The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

Original Text

Modern Text

Greet was the stryf and long bitwixe hem tweye,
330If that I hadde leyser for to seye;
But to theffect. It happed on a day,
(To telle it yow as shortly as I may)
A worthy duk that highte Perotheus,
That felawe was unto duk Theseus
Sin thilke day that they were children lyte,
Was come to Athenes, his felawe to visyte,
And for to pleye, as he was wont to do,
For in this world he loved no man so:
And he loved him as tendrely ageyn.
340So wel they loved, as olde bokes seyn,
That whan that oon was deed, sothly to telle,
His felawe wente and soghte him doun in helle;
But of that story list me nat to wryte.
There was some pretty bad blood between these two guys for a long time, and I’d tell you all about it if I had time. But let me just cut to the chase and tell you the important thing that happened next. To make a longer story short, it happened one day that another duke named Perotheus came to Athens on vacation to visit Duke Theseus. The two had been best friends since they were little kids, and they were so tight that they’d do anything for each other. In fact, the story goes that when one of them finally died, the other journeyed all the way down to hell in search of him. Oh, but that’s another story entirely.
Duk Perotheus loved wel Arcite,
And hadde him knowe at Thebes yeer by yere;
And fynally, at requeste and preyere
Of Perotheus, with-oute any raunsoun,
Duk Theseus him leet out of prisoun,
Freely to goon, wher that him liste over-al,
350In swich a gyse, as I you tellen shal.
Anyway, Duke Perotheus also happened to be good friends with Arcite, whom he’d known in the city of Thebes for a number of years. Perotheus begged Theseus to free Arcite, and after many requests and prayers, Theseus finally set him free. Perotheus didn’t even have to pay him a ransom or anything. There was a catch, however, which is what I’m going to tell you about next.
This was the forward, pleynly for tendyte,
Bitwixen Theseus and him Arcite:
That if so were, that Arcite were y-founde
Ever in his lyf, by day or night or stounde
In any contree of this Theseus,
And he were caught, it was acorded thus,
That with a swerd he sholde lese his heed;
Ther nas non other remedye ne reed,
But taketh his leve, and homward he him spedde;
360Let him be war, his nekke lyth to wedde!
To put it simply, Theseus freed Arcite on the condition that Arcite never return to Athens for the rest of his life, no matter what. If Thesus ever caught Arcite in Athens again, then he’d slice off his head with a sword. These terms were non-negotiable, and Arcite had no choice but to go back to Thebes and know that it’d be off-with-his-head if he ever came back!