The Canterbury Tales

Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus


"No more of this, for Godde's dignity!"

Quoth oure Hoste; "for thou makest me

So weary of thy very lewedness,*

*stupidity, ignorance <1>

That, all so wisly* God my soule bless,


Mine eares ache for thy drafty* speech.

*worthless <2>

Now such a rhyme the devil I beteche:*

*commend to

This may well be rhyme doggerel," quoth he.

"Why so?" quoth I; "why wilt thou lette* me


More of my tale than any other man,

Since that it is the best rhyme that I can?"*


"By God!" quoth he, "for, plainly at one word,

Thy drafty rhyming is not worth a tord:

Thou dost naught elles but dispendest* time.


Sir, at one word, thou shalt no longer rhyme.

Let see whether thou canst tellen aught *in gest,*

*by way of

Or tell in prose somewhat, at the least,


In which there be some mirth or some doctrine."

"Gladly," quoth I, "by Godde's sweete pine,*


I will you tell a little thing in prose,

That oughte like* you, as I suppose,


Or else certes ye be too dangerous.*


It is a moral tale virtuous,

*All be it* told sometimes in sundry wise

*although it be*

By sundry folk, as I shall you devise.

As thus, ye wot that ev'ry Evangelist,

That telleth us the pain* of Jesus Christ,


He saith not all thing as his fellow doth;

But natheless their sentence is all soth,*


And all accorden as in their sentence,*


All be there in their telling difference;

For some of them say more, and some say less,

When they his piteous passion express;

I mean of Mark and Matthew, Luke and John;

But doubteless their sentence is all one.

Therefore, lordinges all, I you beseech,

If that ye think I vary in my speech,

As thus, though that I telle somedeal more

Of proverbes, than ye have heard before

Comprehended in this little treatise here,

*T'enforce with* the effect of my mattere,

*with which to

And though I not the same wordes say


As ye have heard, yet to you all I pray

Blame me not; for as in my sentence

Shall ye nowhere finde no difference

From the sentence of thilke* treatise lite,**

*this **little

After the which this merry tale I write.

And therefore hearken to what I shall say,

And let me tellen all my tale, I pray."

Notes to the Prologue to Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus.

1. Chaucer crowns the satire on the romanticists by making the very landlord of the Tabard cry out in indignant disgust against the stuff which he had heard recited -- the good Host ascribing to sheer ignorance the string of pompous platitudes and prosaic details which Chaucer had uttered.

2. Drafty: worthless, vile; no better than draff or dregs; from the Anglo-Saxon, "drifan" to drive away, expel.


A young man called Meliboeus, mighty and rich, begat upon his

wife, that called was Prudence, a daughter which that called was

Sophia. Upon a day befell, that he for his disport went into the

fields him to play. His wife and eke his daughter hath he left

within his house, of which the doors were fast shut. Three of his

old foes have it espied, and set ladders to the walls of his house,

and by the windows be entered, and beaten his wife, and

wounded his daughter with five mortal wounds, in five sundry

places; that is to say, in her feet, in her hands, in her ears, in her

nose, and in her mouth; and left her for dead, and went away.

When Meliboeus returned was into his house, and saw all this

mischief, he, like a man mad, rending his clothes, gan weep and

cry. Prudence his wife, as farforth as she durst, besought him of

his weeping for to stint: but not forthy [notwithstanding] he gan

to weep and cry ever longer the more.

This noble wife Prudence remembered her upon the sentence of

Ovid, in his book that called is the "Remedy of Love," <2>

where he saith: He is a fool that disturbeth the mother to weep

in the death of her child, till she have wept her fill, as for a

certain time; and then shall a man do his diligence with amiable

words her to recomfort and pray her of her weeping for to stint

[cease]. For which reason this noble wife Prudence suffered her

husband for to weep and cry, as for a certain space; and when

she saw her time, she said to him in this wise: "Alas! my lord,"

quoth she, "why make ye yourself for to be like a fool? For

sooth it appertaineth not to a wise man to make such a sorrow.

Your daughter, with the grace of God, shall warish [be cured]

and escape. And all [although] were it so that she right now

were dead, ye ought not for her death yourself to destroy.

Seneca saith, 'The wise man shall not take too great discomfort

for the death of his children, but certes he should suffer it in

patience, as well as he abideth the death of his own proper


Meliboeus answered anon and said: "What man," quoth he,

"should of his weeping stint, that hath so great a cause to weep?

Jesus Christ, our Lord, himself wept for the death of Lazarus

his friend." Prudence answered, "Certes, well I wot,

attempered [moderate] weeping is nothing defended [forbidden]

to him that sorrowful is, among folk in sorrow but it is rather

granted him to weep. The Apostle Paul unto the Romans

writeth, 'Man shall rejoice with them that make joy, and weep

with such folk as weep.' But though temperate weeping be

granted, outrageous weeping certes is defended. Measure of

weeping should be conserved, after the lore [doctrine] that

teacheth us Seneca. 'When that thy friend is dead,' quoth he, 'let

not thine eyes too moist be of tears, nor too much dry: although

the tears come to thine eyes, let them not fall. And when thou

hast forgone [lost] thy friend, do diligence to get again another

friend: and this is more wisdom than to weep for thy friend

which that thou hast lorn [lost] for therein is no boot

[advantage]. And therefore if ye govern you by sapience, put

away sorrow out of your heart. Remember you that Jesus

Sirach saith, 'A man that is joyous and glad in heart, it him

conserveth flourishing in his age: but soothly a sorrowful heart

maketh his bones dry.' He said eke thus, 'that sorrow in heart

slayth full many a man.' Solomon saith 'that right as moths in

the sheep's fleece annoy [do injury] to the clothes, and the small

worms to the tree, right so annoyeth sorrow to the heart of

man.' Wherefore us ought as well in the death of our children,

as in the loss of our goods temporal, have patience. Remember

you upon the patient Job, when he had lost his children and his

temporal substance, and in his body endured and received full

many a grievous tribulation, yet said he thus: 'Our Lord hath

given it to me, our Lord hath bereft it me; right as our Lord

would, right so be it done; blessed be the name of our Lord."'

To these foresaid things answered Meliboeus unto his wife

Prudence: "All thy words," quoth he, "be true, and thereto

[also] profitable, but truly mine heart is troubled with this

sorrow so grievously, that I know not what to do." "Let call,"

quoth Prudence, "thy true friends all, and thy lineage, which be

wise, and tell to them your case, and hearken what they say in

counselling, and govern you after their sentence [opinion].

Solomon saith, 'Work all things by counsel, and thou shall never

repent.'" Then, by counsel of his wife Prudence, this Meliboeus

let call [sent for] a great congregation of folk, as surgeons,

physicians, old folk and young, and some of his old enemies

reconciled (as by their semblance) to his love and to his grace;

and therewithal there come some of his neighbours, that did him

reverence more for dread than for love, as happeneth oft. There

come also full many subtle flatterers, and wise advocates

learned in the law. And when these folk together assembled

were, this Meliboeus in sorrowful wise showed them his case,

and by the manner of his speech it seemed that in heart he bare

a cruel ire, ready to do vengeance upon his foes, and suddenly

desired that the war should begin, but nevertheless yet asked he

their counsel in this matter. A surgeon, by licence and assent of

such as were wise, up rose, and to Meliboeus said as ye may

hear. "Sir," quoth he, "as to us surgeons appertaineth, that we

do to every wight the best that we can, where as we be

withholden, [employed] and to our patient that we do no

damage; wherefore it happeneth many a time and oft, that when

two men have wounded each other, one same surgeon healeth

them both; wherefore unto our art it is not pertinent to nurse

war, nor parties to support [take sides]. But certes, as to the

warishing [healing] of your daughter, albeit so that perilously

she be wounded, we shall do so attentive business from day to

night, that, with the grace of God, she shall be whole and

sound, as soon as is possible." Almost right in the same wise the

physicians answered, save that they said a few words more: that

right as maladies be cured by their contraries, right so shall man

warish war (by peace). His neighbours full of envy, his feigned

friends that seemed reconciled, and his flatterers, made

semblance of weeping, and impaired and agregged [aggravated]

much of this matter, in praising greatly Meliboeus of might, of

power, of riches, and of friends, despising the power of his

adversaries: and said utterly, that he anon should wreak him on

his foes, and begin war.

Up rose then an advocate that was wise, by leave and by

counsel of other that were wise, and said, "Lordings, the need

[business] for which we be assembled in this place, is a full

heavy thing, and an high matter, because of the wrong and of

the wickedness that hath been done, and eke by reason of the

great damages that in time coming be possible to fall for the

same cause, and eke by reason of the great riches and power of

the parties both; for which reasons, it were a full great peril to

err in this matter. Wherefore, Meliboeus, this is our sentence

[opinion]; we counsel you, above all things, that right anon thou

do thy diligence in keeping of thy body, in such a wise that thou

want no espy nor watch thy body to save. And after that, we

counsel that in thine house thou set sufficient garrison, so that

they may as well thy body as thy house defend. But, certes, to

move war or suddenly to do vengeance, we may not deem

[judge] in so little time that it were profitable. Wherefore we

ask leisure and space to have deliberation in this case to deem;

for the common proverb saith thus; 'He that soon deemeth soon

shall repent.' And eke men say, that that judge is wise, that soon

understandeth a matter, and judgeth by leisure. For albeit so

that all tarrying be annoying, algates [nevertheless] it is no

reproof [subject for reproach] in giving of judgement, nor in

vengeance taking, when it is sufficient and, reasonable. And

that shewed our Lord Jesus Christ by example; for when that

the woman that was taken in adultery was brought in his

presence to know what should be done with her person, albeit

that he wist well himself what he would answer, yet would he

not answer suddenly, but he would have deliberation, and in the

ground he wrote twice. And by these causes we ask deliberation

and we shall then by the grace of God counsel the thing that

shall be profitable."

Up started then the young folk anon at once, and the most part

of that company have scorned these old wise men and begun to

make noise and said, "Right as while that iron is hot men should

smite, right so men should wreak their wrongs while that they

be fresh and new:" and with loud voice they cried. "War! War!"

Up rose then one of these old wise, and with his hand made

countenance [a sign, gesture] that men should hold them still,

and give him audience. "Lordings," quoth he, "there is full many

a man that crieth, 'War! war!' that wot full little what war

amounteth. War at his beginning hath so great an entering and

so large, that every wight may enter when him liketh, and lightly

[easily] find war: but certes what end shall fall thereof it is not

light to know. For soothly when war is once begun, there is full

many a child unborn of his mother, that shall sterve [die] young

by cause of that war, or else live in sorrow and die in

wretchedness; and therefore, ere that any war be begun, men

must have great counsel and great deliberation." And when this

old man weened [thought, intended] to enforce his tale by

reasons, well-nigh all at once began they to rise for to break his

tale, and bid him full oft his words abridge. For soothly he that

preacheth to them that list not hear his words, his sermon them

annoyeth. For Jesus Sirach saith, that music in weeping is a

noyous [troublesome] thing. This is to say, as much availeth to

speak before folk to whom his speech annoyeth, as to sing

before him that weepeth. And when this wise man saw that him

wanted audience, all shamefast he sat him down again. For

Solomon saith, 'Where as thou mayest have no audience,

enforce thee not to speak.' "I see well," quoth this wise man,

"that the common proverb is sooth, that good counsel wanteth,

when it is most need." Yet [besides, further] had this Meliboeus

in his council many folk, that privily in his ear counselled him

certain thing, and counselled him the contrary in general

audience. When Meliboeus had heard that the greatest part of

his council were accorded [in agreement] that he should make

war, anon he consented to their counselling, and fully affirmed

their sentence [opinion, judgement].

(Dame Prudence, seeing her husband's resolution thus taken, in

full humble wise, when she saw her time, begins to counsel him

against war, by a warning against haste in requital of either

good or evil. Meliboeus tells her that he will not work by her

counsel, because he should be held a fool if he rejected for her

advice the opinion of so many wise men; because all women are

bad; because it would seem that he had given her the mastery

over him; and because she could not keep his secret, if he

resolved to follow her advice. To these reasons Prudence

answers that it is no folly to change counsel when things, or

men's judgements of them, change -- especially to alter a

resolution taken on the impulse of a great multitude of folk,

where every man crieth and clattereth what him liketh; that if all

women had been wicked, Jesus Christ would never have

descended to be born of a woman, nor have showed himself

first to a woman after his resurrection and that when Solomon

said he had found no good woman, he meant that God alone

was supremely good; <3> that her husband would not seem to

give her the mastery by following her counsel, for he had his

own free choice in following or rejecting it; and that he knew

well and had often tested her great silence, patience, and

secrecy. And whereas he had quoted a saying, that in wicked

counsel women vanquish men, she reminds him that she would

counsel him against doing a wickedness on which he had set his

mind, and cites instances to show that many women have been

and yet are full good, and their counsel wholesome and

profitable. Lastly, she quotes the words of God himself, when

he was about to make woman as an help meet for man; and

promises that, if her husband will trust her counsel, she will

restore to him his daughter whole and sound, and make him

have honour in this case. Meliboeus answers that because of his

wife's sweet words, and also because he has proved and assayed

her great wisdom and her great truth, he will govern him by her

counsel in all things. Thus encouraged, Prudence enters on a

long discourse, full of learned citations, regarding the manner in

which counsellors should be chosen and consulted, and the

times and reasons for changing a counsel. First, God must be

besought for guidance. Then a man must well examine his own

thoughts, of such things as he holds to be best for his own

profit; driving out of his heart anger, covetousness, and

hastiness, which perturb and pervert the judgement. Then he

must keep his counsel secret, unless confiding it to another shall

be more profitable; but, in so confiding it, he shall say nothing

to bias the mind of the counsellor toward flattery or

subserviency. After that he should consider his friends and his

enemies, choosing of the former such as be most faithful and

wise, and eldest and most approved in counselling; and even of

these only a few. Then he must eschew the counselling of fools,

of flatterers, of his old enemies that be reconciled, of servants

who bear him great reverence and fear, of folk that be drunken

and can hide no counsel, of such as counsel one thing privily

and the contrary openly; and of young folk, for their counselling

is not ripe. Then, in examining his counsel, he must truly tell his

tale; he must consider whether the thing he proposes to do be

reasonable, within his power, and acceptable to the more part

and the better part of his counsellors; he must look at the things

that may follow from that counselling, choosing the best and

waiving all besides; he must consider the root whence the

matter of his counsel is engendered, what fruits it may bear,

and from what causes they be sprung. And having thus

examined his counsel and approved it by many wise folk and

old, he shall consider if he may perform it and make of it a good

end; if he be in doubt, he shall choose rather to suffer than to

begin; but otherwise he shall prosecute his resolution steadfastly

till the enterprise be at an end. As to changing his counsel, a

man may do so without reproach, if the cause cease, or when a

new case betides, or if he find that by error or otherwise harm

or damage may result, or if his counsel be dishonest or come of

dishonest cause, or if it be impossible or may not properly be

kept; and he must take it for a general rule, that every counsel

which is affirmed so strongly, that it may not be changed for

any condition that may betide, that counsel is wicked.

Meliboeus, admitting that his wife had spoken well and suitably

as to counsellors and counsel in general, prays her to tell him in

especial what she thinks of the counsellors whom they have

chosen in their present need. Prudence replies that his counsel in

this case could not properly be called a counselling, but a

movement of folly; and points out that he has erred in sundry

wise against the rules which he had just laid down. Granting

that he has erred, Meliboeus says that he is all ready to change

his counsel right as she will devise; for, as the proverb runs, to

do sin is human, but to persevere long in sin is work of the

Devil. Prudence then minutely recites, analyses, and criticises

the counsel given to her husband in the assembly of his friends.

She commends the advice of the physicians and surgeons, and

urges that they should be well rewarded for their noble speech

and their services in healing Sophia; and she asks Meliboeus

how he understands their proposition that one contrary must be

cured by another contrary. Meliboeus answers, that he should

do vengeance on his enemies, who had done him wrong.

Prudence, however, insists that vengeance is not the contrary of

vengeance, nor wrong of wrong, but the like; and that

wickedness should be healed by goodness, discord by accord,

war by peace. She proceeds to deal with the counsel of the

lawyers and wise folk that advised Meliboeus to take prudent

measures for the security of his body and of his house. First, she

would have her husband pray for the protection and aid of

Christ; then commit the keeping of his person to his true

friends; then suspect and avoid all strange folk, and liars, and

such people as she had already warned him against; then beware

of presuming on his strength, or the weakness of his adversary,

and neglecting to guard his person -- for every wise man

dreadeth his enemy; then he should evermore be on the watch

against ambush and all espial, even in what seems a place of

safety; though he should not be so cowardly, as to fear where is

no cause for dread; yet he should dread to be poisoned, and

therefore shun scorners, and fly their words as venom. As to

the fortification of his house, she points out that towers and

great edifices are costly and laborious, yet useless unless

defended by true friends that be old and wise; and the greatest

and strongest garrison that a rich man may have, as well to keep

his person as his goods, is, that he be beloved by his subjects

and by his neighbours. Warmly approving the counsel that in all

this business Meliboeus should proceed with great diligence and

deliberation, Prudence goes on to examine the advice given by

his neighbours that do him reverence without love, his old

enemies reconciled, his flatterers that counselled him certain

things privily and openly counselled him the contrary, and the

young folk that counselled him to avenge himself and make war

at once. She reminds him that he stands alone against three

powerful enemies, whose kindred are numerous and close,

while his are fewer and remote in relationship; that only the

judge who has jurisdiction in a case may take sudden vengeance

on any man; that her husband's power does not accord with his

desire; and that, if he did take vengeance, it would only breed

fresh wrongs and contests. As to the causes of the wrong done

to him, she holds that God, the causer of all things, has

permitted him to suffer because he has drunk so much honey

<4> of sweet temporal riches, and delights, and honours of this

world, that he is drunken, and has forgotten Jesus Christ his

Saviour; the three enemies of mankind, the flesh, the fiend, and

the world, have entered his heart by the windows of his body,

and wounded his soul in five places -- that is to say, the deadly

sins that have entered into his heart by the five senses; and in

the same manner Christ has suffered his three enemies to enter

his house by the windows, and wound his daughter in the five

places before specified. Meliboeus demurs, that if his wife's

objections prevailed, vengeance would never be taken, and

thence great mischiefs would arise; but Prudence replies that the

taking of vengeance lies with the judges, to whom the private

individual must have recourse. Meliboeus declares that such

vengeance does not please him, and that, as Fortune has

nourished and helped him from his childhood, he will now assay

her, trusting, with God's help, that she will aid him to avenge his

shame. Prudence warns him against trusting to Fortune, all the

less because she has hitherto favoured him, for just on that

account she is the more likely to fail him; and she calls on him

to leave his vengeance with the Sovereign Judge, that avengeth

all villainies and wrongs. Meliboeus argues that if he refrains

from taking vengeance he will invite his enemies to do him

further wrong, and he will be put and held over low; but

Prudence contends that such a result can be brought about only

by the neglect of the judges, not by the patience of the

individual. Supposing that he had leave to avenge himself, she

repeats that he is not strong enough, and quotes the common

saw, that it is madness for a man to strive with a stronger than

himself, peril to strive with one of equal strength, and folly to

strive with a weaker. But, considering his own defaults and

demerits, -- remembering the patience of Christ and the

undeserved tribulations of the saints, the brevity of this life with

all its trouble and sorrow, the discredit thrown on the wisdom

and training of a man who cannot bear wrong with patience --

he should refrain wholly from taking vengeance. Meliboeus

submits that he is not at all a perfect man, and his heart will

never be at peace until he is avenged; and that as his enemies

disregarded the peril when they attacked him, so he might,

without reproach, incur some peril in attacking them in return,

even though he did a great excess in avenging one wrong by

another. Prudence strongly deprecates all outrage or excess; but

Meliboeus insists that he cannot see that it might greatly harm

him though he took a vengeance, for he is richer and mightier

than his enemies, and all things obey money. Prudence

thereupon launches into a long dissertation on the advantages of

riches, the evils of poverty, the means by which wealth should

be gathered, and the manner in which it should be used; and

concludes by counselling her husband not to move war and

battle through trust in his riches, for they suffice not to maintain

war, the battle is not always to the strong or the numerous, and

the perils of conflict are many. Meliboeus then curtly asks her

for her counsel how he shall do in this need; and she answers

that certainly she counsels him to agree with his adversaries and

have peace with them. Meliboeus on this cries out that plainly

she loves not his honour or his worship, in counselling him to

go and humble himself before his enemies, crying mercy to them

that, having done him so grievous wrong, ask him not to be

reconciled. Then Prudence, making semblance of wrath, retorts

that she loves his honour and profit as she loves her own, and

ever has done; she cites the Scriptures in support of her counsel

to seek peace; and says she will leave him to his own courses,

for she knows well he is so stubborn, that he will do nothing for

her. Meliboeus then relents; admits that he is angry and cannot

judge aright; and puts himself wholly in her hands, promising to

do just as she desires, and admitting that he is the more held to

love and praise her, if she reproves him of his folly)

Then Dame Prudence discovered all her counsel and her will

unto him, and said: "I counsel you," quoth she, "above all

things, that ye make peace between God and you, and be

reconciled unto Him and to his grace; for, as I have said to you

herebefore, God hath suffered you to have this tribulation and

disease [distress, trouble] for your sins; and if ye do as I say

you, God will send your adversaries unto you, and make them

fall at your feet, ready to do your will and your commandment.

For Solomon saith, 'When the condition of man is pleasant and

liking to God, he changeth the hearts of the man's adversaries,

and constraineth them to beseech him of peace of grace.' And I

pray you let me speak with your adversaries in privy place, for

they shall not know it is by your will or your assent; and then,

when I know their will and their intent, I may counsel you the

more surely." '"Dame," quoth Meliboeus, '"do your will and

your liking, for I put me wholly in your disposition and


Then Dame Prudence, when she saw the goodwill of her

husband, deliberated and took advice in herself, thinking how

she might bring this need [affair, emergency] unto a good end.

And when she saw her time, she sent for these adversaries to

come into her into a privy place, and showed wisely into them

the great goods that come of peace, and the great harms and

perils that be in war; and said to them, in goodly manner, how

that they ought have great repentance of the injuries and

wrongs that they had done to Meliboeus her Lord, and unto her

and her daughter. And when they heard the goodly words of

Dame Prudence, then they were surprised and ravished, and had

so great joy of her, that wonder was to tell. "Ah lady!" quoth

they, "ye have showed unto us the blessing of sweetness, after

the saying of David the prophet; for the reconciling which we

be not worthy to have in no manner, but we ought require it

with great contrition and humility, ye of your great goodness

have presented unto us. Now see we well, that the science and

conning [knowledge] of Solomon is full true; for he saith, that

sweet words multiply and increase friends, and make shrews

[the ill-natured or angry] to be debonair [gentle, courteous] and

meek. Certes we put our deed, and all our matter and cause, all

wholly in your goodwill, and be ready to obey unto the speech

and commandment of my lord Meliboeus. And therefore, dear

and benign lady, we pray you and beseech you as meekly as we

can and may, that it like unto your great goodness to fulfil in

deed your goodly words. For we consider and acknowledge

that we have offended and grieved my lord Meliboeus out of

measure, so far forth that we be not of power to make him

amends; and therefore we oblige and bind us and our friends to

do all his will and his commandment. But peradventure he hath

such heaviness and such wrath to usward, [towards us] because

of our offence, that he will enjoin us such a pain [penalty] as we

may not bear nor sustain; and therefore, noble lady, we beseech

to your womanly pity to take such advisement [consideration]

in this need, that we, nor our friends, be not disinherited and

destroyed through our folly."

"Certes," quoth Prudence, "it is an hard thing, and right

perilous, that a man put him all utterly in the arbitration and

judgement and in the might and power of his enemy. For

Solomon saith, 'Believe me, and give credence to that that I

shall say: to thy son, to thy wife, to thy friend, nor to thy

brother, give thou never might nor mastery over thy body, while

thou livest.' Now, since he defendeth [forbiddeth] that a man

should not give to his brother, nor to his friend, the might of his

body, by a stronger reason he defendeth and forbiddeth a man

to give himself to his enemy. And nevertheless, I counsel you

that ye mistrust not my lord: for I wot well and know verily,

that he is debonair and meek, large, courteous and nothing

desirous nor envious of good nor riches: for there is nothing in

this world that he desireth save only worship and honour.

Furthermore I know well, and am right sure, that he shall

nothing do in this need without counsel of me; and I shall so

work in this case, that by the grace of our Lord God ye shall be

reconciled unto us."

Then said they with one voice, ""Worshipful lady, we put us

and our goods all fully in your will and disposition, and be ready

to come, what day that it like unto your nobleness to limit us or

assign us, for to make our obligation and bond, as strong as it

liketh unto your goodness, that we may fulfil the will of you and

of my lord Meliboeus."

When Dame Prudence had heard the answer of these men, she

bade them go again privily, and she returned to her lord

Meliboeus, and told him how she found his adversaries full

repentant, acknowledging full lowly their sins and trespasses,

and how they were ready to suffer all pain, requiring and

praying him of mercy and pity. Then said Meliboeus, "He is well

worthy to have pardon and forgiveness of his sin, that excuseth

not his sin, but acknowledgeth, and repenteth him, asking

indulgence. For Seneca saith, 'There is the remission and

forgiveness, where the confession is; for confession is neighbour

to innocence.' And therefore I assent and confirm me to have

peace, but it is good that we do naught without the assent and

will of our friends." Then was Prudence right glad and joyful,

and said, "Certes, Sir, ye be well and goodly advised; for right

as by the counsel, assent, and help of your friends ye have been

stirred to avenge you and make war, right so without their

counsel shall ye not accord you, nor have peace with your

adversaries. For the law saith, 'There is nothing so good by way

of kind, [nature] as a thing to be unbound by him that it was


And then Dame Prudence, without delay or tarrying, sent anon

her messengers for their kin and for their old friends, which

were true and wise; and told them by order, in the presence of

Meliboeus, all this matter, as it is above expressed and declared;

and prayed them that they would give their advice and counsel

what were best to do in this need. And when Meliboeus' friends

had taken their advice and deliberation of the foresaid matter,

and had examined it by great business and great diligence, they

gave full counsel for to have peace and rest, and that Meliboeus

should with good heart receive his adversaries to forgiveness

and mercy. And when Dame Prudence had heard the assent of

her lord Meliboeus, and the counsel of his friends, accord with

her will and her intention, she was wondrous glad in her heart,

and said: "There is an old proverb that saith, 'The goodness that

thou mayest do this day, do it, and abide not nor delay it not till

to-morrow:' and therefore I counsel you that ye send your

messengers, such as be discreet and wise, unto your adversaries,

telling them on your behalf, that if they will treat of peace and

of accord, that they shape [prepare] them, without delay or

tarrying, to come unto us." Which thing performed was indeed.

And when these trespassers and repenting folk of their follies,

that is to say, the adversaries of Meliboeus, had heard what

these messengers said unto them, they were right glad and

joyful, and answered full meekly and benignly, yielding graces

and thanks to their lord Meliboeus, and to all his company; and

shaped them without delay to go with the messengers, and obey

to the commandment of their lord Meliboeus. And right anon

they took their way to the court of Meliboeus, and took with

them some of their true friends, to make faith for them, and for

to be their borrows [sureties].

And when they were come to the presence of Meliboeus, he

said to them these words; "It stands thus," quoth Meliboeus,

"and sooth it is, that ye causeless, and without skill and reason,

have done great injuries and wrongs to me, and to my wife

Prudence, and to my daughter also; for ye have entered into my

house by violence, and have done such outrage, that all men

know well that ye have deserved the death: and therefore will I

know and weet of you, whether ye will put the punishing and

chastising, and the vengeance of this outrage, in the will of me

and of my wife, or ye will not?" Then the wisest of them three

answered for them all, and said; "Sir," quoth he, "we know well,

that we be I unworthy to come to the court of so great a lord

and so worthy as ye be, for we have so greatly mistaken us, and

have offended and aguilt [incurred guilt] in such wise against

your high lordship, that truly we have deserved the death. But

yet for the great goodness and debonairte [courtesy, gentleness]

that all the world witnesseth of your person, we submit us to

the excellence and benignity of your gracious lordship, and be

ready to obey to all your commandments, beseeching you, that

of your merciable [merciful] pity ye will consider our great

repentance and low submission, and grant us forgiveness of our

outrageous trespass and offence; for well we know, that your

liberal grace and mercy stretch them farther into goodness, than

do our outrageous guilt and trespass into wickedness; albeit that

cursedly [wickedly] and damnably we have aguilt [incurred

guilt] against your high lordship." Then Meliboeus took them

up from the ground full benignly, and received their obligations

and their bonds, by their oaths upon their pledges and borrows,

[sureties] and assigned them a certain day to return unto his

court for to receive and accept sentence and judgement, that

Meliboeus would command to be done on them, by the causes

aforesaid; which things ordained, every man returned home to

his house.

And when that Dame Prudence saw her time she freined

[inquired] and asked her lord Meliboeus, what vengeance he

thought to take of his adversaries. To which Meliboeus

answered, and said; "Certes," quoth he, "I think and purpose me

fully to disinherit them of all that ever they have, and for to put

them in exile for evermore." "Certes," quoth Dame Prudence,

"this were a cruel sentence, and much against reason. For ye be

rich enough, and have no need of other men's goods; and ye

might lightly [easily] in this wise get you a covetous name,

which is a vicious thing, and ought to be eschewed of every

good man: for, after the saying of the Apostle, covetousness is

root of all harms. And therefore it were better for you to lose

much good of your own, than for to take of their good in this

manner. For better it is to lose good with worship [honour],

than to win good with villainy and shame. And every man ought

to do his diligence and his business to get him a good name.

And yet [further] shall he not only busy him in keeping his good

name, but he shall also enforce him alway to do some thing by

which he may renew his good name; for it is written, that the

old good los [reputation <5>] of a man is soon gone and

passed, when it is not renewed. And as touching that ye say,

that ye will exile your adversaries, that thinketh ye much against

reason, and out of measure, [moderation] considered the power

that they have given you upon themselves. And it is written,

that he is worthy to lose his privilege, that misuseth the might

and the power that is given him. And I set case [if I assume] ye

might enjoin them that pain by right and by law (which I trow

ye may not do), I say, ye might not put it to execution

peradventure, and then it were like to return to the war, as it

was before. And therefore if ye will that men do you obeisance,

ye must deem [decide] more courteously, that is to say, ye must

give more easy sentences and judgements. For it is written, 'He

that most courteously commandeth, to him men most obey.'

And therefore I pray you, that in this necessity and in this need

ye cast you [endeavour, devise a way] to overcome your heart.

For Seneca saith, that he that overcometh his heart, overcometh

twice. And Tullius saith, 'There is nothing so commendable in a

great lord, as when he is debonair and meek, and appeaseth him

lightly [easily].' And I pray you, that ye will now forbear to do

vengeance, in such a manner, that your good name may be kept

and conserved, and that men may have cause and matter to

praise you of pity and of mercy; and that ye have no cause to

repent you of thing that ye do. For Seneca saith, 'He

overcometh in an evil manner, that repenteth him of his victory.'

Wherefore I pray you let mercy be in your heart, to the effect

and intent that God Almighty have mercy upon you in his last

judgement; for Saint James saith in his Epistle, 'Judgement

without mercy shall be done to him, that hath no mercy of

another wight.'"

When Meliboeus had heard the great skills [arguments, reasons]

and reasons of Dame Prudence, and her wise information and

teaching, his heart gan incline to the will of his wife, considering

her true intent, he conformed him anon and assented fully to

work after her counsel, and thanked God, of whom proceedeth

all goodness and all virtue, that him sent a wife of so great

discretion. And when the day came that his adversaries should

appear in his presence, he spake to them full goodly, and said in

this wise; "Albeit so, that of your pride and high presumption

and folly, an of your negligence and unconning, [ignorance] ye

have misborne [misbehaved] you, and trespassed [done injury]

unto me, yet forasmuch as I see and behold your great humility,

and that ye be sorry and repentant of your guilts, it constraineth

me to do you grace and mercy. Wherefore I receive you into my

grace, and forgive you utterly all the offences, injuries, and

wrongs, that ye have done against me and mine, to this effect

and to this end, that God of his endless mercy will at the time of

our dying forgive us our guilts, that we have trespassed to him

in this wretched world; for doubtless, if we be sorry and

repentant of the sins and guilts which we have trespassed in the

sight of our Lord God, he is so free and so merciable [merciful],

that he will forgive us our guilts, and bring us to the bliss that

never hath end." Amen.

Notes to Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus.

1. The Tale of Meliboeus is literally translated from a French story, or rather "treatise," in prose, entitled "Le Livre de Melibee et de Dame Prudence," of which two manuscripts, both dating from the fifteenth century, are preserved in the British Museum. Tyrwhitt, justly enough, says of it that it is indeed, as Chaucer called it in the prologue, "'a moral tale virtuous,' and was probably much esteemed in its time; but, in this age of levity, I doubt some readers will be apt to regret that he did not rather give us the remainder of Sir Thopas." It has been remarked that in the earlier portion of the Tale, as it left the hand of the poet, a number of blank verses were intermixed; though this peculiarity of style, noticeable in any case only in the first 150 or 200 lines, has necessarily all but disappeared by the changes of spelling made in the modern editions. The Editor's purpose being to present to the public not "The Canterbury Tales" merely, but "The Poems of Chaucer," so far as may be consistent with the limits of this volume, he has condensed the long reasonings and learned quotations of Dame Prudence into a mere outline, connecting those portions of the Tale wherein lies so much of story as it actually possesses, and the general reader will probably not regret the sacrifice, made in the view of retaining so far as possible the completeness of the Tales, while lessening the intrusion of prose into a volume or poems. The good wife of Meliboeus literally overflows with quotations from David, Solomon, Jesus the Son of Sirach, the Apostles, Ovid, Cicero, Seneca, Cassiodorus, Cato, Petrus Alphonsus -- the converted Spanish Jew, of the twelfth century, who wrote the "Disciplina Clericalis" -- and other authorities; and in some passages, especially where husband and wife debate the merits or demerits of women, and where Prudence dilates on the evils of poverty, Chaucer only reproduces much that had been said already in the Tales that preceded -- such as the Merchant's and the Man of Law's.

2. The lines which follow are a close translation of the original Latin, which reads:

"Quis matrem, nisi mentis inops, in funere nati

Flere vetet? non hoc illa monenda loco.

Cum dederit lacrymas, animumque expleverit aegrum,

Ille dolor verbis emoderandus erit." Ovid, "Remedia Amoris," 127-131.

3. See the conversation between Pluto and Proserpine, in the Merchant's Tale.

4. "Thy name," she says, "is Meliboeus; that is to say, a man that drinketh honey."

5. Los: reputation; from the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon, "hlisan" to celebrate. Compare Latin, "laus."