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
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