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Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Week 9 - The Second Nun's Tale

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments The Lives of the Saints was a popular source of stories in Chaucer's day, and he gives us a good one, even if a bit improbable. But then, the miracles of God are indeed improbable, else they would not be miracles. After all the tales of lechery and lust, that of St. Cecilia is a nice (or so I think it others may not) change. But it is certainly an apt tale to tell on a pilgrimage, isn't it?

While many today may not believe in miracles, and think this story is just apocryphal, I think that many in his audience at the time would have believed implicitly in the truth of the miracles described. If you truly believed that this was a tale of absolute fact, how if at all would that change your perspective of the story? Would you appreciate it the same, more, or less? Would it strengthen or reinforce your belief?


message 2: by Bill (last edited Mar 02, 2011 09:50PM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments I'm amazed at Chaucers range. Is there any doubt that he wrote all these stories...are is there some possibility he was an editor and assembled them.

Something that caught my eye was this:
And you, all you that read what I write
Forgive me if I show no diligence
To ornament my story or endite
a subtle style


This makes it seem as if the nun wrote the story rather then told it.

Regarding the story, it represented a certain kind of religious sensibility perfectly. It is a welcome change from the lechery, lust, cuckoldry, fear of cuckoldry, etc. And its hard to believe that the same person wrote this tale and the Miller's tale. If Chaucer wrote them both--there is genius in that.

Regarding your question about miracles---I've never understood the significance of miracles, and if somehow I believed in one--I honestly don't know what it would do to me. My faith, such as it is and sometimes isn't, regards as irrelevant the existence or non-existence of miracles. Perhaps I would find relevance in the reason God chose to do a particular miracle. I will say that the Resurrection of Christ, which according to Christian theology, is foundational to the existence of the universe and every individual existence, in that it is the declaration of God Himself--does make sense to me--quite apart from whether I believe it factual or not. But individual, arbitrary, miracles--I don't understand the purpose of.

I don't see the reason behind the one in this story. To save someone's soul? But why do some people get the advantage of their own miracle while everyone else must have faith in the miracle of the resurrection, which they never personally witnessed, to be saved? And aren't all miracles, and the faith based on them, rather tacky compared to the miracle of the Resurrection and faith based on it?

Well, Everyman, you asked--so thats my answer. :)

I will say that I find this tale and the woman who tells it---to be quite lovely.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Bill wrote: "I'm amazed at Chaucers range. Is there any doubt that he wrote all these stories...are is there some possibility he was an editor and assembled them."

The only tale I've seen that was questioned as possibly not his is the Parson's Tale, and even there the weight of scholarship seems to be that he wrote it.

However, he didn't make up most of the tales. Most of them are traceable to previous sources, some back as far as Ovid in Rome, so his genius wasn't in inventing stories out of the blue, but in working with existing material and enriching it and working it to his advantage. That was the respected way of writing in Chaucer's day (and later; all but two of Shakespeare's plays can be traced to sources he got them from, but his genius was in reworking the raw material into such wonderful language and characterizations). Originality was not much valued; reinterpreting and retelling the stories of the past was. (Even today, how many of our children's stories are retellings of the same fairy tales -- how many editions of Cinderella, Mother Goose, Rapunzel, Robin Hood are there out there?)


message 4: by Evalyn (new)

Evalyn (eviejoy) | 93 comments Interesting that originality wasn't valued so much whereas, if you write today, it better be your own creation and the more original, the better. Do these two different outlooks say something about society then and now?


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Evalyn wrote: "Interesting that originality wasn't valued so much whereas, if you write today, it better be your own creation and the more original, the better. Do these two different outlooks say something about..."

fascinating question. I think, yes, it does. In the Medieval period, there was a basic belief in the wisdom of past authority. This was obvious in the church with the Bible, but was also the case in other areas of life. Aristotle was "The Philosopher" and also the authority in many other things such as natural science. If you were able to quote Aristotle to support y our argument, that was pretty much a slam dunk win. All wisdom had pretty much already been established, and our job was just to understand it and maybe expand a bit.

The Age of Reason came along with the concept that we should look to reason, not authority. Bacon was big in this transition. Descartes, when he propounded the theory of doubt, was shaking the foundations of knowledge and wisdom by saying that I'm going to doubt even what Aristotle, Cicero, et. al. said, and try to develop truth from scratch. This seems pretty tame to us, but at the time it was earth-shattering to the concept of how we know what we know.

So far have we come that nowadays we consider "Appeal to Authority" to be one of the logical fallacies.

I think this shift in thinking about thinking is key to the difference between drawing on the past for y our stories and making them up out of your own head.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Evalyn wrote: "I..."

By the way, Evalyn, welcome back. We've missed you!


message 7: by Evalyn (new)

Evalyn (eviejoy) | 93 comments Thanks, Everyman. I find that life keeps getting in the way of the things I want to be doing, like joining in on the discussions here. :)


message 8: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 10, 2011 02:34AM) (new)

MadgeUK I think this shift in thinking about thinking is key to the difference between drawing on the past for your stories and making them up out of your own head.

On the other hand, as you showed with your example of Cinderella et al, there is little that is original in storytelling - all authors, whether they or we perceive it or not, are drawing upon the traditions of centuries. Just as there are only 8 notes on a piano which can be rearranged into different pieces of music, so there are only so many plots that can be written and rewritten. Those of us who read a great deal are frequently reminded of other stories as we read.

Authors today are not so explicit in their use of symbolism but it is still there if you look out of it - it is either there because they are consciously using it or it is there because such symbolism is embedded in our 'collective unconscious', as Jung would have put it.

I give an example of this which I came across at the weekend when my 13 year old grandson showed me a little piece he had written about people 'coming together' It ended: Well let me tell you now, if you join hands and walk a 100 miles in each other's shoes you will understand other ways and be united. If you don't stop fighting then you won't start knowing.' Now we probably all know the Native American saying: 'Before you criticise someone, walk a mile in their moccasins' but my grandson doesn't know it (I asked him afterwards). He was drawing upon something he had read or heard elsewhere and incorporating it into a new story. We do it all the time.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Bill wrote: "John William Waterhouse painting of St. Cecilia"

Nice. I'm sure there is a lot of symbolism there I'm missing -- why is she apparently sleeping, why the roses (of that's what they are) on her book, why are the musicians kneeling, what are those gold things on the upper left, etc. But it's a nice painting.


message 11: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Waterhouse is a pre-Raphaelite painter using medieval symbolism. It is one of a number of paintings of St Cecilia based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti's verse:-

'Or, in a clear wall’d city on the sea
Near gilded organ pipes, her hair
Wound with white roses, slept St Cecily;
An angel look’d at her.’

Her attributes are flowers, since an angel watching over her is said to have placed crowns of lilies or roses on her brow, and musical instruments (she is the patron saint of music) particularly the organ as an early account of her life refers to music played on her wedding day.

The rose is an emblem of love and the poppies, an emblem of death, are a warning of her impending martyrdom.

The book is the bible, hidden under her hand, because she always kept it hidden from her non-Christian family.

She is often represented as sleeping because after her martyrdom her body was 'lost' for 800 years and was rediscovered by a Cardinal in 1599 in the Rome Catacombs.Pope Clement reported :"Behold the body of the most holy virgin, Cecilia, whom I myself saw lying uncorrupt in her tomb. I have in this marble expressed for thee the same saint in the very same posture and body." She is shown lying on her right side with her head facing downwards and with a scarf over her hair. Both her arms are extended towards her knees and the fingers of the right hand are also extended. The body was found in the position represented by the sculptor:-

http://www.semperaltius.com/St.%20Cec...


message 12: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments MadgeUK wrote: "She is often represented as sleeping because after her martyrdom her body was 'lost' for 800 years and was rediscovered by a Cardinal in 1599 in the Rome Catacombs.Pope Clement reported :"Behold the body of the most holy virgin, Cecilia, whom I myself saw lying uncorrupt in her tomb. I have in this marble expressed for thee the same saint in the very same posture and body." She is shown lying on her right side with her head facing downwards and with a scarf over her hair. Both her arms are extended towards her knees and the fingers of the right hand are also extended. The body was fo
..."



You can see, on the statue, the damage done by the prefect's incompetent executioner. I'm glad the painting doesn't show that part.


message 13: by Larinmtz (new)

Larinmtz | 22 comments Everyman wrote: "Bill wrote: "John William Waterhouse painting of St. Cecilia"

Nice. I'm sure there is a lot of symbolism there I'm missing -- why is she apparently sleeping, why the roses (of that's what they are..."


The musicians are angels, kneeling in the service of one whose faith is honored by God. The gold things in the upper left are pipes, attached to the small organ between the two angels.


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