel.
23. Cuirbouly: "Cuir boulli," French, boiled or prepared
leather; also used to cover shields, &c.
24. Rewel bone: No satisfactory explanation has been furnished
of this word, used to describe some material from which rich
saddles were made. TN: The OED defines it as narwhal ivory.
25. Spell: Tale, discourse, from Anglo-Saxon, "spellian," to
declare, tell a story.
26. Sir Bevis of Hampton, and Sir Guy of Warwick, two
knights of great renown.
27. Libeux: One of Arthur's knights, called "Ly beau
desconus," "the fair unknown."
28. TN: The crest was a small emblem worn on top of a knight's
helmet. A tower with a lily stuck in it would have been
unwieldy and absurd.
29. Wanger: pillow; from Anglo-Saxon, "wangere," because
the "wanges;" or cheeks, rested on it.
30. Destrer: "destrier," French, a war-horse; in Latin,
"dextrarius," as if led by the right hand.
31. Sir Percival de Galois, whose adventures were written in
more than 60,000 verses by Chretien de Troyes, one of the
oldest and best French romancers, in 1191.
CHAUCER'S TALE OF MELIBOEUS.
"No more of this, for Godde's dignity!"
Quoth oure Hoste; "for thou makest me
So weary of thy very lewedness,* *stupidity, ignorance <1>
That, all so wisly* God my soule bless, *surely
Mine eares ache for thy drafty* speech. *worthless <2>
Now such a rhyme the devil I beteche:* *commend to
This may well be rhyme doggerel," quoth he.
"Why so?" quoth I; "why wilt thou lette* me *prevent
More of my tale than any other man,
Since that it is the best rhyme that I can?"* *know
"By God!" quoth he, "for, plainly at one word,
Thy drafty rhyming is not worth a tord:
Thou dost naught elles but dispendest* time. *wastest
Sir, at one word, thou shalt no longer rhyme.
Let see whether thou canst tellen aught *in gest,* *by way of
Or tell in prose somewhat, at the least, narrative*
In which there be some mirth or some doctrine."
"Gladly," quoth I, "by Godde's sweete pine,* *suffering
I will you tell a little thing in prose,
That oughte like* you, as I suppose, *please
Or else certes ye be too dangerous.* *fastidious
It is a moral tale virtuous,
*All be it* told sometimes in sundry wise *although it be*
By sundry folk, as I shall you devise.
As thus, ye wot that ev'ry Evangelist,
That telleth us the pain* of Jesus Christ, *passion
He saith not all thing as his fellow doth;
But natheless their sentence is all soth,* *true
And all accorden as in their sentence,* *meaning
All be there in their telling difference;
For some of them say more, and some say less,
When they his piteous passion express;
I mean of Mark and Matthew, Luke and John;
But doubteless their sentence is all one.
Therefore, lordinges all, I you beseech,
If that ye think I vary in my speech,
As thus, though that I telle somedeal more
Of proverbes, than ye have heard before
Comprehended in this little treatise here,
*T'enforce with* the effect of my mattere, *with which to
And though I not the same wordes say enforce*
As ye have heard, yet to you all I pray
Blame me not; for as in my sentence
Shall ye nowhere finde no difference
From the sentence of thilke* treatise lite,** *this **little
After the which this merry tale I write.
And therefore hearken to what I shall say,
And let me tellen all my tale, I pray."
Notes to the Prologue to Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus.
1. Chaucer crowns the satire on the romanticists by making the
very landlord of the Tabard cry out in indignant disgust against
the stuff which he had heard recited -- the good Host ascribing
to sheer ignorance the string of pompous platitudes and prosaic
details which Chaucer had uttered.
2. Drafty: worthless, vile; no better than draff or dregs; from
the Anglo-Saxon, "drifan" to drive away, expel.
A young man called Meliboeus, mighty and rich, begat upon his
wife, that called was Prudence, a daughter which that called was
Sophia. Upon a day befell, that he for his disport went into the
fields him to play. His wife and eke his daughter hath he left
within his house, of which the doors were fast shut. Three of his
old foes have it espied, and set ladders to the walls of his house,
and by the windows be entered, and beaten his wife, and
wounded his daughter with five mortal wounds, in five sundry
places; that is to say, in her feet, in her hands, in her ears, in her
nose, and in her mouth; and left her for dead, and went away.
When Meliboeus returned was into his house, and saw all this
mischief, he, like a man mad, rending his clothes, gan weep and
cry. Prudence his wife, as farforth as she durst, besought him of
his weeping for to stint: but not forthy [notwithstanding] he gan
to weep and cry ever longer the more.
This noble wife Prudence remembered her upon the sentence of
Ovid, in his book that called is the "Remedy of Love," <2>
where he saith: He is a fool that disturbeth the mother to weep
in the death of her child, till she have wept her fill, as for a
certain time; and then shall a man do his diligence with amiable
words her to recomfort and pray her of her weeping for to stint
[cease]. For which reason this noble wife Prudence suffered her
husband for to weep and cry, as for a certain space; and when
she saw her time, she said to him in this wise: "Alas! my lord,"
quoth she, "why make ye yourself for to be like a fool? For
sooth it appertaineth not to a wise man to make such a sorrow.
Your daughter, with the grace of God, shall warish [be cured]
and escape. And all [although] were it so that she right now
were dead, ye ought not for her death yourself to destroy.
Seneca saith, 'The wise man shall not take too great discomfort
for the death of his children, but certes he should suffer it in
patience, as well as he abideth the death of his own proper
Meliboeus answered anon and said: "What man," quoth he,
"should of his weeping stint, that hath so great a cause to weep?
Jesus Christ, our Lord, himself wept for the death of Lazarus
his friend." Prudence answered, "Certes, well I wot,
attempered [moderate] weeping is nothing defended [forbidden]
to him that sorrowful is, among folk in sorrow but it is rather
granted him to weep. The Apostle Paul unto the Romans
writeth, 'Man shall rejoice with them that make joy, and weep
with such folk as weep.' But though temperate weeping be
granted, outrageous weeping certes is defended. Measure of
weeping should be conserved, after the lore [doctrine] that
teacheth us Seneca. 'When that thy friend is dead,' quoth he, 'let
not thine eyes too moist be of tears, nor too much dry: although
the tears come to thine eyes, let them not fall. And when thou
hast forgone [lost] thy friend, do diligence to get again another
friend: and this is more wisdom than to weep for thy friend
which that thou hast lorn [lost] for therein is no boot
[advantage]. And therefore if ye govern you by sapience, put
away sorrow out of your heart. Remember you that Jesus
Sirach saith, 'A man that is joyous and glad in heart, it him
conserveth flourishing in his age: but soothly a sorrowful heart
maketh his bones dry.' He said eke thus, 'that sorrow in heart
slayth full many a man.' Solomon saith 'that right as moths in
the sheep's fleece annoy [do injury] to the clothes, and the small
worms to the tree, right so annoyeth sorrow to the heart of
man.' Wherefore us ought as well in the death of our children,
as in the loss of our goods temporal, have patience. Remember
you upon the patient Job, when he had lost his children and his
temporal substance, and in his body endured and received full
many a grievous tribulation, yet said he thus: 'Our Lord hath
given it to me, our Lord hath bereft it me; right as our Lord
would, right so be it done; blessed be the name of our Lord."'
To these foresaid things answered Meliboeus unto his wife
Prudence: "All thy words," quoth he, "be true, and thereto
[also] profitable, but truly mine heart is troubled with this
sorrow so grievously, that I know not what to do." "Let call,"
quoth Prudence, "thy true friends all, and thy lineage, which be
wise, and tell to them your case, and hearken what they say in
counselling, and govern you after their sentence [opinion].
Solomon saith, 'Work all things by counsel, and thou shall never
repent.'" Then, by counsel of his wife Prudence, this Meliboeus
let call [sent for] a great congregation of folk, as surgeons,
physicians, old folk and young, and some of his old enemies
reconciled (as by their semblance) to his love and to his grace;
and therewithal there come some of his neighbours, that did him
reverence more for dread than for love, as happeneth oft. There
come also full many subtle flatterers, and wise advocates
learned in the law. And when these folk together assembled
were, this Meliboeus in sorrowful wise showed them his case,
and by the manner of his speech it seemed that in heart he bare
a cruel ire, ready to do vengeance upon his foes, and suddenly
desired that the war should begin, but nevertheless yet asked he
their counsel in this matter. A surgeon, by licence and assent of
such as were wise, up rose, and to Meliboeus said as ye may
hear. "Sir," quoth he, "as to us surgeons appertaineth, that we
do to every wight the best that we can, where as we be
withholden, [employed] and to our patient that we do no
damage; wherefore it happeneth many a time and oft, that when
two men have wounded each other, one same surgeon healeth
them both; wherefore unto our art it is not pertinent to nurse
war, nor parties to support [take sides]. But certes, as to the
warishing [healing] of your daughter, albeit so that perilously
she be wounded, we shall do so attentive business from day to
night, that, with the grace of God, she shall be whole and
sound, as soon as is possible." Almost right in the same wise the
physicians answered, save that they said a few words more: that
right as maladies be cured by their contraries, right so shall man
warish war (by peace). His neighbours full of envy, his feigned
friends that seemed reconciled, and his flatterers, made
semblance of weeping, and impaired and agregged [aggravated]
much of this matter, in praising greatly Meliboeus of might, of
power, of riches, and of friends, despising the power of his
adversaries: and said utterly, that he anon should wreak him on
his foes, and begin war.
Up rose then an advocate that was wise, by leave and by
counsel of other that were wise, and said, "Lordings, the need
[business] for which we be assembled in this place, is a full
heavy thing, and an high matter, because of the wrong and of
the wickedness that hath been done, and eke by reason of the
great damages that in time coming be possible to fall for the
same cause, and eke by reason of the great riches and power of
the parties both; for which reasons, it were a full great peril to
err in this matter. Wherefore, Meliboeus, this is our sentence
[opinion]; we counsel you, above all things, that right anon thou
do thy diligence in keeping of thy body, in such a wise that thou
want no espy nor watch thy body to save. And after that, we
counsel that in thine house thou set sufficient garrison, so that
they may as well thy body as thy house defend. But, certes, to
move war or suddenly to do vengeance, we may not deem
[judge] in so little time that it were profitable. Wherefore we
ask leisure and space to have deliberation in this case to deem;
for the common proverb saith thus; 'He that soon deemeth soon
shall repent.' And eke men say, that that judge is wise, that soon
understandeth a matter, and judgeth by leisure. For albeit so
that all tarrying be annoying, algates [nevertheless] it is no
reproof [subject for reproach] in giving of judgement, nor in
vengeance taking, when it is sufficient and, reasonable. And
that shewed our Lord Jesus Christ by example; for when that
the woman that was taken in adultery was brought in his
presence to know what should be done with her person, albeit
that he wist well himself what he would answer, yet would he
not answer suddenly, but he would have deliberation, and in the
ground he wrote twice. And by these causes we ask deliberation
and we shall then by the grace of God counsel the thing that
shall be profitable."
Up started then the young folk anon at once, and the most part
of that company have scorned these old wise men and begun to
make noise and said, "Right as while that iron is hot men should
smite, right so men should wreak their wrongs while that they
be fresh and new:" and with loud voice they cried. "War! War!"
Up rose then one of these old wise, and with his hand made
countenance [a sign, gesture] that men should hold them still,
and give him audience. "Lordings," quoth he, "there is full many
a man that crieth, 'War! war!' that wot full little what war
amounteth. War at his beginning hath so great an entering and
so large, that every wight may enter when him liketh, and lightly
[easily] find war: but certes what end shall fall thereof it is not
light to know. For soothly when war is once begun, there is full
many a child unborn of his mother, that shall sterve [die] young
by cause of that war, or else live in sorrow and die in
wretchedness; and therefore, ere that any war be begun, men
must have great counsel and great deliberation." And when this
old man weened [thought, intended] to enforce his tale by
reasons, well-nigh all at once began they to rise for to break his
tale, and bid him full oft his words abridge. For soothly he that
preacheth to them that list not hear his words, his sermon them
annoyeth. For Jesus Sirach saith, that music in weeping is a
noyous [troublesome] thing. This is to say, as much availeth to
speak before folk to whom his speech annoyeth, as to sing
before him that weepeth. And when this wise man saw that him
wanted audience, all shamefast he sat him down again. For
Solomon saith, 'Where as thou mayest have no audience,
enforce thee not to speak.' "I see well," quoth this wise man,
"that the common proverb is sooth, that good counsel wanteth,
when it is most need." Yet [besides, further] had this Meliboeus
in his council many folk, that privily in his ear counselled him
certain thing, and counselled him the contrary in general
audience. When Meliboeus had heard that the greatest part of
his council were accorded [in agreement] that he should make
war, anon he consented to their counselling, and fully affirmed
their sentence [opinion, judgement].
(Dame Prudence, seeing her husband's resolution thus taken, in
full humble wise, when she saw her time, begins to counsel him
against war, by a warning against haste in requital of either
good or evil. Meliboeus tells her that he will not work by her
counsel, because he should be held a fool if he rejected for her
advice the opinion of so many wise men; because all women are
bad; because it would seem that he had given her the mastery
over him; and because she could not keep his secret, if he
resolved to follow her advice. To these reasons Prudence
answers that it is no folly to change counsel when things, or
men's judgements of them, change -- especially to alter a
resolution taken on the impulse of a great multitude of folk,
where every man crieth and clattereth what him liketh; that if all
women had been wicked, Jesus Christ would never have
descended to be born of a woman, nor have showed himself
first to a woman after his resurrection and that when Solomon
said he had found no good woman, he meant that God alone
was supremely good; <3> that her husband would not seem to
give her the mastery by following her counsel, for he had his
own free choice in following or rejecting it; and that he knew
well and had often tested her great silence, patience, and
secrecy. And whereas he had quoted a saying, that in wicked
counsel women vanquish men, she reminds him that she would
counsel him against doing a wickedness on which he had set his
mind, and cites instances to show that many women have been
and yet are full good, and their counsel wholesome and
profitable. Lastly, she quotes the words of God himself, when
he was about to make woman as an help meet for man; and
promises that, if her husband will trust her counsel, she will
restore to him his daughter whole and sound, and make him
have honour in this case. Meliboeus answers that because of his
wife's sweet words, and also because he has proved and assayed
her great wisdom and her great truth, he will govern him by her
counsel in all things. Thus encouraged, Prudence enters on a
long discourse, full of learned citations, regarding the manner in
which counsellors should be chosen and consulted, and the
times and reasons for changing a counsel. First, God must be
besought for guidance. Then a man must well examine his own
thoughts, of such things as he holds to be best for his own
profit; driving out of his heart anger, covetousness, and
hastiness, which perturb and pervert the judgement. Then he
must keep his counsel secret, unless confiding it to another shall
be more profitable; but, in so confiding it, he shall say nothing
to bias the mind of the counsellor toward flattery or
subserviency. After that he should consider his friends and his
enemies, choosing of the former such as be most faithful and
wise, and eldest and most approved in counselling; and even of
these only a few. Then he must eschew the counselling of fools,
of flatterers, of his old enemies that be reconciled, of servants
who bear him great reverence and fear, of folk that be drunken
and can hide no counsel, of such as counsel one thing privily
and the contrary openly; and of young folk, for their counselling
is not ripe. Then, in examining his counsel, he must truly tell his
tale; he must consider whether the thing he proposes to do be
reasonable, within his power, and acceptable to the more part
and the better part of his counsellors; he must look at the things
that may follow from that counselling, choosing the best and
waiving all besides; he must consider the root whence the
matter of his counsel is engendered, what fruits it may bear,
and from what causes they be sprung. And having thus
examined his counsel and approved it by many wise folk and
old, he shall consider if he may perform it and make of it a good
end; if he be in doubt, he shall choose rather to suffer than to
begin; but otherwise he shall prosecute his resolution steadfastly
till the enterprise be at an end. As to changing his counsel, a
man may do so without reproach, if the cause cease, or when a
new case betides, or if he find that by error or otherwise harm
or damage may result, or if his counsel be dishonest or come of
dishonest cause, or if it be impossible or may not properly be
kept; and he must take it for a general rule, that every counsel
which is affirmed so strongly, that it may not be changed for
any condition that may betide, that counsel is wicked.
Meliboeus, admitting that his wife had spoken well and suitably
as to counsellors and counsel in general, prays her to tell him in
especial what she thinks of the counsellors whom they have
chosen in their present need. Prudence replies that his counsel in
this case could not properly be called a counselling, but a
movement of folly; and points out that he has erred in sundry
wise against the rules which he had just laid down. Granting
that he has erred, Meliboeus says that he is all ready to change
his counsel right as she will devise; for, as the proverb runs, to
do sin is human, but to persevere long in sin is work of the
Devil. Prudence then minutely recites, analyses, and criticises
the counsel given to her husband in the assembly of his friends.
She commends the advice of the physicians and surgeons, and
urges that they should be well rewarded for their noble speech
and their services in healing Sophia; and she asks Meliboeus
how he understands their proposition that one contrary must be
cured by another contrary. Meliboeus answers, that he should
do vengeance on his enemies, who had done him wrong.
Prudence, however, insists that vengeance is not the contrary of
vengeance, nor wrong of wrong, but the like; and that
wickedness should be healed by goodness, discord by accord,
war by peace. She proceeds to deal with the counsel of the
lawyers and wise folk that advised Meliboeus to take prudent
measures for the security of his body and of his house. First, she
would have her husband pray for the protection and aid of
Christ; then commit the keeping of his person to his true
friends; then suspect and avoid all strange folk, and liars, and
such people as she had already warned him against; then beware
of presuming on his strength, or the weakness of his adversary,
and neglecting to guard his person -- for every wise man
dreadeth his enemy; then he should evermore be on the watch
against ambush and all espial, even in what seems a place of
safety; though he should not be so cowardly, as to fear where is
no cause for dread; yet he should dread to be poisoned, and
therefore shun scorners, and fly their words as venom. As to
the fortification of his house, she points out that towers and
great edifices are costly and laborious, yet useless unless
defended by true friends that be old and wise; and the greatest
and strongest garrison that a rich man may have, as well to keep
his person as his goods, is, that he be beloved by his subjects
and by his neighbours. Warmly approving the counsel that in all
this business Meliboeus should proceed with great diligence and
deliberation, Prudence goes on to examine the advice given by
his neighbours that do him reverence without love, his old
enemies reconciled, his flatterers that counselled him certain
things privily and openly counselled him the contrary, and the
young folk that counselled him to avenge himself and make war
at once. She reminds him that he stands alone against three
powerful enemies, whose kindred are numerous and close,
while his are fewer and remote in relationship; that only the
judge who has jurisdiction in a case may take sudden vengeance
on any man; that her husband's power does not accord with his
desire; and that, if he did take vengeance, it would only breed
fresh wrongs and contests. As to the causes of the wrong done
to him, she holds that God, the causer of all things, has
permitted him to suffer because he has drunk so much honey
<4> of sweet temporal riches, and delights, and honours of this
world, that he is drunken, and has forgotten Jesus Christ his
Saviour; the three enemies of mankind, the flesh, the fiend, and
the world, have entered his heart by the windows of his body,
and wounded his soul in five places -- that is to say, the deadly
sins that have entered into his heart by the five senses; and in
the same manner Christ has suffered his three enemies to enter
his house by the windows, and wound his daughter in the five
places before specified. Meliboeus demurs, that if his wife's
objections prevailed, vengeance would never be taken, and
thence great mischiefs would arise; but Prudence replies that the
taking of vengeance lies with the judges, to whom the private
individual must have recourse. Meliboeus declares that such
vengeance does not please him, and that, as Fortune has
nourished and helped him from his childhood, he will now assay
her, trusting, with God's help, that she will aid him to avenge his
shame. Prudence warns him against trusting to Fortune, all the
less because she has hitherto favoured him, for just on that
account she is the more likely to fail him; and she calls on him
to leave his vengeance with the Sovereign Judge, that avengeth
all villainies and wrongs. Meliboeus argues that if he refrains
from taking vengeance he will invite his enemies to do him
further wrong, and he will be put and held over low; but
Prudence contends that such a result can be brought about only
by the neglect of the judges, not by the patience of the
individual. Supposing that he had leave to avenge himself, she
repeats that he is not strong enough, and quotes the common
saw, that it is madness for a man to strive with a stronger than
himself, peril to strive with one of equal strength, and folly to
strive with a weaker. But, considering his own defaults and
demerits, -- remembering the patience of Christ and the
undeserved tribulations of the saints, the brevity of this life with
all its trouble and sorrow, the discredit thrown on the wisdom
and training of a man who cannot bear wrong with patience --
he should refrain wholly from taking vengeance. Meliboeus
submits that he is not at all a perfect man, and his heart will
never be at peace until he is avenged; and that as his enemies
disregarded the peril when they attacked him, so he might,
without reproach, incur some peril in attacking them in return,
even though he did a great excess in avenging one wrong by
another. Prudence strongly deprecates all outrage or excess; but
Meliboeus insists that he cannot see that it might greatly harm
him though he took a vengeance, for he is richer and mightier
than his enemies, and all things obey money. Prudence
thereupon launches into a long dissertation on the advantages of
riches, the evils of poverty, the means by which wealth should
be gathered, and the manner in which it should be used; and
concludes by counselling her husband not to move war and
battle through trust in his riches, for they suffice not to maintain
war, the battle is not always to the strong or the numerous, and
the perils of conflict are many. Meliboeus then curtly asks her
for her counsel how he shall do in this need; and she answers
that certainly she counsels him to agree with his adversaries and
have peace with them. Meliboeus on this cries out that plainly
she loves not his honour or his worship, in counselling him to
go and humble himself before his enemies, crying mercy to them
that, having done him so grievous wrong, ask him not to be
reconciled. Then Prudence, making semblance of wrath, retorts
that she loves his honour and profit as she loves her own, and
ever has done; she cites the Scriptures in support of her counsel
to seek peace; and says she will leave him to his own courses,
for she knows well he is so stubborn, that he will do nothing for
her. Meliboeus then relents; admits that he is angry and cannot
judge aright; and puts himself wholly in her hands, promising to
do just as she desires, and admitting that he is the more held to
love and praise her, if she reproves him of his folly)
Then Dame Prudence discovered all her counsel and her will
unto him, and said: "I counsel you," quoth she, "above all
things, that ye make peace between God and you, and be
reconciled unto Him and to his grace; for, as I have said to you
herebefore, God hath suffered you to have this tribulation and
disease [distress, trouble] for your sins; and if ye do as I say
you, God will send your adversaries unto you, and make them
fall at your feet, ready to do your will and your commandment.
For Solomon saith, 'When the condition of man is pleasant and
liking to God, he changeth the hearts of the man's adversaries,
and constraineth them to beseech him of peace of grace.' And I
pray you let me speak with your adversaries in privy place, for
they shall not know it is by your will or your assent; and then,
when I know their will and their intent, I may counsel you the
more surely." '"Dame," quoth Meliboeus, '"do your will and
your liking, for I put me wholly in your disposition and
Then Dame Prudence, when she saw the goodwill of her
husband, deliberated and took advice in herself, thinking how
she might bring this need [affair, emergency] unto a good end.
And when she saw her time, she sent for these adversaries to
come into her into a privy place, and showed wisely into them
the great goods that come of peace, and the great harms and
perils that be in war; and said to them, in goodly manner, how
that they ought have great repentance of the injuries and
wrongs that they had done to Meliboeus her Lord, and unto her
and her daughter. And when they heard the goodly words of
Dame Prudence, then they were surprised and ravished, and had
so great joy of her, that wonder was to tell. "Ah lady!" quoth
they, "ye have showed unto us the blessing of sweetness, after
the saying of David the prophet; for the reconciling which we
be not worthy to have in no manner, but we ought require it
with great contrition and humility, ye of your great goodness
have presented unto us. Now see we well, that the science and
conning [knowledge] of Solomon is full true; for he saith, that
sweet words multiply and increase friends, and make shrews
[the ill-natured or angry] to be debonair [gentle, courteous] and
meek. Certes we put our deed, and all our matter and cause, all
wholly in your goodwill, and be ready to obey unto the speech
and commandment of my lord Meliboeus. And therefore, dear
and benign lady, we pray you and beseech you as meekly as we
can and may, that it like unto your great goodness to fulfil in
deed your goodly words. For we consider and acknowledge
that we have offended and grieved my lord Meliboeus out of
measure, so far forth that we be not of power to make him
amends; and therefore we oblige and bind us and our friends to
do all his will and his commandment. But peradventure he hath
such heaviness and such wrath to usward, [towards us] because
of our offence, that he will enjoin us such a pain [penalty] as we
may not bear nor sustain; and therefore, noble lady, we beseech
to your womanly pity to take such advisement [consideration]
in this need, that we, nor our friends, be not disinherited and
destroyed through our folly."
"Certes," quoth Prudence, "it is an hard thing, and right
perilous, that a man put him all utterly in the arbitration and
judgement and in the might and power of his enemy. For
Solomon saith, 'Believe me, and give credence to that that I
shall say: to thy son, to thy wife, to thy friend, nor to thy
brother, give thou never might nor mastery over thy body, while
thou livest.' Now, since he defendeth [forbiddeth] that a man
should not give to his brother, nor to his friend, the might of his
body, by a stronger reason he defendeth and forbiddeth a man
to give himself to his enemy. And nevertheless, I counsel you
that ye mistrust not my lord: for I wot well and know verily,
that he is debonair and meek, large, courteous and nothing
desirous nor envious of good nor riches: for there is nothing in
this world that he desireth save only worship and honour.
Furthermore I know well, and am right sure, that he shall
nothing do in this need without counsel of me; and I shall so
work in this case, that by the grace of our Lord God ye shall be
reconciled unto us."
Then said they with one voice, ""Worshipful lady, we put us
and our goods all fully in your will and disposition, and be ready
to come, what day that it like unto your nobleness to limit us or
assign us, for to make our obligation and bond, as strong as it
liketh unto your goodness, that we may fulfil the will of you and
of my lord Meliboeus."
When Dame Prudence had heard the answer of these men, she
bade them go again privily, and she returned to her lord
Meliboeus, and told him how she found his adversaries full
repentant, acknowledging full lowly their sins and trespasses,
and how they were ready to suffer all pain, requiring and
praying him of mercy and pity. Then said Meliboeus, "He is well
worthy to have pardon and forgiveness of his sin, that excuseth
not his sin, but acknowledgeth, and repenteth him, asking
indulgence. For Seneca saith, 'There is the remission and
forgiveness, where the confession is; for confession is neighbour
to innocence.' And therefore I assent and confirm me to have
peace, but it is good that we do naught without the assent and
will of our friends." Then was Prudence right glad and joyful,
and said, "Certes, Sir, ye be well and goodly advised; for right
as by the counsel, assent, and help of your friends ye have been
stirred to avenge you and make war, right so without their
counsel shall ye not accord you, nor have peace with your
adversaries. For the law saith, 'There is nothing so good by way
of kind, [nature] as a thing to be unbound by him that it was
And then Dame Prudence, without delay or tarrying, sent anon
her messengers for their kin and for their old friends, which
were true and wise; and told them by order, in the presence of
Meliboeus, all this matter, as it is above expressed and declared;
and prayed them that they would give their advice and counsel
what were best to do in this need. And when Meliboeus' friends
had taken their advice and deliberation of the foresaid matter,
and had examined it by great business and great diligence, they
gave full counsel for to have peace and rest, and that Meliboeus
should with good heart receive his adversaries to forgiveness
and mercy. And when Dame Prudence had heard the assent of
her lord Meliboeus, and the counsel of his friends, accord with
her will and her intention, she was wondrous glad in her heart,
and said: "There is an old proverb that saith, 'The goodness that
thou mayest do this day, do it, and abide not nor delay it not till
to-morrow:' and therefore I counsel you that ye send your
messengers, such as be discreet and wise, unto your adversaries,
telling them on your behalf, that if they will treat of peace and
of accord, that they shape [prepare] them, without delay or
tarrying, to come unto us." Which thing performed was indeed.
And when these trespassers and repenting folk of their follies,
that is to say, the adversaries of Meliboeus, had heard what
these messengers said unto them, they were right glad and
joyful, and answered full meekly and benignly, yielding graces
and thanks to their lord Meliboeus, and to all his company; and
shaped them without delay to go with the messengers, and obey
to the commandment of their lord Meliboeus. And right anon
they took their way to the court of Meliboeus, and took with
them some of their true friends, to make faith for them, and for
to be their borrows [sureties].
And when they were come to the presence of Meliboeus, he
said to them these words; "It stands thus," quoth Meliboeus,
"and sooth it is, that ye causeless, and without skill and reason,
have done great injuries and wrongs to me, and to my wife
Prudence, and to my daughter also; for ye have entered into my
house by violence, and have done such outrage, that all men
know well that ye have deserved the death: and therefore will I
know and weet of you, whether ye will put the punishing and
chastising, and the vengeance of this outrage, in the will of me
and of my wife, or ye will not?" Then the wisest of them three
answered for them all, and said; "Sir," quoth he, "we know well,
that we be I unworthy to come to the court of so great a lord
and so worthy as ye be, for we have so greatly mistaken us, and
have offended and aguilt [incurred guilt] in such wise against
your high lordship, that truly we have deserved the death. But
yet for the great goodness and debonairte [courtesy, gentleness]
that all the world witnesseth of your person, we submit us to
the excellence and benignity of your gracious lordship, and be
ready to obey to all your commandments, beseeching you, that
of your merciable [merciful] pity ye will consider our great
repentance and low submission, and grant us forgiveness of our
outrageous trespass and offence; for well we know, that your
liberal grace and mercy stretch them farther into goodness, than
do our outrageous guilt and trespass into wickedness; albeit that
cursedly [wickedly] and damnably we have aguilt [incurred
guilt] against your high lordship." Then Meliboeus took them
up from the ground full benignly, and received their obligations
and their bonds, by their oaths upon their pledges and borrows,
[sureties] and assigned them a certain day to return unto his
court for to receive and accept sentence and judgement, that
Meliboeus would command to be done on them, by the causes
aforesaid; which things ordained, every man returned home to
And when that Dame Prudence saw her time she freined
[inquired] and asked her lord Meliboeus, what vengeance he
thought to take of his adversaries. To which Meliboeus
answered, and said; "Certes," quoth he, "I think and purpose me
fully to disinherit them of all that ever they have, and for to put
them in exile for evermore." "Certes," quoth Dame Prudence,
"this were a cruel sentence, and much against reason. For ye be
rich enough, and have no need of other men's goods; and ye
might lightly [easily] in this wise get you a covetous name,
which is a vicious thing, and ought to be eschewed of every
good man: for, after the saying of the Apostle, covetousness is
root of all harms. And therefore it were better for you to lose
much good of your own, than for to take of their good in this
manner. For better it is to lose good with worship [honour],
than to win good with villainy and shame. And every man ought
to do his diligence and his business to get him a good name.
And yet [further] shall he not only busy him in keeping his good
name, but he shall also enforce him alway to do some thing by
which he may renew his good name; for it is written, that the
old good los [reputation <5>] of a man is soon gone and
passed, when it is not renewed. And as touching that ye say,
that ye will exile your adversaries, that thinketh ye much against
reason, and out of measure, [moderation] considered the power
that they have given you upon themselves. And it is written,
that he is worthy to lose his privilege, that misuseth the might
and the power that is given him. And I set case [if I assume] ye
might enjoin them that pain by right and by law (which I trow
ye may not do), I say, ye might not put it to execution
peradventure, and then it were like to return to the war, as it
was before. And therefore if ye will that men do you obeisance,
ye must deem [decide] more courteously, that is to say, ye must
give more easy sentences and judgements. For it is written, 'He
that most courteously commandeth, to him men most obey.'
And therefore I pray you, that in this necessity and in this need
ye cast you [endeavour, devise a way] to overcome your heart.
For Seneca saith, that he that overcometh his heart, overcometh
twice. And Tullius saith, 'There is nothing so commendable in a
great lord, as when he is debonair and meek, and appeaseth him
lightly [easily].' And I pray you, that ye will now forbear to do
vengeance, in such a manner, that your good name may be kept
and conserved, and that men may have cause and matter to
praise you of pity and of mercy; and that ye have no cause to
repent you of thing that ye do. For Seneca saith, 'He
overcometh in an evil manner, that repenteth him of his victory.'
Wherefore I pray you let mercy be in your heart, to the effect
and intent that God Almighty have mercy upon you in his last
judgement; for Saint James saith in his Epistle, 'Judgement
without mercy shall be done to him, that hath no mercy of
When Meliboeus had heard the great skills [arguments, reasons]
and reasons of Dame Prudence, and her wise information and
teaching, his heart gan incline to the will of his wife, considering
her true intent, he conformed him anon and assented fully to
work after her counsel, and thanked God, of whom proceedeth
all goodness and all virtue, that him sent a wife of so great
discretion. And when the day came that his adversaries should
appear in his presence, he spake to them full goodly, and said in
this wise; "Albeit so, that of your pride and high presumption
and folly, an of your negligence and unconning, [ignorance] ye
have misborne [misbehaved] you, and trespassed [done injury]
unto me, yet forasmuch as I see and behold your great humility,
and that ye be sorry and repentant of your guilts, it constraineth
me to do you grace and mercy. Wherefore I receive you into my
grace, and forgive you utterly all the offences, injuries, and
wrongs, that ye have done against me and mine, to this effect
and to this end, that God of his endless mercy will at the time of
our dying forgive us our guilts, that we have trespassed to him
in this wretched world; for doubtless, if we be sorry and
repentant of the sins and guilts which we have trespassed in the
sight of our Lord God, he is so free and so merciable [merciful],
that he will forgive us our guilts, and bring us to the bliss that
never hath end." Amen.
Notes to Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus.
1. The Tale of Meliboeus is literally translated from a French
story, or rather "treatise," in prose, entitled "Le Livre de
Melibee et de Dame Prudence," of which two manuscripts, both
dating from the fifteenth century, are preserved in the British
Museum. Tyrwhitt, justly enough, says of it that it is indeed, as
Chaucer called it in the prologue, "'a moral tale virtuous,' and
was probably much esteemed in its time; but, in this age of
levity, I doubt some readers will be apt to regret that he did not
rather give us the remainder of Sir Thopas." It has been
remarked that in the earlier portion of the Tale, as it left the
hand of the poet, a number of blank verses were intermixed;
though this peculiarity of style, noticeable in any case only in
the first 150 or 200 lines, has necessarily all but disappeared by
the changes of spelling made in the modern editions. The
Editor's purpose being to present to the public not "The
Canterbury Tales" merely, but "The Poems of Chaucer," so far
as may be consistent with the limits of this volume, he has
condensed the long reasonings and learned quotations of Dame
Prudence into a mere outline, connecting those portions of the
Tale wherein lies so much of story as it actually possesses, and
the general reader will probably not regret the sacrifice, made in
the view of retaining so far as possible the completeness of the
Tales, while lessening the intrusion of prose into a volume or
poems. The good wife of Meliboeus literally overflows with
quotations from David, Solomon, Jesus the Son of Sirach, the
Apostles, Ovid, Cicero, Seneca, Cassiodorus, Cato, Petrus
Alphonsus -- the converted Spanish Jew, of the twelfth century,
who wrote the "Disciplina Clericalis" -- and other authorities;
and in some passages, especially where husband and wife debate
the merits or demerits of women, and where Prudence dilates
on the evils of poverty, Chaucer only reproduces much that had
been said already in the Tales that preceded -- such as the
Merchant's and the Man of Law's.
2. The lines which follow are a close translation of the original
Latin, which reads:
"Quis matrem, nisi mentis inops, in funere nati
Flere vetet? non hoc illa monenda loco.
Cum dederit lacrymas, animumque expleverit aegrum,
Ille dolor verbis emoderandus erit."
Ovid, "Remedia Amoris," 127-131.
3. See the conversation between Pluto and Proserpine, in the
4. "Thy name," she says, "is Meliboeus; that is to say, a man
that drinketh honey."
5. Los: reputation; from the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon,
"hlisan" to celebrate. Compare Latin, "laus."
THE MONK'S TALE.
WHEN ended was my tale of Melibee,
And of Prudence and her benignity,
Our Hoste said, "As I am faithful man,
And by the precious corpus Madrian,<1>
I had lever* than a barrel of ale, *rather
That goode lefe* my wife had heard this tale; *dear
For she is no thing of such patience
As was this Meliboeus' wife Prudence.
By Godde's bones! when I beat my knaves
She bringeth me the greate clubbed staves,
And crieth, 'Slay the dogges every one,
And break of them both back and ev'ry bone.'
And if that any neighebour of mine
Will not in church unto my wife incline,
Or be so hardy to her to trespace,* *offend
When she comes home she rampeth* in my face, *springs
And crieth, 'False coward, wreak* thy wife *avenge
By corpus Domini, I will have thy knife,
And thou shalt have my distaff, and go spin.'
From day till night right thus she will begin.
'Alas!' she saith, 'that ever I was shape* *destined
To wed a milksop, or a coward ape,
That will be overlad* with every wight! *imposed on
Thou darest not stand by thy wife's right.'
"This is my life, *but if* that I will fight; *unless
And out at door anon I must me dight,* *betake myself
Or elles I am lost, but if that I
Be, like a wilde lion, fool-hardy.
I wot well she will do* me slay some day *make
Some neighebour and thenne *go my way;* *take to flight*
For I am perilous with knife in hand,
Albeit that I dare not her withstand;
For she is big in armes, by my faith!
That shall he find, that her misdoth or saith. <2>
But let us pass away from this mattere.
My lord the Monk," quoth he, "be merry of cheer,
For ye shall tell a tale truely.
Lo, Rochester stands here faste by.
Ride forth, mine owen lord, break not our game.
But by my troth I cannot tell your name;
Whether shall I call you my lord Dan John,
Or Dan Thomas, or elles Dan Albon?
Of what house be ye, by your father's kin?
I vow to God, thou hast a full fair skin;
It is a gentle pasture where thou go'st;
Thou art not like a penant* or a ghost. *penitent
Upon my faith thou art some officer,
Some worthy sexton, or some cellarer.
For by my father's soul, *as to my dome,* *in my judgement*
Thou art a master when thou art at home;
No poore cloisterer, nor no novice,
But a governor, both wily and wise,
And therewithal, of brawnes* and of bones, *sinews
A right well-faring person for the nonce.
I pray to God give him confusion
That first thee brought into religion.
Thou would'st have been a treade-fowl* aright; *cock
Hadst thou as greate leave, as thou hast might,
To perform all thy lust in engendrure,* *generation, begettting
Thou hadst begotten many a creature.
Alas! why wearest thou so wide a cope? <3>
God give me sorrow, but, an* I were pope, *if
Not only thou, but every mighty man,
Though he were shorn full high upon his pan,* <4> *crown
Should have a wife; for all this world is lorn;* *undone, ruined
Religion hath ta'en up all the corn
Of treading, and we borel* men be shrimps: *lay
Of feeble trees there come wretched imps.* *shoots <5>
This maketh that our heires be so slender
And feeble, that they may not well engender.
This maketh that our wives will assay
Religious folk, for they may better pay
Of Venus' payementes than may we:
God wot, no lusheburghes <6> paye ye.
But be not wroth, my lord, though that I play;
Full oft in game a sooth have I heard say."
This worthy Monk took all in patience,
And said, "I will do all my diligence,
As far as *souneth unto honesty,* *agrees with good manners*
To telle you a tale, or two or three.
And if you list to hearken hitherward,
I will you say the life of Saint Edward;
Or elles first tragedies I will tell,
Of which I have an hundred in my cell.
Tragedy *is to say* a certain story, *means*
As olde bookes maken us memory,
Of him that stood in great prosperity,
And is y-fallen out of high degree
In misery, and endeth wretchedly.
And they be versified commonly
Of six feet, which men call hexametron;
In prose eke* be indited many a one, *also
And eke in metre, in many a sundry wise.
Lo, this declaring ought enough suffice.
Now hearken, if ye like for to hear.
But first I you beseech in this mattere,
Though I by order telle not these things,
Be it of popes, emperors, or kings,
*After their ages,* as men written find, *in chronological order*
But tell them some before and some behind,
As it now cometh to my remembrance,
Have me excused of mine ignorance."
Notes to the Prologue to The Monk's Tale
1. The Corpus Madrian: the body of St. Maternus, of Treves.
2. That her misdoth or saith: that does or says any thing to
3. Cope: An ecclesiastcal vestment covering all the body like a
4. Though he were shorn full high upon his pan: though he were
tonsured, as the clergy are.
5. Imps: shoots, branches; from Anglo-Saxon, "impian,"
German, "impfen," to implant, ingraft. The word is now used in
a very restricted sense, to signify the progeny, children, of the
6. Lusheburghes: base or counterfeit coins; so called because
struck at Luxemburg. A great importation of them took place
during the reigns of the earlier Edwards, and they caused much
annoyance and complaint, till in 1351 it was declared treason to
bring them into the country.
THE TALE. <1>
I will bewail, in manner of tragedy,
The harm of them that stood in high degree,
And felle so, that there was no remedy
To bring them out of their adversity.
For, certain, when that Fortune list to flee,
There may no man the course of her wheel hold:
Let no man trust in blind prosperity;
Beware by these examples true and old.
At LUCIFER, though he an angel were,
And not a man, at him I will begin.
For though Fortune may no angel dere,* *hurt
From high degree yet fell he for his sin
Down into hell, where as he yet is in.
O Lucifer! brightest of angels all,
Now art thou Satanas, that may'st not twin* *depart
Out of the misery in which thou art fall.
Lo ADAM, in the field of Damascene <2>
With Godde's owen finger wrought was he,
And not begotten of man's sperm unclean;
And welt* all Paradise saving one tree: *commanded
Had never worldly man so high degree
As Adam, till he for misgovernance* *misbehaviour
Was driven out of his prosperity
To labour, and to hell, and to mischance.
Lo SAMPSON, which that was annunciate
By the angel, long ere his nativity; <3>
And was to God Almighty consecrate,
And stood in nobless while that he might see;
Was never such another as was he,
To speak of strength, and thereto hardiness;* *courage
But to his wives told he his secre,
Through which he slew himself for wretchedness.
Sampson, this noble and mighty champion,
Withoute weapon, save his handes tway,
He slew and all to-rente* the lion, *tore to pieces
Toward his wedding walking by the way.
His false wife could him so please, and pray,
Till she his counsel knew; and she, untrue,
Unto his foes his counsel gan bewray,
And him forsook, and took another new.
Three hundred foxes Sampson took for ire,
And all their tailes he together band,
And set the foxes' tailes all on fire,
For he in every tail had knit a brand,
And they burnt all the combs of that lend,
And all their oliveres* and vines eke. *olive trees <4>
A thousand men he slew eke with his hand,
And had no weapon but an ass's cheek.
When they were slain, so thirsted him, that he
Was *well-nigh lorn,* for which he gan to pray *near to perishing*
That God would on his pain have some pity,
And send him drink, or elles must he die;
And of this ass's check, that was so dry,
Out of a wang-tooth* sprang anon a well, *cheek-tooth
Of which, he drank enough, shortly to say.
Thus help'd him God, as Judicum <5> can tell.
By very force, at Gaza, on a night,
Maugre* the Philistines of that city, *in spite of
The gates of the town he hath up plight,* *plucked, wrenched
And on his back y-carried them hath he
High on an hill, where as men might them see.
O noble mighty Sampson, lefe* and dear, *loved
Hadst thou not told to women thy secre,
In all this world there had not been thy peer.
This Sampson never cider drank nor wine,
Nor on his head came razor none nor shear,
By precept of the messenger divine;
For all his strengthes in his haires were;
And fully twenty winters, year by year,
He had of Israel the governance;
But soone shall he weepe many a tear,
For women shall him bringe to mischance.
Unto his leman* Dalila he told, *mistress
That in his haires all his strengthe lay;
And falsely to his foemen she him sold,
And sleeping in her barme* upon a day *lap
She made to clip or shear his hair away,
And made his foemen all his craft espien.
And when they founde him in this array,
They bound him fast, and put out both his eyen.
But, ere his hair was clipped or y-shave,
There was no bond with which men might him bind;
But now is he in prison in a cave,
Where as they made him at the querne* grind. *mill <6>
O noble Sampson, strongest of mankind!
O whilom judge in glory and richess!
Now may'st thou weepe with thine eyen blind,
Since thou from weal art fall'n to wretchedness.
Th'end of this caitiff* was as I shall say; *wretched man
His foemen made a feast upon a day,
And made him as their fool before them play;
And this was in a temple of great array.
But at the last he made a foul affray,
For he two pillars shook, and made them fall,
And down fell temple and all, and there it lay,
And slew himself and eke his foemen all;
This is to say, the princes every one;
And eke three thousand bodies were there slain
With falling of the great temple of stone.
Of Sampson now will I no more sayn;
Beware by this example old and plain,
That no man tell his counsel to his wife
Of such thing as he would *have secret fain,* *wish to be secret*
If that it touch his limbes or his life.
Of HERCULES the sov'reign conquerour
Singe his workes' land and high renown;
For in his time of strength he bare the flow'r.
He slew and reft the skin of the lion
He of the Centaurs laid the boast adown;
He Harpies <7> slew, the cruel birdes fell;
He golden apples reft from the dragon
He drew out Cerberus the hound of hell.
He slew the cruel tyrant Busirus. <8>
And made his horse to fret* him flesh and bone; *devour
He slew the fiery serpent venomous;
Of Achelous' two hornes brake he one.
And he slew Cacus in a cave of stone;
He slew the giant Antaeus the strong;
He slew the grisly boar, and that anon;
And bare the heav'n upon his necke long. <9>
Was never wight, since that the world began,
That slew so many monsters as did he;
Throughout the wide world his name ran,
What for his strength, and for his high bounte;
And every realme went he for to see;
He was so strong that no man might him let;* *withstand
At both the worlde's ends, as saith Trophee, <10>
Instead of boundes he a pillar set.
A leman had this noble champion,
That highte Dejanira, fresh as May;
And, as these clerkes make mention,
She hath him sent a shirte fresh and gay;
Alas! this shirt, alas and well-away!
Envenomed was subtilly withal,
That ere that he had worn it half a day,
It made his flesh all from his bones fall.
But natheless some clerkes her excuse
By one, that highte Nessus, that it maked;
Be as he may, I will not her accuse;
But on his back this shirt he wore all naked,
Till that his flesh was for the venom blaked.* *blackened
And when he saw none other remedy,
In hote coals he hath himselfe raked,
For with no venom deigned he to die.
Thus sterf* this worthy mighty Hercules. *died
Lo, who may trust on Fortune *any throw?* *for a moment*
For him that followeth all this world of pres,* *near <11>
Ere he be ware, is often laid full low;
Full wise is he that can himselfe know.
Beware, for when that Fortune list to glose
Then waiteth she her man to overthrow,
By such a way as he would least suppose.
The mighty throne, the precious treasor,
The glorious sceptre, and royal majesty,
That had the king NABUCHODONOSOR
With tongue unnethes* may described be. *scarcely
He twice won Jerusalem the city,
The vessels of the temple he with him lad;* *took away
At Babylone was his sov'reign see,* *seat
In which his glory and delight he had.
The fairest children of the blood royal
Of Israel he *did do geld* anon, *caused to be castrated*
And maked each of them to be his thrall.* *slave
Amonges others Daniel was one,
That was the wisest child of every one;
For he the dreames of the king expounded,
Where in Chaldaea clerkes was there none
That wiste to what fine* his dreames sounded. *end
This proude king let make a statue of gold
Sixty cubites long, and seven in bread',
To which image hathe young and old
Commanded he to lout,* and have in dread, *bow down to
Or in a furnace, full of flames red,
He should be burnt that woulde not obey:
But never would assente to that deed
Daniel, nor his younge fellows tway.
This king of kinges proud was and elate;* *lofty
He ween'd* that God, that sits in majesty, *thought
Mighte him not bereave of his estate;
But suddenly he lost his dignity,
And like a beast he seemed for to be,
And ate hay as an ox, and lay thereout
In rain, with wilde beastes walked he,
Till certain time was y-come about.
And like an eagle's feathers wax'd his hairs,
His nailes like a birde's clawes were,
Till God released him at certain years,
And gave him wit; and then with many a tear
He thanked God, and ever his life in fear
Was he to do amiss, or more trespace:
And till that time he laid was on his bier,
He knew that God was full of might and grace.
His sone, which that highte BALTHASAR,
That *held the regne* after his father's day, *possessed the kingdom*
He by his father coulde not beware,
For proud he was of heart and of array;
And eke an idolaster was he aye.
His high estate assured* him in pride; *confirmed
But Fortune cast him down, and there he lay,
And suddenly his regne gan divide.
A feast he made unto his lordes all
Upon a time, and made them blithe be,
And then his officeres gan he call;
"Go, bringe forth the vessels," saide he,
"Which that my father in his prosperity
Out of the temple of Jerusalem reft,
And to our highe goddes thanks we
Of honour, that our elders* with us left." *forefathers
His wife, his lordes, and his concubines
Aye dranke, while their appetites did last,
Out of these noble vessels sundry wines.
And on a wall this king his eyen cast,
And saw an hand, armless, that wrote full fast;
For fear of which he quaked, and sighed sore.
This hand, that Balthasar so sore aghast,* *dismayed
Wrote Mane, tekel, phares, and no more.
In all that land magician was there none
That could expounde what this letter meant.
But Daniel expounded it anon,
And said, "O King, God to thy father lent
Glory and honour, regne, treasure, rent;* *revenue
And he was proud, and nothing God he drad;* *dreaded
And therefore God great wreche* upon him sent, *vengeance
And him bereft the regne that he had.
"He was cast out of manne's company;
With asses was his habitation
And ate hay, as a beast, in wet and dry,
Till that he knew by grace and by reason
That God of heaven hath domination
O'er every regne, and every creature;
And then had God of him compassion,
And him restor'd his regne and his figure.
"Eke thou, that art his son, art proud also,
And knowest all these thinges verily;
And art rebel to God, and art his foe.
Thou drankest of his vessels boldely;
Thy wife eke, and thy wenches, sinfully
Drank of the same vessels sundry wines,
And heried* false goddes cursedly; *praised
Therefore *to thee y-shapen full great pine is.* *great punishment is
prepared for thee*
"This hand was sent from God, that on the wall
Wrote Mane, tekel, phares, truste me;
Thy reign is done; thou weighest naught at all;
Divided is thy regne, and it shall be
To Medes and to Persians giv'n," quoth he.
And thilke same night this king was slaw* *slain
And Darius occupied his degree,
Though he thereto had neither right nor law.
Lordings, example hereby may ye take,
How that in lordship is no sickerness;* *security
For when that Fortune will a man forsake,
She bears away his regne and his richess,
And eke his friendes bothe more and less,
For what man that hath friendes through fortune,
Mishap will make them enemies, I guess;
This proverb is full sooth, and full commune.
ZENOBIA, of Palmyrie the queen, <12>
As write Persians of her nobless,
So worthy was in armes, and so keen,
That no wight passed her in hardiness,
Nor in lineage, nor other gentleness.* *noble qualities
Of the king's blood of Perse* is she descended; *Persia
I say not that she hadde most fairness,
But of her shape she might not he amended.
From her childhood I finde that she fled
Office of woman, and to woods she went,
And many a wilde harte's blood she shed
With arrows broad that she against them sent;
She was so swift, that she anon them hent.* *caught
And when that she was older, she would kill
Lions, leopards, and beares all to-rent,* *torn to pieces
And in her armes wield them at her will.
She durst the wilde beastes' dennes seek,
And runnen in the mountains all the night,
And sleep under a bush; and she could eke
Wrestle by very force and very might
With any young man, were he ne'er so wight;* *active, nimble
There mighte nothing in her armes stond.
She kept her maidenhood from every wight,
To no man deigned she for to be bond.
But at the last her friendes have her married
To Odenate, <13> a prince of that country;
All were it so, that she them longe tarried.
And ye shall understande how that he
Hadde such fantasies as hadde she;
But natheless, when they were knit in fere,* *together
They liv'd in joy, and in felicity,
For each of them had other lefe* and dear. *loved
Save one thing, that she never would assent,
By no way, that he shoulde by her lie
But ones, for it was her plain intent
To have a child, the world to multiply;
And all so soon as that she might espy
That she was not with childe by that deed,
Then would she suffer him do his fantasy
Eftsoon,* and not but ones, *out of dread.* *again *without doubt*
And if she were with child at thilke* cast, *that
No more should he playe thilke game
Till fully forty dayes were past;
Then would she once suffer him do the same.
All* were this Odenatus wild or tame, *whether
He got no more of her; for thus she said,
It was to wives lechery and shame
In other case* if that men with them play'd. on other terms
Two sones, by this Odenate had she,
The which she kept in virtue and lettrure.* *learning
But now unto our tale turne we;
I say, so worshipful a creature,
And wise therewith, and large* with measure,** *bountiful **moderation
So penible* in the war, and courteous eke, *laborious
Nor more labour might in war endure,
Was none, though all this worlde men should seek.
Her rich array it mighte not be told,
As well in vessel as in her clothing:
She was all clad in pierrie* and in gold, *jewellery
And eke she *lefte not,* for no hunting, *did not neglect*
To have of sundry tongues full knowing,
When that she leisure had, and for t'intend* *apply
To learne bookes was all her liking,
How she in virtue might her life dispend.
And, shortly of this story for to treat,
So doughty was her husband and eke she,
That they conquered many regnes great
In th'Orient, with many a fair city
Appertinent unto the majesty
Of Rome, and with strong hande held them fast,
Nor ever might their foemen do* them flee, *make
Aye while that Odenatus' dayes last'.
Her battles, whoso list them for to read,
Against Sapor the king, <14> and other mo',
And how that all this process fell in deed,
Why she conquer'd, and what title thereto,
And after of her mischief* and her woe, *misfortune
How that she was besieged and y-take,
Let him unto my master Petrarch go,
That writes enough of this, I undertake.
When Odenate was dead, she mightily
The regne held, and with her proper hand
Against her foes she fought so cruelly,
That there n'as* king nor prince in all that land, *was not
That was not glad, if be that grace fand
That she would not upon his land warray;* *make war
With her they maden alliance by bond,
To be in peace, and let her ride and play.
The emperor of Rome, Claudius,
Nor, him before, the Roman Gallien,
Durste never be so courageous,
Nor no Armenian, nor Egyptien,
Nor Syrian, nor no Arabien,
Within the fielde durste with her fight,
Lest that she would them with her handes slen,* *slay
Or with her meinie* putte them to flight. *troops
In kinges' habit went her sones two,
As heires of their father's regnes all;
And Heremanno and Timolao
Their names were, as Persians them call
But aye Fortune hath in her honey gall;
This mighty queene may no while endure;
Fortune out of her regne made her fall
To wretchedness and to misadventure.
Aurelian, when that the governance
Of Rome came into his handes tway, <15>
He shope* upon this queen to do vengeance; *prepared
And with his legions he took his way
Toward Zenobie, and, shortly for to say,
He made her flee, and at the last her hent,* *took
And fetter'd her, and eke her children tway,
And won the land, and home to Rome he went.
Amonges other thinges that he wan,
Her car, that was with gold wrought and pierrie,* *jewels
This greate Roman, this Aurelian
Hath with him led, for that men should it see.
Before in his triumphe walked she
With gilte chains upon her neck hanging;
Crowned she was, as after* her degree, *according to
And full of pierrie her clothing.
Alas, Fortune! she that whilom was
Dreadful to kinges and to emperours,
Now galeth* all the people on her, alas! *yelleth
And she that *helmed was in starke stowres,* *wore a helmet in
And won by force townes strong and tow'rs, obstinate battles*
Shall on her head now wear a vitremite; <16>
And she that bare the sceptre full of flow'rs
Shall bear a distaff, *her cost for to quite.* * to make her living*
Although that NERO were so vicious
As any fiend that lies full low adown,
Yet he, as telleth us Suetonius,<17>
This wide world had in subjectioun,
Both East and West, South and Septentrioun.
Of rubies, sapphires, and of pearles white
Were all his clothes embroider'd up and down,
For he in gemmes greatly gan delight.
More delicate, more pompous of array,
More proud, was never emperor than he;
That *ilke cloth* that he had worn one day, *same robe*
After that time he would it never see;
Nettes of gold thread had he great plenty,
To fish in Tiber, when him list to play;
His lustes* were as law, in his degree, *pleasures
For Fortune as his friend would him obey.
He Rome burnt for his delicacy;* *pleasure
The senators he slew upon a day,
To heare how that men would weep and cry;
And slew his brother, and by his sister lay.
His mother made he in piteous array;
For he her wombe slitte, to behold
Where he conceived was; so well-away!
That he so little of his mother told.* *valued
No tear out of his eyen for that sight
Came; but he said, a fair woman was she.
Great wonder is, how that he could or might
Be doomesman* of her deade beauty: *judge
The wine to bringe him commanded he,
And drank anon; none other woe he made,
When might is joined unto cruelty,
Alas! too deepe will the venom wade.
In youth a master had this emperour,
To teache him lettrure* and courtesy; *literature, learning
For of morality he was the flow'r,
As in his time, *but if* bookes lie. *unless
And while this master had of him mast'ry,
He made him so conning and so souple,* *subtle
That longe time it was ere tyranny,
Or any vice, durst in him uncouple.* *be let loose
This Seneca, of which that I devise,* *tell
Because Nero had of him suche dread,
For he from vices would him aye chastise
Discreetly, as by word, and not by deed;
"Sir," he would say, "an emperor must need
Be virtuous, and hate tyranny."
For which he made him in a bath to bleed
On both his armes, till he muste die.
This Nero had eke of a custumance* *habit
In youth against his master for to rise;* *stand in his presence
Which afterward he thought a great grievance;
Therefore he made him dien in this wise.
But natheless this Seneca the wise
Chose in a bath to die in this mannere,
Rather than have another tormentise;* *torture
And thus hath Nero slain his master dear.
Now fell it so, that Fortune list no longer
The highe pride of Nero to cherice;* *cherish
For though he were strong, yet was she stronger.
She thoughte thus; "By God, I am too nice* *foolish
To set a man, that is full fill'd of vice,
In high degree, and emperor him call!
By God, out of his seat I will him trice!* *thrust <18>
When he least weeneth,* soonest shall he fall." *expecteth
The people rose upon him on a night,
For his default; and when he it espied,
Out of his doors anon he hath him dight* *betaken himself
Alone, and where he ween'd t'have been allied,* *regarded with
He knocked fast, and aye the more he cried friendship
The faster shutte they their doores all;
Then wist he well he had himself misgied,* *misled
And went his way, no longer durst he call.
The people cried and rumbled up and down,
That with his eares heard he how they said;
"Where is this false tyrant, this Neroun?"
For fear almost out of his wit he braid,* *went
And to his goddes piteously he pray'd
For succour, but it mighte not betide
For dread of this he thoughte that died,
And ran into a garden him to hide.
And in this garden found he churles tway,