Book I: Troilus’ Love
• Chaucer intends to relate the tale of Troilus, son of King Priam of Troy. Troilus passes from grief to joy to grief because of love.
• Chaucer invokes Tisiphone, one of the ancient Greek Furies, to be his muse because he believes that a sorrowful tale should be invoked by a sorrowful persona.
• Chaucer asks the readers to pray that those in the joys of love persevere in such a state, and that those who despair of love soon pass out of this world and from their misery.
• A Trojan seer named Calchas departed from Troy and joined the Greeks because he foresaw the fall of Troy. The Trojans were outraged, and declared that he was a traitor. Calchas’ daughter, Criseyde, pleaded to Hector to be merciful to her, lest the Trojas sought to avenge themselves on her for Calchas’ treachery. Hector assured her that she would remain safe within the city walls.
• In April, the Trojans assembled to observe their tradition of honoring the Palladium, which is a sacred image of Pallas. At the gathering, Troilus sees Criseyde and falls in love.
• Troilus habitually mocked lovers and even love itself. Thus, Love sought revenge, and struck Troilus with passion for Criseyde.
• Troilus hides his feelings lest he be mocked by those he mocked before.
• He thinks constantly on her. He thinks about what he will say to her, what not to say to her, and how to win her love.
• He is torn by conflicting feelings of joy and sorrow. Joy at the thought of winning Criseyde, and sorrow at the thought that he might fail to win her.
• Troilus repents his harsh criticisms directed toward Love, and asks for Love’s favor.
• To ease the anguish of his desire, Troilus strives to see her face, but the nearer Troilus is to Criseyde the more he burns. The nearer the fire, the hotter it is.
• Troilus won renown in battles with the Greeks, not because he hated the Greeks nor because he wanted to defend Troy, but rather so that his fame would be more pleasing to Criseyde.
• While Troilus was pining away in his chamber, Pandarus entered the room and asked his friend the cause of his grief. Troilus is at first reluctant to disclose his sorrows, but Pandarus convinces him that he will help him. Troilus reveals that he is in love with Pandarus’ niece, Criseyde, and Pandarus vows to secure her love for Troilus.
“Tisiphone, help me to compose these dolorous verses, that drop like tears from my pen.”
“She sleeps sweetly, God knows, while you roll and turn! By God, I have heard tell of your lovers’ lives and your foolish devotion, and what labor you have to win love and what perplexity to keep it, and when your prey is lost, woe and dolor!”
“He who just now was most lifted above Love with pride suddenly grew most subjected to Love. Therefore, all you wise and proud and noble people, take example by this man not to scorn Love, who can so soon enslave to him the freedom of your hearts. For it always was and always will be that Love can bind all things. Often love has appeased the cruel heart and made the noble nobler of reputation and caused them to fear vice and infamy. Now, since Love cannot well be withstood but can bind you as he will, and since he is so virtuous of nature, refuse not to be bound to him. The sapling is better that bends and twists than the one that breaks. Therefore, I advise you to follow him, as he knows well how to lead you”
“Love dwelt within the subtle beams of her eyes.”
“The fire of love (may God save me from it!) agreed not to spare his royal blood, his might or his prowess, but held him as his servant lowly in distress, and burned him so ever anew in various ways that sixty times a day he grew pale. Day by day so grew his delight in thinking of her that he thought nothing of every other concern, and very often, thinking to ease his heat, he would strive to see her pleasing face. But always the nearer he was, the more he burned; the nearer the fire, the hotter, as all of this company knows.”
“Love bereft him of his sleep and made his food his foe, and his pains so increased that, if one observed him well, they showed in his face. Troilus felt such woe that he was very nearly mad, for his dread was ever this: that she so loved some other man and that she would never notice him, for which he seemed to feel his heart bleed.”
“O fool, now you are in the snare, you who used to mock at love’s tortures.”
“If I can do you no comfort, at least I can share your pain with you, as it is a friend’s right to deal with pain and pleasure.”
“It often happens that one who through excess has come to grief by good counsel may keep his friend from it. I have seen a blind man walk safely, while one who could see far fell. A fool can often guide a wise man. All things are understood through their contraries. For how could the sweet ever have been known by one who had never tasted the bitter? No man may be truly glad, I believe, that was never in distress. Set white next to black and shame next to honor, and each shows forth more.”
“The wise man says, ‘Woe to him that is alone, for if he should fall he has none to help him rise.’ Since you have a friend, tell him everything. For the most hopeful way to win love, in truth, as wise men will tell you, is not to wallow and weep like Queen Niobe, whose tears can yet be seen in marble. Leave your dreary weeping and let us lighten your woe with other talk, so that your woeful hours may seem shorter. Delight not to search woe for more woe, like these fools in misfortune who add to their sorrows by other sorrow and care not to seek a cure.”
“It is very hard to help a man when Fortune is his foe. All who live and breathe cannot withstand the harm created by her cruel wheel, for she plays with every creature, serf or noble, as she pleases.”
“Do you not know that every type of creature is subjected to Fortune in some degree? And yet you have this comfort, that as her joys must pass, so must her sorrows; for if her wheel ceased one moment to turn, immediately she should cease to be Fortune. Now how do you know, since her wheel may not delay, that her mutability will not in your case do as you desire, or she may not be about to help you? Perhaps you have cause for singing!”
The theme of love has been treated by all the greatest writers. Chaucer is no exception. Love is paradoxical. Chaucer illuminates this truth when he describes Troilus’ conflicting feelings of joy and sorrow – joy at the thought of his beloved, and sorrow at the thought of failing to win her. This paradoxical nature of love provides endless content for contemplation. But I think that the most important thing to realize is that extraordinary feelings of joy and of sorrow can only arise from love. It may be love for another person, for honor, for virtue, for vice, or for anything whatsoever, but when that love is unrequited or thwarted, then tremendous misery results. There is a Greek term used to describe this – philos-aphilos. The concept can be roughly translated to mean that hatred can only spring from love, and vice versa. For example, if we consider the Oresteia trilogy, Orestes would not hate his mother as much as he does for killing his father and forsaking him if he was not her son, and if he did not love her. The actions of those we love are those that affect us most in this life. This demonstrates that love is a dangerous force, but we ought never to forget that love is also the cause of our greatest joys and greatest virtues. Troilus is motivated to heroic deeds on the battle field for the sake of Criseyde, not because he dislikes the Greeks or wants to defend Troy.
I have already noticed several parallels between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Troilus is nearly identical to Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. Both characters ridicule lovers and Love itself, but are soon ensnared by love. Unfortunately for Troilus, his love affair does not end well. I remember reading somewhere that all of Shakespeare’s comedies are tragedies that are missing the final act. I am interested to read Chaucer’s version of the “lost final act” of Much Ado about Nothing.
Book II: Love Encouraged
• Chaucer invokes Clio, the muse of history, to help him finish the story.
• Pandarus visits Criseyde. She is engaged in listening to the story of the siege of Thebes.
• He tells her that he has great news. She asks if it is news of Trojan victory. He says that it is five times better than that, and that it will make her the proudest woman in the world.
• By a circuitous route, Chaucer praises the virtues of Hector and Troilus. Criseyde confirms his opinions of them, stating that she has heard of the virtues of both men.
• She begs her uncle to tell her the news that he possesses. He finally relents after much entreaty [this scene is similar to the one in Romeo and Juliet between the nurse and Juliet]. He tells her that Troilus loves her and that if she does not pity Troilus, then Troilus will die and he will too. He only asks her to treat Troilus with more joyful entertainment than before so that he does not die. He does not ask her to bind herself further to him or to engage in sexual intercourse; for that would bring dishonor to all three of them, Pandarus being a akin to a pimp.
• Criseyde asks Pandarus what he truly thinks she should do. He responds that she should return his love with love; for beauty fades, and therefore one ought to love while one is young.
• She bursts into tears, and rails against her uncle for encouraging love since he should be discouraging love, considering the fact that she is a grieving widow, and that love is so dangerous. Pandarus becomes enraged and rants about how both he and Troilus will soon die because of her decision. She relents, and agrees to be kind to Troilus, but does not promise to love him. Pandarus is satisfied, and then leaves after telling her how he discovered Troilus’ pitiable condition.
• While Criseyde contemplates the news, a clamor arises in the town. Troilus has won a great battle, and returns to the town in his battered armor. Nevertheless he is majestic and handsome. The citizens hail him as their hero. Criseyde looks upon him, and wonders who gave her a potion – i.e. a potion to make her love Troilus. She considers Troilus’ nobility, virtue, and form, and begins to develop feelings for him.
• Chaucer relates some of Criseyde’s thoughts. She thinks that it is only right that Troilus should love her. After all, she is one of the fairest and kindest women in the world, though she never would express this opinion that she holds of herself [hahah]. She begins to justify giving her heart to Troilus. She states that she is not a nun, and that she will save his life, which is always a good thing to do. All of the sudden, she began to grow fearful about falling in love. She knows that women in love are full of fear; for men are faithless, as soon as their desire is satisfied, love ceases, and they go to another love. Then her mind turns again to hope, again to fear, again to hope. Now she is hot, now she is cold.
• Criseyde walks in the gardens with her nieces. One of her nieces sings about the joy of being in love – how it eliminates all vice and sorrow. She sings about how she first feared being in love, but now she realizes that there is no peril in it, and that the love she shares with her knight will last forever [I believe that Chaucer is humorously mocking the naïveté of young men and women in this song; for he states that it is Criseyde’s young niece who sings the song. Criseyde herself is young, so one can only imagine that the niece is not yet even a teen. If a mature woman sung this song, then I would interpret Chaucer to favor such an opinion. As it stands, Chaucer finds such a regard of love to be comical].
• Pandarus informs Troilus that Criseyde is willing to love him. He advise Troilus to write her a letter informing her of how he greives for her love, and then to ride by her abode in full armor. Pandarus will contrive it so that they are seated at the window and looking onto the street when Troilus passes. Troilus must take heed to appear to be on some other business, and not to dally long.
• Criseyde reads the letter, and finds no defect in it. She writes a response in which she thanks him for his good intent towards her and she asserts that she does not desire to mislead him with false promises of love, nor bind herself to love; but she is willing to treat him as kindly as a sister.
• Troilus rides on his horse under the window. Criseyde tries to flee, but Pandarus warns her that he will regard her act as shunning him. Criseyde and Troilus both blush as they see each other, and Troilus rides on his way.
• Afterwards, Pandarus entreats Criseyde to throw off her coldness, and to speak to Troilus.
• Pandarus gives Criseyde’s letter to Troilus. Troilus interprets the letter favorably.
• Troilus and Criseyde send letters to one another through Pandarus nearly every day. Troilus’ days are full of sorrow or joy depending upon the content of Criseyde’s letters to him.
• Pandarus contrives a meeting between Troilus and Criseyde by asking Troilus’ brother, Deiphobus, to invite Criseyde to dinner so that Criseyde’s adversaries who seek her possessions will leave her alone. Pandarus also suggests that it would be best to invite Troilus and Paris and Helen to the dinner.
• The second book ends at the dinner party. Criseyde is just about to enter Troilus room, where he is lying in bed ‘sick,’ in order to ‘ask him for assistance against her adversaries.’
“To all persons some pleasant adventure is ordained at some time, if they can receive it; but if they will pay no heed to it when it comes, but willfully lets it pass by instead, why, it is neither chance nor fortune that deceives them, but only their own sloth and wretchedness.”
“Think how in each of you every day age lays waste a part of your beauty, and therefore, before age entirely devours you, go love. Old, no creature will have you. Learn wisdom from this proverb: ‘Too late on guard, says Beauty, when it is gone.’ Old age in the end subdues pride. When the king’s fool thinks a woman bears herself too proudly, he is accustomed to call at her, ‘So long may you and all proud women live until crows’ feet have grown under your eyes, and may you then have a mirror to pore over each morning!’ I can wish you no more grief!”
“Who has given me a potion?”
“Since I am free, alas, shall I now love, and jeopardize my security and enslave my liberty? How did I dare think of such a folly! Can I not see in other people in love their joy full of fear, their servitude, their pain? No woman is in love without cause to lament it. Love is of itself the most stormy life that ever was, ever is some distrust in love, or foolish strife, some cloud is over that sun. And when we wretched loving women are in trouble, all we can do is sit thinking and weeping; all the revenge we can have is to drink up our own woe. And wicked tongues are so ready to speak harm of us! And men are so faithless that, as soon as their desire is satisfied, love ceases, and onward they go to a new love! Harm done is done, whoever may pity it. Though these men at first tear themselves for love, a sharp beginning often has a weak end.”
“He who undertakes nothing, achieves nothing.”
“Whoever says that to love is a fault or servitude is either envious or downright foolish, or so wicked that he is unable to love. Such people I believe defame Love as know nothing of him; they speak of him, but they never bent his bow.”
“He who can endure no sorrow is not worthy of happiness.”
I love this poem. It is as fascinating and entertaining as any of Shakespeare’s plays. The language is not as beautiful as Shakespeare, but the concepts are as profound as Shakespeare’s and the comedy is as humorous. I have always heard great things about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but have heard hardly any praise for Troilus and Criseyde. If the Canterbury Tales are as delightful as this poem, I am very much looking forward to reading them.
Chaucer emphasizes something very curious about the beginnings of love. Oftentimes, lover will attempt to conceal their love, not just from one another, but from everyone else. Schopenhauer says that humans seek darkness to have sex because they know that they are engaging in an activity that perpetuates this wretched condition called life. I do not entirely agree with Schopenhauer’s pessimism, but it is a curious thing that we most of humanity seeks to conceal their love – i.e. there are not many public displays of affection. In some cultures, like America, PDA is considered offensive.
Book III: The Consummation
• Chaucer praises Venus, the goddess of Love, and invoke Calliope, the muse of epic poetry to assist him in writing this part of his poem.
• When Pandarus and Criseyde enter Troilus’ room, Troilus can barely speak, but he manages to ask Criseyde to become his, and him hers. She assents and kisses him.
• Pandarus tells them that he and Criseyde must leave; for Deiphobus and Helen are coming, but he promises to provide them an opportunity to meet and fully discuss their love at his house at some later time in the future.
• Afterwards Pandarus speaks to Troilus about their success. He also asks Troilus not to make him appear to be a bawd by tainting the honor of Criseyde. Troilus promises that he would never dishonor her in such a way, and promises to keep their love a secret.
• Troilus is now the happiest man in Troy, and offers any of his sisters in marriage to Pandarus for his loyal service.
• Pandarus contrives a secret meeting between Troilus and Criseyde. He invites Criseyde and her retinue of ladies to a dinner at his house on a stormy evening. When it begins to rain, he offers them to rest at his house. Criseyde’s ladies are sleeping in a larger room next to Criseyde, who is sleeping alone in a smaller room. Pandarus then brings Troilus to Criseyde’s room by a secret passage. Before letting Troilus enter, he tells Criseyde that she must comfort Troilus because he believes that she has been false to him with another man. She is offended that Troilus would succumb to such jealousy, and states that she will assure him of her loyalty. Troilus enters. Criseyde scolds him for believing such malicious rumors about her. Troilus swoons. Criseyde fears for him, and softens her temper. When Troilus recovers, she tells him that all is forgiven and they clasp one another in their arms. Pandarus leaves. Troilus and Criseyde spend the night together. They do not have sex. They pass the night speaking about their love for one another and then curse the morning that separates them[ this is very similar to the scene between Romeo and Juliet].
• Both promise to remain faithful to one another forever.
• Pandarus contrives many more such meetings, and Troilus and Criseyde fall deeply in love with each other. Chaucer says that their joy cannot be written; it is a joy that surpasses all comprehension.
• Love made Troilus flee from every vice. He was foremost among the ranks of the army in battle, honored those who were worthy, and relieved all who were in distress.
• Chaucer ends the third book with more praise of the virtues of Love. “My third book thus I now end and leave Troilus in joy and peace with Criseyde, his own sweet heart.”
“Look then if they are not to blame, such people–indeed, what shall I call them?–who make their boast of women, and name their names, who never yet promised them anything, nor knew them more than my old hat!”
“I thought I saw in your speech your fear that I might think what you are doing for me for friendship’s sake to be the acts of a bawd. I am not mad, though I may be uneducated; I know well the difference, by God. He that goes on such an errand for gold or riches, call him what you will; but this thing that you are doing, call it a gentle deed, and compassion and fellowship and trustfulness. All men know that distinctions must be made between things that look alike.”
“Oh fragile well unstable earthly joy! With whatever creature you show yourself merry, either he knows you are mutable or knows it not; it must be one of the two. Now if he knows it not, how can he who is ever in the darkness of ignorance say that he has true joy and bliss? And if he knows that joy is fleeting, as every worldly joy must be, then every time he remembers this, the dread of losing joy keeps him from perfect happiness: and if he cares at all about losing his joy, it must seem that joy is worth very little. Therefore I must conclude in this matter that truly, for anything I can see, there is no true well-being here in this world.”
“O Jove, author of nature, is it an honor to your godhead that innocent people suffer injury and he who is guilty goes free?”
“To be healed of a fever or other great sickness men must drink bitter drink; and to win gladness men often must swallow pain and great woe. And here we see it, for this adventure after pain has won its cure. And now sweetness seems sweeter because bitterness was tasted before. Out of woe they are floating into bliss, such as they had never felt since they were born.”
“Could a man believe that a miser or a wretch, who blames love and scorns it, was ever yet granted such delight from all the coins that he can scratch together and hoard, as there is in one moment of perfect love? No, may God save me, no niggard can have such perfect joy.”
“Alas, night, why will you not hover over us as long as when Jove lay with Alcmena? O black night, that was created by God, as people read in books, at certain times to hide this world with your black weeds, so that under it people may rest, well may beasts complain and men scold you, that when day is to break us with labor, you flee thus away and grant not to give us rest. Too shortly you do your duty, you hasty night!”
“Having returned to his royal palace, he crept softly to his bed, to sleep long, as he was accustomed. But all for nothing; for all he lay and shut his eyes, sleep would not sink into his heart, for thinking how she for whom desire burned him was worth a thousand-fold more than he had believed. And in his mind he began to revolve up and down every word and look of her, and firmly to imprint in his thoughts even the least point of all that joy; and truly, from the very remembrance, longing burned him newly again, and the sweetness of love began to breed more than before, and yet there was nothing that he could do.”
“For of all fortune’s sharp adversities the worst is this: for a man to have been in happiness and to remember it when it is gone. It is as great a skill to keep something as to get it.”
“This joy cannot be written with ink; this passes all that heart can conceive.”
“I wish to God, Who is the author of nature, that Love with his strong bond would encircle all hearts and tie them so firmly that none should know the way out of his bondage!”
Reading about the joys of Troilus and Criseyde is uplifting. One is often delighted to see others in a state of bliss. It provides a sense that such bliss is attainable to them in the future. Furthermore, most human beings have a strong capacity for empathy. When they consider someone who is happy, they too become happy; when they think about someone who is sad, they too become sad.
Reading about the couple’s bliss is also depressing because the reader knows that their love will not endure because Criseyde will love another man. This makes all the praises of love seem hollow, and the warnings about the dangers and ephemeral qualities of love seem all the more true. Perhaps one might argue that Troilus and Criseyde’s relationship is not one of true love. As Shakespeare states in one of his sonnets, true love is something that never changes. But if we grant that true love is something that never changes, then we can never say that someone is truly in love. We can only cast retrospective judgment after both parties are dead. This does not seem practical. Perhaps love can change. If we grant this presumption, then love is certainly full of perils.
Book IV: The Separation
• Chaucer invokes the Erinyes and Mars to assist him in this part of the story.
• The Greeks and Trojans agree to exchange prisoners. One of the exchanges consists of Antenor being exchanged for Criseyde. It is ironic that the Trojans seek to retrieve Antenor because he will later betray Troy and cause the ruin of the city.
• Both Troilus and Criseyde weep bitterly, and wish for death. Pandarus comforts them as best he may by promising to contrive an opportunity for them to confer with each other about a plan to remedy their current affliction.
• Criseyde promises to return to Troy within 10 days. She plans to trick her father by appealing to his greed. She will bring a small treasure with her to the Greek camp and tell her father that a Trojan friend gave it to her, and that the friend wishes to send more to Calchas to preserve them from the fall of Troy, but only by the assistance of Criseyde. She will thus return to the city. Troilus fears that Calchas will see through her trick, and erase her love for Troilus by praising the virtues of some Greek man and convincing her that it would be best to marry such a man. Troilus proposes that they run away instead. Criseyde says that it would bring dishonor to both of them, and promises Troilus that she will never be unfaithful to him; and if she is, then may she burn in hell.
“But alack the day! Such joy lasts all too little; thanks to Fortune, who always seems truest when she wishes to deceive, and she can so attune her song to fools that she catches and blinds them, the common traitor! And when a creature is thrown down from her wheel, then she laughs and makes faces at him.”
“People so little know what is to be desired that often they find their ruin, blinded to their true advantage by the cloud of error.”
“When my heart is dead, receive in kindness the spirit that hastens to you, for it shall ever be your servant. Therefore it matters not if the body may die! Lovers, who are set high upon the wheel of Fortune in good estate, may God grant that you ever find love of steel, and long may your lives endure in joy! But when you pass my sepulcher, remember your comrade rests there, for I, though unworthy, loved too.”
“As sure as day follows night, a new love, or labor or other trouble, or else seldom seeing the beloved one, causes old affections to pass away.”
“Fortune helps the strong in his enterprise, and flees from wretches for their cowardice.”
“Though on earth we two may be parted, yet in those compassionate fields where Pluto reigns, and where there is no torment, shall we be together, as Orpheus is with his mate Eurydice.”
“Sorrow always takes possession of the end of bliss, and whoever believes it not let him look on me, woeful wretch, hating myself and cursing my birth, as I feel myself pass from grief to desperation.”
“Herein I am inquiring diligently which thing is the cause of which–God’s foreknowledge the cause of the necessity of things to come, or the necessity of things to come the cause of the foreknowledge.”
“On that day when I am false to you, my Troilus, my knight, for dread of my father or any other man, or because men cherish me or offer marriage or station or pleasure, may Saturn’s daughter Juno by her power cause me, as mad as Athamas, to remain eternally in Styx, the pit of hell! And this I swear to you by every celestial god and every goddess, on every infernal deity, on every nymph and faun and satyr great and small.”
“’Patience conquers,’ people say, and ‘Whoever will have something he wants must give up something he wants.’ Thus make a virtue of necessity through your patience, and think that one that cares not about her is always lord of Fortune, and that she daunts no creature but a wretch.”
“Neither vain delight, nor yet your royal estate, nor only your valor in war or martial tourney, nor your pomp or splendor, nobility or wealth, made me take pity on your distress, but your moral virtue, founded upon your faithfulness–that was the reason why I first had pity on you. And your gentle heart and manhood, and that I believed you held in scorn all that tended to ill, such as roughness and vulgar desires, and that your reason bridled your pleasures–this gave me over to you more than to any other creature, to hold for life. And this may not be spoiled by length of years or changeful Fortune.”
Criseyde makes many promises of fidelity to Troilus, even swearing to be cast into hell should she ever be unfaithful. At the moment when these promises were made, Criseyde genuinely loved Troilus, and had no intention of ever loving another man. But as Chaucer asserts, mankind can neither avoid nor foresee all things. Many lovers make these types of promises – i.e. of eternal fidelity – but often those promises are broken. This fact exacerbates the naturally jealous element in all love relationships.
There was a moment when Criseyde swooned and Troilus thought that she was dead. He drew his dagger and was about to kill himself when she awoke. This scene was similar to Romeo and Juliet, but in that play, Juliet did not awake until Romeo had committed suicide by drinking poison. Juliet then killed herself. Some have interpreted this to be a triumphal ending for Love. After all, Romeo and Juliet are together in another world where their love is not hindered by family disputes. Likewise it would have been better for the case of true love if Criseyde and Troilus had killed themselves before Criseyde had the opportunity to break her vow to Troilus. But as Shakespeare states, true love is something that does not alter when it finds cause for alteration. I believe that love ought to be tested to determine whether it will alter. Troilus and Criseyde’ love is tested, and it alters. Romeo and Juliet’s love was never tested and therefore never altered. Romeo’s love for Rosalind was tested, and it did alter. Perhaps all love alters; it only requires a certain influence [I am of course speaking only of romantic love, not filial love nor love of a friend].
Book V: The Betrayal
• Diomed escorts Criseyde from Troy to the Greek camp. He expresses a desire to become her knight, and promises to remain forever faithful to her. She thanks him for her kind words, but still grieves over her separation from Troilus.
• Troilus wastes away with grief. On the tenth day after Criseyde’s departure, when she promised to return, Troilus waits for her at the walls of Troy all day. He waits again the following day when she does not come, thinking that he has miscalculated the number of days since her departure. Nevertheless she does not come. He writes a letter to her, expressing his sorrow and requesting a reason for her continued absence. She assures him that she still loves him, but does not know when she will be able to return. Troilus interprets the response to be cold, and thus suffers even more.
• Within two months of Criseyde’s arrival in the Greek camp, Diomed has successfully gained her favor and love. She even gives him the broach that Troilus gave her at her departure from Troy.
• Troilus has a dream of Criseyde lying next to a boar and kissing it. He asks his prophetess sister Cassandra to explain the meaning of the dream. She explains that Diomed is the descendent of Meleager, who slew the Calydonian Boar, and therefore the dream has been sent by the gods to inform Troilus that Criseyde is now in love with Diomed.
• Cassandra’s interpretation is confirmed when Troilus sees the broach that he gave Criseyde in Diomed’s tunic.
• Achilles slays Troilus. Upon ascending to Heaven, Troilus realizes the foolishness of humanity to seek after earthly pleasures that are transitory and illusory. He experiences true happiness for the first time in Heaven.
• Chaucer begs pardon from women for relating this tale of an unfaithful woman, and informs the readers that men are just as unfaithful. Furthermore, he reminds the reader that there are women who have been extraordinarily faithful, such as Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, and Alcestis, the woman who sacrificed her life so that her husband could continue to live. Finally, Chaucer exhorts the reader to renounce vain pleasures of the Earth, and place their love in Jesus.
“As time hurts them, time cures them!”
“Whoever will pay heed to every word, or rule oneself according to every person’s opinion, shall never prosper, surely. What some people blame, others will always commend.”
“All things shall pass away.”
“And when he was slain thus, his freed spirit went blissfully up into the eighth sphere of heaven, leaving all the elements in their spheres below him. From there he gazed long upon the wandering stars, listening to the harmony of sounds full of heavenly melody, and then down upon this little spot of earth embraced by the sea. And then he began utterly to despise this wretched world, and held all to be vanity in comparison to the full felicity of heaven above.
At length he cast his eyes down upon the spot where he was slain, and laughed within himself at the grief of those who wept so for his death, and condemned all our deeds who follow so hard after blind pleasures which cannot endure, when we should cast our whole heart on heaven.”
“O young joyous people, youths and maidens, in whom love ever grows up with your age, get yourself home from worldly vanity. Cast up the eyes of your heart to that God that made you after His image, and think that all this world is but a temporary amusement and passes as soon as the sweet flowers. And love Him who for pure love, to redeem our souls, first died upon the cross, and rose again, and now sits on high in heaven. He will fail no creature (of that be sure) who will set his heart wholly on Him. And since He is most gentle and best to love, what need to seek feigned loves?”
What a fantastic story! It very well combines both humor and gravity. The story is at once both entertaining and morally instructive. This is certainly one of my favorite books that I have read on this 10 year reading plan thus far. But enough of the praises, I will now analyze a few of the important themes of this last section of poem.
All the while when Chaucer was describing the piteous state of Troilus, I kept anticipating some Othello-like jealousy to possess him and drive him to commit some violence upon Diomed and Criseyde. Jealousy did take possession of Troilus, but he only sought to alleviate his grief and appease his rage by fighting with Diomed on the field of battle. They did not succeed in vanquishing one another. Achilles ultimately slew Troilus.
When Troilus dies, he ascends to the Eighth Sphere of Heaven. In Chaucer’s time, the Eighth Sphere of Heaven represented the Christian notion of Heaven, and circumscribed the universe according to the contemporary astronomy. Chaucer beautifully describes how Troilus looks back upon the Earth with wonder and pity that mankind ardently seeks after vain pleasures of the world that never last. Chaucer exhorts the reader to forget earthly pleasures, and instead love what is promised in an eternal afterlife of true bliss. Being a Christian, Chaucer believes that this is possible by loving Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether one is a Christian, I think that the moral is still instructive – i.e. do not seek for happiness in ephemeral things. This is a moral that has almost become trite given the fact that it has been espoused by the earliest Greek philosophers, but it is all the more powerful and convincing when it is embedded in such an entertaining, tragic, and beautiful story like Troilus and Criseyde.