by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
v The physician’s tale tells the story of Virginius and his daughter Virginia. It’s a tragedy.
beautiful girl, the most beautiful that ever lived. And she was a very good
v She was wise, modest, chaste, virtuous, prudent, and kind.
v One day she went to church and Appius saw her. He was a powerful judge, and a bad man. He wanted her, but he knew it would be difficult. He could never marry her or simply take her, and she’d never accept a bribe, no matter how big.
v Appius found a churl to help him – a low life, criminal named Claudius. Claudius made a false claim in court soon after, that
wasn’t really the daughter of Virginius, but was in fact Claudius’s stolen
v Appius agreed and told Virginius to give over his daughter to Claudius. Virginius decided to kill his own daughter instead, cutting off her head with his sword. It was better to die honorably than to live in sin.
v Virginius took his daughter’s head to the court, angering Appius. An angry mob entered after and threw Appius into jail, where he killed himself. Claudius was exiled from town.
v There are two lessons to the story. One is for parents to be very careful and protect their children from danger. The other is, “forsake sin before sin forsakes you.” This basically means “what goes around comes around.” If you do bad things, then bad things will happen to you.
v In the story, the physician says something very insulting to the nuns. He says a young woman becomes a nun for one of two reasons. Either she’s such a good person she wants to, or she’s such a bad person that her family is embarrassed, and forces her to be a nun, and pray for forgiveness.
v He then compares nuns to poachers, saying a poacher knows best how to guard a forest, because he can think like a poacher. Likewise, a nun who was bad in youth can best look after a young woman, because she knows how young women think.
Canterbury Tales – The Physician’s Taleby Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
Here follows the Physician's Tale.
There was a knight named Virginius, full of honour and nobility, who was rich and well loved. He and his wife had only one daughter, named Virginia. The maiden was the fairest and most beautiful girl who ever lived; it was as if Nature herself had said, "Look what I can do! Who can imitate me? Not even the greatest artists of ancient Greece, like Pygmalion, Apelles, or Zeuxis could make such a perfect, beautiful girl. For God himself trusts me to create all living things; and all that lives under the waxing and waning moon is in my care. And in honour of Him I made her, as I make all my other creatures, whatever their colour or form." Thus, it seems to me, Nature would say.
This maiden was fourteen years old. Her skin was fair, and her lips were red. And her hair was a shiny, golden yellow, like the sun. And, if her beauty was excellent, a thousand times more was she virtuous, in every possible way.
She was chaste, in spirit and in body, with a sense of humility, abstinence, temperance, patience, and with modesty in her clothing and jewellery. She was always polite when spoken to. Although she was wise, she spoke modestly. She never tried to impress anyone with big words. She spoke according to her place, and you could easily see she had good parents.
She was always hard working. She didn't like to drink, knowing that young people and alcohol are a dangerous combination. So, she often pretended to be sick, to flee company where folly was likely to happen, as at feasts, revels and dances, that might be occasions for drunkenness. Such parties make children mature too soon, and bold, which is always dangerous, and can lead to a rude and vulgar wife.
And, you elderly nuns, who have the job of governing peoples' daughters, do not ignore my words, but remember that you have come to your position in life for one of two reasons; either because you were so good you belonged in a convent, or because you were so terrible you embarrassed your family, and they put you in a convent as a punishment.
Therefore, for Christ's sake, do your jobs well in teaching girls virtue. Be like a poacher who has sworn to stop hunting, and can protect a forest the best of any, because he knows all the tricks. Watch over them well, and don't allow them to have any faults, for whoever does so is surely a traitor.
And remember this: of all sins, the worst is when someone betrays an innocent. You fathers and mothers, who have one or two children, the responsibility of protecting them is all yours, while they are under your care. Beware that, by the example of your life, or by your negligence, they die not, because if they do, you will be sorry. Under a soft and negligent shepherd, the wolf has torn to pieces many sheep and lambs. Let this one example be enough, for I must return to my tale.
This maiden of whom I tell was so good that she needed no governess. In every direction the fame of her beauty and goodness spread, so that, throughout the land, all who loved virtue praised her; all except those who were envious, who are always sorry for other people's happiness and glad for their sorrow and sickness.
One day, and this is a true story, this maiden went to the church in town with her dear mother, as usual. Now in this town there was a justice, named Appius, who was the governor of this region, and he saw her, looking her up and down. Immediately he decided, saying to himself, "This girl will be mine, no matter what it takes."
Then the Devil slipped into his heart and showed him how, by cunning, he might win the maiden. He couldn't just take her, and he knew she wouldn't accept any amount of money. So, after thinking for awhile, he summoned a churl named Claudius whom he knew to be both bold and cunning. To him this judge told his plan and swore him to secrecy; saying if Claudius told anyone, he would lose his head. When this terrible plan was agreed, the judge was glad, and thanked Claudius, and paid him well.
When this conspiracy was planned from point to point, the churl went home. And so it happened soon after, that Appius was sitting in his court, and giving out judgments on various cases. This churl came rushing in and said,
"So please you, lord, give me justice on this piteous petition of complaint against the knight Virginius. And if he shall say it is not true, I will prove it and find good witnesses who will prove that my petition tells the truth!"
The judge answered, "Unless Virginius is here I cannot give a final sentence. Let him be summoned, and then I will listen gladly. You shall have full justice here, and no wrong."
Virginius came, and the horrible petition was read without delay, which was, "To you my dear lord, Honourable Appius, show your poor servant Claudius how a knight, called Virginius, against the law and all fairness, and expressly against my will, holds my servant, who one night was stolen from my house while she was very young. This I will prove by witness, lord, as will please you. She was never his daughter, whatever he may say. For this reason I petition you, my lord the judge, give me back my servant."
Virginius stared at the churl. But ,before he could tell his side of the story (where he would have proven, with many witnesses, that this churl was false), this cursed judge would not wait at all nor hear a word more from him, but gave his judgement: "I decree that this churl shall have his servant immediately; you shall keep her in your house no longer. This is my ruling. Go bring her here and put her in our keeping. This churl shall have his servant."
When the knight saw that he must give his daughter to the judge, to live in sin, he went home and sat down in his hall. He summoned his dear daughter, and with a face deathlike, he looked at her with a father's pity striking his heart.
"Daughter," he said, "there are two ways, death or shame, that you may choose, alas that I was born! For never have you deserved to die by blade or sword. O daughter dear, whom I raised with such joy that you were never out of my mind! O daughter who are my last woe and last joy of my life, take your death with honour, for this is my judgment. For love and not for hate, you must die. My merciful hand must strike off your head. Alas that Appius ever saw you! He has given you this false judgment today." And he told her the entire case as you have heard; there is no need to tell it again.
"Mercy, dear father," said the maiden, and laid her arms around his neck, and the tears burst from her two eyes as she said, "Good father, must I die? Is there no other way?"
"No, dear daughter mine," he said.
"Then give me a moment," she said, "to mourn my death a little; for Jephthah surely gave his daughter a moment before he killed her, alas! And God knows that she had no guilt except that she ran to meet her father first to welcome him with great honour." And with that word she fainted. When she awoke, she rose up and said to her father, "Blessed be God, I die a maiden. Give me my death before I have dishonour. Do what you must, in the name of God!"
And then she asked him to strike gently with his sword, and then she fainted again. Her father, with sorrowful heart, struck off her head, and holding it by the hair, went to show it to the judge where he still sat in court. When the judge saw it, he ordered that Virginius be taken and hanged immediately. But, then a thousand people burst in to save the knight, by their pity and compassion. For this story had spread, and the people immediately had suspicion, by reason that it was by Appius's consent, whom they well knew to be lecherous. So they came immediately to Appius and threw him into prison, where he killed himself. And Claudius was condemned to be hanged upon a tree, but Virginius, by his clemency, so prayed for the churl that he was exiled, or else surely he would have been killed too.
Here all may see how sin has its costs. Beware, for no man knows whom God will strike, nor how one's conscience may tremble at a wicked life, though it be so privy that none knows of it but the sinner and God. For whether one may be educated or not, he knows not how soon he will face his final judgement. Therefore I counsel you, listen to this warning: forsake sin before sin forsakes you.
Here ends the Physician's Tale.