Friday, April 24, 2015

An appointment with Chaucer's Doctor

It's time to visit the Doctor. When all the zodiac figures have been unmasked, the pilgrims left must be planets. Those "recognized" when Chaucer lived are the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In this guessing game, let's see if Chaucer's clues for the Doctor fit Saturn.
     Allegory, as it says two things at the same time, can actually deliver two messages of opposite meanings. On the surface, the Doctor appears a worthy man while covertly he tends toward evil.
     Here's what Chaucer would have known from mythology. Saturn's reign, in ancient lore, is likened to an "Age of Gold." All is idyllic--eternal spring, abundance of food without toil, everyone living in peace. Sad to say, home life is not domestic bliss. An oracle prophesied, "Thou best of kings, thou shalt be ousted of they sceptre by thy son." What is a father to do? Ovid tells what Saturn did: "In fear, the god devoured his offspring as fast as they were born, and he kept them sunk in his bowels." His frustrated wife finally dupes him when Zeus is born. She surrenders a stone wrapped as a baby. Saturn promptly, unwittingly, swallows it. Then the prediction, of course, comes true. Zeus overthrows his father.
     The medieval philosopher Bernard Silvestris paints a vivid picture of Saturn's influence:

 He was savagely inclined to harsh and bloody acts of unfeeling and detestable malice.          Whenever his most fertile wife had borne him sons, he devoured them newly born . . . and whenever there was no one whom he might devour, he would mow down with a blow of his sickle whatever was beautiful . . . this prefigured the hostility with which he was to menace the race of men to come by the poisonous and deadly propensities of of his planet.

This violent mythology was reflected in the grim reality of human sacrifices dedicated to Saturn--in particular, those of children.
     His astrological force as god and planet was recognized as the bringer of maladies. Chaucer himself, in his astrological treatise, calls Saturn a "wicked planet," and goes on to demonstrate that wickedness in the Knight's Tale.
     The loser of a tournament had been Venus' favorite. So Saturn causes the winner to have an accident and die just to please her.

Not surprising, Chaucer's Pilgrim Doctor--like Saturn--has a lot to do with maladies. Now let's see if the poet's introduction of the Doctor in the General Prologue fits Saturn's personality.
     "In this world there was none like him" indicates he's not of this world, and being "grounded in astronomy" is another clue to his celestial existence. He "kept his patients" sounds protective but kept also means forced to remain. The Doctor is aware of hours of natural magic which Chaucer says elsewhere can be used for good or ill. He knew "the cause of every malady." Again the reference is directed toward illness not cures. And so is his knowledge of the "roote" (origin) of every affliction--that which causes harm. He'd give a sick man his "boote" which, on the surface, means relief, but it's also obviously a good swift kick! Being on good terms with apothecaries is no surprise. The longer drugs are needed, the more profit involved--a win/win situation for both Doctor and apothecary.
     His eating habits are examined. His diet is "nourishing" (norissyng), as in the act of taking nourishment. But in Middle English that word also meant the act of bringing forth young--which also provided part of Saturn's diet. The Bible was not important to him--nor to any other  pagan god! Colors noted for the Doctor are "sanguine" (reminiscent of bloody acts) and "pers" (bluish grey) similar to leaden hues. Affinity to lead in alchemy is associated with Saturn; copper with Venus, etc. Lastly, the Doctor "loved gold especially" recalls the good old days.

Now for the story out of Roman history that the Doctor tells. Scholars find his story is "not appropriate." Chaucer's additions, however, make it quite appropriate to the presence of Saturn.
     Chaucer's lengthy insertion into the tale warns about proper care of children--to keep them under "surveillance" and not to neglect "chastising" them. Isn't that what Saturn attempted to do to avoid being ousted?
     The second reworking sets the fate of an adolescent girl as the issue of the plot rather than the wickedness of a judge. The girl's father, returning home from an appearance before the evil judge, regrets to inform his daughter that she must choose between "death and shame." A judgment against the father, forced by false testimony, demands he must turn his daughter over to a lecher. It's lechery or death. The girl chooses death. When she swoons, her father, "heart filled with sorrow . . . smotes off her head." That's a human sacrifice--a child sacrifice. That is precisely fitting for this Doctor/Saturn. What Chaucer has added is consistent with the wicked, covert portrait of Saturn concealed in the disguise of the Pilgrim Doctor.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Here's Sunshine!

Well, here's the last clown in the series. The name is Sunshine.
I say it is the last because I need to get busy and make "An appointment with Chaucer's Doctor." We'll do that soon. Until then, enjoy the Sunshine.   :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spotlight on Chaucer

Matthew Arnold invited me to do a radio interview a few months ago. The subject? Chaucer, of course. It has taken a while to get the project uploaded onto YouTube, but it's there now.

If you go to the home page on my website (, you'll see a "spotlight" in the upper left corner. Click it and you're connected. Enjoy.