Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  England  Index  Previous  Next 

The Canterbury Tales and Other Works of Chaucer (Middle English), by Geoffery Chaucer, [14th cent.], at

The Canterbury Tales

The Physician's Tale

 Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,
 A knyght that called was Virginius,
 Fulfild of honour and of worthynesse,
 And strong of freendes, and of greet richesse.
 This knyght a doghter hadde by his wyf;
 No children hadde he mo in al his lyf.
 Fair was this mayde in excellent beautee
 Aboven every wight that man may see;
 For Nature hath with sovereyn diligence
10 Yformed hire in so greet excellence,
 As though she wolde seyn, "Lo! I, Nature,
 Thus kan I forme and peynte a creature,
 Whan that me list; who kan me countrefete?
 Pigmalion noght, though he ay forge and bete,
 Or grave, or peynte; for I dar wel seyn
 Apelles, Zanzis, sholde werche in veyn
 Outher to grave, or peynte, or forge, or bete,
 If they presumed me to countrefete.
 For He that is the formere principal
20 Hath maked me his vicaire general,
 To forme and peynten erthely creaturis
 Right as me list, and ech thyng in my cure is
 Under the moone, that may wane and waxe,
 And for my werk right no thyng wol I axe;
 My lord and I been ful of oon accord.
 I made hire to the worshipe of my lord;
 So do I alle myne othere creatures,
 What colour that they han or what figures."
 Thus semeth me that Nature wolde seye.
30 This mayde of age twelve yeer was and tweye,
 In which that Nature hadde swich delit.
 For right as she kan peynte a lilie whit,
 And reed a rose, right with swich peynture
 She peynted hath this noble creature,
 Er she were born, upon hir lymes fre,
 Where as by right swiche colours sholde be;
 And Phebus dyed hath hire tresses grete
 Lyk to the stremes of his burned heete.
 And if that excellent was hire beautee,
40 A thousand foold moore vertuous was she.
 In hire ne lakked no condicioun
 That is to preyse, as by discrecioun.
 As wel in goost as body chast was she,
 For which she floured in virginitee
 With alle humylitee and abstinence,
 With alle attemperaunce and pacience,
 With mesure eek of beryng and array.
 Discreet she was in answeryng alway;
 Though she were wis as Pallas, dar I seyn,
50 Hir facound eek ful wommanly and pleyn,
 No countrefeted termes hadde she
 To seme wys, but after hir degree
 She spak, and alle hire wordes, moore and lesse,
 Sownynge in vertu and in gentillesse.
 Shamefast she was in maydens shamefastnesse,
 Constant in herte, and evere in bisynesse
 To dryve hire out of ydel slogardye.
 Bacus hadde of hir mouth right no maistrie;
 For wyn and youthe dooth Venus encresse,
60 As men in fyr wol casten oille or greesse.
 And of hir owene vertu, unconstreyned,
 She hath ful ofte tyme syk hire feyned,
 For that she wolde fleen the compaignye
 Where likly was to treten of folye,
 As is at feestes, revels, and at daunces,
 That been occasions of daliaunces.
 Swich thynges maken children for to be
 To soone rype and boold, as men may se,
 Which is ful perilous and hath been yoore.
70 For al to soone may she lerne loore
 Of booldnesse, whan she woxen is a wyf.
 And ye maistresses, in youre olde lyf,
 That lordes doghtres han in governaunce,
 Ne taketh of my wordes no displesaunce.
 Thenketh that ye been set in governynges
 Of lordes doghtres oonly for two thynges:
 Outher for ye han kept youre honestee,
 Or elles ye han falle in freletee,
 And knowen wel ynough the olde daunce,
80 And han forsaken fully swich meschaunce
 For everemo; therfore, for Cristes sake,
 To teche hem vertu looke that ye ne slake.
 A theef of venysoun, that hath forlaft
 His likerousnesse and al his olde craft,
 Kan kepe a forest best of any man.
 Now kepeth wel, for if ye wole, ye kan.
 Looke wel that ye unto no vice assente,
 Lest ye be dampned for youre wikke entente;
 For whoso dooth, a traitour is, certeyn.
90 And taketh kep of that that I shal seyn:
 Of alle tresons sovereyn pestilence
 Is whan a wight bitrayseth innocence.
 Ye fadres and ye moodres eek also,
 Though ye han children, be it oon or mo,
 Youre is the charge of al hir surveiaunce,
 Whil that they been under youre governaunce.
 Beth war, if by ensample of youre lyvynge,
 Or by youre necligence in chastisynge,
 That they ne perisse; for I dar wel seye
100 If that they doon, ye shul it deere abeye.
 Under a shepherde softe and necligent
 The wolf hath many a sheep and lamb torent.
 Suffiseth oon ensample now as heere,
 For I moot turne agayn to my matere.
 This mayde, of which I wol this tale expresse,
 So kepte hirself hir neded no maistresse,
 For in hir lyvyng maydens myghten rede,
 As in a book, every good word or dede
 That longeth to a mayden vertuous,
110 She was so prudent and so bountevous.
 For which the fame out sprong on every syde,
 Bothe of hir beautee and hir bountee wyde,
 That thurgh that land they preised hire echone
 That loved vertu, save Envye allone,
 That sory is of oother mennes wele
 And glad is of his sorwe and his unheele.
 (The Doctour maketh this descripcioun.)
 This mayde upon a day wente in the toun
 Toward a temple, with hire mooder deere,
120 As is of yonge maydens the manere.
 Now was ther thanne a justice in that toun,
 That governour was of that regioun.
 And so bifel this juge his eyen caste
 Upon this mayde, avysynge hym ful faste,
 As she cam forby ther as this juge stood.
 Anon his herte chaunged and his mood,
 So was he caught with beautee of this mayde,
 And to hymself ful pryvely he sayde,
 "This mayde shal be myn, for any man!"
130 Anon the feend into his herte ran,
 And taughte hym sodeynly that he by slyghte
 The mayden to his purpos wynne myghte.
 For certes, by no force ne by no meede,
 Hym thoughte, he was nat able for to speede;
 For she was strong of freendes, and eek she
 Confermed was in swich soverayn bountee
 That wel he wiste he myghte hire nevere wynne
 As for to make hire with hir body synne.
 For which, by greet deliberacioun,
140 He sente after a cherl, was in the toun,
 Which that he knew for subtil and for boold.
 This juge unto this cherl his tale hath toold
 In secree wise, and made hym to ensure
 He sholde telle it to no creature,
 And if he dide, he sholde lese his heed.
 Whan that assented was this cursed reed,
 Glad was this juge, and maked him greet cheere,
 And yaf hym yiftes preciouse and deere.
 Whan shapen was al hire conspiracie
150 Fro point to point, how that his lecherie
 Parfourned sholde been ful subtilly,
 As ye shul heere it after openly,
 Hoom gooth the cherl, that highte Claudius.
 This false juge, that highte Apius,
 (So was his name, for this is no fable,
 But knowen for historial thyng notable;
 The sentence of it sooth is, out of doute),
 This false juge gooth now faste aboute
 To hasten his delit al that he may.
160 And so bifel soone after, on a day,
 This false juge, as telleth us the storie,
 As he was wont, sat in his consistorie,
 And yaf his doomes upon sondry cas.
 This false cherl cam forth a ful greet pas,
 And seyde, "Lord, if that it be youre wille,
 As dooth me right upon this pitous bille,
 In which I pleyne upon Virginius;
 And if that he wol seyn it is nat thus,
 I wol it preeve, and fynde good witnesse,
170 That sooth is that my bille wol expresse."
 The juge answerde, "Of this, in his absence,
 I may nat yeve diffynytyf sentence.
 Lat do hym calle, and I wol gladly heere;
 Thou shalt have al right, and no wrong heere."
 Virginius cam to wite the juges wille,
 And right anon was rad this cursed bille;
 The sentence of it was as ye shul heere:
 "To yow, my lord, sire Apius so deere,
 Sheweth youre povre servant Claudius
180 How that a knyght, called Virginius,
 Agayns the lawe, agayn al equitee,
 Holdeth, expres agayn the wyl of me,
 My servant, which that is my thral by right,
 Which fro myn hous was stole upon a nyght,
 Whil that she was ful yong; this wol I preeve
 By witnesse, lord, so that it nat yow greeve.
 She nys his doghter nat, what so he seye.
 Wherfore to yow, my lord the juge, I preye,
 Yeld me my thral, if that it be youre wille."
190 Lo, this was al the sentence of his bille.
 Virginius gan upon the cherl biholde,
 But hastily, er he his tale tolde,
 And wolde have preeved it as sholde a knyght,
 And eek by witnessyng of many a wight,
 That al was fals that seyde his adversarie,
 This cursed juge wolde no thyng tarie,
 Ne heere a word moore of Virginius,
 But yaf his juggement, and seyde thus:
 "I deeme anon this cherl his servant have;
200 Thou shalt no lenger in thyn hous hir save.
 Go bryng hire forth, and put hire in oure warde.
 The cherl shal have his thral, this I awarde."
 And whan this worthy knyght Virginius
 Thurgh sentence of this justice Apius
 Moste by force his deere doghter yiven
 Unto the juge, in lecherie to lyven,
 He gooth hym hoom, and sette him in his halle,
 And leet anon his deere doghter calle,
 And with a face deed as asshen colde
210 Upon hir humble face he gan biholde,
 With fadres pitee stikynge thurgh his herte,
 Al wolde he from his purpos nat converte.
 "Doghter," quod he, "Virginia, by thy name,
 Ther been two weyes, outher deeth or shame,
 That thou most suffre; allas, that I was bore!
 For nevere thou deservedest wherfore
 To dyen with a swerd or with a knyf.
 O deere doghter, endere of my lyf,
 Which I have fostred up with swich plesaunce
220 That thou were nevere out of my remembraunce!
 O doghter, which that art my laste wo,
 And in my lyf my laste joye also,
 O gemme of chastitee, in pacience
 Take thou thy deeth, for this is my sentence.
 For love, and nat for hate, thou most be deed;
 My pitous hand moot smyten of thyn heed.
 Allas, that evere Apius the say!
 Thus hath he falsly jugged the to-day" --
 And tolde hire al the cas, as ye bifore
230 Han herd; nat nedeth for to telle it moore.
 "O mercy, deere fader!" quod this mayde,
 And with that word she bothe hir armes layde
 Aboute his nekke, as she was wont to do.
 The teeris bruste out of hir eyen two,
 And seyde, "Goode fader, shal I dye?
 Is ther no grace, is ther no remedye?"
 "No, certes, deere doghter myn," quod he.
 "Thanne yif me leyser, fader myn," quod she,
 "My deeth for to compleyne a litel space;
240 For, pardee, Jepte yaf his doghter grace
 For to compleyne, er he hir slow, allas!
 And, God it woot, no thyng was hir trespas,
 But for she ran hir fader first to see,
 To welcome hym with greet solempnitee."
 And with that word she fil aswowne anon,
 And after, whan hir swownyng is agon,
 She riseth up, and to hir fader sayde,
 "Blissed be God that I shal dye a mayde!
 Yif me my deeth, er that I have a shame;
250 Dooth with youre child youre wyl, a Goddes name!"
 And with that word she preyed hym ful ofte
 That with his swerd he wolde smyte softe;
 And with that word aswowne doun she fil.
 Hir fader, with ful sorweful herte and wil,
 Hir heed of smoot, and by the top it hente,
 And to the juge he gan it to presente,
 As he sat yet in doom in consistorie.
 And whan the juge it saugh, as seith the storie,
 He bad to take hym and anhange hym faste;
260 But right anon a thousand peple in thraste,
 To save the knyght, for routhe and for pitee,
 For knowen was the false iniquitee.
 The peple anon had suspect in this thyng,
 By manere of the cherles chalangyng,
 That it was by the assent of Apius;
 They wisten wel that he was lecherus.
 For which unto this Apius they gon
 And caste hym in a prisoun right anon,
 Ther as he slow hymself; and Claudius,
270 That servant was unto this Apius,
 Was demed for to hange upon a tree,
 But that Virginius, of his pitee,
 So preyde for hym that he was exiled;
 And elles, certes, he had been bigyled.
 The remenant were anhanged, moore and lesse,
 That were consentant of this cursednesse.
 Heere may men seen how synne hath his merite.
 Beth war, for no man woot whom God wol smyte
 In no degree, ne in which manere wyse;
280 The worm of conscience may agryse
 Of wikked lyf, though it so pryvee be
 That no man woot therof but God and he.
 For be he lewed man, or ellis lered,
 He noot how soone that he shal been afered.
 Therfore I rede yow this conseil take:
 Forsaketh synne, er synne yow forsake.

Next: The Pardoner's Introduction and Prologue