263. Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer (1385)

Source : Troilus and Criseyde, translated into modern English by Margaret Stanley-Wrench, published by Centaur Press, 1965.

Thoughts :

Troilus and Criseyde, the couple who pledge love to each other inside the besieged walls of Troy, only for Criseyde to find new love in the Greek camp … well, what a long-winded mess this is!

None of the characters come out of this in a heroic vein. Pandarus, Criseyde’s uncle who virtually pimps her to the Trojan Prince Troilus to gain his favour ; Criseyde, who despite her constantly voiced concerns over her honour and reputation, succumbs to Troilus’ tears and uncle’s connivances, gives herself body and soul to Troilus, and yet manages to fall in love with one of the enemy before she has passed ten days in the Greek camp; and Troilus who is perhaps the biggest wimp in the entire Trojan War that he makes Paris seem manly (at least he acted decisively if not wisely when he abducted Helen)

All of Chaucer’s works (excluding The Canterbury Tales) deal with love in some way or other, but this long epic takes two characters who were creations of medieval poets and gives them a lengthy and uninspiring tragedy.

Even the translator seems to weary of the tale early, at times sounding more like Dr Seuss than Homer

“For God’s love, say, is the siege done away?

I’m so afraid of Greeks I almost die!”

“No by my soul,” he said, “Not this, no no,

Five times much better is the thing I know!”

And after many pages of Criseyde wailing and warning how fickle men’s love is and frightened of her loss of virtue, we are not really given much explanantion of her change of heart and new love which is all over in a couple of paragraphs, mostly because apparently she feels lonely.

Personal rating:  5/10

Other reading:  I also read Chaucer’s minor poems, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Birds, and The Legend of Good Women, all dream visions of love, but none inspired me in a post-Christmas haze to create a post.

15 comments

  1. That’s how people really are, though. It might just have offended you. The story is a tragedy. What you described, I think you missed the point.

    There doesn’t need to be an explanation, because it happens in real life. You are given to someone to love—an arranged marriage perhaps, or just a loveless relationship—but the woman doesn’t love you. She’s just doing her duty, but then she gets carried away and falls in love with another man. It’s just a drama. Also, the way you describe the protagonist, it’s true to his character. It’s not really there to entertain you. It’s there to teach you about life. It’s obviously a Cruel. Which is a type of Conte Cruel before the genre was defined in France.

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    • Hi B. K. thanks for your comments. I think it was the lack of any build up of interest or affection on Criseyde’s part for the Greek Diomedes that irked me. She may have taken her time to commit to Troilus but she did profess her love for him at some length whereas she just seems to switch to Diomedes on a whim. One minute its “long years of time cannot kill love like this” and within ten days its suddenly “he cured her pain and made her love anew” because she became convinced that Troy would fall and she should stay with the Greeks. I think Chaucer could have built up her indecision and situation more.
      Not sure I agree with the Conte Cruel application to this story but its a new term to me, so the online definitions I have looked at may not be the best examples.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I said a “Cruel”. Conte Cruel didn’t exist in Chaucer’s day. So, I was using a figurative expression. I read a lot of Chaucer. I can figure out what the story is. You explained it perfectly.

        I’ll relate to you another time this happened. There was this person who was criticizing Camus. And in her criticism, I could find the the meaning of the story though she couldn’t. You have the meaning of the story. It is a Cruel. Not intentionally, but the fact is women do those kinds of things. Even on a whim.

        When you read Chaucer, don’t read him like you would James Paterson or Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. He’s different. By that I mean to say, read it like everything in there is with intention. Not a detail was sparred, and try and find out what he’s saying.

        Your description of “There being no lead up to it…” Yes. But that’s the point. Right there is what separates a Grand Master from even a Master. Chaucer knew what he was doing, and made it a whim. Because it is a whim. That’s part of the subtext of the characterizations he’s creating, which Chaucer is a master of characterizations. Especially feminine ones.

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      • It was whim. There was no lead up to it. The love was not true; it is also a psychological fact of war. Women do those things, its why when in war the conquering nation would steal the other’s women. It’s a lot of stuff in there, just from what you explained. But, you need to understand it.

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  2. Chaucer was way ahead of his time. You need to approach literature different than you would approach a normal book.

    Classics are boring. You don’t read them to pass an evening. They are hard work. You have to figure out what the person is trying to say, or communicate. It’s just how the story is.

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      • Yes, you kind of are, at least with our old literature. Anyone who’d sit down and read one for fun is kind of missing the better portion of why they’re read. When I want to have fun, I watch Marvel Movies. When I want to understand my world, and why it works the way it does, I read a book.

        If you want literature to keep being read… I mean, if everyone just says, “Well, I don’t get it,” then it defeats the purpose of reading, and sooner or later, nothing will ever be read. I hope you understand.

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    • I don;t find classics boring- hence I include them in my reading, and mostly enjoy them including Troilus and Criseyde, even if my post was a bit savage in this instance. I do read them mostly as if they were modern fiction as that’s the only way I can approach the majority of them. Shakespeare’s and Aristophanes’ plays were enjoyed by the everyday audience who did have a common background and knowledge of topical events, but I can still enjoy them in the 21st century. That’s pretty much the whole point of this blog. They are not always hard work either (although the Greek Philosophers certainly are)
      There are times where I feel I have nothing worthwhile to say about a book that is already well known. I also worry sometimes over how subjective and shallow my posts can be. But I still want to experience them, in my own time and my own way.

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      • You might enjoy classic novels. But, almost everyone else doesn’t. It’s why nobody reads them. It’s why the copy you have is from the 1960s, and I would probably have a hard time finding it in any book store.

        I’m glad you get pleasure from the book. But there are real reasons books need to be read beside enjoyment. They contain our most important ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Quite true that very few people read the classics unless from curiosity or a new movie is made. I work in both a bookshop and a library in a small regional town and while the classics are towards the bottom of sales and loan stats they still get sought after. Particularly, younger people occasionally buy Homer, Aurelius, Austen, the Brontes, Shakespeare and Dante. Retirees who have never found time for the classics ask for them.

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      • Penguin and oxford uni both publish affordable copies of Troilus and Criseyde. I usually try and read from these publishers but it just so happens I also have access to a university library and their copy of T&C was from the 1960s

        Liked by 1 person

      • My whole bookshelf is classics. I don’t read anything but. It’s not that I enjoy them. I enjoy what they make me think about. Rather, there’s something useful in them, and I would like to see people read them for that reason. To find the wisdom in them.

        There’s a whole history out there, and if we forget it, we’re doomed to repeat it. Or so the saying goes.

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  3. Did you read Canterbury Tales? We were forced… I mean, delighted… to read some of it in school, but they didn’t let us have a translation. Oh, no! That wouldn’t have caused us enough suffering… I mean, delight… Ha! The odd thing is I actually quite fancy trying to read it now… but not this one! No, by my soul! Not this, no, no!

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