Friday, November 29, 2013

Two for one: Gemini

Let's return to seeing how Chaucer demonstrates the celestial identity of each pilgrim. Evidence for the Parson and Plowman is fool-proof. They are the only pair of brothers; they must be Gemini. Chaucer sets up situations to draw images from their myth, and their constellations.
     Gemini, the two mythical brothers--Castor and Pollux--were sons of Leda. Leda's husband, Tyndareous, was the father of Castor. Zeus, in one of his numerous seductions, fathered Pollux. Having a god as his father meant immortality for Pollux, while Castor was a mere mortal. Chaucer indicates the difference between godly and human status by naming them a parson (a man of God) and  a plowman (assuredly a man of the earth).  
     Human Castor trained horses. When Chaucer introduces the Plowman, he associates him with horses. The pilgrim transports manure.
     Godly Pollux became a boxer. The poet tells of Pollux sowing seed, as in the gospel. Sowing of the seed, however, comes not from his hand, but from the pugilist Pollux's fist!
     The Gemini were usually illustrated seated on horseback, spear in hand, wearing short, sleeveless garments. Chaucer's brief glimpse of the pilgrim brothers has the Parson holding a (spear-like) staff, while the Plowman's garb, a simple tabard, is noted as he sits astride a horse. So much for the myth.
      Now for what the constellation contributes to their identification. Castor and Pollux are two rows of stars, which are almost straight parallel lines. Single stars--"Castor" and "Pollux"--indicate the head of each figure. The star Alhena marks the feet of Pollux and is golden. The ancient astronomer Ptolemy, however, called Alhena "red." To convey the oddity of something being golden and red, the poet observes
          If gold rusts, what shall iron do?
      As the constellations rise, Castor is seen first; Pollux is four degrees southeast of Castor and ascends ten minutes later. Chaucer refers to Castor's later rising when the Parson (Castor) says,
          Trust well, I am a Southern man
His stars are south of his brother's.
     In the Prologue to the Parson's Tale, the very last Tale, the sun is almost down, yet the Host takes time for one-sided chatter about the Parson. In quick succession he asks,
          Art thou a vicar? Or a parson (person)?
Then the Parson is asked to open what he carries with him. The Host coaxes,
          Unbokele, and shewe us what is in thy male.
"Male" can indicate a pouch, but it also means a man, or masculinity. The Parson is asked to reveal what he contains; what he is made of. Though the chatter seems pointless, it directs attention to the substance of the Parson. It is the poet's way of indicating that both Gemini are bound up in the Parson.
     From the two pilgrim brothers comes only one story. The Plowman (like the Cook's Guildsmen) is never spoken to or about. He never utters a word, nor does he participate in any of the activities of the journey. His presence only completes the dual image for Gemini.
       Our next topic will be Chaucer's clique. It will cover several entries and provide a number of challenges.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I've been busy

Took some time out to write a proposal for a conference. Sent it off a couple of days ago. Here's hoping it's chosen.
     Next let's talk about the Parson and his brother the Plowman. If you've looked at the entries called "Written in the Stars" (April 2012), you know these two pilgrims are the zodiac sign of Gemini. Now we'll see how Chaucer's details in the descriptions of the pair indicate their individual mythological identities and how the stars in the constellation provide the confirmation.