The Canterbury Tales
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved
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The Monk’s Prologue
The merry words of the Host to the Monk
When ended was my tale of Melibee
And of Prudence and her benignity,
Our Host said: ‘As a true Christian,
And by the precious corpus Madrian,
I’d rather my wife had heard this tale
Dear God, than have a barrelful of ale!
For she has never shown such patience
As did this Melibeus’ wife Prudence.
By God’s bones, when I beat my knaves,
She brings me the great knobbed staves,
And cries out: “Slay the dogs, every one,
And break their backs and every bone!”
And if there’s any neighbour of mine
Who fails in church his head to incline,
Or is so bold as to commit trespass,
When she comes home she rages in my face,
And shouts: “False coward, avenge your wife!
By corpus bones, I’ll go wield your knife,
And you shall have my distaff and go spin!”
Day and night that’s how she’ll first begin.
“Alas!” she’ll say, ‘that ever it was my fate
To wed a milksop, and a cowardly ape
Who sees himself outfaced, who never fights,
And daren’t stand up, to honour his wife’s rights!”
Such is my life, unless I choose to fight,
And out at door anon I must go, alright,
Or else I am but lost, I must bear me
Like a wild lion, and as foolhardily.
I expect some day she’ll make me slay
A neighbour, and then I’ll be on my way,
For I am dangerous with knife in hand,
Albeit that I dare not her withstand,
For she can heft an arm, by my faith;
As he’ll find out who minds not what he sayeth!
– But let us pass on now from all this matter.
My lord the Monk,’ quoth he, ‘be merry of cheer,
For you shall tell a tale, by my eye.
Lo, Rochester is here, the town fast by!
Ride forth, my lord, don’t break off the game.
Yet, by my troth, I know not your true name;
Whether I should call you my lord Sir John,
Or Sir Thomas now, or else Sir Alban?
Of what house are you, by your father’s kin?
I swear to God you have a full fair skin!
They’ll be gentle pastures to which you post;
You look not like a penitent or ghost.
Upon my faith, you are some officer,
Some worthy sexton, or some cellarer.
And by my father’s soul, I’ll have it known,
You’ll be the master when you are at home –
No poor cloister-dweller, nor a novice,
But an official, a wily man and wise,
And, at that, not short of brawn and bone,
A fine looking person I must own.
I pray God, bring that man confusion
Who first taught you to seek religion!
You would have trodden the hens all right;
Had you licence as you have the might
To satisfy the need that is in nature,
You’d have begotten many a fine creature.
Alas, who draped you in so broad a cope?
God give me sorrow, but if I were Pope,
Not only you, but every mighty man,
Though he were tonsured when he first began,
Should have a wife: for all the world’s forlorn!
Religion’s cornered the market, all the corn
Of treading, and we laymen are but shrimps.
From feeble trees there come but wretched imps;
This makes our heirs, so feeble, so tender,
That feebleness they can scarce engender.
That is what prompts our wives to make assay
Of you religious folk, who can better pay
The debts that are due Venus than may we.
God knows, in no base coinage pay ye!
But be not wrath, my lord, this is but play;
Full oft there’s truth in jest, so I’ve heard say.’
The worthy Monk heard all with patience,
And said: ‘I will with all due diligence,
As far as may conform with decency,
Tell you a tale now, or two or three.
And if you care to hearken, hitherward,
I’ll tell you of the life of Saint Edward –
Or else, first, of some tragedy I’ll tell,
Of which I have a hundred in my cell.
“Tragedy” is to say a kind of story,
Of which old books present the memory,
Of those who stood in great prosperity,
And fell then sadly from a high degree
Into misery, ending wretchedly.
And such are versified most commonly
With six feet, in hexameters are done,
In prose too is written many a one,
And other metres: many a sundry wise.
Lo, this explanation should suffice.
Now hearken, if you wish for to hear!
But first I beseech in this matter, here,
If I should chance to speak of these things,
Whether of popes, emperors, or kings,
Out of the written order, that men find,
Telling some before and some behind,
As first they come to my remembrance,
Accept my excuses for my ignorance.’
The Monk’s Tale
Here begins the Monk’s Tale
De casibus virorum illustrium: of the fall of famous men
I will bewail, in style of tragedy,
The fall of those who stood in high degree,
And fell such that there was no remedy
To raise them out of their adversity.
For when Fortune chooses us to flee,
There is no man her course can stay, I hold.
Let no man blindly trust prosperity!
Be warned by these examples true and old.
With Lucifer, though he an angel were,
And not a man, with him I shall begin;
For though Fortune no angel can impair,
From high degree yet fell he, for his sin,
Down into Hell, and he is still therein,
O Lucifer, brightest of angels all,
Now you are Satan, and may never win
Out of the misery that was your fall!
Lo, Adam in the field, Damascene,
With God’s own finger wrought was he,
And not begot of man’s sperm unclean,
And ruled all Paradise, save for one tree.
Never had worldly man such high degree
As Adam, till through his bad governance
He was driven from his prosperity
To labour, and to Hell, and to mischance.
Lo, Samson, his birth annunciated
By the angel, long ere his nativity,
Was to Almighty God consecrated,
And stood forth nobly while he could see:
There was never another such as he,
As regards his strength, and hardiness.
But to his wives his secret told he,
And so he slew himself from wretchedness.
Samson, this noble all-conquering champion,
Without weapon save his hands, I say,
Slew, and then rent to pieces, a lion,
While walking to his wedding, by the way.
His wife would please him so, and pray
Till she his counsel knew; and she untrue
Unto his foes his counsel did betray,
And forsook him, and took another new.
Three hundred foxes Samson took, in ire,
And all their tails he tied up in a band,
And set the foxes’ tails all on fire,
For he to every tail attached a brand;
And they burned all the corn in the land,
And all the olive-trees, and vines also.
A thousand men he slew with his hand,
With nothing but an ass’s jaw-bone.
When they were dead, so thirsted him that he
Was near to death himself, and then did pray
That God would on his pain now take pity
And send him drink, or he must die that day.
And from the ass’s jaw-bone, dry, I say,
Out of a back tooth, sprang anon a well,
Of which he drank enough, and was saved.
Thus God helped him, as Judges will tell.
By strength alone, at Gaza, then, one night,
Despite the Philistines in that city,
The town gates he tore up, in his might,
And carried them on his back, did he,
To a high hill, so anyone might see.
O noble all-conquering Samson, loved and dear,
Had you not told your secret, privately,
In all this world you would have had no peer!
Samson, he never cider drank nor wine,
Nor to his hair came shears or razor there,
By precept of the messenger divine,
For all of his great strength lay in his hair.
And fully twenty winters, year by year,
He had of Israel the governance.
But soon he had to weep many a tear,
For woman would bring him to mischance.
To Delilah, his lover, thus he told
How in his hair all his great strength lay,
And falsely to his foes she him sold;
And sleeping in a barn there, on a day,
She clipped and sheared his hair away,
And let his enemies all this trick espy.
And when he was weakened in this way,
They bound him fast, and quenched each eye.
And ere she did his hair both clip and shave,
There was no bond with which men might him bind.
Yet once he was imprisoned in a cave
They made him labour at the quern and grind.
O noble Samson, strongest of mankind,
O sometime Judge, in glory and in richness!
Now may you weep with eyes stone blind,
Since you are fallen to such wretchedness.
The end of this poor wretch was as I say:
His enemies made a feast, one fine day,
And made him as their fool before them play;
And this was in a temple, with great display.
But at the last, he made a fierce affray,
For two pillars he shook and made them fall;
And down fell temple and all, and there it lay,
And he slew himself and his enemies all.
That is, the Magistrates every one,
Three thousand others too, were there slain
Buried beneath the great temple of stone.
Of Samson’s tale no more will I explain.
Be warned by this example old and plain
That none should tell his secrets to his wife,
Such things that he’d in secrecy retain,
Touching the safety of his limbs and life.
Of Hercules, the sovereign conqueror,
His works sing his praise and high renown,
For, in his time, of strength he was the flower.
He slew and took the skin from the lion;
The Centaurs’ vaunted pride he brought down.
The Harpies he slew, those cruel birds fell;
He stole the golden apples from the dragon;
And dragged Cerberus the hound from Hell.
He slew the tyrant, Diomede the vicious,
And made his horses eat him, flesh and bone;
He slew the fiery serpent venomous;
Of Achelous’ two horns he broke one,
And he slew Cacus in his cave of stone;
He slew the giant Antaeus the strong;
He slew the grisly boar, and that anon,
And bore the heavens, on his neck, long.
Was never hero since the world began,
Who slew as many monsters as did he.
Through the whole wide world his name ran,
For both his strength and his great bounty,
And every realm he travelled for to see;
He was so strong no man might him fret.
At both the world’s ends, says Trophee,
Instead of boundaries he a pillar set.
A lover had this noble champion,
She was Deianira, fresh as May;
And, as the scholars make mention,
She sent him a shirt, fresh and gay.
Alas! This shirt – alas, and well away! –
Envenomed was so subtly withal
That ere he had worn it half a day,
It made his flesh all from his bones fall.
But nonetheless, some writers make excuse
For her, saying it was Nessus’ shirt in fact.
That being the case, I shall not her accuse;
But he wore this shirt on his naked back,
Till his flesh from the venom was all black.
And when he found no other remedy nigh,
On hot coals he lay down, since on the rack
Of venomous torment he scorned to die.
Thus fell the mighty, noble Hercules.
Lo, who of Fortune’s dice may trust the throw?
For he that follows all this world, at ease,
Ere he’s aware, is often laid full low.
Full wise is he that seeks himself to know!
Beware, for when Fortune shall dispose,
Then she waits her man to overthrow
By such means as he might least suppose.
The mighty throne, the precious treasure,
The glorious sceptre, and royal majesty
That this King possessed, Nebuchadnezzar,
By human tongue can scarce described be.
He twice took Jerusalem the city;
The vessels of the Temple he then bade
Men take to Babylon his Sovereign See,
Where he his glory and his pleasure had.
The fine male children of the blood royal
Of Israel he gelded them anon,
Making every one of them his thrall.
Amongst others Daniel was one,
Who was the wisest child of anyone;
For he the dreams of the king expounded,
While in Chaldea wise man was there none
Who knew what end his dreams had sounded.
The proud king had a statue made of gold,
Sixty cubits long and seven in breadth,
To which image both the young and old
Were ordered to bow down, and bow in dread,
Or in a fiery furnace, burning red,
Be burnt if they chose to disobey.
But Daniel would not assent, instead
He and his two companions went their way.
The king of kings, was so proud and great
He thought that God who sits in majesty
Could never strip him of his high estate.
Yet suddenly he fell from dignity,
And like a beast then he seemed to be,
And ate hay like an ox, and all about,
In the rain, with wild beasts walked he,
Until all God’s allotted time was out.
And like an eagle’s feathers was his hair;
His nails like a bird’s claws did appear,
Till God released him from his madness there,
Restored his wits; and then with many a tear
He thanked God, and lived his life in fear
Of acting thus amiss, of more disgrace;
And till the day he laid was on his bier,
He paid witness to God’s might and grace.
Now, his son, who was named Belshazzar,
And reigned there after his father’s day,
Learned nothing himself from all that matter,
For proud he was of heart, and loved display.
And an idolater he was always.
His high estate filled his heart with pride;
But Fortune cast him down, and there he lay,
And his kingdom others did divide.
A feast he made once for his lords all
On a day, and they were blithe and merry,
And then to his officers he did call:
‘Go, bring forth the vessels now,’ quoth he,
‘That my father in his prosperity
Out of the Temple in Jerusalem reft,
And to our gods give thanks must we
For the trophies our ancestors left.’
His wife, his lords, and his concubines
Drank on, while their appetites did last,
Out of those noble vessels, sundry wines.
And on a wall the king his eyes did cast,
And saw a hand, armless, that wrote full fast,
For fear of which he quaked and sighed full sore.
The hand that made Belshazzar all aghast
Wrote Mene, Tekel, Peres, and no more.
In all that land magician was there none
Who could expound what the letters meant.
But Daniel expounded it anon
Saying: ‘King, God to your father lent
Glory and honour, kingdom, treasure, rent;
And he was proud, ignoring what God bade,
And therefore God His punishment He sent,
And bereft him of the kingdom that he had.
He was cast out of human company;
With asses was all his habitation,
In wet and dry, he ate like any beast,
Till he understood, by grace and reason,
That the God of Heaven has domination
Over every kingdom and every creature.
And then indeed God showed him compassion,
And restored his kingdom and his power.
And you, who are his son, are proud also,
And know all these things, certainly,
And are a rebel, and to God a foe.
You drink now from his vessels boldly –
Your wife as well, and wenches, sinfully
Drink from the same vessels sundry wines –
And worship the false gods wickedly;
Thus punishment will fall, this is the sign.
The hand was sent from God, that on the wall
Wrote Mene, Tekel, Peres, for, trust me,
Your reign is done; you weigh naught at all.
Divided is your kingdom, and shall be
To Medes and Persians given,’ thus quoth he.
And that same night the King he was no more,
And Darius occupied his degree,
Though he thereto had neither right nor law.
Lordings, from this a moral you may take
That lordship none securely may possess.
For when Fortune shall a man forsake,
She strips him of his kingdom and success,
His friends as well, the greater and the less.
For he whose friends are friends of Fortune too,
Mishap will make them enemies, I guess;
This proverb is both widely known and true.
Zenobia, of Palmyra was the queen,
As the Persians write, in nobleness
So worthy, and in arms so passing keen,
None could match her in courageousness,
Nor her lineage, nor her other greatness.
Of the Persian royal blood descended.
I do not say she was the loveliest,
But her beauty could not be amended.
From her childhood, I find she fled
The offices of women, to nature went,
And many a wild hart’s blood she shed
With swift arrows that through them she sent;
She was so fleet of foot they soon were spent.
And when she grew older she would kill
Lions, leopards, bears, so all were rent,
And in her arms contain them there at will.
She dared the wild creatures’ dens to seek,
And ran about the mountains in the night,
And slept beneath a bush; and nothing meek
Would wrestle by main force and main might
With any man, however strong in fight;
None to withstand her arms could be found.
She kept her maidenhead, her honour bright,
Nor deigned that she by any man be bound.
But at last her friends all saw her married
To Odenathus, prince of that country,
Albeit that she had for so long tarried.
For you must understand now that he
Had the same inclinations as had she.
And yet when they were knit together,
They lived in joy and in felicity,
For each loved, and each held dear, the other.
Save one thing; she never would assent
At any time that he might with her lie
Except but once, for it was her intent
To have a child, the race to multiply.
And so as soon as she did espy
That she was not with child by the deed,
She suffered him once more, by and by,
But only once, and then no more, indeed.
And if she was with child at the last,
No longer would she let him play the game
Till the full forty weeks were past;
Then once more did she allow the same.
And Odenathus, be he wild or tame,
He got no more of her, for thus she said:
It was for wives mere lechery, and shame
If men for other reasons with them played.
Two sons by Odenathus thus had she,
Whom she raised in virtue and the law.
But now unto our tale again turn we:
I say so worshipful a creature,
And wise therewith, and keeping measure,
So zealous in the wars, and courteous too,
None could more labour in the wars endure,
Though men indeed should seek the whole world through.
Her richness of display cannot be told,
Whether in treasure or in her clothing;
She was all clad in jewellery and gold.
And she neglected naught, for her hunting,
Having in sundry tongues great learning,
When she had leisure; and she did intend
To study books deeply, as was her liking,
And learn how in true virtue life to spend.
And briefly of this story to relate,
So brave was her husband and was she,
That they conquered many kingdoms great
In the Orient, many a fair city
Appertaining unto the majesty
Of Rome, and with strong hand held them fast.
And never might their foes make them flee
While King Odenathus’ days did last.
As for her battles, if of them you’d read,
Against Shapur the King, who was her foe,
And others too, and all that passed indeed,
How she conquered, what title had, and so
Afterwards of her trouble and her woe,
How she was besieged through her mistake –
Then you shall to my master Petrarch go,
Who wrote the most of it, I’ll undertake.
When Odenathus died, she mightily
Held all his kingdoms in her own hand
Against her foes she fought so cruelly
There was no prince or king in all that land
That was not glad if he should understand
That she’d not treat him as an enemy.
With her they made alliance, and did stand
In peace with her and quiet, and let her be.
The Emperor, one Claudius Gothicus,
And before him Gallienus, the Roman,
Were never in their reign so courageous,
Nor the Armenian, nor the Egyptian,
Nor the Arabian, nor the Syrian,
To dare to take the field with her and fight
Lest she should slay them by her own hand,
Or with her army put them all to flight.
In royal robes her sons were wont to go,
Both heirs to their father’s kingdoms all,
Herennianus, Timolaus, so
Were they named, the Persians thus did them call.
But Fortune with her honey mixes gall:
This mighty queen’s power could not endure.
Fortune from her kingdom saw her fall,
Into wretchedness, through misadventure.
Aurelian, when that the governance
Of Rome fell into his hands, I say,
He set himself on her to wreak vengeance,
And with his legions he made his way
Towards Zenobia; and on a day
He made her flee, and as was his intent,
Took and fettered her, and her children they
Were taken too, and home to Rome he went.
Amongst the other trophies that he won,
Her chariot all of gold, her jewellery,
This great Roman, this Aurelian,
Brought back with him, for all the world to see.
The vanguard of his Triumph there walked she,
With golden chains about her neck hanging;
Crowned she was, according to degree,
And full of gems was charged her clothing.
Alas, Fortune! She that but lately was
The terror of high kings and emperors,
All the people gazed on her, alas!
And she that was all helmeted in the wars,
And by force won strong towns and towers,
Shall on her head now wear a veil light;
And she that bore a sceptre wreathed with flowers,
Shall bear a distaff, thus her costs requite.
King Pedro the First of Spain
O noble, O worthy Pedro, glory of Spain,
Whom Fortune held in such high majesty,
Of your piteous death should men complain!
Out of your land your brother made you flee;
And afterwards, through siege and subtlety
You were betrayed and led unto his tent.
Where with his own hand he slew thee,
Succeeding to your kingdom and your rent.
The silver field with eagle black therein,
Caught with a limed rod, stained red, indeed,
He brewed this wickedness and all this sin!
Mauny, the ‘evil nest’, he worked this deed –
No Oliver, to Charlemagne, who took heed
Of truth and honour, but from Armorica
A Ganelon, corrupted by his greed,
He brought this worthy king to disaster.
King Peter of Cyprus
O worthy Peter, King of Cyprus, also,
Who won Alexandria by high mastery,
On full many a heathen you wrought woe,
At which your own liegemen felt great envy,
And for no other cause but your chivalry
They in your bed slew you on the morrow.
So does Fortune guide her wheel, you see,
And out of joy brings men to sorrow.
Bernarbò Visconti of Lombardy
Of Milan great Bernarbò Visconti,
God of delight, and scourge of Lombardy,
Why should I not of your misfortune speak,
Since in estate you climbed so highly?
Your brother’s son, doubly bound to thee,
For he your nephew was and son-in-law,
Within his prison slew you in misery.
But of why, or how, I know no more.
Ugolino Count of Pisa
What Ugolino of Pisa did endure
No tongue may tell of it for pity.
A little outside Pisa stands a tower,
In which tower imprisoned once was he,
And with him his little children three;
The eldest scarcely five years was in age.
Alas, Fortune! It was great cruelty
To lock up birds like this in such a cage!
Condemned he was to die in that prison,
For Ruggieri, Pisa’s Bishop, lies
Told, false charges made at his suggestion,
Through which the people did up-rise,
And cast him in prison, in such wise
As you have heard; and meat and drink he had
So little, that it might scarcely suffice,
And it was also poor in kind and bad.
And on a day it befell, in that hour
When that his meat was wont to be brought,
The gaoler shut the doors of the tower.
He heard it right enough, but he spoke naught,
And to his mind there came anon a thought,
That they from hunger would let him die.
‘Alas!’ quoth he, ‘alas that I was wrought!’
And at that the tear fell from his eye.
His young son, that was three years of age,
Unto him: ‘Father,’ said, ‘why do you weep?
When will the gaoler bring our pottage?
Is there a morsel of that bread you keep?
I am so hungry that I cannot sleep.
Now would God that I might sleep forever!
Then would no hunger through my stomach creep;
There is naught but bread shall aid me ever.’
Thus day after day the child did cry,
Till in his father’s lap adown he lay,
And said: ‘Farewell, father, I must die!’
Kissed his father, and died that very day.
And when the woeful father saw this, pray,
For woe he started his two arms to bite,
And said: ‘Alas, Fortune, and well-away!
False wheel, for my woe, I blame you outright.’
His children thought from hunger thus it was
That he his arms gnawed, and not from woe,
And said: ‘Dear father, do not so, alas,
But rather eat the flesh that on us grows.
Our flesh you gave us, take the flesh we owe,
And eat your fill.’ – Right thus they to him said.
And after that, within a day or so,
They lay in his lap and they were dead.
He himself despairs, from hunger starved.
Thus this mighty Earl of Pisa dies!
From high estate Fortune has him carved.
Of tragedy these words should now suffice;
Who desires it in a longer wise,
May read the great poet of Italy
Dante, that is, for he did it devise
Point by point; and every word there see.
Although this Nero was as vicious
As any fiend that is beneath the ground,
Yet he, as so says Suetonius,
Had in subjection this great world, all found,
From East to West, South to North around.
With rubies, sapphires and with pearls pure white
Were all his clothes embroidered up and down,
For in gemstones he did greatly delight.
More delicate, more pompous in display,
More proud was never Emperor than he.
The same clothes that he had worn a day,
After that time he never more must see.
Nets of gold thread had he in great plenty,
To fish the Tiber when he wished to play.
His desires were all made law by decree,
For Fortune as his friend did him obey.
He burnt Rome for his own pleasure, ay,
The Senators he slew upon a day,
To hear how those men would weep and cry,
Slew his brother, and by his sister lay.
Of his mother made piteous display,
For he cut up her womb, to behold
Where he was conceived; oh, well-away,
In such disdain did he his mother hold.
No tears fell from his eyes at the sight
He only said: ‘A fair woman was she!’
A wonder is it how he could or might
Be the judge concerning her dead beauty.
The wine to be brought commanded he,
And drank anon; no other grief displayed.
When great power is joined to cruelty,
Alas, too deep in venom men must wade!
In youth a teacher had this Emperor,
To teach him literature and courtesy,
For of morality he was the flower
At that time, unless the books deceive,
And while this teacher had the mastery,
He made him so learned and so supple
That it was long before his tyranny
Or any vice did mind from heart uncouple.
This Seneca, of whom I now advise,
Because Nero held him in such dread,
Since for vice he would him thus chastise,
Privately, not by word but deed, I’ve read –
‘Sire,’ would he say, ‘an Emperor instead
Should love virtue and loath tyranny –
For which in a bath Seneca lay and bled
From both his arms, till his life did flee.
This Nero had acquired a habit once;
In youth against his master so to rise,
That afterward with him became a grievance;
Therefore he made him die in this wise.
But nonetheless this Seneca the wise
Chose in a bath to die in this manner,
Rather than face death in some other guise.
And thus did Nero slay his master dear.
Now it befell, that Fortune wished no longer
To cherish Nero in his soaring pride,
For, though he was strong, she was stronger.
She thought thus: ‘By God, how ill advised
To raise a man so filled with every vice
To high degree and Emperor him call!
By God, I’ll pull him down in a trice;
When he least expects it, then he’ll fall.’
The people rose upon him in the night
Against his wickedness, when this he spied,
Out of his doors anon he rushed in flight
Alone, and there he though he’d find allied
Old friends, knocked hard, but the more he sped
The swifter they shut the doors and all.
Then he knew he had himself misled,
And went his way; no longer dare he call.
The people cried and muttered up and down,
So that it reached his ears how they said:
‘Where’s the tyrant false, Nero the clown?’
For fear indeed he almost lost his head,
And to his gods piteously he prayed
For succour but none was there beside.
In dread of all, he thought that he was dead,
And ran into a garden him to hide.
And in the garden two churls on that day
Were sitting by a fire, great and red,
And these two churls he began to pray
To slay him, by striking off his head,
And guard his body, when that he was dead,
From mutilation, and from acts of shame.
Himself he slew, last remedy, instead;
At which Fortune laughed, as if in game.
There was never general to a king
That held more kingdoms in subjection,
None stronger in the field in everything
In his time, or higher in distinction,
Nor more vainglorious in his presumption
Than Holofernes, whom Fortune had kissed
So amorously, and led him up and down,
Till that his head was off, before he list.
Not only did the world hold him in awe
For fear of losing wealth and liberty,
But he made every man abjure God’s law.
‘Nebuchadnezzar is your god’, said he;
‘No other god shall there worshipped be.’
Against his order no man dare trespass,
Save in Bethulia, a powerful city,
Where Eliachim, the high priest was.
But take note of the death of Holofernes:
Amidst his host he lies there drunk one night,
In his tent, like a barn, to sleep he turns;
And yet, for all his pomp and all his might,
Judith, a woman, as he lay upright
Sleeping, his head smote off, and from his tent
Full secretly she stole, ere morning light,
And with his head off to her home she went.
King Antiochus the Illustrious
What need to tell of King Antiochus,
Or to describe his royal majesty,
His high pride, his deeds so venomous?
There was not such another one as he.
Read what is said of him in Maccabee,
And read the proud words that he said,
And why he fell from high prosperity,
And on a hillside wretchedly lay dead.
Fortune had advanced him so in pride
That truly he thought he might attain
Unto the stars, upon every side,
And weigh in the balance every mountain,
And all the waves of the sea restrain.
And God’s people held he most in hate;
Them would he slay in torment and in pain,
Thinking that God would not his pride abate.
And because Nicanor and Timothy
Had by the Jews been conquered easily,
For those same Jews such hatred showed he
That he bade his chariot readied swiftly,
And swore an oath, and said wrathfully
That Jerusalem would dance to his tune,
And he’d wreak vengeance on it cruelly –
But of his purpose he was foiled full soon.
God for his threats smote him and so sore
With an invisible wound, incurable,
That in his guts it carved so, and did gnaw,
That his pain proved insupportable.
And that was a vengeance all rational,
For many a man’s guts he rent in pain.
Yet from his purpose cursed and damnable,
For all his hurt, could not himself restrain.
But gave the word to summon all his host,
And swiftly, ere he was of it aware,
God dented all his pride and all his boast;
For he fell sorely from his chariot there,
So that his limbs and skin began to tear,
And he might no longer walk or ride,
But men bore him about in a chair
All bruised severely, both back and side.
God’s vengeance smote him so cruelly
That through his body evil worms crept,
And therewithal he stank so terribly
That none of all his company that kept
By him then, whether he woke or slept,
Could the very stink of him endure.
In this troubling he wailed and wept,
And knew God the lord of every creature.
To all his host, and to himself also,
Full loathsome was the stink of his frame;
No man could bear to carry him to and fro.
And gripped by this stench and deadly pain
He starved full wretchedly, on a mountain.
Thus had this robber and this homicide,
Who made many men weep and complain,
The reward that is earned by excess pride.
Alexander’s story is so well known
That all who reach the age of discretion
Have heard some or all of his fortune.
This wide world, indeed, in conclusion,
He’d won by strength, or by his high renown,
Men sued for peace and to him did send.
The pride of man and beast he brought down,
Wherever he went, unto the world’s end.
And comparison might no man make
Between him and any other conqueror;
For all this world for dread of him did quake.
Of knighthood and freedom he was the flower;
Fortune made him heir to all her honour.
Save wine and women, nothing might assuage
His high intent on warfare and its labour,
So filled was he with a lion’s courage.
What praise were it to him then, if I told
Of Darius, and a hundred thousand foes,
Of kings, princes, dukes, and earls bold,
How he conquered them, and swelled their woes?
I say, as far as men may ride or go,
The world was his; what more can I advise?
For though I wrote and wandered, to and fro,
About his chivalry, it would not suffice.
Twelve years he reigned, as says Maccabee;
And Philip’s son, of Macedon, was he,
The first who was king in Greece’s country.
O worthy noble Alexander, alas,
That you should ever come to such a pass!
Poisoned were you by your folk I fear.
Fortune your sixes aces made, at last,
And yet for you she wept never a tear.
Who shall give me tears to complain
Of the death of nobility’s franchise,
Who counted all the world as his domain,
And yet considered it could not suffice,
So full was his mind of high enterprise?
Alas, who shall help me to indict
False Fortune, and poison to despise?
– Of whose blame for all this woe I write.
By wisdom, manliness, and great labour,
From humble bed to royal majesty
Up rose Julius the Conqueror,
Who won the Occident by land and sea,
By strength of hand, or else by treaty,
And unto Rome made them tributary;
And then of Rome the Emperor was he,
Till Fortune rose as his adversary.
O mighty Caesar, who in Thessaly
Fought against Pompey, your son-in-law,
Who of the Orient ruled the chivalry
As far as the dawn of day and more,
Through your power they their death’s day saw,
Save a few folk that with Pompey fled,
And thus of you the Orient stood in awe;
Thank Fortune that stood you in such stead!
But for a little while let me bewail
That Pompey, that noble governor
Of Rome, who in this war did fail.
I say, one of his men, a false traitor,
Smote off his head, to win great favour
From Julius, and him the head he brought.
Alas, Pompey, of the Orient conqueror,
That Fortune to such an end you brought!
To Rome again returned our Julius
In triumph crowned with laurel for to be.
But one day, Brutus and Cassius,
Who ever showed for his estate envy,
Brought to fruition their conspiracy
Against this Julius in subtle wise,
And chose the very place where die must he
Beneath their daggers, as I shall advise.
Thus Julius to the Capitol went
One day, where he was wont to go,
In the Capitol they seized him then,
That false Brutus and his other foes,
And struck him with their daggers so
That he had many a wound, there he did lie,
But groaned he at no stroke but one, I know,
Or else at two, unless the stories lie.
So manly was this Julius at heart,
And so in love with honest dignity,
That though his wounds gave him sore smart,
His mantle about his hips cast he,
That no man should steal his privacy.
And as he lay dying in a trance,
And knew that in truth dead was he,
Of dignity he still kept remembrance.
In Lucan this tale I recommend,
And Suetonius, Valerius also,
Who this story wrote from end to end,
How that to these great conquerors so
Fortune was first friend, and then their foe.
We may not trust in her great favour long,
But watch her with suspicion as we go;
Witness all these conquerors so strong.
This rich Croesus, king of Lydia,
Croesus whom Cyrus held in dread,
Was captured still, midst of all his pride there,
And to be burnt men to the fire him led;
But such a rain down from the heavens shed
The fire was doused, and he made his escape.
But to beware it no thought had he had,
Till Fortune on the gallows made him gape.
When he escaped, he was still intent
On starting on another war again.
He believed that fortune had it sent,
The manner in which he escaped by rain,
And that by his foes he might not be slain;
And then with a dream one night he met,
Of which he was so proud and so vain
That on vengeance all his heart he set.
Upon a tree he perched, or so he thought,
Where Jupiter bathed him, back and side,
While Phoebus a fair towel then him brought
To dry him with, and so increased his pride.
And so his daughter, who stood beside,
Whom he knew with wisdom did abound,
He bade her tell him what it signified,
And she his dream began thus to expound:
‘The tree,’ she said the gallows-tree does mean,
And Jupiter betokens snow and rain,
And Phoebus, with his towel so clean,
There as the sun beams, that is plain.
You shall be hanged father: I say again
Rain shall wash you, and the sun shall dry.’
Thus she warned him fully, but in vain:
His daughter, she was Phanya, say I.
Hanged was Croesus then, the proud king;
His royal sceptre was of no avail.
Tragedy no other manner of thing
Can in its singing cry for or bewail
Than how Fortune always shall assail
With sudden stroke the kingdom of the proud;
For when men trust in her then she shall fail,
And cover her bright features with a cloud……..
Here the Knight halts the Monk’s Tale