Hard lords and bad food-service in the Monk's Tale
Scott Norsworthy. JEGP. Journal of English and Germanic Philology. Urbana: Jul 2001.Vol. 100, Iss. 3; pg. 313, 20 pgs
Abstract (Document Summary)
In the Prologue of the Monk's Tale the identity of Chaucer's Monk is largely a matter of speculation. In the Monk's Prologue Daun Piers remains an anonymous and mostly stereotypical monk. The book is discussed.
Full Text (9613 words)
Copyright University of Illinois Press Jul 2001
In the Prologue of the Monk's Tale the identity of Chaucer's Monk is largely a matter of speculation. Apparently uncertain of the Monk's name, Host Harry Bailly suggests three possibilities: daun John, daun Thomas, and daun Albon (11. 1929-30).' None of these is correct, as it turns out, but the title dawn 'lord' before each name signals the Host's convictions regarding the Monk's social status and occupation. Harry surmises that the robust and richly arrayed Monk holds a distinguished position at the abbey as "som officer, / Som worthy sexteyn, or som celerer" (11. 1935-36). Harry's estimation of the Monk's office may be no more reliable than his memory of the Monk's name. Nevertheless, the confidence and persistence with which the Host acknowledges the Monk as a "maister" (1. 1938) and "governour" (1. 1940) give listeners (and readers) reason to wonder about the nature of the Monk's professional business as his tale unfolds.'
In the Monk's Prologue Daun Piers remains an anonymous and mostly stereotypical monk. Chaucer exploits stock traits for comic effect when, for example, Harry calls the Monk a "tredefowel" of sexual potency (1. 1945). Like this and other jibes (which take up half of the Host's speech
I am indebted to Prof. W. Bryant Bachman,Jr., for beneficial criticism of this paper in several versions. to the Monk) alluding to the proverbial licentiousness of clerics, Harry's judgment of the Monk's office also draws on a fund of popular prejudices, although the cultural connotations of the terms sexton and cellarer are probably not so transparent to modern readers. Sexton (or sacristan) and cellarer are exceptionally important, high-ranking positions in the hierarchy of monastic administration. In Chaucer's day the duties of the sacrist and cellarer could extend well beyond the care of liturgical objects and the provision of food and drink. At Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, one of the biggest and wealthiest Benedictine monasteries in England, governorship of the surrounding town and manors was in the hands of just these two officials.3 They were legitimate if unpopular lords with far-reaching authority over the abbey's urban and rural tenants. The naming of the offices of sacrist and cellarer as suitable posts for the Monk is thus highly suggestive as a prelude to the Monk's Tale, in which the question of good lordship is approached by way of its opposite, tyranny.
Linking teller and tale, recent studies have profitably examined the Monk's Tale as it relates to contemporary political debate over ecclesiastical endowment and the employment of monks in the royal administrations of Edward III and Richard II.4 But the problem of ecclesiastical tyranny embraces the actions of monks not only as meddlesome bureaucrats, but also as oppressive landlords. As R H. Hilton points out, though "ecclesiastical landowners constituted a substantial and active element" of the propertied class, "it cannot be assumed that as lords and landowners their ecclesiastical position and training softened in any way their attitudes towards the dependent peasantry."5 In the Tale of Melibee a lay landowner, guided by the wisdom of his wife Prudence, eventually models the approach to master-servant relations "softened" by religious principles. In the next tale the Monk presents the opposite end of the spectrum with stories of merciless and imprudent rulers. Besides their usefulness as object lessons on the instability of all temporal power, ruthless lords such as Nebuchadnezzar and Nero also prefigure the unscrupulous fourteenth-century masters denounced by Chaucer's Parson as harde lordshipes (ParsT, 1. 751) .
According to the Parson, hard lords are those who exact unlawful or unreasonable taxes, rents, fines, and services from their tenants. The Peasants' Revolt made it abundantly clear that resentment of hard lordship could lead to revolution, but individual and collective protests against landords were a social reality long before (and after) 1381.6 Manorial court rolls going back to the thirteenth century show, in the words of Peter Franklin, "a rural society seething with discontent.117 Villein tenants resisted seigniorial pressure by withholding tallages and labor services, by challenging in court (usually without success) the legality of their servile status, and sometimes by assaulting their lords or the baillifs responsible for enforcing manorial justice.8 Disaffected tenants included urban artisans and merchants as well as nominally free peasants and ordinary villeins. At Bury St. Edmunds and St. Albans the peasant insurrections of 138 1 were abetted by prominent burgesses in defiance of monastic lords who "persisted in treating their townsmen as if these were rightless manorial tenants."9
Two of the Monk's subjects, Nero ("The peple roos upon hym on a nyght," 1. 2527) and Hugelyn ("the peple gan upon hym rise," 1. 2418), are victims of popular rebellions. Although Chaucer does not overtly connect these uprisings to potentially violent lord-tenant disputes on English soil, Harry Bailly's remarks in the Prologue function partly to bring the Monk's interest in the hard variety of lordship closer to home. As powerful lords of towns, villages, and manors, medieval cellarers and sacrists were certainly in a position to impose heavy burdens upon their tenants. If the Host is on the right track, Chaucer's Monk has good reason to fret over the falls of unpopular governors. In 138 1 rebels hunted down and beheaded John de Cambridge, the prior of Bury St. Edmunds; John de Lakenheath, warden of the abbey's barony, was forced out of the monastery and decapitated in the marketplace.10 To avoid a similar fate the prior of St. Albans,John Mote, fled with several other monks to Northumbria. Mote's extreme unpopularity has been traced to his severe exaction of dues and services during twenty years ( 13 54-74) as one of the abbey's more "vigorous" cellarers.11
Harry Bailly's invitation to think of the Monk as a cellarer is all the more attractive in view of the alimentary imagery which dominates the portrait of the Monk in the General Prologue. Replete with potential menu items ranging from fish to rabbit, the Monk's portrait reveals a worldly ecclesiastic whose appetite matches his expansive girth: "A fat swan loved he best of any roost" (1. 206). Monastic gluttony is a familiar object of anticlerical ridicule, and the ironic force of the food images with which Chaucer surrounds his "ful fat" (1. 200) Monk in the General Prologue is now widely recognized.12 The continuing emphasis on food and drink in the Monk's Tale, however, has received scant critical attention.13 Alimentary imagery is especially prominent in the stories of Balthasar (Belshazzar), killed ofter hosting a blasphemous feast in Babylon, and Erl Hugelyn (Count Ugolino), incarcerated with his children and forced to endure "ful povre and badde" prison fare before he and they starve to death. Both episodes may be seen to reflect the worldly concerns and imperiled spiritual condition of a wayward cellarer. From this perspective the Hugelyn episodewith its pathetic account of hungry children, their impotent father, and communal starvation in a forsaken cell-makes a fitting conclusion as the last of the Monk's exempla in the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts.
Besides illuminating the narrator's particular fascination with the fates of morally monstrous lords, the view of Chaucer's Monk as a negligent cellarer also helps to account for the problematic genre of the Monk's Tale as a collection of tragedies.
CELLARERS IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
The Rule of St. Benedict devotes an entire chapter to the office of cellarer, from whom Benedict expects exemplary administrative service.14 Somewhat paradoxically, the identification of Daun Piers as a cellarer would not only concretize his monastic occupation, but also cast him as a prototype of the monastic officer. Chapter 3 1 of the Rule outlines the character and qualifications of the ideal cellarer, who should be wise, mature, and sober, and should not be proud, tempestuous, insulting, lazy, or wasteful. Benedict also cautions that the cellarer should not be the type of monk that Daun Piers clearly is, multum edax 'a great eater'. 15 Smaragdus, whose commentary on the Rule was copied into the fourteenth-century customary of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, glosses multam edax as gluto, vorator (`devourer') and adds that such a character ill befits any monk, above all the cellarer.16
The Rule charges the cellarer to "take the greatest care of the sick, of children, of guests, and of the poor."17 The cellarer is admonished to distribute food and drink to the congregation sicut pater, like a father to his children.18 Because of his control over the food supply and the unique legitimacy bestowed upon his office by the Rule, the cellarer "was in a peculiar way the universal provider-the father-of the monastery."19 Authors of commentaries on the Rule, medieval chronicles, and monastic customaries frequently mention the patriarchal authority vested in the cellarer. Jocelin of Brakelond, for example, in his chronicle of twelfthcentury monastic life at Bury St. Edmunds, writes that the cellarer was long accustomed to enjoy special rights and privileges "on account of the dignity of his office, because he was second father in the monastery."20
At once metaphorical father and literal provider, the cellarer had temporal and spiritual responsibilities which are difficult to distinguish given the religious significance of food in the Middle Ages. As one preacher explains in a Middle English paraphrase of Augustine, the daily bread of the Pater noster"may be takon for nedefull lyvelod of oure bodye, and also for Pe Sacrament of Cristes bodye, and for goostely mete of Pe sowle, Pe wiche is Goddes worde.121 The easy association of daily bread with the eucharistic host is perhaps reflected in Harry Bailly's juxtaposition of cellarer and sexton. In theory, both officers are involved in the supervision of food-service; the cellarer oversees the service of meals in the refectory, while the sexton manages the communion service of bread and wine at the altar. A connection between the two offices is implicit in the Rule, which states that the cellarer should "regard all vessels and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected."22
Though the Rule served throughout the Middle Ages as a touchstone by which to evaluate the individual and corporate behavior of monks, the job of the medieval cellarer was very different from that envisioned by St. Benedict. D. W. Robertson, Jr., writes, "When Chaucer called his monk, probably an external cellarer, an 'outrider' he was using pejorative language suggestive of extortion."23 The unsavory reputation of outriding cellarers is indeed well attested in England from the twelfth century to the Dissolution. Jocelin reports that at Bury St. Edmunds cellarers contracted embarrassing debts, waged bureaucratic war with the sacrist, and struggled mightily to make townspeople pay customary rents, taxes, and services. At one point the whole town objected to the tax known as repsilver, due at harvest time in lieu of a supposedly ancient obligation to work in the fields, and the abbot was dismayed:
... considering how the cellarer went about the town in an unbecoming manner collecting 'repsilver', how he took goods from the houses of the poor as securities for payment-sometimes stools, sometimes doors, sometimes other essentials-and how little old women came out with their distaffs threatening and reproaching him and his officers . . .24
This confrontation between the cellarer and the women of Bury is evocative of the scene near the end of the Friar's Tale which pits another "poor old woman" against a corrupt ecclesiastical officer, in this case a summoner who extorts money by threatening, like the historical Bury cellarer, to seize essential domestic property (i.e., a new pan). In the Nun's Priest's Tale still another old woman, whose rustic surroundings contrast sharply with the images of wealth and power in the Monk's Tale, emerges with her distaff to chase off a would-be thief. Two centuries after the conflict reported by Jocelin, women of Bury can still be found in the abbey's archives as foes of its officers. In the aftermath of the violence of 1381, the wife of one Hervey of Lackford was charged with "threatening the sacrist and recovering from him certain goods held in pawn"; another woman was accused of conspiring to murder the almoner.25
At St. Albans the cellarer presided over the profitable manorial courts or halimotes, and extant registers of these proceedings reveal both his formidable powers and a deep resentment of those powers by at least some of the tenants subject to his authority. In the thirteenth century the St. Albans cellarer collected merchet from tenants when they married and fined them when they declined to marry according to his wishes; he was "particularly strict in the collection of Leyrwite," the fine for premarital sex.26 Unyielding exaction of such fines or "amercements" typifies those "harde lordshipes" which Chaucer's Parson finds reprehensible. Greedy lords, says the Parson, demand from their servants "amercimentz, whiche myghten moore resonably ben cleped extorcions than amercimentz" (ParsT, L 75 '). Considering the hard style of lordship evidently practiced at St. Albans, it is not surprising that amercements for contempt of court included fines for "cursing the Cellarer."27
At Ramsey Abbey in the early fourteenth century much the same situation existed with respect to the opinion of the cellarer generally held by manorial tenants. At a court session in 130o nine villeins of Elton were charged by Hugh Prest, cellarer and gatekeeper, with failure to pay the usual toll for driving their cattle over the Greenway. In this instance local jurors agreed with the defendants that if any villager had ever paid such a fee it was because the cellarer "by distress and extortion wilfully took that money and unjustly levied it."28
The Monk's possible status as a cellarer offers one answer to the loaded question from the General Prologue, "How shal the world be served?" (1. 187). As the "universal provider" of food and drink, the cellarer effectively personifies the social function of the whole monastery as a major supplier of food in the Middle Ages.29 But a medieval cellarer could occupy a privileged and highly visible place in society as landlord, tax-collector, gatekeeper,judge, and jailer. The dictatorial power conveyed by this combination of roles goes far to explain the Host's determination to characterize the Monk as master of his house. The cultural perception of cellarers as cowled raveners may also underlie the Monk's determination to identify himself with notorious tyrants.
FEASTING IN BABYLON
The Monk, whose first tale recounts the fall of Lucifer (and whose second tale ends with Adam in Hell), retells the stories of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar against another recognizably hellish backdrop. Typologically and symbolically, Babylon is Hell, as far away from the heavenly city of Jerusalem as one can go. Accordingly, kings of Babylon belong to the body of Satan, the monster of moral evil whom Jacques Le Goff has called "medieval Christianity's most important creation."10 As the best-known incident of sacrilegious eating and drinking in Biblical history, the tale of Belshazzar's fall makes for a potentially revealing episode in a series of tragedies narrated by a lordly monastic gourmand.
The Monk reports twice on the blasphemous food-service at Belshazzar's table, first as narrator, then as Daniel. Like treatments of the same material in the Old English Daniel and Middle English Cleanness, Chaucer's version prominently mentions the sacred vessels defiled at Belshazzar's banquet. The significance of these vessels is established early in the story of Nebuchadnezzar when the Monk relates that the king of Babylon carried off "the vessel of the temple" from Jerusalem (1. 2148). Subsequently Belshazzar, here said to be Nebuchadnezzar's son, treats himself and his wife, courtiers, and concubines to all the "sundry wynes" they can swill from the "noble vessels" stolen by his father (11. 2199-201.). Five explicit references to the temple vessels (11. 2148, 2194, 2201, 22 26, 2228) underscore the central importance of their defilement in the Nebuchadnezzar-Belshazzar tandem.
In Cleanness Belshazzar's misuse of the sacred vessels reflects his moral impurity. The fylthe of his hellish banquet contrasts with the claennesse of the heavenly banquet described in the New Testament parable of the wedding feast.31 Unlike Chaucer's Monk, however, the author of Cleanness draws an explicit connection between Belshazzar's downfall and his defilement of the "ornementes of Goddez hous.113 Chaucer's adaptation of the Nebuchadnezzar-Belshazzar tradition is far less elaborate than that of the Cleanness-poet. Nonetheless, Daniel's long after-dinner speech manages to preserve the essential didactic qualities of both Cleanness and the Old English Daniel. The Monk faithfully reproduces the thrust of Daniel's prophecy in a manner consistent with traditional exegesis of an enduringly popular Old Testament text.31 The dramatic effect of this approach becomes apparent only after the Monk ceases to paraphrase Daniel. Fumbling awkwardly for a suitable moral, the Monk evidently fails to grasp the significatio of his own "ensaumple." His conclusion that loss of friends follows misfortune sounds true enough as a bit of proverbial wisdom but has no obvious application to the case of Belshazzar. In his interpretive confusion the Monk resembles the subject of his tale who cannot read the writing on the wall. Like Belshazzar-and also Nebuchadnezzar and Croesus, unable to make sense of their dreams-the Monk himself exemplifies what Jane Dick Zatta aptly terms "hermeneutic insufficiency.134
This is about as far as most scholars have been willing to go in suggesting that the narrator tells on himself in the Belshazzar episode. But Chaucer gives away the doctrinally-correct spin in Daniel's prophetic speech. The story presented by the Monk as further evidence "that in lordshipe is no sikernesse" (1. 2240) is more directly a cautionary tale about the disastrous consequences of unlawful eating and drinking. Similarly, the "mysgovernaunce" (1. 2012) which sent Adam to Hell may be said (as the Parson contends in his Tale, 1. 8 18) to have originated in a poorly governed appetite, although the Monk mentions neither Eve nor the forbidden fruit in his brief account of the Fall. Other episodes in the Monk's Tale either mention feasting explicitly or allude to a feast that forms a well-known part of the story. At a pagan feast Samson brings down the temple pillars, killing some three thousand of his enemies ("prynces everichoon," marvels the Monk at 1. 2087) and himself. Alexander was poisoned at a feast (1. 2660);Judith cut off the head of Holofernes as he lay drunk in his tent, after a feast (11. 2568-72) . Other tales mention different appetites that are associated with the Monk; Zenobia's hunting prowess and Nero's opulent dress recall the Monk's passion for hunting and his fine clothes. In a number of respects then, the Monk's stories are also his story.
Speaking as Daniel, the Monk asserts that Belshazzar and his guests drank "boldely" and "synfully" (11. 22 26-27) from vessels holy to God. The centrality of the abused sacred vessels in the Belshazzar episode would acquire even greater significance should the Monk hold the office of cellarer. The holy vessels stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem would then recall the vasa under the care of Daun Piers as the officer in charge of providing the house of God with food and drink. The same association of Belshazzar's profane feast with the duty to treat all serviceware in the monastery as sacrosanct appears in the Canterbury customary previously cited. Again borrowing from Smaragdus, the customary amplifies Benedict's prescriptions concerning "all the vessels of the monastery" by warning that the monk who carelessly handles anything in the monastery aligns himself cum illo rege qui in vasis domus Dei sanctificatis cum suis bibebat concubinis (`with that king who drank with his concubines from the sanctified vessels of the house of God') and deserves the same fate.15
Daun Piers portrays the accession of Darius to the throne of Belshazzar as an illegal political coup, a violation of lawe (1. 2238). However it is Belshazzar whom Daniel (as quoted by the Monk) calls a "rebel to God" (1. 2225). In taking the part of Belshazzar against Darius the Monk allies himself with the idolatrous Babylonian king whom the cellarer is expressly warned not to emulate. The Monk's indifference to the universally accepted causal relationship between Belshazzar's misuse of sacred vessels and his downfall suggests a culpable disregard of the monastic obligation to handle all utensils, from the beer mug to the chalice, with reverent care. With respect to the treatment of sacred vessels the duties of sexton and cellarer are identical, and both of Harry Bailly's conjectures about the Monk's probable office make sense as positions with codified responsibilities which the Monk may be suspected of having neglected or abandoned altogether.
STARVING IN PRISON
Apart from its undeniable attraction as a specimen of translation from Dante, Chaucer's version of the Ugolino story calls attention to itself in several formal respects. Its fifty-six lines make it the longest by far of the Modern Instances, a feature-length story in contrast to the mere headlines which precede it. The speech of Hugelyn's three-year old (11. 2432-38) is the second longest in the Monk's Tale after Daniel's speech to Belshazzar.16 For whatever reason, the story has captured the Monk's imagination to a degree unmatched by any of the other exempla drawn from contemporary events. Strictly speaking the tale is neither contemporary nor even especially recent, the historical Ugolino having died in 1289, perhaps a hundred years before the completion of the Monk's Tale. Indeed, the position of the Hugelyn episode noticeably disrupts the chronological order of the Modern Instances. Kings Pedro of Castille and Pierre de Lusignan of Cyprus were both murdered in 1369, and Bernabo Visconti of Milan died in 1385; hence, the story of Count Ugolino belongs first in the series. Although Daun Piers absolves himself of responsibility for the order of his tales (11. 1985-90), the sequence of the Modern Instances could indicate Chaucer's manipulation of the expected order for artistic purposes. Whether authorial or scribal in origin, the non-chronological order of the Modern Instances privileges the Ugolino story as the Monk's finale in an authoritative group of manuscripts.17
Conspicuously long and artificially placed at the end of the Monk's Tale, the story of Erl Hugelyn compels further attention because of the literary masterpiece from which it derives." Chaucer has the Monk drop the name of his main source with unparalleled specificity: Dante, "the grete poete of Ytaille" (1. 2460), tells the whole thing "Fro point to point; nat o word wol he faille" (1. 2462). Granted that the citation is consistent with numerous and rather self-conscious references throughout the Monk's Tale, to Petrarch (1. 2325), the Old Testament (Judges, 1. 2046; Maccabees, 1. 2579), the enigmatic "Trophee" (1. 2117), and Suetonius (11. 2465, 2719-20 with Lucan and Valerius Maximus), the peculiar stress on the completeness of Dante's account (along with the feeling, expressed by numerous critics, that all of the Monk's exempla leave out important contextual information) encourages speculation about what might be missing from the Monk's abridgement.39
Absent from the Monk's version is one of the most gruesome (and thus one of the most memorable) images in all of the Inferno: in the ninth circle of Hell, Count Ugolino sits frozen in a lake of ice and eats the back of Ruggieri degli Ubaldini's head-ferociously, like a dog gnaws on a bone. Chaucer does not, as is sometimes suggested, completely expunge the cannibalism foregrounded in his major source. To be sure, the Monk omits the grisly meal that Ugolino makes of the archbishop's skull, and clears up the verbal ambiguity in Dante which hints that hunger may have driven Ugolino to eat the flesh of his children before he finally died.411 However, with one son lying dead in his lap, a grief-stricken Hugelyn begins gnawing on both his arms as his starving "litel" sons implore him to "ete the flessh upon us two" (1. 2450). Whether or not Hugelyn ever complied remains unknowable, but the proposal of his children vividly conjures the spectre of cannibalism. Hugelyn's anguished arm-chewing has a parallel in the medieval iconography of Hell and may thus be seen to evoke the absent setting of the whole episode; in pictorial representations of Dante's Inferno and other visions of Hell, damned souls are conventionally shown in the act of biting their own hands.41
Though heavily edited, the Monk's version of the Ugolino story tells of a starving father who tries to eat himself while his equally hungry children beg him to eat them. Readers sometimes complain that the skill with which Chaucer creates pathos out of horror seems wasted on the Monk's tedious and philosophically bankrupt anthology.42 But if the company has been listening all along to a vorator in charge of the cellar, nominally the paternal provider for the monastery and the community which it serves, it makes good aesthetic sense to have his tale end with the pathetic image of starving children begging their father either to feed or eat them.
Kepere of the celle, one of the Monk's job titles, also could describe the jailer who not only guards the tower in which Hugelyn and his children are imprisoned, but also provides food and drink.41 Daun Piers, who as a cellarer would be professionally interested in the matter, laments both the quantity and quality of the "povre and badde" victuals served in the tower. The guard, in neglect of his duties as jailer and cellarer, eventually locks the tower and leaves. Abandoned by one keeper, the children look for another provider; Hugelyn's son asks his father, "Is ther no morsel breed that ye do kepe?" (1. 2434). Without any food in his cell Hugelyn is helpless to prevent the starvation and death of his children.
The fate of this unfortunate family suggests the plight of a community that is poorly served by a negligent or absentee cellarer. As a father-figure the cellarer has unique responsibilities for the physical and spiritual welfare of his congregation. According to the Rule, the cellarer must "give the brethren their appointed allowance of food without any arrogance or delay, that they may not be scandalized, mindful of what the Scripture with that he deserves who shall scandalize one of these little ones."44 Benedict's scriptural "little ones" depend on the cellarer for food, and everything that food signifies. Erl Hugelyn's "litel" children depend on two poor keepers, a careless jailer and an impotent father, for the same things. As retold by Chaucer's Monk, the Ugolino story has everything to do with the scandalization of "little ones," who may be seen metaphorically as not only children, but all souls under the care of the Church and its leaders. Benedict alludes to the pains of Hell as the ultimate Biblical penalty for the misgovernment of souls. In medieval exegesis the words of Jesus to his disciples against the mistreatment of little ones (Matt. 18: 6; Mark 9: 41) were interpreted as a warning directed specifically towards "men of holy chirche."45 Eternal torment in Hell (the fate worse than drowning with a millstone around the neck) is explicitly mentioned in the commentary of Smaragdus as the punishment in store for a negligent cellarer.41 Perhaps tellingly, in Ellesmere and Hengwrt the final tragedy of a wayward keeper is a story from Hell about the abuse of children by evil or otherwise incompetent guardians.
In defining tragedy as a fall from "heigh degree" the Monk adopts the perspective of a singularly privileged class of victims. As a member of the ruling class himself the Monk naturally empathizes with his tragic heroes. Perhaps the trappings of lordshipe have so entranced Daun Piers that by the end of each tale he has in a sense become the protagonist, heedless of the unfortunate consequences which such a transformation would imply. If Daun Piers sides with Belshazzar, the doomed host of a famously wicked feast in Babylon, he likewise may be identified with Count Ugolino, whose fiero pasto `savage repast' in Hell no reader of Dante is likely to forget. The narrative journey of the Ellesmere Monk's Tale is both a series of falls and one long descent which starts in heaven and ends when the Monk reaches the Inferno.
The Monk's Tale displays obvious generic affinities with anthologies of exempla, in particular Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium and De claris mulieribus, with classical stories and medieval romances featuring the goddess Fortuna, and with later collections devoted specifically to the falls of princes.47 If the narrator can be regarded as a negligent cellarer, however, his decision to recite tragedies (from a storehouse full of such tales) also may be appreciated as a generic joke. According to the medieval customary of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, the cellarer is expected to provide `an honest and festive service' (honestum et festivum servicium) in the refectory on the day when the section of the Rule pertaining to his office is read aloud in Chapter.48 The two conditions imposed on the cellarer's feast are precisely those which Harry Bailly requires of the Monk. Called upon by the Host to "be myrie of cheere" and "telle a tale trewely" (11. 1924-25), the Monk offers instead a series of depressing stories marred by errors and omissions.
Chaucer's ironic inversion of the cellarer's job description extends to the dissatisfaction expressed by the Knight and Host on behalf of the Monk's listeners. All of the Monk's tragic tales conclude "wrecchedly," like the fates of their subjects (1. 1977). In troubling his fellow pilgrims with so much unrelieved misery, Daun Piers does what the cellarer is commanded by the Rule not to do. The Rule forbids the cellarer to 'sadden' or 'vex' the congregation: fratres non contristet.49 Unreasonable requests may be refused, but denial of service must be undertaken with cheerful humility so that cellarers do not make anyone in the convent, as one of several extant Middle English translations puts it, "heuy with theyr countenaunce."50 In the same spirit, the customaries of Canterbury and Westminster exhort the cellarer always to wear a merry face (hylari vultu) and "never to send any one away annoyed by word of his."-" Appropriately then, both the Knight and Host criticize the "hevynesse" of the Monk's entertainment (11. 2769, 2787), which the Host complains "anoyeth al this compaignye" (1. 2789). When the Monk refuses to speak of hunting, his curtness ("I have no lust to pleye," 1. 2806) betrays a sullen attitude which is prohibited in the cellarer by the Rule and monastic customaries. It is the Nun's Priest who not only responds cheerfully to the request for a happy tale, but also recognizes that his mood and expressions are things for which he may be held accountable: "But I be myrie, ywis I wol be blamed" (1. 2817).
In the chapter of the Rule on the character and duties expected of the cellarer, Benedict stresses the importance of "a good word" (sermo bonus), which he conceives as an integral part of good food-service.52 In the Middle Ages this association of word and food was institutionalized in the monastic custom of the cellarer's feast. The Monk's Tale is not at all the "festive service" which the company has every right to expect from a cellarer, but that may be the point. The inability or unwillingness of Daun Piers to please the company with his words suggests a multi-faceted failure to provide daily bread in every medieval sense, as physical sustenance, the body of Christ, and sacred text.
MONKS AS EATING MONSTERS
Though complimented in the General Prologue for his appearance, behavior, and attitudes, Chaucer's Monk has much in common with the shiftless monk whom Benedict labels gyrovagus and Gower demonizes as "a monster of the Church."53 In the Monk's Tale the monstrous aspects of ecclesiastical lordship are suggested mainly on the level of imagery and symbolism. All through the Monk's Tale the human body is mutilated, tortured, dismembered, and devoured. Among the "manye monstres" (1. 21 12) slain by Hercules is "the crueel tyrant Busirus" (1. 2103) who is devoured, "flessh and boon" by his own horse (1. 2104). Only one stanza intervenes between this and a subsequent reference to the flesh and bones of Hercules, whose poisoned shirt "made his flessh al from his bones falle" (1. 2126). The focus on the painful physical effects of the poisoned shirt continues in the next stanza with images of Hercules's blackened flesh and the "hoote coles" (1. 2133) in which he prefers to die.
Noteworthy among Nero's many savageries is his cutting into his mother's womb "to biholde / Where he conceyved was" (11. 2484-85) and calling for wine afterwards. In the midst of a popular revolt Nero begs two peasants "to girden of his heed" (1. 2546) before he finally commits suicide. Famous severed heads that actually do roll through the Monk's Tale are those of Holofernes and Pompey (a digression in Dejulio Cesare). The Monk's fixation with the corporeal manifests itself again with painful clarity in the stomach of Anthiochus, infested with crawling worms which cause his flesh to stink "horribly" (1. 2617), and the corpse of Croesus, destined to be washed and dried by the elements "bothe bak and syde" (1. 2744).
By recognizing the Monk as a lord, master, and governor, Harry Bailly provides a contemporary social context for the slaughter and gore assodated with the noble despots of the Monk's Tale. Tyranny was widely understood in the Middle Ages as a form of bestiality and a corruption of the ideal relationship between master and servant.14 The reviled figure of the medieval cellarer-perceived as the sort of monk who would steal furniture from little old ladies, police the romantic and sexual behavior of tenants, seize their lands and possessions, tax them for crossing the road, and jail them when they refused to pay-would be entitled to speak on behalf of the great tyrants of history and legend, and would himself make a fine emblem of monstrous lordship.
Medieval writers routinely portray bad princes as beasts and demons, and take the mistreatment of dependents, especially the poor, as a sure sign of political misrule. The understanding of tyranny as oppression of the underclass is partly founded on Old Testament texts which figure exploitative leaders as devourers of those whom they have been called to serve. In the third chapter of Micah, for example, the prophet voices God's condemnation of princes "who have eaten the flesh of my people, and have flayed their skin from off them: and have broken, and chopped their bones as for the kettle, and as flesh in the midst of the pot." (2-3, DouayRheims version). The figure of the cannibal lord occurs in the most popular homiletic literature of Chaucer's day. Indeed, several of the Monk's own tragic heroes appear in the well-traveled Book of Vices and Virtues as exempla of rapacious lords who "defoulen and streepen and freten here pore underlynges."55
The Biblically-derived image of the cannibal lord was adapted in the later Middle Ages to a variety of purposes. William of Pagula complained to Edward III that royal purveyors were killing the king's subjects, "for he eats and drinks the pauper himself when he devours those things without which the pauper cannot live. "-16 The following instance found its way into a German miscellany copied early in the fifteenth century:
There is an exemplum of a certain old woman who said to a certain monk, `My lord, you do not eat cow's meat but you eat live human beings because of the taxes you exact from the poor.?17
This anecdote appears with other Latin texts which surround the unusual drawing of a crucified monk on folio 63v of London, Wellcome Institute MS 49. The various texts distill centuries of lore relevant to the monastic calling. One indication of their particular relevance for Chaucer's Monk is the content of the longest, an allegorization of the parable of the Good Samaritan in which "the traveller who leaves Jerusalem is the monk who leaves the monastery, and thus gets into trouble."58 Fittingly, the moral of this story takes the form of the same moldy proverb which Chaucer's Monk values less than an oyster.59 The conjunction of predatory monastic lordship and cannibalism in the exemplum of the old woman and the monk calls to mind Daun Piers in his role as a medieval Nimrod, patriarch of lords, hunters, and-according to some medieval recensions of the Alexander legend-the barbarous inhabitants of Gog and Magog who feast on human flesh.60 With his oven-like head,61 corpulent physique, empathy with tyrants, and likely status as a high-ranking monastic official, possibly a tax-gathering cellarer, Daun Piers deserves to be recognized as a literary brother of the "certain monk" accused of cannibalizing the poor by "a certain old woman."
In the Wellcome MS exemplum poverty has an articulate champion in the old woman who accuses the monk of eating the poor. Boccaccio gives the female figure of Poverty a similarly authoritative voice in De casibus virorum illustrium, the formal prototype of the Monk's Tale.62 Not surprisingly, the story of Poverty's ultimate victory over Fortuna is absent from the Monk's collection, wherein Fortune remains omnipotent and unassailable. In the very next tale, however, Chaucer introduces a poor old widow whose virtuous poverty is revealed partly through her diet. The fabulous comedy related by the Nun's Priest overcomes the dispiriting effects of the preceding tragedies on a number of levels, as many critics have observed.63 On the alimentary level, the widow's "sklendre" (NPT, 1. 2833) but healthy meals offer a pointed contrast to the luxurious and by implication unhealthy banquets which the Monk prefers.
The Prologue of the Nun's Priest's Tale brings closure to the Monk's Tale and offers several ways to define his ambiguous identity. His personal identity is fixed when the Host remembers his right name, Daun Piers (1. 2792). His professional identity as a cellarer seems to be implied in the interruption and subsequent criticism of his tale. The Knight and Host criticize the Monk's tragedies in the same terms that in the Rule of St. Benedict describe how the cellarer is not to behave. A cellarer should never distress his house with gloomy speech. But Daun Piers, like a perfect rogue of a cellarer, tells seventeen melancholy tales to companions who want "gladsom" (1. 2778) entertainment.
Not every response to the Monk's Tale can be explained in terms of regulations governing the conduct of the cellarer, however. Though the cellarer must not sadden or annoy the brothers, nothing in the Rule prevents him from boring them. The sleep-inducing quality of the Monk's narrative may be significant with respect to a different species of medieval vorator Reynard, the perpetually hungry fox, will sometimes disguise himself as a monk and preach to an audience of geese. His sermon is boring by design, its sole function being to put some birds to sleep so that he can eat them.64 In The Canterbury Tales the monotonous litany of Daun Piers makes at least one pilgrim drowsy: Harry Bailly (who seems to have been dozing despite his pretensions to the contrary) says he would have fallen asleep but for the jingling of the Monk's bridle bells.
It is worth emphasizing that the literary characterization of a morally monstrous monk, even a cannibal, does not necessarily signify a radical critique of either monasticism or lordship as institutions. A bad cellarer may only represent bad ecclesiastical lordship, just as the figure of the demonic tyrant suggests the perversion of good kingship and in fact presupposes the legitimacy of monarchical rule. Moreover, Chaucer does not finally establish the identity of his Monk; Daun Piers might be prior, sacrist, cellarer, sub-cellarer, almoner, chamberlain, or imposter. He is a fiction in whom perceptive readers have seen a busy university dean, a learned exponent of Boethian consolation, and the devilish incarnation of gluttony, venery, and sloth.65 Whoever and whatever Daun Piers may be, the words of the Host and example of the fox suggest that fellow pilgrims would do well to stay awake in the presence of this "wily" prelate with a lust for hunting, a taste for fowl, and a mind to serve nothing but dull fare.