Review of Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women

Publisher: Dodo Press, 76 pages (no date of publication)

This edition reprints the poem in Chaucer’s original English, without editing, which is fascinating. It’s nearly a different language altogether, though it is not difficult to figure out if you really know our current version. Most of the stories are taken from Ovid (especially Metamorphoses) and Livy’s History of Rome, so if you’ve read those two this is purely for pleasure and possibly reinforcement. The story of Antony and Cleopatra may be taken from Plutarch, and the legend of Dido is clearly and explicitly taken from Virgil’s Aeneid. Chaucer is no plagiarist, as he gives credit to each author from whom he takes his stories.

Shakespeare clearly made reference to this book and adapted several of the stories from it (and from Ovid, Livy, and Plutarch) in his poem The Rape of Lucrece and several of his plays, notably Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus (where he recreates the legend of Philomela), and in several of his plays he refers to the legend of Pyramus and Thisbe. The Rape of Lucrece is among his strongest works, so its obligation to Chaucer is extremely notable.

Perhaps most intriguing to me about this book is that it confirms one of the major points I made in my Essays on the Classics! series in the first volume: namely that in the classics, despite modern academics’ retarded insistence, without reference to fact, that they are biased against women, many of the classics in fact treat women better than men. This is true especially where the classics disparage man as an unthinking and arrogant beast, but it is also true in one like this, where Chaucer sets out explicitly to sponsor the cause of women. Other places where this can be seen are The Odyssey and Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as Virgil’s Aeneid.

My favorite of Chaucer’s works remains Troilus and Criseyde, which I think is one of the absolute greatest poems ever written and is unfortunately ignored, especially among high schools where they insist on teaching The Canterbury Tales (which is inferior). But this is a good piece in Chaucer’s canon, even if it doesn’t quite compare.

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