Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pilgrim's Anniversary (The Canterbury Tales)

   Growing up, I thought that the only significant event or person that shared my birthday was Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, a big deal of course and a Mad magazine favorite.

    I now know, however, that on April 17,1397, Geoffrey Chaucer told the Canterbury Tales for the first time at the court of Richard II.  I also learned that Chaucer scholars have identified the date exactly ten years prior to Chaucer's recitation, i.e., April 17, 1387, as the start of the pilgrimage from Southwark to Canterbury recounted in this masterwork.

 Nothing to do with me,of course, but nice to know and a sense of perspective is always a helpful thing.


Upper:  Image of Geoffrey Chaucer as a pilgrim from Ellesmere Manuscript in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Early 15th century.

Second:  A woodcut from William Caxton's second edition of the Canterbury Tales printed in 1483.

Third:  Bors' Dilemma – he chooses to save a maiden rather than his brother Lionel. Paris Manuscript of Canterbury Tales, prior to 1430, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.  Once the property of Jean d'Orléans, comte d'Angoulème, who was a royal prisoner in England between 1412-1445 and the brother of the poet and nobleman Charles, Duke of Orléans.

Lower:  St. Thomas Becket stained glass window (detail), Canterbury Cathedral.  Created in the early 1900s using fragments of medieval stained glass.


  1. I think I have the same birthday as Freud. Funny how one thinks of these things. I would have preferred Jung, but hey.
    I love the artwork here, as always. I was just thinking of food names to go with literature--thinking perhaps Canterbury Lobster Tail--

    Ah well. And I was also wondering why Welsh rabbit was also rarebit. We used to argue about that. Funny.

  2. I think sharing Freud's birthday is extremely cool, actually; I think I would prefer it to Jung's (in terms of impact), but the odd thing is that one can't do anything about it, except possibly do what Hollywood actors do for publicity purposes and make everything up anyway. And now in the digital world, as your son would know, "self" has become a truly plastic concept. I've read rabbit/rarebit distinction explained as the latter being a corruption of the former. Supposedly rabbit, being meat, was a rich person's food and cheese was a poor man's substitute for rabbit. Apparently, caws pobi, the Welsh name for the dish literally means "roasted cheese," so that doesn't help. But some say it means "lightly roasted" cheese, hence "rare." I expect the most complete and reliable explanation would be found in Alan Davidson's truly indispensible Oxford Companion to Food, but unfortunately that's somewhere else at the moment. Now, Canterbury Lobster Tail is interesting and not an impossibility since Chaucer might have been aware of the Dublin Bay Prawn or Mediterranean lobster. An Absolutely Beautiful Day here. I'm going to clear the decks and figure out a way not to waste it. Curtis

  3. Happy Birthday!

  4. Thanks. It has been a pretty good birthday. Curtis