The Canterbury Tales HTML version
Notes to The Knight's Tale
1. For the plan and principal incidents of the "Knight's Tale," Chaucer was indebted to
Boccaccio, who had himself borrowed from some prior poet, chronicler, or romancer. Boccaccio
speaks of the story as "very ancient;" and, though that may not be proof of its antiquity, it
certainly shows that he took it from an earlier writer. The "Tale" is more or less a paraphrase of
Boccaccio's "Theseida;" but in some points the copy has a distinct dramatic superiority over the
original. The "Theseida" contained ten thousand lines; Chaucer has condensed it into less than
one-fourth of the number. The "Knight's Tale" is supposed to have been at first composed as a
separate work; it is undetermined whether Chaucer took it direct from the Italian of Boccaccio,
or from a French translation.
2. Highte: was called; from the Anglo-Saxon "hatan", to bid or call; German, "Heissen", "heisst".
3. Feminie: The "Royaume des Femmes" -- kingdom of the Amazons. Gower, in the "Confessio
Amantis," styles Penthesilea the "Queen of Feminie."
4. Wonnen: Won, conquered; German "gewonnen."
5. Ear: To plough; Latin, "arare." "I have abundant matter for discourse." The first, and half of
the second, of Boccaccio's twelve books are disposed of in the few lines foregoing.
6. Waimenting: bewailing; German, "wehklagen"
7. Starf: died; German, "sterben," "starb".
8. The Minotaur: The monster, half-man and half-bull, which yearly devoured a tribute of
fourteen Athenian youths and maidens, until it was slain by Theseus.
9. Pillers: pillagers, strippers; French, "pilleurs."
10. The donjon was originally the central tower or "keep" of feudal castles; it was employed to
detain prisoners of importance. Hence the modern meaning of the word dungeon.
11. Saturn, in the old astrology, was a most unpropitious star to be born under.
12. To die in the pain was a proverbial expression in the French, used as an alternative to
enforce a resolution or a promise. Edward III., according to Froissart, declared that he would
either succeed in the war against France or die in the pain -- "Ou il mourroit en la peine." It was
the fashion in those times to swear oaths of friendship and brotherhood; and hence, though the
fashion has long died out, we still speak of "sworn friends."
13. The saying of the old scholar Boethius, in his treatise "De Consolatione Philosophiae",
which Chaucer translated, and from which he has freely borrowed in his poetry. The words are
"Quis legem det amantibus? Major lex amor est sibi." ("Who can give law to lovers? Love is a
law unto himself, and greater")