Canterbury Tales

By Geoffrey Chaucer

Tale Of Melibeus Part II

Tale Of Melibeus

Part II



Part II

"Now, sir, as to the third point; when your old and wise counsellor said that you ought not to proceed suddenly and hastily in this need, but that ye should provide and prepare in this case with great diligence and deliberation, I believe, indeed, that they said wisely and truly. For Tully says: `In every danger before thou begin to act, prepare thee with great diligence.` Then I say, that in taking vengeance in war, in battle, and in fortifying, ere thou begin thou shouldst prepare for it and do it with great deliberation. For Tully says that `long preparation before the battle makes the road to victory short.` And Cassiodorus says: `A garrison is stronger when it has been a long time prepared.`

"But now let us speak of the counsel that was agreed upon by your neighbors such as do you reverence without loving you, your old enemies reconciled, and your flatterers that counsel you certain things privately and publicly counsel you to revenge yourself and make war at once. And truly, sir, as I have said before, ye have greatly erred to have called such people to be your advisers; for such counsellors are sufficiently reproached by reasons given above. But none the less, let us now come to the particular point. Ye shall first proceed after the teaching of Tully. Certainly the truth of this matter or of this advice need not be diligently inquired into, for it is well known who they are that have done you harm and injury; and how many of them there were, and in what manner they have done all this wrong and evil to you. And after this then shall ye examine the second condition which Tully adds in this connection. For Tully speaks of a thing which he calls `consenting,` that is to say, who they are and how many and what they are that consented to the resolve which thou didst wilfully take to do hasty vengeance. And let us also consider who they are and how many they are and what they are that lend support to your adversaries. And indeed, as to the first point, it is well known what people they were that agreed with your hasty wilfulness; for truly, none of them that advised you to make sudden war were your friends. Let us now consider who they are whom ye hold so greatly your friends as to your person. For although ye are mighty and rich, surely ye are alone. For indeed, ye have no child but a daughter, and ye have no brothers nor cousins germane, and no other near kindred, on whose account your enemies should forbear in fear to dispute with you or to destroy your person. Ye know also that your wealth may be divided among various persons and when every man has his part he will give but little attention to avenging your death. But your enemies are three and they have many children, brothers, cousins and their kindred; and though ye should slay two or three of them, yet there would remain enough to avenge their death and slay thee. And although your kinsmen are more stable and steadfast than the kinsmen of your adversaries, yet nevertheless your kindred is only a remote kindred; and the kin of your enemies are very close to them. And in truth, in that respect their condition is better than yours. Then let us consider also if the advice of those that counsel you to take sudden vengeance is in accord with reason. And certainly, ye know well it is not. For by right and reason no man can take vengeance upon another except the judge that has jurisdiction over the dispute, when it is permitted him to take that vengeance swiftly or with deliberation as the law requires. And in addition, with regard to that word which Tully terms `consenting,` thou shalt consider if thy strength and power may consent and suffice to thy wilfulness and thy advisers. And indeed, thou mayst well say `No` to that. For surely, to speak properly we can do only such things as we can do rightly. And indeed, rightfully ye can take no vengeance on your own authority. Then ye may see that your power does not consent or accord with your determination. Let us now examine the third point that Tully calls `sequent` to the others. Thou shalt understand that the vengeance that thou hast purposed to take is this `sequent,` and from this there will ensue another vengeance, peril, and war, and other injuries without number, all of which we are not aware of at this time. And regarding the fourth point which Tully calls the `product,` thou shalt consider that this wrong that is done to thee is produced from hate of thine enemies; and from taking vengeance on that account shall come another vengeance and much sorrow and wasting of wealth, as I say.

"Now, sir, as to the point that Tully calls `causes` which is the last point, thou shalt understand that the wrong that thou hast received hath certain causes, which clerks call Oriens and Efficiens, and Causa longinqua and Causa propinqua; that is to say, the remote cause and the near cause. The remote cause is Almighty God that is the cause of all things. The near cause is thy three enemies. The accidental cause was hate. The material cause was the five wounds of thy daughter. The formal cause is the manner of their working who brought ladders and climbed in at thy windows. The final cause was the attempt to slay thy daughter. And they were not stayed in this more than they could help. But to speak of the remote cause, as to what results shall come, or what shall finally happen to them in this case, I can only judge by conjecture and supposition. For we may suppose that they will come to a wicked end, for the Book of Decrees says: `Seldom or with great difficulty are actions brought to a good end when they are badly begun.`

"Now, sir, if men should ask me why God suffered these people to do you this injury, certainly I cannot in truth answer well. For the Apostle says, that `the knowledge and judgments of our Lord God Almighty are deep; no man may comprehend or conceive them sufficiently.` Nevertheless, by certain presumptions and conjectures I hold and believe that God, who is full of justice and righteousness, has permitted this for just and reasonable ends.
"Thy name is Melibeus, that is to say, `a man that drinks honey.` Thou hast drunk so much honey of sweet temporal wealth and delights and honors of this world that thou art drunk and hast forgotten Jesus Christ thy Creator; thou hast not done Him such honor and reverence as thou shouldst have done. Neither hast thou taken good heed to the words of Ovid who says: `Under the honey of the gods of the body is hidden the venom that slays the soul.` And Solomon says: `If thou hast found honey, eat what suffices of it; for if thou eat of it beyond measure, thou shalt cast it up,` and be needy and poor. And perhaps thou art in ill-favor with Christ and He has turned from thee His face and His merciful ear; and also has suffered that thou shouldst be punished in the manner in which thou hast sinned. Thou hast committed a sin against our Lord Christ, for indeed, the three enemies of mankind, that is to say, the flesh, the devil and the world, thou hast wilfully permitted to enter thy heart by the windows of thy body and hast not defended thyself sufficiently against their assaults and their temptations, so that they have wounded thy soul in five places, that is to say, the deadly sins that entered into thy heart by thy five senses. And in the same manner our Lord Christ has willed and permitted that thy three enemies should enter thy house by the windows and wound thy daughter in the aforesaid manner."

"Indeed," said Melibeus, "I see well that ye speak strongly to overcome me in such a way that I shall not revenge myself upon my enemies; showing me the perils and the dangers which might ensue from this vengeance. But whoever should consider in all cases of vengeance the perils and evils that might come from revenge would never take vengeance, and that were an evil. For by vengeance are wicked men set apart from good men. And they that have a will to do evil restrain their wicked purpose when they see the punishing and chastising of offenders."

And to this Dame Prudence replied: "Truly," said she, "I grant freely that much evil and much good come from vengeance; but the taking of vengeance belongs properly not to everyone, but only to judges and to those that have jurisdiction over the offenders. And again I say further that just as a single person sins in taking vengeance upon another man, just so the judge sins if he takes no vengeance upon those that have deserved it. For Seneca says thus: `That judge,` he says, `is good that punishes the evil.` And as Cassiodorus says: `A man fears to do injuries when he knows that it is displeasing to judges and sovereigns.` And another says: `The judge that fears to do right makes men evil.` And Saint Paul the Apostle says in his Epistle when he writes to the Romans that `judges do not bear the spear without cause`; but they carry it to punish evil ones and wrong-doers and to protect good men. If ye will then take vengeance upon your enemies ye should bring your grievance to the judge that has jurisdiction over them and he shall punish them as the law asks and requires."

"Ah," said Melibeus, "this vengeance I like not at all. I recollect now and consider, how Fortune has nourished me from my childhood and has helped me through many a greater difficulty. Now I will test her, believing with God`s help that she will help me to avenge my shame."

"Indeed," said Prudence, "if ye will work by my advice, ye will not test Fortune in any way. Nor shall ye bend or bow unto her, according to the opinion of Seneca, `for things that have been foolishly done and done in hope of Fortune will never come to a good end.` And as the same Seneca says: `The more clear and shining Fortune is, the more brittle and sooner broken.` Do not trust in her, for she is not steadfast or stable; for when ye believe yourself to be most sure or certain of her help, she will fail you and deceive you. And as to the saying that Fortune has nourished you from your childhood, I say that on that account shall ye trust and believe in her the less. For Seneca says: `Whatever man is nourished by Fortune she will make a great fool of.` Now then, since ye desire and ask vengeance and the vengeance that is done according to the law and by the judge does not please you, and the vengeance that is done in hope of Fortune is dangerous and uncertain, then ye shall have no other remedy but recourse to the Sovereign Judge that avenges all injuries and wrongs. And He shall avenge you in the way in which He testifies Himself, when He says: `Leave vengeance to me, and I shall do it.`"
Melibeus answered: "If I do not avenge myself for the wrong that men have done me. I summon or warn them that have done that wrong to me, and all others also, to do me another injury. For it is written: `If thou take no vengeance for an old wrong, thou summonest thy adversaries to do thee a new wrong.` And also, on account of my patience, men would do me so much wrong that I could neither bear it nor sustain it, and so I should be considered contemptible. For men say: "Through too much suffering shall many things happen to thee which thou shalt not be able to endure.`"

"Truly," said Prudence, "I grant you that too much patience is not good. Yet it does not follow on that account that every person to whom men do an injury takes vengeance for it. For that relates and belongs solely to the judges, for they shall punish wrongs and injuries. And therefore the two authorities that ye have quoted above speak only with regard to the judges, for when they permit too many wrongs and villainies to be done without punishment, they not only summon men to do new wrongs, but they command it. Also a wise man says, that `the judge that does not correct a sinner commands and bids him to sin.` And the judges and sovereigns might permit so much on the part of evil men and wrong-doers in their land that these might by such sufferance, with process of time, grow to such power and might that they should put the judges and sovereigns from their places and at last make them lose their authority.

"But let us now suppose that ye have permission to avenge yourself. I say ye have not at present the power and might to do it. For if ye will make comparison with the power of your adversaries, ye shall find that in many things which I have explained to you before, their condition is better than yours. And therefore I say that for the present it is good that ye suffer and be patient.

"Furthermore, ye know well that according to the common proverb: `It is madness for a man to strive with a stronger or a mightier man than he is himself; and for him to strive with a man of the same strength, that is to say, with as strong a man as he, is a danger, and to strive with a weaker man is a folly.` And therefore a man should avoid strife as much as he can. For Solomon says: `It is a great honor to a man to keep himself from noise and strife.` And if it should happen that a man of greater strength than thou art should do thee an injury, study and busy thyself rather to quiet this grievance than to be avenged for it. For Seneca says: "He puts himself in great peril that strives with a greater man than he himself is,` and Cato says: `If a man of high station or degree, or more mighty than thou, does thee injury of annoyance, permit him to do so; for he that once injures thee may another time relieve thee and help.` Yet I will put the case that ye have both power and permission to avenge yourself. I say that there are many things that should restrain you from taking vengeance and make you inclined to be patient and to endure the things that have been done to you. First and foremost, ye must consider the faults that have been in your own person, for which God has permitted you to have this suffering, as I said to you before. For the poet says that `we ought to take patiently the tribulations that come to us, when we think and consider that we have deserved to have them.` And Saint Gregory says: `When a man considers well the number of his defects and sins, the pains and tribulations that he suffers seem the less to him; and insofar as he considers his sins the more heavy and grievous, to that degree his pain seems the lighter and easier to him.` Also ye ought to incline and bow your heart to take the patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, as Saint Peter says in his epistles. `Jesus Christ,` he says, `has suffered for us and given example to every man to follow and be like him. For he never did a sin nor did there ever come an evil word from his mouth. When men cursed him, he cursed them not; and when men beat him, he threatened them not.` Also the great patience which the saints that dwell in Paradise had in the tribulations which they suffered without desert or guilt ought to incite you greatly to patience. Furthermore, ye should strive to have patience, considering that the tribulations of this world endure but a little while and soon are past and gone. And the joy that a man seeks to have by patience in tribulations is imperishable, according to what the Apostle says in his Epistle: `the joy of God,` he says, `is imperishable.` That is to say, ever-lasting. Also hold and believe steadfastly that he is neither well-nourished nor well-taught that cannot have patience or will not accept patience. For Solomon says that `the doctrine and the wit of a man is known by patience.` And in another place he says: "He that is patient rules himself with great prudence.` And the same Solomon says: `The angry and wrathful man makes noises and the patient man moderates them and is quiet.` He says also: `It is of more value to be patient than to be very strong; and he that has the lordship of his own heart is more to be praised than he that by his force or strength takes great cities.` And therefore says Saint James in his Epistle that `patience is a great virtue.`"

"Surely," said Melibeus, "I grant you, Dame Prudence, that patience is a great virtue looking towards perfection; but every man cannot have the perfection that ye seek; nor am I of the number of very perfect men, for my heart can never be at peace until the time that it is avenged. And although it was a great peril to my enemies to do men an injury in taking vengeance upon me, yet they took no heed of that peril but carried out their wicked will and spirit. And therefore, it seems to me men ought not to reproach me though I should put myself to some peril for vengeance, and even though I do a great excess, that is to say, that I avenge one outrage by another."
"Ah," said Dame Prudence, "ye speak your will as it pleases you, but in no case in this world should a man do outrage or excess in order to avenge himself. For Cassiodorus says: `He that avenges himself by an outrage does as illy as he that does the outrage.` And therefore ye shall avenge yourself according to right, that is to say, by the law; and not by excess or outrage. And also if ye will avenge yourself for the outrage done by your adversaries in another manner than that which right commands, ye sin. And on this account Seneca says: `A man shall never avenge great evil with great evil.` And if ye say that right requires a man to oppose violence with violence and fighting with fighting, indeed ye say truly, when his action is taken at once without interval or without tarrying or delay and to defend himself and not to avenge himself. And it is proper that a man should defend himself with such moderation that men have no cause or ground to reproach him with excess and cruelty; for otherwise it would be against reason. By God, ye know well that ye are taking no action now to defend yourself but rather to avenge yourself; and therefore it follows that ye have no will to do this action temperately. And therefore it seems to me that patience is good. For Solomon says: `A man that is not patient shall come to great evil.`"

"Surely," said Melibeus, "I grant you that when a man is impatient and angry concerning that which touches him not and does not belong to him though it harm him, it is no wonder. For the law says: `He is culpable that interferes or meddles with a thing that does not pertain to him.` And Solomon says: `He that interferes in the strife of another man is like to one that takes a dog by the ears.` For just as he that takes a strange dog by the ears is sometimes bitten by the dog, just in the same way is it reasonable that he should have harm that by his impatience meddles with the trouble of another man when it does not affect him. But ye know well that this matter, that is to say, my grief and my suffering, touches me closely. And therefore, though I am angry and impatient, it is no wonder. And saving your grace, I cannot see that it might greatly harm me though I should take vengeance, for I am richer and more mighty than my enemies are. And ye know well that by money and by having great possessions all things of this world are governed. And Solomon says: `All things submit to money.`"

When Prudence had heard her husband boast of his wealth and of his money, dispraising the power of his adversaries, she spoke in this manner: "Indeed, dear sir, I grant you that ye are rich and mighty and that the riches are useful to such as have got them well and can well use them. For just as the body of a man cannot live without the soul, no more can it live without temporal goods. And through riches a man may get himself great friends. And therefore says Pamphilus: `If a neatherd`s daughter,` he says, `is rich, she may choose from a thousand men which one she will take for her husband. For out of a thousand men, not one will forsake her or refuse her.` And this Pamphilus says also: `If thou are very happy, that is to say, if thou art very rich, thou shalt find a great number of friends and companions. And if thy fortune change and thou grow poor, farewell friendship and fellowship; for thou shalt be alone without any companions unless it be the companionship of poor folk.` And again this Pamphilus says: `They that are thralls and bond-servants by lineage shall be made worthy and noble by wealth.` And just as by wealth there come many good things, just so with poverty there come many harms and evils. For great poverty constrains a man to do many ill things, and therefore Cassiodorus calls poverty the `mother of ruin,` that is to say, the mother of overthrowing or disaster. And therefore says Peter Alphonsus: `One of the greatest adversaries to be found in this world is when a free man by nature or by birth is forced by poverty to feed on the charity of his enemy.` And the same says Innocent in one of his books. He says: "Sorrowful and unhappy is the condition of a poor beggar, for if he does not beg his meat he dies for hunger, and if he beg he dies for shame, and in any case necessity constrains him to beg.` And therefore Solomon says: `It is better to die than to have such poverty.` And the same Solomon says: It is better to die a bitter death than to live in such a manner. For these reasons that I have told you, and for many other reasons that I could cite, I grant that riches have been good for those that have got them well and for those that have well used them. And therefore I will show you how ye shall behave and bear yourself in the gathering of riches and in what manner ye shall use them.
"First, ye shall get them without great desire, by good leisure - gradually, and not too hastily. For a man who is too desirous to get wealth surrenders himself first to theft and then to all other evils. And therefore Solomon says: `He that exerts himself too busily to grow rich shall not be innocent.` He also says that `the riches that come quickly to a man pass from him soon and easily; but riches that come little by little always grow and multiply.` And, sir, ye shall gain riches by your wit and by your labor for your profit; and that without wrong or harm-doing to any other person. For the law says that `no man makes himself rich if he does harm to another person.` That is to say, that nature forbids in accordance with right that any man make himself rich through harm to another person. And Tully says that `no sorrow or dread of death nor anything that may happen to a man is so much against nature as a man`s increasing his own means through harm to another man. And though the great men and mighty men may get wealth more easily than thou, yet thou shalt not be idle or slow to make profit for thyself, for thou shalt in every manner avoid idleness.` For Solomon says that `idleness teaches a man to work many evils.` And the same Solomon says: `He that labors and busies himself to till his land shall eat bread, but he that is idle and puts himself to no business or occupation, shall die of hunger.` And he that is idle and slow can never find a suitable time to serve his profit. For there is a versifier that says. `The idle man excuses himself in winter because of the great cold and in summer by reason of the heat.` For this cause Cato says: `Be wakeful, and do not give thyself to sleep very much; for too much repose nourishes and causes many vices.` And therefore says Saint Jerome: `Do some good deeds, that the devil who is our enemy shall not find you unoccupied. For the devil does not take easily into his service such as he finds occupied in good works!`
"Thus in acquiring wealth ye must avoid idleness and afterwards ye shall use the wealth which ye have got by your wit and your industry in such a manner that men consider you neither too parsimonious, nor too sparing, nor too foolishly generous, that is to say, very free as a spender. For just as men blame an avaricious man because of his parsimoniousness and niggardliness, in the same way he is to blame that spends too freely. And therefore says Cato: `Use,` he says, `thy wealth that thou hast in such a manner that men have no ground or cause to call thee mean or niggardly; for it is a great shame to a man to have a poor heart and a rich purse.` He says also: `The goods that thou hast acquired, use them in measure,` that is to say, spend them in reason; for they that foolishly waste and expend the goods that they have, when they have no more goods of their own, they plan to take the goods of another man. I say then that ye shall flee avarice, using your wealth in such manner that men shall not say that your riches are buried, but that ye have them in your power and under your government. For a wise man reproves the avaricious man and says thus in two verses: `To what end and wherefore does a man bury his goods through his great avarice, knowing well that he needs must die; for death is the end of every man as regards this present life? And for what cause or action does he knit himself so fast to his goods that all his wits cannot part him or sever him from them; when he knows well, or ought to know, that when he is dead he shall bear nothing with him out of this world? And therefore Saint Augustine says: `The avaricious man is like unto hell; the more it swallows the more desire it has to swallow and devour.` And just as ye would avoid being called an avaricious or parsimonious man, just so ye should keep and govern you in such a manner that men shall not call you foolishly generous. On this account Tully says: "The goods of thy house shall not be hidden nor kept so closely, that they cannot be opened by pity and graciousness`; that is to say, to give part to them that have great need; `nor shall thy goods be so free as to be every man`s goods.` Afterwards, in the getting and using of your wealth ye shall always have three things in your heart; that is to say, our Lord God, conscience, and your good name. First, ye shall have God in your heart; and for no wealth shall ye do anything which may in any manner displease God, that is your Creator and Maker. For according to the word of Solomon, `It is better to have a small property with the love of God,` than to have a great property and treasure, and lose the love of God.` And the Prophet says that `it is better to be a good man and have little property and treasure than to be considered an evil man and have great wealth.` And yet I say that ye should always exert yourself to get wealth, so long as ye get it with a good conscience. And the Apostle says: `There is nothing in this world in which we should have such great joy as when our conscience bears us good witness.` And the wise man says: `The possessions of a man are good when sin is not in his conscience.` Afterwards, in acquiring your riches and in using them, ye must exert yourself diligently that your good name shall be always kept and preserved. For Solomon says: `It is better for a man to have a good name than to have great riches.` And therefore he says in another place: `Exert thyself greatly to keep thy friends and thy good name, for these shall abide longer with thee than any treasure, be it never so precious.` And surely he should not be called a noble man that, in accord with God and with a good conscience, does not make an effort to keep his good name. And Cassiodorus says that `it is a sign of a noble heart when a man loves and desires to have a good name.` And therefore says Saint Augustine that `there are two things that are necessary and needful, and these are good conscience and good renown; that is to say, good conscience within thine own person, and good renown among thy neighbors outside. And he that trusts himself so much in his good conscience that he affronts and sets at naught his good name or renown and does not care to keep his good name is but a cruel churl.`
"Sire, now have I shown you how ye shall go about the acquiring of riches, and how ye shall use them. And I see plainly that because of the trust ye put in your wealth, ye will begin war and battle. I advise you that ye begin no war confiding in your riches, for they do not suffice to maintain war. And therefore a philosopher said: `That man who desires war and will have it in any case shall never have sufficiency; for the richer he is, the greater expenditureo he must make, if he will win honor and victory.` And Solomon says that `the more wealth a man has, the more spenders of it he shall find.` And, dear sire, although ye can command a multitude of people with your wealth, yet it is neither fitting nor good to begin war, when ye might in other ways have peace, to your honor and profit. For victories by battle in this world are not won by great numbers of people or by the bravery of man, but they lie in the will and hand of the Lord God Almighty. And therefore Judas Maccabeus, who was God`s knight, when he fought with an adversary that had a greater number, and a greater multitude of people and stronger than the people of Maccabee, comforted his little company, and spoke in this manner: `Our Lord God Almighty,` he said, `may as easily give victory to a few as to many. For victory in battle comes not because of a great number of people, but it comes from the Lord God in heaven.` And, dear sir, since there is no man certain if he is worthy that God should give him victory, no more than he is certain that he is worthy of the love of God, according to what Solomon says, therefore every man should fear greatly to begin wars. And he should fear also, because many perils occur in battle, and it often happens that the great man is slain as often as the little man, and, as it is written in the Second Book of Kings, `the happenings of battle are adventurous and nothing sure,` for one is hurt as easily with a spear as another. And because there is great peril in war, a man should turn from it and avoid it, as much as he properly can. For Solomon says: `He that loves peril shall fall in peril.`"
After Dame Prudence had thus spoken, Melibeus answered and said: "I see well, Dame Prudence, by your fair words and your reasons ye have shown me, that ye like war not at all. But I have not heard your advice as to how I shall act in this extremity."

"Truly," said she, "I advise you that ye reach an accord with your adversaries, and make peace with them. For Saint James says in his Epistles, that `by concord and peace the smallest riches grow great, and by dispute and discord great wealth diminishes.` And ye know well that one of the greatest and most sovereign things in the world is unity and peace. And therefore our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to His apostles in this fashion: `Happy and blessed are they that love and promote peace; for they shall be called the children of God.`"

"Ah!" cried Melibeus, "now I see well that ye love not mine honor and reputation. Ye know well that my adversaries have begun this dispute and contention by their outrage; and ye see clearly that they do not pray or require peace of me, nor do they ask to be reconciled. Will ye then have me go humble myself and obey them, and cry mercy of them? In truth, that were not to mine honor. For just as men say that `over-great familiarity causes contempt,` so is it also with too great humility and meekness."






Attention Students

Wondering how to cite this page? Click here for the proper citation for this page, following the guidelines set for Humanities citations from Columbia Guide to Online Style by Janice R. Walker

Considering donating your report on Geoffrey Chaucer. For more information, email the webmaster

Resources On The Web

Chaucer MetaPage - mass amounts of links for Chaucer

The Geoffry Chaucer Page - Contains Chaucer info directly from Harvard!

Geoffrey Chaucer - Time line, Links, Works etc...

New Advent - A Catholic view of Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer an overall survey - General info on Geoffrey Chaucer

© 2015 Cyber Studios Inc.