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Title: Astronomical Lore in Chaucer
Author: Grimm, Florence M.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Astronomical Lore in Chaucer" ***

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  _Assistant in the University of Nebraska Library_


  LOUISE POUND, Ph. D., Department of English
  H. B. ALEXANDER, Ph. D., Department of Philosophy
  F. W. SANFORD, A. B., Department of Latin.



    I. Astronomy in the Middle Ages         3

   II. Chaucer's Scientific Knowledge       9

  III. Chaucer's Cosmology                 12

   IV. Chaucer's Astronomy                 27

    V. Astrological Lore in Chaucer        51

       Appendix                            79




The conspicuousness of astronomical lore in the poetry of Chaucer is due
to its importance in the life of his century. In the mediaeval period,
astronomy (or 'astrology,' for the two names were used indifferently to
cover the same subject) was one of the vital interests of men. The
ordinary man of the Middle Ages knew much more than do most men to-day
about the phenomena of the heavens; conveniences such as clocks, almanacs,
and charts representing celestial phenomena were rare, and direct
observations of the apparent movements and the relative positions of the
heavenly bodies were necessary for the regulation of man's daily
occupations. Furthermore, the belief in a geocentric system of the
universe, which in Chaucer's century was almost universally accepted, was
of vast significance in man's way of thinking. Accepting this view, all
the heavenly bodies seemed to have been created for the sole benefit of
man, inhabiting the central position in the universe; their movements,
always with reference to the earth as a center, brought to man light,
heat, changes of season--all the conditions that made human life possible
on the earth.

Not only did the man of the Middle Ages see in the regular movements of
the celestial spheres the instruments by which God granted him physical
existence, but in the various aspects of heavenly phenomena he saw the
governing principles of his moral life. The arrangement of the heavenly
bodies with regard to one another at various times was supposed to exert
undoubted power over the course of terrestrial events. Each planet was
thought to have special attributes and a special influence over men's
lives. Venus was the planet of love, Mars, of war and hostility, the sun,
of power and honor, and so forth. Each was mysteriously connected with a
certain color, with a metal, too, the alchemists said, and each had
special power over some organ of the human body. The planet's influence
was believed to vary greatly according to its position in the heavens, so
that to determine a man's destiny accurately it was necessary to consider
the aspect of the whole heavens, especially at the moment of his birth,
but also at other times. This was called "casting the horoscope" and was
regarded as of great importance in enabling a man to guard against
threatening perils or bad tendencies, and to make the best use of
favorable opportunities.

It is not astonishing, then, that the great monuments of literature in the
mediaeval period and even much later are filled with astronomical and
astrological allusions; for these are but reflections of vital human
interests of the times. The greatest poetical work of the Middle Ages,
Dante's _Divina Commedia_, is rich in astronomical lore, and its dramatic
action is projected against a cosmographical background reflecting the
view of Dante's contemporaries as to the structure of the world. Milton,
writing in the seventeenth century, bases the cosmology of his _Paradise
Lost_ in the main on the Ptolemaic system, but makes Adam and the
archangel Raphael discuss the relative merits of this system and the
heliocentric view of the universe. The latter had been brought forth by
Copernicus a century earlier, but even in Milton's day had not yet
succeeded in supplanting the old geocentric cosmology.

The view of the universe which we find reflected in Chaucer's poetry is
chiefly based on the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, though it shows traces
of very much more primitive cosmological ideas. The Ptolemaic system owes
its name to the famous Alexandrian astronomer of the second century A. D.,
Claudius Ptolemy, but is based largely on the works and discoveries of the
earlier Greek philosophers and astronomers, especially Eudoxus,
Hipparchus, and Aristarchus, whose investigations Ptolemy compiled and,
along some lines, extended. Ptolemaic astronomy was a purely geometrical
or mathematical system which represented the observed movements and
relative positions of the heavenly bodies so accurately that calculations
as to their positions at any given time could be based upon it. Ptolemy
agreed with his contemporaries in the opinion that to assign causes for
the celestial movements was outside the sphere of the astronomer. This was
a proper field of philosophy; and the decisions of philosophers,
especially those of Aristotle, were regarded as final, and their teaching
as the basis upon which observed phenomena should be described.

According to the Ptolemaic system the earth is a motionless sphere fixed
at the center of the universe. It can have no motion, for there must be
some fixed point in the universe to which all the motions of the heavenly
bodies may be referred; if the earth had motion, it was argued, this would
be proportionate to the great mass of the earth and would cause objects
and animals to fly off into the air and be left behind. Ptolemy believed
this reason sufficient to make untenable the idea of a rotatory motion of
the earth, although he was fully aware that to suppose such a motion of
the earth would simplify exceedingly the representations of the celestial
movements. It did not occur to him that to suppose the earth's atmosphere
to participate in its motion would obviate this difficulty. The earth was
but a point in comparison with the immense sphere to which the stars were
attached and which revolved about the earth once in every twenty-four
hours, imparting its motion to sun, moon, and planets, thus causing day
and night and the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies. The irregular
motions of the planets were accounted for by supposing them to move on
circles of small spheres called 'epicycles', the centres of which moved
around the 'deferents', or circles of large spheres which carried the
planets in courses concentric to the star sphere. By giving each of the
planets an epicycle and deferent of the proper relative size and velocity
the varied oscillations of the planets, as far as they could be followed
by means of the simple instruments then in use, were almost perfectly
accounted for.

Though it was a purely mathematical system which only attempted to give a
basis for computing celestial motions, Ptolemaic astronomy is of great
importance historically as it remained the foundation of theoretical
astronomy for more than 1400 years. Throughout the long dark centuries of
the Middle Ages it survived in the studies of the retired students of the
monasteries and of the few exceptionally enlightened men who still had
some regard for pagan learning in the days when many of the Church Fathers
denounced it as heretical.

Ptolemy was the last of the great original Greek astronomers. The
Alexandrian school produced, after him, only copyists and commentators,
and the theoretical astronomy of the Greeks, so highly perfected in
Ptolemy's _Almagest_, was for many centuries almost entirely neglected.
The Roman State gave no encouragement to the study of theoretical
astronomy and produced no new school of astronomy. Although it was the
fashion for a Roman to have a smattering of Greek astronomy, and famous
Latin authors like Cicero, Seneca, Strabo and Pliny wrote on astronomy,
yet the Romans cared little for original investigations and contributed
nothing new to the science. The Romans, however, appreciated the value of
astronomy in measuring time, and applied to the Alexandrian school to
satisfy their practical need for a calendar. What Julius Caesar obtained
from the Alexandrian Sosigenes, he greatly improved and gave to the
Empire, as the calendar which, with the exception of the slight change
made by Gregory XIII, we still use.

The pseudo-astronomical science of astrology, or the so-called 'judicial
astronomy' was pursued during the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle
Ages with much greater zeal than theoretical astronomy. The interest in
astrology, to be sure, encouraged the study of observational astronomy to
a certain extent; for the casting of horoscopes to foretell destinies
required that the heavenly bodies be observed and methods of calculating
their positions at any time or place be known. But there was no desire to
inquire into the underlying laws of the celestial motions or to
investigate the real nature of the heavenly phenomena.

If the Roman State did not encourage astronomy, the Roman Church
positively discouraged it. The Bible became and long remained the sole
authority recognized by the Church Fathers as to the constitution of the
universe. By many of the Patristics Ptolemaic astronomy was despised; not
because it did not describe accurately the observed phenomena of the
heavens, for it did this in a way that could scarcely have been improved
upon with the facilities for observation then available; and not because
it was founded upon the false assumption that the earth is the motionless
center of the universe about which all heavenly bodies revolve; but
because there was no authority in Scripture for such a system, and it
could not possibly be made consistent with the cosmology of Genesis.
Allegorical descriptions of the universe based on the Scriptures held
almost complete sway over the mediaeval mind. The whole universe was
represented allegorically by the tabernacle and its furniture. The earth
was flat and rectangular like the table of shew bread, and surrounded on
all four sides by the ocean. The walls of heaven beyond this supported the
firmament shaped like a half-cylinder. Angels moved the sun, moon, and
stars across the firmament and let down rain through its windows from the
expanse of water above.

By no means all of the early Church Fathers were wholly without
appreciation of the fruits of Greek astronomical science. Origen and
Clement of Alexandria, while believing in the scriptural allegories, tried
to reconcile them with the results of pagan learning. In the West, Ambrose
of Milan and later Augustine, were at least not opposed to the idea of the
earth's sphericity, and of the existence of antipodes, although they could
not get away from the queer notion of the waters above the firmament. A
few enlightened students like Philoponus of Alexandria, Isidore of
Seville, the Venerable Bede, and Irish scholars like Fergil and Dicuil,
studied the Greek philosophers and accepted some of the pagan scientific

Fortunately the study of those ancient Latin writers whose works had
preserved some of the astronomy of the Greeks had taken firm root among
the patient scholars of the monasteries, and slowly but steadily the
geocentric system of cosmology was making its way back into the realm of
generally accepted fact, so that by the ninth century it was the system
adopted by nearly all scholars.

About the year 1000 began the impetus to learning which culminated in the
great revival of the Renaissance. One cause of this intellectual awakening
was the contact of Europe with Arab culture through the crusades and
through the Saracens in Sicily and the Moors in Spain. The Arabian
influence resulted in an increased sense of the importance of astronomy
and astrology; for, while the scholars of the Christian world had been
devising allegorical representations of the world based on sacred
literature, the Arabian scholars had been delving into Greek science,
translating Ptolemy and Aristotle, and trying to make improvements upon
Ptolemaic astronomy. The spheres of the planets, which Ptolemy had almost
certainly regarded as purely symbolical, the Arabs conceived as having
concrete existence. This made it necessary to add a ninth sphere to the
eight mentioned by Ptolemy; for it was thought sufficient that the eighth
sphere should carry the stars and give them their slow movement of
precession from west to east. This ninth sphere was the outermost of all
and it originated the "prime motion" by communicating to all the inner
spheres its diurnal revolution from east to west. In mediaeval astronomy
it came to be known as the _primum mobile_ or "first movable," while a
tenth and motionless sphere was added as the abode of God and redeemed
souls. The sun and moon were included among the planets, which revolved
about the earth in the order Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter,

At first the astronomy taught in the universities was based on Latin
translations of Arabic commentaries and paraphrases of Aristotle, which
had made their way into Europe through the Moors in Spain. For several
centuries Aristotle represented in the eyes of most scholastics "the last
possibility of wisdom and learning." But by the middle of the thirteenth
century Ptolemy began to be rediscovered. The Ptolemaic system of
planetary motions was briefly described in a handbook compiled by John
Halifax of Holywood, better known as Sacrobosco. Roger Bacon wrote on the
spheres, the use of the astrolabe, and astrology, following Ptolemy in his
general ideas about the universe. The great mediaeval scholar and
philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, was also familiar with the Ptolemaic system;
but to most of the men of the thirteenth century Ptolemy's works remained
quite unknown. The real revival of Greek astronomy took place in the
fourteenth century when scholars began to realize that new work in
astronomy must be preceded by a thorough knowledge of the astronomy of the
Alexandrian school as exhibited in the _Syntaxis_ of Ptolemy. It was then
that Greek and Latin manuscripts of works on astronomy began to be eagerly
sought for and deciphered, and a firm foundation constructed for the
revival of theoretical astronomy.



It was in the fourteenth century that Chaucer lived and wrote, and his
interest in astronomical lore is, therefore, not surprising. Although the
theories of astronomy current in Chaucer's century have been made
untenable by the _De Revolutionibus Orbium_ of Copernicus, and by Kepler's
discovery of the laws of planetary motion; although the inaccurate and
unsatisfactory methods of astronomical investigation then in use have been
supplanted by the better methods made possible through Galileo's invention
of the telescope and through the modern use of spectrum analysis; yet, of
all scientific subjects, the astronomy of that period could most nearly
lay claim to the name of science according to the present acceptation of
the term. For, as we have seen, the interest in astrology during the
Middle Ages had fostered the study of observational astronomy, and this
in turn had furnished the science a basis of fact and observation far
surpassing in detail and accuracy that of any other subject.

Practically all of Chaucer's writings contain some reference to the
movements and relative positions of the heavenly bodies, and to their
influence on human and mundane affairs, and in some of his works,
especially the treatise on _The Astrolabe_, a very technical and detailed
knowledge of astronomical and astrological lore is displayed. There is
every reason to suppose that, so far as it satisfied his purposes, Chaucer
had made himself familiar with the whole literature of astronomical
science. His familiarity with Ptolemaic astronomy is shown in his writings
both by specific mention[1] of the name of Ptolemy and his _Syntaxis_,
commonly known as the 'Almagest,' and by many more general astronomical

Even more convincing evidence of Chaucer's knowledge of the scientific
literature of his time is given in his _Treatise on the Astrolabe_.
According to Skeat, Part I and at least two-thirds of Part II are taken,
with some expansion and alteration, from a work on the Astrolabe by
Messahala[2], called, in the Latin translation which Chaucer used,
"Compositio et Operatio Astrolabie." This work may have been ultimately
derived from a Sanskrit copy, but from Chaucer's own words in the
_Prologue to the Astrolabe_[3] it is clear that he made use of the Latin
work. The rest of Part II may have been derived from some general
compendium of astronomical and astrological knowledge, or from some other
of the treatises on the Astrolabe which Chaucer says were common in his

Other sources mentioned by Chaucer in _The Astrolabe_ are the calendars of
John Some and Nicholas Lynne, Carmelite friars who wrote calendars
constructed for the meridian of Oxford[5]; and of the Arabian astronomer
Abdilazi Alkabucius.[6] In _The Frankeleyns Tale_ Chaucer mentions the
Tabulae Toletanae,[7] a set of tables composed by order of Alphonso X,
king of Castile, and so called because they were adapted to the city of
Toledo. Works which served Chaucer not as sources of information on
scientific subjects but as models for the treatment of astronomical lore
in literature were the _De Consolatione Philosophiae_ of Boethius, which
Chaucer translated and often made use of in his poetry; and the works of
Dante, whose influence on Chaucer, probably considerable, has been pointed
out by several writers, notably Rambeau[8] who discusses the parallels
between _The Hous of Fame_ and the _Divina Commedia_.



Chaucer wrote no poetical work having a cosmographical background as
completely set forth as is that in Dante's _Divine Comedy_ or that in
Milton's _Paradise Lost_. Although his cosmological references are often
incidental they are not introduced in a pedantic manner. Whenever they are
not parts of interpolations from other writers his use of them is due to
their intimate relation to the life his poetry portrays or to his
appreciation of their poetic value. When Chaucer says, for example, that
the sun has grown old and shines in Capricorn with a paler light than is
his wont, he is not using a merely conventional device for showing that
winter has come, but is expressing this fact in truly poetic manner and in
words quite comprehensible to the men of his day, who were accustomed to
think of time relations in terms of heavenly phenomena.

Popular and scientific views of the universe in Chaucer's century were by
no means the same. The untaught man doubtless still thought of the earth
as being flat, as it appears to be, as bounded by the waters of the ocean,
and as covered by a dome-like material firmament through which the waters
above sometimes came as rain; while, as we have seen, by the fourteenth
century among scholars the geocentric system of astronomy was firmly
established and the spheres and epicycles of Ptolemy were becoming more
widely known. It is the view held by the educated men of his century that
Chaucer's poetry chiefly reflects.

1. _The Celestial Spheres and their Movements_

When we read Chaucer we are transported into a world in which the heavenly
bodies and their movements seem to bear a more intimate relation to human
life than they do in the world in which we live. The thought of the
revolving spheres carrying sun, moon, and planets, regulating light and
heat on the earth, and exercising a mysterious influence over terrestrial
events and human destiny was a sublime conception and one that naturally
appealed to the imagination of a poet. Chaucer was impressed alike by the
vastness of the revolving spheres in comparison to the earth's smallness,
by their orderly arrangement, and by the unceasing regularity of their
appearance which seemed to show that they should eternally abide. In the
_Parlement of Foules_ he interpolates a passage from Cicero's _Somnium
Scipionis_ in which Africanus appears to the sleeping Scipio, points out
to him the insignificance of our little earth when compared with the
vastness of the heavens and then admonishes him to regard the things of
this world as of little importance when compared with the joys of the
heavenly life to come.[9]

  "Than shewed he him the litel erthe, that heer is,
  At regard of the hevenes quantite;
  And after shewed he him the nyne speres."

The regular arrangement of the planetary spheres clings often to the
poet's fancy and he makes many allusions to their order in the heavens. He
speaks of Mars as "the thridde hevenes lord above"[10] and of Venus as
presiding over the "fifte cercle."[11] In _Troilus and Criseyde_ the poet
invokes Venus as the adorning light of the third heaven.[12]

  "O blisful light, of which the bemes clere
  Adorneth al the thridde hevene faire!"[13]

Mediaeval astronomers as we have seen, imagined nine spheres, each of the
seven innermost carrying with it one of the planets in the order mentioned
below; the eighth sphere was that of the fixed stars, and to account for
the precession of the equinoxes, men supposed it to have a slow motion
from west to east, round the axis of the zodiac; the ninth or outermost
sphere they called the _primum mobile_, or the sphere of first motion, and
supposed it to revolve daily from east to west, carrying all the other
spheres with it. The thought of the two outer spheres, the _primum
mobile_, whirling along with it all the inner spheres, and the firmament,
bearing hosts of bright stars, seems to have appealed strongly to the
poet's imagination. In the _Tale of the Man of Lawe_ the _primum mobile_
is described as crowding and hurling in diurnal revolution from east to
west all the spheres that would naturally follow the slow course of the
zodiac from west to east.[14] Elsewhere the _primum mobile_ is called the
"whele that bereth the sterres" and is said to turn the heavens with a
"ravisshing sweigh:"

"O thou maker of the whele that bereth the sterres, which that art
y-fastned to thy perdurable chayer, and tornest the hevene with a
ravisshing sweigh, and constreinest the sterres to suffren thy lawe;"[15]

The firmament, which in Chaucer is not restricted to the eighth sphere but
generally refers to the whole expanse of the heavens, is many times
mentioned by Chaucer; and its appearance on clear or cloudy nights, its
changing aspects before an impending storm or with the coming of dawn,
beautifully described.[16]

2. _The Harmony of the Spheres_

Some of the cosmological ideas reflected in Chaucer's writings can be
traced back to systems older than the Ptolemaic. The beautiful fancy that
the universe is governed by harmony had its origin in the philosophy of
the Pythagoreans in the fourth century B. C., and continued to appeal to
men's imagination until the end of the Middle Ages. It was thought that
the distances of the planetary spheres from one another correspond to the
intervals of a musical scale and that each sphere as it revolves sounds
one note of the scale. When asked why men could not hear the celestial
harmony, the Pythagoreans said: A blacksmith is deaf to the continuous,
regular beat of the hammers in his shop; so we are deaf to the music which
the spheres have been sending forth from eternity.

In ancient and mediaeval cosmology it was only the seven spheres of the
planets that were generally supposed to participate in this celestial
music; but the poets have taken liberties with this idea and have given
it to us in forms suiting their own fancies. Milton bids all the celestial
spheres join in the heavenly melody:

  "Ring out, ye crystal spheres,
  Once bless our human ears,
    If ye have power to touch our senses so;
  And let your silver chime
  Move in melodious time,
    And let the base of heaven's deep organ blow;
  And with your ninefold harmony,
  Make up full consort to the angelic symphony."[17]

Shakespeare lets every orb of the heavens send forth its note as it moves:

  "There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
  But in his motion like an angel sings,
  Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;"[18]

Chaucer, too, makes all nine spheres participate:

  "And after that the melodye herde he
  That cometh of thilke speres thryes three,
  That welle is of musyke and melodye
  In this world heer, and cause of armonye."[19]

Only in unusual circumstances can the music of the spheres be heard by
mortal ears. In the lines just quoted the celestial melody is heard during
a dream or vision. In _Troilus and Criseyde_, after Troilus' death his
spirit is borne aloft to heaven whence he beholds the celestial orbs and
hears the melody sent forth as they revolve:

  "And ther he saugh, with ful avysement,
  The erratik sterres, herkeninge armonye
  With sownes fulle of hevenish melodye."[20]

3. _The Cardinal Points and the Regions of the World_

More primitive in origin than the harmony of the spheres are references to
the four elements, to the divisions of the world, and to the cardinal
points or quarters of the earth. Of these, probably the most primitive is
the last. The idea of four cardinal points, the "before," the "behind,"
the "right," and the "left," later given the names North, South, East, and
West, appears among peoples in their very earliest stages of civilization,
and because of its great usefulness has remained and probably will remain
throughout the history of the human race. Only one of Chaucer's many
references to the cardinal points need be mentioned. In the _Man of Lawes
Tale_ (B.491ff.) the cardinal points are first suggested by an allusion to
the four 'spirits of tempest,' which were supposed to have their
respective abodes in the four quarters of earth, and then specifically
named in the lines following:

  "Who bad the foure spirits of tempest,
  That power han tanoyen land and see,
  'Bothe north and south, and also west and est,
  Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree?'"

Of almost equal antiquity are ideas of the universe as a threefold world
having heaven above, earth below, and a region of darkness and gloom
beneath the earth. Chaucer usually speaks of the threefold world, the
"tryne compas," as comprising heaven, earth and sea. Thus in the _Knightes

  "'O chaste goddesse of the wodes grene,
  To whom bothe hevene and erthe and see is sene,
  Quene of the regne of Pluto derk and lowe,'"

Fame's palace is said to stand midway between heaven, earth and sea:

  "Hir paleys stant, as I shal seye,
  Right even in middes of the weye
  Betwixen hevene, erthe, and see;"[22]

Again in _The Seconde Nonnes Tale_, the name 'tryne compas' is used of the
threefold world and the three regions are mentioned:

  "That of the tryne compas lord and gyde is,
  Whom erthe and see and heven, out of relees,
  Ay herien;"[23]

4. _Heaven, Hell and Purgatory_

In mediaeval cosmology ideas of heaven, hell, and purgatory, as more or
less definitely located regions where the spirits of the dead were either
rewarded or punished eternally, or were purged of their earthly sins in
hope of future blessedness, play an important part. According to Dante's
poetic conception hell was a conical shaped pit whose apex reached to the
center of the earth, purgatory was a mountain on the earth's surface on
the summit of which was located the garden of Eden or the earthly
paradise, and heaven was a motionless region beyond space and time, the
motionless sphere outside of the _primum mobile_, called the Empyrean.

Chaucer's allusions to heaven, hell and purgatory are frequent but chiefly
incidental and give no such definite idea of their location as we find in
the _Divine Comedy_. The nearest Chaucer comes to indicating the place of
heaven is in _The Parlement of Foules_, 55-6, where Africanus speaks of
heaven and then points to the galaxy:

  "And rightful folk shal go, after they dye,
  To heven; and shewed him the galaxye."

Chaucer describes heaven as "swift and round and burning", thus to some
extent departing from the conception of it usually held in his time:

  "And right so as thise philosophres wryte
  That heven is swift and round and eek brenninge,
  Right so was fayre Cecilie the whyte."[24]

In using the terms "swift and round" Chaucer must have been thinking of
the _primum mobile_ which, as we have seen, was thought to have a swift
diurnal motion from east to west. His use of the epithet "burning" is in
conformity with the mediaeval conception of the Empyrean, or heaven of
pure light as it is described by Dante.

Chaucer does not describe the form and location of hell as definitely as
does Dante, but the idea which he presents of it by incidental allusions,
whether or not this was the view of it he himself held, is practically the
one commonly held in his day. That hell is located somewhere within the
depths of the earth is suggested in the _Knightes Tale_;[25]--

  "His felawe wente and soghte him down in helle;"

and in the _Man of Lawes Tale_;[26]

  "O serpent under femininitee,
  Lyk to the serpent depe in helle y-bounde,"

In the _Persones Tale_ hell is described as a horrible pit to which no
natural light penetrates, filled with smoking flames and presided over by
devils who await an opportunity to draw sinful souls to their
punishment.[27] Elsewhere in the same tale the parson describes hell as a
region of disorder, the only place in the world not subject to the
universal laws of nature, and attributes this idea of it to Job:

    "And eek Iob seith: that 'in helle is noon ordre of rule.' And
    al-be-it so that god hath creat alle thinges in right ordre, and
    no-thing with-outen ordre, but alle thinges been ordeyned and nombred;
    yet nathelees they that been dampned been no-thing in ordre, ne holden
    noon ordre."[28]

The word purgatory seldom occurs in a literal sense in Chaucer's poetry,
but the figurative use of it is frequent. When the Wife of Bath is
relating her experiences in married life she tells us that she was her
fourth husband's purgatory.[29] The old man, Ianuarie[30], contemplating
marriage, fears that he may lose hope of heaven hereafter, because he will
have his heaven here on earth in the joys of wedded life. His friend
Iustinus sarcastically tells him that perhaps his wife will be his
purgatory, God's instrument of punishment, so that when he dies his soul
will skip to heaven quicker than an arrow from the bow. To Arcite,
released from prison on condition that he never again enter Theseus'
lands, banishment will be a worse fate than the purgatory of life
imprisonment, for then even the sight of Emelye will be denied him:

  "He seyde, 'Allas that day that I was born!
  Now is my prison worse than biforn;
  Now is me shape eternally to dwelle
  Noght in purgatorie, but in helle.'"[31]

The idea of purgatory, not as a place definitely located like Dante's
Mount of Purgatory, but rather as a period of punishment and probation, is
expressed in these lines from _The Parlement of Foules_ (78-84):

  "'But brekers of the lawe, soth to seyne,
  And lecherous folk, after that they be dede,
  Shul alwey whirle aboute therthe in peyne,
  Til many a world be passed, out of drede,
  And than, for-yeven alle hir wikked dede,
  Than shul they come unto that blisful place,
  To which to comen god thee sende his grace!'"

Chaucer uses the idea of paradise for poetical purposes quite as often as
that of purgatory. He expresses the highest degree of earthly beauty or
joy by comparing it with paradise. Criseyde's face is said to be like the
image of paradise.[32] Again, in extolling the married life, the poet says
that its virtues are such

  "'That in this world it is a paradys.'"[33]

And later in the same tale, woman is spoken of as

                    "mannes help and his confort,
  His paradys terrestre and his disport."[34]

When Aeneas reaches Carthage he

                  "is come to Paradys
  Out of the swolow of helle, and thus in Ioye
  Remembreth him of his estat in Troye."[35]

Chaucer mentions paradise several times in its literal sense as the abode
of Adam and Eve before their fall. In the _Monkes Tale_ we are told that
Adam held sway over all paradise excepting one tree.[36] Again, the
pardoner speaks of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise:

  "Adam our fader, and his wyf also,
  Fro Paradys to labour and to wo
  Were driven for that vyce, it is no drede;
  For whyl that Adam fasted, as I rede,
  He was in Paradys; and whan that he
  Eet of the fruyt defended on the tree,
  Anon he was out-cast to we and peyne."[37]

5. _The Four Elements._

The idea of four elements[38] has its origin in the attempts of the early
Greek cosmologists to discover the ultimate principle of reality in the

Thales reached the conclusion that this principle was water, Anaximines,
that it was air, and Heracleitus, fire, while Parmenides supposed two
elements, fire or light, subtle and rarefied, and earth or night, dense
and heavy. Empedocles of Agrigentum (about 450 B. C.) assumed as primary
elements all four--fire, air, water, and earth--of which each of his
predecessors had assumed only one or two. To explain the manifold
phenomena of nature he supposed them to be produced by combinations of the
elements in different proportions through the attractive and repulsive
forces of 'love' and 'discord.' This arbitrary assumption of four
elements, first made by Empedocles, persisted in the popular imagination
throughout the Middle Ages and is, like other cosmological ideas of
antiquity, sometimes reflected in the poetry of the time.

The elements in mediaeval cosmology were assigned to a definite region of
the universe. Being mortal and imperfect they occupied four spheres below
the moon, the elemental region or region of imperfection, as distinguished
from the ethereal region above the moon. Immediately within the sphere of
the moon came that of Fire, below this the Air, then Water, and lowest of
all the solid sphere of Earth. Fire being the most ethereal of the
elements constantly tends to rise upward, while Earth sinks towards the
center of the universe. This contrast is a favorite idea with Dante, who
says in the _Paradiso_ i. 112-117:

  "'wherefore they move to diverse ports o'er the
      great sea of being, and each one with
      instinct given it to bear it on.
  This beareth the fire toward the moon; this
      is the mover in the hearts of things that die;
      this doth draw the earth together and unite it.'"

Elsewhere Dante describes the lightning as fleeing its proper place when
it strikes the earth:

      "'but lightning, fleeing its proper site, ne'er
  darted as dost thou who art returning thither.'"[39]

And again:

  "'so from this course sometimes departeth the
      creature that hath power, thus thrust, to swerve
      to-ward some other part,
  (even as fire may be seen to dart down from
      the cloud) if its first rush be wrenched aside
      to earth by false seeming pleasure.'"[40]

The same thought of the tendency of fire to rise and of earth to sink is
found in Chaucer's translation of Boethius:[41]

    "Thou bindest the elements by noumbres proporcionables, ... that the
    fyr, that is purest, ne flee nat over hye, ne that the hevinesse ne
    drawe nat adoun over-lowe the erthes that ben plounged in the

Chaucer does not make specific mention of the spheres of the elements, but
he tells us plainly that each element has been assigned its proper region
from which it may not escape:

  "For with that faire cheyne of love he bond
  The fyr, the eyr, the water, and the lond
  In certeyn boundes, that they may nat flee;"[42]

The position of the elements in the universe is nevertheless made clear
without specific reference to their respective spheres. The spirit of the
slain Troilus ascends through the spheres to the seventh heaven, leaving
behind the elements:

  "And whan that he was slayn in this manere,
  His lighte goost ful blisfully is went
  Up to the holownesse of the seventh spere,
  In converse letinge every element."[43]

"Every element" here obviously means the sphere of each element;
"holownesse" means concavity and "in convers" means 'on the reverse side.'
The meaning of the passage is, then, that Troilus' spirit ascends to the
concave side of the seventh sphere from which he can look down upon the
spheres of the elements, which have their convex surfaces towards him.
This passage is of particular interest for the further reason that it
shows that even in Chaucer's century people still thought of the spheres
as having material existence.

The place and order of the elements is more definitely suggested in a
passage from _Boethius_ in which philosophical contemplation is
figuratively described as an ascent of thought upward through the spheres:

    "'I have, forsothe, swifte fetheres that surmounten the heighte of
    hevene. When the swifte thought hath clothed it-self in the fetheres,
    it despyseth the hateful erthes, and surmounteth the roundnesse of the
    grete ayr; and it seeth the cloudes behinde his bak; and passeth the
    heighte of the region of the fyr, that eschaufeth by the swifte
    moevinge of the firmament, til that he areyseth him in-to the houses
    that beren the sterres, and ioyneth his weyes with the sonne Phebus,
    and felawshipeth the wey of the olde colde Saturnus.'"[44]

In this passage all the elemental regions except that of water are alluded
to and in the order which, in the Middle Ages, they were supposed to
follow. When in the _Hous of Fame_, Chaucer is borne aloft into the
heavens by Jupiter's eagle, he is reminded of this passage in Boethius and
alludes to it:

  "And tho thoughte I upon Boece,
  That writ, 'a thought may flee so hye,
  With fetheres of Philosophye,
  To passen everich element;
  And whan he hath so fer y-went,
  Than may be seen, behind his bak,
  Cloud, and al that I of spak.'"[45]

Empedocles, as we have seen, taught that the variety in the universe was
caused by the binding together of the four elements in different
proportions through the harmonizing principle of love, or by their
separation through hate, the principle of discord. We find this idea also
reflected in Chaucer who obviously got it from Boethius. Love is the
organizing principle of the universe; if the force of love should in any
wise abate, all things would strive against each other and the universe be
transformed into chaos.[46]

The elements were thought to be distinguished from one another by peculiar
natures or attributes. Thus the nature of fire was _hot_ and _dry_, that
of water _cold_ and _moist_, that of air _cold_ and _dry_, and that of
earth _hot_ and _moist_.[47] Chaucer alludes to these distinguishing
attributes of the elements a number of times, as, for example, in
_Boethius_, III.: Metre 9. 14 ff.:

    "Thou bindest the elements by noumbres proporciounables, that the
    colde thinges mowen acorden with the hote thinges, and the drye
    thinges with the moiste thinges";

In conclusion it should be said that all creatures occupying the elemental
region or realm of imperfection below the moon were thought to have been
created not directly by God but by Nature as his "vicaire" or deputy, or,
in other words, by an inferior agency. Chaucer alludes to this in _The
Parlement of Foules_ briefly thus:

  "Nature, the vicaire of thalmyghty lorde,
  That hoot, cold, hevy, light, (and) moist and dreye
  Hath knit by even noumbre of acorde,"[48]

and more at length in _The Phisiciens Tale_. Chaucer says of the daughter
of Virginius that nature had formed her of such excellence that she might
have said of her creation:

                        "'lo! I, Nature,
  Thus can I forme and peynte a creature,
  Whan that me list; who can me countrefete?
  Pigmalion noght, though he ay forge and bete,
  Or grave, or peynte; for I dar wel seyn,
  Apelles, Zanzis, sholde werche in veyn,
  Outher to grave or peynte or forge or bete,
  If they presumed me to countrefete.
  For he that is the former principal
  Hath maked me his vicaire general,
  To forme and peynten erthely creaturis
  Right as me list, and ech thing in my cure is
  Under the mone, that may wane and waxe,
  And for my werk right no-thing wol I axe;
  My lord and I ben ful of oon accord;
  I made hir to the worship of my lord.'"[49]

What is of especial interest for our purposes is found in the five lines
of this passage beginning "For he that is the former principal," etc.
"Former principal" means 'creator principal' or the chief creator. God is
the chief creator; therefore there must be other or inferior creators.
Nature is a creator of inferior rank whom God has made his "vicaire" or
deputy and whose work it is to create and preside over all things beneath
the sphere of the moon.



Chaucer's treatment of astronomical lore in his poetry differs much from
his use of it in his prose writings. In poetical allusions to heavenly
phenomena, much attention to detail and a pedantic regard for accuracy
would be inappropriate. References to astronomy in Chaucer's poetry are,
as a rule rather brief, specific but not technical, often purely
conventional but always truly poetic. There are, indeed, occasional
passages in Chaucer's poetry showing so detailed a knowledge of
observational[50] astronomy that they would seem astonishing and, to many
people, out of place, in modern poetry. They were not so in Chaucer's
time, when the exigencies of practical life demanded of the ordinary man a
knowledge of astronomy far surpassing that possessed by most of our
contemporaries. Harry Bailly in the _Introduction to the Man of Lawes
Tale_ determines the day of the month and hour of the day by making
calculations from the observed position of the sun in the sky, and from
the length of shadows, although, says Chaucer, "he were not depe expert in
lore."[51] Such references to technical details of astronomy as we find
in this passage are, however, not common in Chaucer's poetry; in his
_Treatise on the Astrolabe_, on the other hand, a professedly scientific
work designed to instruct his young son Louis in those elements of
astronomy and astrology that were necessary for learning the use of the
astrolabe, we have sufficient evidence that he was thoroughly familiar
with the technical details of the astronomical science of his day.

In Chaucer's poetry the astronomical references employed are almost wholly
of two kinds: references showing the time of day or season of the year at
which the events narrated are supposed to take place; and figurative
allusions for purposes of illustration or comparison. Figurative uses of
astronomy in Chaucer vary from simple similes as in the _Prologue to the
Canterbury Tales_, where the friar's eyes are compared to twinkling
stars[52] to extended allegories like the _Compleynt of Mars_ in which the
myth of Venus and Mars is related by describing the motions of the planets
Venus and Mars for a certain period during which Venus overtakes Mars,
they are in conjunction[53] for a short time, and then Venus because of
her greater apparent velocity leaves Mars behind. One of the most
magnificent astronomical figures employed by Chaucer is in the _Hous of
Fame_. Chaucer looks up into the heavens and sees a great golden eagle
near the sun, a sight so splendid that men could never have beheld its
equal 'unless the heaven had won another sun:'

  "Hit was of golde, and shone so bright,
  That never saw men such a sighte,
  But-if the heven hadde y-wonne
  Al newe of golde another sonne;
  So shoon the egles fethres brighte,
  And somwhat dounward gan hit lighte."[54]

Besides mentioning the heavenly bodies in time references and figurative
allusions, Chaucer also employs them often in descriptions of day and
night, of dawn and twilight, and of the seasons. It is with a poet's joy
in the warm spring sun that he writes:

  "Bright was the day, and blew the firmament,
  Phebus of gold his stremes doun hath sent,
  To gladen every flour with his warmnesse."[55]

and with a poet's delight in the new life and vigor that nature puts forth
when spring comes that he writes the lines:

  "Forgeten had the erthe his pore estat
  Of winter, that him naked made and mat,
  And with his swerd of cold so sore greved;
  Now hath the atempre sonne al that releved
  That naked was, and clad hit new agayn."[56]

Chaucer's astronomical allusions, then, except in the _Treatise on the
Astrolabe_ and in his translation of _Boethius de Consolatione
Philosophiae_, in which a philosophical interest in celestial phenomena is
displayed, are almost invariably employed with poetic purpose. These
poetical allusions to heavenly phenomena, however, together with the more
technical and detailed references in Chaucer's prose works give evidence
of a rather extensive knowledge of astronomy. With all of the important
observed movements of the heavenly bodies he was perfectly familiar and it
is rather remarkable how many of these he uses in his poetry without
giving one the feeling that he is airing his knowledge.

1. _The Sun_

Of all the heavenly bodies the one most often mentioned and employed for
poetic purposes by Chaucer is the sun. Chaucer has many epithets for the
sun, but speaks of him perhaps most often in the classical manner as
Phebus or Apollo. He is called the "golden tressed Phebus"[57] or the
"laurer-crowned Phebus;"[58] and when he makes Mars flee from Venus'
palace he is called the "candel of Ielosye."[59] In the following passage
Chaucer uses three different epithets for the sun within two lines:

  "The dayes honour, and the hevenes ye,
  The nightes fo, al this clepe I the sonne,
  Gan westren faste, and dounward for to wrye,
  As he that hadde his dayes cours y-ronne;"[60]

Sometimes Chaucer gives the sun the various accessories with which
classical myth had endowed him--the four swift steeds, the rosy chariot
and fiery torches:

  "And Phebus with his rosy carte sone
  Gan after that to dresse him up to fare."[61]

                        "'now am I war
  That Pirous and tho swifte stedes three,
  Which that drawen forth the sonnes char,
  Hath goon some by-path in despyt of me;'"[62]

  "Phebus, that was comen hastely
  Within the paleys-yates sturdely,
  With torche in honde, of which the stremes brighte
  On Venus chambre knokkeden ful lighte."[63]

Almost always when Chaucer wishes to mention the time of day at which the
events he is relating take place, he does so by describing the sun's
position in the sky or the direction of his motion. We can imagine that
Chaucer often smiled as he did this, for he sometimes humorously
apologizes for his poetical conceits and conventions by expressing his
idea immediately afterwards in perfectly plain terms. Such is the case in
the passage already quoted where Chaucer refers to the sun by the epithets
"dayes honour," "hevenes ye," and "nightes fo" and then explains them by
saying "al this clepe I the sonne;" and in the lines:

  "Til that the brighte sonne loste his hewe;
  For thorisonte hath reft the sonne his light;"

explained by the simple words:

  "This is as muche to seye as it was night."[64]

Thus it is that Chaucer's poetic references to the apparent daily motion
of the sun about the earth are nearly always simply in the form of
allusions to his rising and setting. Canacee in the _Squieres Tale_, (F.
384 ff.) is said to rise at dawn, looking as bright and fresh as the
spring sun risen four degrees from the horizon.

  "Up ryseth fresshe Canacee hir-selve,
  As rody and bright as dooth the yonge sonne,
  That in the Ram[65] is four degrees up-ronne;
  Noon hyer was he, whan she redy was;"

Many of these references to the rising and setting of the sun might be
mentioned, if space permitted, simply for their beauty as poetry. One of
the most beautiful is the following:

  "And fyry Phebus ryseth up so brighte,
  That al the orient laugheth of the lighte,
  And with his stremes dryeth in the greves
  The silver dropes, hanging on the leves."[66]

When, in the _Canterbury Tales_, the manciple has finished his tale,
Chaucer determines the time by observing the position of the sun and by
making calculations from the length of his own shadow:

  "By that the maunciple hadde his tale al ended,
  The sonne fro the south lyne was descended
  So lowe, that he nas nat, to my sighte,
  Degrees nyne and twenty as in highte.
  Foure of the clokke it was tho, as I gesse;
  For eleven foot, or litel more or lesse,
  My shadwe was at thilke tyme, as there,
  Of swich feet as my lengthe parted were
  In six feet equal of porporcioun."[67]

We must not omit mention of the humorous touch with which Chaucer, in the
mock heroic tale of _Chanticleer and the Fox_ told by the nun's priest,
makes even the rooster determine the time of day by observing the altitude
of the sun in the sky:

                  "Chauntecleer, in al his pryde,
  His seven wyves walkyng by his syde,
  Caste up his eyen to the brighte sonne,
  That in the signe of Taurus hadde y-ronne
  Twenty degrees and oon, and somewhat more;
  And knew by kynde, and by noon other lore,
  That it was pryme, and crew with blisful stevene.
  'The sonne,' he sayde, 'is clomben up on hevene
  Fourty degrees and oon, and more, y-wis.'"[68]

Moreover, this remarkable rooster observed that the sun had passed the
twenty-first degree in Taurus, and we are told elsewhere that he knew each
ascension of the equinoctial and crew at each; that is, he crew every
hour, as 15° of the equinoctial correspond to an hour:

  "Wel sikerer was his crowing in his logge,
  Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge.
  By nature knew he ech ascencioun[69]
  Of th' equinoxial in thilke toun;
  For whan degrees fiftene were ascended,
  Thanne crew he, that it mighte nat ben amended."[70]

Chaucer announces the approach of evening by describing the position and
appearance of the sun more often than any other time of the day. In the
_Legend of Good Women_ he speaks of the sun's leaving the south point[71]
of his daily course and approaching the west:

  "Whan that the sonne out of the south gan weste,"[72]

and again of his westward motion in the lines:

  "And whan that hit is eve, I rene blyve,
  As sone as ever the sonne ginneth weste,"[73]

Elsewhere Chaucer refers to the setting of the sun by saying that he has
completed his "ark divine" and may no longer remain on the horizon,[74] or
by saying that the 'horizon has bereft the sun of his light.'[75]

Chaucer's references to the daily motion of the sun about the earth are
apt to sound to us like purely poetical figures, so accustomed are we to
refer to the sun, what we know to be the earth's rotatory motion, by
speaking of his apparent daily motion thus figuratively as if it were
real. Chaucer's manner of describing the revolution of the heavenly bodies
about the earth and his application of poetic epithets to them are
figurative, but the motion itself was meant literally and was believed in
by the men of his century, because only the geocentric system of astronomy
was then known. If Chaucer had been in advance of his century in this
respect there would certainly be some hint of the fact in his writings.

References in Chaucer to the sun's yearly motion are in the same sense
literal. The apparent motion of the sun along the ecliptic,[76] which we
know to be caused by the earth's yearly motion in an elliptical orbit
around the sun, was then believed to be an actual movement of the sun
carried along by his revolving sphere. Like the references to the sun's
daily movements those that mention his yearly motion along the ecliptic
are also usually time references. The season of the year is indicated by
defining the sun's position among the signs of the zodiac. The Canterbury
pilgrims set out on their journey in April when

                      "the yonge sonne
  Hath in the Ram his halfe course y-ronne."[77]

In describing the month of May, Chaucer does not fail to mention the sun's
position in the zodiac:

  "In May, that moder is of monthes glade,
  That fresshe floures, blewe, and whyte, and rede,
  Ben quike agayn, that winter dede made,
  And ful of bawme is fletinge every mede;
  Whan Phebus doth his brighte bemes sprede
  Right in the whyte Bole, it so bitidde
  As I shal singe, on Mayes day the thridde,"[78] etc.

The effect of the sun's declination in causing change of seasons[79] is
mentioned a number of times in Chaucer's poetry. The poet makes a general
reference to the fact in a passage of exquisite beauty from _Troilus and
Criseyde_ where he says that the sun has thrice returned to his lofty
position in the sky and melted away the snows of winter:

  "The golden-tressed Phebus heighe on-lofte
  Thryes hadde alle with his bemes shene
  The snowes molte, and Zephirus as ofte
  Y-brought ayein the tendre leves grene,
  Sin that the sone of Ecuba the quene
  Bigan to love hir first, for whom his sorwe
  Was al, that she departe sholde a-morwe."[80]

More interesting astronomically but of less interest as poetry is his
reference to the sun's declination and its effect on the seasons in the
_Frankeleyns Tale_, because here Chaucer uses the word 'declination' and
states that it is the cause of the seasons. The reference is the beginning
of Aurelius' prayer to Apollo, or the sun:

                    "'Apollo, God and governour
  Of every plaunte, herbe, tree and flour,
  That yevest, after thy declinacioun,
  To ech of hem his tyme and his sesoun,
  As thyn herberwe chaungeth lowe or hye;'"[81]

Once again in the _Frankeleyns Tale_ Chaucer refers to the sun's
declination and the passage of the seasons:

  "Phebus wex old, and hewed lyk latoun,[82]
  That in his hote declinacioun
  Shoon as the burned gold with stremes brighte;
  But now in Capricorn adoun he lighte,
  Wher-as he shoon ful pale, I dar wel seyn."[83]

Chaucer is here contrasting the sun's appearance in summer and winter. In
his hot declination (his greatest northward declination in Cancer, about
June 21) he shines as burnished gold, but when he reaches Capricornus, his
greatest southward declination (about December 21) he appears 'old' and
has a dull coppery color, no longer that of brilliant gold.

2. _The Moon_

From those references to the moon that occur in Chaucer's poetry alone, it
would be impossible to determine just how much he knew of the
peculiarities of her apparent movements; for he alludes to the moon's
motion and positions much less frequently and with much less detail than
to those of the sun. But a passage in the prologue to the _Astrolabe_
leaves it without doubt that Chaucer was quite familiar with lunar
phenomena. In stating what the treatise is to contain, he says of the
fourth part: "The whiche ferthe partie in special shal shewen a table of
the verray moeving of the mone from houre to houre, every day and in every
signe, after thyn almenak; upon which table ther folwith a canon,
suffisant to teche as wel the maner of the wyrking of that same
conclusioun, as to knowe in oure orizonte with which degree of the zodiac
that the mone ariseth in any latitude;"[84] As a matter of fact the
treatise as first contemplated by Chaucer was never finished; only the
first two parts were written. But Chaucer would scarcely have written thus
definitely of his plan for the fourth part of the work unless he had had
fairly complete knowledge of the phenomena connected with the moon's

The moon, in Chaucer's imagination, must have occupied rather an
insignificant position among the heavenly bodies as far as appealing to
his sense of beauty was concerned, for we find in his poetry no
descriptions of her appearance that can compare with his descriptions of
the sun or even of the stars. He speaks of moonrise in the most general

                  "hit fil, upon a night,
  When that the mone up-reysed had her light,
  This noble quene un-to her reste wente;"[85]

He applies to her only a few epithets, the most eulogistic of which is
"Lucina the shene."[86] In comparing the sun with the other heavenly
bodies the poet mentions the moon among the rest without distinction, as
inferior to the sun:

  "For I dar swere, withoute doute,
  That as the someres sonne bright
  Is fairer, clerer, and hath more light
  Than any planete, (is) in heven,
  The mone, or the sterres seven,
  For al the worlde, so had she
  Surmounted hem alle of beaute," etc.[87]

On the other hand, the stars are elsewhere said to be like small candles
in comparison with the moon:

  "And cleer as (is) the mone-light,
  Ageyn whom alle the sterres semen
  But smale candels, as we demen."[88]

Whenever Chaucer mentions the moon's position in the heavens he does so by
reference to the signs of the zodiac[89] and, as in the case of the sun,
usually with the purpose of showing time. In the _Marchantes Tale_ he
expresses the passage of four days thus:

  "The mone that, at noon, was, thilke day
  That Ianuarie hath wedded fresshe May,
  In two of Taur, was in-to Cancre gliden;
  So long hath Maius in hir chambre biden,"[90]

and a few lines further on he states the fact explicitly:

  "The fourthe day compleet fro noon to noon,
  Whan that the heighe masse was y-doon,
  In halle sit this Ianuarie, and May
  As fresh as is the brighte someres day."[91]

When Criseyde leaves Troilus to go to the Greek army she promises to
return to Troy within the time that it will take the moon to pass from
Aries through Leo, that is, within ten days:

  "'And trusteth this, that certes, herte swete,
  Er Phebus suster, Lucina the shene,
  The Leoun passe out of this Ariete,
  I wol ben here, with-outen any wene.
  I mene, as helpe me Iuno, hevenes quene,
  The tenthe day, but-if that deeth me assayle,
  I wol yow seen, with-outen any fayle.'"[92]

But while the moon is quickly traversing the part of her course from Aries
to Leo, Criseyde, pressed by Diomede, is changing her mind about returning
to Troy, and by the appointed tenth day has decided to remain with the

  "And Cynthea[93] hir char-hors over-raughte
  To whirle out of the Lyon, if she mighte;
  And Signifer[94] his candeles shewed brighte,
  Whan that Criseyde un-to hir bedde wente
  In-with hir fadres faire brighte tente.
      .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
      .    .    .    .    and thus bigan to brede
  The cause why, the sothe for to telle,
  That she tok fully purpos for to dwelle."[95]

The passage of time is also indicated in Chaucer's poetry by reference to
the recurrence of the moon's phases. In the _Legend of Good Women_,
Phillis writes to the false Demophon saying that the moon has passed
through its phases four times since he went away and thrice since the time
he promised to return:

  "'Your anker, which ye in our haven leyde,
  Highte us, that ye wolde comen, out of doute,
  Or that the mone ones wente aboute.
  But tymes foure the mone hath hid her face
  Sin thilke day ye wente fro this place,
  And foure tymes light the world again.'"[96]

Chaucer refers more often to the phases of the moon than to any other
lunar phenomenon, but most of these references to her phases are used for
the sake of comparison or illustration and give us little idea of the
extent of Chaucer's knowledge. Mars in his 'compleynt' says that the lover

  "Hath ofter wo then changed is the mone."[97]

The rumors in the house of fame are given times of waxing and waning like
the moon:

  "Thus out at holes gonne wringe
  Every tyding streight to Fame;
  And she gan yeven eche his name,
  After hir disposicioun,
  And yaf hem eek duracioun,
  Some to wexe and wane sone,
  As dooth the faire whyte mone,
  And leet hem gon."[98]

Chaucer briefly describes the crescent moon by calling her

  "The bente mone with hir hornes pale."[99]

In Troilus' prayer to the moon, the line

  "'I saugh thyn hornes olde eek by the morwe,'"[100]

is practically the only one in which Chaucer gives any hint of the times
at which the moon in her various phases may be seen. The phase of the 'new
moon,' when the moon is in conjunction with the sun (i. e., between the
earth and the sun, so that we cannot see the illuminated hemisphere of the
moon) is mentioned in the same poem:

  "Right sone upon the chaunging of the mone,
  Whan lightles is the world a night or tweyne."[101]

There is a very definite description of three of the moon's phases in the
following passage from _Boethius_:[102] "so that the mone som-tyme shyning
with hir ful hornes, meting with alle the bemes of the sonne hir brother,
hydeth the sterres that ben lesse; and som-tyme, whan the mone, pale with
hir derke hornes, approcheth the sonne, leseth hir lightes;" The moon
'shining with her full horns' means with her horns filled up as at full
moon when she is in a position opposite both earth and sun so that she
reflects upon the earth all the rays of the sun. The moon "with derke
hornes" refers of course to the waning moon, a thin crescent near the sun
and almost obscured in his light, which approaching nearer the sun is
entirely lost to our view in his rays and becomes the new moon.

Chaucer's most interesting references to the moon are found in the prayer
of Aurelius to the sun in the _Frankeleyns Tale_. Dorigen has jestingly
promised to have pity on Aurelius as soon as he shall remove all the rocks
from along the coast of Brittany, and Aurelius prays to the sun, or
Apollo, to help him by enlisting the aid of the moon, in accomplishing
this feat. The sun's sister, Lucina, or the moon, is chief goddess of the
sea; just as she desires to follow the sun and be quickened and
illuminated by him, so the sea desires to follow her:

  "'Your blisful suster, Lucina the shene,
  That of the see is chief goddesse and quene,
  Though Neptunus have deitee in the see,
  Yet emperesse aboven him is she:
  Ye knowen wel, lord, that right as hir desyr
  Is to be quiked and lightned of your fyr,
  For which she folweth yow ful bisily,
  Right so the see desyreth naturelly
  To folwen hir, as she that is goddesse
  Bothe in the see and riveres more and lesse.'"[103]

In calling Lucina chief goddess of the sea and speaking of the sea's
desire to follow her, Chaucer is, of course alluding to the moon's effect
upon the tides; and in the line:

  "'Is to be quiked and lightned of your fyr,'"

the reference is to the fact that the moon derives her light from the sun.

Instead of leaving it to the sun-god to find a way of removing the rocks
for him, Aurelius proceeds to give explicit instructions as to how this
may be accomplished. As the highest tides occur when the moon is in
opposition or in conjunction with the sun, if the moon could only be kept
in either of these positions with regard to the sun for a long enough
time, so great a flood would be produced, Aurelius thinks, that the rocks
would be washed away. So he prays Phebus to induce the moon to slacken her
speed at her next opposition in Leo and for two years to traverse her
sphere with the same (apparent) velocity as that of the sun, thus
remaining in opposition with him:

  "'Wherfore, lord Phebus, this is my requeste--
  Do this miracle, or do myn herte breste--
  That now, next at this opposicioun,
  Which in the signe shal be of the Leoun,
  As preyeth hir so greet a flood to bringe,
  That fyve fadme at the leeste it overspringe
  The hyeste rokke in Armorik Briteyne;
  And lat this flood endure yeres tweyne;
  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  Preye hir she go no faster cours than ye,
  I seye, preyeth your suster that she go
  No faster cours than ye thise yeres two.
  Than shal she been evene atte fulle alway,
  And spring-flood laste bothe night and day.'"[104]

References to eclipses of the moon occur seldom in Chaucer. In the second
part of the _Romaunt of the Rose_, which is included in complete editions
of Chaucer's works but which he almost certainly did not write, there is a
description of a lunar eclipse and of its causes. Fickleness in love is
compared to an eclipse:

  "For it shal chaungen wonder sone,
  And take eclips right as the mone,
  Whan she is from us (y)-let
  Thurgh erthe, that bitwixe is set
  The sonne and hir, as it may falle,
  Be it in party, or in alle;
  The shadowe maketh her bemis merke,
  And hir hornes to shewe derke,
  That part where she hath lost hir lyght
  Of Phebus fully, and the sight;
  Til, whan the shadowe is overpast,
  She is enlumined ageyn as faste,
  Thurgh brightnesse of the sonne bemes
  That yeveth to hir ageyn hir lemes."[105]

This passage is so clear that it needs no explanation.

An eclipse of the moon, since it is caused by the passing of the moon into
the shadow of the earth, can only take place when the moon is full, that
is, in _opposition_ to the sun. This fact is suggested in a reference in
_Boethius_ to a lunar eclipse:

    "the hornes of the fulle mone wexen pale and infect by the boundes of
    the derke night;"[106]

In the next lines Chaucer mentions the fact that the stars which are lost
to sight in the bright rays of the full moon become visible during an

    "and ... the mone, derk and confuse, discovereth the sterres that she
    hadde y-covered by hir clere visage."[107]

3. _The Planets_

All the planets that are easily visible to the unaided eye were known in
Chaucer's time and are mentioned in his writings, some of them many times.
These planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. According to
the Ptolemaic system, which as we have seen, held sway in the world of
learning during Chaucer's century, the sun and moon were also held to be
planets, and all were supposed to revolve around the earth in concentric
rings, the moon being nearest the earth, and the sun between Venus and
Mars. The circular orbit of each planet was called its "deferent" and upon
the deferent moved, not the planet itself, but an imaginary planet,
represented by a point. The real planet moved upon a smaller circle called
the "epicycle" whose center was the moving point representing the
imaginary planet. The deferent of each planet was supposed to be traced as
a great circle upon a transparent separate crystal sphere; and all of the
crystal spheres revolved once a day around an axis passing through the
poles of the heavens. As the sun and moon did not show the same
irregularities[108] of motion as the planets, Ptolemy supposed these two
bodies to have deferents but no epicycles. Later investigators complicated
the system by adding further secondary imaginary planets, revolving in
Ptolemy's epicycles and with the actual planets attached to additional
corresponding epicycles. They even supposed the moon to have one, perhaps
two epicycles and we shall find this notion reflected in Chaucer. The
eighth sphere had neither deferent nor epicycle but to it were attached
the fixed stars. This sphere as we have seen earlier, revolved slowly from
west to east to account for the precession of the equinoxes, while a ninth
sphere, the _primum mobile_, imparted to all the inner spheres their
diurnal motion from east to west.

Chaucer's poetical references to the planets, as we have found to be true
in the case of the sun and moon, do not give us satisfactory evidence of
the extent of his knowledge, but occasional passages from his prose works
again throw light on these allusions. Chaucer refers to the planets in
general as 'the seven stars,' as, for instance, in the lines:

  "And with hir heed she touched hevene,
  Ther as shynen sterres sevene."[109]


  "To have mo floures, swiche seven
  As in the welken sterres be."[110]

Chaucer was undoubtedly familiar with the irregularities of the planetary
movements, and with the theory of epicycles by which these irregular
movements were in his day explained, although it is not from his poetry
that we can learn the fact. He uses the word 'epicycle' only once in all
his works. In the _Astrolabe_ when comparing the moon's motion with that
of the other planets, he says: "for sothly, the mone moeveth the contrarie
from othere planetes as in hir episicle, but in non other manere."[111]

In the _Astrolabe_[112] Chaucer explains a method of determining whether a
planet's motion is retrograde or direct.[113] The altitude of the planet
and of any fixed star, is taken, and several nights later at the time
when the fixed star has the same altitude as at the previous observation,
the planet's altitude is again observed. If the planet is on the right or
east side of the meridian, and its second altitude is less than its first,
then the planet's motion is direct. If the planet is on the left or west
side of the meridian, and has a smaller altitude at the second observation
than at the first, then the planet's motion is retrograde. If the planet
is on the east side of the meridional line when its altitude is taken and
the second altitude is greater than the first, it is retrograde; and if it
is on the west side and its second altitude is greater, it is direct. This
method would be correct were it not that a change in the planet's
declination or angular distance from the celestial equator might render
the conclusions incorrect.

Chaucer mentions the irregularity of planetary movements in _Boethius_
also when he says: "and whiche sterre in hevene useth wandering recourses,
y-flit by dyverse speres."[114] The expression "y-flit by dyverse speres"
may have reference only to the one motion of the planets, that is, their
motion concentric to the star-sphere; or it may be used to include also
their epicyclic motion. Skeat interprets the expression in the former way;
but the context, it seems, would justify interpreting the words "dyverse
speres" as meaning the various spheres of the planets to-gether with their
epicycles; i. e., both deferents and epicycles.

Of all the planets, that most often mentioned by Chaucer is Venus, partly,
no doubt, because of her greater brilliance, but probably in the main
because of her greater astrological importance; for few of Chaucer's
references to Venus, or to any other planet, indeed, are without
astrological significance. Chaucer refers to Venus, in the classical
manner, as Hesperus when she appears as evening[115] star and as Lucifer
when she is seen as the morning star: "and that the eve-sterre Hesperus,
which that in the firste tyme of the night bringeth forth hir colde
arysinges, cometh eft ayein hir used cours, and is pale _by the morwe_ at
the rysing of the sonne, and is thanne cleped Lucifer."[116] Her
appearance as morning star is again mentioned in the same work: "and after
that Lucifer the day-sterre hath chased awey the derke night, the day the
fairere ledeth the rosene hors _of the sonne_,"[117] and in _Troilus and
Criseyde_ where it is said that

                  "Lucifer, the dayes messager,
  Gan for to ryse, and out hir bemes throwe;"[118]

Elsewhere in the same poem her appearance as evening star is mentioned but
she is not this time called Hesperus:

  "The brighte Venus folwede and ay taughte
  The wey, ther brode Phebus doun alighte;"[119]

Occasionally Venus is called Cytherea, from the island near which Greek
myth represented her as having arisen from the sea. Thus in the _Knightes

  "He roos, to wenden on his pilgrimage
  Un-to the blisful Citherea benigne,
  I mene Venus, honurable and digne."[120]

and in the _Parlement of Foules_;

  "Citherea! thou blisful lady swete,"[121]

The relative positions of the different planets in the heavens is
suggested by allusions to the different sizes of their spheres and to
their different velocities. In the _Compleynt of Mars_ the comparative
sizes and velocities of the spheres of Mercury, Venus and Mars are made
the basis for most of the action of the poem. The greater the sphere or
orbit of a planet, the slower is its apparent motion. Thus Mars in his
large sphere moves about half as fast as Venus and in the poem it is
planned that when Mars reaches the next palace[122] of Venus, he shall by
virtue of his slower motion, wait for her to overtake him:

  "That Mars shal entre, as faste as he may glyde,
  Into hir nexte paleys, to abyde,
  Walking his cours til she had him a-take,
  And he preyde hir to haste hir for his sake."[123]

Venus in compassion for his solitude hastens to overtake her knight:

  "She hath so gret compassion of hir knight,
  That dwelleth in solitude til she come;
  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  Wherefore she spedde hir as faste in her weye,
  Almost in oon day, as he dide in tweye."[124]

When Phebus comes into the palace with his fiery torch, Mars will not flee
and cannot hide, so he girds himself with sword and armour and bids Venus
flee. Phebus, who in Chaucer's time was regarded as the fourth planet, can
overtake Mars but not Venus because his sphere is between theirs and his
motion is consequently slower than that of Venus but faster than that of

  "Flee wolde he not, ne mighte him-selven hyde.

  He throweth on his helm of huge wighte,
  And girt him with his swerde; and in his honde
  His mighty spere, as he was wont to fighte,
  He shaketh so that almost it to-wonde;
  Ful hevy he was to walken over londe;
  He may not holde with Venus companye,
  But bad hir fleen, lest Phebus hir espye.

  "O woful Mars! alas! what mayst thou seyn,
  That in the paleys of thy disturbaunce
  Art left behinde, in peril to be sleyn?
  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  That thou nere swift, wel mayst thou wepe and cryen."[125]

In spite of his sorrow, Mars patiently continues to follow Venus,
lamenting as he goes that his sphere is so large:

  "He passeth but oo steyre in dayes two,
  But ner the les, for al his hevy armure,
  He foloweth hir that is his lyves cure;[126]
      .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  After he walketh softely a pas,
  Compleyning, that hit pite was to here.
  He seyde, 'O lady bright, Venus! alas!
  That ever so wyde a compass is my spere!
  Alas! whan shal I mete yow, herte dere,'" etc.[127]

Meanwhile Venus has passed on to Mercury's palace where he soon overtakes
her and receives her as his friend:[128]

                            "hit happed for to be,
  That, whyl that Venus weping made hir mone,
  Cylenius, ryding in his chevauche,
  Fro Venus valance mighte his paleys see,
  And Venus he salueth, and maketh chere,
  And hir receyveth as his frend ful dere."[129]

Mercury's palace was the sign Gemini and Venus' valance, probably meaning
her detrimentum or the sign opposite her palace, was Aries. 'Chevauche'
means an equestrian journey or ride, and is here used in the sense of
'swift course.' The passage, then, simply refers to the swift motion by
which in a very short time Mercury passes from Aries to a position near
enough to that of Venus in Gemini so that he can see her and give her
welcome. Mercury's sphere being the smallest of the planets, his motion
is also the swiftest.

The size of Jupiter's orbit is not mentioned in Chaucer and that of
Saturn's only once. In the _Knightes Tale_ Saturn, addressing Venus,
speaks of the great distance that he traverses with his revolving sphere
but does not compare the size of his sphere with those of the other

  "'My dere doghter Venus,' quod Saturne,
  'My cours, that hath so wyde for to turne,
  Hath more power than wot any man.'"[130]

Besides the reference in the _Compleynt of Mars_ to the conjunction of
Venus and Mars[131], there are occasional references in Chaucer to
conjunctions of other planets. In the _Astrolabe_[132] Chaucer explains a
method of determining in what position in the heavens a conjunction of the
sun and moon takes place, when the time of the conjunction is known. A
conjunction of the moon with Saturn and Jupiter is mentioned in _Troilus
and Criseyde_, in the lines:

  "The bente mone with hir hornes pale,
  Saturne, and Iove, in Cancro ioyned were,"[133]

4. _The Galaxy_

The Galaxy or Milky Way, which stretches across the heavens like a broad
band whitish in color caused by closely crowded stars, has appealed to
men's imagination since very early times. Its resemblance to a road or
street has been suggested in the names given to it by many peoples. Ovid
called it _via lactea_ and the Roman peasants, _strada di Roma_; pilgrims
to Spain referred to it as the _road to Santiago_; Dante refers to it as
"the white circle commonly called St. Janus's Way"[134]; and the English
had two names for it, _Walsingham way_ and _Watling-street_.

Chaucer twice mentions the Galaxy; once in the _Parlement of Foules_,
where Africanus shows Scipio the location of heaven by pointing to the

  "And rightful folk shal go, after they dye,
  To heven; and shewed him the galaxye."[135]

In the _Hous of Fame_, the golden eagle who bears Chaucer through the
heavens toward Fame's palace, points out to him the Galaxy and then
relates the myth of Phaeton driving the chariot of the sun, a story
traditionally associated with the Milky Way:

  'Now,' quod he tho, 'cast up thyn ye;
  See yonder, lo, the Galaxye,
  Which men clepeth the Milky Wey,
  For hit is whyt: and somme, parfey,
  Callen hit Watlinge Strete:
  That ones was y-brent with hete,
  Whan the sonnes sone, the rede,
  That highte Pheton, wolde lede
  Algate his fader cart, and gye.
  The cart-hors gonne wel espye
  That he ne coude no governaunce,
  And gonne for to lepe and launce,
  And beren him now up, now doun,
  Til that he saw the Scorpioun,
  Which that in heven a signe is yit.
  And he, for ferde, loste his wit,
  Of that, and lest the reynes goon
  Of his hors; and they anoon
  Gonne up to mounte, and doun descende
  Til bothe the eyr and erthe brende;
  Til Iupiter, lo, atte laste,
  Him slow, and fro the carte caste.'[136]

In narrating this story here, Chaucer may have been imitating Dante who
refers to the myth in the _Divine Comedy_:

  "What time abandoned Phaeton the reins,
  Whereby the heavens, as still appears, were scorched,"[137]

and states its source and the use made of it by some philosophers in the

"For the Pythagoreans affirmed that the sun at one time wandered in its
course, and in passing through other regions not suited to sustain its
heat, set on fire the place through which it passed; and so these traces
of the conflagration remain there. And I believe that they were influenced
by the fable of Phaeton, which Ovid tells at the beginning of the second
book of the _Metamorphoses_."[138]



Astrology, though resembling a science in that it makes use of observation
and seeks to establish laws governing its data, is in reality a faith or
creed. It had its beginning, so tradition tells us, in the faith of the
ancient Babylonians in certain astral deities who exerted an influence
upon terrestrial events and human life. The basis of this faith was not
altogether illogical but contained a germ of truth.

Of all the heavenly bodies, the sun exerted the most obvious effect upon
the earth; the sun brought day and night, summer and winter; his rays
lured growing things from mother earth and so gave sustenance to mankind.
But to the ancient peoples of the Orient the sun was also often a baneful
power; he could destroy as well as give life. Therefore, the ancients came
to look upon the sun as a great and powerful god to be worshipped and
propitiated by men. And if the sun was such a power, it was natural to
believe that all the other bright orbs of the sky were lesser divinities
who exercised more limited powers on the earth. From this beginning,
based, as we have seen, on a germ of fact, by the power of his imagination
and credulity, man extended more and more the powers of these sidereal
divinities, attributing to their volition and influence all the most
insignificant as well as the most important terrestrial events. And if the
heavenly bodies, by revolving about the earth in ceaseless harmony,
effected the recurrence of day and night and of the seasons, and if their
configurations were responsible for the minutest events in nature, was it
not natural to suppose that, besides affecting man thus indirectly, they
also influenced him directly and were responsible for his conduct and for
the very qualities of his mind and soul? Perhaps the astonishing variety
of the influences that the celestial bodies, from ancient until modern
times, were supposed to exercise over the world and the life of mankind
can be accounted for by imagining some such process of thought to have
been involved in the beginnings of astrology.

It was but a step from faith in stellar influence on our earth to the
belief that, as the heavenly movements were governed by immutable laws, so
their influence upon the world would follow certain laws and its effects
in the future could be determined as certainly as could the coming
revolutions and conjunctions of the stars. Out of this two-fold belief was
evolved a complex system of divination, the origin of which was forgotten
as men, believing in it, invented reasons for believing, pretending that
their faith was founded on a long series of observations. The Chaldeans
believed that in discovering the unceasing regularity of the celestial
motions, they had found the very laws of life and they built upon this
conviction a mass of absolutely rigid dogmas. But when experience belied
these dogmas, unable to realize the falsity of their presuppositions and
to give up their faith in the divine stars, the astrologers invented new
dogmas to explain the old ones, thus piling up a body of complicated and
often contradictory doctrines that will ever be to the student a source
of perplexity and astonishment.

On its philosophical side astrology was a system of astral theology
developed, not by popular thought, but through the careful observations
and speculations of learned priests and scholars. It was a purely Eastern
science which came into being on the Chaldean plains and in the Nile
valley. As far as we know, it was entirely unknown to any of the primitive
Aryan races, from Hindostan to Scandinavia. Astrology as a system of
divination never gained a foothold in Greece during the brightest period
of her intellectual life. But the dogma of astral divinity was zealously
maintained by the greatest of Greek philosophers. Plato, the great
idealist, whose influence upon the theology of the ancient and even of the
modern world was more profound than that of any other thinker, called the
stars "visible gods" ranking them just below the supreme eternal Being;
and to Plato these celestial gods were infinitely superior to the
anthropomorphic gods of the popular religion, who resembled men in their
passions and were superior to them only in beauty of form and in power.
Aristotle defended with no less zeal the doctrine of the divinity of the
stars, seeing in them eternal substances, principles of movement, and
therefore divine beings. In the Hellenistic period, Zeno, the Stoic, and
his followers proclaimed the supremacy of the sidereal divinities even
more strongly than the schools of Plato and Aristotle had done. The Stoics
conceived the world as a great organism whose "sympathetic" forces
constantly interacted upon one another, governed by Reason which was of
the essence of ethereal Fire, the primordial substance of the universe. To
the stars, the purest manifestation of the power of this ethereal
substance, were attributed the greatest influence and the loftiest divine
qualities. The Stoics developed the doctrine of fatalism, which is the
inevitable outcome of faith in stellar influence on human life, to its
consequences; yet they proved by facts that fatalism is not incompatible
with active and virtuous living. By the end of the Roman imperial period
astrology had transformed paganism, replacing the old society of Immortals
who were scarcely superior to mortals, except in being exempted from old
age and death, by faith in the eternal beings who ran their course in
perfect harmony throughout the ages, whose power, regulated by the
unvarying celestial motions, extended over all the earth and determined
the destiny of the whole human race.

Astrology, as a science and a system of divination, exerted a profound
influence over the mediaeval mind. No court was without its practicing
astrologer and the universities all had their professors of astrology. The
practice of astrology was an essential part of the physician's profession,
and before prescribing for a patient it was thought quite as important to
determine the positions of the planets as the nature of the disease.[139]
Interesting evidence of this fact is found in the _Prologue to the
Canterbury Tales_ where Chaucer speaks of the Doctour's knowledge and use
of astrology as if it were his chief excellence as a physician:

  "In al this world ne was ther noon him lyk
  To speke of phisik and of surgerye;
  For he was grounded in astronomye.
  He kepte his pacient a ful greet del
  In houres, by his magik naturel.
  Wel coude he fortunen the ascendent
  Of his images for his pacient."[140]

Yet in spite of the esteem in which astrological divination was held by
most people in the Middle Ages, Dante, the greatest exponent of the
thought and learning of that period, shows practically no knowledge of the
technical and practical side of astrology. When he refers to the specific
effects of the planets it is only to those most familiarly known, and he
nowhere uses such technical terms as "houses" or "aspects" of planets. But
Dante, like the great philosophers of the earlier periods, was undoubtedly
influenced by the philosophical doctrines of astrology, and a general
belief in the influence of the celestial spheres upon human life was
deeply rooted in his mind. To him the ceaseless and harmonious movements
of the celestial bodies were the manifestations and instruments of God's
providence, and were ordained by the First Mover to govern the destinies
of the earth and human life.

We can see this conviction of Dante's with perfect certainty when we read
the _Divina Commedia_. For Dante's poetry is highly subjective; on every
page his own personal thoughts and feelings are revealed quite openly.
Chaucer's poetry, on the other hand, is objective; he tells us almost
nothing directly about himself and what we learn of him in his writings is
almost entirely by inference. Chaucer's frequent use of astrology in his
poetry would make it hard to believe that he was not considerably
influenced by its philosophical aspects, at least in the general way that
Dante was. Part and parcel of the dramatic action in most of his poems is
the idea of stellar influences. Yet we cannot assert, with the same
assurance that we can say it of Dante, that Chaucer believed, even in a
general way, in the influence of the stars on human life. In Dante's
poetry, as we have said, the poet himself is always before us. Chaucer,
with Socratic irony, always makes it plain to the reader that his attitude
is purely objective, that he is only the narrator of what he has seen or
dreamed, only the copyist of another's story. Even when Chaucer makes
himself one of the protagonists, as in the _Hous of Fame_ and the
_Canterbury Tales_, it is only that his narrative may be the more
convincing. He tells a story and makes its protagonists actually live
before us, as individual men and women. It is possible to imagine all of
his use of astrology in his poetry not as the reflection of his own faith
in its cosmic philosophy, but the expression of his genius for
understanding people and truthfully describing life and character.

Considerable discussion as to Chaucer's attitude towards astrology has
been called forth by passages in which he speaks in words of scorn with
regard to some of the practices and magic arts that were often used in
connection with astrology. In the _Astrolabe_ after describing somewhat at
length the favorable and unfavorable positions of planets he says:

    "Natheles, thise ben observauncez of iudicial matiere and rytes of
    payens, in which my spirit ne hath no feith, ne no knowing of hir

Again in the _Franklin's Tale_ he speaks in a similar disdainful tone of
astrological magic:

  "He him remembred that, upon a day,
  At Orliens in studie a book he say
  Of magik naturel, which his felawe,
  That was that tyme a bacheler of lawe,
  Al were he ther to lerne another craft,
  Had prively upon his desk y-laft;
  Which book spak muchel of the operaciouns,
  Touchinge the eighte and twenty mansiouns
  That longen to the mone, and swich folye,
  As in our dayes is not worth a flye:
  For holy chirches feith in our bileve
  Ne suffreth noon illusion us to greve."[142]

And elsewhere in the same tale he writes:

  "So atte laste he hath his tyme y-founde
  To maken his Iapes and his wreccednesse
  Of switch a supersticious cursednesse."[143]

Here follows a long description of the clerk's instruments and
astrological observances, ending in the lines

  "For swiche illusiouns and swiche meschaunces
  As hethen folk used in thilke dayes;
  For which no lenger maked he delayes,
  But thurgh his magik, for a wyke or tweye,
  It seemed that alle the rokkes were aweye."[144]

On the strength of these passages Professor T. R. Lounsbury[145] holds
that Chaucer was far ahead of most of his contemporaries in his attitude
toward the superstitious practices connected with the astrology of his
day; that his attitude toward judicial astrology was one of total
disbelief and scorn; and he even goes so far as to say that Chaucer was
guilty of a breach of artistic workmanship in expressing his disbelief so
scornfully in a tale in which the very climax of the dramatic action
depends upon a feat of astrological magic.

A more satisfactory interpretation of the passages quoted above is
advanced by Professor J. S. P. Tatlock,[146] who shows that Chaucer has
taken great pains to place the setting of the _Franklin's Tale_ in ancient
times and that he, in common with most of the educated men of his day,
disapproved of the practices (except sometimes when employed for good
purposes as, e. g. in the physician's profession) and the practicians of
judicial astrology in his own day, but thought of the feats and
observances of astrological magic as having been possible and efficacious
in ancient times. According to this view Chaucer's attitude was one of
disapproval rather than disbelief, and his disapproval was not for the
general theory of astrology, but for the shady observances and quackery
connected with its application to the problems of life in his time. It is
to be noted, further, that wherever Chaucer speaks in the strongest terms
against astrological observances he also uses religious language. This
fact may point to a wise caution on his part lest his evident interest in
astrology, (which was closely associated with magic, and hence,
indirectly, with sorcery) might involve him in difficulties with Mother
Church; and, as Professor Tatlock has pointed out, there is no reason to
suppose that Chaucer's religious expressions in these passages are

The _Franklin's Tale_ falls in the group of tales called by Professor
Kittredge the "Marriage Group,"[147] that in which the Wife of Bath is the
most conspicuous figure. The Wife of Bath's tale had aroused a rather
heated controversy among a number of the Canterbury pilgrims on the
subject of the respective duties and relations of wives and husbands. If
the critics have been right in placing the _Franklin's Tale_ where they
do, it was Chaucer's purpose to have the Franklin soothe the ruffled
feelings of certain members of the party by telling a tale in which a
husband (and wife), a squire, and a clerk, all prove themselves capable of
truly generous behavior. If the tale was to accomplish its purpose the
clerk must accomplish his magic feat of removing the rocks from the coast
of Brittany, and must in the end generously refuse to accept pay from the
squire when he learned that the latter had been too magnanimous to profit
from his services. By setting the tale in pagan times, Chaucer was able to
express the scorn he felt for certain superstitious practices in his own
time without debasing one of his chief characters, one of the three rivals
in magnanimity, and so spoiling the noble temper of the story and entirely
defeating its purpose.

Thus the astrological passages in the _Franklin's Tale_ do not suggest
total disbelief in astrology on Chaucer's part, and much less do they show
him to have been lacking in true artistic sense. Probably his attitude
toward astrology was about this: he was very much interested in it,
perhaps in much the same way that Dante was, because of the philosophical
ideas at the basis of astrology and out of curiosity as to the problems of
free will, providence, and so on, that naturally arose from it. For the
shady practices and quackery connected with its use in his own day he had
nothing but scorn.

But while Chaucer was at one with the educated men of his century in his
attitude toward astrology, and with them had a strong distaste for certain
aspects of judicial astrology, nevertheless he made wide use of the
greater faith of the majority of people of his time in portraying
character in his poetry. For men's ideas and beliefs constitute a very
important part of their character, and Chaucer knew this very well. Men
believed that whatever happened to them, whether fortunate or unfortunate,
could in some way be traced to the influence of the stars, the agents and
instruments of destiny. The configuration of the heavens at the moment of
one's birth was considered especially important, since the positions and
interrelations of the different celestial bodies at this time could
determine the most momentous events of one's life. Now the nature of the
influence exerted by the different stars, especially the planets and
zodiacal constellations, varied greatly. Mars and Venus, for instance,
bestowed vastly different qualities upon the soul that was coming into
being. Moreover, the power exerted by a planet or constellation fluctuated
considerably according to its position. Each planet had in the zodiac a
position of greatest and a position of least power called its 'exaltation'
and 'depression.' Furthermore, the 'aspect' or angular distance of one
planet from another altered its influence in various ways. If Mars and
Jupiter, for instance, were in trine or sextile aspect the portent was
favorable, if in opposition, it was unfavorable.[148] These ideas are
frequently expressed in Chaucer, when the characters seek to understand
their misfortunes or to justify their conduct by tracing them back to the
determinations of the heavens at their birth. When Palamon and Arcite have
been thrown into prison the latter pleads with his companion to have
patience; this misfortune was fixed upon them at the time of their birth
by the disposition of the planets and constellations, and complaining is
of no avail:

  "'For Goddes love, tak al in pacience
  Our prisoun, for it may non other be;
  Fortune hath yeven us this adversitee.
  Som wikke aspect or disposicioun
  Of Saturne, by sum constellacioun
  Hath yeven us this, al-though we hadde it sworn;
  So stood the heven whan that we were born;
  We moste endure it: this is the short and pleyn.'"[149]

In the _Man of Lawes Tale_ the effect of the stars at the time of a man's
nativity is discussed somewhat at length. The Man of Law predicts the fate
of the sultan by saying that the destiny written in the stars had perhaps
allotted to him death through love:

  "Paraventure in thilke large book
  Which that men clepe the heven, y-writen was
  With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
  That he for love shulde han his deeth, allas!
  For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,
  Is writen, god wot, who-so coude it rede,
  The deeth of every man, withouten drede."[150]

Then he mentions the names of various ancient heroes whose death, he says
was written in the stars "er they were born:"

  "In sterres, many a winter ther-biforn,
  Was written the deeth of Ector, Achilles,
  Of Pompey, Iulius, er they were born;
  The stryf of Thebes; and of Ercules,
  Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
  The deeth; but mennes wittes been so dulle,
  That no wight can wel rede it atte fulle."[151]

When Criseyde learns that she is to be sent to the Greeks in exchange for
Antenor she attributes her misfortune to the stars:

  "'Alas!' quod she, 'out of this regioun
  I, woful wrecche and infortuned wight,
  And born in corsed constellacioun,
  Mot goon, and thus departen fro my knight;'"[152]

In the _Legend of Good Women_ we are told that Hypermnestra was "born to
all good things" or qualities, and then the various influences of the
particular planets upon her destiny are mentioned:

  "The whiche child, of hir nativitee,
  To alle gode thewes born was she,
  As lyked to the goddes, or she was born,
  That of the shefe she sholde be the corn;
  The Wirdes, that we clepen Destinee,
  Hath shapen her that she mot nedes be
  Pitouse, sadde, wyse, and trewe as steel;
  And to this woman hit accordeth weel.
  For, though that Venus yaf her great beautee,
  With Jupiter compouned so was she
  That conscience, trouthe, and dreed of shame,
  And of hir wyfhood for to keep her name,
  This, thoughte her, was felicitee as here.
  And rede Mars was, that tyme of the yere,
  So feble, that his malice is him raft,
  Repressed hath Venus his cruel craft;
  What with Venus and other oppressioun
  Of houses, Mars his venim is adoun,
  That Ypermistra dar nat handle a knyf
  In malice, thogh she sholde lese her lyf.
  But natheles, as heven gan tho turne,
  To badde aspectes hath she of Saturne,
  That made her for to deyen in prisoun,
  As I shal after make mencioun."[153]

The purpose of this astrological passage is plainly to show why
Hypermnestra was doomed to die in prison. The qualities given her by the
planets, as shown by her horoscope, were such that she was unable to
violate a wife's duty and kill her husband in order to save her own
life.[154] Venus gave her great beauty and was also influential in
repressing the influence of Mars who would have given her fighting
qualities if his influence had been strong. The myth of the amour between
Venus and Mars, which Chaucer makes the basis of his poem the _Compleynt
of Mars_, would explain why Venus was able to influence Mars in this way.
The feeble influence of Mars at Hypermnestra's nativity is accounted for
also in another way. His influence is feeble because of the time of year
and through the "oppressioun of houses" both of which amount to the same
thing, namely, a position in the zodiac in which his power is at a
minimum.[155] The influence of Jupiter, we are told, was to give
Hypermnestra conscience, truth, and wifely loyalty. That of Saturn was
evil and the cause of her death in prison.

The specific influences of Saturn are mentioned in detail in the _Knightes
Tale_. Almost all the ills imaginable are attributable to his power:

  "'My dere doghter Venus,' quod Saturne,
  'My cours, that hath so wyde for to turne,
  Hath more power than wot any man.
  Myn is the drenching in the see so wan;
  Myn is the prison in the derke cote;
  Myn is the strangling and hanging by the throte;
  The murmure, and the cherles rebelling,
  The groyning, and the pryvee empoysoning;
  I do vengeance and pleyn correccioun
  Whyl I dwelle in the signe of the leoun.
  Myn is the ruine of the hye halles,
  The falling of the toures and of the walles
  Up-on the mynour or the carpenter.
  I slow Sampsoun in shaking the piler;
  And myne be the maladyes colde,
  The derke tresons, and the castes olde;
  My loking is the fader of pestilence.'"[156]

In the line,

  "Myn is the prison in the derke cote;"

imprisonment is for the second time attributed to Saturn's influence. In
an earlier passage in the _Knightes Tale_[157], (see p. 59) it is
suggested when Palamon and Arcite's imprisonment is said to be due to
'some wicked aspect or disposition of Saturn' at the time of their birth.
Later in the story Palamon specifically states that his imprisonment is
through Saturn:

  "But I mot been in prison thurgh Saturne,"[158]

That Mars and Saturn were generally regarded as planets of evil influence
is shown by a passage in the _Astrolabe_. Chaucer has just explained what
the 'ascendant', means in astrology. It is that degree of the zodiac that
at the given time is seen upon the eastern horizon. Now, Chaucer says, the
ascendant may be 'fortunate or unfortunate,' thus:

                              "a fortunat ascendent clepen they whan that
    no wykkid planete, as Saturne or Mars, or elles the Tail of the
    Dragoun, is in the house of the assendent, ne that no wikked planets
    have non aspects of enemite up-on the assendent;"[159]

The Wife of Bath attributes the two principal qualities of her
disposition, amorousness and pugnaciousness, to the planets Venus and

  "For certes, I am al Venerien
  In felinge, and myn herte is Marcien.
  Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse,
  And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardinesse.
  Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars ther-inne.
  Allas! allas! that ever love was sinne!
  I folwed ay myn inclinacioun
  By vertu of my constellacioun."[160]

A little later in her _Prologue_ the Wife contrasts the influences of
Mercury and Venus. As a jibe at the Clerk who was in the company of
Canterbury pilgrims she has just said that clerks cannot possibly speak
well of wives, and that women could tell tales of clerks if they would.
She upholds her statement thus: Wives are the children of Venus, clerks,
of Mercury, two planets that are 'in their working full contrarious:'

  "The children of Mercurie and of Venus
  Been in hir wirking ful contrarious;
  Mercurie loveth wisdom and science,
  And Venus loveth ryot and dispence.
  And, for hir diverse disposicioun,
  Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun;
  And thus, got woot! Mercurie is desolat
  In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat;
  And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed;
  Therefore no womman of no clerk is preysed."[161]

Venus has her exaltation in the sign in which Mercury has his depression.
Therefore the two signs have opposite virtues and influences, and the
children of one can see little good in the children of the other.

We have seen how the stars were supposed to control human destiny by
bestowing certain qualities upon souls at birth. We shall next consider
how they were thought to influence men more indirectly, through their
effects on terrestrial events. Certain positions of the heavenly bodies
with regard to one another could cause heavy rains. The clerk in the
_Milleres Tale_ predicts a great rain through observation of the moon's

  "'Now John,' quod Nicholas, 'I wol nat lye;
  I have y-founde in myn astrologye,
  As I have loked in the mone bright,
  That now, a Monday next, at quarter-night,
  Shal falle a reyn and that so wilde and wood,
  That half so greet was never Noes flood.'"[162]

Such predictions as this were, however, by no means always believed in
even by uneducated people. In this case, for the purposes of the story,
the flood does not take place. The carpenter, John, is taken in because
the story requires it, but Nicholas is a quack pure and simple, and of
course the Miller who tells the story has no delusions.

In _Troilus and Criseyde_ we are told that the moon's conjunction with
Jupiter and Saturn caused a heavy rain. Pandarus had the day before
suspected that there was to be rain from the condition of the moon:

  "Right sone upon the chaunging of the mone,
  Whan lightles is the world a night or tweyne,
  And that the welken shoop him for to reyne,
  He streight a-morwe un-to his nece wente;"[163]

and on the next night the rain came:

  "The bente mone with hir hornes pale,
  Saturne, and Iove, in Cancro ioyned were,
  That swich a rayn from hevene gan avale,
  That every maner womman that was there
  Hadde of that smoky reyn a verray fere;"[164]

Perhaps the moon alone in Cancer, which was her mansion, would have caused
a rain, and it was the additional presence of Saturn and Jupiter that made
it such a heavy downpour.

Chaucer humorously makes use of this astrological superstition that the
planets cause rains in the _Lenvoy a Scogan_:

  "To-broken been the statuts hye in hevene
  That creat were eternally to dure,
  Sith that I see the brighte goddes sevene
  Mow wepe and wayle, and passioun endure,
  As may in erthe a mortal creature.
  Allas, fro whennes may this thing procede?
  Of whiche errour I deye almost for drede."[165]

Here it is not the planets' positions that cause the rain, but the planets
are weeping as mortals do and their tears are the rain. In the next stanza
we learn that even Venus, from whose sphere divine law once decreed no
tear should ever fall, is weeping so that mortals are about to be
drenched. And it is all Scogan's fault!

  "By worde eterne whylom was hit shape
  That fro the fifte cercle, in no manere,
  Ne mighte a drope of teres doun escape.
  But now so wepeth Venus in hir spere,
  That with hir teres she wol drenche us here.
  Allas! Scogan! this is for thyn offence!
  Thou causest this deluge of pestilence."[166]

So the ultimate cause of the rain was Scogan's offense. And in the next
stanza we learn what that offence was. Instead of vowing to serve his lady
forever, though his love is unrequited, Scogan has rebelled against the
law of love:

  "Hast thou not seyd, in blaspheme of this goddes,
  Through pryde, or through thy grete rakelnesse,
  Swich thing as in the lawe of love forbode is?
  That, for thy lady saw nat thy distresse,
  Therefor thou yave hir up at Michelmesse!"[167]

I have said that Chaucer makes wide use of the astrological beliefs of his
century in portraying character and have shown how some of the strange
astrological ideas of the people of his time are reflected in Chaucer's
poetry. It remains to consider somewhat more closely the relations between
astrological faith and conduct, and Chaucer's application of these
relations to the dramatic action in his poems.

The inevitable logical outcome of astrological faith is the doctrine of
Necessity. The invariability of the celestial motions suggested to early
astrologers that there must be a higher power transcending and controlling
them, and this power could be none other than Necessity. But, since the
stars by their movements and positions were the regulators of mundane
events and human affairs, it followed that human destiny on the earth was
also under the sway of this relentless power of Necessity or Fate. Now it
was the Stoics alone who developed a thorough-going fatalism and at the
same time made it consistent with practical life and virtue. They taught
that man could best find himself in complete submission to the divine law
of destiny. The early Babylonian astrologers who originated the doctrine
of necessity did not develop it to its logical consequences. Reasoning
from certain very unusual occurrences that sometimes took place in the
heavens, such as the appearance of comets, meteors and falling stars, they
reached the conclusion that divine will at times arbitrarily interfered in
the destined course of nature. So priests foretold future events from the
configuration of the heavens, but professed ability to ward off threatened
evils by spells and incantations, or, by purifications and sacrifices, to
make the promised blessings more secure.

Now the fatalism of Chaucer's characters is something like this. The
general belief in the determination of human destiny by Fortune or
Necessity is present and is expressed usually at moments of deep despair,
when the longings of the heart and the struggles of the will have been
relentlessly thwarted. When the Trojans decree that Criseyde must go to
the Greeks in exchange for Antenor, Troilus pleads with Fortune:

  "Than seyde he thus, 'Fortune! allas the whyle!
  What have I doon, what have I thus a-gilt?
  How mightestow for reuthe me bigyle?
  Is ther no grace, and shall I thus be spilt?
  Shal thus Criseyde awey, for that thou wilt?
  Allas! how maystow in thyn herte finde
  To been to me thus cruel and unkinde?
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  Allas! Fortune! if that my lyf in Ioye
  Displesed hadde un-to thy foule envye,
  Why ne haddestow my fader, king of Troye,
  By-raft the lyf, or doon my bretheren dye,
  Or slayn my-self, that thus compleyne and crye,
  I, combre-world, that may of no-thing serve,
  But ever dye, and never fulle sterve?'"[168]

But there is present, too, in spite of all obstacles and defeats, an
undying hope that somehow--by prayers and sacrifices to the celestial
powers, or by the choice of astrologically favorable times of doing
things--that somehow the course of human lives, mapped out at birth by the
stars under the control of relentless destiny, may be altered. So the
characters in Chaucer's poems pray to the orbs of the sky to help in their
undertakings. The love-lorn Troilus undertakes scarcely a single act
without first beseeching some one of the celestial powers for help. When
he has confessed his love to Pandarus and the latter has promised to help
him, Troilus prays to Venus:

  "'Now blisful Venus helpe, er that I sterve,
  Of thee, Pandare, I may som thank deserve.'"[169]

and when the first step has been taken and he knows that Criseyde is not
ill disposed to be his friend at least, he praises Venus, looking up to
her as a flower to the sun:

  "But right as floures, thorugh the colde of night
  Y-closed, stoupen on hir stalkes lowe,
  Redressen hem a-yein the sonne bright,
  And spreden on hir kinde cours by rowe;
  Right so gan tho his eyen up to throwe
  This Troilus, and seyde, 'O Venus dere,
  Thy might, thy grace, y-heried be it here!'"[170]

When Troilus is about to undertake a step that will either win or lose
Criseyde he prays to all the planetary gods, but especially to Venus,
begging her to overcome by her aid whatever evil influences the planets
exercised over him in his birth:

  "'Yit blisful Venus, this night thou me enspyre,'
  Quod Troilus, 'as wis as I thee serve,
  And ever bet and bet shal, til I sterve.
  And if I hadde, O Venus ful of murthe,
  Aspectes badde of Mars or of Saturne,
  Or thou combust[171] or let were in my birthe,
  Thy fader prey al thilke harm disturne.'"[172]

Troilus does not forget to praise Venus when Criseyde is won at last:

  "Than seyde he thus, 'O, Love, O, Charitee,
  Thy moder eek, Citherea the swete,
  After thy-self next heried be she,
  Venus mene I, the wel-willy planete;'"[173]

And after Criseyde has gone away to the Greeks, it is to Venus still that
the lover utters his lament and prayer, saying that without the guidance
of her beams he is lost:

  "'O sterre, of which I lost have al the light,
  With herte soor wel oughte I to bewayle,
  That ever derk in torment, night by night,
  Toward my deeth with wind in stere I sayle;
  For which the tenthe night if that I fayle
  The gyding of thy bemes brighte an houre,
  My ship and me Caribdis wol devoure:'"[174]

Another effect of astrological faith on conduct was the choice of times
for doing things of importance with reference to astrological conditions.
When a man wished to set out on any enterprise of importance he very often
consulted the positions of the stars to see if the time was propitious.
Thus in the _Squieres Tale_ it is said that the maker of the horse of

          "wayted many a constellacioun,
  Er he had doon this operacioun;"[175]

that is, he waited carefully for the moment when the stars would be in the
most propitious position, so that his undertaking would have the greatest
possible chance of success. Pandarus goes to his niece Criseyde to plead
for Troilus at a time when the moon is favorably situated in the heavens:

  "And gan to calle, and dresse him up to ryse,
  Remembringe him his erand was to done
  From Troilus, and eek his greet empryse;
  And caste and knew in good plyt was the mone--
  To doon viage, and took his wey ful sone
  Un-to his neces paleys ther bi-syde."[176]

The kind of fatalism that Chaucer's characters, as a rule, represent is
well illustrated in the story of Palamon and Arcite, told by the Knight in
the _Canterbury Tales_. These two young nobles of Thebes, cousins by
relationship, are captured by Theseus, king of Athens, and imprisoned in
the tower of his palace. From the window of the tower Palamon espies the
king's beautiful sister Emelye walking in the garden and instantly falls
in love. Arcite, seeing his cousin's sudden pallor and hearing his
exclamation which, Chaucer says, sounded

  "As though he stongen were un-to the herte."[177]

thinks that Palamon is complaining because of his imprisonment and urges
him to bear in patience the decree of the heavens:

  "'For Goddes love, tak al in pacience
  Our prisoun, for it may non other be;
  Fortune hath yeven us this adversitee.
  Som wikke aspect or disposicioun
  Of Saturne, by sum constellacioun,
  Hath yeven us this, al-though we hadde it sworn;
  So stood the heven whan that we were born;
  We moste endure it; this is the short and pleyn.'"[178]

This is the doctrine of Necessity, and it suggests the Stoic virtue of
submission to fate; yet Arcite's attitude toword his misfortune is not
truly stoic, for there is none of that joy in submission here that the
Stoic felt in surrendering himself to the will of the powers above. Arcite
would resist fate if he could.

Palamon explains the cause of his woe and when Arcite looks out and sees
Emelye he too falls a victim to love. Then Palamon knits his brows in
righteous indignation. Did he not love the beautiful lady first and trust
his secret to his cousin and sworn brother? And was it not Arcite's duty
and solemn pledge to help and not hinder him in his love? Arcite's defence
shows that the fatalism that dominates his thought is a fatalism that
excuses him for doing as he pleases: Love knows no law, but is a law unto
itself. Therefore he must needs love Emelye.

  "Wostow nat wel the olde clerkes sawe,
  That 'who shal yeve a lover any lawe?'
  Love is a gretter lawe, by my pan,
  Than may be yeve to any erthly man.
  And therefore positif lawe and swich decree
  Is broke al-day for love, in ech degree.
  A man moot nedes love, maugree his heed."[179]

When Arcite is released from prison but banished from Athens with the
threat of death should he return, both men are utterly unhappy, Arcite,
because he can no longer see Emelye, and Palamon because he fears that
Arcite will return to Athens with a band of kinsmen to aid him, and carry
off Emelye by force. After Arcite has gone Palamon reproaches the gods for
determining the destiny of men so irrevocably without consulting their
wishes or their deserts:

          "'O cruel goddes, that governe
  This world with binding of your word eterne,
  And wryten in the table of athamaunt
  Your parlement, and your eterne graunt,
  What is mankinde more un-to yow holde
  Than is the sheep, that rouketh in the folde?'"[180]

Many a man, Palamon says, suffers sickness, imprisonment and other
misfortunes unjustly because of the inexorable destiny imposed upon him by
the gods. Even the lot of the beasts is better, for they do as they will
and have nothing to suffer for it after death; whereas man must suffer
both in this life and the next. This, surely, is not willing submission to

After some years Palamon escapes from prison and encounters Arcite, who
has returned in disguise and become Theseus' chief squire. They arrange to
settle their differences by a duel next day. But destiny was guiding
Theseus' conduct too, so the narrator of the story says, and was so
powerful that it caused a coincidence that might not happen again in a
thousand years:

  "The destinee, ministre general,
  That executeth in the world over-al
  The purveyaunce, that God hath seyn biforn,
  So strong it is, that, though the world had sworn
  The contrarie of a thing, by ye or nay,
  Yet somtyme it shal fallen on a day
  That falleth nat eft with-inne a thousand yere.
  For certeinly, our appetytes here,
  Be it of werre, or pees, or hate, or love,
  Al is this reuled by the sighte above."[181]

Theseus goes hunting and with him, the queen and Emelye. They of course
interrupt the duel between Palamon and Arcite. Through the intercession of
the two women the duelists are pardoned and it is arranged that they
settle their dispute by a tournament set for about a year later.

On the morning before the tournament Palamon, Arcite, and Emelye all go,
at different hours, to pray and sacrifice to their respective patron
deities. The times of their prayers are chosen according to astrological
considerations, each going to pray in the hour[182] that was considered
sacred to the planet with which his patron deity was identified. Palamon
prays to Venus only that he may win his love, whether by victory or defeat
in the tournament makes no difference to him. After his sacrifices are
completed, the statute of Venus shakes and Palamon, regarding this as a
favorable sign goes away with glad heart. Arcite prays Mars for victory
and is answered by a portent even more favorable than that given to
Palamon. Not only does the statue of Mars tremble so that his coat of mail
resounds, but the very doors of the temple shake, the fire on the altar
burns more brightly and Arcite hears the word "Victory" uttered in a low
dim murmur. Emelye does not want to be given in marriage to any man and so
she prays to Diana[183], as the protectress of maidenhood, to keep her a
maid. Diana, the goddess, appears in her characteristic form as a huntress
and tells Emelye that the gods have decreed her marriage either to Palamon
or to Arcite, but that it cannot yet be revealed to which one she is to be

But now there is trouble in heaven. Venus has promised that Palamon shall
have his love, and Mars has promised Arcite the victory. How are both
promises to be fulfilled? Chaucer humorously expresses the dilemma thus:

  "And richt anon swich stryf ther is bigonne
  For thilke graunting, in the hevene above,
  Bitwixe Venus, the goddesse of love,
  And Mars, the sterne god armipotente,
  That Iupiter was bisy it to stente;
  Til that the pale Saturnus the colde,
  That knew so manye of aventures olde,
  Fond in his old experience an art,
  That he ful sone hath plesed every part."[184]

We had almost forgotten that all the gods to whom prayers have been
uttered and sacrifices offered were anything more than pagan gods. But
now, by the reference to Saturn, "the pale Saturnus the colde" suggesting
the dimness of his appearance in the sky, we are reminded that these gods
are also planets.

But, to resume the story, Saturn finds the remedy for the embarrassing
situation. He rehearses his powers and then tells Venus that her knight
shall have his lady, but that Mars shall be able to help his knight also.

  "'My dere doghter Venus,' quod Saturne,
  'My cours, that hath so wyde for to turne,
  Hath more power that wot any man.
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  Now weep namore, I shal doon diligence
  That Palamon, that is thyn owne knight,
  Shal have his lady, as thou hast him hight.
  Though Mars shal helpe his knight, yet nathelees
  Bitwixe yow ther moot be som tyme pees,
  Al be ye noght of o complexioun,
  That causeth al day swich divisioun.'"[185]

When the appointed time for the tourney arrives, in order that no means of
securing the god's favor and so assuring success may be left untried,
Arcite, with his knights, enters through the gate of Mars, his patron
deity, and Palamon through that of Venus. Palamon is defeated in the fight
but Saturn fulfills his promise to Venus by inducing Pluto to send an omen
which frightens Arcite's horse causing an accident in which Arcite is
mortally injured. In the end Palamon wins Emelye.

Although the scene of this story is laid in ancient Athens, the characters
are plainly mediaeval knights and ladies. Throughout the poem, as in many
of Chaucer's writings, there is a curious mingling of pagan and Christian
elements, a strange juxtaposition of astrological notions, Greek
anthropomorphism and mediaeval Christian philosophy. But pervading the
whole is the idea of determinism, of the inability of the human will to
struggle successfully against the destiny imposed by the powers of heaven,
or against the capricious wills of the gods.

Chaucer had too keen a sense of humor, too sympathetic an outlook on life
not to see the irony in the ceaseless spectacle of mankind dashing itself
against the relentless wall of circumstances, fate, or what you will, in
undying hope of attaining the unattainable. He saw the humor in this
maelstrom of human endeavor--and he saw the tragedy too. The _Knightes
Tale_ presents largely, I think, the humorous side of it, _Troilus and
Criseyde_, the tragic, although there is some tragedy in the _Knightes
Tale_ and some comedy in _Troilus_.

It was fate that Troilus should love Criseyde, that he should win her love
for a time, and that in the end he should be deserted by her. From the
very first line of the poem we know that he is doomed to sorrow:

  "The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,
  That was the king Priamus sone of Troye,
  In lovinge, how his aventures fellen
  Fro we to wele, and after out of Ioye,
  My purpos is, er that I parte fro ye."[186]

The tragedy of Troilus is also the tragedy of Criseyde, for even at the
moment of forsaking Troilus for Diomede she is deeply unhappy over her
unfaithfulness; but circumstance is as much to blame as her own yielding
nature, for Troilus' fate is bound up with the inexorable doom of Troy,
and she could not return to him if she would.

There is no doubt that Chaucer feels the tragedy of the story as he
writes. In his proem to the first book he invokes one of the furies to aid
him in his task:

  "Thesiphone, thou help me for tendyte
  Thise woful vers, that wepen as I wryte!"[187]

Throughout the poem he disclaims responsibility for what he narrates,
saying that he is simply following his author and that, once begun,
somehow he must keep on. In the proem to the second book he says:

  "Wherefore I nil have neither thank ne blame
  Of al this werk, but pray you mekely,
  Disblameth me, if any word be lame,
  For as myn auctor seyde, so seye I."[188]

and concludes the proem with the words,--

              "but sin I have begonne,
  Myn auctor shal I folwen, if I conne."[189]

When Fortune turns her face away from Troilus, and Chaucer must tell of
the loss of Criseyde his heart bleeds and his pen trembles with dread of
what he must write:

  "But al to litel, weylawey the whyle,
  Lasteth swich Ioye, y-thonked be Fortune!
  That semeth trewest, whan she wol bygyle,
  And can to foles so hir song entune,
  That she hem hent and blent, traytour comune;
  And whan a wight is from hir wheel y-throwe,
  Than laugheth she, and maketh him the mowe.

  From Troilus she gan hir brighte face
  Awey to wrythe, and took of him non hede,
  But caste him clene oute of his lady grace,
  And on hir wheel she sette up Diomede;
  For which right now myn herte ginneth blede,
  And now my penne, allas! with which I wryte,
  Quaketh for drede of that I moot endyte."[190]

Chaucer tells of Criseyde's faithlessness reluctantly, reminding the
reader often that so the story has it:

  "And after this the story telleth us,
  That she him yaf the faire baye stede,
  The which she ones wan of Troilus;
  And eek a broche (and that was litel nede)
  That Troilus was, she yaf this Diomede.
  And eek, the bet from sorwe him to releve,
  She made him were a pencel of hir sleve.

  I finde eek in the stories elles-where,
  Whan through the body hurt was Diomede
  Of Troilus, tho weep she many a tere,
  Whan that she saugh his wyde woundes blede;
  And that he took to kepen him good hede,
  And for to hele him of his sorwes smerte,
  Men seyn, I not, that she yaf him hir herte."[191]

And in the end for very pity he tries to excuse her:

  "Ne me ne list this sely womman chyde
  Ferther than the story wol devyse,
  Hir name, allas! is publisshed so wyde,
  That for hir gilt it oughte y-now suffyse.
  And if I mighte excuse hir any wyse,
  For she so sory was for hir untrouthe,
  Y-wis, I wolde excuse hir yet for routhe."[192]

We have said that Chaucer's attitude toward the philosophical aspects of
astrology is hard to determine because in most of his poems he takes an
impersonal ironic point of view towards the actions he describes or the
ideas he presents. His attitude toward the idea of destiny is not so hard
to determine. Fortune, the executrix of the fates through the influence of
the heavens rules men's lives; they are the herdsmen, we are their flocks:

  "But O, Fortune, executrice of wierdes,
  O influences of thise hevenes hye!
  Soth is, that, under god, ye ben our hierdes,
  Though to us bestes been the causes wrye."[193]

Perhaps Chaucer did not mean this literally. But one is tempted to think
that he, like Dante, thought of the heavenly bodies in their spheres as
the ministers and instruments of a Providence that had foreseen and
ordained all things.


I. Most of the terms at present used to describe the movements of the
heavenly bodies were used in Chaucer's time and occur very frequently in
his writings. The significance of Chaucer's references will then be
perfectly clear, if we keep in mind that the modern astronomer's
description of the _apparent_ movements of the star-sphere and of the
heavenly bodies individually would have been to Chaucer a description of
_real_ movements.

When we look up into the sky on a clear night the stars and planets appear
to be a host of bright dots on the concave surface, unimaginably distant,
of a vast hollow sphere at the canter of which we seem to be. Astronomers
call this expanse of the heavens with its myriad bright stars the
_celestial sphere_ or the _star sphere_, and have imagined upon its
surface various systems of circles. In descriptions of the earth's
relation to the celestial sphere it is customary to disregard altogether
the earth's diameter which is comparatively infinitesimal.

If we stand on a high spot in the open country and look about us in all
directions the earth seems to meet the sky in a circle which we call the
_terrestrial horizon_. Now if we imagine a plane passing through the
center of the earth and parallel to the plane in which the terrestrial
horizon lies, and if we imagine this plane through the earth's center
extended outward in all directions to an infinite distance, it would cut
the celestial sphere in a great circle which astronomers call the
_celestial horizon_. On the celestial horizon are the north, east, south
and west points. The plane of the celestial horizon is, of course,
different for different positions of the observer on the earth.

If we watch the sky for some time, or make several observations on the
same night, we notice, by observing the changing positions of the
constellations, that the stars move very slowly across the blue dome above
us. The stars that rise due east of us do not, in crossing the dome of the
sky, pass directly over our heads but, from the moment that we first see
them, curve some distance to the south, and, after passing their highest
point in the heavens, turn toward the north and set due west. A star
rising due east appears to move more rapidly than one rising some distance
to the north or south of the east point, because it crosses a higher point
in the heavens and has, therefore, a greater distance to traverse in the
same length of time. When we observe the stars in the northern sky, we
discover that many of them never set but seem to be moving around an
apparently fixed point at somewhat more than an angle of 40°[194] above
the northern horizon and very near the north star. These are called
_circum-polar stars_. The whole celestial sphere, in other words, appears
to be revolving about an imaginary axis passing through this fixed point,
which is called the _north pole_ of the heavens, through the center of the
earth and through an invisible pole (the south pole of the heavens)
exactly opposite the visible one. This apparent revolution of the whole
star sphere, as we know, is caused by the earth's rotation on its axis
once every twenty-four hours from west to east. Chaucer and his
contemporaries believed it to be the actual revolution of the nine spheres
from east to west about the earth as a center.

[Illustration: Fig. 1.]

For determining accurately the position of stars on the celestial sphere
astronomers make use of various circles which can be made clear by a few
simple diagrams. In Figure 1, the observer is imagined to be at O. Then
the circle NESW is the celestial horizon, which we have described above.
Z, the point immediately above the observer is called the _zenith_, and
Z', the point immediately underneath, as indicated by a plumb line at
rest, is the _nadir_. The line POP' is the imaginary axis about which the
star-sphere appears to revolve, and P and P' are the poles of the heavens.
The north pole P is elevated, for our latitude, at an angle of
approximately 40° from the north point on the horizon. PP' is called the
_polar axis_ and it is evident that the earth's axis extended infinitely
would coincide with this axis of the heavens.

In measuring positions of stars with reference to the horizon astronomers
use the following circles: Any great circle of the celestial sphere whose
plane passes through the zenith and nadir is called a _vertical circle_.
The verticle circle SPNZ', passing through the poles and meeting the
horizon in the north and south points, N and S, is called the _meridian
circle_, because the sun is on this circle at true mid-day. The _meridian_
is the plane in which this circle lies. The vertical circle, EZ'WZ, whose
plane is at right angles to the meridian, is called the _prime vertical_
and it intersects the horizon at the east and west points, E and W. These
circles, and the measurements of positions of heavenly bodies which
involve their use, were all employed in Chaucer's time and are referred to
in his writings.[195]

The distance of a star from the horizon, measured on a vertical circle,
toward the zenith is called the star's _altitude_. A star reaches its
greatest altitude when on the part of the meridional circle between the
south point of the horizon, S, and the north pole, P. A star seen between
the north pole and the north point on the horizon, that is, on the arc PN,
must obviously be a _circum-polar star_ and would have its highest
altitude when between the pole and the zenith, or on the arc PZ. When a
star reaches the meridian in its course across the celestial sphere it is
said to _culminate_ or reach its _culmination_. The highest altitude of
any star would therefore be represented by the arc of the meridional
circle between the star and the south point of the horizon. This is called
the star's _meridian altitude_.

The _azimuth_ of a star is its angular distance from the south point,
measured westward on the horizon, to a vertical circle passing through the
star. The _amplitude_ of a star is its distance from the prime vertical,
measured on the horizon, north or south.

For the other measurements used by astronomers in observations of the
stars still other circles on the celestial sphere must be imagined. We
know that the earth's surface is divided into halves, called the northern
and southern hemispheres, by an imaginary circle called the _equator_,
whose plane passes through the center of the earth and is perpendicular to
the earth's axis. If the plane of the earth's equator were infinitely
extended it would describe upon the celestial sphere a great circle which
would divide that sphere into two hemispheres, just as the plane of the
terrestrial equator divides the earth into two hemispheres. This great
circle on the celestial sphere is called the _celestial equator_, or, by
an older name, the _equatorial_, the significance of which we shall see
presently. A star rising due east would traverse this great circle of the
celestial sphere and set due west. The path of such a star is represented
in Figure 2 by the great circle EMWM', which also represents the celestial
equator. All stars rise and set following circles whose planes are
parallel to that of the celestial equator and these circles of the
celestial sphere are smaller and smaller the nearer they are to the pole,
so that stars very near the pole appear to be encircling it in very small
concentric circles. Stars in an area around the north celestial pole,
whose limits vary with the position of the observer never set for an
observer in the northern hemisphere. There is a similar group of stars
around the south pole for an observer in the southern hemisphere.

[Illustration: Fig. 2.]

The angle of elevation of the celestial equator to the horizon varies
according to the position of the observer. If, for example, the observer
were at the north pole of the earth, the north celestial pole would be
directly above him and would therefore coincide with the zenith; this
would obviously make the celestial equator and the horizon also coincide.
If the observer should pass slowly from the pole to the terrestrial
equator it is clear that the two circles would no longer coincide and that
the angle between them would gradually widen until it reached 90°. Then
the zenith would be on the celestial equator and the north and south poles
of the heavens would be on the horizon.

We have still to define a great circle of the celestial sphere that is of
equal importance with the celestial equator and the celestial horizon.
This is the sun's apparent yearly path, or the _ecliptic_. We know that
the earth revolves about the sun once yearly in an orbit that is not
entirely round but somewhat eliptical. Now since the earth, the sun, and
the earth's orbit around the sun are always in one plane, it follows that
to an observer on the earth the sun would appear to be moving around the
earth instead of the earth around the sun. The sun's apparent path,
moreover, would be in the plane of the earth's orbit and when projected
against the celestial sphere, which is infinite in extent, would appear as
a great circle of that sphere. This great circle of the celestial sphere
is the ecliptic. The sun must always appear to be on this circle, not only
at all times of the year but at all hours of the day; for as the sun rises
and sets, the ecliptic rises and sets also, since the earth's rotation
causes an apparent daily revolution not only of the sun, moon, and planets
but also of the fixed stars and so of the whole celestial sphere and of
all the circles whose positions upon it do not vary. The ecliptic is
inclined to the celestial equator approximately 23-1/2°, an angle which
obviously measures the inclination of the plane of the earth's equator to
the plane of its orbit, since the celestial equator and the ecliptic are
great circles on the celestial sphere formed by extending the planes of
the earth's equator and its orbit to an infinite distance. Since both the
celestial equator and the ecliptic are great circles of the celestial
sphere each dividing it into equal parts, it is evident that these two
circles must intersect at points exactly opposite each other on the
celestial sphere. These points are called the vernal and the autumnal

We shall next define the astronomical measurements that correspond to
terrestrial latitude and longitude. For some reason astronomers have not,
as we might expect, applied to these measurements the terms 'celestial
longitude' and 'celestial latitude.' These two terms are now practically
obsolete, having been used formerly to denote angular distance north or
south of the ecliptic and angular distance measured east and west along
circles parallel to the ecliptic. The measurements that correspond in
astronomy to terrestrial latitude and longitude are called _declination_
and _right ascension_ and are obviously made with reference to the
celestial equator, not the ecliptic. For taking these measurements
astronomers employ circles on the celestial sphere perpendicular to the
plane of the celestial equator and passing through the poles of the
heavens. These are called _hour circles_. The hour circle of any star is
the great circle passing through it and perpendicular to the plane of the
equator. The angular distance of a star from the equator measured along
its hour circle, is called the star's declination and is northern or
southern according as the star is in the northern or southern of the two
hemispheres into which the plane of the equator divides the celestial
sphere. It is evident that declination corresponds exactly to terrestrial
latitude. Right ascension, corresponding to terrestrial longitude, is the
angular distance of a heavenly body from the vernal equinox measured on
the celestial equator eastward to the hour circle passing through the

The _hour angle_ of a star is the angular distance measured on the
celestial equator from the meridian to the foot of the hour circle passing
through the star.

[Illustration: Fig. 3.]

It remains to describe in greater detail the apparent movements of the sun
and the sun's effect upon the seasons. In Figure 3, the great circle MWM'E
represents the equinoctial and XVX'A the ecliptic. The point X represents
the farthest point south that the sun reaches in its apparent journey
around the earth, and this point is called the _winter solstice_, because,
for the northern hemisphere the sun reaches this point in mid-winter. When
the sun is south of the celestial equator its apparent daily path is the
same as it would be for a star so situated. Thus its daily path at the
time of the winter solstice, about December 21, can be represented by the
circle Xmn'. The arc gXh represents the part of the sun's path that would
be above the horizon, showing that night would last much longer than day
and the rays of the sun would strike the northern hemisphere of the earth
more indirectly than when the sun is north of the equator. As the sun
passes along the ecliptic from X toward V, the part of its daily path
that is above the horizon gradually increases until at V, the vernal
equinox, the sun's path would, roughly speaking, coincide with the
celestial equator so that half of it would be above the horizon and half
below and day and night would be of equal length. This explains why the
celestial equator was formerly called the equinoctial (Chaucer's term for
it). As the sun passes on toward X' its daily arc continues to increase
and the days to grow longer until at X' it reaches its greatest
declination north of the equator and we have the longest day, June 21, the
summer solstice. When the sun reaches this point, its rays strike the
northern hemisphere more directly than at any other time causing the hot
or summer season in this hemisphere. Next the sun's daily arc begins to
decrease, day and night to become more nearly equal, at A the autumnal
equinox[196] is reached and the sun again shapes its course towards the
point of maximum declination south of the equator. The two points of
maximum declination are called _solstices_.

The two small circles of the celestial sphere, parallel to the equator,
which pass through the two points where the sun's declination is greatest,
are called _Tropics_; the one in the northern hemisphere is called the
_Tropic of Cancer_, that in the southern hemisphere, the _Tropic of
Capricorn_. They correspond to circles on the earth's surface having the
same names.

II. By "artificial day" Chaucer means the time during which the sun is
above the horizon, the period from sunrise to sunset. The arc of the
artificial day may mean the extent or duration of it, as measured on the
rim of an astrolabe, or it may mean (as here), the arc extending from the
point of sunrise to that of sunset. See _Astrolabe_ ii.7.

There has been some controversy among editors as to the correctness of the
date occurring in this passage, some giving it as the 28th instead of the
18th. In discussing the accuracy of the reading "eightetethe" Skeat throws
light also upon the accuracy of the rest of the passage considered from an
astronomical point of view. He says (vol. 5, p. 133):

"The key to the whole matter is given by a passage in Chaucer's
'Astrolabe,' pt. ii, ch. 29, where it is clear that Chaucer (who, however
merely translates from Messahala) actually confuses the hour-angle with
the azimuthal arc (see Appendix I); that is, he considered it correct to
find the hour of the day by noting _the point of the horizon_ over which
the sun appears to stand, and supposing this point to advance, with a
_uniform_, not a _variable_, motion. The host's method of proceeding was
this. Wanting to know the hour, he observed how far the sun had moved
southward along the horizon since it rose, and saw that it had gone more
than half-way from the point of sunrise to the exact southern point. Now
the 18th of April in Chaucer's time answers to the 26th of April at
present. On April 26, 1874, the sun rose at 4 hr. 43 m., and set at 7 hr.
12 m., giving a day of about 14 hr. 30 m., the fourth part of which is at
8 hr. 20 m., or, with sufficient exactness, at _half past eight_. This
would leave a whole hour and a half to signify Chaucer's 'half an houre
and more', showing that further explanation is still necessary. The fact
is, however, that the host reckoned, as has been said, in another way,
viz. by observing the sun's position _with reference to the horizon_. On
April 18 the sun was in the 6th degree of Taurus at that date, as we again
learn from Chaucer's treatise. Set this 6th degree of Taurus on the east
horizon on a globe, and it is found to be 22 degrees to the north of the
east point, or 112 degrees from the south. The half of this at 56 degrees
from the south; and the sun would seem to stand above this 56th degree, as
may be seen even upon a globe, at about a quarter past nine; but Mr. Brae
has made the calculation, and shows that it was at _twenty minutes past
nine_. This makes Chaucer's 'half an houre and more' to stand for _half an
hour and ten minutes_; an extremely neat result. But this we can check
again by help of the host's _other_ observation. He _also_ took note, that
the lengths of a shadow and its object were equal, whence the sun's
altitude must have been 45 degrees. Even a globe will shew that the sun's
altitude, when in the 6th degree of Taurus, and at 10 o'clock in the
morning, is somewhere about 45 or 46 degrees. But Mr. Brae has calculated
it exactly, and his result is, that the sun attained its altitude of 45
degrees at _two minutes to ten_ exactly. This is even a closer
approximation than we might expect, and leaves no doubt about the right
date being the _eighteenth_ of April."

Thus it appears that Chaucer's method of determining the date was
incorrect but his calculations in observing the sun's position were quite
accurate. For fuller particulars see Chaucer's _Astrolabe_, ed. Skeat (E.
E. T. S.) preface, p. 1.

III. It was customary in ancient times and even as late as Chaucer's
century to determine the position of the sun, moon, or planets at any time
by reference to the signs of the zodiac. The _zodiac_ is an imaginary belt
of the celestial sphere, extending 8° on each side of the ecliptic, within
which the orbits of the sun, moon, and planets appear to lie. The zodiac
is divided into twelve equal geometric divisions 30° in extent called
_signs_ to each of which a fanciful name is given. The signs were once
identical with twelve constellations along the zodiac to which these
fanciful names were first applied. Since the signs are purely geometric
divisions and are counted from the spring equinox in the direction of the
sun's progress through them, and since through the precession of the
equinoxes the whole series of signs shifts westward about one degree in
seventy-two years, the signs and constellations no longer coincide.
Beginning with the sign in which the vernal equinox lies the names of the
zodiacal signs are Aries (Ram), Taurus (Bull), Gemini (Twins), Cancer
(Crab), Leo (Lion), Virgo (Virgin), Libra (Scales), Scorpio (Scorpion),
Sagittarius (Archer), Aquarius (Water-carrier), and Pisces (Fishes).

In this passage, the line "That in the Ram is four degrees up-ronne"
indicates the date March 16. This can be seen by reference to Figure 1 in
Skeat's edition of Chaucer's _Astrolabe_ (E. E. T. S.) The astrolabe was
an instrument for making observations of the heavenly bodies and
calculating time from these observations. The most important part of the
kind of astrolabe described by Chaucer was a rather heavy circular plate
of metal from four to seven inches in diameter, which could be suspended
from the thumb by a ring attached loosely enough so as to allow the
instrument to assume a perpendicular position. One side of this plate was
flat and was called the _back_, and it is this part that Figure 1
represents. The back of the astrolabe planisphere contained a series of
concentric rings representing in order beginning with the outermost ring:
the four quadrants of a circle each divided into ninety degrees; the signs
of the zodiac divided into thirty degrees each; the days of the year, the
circle being divided, for this purpose, into 365-1/4 equal parts; the
names of the months, the number of days in each, and the small divisions
which represent each day, which coincide exactly with those representing
the days of the year; and lastly the saints' days, with their
Sunday-letters. The purpose of the signs of the zodiac is to show the
position of the sun in the ecliptic at different times. Therefore, if we
find on the figure the fourth degree of Aries and the day of the month
corresponding to it, we have the date March 16 as nearly as we can
determine it by observing the intricate divisions in the figure.

The next passage "Noon hyer was he, whan she redy was" means evidently,
'he was no higher than this (i. e. four degrees) above the horizon when
she was ready'; that is, it was a little past six. The method used in
determining the time of day by observation of the sun's position is
explained in the Astrolabe ii, 2 and 3. First the sun's altitude is found
by means of the revolving rule at the back of the astrolabe. The rule, a
piece of metal fitted with sights, is moved up and down until the rays of
the sun shine directly through the sights. Then, by means of the degrees
marked on the back of the astrolabe, the angle of elevation of the rule is
determined, giving the altitude of the sun. The rest of the process
involves the use of the _front_ of the astrolabe. This side of the
circular plate, shown in Fig. 2, had a thick rim with a wide depression in
the middle. On the rim were three concentric circles, the first showing
the letters A to Z, representing the twenty-four hours of the day, and the
two innermost circles giving the degrees of the four quadrants. The
depressed central part of the front was marked with three circles, the
'Tropicus Cancri', the 'AEquinoctialis,' and the 'Tropicus Capricorni';
and with the cross-lines from North to South, and from East to West. There
were besides several thin plates or discs of metal of such a size as
exactly to drop into the depression spoken of. The principal one of these
was the 'Rete' and is shown in Fig. 2. "It consisted of a circular ring
marked with the zodiacal signs, subdivided into degrees, with narrow
branching limbs both within and without this ring, having smaller branches
or tongues terminating in points, each of which denoted the exact position
of some well-known star. * * * The 'Rete' being thus, as it were, a
skeleton plate, allows the 'Tropicus Cancri,' etc., marked upon the body
of the instrument, to be partially seen below it. * * * But it was more
usual to interpose between the 'Rete' and the body of the instrument
(called the 'Mother') another thin plate or disc, such as that in Fig. 5,
so that portions of this latter plate could be seen beneath the
skeleton-form of the 'Rete' (i. 17). These plates were called by Chaucer
'tables', and sometimes an instrument was provided with several of them,
differently marked, for use in places having different latitudes. The one
in Fig. 5 is suitable for the latitude of Oxford (nearly). The upper part,
above the Horizon Obliquus, is marked with circles of altitude (i. 18),
crossed by incomplete arcs of azimuth tending to a common centre, the
zenith (i. 19)." [Skeat, _Introduction to the Astrolabe_, pp. lxxiv-lxxv.]

Now suppose we have taken the sun's altitude by §2 (Pt. ii of the
_Astrolabe_) and found it to be 25-1/2°. "As the altitude was taken by the
back of the Astrolabe, turn it over, and then let the _Rete_ revolve
westward until the 1st point of Aries is just within the altitude-circle
marked 25, allowing for the 1/2 degree by guess. This will bring the
denticle near the letter C, and the first point of Aries near X, which
means 9 a.m." [Skeat's note on the _Astrolabe_ ii. 3, pp. 189-190].

IV. Chaucer would know the altitude of the sun simply by inspection of an
astrolabe, without calculation. Skeat has explained this passage in his
_Preface to Chaucer's Astrolabe_ (E. E. T. S.), p. lxiii, as follows:

"Besides saying that the sun was 29° high, Chaucer says that his shadow
was to his height in the proportion of 11 to 6. Changing this proportion,
we can make it that of 12 to 6-6/11; that is, the point of the _Umbra
Versa_ (which is reckoned by twelfth parts) is 6-6/11 or 6-1/2 nearly.
(Umbra Recta and Umbra Versa were scales on the back of the astrolabe used
for computing the altitudes of heavenly bodies from the height and shadows
of objects. The _umbra recta_ was used where the angle of elevation of an
object was greater than 45°; the _umbra versa_, where it was less.) This
can be verified by Fig. 1; for a straight edge, laid across from the 29th
degree above the word 'Occidens,' and passing through the center, will cut
the scale of Umbra Versa between the 6th and 7th points. The sun's
altitude is thus established as 29° above the western horizon, beyond all

V. _Herberwe_ means 'position.' Chaucer says here, then, that the sun
according to his declination causing his position to be low or high in the
heavens, brings about the seasons for all living things. In the
_Astrolabe_, i. 17, there is a very interesting passage explaining in
detail, declination, the solstices and equinoxes, and change of seasons.
Chaucer is describing the front of the astrolabe. He says: "The plate
under thy rite is descryved with 3 principal cercles; of whiche the leste
is cleped the cercle of Cancer, by-cause that the heved of Cancer turneth
evermor consentrik up-on the same cercle. (This corresponds to the Tropic
of Cancer on the celestial sphere, which marks the greatest northern
declination of the sun.) In this heved of Cancer is the grettest
declinacioun northward of the sonne. And ther-for is he cleped the
Solsticioun of Somer; whiche declinacioun, aftur Ptholome, is 23 degrees
and 50 minutes, as wel in Cancer as in Capricorne. (The greatest
declination of the sun measures the obliquity of the ecliptic, which is
slightly variable. In Chaucer's time it was about 23° 31', and in the time
of Ptolemy about 23° 40'. Ptolemy assigns it too high a value.) This signe
of Cancre is cleped the Tropik of Somer, of _tropos_, that is to seyn
'agaynward'; for thanne by-ginneth the sonne to passe fro us-ward. (See
Fig. 2 in Skeat's _Preface to the Astrolabe_, vol. iii, or E. E. T. S.
vol. 16.)

The middel cercle in wydnesse, of thise 3, is cleped the Cercle Equinoxial
(the celestial equator of the celestial sphere); up-on whiche turneth
evermo the hedes of Aries and Libra. (These are the two signs in which the
ecliptic crosses the equinoctial.) And understond wel, that evermo this
Cercle Equinoxial turneth iustly fro verrey est to verrey west; as I have
shewed thee in the spere solide. (As the earth rotates daily from west to
east, the celestial sphere appears to us to revolve about the earth once
every twenty-four hours from east to west. Chaucer, of course, means here
that the equinoctial actually revolves with the _primum mobile_ instead of
only appearing to revolve.) This same cercle is cleped also the Weyere,
_equator_, of the day; for whan the sonne is in the hevedes of Aries and
Libra, than ben the dayes and the nightes ilyke of lengthe in al the
world. And ther-fore ben thise two signes called Equinoxies.

The wydeste of thise three principal cercles is cleped the Cercle of
Capricorne, by-cause that the heved of Capricorne turneth evermo
consentrix up-on the same cercle. (That is to say, the Tropic of
Capricorn meets the ecliptic in the sign Capricornus, or, in other words,
the sun attains its greatest declination southward when in the sign
Capricornus.) In the heved of this for-seide Capricorne is the grettest
declinacioun southward of the sonne, and ther-for is it cleped the
Solsticioun of Winter. This signe of Capricorne is also cleped the Tropik
of Winter, for thanne byginneth the sonne to come agayn to us-ward."

VI. The moon's orbit around the earth is inclined at an angle of about 5°
to the earth's orbit around the sun. The moon, therefore, appears to an
observer on the earth as if traversing a great circle of the celestial
sphere just as the sun appears to do; and the moon's real orbit projected
against the celestial sphere appears as a great circle similar to the
ecliptic. This great circle in which the moon appears to travel will,
therefore, be inclined to the ecliptic at an angle of 5° and the moon will
appear in its motion never far from the ecliptic; it will always be within
the zodiac which extends eight or nine degrees on either side of the

The angular velocity of the moon's motion in its projected great circle is
much greater than that of the sun in the ecliptic. Both bodies appear to
move in the same direction, from west to east; but the solar apparent
revolution takes about a year averaging 1° daily, while the moon completes
a revolution from any fixed star back to the same star in about 27-1/4
days, making an average daily angular motion of about 13°. The actual
daily angular motion of the moon varies considerably; hence in trying to
test out Chaucer's references to lunar angular velocity it would not be
correct to make use only of the average angular velocity since his
references apply to specific times and therefore the variation in the
moon's angular velocity must be taken into account.

VII. On the line "In two of Taur," etc., Skeat has the following note:
"Tyrwhitt unluckily altered _two_ to _ten_, on the plea that 'the time
(_four days complete_, l. 1893) is not sufficient for the moon to pass
from the second degree of Taurus into Cancer? And he then proceeds to shew
this, taking the _mean_ daily motion of the moon as being 13 degrees, 10
minutes, and 35 seconds. But, as Mr. Brae has shewn, in his edition of
Chaucer's Astrolabe, p. 93, footnote, it is a mistake to reckon here the
moon's _mean_ motion; we must rather consider her _actual_ motion. The
question is simply, can the moon move from the 2nd degree of Taurus to the
1st of Cancer (through 59 degrees) in four days? Mr. Brae says decidedly,
that examples of such motion are to be seen 'in every almanac.'

For example, in the Nautical Almanac, in June, 1886, the moon's longitude
at noon was 30° 22' on the 9th, and 90° 17' on the 13th; i. e., the moon
was in the _first_ of Taurus on the former day, and in the _first_ of
Cancer on the latter day, at the same hour; which gives (very nearly) a
degree more of change of longitude than we here require. The MSS all have
_two_ or _tuo_, and they are quite right. The motion of the moon is so
variable that the mean motion affords no safe guide." [Skeat, _Notes to
the Canterbury Tales_, p. 363.]

VIII. The moon's "waxing and waning" is due to the fact that the moon is
not self-luminous but receives its light from the sun and to the
additional fact that it makes a complete revolution around the earth with
reference to the sun in 29-1/2 days. When the earth is on the side of the
moon that faces the sun we see the full moon, that is, the whole
illuminated hemisphere. But when we are on the side of the moon that is
turned away from the sun we face its unilluminated hemisphere and we say
that we have a 'new moon.' Once in every 29-1/2 days the earth is in each
of these positions with reference to the moon and, of course, in the
interval of time between these two phases we are so placed as to see
larger or smaller parts of the illuminating hemisphere of the moon, giving
rise to the other visible phases.

When the moon is between the earth and the sun she is said to be in
_conjunction_, and is invisible to us for a few nights. This is the phase
called _new moon_. As she emerges from conjunction we see the moon as a
delicate crescent in the west just after sunset and she soon sets below
the horizon. Half of the moon's surface is illuminated, but we can see
only a slender edge with the horns turned away from the sun. The crescent
appears a little wider each night, and, as the moon recedes 13° further
from the sun each night, she sets correspondingly later, until in her
first quarter half of the illuminated hemisphere is turned toward us. As
the moon continues her progress around the earth she gradually becomes
gibbous and finally reaches a point in the heavens directly opposite the
sun when she is said to be in _opposition_, her whole illumined hemisphere
faces us and we have _full moon_. She then rises in the east as the sun
sets in the west and is on the meridian at midnight. As the moon passes
from opposition, the portion of her illuminated hemisphere visible to us
gradually decreases, she rises nearly an hour later each evening and in
the morning is seen high in the western sky after sunrise. At her _third
quarter_ she again presents half of her illuminated surface to us and
continues to decrease until we see her in crescent form again. But now her
position with reference to the sun is exactly the reverse of her position
as a waxing crescent, so that her horns are now turned toward the west
away from the sun, and she appears in the eastern sky just before sunrise.
The moon again comes into conjunction and is lost in the sun's rays and
from this point the whole process is repeated.

IX. That the apparent motions of the sun and moon are not so complicated
as those of the planets will be clear at once if we remember that the
sun's apparent motion is caused by our seeing the sun projected against
the celestial sphere in the ecliptic, the path cut out by the plane of the
earth's orbit, while in the case of the moon, what we see is the moon's
actual motion around the earth projected against the celestial sphere in
the great circle traced by the moon's own orbital plane produced to an
indefinite extent. These motions are further complicated by the rotation
of the earth on its own axis, causing the rising and setting of the sun
and the moon. These two bodies, however, always appear to be moving
directly on in their courses, each completing a revolution around the
earth in a definite time, the sun in a year, the moon in 29-1/2 days. What
we see in the case of the planets, on the other hand, is a complex motion
compounded of the effects of the earth's daily rotation, its yearly
revolution around the sun, and the planets' own revolutions in different
periods of time in elliptical orbits around the sun. These complex
planetary motions are characterized by the peculiar oscillations known as
'direct' and 'retrograde' movements.

[Illustration: Fig. 4.]

The motion of a planet is said to be _direct_ when it moves in the
direction of the succession of the zodiacal signs; _retrograde_ when in
the contrary direction. All of the planets have periods of retrograde and
direct motion, though their usual direction is direct, from west to east.
Retrograde motion can be explained by reference to the accompanying
diagrams. In Fig. 4, the outer circle represents the path of the zodiac on
the celestial sphere. Let the two inner circles represent the orbits of
the earth and an inferior planet, Venus, around the sun, at S. (An
_inferior_ planet is one whose orbit around the sun is within that of the
earth. A _superior_ planet is one whose orbit is outside that of the
earth.) V, V' and V", and E, E', and E" are successive positions of the
two planets in their orbits, the arc VV" being longer than the arc EE"
because the nearer a planet is to the sun, the greater is its velocity.
Then when Venus is at V and the earth at E, we shall see Venus projected
on the celestial sphere at V{1}. When Venus has passed on to V' the earth
will have passed to E' and we shall see Venus on the celestial sphere at
V{2}. The apparent motion of the planet thus far will have been direct,
from west to east in the order of the signs. But when Venus is at V" and
the earth at E" Venus will be seen at V{3} having apparently moved back
about two signs in a direction the reverse of that taken at first. This is
called the planet's retrograde motion. At some point beyond V", the planet
will appear to stop moving for a very short period and then resume its
direct motion. In Fig. 5, the outer arc again represents the path of the
zodiac on the celestial sphere. The smaller arcs represent the orbits of
the superior planet, Mars, and the earth around the sun, S. At the point
of opposition of Mars (when Mars and the sun are at opposite points in the
heavens to an observer on the earth) we should see Mars projected on the
zodiac at M{1}. After a month Mars will be at M' and the earth at E', so
that in its apparent motion Mars will have retrograded to M{2}. After
three months from opposition Mars will be at M" and the earth at E",
making Mars appear at M{3} on the celestial sphere, its motion having
changed from retrograde to direct.

[Illustration: Fig. 5.]

Both Figures 4 and 5 take no account of the fact that the earth's orbit
and those of the planets are not in exactly the same planes. Remembering
this fact we see at once that the apparent oscillations of the planets are
not back and forth in a straight line but in curves and spirals. It is
easy to see why the apparent motions of the planets were accounted for by
deferents and epicycles, before the Copernican system revealed the true
nature of the solar system as heliocentric and not geocentric.


BERRY, ARTHUR, _A Short History of Astronomy_. New York. 1899.

BRYANT, W. W., _A History of Astronomy_. London. 1907.

CUMONT, FRANZ, _Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans_. New
York. 1912.

CUSHMAN, H. E., _A Beginner's History of Philosophy_. Boston. 1910.

DREYER, J. L. E., _History of the Planetary Systems from Thales to
Kepler_. Cambridge. 1906.

EVERSHED, M. A., _Dante and the Early Astronomers_. London. 1913.

GOMPERZ, T., _Greek Thinkers, A History of Ancient Philosophy_. New York.

GORE J. ELLARD, _Astronomical Essays, Historical and Descriptive_. London.

HINKS, A. R., _Astronomy_. London. 1911.

JACOBY, HAROLD, _Astronomy_. New York. 1913.

JASTROW, MORRIS, "Astrology," _Encyclopaedia Britannica_ ii, 795-800.

LEA, H. C., _History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages_. New York.
1906. III. 409-549.

ORCHARD, T. N., _Milton's Astronomy_. New York. 1913.

TAYLOR, H. O., _The Mediaeval Mind_. 2 vols. New York. 1911.

TODD, MABEL L., _Steele's Popular Astronomy_. New York. 1884.

TRAILL, H. D., _Social England_. New York and London. 1902.

WALLACE, A. R., _Man's Place in the Universe_. London. 1903.

WHITE, A. D., _Warfare of Science with Theology_. New York and London.
1909. I. 381.

       *       *       *       *       *

CHAUCER, _The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer_. W. W. Skeat, edit.
Clarendon Press. 1894.

CHAUCER, _Treatise on the Astrolabe_, A. E. Brae, edit. London. 1870.

_Cambridge History of English Literature, The_, ed. by A. W. Ward and A.
R. Waller. Vol. II. 1908.

TEN BRINK, BERNARD, _History of English Literature_. Vol. II. New York.

COURTHOPE, W. J., _Literary History of the English People_. Vol. I. New
York. 1898.

HADOW, GRACE E., _Chaucer and His Times_. New York. 1914.

HAMMOND, ELEANOR P., _Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual_. New York. 1908.

JUSSERAND, J. J., _History of English Poetry_. Vol. II. London. 1895.

KITTREDGE, G. L., _Chaucer and His Poetry_. Harvard University Press.

LEGOUIS, EMILE, _Geoffrey Chaucer_. Trans. by L. Lailavoix. London. 1913.

LOUNSBURY, T. R., _Studies in Chaucer_. New York. 1892.

MORLEY, HENRY, _English Writers_. Vol. V. London. 1887 ff.

ROOT, ROBERT K., _The Poetry of Chaucer_. Boston and New York. 1906.

TATLOCK, JOHN S. P., "Astrology and Magic in Chaucer's _Franklin's Tale_."
Kittredge Anniversary Papers. 1913.

TATLOCK, JOHN S. P., _The Scene of the Franklin's Tale Visited_. Chaucer
Society Publications. 1914.


[1] The name of Ptolemy occurs once in _The Somnours Tale_ (D. 2289):

  "As wel as Euclide or (as) Ptholomee."

and once in _The Astrolabe_, I. 17.6:

    "whiche declinacioun, aftur Ptholome, is 23 degrees and 50 minutes, as
    wel in Cancer as in Capricorne."

The _Almagest_ is mentioned in _The Milleres Tale_ (A.3208):

  "His Almageste and bokes grete and smale,"

Twice in _The Wif of Bathes Prologue_ occur both the name of the
_Almagest_ and that of its author:

  "'Who-so that nil be war by othere men,
  By him shul othere men corrected be.
  The same wordes wryteth Ptholomee;
  Rede in his Almageste, and take it there.'"
  (D. 180-183)

  "Of alle men y-blessed moot he be,
  The wyse astrologien Dan Ptholome,
  That seith this proverbe in his Almageste,
  'Of alle men his wisdom is the hyeste,
  That rekketh never who hath the world in honde.'"
  (D. 323-327)

Professor Lounsbury (_Studies in Chaucer_, ii p. 186 and pp. 396-7) has
difficulty in explaining why Chaucer makes the Wife of Bath attribute
these moral maxims to Ptolemy. He is inclined to think that Chaucer, so to
speak, was napping when he put these utterances into the mouth of the Wife
of Bath; yet elsewhere he acknowledges that the supposition of confused
memory on Chaucer's part in this case is hard to reconcile with the
knowledge he elsewhere displays of Ptolemy's work. I think it very
probable that Chaucer's seeming slip here is deliberate art. The Wife of
Bath is one of Chaucer's most humorous creations and the blunders he here
attributes to her are quite in keeping with her character. From her fifth
husband, who was a professional scholar and a wide reader, she has picked
up a store of scattered and incomplete information about books and names,
and she loses no opportunity for displaying it. At any rate, whether or
not Chaucer had read the _Almagest_ in translation, his many cosmological
and astronomical references show clearly his acquaintance with the
Ptolemaic system of astronomy.

[2] An Arabian scholar of the eighth century.

[3] 1.18 ff. "This tretis, divided in fyve parties, wole I shewe thee
under ful lighte rewles and naked wordes in English; for Latin ne canstow
yit but smal, my lyte sone."

[4] "And Lowis, yif so be that I shewe thee in my lighte English as trewe
conclusiouns touching this matere, and naught only as trewe but as many
and as subtil conclusiouns as ben shewed in Latin in any commune tretis of
the Astrolabie, con me the more thank;" _Prologue to the Astrolabe_,

[5] Skeat, _Notes on the Astrolabe, Prologue_, 62. "Warton says that 'John
Some and Nicholas Lynne' were both Carmelite friars, and wrote calendars
constructed for the meridian of Oxford. He adds that Nicholas Lynne is
said to have made several voyages to the most northerly parts of the
world, charts of which he presented to Edward III. These charts are,
however, lost."

[6] _The Astrolabe_, I. 8.9. According to Warton the work in question is
an introduction to judicial astronomy. (Lounsbury, II. 398.)

[7] F. 1273. "His tables Toletanes forth he broght."

[8] _Englische Studien_ III 209. See also J. S. P. Tatlock, "Chaucer and
Dante," in _Modern Philology_, III, 367. 1905.

[9] _Parlement of Foules_, 57-59.

[10] _Compleynt of Mars_, 29.

[11] _Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan_, 8-12.

  "By worde eterne whylom was hit shape
  That fro the fifte cercle, in no manere,
  Ne mighte a drope of teres doun escape.
  But now so wepeth Venus in hir spere,
  That with hir teres she wol drenche us here."

[12] Since Chaucer calls Mars the lord of the third heaven and elsewhere
speaks of Venus as presiding over that sphere it is evident that he
sometimes reckons from the earth outwards, and sometimes from the outer
sphere of Saturn towards the earth. The regular order of the planets,
counting from the earth, was supposed to be as follows: Moon, Mercury,
Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, making Mars the third from the last.

[13] III. 1-2.


  "O firste moevyng cruel firmament,
  With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay
  And hurlest al from Est til Occident,
  That naturelly wolde holde another way."
  (B. 295-8)

Chaucer does not use the term 'firmament' with sole reference to the
star-sphere. Here it clearly refers to the _primum mobile_; it often
applies to the whole expanse of the heavens.

[15] _Boethius_, Book I: Metre V, 1-4. The conception of God as the
creator and unmoved mover of the universe originated in the philosophy of
Aristotle, who was the one great authority, aside from Scripture and the
Church Fathers, recognized by the Middle Ages. God's abode was thought to
be in the Empyrean, the motionless sphere beyond the ninth, and the last
heaven. This is the meaning in the reference to the eternal throne
("perdurable chayer") of God.

[16] Many of these beautiful descriptions, however, are not strictly
Chaucer's own, since they occur in his translation of Boethius. It will
suffice to quote one of these descriptions:

"And, right by ensaumple as the sonne is hid whan the sterres ben clustred
(_that is to seyn, whan sterres ben covered with cloudes_) by a swifte
winde that highte Chorus, and that the firmament stant derked by wete
ploungy cloudes, and that the sterres nat apperen up-on hevene, so that
the night semeth sprad up-on erthe: yif thanne the wind that highte
Borias, y-sent out of the caves of the contres of Trace, beteth this night
(_that is to seyn, chaseth it a-wey_), and descovereth the closed day:
than shyneth Phebus y-shaken with sodein light, and smyteth with his bemes
in mervelinge eyen." (_Boethius_, Book I.: Metre III. 3-12.)

[17] _Hymn on the Nativity_, XIII.

[18] _The Merchant of Venice_, Act. V. Sc. i.

[19] _Parlement of Foules_, 60-63.

[20] _Troilus and Criseyde_, V. 1811-1813.

[21] A. 2297-9.

[22] _Hous of Fame_, ii. 713 ff.

[23] _Seconde Nonnes Tale_, G. 45-47.

[24] _The Seconde Nonnes Tale_, G. 113-115.

[25] A. 1200.

[26] B. 300 ff.

[27] _The Persones Tale_, I. 169 ff.: "ther shal the sterne and wrothe
luge sitte above, and under him the horrible put of helle open to
destroyen him that moot biknowen hise sinnes, whiche sinnes openly been
shewed biforn god and biforn every creature. And on the left syde, mo
develes than herte may bithinke, for to harie and drawe the sinful soules
to the pyne of helle. And with-inne the hertes of folk shal be the bytinge
conscience, and withoute-forth shal be the world al brenninge."

[28] _The Persones Tale_, I. 216-217.

[29] _The Wife of Bath's Prologue_, D. 489.

[30] _The Marchantes Tale_, E. 1645 ff.

[31] _The Knightes Tale_, A. 1224-7.

[32] _Troilus and Criseyde_, Bk. IV. 864.

[33] _Marchantes Tale_, E. 1265.

[34] _Ibid._ E. 1331-1332.

[35] _The Legend of Good Women_, III. 1103 ff.

[36] _The Monkes Tale_, B. 3200.

[37] _The Pardoneres Tale_, C. 505-511.

[38] In the time of Hamurabi, 2,000 years before Christ, the Chaldeans
worshipped as beneficent or formidable powers, the Earth, that may give or
refuse sustenance to man, the Waters that fertilize or devastate, the
Winds that blow from the four quarters of the world, Fire that warms or
devours and all forces of nature which, in their sidereal religion, they
confounded with the stars, giving them the generic name of 'Elements.' But
the system that recognizes only four elements as the original sources of
all that exists in nature, was created by the Greek philosophers.

See F. Cumont, _Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans_
(1912), p. 33.

[39] _Paradiso_ i. 92-93.

[40] _Paradiso_ i. 130-135.

[41] Book III.: Metre IX. 13 ff.

[42] _The Knightes Tale_, A. 2991-3.

[43] _Troilus and Criseyde_, V. 1807-10.

[44] _Boethius_, Book IV.; Metre I. l ff.

[45] _The Hous of Fame_, II. 972-978.

[46] _Boethius_, Book II.: Metre VIII. l. 1 ff.

"That the world with stable feith varieth acordable chaunginges; that the
contrarious qualitee of elements holden among hemself aliaunce perdurable;
... --al this acordaunce of things is bounden with Love, that governeth
erthe and see, and hath also commaundements to the hevenes. And yif this
Love slakede the brydeles, alle things that now loven hem to-gederes
wolden maken a bataile continuely, and stryven to fordoon the fasoun of
this worlde, the whiche they now leden in acordable feith by faire

The thought of love as the harmonizing bond between diverse elements is
dealt with more poetically in _Troilus and Criseyde_, Bk. III. 1744-1757.

  "'Love, that of erthe and see hath governaunce,
  Love, that his hestes hath in hevene hye,
  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
  That that the world with feyth, which that is stable,
  Dyverseth so his stoundes concordinge,
  That elements that been so discordable
  Holden a bond perpetuely duringe.
  That Phebus mote his rosy day forth bringe,
  And that the mone hath lordship over the nightes,
  Al this doth Love; ay heried be his mightes!'"

[47] Skeat, _Notes to Boethius_, II.: Metre 9, 1. 14.

[48] 11.379-381.

[49] _The Phisiciens Tale_, C. 11-26.

[50] See Appendix, I.

[51] B. l ff.

  "Our Hoste sey wel that the brighte sonne
  The ark of his artificial day had ronne
  The fourthe part, and half an houre, and more;
  And though he were not depe expert in lore,
  He wiste it was the eightetethe day
  Of April, that is messager to May;
  And sey wel that the shadwe of every tree
  Was as in lengthe the same quantitee
  That was the body erect that caused it.
  And therefor by the shadwe he took his wit
  That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte,
  Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte;
  And for that day, as in that latitude,
  It was ten of the clokke, he gan conclude,
  And sodeynly he plighte his hors aboute."

For Chaucer's accuracy in this reference see Appendix II.

[52] _Prologue_, 267-68.

[53] Planets are said to be in conjunction with one another when they
appear as one object or very close together within a limited area of the

[54] _The Hous of Fame_, Book I. 503-8. Cf. Dante, _Paradiso_ i. 58-63:

    "I not long endured him, nor yet so little but that I saw him sparkle
    all around, like iron issuing molten from the furnace. And, of a
    sudden, meseemed that day was added unto day, as though he who hath
    the power, had adorned heaven with a second sun."

[55] _The Marchantes Tale_, E. 2219-21.

[56] _Prologue to the Legend of Good Women_, 125-9.

[57] _Troilus and Criseyde_, V. 8.

[58] _Ibid._ V, 1107.

[59] _Compleynt of Mars_, 7.

The epithet "candel of Ielosye" is an allusion to the classical myth
according to which Phoebus (the Sun), having discovered the amour between
Mars and Venus, revealed it to Vulcan thus arousing him to jealousy.

[60] _Troilus and Criseyde_, II, 904-907.

[61] _Ibid._ V. 278-279.

[62] _Troilus and Criseyde_, III. 1702-5.

[63] _Compleynt of Mars_, 81-84.

[64] _Frankeleyns Tale_, F. 1016-18.

[65] See Appendix III.

[66] _Knightes Tale_, A. 1493-1496.

[67] _Parson's Prologue_, I. 1-9. See Appendix IV.

[68] _Nonne Preestes Tale_, B. 4381-89. Chaucer has already indicated the
date as May 3 by saying that March is complete and thirty-two days have
passed besides. (l. 4379). That the sun would on May 3 have passed the
21st degree of Aries can be verified by reference to Fig. 1 in Skeat's
_Introduction to the Astrolabe_. A straight edge ing May 3 would cross the
circle of the zodiacal signs at a point a little past the 21st degree of

[69] Ascension means 'ascending degree.'

[70] _Nonne Preestes Tale_, B. 4043-4048.

[71] The sun reaches his farthest point to the south at noon when on the
meridian. See appendix I.

[72] _Prologue_, 197.

[73] _Ibid._ 60-61.

[74] _Marchantes Tale_, E. 1795-7.

[75] _Frankeleyns Tale_, F. 1016-17.

[76] See Appendix I. 82 ff., 84 ff.

[77] _Prologue to the Canterbury Tales_, A. 7-8.

At the beginning of April the sun is a little past the middle of Aries and
at the beginning of May, roughly speaking, he is in the middle of Taurus.
Thus the sun in April runs a half-course in Aries and a half-course in
Taurus. Chaucer means here that the former of these half-courses is
completed, so that it is some time after the eleventh of April.

[78] _Troilus and Criseyde_, II. 50-56. On the third of May, in Chaucer's
time, the sun would be past the twentieth degree of Taurus.

[79] The sun's declination means his angular distance north or south of
the celestial equator. The solstices mark his maximum declination north or
south. See Appendix I. 83 ff.

[80] V. 8-14.

[81] _Frankeleyns Tale_, F. 1031-35. See Appendix V.

[82] Latoun was a compound metal containing chiefly copper and zinc.

[83] F. 1245-49.

[84] _Astrolabe_, _Prologue_, 64-70.

[85] _Legend of Good Women_, III. 1162-4.

[86] _Troilus and Criseyde_, IV. 1591.

[87] _Book of the Duchesse_, 820-26.

[88] _Romaunt of the Rose_, 1010-12.

[89] See Appendix VI.

[90] _Marchantes Tale_, E. 1885-8.

To pass from the second degree of Taurus into Cancer the moon would have
to traverse the remaining twenty-eight degrees of Taurus, thirty of Gemini
and at least one of Cancer, making 59° of the zodiac in all. For the moon
to do this is possible, as Skeat has shown. See Appendix VII.

[91] _Marchantes Tale_, E. 1893-6.

[92] _Troilus and Criseyde_, IV. 1590-96. Chaucer's reference to the
moon's motion is again correct. It would, in fact, take the moon about ten
days to pass from Aries through Leo, traversing four signs, Taurus,
Gemini, Cancer, and Leo, or about one-third of the whole zodiac. See
Skeat, _Notes to Troilus and Criseyde_, p. 494.

[93] The moon.

[94] The 'sign-bearer'; that is, the zodiac. His candles are of course the
stars and planets that appear in the zodiac.

[95] _Troilus and Criseyde_, V. 1018-22; 1027-29.

[96] _Legend of Good Women_, 2501-6.

[97] _Compleynt of Mars_, 235.

[98] _Hous of Fame_, 2110-17.

[99] _Troilus and Criseyde_, III. 624.

[100] _Ibid._ V. 652. "by the morwe" means 'early in the morning.'

[101] _Troilus and Criseyde_, III. EDT-EJ. See Appendix VIII. p. 91.

[102] Book I.: Metre V. 4-7.

[103] _Frankeleyns Tale_, F. 1045-54.

[104] _Frankeleyns Tale_, F. 1055-70. Skeat explains the lines:

        "next at this opposicioun,
  Which in the signe shal be of the Leoun,"

thus: Earlier in the poem (l. 906) May 6 is mentioned and it is on this
date that the events narrated so far are supposed to have taken place. In
May the sun is in Taurus, so that the moon at her next opposition would
have to be in the opposite sign, Scorpio. The reference must mean
therefore:--"at the next opposition that takes place with the sun in Leo,"
not the very next one with the sun in Taurus, nor the next with the sun in
Gemini or Cancer. This reason for waiting until there should be an
opposition with the sun in Leo, was astrological. Leo was the _mansion_ of
the Sun, so that the sun's power when in that sign would be greatest.

[105] B. 5333-46.

[106] Book IV.: Metre V. 8-9.

[107] Ibid. 10-11.

[108] See Appendix IX. p. ff.

[109] _Hous of Fame_, III. 1375-6.

[110] _Book of the Duchesse_, III. 408-9.

[111] _Astrolabe_, II. 35. 17-18. The attempt to explain the moon's motion
by supposing her to move in an epicycle was hopelessly wrong. Chaucer
means here simply that the moon's motion in her deferent is direct like
that of the other planets (their apparent motion is in the direction west
to east except at short periods of retrogression) but that the moon's
direction of motion in her epicycle is the reverse of that of the other

[112] II. 35.

[113] See Appendix IX. p. 92 ff.

[114] Book I: Metre II. 8-9.

[115] Mercury and Venus are always seen either just before sunrise or just
after sunset because their distances from the sun are so comparatively

[116] _Boethius_, Bk. I.: Metre V. 8-11.

[117] _Ibid._ Bk. III.: Metre I. 6-8.

[118] _Troilus and Criseyde_, Bk. III. 1417-18.

[119] _Ibid._ V. 1016-17.

[120] A. 2214-16.

[121] 113.

[122] This is an astrological term. A _palace_, _mansion_ or _house_ was
that zodiacal sign in which a planet was supposed to be peculiarly at

[123] _Compleynt of Mars_, 53-56. Mars is to hurry until he reaches Venus'
palace and then advance as slowly as possible, to wait for her. Evidently
Chaucer was aware of the varying apparent velocities of planetary motions.

[124] _Ibid._ 64-70. When Venus overtakes Mars they are in conjunction.

[125] _Ibid._ 98-112.

[126] That is, the motions of both planets are direct, not retrograde.

[127] _Ibid._ 129-138.

[128] _Ibid._ 142-147.

[129] That is, the two planets appear very close together in the sky.

[130] _Knightes Tale_, A. 2453-5.

[131] 71-72:

  "The grete Ioye that was betwix hem two,
  Whan they be met, ther may no tunge telle."

[132] II. 32.

[133] III. 624-5.

[134] _Convivio_, II. xv. 10.

[135] 55-56.

[136] _Hous of Fame_, II. 935-956.

[137] _Inferno_, xvii. 107-108.

[138] _Convivio_, II. xv. 48-55.

[139] Mrs. John Evershed, _Dante and the Early Astronomers_, p. 200.

[140] _Prologue to the Canterbury Tales_, A. 412-418.

[141] ii. 4. 36-39.

[142] F. 1123-34.

[143] F. 1270-72.

[144] F. 1285-96.

[145] _Studies in Chaucer_, vol. ii. 498, ff.

[146] "The Scene of _The Franklin's Tale_ Visited," _Chaucer Society
Publications_, (1914); "Astrology and Magic in Chaucer's _Franklin's
Tale_;" _Kittredge Anniversary Papers_ (1913).

[147] _Chaucer and His Poetry_, p. 186, ff.

[148] The principal aspects were conjunction, sextile, quartile, trine,
and opposition, corresponding respectively to the angular distances 0°,
60°, 90°, 120° and 180°.

[149] _Knightes Tale_, A. 1084-91.

[150] _Tale of the Man of Lawe_, B. 190-196.

[151] _Ibid._ 197-203.

[152] _Troilus and Criseyde_, IV. 743-746.

[153] IX. 2576-2599.

[154] Her father, Egistes, because he feared her husband, bade her kill
him by cutting his throat, and threatened her with death if she refused.

[155] In astrology the signs of the zodiac were called 'houses' or
'mansions' and each was assigned to a particular planet. When a planet was
in its house or mansion, its power was very great. Each of the planets had
also a sign called its 'exaltation' and in this sign its power was
greatest of all. The sign opposite a planet's mansion was called its
'fall' and that opposite its exaltation was called its 'depression'; these
were the positions of least influence. Mars' mansions were Aries and
Scorpio; his exaltation, Capricornus; his fall, Libra and Taurus, and his
depression, Cancer. At the time of Hypermnestra's birth, then, we may
suppose that Mars was in Libra, Taurus or in Cancer. If he was in Libra or
Taurus, his influence would be suppressed by Venus, as these signs were in
her mansions.

[156] _Knightes Tale_, A. 2453-2469.

[157] _Ibid._ 1087-1088.

[158] _Ibid._ 1328.

[159] _Astrolabe_, ii. 4. 21-25. The term "hous" is here used in a
different sense from that in the passage explained above, p. 120. The
whole heavens were divided into twelve portions by great circles passing
through the north and south points of the horizon. The one of these just
rising was called the 'house of the ascendant.'

[160] _Wife of Bath's Prologue_, D. 609-616. The line

  "Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars ther-inne"

means that at the time of her birth Taurus was just rising in the east and
Mars was in this sign, and as Taurus was the mansion of Venus, the
influences of the two planets would be mingled.

[161] D. 697-706.

[162] A. 3513-3518.

[163] III. 549-552.

[164] III. 624-628.

[165] 1-7.

[166] 8-14.

[167] 15-19.

[168] _Troilus and Criseyde_, IV. 260-266; 274-280.

[169] I. 1014-15.

[170] II. 967-973.

[171] A planet was said to be _combust_ when its light was extinguished by
proximity to the sun. When Venus and Mercury were 'combust' their
influence was lost.

[172] III. 712-718. It is sometimes hard to determine whether the beings
prayed to are pagan gods and goddesses or heavenly bodies. This passage
makes it clear that the planets were identified with the pagan divinities.
In the rest of this prayer Troilus addresses Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, etc.,
as gods, referring in each case to some love affair, from ancient myth,
that may win the god's sympathy and help.

[173] III. 1254-1257. The "wel-willy planete" means the propitious or
favorable one.

[174] V. 638-644. Troilus needs the aid of Venus especially on the tenth
night after Criseyde's departure, because she had promised to return on
that night.

[175] F. 129-130.

[176] II. 71-76.

[177] _Knightes Tale_, A. 1079.

[178] _Ibid._ 1084-1091.

[179] A. 1163-69.

[180] A. 1303-8.

[181] A. 1663-1672. This is the mediaeval Christian idea of destiny or the
fore-knowledge of God, and is appropriately uttered here by the Knight.

[182] A. 2209 ff; 2271 ff; 2367 ff.

[183] Diana was called _Luna_ (or the Moon) in heaven, on earth, _Diana_
or _Lucina_, and in hell, _Proserpina_.

[184] A. 2438-2446.

[185] A. 2453-2455; 2470-2476.

[186] _Troilus and Criseyde_, I. 1-5.

[187] _Ibid._ I. 6-7.

[188] II. 15-18.

[189] II. 48-49.

[190] IV. 1-14.

[191] V. 1037-1050.

[192] V. 1093-1099.

[193] _Troilus and Criseyde_, III. 617-620.

[194] For Chaucer's locality, 45°.

[195] See the _Astrolabe_, i. 18, 19. Vertical circles are called
_azimuths_ by Chaucer.

[196] Strictly speaking, the equinoxes and solstices are each simply an
instant of time.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

Subscripted characters are indicated by {subscript}.

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