|TITLE:||TWO POSSIBLE SOURCES FOR CHAUCER'S DESCRIPTION OF THE PARDONER|
|SOURCE:||Notes and Queries 252 no3 233-6 S 2007|
AULUS GELLIUS (b.c. CE125),(FN1) in Book 3 of the Attic Nights, relates the following observation made by Sallust in The War with Catiline: 'Avarice implies a desire for money, which no wise man covets; steeped as it were with noxious poisons, it renders the most manly body and soul effeminate...'(FN2) The relevance of this observation to Chaucer's description of the Pardoner is apparent. At least since W. C. Curry's analysis, critics have associated the word 'mare' in the narrator's speculation, 'I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare' (1.691), with the possibility of effeminacy.(FN3) Jill Mann observed a connection between the label 'mare' and the description of homosexual men as effeminate in a poem by Walter de Chatillôn.(FN4)
Monica McAlpine opines, in an article that has become the standard point of reference on the subject, that '"Mare" must be a term commonly used in Chaucer's day to designate a male person who, though not necessarily sterile or impotent, exhibits physical traits suggestive of femaleness.'(FN5) While McAlpine argues for the Pardoner's homosexuality, she acknowledges that effeminacy need not imply homosexuality and critics have continued to debate the implications of the description.(FN6) Richard Firth Green, for instance, has argued that effeminacy is a sign not of impotence or homosexuality but rather of womanizing.(FN7)
To my knowledge, no one has explored the direct link between avarice and effeminacy that Gellius finds in Sallust. It has been assumed that the avarice to which the Pardoner 'confesses' in his prologue is a 'screen sin', that the Pardoner confesses avarice in order to conceal 'some graver defect of body or soul or both'.(FN8) Alastair Minnis would repeal this trend, but only to concentrate on the sins of greed, pride, and vainglory that the Pardoner all too readily makes public.(FN9) Walter Schep has proposed a link between the allusions to horses and the sin of avarice, but his suggestion does not connect avarice and effeminacy.(FN10)
Lee Patterson has drawn attention recently to the connection between simony and sodomy in fourteenth-century reformist literature.(FN11) The medieval logic is that both are sins against nature, simony in the sense of substituting the material for the spiritual, as though one could really buy grace through indulgences. Patterson argues that this equivalence is 'traditional' and 'undoubtedly of long standing'.(FN12) His argument requires that the description of the Pardoner implies sodomy, a connection which is contested.
Sallust's remark requires no such inference, though his observation may have contributed to the fusion of simony and sodomy as sins against nature. The remark links avarice to effeminacy directly ('corpus animumque virilem effeminat') rather than to either spiritual or corporeal sodomy. Such a distinction shifts the emphasis from the medieval Christian and, specifically, reformist economy of sin to an ancient Roman discussion of virtue. Undoubtedly the Christian context dominates our understanding of the Pardoner, given his vocation, confession, and preaching. Yet the narrow description of effeminacy perhaps derives from a different historical context.(FN13)
The remark Gellius reports constitutes a direct link between avarice and effeminacy, between the defining features of the Pardoner's Prologue and portrait description respectively. Did Chaucer know of his Attic Nights, or of Sallust's Catiline! Both were known in the Middle Ages. The twelfth-century Moralium dogma philosophorum cites Catiline repeatedly.(FN14) Sallust also appears as a source in the Summa Virtutum de Remediis Anime, which Chaucer used for the Parson's Tale. R. R. Bolgar has shown that Sallust was among the authorities regularly cited in the medieval period.(FN15) Attic Nights, meanwhile, circulated in the time of John of Salisbury in two different traditions, one consisting of books 1-7, the other of books 9-20, book 8 having been lost.(FN16) John of Salisbury evidently used an anthology consisting of parts of both. Much of this anthology (also used by William of Malmesbury) is preserved in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, written in England in the mid-twelfth century.(FN17)
While the connection between avarice and effeminacy itself appears to be unsupported by the penitential literature Chaucer evidently knew and used, the sources cited in such works as the Moralium dogma philosophorum suggest habits of reading that would become more widespread as humanism deepened, habits that were beginning-we know from other contexts-to be reflected in Chaucer's own. Nor can we assume that such an allusion is arcane and therefore unlikely in a poetic reference in search of an audience. The allusion just as easily attests a humanistic current not reflected in the observations of a more prevalent pre-existing medieval ethical discourse.
Neither Sallust nor Aulus Gellius is much discussed in Chaucer Studies. Sallust appears not to have received the kind of attention accorded such authorities as Seneca and Cicero, though his wisdom was similar and he was placed by one medieval authority in the highest class of pagan authors according to merit, higher than Cicero.(FN18) The situation is even more enticing as regards Gellius. Long ago Karl Young drew attention to a textual emendation by T. A. Jenkins regarding Deschamps' ballade addressing Chaucer, an emendation the result of which made it appear that the French poet considered Chaucer to be a latter-day Gellius.(FN19) Young pursued the link in terms of Chaucer's and Gellius's similar interest in reading old books and collecting and recording what of interest they found in them.(FN20) That they shared such a predilection certainly rings true. But perhaps there was not enough substance in such an observation upon which other critics could build. Jenkins' and Young's observations suggest that they thought Chaucer knew of Gellius's work, but neither-nor Deschamps himself, for that matter-explicitly claims (let alone proves) that Chaucer used the Attic Nights. Perhaps readers of Chaucer have not had enough reason to seek other links to Gellius; many of the commonplace insights the ancient reader so generously supplies could be found elsewhere.
In the case of Chaucer's description of the Pardoner, I would suggest we have sufficient reason for more actively investigating Sallust or Gellius as a source. The connection between avarice and effeminacy Gellius reports as having been made by the ancient figure Sallust affords a simple, elegant explanation for the emphasis on effeminacy in Chaucer's description of the Pardoner once his avarice comes into view. The fourteenth-century poet may yet again have drawn upon an old book to supply the outline of a physical description that accords with some other aspect of his presentation of a figure, in this case a pardoner poisoned by avarice. Yet this link may prove more significant for the interest it rekindles in a source of ancient wisdom and stories, Aulus Gellius, who only fell from favour in the nineteenth century, and in Sallust, whose authority in the Middle Ages as such a source ranks with the highest.(FN21)
St Jerome's University, Canada
1 Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and his Achievement, rev edn (Oxford, 2003), 16.
2 Avaritia pecuniae studium habet, quam nemo sapiens concupivit; ea quasi venenis malis imbuta corpus animumque virilem effeminat. Aulus Gellius, The Attic Nights, trans. John C. Rolfe (London, 1961), 3.1.2; Sallust. The War with Catiline, trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, 1960), 11.3.
3 W. C. Curry, Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences (New York, 1926), 57ff. Of Chaucer's line and in disparage-ment of Curry's appeal to physiognomy literature to argue that the Pardoner is a eunuchus ex nativitale. G. G. Sedgewick gruffly writes, 'And this is what everybody, medieval or modern, would "trowe" him to be from his appearance and voice alone', G. G. Sedgewick, 'The Progress of Chaucer's Pardoner, 1880-1940', Modern Language Quarterly, i (1940), 435. References to Chaucer are taken from Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn, ed. Larry D. Benson et al. (Boston, 1987).
4 Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (Cambridge, 1973), 146.
5 Monica E. McAlpine, 'The Pardoner's Homosexuality and How It Matters', PMLA, lxxxxv (1980), 12.
6 McAlpine, 'The Pardoner's Homosexuality', 11.
7 Richard Firth Green, 'The Sexual Normality of Chaucer's Pardoner', Mediaevalia, 8 (1982), 351-8; Richard Firth Green, 'Further Evidence for Chaucer's Representation of the Pardoner as a Womanizer', Medium Aevum, 71 (2002), 307-9.
8 McAlpine, 'The Pardoner's Homosexuality', 14n27; Alastair Minnis, 'Reclaiming the Pardoners', Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 33 (2003), 326.
9 Minnis, 'Reclaiming the Pardoners', 327.
10 Walter Scheps, 'Chaucer's Numismatic Pardoner and the Personification of Avarice', in The Fourteenth Century, ed. Paul E. Szarmach and Bernard S. Levy (Binghampton, 1977), 107-23.
11 Lee Patterson, 'Chaucer's Pardoner on the Couch: Psyche and Clio in Medieval Literary Studies', Speculum, 76 (2001), 665-6; John Wyclif, Tractatus de Simonia, ed. Dr Herzberg-Fränkel and Michael Henry Dziewicki (London, 1898), 8.
12 Patterson, 'Chaucer's Pardoner on the Couch', 665 and 665n113.
13 Chaucer may have linked the ancient observation to reformist concerns in an entirely different way. Sallust observes that avarice is 'steeped... with noxious poisons' (venenis malis imbuta). The phrase venerium malum means 'harmful drug' or 'poison'. John C. Rolfe translates the phrase here, venenis malis, as 'noxious poisons'. The Latin word for indulgence or pardon, venia, is proximate to venemtm for word-play. I have not discovered such a play on words linking pardon to poison in reformist literature, but Chaucer may have been punning. The pun would add a typically Chaucerian dimension of density to the correspon-dences between the description, prologue, and tale of the Pardoner. The description of avarice as poison would render more poignant the Pardoner's confession of spitting out 'venym under hewe/Of hoolynesse' (VI.421-2) and make the tale, with its poisonings, all the more fitting for the teller. My thanks to Alcuin Blamires for encouraging me to include these dimensions.
14 Guillaume de Conches, Moralium dogma philoso-phorum, ed. John Holmberg (Uppsala, 1929), 26, 38 et passim.
15 R. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage (New York, 1964), 193, 197-8, 423.
16 Janet Martin, 'Uses of Tradition: Gellius, Petronius, and John of Salisbury,' Viator, 10 (1979), 58-9. See also Janet Martin, 'John of Salisbury's Manuscripts of Frontinus and Gellius', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 40 (1977), 1-26.
17 Martin, 'Uses of Tradition', 60.
18 Bolgar, The Classical Heritage, 197.
19 Deschamps apostrophizes Chaucer in the following terms: 'O Socrates plains de philosophie,/Seneque en meurs et Anglux en pratique...' Jenkins read the phrase 'et Anglux' as 'Auglius' and interpreted it as referring to Aulus Gellius. Karl Young, 'Chaucer and Aulus Gellius', Modern Language Notes, 52 (1937), 347-8; T. Atkinson Jenkins, 'Des