The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

  Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale Page 21

page Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale: Page 21

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Now wol I seye yow sooth, by seint Thomas,
Why that I rente out of his book a leef,
For which he smoot me so that I was deef.
“And now, by St. Thomas, I’ll tell you why I tore a page out of that precious book of his, which made him hit me so hard that I went deaf.
He hadde a book that gladly, night and day,
670For his desport he wolde rede alway.
He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,
At whiche book he lough alwey ful faste.
And eek ther was som-tyme a clerk at Rome,
A cardinal, that highte Seint Ierome,
That made a book agayn Iovinian;
In whiche book eek ther was Tertulan,
Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,
That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys;
And eek the Parables of Salomon,
680Ovydes Art, and bokes many on,
And alle thise wer bounden in o volume.
And every night and day was his custume,
Whan he had leyser and vacacioun
From other worldly occupacioun,
To reden on this book of wikked wyves.
He knew of hem mo legendes and lyves
Than been of gode wyves in the Bible.
For trusteth wel, it is an impossible
That any clerk wol speke good of wyves,
690But-if it be of holy seintes lyves,
Ne of noon other womman never the mo.
Who peyntede the leoun, tel me who?
By God, if wommen hadde writen stories,
As clerkes han with-inne hir oratories,
They wolde han writen of men more wikkednesse
Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.
The children of Mercurie and of Venus
Been in hir wirking ful contrarious;
Mercurie loveth wisdom and science,
700And Venus loveth ryot and dispence.
And, for hir diverse disposicioun,
Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun;
And thus, God woot! Mercurie is desolat
In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat;
And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed;
Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed.
The clerk, whan he is old, and may noght do
Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,
Than sit he doun, and writ in his dotage
710That wommen can nat kepe hir mariage!
“You see, Jankin had this book that he loved to read all the time, day and night. The name of the book was Valerius and Theophrastus, and it always made him laugh. This book actually consisted of many books all bound up into a single volume and included the Roman cardinal St. Jerome’s book against Jovinian as well as Ovid’s Art of Love, the Parables of Solomon, and other misogynistic works by Tertulian, Chrysippus, Trotula, and Heloise, the nun from Paris. And whenever he had some free time, whether it be night or day, he’d sit down to read all about the evils of women in this book. In fact, he knew more about these women than he did about all the good women mentioned in the Bible. Trust me: No scholar will ever praise the virtues of a woman unless she happens to be a saint. But by God, if women had written those books instead of men, they’d be full of stories about men’s wickedness, more evil than all of mankind could ever atone for. Men are from Mercury and women are from Venus, they say, and while Mercury loves learning, Venus loves having fun. And because they’re polar opposites, each one loses power whenever the other one is in the sky, which means that no scholar would ever praise any daughter of Venus. And so, when scholarly men are old and grey and can’t get it up anymore, they sit down and write awful things about women who cheat on their husbands!