The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

Group C.

The Phisiciens Tale.

For a spurious Prologue, see p. 289.

Here folweth the Phisiciens Tale.

Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,

A knight that called was Virginius,

Fulfild of honour and of worthinesse,

And strong of freendes and of greet richesse.

2. Hn. called was; E. was called; rest cleped was.


 This knight 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


Y-formed hir in so greet excellence,

As though she wolde seyn, ‘lo! I, Nature,

Thus can I forme and peynte a creature,

Whan that me list; who can 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 former principal


Hath maked me his vicaire general,

To forme and peynten erthely creaturis

Right as me list, and ech thing in my cure is

Under the mone, that may wane and waxe,

And for my werk right no-thing wol I axe;


My lord and I ben ful of oon accord;

I made hir to the worship 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.

16. E. Hn. Apelles; Hl. Appollus; rest Apollus.   E. Hn. Zanzis; rest zephirus (!).   25. E. Hn. ful of oon; rest fully at.


 This mayde of age twelf yeer was and tweye,

In which that Nature hadde swich delyt.

For right as she can peynte a lilie whyt

And reed a rose, right with swich peynture

She peynted hath this noble creature


Er she were born, up-on hir limes free,

Wher-as by right swiche colours sholde be;

And Phebus dyed hath hir tresses grete

Lyk to the stremes of his burned hete.

And if that excellent was hir beautee,


A thousand-fold more vertuous was she.

In hir 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 humilitee and abstinence,

With alle attemperaunce and pacience,

With mesure eek of bering and array.

Discreet she was in answering alway;

Though she were wys as Pallas, dar I seyn,


Hir facound eek ful wommanly and pleyn,

No countrefeted termes hadde she

To seme wys; but after hir degree

She spak, and alle hir wordes more and lesse

Souninge in vertu and in gentillesse.


Shamfast she was in maydens shamfastnesse,

Constant in herte, and ever in bisinesse

To dryve hir out of ydel slogardye.

Bacus hadde of hir mouth right no maistrye;

For wyn and youthe doon Venus encrece,


As men in fyr wol casten oile or grece.

And of hir owene vertu, unconstreyned,

She hath ful ofte tyme syk hir feyned,

For that she wolde fleen the companye

Wher lykly was to treten of folye,


As is at festes, revels, and at daunces,

That been occasions of daliaunces.

Swich thinges maken children for to be

To sone rype and bold, as men may see,

Which is ful perilous, and hath ben yore.


For al to sone may she lerne lore

Of boldnesse, whan she woxen is a wyf.

49. Cp. Pt. Ln. as; rest om.   50. E. a (for and).   55. E. Shamefast.   E. om. in.   59. E. Hn. dooth; rest doon.   E. Hn. encresse.   60. E. man; rest men. E. wasten; rest casten.   E. oille; greesse.   67. E. Hn. thyng; rest thinges.   70. E. Hn. they; rest she.

 And ye maistresses in your olde lyf,

That lordes doghtres han in governaunce,

Ne taketh of my wordes no displesaunce;


Thenketh that ye ben set in governinges

Of lordes doghtres, only for two thinges;

Outher for ye han kept your honestee,

Or elles ye han falle in freletee,

And knowen wel y-nough the olde daunce,


And han forsaken fully swich meschaunce

For evermo; therfore, for Cristes sake,

To teche hem vertu loke that ye ne slake.

A theef of venisoun, that hath forlaft

His likerousnesse, and al his olde craft,


Can kepe a forest best of any man.

Now kepeth hem wel, for if ye wol, ye can;

Loke wel that ye un-to no vice assente,

Lest ye be dampned for your wikke entente;

For who-so doth, a traitour is certeyn.


And taketh kepe of that that I shal seyn;

Of alle tresons sovereyn pestilence

Is whan a wight bitrayseth innocence.

80. E. Hn. han; rest conne.   82. So E. Hn.; rest Kepeth wel tho that ye undertake.   84. E. Hn. olde; rest theves.   86. Read kep’th; E. Hn. om. hem; Hl. hir(!).   E. wolde; rest wole (wil).   92. E. Hn. bitrayseth; rest betrayeth.

 Ye fadres and ye modres eek also,

Though ye han children, be it oon or two,


Your is the charge of al hir surveyaunce,

Whyl that they been under your governaunce.

Beth war that by ensample of your livinge,

Or by your necligence in chastisinge,

That they ne perisse; for I dar wel seye,


If that they doon, ye shul it dere abeye.

Under a shepherde softe and necligent

The wolf hath many a sheep and lamb to-rent.

Suffyseth oon ensample now as here,

For I mot turne agayn to my matere.

95. E. Hn. surveiaunce; rest sufferaunce (suffraunce).   97. E. Hn. if; rest that.   99. E. Hn. om. ne.   103, 4. E. om. both lines; I follow Hn. and the rest.


 This mayde, of which I wol this tale expresse,

So kepte hir-self, hir neded no maistresse;

For in hir living maydens mighten rede,

As in a book, every good word or dede,

That longeth to a mayden vertuous;


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 preysed hir echone,

That loved vertu, save envye allone,


That sory is of other mennes wele,

And glad is of his sorwe and his unhele;

(The doctour maketh this descripcioun).

This mayde up-on a day wente in the toun

Toward a temple, with hir moder dere,


As is of yonge maydens the manere.

105. E. Hn. I wol this; rest I telle my.   119. E. Hn. a; rest the.

 Now was ther thanne a Iustice in that toun,

That governour was of that regioun.

And so bifel, this Iuge his eyen caste

Up-on this mayde, avysinge him ful faste,


As she cam forby ther this Iuge stood.

Anon his herte chaunged and his mood,

So was he caught with beautee of this mayde;

And to him-self ful prively he sayde,

‘This mayde shal be myn, for any man.’

125. E. Hn. ther as; rest om. as.


 Anon the feend in-to his herte ran,

And taughte him sodeynly, that he by slighte

The mayden to his purpos winne mighte.

For certes, by no force, ne by no mede,

Him thoughte, he was nat able for to spede;


For she was strong of freendes, and eek she

Confermed was in swich soverayn bountee,

That wel he wiste he mighte hir never winne

As for to make hir with hir body sinne.

For which, by greet deliberacioun,


He sente after a cherl, was in the toun,

Which that he knew for subtil and for bold.

This Iuge un-to this cherl his tale hath told

In secree wyse, and made him 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 Iuge and maked him greet chere,

And yaf hym yiftes preciouse and dere.

138. E. maken; rest make.   140, 142. E. Hn. cherl; rest clerk.   147. E. Hn. this; rest the.

 Whan shapen was al hir conspiracye


Fro point to point, how that his lecherye

Parfourned sholde been ful subtilly,

As ye shul here it after openly,

Hoom gooth the cherl, that highte Claudius.

This false Iuge that highte Apius,


So was his name, (for this is no fable,

But knowen for historial thing notable,

The sentence of it sooth is, out of doute),

This false Iuge gooth now faste aboute

To hasten his delyt al that he may.


And so bifel sone after, on a day,

This false Iuge, as telleth us the storie,

As he was wont, sat in his consistorie,

And yaf his domes up-on sondry cas.

This false cherl cam forth a ful greet pas,


And seyde, ‘lord, if that it be your wille,

As dooth me right up-on this pitous bille,

In which I pleyne up-on Virginius.

And if that he wol seyn it is nat thus,

I wol it preve, and finde good witnesse,


That sooth is that my bille wol expresse.’

149. E. Hn. hir; rest this.   153, 164. E. Hn. cherl; rest clerk.   155. E. Hn. this; rest it.

 The Iuge answerde, ‘of this, in his absence,

I may nat yeve diffinitif sentence.

Lat do him calle, and I wol gladly here;

Thou shall have al right, and no wrong here.’

172. E. diffynyue; rest diffinitif.   173, 174. E. heere, glossed audire; and heere, glossed hie.


 Virginius cam, to wite the Iuges wille,

And right anon was rad this cursed bille;

The sentence of it was as ye shul here.

 ‘To yow, my lord, sire Apius so dere,

Sheweth your povre servant Claudius,


How that a knight, called Virginius,

Agayns the lawe, agayn al equitee,

Holdeth, expres agayn the wil of me,

My servant, which that is my thral by right,

Which fro myn hous was stole up-on a night,


Whyl that she was ful yong; this wol I preve

By witnesse, lord, so that it nat yow greve.

She nis his doghter nat, what so he seye;

Wherfore to yow, my lord the Iuge, I preye,

Yeld me my thral, if that it be your wille.’


Lo! this was al the sentence of his bille.

 Virginius gan up-on the cherl biholde,

But hastily, er he his tale tolde,

And wolde have preved it, as sholde a knight,

And eek by witnessing of many a wight,


That it was fals that seyde his adversarie,

This cursed Iuge wolde no-thing tarie,

Ne here a word more of Virginius,

But yaf his Iugement, and seyde thus:—

191. E. Hn. Cm. cherl; rest clerk.

 ‘I deme anon this cherl his servant have;


Thou shalt no lenger in thyn hous hir save.

Go bring hir forth, and put hir in our warde,

The cherl shal have his thral, this I awarde.’

199, 202. E. Hn. Cm. cherl; rest clerk.

 And whan this worthy knight Virginius,

Thurgh sentence of this Iustice Apius,


Moste by force his dere doghter yiven

Un-to the Iuge, in lecherye to liven,

He gooth him hoom, and sette him in his halle,

And leet anon his dere doghter calle,

And, with a face deed as asshen colde,


Upon hir humble face he gan biholde,

With fadres pitee stiking thurgh his herte,

Al wolde he from his purpos nat converte.

202. E. Hn. Cm. this; rest thus.   205. Hl. Cp. yiuen; rest yeuen.

 ‘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 never thou deservedest wherfore

To dyen with a swerd or with a knyf.

O dere doghter, ender of my lyf,

Which I have fostred up with swich plesaunce,


That thou were never out of my remembraunce!

O doghter, which that art my laste wo,

And in my lyf my laste Ioye 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 mot smyten of thyn heed.

Allas! that ever Apius thee say!

Thus hath he falsly Iuged thee to-day’—

And tolde hir al the cas, as ye bifore


Han herd; nat nedeth for to telle it more.

223. E. o; rest of.

 ‘O mercy, dere fader,’ quod this mayde,

And with that word she both hir armes layde

About his nekke, as she was wont to do:

The teres broste out of hir eyen two,


And seyde, ‘gode fader, shal I dye?

Is ther no grace? is ther no remedye?’

234. E. Hn. teeris.   E. bruste; Cm. broste; Pt. brosten; Hn. borste; Cp. Ln. barsten; Hl. brast.

 ‘No, certes, dere doghter myn,’ quod he.

 ‘Thanne yif me leyser, fader myn,’ quod she,

‘My deeth for to compleyne a litel space;


For pardee, Iepte yaf his doghter grace

For to compleyne, er he hir slow, allas!

And god it woot, no-thing was hir trespas,

But for she ran hir fader first to see,

To welcome him with greet solempnitee.’


And with that word she fil aswowne anon,

And after, whan hir swowning is agon,

She ryseth up, and to hir fader sayde,

‘Blessed be god, that I shal dye a mayde.

Yif me my deeth, er that I have a shame;


Doth with your child your wil, a goddes name!’

243. E. Hn. for; rest first.   248. E. Ln. Blissed; rest Blessed.

 And with that word she preyed him 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 Iuge he gan it to presente,

As he sat yet in doom in consistorie.

And whan the Iuge it saugh, as seith the storie,

He bad to take him and anhange him faste.


But right anon a thousand peple in thraste,

To save the knight, for routhe and for pitee,

For knowen was the false iniquitee.

The peple anon hath suspect of this thing,

By manere of the cherles chalanging,


That it was by the assent of Apius;

They wisten wel that he was lecherous.

For which un-to this Apius they gon,

And caste him in a prison right anon,

Wher-as he slow him-self; and Claudius,


That servant was un-to this Apius,

Was demed for to hange upon a tree;

But that Virginius, of his pitee,

So preyde for him that he was exyled;

And elles, certes, he had been bigyled.


The remenant were anhanged, more and lesse,

That were consentant of this cursednesse. —

252. All but E. Hn. ins. hir before softe.   259. E. Hn. anhange; rest honge.   260. E. Hn. a thousand; rest al the.   263. E. of; rest in.   264. E. Hn. the cherles; rest this clerkes.   269. E. Hn. Ther; rest Wher.   271. E. And; rest Was.   275. E. Hn. Hl. anhanged; rest honged.

 Heer men may seen how sinne hath his meryte!

Beth war, for no man woot whom god wol smyte

In no degree, ne in which maner wyse


The worm of conscience may agryse

Of wikked lyf, though it so privee be,

That no man woot ther-of but god and he.

For be he lewed man, or elles lered,

He noot how sone that he shal been afered.


Therfore I rede yow this conseil take,

Forsaketh sinne, er sinne yow forsake.

Here endeth the Phisiciens tale.

278. E. Hn. whom; rest how.   280. E. Hn. may agryse; rest wol (wil) arise.   283. E. ellis.   Cp. Ln. Whether he be lewed man or lered; so Pt. (with Where for Whether); so Hl. (with Wher that for Whether).   Colophon. So E. Hn.; Sloane has Here endethe the tale of the Mayster of phisyk; Hl. Here endeth the Doctor of phisique his tale.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52