Study Help Full Glossary for The Canterbury Tales


Abygayl (Abigail) the wife of Nabal, from I Samuel; Nabal refused to help David, for which God smote him dead.

Aldiran a star in the constellation Leo.

Alexander the representative of the ideal for the medieval person.

Alnath a star in the constellation Aries.

Amphion the king of Thebes and husband of Niobe; he was noted for his beautiful singing voice.

Andromache wife of Hector, leader of the Trojan forces, who one night dreamed of Hector's death.

Apollo the god of the sun.

The Arc of his Artificial Day from dawn to sunset as opposed to the "natural day of twenty-four hours."

Archbishop Dunstan (924-988) an archbishop of Canterbury who was later canonized.

Argus . . . pull his beard a mythological giant with a hundred eyes whose duty was to guard a mortal (Io) whom Zeus loved. By Chaucer's time the word referred to any observant, vigilant person or guardian.

Argus a mythological creature with one hundred eyes meant to guard anything valuable.

Aristotle, Alhazen (Alocen), Witelo (Vitulon) learned men — a philosopher, an astronomer, and a mathematician, respectively — who wrote of the powers of mirrors.

Arnold reference to Arnoldus de Villa, a fourteenth-century French physician, theologian, astrologer, and alchemist.

Assuerus (Ahasuerus) husband of the biblical Esther.

Aurelian (Aurelianus) emperor of Rome, preceded by Gallienus.

Avicenna an Arabian physician (980-1037) who wrote a work on medicines that includes a chapter on poisons.

azure a semi-precious stone, today called lapis lazuli. In the description of Chaunticleer, the use of azure reinforces his courtly appearance.

Bacchus (Bacus), Venus Bacchus was the god of wine. Virginia had never tasted wine because it would arouse her interest in Venus, the goddess of love.

Bacchus the god of wine and interceder in quarrels.

Bethulie (Bethulia) a city of the Israelites, besieged by Holofernes.

Bob-Up-And-Down a town very near Canterbury; the pilgrims must be in the vicinity of the Cathedral of Canterbury.

Bologna during Chaucer's lifetime, one of the principal cultural centers, especially famed in medicine and science.

Bretons (Britouns) inhabitants of Brittany in France.

Bromeholm (Bromeholme) a piece of wood reputed to be a part of the cross known as the Rood of Bromeholme, highly venerated in Scotland.

Bruges (Brugges) an important commercial city in Flanders, north of Brussels.

Brutus Cassius Chaucer erroneously supposes these two famous assassins of Julius Caesar to be one person, not two.

Bush unburnt, burning in Moses' sight F. N. Robinson maintains, "The figure of the burning bush . . . was of course a familiar symbol of the Virgin" (The Poems of Chaucer, page 840). God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush to give him instructions about receiving the Ten Commandments.

Caesar, Nero, Mark Anthony, and Mars in a chariot figures, all of whom had functioned in wars, used as decoration on the altar to Mars.

Callisto, Dana (Daphne), and Atalanta figures, all of whom avoided — with varying degrees of success — marriage, used as decoration on the altar to Diana.

Cambuskan F.N. Robinson points out that the name was chosen so as to resemble Genghis ("Cambyus" or Chingis) Khan ("skan").

canon a member of a certain religious order.

Capaneus proud, vain man so disdainful that he boasted that not even Jove could stop him. He took part in the war to restore Oedipus' oldest son to the throne of Thebes.

Cate (Caton, or Catoun) meaning Cato, a famous Roman writer and orator.

Cato Dionysius Cato, the author of a book of maxims used in elementary education (not to be confused with the more famous Marcus Cato the Elder and Marcus Cato the Younger, who were famous statesmen of ancient Rome).

Ceix. . .halcyon their story is found in Chaucer's first long original poem, The Book of the Dutchess, 1369.

Centaurs, Cerberus, Busiris, Achelous, Cacus, and Antacus all part of the Labors of Hercules.

Cheapside and Fish Streets streets in London that were known for the sale of strong spirits.

Chepe today, London's Cheapside. In Chaucer's time, it was a favorite scene of festivals and processions.

chimica senioris zadith tabula here, attributed by Chaucer to Plato but in the original publication (Theatrum Chemicum, 1695), it was attributed to Solomon.

Cicero (Scithreo) the Roman orator and writer.

Citherea the residence of Venus, goddess of Love.

convent in Chaucer's time, a dwelling for any religious group of either sex.

Cormeum eructavit! the opening words of Psalm 14.

Corpus Dominus Chaucer has clever ways of commenting on his characters. Here, he lets us know that the Host is not an expert in Latin. He meant to say "corpus Domini," which means "the body of our Lord."

Croesus the king of Lydia who depended too strongly upon fortune.

Crosus (Croesus) King of Lydia, noted for his great wealth.

Daniel See Daniel vii.

De Coitu About Copulation, a book about coitus, or sexual intercourse.

Delphi (Delphos) the home of the oracle of Delphi, who issued prophecies.

Deus hic! Latin, meaning "God be here!"

Don Brunel the Ass a twelfth-century work by the Englishman Nigel Wireker. The tale refers to a priest's son who breaks a rooster's leg by throwing a stone at it. In revenge, the bird declines to crow in the morning of the day when the priest is to be ordained and receive a benefice; the priest fails to wake up in time and, being late for the ceremony, loses his preferment.

Dorigen's Lamentations a recitation of women, most of whom took their own lives rather than disgrace themselves.

Dunmow Fliatcah a prize awarded to the married couple in Essex who had no quarrels, no regrets, and, if the opportunity presented itself, would remarry each other. The Wife is still establishing the right of more than one marriage.

'Dun's in the Myre refers to a type of rural game in which a group of youths brought in a log and pretended it was a horse stuck in the mud.

Ecclesiasticus, Ecclesiaste See xxv: 29.

Echo / Narcissus (Ekko / Narcisus) Echo, whose love for Narcissus was not returned; she pined for him until nothing was left but her voice.

the equinoctial wheel imaginary band encircling the earth and aligned with the equator. The equinoctial wheel, like the earth, makes a 360-degree rotation every 24 hours: Thus, fifteen degrees would be the equivalent to one hour. It was a popular belief in the time of Chaucer that cocks crowed punctually on the hour.

Five husbands . . . at the church door In Chaucer's time, a wedding was performed at the church door and not inside the church or chapel.

Flanders the region that encompasses most of Belgium and parts of Holland.

Galophy probably meaning the Valley of Gargaphia where Actaeon, who saw the goddess Diana naked, was turned into a stag and torn to pieces by his own hounds.

Ganelon of France the traitorous character in the French national epic, Chanson de Roland.

Ganelon, Geeniloun the betrayer of Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, to the Moors in the medieval French epic The Song of Roland.

Geoffrey reference to Geoffrey de Vinsauf, an author on the use of rhetoric during the twelfth century.

greyn This word in Chaucer's time carried many meanings, such as a grain of corn, a grain of paradise, and, most important, a pearl. Throughout medieval literature, the pearl takes on heavy significance; it can represent purity, chastity, innocence, and other related virtues.

Hasdrubal the king of Carthage when it was destroyed by the Romans. His wife screamed so loudly that all of Carthage heard her, and she died by throwing herself upon Hasdrubal's funeral pyre. The comparison to Lady Pertelote is apropos.

humors (humours) in Chaucer's time and well into the Renaissance, "humors" were the elemental fluids of the body — blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile — that regulated a person's physical health and mental disposition.

ignotum per ignotius Latin, meaning "an unknown thing (explained by) a more unknown thing." In other words, to explain something difficult by using something even more difficult.

In principio / Mulier est hominis confusio a Latin phrase meaning "Woman is the ruin of man." Chaunticleer plays a trick on Lady Pertelote and translates the phrase as "Woman is man's joy and bliss."

Iscariot, Judas the betrayer of Jesus to the Romans.

Jack of Dover possibly a reference to a meat pie.

Jack Straw a leader of the riots in London during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

Jason, Paris, Lamech Jason deserted Medea to marry a princess; Paris stole Helen from Menelaus, causing the Trojan war; and Lamech married two women at the same time.

Jaspre a type of stoneware praised during Chaucer's time.

Je vous sans doute French, meaning "I tell you this without doubt."

Joab an officer in David's army who blew his trumpet so powerfully that David's enemies fled.

Job from the Old Testament, the Book of Job presents the story of the sufferings of Job, who never loses his "patience with God" for inflicting harsh punishment on an innocent person.

Joseph See Genesis xxxvii and xxxix-xli.

Judith a devout Jewish woman who saved her town from conquest by stealthily entering the camp of the besieging Assyrian army and cutting off the head of its commander, Hologernes.

Juno the Roman queen of the gods.

Kenelm a young prince who, at seven years old, succeeded his father but was slain by an aunt.

King Demetrius The book that relates this and the previous incident is the Policraticus of twelfth-century writer John of Salisbury.

King Peter of Spain; King Peter of Cyprus; Bernabo Visconti of Lombardy; Count Ugolino of Pisa figures who relied on fortune and were betrayed, killed, or starved.

Koran/Mahomet Mahomet wrote the Koran, which is the book or bible of the Islamic religion.

Lancelot of the lake the popular knight of King Arthur's legendary Round Table.

lauriol, centaury, and fumitory herbs that were used as cathartics or laxatives.

Lazarus and Dives (Lazar and Dives) see Luke 16:19.

lechery (lecchours) excessive sexual indulgence.

The Legend Of Cupid's Saints (Steintes Legende Of Cupide) Better known under the title Legend of Good Women. Each episode shows how women have been abused by men and have suffered throughout the ages, therefore preparing us for abuse that Constance must endure.

Lemuel See Proverbs 31:4-7.

Lepe a town in Spain noted for its strong wines.

Livy Titus Livius, a Roman historian (55 b.c. to a.d. 17).

Lombardy a province in Italy.

Lot Lot's daughters got their father drunk and then seduced him (from the Book of Genesis in the Bible); the Pardoner's point is that Lot never would have committed incest if he had not been drunk.

Luna . . . Sol moon and sun.

Luna the Serene (Lucina the Sheene) the goddess of the moon.

Macrobius the author of a famous commentary on Cicero's account of The Dream of Scipio.

Malkynes Maydenhede (Molly's Maidenhead) a reference to Molly in The Reeve's Tale who lost her virginity that night.

Mark can tell The miracle of the loaves and fishes and the barley bread is actually John, not Mark (see John VI:9), but this is a slight error for a woman of the Middle Ages to make.

mead a strong alcoholic drink made from honey.

Metamorphoses the central work by the Roman poet Ovid.

Minotaur a monster with a man's body and a bull's head.

Moses, Elija, Aaron (Moyses, Elye, Aaron) see Exodus 30:28.

Mount Parnassus (Parnaso) home of the Muses.

Narcissus, Solomon, Hercules, Medea, Circe, Turnus, and King Crosesus figures, each of whom had in some way been trapped by love, used as decoration on the walls of the altar to Venus.

Nero A tyrant who, according to legend, sent many of the senators to death accompanied by the screams and wailing of their wives. Thus, Lady Pertelote will be similar to the Roman wives if she loses her husband, Chaunticleer.

Nessus a centaur slain by Hercules.

a new Rachel Rachel was the wife of Jacob and the mother of Joseph and was regarded in medieval times as prefiguring Christ.

now called Damascus the suggestion is that Damascus now stands where Eden once was.

O Alma Redemptoris Latin, meaning "O redemptive soul."

Odenatus the ruler of Palmyra.

Orpheus a musician who followed his wife, Eurydice, into the underworld and so influenced Hades with the beauty of his playing that he was allowed to take her back to the upper world.

palfrey a riding horse, in contrast to a work horse.

palfrey a top-grade riding horse, as contrasted to a work horse.

Pallas Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom.

Pamphilles (Pamphilus) the hero in a Latin dialogue about love called Pamphilus de Amore.

Penmark Point Arveragus' home on the rocky sea coast.

Phebus (Phoebus) Phoebus Apollo, the Greek god of light or sun.

Philosopher's Stone an imaginary substance sought by alchemists, who believed it to be capable of transmuting base metals into precious ones.

Phoebus Phoebus Apollo, the Greek god of light, or the sun.

Physiologus a collection of nature lore, describing both the natural and supernatural.

Piedmont, Saluzzo, Apennines, Lombardy, Monte Viso scenes in and around north central Italy where Petrarch lived and wrote.

placebo anything easy to swallow, pleasing, and acceptable, as is Placebo's advice to the Knight.

plumb your wif have sexual intercourse.

Pluto and Proserpina the king and queen of Fairyland.

Ptolemy . . . Almagest Ptolemy was a second century A.D. astronomer whose chief work was the Almagest. The Wife of Bath's quote shows that she is familiar with such a famous person.

Pygmalion, Zeuxis (Zanzis), Apelles Pygmalion created a statue so beautiful that he fell in love with it; Zeuxis was a fourth-century b.c. painter known for the beauty of his portraits; Apelles was a famous Jewish painter who decorated the tomb of Darius. Legendarily, these three argued over who had the best right to create Virginia's beauty.

Pyrrhus the Greek who slew Priam, the king of Troy.

Que la meaning "Who's there?"

Queen Semiramis (Semyrame) Assyrian queen, founder of Babylon, noted for her beauty and strength, and the epitome of licentiousness and decadent behavior. The Man of Law compares the Sultan's mother to her.

quoniam a vulgar designation for the female pudendum, or vulva.

Rebecca, Judith, Abigail, Esther biblical women noted for their good advice or actions.

relics objects esteemed and venerated because of association with a saint or martyr; here, the Pardoner's relics are false.

Rum-Ram-Ruf an alliterative phrase meant to make fun of the popular use of alliteration in contemporary compositions such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Piers Plowman.

Saint Augustine (354-430) One of the great church fathers, he consolidated the diverse elements of the early church and authored Confessions and The City of God.

Saint Denys a city in northern France.

Saint Mary, the Egyptian A woman who converted to Christianity and fled to the desert, where she lived for forty-seven years without any visible means of food or sustenance. Her situation is compared to Constance's predicament of being three years on a ship without food or sustenance.

Salomon the Book of Solomon x, 25 in the Apocrypha.

Samson the biblical "strong man." He revealed the secret of his strength to Solome, who then betrayed him to his enemies.

Score it on my tally loosely, "add it to my debt." A tally was a stick that was marked, or scored, to show the amunt of a creditor's debt.

Seneca Roman philosopher and writer.

Serpent Masked In Femininity (Serpant Under Femynynytee) Satan, often depicted as a serpent with a woman's face in medieval literature and art.

Shapur king of Persia.

Sheffild (Sheffield) a town in northern England, famous for the quality of its cutlery; thus, one should beware of the Reeve because of the high quality of the Sheffield dagger which he carries in his hose.

simony (symonye) the sin of using the church for personal financial gain, a frequent violation.

Sinon a Greek who persuaded the Trojans to take the Greeks' wooden horse into their city, the result of which was the destruction of Troy.

Solar Hall the name of a large hall at Cambridge University, so named because of its large sunny windows.

Solomon (Salomon) the author of the Book of Proverbs.

St. Helen the mother of Constantine the Great, believed to have found the True Cross.

Strother a town in Scotland, no longer in existence.

Tartary, Surray the name of the kingdom in southeastern Russia near the Chinese border, today it is known as Tartary.

Taurus, the bull the second sign of the zodiac.

Telephus the Mysian king who was wounded by Achilles but also used the magic of Achilles' sword to heal himself.

Termagant a supposed heathen idol.

tertian occurring every third day.

Theodamas a seer of Thebes who trumpeted loudly after any of his prophecies.

Theophrastus (Theofraste) the author of a book on nuptials and sometimes quoted by St. Jerome, the antifeminist.

Three Misfortunes, Thinges Three reference to Proverbs xxx, 21-23.

throstle a song thrush.

Trentals masses sung for a soul in purgatory; this ritual usually consists of one mass a day for thirty days.

Trophee a prophet of the Chaldee.

Trumpyngtoun (Trumpington) a town near Cambridge, England.

Tullius an early king of Rome; he is not well known but both Melibee and Dame Prudence quote him often.

usury (usure) charging interest on money lent, a practice forbidden by canon law.

usury lending money at an exorbitant interest rate

Valerie and Theofraste a work attributed to Walter Map, a minor satirist who disparaged marriage. All the writers the Wife of Bath quotes have written something either antifeminist, satiric, or unpleasant about marriage.

Valerius, Tullius, Boethius, Seneca writers who espoused that gentility comes from within and not from outward appearances.

Venerien . . . Marcien astrological terms.

Virgil, Dante (Virgile, Dant) Virgil has a description of hell in his Aeneid, and Dante has the elaborate, complicated Inferno. The fiend tells the Summoner that he will be better able to describe hell after seeing it than did the two poets.

The Warning the moral "Don't tell your wife any secrets" differs significantly from the usual references to fortune in the other tragedies.

with revel to Newgate In Chaucer's time, when a man was taken to prison, he was most often preceded by revelers and minstrels so as to call public attention to his disgrace. Until the 19th century, Newgate was the most prominent debtors' prison in the world.

With the ardor paris showed for helen Old January wishes he had the youthful strength of a Paris (who absconded with Helen of Troy) when he gets May in bed.

Zion the land in and around Jerusalem; by Chaucer's day, it also meant the heavenly city.