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The Firste Moevere of the cause above,
Whan he first made the faire cheyne of love,
Greet was th’effect, and heigh was his entente.
. . .
For with that faire cheyne of love he bond
The fyr, the eyr, the water, and the lond
In certeyn boundes, that they may nat flee.
(The Knight’s Tale, 2987–2993)

This passage is from the conclusion of the Knight’s Tale, as Duke Theseus explains why Emelye must marry the knight Palamon. Theseus bases his argument on concepts drawn from the fifth-century a.d. Roman philosopher Boethius, whose ideas appealed to medieval Christians because he combined Plato’s theory of an ideal world with Christian teachings of a moral universe. Chaucer took it upon himself to translate and provide a commentary for Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. Chaucer’s translation, a long prose text, is informally known as his Boece.

The “Firste Moevere” (first mover) is the Aristotelian notion of God. The story the Knight tells takes place long before Christ. Although medieval Christians could not condemn classical writers and philosophers, since much of Virgil’s poetry and Plato’s philosophy formed the basis for Christian literature, they had difficulty imagining a time before people believed in Christ. Chaucer (or the Knight) has carefully given Theseus a pagan notion of God that nevertheless resonates with Christianity. Having a supreme ancient Greek or Roman god would be idolatrous and therefore immoral (although the gods appear as lesser entities in the second half of the tale), because, according to medieval Christians, there was only one god and that god was the Trinity.

The “faire cheyne of love” is a medieval view of cosmology, or the natural order of things. It is the idea that every thing has its place in the hierarchy of the world, from the smallest flea to the hand of God. The fifty lines or so that follow this passage contain ideas that are taken almost word for word from Chaucer’s Boece. Theseus argues that Emelye’s overly long mourning threatens to disrupt the great chain of love, and that the only way to maintain the chain’s balance is for her to marry Palamon and be happy.