Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Phisiciens Tale. - Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5)
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The Phisiciens Tale. - Geoffrey Chaucer, Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5) 
The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited from numerous manuscripts by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (2nd ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899). 7 vols. Vol. 5.
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The Phisiciens Tale.
For remarks on the spurious Prologues to this Tale, see vol. iii. p. 434. For further remarks on the Tale, see the same, p. 435, where its original is printed in full.
1. The story is told by Livy, lib. iii.; and, of course, his narrative is the source of all the rest. But Tyrwhitt well remarks, in a note to l. 12074 (i.e. C. 140):—‘In the Discourse, &c., I forgot to mention the Roman de la Rose as one of the sources of this tale; though, upon examination, I find that our author has drawn more from thence, than from either Gower or Livy.’ It is absurd to argue, as in Bell’s Chaucer, that our poet must necessarily have known Livy ‘in the original,’ and then to draw the conclusion that we must look to Livy only as the true source of the Tale. For it is perfectly obvious that Tyrwhitt is right as regards the Roman de la Rose; and the belief that Chaucer may have read the tale ‘in the original’ does not alter the fact that he trusted much more to the French text. In this very first line, he is merely quoting Le Roman, ll. 5617, 8:—
The story in the French text occupies 70 lines (5613–5682, ed. Méon); the chief points of resemblance are noted below.
Gower has the same story, Conf. Amant. iii. 264–270; but I see no reason why Chaucer should be considered as indebted to him. It is, however, clear that, if Chaucer and Gower be here compared, the latter suffers considerably by the comparison.
Gower gives the names of Icilius, to whom Virginia was betrothed, and of Marcus Claudius. But Chaucer omits the name Marcus, and ignores the existence of Icilius. The French text does the same.
11. This is the ‘noble goddesse Nature’ mentioned in the Parl. of Foules, ll. 368, 379. Cf. note to l. 16.
14.Pigmalion, Pygmalion; alluding to Ovid, Met. x. 247, where it is said of him:—
In the margin of E. Hn. is the note—‘Quere in Methamorphosios’; which supplies the reference; but cf. note to l. 16 below, shewing that Chaucer also had in his mind Le Roman de la Rose, l. 16379. So also the author of the Pearl, l. 750; see Morris, Allit. Poems.
16. In the margin of E. Hn. we find the note:—‘Apelles fecit mirabile opus in tumulo Darii; vide in Alexandri libro .1.o [Hn. has .6.o]; de Zanze in libro Tullii.’ This note is doubtless the poet’s own; see further, as to Apelles, in the note to D. 498.
Zanzis, Zeuxis. The corruption of the name was easy, owing to the confusion in MSS. between n and u.1 In the note above, we are referred to Tullius, i.e. Cicero. Dr. Reid kindly tells me that Zeuxis is mentioned, with Apelles, in Cicero’s De Oratore, iii. § 26, and Brutus, § 70; also, with other artists, in Academia, ii. § 146; De Finibus, ii. § 115; and alone, in De Inventione, ii. § 52, where a long story is told of him. Cf. note to Troil. iv. 414.
However, the fact is that Chaucer really derived his knowledge of Zeuxis from Le Roman de la Rose (ed. Méon, l. 16387); for comparison with the context of that line shews numerous points of resemblance to the present passage in our author. Jean de Meun is there speaking of Nature, and of the inability of artists to vie with her, which is precisely Chaucer’s argument here. The passage is too long for quotation, but I may cite such lines as these:—
Here the reference is to the passage in De Oratore, iii. § 26.
A little further on, Nature is made to say (l. 16970):—
20. See just above; and cf. Parl. of Foules, 379—‘Nature, the vicaire of thalmighty lord.’
32–4. Cf. Le Rom. de la Rose, 16443–6.
35. From this line to l. 120, Chaucer has it all his own way. This fine passage is not in Le Roman, nor in Gower.
37. I. e. she had golden hair; cf. Troil. iv. 736, v. 8.
49. Perhaps Chaucer found the wisdom of Pallas in Vergil, Aen. v. 704:—
50.fácound, eloquence; cf. facóunde in Parl. Foules, 558.
54.Souninge in, conducing to; see A. 307, B. 3157, and notes.
58.Bacus, Bacchus, i. e. wine; see next note.
59.youthe, youth; such is the reading in MSS. E. Hn., and edd. 1532 and 1561. MS. Cm. has lost a leaf; the rest have thought, which gives no sense. It is clear that the reading thought arose from misreading the y of youthe as þ (th). How easily this may be done appears from Wright’s remark, that the Lansdowne MS. has youthe, whilst, in fact, it has þouht.
Tyrwhitt objects to the reading youthe, and proposes slouthe, wholly without authority. But youthe, meaning ‘youthful vigour,’ is right enough; I see no objection to it at all. Rather, it is simply taken from Ovid, Ars Amat. i. 243:—
Only a few lines above (l. 232), Bacchus occurs, and there is a reference to wine, throughout the context. Cf. the Romaunt of the Rose, l. 4925:—
Cf. note to l. 65.
60. Alluding to a proverbial phrase, occurring in Horace, Sat. ii. 3. 321, viz. ‘oleum adde camino’; and elsewhere.
65. This probably refers to the same passage in Ovid as is mentioned in the note to l. 59. For we there find (l. 229):—
79. See A. 476, and the note. Chaucer is here thinking of the same passage in Le Roman de la Rose. I quote a few lines (3930–46):—
See the English version in vol. i. p. 205, ll. 4285–4300.
82. See the footnote for another reading. The line there given may also be genuine. It is deficient in the first foot.
85. This is like our proverb:—‘Set a thief to catch [or take] a thief.’ An old poacher makes a good gamekeeper.
98. Cf. Prov. xiii. 24; P. Plowman, B. v. 41.
101. See a similar proverb in P. Plowman, C. x. 265, and my note on the line. The Latin lines quoted in P. Plowman are from Alanus de Insulis, Liber Parabolarum, cap. i. 31; they are printed in Leyser, Hist. Poet. Med. Aevi, 1721, p. 1066, in the following form:—
117.The doctour, i. e. the teacher; viz. St. Augustine. (There is here no reference whatever to the ‘Doctor’ or ‘Phisicien’ who is supposed to tell the tale.) In the margin of MSS. E. Hn. is written ‘Augustinus’; and the matter is put beyond doubt by a passage in the Persones Tale, I. 484:—‘and, after the word of seint Augustin, it [Envye] is sorwe of other mannes wele, and Ioye of othere mennes harm.’ See note to I. 484.
The same idea is exactly reproduced in P. Plowman, B. v. 112, 113. Cf. ‘Inuidus alterius macrescit rebus opimis’; Horace, Epist. i. 2. 57.
135. From Le Roman, l. 5620–3; see vol. iii. p. 436.
140.cherl, dependant. It is remarkable that, throughout the story, MSS. E. Hn. and Cm. have cherl, but the rest have clerk. In ll. 140, 142, 153, 164, the Camb. MS. is deficient; but it at once gives the reading cherl in l. 191, and subsequently.
Either reading might serve; in Le Roman, l. 5614, the dependant is called ‘son serjant’; and in l. 5623, he is called ‘Li ribaus,’ i. e. the ribald, which Chaucer Englishes by cherl. But when we come to C. 289, the MSS. gives us the choice of ‘fals cherl’ and ‘cursed theef’; very few have clerk (like MS. Sloane 1685). Cf. vol. iii. p. 437.
153, 154. The ‘churl’s’ name was Marcus Claudius, and the ‘judge’ was ‘Appius Claudius.’ Chaucer simply follows Jean de Meun, who calls the judge Apius; and speaks of the churl as ‘Claudius li chalangieres’ in l. 5675.
165. Cf. Le Roman, l. 5623–7; see vol. iii. p. 436.
168–9. From Le Roman, 5636–8, as above.
174. The first foot is defective; read—Thou | shalt have | al, &c. al right, complete justice. MS. Cm. has alle.
184. Cf. Le Roman, l. 5628–33.
203. From Le Roman, 5648–54.
207–253. The whole of this fine passage appears to be original. There is no hint of it in Le Roman de la Rose, except as regards l. 225, where Le Roman (l. 5659) has:—‘Car il par amors, sans haine.’ We may compare the farewell speech of Virginius to his daughter in Webster’s play of Appius and Virginia, Act iv. sc. 1.
240.Iepte, Jephtha; in the Vulgate, Jephte. See Judges, xi. 37, 38. MSS. E. Hn. have in the margin—‘fuit illo tempore Jephte Galaandes’ [error for Galaadites]. This reference by Virginia to the book of Judges is rather startling; but such things are common enough in old authors, especially in our dramatists.
255. Here Chaucer returns to Le Roman, 5660–82. The rendering is pretty close down to l. 276.
280.Agryse of, shudder at; ‘nor in what kind of way the worm of conscience may shudder because of (the man’s) wicked life’; cf. ‘of pitee gan agryse,’ B. 614. When agryse is used with of, it is commonly passive, not intransitive; see examples in Mätzner and in the New E. Dictionary. Cf. been afered, i. e. be scared, in l. 284.
‘Vermis conscientiae tripliciter lacerabit’; Innocent III., De Contemptu Mundi, l. iii. c. 2.
286. Cf. Pers. Tale, I. 93:—‘repentant folk, that stinte for to sinne, and forlete [give up] sinne er that sinne forlete hem.’
[1 ]Spelt Xeuxis in one MS., and Zensis in another, in the same passage; see Anglo-Latin Satirists, ed. Wright, ii. 303.