Front Page Titles (by Subject) IX.: THE LEGEND OF HYPERMNESTRA. - The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. 3 (House of Fame, Legend of Good Women, Treatise on Astrolabe, Sources of Canterbury Tales)
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IX.: THE LEGEND OF HYPERMNESTRA. - Geoffrey Chaucer, The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. 3 (House of Fame, Legend of Good Women, Treatise on Astrolabe, Sources of Canterbury Tales) 
The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited from numerous manuscripts by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (2nd ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899). 7 vols.
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THE LEGEND OF HYPERMNESTRA.
Incipit Legenda Ypermistre.
A TREATISE ON THE ASTROLABE.
[2563. ]C. clepid; rest called.
[2571. ]F. B. in; rest of.
[2574. ]F. B. hyt (for her).
[2577. ]C. T. thewis goode I-born.
[2578. ]Tn. B. goddesse (!); F. goddesses (!).
[2581. ]C. mot; rest moste (muste, most).
[2582. ]F. B. Pitouse (fem.); C. Pyetous; Tn. T. Piteous. Th. sadde (fem.?); rest sad. C. T. and; rest om.
[2590. ]C. beraft.
[2592. ]Th. And what; C. T. That what; F. Tn. B. And; I propose What.
[2597. ]C. F. Tn. B. To; T. Ryght; Th. Two.
[2598. ]C. for; rest om.
[2599. ]C. T. As; rest And.
[2600. ]Th. Of (for To); without authority.
[2601. ]C. Al thow; rest And thogh (less clearly).
[2603. ]T. C. Th. lyked; rest lyketh.
[2606. ]F. Tn. B. witterly; rest vttyrly.
[2615. ]F. Tn. B. om. of soun.
[2619. ]F. Tn. B. om. right.
[2620. ]F. Tn. Th. B. that (for the).
[2624. ]F. Tn. Th. B. om. he.
[2625. ]F. Tn. Th. B. voided was. F. B. om. hem.
[2627. ]F. om. after.
[2629. ]F. om. 1st that.
[2632. ]C. myn; T. A. ins. my before doghter; rest om.
[2633. ]F. Tn. Th. B. om. I. T. say; A. seye; rest seyth.
[2637. ]C. A., I; rest om.
[2640. ]C. A. as in this; T. now on thys; F. Tn. Th. B. as seyn these.
[2643. ]C. nescapist; Tn. Th. B. ne scapest; F. ne schapest (!).
[2652. ]F. Tn. Th. B. be to me.
[2655. ]Tn. Th. y-sene; rest sene.
[2656. ]Tn. y-goo; A. ygo; rest goo (go).
[2661. ]F. make; rest haue.
[2666. ]So C. T. A. (but with costret for costrel); rest And with-al a costrel taketh he tho (badly).
[2667. ]F. Tn. Th. B. om. or three (leaving the line too short).
[2668. ]A. to; rest om.
[2670. ]F. B. Martotikes (for narcotikes). T. A. opies; C. opijs; Th. apies; F. Tn. B. Epies (for opies).
[2671. ]F. Tn. Th. B. ins. to before longe.
[2674. ]F. Tn. Th. B. om. is.
[2676. ]F. B. beth. T. sone byn; rest om. sone. C. a (for to).
[2682. ]F. hushst (for husht); Th. hushte; C. A. hust; Tn. houste.
[2684. ]F. Tn. B. streyneth hir; Th. strayned her; C. T. hire streynyth; A. hir stryngith.
[2686. ]F. Th. B. swich (suche) a were; Tn. suche awere; C. this awer; A. this awere; T. that were.
[2689. ]F. Tn. Th. B. om. and.
[2696. ]F. Tn. Th. B. om. me.
[2697. ]F. B. (only) Or for And.
[2709. ]C. T. A. at a (for at the).
[2712. ]So T. A.; C. from his wif ran; rest from her ran.
[2714. ]C. A. or that; rest om. that. C. forth (for fer).
[2717. ]C. T. haddist; rest hast.
[2718. ]C. T. To; rest And.
[2721. ]Addit. (12524), sette hyr; C. set hire; T. A. sat hyr; rest sate (om. her).
[2722. ]F. Tn. Th. And til (for Til); B. And then.
[34.]signes C] tymes AB (wrongly); see l. 32.
[46.]Perhaps evene before of should be omitted, as in C. AB have in the ende euene ouer of thee, where euene ouer is repeated from the former part of the line.
[47.]F endlang] F endlonge C; A euene AB; but see ll. 23, 24.
[49.]til] tyl þat C; tho AB (absurdly).
[50.]saw] sey C; may AB; see l. 28.
[2563.]Danao, Danaus. Danaus and Ægyptus were twin brothers. Ægyptus had 50 sons, and Danaus 50 daughters. Danaus had reason to fear his nephews, and fled with his daughters to Argos. Thither he was followed by the sons of Ægyptus, who demanded his daughters in marriage, and promised faithful alliance. Danaus distributed his daughters amongst them, but to each of them gave a dagger, with which they were to kill their husbands on the bridal night. They all did so, except Hypermnestra, who saved her husband Lynceus. Thus the attempt of Danaus failed, and he was slain by Lynceus, in accordance with the destiny predicted for him.
[2569.]Lino; by which perverted name Lynceus is meant; Boccaccio has ‘Lino seu Linceo’ (dat. case).
[2570.]Egiste represents Boccaccio’s Ægistus, i. e. Ægyptus.
[2574.]‘And caused (men) to call her,’ i. e. had her named.
[2575.]Ypermistra, i. e. Hypermestra, a corrupter form of Hypermnestra; see the account in the Introduction. Note that the first syllable Y- forms the first foot in the line.
[2576.]Of her nativitee, by her horoscope; see l. 2584.
[2577.]Thewes, qualities. Craik has a long note on this word in his edition of Julius Cæsar. It merely comes to this, that thew must have meant strength or some excellent bodily quality in the first instance, and some excellent mental quality afterwards. Nevertheless it is remarkable that (with one exception in Layamon, 6361) the usual old sense is the latter; and the usual modern sense (notably in Jul. Cæs. i. 3. 81, 2 Hen. IV. iii. 2. 276) is the former. The A.S. form is þéaw. Craik’s notion that this word was confused with A.S. þéoh, the thigh, is entirely out of the question, and gives no help.
[2580.]Wirdes, Fates; Lat. Parcæ; Gk. Moiræ. Corson shews that G. Douglas translates the Lat. fata by werdes in Æn. i. 18, and Parcæ by werd sisteris in the same, iii. 379. He also quotes from Holinshed’s Hist. of Scotland—‘the weird sisters, that is, as ye would say, the goddesses of destinie’; reproduced by Shakespeare in Macb. iv. 1. 136.
[2582.]The scansion suggests that Pitous-e, sad-de, are treated like French adjectives, the final e denoting the feminine gender. This is natural in the case of pitous-e, fem. of pitous, just as we have dispitous-e, Book of the Duch. 624; but the distinction is not often made in M. E. Sweet’s A. S. grammar gives til-u as an occasional fem. form of the nom. of the indef. adjective; so that sæd-u might have been used. Wys-e is likewise dissyllabic, though the A. S. form was wís even in the feminine. But the definite forms of the M. E. adj. were sad-de, wys-e; and there may have been consequent confusion. In fact, Prof. Child gives a list of adjectives of this kind, being monosyllabic in A.S., but dissyllabic in Chaucer. He includes wise, but not sad, his examples being taken from the Canterbury Tales only, and thence only in clear cases. Dispitous-e occurs as a vocative case, in Troil. ii. 435.
[2584.]Here comes in the old belief in astrology. Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, as here mentioned, are not the gods, but the planets; and each planet had (it was thought) its peculiar influence, which was stronger or weaker according to its position in the heavens at the time of birth of the person whom it affected. The influences of Venus and Jupiter were for good (see note to Troil. iii. 1417); whilst the influences of Mars and Saturn were evil. See further below.
[2585.]With is explained by Corson to mean ‘by’; and such a sense is, of course, usual and common. For all that, it may here mean ‘with.’ The sense seems to me to be—‘For, though the influence of the planet Venus gave her great beauty, she was (also) so compounded with a share of Jupiter,’ &c. It does not make much difference, and the reader can choose.
[2588.]Thoughte her, it seemed to her.
[2589.]Rede Mars, red Mars, because the planet is reddish; see note to l. 533. Cf. Kn. Ta., 1111 (A 1969). As to the bad influence of Mars, compare the following:—
[2592.]Venus was supposed to have much influence in repressing the evil influence of Mars, on account of their connection in mythology. See the Compleint of Mars. Moreover Mars is here said to be suppressed by ‘the oppression of houses’; i. e. by the fact that he was in a ‘house’ or ‘mansion,’ which had such effect. The terms ‘house’ and ‘mansion’ are equivalent, and are names given to the signs of the zodiac. Every sign had a planet assigned to it, and was called the ‘house’ of that planet. When a planet was in its own house, its influence would be felt. The mansions of Mars were Aries and Scorpio. Besides this, each planet had a sign called its ‘exaltation,’ in which it had the greatest power of all. The ‘exaltation’ of Mars was Capricornus. Mars had also his positions of least influence; two of these, called his ‘fall,’ were the signs opposite to his mansions, viz. Libra and Taurus, and the third, called his ‘depression,’ was the sign opposite his exaltation, viz. Cancer. We may conclude that, at the period of taking Hypermnestra’s horoscope, Mars was in Cancer, or else in Taurus or in Libra. Both Taurus and Libra were mansions of Venus; and, if Mars was in either of these, his evil influence would be kept under by her.
[2594.]Probably the whole of Chaucer’s astrological talk was intended to shew why Hypermnestra disliked handling a knife in malice. He has made much of the weak influence of Mars, precisely because those who were born under his influence were very ready with a knife. See the note to the Kn. Ta., 1163 (A 2021), where the Compost of Ptolemeus is quoted to shew that a man born under Mars is apt to be ‘a maker of swordes and knyves, and a sheder of mannes blode, . . . and good to be a barboure and a blode-letter, and to draw tethe, and is peryllous of his handes.’
[2597.]‘She had too evil aspects of Saturn, which caused her to die in prison. All the MSS. have To (=too, excessively), except T., which has Ryght bad. Thynne has Two, but there is no authority for this, nor does it give any sense. The evil influence of Saturn is spoken of at length in the Kn. Tale, 1596-1611 (A 2454-69). Note especially l. 1599, where Saturn says:—
[2600.]Here Egiste (see l. 2570) is turned into Egistes.
[2602.]‘For, at that time, no lineage was spared’; i. e. no consanguinity was considered as being a bar to marriage.
[2603.]Hem is in apposition with Danao and Egistes; ‘it pleased these two.’
[2604.]Note the shifted accentuation—Ypérmistrá. Chaucer (except in l. 2660) entirely drops all mention of Hypermnestra’s 49 sisters, and of Lynceus’ 49 brothers. This is extremely judicious, as it concentrates the interest on the heroine.
[2610.]Chaucer is here thinking of Ovid, Her. xiv. 25:—
[2624.]‘He caused men to call his daughter’; he had his daughter called to him.
[2629.]‘Ever since the day when my shirt was first shaped for me.’ The sense is—‘ever since the day of my birth.’ The shirt here refers, as Tyrwhitt remarks, to the linen in which a new-born babe is wrapped. See Kn. Ta., 708 (A 1566); and cf. Troil. iii. 733:—
[2630.]Supply I before had. Cf. note to l. 2580.
[2634.]After thy wyser, according to the advice of thy superior in wisdom.’ Cf. ‘Thenne doth we as the wise’; O. English Miscellany, ed. Morris, p. 79, l. 228. ‘And gif yow list nocht wirk eftir the wise’; G. Douglas, tr. of Vergil, Prol. to bk. vi. l. 15.
[2637.]Read Ne I as N’I. ‘Nor would I advise thee to thy harm.’
[2640.]‘And, at the same time, I make protestation in this manner, viz. that, unless thou do as I shall direct thee.’
[2653.]‘I will not have any reservation.’
[2655.]Y-sene, visible; an adj., not a pp. See l. 1394; and Prol. to Cant. Tales, 592.
[2660.]Siker, secure. The use of the word is precisely like that in the well-known anecdote of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn. Meeting Bruce at the door of the Greyfriars’ Church in Dumfries, he asked what tidings. ‘Bad tidings,’ answered Bruce, ‘I doubt I have slain Comyn.’ ‘Doubtest thou?’ said Kirkpatrick; ‘I make sicker.’ With these words, he and Lindsay rushed into the church and despatched the wounded Comyn. See Note K to Scott’s Lord of the Isles, c. 1. st. 27, c. 2. st. 13.
[2661.]Biker, quarrel, altercation; also a skirmish, encounter.
[2662.]‘By him that I have (already) sworn by.’ See l. 2642.
[2666.]Costrel, a flask, a kind of bottle. ‘Costred, or costrelle, grete botelle, Onopherum, aristophorum’; Prompt. Parv.; see Way’s note. ‘A Costrelle, oneferum, &c., vbi a flakett’; Cath. Angl. p. 77; see Herrtage’s note. See costa, costarez, costarium, costrelli, in Ducange; and coste, costeret, costerel, in Godefroy. In the Craven dialect, a costril is the little wooden barrel carried by reapers.
[2671.]‘Lest that the time may seem long to him.’ Ovid alludes to the narcotic drink; Her. xiv. 42:—‘quaeque tibi dederam uina, soporis erant.’ Cf. Kn. Tale, 614 (A 1472).
[2676.]The line is too short in most MSS. Unless sone be supplied from MS. T., we shall have to scan the line by putting This (with a strong accent) alone in the first foot. Cf. l. 2711, and slur over the o in Lino before and.
[2680.]Cf. Her. xiv. 44:—‘Erigor, et capio tela tremente manu.’
[2681.]Accent Zephírus on the i. From Her. xiv. 39:—
[2682.]From Her. xiv. 34:—‘Securumque quies alta per Argos erat.’
[2683.]‘Sanguis abit; mentemque calor corpusque reliquit’; Her. xiv. 37. And, in the next line—‘frigida facta.’
[2686.]‘Ter male sublato decidit ense manus’; 46.
[2690.]From Her. xiv. 55, &c.:—
[2696.]And me beshende, and bring myself to ruin, and perish. I know of only one other example of this rare word, viz. the example given by Murray from Cursor Mundi, l. 14838, where the Trinity MS. has: ‘Allas! nu has he Ȝu bischent’; alas! now has he ruined you. But it is a perfectly legitimate compound from the M. E. shenden. All former editions give this line wrongly; they omit me, and read ‘and be shende,’ explained by ‘and be destroyed.’ Now, in the first place, this will not scan; and secondly, the idea of adding a final e to the pp. beshend (more correctly beshent) is a characteristic commentary on that ignorance of M.E. grammar which is only too common. Yet the final e must needs be added, for ende (in l. 2697) is essentially dissyllabic. Hence it follows, irresistibly, that shende is not a past participle; and we are driven to see that beshende is the infinitive mood of a compound verb.
[2697.]Nedes cost, by condition of necessity, i.e. necessarily; see Kn. Ta., 619 (A 1477), and the note.
[2700.]Supply he before hath; cf. note to l. 2630.
[2705.]Goter, gutter, channel for water. This is an addition. The original merely has (ll. 77, 78):—
[2708.]Roggeth, shaketh. ‘Roggyn, or mevyn, or scogghyn, rokkyn. Agito’; Prompt. Parv. See P. Plowman, B. xvi. 78; and ruggen in Stratmann. Cf. Icel. rugga, to rock a cradle. Prof. Napier tells me that the A. S. roccan, to rock, has been found in a gloss. Bell’s edition has the singular and unauthorised reading jeggeth (sic).
[2709.]The rest of the story seems to be Chaucer’s addition. Ovid merely has (ll. 83, 84):—
[2710.]Doon him bote, given him assistance.
[2715.]‘Her cruel father caused her to be seized,’ lit. caused (men) to seize her.
[2723.]‘This tale is told for the following reason.’ And here the MSS. break off, in the middle of the sentence.