« AnteriorContinua »
On comparing these two lists, we find that the following names are common to both, viz. Penelope, Helen, Lucretia, Thisbe, Hero, Dido, Laodamia, Phyllis, Canace, Hypsipyle, Hypermnestra, Ariadne, and (in effect) Alcestis. The following occur in the Balade only, viz. Marcia, Lavinia, Polyxena, Cleopatra. And the following are mentioned in the above-quoted passage only, viz. Deianira, Hermione, Briseis, Medea. We further know that he actually wrote the Legend of Philomela, though it is in neither of the above lists; whilst the story of Canace was expressly rejected. Combining our information, and rearranging it, we see that his intention was to write nineteen Legends, descriptive of twenty women, viz. Alcestis and nineteen others; the number of Legends being reduced by one owing to the treatment of the stories of Medea and Hypsipyle under one narrative. Putting aside Alcestis, whose Legend was to come last, the nineteen women can be made up as follows:– 1. Cleopatra. 2. Thisbe. 3. Dido. 4 and 5. Hypsipyle and Medea. 6. Lucretia. 7. Ariadne. 8. Philomela. 9. Phyllis. Io. Hypermnestra (a/l of which are extant). Next come—11. Penelope : 12. Helen : 13. Hero: 14. Laodamia (a// mentioned in both lists). 15. Lavinia: 16. Polyxena' (mentioned in the Balade). 17. Deianira : 18. Hermione: 19. Briseis (in the Introduction to the Man of Lawe). This conjectural list is sufficient to elucidate Chaucer's plan fully, and agrees with that given in the note to l. 61 of the Introduction to the Man of Lawes Tale, in vol. v. If we next enquire how such lists of “martyred' women came to be suggested to Chaucer, we may feel sure that he was thinking of Boccaccio's book entitled De Claris Mulieribus, and of Ovid's Heroides. Boccaccio's book contains IoS tales of Illustrious Women, briefly told in Latin prose. Chaucer seems to have partially imitated from it the title of his poem—“The Legend of Good Women'; and he doubtless consulted it for his purpose. But he took care to consult other sources also, in order to be able to give the tales at greater length, so that the traces of his debt to the above work by Boccaccio are very slight. We must not, however, omit to take notice that, whilst Chaucer
* I omit ‘Marcia Catoun"; like Esther, she is hardly to be ranked with the heroines of olden fables. Indeed, even Cleopatra comes in rather strangely.
owes but little to Boccaccio as regards his subject-matter, it was from him, in particular, that he took his general plan. This is well shewn in the excellent and careful essay by M. Bech, printed in ‘Anglia, vol. v. pp. 313–382, with the title—‘Quellen und Plan der Legende of Goode Women und ihr Verhältniss zur Confessio Amantis.’ At p. 381, Bech compares Chaucer's work with Boccaccio's, and finds the following points of resemblance. 1. Both works treat exclusively of women; one of them speaks particularly of ‘Gode Women,” whilst the other is written “De Claris Mulieribus.” 2. Both works relate chiefly to tales of olden time. 3. In both, the tales follow each other without any intermediate matter. 4. Both are compacted into a whole by means of an introductory Prologue. 5. Both writers wish to dedicate their works to a queen, but effect this modestly and indirectly. Boccaccio addresses his Prologue to a countess, telling her that he wishes to dedicate his book to Joanna, queen of Jerusalem and Sicily; whilst Chaucer veils his address to queen Anne under the guise of allegory. 6. Both record the fact of their writing in a time of comparative leisure. Boccaccio uses the words: “paululum ab inerti uulgo semotus et a ceteris fere solutus curis.’ 7. Had Chaucer finished his work, his last Legend would have related to Alcestis, i.e. to the queen herself. Boccaccio actually concludes his work with a chapter ‘De Iohanna Hierusalem et Sicilie regina.’ See further in Bech, who quotes Boccaccio's “Prologue' in full. To this comparison should be added (as Bech remarks) an accidental coincidence which is even more striking, viz. that the work “De Claris Mulieribus' bears much the same relation to the more famous one entitled “Il Decamerone,' that the Legend of Good Women does to the Canterbury Tales. Boccaccio has all of Chaucer's finished tales, except those of Ariadne, Philomela, and Phyllis'; he also gives the stories of some whom Chaucer only mentions, such as the stories of Deianira
* See De Claris Mulieribus:—Cleopatra, cap. 86. Thisbe, cap. 12. Dido, cap. 40. Hypsipyle and Medea, capp. 15, 16. Lucretia, cap. 46. Hypermnestra, cap. 13. And see Morley's English Writers, v. 241 (1890).
(cap. 22), Polyxena (cap. 31), Helena (cap. 35), Penelope (cap. 38); and others. To Ovid our author is much more indebted, and frequently translates passages from his Heroides (or Epistles) and from the Metamorphoses. The former of these works contains the Epistles of Phyllis, Hypsipyle, Medea, Dido, Ariadne, and Hypermnestra, whose stories Chaucer relates, as well as the letters of most of those whom Chaucer merely mentions, viz. of Penelope, Briseis, Hermione, Deianira, Laodamia, Helena, and Hero. It is evident that our poet was chiefly guided by Ovid in selecting stories from the much larger collection in Boccaccio. At the same time it is remarkable that neither Boccaccio (in the above work) nor Ovid gives the story of Alcestis, and it is not quite certain whence Chaucer obtained it. It is briefly told in the 51st of the Fabulae of Hyginus, but it is much more likely that Chaucer borrowed it from another work by Boccaccio, entitled De Genealogia Deorum', where it appears amongst the fifty-one labours of Hercules, in the following words:–
‘Alcestem Admeti regis Thessaliae coniugem retraxit [Hercules] ad uirum. Dicunt enim, quod cum infirmaretur Admetus, implorassetolue Apollinis auxilium, sibi ab Apolline dictum mortem euadere non posse, nisi illam aliquis ex affinibus atque necessariis subiret. Quod cum audisset Alcestis coniunx, non dubitauit suam pro salute uiri concedere, et sic ea mortua Admetus liberatus est, qui plurimum uxori compatiens Herculem orauit, vt ad inferos uadens illius animam reuocaret ad superos, quod et factum est.”— Lib. xiii. c. 1 (ed. 1532).
§ 5. THE DAisy. To this story Chaucer has added a pretty addition of his own invention, that this heroine was finally transformed into a daisy. The idea of choosing this flower as the emblem of perfect wifehood was certainly a happy one, and has often been admired. It is first alluded to by Lydgate, in a Poem against Self-Love (see Lydgate's Minor Poems, ed. Halliwell, p. 161):—
‘Alcestis flower, with white, with red and greene, Displaieth hir crown geyn Phebus bemys brihte.’ And again, in the same author's Temple of Glas, ll. 71-74:—
‘I mene Alceste, the noble trewe wyf . . .
* It will be seen below that Chaucer certainly made use of this work for the Legend of Hypermnestra; see p. xl.
The anonymous author of the Court of Love seized upon the same fancy to adorn his description of the Castle of Love, which, as he tells us, was— “With-in and oute depeinted wonderly With many a thousand daisyses] rede as rose And white also, this sawe I verely. But what tho deissy]es might do signifye Can I not tel, saufe that the quenes floure, Alceste, it was, that kept ther her soioure, Which vnder Uenus lady was and quene, And Admete kyng and souerain of that place, To whom obeied the ladies good ninetene, With many a thousand other bright of face".’
The mention of ‘the ladies good ninetene' at once shews us whence this mention of Alcestis was borrowed. In a modern book entitled Flora Historica, by Henry Phillips, 2nd ed. i. 42, we are gravely told that ‘fabulous history informs us that this plant [the daisy] is called Bellis because it owes its origin to Belides, a granddaughter of Danaus, and one of the nymphs called Dryads, that presided over the meadows and pastures in ancient times. Belides is said to have encouraged the suit of Ephigeus, but whilst dancing on the green with this rural deity she attracted the admiration of Vertumnus, who, just as he was about to seize her in his embrace, saw her transformed into the humble plant that now bears her name.’ It is clear that the concocter of this stupid story was not aware that Belides is a plural substantive, being the collective name of the fifty daughters of Danaus, who are here rolled into one in order to be transformed into a single daisy; and all because the words bellis and Belides happen to begin with the same three letters . It may also be noticed that ‘in ancient times’ the business of the Dryads was to preside over trees rather than “over meadows and pastures.’ Who the ‘rural deity’ was who is here named “Ephigeus’ I neither know nor care. But it is curious to observe the degeneracy of the story for which Chaucer was (in my belief) originally responsible". See Notes and Queries, 7th S. vi. 186, 309.
* Court of Love (original edition, 1561), stanzas 15, 16. I substitute “ninetene’ for the ‘xix' of the original.
* “The Jesuit Rapin, in his Latin poem entitled “Horti" (Paris, 1666), tells how a Dalmatian virgin, persecuted by the amorous addresses of Vertumnus, prayed to the gods for protection, and was transformed into a tulip. In the Of course it is easy to see that this invention on the part of Chaucer is imitated from Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Clytie becomes a sun-flower, Daphne a laurel, and Narcissus, Crocus, and Hyacinthus become, respectively, a narcissus, a crocus, and a hyacinth. At the same time, Chaucer's attention may have been directed to the daisy in particular, as Tyrwhitt long ago pointed out, by a perusal of such poems as Le Dit de la fleur delis et de la Marguerite, by Guillaume de Machault (printed in Tarbe's edition, 1849, p. 123), and Le Dittié de la flour de la Margherite, by Froissart (printed in Bartsch's Chrestomathie de l'ancien Français, 1875, p. 422); see Introduction to Chaucer's Minor Poems, in vol. i. p. 36. In particular, we may well compare lines 42, 48, 49, 60–63 of our B-text with Machault's Dit de la Marguerite (ed. Tarbé, p. 123):— ‘J’aim une fleur, qui s'uevre et qui s'encline Vers le soleil, de jour quant il chemine; Et quant il est couchiez soubz sa courtine
Par nuit obscure,
And again, we may compare ll. 53–55 with the lines in Machault that immediately follow, viz.
‘Toutes passe, ce mest vis, en coulour,
The resemblance is, I think, too close to be accidental.
ll. 40–57 of the B-text of the Prologue (pp. 68, 69) with ll. 22–30
of Froissart's poem on the Daisy:—
“Son doul; veoir grandement me proufite,
same poem, he says that the Bellides (cf. bellis, a daisy), who were once nymphs, are now flowers. The story (here] quoted [from Henry Phillips] seems to have been fabricated out of these two passages.”—Athenaeum, Sept. 28, 1889.
* M. Tarbé shews that the cult of the daisy arose from the frequent occurrence of the name Marguérite in the royal family of France, from the time of St. Louis downward. The wife of St. Louis was Marguérite de Provence, and the same king (as well as Philip III., Philip IV., and Philip V.) had a daughter so named.