|AUTHOR:||Laura J. Getty|
|TITLE:||"OTHER SMALE YMAAD BEFORE": CHAUCER AS HISTORIOGRAPHER IN 'THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN"|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 42 no1 48-75 2007|
The detailed instructions that Chaucer's narrator in the Legend of Good Women receives from Alceste and the God of Love are usually reduced to their simplest form by critics: tell of good women who were true in loving and of the men who betrayed them, shorten the stories to their most important details, and begin with Cleopatra.(FN1) One detail of the God of Love's instructions to the narrator, however, deserves closer attention: namely, that the God of Love tells the narrator to write about Alceste "Whan thou hast other smale ymaad before" (F 550), or "Whan thou hast othere smale mad byfore" (G 540).(FN2) "Smale" what? The God of Love does not specify legends, and the stories themselves seem to fit both the hagiographic schema of a saints' legendary and that of an Ovidian-style collection of the "olde appreved stories" (F 21).(FN3)
I suggest that Chaucer intends the word "smale" to leave open several possible definitions, rather than close off meanings, and that one lens through which his audience would read the short stories that follow would be the tradition of the English historiographers.(FN4) Just as Walter Map claims to write "trifles" of history in his De nugis curialium, Chaucer plays on the multiple meanings of smale: not only 'of small size' and 'Hide in amount,' but also 'of little value,' 'of low estate,' 'trivial,' and 'less important'(FN5) In fact, the legends are designed to be "smale" in a way that echoes several earlier historiographers (and some authors of saints' legends) who use metaphors to question subtly the validity of their own sources. In one sense, saints' legends, classical stories, and such smaller stories as origin legends for a monastery are all variations on the same theme, since all could fit under the overarching category of historical writing.(FN6) By starting with the undeniably historical figure of Cleopatra, Chaucer adopts a structure that allows him to mimic these writers of "trifles" of history in a way that comments on the writing process itself.
As Helen Cooper has recently reminded us, Chaucer is "a poet who, whenever he came to a fork in the road, went both ways" (her emphasis).(FN7) In the Legend of Good Women, the women, like the ill-fated Laius, face a crossroads that is the meeting of three roads: saints' lives, short story collections (in the sense of such works as Ovid's Heroides or Metamorphoses), and "trifles" of history. Chaucer's deliberate ambiguity throughout his works suggests not only that he wants to leave open multiple interpretations, but also that he veils meanings to protect himself against unfriendly readers: a situation that he faces in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women.(FN8) There is, of course, nothing new in the idea that Chaucer writes about truth, lies, and misreading texts in the Legend (I refer in particular to the work done by Lisa J. Kiser).(FN9) A. J. Minnis notes that Chaucer's view of historians in the House of Fame includes the popular perception that Homer might have told lies; according to Minnis, Chaucer decides in the Legend to "'lie' with the best of them. He would offer his own intermingling of poetic fiction with historical truth."(FN10) What Minnis titles "Chaucer's Crisis of Authority,"(FN11) Josephine Bloomfield sees as a deliberate "destabilizing of auctoritas rather than a striving to achieve it"(FN12) in the dream visions. Chaucer's barely veiled reference to Dante in the first few lines of the Legend, as I will argue later, sets the stage for just such an attack on authority: specifically, the God of Love's authority. The underlying structure for this attack, and for the legends as the natural extension of the Prologue, comes from his adaptation of historiographers' metonyms for the process of writing.
Although readers have seen the most obvious of the discussions about writing -- Chaucer's approach to the story of Philomela and her tapestry (which I will discuss later) -- every single legend contains at least one metaphor on the dangers of writing from sources. Similarly, although critics have discussed various types of metaphors in Chaucer's works, no critic has noted the metaphors on writing borrowed from the historiographers.(FN13) Some material previously thought to be digressions, including the battle of Actium in the Legend of Cleopatra and the story of Minos in the Legend of Ariadne, reveal themselves as carefully chosen pieces in the metaphoric puzzle. Chaucer sets the stage in the Prologue with his questioning of authority and truth for his metaphoric attacks on misreading that follow. The reference to Dante contextualizes the project in both religious and historical terms, and the debate about Troilus and Criseyde allows Chaucer to comment on the difficulty of interpreting history. In the legends, using a range of metaphors that mimic those employed by historiographers, Chaucer plays up the metonymic possibilities of objects and bodies to represent the problems he faces in recovering truth from old sources. The metaphors build on each other as the reader moves through the legends, until the downward spiral (reminiscent of Dante's downward movement in Inferno) goes completely out of control.(FN14)
To be clear, I am not limiting Chaucer's goals in the Legend of Good Women to the construction of a collection of metaphors on the dangers of writing from source materials.(FN15) What this paper will demonstrate; however, is that metaphors on writing (and sometimes on reading) form the underlying structure of the Legend. Several individual points have been seen by various critics over the years, but no study so far has identified how they fit together.(FN16) The pervasiveness of the metaphors, moreover, argues for intent, making them a highly subversive challenge to the God of Love's view of literature.(FN17) All of the metaphors reveal the dangers of misreading sources: the very problem that the God of Love displays in his reading of Troilus and Criseyde and in the penance assigned to the narrator. Far from apologizing for Troilus, Chaucer writes legends that support his earlier work, although they are concealed under a courtly and hagiographic façade.(FN18) Chaucer's return to the dream vision format may be less surprising in tins light. At the very moment that the Legend's hapless narrator (a familiar figure to his audience) appears to be the most na"ive, Chaucer (as author) acts the most subversively, rewriting history to demonstrate why history should not be rewritten.(FN19)
In her book Inventiones, Monika Otter demonstrates the various methods used by twelfth-century historiographers -- and some writers of saints' legends -- to deal with their own doubts about the truth of parts of the histories that they are writing.(FN20) Not all English historiographers were considered equal; some contemporaries of Geoffrey of Monmouth all but called him a liar, and Walter Map presents his view of history as nugae (trifles).(FN21) Nonetheless, Otter demonstrates that even the most "serious" historiographers often employed three modes of reference: the literal, the allegorical, and the metaphoric.(FN22) One such metaphoric reference involves
a character's descent into an underground realm.... It is hard not to read such stories emblematically, especially since in most, the protagonist is said to be personally known or to have a special connection to the historian: the underground explorer is clearly a stand-in for the historian himself. But read in this way, the episodes are not likely to inspire confidence in the historian's ability to retrieve material for us from the past Either the attempt to bring up an object from the other world fails entirely, or the items thus obtained turn out to be useless, unreal, impermanent.(FN23)
Other common metaphoric references to the difficulties of the historian's task in recovering the past include digging stories (uncovering secrets), self-references in the conquest of land (what Otter calls the topos of "gaainable tere"), the process of discovering saints' bodies, textual hints about secret knowledge and prophecies, and crossing quicksand to arrive at your destination.(FN24) In each case, the writing metaphor is tied to the elements of that story that most threaten its credibility, and the result is a subtle invitation to the audience to reconsider the truth value of certain parts of the story.
In the context of these metaphors, the first lines of the Prologue express some anxiety about the reliability and truth value of source materials. I think that Chaucer does love old books (as do those of us who analyze his works), but his defense of source materials actually highlights the problems of dealing with sources in the process. Chaucer begins with an implied comment about Dante, one of his auctoursr.
Both the literal value of Dante and of sources in general take a hit in this passage, including -- interestingly, enough -- the literal story of Alceste. Not only has no one in Chaucer's country, ever been to heaven or hell and back again, but also "no man" anywhere can go and return. Dante, in other words, did not literally do what he said he did, nor did Alceste. To what extent should we trust Dante as a source, therefore? Where do the other sources that are mentioned (both oral and written) get their materials? When the subject is heaven or hell, there could of course be divine inspiration, or they could simply be wrong. In trying to assure his audience that they should believe source materials, Chaucer leaves open the possibility of false sources in the way that he stresses the opposite:
If we should not believe everything to be a lie unless we have seen it or done it, then which ones should we recognize as lies? There must be some lies somewhere. As for divine inspiration, the reference to Saint Bernard both affirms and denies its usefulness. If we can never go to heaven and come back to report on it, then the Saint Bernards of the world are our only source of information. If he did not see everything, then no one can.
The lines that follow emphasize the uncertain nature of the information that we will receive from old books. We must "Yeve credence, in every skylful wise" (F 20) to the wise writers "That tellen of diese olde appreved stories" (F 21). Proven true ("appreved") how? What "skylful" way is there to sort out the truth value of diese stories, especially if we must believe and honor these books where "we han noon other preve" (F 28)? Despite these questions, Chaucer's narrator tells us that he gives these books "feyth and ful credence" (F 31), which serves to remind us that Chaucer the author is not Chaucer the narrator.(FN25) Having already established that there are things we cannot know for certain in this life, must we now take as proven the stories about Alceste, who returns from Hades with the help of Hercules? Critics also have noted the strange parallel between Chaucer's Alceste and Dante's Beatrice, although no critical consensus exists as to what that parallel represents.(FN26) If Simon Meechamjones is correct that Chaucer wishes us to see Alceste as "comic, even at times faintly ridiculous, in a manner impossible for the sublimely dignified Beatrice,"(FN27) then perhaps one should also mention that the god to whom Alceste turns her eyes is the rather ridiculous God of Love (who requires a stern lecture from his follower radier than silent adoration). If there is any value to Dante's Commedia or Alceste's story, it will not be on the level of literal truth. Considering Chaucer's lack of moralizing, it will also include more than a simple allegorical truth.
The God of Love makes a point of mentioning this "lack" of moralizing in his criticism of the narrator. The narrator is accused of causing people to reject serving the God of Love:
In the G Prologue the charge is the same, this time with the phrase "For in pleyn text, it nedeth nat to glose" (254) and the statement that the narrator "mad in Englysh ek the bok/How that Crisseyde Troylus forsook" (264-65). The crime, therefore, is that the narrator did not gloss the stories, adding in the moral asides and marginalia that some in the medieval world thought necessary to protect against misreading (or rather, more accurately, to protect against reading correctly).
As Robert W. Hanning has demonstrated, glossing was seen as a negative act by many medieval writers, and he outlines how Troilus and Criseyde challenges the very concept of glossing.(FN28) To continue with this point, I have looked at the moments in Chaucer's works when he uses the actual term glose in its various forms. While Chaucer acknowledges the coexistence of "text and glose" (BD 333), with the exception of the God of Love's position in the Prologue and all but one of the notations in his translation of Boethius, in the rest of Chaucer's works the term glose appears in a bad light Glosses and glossing have a range of negative meanings, including flattering someone (WBPro III 509, MancPro IX 34, Bo II.pr3.64-65), cajoling someone (TrTV, 1471), or deceiving someone (MkTVU 2140). In fact, the opposite of a gloss is the truth: "This is a verray sooth [truth], withouten glose [deception]" (SqTV 166). For the Summoner, "Glosynge is a glorious thing" (SumT III 1793) because the inherent instability of a gloss allows him to use it to extract money from people. The ambiguous and unstable nature of glossing receives emphasis several times (WBPro III 26, 119; TrW, 1410; SumT III 1792, 1920). Even religious glossing appears questionable. When the Host offers the Parson an opportunity to. "prechen us somewhat" (ML Epi II 1177), the Shipman objects vigorously, demanding that the Parson "schal no gospel glosen here ne teche" (ML Epill 1180). Significantly, when the Parson finally does speak, stressing that he "wol nat glose" (ParsPro X 45), the reason for this lack of glossing is that he is not learned enough. As opposed to the Summoner, whose learning makes him able to deceive others, the Parson's honesty is tied to his lack of ability to deceive -- telling the plain truth instead. The same connotation is given by the Merchant to explain why he cannot use circumlocutions when describing the actions of Damyan and May up in the tree: "I kan nat glose, I am a rude [unlearned] man" (MerT IV 2351).
Glossing, therefore, consistently represents deception in Chaucer's works. To follow the God of Love's commands, the narrator must gloss (i.e., misrepresent) the stories, radier than telling the "verray sooth" of their tales. Considering the number of negative comments about glossing in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer goes on writing "withouten nede of gloss" after the Legend of Good Women, and the God of Love is angry about the lack of glossing in works written before the Legend. Why, then, should we assume that he happily follows the God of Love's commands while writing the Legend) The assumption should be that Chaucer feels no particular remorse for his "crime" (the narrator does argue with the God of Love about his actual intentions), and that the legends will demonstrate (among other things) that moralizing imposes an unwieldy agenda on classical sources.
Since Chaucer feels no actual guilt for writing Troilus and Criseyde, then the use of the dream vision form in the Legend of Good Women takes on additional significance from an historical perspective. Chaucer sets Troilus at least a thousand years ago, and he comments on how our separation in time affects our understanding of the very words that were used, let alone cultural customs:
Although Chaucer gives Troilus an English medieval immediacy in his references to courtly customs and Christian values, he never forgets that he is writing an historical story about pagans: a point that the God of Love appears to miss. In the Prologue to the Legend, therefore, Chaucer goes back to his past, his own personal history -- namely, the dream vision form -- to contextualize his response to the God of Love. An historical story that was misunderstood receives a defense grounded in Chaucer's own history of writing. The narrator's protests that he has been misunderstood deserve to be taken seriously on at least one level; after all, important poets do not write major works in order to be considered second-rate. The narrator may appear bumbling at times, but Chaucer was not It takes a great deal of self-confidence (and ego) to poke fun at one's self, and it is Chaucer, after all, who creates this entire situation from the start The agenda of the God of Love and Alceste would throw out Chaucer's masterpiece to date, Troilus and Criseyde, so the narrator's actual job is to find a polite way to disagree.
If the shadows of the God of Love and Alceste hang over the narrator as he rates, then it is worth one more mention that the shade of Dante follows the narrator as well. Dante's presence/absence in the Prologue gives added levels of complexity to the discussion of authorities and source materials because of Dante's own interactions with his Virgilian and Ovidian sources.(FN29) Dante deliberately misreads the Aeneid at times to make his own point, uses Virgilian quotations to new effect, and adopts a "double-edged" approach to certain allusions based on a context that permits him to reference more than one work at once.(FN30) Chaucer manipulates his sources in similar ways in the Legend of Good Women, changing his classical sources in ways that demand both some knowledge of the original story arid some recognition of how Chaucer has manipulated them (and to what purpose). Additionally, Dante places several of the women (and men) in the legends either in Limbo, at best, or in rather uncomfortable parts of hell;(FN31) No matter how Chaucer rewrites the stories, the reference to Dante keeps the infernal versions of their fates in the background. The simple historical distinction between Chaucer's time and the past dooms the women. If Virgil cannot escape divine justice, why would Dido be able to circumvent the system?
Chaucer emphasizes the historical distinctions between his time and the past in a particularly important metaphor on writing in the Prologue: the gleaning episode. Chaucer admits that he is following in the footsteps of other writers:
Whether we see it as an attempt at modesty, a wry comment on the lack of available materials, and/or as a reference to the scriptural story of Ruth (as Ellen E. Martin suggests),(FN32) it also functions as a rare literary glimpse into the medieval view of archaeology: of finding what others have left behind. As Otter points out, "the primary metaphor inventiones [texts on the finding of a saint's relics] suggest to medieval writers is not layers, strata, or depth, but 'hidden' versus 'revealed,' 'closed,' versus 'opened.'"(FN33) Of the "'three major circumstances' of history identified by Hugh of Saint Victor in the twelfth century -- time, place, and persons," place is the most important because it is the "most durable" of the three.(FN34) For Chaucer, the act of crossing the same "field" that previous authors have crossed brings him into direct contact with history, and, what has been left behind may be obscured from sight in some way. Although he does not dig for his artifacts, Chaucer faces the same challenge of interpretation that a modern archaeologist faces: how to interpret what he has found, and into what, context to place all of the stories/artifacts that he gathers.(FN35)
Moving on to the legends themselves, the historical references in the Prologue begin to take on concrete form. Just as most historiographers grounded their accounts in place, all of the legends begin with some kind of referent to their factual positioning: whether by reference to the authoritative source being used, to the time period, to the geographical location, or to a combination of these elements.(FN36) For example, the Legend of Cleopatra situates the story in Egypt "After the deth of Tholome the kyng" (580), and the Legend of Thisbe takes a few lines to describe the geography of Babylon after Queen Semiramis has finished her construction projects. There is no literary beginning, placing the story beyond time and location; each legend is carefully placed in historical context.
The fact that some of the women do not appear to have suitable stories for the prescribed "rules" invites consideration of Chaucer's structural reasons for choosing them. I suggest that one reason for his selection hinges on their usefulness to convey metaphors about the difficulty of writing from sources. Both the original choice of each tale and Chaucer's subsequent alterations to each of them bespeak a conscious intent to deal with the problem of truth in old books. To demonstrate the problem, Chaucer adapts the metonyms of the historiographers in several ways. For the "digging" metaphor (finding and interpreting the saintes body), Chaucer invites our consideration of the bodies that he unearths in his old books, highlighting how easily "bodies" (read "bodies of work," or "writing") can be misunderstood, especially when the process of digging them up from his sources is so uncertain. The danger of descending underground in search of treasure receives multiple adaptations, both comic and serious. In addition, the text contains numerous "artifacts" of the past that are presented (alongside their corresponding bodies) as texts to be (mis) read. As Chaucer progresses through the stories, the metonyms become more complex, more difficult, more sophisticated -- and more out of control.
Metaphors on writing explain Chaucer's focus in the Legend of Cleopatra. Chaucer's sources, additions, deletions, and "accidental" reminders of what is left out of the story have been well documented.(FN37) In particular, in a story that should be about faithful and unfaithful lovers, why does Chaucer spend so much time talking about the battle of Actium? The selection of the battle sequence makes much more sense if Chaucer is actually writing about the process of writing itself, as we shall see.
Rather than review all of the commentary on this legend (and the following ones), I will focus on those details that are the most important in the context of "smale" history and metaphors on writing.(FN38) One such detail is the focus on truth versus lies. If we have forgotten from the Prologue that books might not be accurate, Chaucer slips in another proviso to the truth value of sources: Antony is a nobleman of the highest virtues "but if that bokes lye" (609) -- unless books lie. After a brief mention of the wedding, which the narrator chooses, to skip, he says he will get to the point of the story ("th'effect" ):
It is no accident that the very next, section deals with the battle of Actium, since it is here that we find the metonym on writing. John M. Fyler has noted another metaphor -- that of the overloaded barge -- which he sees as a representation of the legend as a whole:
Ships are common enough metaphors for poems, but an overloaded barge brings to mind some of the more luxurious events in Cleopatra's life. The narrator's metaphor is doubly unfortunate, since the Legend in fact becomes overloaded with ships; in place of the wedding, Chaucer recounts the battle of Actium. The sea-battle takes up a quarter of Cleopatra's allotted time; and its prominence is not even justified by aspotlight on Antony, who is hardly mentioned. The joke may be that Chaucer the male poet warms to the wrong task; as in the Knight's Tale (I.2605fff.), alliteration seems to mark the narrator's excitement at describing combat.(FN39)
Although Fyler notes the "barge" metaphor, he does not note the significance of the ships that follow. The ships (plural) represent not only this poem, but also all of the poems that follow, plus the process of writing them. At the battle of Actium, the fighting is not described so much in terms of human casualties but in terms of the damage done to the ships. The ships suffer damage from cannon balls (the "grete stones" ), the hooks of the grapnels (the "grapenel, so ful of crokes" ), the shearing hooks used on the ships' rigging (the "sherynge-hokes" ), and the scythe-like hooks to tear the sails ("he rent the seyl with hokes tyke a sithe" ). To add insult to injury, Antony makes his decks slippery with peas (648) and throws quicklime in the enemies' eyes (649), which undoubtedly gets everywhere as well.
The battle mirrors the process that Chaucer has gone through to write this piece of history/legend: it is a mess. The story must literally be ripped into pieces, like the ships, in order to conform to the God of Love's expectations, as all of the stories will be. Like the sailors in the battle, the narrator is under orders to fight this battle, and like the sailors, the narrator is destined to lose this fight The project cannot be done; Cleopatra is not a saint, and her hacked-apart legend resembles the ruins of the ships. Chaucer spends so much time on these images because they are the point of the exercise, not to mention a warning of what is to come.
The "saint's body" that Chaucer gives us corresponds well with the ships-as-texts image: multiple snakes biting her from all angles. Cleopatra's body suffers an attack from all sides at once, as her story does. Her leap into the grave is an example of digging up the saint in reverse: actually watching the saint enter the grave in the first place.(FN40) Chaucer's audience knew that Cleopatra used a snake or two to kill herself, so Chaucer's over-the-top death scene, with a stark-naked Cleopatra jumping into a pit full of snakes, defies expectations. If, as mentioned before, Geoffrey of Monmouth had critics two centuries earlier who were willing to question his use of sources, it is doubtful that Chaucer's audience took this scene at face value.(FN41)
The Legend of Cleopatra succeeds brilliantly as a defense of, Chaucer's approach to writing in Troilus and Criseyde. Far from getting distracted from his purpose, Chaucer creates a surface text that (barely) conforms to the God of Love's expectations, while actually discussing why the God of Love's plans for the legends will not work. The legend includes only those details that are necessary to create the surface text and the underlying metaphorical commentary, stopping when that purpose has been achieved. The bits and pieces of history that Chaucer selects for inclusion emphasize how an agenda can alter history irreparably, and his metaphors for the writing process reject his penance from the beginning.
In the Legend of Thisbe, Chaucer creates more complicated metonyms, if only slightly more complicated, than those found in the Legend of Cleopatra. The Prologue, as shown earlier, contains numerous references to the difficulty of seeing in just the first few lines (F and G: 11, 13, 15, and 16), with the process of seeing tied directly to the question of the authority of sources. Chaucer's manipulation of his source material emphasizes the way that Pyramus and Thisbe do not see each other during their process of falling in love:
The narrator uses the ambiguous "if that I shal nat lye" line (743) in describing how the lovers find the crack in the wall and speak through it as quietly as any words in a confessional: "as softe as any shryfte" (745). The fact that a confessional can exist in this context only as part of a simile is a quiet reminder of how out of place Christianity is in the Babylon of Semiramis.
Chaucer also chooses to discuss both their frustration with the wall that keeps them apart and their reluctant appreciation of it:(FN42)
The wall becomes a metaphor for our own separation by time and space from our sources.(FN43) Just as they cannot see through the wall that separates them from each other, we cannot actually see history; we need to hear about it by report and take it on faith. The wall that separates the lovers functions the same way as our historical source: the source makes it possible to "hear" them, if not see them, and we must be grateful for what we have, even if we want more.
It is important to note that trying to get past the "wall" has disastrous consequences for the young lovers. Pyramus misreads the bloody wimple that he finds, interpreting it as a metonym for Thisbe's body and there-fore believing Thisbe to be dead. As with any act of reading, a sign can be read different ways by different people, who often do not recognize that multiple readings are possible. When Thisbe finds Pyramus dying, "Betynge with his heles on the grounde" (863), the image recalls Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia, Chaucer's probable source for this image.(FN44) In this case, our "saint" kills herself because her body/story has been misunderstood: her wimple is not her body. Pyramus picks up her wimple from a field and misreads its meaning (an action reminiscent of the gleaning in the Prologue). If two people living in the same time period can make this kind of mistake, what are the odds of Chaucer figuring out the story? The legend rejects the idea that there can be a happy ending when we try to connect with the source (in this case, changed to a person) from which we are separated by time (in this case, a wall).
In the Legend of Dido, Chaucer again increases the complexity of his metaphors: both the body of the saint and the metonym for writing the text "double" in ways that cannot be reconciled. Despite the accolades to Virgil and Ovid at the beginning, the narrator takes pains to question more fantastic elements of the story, much in the way that historiographers did. When Aeneas enters Carthage, the narrator underlines his uncertainty about his material:
To make an obvious point -- if he does not know if invisibility is possible, then he does not know if the book is lying. Later on, the narrator faces the same problems when his sources tell him that Venus turns Cupid into the image of Ascanius: "but, as of that scripture,/Be as be may, I take of it no cure" (1144-45).
Dido's legend is one of the longer stories, and a considerable amount of time elapses before Chaucer tells us that he has reached "th'effect... the fruyt of al,/Whi I have told this story, and telle shal" (1160-61). Asin the Legend of Cleopatra, the point of the story leads up to the metaphors. Dido herself uses the term shortly thereafter when talking to her sister Anna, saying that "I wolde fayn to hym ywedded be;/This is th'effect" (1179-80). The circumstances of the "marriage" between Dido and Aeneas come next in the legend, with the ambiguous events in the cave and their repercussions as the focal points of the metaphors.
Despite his two fabulous sources, the narrator claims to be unable to verify what happens in the cave (a location under the earth and there-fore an entrance to the underworld). Of course, one problem is that his sources are incompatible.(FN45) He stresses that "The autour maketh of it no mencioun" (1228) whether Dido and Aeneas go into the cave with anyone else (although Virgil does mention it), but then tells us with an air of authority that Dido "tok hym for husbonde and becom his wyf" (1238), using the particularly touching phrase that then "hom they wente" (1241). Virgil, of course, denies that Dido is actually married to Aeneas in the cave, a point well known to a medieval audience.(FN46) Later on, the story changes. Dido begs Aeneas not to leave because he has sworn to marry her (1319-20); Virgil's Aeneas made no such oath. Which version is correct?
Writing from sources becomes the equivalent of entering a dark cave during a terrible storm: who really knows what is going on? As one finds in the writings of the English historiographers, going underground after a treasure of some kind leads to failure in the end, just as, from the perspective of the "truth," writing about uncertain events is ultimately doomed to failure. Whatever treasure one thinks one has acquired will not stand up to the light of day, or must disintegrate in the real world. Whatever Dido thinks that she has found with Aeneas is, indeed, lost -- if it ever existed at all.
Dido also claims to be pregnant, in a detail that is a Chaucerian addition. Reading the body of Cupid's saint takes on a new level of complication, since there are now two people in one body. Virgil and Ovid in one story, combined by Chaucer -- it is a suggestive image when combined with the body of the pregnant Dido. One really must insist on a metonym in this case, considering the possible implications of the story/body being "impregnated" in some sense by Chaucer.
In the Legend of Hypsipyle and Medea, Chaucer takes his previous "doubling" of the metaphor within one character and not only divides it in an even more startling manner, but also multiplies it in ways that directly undercut the entire storytelling enterprise yet again. The description of Jason and his victims presents us with simple metaphors: he has a "statly aparaunce" (1372) and impeccable manners, but is actually a "false fox" (1393) among the tender chickens (in this case, Hypsipyle and Medea).(FN47) Later, Jason becomes one of the creatures he set out to fight, in that he "is of love devourer and dragoun" (1581).(FN48) Robert W. Frank noted some years ago that Hypsipyle and Medea is really about Jason, rather than his victims.(FN49) I agree, but not for the reasons that Frank offers. In this case, Chaucer switches bodies and genders.(FN50) As if to demonstrate how the project is slipping out of his grasp, the body that is misread is Jason's -- and the women who misread him receive the first tangible criticism of women reading (think Alceste).
Looking at men's appearances alone, Hypsipyle decides that they are "worthy folk, withouten les" (1518) -- a nice reminder of the difficulty of reading sources. Since Hypsipyle does not have a dramatic death in the story, Chaucer places the emphasis on Jason's body, which he scorns in the prologue to the legend for its poor literary quality: the "wordes farced with plesaunce" (1373), the "feyned trouthe" (1374), and the "contre-fetedpeyne and wo" (1376). Hercules "hath so this Jason preysed" (1524) that Jason appears to be the perfect gentleman, so although Hypsipyle misreads the text, it is with considerable assistance from Hercules.
With Medea, it is Fortune that "hire oughte a foul myschaunce" (1609), causing her to misread Jason. Tellingly, Chaucer uses similes instead of metaphors in describing how Medea "reads" Jason: he is "lyk a lord" (1604) instead of an actual lord, and "of his lok as real as a leoun" (1605) rather than a lion. The surface and the substance do not coincide -- the same thing that could be said about the legends. What confronts the reader most directly, however, is that the body of the "saint" has now become the body of a "sinner," which threatens to undermine the process of identification that Chaucer has been using. After all, the implication goes, have the previous women really been saints?(FN51)
Along with the jarring shift in bodies, the metonyms for the process of writing invite the reader even more directly to question Chaucer's imposed penance. The narrator gives us the story of how Jason's uncle, Pelias, tries to get Jason killed by sending him on a dangerous mission. His goal is to find a way "How Jason myghte best distroyed be" (1415). He tells Jason that, according to rumors (1424), there is a golden fleece on the island of Colchis guarded by a dragon, fire-breathing bulls made out of brass, and other "merveyles" (1431). The narrator comments, with some skepticism, "But this was ek the tale, natheles" (1434). The resemblance between Pelias's motives for telling the story and the penance that Chaucer has been given works on two levels. On the one hand, the God of Love sends Chaucer on an unbelievable mission that threatens to destroy him (or at least his health, as he complains bitterly).(FN52) On the other hand, Chaucer acknowledges that his task forces him to tell stories in deceptive ways: he is Pelias, leading astray any listener gullible enough to take his stories at face value.
The conquest motif appears among the metaphors of the historiographers as a way to question the validity of "heroic" action. In particular, when Cistercian monks founded a new monastery in the "wilderness," the foundation story often included oblique references to the people who already lived there and were driven off their lands, which nonetheless would be described as empty.(FN53) When Pelias sends Jason to steal the golden fleece, no one appears to notice that someone lives there and already owns it.(FN54) This point is not lost on Medea, who clearly is referring to Jason's theft of the golden fleece when she states:
It is not Jason's conquest of her that is the primary reference (as should be the case for an abandoned romantic heroine), but rather a reminder of the dangers he faced with her assistance. Earlier in the tale, the same reference occurs with the word "conquerour":
Again, the focus is on the impact that Jason has on the kingdom, rather than on Medea: he conquers with the help of her magic. Chaucer reminds the reader not only of Medea's role in this conquest, but of her treason in helping him. After calling Jason a "traytour" twice (1656, 1659), the narrator tells us that Medea loved Jason more than herself, causing her to leave "hire fader and hire heritage" (1666). It is after the reference to Jason's, "conquest" in her letter that the narrator breaks off, advising his readers to read the rest in Ovid. As with the previous legends, once he has made his point, Chaucer moves on to the next story.
Just as the subject matter of the Legend of Lucrece is difficult, so are the metaphors. The act of writing echoes the rape of Lucrece.(FN55) By combining the body of me "saint" with the metonym on writing -- Lucrece is both saint's body and artifact -- Chaucer creates a powerful and violent (or powerful because violent?) analogy. Chaucer's revision of the story has Lucrece lose consciousness before the rape; the majority of the critical commentary has been on the kindness of this change, removing even the hint of guilt from Lucrece, and I agree with this reading.(FN56) The change also emphasizes Tarquin's deliberate misreading of the situation when he knows that, as another man's wife, "he she wolde nat ben geten" (1753), but decides that he will make her his "leman" (1772) anyway.(FN57) Tarquin knows the truth of the situation and chooses to ignore it. Lucrece cannot do anything about his attack, and all of her friends and relatives say repeatedly that she is not guilty of anything. Lucrece, however, denies their forgiveness for her -- "I wol not have noo forgyft for nothing" (1853) -- and kills herself.(FN58) Although Lucrece is not a virgin martyr, she is a chaste martyr, and there are similarities in historiographers' accounts of the "rapes" of saints' shrines. In one case, the sarcophagus of Saint Aedieldiryth receives a hole in it from a Danish "pagan" (who is punished), and later a "wicked presbyter" tries to steal a piece of the saint's robe by poking a stick through the hole (and also is punished).(FN59) The attacks on the saint's body also represent attacks on the monastic community that houses the saint, just as Lucrece's body will be carried through the streets as a metonym for the crimes of the Roman kings against their people as a whole.
Lucrece's final acts correspond well with the metonyms, since she is the "source" from which others are stealing. Lucrece kills herself to deny even the slightest possibility of misreading, making it clear that she would radier be dead than misunderstood.(FN60) The crime in this context is willful misreading, as the God of Love has misread Chaucer's work. Some critics have thought that they detect humor in Lucrece's care to remain covered as she falls, and there may be an element of humor in the presentation.(FN61) If Lucrece stands for our ancient source, which has been attacked and brutalized by the God of Love's focus on only the betrayal of women, then diere is a serious point to her fastidiousness. Even in death, Lucrece insists that no part of her be exposed to public view -- or to public misreading -- because she loves "trouthe" (1860). The job of the poet, therefore, cannot be tied too directly to the truth in sources, since the truth is covered by time.
The Legend of Ariadne lends itself particularly well to a discussion of metaphor, since critics have seen metaphors in the image of the labyrinth (as the narrative) and in Ariadne's construction of her own version of events (as commentary on authorial intent).(FN62) The metonyms, however, are found in three Chaucerian additions: Phaedra as the real savior of Theseus, the inclusion of the Scylla story, and the infamous privy reference. In this story, the body-swapping includes three women, and the metonym for writing takes us to new depths in the underground descent metaphor.
After a very incomplete summary of the story of Minos and Scylla (to which we will return in a moment), the narrator announces that he is going to "come ageyn to my matere" (1959). Directly after this comment, we get a metonym for writing. Theseus is complaining about his fate alone in the dungeon at the bottom of a tower, and he is overheard by Ariadne and her sister Phaedra in their room far above through the privy shaft ("foreyne" ). Based on their eavesdropping, they decide to save Theseus, who sounds like a perfect gendeman, from the Minotaur. Ultimately Ariadne is abandoned on a beach as she watches Theseus sail away with her sister. As mentioned before, it never works out well in the histories when people go underground looking for buried treasure, especially since one already should know what is at the bottom of a privy.(FN63) The implications for Chaucer's project are funny, but at the same time there is a (necessarily) veiled reference to the increasingly disgusting nature of the God of Love's project.
As we have seen in the metaphors so far, there are no random elements in these stories; rather, every detail is carefully chosen to make Chaucer's point about the difficulty of writing from sources. The implicit comparison between Scylla and Ariadne is a form of body-swapping, which reminds the readers that many of the victims are interchangeable.(FN64) Scylla helps Minos, he rejects her, and the gods take pity on her; Ariadne helps Theseus, he rejects her, and the gods take pity on her. What is missing is that Scylla kills her father for Minos, who reacts with justifiable horror to the deed. Ariadne and Phaedra betray both their father and their half-brother the Minotaur (monster or not, he is family). Additionally, Chaucer's changes make Phaedra, radier than Ariadne, the one who saves Theseus. In all fairness, sometimes the truth is not pretty, and lying about it (as Ariadne does, when she claims to be the one Theseus should thank) does not get one anywhere. The men, too, become interchangeable on some level. Minos, in revenge for the death of his son, starts killing other people's sons, and Theseus, to save himself, lies to and abandons Ariadne. Even the bed is addressed by Ariadne as another person/item wronged by Theseus (2211-13), taking anthropomorphic representation to comic heights. There are no heroes here, either male or female, and the very gender-equality of the legend rings truer than the God of Love's cheerfully morbid approach: the only good woman is a dead one. Chaucer jams as many negative portrayals of human beings in this story as possible, again creating a message that defies the God of Love's instructions.
The level of violence in the Legend of Philomela outdoes most classical mythology in its sheer viciousness, and it will be after this legend that Chaucer's metonyms begin to indicate that the project has lost all control. As mentioned earlier, critics have noted that Chaucer's version of the Philomela story contains commentary about writing and reading.(FN65) Patricia Klindienst Joplin uses the metaphor of the "voice of the shuttle" (from Sophocles) to represent women's stories that society attempts to suppress, ultimately unsuccessfully.(FN66) Joplin adapts R%en%e Girard's concept of the surrogate victim, arguing that "the woman, in exchange, becomes the surrogate victim for the group. Her body represents the body politic."(FN67) In essence, the story of Philomela is an unsuccessful attempt by Pandion to exchange Procne (the community's surrogate victim) with Tereus to avoid conquest; Tereus, as a barbarian, does not follow society's rules about how to treat women as property and "steals" Philomela also. The bodies of the victims represent the violence done to the larger community (as Lucrece's body did earlier in her story).
After Tereus rapes her and cuts out her tongue, Philomela communicates her, story through her weaving, an artifact that represents writing. Chaucer's Philomela does not weave pictures into her tapestry to depict the horrific crimes committed against her by Tereus:
Philomela uses letters to write her own story, word for word. When her sister reads the tapestry, Procne is struck dumb by the horror of what she reads: "No word she spak, for sorwe and ek for rage" (2374). Only eight lines later, Chaucer's narrator leaves the sisters in each other's arms, stating then that
The careful choice of words in the repetition of how she was "served" reminds us of the grisly end: Tereus unknowingly is served his own son as a meal.(FN68)
Both Chaucer and Philomela have been rendered "mute" (one by Tereus and one by the God of Love), and both manage to tell their tales in full, albeit in unusual and indirect ways. As a metaphor about writing, Philomela's weaving "speaks for itself" when Procne reads it, with no allegorical meaning needed; it is the very thing that the God of Love had criticized concerning Troilus and the Romaunt, which Chaucer wrote "withouten nede of glose" (F 328). Procne's act of reading is informative as well, since it is clear that the story is powerful enough without placing artificial constraints on it One gets the feeling, in fact, that the story would be more powerful if it were told in full, truthfully. The rest of the story is "no charge for to telle" in several ways. The dramatic ending must be "cut off" (although carefully not forgotten) if the narrator is to appear to be following the God of Love's commands, but Chaucer has made his point about textual transmission. Very few words are needed to tell the story -- the true story -- making it apparent that the truth of the story conflicts with the God of Love's prescribed structure for the legends.
In the Legend of Phyllis, the image of the ship tossed on the sea is reminiscent of the earlier ship imagery in the Legend of Cleopatra. The tempest damages the ship so badly that a "carpenter ne coude it nat amende" (2418). Demophoön cannot control the ship, which is tossed on the waves until it reaches Phyllis's kingdom. The out-of-control ship and the out-of-control lover parallel each other, going wherever the wind blows. The legends, at this point, are out of control as well, with the narrator complaining again about his task and, in this manner, registering once more his fundamental disagreement with the God of Love's constraints on his storytelling. The project resembles the ship at the mercy of elements beyond the narrator's control.
The representation of Phyllis receives harsh treatment from Chaucer, in the way that Ariadne did, but with no mitigating factors. In the first two lines, both experience and authority tell us the obvious:
Phyllis should have known that Demophoön, "the foxes sone" (2448), would be like his father, Theseus.(FN69) She admits her mistake in her lengthy letter, since she knows the story of Ariadne (2544-49). The reason for the unusually long excerpt from Ovid's Heroides lies in its focus on the theme of learning from the past, as well as in her recognition of her earlier willful misreading. Phyllis knew better than to get involved with Demophoön, but like Tereus (an uncomfortable comparison, to be sure), Phyllis chose to blind herself to the situation. Chaucer does not spare either men or women from the necessity of learning from the mistakes of the past
By the time that we reach the Legend of Hypermnestra, the attempt to represent historical sources through metonyms comes completely unraveled. The symmetry between the stories of Alceste and Hypermnestra is strong enough to make Hypermnestra's legend a good counterpoint to the legend of Alceste.(FN70) It is possible that Hypermnestra was meant to be the final legend, and the metonyms on writing would indicate that Chaucer had no place else to go with the project(FN71) As Hypermnestra herselfsays about her future plans, "nedes-cost this thyng moste have an ende" (2697).
In the G version of the Prologue, the God of Love scolds the narrator for choosing the wrong material by asking him, "what eyleth the to wryte/The draf of storyes, and forgete the corn?" (311-12). The narrator describes Hypermnestra in just such terms:
The body of the "saint," therefore, is the epitome of a writing metonym: she is the "corn" of which the narrator should be writing. But in Hypermnestra, Chaucer blurs the, lines between signifiers and signified until they threaten to merge together, losing separate meaning. Do the Roman gods control Hypermnestra's fate, or is it the influence of the stars (which conveniently enough go by the names of the Roman gods)? What does it mean when Chaucer changes the story from fifty daughters ordered to kill fifty husbands to one daughter? Does she gain or lose value as a signifier?(FN72) When Chaucer switches the names of Hypermnestra's father (Danaus in Ovid) and Lyno's father (Aegyptus in Ovid), does it mean, as Gila Aloni argues, that Chaucer is suggesting "that men too are transactable, that men too can be part of an exchange in which they function as values, not subjects"?(FN73) If Hypermnestra is interchangeable with her forty-nine sisters, and her father's and uncle's names are just as exchangeable, does anything have solid meaning?
Being the "corn" of the story makes Hypermnestra's significance to the entire project especially important Just as Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn play dual roles as Roman gods and stars, Hypermnestra plays a dual role as a positive "corn" for the God of Love and a negative "corn" for Chaucer. The God of Love clearly could not object to Hypermnestra's portrayal, but Chaucer makes it equally clear that the poor girl is doomed by the influence of the "gods" before she is even born. The "gods" (or is it the stars, the Weirds, or Destiny?) reduce her to a state of inaction. If Hypermnestra is the "corn" that the God of Love demanded, then the metaphor suggests that the influence of the gods/God of Love is a blight on Hypermnestra's life -- and by extension a blight on the lives of the other women in the legends.
In one sense, Hypermnestra's dilemma is also Chaucer's: how to carry on with an imposed project that will either cause the death of someone else ("and shal myne hondes blody be?" ) or result in one's own death ("And shal I have my throte korvea-two?" ). Chaucer's stories have "wielded the knife" against numerous characters at this point, and Hypermnestra's refusal to do so appears to have a strong effect on the narrator, who stops writing and gives up; in essence, he sits down and waits for the end, as she does.
The subversive nature of these metaphors leaves no doubt that Chaucer rejects the God of Love's views of writing and of the women themselves. The metonyms on the writing process create an historical landscape embedded with literary quicksand: walk carefully here because things are not as they seem. As the historiographers warned their readers to question what they were reading, Chaucer warns us to remember why we are reading, and to what purpose. Within the Legend of Good Women the narrator must tell the stories through the shared agenda of the God of Love and Alceste. After the Legend Chaucer will set the Canterbury Tales in the immediate present, making it even clearer that any stories of the past should be seen in the context of the individual narrator of the tale: history in its ultimate subjective form.
The Legend of Good Women is, in fact, a coherent story with a coherent structure and message. Far from being "failures," the legends successfully construct metaphors about the dangers of writings from sources, hiding them under a thin veneer of courtly and hagiographic elements. Far from being disconnected from the Prologue, the legends are the practical application of the Prologue and its concerns. With true Chaucerian irony, Chaucer manages both to master and to reject the art of deception, refusing to rewrite history at the very moment that he appears to be doing so.
North Georgia College and State University Dahlonega, Georgia (email@example.com)
A thousand tymes have I herd men telle
That ther ys joy in hevene and peyne in helle,
And I acorde Wel that it ys so;
But, natheles, yet wot I wel also
That ther his noon dwellyng in this contree
That eyther hath in hevene or helle ybe,
Ne may of hit noon other weyes witen
But as he hath herd seyd or founde it writen;
For by assay ther may no man it preve.
But God forbede but men shulde leve
Wel more thing then men han seen with ye!
Men shal not wenen every thing a lye
But yf himself yt seeth or elles dooth;
For, God wot, thing is never the lasse sooth,
Thogh every wight ne may it nat ysee.
Bernard the monk ne saugh nat all, pardee!
Thou maist yt nat denye,
For in pleyn text, withouten nede of glose,
Thou hast translated the Romaunce of the Rose,
That is an heresye ayeins my lawe,
And makest wise folk fro me withdrawe;
And of Creseyde thou hast seyd as the lyste,
That maketh men to wommen lasse triste.
Ye knowe ek that in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yet thei spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
Ek for to wynnen love in sondry ages,
In sondry londes, sondry ben usages.
For wel I wot that ye han her-biforn
Of makyng ropen, and lad awey the corn,
And I come after, glenyng here and there,
And am fill glad yf I may fynde an ere
Of any goodly word that ye han left
The weddynge and the feste to devyse,
To me, that have ytake swich emprise
Of so many a story for to make;
It were to longe, lest that I shulde slake
Of thyng that bereth more effect and charge;
For men may overlade a ship or barge.
And forthy to th'effect thanne wol I skyppe,
And al the remenaunt, I wol lete it slippe.
And thus by report was hire name yshove
That, as they wex in age, wex here love.
Thus wolde they seyn: "Alas, thow wikkede wal!"
Thorgh thyn envye thow us lettest al.
Why nylt thow eleve or fallen al a-two?
But, nathles, yit be we to thee holde,
In as muche as thow sufferest for to gon
Oure wordes thourgh thy lym and ek thy ston.
Whan he was in the large temple come,
I can nat seyn if that it be possible,
But Venus hadde hym maked invysible --
This seyth the bok, withouten any les.
"O, haddest thow in thy conquest ded ybe,
Ful mikel untrouthe hadde ther deyd with the!"
(1676-77; emphasis mine)
For she hath taught hym how he shal nat fayle
The fles to wynne and stynten his batayle;
And saved hym his lyf and his honour;
And gat hym a name ryght as a conquerour,
Ryght thourgh the sleyghte of hire enchauntement.
She coude eek rede and wel ynow endyte,
But with a penne coude she nat wry te.
But letters can she weve to and fro,
So that, by that the yer was al ago,
She hadde ywoven in a stamyn large
How she was brought from Athenes in a barge,
And in a cave how that she was brought;
And al the thyng that Tereus haul wrought,
She waf it wel, and wrot the storye above,
How she was served for hire systers love.
The remenaunt is no charge for to telle,
For this is al and som: thus was she served.
By preve as wel as by autorite,.
That wiked fruit cometh of a wiked tre.
The whiche child of hire natyvyte
To alle thewes goode yborn was she,
As likede to the goddes er she was born,
That of the shef she sholde be the corn.
1. Critics who discuss the significance of beginning with the Cleopatra legend include the following: V. A. Kolve, "From Cleopatra to Alceste: An Iconographie Study of The Legend of Good Women," in John P. Hermann and John J. Burke, Jr., eds., Signs and Symbols in Chaucer's Poetry (University, Ala., 1981), 130-78, esp. 130; Peter L. Allen, "Reading Chaucer's Good Women," Chaucer Review 21 (1987): 419-34, at 419-20; Donald W. Rowe, Through Nature to Eternity: Chaucer's Legend of Good Women. (Lincoln, Neb., 1988), 49; and Steven F. Kruger, "Passion and Order in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," Chaucer Review 23 (1989): 219-35, esp. 220-22.
2. All quotations from IGW come from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987). I will be drawing mainly from the F Prologue for the sake of convenience, since my points for discussion are all found in both the F and the G Prologues. The continuing debates on the two prologues are not a concern of this paper, since they do not affect my conclusions. For an overview of the main debates over the two prologues, see The Riverside Chaucer, 1060-61. Asample of articles on the G Prologue demonstrate the range of disagreement: as recently as 1993 Joseph A. Dane argued that the G Prologue was the result of a massive scribal error and not Chaucer's work at all ("The Notions of Text and Variant in the Prologue to Chaucer's Legend of Good Women: MS Gg, lines 127-38," Publications of the Bibligraphical Society of America 87 : 65-80), while M. C. Seymour and Burt Kimmelman have both made new cases for seeing G as a revision of F (M. C. Seymour, "Chaucer's Revision of the Prologue of The Legend of Good Women," Modem Language Review 92 : 832-41; and Burt Kimmelman, "Than Motyn We to Bokys': Writing's Harvest in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women," Journal of the Early Booh Society 3 : 1-35).
3. For the argument that LGW belongs to the genre of hagiography, see Catherine Sanok, "Reading Hagiographically: The Legend of Good Women and Its Feminine Audience," Exemplaria 13 (2001): 323-54; and Janet M. Cowen, "Chaucer's Legend of Good Women: Structure and Tone," Studies in Philology 82 (1985): 416-36.
4. As Sanok notes, "our interpretation of life and literature is informed by the discursive traditions we know" ("Reading Hagiographically," 353). Chaucer's audience would have been familiar with this tradition, even if many modern readers are not, Similarly, when R. Barton Palmer argues that Chaucer starts with some of the situations in the works of Guillaume de Machaut and reworks them, he points out that "the original readership for such works hears the continuing echo of other texts whose voices have not been extinguished, only altered" ("Chaucer's Legend of Good Women: The Narrator's Tale," in Robert G. Benson and Susan J. Ridyard, eds., New Readings of Chaucer's Poetry [Cambridge, U.K., 2003], 183-94, at 186). Suzanne C. Hagedorn makes an equivalent point about Chaucer's use of classical sources: "By an earlier generation of critics, Pandarus's concatenation of Ovidian texts would be viewed as just another example of Chaucer's getting his classical lore hopelessly muddled. Nevertheless, careful readers like Fleming and Wetherbee have presented compelling evidence to illustrate Chaucer's self-conscious play with classical intertexts" (Abandoned Women: Rewriting the Classics in Dante, Boccaccio, & Chaucer [Ann Arbor, Mich., 2004], 136).
5. See the University of Michigan Press's online Middle English Dictionary for the complete list of meanings (http://ets/umdl/umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?size=First+100&type=he adword&ql=smal&rgxp=constrained).
6. Many of the classical women in LGW were believed to have been historical figures, radier than fictional characters, and saints' lives naturally proclaim themselves completely historical. Several twelfth-century English historiographers, in particular, were perceived as questionable in their use of facts, if not outright liars on occasion, creating a distinct subcategory in historical writing. Although all historical accounts are shaped by interpretation and agenda, there was nonetheless a perceived difference between the "serious" writers of history and those with obvious "flaws" in their presentation of facts.
7. Helen Cooper, "Chaucerian Poetics," in Robert G. Benson and Susan J. Ridyard, eds., New Readings of Chaucer's Poetry (Cambridge, U.K., 2003), 31-50, at 31.
8. Many articles have focused on Chaucer's multiple meanings. Edward I. Condren, in his examination of three deliberately ambiguous metaphors in CT, warns that "one interpretation of literature need not cancel out another, as if criticism were an algebraic equation" ("Transcendent Metaphor or Banal Reality: Three Chaucerian Dilemmas," Papers on Language and Literature 21 : 233-57, at 254). Helen Phillips, in her argument that Chaucer comments indirectly on English politics in LGW, rejects "redu [ing] the multiple suggestiveness of such writing to two mutually exclusive terms, a false surface and an underlying (ironic) truth. Radier, discordant registers and polysemy produce momentary fragmentation and multiplication of senses in certain words, within a passage's surface meaning and the dominant discourse" ("Register, Politics, and the Legend of Good Women," Chaucer Review 37 : 101-28, at 102).
9. Lisa J. Riser, Telling Classical Tales: Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983). See also her Truth and Texluality in Chaucer's Poetry (Hanover, N.H., 1991), esp. 1-10, 95-110.
10. A. J. Minnis, "De Vulgari Auctoritate: Chaucer, Gower, and the Men of Great Authority," in Robert F. Yeager, ed., Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange (Victoria, B.C., 1991), 36-74, at 48.
11. See Minnis, "De Vulgari Auctoritate," 41.
12. Josephine Bloomfield, "'The Doctrine of These Olde Wyse': Commentary on the Commentary Tradition in Chaucer's Dream Visions," Essays in Medieval Studies 20 (2003): 125-32, at 127.
13. Chaucer's fondness for metaphors is well documented. For examples, see the following articles: Peter W. Travis, "Chaucer's Heliotropes and the Poetics of Metaphor," Speculum 72 (1997): 399-427; Mel Storm, "Speech, Circumspection, and Orthodontics in the Manciple's Prologue and Tale and the Wife of Bath's Portrait," Studies in Philology 96 (1999): 109-26; Paul B. Taylor, "The Canon's Yeoman's Breadi: Emanations of a Metaphor," English Studies 60 (1979): 380-88; Melvin Storm, "Alisoun's Ear," Modern Language Quarterly 42 (1981): 219-26; John F. Plummer, "The Wife of Bath's Hat as Sexual Metaphor," English Language Notes 18 (1980): 89-90; and Riser's identification of Alceste as a metaphor in Truth and Textualily, 106.
14. Rowe outlines parallels between Dante's journey through hell and the thematic and verbal echoes in Chaucer's progression through the legends (Through Nature to Eternity, esp. 87-107), suggesting that Chaucer's penance is a type of "descent into hell in imitation of her" (105). While Rowe sees the tales of Phyllis and Hypermnestra as a reversal, a reascent out of hell that approaches the threshold, I see the metaphors on writing in diese tales as continuing the overall work's descent into the pit. For the argument that there is a "fundamental affinity" between Dante's Commedia and Chaucer's CT (that Chaucer absorbs and revises Dantean concepts without necessarily borrowing directly), see Richard Neuse, Chaucer's Dante: Allegory and Epic Theater in The Canterbury Tales (Los Angeles, 1991).
15. Indeed, I believe that Chaucer's intentions in LGW are far more complex, including additional borrowings and layers of meaning. For example, it is more than likely that Chaucer borrowed some of his ideas from the works of Machaut (see Palmer, "Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," 185-91).
16. Indeed, my research confirms (at least in part) the findings of several literary critics, starting with Riser, on the historicity of Chaucer's works. Allen argues that the text makes readers responsible for their own reading ("Reading Chaucer's Good Women," esp. 420-21), which Chaucer certainly expected from his inclusion of metaphors. I agree with many of Rowe's examples about how Chaucer questions his own source materials in the legends, although I believe Chaucer writes this way for a different reason than Rowe does (Through Nature to Eternity, 52-80, esp. 80). I also agree with James Simpson that Chaucer's intention in LGW is to offer us "an alternative both to the tyrannical reading of his patron [the God of Love] and to the brutal faithlessness depicted in the legends themselves" ("Ethics and Interpretation: Reading Wills in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," Studies in the Age qf Chaucer 20 : 73-100, at 74).
17. The question of whether Chaucer's narrator truly attempts to follow the God of Love's directions (and, if so, to what purpose) is the key point in the interpretation of this poem. Riser argues that the narrator does follow the directions, but, by doing so, she proves that they do not work (Telling Classical Tales, 93-94). Some critics argue that the narrator never follows the directions, intending to "fail on purpose" (see Rruger, "Passion and Order," 220). Robert Worth Frank, Jr., argues that the legends are meant as practice for CT, with some legends abbreviated better than others (Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women [Cambridge, Mass., 1972], 35-36, 79-80, 169-72). Florence Percival argues that LGW is meant as a joke for a female audience accustomed to courtly games and the debate about women; see her Chaucer's Legendary Good Women (Cambridge, U.R., 1998), esp. 1-20. Elaine Tuttle Hanson and Carolyn Dinshaw suggest that the narrator participates in the God of Love's antifeminist agenda: Elaine Tuttle Hansen, "The Feminization of Men in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," in Sheila Fisher and Janet E. Hailey, eds., Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings (Rnoxville, Tenn., 1989), 51-70; and Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics (Madison, Wise, 1989), 65-87. This approach is refuted in detail by Simpson, "Ethics and Interpretation," 84-93. Sheila Delany sees Chaucer's attitude toward women as complex, distanced "from a simplistic or essentialist misogyny that would portray women -- 'Woman' -- as inherently passive or inherently wicked" (The Naked Text: Chaucer's Legend of Good Women (Berkeley, 1994), 188.
18. Elizabeth D. Harvey sees LGW not as a palinode, but as a defense of 7r, rejecting the antifeminist views of the God of Love ("Speaking of Tongues: The Poetics of the Feminine Voice in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," in Edelgard E. DuBruck, ed., New Images of Medieval Women [Lewiston, N.Y., 1989], 47-60). See also Allen, "Reading Chaucer's Good Women," 422-25; and Kiser, Telling Classical Tales, 71-94, esp. 92-93.
19. For a discussion of Chaucer's works as "essentially historical projects" that subvert the distinction between history and fiction, see Riser, Truth and Textuality, 2-5. For the historicity of saints' legends, see Riser, Telling Classical Tales, 102.
20. Monika Otter, Inventiones: Fiction and Referentiality in Twelfth-Century English Historical Writing (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1996).
21. For William of Newburgh's challenge to Geoffrey of Monmouth's version of the Ardiurian legends, see Otter, Inventions, 95; for Gerald of Wales's "dig" at Geoffrey of Monmouth's truthfulness, see 146; and for Walter Map's narratorial digressions and commentary on his own actions, see 115.
22. Otter, Inventiones, 6.
23. Otter, Inventiones, 5.
24. For the discovery of saints' bodies in inventiones, see Otter, Inventiones, 21-57; for the "gaainable tere" motif, see 59-92; for the self-referendality of underground exploration, see 93-128; for the quicksand motif, see 129-55; and for the use of secret knowledge and prophecies, see 140-41.
25. Allen emphasizes that the opening lines warn us that "these stories may be false, and that as interpreters we are on our own" ("Reading Chaucer's Good Women," 422). For the narrator as a naive reader, see Riser, Truth and Textuality, 108.
26. For an overview of the main critical arguments on the Alceste/Beatrice link, see both Simon Meecham-Jones, "'Myn Erdily God' -- Paradigm and Parody in The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women," in Neil Thomas, ed., Myth and Its Legacy in European Literature (Durham, U. R., 1996), 93-113, esp. 100-104; and Donna Schlosser, "Imagery, Rhetoric, and Imagination: Chaucer's Three-point Perspective on Trouthe-Keeping in Legend of Good Women," Geardagum 22 (2001): 43-55, esp. 43-45.
27. Meecham-Jones, "Myn Erthly God," 102.
28. Robert W. Hanning, "'I Shal Fmde It in a Maner Glose': Versions of Textual Harassment in Medieval Literature," in Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Schichtman, eds., Medieval Texts and Contemporary Headers (Ithaca, N.Y., 1987), 27-50.
29. For an excellent discussion of Dante's intertextual games with his sources, see the essays in Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp, eds., The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante's "Commedia," (Stanford, 1991).
30. See in Jacoff and Schnapp, eds., The Poetry of Allusion: Robert Hollander, "Dante's Misreadings of the Aeneid in Inferno 20," 77-93; Peter S. Hawkins, "Dido, Beatrice, and the Signs of Ancient Love," 113-30; William A. Stephany, "Dante's Harpies: 'Tristo annunzio di futuro danno,'" 37-44; and Rachel Jacoff, "Intertextualities in Arcadia: Purgatorio 30.49-51," 131-44.
31. In Dante's Inf., Lucrece is sighted in Limbo (4.128); Dido is mentioned as inhabiting the circle of the lustful, as is Cleopatra (5.61-63); Virgil reminds the Minotaur of Theseus and Ariadne to distract him (12.16-21); and Jason is being whipped on by demons in the bolge for panderers and seducers, where both Hypsipyle and Medea are discussed as Jason's victims (18. 83-99). Dante refers to the myth of Procne and Philomela at two points in Purg. (9.13-15, 17.19-21) when referring to the swallow and the nightingale, but does not place them as residents of Purgatory. Following Dante's schema, one could guess at the final resting places for the remaining people (taking into account that Dido, a suicide, is actually with the lustful instead). Not being Christians, none will be in Purgatory, just as Virgil is not For both Chaucer's and Dante's use of the Procne and Philomela legend, see Jeanette Hume Lutton, "'Inviolable Voice': Philomela and Procne in Dante's Purgatorio and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde," in Donald Palumbo, ed., Spectrum of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Sixth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (New York, 1988), 3-19.
32. See Ellen E. Martin, "Chaucer's Ruth: An Exegetkal Poetic in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women," Exemplaria 3 (1991): 467-90.
33. Otter, Inventiones, 53.
34. Otter, Inventiones, 4.
35. For examples of the medieval mind using inductive reasoning with the artifacts found while digging for saints, see Otter, Inventiones, 54-55, 158-59.
36. For Chaucer's "insistence on historicizing" with the phrase "At thilke time" in the story of Lucrece, see Andrew Galloway, "Chaucer's Legend of Lucrece and the Critique of Ideology in Fourteenth-Century England," ELH 60 (1993): 813-32 at 829.
37. For one argument, see Kolve, "From Cleopatra to Alceste," 130-51; for the sources, see Beverly Taylor, "The Medieval Cleopatra: The Classical and Medieval Tradition of Chaucer's Legend of Cleopatra," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 7 (1977): 249-69, and Frank, Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, 38n2.
38. The book-length studies of LGW include the following: Frank (Chaucer and the, Legend of Good Women, 1972); Riser (Telling Classical Tales, 1983); Rowe (Through Natureto Eternity, 1988); William A. Quinn, Chaucer's Rehersynges: The Performability of The Legend of Good Women (Washington, D.C., 1994); Delany (The Naked Text, 1994); and Percival (Chaucer's Legendary Good Women, 1998).
39. John M. Fyler, Chaucerand Ovid (New Haven, 1979), 100-101.
40. Already knowing which saint was buried at the dig site was a commonplace of inventiones; Otter surmises that "medieval diggers dig deductively, not inductively" (Inventiones, 53). Chaucer certainly know where Cleopatra is buried.
41. Since Gower employs a similar ending for Cleopatra in CA, 8.2571-77 (John Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Russell A. Peck, with Latin translations by Andrew Galloway, 3 vols. [Kalamazoo, Mich., 2006 (2nd edn.), 2003, 2004], 1:209), it is difficult to know which poet borrowed from whom, since the pit of snakes does not appear in earlier literature. In any case, it would not have been "old hat" enough an ending at this point in time for audiences to ignore it.
42. Frank notes that Chaucer adapts Ovid's description of the Avail in a much more "lively" way than his source (Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, 56).
43. In Kruger's argument about the conflict between passion and structure in LGW, he describes the wall as the representation of "societal opposition" to Pyramus and Thisbe's love ("Passion and Order," 230). Although I see it as a metaphor for writing, the wall clearly suggests meanings to crides outside of its literal, physical presence.
44. Sheila Delany, "Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," Chaucer Review 22 (1987): 170-74.
45. As Hagedorn says about Chaucer's Legend of Dido, "The problem here is that Virgil's and Ovid's accounts of Dido simply cannot be reconciled -- as coundess critics have noted, Virgil's raging fury does not take the same tone as Ovid's pathetic heroine; there are unresolyable differences between the Aeneid and Heroides 7" (Abandoned Women, 174).
46. For the argument that Chaucer supports Virgil's view of the "marriage," see Delany, The Naked Text, 197-99.
47. Considering that the fox is a "he" (1392) who will have "his part" (1393), I do not agree with Rowe's assertion that the fox could be Medea as well as Jason (Through Nature to Etemity, 60).
48. Delany notes that Medea, the tamer of dragons, is unable to tame Jason (The Naked Text, 201-2).
49. Frank, Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, 80-82.
50. Nicola F. McDonald notes that "the identification of Jason as the 'confusioun' of women inverts the proverbial definition (familiar in its English and Latin forms) of women as man's confusion, mulier est hominis confusio, and alerts the audience to the way in which the defamation process will proceed. The process by which Jason's 'badness' (for medieval audiences, a reasonably uncontested verdict) is constructed is one of gender reversal; the legend is built up around a resonant core of redeployed antifeminist commonplaces" ("Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, Ladies at Court and the Female Reader," Chaucer Review 35 : 22-42, at 31).
51. Chaucer's compassion for Criseyde is not motivated by seeing her as a saint, but rather as a human being with flaws. Turning sinners into saints seems an unlikely occupation for the author of CT, whether they are male or female.
52. See lines 2238-43.
53. Otter, Invenliones, 61-69, esp. 66.
54. Rowe's assertion that we do not actually see Jason steal anything (Through Nature to Eternity, 60) is a bit facetious; he does steal the golden fleece, and Medea does not have the consent of her father or her people to assist him in stealing the kingdom's property.
55. Riser refers to LGW as a whole as Chaucer's criticism of the type of "narrative 'rape'" done by male poets who "steal what they want from the women's life stories and abandon what remains" (Truth and Textualily, 102).
56. See, for example, Riser, Telling Classical Stories, 105-6.
57. For Lucrece as a "sign" that is "subject to many interpreters," see Delany, The Naked Text, 206-7.
58. As Galloway notes, "Chaucer's Lucrece kills herself because she has a wry awareness that a 'forgyft' is given only 'for' something. Through their language, those around her betray their belief that she is far from untainted... Lucrece opens up their placating words to reveal the harsher and more specific social implications beneath.... [O]nly now does Lucrece realize the assumptions of her culture, that the deed, in spite of her companions' protests, is as important as the intent With this discovery, the first humanist has very few practical recourses except suicide" ("Chaucer's Legend of Lucrece," 828). See also Rowe, Through Nature to Eternity, 65.
59. See Otter, Invenliones, 35.
60. Gila Aloni argues that after Lucrece succeeds in creating a sympathetic community of her family and friends, she "seeks the understanding of a larger community" by killing herself to avoid any scandal ("Lucrece's 'Myght': Rhetorical/Sexual Potency and Potentiality in Geoffrey Chaucer's Legend of Lucrece," Rhetorical Society Quarterly 29 : 31-42, at 37)
61. Frank sees it instead as modesty on Lucrece's part (Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, 108).
62. For the labyrinth as metaphor, see Elizabeth Noble Shor, qtd. in Delany, The Naked Text, 210. For Ariadne as "author" of her own story, see Delany, 212.
63. In addition to the obvious, archaeologists have found that privies were often used as a type of garbage disposal; anything that one did not want to carry out to the trash pile was instead simply dropped down the privy. Theseus's location near the bottom of the chute is also, therefore, implicitly linked to garbage. For an interesting discussion of what could be found in privies, see Ivor Noel Hume, Historical Archaeology (New York, 1974), 139-41.
64. For a more complete comparison of the similarities between Scylla and Ariadne, see Delany, The Naked Text, 180-82.
65. In particular, see Patricia Rlindienst Joplin, "The Voice of the Shuttle is Ours," Stanford Literature Review 1 (1984): 25-53. Additionally, Riser describes Philomela's weaving as an analogue for translation, and she considers Philomela a "better 'translator' than Chaucer... for she weaves true experience into art without the kind of falsification Chaucer uses in giving form to his ladies' lives" (Telling Classical Tales, 112,144).
66. See in particular her discussions of Arachne, Medusa, and Philomela (Joplin, "The Voice of the Shutde," 48-52).
67. Joplin, "The Voice of the Shutde," 36.
68. As Simpson puts it, "the terror of this scene is spectacularly suppressed... if these texts are 'naked,' they bear the visible and terrible scars of deliberate excisions and even of amputations" ("Ethics and Interpretation," 94).
69. See Rowe, Thmugh Nature to Eternity, 75-76; and Frank, Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, 148.
70. Riser notes that the Legend of Cleopatra and the Legend of Hypermnestra both contain images of self-sacrifice and of descents into hell that invite comparisons with the Alceste story (Telling-Classical Tales, 107-11). Since we know that the narrator must begin with Cleopatra, it seems to me that the similarities in Hypermnestra's story make it the perfect final legend, since the story of Alceste has already been told in the Prologue.
71. On the possibility mat Chaucer intended the Legend of Hypermnestra to be unfinished, see Rowe, Through Nature to Etemity, 104,108-23.
72. For the perspective that Hypermnestra gains in value from the reduction, see Gila Aloni, "A Curious Error? Geoffrey Chaucer's Legend of Hypermnestra," Chaucer Review 36 (2001): 73-86, esp. 75; for the argument mat the reduction is a loss for the character, see Fyler, Chaucer and Ovid, 101-2; and Frank, Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, 158.
73. See Aloni, "A Curious Error?," 74.