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Day 6 – Battling Inner Demons and the 7 Deadly Sins

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 20, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Physician’s Tale, The Words of the Host, The Prologue of the Pardoner’s Tale, The Pardoner’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, The Words Between The Summoner and The Friar, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, The Friar’s Prologue | Pages: 283-346

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The Pardoner’s Tale

My thoughts today lean toward the examining of inner demons and how much sway they have over our day-to-day lives.   We all have them.  But how do you keep from turning over the reins of your life to them, who only seek your ruin?

In truth, they only have as much power as we give to them.  That is what it comes down to.  When we let them have power over us, then they are free to wreak havoc on our lives, leading us quickly to misery.

In my readings today of the Physician’s Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale, I was struck by the way these characters faced their own demons, and gave us an explicit, illustrated view of what becomes of us when they have the supreme power in our life.  I examined them in light of the “Seven Deadly Sins.”

Although the list has evolved over time, for the purpose of this article, I will use this version of the list: Lust, Greed, Wrath, Envy, Pride, Sloth, and Gluttony.

In The Physician’s Tale, the knight Virginius and his fair daughter are the victims of a judge’s lust and envy.  The story goes that a knight had a sweet, pious daughter, lovely in every sense of the word, who went to town with her mother and was seen by this lustful judge, Appius.  He immediately desired her for his own and set about finding another man as evil as he to be in cahoots with him, playing to his greed and offering him all sorts of things in payment.

The evil cohort, on the judge’s orders, accused the knight of stealing a servant girl and pretending it was his daughter.  The knight does not get a chance to defend himself because the judge immediately demands that the girl be brought and given to the man.  The wise knight could surmise the real reason for this, and went home in sorrow.  Calling his daughter to him, he explained the situation and told her that she should either be given to that evil judge so the lecher could have his way with her or that he could kill her himself to keep her from shame.  The daughter asked that her father take her life rather than succumb to such a fate.

Her father sorrowfully then cut off her head and took it to the judge.  The judge’s wrath was so great that he sent the officers to hang the knight, but

“then a thousand people rose and sprang/to save the knight, for ruth and for pity,

For known was now the false iniquity./  The people had suspected such a thing,

By the churl’s manner in his challenging,/That is was done to please this Appius”

So the people threw Appius in prison, where he killed himself.  They hanged all who had conspired with the judge for greedy purposes.  Claudius, the evil man who had been Appius’ cohort had been sentenced to hang, but Virginius pleaded that he be exiled, out of pity and Christian charity.

It is plain to see that their sins caught up with them.  Having given themselves for a moment to one of those demons, they had brought about their ruin almost immediately and it left them desolate or dead.  So it happens when we give ourselves over to any vice–It becomes our master.

One point more before I move on from The Physician’s Tale.  The Physician, telling his tale, makes a great point about mistake, reform, and prevention.  He says:

“A poacher of the deer, who has reformed,/Left wicked ways and been by goodness warmed,

Can guard a forest best of any man./So guard them well, for if you will you can;”

A person who has once been under the power of a vice and has reformed, has more wisdom when it comes to preventing it from taking over their life again, and especially, is best suited to help other people protect themselves from falling under the snares of vice.

In The Pardoner’s Tale, we learn of three young men who were “given to folly, riot and gambling, brothels and taverns…” They foolishly gave themselves over to their appetites: Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Pride, and Sloth.  One day they were sitting around gambling and getting drunk when they saw a funeral procession and asked someone who had died.  The man told them it was another comrade of theirs who had been slain by Death.  So the foolish men go out in search of Death, pridefully boasting that Death will be no match for the three of them.  They come across an old man, whom they threaten and harass to give them the whereabouts of Death.  The old man tells them he is under a tree in a nearby grove.  When they get there, they find lots of gold.  They claim it as theirs and want to take it home, but its impossible to carry it that way so they devise a plan to carry it by night.  They send the younger of the three to get food and wine to last while they guard their treasure.  When the younger one leaves, the older two devise to kill him out of greed and envy, wanting a bigger share of the treasure themselves.  All the while, the younger one is in town looking for poison to put in their wine so that he can keep all the treasure avariciously to himself.  When he returns, they all carry out their plans and unwittingly, Death takes them all.

Finally, The Wife of Bath.  Her prologue describing her life was more of a history of deadly sins than was her Tale.  She describes a married life of lust, pride, and dominance, but also in a way, female subservience to the whims and appetites of the husband.  She defends her profligacy with scripture, using the quotes best suited to her advantage to justify her promiscuity in marrying five times since the age of 12.  Her glee at how she got the upper hand in each of her marriages is something she boasts about with pride.  She is rather wordy, leading me to believe she is of the type to like being the center of attention.

In the Tale she tells, Alyson (The Wife of Bath) describes a knight who rapes a young woman and is made to stand trial before the King and Queen.  The Queen says she will grant his life if in a day and a year hence he can tell her what women most desire.  He goes everywhere searching for an answer, but every woman tells him something different.  Just as he is about to go to the castle to give up his life, he meets an old crone whom he asks in a last ditch effort if she knows the answer.  She says she will give him the answer if he promises to do something for her when she asks it of him.  He agrees.  She tells him and they go to court before the Queen.

When the Queen asks him, he answers that:

“Women desire to have the sovereignty/As well upon their husband as their love,

And to have mastery their man above;”

No woman present could contest it, so he was pardoned. The old crone demands that he marry her, telling the Queen of their bargain. He doesn’t want to but is obliged to.  When it comes time for them to lay together, she is so repugnant to his pride because she is old and low-born that he won’t.  She gives him the choice of whether to have her old and faithful, or young and fearing that she will betray him.  He lets her make the decision and she becomes young and beautiful, and they live happily ever after.

Our willingness to succumb to our vices brings us misery that outweighs any fleeting joy or momentary satisfaction we could gain from giving in.  Letting our inner demons have free rein over us and our lives leaves us wasted and embittered.  Being wise and letting virtue be our guide gives us tranquility and leaves us free from inner turmoil.  Who’s in charge, you or the demons? 👿

To end today’s reflections, a quote replete with wisdom from the Physician, at the end of his tale:

“Here may man see how sin has its desert!/Beware, for no man knows of whom God will hurt,

Nor how profoundly, no, nor in what wise/The hidden worm of conscience terrifies

The wicked soul, though secret its deeds be/And no one knows thereof but God and he.

For be his ignorant or learned, yet/He cannot know when fear will make him sweat.

Therefore I counsel you, this counsel to take:/Forsake your sin ere sin shall you forsake.”

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Posted in Reading Commentary, The Canterbury Tales | 1 Comment »

Day 5 – Knavery and Flattery Are Blood Relations

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 19, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Monk’s Prologue, The Monk’s Tale, The Prologue to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, Epilogue to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale | Pages: 237-282

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Today has been a restless day.  There is much going on in my private world, and I am dizzy from all the turns my life is taking.  I’m sitting here tonight eating frozen yogurt and reflecting on the wise things I have learned from Chaucer during our brief relationship.

In today’s readings, he taught me quite a bit about flattery, counsel, luck, and true friends.

Let’s start off with The Monk’s Tale.  The Monk depresses us with agonizing tales of great men and women who fell from grace by a stroke of ill-fortune.  However, throughout the stories, there are interspersed some deep insights into Fortune and the wisdom with which one must approach it.

In the tragedy of Belshazzar, the Monk teaches us:

Masters, therefrom a moral you may take,/That in dominion is no certainness;

For when Fortune will any man forsake,/ She takes his realm and all he may possess,

And all his friends, too, both the great and the less;/ For when a man has friends that Fortune gave,

Mishap but turns them enemies, I guess”

Chaucer attempts to teach us about fair-weather friends.  When we live in prosperity, we are surrounded by friends that prosperity brought into our lives, but these are the same that will be the first to abandon and despise us when the winds of change blow away our good Fortune.

Next, in the tragedy of Julius Caesar, the Monk tells us:

“Fortune was first the friend and then the foe./ No man may trust in Fortune’s favor long,/

But as one fearing ambush must he go.”

I think the Monk is advising us to take note of what happened to Caesar and not to trust Fortune implicitly, but rather to tread lightly as to how much we trust and build upon it in our lives.

The Monk is interrupted in his sorrowful tales and is told by the knight that he is depressing everyone with the sad tales.  He suggests he tell something jauntier, but the Monk refuses, so it falls to the Nun’s Priest to tell his tale next.

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is a story I can only think to compare to Aesop’s Fables.  It is a moralistic beast tale, in which a proud rooster, Chanticleer and one of his 7 wives, Pertelote and a sly Fox are illustrated.  Chanticleer and his hens live in the yard of a poor widow.  He is known for his beautiful singing voice and his timely crowing.

One night he falls asleep and dreams that he is killed by a fox.  He awakens and tells his wife Pertelote of his dream, who in turn tells him he is being silly and that he should take a laxative and get over it.   They argue over the wisdom in relying on a dream, Chanticleer finally acceding and dismissing it.

Time passes and one day he finds that a fox, who is hidden in the cabbages, is spying on him.  He thinks to run away, but the fox tells him that he need not be afraid because he just came to hear him sing.  The fox flatters Chanticleer, praising his voice and saying he sings better than his father.  The fox asks him to sing, stretching out his neck as he does as his father did, the better to make his voice carry.  Chanticleer is beguiled by his flattery and stretches preparing to sing, whereupon the fox snatches him by the neck and takes off with him.

The hens all see what happened and make such a ruckus that the widow and many others are alarmed and go chasing after the fox, who carries Chanticleer.  Chanticleer tricks the fox using flattery too, in a way, telling him to turn back and say something prideful to those who follow.  As soon as the fox does, Chanticleer is freed, and he flies to a treetop away from the fox.  The fox goes to him and tries to flatter him some more to trick him to come down, but Chanticleer says that he will not fall for it again.  He says:

“…beshrew myself, both blood and bones,/If you beguile me, having done so once,

You shall no more, with any flattery,/Cause me to sing and close up either eye.

For he who shuts his eyes when he should see,/And willfully, God let him ne’er be free!”

In other words, once you have fallen prey to the beguiling effects of flattery, don’t make the same mistake twice.  Abraham Lincoln said it best when he said, “Knavery and flattery are blood relations.”

There is one passage I think is particularly funny and insightful.  It is when Chanticleer tells Pertelote of his bad dream where he gets killed and she becomes disappointed in him as a husband, expressing her disdain for males who are cowardly.

” ‘Aha,’ said she, ‘fie on you, spiritless!/Alas!’ cried she, ‘for by that God above,

Now have you lost my heart and all my love;/I cannot love a coward, by my faith.

For truly, whatsoever woman saith,/We all desire, if only it may be,

To have a husband hardy, wise, and free,/And trustworthy, no niggard, and no fool,

Nor one that is afraid of every tool,/Nor yet a braggart, by that God above!

How dare you say, for shame, unto your love?/That there is anything that you have feared?

Have you not man’s heart, and yet have a beard?”

It reminds me of a complaint I hear often among the single gals of my acquaintance, we want a sensitive man!  But when he proves truly sensitive, we dump him because he is too “soft.”  Can we ever make up our minds?  It is not a paradox, we truly want it all.  The Brawny Man.   Strong, but sensitive.  Flexible, but not wishy-washy.  Brave, but not volatile.  We want to see vulnerability, but not cowardice.  Are you out there, Brawny man?  Hey, I’ll even take Mr. Clean! 😉

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Day 4 Post Script: Secrets and Guys

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 18, 2015

Before I bid adieu to wise Prudence and the noble Melibeus, there is one point which called to me that I felt I should share.

The Tiger Woods scandal from recent years brought about conflicting views and opinions, including some of my own.  Now first, I must argue that public figures need to understand that in so becoming, they will lose some of their privacy and their actions will be scrutinized.  People will form opinions of them.  It “comes with the territory” as some would say.  If you sign up to be in the public eye, then you have to understand that we, the public, and most especially your fans, will callously pick apart your life in our own minds to see how, and indeed whether, you measure up to our individual expectations.

Having said that, I ask you, truly what business is it of ours what his personal demons are?  His failings as a husband are honestly neither here nor there to us and should only concern his wife or girlfriend or people whose lives are intimately connected to his.  It should suffice us (the public) to know that he is aware of having let down his family and those who admire him, and that he is trying to change and grow in order to restore his family’s faith in him. I doubt any of us would be able to stand in the glare of the limelight and have our personal failings scrutinized and appear free from blemish.

Though many of us were eager to hear him explain his behavior, I personally don’t think we the public needed, or that he owed us an apology.  However, he did indeed apologize to his family and his fans.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have but little knowledge of golf beyond that which is played with giant clown heads and windmills, so I wouldn’t necessarily count myself a fan.  Nevertheless, I do respect him as a celebrity figure and I laud the work he does with his charity.

In his press conference, he eloquently acknowledged his guilt and the fact that he had disappointed those who looked up to him.  He made no excuses for his behavior but explained his faulty reasoning so that we could understand what was going through his mind.  In short, he took all the necessary steps to begin to rebuild his reputation.  He didn’t try to excuse his behavior.  He apologized.  He was remorseful, and not just as one who had been caught in his transgression, but as one who now truly understands the ramifications of his actions.

When Prudence had gone to the people who had wronged her family and heard their remorse, she went back to Melibeus and implored him to have pity on them.  Melibeus says:

“Then…he is well worthy of pardon and to have his sins forgiven who excuses not his crime but acknowledges it and repents, asking indulgence. For Seneca says: ‘There is the remission and the forgiveness where confession is.’ For confession is neighbour to innocence.  And he says in another place: ‘He that is ashamed for his sin and acknowledges it, is worthy of remission.’ “

What say we give Tiger a break and another chance?

Posted in Personal Observations, Reading Commentary | Leave a Comment »

Day 4 – The War Debate: How Do You Respond to an Attack?

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 18, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Tale of Melibeus | Pages: 189-236

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Reading through The Tale of Melibeus, I could not get the attacks of 9/11 out of my mind. I don’t really want to discuss my personal politics on this page, but I will say that I agree with the reasoning that Melibeus’ wife Prudence gives for her counsel to her husband.

In The Tale of Melibeus (which, incidentally, is Chaucer’s retelling of the old French tale Le Livre de Melibée et Dame Prudence, featuring the shepherd Meliboeus from Vergil’s First Eclogue), a wealthy and powerful man “Melibeus” has suffered an attack on his wife and daughter, the girl being bludgeoned so savagely she was nearly dead.  Melibeus comes home to this horror and immediately sets about planning vengeance on his enemies. His wife attempts to counsel him, but it takes a while for him to calm down enough to really hear her.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the attack on Melibeus’ innocent daughter, which was carried out to send him a message, and the attack on the World Trade Center, where many innocents lost their lives, as a terrorist group used extremely violent means to send a message to the US.

Here is a list of the 12 points Prudence makes to Melibeus about the proper steps to take after such a horrendous, cowardly act.  I will leave it to the individual reader to conjecture whether she is right or not.

1.   Don’t wallow in grief and sorrow.

When Melibeus came home to find his daughter close to death, he just sat there and wept as if his daughter were already dead.  His wife grew a little tired of his weeping and counseled him:

Alas, my lord!” said she, “Why do you allow yourself to act like a fool?  For truly it becomes not a wise man to show such sorrow.  Your daughter, by the Grace of God, shall be healed and will recover.  And were she dead even now, you ought not, for this, to destroy yourself. “

I well remember the days of national grief that followed those tragic events.  We became a nation of mourners, even if we knew not one of those people who lost their lives personally.  I remember at University, everyone walked around in somberness, all radio and TV stations tuned to the news and people gathered around them wanting to know more.  We felt shaken.  Our glorious, sunny bright nation no longer felt obliviously safe.  Wars were what happened to other people, and all we did in them was cheer or mourn for our soldiers.  Suddenly, we became aware of our place as global citizens and that we were not immune to living in fear.  We were not as invincible as we had always believed.  We grieved.

Prudence goes on to say that it is ok for people to grieve but that overdoing it can harm us more than the therapeutic effect it would have on us.  The “woe is me” mentality benefits no one.  She advised Melibeus to be proactive and find people to counsel him on what his next step should be.

It is prudent to mention that the people whose counsel we seek should be a small number and those we trust implicitly.  Melibeus flies off the handle and invites a large group of people, including old wise ones, semi-friends, people that fear him and disguised enemies.

2.   The decision to go to war should not be made in haste, while still fresh in anger.

An older wise man counsels that the decision as to what should be done should not be made in haste.  He asks for more time for the council to deliberate.  He is met with anger by the young and immature folk who immediately cry out for war, arguing that they should “strike while the iron is hot,” or “wreak their vengeance while they are fresh in anger.”  The old wise one calls for silence, then speaks wisely saying:

“There is many a man to cry ‘War, War!’ who yet knows but little of the meaning of it.  War, in the beginning, has so high an entrance, and so wide that every man may enter when he pleases, and may find war easily.  But truly, what the end of war shall be is not so easy to know…Therefore, ere any war begins, men should take much counsel together and act only after much deliberation.

We all experienced a little of that after 9/11.  The immediate response after our national grief and patriotic unification was “we have to do something about this.” We are still living through this war nine years later.  It’s beginning to feel like the “Hotel California.”

Prudence advises Melibeus, after the council is gone from their home, that there is no reason to be so hasty to exact revenge.  She says:

” ‘And if one man do to another any good or any evil, let there be no haste to repay it in kind; for then will the friend remain friendly, while the enemy shall but the longer fear.’  The proverb has it: ‘He hastens well who wisely can delay.’ And in foolish haste there is no profit.”

Melibeus is afraid of appearing wishy-washy to his council after a decision is made, especially if they were to learn that he was heeding the advice of a woman.  He feels women are not to be trusted.

3.   There is no reason to go through with a foolish decision you have already made.  There is no shame in changing your mind.

Prudence answers him by saying:

“It is no folly to over-rule counsel when circumstances are changed, or when the cause appears otherwise than at the first.  And, moreover, I say that though you have sworn and warranted to perform your enterprise, nevertheless, should you refuse for just cause to perform it, men will not therefore say that you are a liar and forsworn.  For the book says that the wise man deals not falsely when he changes his first purpose for a better one.”

Many times we are too quick to jump the gun before we think things through.  Once we “sleep on it,” we sometimes realize our mistake but, especially if we have involved others, we feel obligated to go through with our first decision, however wrong it is, out of honor.  Prudence makes a good case for changing your mind when you know it is the right thing to do.  After this, finally, Melibeus begins to listen to his wife’s counsel.  She next tells him how to choose his counselors.

4.   When seeking counsel, release anger, covetousness, and hastiness, and those who exhibit those traits.

After counseling her husband to first entrust himself to God, Prudence tells Melibeus that he should remove from his heart the three things that are opposed to the following of good counsel: anger, covetousness, and hastiness.

Concerning anger, she says that the man who is angry always thinks he’s “capable of doing things that he cannot do,” that he cannot “think or judge well,” and he can “speak only to berate and blame,” driving others with his vicious words “into a like state.”

Concerning covetousness, she quotes the Bible saying that “money is the root of all evil.” She says that the “covetous man” can’t judge or think correctly, only to further his own covetousness.  He can never accomplish his purposes because as soon as he gets the money he is after, all he desires is more.

Concerning hastiness, Prudence wisely says that our first thoughts are not always the wisest, and that we should “weigh it and advise upon it.”  She quotes the proverb that says: “He who resolves in haste soon repents,”  because, she says, we are not always in the same mood or disposition.

“For surely that which at one time seems good to you, at another appears to be quite the contrary.”

5.   When you have decided on a strategy, you would do best to keep it a secret.

The next piece of sage advice from Prudence is to not reveal our intentions to anyone unless telling that particular person will advance our purposes.  She quotes:

” ‘While thou dost keep thy counsel in thine own heart, thou keepest it imprisoned; and when thou revealest it to anyone, he holdeth thee imprisoned.’ And  therefore it is better that you hide your thoughts within your own heart, than pray to him to whom you have told them that he will be close and keep silence.”

Sometimes revealing our intentions will bring praise and flattery, but in warfare, it is dangerous to reveal our position to our enemy, who stands ready to thwart our every move.

6.   Choose allies who are true, wise, and experienced.

When choosing people to advise you and stand at your side, you need to be careful to pick those whom you know you can depend on.  She advises him to choose friends that are old enough, those who have “seen and experienced many things,” and those who have been approved in parliaments.  She quotes Tullius, saying:

” ‘Great things are not accomplished by strength and activity of body, but by counsel, authority, and knowledge; and these things do not become enfeebled with age, but rather grow stronger and increase day after day.’ “

I shall leave my readers to decide for themselves whether we accomplished this point correctly in choosing our allies in the war we are fighting now.

7.   Don’t accept advice or help from fools, flatterers, and those who revere/fear you.

Prudence said it best when she stated:

“The characteristic of a fool is this: he readily believes evil of everyone, and as readily believes all good of himself.”

She defines flatterers as those who “force themselves rather to praise your person than to tell you the truth about things.”

Neither of those types can give sound advice, for one tells you things that are completely off-base, while the other tells you what he thinks you want to hear.  She goes on to say:

“…one should rather flee from and fear the sweet words of flatterers than the earnest words of the friend who tells one the truth.”

Of those whom we protect, or those who feel themselves indebted or fearful of us, she says:

” ‘There is no one perfectly true to him of whom he is afraid’… ‘There is no power…fitted to endure, save it be founded more in the love of the people than in the fears.’ “

8.   Don’t trust former enemies readily, even if you have ‘mended fences.’

This goes without saying.  Prudence quotes great thinkers, who said:

“Trust not to those with whom you have been sometime at war or in enmity, neither tell them of your intentions.’

“It may not be that, where fire has long existed there shall remain no vapour of heat.”

“Have no fellowship with ancient foes; for if you do good to them, they will pervert it unto evil.”

She goes on to say, “…though your enemy may be reconciled, and appear before you in all humility, and bow his head to you, you should never trust him.  Surely he feigns this humility more for his advantage than for any love of you; for he thinks to gain some victory over you by such feigning, the which he could not gain by strife of open war.”

To this I would add that war is not the time to make allies of people whom you feel a need to constantly look over your shoulder to watch, for fear that they stand ready to stab you in the back the first chance they get.  The people who stand behind you should be those that you trust will have your best interest in mind, or those who seek to further your cause because it will be a benefit to them as well.

9.   When you ask for help, be transparently honest about the situation.

We cannot get adequate help nor advice if we have something to hide.  Being honest about the situation, how much we are to blame, what we are trying to accomplish, etc., is inherently necessary to further our cause.  We cannot expect people to back us up if we are lying to them.  Justice requires that we are explicit about the situation with which we are asking for help.

“For he that lies or prevaricates may not well be counseled, at least in so far as he has deceived.”

10.   Think things through thoroughly. (Say that 3 times fast! :P)

The next piece of advice from Prudence is to think through everything using logic and reason, examine the root of the situation, trying to determine whether what you are planning is the right thing to do, whether you have just cause, if you have what you need to do it, and what the ramifications of going through with your plan are most likely to be.

Once you have thought it through calmly and reasonably, pick the best course of action and don’t waver from it.

Prudence says:

“And when you have examined your counselling as I have outlined to you, and have determined which part of it is the better and more profitable, and have found it to be approved by many wise and elderly men: then shall you consider whether you have power to carry it to good end.”

11.   Make sure that you are capable of accomplishing what you want to do before you set out to do it.

Embarking on a sea voyage without the proper equipment and provisions is foolhardy.  How much more foolish would it be to start a war that you were not equipped to fight?  Prudence advises her husband to examine closely whether he has the ability to carry out the thing that he is proposing to do.  She says:

“For surely reason will not permit a man to begin a thing, save he carry it through as he should.  Nor should anyone take upon himself a burden so heavy that he cannot bear it…Cato says: ‘Attempt only what thou hast power to do, lest the great task so oppress thee that it shall behoove thee to forgo that which thou hast begun.’

She goes on to say:

“And if it so be that you are in doubt whether you can perform a thing, choose rather to suffer than to begin…’If you have power to do any thing which you must later regret, it is better to say nay than yea.’…if you have the ability to carry out any work whereof it is likely that later you must repent, then it is better to suffer it to remain undone than to begin it.”

12.    Don’t neglect to protect your assets at home.

Literally.

Prudence asks Melibeus what he understands from his counselors’ advice to provision and garrison his home.  He thinks it means that he needs to erect bigger towers and equip the buildings with armor and artillery, to which wise Prudence responds:

“The garrisoning, provisioning, and equipping of high towers is sometimes but the pandering to pride.  And it sometimes happens that even when men build high towers and great fortresses, at much cost and with untold labour, when they are completed they are not worth a straw, unless they be defended by true friends, who are both old and wise.”

I don’t think she means literally to have grandpas up on the battlements wielding arms, but rather to rely on those with whom we have a long-established history of trust.

I will end with the final words Prudence says on the subject of defense.

“…understand well that the greatest and strongest garrison a powerful man[or in our case, nation] may have, as well to defend his person as his property, is the love of his vassals [or in our case, citizens] and his neighbours.”

Our nation suffered a huge blow to its collective ego.  We were attacked on our own soil.  Perhaps we had grown a little lax in our precautions, perhaps we had grown a little too sure of our safety, perhaps we had just innocently assumed we were too mighty and impenetrable.  I feel that we have matured as a nation because of this tragedy.  We are more circumspect, more aware, and more determined to never let this happen to us again.

God Bless America.

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Day 3 – Dragon’s Breath

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 17, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Sailor’s Prologue, The Sailor’s Tale, The Prioress’ Prologue, The Prioress’ Tale, Prologue to Sir Thopas, Sir Thopas, Prologue to Melibeus | Pages: 158-189

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The Little Choir Boy and The Holy Virgin

As I sit here, feeling a little unwell and eating reheated Thai noodles so spicy I am about to spit fire, I am caught up yet again in the dragon-slaying knight analogy with which I have peppered my articles from the beginning.  When my illness gets the best of me, the dragon seems too large, too unconquerable, the fire seems too hot, the quest too insurmountable.   It’s at times like these that I rally my spirits with a warm cup of chamomile tea, a re-reading of the poem “Don’t Quit” I have taped to my monitor, and a booming refrain of Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive.” 🙂

Today’s readings were short but very interesting.  I will start with The Sailor’s Tale.

I have to admit that the tale made me feel as if I were going around in circles. What was the moral? Even monks can be untrustworthy? The people you think you know best can sometimes surprise you with treachery? In doing you a kindness, people have their own selfish motives at heart?  I’m having a little trouble understanding what Chaucer meant to moralize with this tale.

In The Sailor’s Tale, a rich merchant and his pretty wife are intimate childhood friends with a monk, whose visits are always welcomed with honest cheer.  The wife is a spender who is generously funded by her husband, the merchant is ever occupied by his bookkeeping and business dealings and the monk secretly harbors a love for the wife.  The wife asks the monk for a money loan for a dire need, labeling her husband a penny-pincher who would not provide for her even when her need is great. The monk offers to help and confesses he only comes around for love of her, then he goes and asks the merchant for a loan which he then passes on to the wife, no one being the wiser, except the monk, of all the dealings.  The merchant goes away, the monk comes to the wife and she repays his kindness by spending the night with him, then the merchant returns, he visits the monk out of friendship and the monk tells him he already left the money he borrowed with the wife, who in turn tells him that she’s already spent it on herself to look nice for him.

I don’t quite understand the point of the story, as I discussed before, but it was a comical read, nonetheless.

The Prioress’ Tale was sad. About a devout little choir boy with a single mom who was murdered by Jews beguiled by Satan, because they heard him singing the praises of the Holy Virgin.  It’s a little anti-semitic in my opinion. I need to study the condition of the Jewish people at that time, and the ghettos he describes, to get a better handle on the historical context.

Regardless, the murder of a child for any reason is an abhorrence, and then to be dumped in a cess pool! It is fitting that the story of the young martyr was given by a prioress.  It seemed almost a scriptural sonnet in its architecture.

My favorite part of the story is when they take the grain (put on his tongue by the Virgin to make his lifeless body and nearly severed head sing) away, and the little boy’s soul is finally released to heaven:

“The holy monk, this abbot, so say I,/The tongue caught out and took away the grain,

And he gave up the ghost, then easily,/And when the abbot saw this wonder plain,

The salt tears trickled down his cheeks like rain,/And humbly he fell prone upon the ground,

Lying there still as if he had been bound.

“And all the monks lay there on the pavement,/Weeping and praising Jesus’ Mother dear,

And after that they rose and forth they went,/Taking away this martyr from his bier,

And in a tomb of marble, carved and clear,/Did they enclose his little body sweet;”

What a poignant tale of innocence!  His sweetness touched the lives of many. By his death, perhaps he brought more learning than he might have had he lived.

Sir Thopas’ tale is a little whimsical and flowery.  It’s also about a knight, but one that thinks no regular girl is good enough to be his wife and goes after an elf-queen, where he meets with her bodyguard, a giant with three heads.  He arrays himself in his armor and goes back to fight him but we don’t get to hear the rest because Sir Thopas is interrupted in the middle of his story by the host who has grown weary of his flowery, foolish poetry.

To end today’s reflections, I will end with the host’s amusing rebuke to Sir Thopas:

” ‘By God!’ cried he, ‘now plainly, in a word,/Your dirty rhyming is not worth a turd (sorry–that’s what he said! :P)

You do naught else but waste and fritter time./Sir, in one word, you shall no longer rhyme.”

Posted in Reading Commentary, The Canterbury Tales | Leave a Comment »

Day 2 – The 5 Types of People You Meet On A Quest

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 16, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Miller’s Prologue, The Miller’s Tale, The Reeve’s Prologue, The Reeve’s Tale, The Cook’s Prologue, The Cook’s Tale, Introduction to The Lawyer’s Prologue, The Lawyer’s Prologue, The Lawyer’s Tale  | Pages: 86-157

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Constance Cast Adrift from “The Lawyer’s Tale”

It’s interesting the response you get from people when you start a massive project.

There are:

1. The constant cheerleaders who applaud anything you do because they think you’re great.

2. The friends who’ve seen you try and succeed–or sometimes try and fail–at many things, who shake their heads in amusement and utter “here we go again” with patient solidarity.

3. The bemused who think you are a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but wish you luck anyway.

4. The naysayers, who think your endeavor is pointless because it has no sense or importance in their version of the World.

and worst of all,

5. The condescending negativists who see your efforts as the desperate act of a pitiable creature.

You may think that the opinion of others is fairly easy to overlook, but that is not true.  Whether we like it or not, we have a reaction, however much we attempt to dissemble, to what other people think of us and the things we do.  Other people are our mirrors.  We are afraid of the reflection we see of ourselves through their eyes.  Not perhaps for their sake, but for our own fear that we are really as foolish and awkward as we have always believed, and that they can see it where we cannot–that if they can see our foolishness, frailty of character or mind, or indeed our beauty, or lack thereof, so can everyone else.

So what is the answer, then? Listen to what everyone says about us? Take a hit to our self-esteem? No.  The answer is to accept it, comment or criticism, but only internalize what makes us better.  I find that when I try to understand the reasoning behind a comment, instead of fighting it with anger or resentment, or letting the flattery go to my head, I decide how much it affects me, and in that way, I can learn a lot more from these individual mirrors and catch glimpses of the “me” I aspire to be.

Well, enough of my reflections for now.  Time to expound upon today’s readings.

Let’s start with The Miller’s Tale. Chaucer gives good advice to anyone who participates in sport/games.  It could also apply to the internet community.  He says before continuing with the Miller’s Tale:

“Be then advised, and hold me free from blame;

Men should not be too serious at a game.”

Solid piece of advice, that.  We sometimes get too involved in triviality.

It is no surprise that the Miller was portrayed as being drunk while telling this tale.  It gave Chaucer the latitude to bring the comically coarse vulgarity of the Miller to life. It definitely was an eyebrow-raiser of a story. I was surprised to see many idioms that I thought were more modern in origin, such as “shut your trap,”  “arse kissed,” and “let fly a fart.” OK, so I giggled.  Another funny epithet I came across was “primrose and a tender chicken” when describing the young carpenter’s wife, Alison.  I wonder if it was flattering at the time to be compared to juicy poultry. 😐

On to more serious passages!  The Carpenter, upon finding Nicholas catatonic, became superstitious and uttered:

“This man has fallen…into some madness or some agony;

I always feared that somehow this would be!/Men should not meddle in God’s privity.

Aye, blessed always be the ignorant man,/Whose creed is all he ever has to scan!”

Ignorance has always been the tributary that feeds the meandering river of superstition, and it became the carpenter’s ultimate folly.  He was taken for a fool by his wife and Nicholas (who made him believe that Noah’s flood was about to be repeated so they could have a private frolic), and from then on he was regarded as a rambling lunatic.

The Reeve felt his pride threatened by the Miller’s Tale, since he was a carpenter, so he told another bawdy tale in response, casting A Miller as the fool.  In his tale, he tells of a Miller who stole from his customers and was ultimately cheated of his wife’s and his daughter’s dignity, as well as of what he had first stolen.  All I can say to this is that Chaucer was saying, “What goes around, comes around.”

The Cook’s Tale is really short. It is thought that Chaucer was not finished with it yet, but it starts with Perkin who was a party boy that loved to dance and drink. He gets fired from his apprenticeship then moves in with a friend, who is also a partying man, and his wife, who is a prostitute.  The only thing I learned from this is that a “Jack of Dover” is a ‘slang term for a meat pie which, not being sold the day it was cooked, the gravy was drawn off.’  Ewww.

My favorite selection of today’s reading is The Lawyer’s Tale.  It is the story of fair Constance, daughter of the Roman emperor who is sent to marry a Syrian sultan who has fallen madly in love with her. She’s Christian, he’s Muslim, so he decides to convert himself and his people to Christianity so he can have her in marriage.  His mom gets mad at his desire to renounce his faith and when Constance arrives, after a long sea voyage, the sultan and his followers are slain by order of the sultan’s mom, then Constance is set back on the ship with provisions but without a rudder and left to die in the ocean.  A merciful God guards this pious princess and guides her ship to Northumberland where she is found by a warden and is invited to live with him and his wife. A man falls in love with her and she turns him down, so he decides to shame her. He kills the warden’s wife, frames her, then testifies against her before the King.  The King discovers the man is lying. The King falls in love with her himself and takes her to be his queen.  Then he takes off to Scotland. His mother gets jealous of Constance, tricks a messenger into miscommunication with the King, then fakes an order to set Constance adrift with her baby, the King’s heir.  She sails for a long time and is guided providently back to Rome. She takes up residence with her uncle, never revealing her identity. The King comes to Rome, after learning the truth of what occurred at home, wanting to pay penance.  Constance discovers he’s there, sends the boy, then she reunites with him, and then with her own father.  They live happily ever after (at least for a year) and then the King dies and she goes back to Rome to live with her father the Emperor forever.

It’s a sweet, heart-wrenching story of a good, virtuous woman whom misfortune takes in hand and leaves her life in shambles.  She did nothing karmically to deserve the utter misery and hopelessness that plagued her life.  She waited to die at every moment, but never once renounced or cursed God, but constantly sought His solace. Fortune favored her and led her through each misadventure and to ultimate peace.  I suppose I can draw a parallel to my own life, although I don’t know how saintly I can count myself.  I know how it feels to feel insignificant, adrift, and uncertain of a future.  What keeps me going is hope, akin to Constance’s faith–deep, unmovable, resolute.  My every breath is my “ship’s provisions,” which multiply by the Grace of God to keep me alive.

I love what the Lawyer says in his prologue about promises.  I never thought about them in that way before.  It ties together honor, honesty, and the integrity of our word.

“To break a promise is not my intent.

A promise is a debt, and by my fay/I keep all mine; I can no better say.

For such law as man gives to other wight,/He should himself submit to it, by right;”

Very wise. 🙂

And finally, I’ll share the Lawyer’s version of “happily ever after.” It is a more realistic and satisfying “forever” than the one found in fairy tales, in my opinion.

“…They did live in joy and quiet meet./But little while it lasts us, this complete,

Joy of this world, for time will not abide;/From day to day it changes as the tide.

Who ever lived in such delight one day/That was not stirred therefrom by his conscience,

Desire, or anger, or some kindred fray,/Envy, or pride, or passion, or offense?

I say but to one ending this sentence;/That but a little while in joy’s pleasance

Lasted the bliss of Alla (the King) and Constance.”

The End.

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Day 1 – You Have To Start Somewhere

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 15, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350   |   Started: 1   |   Finished: 0   |   Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: Prologue, The Knight’s Tale   |   Pages: 1-85

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Woodcut of 29 Pilgrims from The Canterbury Tales

I finished setting up the blog today.  It’s not as simple as I thought it was going to be–well, not for the perfectionist that lives inside my head.  Family and other work make it impossible for me to focus on just my studies.

I was excited to get started on my reading! I searched high and low for a good progress counter widget to add to this page so that I could see my progress.  I found one, but it makes me feel like a loser.  It’s still at Zero!  I’m being neurotic; It’s only my first day, for crying out loud! Anyway, on to my impressions.

First of all, I have to say that I think I picked the perfect book to start with.  Nothing gets you in the mood for an epic adventure of your own than reading about brave knights and fair ladies in faraway lands.  When I first started reading this morning, I found it required more concentration than my usual fluff reading does, but the richness and poetic lyricism make up for it.  The detail merits your focused attention.  It’s well worth the study you put into it.

The Prologue describes the 29 visitors to the Tabard Inn at the beginning of the pilgrimage to Canterbury, and the wager that gives birth to the tales.  I cannot help but marvel at Chaucer’s intricate lyrical poetry.  I could almost see and be inspired by the brave knight and the parson from his description alone.  Such mastery of the language so as to bring characters to life across seven centuries is remarkable!

In my reading of “The Knight’s Tale,” I came across a few passages that resonated within my own mind.  I will quote them here for our mutual benefit and inspiration:

(Here, Arcita is lamenting the fact that he has been exiled while his cousin Palamon remains in prison, where he can see fair Emily from the cell window.  Both cousins are in love with Emily and each curses the others luck)

“Alas! Why is it men so much complain/Of what great God, or Fortune, may ordain,

When better is the gift, in any guise,/That men may often for themselves devise?

One man desires only that great wealth/Which may but cause his death or long ill-health.

One who from prison gladly would be free,/At home by his own servants slain might be.

We furiously pursue felicity,/Yet we go often wrong before we die.”

Chaucer is wise to point out that sometimes our own desires are our folly.  This was the medieval equivalent to “the grass is greener.”  Sometimes we wish that things were different, or we are certain that if things were different, we would be happy and everything would be “perfect,” and resent the tribulations we face.  Who among us is truly without problems?  Chaucer here suggests that sometimes we would do better to be content with our current strife than to forcibly pursue our desires, which may, in themselves, bring greater pain or strife than that which we were already dealing with, and had a handle on.

I also like the question Chaucer poses to his readers as to who feels the greater pain as a lover: the man who is banished from her presence forever, or he who can see her from his prison cell but knows he will never have her.

Next, philosophizing by the worthy Theseus once Arcita has been set on his funeral bier, and he is left with the decision of the fate of Palamon and Emily.

“And therefore, of His Wisdom’s Providence,/Has He (God) so well established ordinance

That species of all things and all progressions/If they’d endure, it must be by successions,

Not being themselves eternal…

“Of man and woman just the same is true;/Needs must, in either season of the two,

That is to say, in youth or else in age,/All men perish, the king as well as page…

“Then it is wisdom, as it seems to me,/To make a virtue of necessity,

And calmly take what we may not eschew,/And specially that which to all is due.”

In this context, I believe the Duke’s reasoning to be sound.  He is saying that nothing is lasting. Everything is fleeting.  If we are to endure, then we must take place in the succession of humanity–not as immortals, for that is not possible, but as part of a line, a succession– the human descendency.  Somehow, that brings me comfort.

He makes a solid argument for the joining of the two mourners by suggesting that this is the next logical step in that succession.  Since all people are to die, king as well as pauper, then why let death be a stumbling block to keep two people from finding joy, instead of accepting it and remembering it is part of nature, part of life and moving on to find our own happiness before our own time is up.

And finally, this great quote from noble Theseus, the Duke:

“Who can be called a fool, except he love?”

or as Lorelai Gilmore said it:

“I’m afraid that once your heart is involved, it all comes out in ‘moron’. “

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An Educated Mind… For All!

Posted by Amanda Jane on March 8, 2015

I’ve always believed myself to be compassionate, altruistic, well-mannered, friendly, vivacious and eternally optimistic (sound familiar, Twitterverse? 😀 ) I’ve admired those qualities in myself and tried to live up to the standards I have set for myself.  There is an attribute that I prize highly above all the rest–my mind and its innate intelligence.  OK, so perhaps I’ve not applied to join MENSA (yet), but I have always done extremely well in school and really thrive in a classroom environment. This might be why I decided to become a teacher, perhaps hoping someday to become a professor of literature.

A few years ago, at the age of 23, I was diagnosed with a disabling illness that affects my lungs, and due to the long years of treatments,  is now beginning to debilitate my body at a rapid pace.  At the time when I first fell ill, I was still in University, working toward becoming a teacher.   Due to my frequent hospitalizations, I wasn’t able to continue; there ended my formal education.

I have since attempted to return to school several times– tried everything from online schools, to correspondence schools, to part-time technical/trade schools that felt as challenging as kindergarten.  My illness has been my adversary every time, succeeding in ousting me from even the most menial career education.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to share this with the world.  By looking at me, you would never guess that I battle an illness.  I’m not looking to garner sympathy or pity, but rather always prefer to do my best to earn respect, so my personal issues are not something I’ve readily shared with people in the past.  Having done alright in the business and professional arena, with many responsible positions, people assume that I have more titles than I really do.  Whatever education I have attained beyond my years of college have been the result of my own personal study and innate ability.

I am not satisfied.  I have decided that this incomplete education ends now.  I have looked for years for a program that would allow me to learn even if I had to be in hospital at times.  Guess what? No luck yet.  So, I have decided to take the reins of my own life, educating myself because no one seems to want to do it!   Maybe I won’t receive a yearned-for degree or certificate, but I will get what I prize above all else–a more learned and cultured mind.

I hope this endeavor helps me to keep striving for excellence within myself, to continue gaining wisdom to live what’s left of my life to its full extent, and to help me leave a lasting legacy for those who find themselves in a similar position.  I am determined to never stop learning and to make a purposeful life from the wreckage, finding a way around the obstacles that stand between me and further formal education, and sharing with the world what I learn along the way.

As long as my mind is alert and capable, I have the right to learn.  That is my ultimate wish for myself and for others like me–to learn until the end. Who knows? Maybe even longer than that.

Posted in Personal Observations | 5 Comments »