marriage encomium in dialog with Lidia in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale

The Merchant’s Tale in Chaucer’s late-fourteenth-century Canterbury Tales includes a lengthy encomium to marriage. Neither the marriage-seeking knight January, nor the woefully married merchant, nor the distanced author Chaucer plausibly speaks this encomium. The Merchant’s Tale extensively uses intertextuality and dialog. Consistent with that formal structure, the voice of its marriage encomium is best understood to be the dominant ideology ridiculed in the twelfth-century Latin comedy Lidia.

Chaucer, The Merchant's Tale

In the Merchant’s Tale, the merchant begins his tale by speaking about a knight rooted in Pavia. The knight’s specific person, as indicated by his name, isn’t provided until much later in the tale. What matters most are his general geographic and personal characteristics:

Once there was dwelling in Lombardy
a worthy knight, who was born in Pavia,
in which he lived in great prosperity,
and for sixty years a wifeless man was he,
and he followed always his bodily delight
with women, just as was his appetite.

{ Whilom ther was dwellynge in Lumbardye
A worthy knyght, that born was of Pavye,
In which he lyved in greet prosperitee;
And sixty yeer a wyflees man was hee,
And folwed ay his bodily delyt
On wommen, ther as was his appetyt }[1]

Pavia was renowned as a city where men could readily have bodily delight with women.[2] But at age sixty, this knight ardently sought to marry:

And when he was passed sixty years,
were it for holiness or for dotage
I cannot say, but such a great desire
this knight has to be a wedded man
that day and night he does all he can
to discover where he might be wedded.

{ And whan that he was passed sixty yeer,
Were it for hoolynesse or for dotage
I kan nat seye, but swich a greet corage
Hadde this knyght to been a wedded man
That day and nyght he dooth al that he kan
T’espien where he myghte wedded be }

With transparent sarcasm, the merchant’s recounted the knight’s view of marriage:

“No other life,” said he, “is worth a bean,
for wedlock is so easy and so pure,
that in this world it is a paradise.”
Thus said this old knight, who was so wise.

{ “Noon oother lyf,” seyde he, “is worth a bene,
For wedlok is so esy and so clene,
That in this world it is a paradys.”
Thus seyde this olde knyght, that was so wys. }[3]

This old knight’s name is January. That name associates him with the coldness of a winter month. January’s new marital perspective, formed at age sixty, is only one view within the complex rhetoric of the Merchant’s Tale. The Merchant’s Tale is more a tapestry of debate about marriage than a tale about a particular knight.

Immediately following the knight’s description of wedlock as paradise comes the marriage encomium. Spanning 132 verses, it’s a first-personal text not quoted as speech. The marriage encomium is too rhetorically intricate to be interpreted well as ironic commentary. Upon careful study, it appears to be “ignorant folly” or “sheer idiocy.” The same might be said for the laws that mainly men have enacted to support gynocentrism. Not surprisingly, scholars have failed to attribute the marriage encomium convincingly.[4]

January surely doesn’t speak the marriage encomium. He’s a prosperous knight. He lacks the clerical learning that the encomium displays. Moreover, January’s words occur elsewhere as reported speech, while the marriage encomium isn’t reported speech. In addition, the verses concluding the encomium contain a first-personal reference to him. While January would believe and endorse the words of the marriage encomium, the formal structure of the text excludes him as a possible speaker.[5]

The narrating merchant wouldn’t plausibly speak the marriage encomium. The merchant’s lived experience of marriage was horrific:

“Weeping and wailing, grief and other sorrow
I know enough, in evening and morn,”
said the Merchant, “and so do many more
that have been wedded. I believe that it be so,
for well I know it fares so with me.
I have a wife, the worst that can be.
Even if the fiend were married to her,
she would outmatch him, I dare well swear.
Why should I rehearse to you in detail
her high malice? She is a shrew in all.”

{ “Wepyng and waylyng, care and oother sorwe
I knowe ynogh, on even and a-morwe,”
Quod the Marchant, “and so doon other mo
That wedded been. I trowe that it be so,
For wel I woot it fareth so with me.
I have a wyf, the worste that may be;
For thogh the feend to hire ycoupled were,
She wolde hym overmacche, I dar wel swere.
What sholde I yow reherce in special
Hir hye malice? She is a shrewe at al.” }

In Chaucer’s time, the fable of the extraordinarily meek and generous Griselda was circulating in versions that the eminent authors Petrarch and Boccaccio composed. The merchant recognized that Christ-like Griselda didn’t correspond to his wife:

There is a long and large difference
between Griselda’s great patience
and my wife’s surpassing cruelty.
Were I divorced, so I might prosper,
I would never again come into the snare.
We wedded men live in sorrow and care.

{ Ther is a long and large difference
Bitwix Grisildis grete pacience
And of my wyf the passyng crueltee.
Were I unbounden, also moot I thee,
I wolde nevere eft comen in the snare.
We wedded men lyven in sorwe and care. }

The early-thirteenth-century cleric Matheolus suffered similarly in his marriage to Petra. The merchant and Matheolus, as well as men capable of learning from similar lived experience, would know better than to utter an ideological encomium of marriage.[6]

Chaucer almost surely didn’t mean the marriage encomium to be understood as his own words. Chaucer intervening first-personally in the Canterbury Tales would undermine its formal narrative structure. Chaucer, moreover, has an elusive, ambiguous voice in his literary works. The marriage encomium, at least superficially, is mainly ideological praise of marriage from a clerical perspective.

In a voice quite unlike that of the marriage encomium, Chaucer wrote a letter of advice to a man named Bukton. Chaucer opined about marriage:

I will not say that it is the chain
of Satan, on which he gnaws forever,
but I dare to say, were he free of his pain,
he would by his will never be bound again.
But that doting fool who again would rather
be enchained than crawl out of prison,
God let him never from his woe be parted,
nor no man grieve for him, though he weep.

But yet, lest you do worse, take a wife.
Better it is to wed than to burn in a worse way.
But you shall have sorrow on your flesh, all your life,
and be your wife’s servant, as say those wise.
And if Holy Scripture may not suffice,
experience shall teach you, perhaps,
that you would be better be taken prisoner in Germany
than again fall into the trap of wedding.

{ I wol nat seyn how that yt is the cheyne
Of Sathanas, on which he gnaweth evere,
But I dar seyn, were he out of his peyne,
As by his wille he wolde be bounde nevere.
But thilke doted fool that eft hath levere
Ycheyned be than out of prison crepe,
God lete him never fro his wo dissevere,
Ne no man him bewayle, though he wepe.

But yet, lest thow do worse, take a wyf;
Bet ys to wedde than brenne in worse wise.
But thow shal have sorwe on thy flessh, thy lyf,
And ben thy wives thral, as seyn these wise;
And yf that hooly writ may nat suffyse,
Experience shal the teche, so may happe,
That the were lever to be take in Frise
Than efte to falle of weddynge in the trappe. }[7]

In this personal letter, Chaucer explicitly recognized husbands’ subservience to their wives. Interpreting the Wife of Bath’s Tale as he meant it, Chaucer declared:

If you are safe, put yourself not in dread.
The Wife of Bath I beg you that you read
on the matter that we have at hand.
God grant you your life freely to lead
in freedom, for it’s very hard to be a servant man.

{ If thow be siker, put the nat in drede.
The Wyf of Bathe I pray yow that ye rede
Of this matere that we have on honde.
God graunte yow your lyf frely to lede
In fredam, for ful hard is to be bonde. }

As a marginal courtier struggling to earn a living as a royal bureaucrat, Chaucer’s primary audience was ladies. He would write anything to please women. But the marriage encomium begins:

And certainly, as truly as God is king,
to take a wife — that is a glorious thing
and especially when a man is old and white-haired.
Then a wife is the best part of his treasure.
Then he should take a young and pretty wife,
with which he might engender himself an heir.

{ And certeinly, as sooth as God is kyng,
To take a wyf it is a glorious thyng,
And namely whan a man is oold and hoor;
Thanne is a wyf the fruyt of his tresor.
Thanne sholde he take a yong wyf and a feir,
On which he myghte engendren hym an heir }

That’s not a marriage encomium that would appeal to most women. Many women, especially today, prefer to marry in their thirties. Some of them say, “I’ve had my fun, and now I’m ready to marry.” Men need to be indoctrinated with marriage encomiums to be willing to marry women who perceive marriage not to be fun. The marriage encomium in the Merchant’s Tale is written for men, not women. It doesn’t represent Chaucer’s voice as he himself would speak to his mainly women readers.

The marriage encomium exhorts more than reasons. Its speaker recounts and summarily rejects words of Jerome’s wildly creative character Theophrastus:

“Take no wife,” said he, “for managing the household,
so as to be spare in your household expenditure.
A true servant has more diligence
to guard your goods than does your own wife,
for she will claim a half part all her life.
And if you be sick, may God have mercy,
your real friends, or a true servant,
will take care of you better than she that waits, yes,
to inherit your goods and has done so many a day.
And if you take a wife into your household,
you very easily can become a cuckold.”
This wisdom, and a hundred things worse,
writes this man. God his bones there curse!
But take no heed of all such foolishness.
Defy Theophrastus, and listen to me.

{ “Ne take no wyf,” quod he, “for housbondrye,
As for to spare in houshold thy dispence.
A trewe servant dooth moore diligence
Thy good to kepe than thyn owene wyf,
For she wol clayme half part al hir lyf.
And if thou be syk, so God me save,
Thy verray freendes, or a trewe knave,
Wol kepe thee bet than she that waiteth ay
After thy good and hath doon many a day.
And if thou take a wyf unto thyn hoold
Ful lightly maystow been a cokewold.”
This sentence, and an hundred thynges worse,
Writeth this man, ther God his bones corse!
But take no kep of al swich vanytee;
Deffie Theofraste, and herke me. }

For whatever work wives choose to do, they effectively earn half of what their husbands earn. If a wife casually cooks and cleans at home while a husband exerts himself elsewhere to earn a high income, she’s effectively a very highly paid casual home worker. In response to such obvious economics, the speaker of the marriage encomium calls Theophrastus ugly names and urges men, “Defy Theophrastus, and listen to me.” That’s not reasoned argument. It’s a claim for ideological allegiance.

The marriage encomium explicitly promotes men’s subservience to women in marriage. It declares:

If you would proceed as the wise,
do always as women would to you advise.

{… if thou wolt werken as the wyse,
Do alwey so as wommen wol thee rede. }[8]

Within gynocentric society, husbands are urged to submit to their wives:

Submit to your wife’s tongue, as Cato says.
She shall command, and you shall submit to it.

{ Suffre thy wyves tonge, as Catoun bit;
She shal comande, and thou shalt suffren it }

Like the generally acclaimed social convention of husbands attributing all their personal success to their wives, the marriage encomium reflects the ideological voice of gynocentric society.

The Merchant’s Tale contrasts the views of the brothers Placebo and Justinian. Placebo, whose name comes from the Latin word meaning “I please,” is a sycophantic courtier like today’s male anti-meninists. When January, eager to marry, asks Placebo and Justinian for counsel, Placebo declares:

My own dear brother and my lord,
as surely as God may bring my soul to rest,
I hold your own counsel is the best.
For, my brother, take from me this advice:
I have now been a courtier all my life,
and as God knows, though I am unworthy,
I have stood in very high degree
among lords of very high rank,
yet I never had with any of them disagreement.
Truly, I never contradicted them.
I know well that my lord knows more than I.
What he says, I consider that unshakably true.
I say the same, or else something similar.

{ Myn owene deere brother and my lord,
So wysly God my soule brynge at reste,
I holde youre owene conseil is the beste.
For, brother myn, of me taak this motyf:
I have now been a court-man al my lyf,
And God it woot, though I unworthy be,
I have stonden in ful greet degree
Abouten lordes of ful heigh estaat;
Yet hadde I nevere with noon of hem debaat.
I nevere hem contraried, trewely;
I woot wel that my lord kan moore than I.
What that he seith, I holde it ferme and stable;
I seye the same, or elles thyng semblable. }

Justinus, whose name comes from the Latin word meaning “merited,” offers specific, substantive advice:

I warn you well, it is no child’s play
to take a wife without deliberation.
One must inquire — this is my opinion —
whether she be wise, or sober, or given to drink,
or proud, or else otherwise a shrew,
a scold, or a waster of your goods,
or rich, or poor, or else man-mad.

{ I warne yow wel, it is no childes pley
To take a wyf withouten avysement.
Men moste enquere — this is myn assent —
Wher she be wys, or sobre, or dronkelewe,
Or proud, or elles ootherweys a shrewe,
A chidestere, or wastour of thy good,
Or riche, or poore, or elles mannyssh wood. }

Medieval men recognized medieval women’s strong sexuality. Moreover, spouses in medieval Europe were morally obligated to have sex with each other even if one didn’t feel like it. Justinus thus warns January:

Consider for yourself, you being a man of advanced age,
how it is that you enter into marriage,
and especially with a young and pretty wife.
By Him that made water, earth, and air,
the youngest man that is in all this company
is busy enough to bring it about
to satisfy his wife alone. Trust me,
you shall not please her fully three years,
that is to say, to do her full pleasure.
A wife requires very many honorings.

{ Avyseth yow — ye been a man of age —
How that ye entren into mariage,
And namely with a yong wyf and a fair.
By hym that made water, erthe, and air,
The yongeste man that is in al this route
Is bisy ynough to bryngen it aboute
To han his wyf allone. Trusteth me,
Ye shul nat plesen hire fully yeres thre —
This is to seyn, to doon hire ful plesaunce.
A wyf axeth ful many an observaunce. }

Just as January superficially dismissed Theophrastus’s wisdom about marriage, Placebo trivializes Justinus’s advice and attacks him personally:

“I say it is a cursed man,” said he,
“that hinders matrimony, certainly.”

{ “I seye it is a cursed man,” quod he,
“That hinders matrimony, certainly.” }

Placebo doesn’t encourage January to think carefully about his desire to marry. Gynocentric society similarly marginalizes real, substantive legal absurdities associated with marriage.

Setting up an implicit contrast with Matheolus’s thirteenth-century representation of marriage, January imagines marriage to be bliss rivaling that of Heaven. January thus wonders:

How then should I, who live in such pleasure
as all wedded men do with her wives,
come to the bliss where Christ lives eternally?

{ How sholde I thanne, that lyve in swich plesaunce
As alle wedded men doon with hire wyvys,
Come to the blisse ther Crist eterne on lyve ys? }

Learned enough to recognize January’s folly, Justinus plays out Matheolus’s story:

Perhaps she may be your Purgatory!
She may be God’s means and God’s whip.
Then shall your soul up to Heaven skip
swifter than does an arrow out of a bow.

{ Paraunter she may be youre purgatorie!
She may be Goddes meene and Goddes whippe;
Thanne shal youre soule up to hevene skippe
Swifter than dooth an arwe out of a bowe. }

Chaucer didn’t want to give Matheolus all the credit for depicting many men’s lived experience of marriage. Just as he did in his letter of advice to Bukton on marriage, Chaucer has Justinus refer to the Wife of Bath’s Tale:

But let us wade out of this matter.
The Wife of Bath, if you have understood her
regarding marriage, which we have on hand,
has declared full well in few words.

{ But lat us waden out of this mateere.
The Wyf of Bathe, if ye han understonde,
Of mariage, which we have on honde,
Declared hath ful wel in litel space. }

Voices from other texts are vitally important to the Merchant’s Tale. With Placebo and Justinus, just as with Pluto and Proserpina, the Merchant’s Tale engages extensively in intertextual references and dialog.[9]

The dialogic counterpart to the marriage encomium in the Merchant’s Tale is the twelfth-century Latin comedy Lidia. In that comedy, the duchess Lidia is married to the duke Decius. But she burns in love for the knight Pearus, who owes loyalty to his lord Decius. Lidia is like her husband’s royal hall:

The duke’s hall is large. Since she is shameless, she receives all.
The doorkeeper invites, a broad path is made, the door is open.
One after another arrives, and as usual, is received.
The hammer sounds on the anvil three or four times.
She sustains the banging and opens the furnace wider.
She invites Pearus to press upon her thighs in this way.
She asks, he denies. She ardently desires what he refuses,
and she solicits the man, she a woman false to her husband.

{ Aula ducis larga est; quia non pudet, accipit omnes.
Janitor invitat, fit via, porta patet.
Unum post alium, quod adest, de more, receptat.
Malleus incudi terque quaterque sonat.
Sustinet hos et adhuc aperit fabrilia quassans.
Invitat Pirrum ut premat ille femur.
Haec rogat, ille negat; tamen haec quod hic invidet optat.
Sollicitatque virum femina falsa viro. }[10]

Lidia’s servant Lusca, acting as a go-between, attempts to coerce Pearus by analogizing him to Hippolytus:

Pearus is like Hippolytus; Lidia is Phaedra.
The old minds’ ruses and a stepmother’s torments
you too, Pearus, can know and properly seek to avoid.
But the virtuous Diana doesn’t avenge every illicit deed:
only once was a man scarcely restored to life.
A woman can do much and so can cause much evil.
The similar example that you have should cause you fear.

{ Pirrus ut Ypolitus, Lidia Phaedra manet;
Tuque dolos animi veteres stimulosque novercae
Nosse potes, Pirre, quaere cavere decet.
Non saepe Triviae virtus ulciscitur actum
Illicitum; semel est vix redivivus homo:
Femina multa potest, et sic mala multa movere:
Exemplo simili quod verearis habes. }

Lidia is Pearus’s mother in the sense that she is the lady of the house and has authority over him. Phaedra’s false accusation of seduction against Hippolytus led to his death. Not having sex with Lidia thus implies a death threat to Pearus. But having sex with her is tantamount to treason against his lord Decius.

Pearus ponders this deadly trap of sexual coercion. He creates a justification for himself with his observation: “A sexually strong woman has an impotent husband {debilitate viri femina fortis adest}.” He asks Lusca whether Lidia could deceive Decius. She answers with a general characterization of Lidia’s marriage:

What a wonder you arouse! She determines her husband’s mind.
She knows how the duke’s foolishness allows him to be led.

{ Quam miranda moves! Mentem gerit illa mariti,
Quaque valet duci scit levitate ducis. }

Men’s subservience to women is a social injustice and a general catastrophe. Pearus as a man considers the extent to which he could abase his fellow man:

Pearus said, “If the duke himself is no man in bed,
since she demands love, she should ask for Pearus’s additional service.
With three tests I will seek proof.” And he explains to her the three.
“The duke loves his falcon. Nothing is dearer to him than it.
The eminent duke’s care concentrates in play with this bird.
I want her to destroy it. If she cannot conquer it,
I don’t believe that she’ll be able to deceive her husband easily.
And if she would pluck five hairs from the wool of his beard,
she will attract more quickly the one she wishes to attract with her prayers.
In addition, let her pull out from his teeth one that she wants.
If she does these deeds, her inclination will be made worthy of my favor.”

{ Pirrus ait, “Si dux sit sibi nullus homo,
Augmentum poscat Pirri quod poscit amorem.
His tribus experiar.” Et docet illa tria:
“Dux amat accipitrem, nec quid sibi carius illo;
Alludit celebris hac ave cura ducis.
Hanc volo quod perimat; hanc si non vindicet illa,
Ne credat leviter fallere posse virum.
Et si quinque pilos barbae de vellere vellat,
Quem trahit his precibus citius illa trahet.
Insuper excutiat quem vult de dentibus unum.
Si facit haec, faciet digna favore favor.” }

All three tests symbolize destroying Decius’s sexuality. The duke’s bird is a figure for his genitals. While the duke apparently isn’t able to perform in bed for his wife, the duke seems to enjoy playing with himself. A man’s beard, like his genital hair, represents his sexual maturity. A tooth is a protruding, hard body-part used in the pleasurable activity of eating. Medieval culture closely associated eating with sex. In short, the three tests represent Lidia brutally imposing castration culture on her husband Decius.

Lidia regards Pearus’s tests as assuring her that she will have his sexual service. News of his proposition revives her from wasting away in love-sickness:

She is totally ravished as she desires to be ravished.
As soon as her vigor has returned, she opens her eyes.
Immediately a rosy glow adorns her face.
She’s made worthy, her face smiles, and light plays in her eyes.
Responding to his wishes, happy, she ravishes herself:
“What Pearus requests, what he wishes,” she says, “Let it be
proven! Although this matter is weighty, what can it be to me?
Approach, hurry, watch! It’s pleasing that he experience
what a woman can do when love-frenzy torments her.”

{ Tota sibi rapitur qua cupit ilia rapi.
Mox vigor ut rediit, aperit sua lumina vultus;
Inde sequens roseus purpurat ora nitor;
Fitque decens, ridet facies, lux ludit ocellis;
Respondens votis, se sibi, laeta, rapit:
“Quod poscit Pirrus, quod vult,” ait illa, “probari,
Sit! Licet hoc gravius quid posset esse mihi?
Accedat, properet, videat! Placet experiatur
Femina quod possit cum furor angit eam.” }

Men need to understand that women are just as evil and toxic as men are. Gynocentric society nourishes men with delusions of wonderfully pure women and marriage encomiums. Lidia offers men a contrasting perspective.

Would January in the Merchant’s Tale have ardently sought to marry if he had known how Lidia treated her husband Decius? Here’s what she did:

While Decius plays, while he cheerfully handles serious matters,
and the duke’s halls hum with various motions,
and lutes and the people sound odes of song,
and the melodious strings of the lyre soothe with tunes,
proud Lidia, festively dressed, emerges from the marital bedroom.
She jealously seizes the bird where it sits:
“I’m worse off than this bird,” she says, “I’m tormented and oppressed
night and day. It’s shameful to be able to suffer many wrongs.
Forests please him more than our bedroom. Fields please him more than our bed.
The care of the duke is more glade and ravine than me.
Not with impunity will he so carry forth. It will be tested with merited reason
whether to himself Lidia is more preferable than is the bird.
She speaks and twists the neck of the falcon. Unable to breath,
it falls. Pearus, noting her daring, is dumbfounded.
The crowd also becomes silent. He glances at her;
one to the other, eye negotiates with eye.
Laughing, she conceals her guile, employing such words:
“Duke, I wish, if you wish, we go to the marital bedroom. Henceforth forsake the groves.”
With this reminding, her tender arms from below wrap around Decius.
Playing her usual ways, Lidia nuzzles him.

{ Dum Decius ludit, dum tractat seria laetus,
Dumque strepit variis motibus aula ducis,
Dumque sonant citharae, populus dum carminis odas,
Dumque melos mulcent consona fila lyrae,
Egreditur thalamo, sollempni veste superba,
Lidia; qua sedit, emula captat avem:
“Hac ave sum pejor,” inquit, “cruciorque premorque
Nocte, die; pudor est tot mala posse pati.
Plus thalamo silva placet, plus placet herba cubili.
Plus nemoris saltus quam mea cura duci.
Non impune feret; meriti ratione probabit
An potior sibi sit Lidia quam sit avis.”
Dixit et accipitris collum detorquet: anhelans
Ille cadit. Pirrus obstupet, ausa notans.
Cetera turba silet; tamen hic succernitur illi;
Alter in alterius lumine lumen agit.
Palliat illa dolum subridens, talibus usa:
“Dux, volo sis thalamis; ammodo linque nemus.”
Haec memorans, teneris Decio subnectitur ulnis;
More suo ludens, Lidia lambit eum. }

Women easily manipulate men starved for affection from women. Lidia continues to manipulate and abuse Decius:

While she plays and nuzzles with her husband, while Lidia fastens on him
kisses, she feels the duke’s barbarous beard.
She rushes to his face, conscious of Lusca’s words.
Made mindful, she plucks out five hairs from his beard.
The duke, as if shaken from sleep, tugs at the hairs’ hurt spot
and tugs and rubs forward with his moving hand.
With an astute exertion of fraud, Lidia begins to speak
and she acts with her usual guile:
“Untimely gray hairs falsify your years.
Old age touches these to you, duke, before your days.
Your beard which was before discolored is now youthful.
With these three hairs pulled out, behold, it’s all one color!”
She speaks and, soothing his mind, throws her arms around his neck,
and she hugs him as he desires to be hugged.
The duke, trusting in these blandishments and deceitful love,
indulges the deeds of his wife and is silent.

{ Dum ludit lambitque virum, dum Lydia figit
oscula, sentitur barbara barba ducis.
Corruit in vultum, verborum conscia Luscae;
Fit memor, et quinos succutit inde pilos.
Dux, velut excussus sompno, loca laesa pilorum
Tractat et admota tractat agitque manu.
Fraudis ut astuta molimine Lydia fari
Incipit et solitis occupat acta dolis:
“Intempestivi fallunt tua tempora cani;
haec tibi, dux, aetas contigit ante diem;
Barba tibi juveni fuerat quae discolor ante,
His tribus ereptis, concolor ecce manet.”
Dixit, et emulcens animum sua brachia collo
Jactat, et illa premit quae cupit ille premi.
His dux blanditiis et ficto fretus amore,
indulget factis conjugis atque silet. }

Men throughout history have been similarly silenced. Today, while eminent women authorities at the commanding heights of the classical propaganda apparatus trumpet the silencing of women, even writing about men being historically silenced is silenced.

Lidia goes on to extract a tooth from Decius. She falsely tells Decius’s cup-bearers that they have bad breath. Jealous of each other, these young men falsely confirm to each other their bad breath. When pouring wine for Decius, they now turn their faces far from his cup. Decius notes this abrupt change in behavior, yet he’s too embarrassed to ask why they’re shunning him. He questions his wife in private about this matter:

She stirs up a pallor for a sickly face on the outside
while guarding inward joy, and she sadly says:
“Thus far what Lidia alone knew in the marital bedroom
now moves the people’s mouth, now the royal hall agitates the evil.
I’m hindered, I waver about what to do, whether to be silent or to speak
I don’t know.” The duke says, “Lidia, expand upon it to me!”
“With what face would I expand upon it, with what voice would I myself speak
about your shame, which I confess is more truly my very own?
Do you insist that I do so?” “I want you to,” the duke says. Groaning, she
begins to speak with her mouth, having found the place for deception:
“Your mouth, duke, brings forth a foul smell. It’s noticed and thus
testifies to the young men’s behavior. With them being silent, I’ll speak.”
Decius is amazed. He’s silent and groans. His sickly voice
wanders without voice. His voice loses its own way.
He repeatedly strokes his throat, his mouth expands, and he exhales.
The duke with difficulty is credulous about his own mouth.

{ Illa foris vultu pallorem suscitat aegro,
Interius servans gaudia, tristis ait:
“Hactenus in thalamo quod novit Lidia sola,
“Nunc, agit os populi, nunc quatit aula malum.
Impedior, quid agam dubito, sileamve loquarve
Nescio.” Dux inquit, “Lidia, pande mihi!”
“Pandam quo vultu, dicam qua voce pudorem
Ipsa tuum (fateor verius ipsa meum)?
Vis tamen ut dandam?” “Volo,” dux ait. Illa, gementi
Incipit ore loqui, fallere nacta locum:
“Os tibi, dux, olidum fetet: sensitur et illud
Testatur pubes; pube tacente, loquor.”
Miratur Decius; silet et gemit; aegra vagatur
Vox sine voce, viam perdidit illa suam.
Saepe manu mulcet fauces, os pandit et halat;
Vix est dux de se credulus ore sibi.}

By pathologizing men’s being, evil women silence men.

Decius receives even further abuse from his wife Lidia. She, offensively unforgiving, declares, “If your tooth offends you, it should be plucked out {Si tibi dens noceat, vellatur}.”[11] She then summons Pearus to help with this operation. Lidia is active while Decius is passive and Pearus watches:

See, as much pain as oppresses him, that much work oppresses her!
The duke groans and suffers, perhaps as a witness with a bloody injury.
She attacks him much more sharply, shaking with her exertion.
At last the tooth is yanked out and jumps from his mouth.
For those things that she has ravished, she gives compensation with words
— that he shouldn’t suffer further, yet he suffers more.

{ En, quantus dolor hunc urget, quantus labor illam!
Dux gemit et, forsan teste cruore, dolet.
Acrius insurgit multo conamine quassus;
Excutitur demum dens et ab ore salit.
Quae rapuit rebus, sibi dat solatia verbis,
Ultra ne doleat, plus tamen ille dolet. }

Pearus is filled with awe at what Lidia has done. To the “great father of the gods {summe pater divum},” Pearus praises Lidia as greater than classics.[12]

Lidia even abuses her husband further. She explains:

That is nothing at all. What you, Pearus, have observed is nothing.
What Lidia can do to her husband, Pearus, you further will see.
Since I know that the duke is capable of being led into greater folly,
although he himself will see, he will regard having seen to be nothing.
If he catches me with you in the act of sexual intercourse,
he won’t believe his eyes. Thus I wish, and thus I forbid it to be otherwise.

{ Haec sunt nulla quidem; nihil est quod, Pirre, notasti;
Lidia quae poterit, Pirre, videbis adhuc.
Nam scio posse ducem potius per inania duci,
Ipse licet videat visa putare nihil.
Quod si me Veneris tecum deprendet in actu,
Non oculis credet; sic volo, sicque veto. }

Pearus urges her on to this greater triumph.[13]

Lidia feigns sickness. She has Decius and Pearus lead her into a lush garden bearing fruit in the spring. The maid Lusca follows, laughing and making hand-signs mocking Decius as a cuckold. Decius commands Pearus to climb a pear tree and gather its fruit. Lusca adds:

Now shake pears from a better pear tree, Pearus.

{ Jam meliore piro succute, Pirre, pira. }

Pearus then plays his part for Decius:

“Spare me, I beg you,” Pearus cries. “Spare my modesty.
Thrusting isn’t honorable to do in this place.
This love is too hasty. This isn’t sane desire.
Duke, Lidia, elsewhere one can breathe heavily and be banging.
There are martial bedrooms for you, duke. Those places are suitable for such acts.
Do it, but let me not see a deed of rusticity.”

{ “Parce, precor,” Pirrus clamat, “dux, parce pudorem;
Non honor est istis sollicitare locis.
Hic amor est praeceps; hoc est non sana libido;
Lidia, dux, alibi posset anhela quati.
Sunt tibi, dux, thalami; sunt et loca talibus apta;
Fac, sed ne videam rusticitatis opus.” }

The duke wonders about this silliness. Lidia opines that the pear tree is defective and that height distorts vision. Pearus climbs down from the tree. On the ground he continues to beg for mercy. The duke mistakenly seeks to get to the bottom of the matter:

The duke says: “I’ll test this. So often illusions are false!
I’ll establish whether Pirrus or the pear tree arouses this silliness.”
Both the duke and Pirrus mount simultaneously, both breathing heavily.
This one climbs branches. That one goes under legs.
Labor engages both, but the latter labors happily.
While this one bangs the pear tree, that one shakes the thigh.
Decius wonders and hesitates, scarcely believing himself.
The more certain he is about what he’s seeing, the more he’s stunned with uncertainty.

{ Dux ait: “Experiar (totiens fantasmata fallunt!)
An moveat Pirrus ludicra sive pirus.”
Scandit uterque simul at dux et Pirrus anhelans;
Hic repit ramis, cruribus ille subit.
Est in utroque labor, laetus tamen ille laborat:
Dum quatit iste pirum, concutit ille femur.
Miratur Decius et vix sibi credulus haeret.
Plus stupet incertis certior illa videns. }[14]

Decius doesn’t know whether his eyes are playing tricks on him or if he’s dreaming. He’s confused and frustrated:

Attributing what he sees to the branches, Decius tears and bangs them.
Often indeed, pears from the pear tree fall by Pearus.
Both the duke and Pearus therefore dismount quickly,
each eager to deceive about what the other has eagerly done.

{ Imputat hec ramis Decius frangitque quatitque:
Saepe quidem, Pirro sunt pira missa piro.
Labitur ergo citus, et dux et Pirrus uterque
Alterius studio fallere facta studens. }

Deceiving himself about what he has actually seen after climbing the pear tree, the duke declares that he’s either maddened or deceived. Lidia in turn explains:

It’s not Pearus that moves me, but certainly the pear tree.

{ Nec Pirrus me movet, immo pirus. }

With great appreciation for gardening and fruit in medieval Europe, a pear tree apparently also meant an erect penis, and pears, semen.[15] The duke believes that he saw an illusion. Lidia blames that illusion on the pear tree. She declares that it should be cut down. Obeying his wife, Decius duly issues that order, and so it’s done. Lidia thus ironically associates the horror of castration culture with the natural masculine process of detumescence.

The Merchant’s Tale enacts a less sensational version of the pear tree incident in Lidia. In Chaucer’s tale, the young wife May takes the place of Lidia, May’s husband January updates Decius, and the squire Damian acts like the knight Pearus. Just as in Lidia, the wife, feigning sickness, goes into a garden that has a fruiting pear tree. But in the Merchant’s Tale, the wife seeks pears, and the husband sends his subordinate man up the tree to provide pears. Chaucer explicitly represents May’s verbal dominance, January’s subservience to her, and men’s self-abasement leading to cuckolding:

He stoops down, and on his back she stood,
and she grabbed a branch, and up she goes.
(Ladies, I pray you that you not be angry.
I cannot word-plaster. I am an unlearned man.)
And suddenly at once this Damian
pulled up her smock and in he thrust.

{ He stoupeth doun, and on his bak she stood,
And caughte hire by a twiste, and up she gooth —
Ladyes, I prey yow that ye be nat wrooth;
I kan nat glose, I am a rude man —
And sodeynly anon this Damyan
Gan pullen up the smok, and in he throng. }[16]

The recently blind January looks up and sees his wife May and his squire Damian having sex in the pear tree. May claims that she has struggled with a man in the tree so as to win the blessing of removing January’s blindness. January responds that she didn’t “struggle {strugle}” with a man: “He screwed you {he swyved thee}.” That’s a false, disparaging, anti-meninist representation of heterosexual intercourse.

The wife May laments that even though her husband January’s sight is still imperfect, he should be grateful for her curing kindness. He immediately apologizes for his ignorance and his lack of appreciation for her care for him. When she climbs down from the tree, he kisses her, hugs her, and softly strokes her womb. The husband under his wife’s prompting thus recognizes that he was wrong. Dominant gynocentric ideology so deludes men into believing.

Thibaut, Romance of the Pear, illumination of couple beneath pear tree

Dominant gynocentric ideology speaks the marriage encomium in the Merchant’s Tale. The earlier Latin comedy Lidia transgressively engages with that dominant ideology. Lidia includes a classical lament for marriage:

What is marriage now, what are spousal vows now,
what good to cohabiting is conferred by marital law?
Nowhere is Penelope, nowhere is Lucretia, as was before.
Both could be neither anywhere today.
With such, all evil mounts, as is seen repeatedly
by the law that a wanton Thais follows another Thais.
Loyalty is little today, and thus less in women.
If you present all women, no Sabine woman remains.
Only outwardly is she loyal to her husband. If you search further,
you will find poisons in her pleasant wind.

{ Quid nunc conjugium, quid nunc sponsalia jura,
Quid confert socii gratia lege thori?
Nusquam Penelope, nusquam Lucretia dudum;
Utraque neutra quaelibet esse potest.
A simili subit omne malum, repetique videtur
Illicita Thaydis altera lege Thays.
Parva fides hodie, minor est inde in muliere:
Omnes si muneres, nulla Sabina manet.
Sola viro fida frons est; si cetera quaeris,
Invenies zephyro blanda venena suo. }[17]

Under gynocentrism, men have always impotently lamented their difficulties in marriage. Even in classical Rome, Roman men were reluctant to marry. Nonetheless, encomiums to marriage have long been socially dominant. A golden age of marriage will factually arise only in a progressive future in which gynocentrism is overthrown, criticism of women becomes as socially acceptable as criticism of men, and at last true gender equality is realized.

Scholars have recognized the contradictions and absurdities of the marriage encomium in the Merchant’s Tale, but they haven’t similarly recognized the contradictions and absurdities of gynocentrism. Today’s elites have declared violence against women to be “the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world.” But violence against men, normalized as merely “violence,” is far more prevalent than violence against women. While eagerly labeling as rapists fictional characters in classical and medieval literature, scholars complacently embrace willful ignorance of sexual violence against real men. Men today endure acute anti-men gender bias in criminal justice and imprisonment, are deprived of any reproductive rights whatsoever, and suffer massive anti-men sex discrimination in child-custody and child-support rulings. A man’s voice speaks the marriage encomium in the Merchant’s Tale, which the man author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote. So what? Those gender facts indicate men’s complicity.[18] Gynocentrism would not endure without men’s support.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, Canturybury Tales, vv. 1245-50, from the Merchant’s Tale, Middle English text from Benson (1987) via Harvard’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website (pioneered by Larry Benson), my English modernization, benefiting from that of id.

Subsequent quotes above from the Merchant’s Tale are similarly sourced. They are vv. 1252-7 (And when he was passed sixty years…), 1263-6 (No other life…), 1213-22 (Weeping and wailing…), 1223-8 (Ther is a long and large difference…), 1267-72 (And certainly, as truly as God is king…), 1296-1310 (Take no wife…), 1360-1 (If you would proceed as the wise…), 1377-8 (Submit to your wife’s tongue…), 1488-1500 (My own dear brother…), 1530-6 (I warn you well…), 1555-64 (Consider for yourself…), 1572-3 (I say it is a cursed man…), 1650-2 (How should I then…), 1670-3 (Perhaps she may be your Purgatory…), 1684-7 (But let us wade out of this matter…), 2348-53 (He stoops down…), 2378 (He screwed you).

[2] Medieval Lombardy was reputed to value highly commerce. Lombards competed with the English in the medieval wool and finance industries. Olson (1961a). In addition to representing the general commercial values of medieval Lombardy, Pavia also embodied them in sexual intercourse with beautiful women. Brown observed:

As commercial Lombardy perfectly mirrors Januarie’s essentially commercial values, so, I hope to show, Pavia serves as a measure of his sensuality.

Brown (1970) p. 655. These Pavian values apparently date from no later than the ninth century. On Pavia and beautiful women, see my post on the late-eleventh-century Versus Eporedienses.

[3] For many decades, January enjoyed the opportunity in Pavia to possess sexually attractive women. Delusions about marriage prompt January to marry May. Olson argued:

January’s love of May is like the love of possession; it is the love of possession not as one among many goods but as the highest good.

Olson (1961b) p. 208. The highest good to January isn’t May’s love (which he doesn’t have), nor May’s sexuality (which she provides perfunctorily), but marriage. January’s choice of a wife is an abstract formality. Like many women today who decide that they want to acquire a husband, January decided to acquire a wife. In either case, the specific person acquired matters less than the desire to be married.

Fyler tendentiously misinterpreted January’s sexual status. He declared:

Pluto unsurprisingly feels sympathy for his kindred senex amans, ‘this olde, blynde, worthy knyght’ (2259), another rapist constrained to the role of aggrieved husband.

Fyler (2018) p. 42. Living in Pavia, January certainly wasn’t “constrained to the role of aggrieved husband” in order to exercise his heterosexuality. By labeling the senex amans January and Pluto (Dis) as rapists, Fyler gained the benefit of signaling his support for dominant ideology. Fyler thus promoted gender bigotry and the men-incarcerating carceral state.

[4] The marriage encomium is found in the Merchant’s Tale, vv. 1267-1398. One might plausibly exclude vv. 1393-8. While conventionally called an encomium, it has diverse rhetorical characteristics:

The rhetoric of the passage is not that of simple encomium but of argument and exhortation, with strong indications of a sermon model.

Benson (1979) p. 57.

The short quotes characterizing the absurdity of the marriage encomium are from Pugh (2017) pp. 484, 496. Fyler (2018) argues that the marriage encomium “presents an example of irony as alieniloquium that is unparalleled elsewhere in Chaucer’s poetry.” Id. p. 23. The babble of strangers, however, doesn’t well represent the highly controlled rhetoric of irony.

Benson (1979), pp. 49-51, reviews unsatisfactory scholarly attempts to attribute the marriage encomium. It’s “one of the most problematical passages in the Canterbury Tales”; “a major Chaucerian crux, a tantalizing anomaly in a rich and powerful work of art.” Id. pp. 48, 59. Benson didn’t resolve this crux. Neither has subsequent scholarship. See, e.g. Edwards (1991) p. 357; Pugh (2017) p. 480.

[5] Subsequent to the marriage encomium, January declares:

I ‘m not senile. I know the cause why
men should wed.

{ I dote nat; I woot the cause why
Men sholde wedde … }

Merchant’s Tale, vv. 1441-2. If January spoke the marriage encomium, or even if it were just meant to reflect his known thoughts, he would have no need to make this subsequent statement.

[6] Turner provided an inaccurate, anti-meninist interpretation of the merchant:

The man we meet in the prologue to the Merchant’s Tale is the very embodiment of what we today might call toxic masculinity: reactive, bitter, and staunchly anti-feminist, the Merchant’s hyperbolic critique of womanhood in general and his own wife in particular is very nearly a parody of itself as he asserts that his spouse would give even the devil himself a run for his money.

Turner (2018). In his prologue, the merchant doesn’t provide a “hyperbolic critique of womanhood in general.” He doesn’t even address womanhood in general. He describes his lived experience of marriage. Men should be permitted and encouraged to express their feelings. The merchant’s prologue provides “an impulsive and direct expression of bitter personal disillusionment.” Jordan (1968) pp. 133-4. Without good reason, Turner authoritatively smears the merchant as an “anti-feminist wife-hater.” See id., in section “Transformation,” which provides questions for students.

Stevens, in contrast, appropriately questioned:

Why in a Tale that seems to spring from the ‘[w]epyng and waylyng’ (IV, 1213) brought on by a shrewish wife, is the injured husband treated with every bit as much disdain as his erring wife?

Stevens (2018). The text of the Merchant’s Tale itself suggests an answer: Chaucer feared angering women. See, e.g. Merchant’s Tale, v. 2350.

[7] Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Letter of Chaucer to Bukton {Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton},” stanzas 2-3 (vv. 9-24), Middle English text from Benson (1987), my modern English version. Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:9. The subsequent quote above is similarly from this letter, vv. 28-32 (in stanza 3). Richard Scott-Robinson at eleusinianm provides modernized English prose for the whole letter, with helpful notes and comments. According to the Bukton entry in the Chaucer Name Directory, Chaucer directed this verse letter sometime after 1396 to either the courtier Sir Peter Bukton or the courtier Sir Robert Bukton.

[8] Underscoring the ideological imperative that men obey their wives, the marriage encomium blames a husband’s disobedience for his wife deceiving him:

He may not be deceived, as I guess,
providing that he work according to his wife’s advice.

{ He may nat be deceyved, as I gesse,
So that he werke after his wyves reed. }

Merchant’s Tale, vv. 1356-7. An implied context is husbands’ sexually serving wives and wives cuckolding husbands. In the Bible, Paul instructs both spouses to be subservient to each other. He specifically instructs wives to be subservient to their husbands and husbands to love their wives to the extent of allowing themselves to be crucified. Ephesians 5:21-29.

[9] Among intertextual citations not yet mentioned, January urges May to love in a garden with a paraphrase (vv. 2138-48) from the Song of Songs of the Hebrew Bible. The narrating merchant refers explicitly (v. 2032) to the Romance of the Rose, as well as to (v. 1810-11) Constantinus Africanus’s Book of Sexual Intercourse {Liber de coitu}. The merchant also refers to (vv. 1732-5) Martianus Capella’s On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury {De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii}.

[10] Arnulf of Orleans, Lidia / Comedy of Lidia {Comoedia Lydiae}, vv. 121-38, Latin text (with some additional normalization) from Lackenbacher (1931), my English translation, benefiting from those of Elliott (1984), Crawford (1977), and Benson & Andersson (1971). The current best Latin text (not available to me) is Gualandri & Orlandi (1998). For a freely accessible Latin text, du Méril (1854).

For “aula ducis {the duke’s hall}” in v. 121, the Vienna manuscript has the gloss “his wife’s vagina {membrum uxoris suae}.” In v. 122, “doorkeeper {janitor)” is similarly glossed, “wife {uxor}.” See relevant notes in du Méril (1854) p. 357. The hammer and anvil in v. 124-5 refer to male and female genitalia. Alan of Lille’s About the Complaint of Nature {De planctu naturae}, composed between 1160 and 1180, repeatedly uses the hammer and anvil as figures for male and female genitalia. For a Latin text and translation, Wetherbee (2013). Jean de Meun used a hammer and anvil to represent Nature creating new human beings in his late-thirteenth-century continuation of The Romance of the Rose {Le Roman de la Rose}.

Lidia is thought to have been composed about 1175. Once attributed to Matthew of Vendôme {Matthaeus Vindocinensis}, it’s now generally regarded as a work of Arnulf of Orleans {Arnulfus Aurelianensis}. Arnulf was a grammarian who taught classics, particular Ovid. He apparently was associated with the monastery of Saint-Euverte in Orleans, France. The twelfth-century Latin comedy The Braggart Soldier {Miles gloriosus} is also attributed to Arnulf. The introductory verses of Lidia claim that it will outdo the Latin comedy Geta.

Lidia survives in only two fourteenth-century manuscripts: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, 312, f. 31-40; and Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plutei, XXXIII. 31, f. 71v-73v. Boccaccio may have written the Florence manuscript. In any case, he adapted Lidia into the similar story of Nicostrato and Lidia in Decameron 7.9.

Within the twelfth-century Old French Romance of the Seven Sages of Rome {Roman des Sept Sages de Rome}, the story known as Tentamina is closely associated with Lidia. In Tentamina, an elderly vavasor, after his first wife died, married a young woman. The young woman is unsatisfied with her elderly husband’s sexual service to her. She thus tells her mother that she wants to take a young lover. The mother warns her daughter to test her husband’s indulgence of her before she engages in adultery. The mother suggests that the daughter cut down her husband’s favorite pear tree and burn it. So her daughter did. Her husband forgives her. Then she kills his favorite possession, a female greyhound. While he’s furious at his wife’s action, he does nothing in response. Then she overturns a full table at a feast for Pentecost. The husband finally takes action. He has a doctor bleed the evil out of his wife’s body.

The Roman des Sept Sages de Rome apparently was composed between 1155 and 1190. Speer (1989) p. 18. Id. provides a critical edition. Faral (1924) pp. 359-60, as well as Paris (1876), provides a French translation of Tentamina. This story is also known as Gentullus or Lentullus, the name of the sage associated with it. Sept Sages was translated into Middle English by 1330. Campbell (1899) p. 66. A Middle English Sept Sages in a fifteenth-century manuscript (Cambridge University, MS. Ff, II, 38) adds to the story the killing of the husband’s hawk. Id. pp. 40, 66. That could be a later addition from Lidia.

The earliest Sept Sages, or its source, probably influenced Lidia. Both Tentamina and Lidia include cutting down a pear tree. In Lidia, cutting down the pear tree becomes a much more elaborate representation. The pear tree isn’t cut down in the less provocative story of the Merchant’s Tale. Tentamina of Sept Sages and Lidia probably influenced the Merchant’s Tale. Here are some subsequent, related tales.

While Lidia apparently wasn’t widely distributed, the Seven Sages {Sept Sages} stories were an enormously influential work of men’s sexed protest:

Translations and remainements of the Sept Sages number in the hundreds, and they appear over a period of 800 years in nearly every European language — rendered from French or French derivatives into Latin, Middle English, Middle Scots, Celtic, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Russian, Armenian, and so on.

Speer (1989) p. 18. The popularity of medieval works of men’s sexed protest suggests men’s frustration with the gender trouble that they endured under medieval gynocentrism.

Subsequent quotes from Lidia are similarly sourced. Those above are vv. 244-50 (Pearus is like Hippolytus…), 254 (A sexually strong woman…), 257-8 (What a wonder you arouse…), 260-70 (Pearus said…), 282-90 (She is totally ravished…), 293-312 (While Decius plays…), 313-28 (While she plays and nuzzles…), 386-402 (She stirs up a pallor…), v. 405 (If your tooth offends you…), 417-22 (See, as much pain as oppresses him…), 425 (great father of the gods), 465-70 (That is nothing at all…), 510 (Now shake pears…), 513-8 (Spare me, I beg you…), 527-534 (The duke says…), 543-6 (Attributing what he sees to the branches…), 548 (It’s not Pearus that moves me…), 129-38 (What is marriage now…).

[11] Cf. Matthew 18:8-9.

[12] Pearus tells the great father of the gods (Jupiter, who is married to Juno) that Lidia is a woman who is perhaps beyond the knowledge of the gods. Invoking classical women, Pearus declares that the excessive of pride of Niobe, the charming songs of Circe, and the wickedness of Medea all fall short of Lidia. Lidia vv. 425-32.

[13] Making a husband disbelieve his own eyes was a well-recognized medieval feat that numerous wives reportedly achieved. See note [1] and associated text in my post on men’s inferiority in guile.

[14] Pearus was Lidia’s subordinate within feudal society. He attempted to flee from her unwelcomed and coercive sexual solicitation. But in awe of Lidia’s abuse of Decius, Pearus was transformed:

Behold, the hare is the hound and the wolf itself is the goat.

{ Ecce lepus canis est et lupus ipse caper }

Lidia, v. 340. Here the hare figures Pearus and the wolf, Decius. The hound and the goat figure Pearus’s and Decius’s respective transformations. Men have long been disparaged as being sexually like dogs (the hound). The horned goat symbolizes a cuckolded man.

[15] In Latin, “pear {pirum}” can mean testicle or penis. Elliot (1984) p. 146, n. 34, citing Du Cange, and Olson (1961b) p. 207, n. 5, respectively. But in Lidia, pears are best interpreted as including a coded reference to semen:

The pears from the tree seem to represent semen: note 544 ‘sepe quidem Pirro sunt pira missa piro’ (certainly a double entendre; given that piro is the penis, the pears sent from it must be semen), 510 ‘iam meliore piro succute, Pirre, pira’.

Adams (1982) p. 29. The twelfth-century Latin comedy Alda includes a sexually vigorous man named Pyrrhus. But Pyrrhus’s penis is figured as a hard-working “tail,” not a pear or a pear tree. Thibaut’s thirteenth-century Old French Romance of the Pear {Romanz de la poire} associates pears and a pear tree with love.

[16] The scribe of Oxford, New College MS 314 (written c. 1450–70) added fourteeen verses after v. 2353, “in he thrust {in he throng}”:

a great dick, one worthy and long.
She said it was the most pleasing fit
that ever in her life she had yet.
“My lord’s dick,” she said, “serves me not thus.
It flops in half, by sweet Jesus.
He’s not able to fuck worth a leek,
and yet he is fully noble and fully meek.
This is more beloved to me than an evening song.

{ A greet tente . a thrifty and a long
She saide it was þe meriest fit
That ever in her lif she was at yet
Mi lordis tente she saide servith me not thus
He foldith twifolde be swete Jhesus
He may not swyve worth a leek
And yet he is ful gentil and ful meek
This is levir to me þan an evynsong. }

Middle English transcription from Flannery (2019), p. 2, my English modernization. The earliest manuscript witnesses to these interpolations, Princeton University MS 100 (formerly Helmingham, copied c. 1420–30), interpolates ten of these fourteen verses. British Library, MS Harley 1758 (copied c.1450–60) has these verses written in the margin of folio 88r. Id. p. 4. These verses were regarded as part of the Merchant’s Tale for more than two hundred years:

These lines were, in fact, in the standard edition of Chaucer until Thomas Tyrwhitt removed them in 1775, and thus were part of the Merchant’s Tale as received by readers from 1532 to 1775, including Shakespeare, Milton and Pope.

Kaufman (2014) p. 32, n. 24. Similarly in Turner (2018), “Coda: Readerly Pleasure.”

[17] The beginning section (the argument) of Lidia provides a general warning to men:

I have taught what a woman can do so that, more wary, you might flee.
A Lidia might be capable of being in your life, too.

{ Cautius ut fugeres docui quid femina posset;
Esse potest una Lidia quoque tibi. }

Lidia, vv. 5-6. Within the story, the narrator adds additional advice for men:

Unless he serves himself, unless he attends to his own advantage,
a man surrenders himself to women’s guile.

{ Ne se conservet, ne sit sibi commodus ipse,
A se feminea fraude recidit homo. }

Lidia, vv. 89-90. Alternate medieval advice for men: if you can’t be chaste, be careful.

[18] Apparently supporting female supremacism, Pugh declared:

In sum, the Merchant’s Tale takes readers through a series of debates that increasingly foreground women’s necessary, and superior, role in argumentation. The speaker of the marriage encomium proves the folly of a man’s voice.

Pugh (2017) p. 496. Academia today scarcely includes the possibility of debating such anti-meninism. In these circumstances, men are imprisoned without the benefit of counsel for having consensual sexual intercourse and then not being able afford state-mandated sex payments (“child support”). Men’s lack of reproductive rights arises in part from the social privileging of women’s desire. Consistent with that privileging, scholars today tend to celebrate May cuckolding January. In the Merchant’s Tale, May thus reveals that “a woman knows a woman’s desire — and that there is no debate about that.” Id. You go girl!

[images] (1) The merchant rides into the beginning of Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale. Illumination on folio 102v of the early fifteenth-century Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales. Preserved as MS. EL 26 C 9 in Huntington Library (San Marino, California). (2) Man gives woman pears beneath a pear tree. Illumination from folio 15r of Thibaut’s The Romance of the Pear {Li Romanz de la poire} in BnF MS. Français 2186, written in the thirteen century.


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