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22. THE TALE OF MELIBEE

Prologue
The Host stops Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Topaz
“No more of this, for our Lord’s dignity,”
Then said our Host, “for you are making me 920
So weary with your utter foolishness
That, as all-knowing God my soul may bless,
My ears are aching from your cruddy speech.
The devil take such rhyming, I beseech!
At best this is rhymed doggerel,” said he. 925
“Why so?” said I. “Why do you hinder me
More than you do another man although
I’m telling you the best rhyme that I know?”
“By God,” he said, “I’ll tell you in a word:
Your wretched rhyming isn’t worth a turd! 930
The only thing you’re doing’s wasting time.
Sir, in a word, no longer shall you rhyme;
Let’s hear you tell us in another style
Of verse, or else in prose, something worthwhile,
In which there’s mirth or doctrine anyhow.” 935
“Gladly,” said I, “by God’s sweet pain! I now
Will tell to you a little thing in prose–
One that you ought to like, as I suppose
(Or else you’re very hard to please for sure),
A moral tale of virtue, one that’s pure. 940
As it’s been told at times in sundry wise
By sundry folks, allow me to advise
You first. You know that each Evangelist,
For all Christ’s pains that for us he may list,
Won’t tell each thing the way his fellow might; 945
But nonetheless their meaning’s true and right
And all agree as to their stories’ sense
Though in their telling there is difference;
Like some of them say more and some say less
When Jesus’s sad passion they express 950
(I speak of Mark and Matthew, Luke and John),
Yet there’s no doubt of what they’re preaching on.
Therefore, my lords, you all I do beseech:
If you think that I vary in my speech
That way, and tell you proverbs that are more 955
Than any others you have heard before
(Compressed in this small treatise I select,
To give my subject matter more effect),
And find the same exact words I don’t say
That you have heard some other time, I pray 960
Don’t blame me. For in meaning you will find
That there’s no difference of any kind
Between this merry tale I write and this
Small treatise on which it is based. Don’t miss
One part, therefore, of what I have to say, 965
And let me tell you my whole tale, I pray.”

The Tale of Melibee
A powerful and rich young man called Melibeus fathered by his wife Prudence a daughter called Sophia.
One day it happened that he went into the fields for his amusement. He left his wife and daughter at home where the doors were locked tight. On seeing this, three of his old enemies set ladders to the walls of his house and entered by the windows. 970 After beating his wife, they injured his daughter with five deadly wounds (namely, in her feet, hands, ears, nose, and mouth), and left her there for dead.
When Melibeus returned and saw all his misfortune, he began to weep and cry, tearing his clothes like a madman.
His wife Prudence begged him as much as she dared to cease weeping, but he began to cry and weep all the more. 975
This noble wife Prudence remembered where Ovid, in his book The Remedy of Love, says, “Only a fool would hinder a mother from weeping over the death of her child until she has wept her fill; then a man should do his best to comfort her with loving words and to pray her to cease her weeping.” So noble Prudence let her husband weep for a time, then she took the opportunity to say, “Alas, my lord, why do you behave like a fool? 980 For truly it does not befit a wise man to show such sorrow. Your daughter, by the grace of God, shall recover. And even if she now were dead, you ought not to destroy yourself over her death. Seneca says, ‘The wise man should not suffer too greatly over the death of his children, but certainly should endure it in patience as well as he awaits his own death.'” 985
“What man should stop his weeping,” Melibeus replied at once, “who has so great a cause to weep? Jesus Christ, our Lord himself, wept for the death of his friend Lazarus.”
“Certainly I know,” Prudence answered, “that moderate weeping is not forbidden to him who sorrows among friends in sorrow, rather he is permitted to weep. As the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans, ‘A man shall rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.’ But though moderate weeping is permitted, excessive weeping is not. 990 Moderation in weeping should be considered as we are taught by the doctrine of Seneca: ‘When your friend is dead, let your eyes be neither too moist nor overly dry; though tears come to your eyes, don’t let them fall. And when you have lost your friend, make an effort to get another; there is more wisdom in this than in weeping for your friend whom you’ve lost, for there’s no use in that.’ So if you would govern yourself wisely, put away sorrow from your heart. Remember what Jesus the son of Sirach says: ‘A man who is joyful and glad in heart flourishes with age, but truly a sorrowful heart dries his bones.’ 995 He also says that sorrow in the heart slays many a man. Solomon says that just as moths harm woolen clothing and small worms harm the tree, so sorrow harms the heart. So it would become us to have patience as well in the death of our children as in the loss of our temporal goods. Remember patient Job. When he had lost his children and his temporal goods, and endured many a grave bodily affliction, he said, ‘Our Lord has given it to me, our Lord has taken it from me; as our Lord has willed, so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord!'” 1000
“All your words,” said Melibeus to Prudence, “are true and profitable. But truly this sorrow so painfully troubles my heart that I don’t know what to do.”
“Summon all your true friends and wise kinsmen,” Prudence said. “Present to them your case, hear their counsel, and govern yourself according to their opinion. Solomon says, ‘Work all things by counsel and you shall never repent.'”
So by Prudence’s counsel Melibeus summoned a crowd of people including surgeons, physicians, old people and young, even some of his old enemies, apparently reconciled to his love and into his grace; 1005 there came also some of his neighbors who showed him respect more out of fear than of love (as it often happens), as well as a great many subtle flatterers and wise advocates learned in the law.
When these people were assembled, Melibeus sorrowfully revealed to them his case. He spoke as if bearing in his heart a cruel anger, as if ready for vengeance, wanting war to begin right away. He nevertheless asked for their counsel. 1010 A surgeon, by assent of those who were wise, arose and spoke accordingly.
“Sir,” said he, “to surgeons belongs the duty to do our best for every person where we are retained, and to do no damage to our patients; so very often it happens that when two men have wounded each other, the same surgeon heals them both. So fomenting war and taking sides doesn’t pertain to our art. But as for your daughter, though she is perilously wounded, we certainly shall devote ourselves so attentively day and night to her healing that with the grace of God she shall be whole and sound as soon as possible.” 1015
The physicians answered in almost the same way (but with a few more words), saying that “just as maladies are cured by their opposites, so shall men cure war by vengeance.”
His neighbors full of enmity, his feigned friends who seemed reconciled, and his flatterers pretended to weep, and made this matter worse and more difficult by greatly praising Melibeus for his might, power, riches, and friends, disparaging the power of his enemies. They said straight out that he should immediately take vengeance on his foes and start the war. 1020
Then a wise advocate arose by leave and counsel of others who were wise, and said, “Lords, it is a serious and solemn business for which we are here assembled, for the wrong and the wickedness that has been done, the great damage that could yet occur, and the great riches and power of both parties. It would be very dangerous, then, to make a mistake in this matter. 1025 So our advice, Melibeus, is this: above all take pains in so guarding yourself that you lack neither spy nor watchman to save you. After that we counsel you to set in your house a garrison sufficient to defend you and your house. But we certainly may not decide profitably in so short a time either to begin war or take vengeance. To decide this case we need leisure and time for deliberation. As the common proverb says, ‘He who soon decides shall soon repent.’ 1030 Men also say that that judge is wise who quickly understands a matter but judges with full deliberation; although all tarrying is annoying, when reasonable it is not to be reproved in judging or in taking vengeance. Our Lord Jesus Christ showed that by example: when the woman taken in adultery was brought into his presence to determine what should be done with her, he did not answer quickly, though he knew well himself what he would say, but deliberated and wrote twice on the ground. So we ask for deliberation, and by the grace of God we shall then counsel you what shall be profitable.”
The young people were at once aroused, most of the company noisily scorned this wise old man and said that 1035 just as men should strike while the iron is hot, so men should avenge their wrongs while they’re fresh and new. They loudly cried, “War! war!”
Then one of the wise old men arose and raised his hand for quiet. “Lords,” he said, “many a man cries ‘War, war!’ who knows very little what war amounts to. War at its beginning has so great, so large an entrance that anyone may enter when he likes and find war easily; the end, though, is certainly not easy to know. 1040 For truly once war has begun, many a child yet unborn shall die young because of that war, or in sorrow live and in wretchedness die. Before they start a war men must therefore have great counsel and deliberation.” When this old man thought to support his discourse with reasons, most of the people began rising to interrupt and kept telling him to cut his words short. For truly he who preaches to those who don’t wish to hear annoys them with his sermon. “Music at a time of mourning is disturbing,” says Jesus son of Sirach, meaning that it does as much good to speak before people whom the speech disturbs as it does to sing before him who weeps. 1045 And when this wise man saw that he lacked an audience, ashamed he sat down again. For Solomon says, “Where you have no audience, don’t endeavor to speak.” “I see well,” said this wise man, “that the common proverb is true: ‘You can’t get good counsel when you need it.’ “
Among his advisors Melibeus also had many people who counseled him one thing privately and the opposite in the hearing of all.
On hearing that the majority of his advisors agreed he should make war, Melibeus fully accepted their counsel. 1050 Then dame Prudence, seeing that her husband was preparing to avenge himself and make war, said humbly when she saw opportunity, “My lord, I beseech you as earnestly as I dare and can, do not be in too much of a hurry, and for goodness’ sake listen to me. For Petrus Alphonsus says, ‘Whoever does you right or wrong, do not hasten to repay it; then your friend will be patient and your enemy shall live in dread the longer.’ ‘He hastens well,’ says the proverb, ‘who wisely can wait.’ There’s no profit in wicked haste.”
“I don’t propose,” said Melibeus to Prudence, “to work by your counsel for many reasons. Every man would certainly consider me a fool 1055 if because of your counseling I changed what has been arranged and confirmed by so many wise men. Secondly, I say that all women are wicked, there are none good among them. For ‘out of a thousand men,’ says Solomon, ‘I found one good man, but certainly out of all women I’ve never found a good woman.’ Also, if I governed myself by your counsel it would seem that I had given you the mastery over myself, and God forbid that it were so! For Jesus son of Sirach says that ‘if the wife has mastery, she is contrary to her husband.’ And Solomon says, ‘Never in your life give any power over yourself to your wife, nor to your child, nor to your friend; for it is better that your children ask you for things that they need than that you see yourself in the hands of your children.’ 1060 Also my counsel must sometimes be secret for a while; if I worked by your counsel that certainly wouldn’t be possible. For it’s written: ‘The babbling of women can hide nothing except what they do not know.’ And ‘in bad advice,’ the philosopher says, ‘women outdo men.’ For these reasons I must not follow your advice.”
Dame Prudence with all grace and patience listened to this, then asked his permission to speak. “My lord,” she said, “as for your first reason, it may easily be answered. For I say it’s no folly to change plans when the affair is changed or seems different from what it was before. 1065 I say moreover that when you refrain for just cause from an undertaking you’ve sworn to carry out, men shouldn’t therefore say that you’ve lied or forsworn. For the book says that ‘the wise man does not lie when he changes his mind for the better.’ Though your undertaking be set up and arranged by a great multitude of people, you need not accomplish that plan unless you like it. For the truth about things and the profit are found in a few people who are wise and full of reason, rather than in a great multitude where everyone cries and clatters what he likes. Truly such a multitude isn’t dependable. As for the second reason, your saying that all women are wicked, you disparage, by your leave, all women that way, and ‘he who disparages all,’ says the book, ‘displeases all.’ 1070 And Seneca says that ‘whoever would have wisdom shall disparage no man but shall willingly teach what he knows without presumption or pride; and he shouldn’t be ashamed to learn things that he doesn’t know and to inquire of folks lesser than himself.’ And, sir, that there has been many a good woman may be easily proved. For certainly, sir, our Lord Jesus Christ would never have descended to be born of a woman if all women were wicked. And afterwards, for the great goodness in women, our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was risen from death to life, appeared to a woman sooner than to his apostles. 1075 Though Solomon said that he never found a good woman, it doesn’t follow that all women are wicked. For though he didn’t find a good woman, many another man has found many a woman good and true. Or perhaps Solomon meant that he found no woman in supreme goodness, only God alone, as he himself records in his gospel. For there is no creature so good that he doesn’t lack something of the perfection of God his creator. 1080
“You say as your third reason that if you govern yourself by my counsel, it would seem that you’d given me the mastery and the lordship over yourself. Sir, by your leave, it isn’t so. If a man were to be counseled only by those who had lordship and mastery over him, men wouldn’t be counseled very often. For truly a man who asks counsel about a proposal still has free choice whether to work by that counsel or not. And as for your fourth reason, your saying that the gossip of women can’t hide things they know, who says that a woman cannot hide what she knows? Sir, these words are understood regarding women who are talkative and wicked. 1085 Men say of such women that three things drive a man out of his house–that’s to say, smoke, dripping rain, and wicked wives–and of such women Solomon says that ‘it is better to dwell in the desert than with a woman who is wanton.’ And, sir, by your leave, that isn’t me; for you have tested very often my great silence and patience and how well I hide and conceal things that men ought secretly to hide. And God knows that your fifth reason, where you say that women surpass men in wicked counsel, is of no avail here. 1090 For understand now, you ask counsel to do wickedness; if you would work that wickedness, and your wife restrains that wicked purpose and dissuades you by reason and good counsel, your wife certainly ought to be praised rather than blamed. That’s how you should understand the philosopher who says, ‘In wicked counsel women surpass their husbands.’ Whereas you blame all women and their reasons, I’ll show you by many examples that many a woman has been quite good and many still are, their counsels very beneficial and profitable. 1095 Some men also have said that women’s counsel is either too dear or of too little value. But though many a woman is bad and her counsel vile and worthless, men have found many a good woman, both discreet and wise in counsel. Consider Jacob, who by the good counsel of his mother Rebecca won his father Isaac’s blessing, and lordship over all his brothers. Judith by her good counsel delivered the city of Bethulia, where she dwelt, from the hands of Holofernes, who had besieged it and would have destroyed it. Abigail delivered her husband Nabal from King David who would have slain him, and appeased the king’s wrath by her intelligence and good counsel. 1100 Esther by her good counsel greatly enhanced the fortune of God’s people in the reign of King Ahasureus. Men may tell of the excellence of many a good woman in good counseling. Moreover our Lord, when he had created our first father Adam, said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; let us make for him a helper similar to himself.’ Here you may see that if women were not good and their counsels not good and profitable, 1105 our Lord God of heaven would never have made them nor called them man’s helper but rather man’s ruin. And a clerk once said in two verses, ‘What is better than gold? Jasper. What is better than jasper? Wisdom. What is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? Nothing.’ And, sir, by many other reasons you may see that many women are good and their counsels good and profitable. So if you’ll trust in my counsel, sir, I’ll restore your daughter to you safe and sound, 1110 and do so much good for you that you shall have honor in this case.”
When Melibeus had heard Prudence’s words, he said, “I see well that the word of Solomon is true, that ‘well ordered words spoken discreetly are like honeycombs, giving sweetness to the soul and health to the body.’ And, wife, because of your sweet words, and because I have tried and tested your great wisdom and loyalty, I will govern myself by your counsel in all my affairs.”
“Now, sir,” said Prudence, “since you agree to be governed by my counsel, I’ll inform you how you shall govern yourself in choosing your counselors. 1115 First, in all your actions you should meekly ask God on high to be your counselor, and dispose yourself to the end that he give you counsel and comfort, as Tobias taught his son: ‘Bless God at all times, desire that he direct your ways, and make sure all your counsels remain true to him forever.’ Saint James also says, ‘If any of you want wisdom, ask of God.’ Afterward you shall deliberate within yourself, examining well your thoughts concerning such things as you think best for your profit. 1120 And you shall drive from your heart three things that are contrary to good counsel: anger, covetousness, and undue haste.
“He who asks counsel of himself must be without anger for many reasons. First, he with great wrath inside always thinks that he can do something that he can’t. Secondly, he who is angry may not judge well, 1125 and he who may not judge well may not counsel well. Thirdly, he who is wrathful, as Seneca says, may speak only reprehensible things, and with his vicious words stirs other people to wrath. Also, sir, you must drive covetousness out of your heart. For the Apostle says that covetousness is the root of all evils. 1130 And trust well that a covetous man cannot judge or think but only fulfill the end of his covetousness; and surely that can never be accomplished, for the more abundant his riches the more he desires. And, sir, you must also drive out of your heart undue haste; for certainly you may not judge for the best by sudden problems of the heart but must often think about them. As you’ve heard the common proverb, ‘He who soon judges soon repents.’ 1135 You aren’t always, sir, in the same frame of mind: to be sure, something that sometimes seems good to do may at another time seem to you just the opposite.
“When you’ve taken counsel within yourself and decided by good deliberation what seems the best, I advise you to keep it a secret. Don’t reveal your decision to anyone unless you feel assured that by confiding you’ll profit more from your plan. 1140 For Jesus son of Sirach says, ‘Neither to friend nor foe reveal your secret or wrongdoing, for they will listen and support you in your presence and scorn you in your absence.’ ‘You can scarcely find any person,’ another clerk says, ‘who can keep a secret counsel.’ ‘When you keep your counsel in your heart,’ says the book, ‘you keep it in your prison; when you divulge your counsel to anyone, he holds you in his snare.’ 1145 So it’s better to hide your counsel in your heart than to beseech him to whom you’ve divulged it to keep it secret. ‘If you cannot keep your own counsel,’ says Seneca, ‘how dare you ask any other to keep it?’ If you nevertheless feel assured that confiding your counsel to some person will improve your affairs, here’s how you should tell him your counsel. First, have no expression suggesting whether you prefer peace or war or this or that; do not show him your will or intention. For trust well, these counselors are commonly flatterers, 1150 especially the counselors of great lords; they endeavor always to speak pleasant words, inclining to the lord’s desire, rather than words that are true or profitable. Therefore men say that the rich man seldom has good counsel unless it’s from himself.
“After that you shall consider your friends and enemies. Regarding your friends, you shall consider which of them are the most faithful, the wisest, the oldest, and the most approved in counseling, and you shall ask counsel of them as the case requires. 1155 I say that first you should summon to your counsel friends who are true. For Solomon says that ‘just as a man’s heart delights in sweet tastes, so the counsel of true friends gives sweetness to the soul.’ He also says, ‘Nothing may be compared to a true friend; neither gold nor silver is to be valued above a true friend’s good will.’ 1160 He also says that ‘a faithful friend is a strong defense; he who has found him has found a great treasure.’ You shall then consider if your true friends are discreet and wise. For the book says, ‘Always ask counsel of a wise man.’ By this same reasoning you should call to your counsel those friends who are old enough to have seen and become expert in many affairs and have been proven in counseling. For the book says that ‘in the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days prudence.’ And Tullius says that ‘great things are not accomplished by strength or dexterity but by good counsel, authority, and knowledge, three things that are not enfeebled by age but grow stronger and increase day by day.’ 1165
“Then you shall keep this for a general rule: call first to your counsel a few friends who are esteemed; for Solomon says, ‘May you have many friends, but let one out of a thousand be your counselor.’ Although at first you tell your decision to only a few, you may tell more people afterward if needed. But make sure that your counselors have those three qualities of which I have spoken, namely, that they be true, wise, and mature in experience. And don’t always act in every case by one counselor alone; sometimes it’s necessary to be counseled by many. 1170 For Solomon says, ‘There is safety where there is much counsel.’
“Now that I’ve told you by which people you should be counseled, I will teach you next whose counsel you ought to avoid. First you should avoid the counsel of fools; for Solomon says, ‘Take no advice from a fool, for he can only advise according to his own pleasure and inclination.’ ‘The distinctive quality of a fool,’ says the book, ‘is that he’s quick to see evil in everyone else and all goodness in himself.’
“Also avoid the counsel of flatterers, who try to praise you by flattery rather than tell you the truth. 1175 Thus Tullius says, ‘The greatest of all curses in friendship is flattery.’ So you need to stay away from flatterers more than any other people. ‘You should sooner dread and flee from the sweet words of flattering praisers,’ says the book, ‘than from the sharp words of your friend who tells you the truth.’ ‘The words of a flatterer,’ says Solomon, ‘are a snare to catch the innocent.’ He also says that ‘he who speaks sweet and pleasant words to his friend sets before his feet a net to catch him.’ Therefore Tullius says, ‘Incline not your ears to flatterers, nor take counsel in flattering words.’ 1180 And Cato says, ‘Consider well and avoid sweet and pleasant words.’
“You should also avoid the counsel of your old enemies who are reconciled. The book says that ‘no person returns safely into the grace of his old enemy.’ And Aesop says, ‘Do not trust him whom you’ve made war upon or held in enmity, nor tell him your counsel.’ And Seneca says why: ‘Don’t suppose that where a great fire has burned there remains no trace of warmth.’ 1185 Therefore Solomon says, ‘Never trust an old foe.’ Though your enemy is reconciled, assumes a humble expression, and bows his head to you, never trust him at all. His feigned humility is surely more for his own profit than for any love of you, for he thinks that by such a feigned appearance he’ll have victory over you that he may not have by strife or war. And Peter Alphonsus says, ‘Have no fellowship with your old enemies, for if you do good to them they’ll pervert it to wickedness.’ You must also avoid the counsel of your servants who bear you great reverence, for perhaps they say things more for dread than for love. 1190 As a philosopher says, ‘No person is perfectly true to him whom he fears too greatly.’ And Tullius says, ‘There is no secret where drunkenness reigns.’ You should also be suspicious of those who advise you one thing privately and the opposite publicly. 1195 For ‘it is a kind of hindering trick,’ says Cassiodorus, ‘when a man seems to do one thing publicly and works the opposite privately.’ You should also be suspicious of the counsel of wicked people. For the book says, ‘Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of scoundrels.’ You shall also avoid the counsel of young people, for their counsel is not mature.
“Since I’ve shown you, sir, from which people you should take your counsel and whose counsel you should follow, 1200 I will now teach you how you should examine your counsel according to Tullius. In examining your counselor you should consider many things.
“First you shall see that the truth be stated and preserved concerning the purpose and point upon which you’d be counseled. In other words, state your case truthfully. For he who speaks falsely may not be well counseled in the matter in which he lies. You should then consider the matters that reasonably agree with what you purpose to do by your counselors, 1205 and whether your might may achieve it, and whether the greater and better part of your counselors are in accord. Then you shall consider what things may follow from that counsel, such as hate, peace, war, grace, profit, damage, and many other things. In all these affairs you should choose the best and reject all else. You shall then consider from what root the substance of your counsel is produced and what fruit it may conceive and generate. You should also consider all the causes from which these affairs originated. 1210
“When you have examined your counsel as I’ve said, and considered which course is the better and more profitable, and have had it approved by many wise and mature people, you shall then consider whether you can perform it and bring it to a good conclusion. For surely it is not reasonable for any man to begin a matter unless he can carry it out as he ought, nor should anyone take upon himself so heavy a burden that he might not bear it. For the proverb says, ‘He who tries to embrace too much retains very little.’ 1215 And Cato says, ‘Attempt only those things you can do, lest the burden so oppress you that you are forced to abandon what you started.’ If you are in doubt whether you may carry something out, choose to wait patiently rather than begin it. And Peter Alphonsus says, ‘If you have the power to do anything of which you might repent, it’s better to think “no” than “yes.” It’s better, that is, for you to bite your tongue than speak. Then you may understand by stronger reasons why it’s better to wait patiently than begin a work within your power that you shall repent. 1220 They say well that one should be forbidden to attempt anything if he has doubts about carrying it out. After you’ve examined your decision, as I’ve said before, and know well that you may carry out your plan, pursue it steadfastly to its conclusion.
“It’s time now and reasonable to show you when and why you may change your counselors without reproach. Certainly a man may change his purpose and decision if the cause ceases to exist, or when a new situation occurs. For the law says that ‘for things that newly occur, new counsel is needed.’ 1225 And Seneca says, ‘If your decision has come to the ears of your enemy, change your decision.’ You may also change your decision if you find that evil or damage may occur through error or any other cause. Also, if your decision is dishonest, or comes from a dishonest cause, change your decision. For the law says that ‘all promises that are dishonest are of no value,’ as are those that are impossible to keep or can hardly be performed. 1230
“Take this for a general rule: every decision that is established so strongly that it may not be changed under any possible circumstance, that decision, I say, is wicked.”
Melibeus, when he had heard his wife’s instructions, said, “Dame, now you have taught me well and suitably in general how I should govern myself in choosing and retaining my counselors. But now I’d be pleased if you would descend to particulars and tell me what you think of the counselors we’ve chosen in our present need.” 1235
“My lord,” she said, “I beseech you in all humility that you not object to my remarks nor disturb your heart though I say things that displease you. For I intend, God knows, to speak for your good, for your honor, and for your profit as well. Truly I hope that in your benignity you will take it with patience. Trust me well that your decision in this matter should properly be called not a counsel but a foolish motion or movement, in which counsel you have erred in many a sundry way. 1240
“Above all you have erred in the assembling of your counselors. You should have first called a few people to your counsel; you might have shown it to more afterward if there had been need. But for sure you called suddenly a great multitude, very burdensome, annoying to hear. You erred also by not calling to your counsel only your true, old, and wise friends; you have called strangers, young people, flatterers, reconciled enemies, and people who reverence you without love. 1245 You have erred also by bringing with you to your counsel anger, covetousness, and rashness, three things contrary to every honest and profitable counsel, three things you have not done away with either in yourself or in your counselors as you should. You have erred also by showing to your counselors your desire and inclination to make war right away and take vengeance. They have seen which way you lean by your words, 1250 and have therefore advised you rather for your desire than your profit. You have erred as well in that it seems enough to you to be advised by these counselors only, with little consultation, whereas more counselors and deliberation were needed for so great and grave an enterprise. You have erred as well by not examining your decision in the way I have said, nor in due measure, as the case requires. You have erred also by making no distinction between your counselors, that is, between your true friends and false counselors; 1255 nor have you known the will of your true, old, and wise friends. You have cast all their words in a hodgepodge and, inclining your heart to the majority, have agreed with the greater number. Since you well know that a greater number of fools can always be found than of wise men, and since these are the counsels in congregations and multitudes where men have more regard for the number than the wisdom of persons, you see well that in such counsels fools have the mastery.” 1260
Melibeus again answered, “I grant well that I have erred; but just as you’ve told me that he’s not to blame who changes his counselors in certain situations and for just causes, I’m ready to change my counselors as you would advise. ‘To sin is human,’ so the proverb says, ‘but to keep at it is the work of the devil.'”
Dame Prudence, in reply to this axiom, said, 1265 “Examine your counsel, let us see which of them have spoken most reasonably and counseled you best. And since examination is necessary, let’s begin with the surgeons and physicians who spoke first. I tell you that the surgeons and physicians have spoken to you discreetly as they should, stating very wisely that a proper part of their duty is to do what is honorable and beneficial to all, to offend no one, and to use their skill diligently in the treatment of those in their care. 1270 And, sir, I advise that they be liberally and royally rewarded for their noble words wise and discreet, the more attentively to devote themselves to curing your dear daughter. Although they are your friends, you shouldn’t allow them to serve you for nothing, you should show them your generosity and reward them. 1275 As for the proposition that the physicians promoted, namely that in maladies one contrary cures another, I’m eager to know your opinion, how you interpret that text.”
“Certainly,” said Melibeus, “here’s how I understand it: just as they’ve done me a bad turn, I should do them another. 1280 As they avenged themselves on me and did me wrong, so shall I avenge myself on them and do them wrong; then have I cured one contrary by another.”
“See,” said Prudence, “how readily every man is inclined to his own desire and pleasure! Certainly the physicians’ words should not be understood this way. To be sure, wickedness is not contrary to wickedness, nor vengeance to vengeance, nor wrong to wrong, rather they are similar. 1285 So one vengeance is not cured by another, nor one wrong by another, rather each one increases and aggravates the other. Here’s how the physicians’ words should certainly be understood: goodness and wickedness are two contraries, as are peace and war, vengeance and forbearance, discord and accord, and many other things. Surely wickedness shall be cured by goodness, discord by accord, war by peace, and so forth. 1290 With this Saint Paul the Apostle agrees in many places. ‘Do not render evil for evil,’ he says, ‘nor wicked speech for wicked speech, but do good to them who do you evil and bless those who speak evil to you.’ And in many other places he admonishes peace and accord.
“But now I will speak of the counsel given to you by the lawyers and the wise, 1295 who all agreed, as you have heard, that above all else you should diligently protect yourself and fortify your house; they also said that in this situation you should work prudently and with great deliberation.
“And, sir, as to the first point, concerning your protection, you should understand that he who is at war should continually pray meekly and devoutly, above all else, 1300 that Jesus Christ in his mercy will protect him and be his sovereign help in his need. For surely no one in this world may be counseled nor protected sufficiently without the protection of our Lord Jesus Christ. With this opinion the prophet David agrees, saying, ‘If God doesn’t keep the city, he watches in vain who keeps it.’ Now your personal safety, sir, you should commit to your true friends, proven and known; 1305 you should ask them for help in safeguarding yourself. ‘If you need help,’ says Cato, ‘ask a true friend, for there is no better physician.’ Next you should keep away from all strangers and liars; be always suspicious of their fellowship. For Peter Alphonsus says, ‘Don’t keep company with a stranger along the road until you have know him a while. If he falls into your company by accident, without your consent, 1310 ask as subtly as you may about his life and livelihood. And conceal your route, say you’re going where you aren’t. And if he carries a spear, keep on his right side, on his left if he carries a sword.’ Next you should wisely avoid all such people and their counsel as I have said before. Then you should be careful not to so despise your adversary, nor to consider his strength so little, that through any presumption of your own strength you neglect your self defense; 1315 for every wise man dreads his enemy. ‘Happy is he,’ says Solomon, ‘who has no dread at all, for surely evil shall befall him who through his own hearty rashness presumes too much.’ Then you should continually watch out for ambushes and all manner of spies. For Seneca says that ‘the wise man who dreads evil avoids evils, 1320 nor does he fall into perils who avoids perils.’ Though it may seem you are in a safe place, always endeavor to protect yourself not only from your greatest enemies but from your least. ‘A man who is prudent,’ says Seneca, ‘dreads his least enemy.’ Ovid says that ‘the little weasel will slay the great bull and wild hart.’ 1325 And ‘a little thorn,’ says the book, ‘may sorely prick a king, and a hound will hold the wild boar.’ Now I don’t say you should be so cowardly that you fear where there is no danger. The book says that ‘some people greatly desire to deceive, but fear to be deceived.’ Yet you shall fear being poisoned, and keep yourself from the company of scorners. ‘Have no fellowship with scorners,’ the book says, ‘but flee their words as venom.’ 1330
“Now as to the second point, your wise counselors advising you to fortify your house with great diligence, I’d like to know your opinion, how you interpret those words.”
“Certainly,” Melibeus answered, “here’s how I understand it: I should fortify my house with towers like a castle and with other kinds of structures, and with ballistic engines and other military equipment; then I and my house shall be so defended that my enemies shall not approach out of fear.”
“Fortifying by great towers,” Prudence answered at once, “and by other great structures is sometimes related to pride. 1335 Men also build, with much expense and labor, high towers and other great structures that are not worth a straw unless defended by true friends who are mature and wise. And understand well that the best protection that a rich man may have for himself and his goods is that he be loved by his subjects and neighbors. As Tullius says, ‘There is a kind of protection no man may vanquish or overcome, and that’s for a lord to be loved by his citizens and people.’ 1340
“Now, sir, as to the third point, your old and wise counselors saying you ought not suddenly nor hastily to proceed in this manner but rather should prepare with great diligence and deliberation, I believe they spoke wisely and truly. For Tullius says, ‘Before beginning any endeavor, prepare yourself with great diligence.’ So I counsel that before you begin to take vengeance in war, in battle, in fortification, 1345 you prepare with great deliberation. ‘Long preparation before battle,’ says Tullius, ‘leads to quick victory.’ And Cassiodorus says, ‘The protection is stronger when long considered.’
“But now let’s speak of the decision agreed to by your neighbors who show you honor without love, your old enemies reconciled, your flatterers 1350 who counseled you certain things privately and the opposite publicly, and the young people who advised you to avenge yourself and make war right away. And certainly, sir, as I’ve said, you greatly erred in calling such people to your counsel, counselors sufficiently reproached by the reasons mentioned.
“But nevertheless let’s descend to the particular. You should first proceed according to the precepts of Tullius. 1355 It’s certainly not necessary to inquire into the truth of the case, for it’s well known who they are who have done you this trespass and injury, how many trespassers there are, and in what way they have done you all this wrong.
“You should then examine the second condition that Tullius adds. He calls it ‘consistency,’ meaning 1360 who are they, how many and what sort, who agreed with your decision to take rash vengeance. Let’s also consider who they are and how many who were in accord with your adversaries. As to the first point, certainly it is well known who the people are who were in accord with your rash impetuosity; for truly all those who counseled you to make sudden war are not your friends. Let’s consider now what they are like whom you cherish as your personal friends. 1365 For though you are mighty and rich, you are nevertheless alone. Certainly you have no child but a daughter, no brothers nor first cousins, nor any other close relatives, to keep your enemies fearful of disputing with you or destroying you. You know also that your riches must be variously divided, 1370 and when each person has his part they would give little regard to avenging your death. But your enemies are three, and they have many children, brothers, cousins, and other close relatives. Even if you were to slay two or three, enough would live to avenge their death and slay you. And though your relatives are more dependable and steadfast than those of your adversaries, your relatives are but distantly related; they are not blood relatives, 1375 while your enemies’ relatives are close. In that, their situation is certainly better than yours.
“Then let’s consider also whether the counsel of those who advised you to take sudden vengeance is in accord with reason. And you surely know well that it isn’t. For by right and reason no vengeance may be taken on anyone except by the judge who has jurisdiction, when it’s granted that he take whatever vengeance, violent or restrained, that the law requires. 1380
“Moreover, regarding what Tullius calls ‘consistency,’ you should consider whether your might and power are sufficient and consistent with your impetuosity and counselors. And certainly you may well say that it isn’t. For properly speaking, we surely may do only that which may be done justly. And certainly you may not justly take any vengeance by your own authority. 1385 Then you may see that your power is not consistent nor accordant with your impetuosity.
“Let’s examine the third point, which Tullius calls ‘consequence.’ You should understand that the vengeance you intend to take is the consequence, and from that follows additional vengeance, peril, war, and other damages without number of which we are not yet aware.
“As for the fourth point, which Tullius calls ‘engendering,’ 1390 you should consider that this wrong done to you was engendered by your enemies’ hate, and that avenging it would engender further vengeance, and much sorrow and wasting of riches, as I’ve said.
“Now, sir, as for what Tullius calls ’causes,’ which is the last point, you should understand that the wrong you have received has certain causes, which clerks call Oriens and Efficiens, and Causa longinqua and Causa propinqua, meaning the ultimate cause and the immediate cause. 1395 The ultimate cause is almighty God who is the cause of all things. The immediate cause is your three enemies. The accidental cause was hate. The material cause is your daughters’ five wounds. The formal cause was their manner of action, bringing ladders and climbing in at the windows. 1400 The final cause was to slay your daughter. They succeeded as far as they were able. But to speak of the ultimate cause, as to what end they should attain or what shall finally become of them in this situation, I cannot judge but by conjecture and supposition. We should suppose they shall come to a wicked end, because the Book of Decrees says, ‘Seldom, or with great pain, are causes brought to a good end when they have been badly begun.’
“Now, sir, if men ask me why God allowed this injury to be done to you, I of course cannot give a good answer with certainty. 1405 For the Apostle says that ‘the knowledge and judgments of our Lord God Almighty are very deep, where no man may comprehend or examine them sufficiently.’ But by certain presumptions and conjectures I hold and believe that God, who is full of justice and righteousness, has allowed this to happen for just and reasonable cause.
“Your name is Melibeus, meaning ‘a man who drinks honey.’ 1410 You have drunk so much honey of sweet temporal riches, and delights and honors of this world, that you are drunk and have forgotten Jesus Christ your creator. You have not paid him such honor and reverence as you owe, nor have you heeded well the words of Ovid: ‘Under the honey of bodily goods is hid the venom that slays the soul.’ 1415 And Solomon says, ‘If you find honey, eat only a sufficient amount, for if you eat too much you will vomit’ and be needy and poor. Perhaps Christ holds you in contempt, turning his face and ears of mercy away from you, and has allowed you to be punished in the manner in which you’ve trespassed. You have sinned against our Lord Christ, 1420 for certainly the three enemies of mankind, being the flesh, the devil, and the world, you have allowed to enter your heart willfully by the windows of the body, nor have you defended yourself sufficiently against their assaults and temptations, so that they have wounded your soul in five places. The deadly sins have entered your heart by your five senses. In the same way our Lord Christ has willed and permitted that your three enemies enter your house by the windows, 1425 and they wounded your daughter in the aforesaid manner.”
“I see well,” said Melibeus, “that you endeavor by many words to overcome me, so that I won’t avenge myself against my enemies; you show me the perils and evils that might result from such vengeance. But anyone who considered all the perils and evils that might result would never take vengeance, and that would be a pity, 1430 for by taking vengeance are good men divided from the wicked, and they who have a will to do wickedness restrain their wicked purpose when they see trespassers chastised and punished.”
“Certainly I grant you,” said dame Prudence, “that from vengeance comes much good as well as evil; but vengeance belongs only to judges and those who have jurisdiction over evildoers. I say, moreover, that just as a private citizen sins in taking vengeance on another man, 1435 so a judge sins if he does not take vengeance on them who deserve it. For as Seneca says, ‘That master is good who tries scoundrels.’ And ‘a man fears to act outrageously,’ says Cassiodorus, ‘when he knows it will displease the judges and sovereigns.’ Another says, ‘The judge who is afraid to do what is right turns men into scoundrels.’ And Saint Paul the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Romans, says, ‘Judges do not bear the spear without cause; 1440 they bear it to punish scoundrels and evildoers and to defend good men.’ If you would take vengeance on your enemies, you should turn to the judge who has jurisdiction, and he shall punish them as the law asks and requires.”
“Ah!” said Melibeus, “that kind of vengeance doesn’t please me in the least. I am mindful of how Fortune has cherished me from my childhood and helped me through many a critical situation. 1445 I call upon her now, believing, with God’s help, that she will help me avenge my shame.”
“If you worked by my counsel,” said Prudence, “you certainly wouldn’t call upon Fortune in any way nor bend or bow to her. For ‘things foolishly done with trust in Fortune,’ says Seneca, ‘shall never come to a good end.’ He says also that ‘the brighter and more shining Fortune is, the more brittle and sooner broken she is.’ 1450 Don’t trust in her, she’s neither steadfast nor stable; when you trust her to be certain help, she will fail you and deceive you. And as Fortune, you say, has cherished you from childhood, I say that all the less you should trust in her and her wisdom. For Seneca says, ‘Fortune makes a great fool of whomever she has cherished.’ 1455
“Now since you desire and ask vengeance, and that taken by law before the judge doesn’t please you, and that taken with hope in Fortune is perilous and uncertain, you have no other remedy but to turn to the sovereign Judge who avenges all injuries and wrongs. And he shall avenge you as he himself witnesses, where he says, ‘Leave vengeance to me and I shall inflict it.'” 1460
Melibeus said, “If I don’t avenge myself of the injuries men have done to me, I invite them and all others to injure me again. For it’s written: ‘If you take no vengeance for an old injury, you summon your adversaries to inflict a new one upon you.’ For my sufferance men would inflict me with so many injuries that I might not endure it; I’d be brought low and held in contempt. 1465 For men say, ‘In much suffering shall many things befall you that you won’t be able to suffer.’ “
“I grant you,” said Prudence, “that much suffering is certainly not good. But it still doesn’t follow that everyone injured by men should take vengeance; that should be left to the judges who alone shall avenge shameful actions and injuries. So the two authorities you quote are to be understood only with reference to judges. 1470 For when they are tolerant of wrongs and injuries, inflicted without punishment, they not only invite a man to do new wrongs but command it. A wise man says also that ‘the judge who doesn’t correct the sinner commands and bids him to sin.’ Judges and sovereigns in their lands might so tolerate scoundrels and evildoers that in time they would grow powerful enough to throw out the judges and sovereigns, 1475 depriving them in the end of their lordships.
“But let’s now suppose you were allowed to avenge yourself. I say you are not powerful enough to avenge yourself now; if you would compare your might with that of your adversaries, you would find that in many ways, as I’ve shown you, their condition is better than yours. So I say that it’s good that you submit and be patient for now. 1480
“Furthermore, you know well the common saying that it’s madness for a man to contend with someone stronger than he is; to strive with a man of equal strength is perilous; and to contend with a weaker man is folly. So a man should avoid contending as much as possible. For as Solomon says, ‘It is a great honor for a man to keep himself from contention and strife.’ 1485 If a man mightier than you does you injury, study how to allay the injury, and get busy with that rather than with avenging yourself. For ‘he subjects himself to great peril,’ says Seneca, ‘who contends with a man greater than he is.’ And Cato says, ‘If a man of higher estate or degree or mightier than you causes you any trouble or injury, endure it; for he who has once injured you may at another time help you.’ 1490
“Again, suppose you have both the might and permission to avenge yourself. There are many things, I say, that should restrain you from taking vengeance and incline you to be patient and endure the wrongs done to you.
“First and foremost, if you please, consider your defects, for which God, as I’ve told you, has allowed you to have this tribulation. 1495 For the poet says that ‘we ought to take patiently the tribulations that come to us when we consider how we deserve them.’ And Saint Gregory says that ‘when a man considers well the number of his defects and sins, the pains and tribulations that he suffers will seem less to him; and the heavier and more grievous he considers his sins, the lighter and easier will seem his pains.’ 1500 You should also incline your heart to adopt the patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, as Saint Peter says in his Epistles. ‘Jesus Christ,’ he says, ‘has suffered for us and given an example for every man to follow in imitation; for he never sinned, nor did a villainous word ever issue from his mouth. He did not curse men who cursed him, nor did he threaten those who beat him.’ Likewise the great patience that the saints in Paradise had, suffering tribulations though guiltless, 1505 should greatly inspire you to patience. You should also endeavor to be patient considering that the tribulations of this world last but a little while, they are soon past and gone, while the joy that a man seeks to gain by patience in tribulations is everlasting, according to what the Apostle says in his Epistle. ‘The joy of God,’ he says, ‘is eternal,’ that is, everlasting. 1510 Also trust and believe steadfastly that he is not well brought up, not well taught, who cannot be patient. For Solomon says that ‘a man’s learning and wisdom is seen in his patience.’ And in another place he says that ‘he who is patient governs himself by great prudence.’ And again, ‘An angry man causes brawls, the patient man quiets others.’ He says as well, ‘It is more valuable to be patient than to have great strength, 1515 and he who has lordship over his own heart is more praiseworthy than he who by force or strength takes great cities.’ And therefore Saint James says in his Epistle that ‘patience is a great virtue of perfection.'”
“I certainly grant you, dame Prudence,” said Melibeus, “that patience is a great virtue of perfection: but every man may not have the perfection that you seek, nor am I of that number of truly perfect men, 1520 for my heart may never be at peace until the time it is avenged. Though my enemies faced a great peril in injuring me, taking vengeance upon me, they took no heed of the peril but fulfilled their wicked desire. So I think men shouldn’t reproach me though I face a little peril to avenge myself and though I go to great excess by avenging one outrage by another.” 1525
“Ah,” said Prudence, “you state your will as you like, but there’s not a case in the world in which a man should use violence or perform an outrageous act to avenge himself. As Cassiodorus says, ‘He who avenges himself by violence does as much evil as he who did the violent deed.’ You should therefore avenge yourself according to justice, that is, by the law, not by outrageous acts and violent deeds. Also, if you take vengeance for your enemies’ violence in a way other than that commanded by justice, you sin. 1530 Therefore Seneca says that ‘a man shall never avenge evil by evil.’ If you say that justice requires a man to protect himself against violence with violence, and against fighting with fighting, you are certainly right when such defense is immediate–no interval, tarrying, or delay–to protect, not avenge, oneself. It’s proper that one be moderate enough in such defense 1535 that other men have no cause or reason to reproach him for defending himself against violence and outrageous acts, for otherwise it would be unreasonable. You know perfectly well that the defense you now make is to avenge, not protect, yourself, so it follows that you have no desire to perform the deed moderately. I therefore think patience is good, for Solomon says that ‘he who is impatient shall have great injury.'”
“I certainly grant,” said Melibeus, “that when a man is impatient and angry in a matter that doesn’t concern him, it’s no wonder when it harms him. 1540 For ‘he is guilty,’ says the law, ‘who interferes or meddles in things that don’t concern him.’ And Solomon says that ‘he who interferes with another man’s quarrel or strife is like him who takes a dog by the ears.’ For just as he who takes a strange dog by the ears is sometimes bitten, it’s reasonable that he should be injured who through impatience meddles in another man’s affairs that don’t concern him. But you well know that this deed–my injury and my misfortune–involves me very closely. 1545 So although I am angry and impatient, it’s no wonder. And, saving your grace, I can’t see that it might greatly harm me if I should take vengeance. For I’m richer and more powerful than my enemies; and you know well that all this world’s affairs are governed by money and great possessions. As Solomon says, ‘All things money obey.'” 1550
Prudence, when she had heard her husband boast of his wealth and disparage his adversaries’ power, said, “Certainly, dear sir, I grant that you’re rich and mighty, and that riches are good for those who have properly acquired them and can use them well. For just as a man’s body may not live without his soul, it may not live without temporal goods either. And by riches a man may acquire great friends. 1555 Therefore Pamphilius says, ‘If a cowherd’s daughter be rich, she may choose from a thousand men which one she would take for her husband; for of a thousand men, not one would forsake or refuse her.’ And Pamphilius says as well, ‘If you are very happy–that is, very rich–you shall find a great number of comrades and friends. And if your fortune change so that you become poor, farewell friendship and fellowship, for you shall be alone, except for the company of poor people.’ 1560 Pamphilius says, moreover, that ‘they who are enslaved and in bondage by birth shall be made worthy and noble by riches.’
“And just as by riches there come many goods, so by poverty come many harms and evils. For great poverty forces a man to do many evil things. Thus Cassiodorus calls poverty the mother of ruin, that is, the mother of destruction and misfortune. 1565 And Peter Alphonsus says, ‘One of the greatest adversities of this world is when a man, free by nature or gentle birth, is forced by poverty to live on the charity of his enemy.’ And Innocent III says the same in one of his books. He says that ‘sorrowful and unhappy is a poor beggar’s condition; if he does not beg for food, he dies of hunger; and if he begs, he dies of shame. In any case necessity forces him to beg.’ 1570 And Solomon says that ‘it is better to die than to have such poverty.’ And so ‘it is better,’ he says, ‘to die a bitter death than to live in want.’ For the reasons I’ve told you and many others I could say, I grant you that riches are good for those who have properly acquired them and for those who use them well. I will therefore show you how you should conduct yourself in the gathering of riches, and in what manner you should use them.1575
“First, you should acquire them without great desire, with full deliberation, gradually and not too quickly. For a man who is too desirous abandons himself first to theft and to all other evils; thus Solomon says, ‘He who hastens too intently to become rich shall not be innocent.’ He says as well that ‘the riches that quickly come to a man soon and easily go, but the riches that come little by little keep increasing.’ 1580
“And, sir, you should acquire riches by your intelligence and labor for your profit, without doing wrong or harm to any other person. For the law says that ‘no man makes himself rich who harms another person.’ This is to say that nature forbids by right that any man make himself rich at the expense of another person. As Tullius says, ‘No sorrow nor dread of death nor anything else that may befall a man 1585 is so much against nature as a man’s increasing his own profit at the expense of another.
“‘And though the great and mighty men acquire riches more easily than you, you shouldn’t be idle or slothful in pursuit of profit, for you should in every way flee idleness.’ For Solomon says that ‘idleness teaches a man much evil.’ And Solomon says as well that ‘he who labors and busies himself to till his land shall eat bread, 1590 but he who is idle and devotes himself to no business or occupation shall fall into poverty and die of hunger.’ And he who is idle and slothful can never find a suitable time to make his profit. For there is a poet who says that ‘the idle man excuses himself in winter on account of the great cold, and in summer by reason of the great heat.’ For these reasons Cato says, ‘Stay awake and don’t be too disposed to sleep, for too much rest nourishes and causes many vices.’ And Saint Jerome says, ‘Do some good deeds, that the devil who is your enemy should not find you unoccupied.’ 1595 For the devil doesn’t easily take into his service those he finds occupied in good works.
“In acquiring riches, then, you must flee idleness. Afterward, you should use the riches you have acquired by your intelligence and labor in such a way that men won’t consider you too stingy or sparing or too wasteful, that is, too liberal in spending. For just as an avaricious man is blamed for being stingy and miserly, 1600 so he is blamed who spends too liberally. Thus Cato says, ‘Use the riches that you have acquired in such a way that men won’t have reason to call you a niggard or miser; for it’s a great shame to have a paltry heart and rich purse.’ He also says, ‘The goods that you have acquired, use in moderation.’ 1605 For they who foolishly waste and squander their goods dispose themselves to another man’s goods when they have no more of their own.
“I say then that you should flee avarice, using your riches in such a way that men won’t say your riches are buried but that you have them in your power. 1610 For a wise man reproves the avaricious one, and says thus in two verses: ‘Wherefore and why would a man bury his goods through his great avarice when he knows well that he must die? For death is the end of every man in this present life.’ And for what cause or reason does he join or knit himself so securely to his goods that all his wits may not separate or part them, 1615 when he well knows, or ought to know, that when he’s dead he shall take nothing with him out of this world? Therefore Saint Augustine says that ‘the avaricious man is likened to hell, for the more it swallows, the more desire it has to swallow and devour.’ And just as you would avoid being called an avaricious man or miser, take care to so govern yourself that men won’t call you foolishly wasteful. 1620 ‘The goods of your house,’ as Tullius says, ‘should not be hidden or guarded so closely that they may not be opened by pity and mercy,’ that is, shared with those who have great need; ‘nor should your goods be so open as to be every man’s goods.’
“In acquiring your goods and using them, you should always have three things in your heart: our Lord God, your conscience, and a good name. 1625
“First, you should have God in your heart, and for riches do nothing that may displease God, who is your creator and maker, in any way. For according to the word of Solomon, ‘It is better to have a few goods with the love of God than to have many goods and treasures and lose the Lord God’s love.’ And the prophet says that ‘it is better to be a good man and have few friends and treasures 1630 than to be considered a scoundrel and have great riches.’
“And yet I say you should always make an effort to acquire riches, so long as you acquire them with a good conscience. ‘There is nothing in this world,’ the Apostle says, ‘of which we should have so great a joy as when our conscience bears us good witness.’ And the wise man says, ‘The wealth of a man is good when sin is not on his conscience.’ 1635
“Next, in acquiring your riches and using them, you must very earnestly and diligently see that your good name be always kept and preserved. For Solomon says that ‘it is better and more helpful for a man to have a good name than to have great riches.’ Thus he says in another place: ‘Make a great effort to keep your friend and your good name; for it shall abide with you longer than any treasure, be it ever so precious.’ 1640 And certainly he shouldn’t be called a gentleman who isn’t diligent and earnest, in accord with God and good conscience, all else put aside, to keep his good name. ‘It is the sign of a gentle heart,’ says Cassiodorus, ‘when a man loves and desires to have a good name.’ And Saint Augustine says that ‘there are two things that are necessary, a good conscience and a good reputation; that’s to say, a good conscience for your inner self, and among your neighbors a good reputation.’ 1645 And he who trusts so much in his good conscience that he offends and reckons as nothing his good name or reputation, and doesn’t care if he keeps his good name, is nothing but an unfeeling churl.
“Sir, now I have shown you how you should acquire riches and use them, and I see well that for the trust you have in your riches you would stir up war and battle. I counsel you to begin no war because of faith in your riches, for they are not sufficient to maintain wars. 1650 Thus says a philosopher: ‘That man who desires and would under all circumstances have war shall never have sufficient wealth; for the richer he is, the greater expenditure must he make if he would have honor and victory.’ And Solomon says that ‘the greater the riches a man has, the more wasters he has.’
“And, dear sir, though because of your riches you may have many people, it still

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22. THE TALE OF MELIBEE - GEOFFREY CHAUCER