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The Legend of Good Women – Modern Translation

(Translated and Edited by Gerard NeCastro)

The Legendary of the Saints of Cupid
A thousand times I have heard it said that in heaven is joy and in hell pain; and I grant well that it is so. Nevertheless, I know this well, that there is no person dwelling in this land who has been in either hell or heaven, or who can know of them in any other way than as he has heard tell or found it written, for no person can put his knowledge to the test. But God forbid but men should believe far more than they have seen with their eyes! A man shall not deem all things false because he has not beheld them since long ago. God knows, a thing is nonetheless true even if every creature cannot see it. Even Bernard the monk saw not all things, by God! 16
Then in all reason must we give credence to these books, through which ancient things are kept in mind, and to the instruction of these sages from ancient times, and believe in these old, approved histories of holiness, of kingdoms, of victories, of love, hate, and various other things that I cannot now recount. And if old books were all gone, then the key of remembrance would be lost. Well ought we then to believe old books, where there is no other test by experience. 28
As for me, though my wit may be little, I delight to read in books and revere them in my heart. In them I have such joy and faith, that there is scarcely any activity to draw me from my books, unless it would be some festival or else the lovely time of May. But when I hear the little birds singing, and when the flowers begin to spring, then farewell to my studies for that season! 39
Now I have also this disposition, that of all the flowers in the meadow I most love those white and red flowers, which men in our town call daisies. I have such affection for them, as I have said, that when May has arrived, no day dawns upon me in my bed, but I am up and walking in the meadow to see these flowers opening to the sun when it rises, in the bright morning, and through the long day thus I walk in the green. 50
That blissful sight softens all my sorrow, so glad I am for it, when I am in the presence of it, to give reverence to her. And I love it, and continually do, and ever shall, until my heart should die. I swear all this; I will not lie about this; no creature ever loved so passionately in his life. All day long I wait for nothing else, and I shall not lie, but to look upon the daisy, that well by reason people may call it the “day’s-eye,” or else the “eye of day,” the empress and flower of all flowers. (52-60F)
And when the sun draws toward the west, then they close and take them to slumber until the morning when the day comes, so sorely they fear the night. This daisy, flower of all flowers, filled with all excellence and honor, always and alike fair and lusty of hue, fresh in winter as well as in summer, gladly would I praise it if I properly could. But I am filled with woe, for it lies not in my power! 60
For well I know that people have reaped the field of poetry before me and have harvested the corn. I come after, gleaning here and there, and am very glad if perhaps I find an ear of any goodly words that they have left behind. And if I chance to recount again what they have said in their lusty songs, I hope that they will not be displeased, since all is said in furthering and worship of them who are followers of either the leaf or flower; 70 but offer help, you who have knowledge and power, you lovers who can write about emotions. (68-69F)
For trust well, I have not undertaken to sing in honor of the leaf against the flower, or of the flower against the leaf, any more than of the wheat against the chaff. For to me neither is dearer; as yet I am retained by neither. I know not who serves the leaf, who the flower; that is in no way the object of my labor. For this work is all drawn out of another cask, of ancient story, before there was any such strife. 80
She is the brightness and the true light that in this dark world leads and directs me. The heart within my sorrowful breast fears and loves you so sorely that you are truly the mistress of my mind, and I am nothing. My word, my work is knit so to your service that, just as a harp obeys the hand and makes it sound according to its fingering, so too can you out of my heart bring such voice, just as you wish, to laugh or lament. Be my guide and sovereign lady! As to my earthly god I call to you as well, both in this work and in all my sorrows. (84-96F)
But the reason I spoke of giving credence to old books and revering them is that men should believe authorities in all things where there lies no other means of proof. For my intent is, before I go from you, to make known in English the naked text of many histories or many tales, just as authors tell them. Believe them if you wish. 88
When the month of May was almost gone, and I had roamed all the summer’s day over the green meadow of which I have told you to gaze upon the fresh daisy, and when the sun out of the south drew towards the west, and the flower had closed and gone to sleep, for darkness of the night which she feared, I sped swiftly home to my house; and in a little shady bower that I have, newly embanked with fresh-cut turfs, I asked people to lay my couch, and flowers to be strewn on it, for joy of the new summer. When I had laid me down and closed my eyes, I fell asleep within an hour or two. 103
Then I dreamed that I was in the meadow, and was roaming about to see that flower, just as you have heard me tell. This meadow was beautiful; it seemed to me to be entirely embroidered with sweet flowers. No herbs or trees or spicy resins could compare with it; for it utterly surpassed all odors and all flowers as well for its rich beauty. The earth had forgotten his poor estate of winter, which had made him naked and dejected and with the sword of cold had struck him so sorely. 115
Now the mild sun had relieved all that, and clothed him in green all afresh. Rejoicing in the season, the little birds that had escaped the snare and the net mocked the fowler who had frightened them in winter and destroyed their brood, and eased their hearts to sing of him in scorn, and to flout the foul churl who for his greed had betrayed them with his tricks. This was their song, “The fowler we defy, and all his craft!” 127
On the branches some sang sweet songs of love and spring, in honor and praise of their mates, and for the new, joyous summer; it was a joy to listen. Upon those branches full of soft blossoms, in their delight they turned themselves often and sang, (143-44F)
“Blessed be Saint Valentine!
For on his day I chose you to be mine,
My sweetheart, and never have I repented.” 133
And then they joined their beaks, and they paid honor and tenderness to each other, and then did other ceremonies pleasing to love and nature. (I listened carefully to their song, for I dreamed I understood their meaning.) 140
And those that had been unfaithful–as the tydif bird is, for the sake of novelty–sought mercy for their trespassing, and humbly sang their repentance, and swore on the blossoms to be true, so that their mates would have mercy upon them, and at the last made their accord. (153-59F)
They all found a lord named Danger for a time, yet Pity, through his strong gentle might, forgave, and allowed Mercy to surpass Justice, through innocence and self-controlled Courtesy. But I do not call innocence folly, nor false pity, for virtue lies in the mean, as Etik says. This is the manner to which I am referring. (160-66F)
And thus these birds, void of all malice, agreed to love, and gave up the vice of hate, and sang all of one accord, “Welcome, summer, our governor and lord!” And Zephyrus and Flora gently gave to the flowers, soft and tenderly, their sweet breath, and made them spread, as god and goddess of the flowery meadow. In this place it seemed to me I might, day by day, dwell always, the jolly month of May, without sleep, without food or drink. (167-177F)
Then at last a lark sang on high. She said, “I see the mighty god of Love! Lo, yonder he comes! I see his wings spread!” Then I looked along the meadow and saw him come, leading by the hand a lady clothed in a royal habit of green. She had a net of gold around her hair, and over that a white crown with many flowers; for all the world just as the flower of the daisy is crowned with little white leaves, such were the flowers of her white crown, for it was made all of one fine oriental pearl; for this reason the white crown above the green, with the golden ornament in her hair, made her appear like a daisy. 157
This mighty god of Love was clothed in silk embroidered full of green sprigs; on his head was a garland of rose-leaves, all set with fresh lilies. But the hue of his face I cannot tell, for truly his face shone so bright that the eye was dazzled by the gleam. For several minutes I could not look at him, but at last I saw that he held in his hands two fiery arrows, red as glowing coals. And he spread his wings like an angel. Albeit men say he is blind, but it seemed to me that he could see well enough; for he looked sternly upon me, so that his look even now makes my heart cold. 172
He held by the hand this noble lady, crowned with white and clothed all in green, who was so womanly, benign and gentle that though men should seek throughout this world they should not find half her beauty in any being formed by nature. Her name was Alceste the gentle. May fair fortune ever come to her, I pray to God! For had it not been for the comfort of her presence, I would have been dead without help, for fear of Love’s words and look, as you shall learn hereafter, when the time comes. 184
On the grass, behind this god of Love, I saw a company of nineteen ladies in royal garb coming at a gentle pace. And after them came such a train of women that I believed that all the possible women who had ever lived in this world since God made Adam from earth composed only one third of them or one fourth. And every one of these women was faithful in love. Now was this a wondrous thing or not? For as soon as they perceived this flower that I call the daisy, they quickly stopped altogether and kneeled down by that very flower and sang with one voice, (282-96F)
“Hail and honor
To faithful womanhood, and this flower
That bears the symbol of our faithfulness!
Her white crown bears for us all the witness.” (296-99F)
And after that they went in a circle slowly dancing around it, and sang, as it were in the fashion of a carol, this ballade which I shall tell you. 202
Hide, Absalom, your bright golden tresses;
And Esther also, lay your meekness down;
And Jonathan, hide your friendly address;
And Penelope and Marcia Catoun,
Make of your wifehood no comparison;
Hide now your beauties, Isolt and Elaine,
Alceste comes, who makes all this pale and vain. 255
Thy beautiful body, oh, let it not appear,
Lavinia; and Lucrece too of Rome-town,
And Polyxena, who paid for love so dear,
And Cleopatra, with all your passion,
Hide your truth in loving and your renown,
And Thisbe, who for love had borne such pain;
Alceste comes, who makes all this pale and vain. 262
Hero, Dido, Laodamia together here,
And Phyllis, hanging for your Demophon,
And Canace, known ever by your heavy cheer,
Hypsipyle, who Jason falsely won,
Make now of your love-pledge no boast or moan,
Hypermnestra, Ariadne, cease complaint;
Alceste comes, who makes all this pale and vain. 269
This ballad may have been well sung, as I have said earlier, about my noble lady; for certainly al these can not suffice to be equal with my lady in no way. For as the sun will make the fire appear pale, so too my lady, who is so good, so fair, so gracious, surpasses all. I pray to God that goodness may come to her! (270-81)
When this ballad was all sung, they sat full gently down upon the sweet and soft green grass, in order all in a circle about. First sat the god of Love, and then this lady clad in green wit the white crown; and then near them all the rest sat courteously, according to their station. And then, for several minutes, in the entire place not a word was spoken. 233
Close by, reclining beneath a grassy slope, I waited, still as any stone, to learn what this group intended; until at last the god of Love turned his eyes on me and said, “Who is it who rests there?” 238
And I answered his question and said, “Sir, it is I.” And I came nearer, and greeted him. 240
He said, “What are you doing here in my presence, and so boldly? For truly a worm would be more worthy to come into my sight than you.” 244
“And why, sir,” I said, “if it please you?” 245
“Because,” he said, “you are in no way fit. My servants are all wise and honorable; you are my mortal foe, and war against me, and speak evil of my old servants. And with your works of translation you plague them and hinder people’s devotion in my service, and hold it to be folly to trust in me. You cannot deny it; for in text so plain that it needs no commentary you have translated the Romance of the Rose, which is heresy against my religion; and you cause wise folk to withdraw from me, and think in your cool wit that anyone is but a proper fool who loves with passion, too hard and hot. Well I know by this that you begin to drivel, as these old fools when their spirit fails; for then they abuse others, and know not what is amiss with themselves. 263
“Have you not also made in English the poem which tells how Criseyde forsook Troilus, to show how women have gone astray? But nevertheless answer me this now, why would you not also speak well of women, as you have spoken evilly? Was there no good matter in your memory, and in all your books could you not find some story of good and faithful women? 272
“Yes, God knows! You have sixty books, old and new, all full of long stories, in which both Romans and Greeks treat of various women, what kind of life they led, and there is always a hundred good to one bad. This God knows, and all clerks as well who use them to seek out such matters. What says Valerius or Livy or Claudian? What says Jerome, in his treatise against Jovinian? Jerome tells of pure maidens and faithful wives, of widows steadfast unto death; and he tells not of a few, but I dare say a hundred in succession, until it is piteous and sorrowful to read of the woe they endured for their faithfulness. 287
“For they were so true to their love that, rather than take a new mate, they chose death in various manners, and died just as the story will relate. Some were burned, some had their throats cut, and some were drowned, because they would not be false. For they all kept their maidenhood, or else widowhood or wedlock. And this was not done for devoutness, but for true virtue and purity, and so that men should put no blame on them. And yet they were heathen, all of them, who so sorely dreaded all disgrace. These women of old so guarded their good name that I believe men shall not find in this world a man who could be so true and kind as was the least woman in those days. Likewise, what do the epistles of Ovid say about true wives and their travail? 306
“What says Vincent, in his Historical Mirror? You may also hear the whole world of authors, Christian and heathen, discuss such matters. There is no need to write all day about them; but again I say, what ails you to write the chaff of stories and overlook the corn? By Saint Venus, by whom I was born, though you have rejected my faith, as other old fools have done in many days gone by, you shall repent your action in the sight of all men. 316
Then spoke Alceste, the worthy queen: “God, by your true courtesy, you must listen and see whether he can make any reply to these charges that you have made against him. A god should not thus be moved to anger, but being a deity he should be stable, and righteous and merciful as well. He cannot rightfully vent his ire before he has heard the other party speak. All that is carried to you in complaint is not the gospel truth; the god of Love hears many false tales. For in your court there are many flatterers, and many artful, tattling accusers, who drum many things in your ears out of hatred or jealous imaginings, or to have friendly talk with you. Envy–I pray God may give her bad luck!–forever washes the foul linen in a great court; out of the house of Caesar she departs neither by night nor day (thus says Dante). No matter who departs, never will she be lacking. This man may be accused wrongly, and by rights should be absolved. 339
“Or else, sir, because this man is unwise, he might translate a thing not out of malice but because he is so used to writing books that he heeds not the substance of them; therefore, he wrote the Rose and Criseyde entirely innocently and knew not what he was saying. Or else he was told by some person to write those poems, and dared not refuse it, for before this he has written many books. In translating what old clerks have written, he has not sinned so grievously as if he should in malice write scornfully of love from his own point of view. 352
“A righteous lord should have this in mind, and not be like Lombard tyrants who practice willful tyranny; for a king or lord by natural right ought not to be tyrannical or cruel like a tax collector, doing all the harm he can. He must bear in mind that they are his subjects, and that his true duty is to show all kindness toward his people, to hear their defenses readily, and their complaints and petitions in due time when they present them. This is the philosopher’s saying, that a king shall maintain his subjects through justice; that is his duty, in truth, and to this end a king is sworn deeply and has been for hundreds years; and he shall maintain his lords in their station, as it is right and reasonable that they be exalted and honored and held most dear, for they are demi-gods here in this world. 373
“Thus shall he do to both rich and poor, albeit their conditions may not be alike, and have compassion on the poor. For behold the noble nature of the lion! When a fly annoys or bites him, he gently drives the fly away with his tail; for in his noble nature he does not stoop to avenge himself upon a fly, as a dog and other beasts may do. A noble nature should show restraint and weigh all things by equity, and ever regard his own high station. For, sir, it is no noble act for a lord to condemn a man without speech or answer; in a lord that is a very foul practice. And if it should happen that the man cannot excuse himself, yet with sorrowful heart asks mercy, and humbly in his bare shirt yields himself up wholly to your judgment, then a god with brief consideration ought to weigh his own honor against the other’s trespass. For since there is no cause of death here, you ought more readily to be merciful. Lay aside your wrath, and be a little yielding! 397
“This man has served you with his art and has furthered your religion with his poetry. While he was young he followed you; I know not whether he is now a renegade. But well I know that by what he has been able to write in praise of your name he has caused unlearned people to rejoice in serving you. He wrote the book called the House of Fame, and the Death of Blanche the Duchess as well, and the Parliament of Birds, I believe, and all the love of Palamon and Arcite of Thebes, though the tale is little known; and for your holy days many hymns, which are called Ballades, Roundels, and Virelays; and to speak of other laborious works, he has translated Boethius in prose, and Of the Wretched Engendering of Mankind, which may be found in Pope Innocent; and he also wrote the life of Saint Cecilia; and also, a long while ago, Origen upon the Magdalene. He ought now to have the lesser penalty; he has written many lays and many works. 420
“Now as you are a god and a king, I, your Alceste, once queen of Thrace, ask you of your mercy never to harm this man so long as he lives. And he shall swear to you, and do so without delay, that he will sin no more thus. But just as you shall direct, so shall he write of women ever faithful in love, maidens or wives, whatsoever you wish. And he shall further you as much as he spoke amiss in the Rose or in Criseyde.” 431
Forthwith the god of Love answered her thus: “Madame,” he said, “it is long that I have known you to be so charitable and faithful that never, since the world was new, have I found any person who acted better toward me. Therefore, if I wish to safeguard my honor, I neither may nor will refuse your petition. All lies with you; do with him as pleases you, and forgive all, without further delay. For whosoever gives a gift or does a kindness, let him do it in good time, and his thanks will be greater for it. Judge, therefore, what he shall do. Go now, thank my lady here,” he said. 444
I rose, and then got down on my knee and said: “Madame, may God on high reward you because you have made the god of Love forgive his wrath against me; and may He grant me the grace to live so long until I may truly know who you are who have helped me and put me in such a hopeful state. But truly in this matter I thought not to have sinned or to have trespassed against love. For an honest man, in truth, has no part in the deeds of a thief; and a true lover ought not to blame me, though I speak in reproach of a false lover. He ought rather to remain on my side, because I wrote of Criseyde or of the Rose; whatsoever my author meant, it was my intention at least, God knows, to exalt faithfulness in love and to cherish it; and to warn people of falseness and evil by such examples. This was mine intent.” 464
And she answered, “Set aside your arguing, for Love will hear no pleas against himself, just or unjust; learn this from me. You have your pardon; hold yourself to that. Now will I say what penance you shall do for your trespass; understand it now. As long as you live, year by year you shall spend the most part of your life in writing a glorious legend of good women, maidens, and wives, who were ever faithful in love, and you shall tell of the false men who betrayed them, men who all their life do nothing but see how many women they can shame–for in your world that is now seen as a sport. And though you care not be a lover, speak well of love. This penance I give you. And I will so pray the god of Love that he shall charge his servants in any way to aid you and shall requite your labor. And when this book has been completed, give it to the queen, on my behalf, at Eltham or at Sheene.(496-97F) Now go your way; your penance is only a small one.” 485
The god of Love smiled, and then he said, “Do you know whether she is a maiden or wife, a queen or a countess, or of what degree, this woman who has given so little penance to you who have deserved to suffer more sorely? But pity runs soon into a noble heart; that you can see. She manifests what she is.” 492
And I answered, “No, sir, as I hope for happiness, I know no more than that I see well she is kind.” 494
“By my hood,” Love said, “that is a true saying; and that you well know, by God, if you well consider. In a book that lies in your chest, do you not have the story of the great goodness of Queen Alcestis, who was turned into a daisy? She who chose to die for her husband and to go to hell also instead of him? She whom Hercules rescued, by God, and brought out of hell back to happiness?” 504
And I replied, “Yes, now I know her! And is this the good Alceste, the daisy, mine own heart’s repose? Now I feel well this woman’s goodness, that both in her life and after her death her great goodness makes her renown double. Well has she requited me for my affection which I bear toward her flower, the daisy. It is no wonder that Jove should turn her into a star, as Agathon tells, for her goodness. Her white crown bears witness of it; for she had as many excellences as there are small flowers in her crown. In remembrance and honor of her Cybele created the daisy, the flower all crowned with white, as men can see; and Mars gave its redness to her crown, set amidst the white instead of rubies.” 522
At this the queen grew somewhat red from modesty, when she was so praised in her presence. Then said Love, “It was a great negligence to write about the lack of steadfastness of women, since you know their goodness by experience and by old stories as well. Set aside the chaff, and write well of the corn. Why would you not write of Alceste, and leave Criseyde sleeping in peace? For your writing should be of Alceste, since you know that she is a model of goodness; for she taught noble love, and especially how a wife ought to live, and all the bounds that she should keep. Your little wit was sleeping that time. But now I charge you on your life that in your Legend you write of this woman, after you have written of other lesser ones. And now farewell, I charge you no more. 540
“But before I go, this much I will tell you: no true lover shall go to hell. These other ladies sitting here in a row are in your ballad, if you can recognize them, and in your books you shall find them all. Set them now all in mind in your legend; I mean, of those that are in your knowledge. For sitting here are twenty thousand more than you know, all good women, and true in love for anything that may happen. The sun is drawing west. I must go home to paradise with this entire company. Make the verses of them as you wish, and serve always the fresh daisy. (552-565F)
“I wish you to begin with Cleopatra; and so continue. And so you shall gain my love. For let us see now what sort of man that lover would be, who would endure so strong a pain for love as she. I know well that thou may not set all that such lovers did in their time to rhyme; it would be too long to read and to hear. It will suffice me that you make it in this manner: that thou retell the important part of al their lives, following what these ancient authors wish to treat. For whosoever shall tell so many stories, may he tell them shortly, or he shall dwell too long.” (568-577F)
And at these words I awoke from my sleep, and I began to write on my Legend even thus. 545
Explicit prohemium.
– – –
I. The Legend of Cleopatra
Incipit Legenda Cleopatrie, Martiris, Egipti regine.
After the death of the king Ptolemy, who had all Egypt under his rule, Cleopatra his queen reigned; until a certain time when a certain situation arose that out of Rome there was sent a senator to win kingdoms and honors for the town of Rome, as was their custom, and to have the world under their obedience; and in truth his name was Antony. As Fortune owed him a disgrace after he had met with prosperity, it so happened that he became a rebel to the town of Rome; and moreover he falsely deserted the sister of Caesar, before she was aware, and at any cost wished to have another wife. For these reasons he fell at odds with Caesar and with Rome. 595
Nevertheless this same senator was a worthy, noble warrior, in truth, and his death was a great pity. But Love had brought this man into such a madness and so tightly bound him in his snare, all for love of Cleopatra, that he set all the world at no value. Nothing seemed to him so necessary as to love and serve Cleopatra. He cared not to die in arms in defense of her and of her right. And this noble queen in like fashion loved this knight, for his merit and his knighthood; and certainly, unless the books lie, he was in his person, nobility, discretion, and hardiness as worthy as any person alive. And she was as fair as the rose in May. And, as it is best to write briefly, she became his wife and had him as she desired. 615
To describe the wedding and the festival would take too long for me, who have undertaken such an enterprise as to put in verses so many stories, lest I should neglect things of greater weight and importance. For men may overload a ship or a barge. Therefore I will skip lightly to the conclusion, and let the remains slip. 623
Octavian, maddened by this deed, raised a host of stout Romans, cruel as lions, to lead against Antony for his utter destruction. They went to their ship, and I leave them sailing thus. Antony was wary and would not avoid encountering these Romans if he could; he laid his plans, and on a day both he and his wife and his entire host went forth without delay to their ship; they delayed no longer. Out at sea it happened that the foes met; the trumpet sounds on high, they shout and shoot and with the sun at their back make a fierce onset. 636
With a grisly sound out flies the huge shot, and furiously they hurtle together, and from the fore-tops down come the great stones. Among the ropes go shearing-hooks and grapnels full of claws. This man and that presses on with poleaxes; one flees behind the mast, and out again, and drives the other over board. One pierces another upon his spear-point; one cuts the sail with hooks like scythes; another brings the wine-cup and bids them be glad; one pours peas upon the hatches to make them slippery; they rush together with pots full of quicklime. 649
And thus they pass the long day in battle, until at last (as every: thing has an end) Antony is defeated and put to flight, and all his people scatter as best they can. 653
The queen with all her purple sails fled likewise from the blows that went thick as hail-stones; no wonder she could not endure it. And when Antony saw that chance he said, “Alas the day that I was born! So on this day I have lost all my honor!”; and in despair he started out of his wits, and stabbed himself to the heart at once, before he went further from the place. 662
His wife, who could get no mercy from Caesar, fled to Egypt in dread and anguish. But listen, all you who speak of devotion, you men who falsely swear by many oaths that you will die if your beloved should be so much as angered, behold what womanly faithfulness you may here see. 668
This woeful Cleopatra made such lament that no tongue can describe it; but in the morning she would delay no longer and commanded her skillful workmen to make a shrine out of all the rubies and fine gems that she could uncover in all Egypt, and she filled the shrine with spices, had the body embalmed, and called for this dead corpse and enclosed it in the shrine. And next to the shrine she had a pit dug, and put in it all the serpents she could find, and thus she spoke: “Now, beloved, whom my sorrowful heart so far obeyed that, from that blissful hour when I swore to be entirely and freely yours–I mean you, Antony, my knight–you were never out of my heart’s remembrance as long as I was awake, day or night, in happiness or woe, in the carol or the dance. And then I made this covenant with myself, that, whatever it was you felt, happiness or woe, the same would I feel, life or death, if it lay in my power for the honor of my wifehood. And I will fulfill that covenant while breath remains in me; and men shall see well that never was a queen truer to her love.” 695
And at that word with a resolute heart she leapt naked into the pit among the serpents, and there she chose to be buried. Immediately the serpents began to sting her, and she received her death cheerfully, for the love of Antony who was so dear to her. And this is truth of history; it is no fable. 702
Now, until I find a man this faithful and steadfast, who will so willingly die for love, I pray to God, may our heads never ache! Amen. 705
Explicit Legenda Cleopatrie Martins.
– – –
II. The Legend of Thisbe of Babylon
Incipit Legenda Tesbe Babilonie, martiris.
At Babylon, the town around which Queen Semiramis had a ditch and a very high wall built with hard well-baked tiles, this is what happened. In this noble town there dwelt two lords of high reputation; and they dwelt upon a green so close to each other that there was only a stone wall between them, as there often is in great towns. One of these men had a son, one of the most attractive in all that land; and the other had a daughter, the fairest who dwelt then in the eastern world. The name of each was brought to the other by women who were their neighbors. For in that country, even now in truth, maidens are closely and jealously guarded, lest they act foolishly. 723
This young man was called Pyramus, and the maid called Thisbe; Ovid says thus. And so their praise was brought to each other by report, so that as they grew in years their love grew. And certainly, as for their age, there might have been marriage between them, except that their fathers would not agree to it. And both alike burned so sorely in love that none of all their friends could hinder them from meeting secretly, sometimes by deceit, and speaking a bit about their longings. Cover the coals and the fire is hotter; forbid love, and it is ten times as raging. 736
This wall that stood between them was split in two, from the top right down, since long ago when it was built; yet this crack was so narrow and small that it was not visible to the tiniest extent. But what is it love cannot find? You two lovers, to tell the truth, you first found this narrow little crack! And they let their words, with voices as soft as any shrift, pass through the crack, and as they stood there, told all their love-complaints and all their woe every time when they dared. He stood upon the one side of the wall, Thisbe upon the other, to hear the sweet sound of each other’s voice; and thus they would deceive their guardians. Every day they would threaten this wall and wish to God it were beaten down. Thus they would say: “Alas, you wicked wall! Through your envy you hinder us entirely. Why will you not split apart, or fall in two? Or at least, if you will not do so, yet would you at least let us meet once, or once permit us to kiss sweetly? Then would we be recovered from our painful cares. But nevertheless we are indebted to you, inasmuch as you allow us to send our words through your mortar and stone. We still ought to be well pleased with you.” 766
When these vain words were uttered, they would kiss the cold stone wall and take their leave and depart. And they were glad to do this in the evening or very early, lest people saw them. And for a long time they did thus, until one day, when Phoebus was clear and Aurora with her hot beams had dried up the dew on the wet herbs, Pyramus came to this crack, as he was accustomed, and then came Thisbe, and by their faith they pledged their honor to steal away that same night, and to beguile all their guardians and flee from the city; and, because the fields were so broad and large, that they might meet at one place at one time, they appointed their meeting to be under a tree where King Ninus was buried. (For old pagans who worshipped idols used then to be buried in fields.) And near this grave was a spring. And, to tell this tale shortly, this covenant was very strongly confirmed. To them it seemed that the sun delayed for a long time before it went down under the sea. 792
This Thisbe had so great a feeling and desire to see Pyramus that when she saw her time she stole away secretly at night with her face deceptively wimpled. To keep her pledge she forsook all her friends, Alas! It is pity that a woman should ever be so faithful to trust man, unless she knew him better! She went to the tree at a swift pace, for her love made her so hardy; and down beside the spring she settled herself. Alas! Without more ado a wild lioness, with mouth bloody from strangling some beast, came out of the wood to drink at the spring where Thisbe was sitting. And when Thisbe saw that, she started up, with heart all terrified, and with fearful foot fled into a cave, which she saw well by the moon. And as she ran she let fall her wimple and did not notice it, so sorely was she dismayed, and so glad of her escape as well. And thus she sat in hiding very quietly. When the lioness had drunk her fill, she roamed about the spring, and soon found the wimple, and tore it all to pieces with her bloody mouth. When this was done, she delayed no longer but made her way to the woods. 822
At last this Pyramus came, but, alas, he had stayed too long at home. The moon shone, and he could see well, and in his way, as he came speedily, he cast his eyes down to the ground, and as he looked down he saw the wide tracks of a lion in the sand, and he suddenly shuddered in his heart and grew pale and his hair stood on end; and he came nearer, and found the torn wimple. “Alas! “he said. “Alas, the day that I was born! This one night will slay both us lovers! How should I ask mercy of Thisbe, when I am he who have slain her, alas! My prayer to you to come has slain you! Alas, to tell a woman to go by night to a place where peril might occur! And I so slow! Alas! If only I had been here in this place a furlong before you! Now may whatever lion there is in this forest tear apart my body; or whatever wild beast there is, now may it gnaw my heart!” 844
And with these words he sprang to the wimple, and kissed it often, and wept over it sorely and said, “Alas, wimple! There is nothing else, except that you shall feel my blood as well as you have felt the bleeding of Thisbe. And with these words he struck himself to the heart. The blood gushed out of the wound as broad as water when the pipe is broken. 852
Now Thisbe, who knew nothing of this, thought as she sat in fear, “If it so happens that my Pyramus has come here and cannot find me, he may hold me false and cruel as well.” And she came out and searched for him both with her heart and with her eyes, and thought,” I will tell him about my dread both for the lioness and for all my behavior.” 861
And at last she came upon her lover, all bloody, beating on the ground with his heels; and at this she started back, and her heart began to toss like the waves, and she grew pale as a boxwood tree. For a short moment she observed him and then well recognized that he was Pyramus, her dear heart. 868
Who could write what a deadly expression Thisbe had now, and how she tore her hair, and how she tormented herself, and how she lay on the ground and swooned, and how she wept his wound full of tears; how she mingled his blood with her lamentation, and did paint herself with his blood; how she embraced the dead body, alas! How did this woeful Thisbe act then; how she kissed his frosty mouth so cold! “Who has done this! Who has been so ruthless, to slay my beloved! O, speak, my Pyramus! I am your Thisbe who calls you! “And at this she lifted up his head. This woeful man, in whom still remained some life, when he heard the name of Thisbe cried, cast his heavy, death-like eyes upon her and down again, and yielded up his spirit. 886
Thisbe arose without noise or outcry, and saw her wimple, and his scabbard empty, and his sword as well, which had put him to death. Then she spoke thus: “My sorrowful hand,” she said, “is strong enough for such a task in my behalf, for love shall give me strength and boldness, I believe, to make my wound large enough. Dead I will follow you, and I will be the cause and partner also of your death,” she said. “And though nothing except death alone could truly separate you from me, you shall now no more part from me than from death, for I will go with you. And now, you wretched, jealous fathers of ours, we who were once your children, we pray you that without more ill-will we may lie together in one grave, since love has brought us this pitiful end. And may the righteous God grant every lover, that truly loves, more prosperity than ever Pyramus and Thisbe had! And let no woman of gentle blood be so overconfident as to place herself in such hazard. Yet God forbid a woman may be only as true in loving as any man! And for my part I shall without delay make this plain.” 912
And with these words she seized his sword immediately, which was warm and hot with her lover’s blood, and struck herself to the heart. 916
And thus are Pyramus and Thisbe gone. Of faithful men I find in all my books only a few more besides this Pyramus, and therefore I have spoken thus of him. For it is a rare delight to us men to find a man who can be tender and true in love. Here you may see that, whatsoever lover he may be, a woman has mind and daring to do as well as he. 923
Explicit legenda Tesbe.
– – –
III. The Legend of Dido, Queen of Carthage
Incipit Legenda Didonis martiris, Cartaginis Regine.
May there be glory and honor, Virgil of Mantua, to your name! I shall follow your lantern as well as I can, while you lead, in telling how Aeneas perjured himself to Dido. I will follow the meaning of your Aeneid and of Ovid, and will put the main events into verse. 929
When Troy was brought to destruction by the wiles of the Greeks, and especially by Sinon, pretending that horse, through which many Trojans were to die, to be an offering to Minerva; and when Hector had appeared after his death, and fire so wild it could not be controlled raged through all the noble tower of Ilium, which was the chief fortification of the city; and when all the land was brought low, and Priam the king slain and brought to nothing; and when Aeneas was charged by Venus to flee, he took Ascanius his son by his right hand and fled. And on his back he bore with him his old father, called Anchises, and on the way he lost his wife Creusa. And he bore much sorrow in heart before he could find his companions. But at last, when he had found them, he prepared at certain time and quickly pushed out to sea, and sailed forth with all his men toward Italy, as destiny directed. But it is not my point to speak of his adventures on the sea here, for it is not related my subject matter; but, as I have said, my tale shall be of him and Dido, until I have finished. 957
So long he sailed the salty sea, until with difficulty he arrived in Libya with seven ships, and no larger fleet; and he was glad to rush to land, so shaken was he with the tempest. And when he had gained the haven, of all his fellowship he chose a knight called Achates to go with him to survey the land; he took with him no greater company. Forth they went, his comrade and he, without any to point the way, and left his ships riding at anchor. 969
So long he walked in the wilderness until at the last he met a huntress; she had a bow in hand, and arrows; her garments were cut short to the knee; but she was the fairest creature that ever nature had formed. And she greeted Aeneas and Achates, and thus spoke to them, when she met them: “Have you seen,” she said, “as you walked wide and far, any of my sisters in this forest with garments tucked up and arrows in their quivers walk near you, with any wild boar or other beast that they have hunted?” 982
“Nay truly, lady,” said this Aeneas; “but it seems to me by your beauty you can not be a woman of this world, I would think, but are the sister of Phoebus. And, if it is so that you are a goddess, have pity on our labor and woe. 988
“Truly, I am no goddess,” she said; “for here in this land maidens walk with arrows and bow in this manner. This is the realm of Libya where you are, of which Dido is lady and queen.” And briefly she told him all the reason of Dido’s coming to those parts, of which I wish not to write now; there is no need, for it would be a waste of time. For this is the sum and substance: it was Venus, his own mother, who thus spoke with Aeneas; and she told him to turn toward Carthage, and without delay vanished out of his sight. I could follow Virgil word for word, but it would take entirely too long.
This noble queen named Dido, formerly wife to Sychaeus and fairer than the shining sun, had founded this noble town of Carthage, in which she reigned in such great glory that she was believed to be the flower of all queens in nobility, generosity, and beauty, so much so that anyone would be well who had seen her just once. She was so desired by kings and lords that her beauty had inflamed all the world, so well stood she in grace with every creature. 1003
When Aeneas had come to that place, secretly he made his way to the chief temple of the whole town, where Dido was at her devotions. When he was come into the broad temple, I cannot say if it would be possible, but Venus made him invisible. Thus says the book, I promise you. And when Aeneas and Achates had been over this entire temple, they found painted on a wall how Troy and all the land had been destroyed. 1014
“Alas, that I was born!” said Aeneas, “our shame is known so far over the entire world that now it is depicted on every side. We who were in prosperity are now defamed, and that so grievously that I care to live no longer.” And with these words he burst out weeping so tenderly that it was pitiful to behold. 1026
This lovely lady, queen of the city, stood in the temple in royal state, so splendid and so fair, so young, so joyous, with her glad eyes, that, if the god who made heaven and earth had desired a love, for beauty and goodness and womanhood and seemliness and fidelity, whom should he have loved but this sweet lady? There was no woman half so fitting. 1034
Fortune, that governs the world, speedily brought in so strange a chance that never yet was there so rare a case. For all the company of Aeneas, which he deemed had been lost in the sea, came to shore not far from that city. Therefore some of the greatest of his lords by chance came to the city to that same temple to seek the queen and entreat her for aid, for such renown of her goodness had spread. And when they had related all their distress, and their tempest and their hard case, Aeneas showed himself to the queen and freely told who he was. Then who were more joyful than his men, who had found their lord, their ruler? 1043
The queen saw how they did him such honor, and had often heard of Aeneas before that, and in her heart she had pity and woe that ever so noble a man had so lost his heritage. And she beheld the man, that he was like a knight, and well endowed in person and strength, and likely to be a courteous man, and was fair of his speech, and had a noble face, and was well formed in brawn and bone. For, taking after Venus, he had such fairness that no man could be half so fair, I believe. And he well seemed to be a lord. And because he was a stranger she liked him somewhat better; as–God save us–to some people a new thing is often sweet. Before long her heart pitied his woe, and with that pity love also came; and thus out of pity and courtesy he would need to be comforted in his distress. 1060
She said, surely, that she was sorry that he had had such peril and such mishap. And in her friendly speech she spoke to him thus and said as you may hear: “Are you not the son of Venus and Anchises? In good faith, you shall have all the worship and assistance that I can rightly give you. Your ships and your followers I will protect.” She spoke many courteous words and commanded her messengers to go that same day without fail to seek his ships and fill them with provisions; she sent many beasts to the ships, and presented them with wine as well. And she rushed to her royal palace, and she always had Aeneas near her. 1081
What need is there to describe the feast to you? He was never better at ease in his life. The festival was well provided with dainties and with splendor, with instruments of music, song and gladness; and many were the amorous glances and schemes. Aeneas had come into Paradise out of the mouth of hell; and thus in bliss he recalled his state in Troy. After the meal, Aeneas was led to dancing-halls, full of fine hangings and rich couches and ornaments. And when he had sat down with the queen, and spices had been served and wine passed around, he was led before long to his chambers, to take his ease and have his rest, and all his men likewise, to do just as they wished. 1097
There was no well bridled war horse, nor fine jousting steed, nor large easy-to-ride palfrey, nor jewel adorned all over with rich gems, nor fully weighted sacks full of gold, nor any ruby that shone by night, nor noble high-flying falcon for hunting herons, nor hound for hart or wild boar or deer, nor cup of gold, nor florins newly coined, which could be procured in the land of Libya, that Dido did not send to Aeneas. And all that he would have spent she paid. Thus could this honorable queen call upon her guests as one who knew how to surpass all in generosity. 1113
Aeneas, truly, sent also unto his ship by Achates for his son, and for rich gear, including scepter, clothes, brooches and rings as well, some to wear, and some to present to her who had given him all these noble things. And he told his son to make the presentation and take the gift to the queen. This Achates returned, and Aeneas was eager and glad to see his young son Ascanius. But nevertheless, our author tells us, that Cupid, who is the god of Love, at the prayer of his mother on high had taken on the likeness of the child, to enamor this noble queen of Aeneas. (But as to that text, be it as it may, I pay no attention to it. But true it is that the queen made such to-do about this child that it is wondrous to hear of; and with good will she thanked him often for the gift that his father sent. 1149
Thus was the queen in delight and joy with all these new, pleasant people of Troy. And she further inquired about the deeds of Aeneas, and learned the entire story of Troy. And the two of them decided to converse and amuse themselves all long day. From this there was bred such a flame that luckless Dido had such a strong desire to become intimate with her new guest Aeneas that she lost her color and her health as well. 1159
Now for the conclusion, the fruit of it all, the reason I have told this story, and shall continue it. Thus I begin; it happened one night, when the moon had lifted up her beams, that this noble queen went to her rest, sighed sorely, and tormented herself; she waked and tossed, started up many times as lovers usually do, as I have heard. And at last she made her moan to her sister Anna, and spoke thus: “Now, my dear sister, what can it be that makes me so aghast in my dream? This Trojan is so in my thoughts, because it seems to me he is so well formed and so likely to be a worthy man, and know so much goodness as well, that all my love and life lie in his keeping. Have you not heard him tell of his adventures? Now surely, Anna, if you counsel me so, I would gladly be wedded to him. This is all; what more should I say? In him it all lies, to make me live or die.” 1181
Her sister Anna, as she saw her advantage, spoke as she thought and somewhat withstood her; but at this point there was so much discourse that it would be too long to retell. To sum it all up, the thing could not be withstood; love will love, it will hold back for no person. The dawn arose out of the sea; this amorous queen charged her attendants to prepare the nets and the spears broad and sharp. She wished to go hunting, this lusty, lovely queen, as this new sweet pain urged her. 1192
On horse went all her lusty company, the hounds were led to the courtyard, and upon chargers swift as thought her young knights hovered all around, and a huge company of her women as well. Upon a stout palfrey white as paper, with a red saddle adorned delightfully, clearly embossed with bars of gold, sat Dido all covered with gold and gems, and she as fair as the bright morning that heals the sick of the night’s sorrow. Upon a charger that leapt like flame (though one could turn him with a little bridle-bit) Aeneas sat, like Phoebus in his looks, so splendidly was he arrayed in his fashion; and governed his charger as he would, by the foamy bridle with a golden bit. 1209
And thus I let this noble queen ride forth in her hunting, with this Trojan by her. The herd of harts was found before long, with “Ho! Faster! Spur on! Loose the dogs! Loose them! Why won’t the lion come, or the bear, that I might meet him once with this spear?” Thus cried these young people, and on they went killing all these wild harts, and had them as they wished. 1217
Amid all this the heavens began to rumble, the thunder roared with grisly voice; down came the rain thick with hail and sleet and heaven’s fire; so sorely it frightened this noble queen and her attendants as well that each was glad to flee away. And in brief, to save her from the tempest she fled into a little cave, and with her went Aeneas also. I know not if any more went with them; the author makes no mention of that. 1228
And here began the deep devotion between the two of them; this was the first morning of their gladness, and the beginning of their sorrow. For there Aeneas so kneeled, and told her all his heart and his pain, and swore so deeply to be true to her in happiness or in woe, and to exchange her for no other–as a false lover so well knows how to make his plaint–that hapless Dido pitied his woe, and took him for a husband, to be his wife for evermore so long as they should live. And after this, when the tempest ceased, they came out in joy and went home. 1241
Evil Rumor arose, and arose quickly, how Aeneas had gone with the queen into the cave. And people judged as they wished. And when the king named Yrbas knew of it, since he had always loved her and wooed her, to win her as his wife, he made such sorrow and sad expressions that it was pitiful and heart-rending to see. But in love it happens ever so, that one shall laugh at another’s sorrow; now Aeneas laughs, and is in more bliss and wealth than ever he was in Troy. 1253
O unfortunate woman, innocent, full of pity, faith, and tenderness, why did you so trust men? Had you such pity upon their pretended woe, even though you had before you so many old examples? Do you not see how they all perjured themselves? Where do you see one who has not forsaken his beloved or been unkind or done to her some mischief or robbed her or boasted of his acts to her? You can see this as well as you can read it. 1263
Take heed now of this great gentleman, this Trojan, who so well knew how to please her, who pretended to be so true and yielding, so courteous and so discreet in his deeds; who knew so well how to perform all due observances, and attend her pleasure at dances and feasts and when she went to the temple and back again home; and who fasted until he had seen his lady, and wore in his heraldic devices I know not what for her sake; and who would compose songs, and joust and do many deeds at arms, and send her letters, tokens, brooches, rings. Now hear how he shall serve his lady! After he had been in peril of death from hunger and misadventures on the sea, and desolate, fugitive from his country, and all his company scattered by the tempest, she gave her body and her realm as well into his hand, when she might have been a queen of another land besides Carthage and lived in sufficiency of joy. What more would you want? 1284
This Aeneas, who had vowed so deeply, was weary of the business before long, and his hot earnestness had all blown by. Secretly he had his ships prepared and planned to steal away by night. This Dido suspected it and well thought that all was not right; for in the night he lay in his bed and sighed. Without delay she asked him what displeased him: “my dear heart, whom I love best?” 1293
“Surely,” he said, “this night my father’s spirit has so sorely troubled me in my sleep, and Mercury as well has delivered a message, that it is my destiny to sail soon for I must conquer Italy. For this it seems to me my heart is broken” With this his false tears burst forth, and he took her in his two arms. 1302
“Is that in earnest?” she said. “Will you do so? Have you not sworn to take me as your wife? Alas! What kind of a woman will you make of me! I am a gentlewoman and a queen! You will not thus foully flee from your wife? Alas, that I was born! What shall I do?” 1308
To tell it briefly, this noble Queen Dido sought shrines and made sacrifices; she knelt and cried so that it is pitiful to relate. She implores him and offers to be his slave, his servant of the lowest rank. She fell at his feet and swooned, her shining golden hair disheveled, and cried, “Have mercy! Let me go with you! These lords who are my neighbors will destroy me, only because of you. And, so you will take me now as your wife, as you have sworn, then I will give you leave to slay me with your sword right now this evening, for then I shall die wedded to you. I am with child: grant my child life! Mercy, lord! Have pity in your thought!” 1324
But all this was to no avail for her; for one night he let her lie sleeping and stole away to his followers, and as a traitor he sailed forth toward the great land of Italy. Thus he left Dido in woe and pain; and there he wedded a lady named Lavinia. 1331
He left a garment and his sword also standing right at the head of her bed, when he stole away from Dido in her sleep, so he hastened to reach his ships. This garment, when hapless Dido awoke, she kissed often for his sake, and said, “O you garment, so sweet while it pleased Jupiter, take my soul now, unbind me from this unrest! I have run through the whole course of fortune.” And then she swooned twenty times, without any aid from Aeneas. And when she had made her lament to her sister Anna–of which I cannot write, such pity I have to tell of it–she bade her nurse and her sister to go fetch fire and other things right away, and said she wished to make a sacrifice. And when she saw her time, she leaped on the sacrificial fire, and with his sword she stabbed herself to the heart. 1350
But before she was wounded, before she died, she said this, as my author tells; she wrote a letter without delay, which began in this way: “Just as the white swan,” she said, “begins to sing against the time of his death, so to you I make my lament; not that I hope to get you back, for well I know that is all in vain, because the gods are contrary to me. But since my good name is lost through you, I may well lose a word or a message upon you, albeit I shall be never better for that. For the same wind that blew away your ship has blown away your good faith.” But whosoever wishes to know this entire letter, let him read Ovid; there he shall find it. 1367
Explicit Legenda Didonis Martiris, Cartaginis Regine.
– – –
IV. The Legend of Hypsipyle and Medea
Incipit Legenda Ysiphile et Medee, martirum.
Duke Jason, you root of false lovers, you sly devourer and ruin of high-born women, tender creatures! You set your lures and your enticements for ladies with your stately appearance and your words stuffed with pleasantness, and your pretended fidelity, and your manner, and your obsequiousness and your humble bearing, and your counterfeited woe and pain. Where others are false to one, you are false to two! Ah, often did you swear you would perish for love, when you felt no illness except foul delight, which you call love! As long as I live, your name shall be spread far in English, so that your deceitfulness shall be known! Take that, Jason! 1383
Now the horn for the hunt is blown for you! But surely it is both a pity and woe that love so works with false lovers; for they shall find better love and better manners than he who has paid for his love dearly, or has had many bloody blows in fight. For the fox shall eat just as tender a capon, though he may be false and have deceived the fowl, as the head of the household shall, who has paid for that. Although he may have claim to the capon in reason and justice, the false fox will get his share in the dark. This example well fits Jason, as he dealt with Hypsipyle and with Medea the queen. 1395
In Thessaly, as Guido tells us, was a king named Pelias, who had a brother named Aeson; and when he could scarcely walk on account of his age, he gave Pelias the rule of his entire realm, and made him lord and king. Of this Aeson was begotten Jason, in whose time there was not in all that land a knight so renowned for gentility, nobility, strength, and vigor. After his father’s death he so bore himself that there was nobody who cared to be his foe, but gave him all his honor and sought after him. 1408
At this Pelias had great envy, imagining that Jason might be so exalted and put in such position by the love of the lords of his realm that he might remove him from his own throne. And in his mind by night he plotted how Jason might best be destroyed, without a scandal concerning his plot. And at last he determined to send him into some far country, where this Jason might perish. This was his devious plan, though he showed Jason all affection and loving appearance, lest his lords should detect the plan. 1422
Now it so happened, since fame spreads widely, that there were great tidings everywhere and many reports that in an island called Colchis, eastward in the sea beyond Troy, men might see a ram that had a fleece of gold so shining that nowhere was there another such sight. But it was always guarded by a dragon and many other marvels all around, and by two bulls made entirely of brass, which spat fire; and many other things were there. But nevertheless this was the tale, that whosoever wished to win that fleece, before he could win it, must fight both the bulls and the dragon. And king Aetes was lord of that island. 1438
This Pelias contemplated this plot, to exhort his nephew Jason to sail to that land to entertain himself. And so he said, “Nephew, if such an honor might come to you as to win this famous treasure and bring it into my land, it would be a great pleasure and honor to me. Then would I be bound to requite your labor. And I myself will pay all the expenses. Choose what people you will take with you. Let us see now, do you dare to take this voyage?” 1450
Jason was young and eager at heart, and undertook this enterprise. Soon Argus designed his ships. With Jason went the mighty Hercules, and many others whom he chose as well. But whosoever will ask who went with Jason, let him go read Argonauticon, for that will tell a tale that is long enough. Quickly Philoctetes hoisted the sail, when the wind was favorable, and they hastened themselves out of their country of Thessaly. Long they sailed the salty sea, until they arrived at the isle of Lemnos (albeit this is not related by Guido, yet Ovid in his Epistles says this), and of this isle the lady and queen was the fair young Hypsipyle, the shining-bright, who was daughter to Thoas, once the king. 1468
Hypsipyle was walking to entertain herself and, roaming upon the cliffs by the sea, before long she discovered where under a bank the ship of Jason had arrived. In her goodness she sent down speedily to know if any stranger had been blown there by storm during the night, that she might bring him aid, as it was her custom to assist every creature and do kindnesses from her very kindness and courtesy This messenger hurried down and came upon Jason and Hercules as well, who had arrived on land in a small boat, refreshing themselves and catching their breath. The morning was mild and fine. And on his way the messenger met these two lords and very discreetly greeted them and gave his message, asking them without delay if they were damaged or in any way distressed, or had need of a pilot or food; for they should in no way lack aid, since aid was wholly the queen’s will. 1490
Jason answered mildly and gently; he said, “I heartily thank my lady for her goodness; truly, we need nothing now, except that we are weary and have left the sea to entertain ourselves until the wind blows nearer our course.” 1496
This lady was roaming with her attendants along the shore by the cliff to entertain herself, and found this Jason and the other standing speaking of their business, as I have said. This Hercules and Jason beheld how this lady was the queen, and greeted her fairly as soon as they had met her. And she noted well, and knew by their fashion, by their array and words and looks, that they were men of noble birth and high degree. And she led these strangers to the castle with her, and did them great honor, and asked them about their labor and travail on the salty sea; so that within one day or two she knew from the people who were in the ships that they were Jason, full of renown, and Hercules, of great praise, that sought the adventures of Colchis. And she did them more honor than before, and the more time passed, the more she had to do with them, for in very truth they were worthy people. And she spoke most with Hercules; to him her heart inclined, for he seemed to be steadfast, wise, true, discreet of speech, and without any other attachment in love, or evil fancies. 1523
This Hercules so praised Jason that he exalted him to the sun, saying that there was not under the high canopy of heaven a man half so true in love; and he was wise, hardy, trusty, and rich. And in three more points there was none like him: in liberality and energy he surpassed all men, living or dead, and he was also truly nobly born and likely to be king of Thessaly. There was no fault, except that he was afraid of love, and shy in speech; he would rather murder himself and die than have men find him out to be a lover. “Would to almighty God I could give my flesh and blood, provided I would not die, if only he might find a wife somewhere, one of his degree; for such a gallant life she should lead with this gallant knight!” 15

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The Legend of Good Women – Modern Translation - GEOFFREY CHAUCER