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The Tale of Melibee

A Modern English Translation

This is the translation without the original printed in the interlinear translations. To consult the original, see the interlinear translation Or consult the text directly in The Riverside Chaucer or The Canterbury Tales Complete.

 


 

 

 

Heere bigynneth Chaucers Tale of Melibee

A young man called Melibeus, mighty and rich, begot upon his wife, who was called Prudence, a daughter who was called Sophie. [967]

Upon one day it happened that he for his pleasure went into the fields to amuse himself. His wife and also his daughter has he left within his house, of which the doors were tightly shut.

Three of his old foes have seen this, and set ladders to the walls of his house, and by windows have entered, and beat his wife, and wounded his daughter with five mortal wounds in five different places -- this is to say, in her feet, in her hands, in her ears, in her nose, and in her mouth -- and left her for dead, and went away.

When Melibeus had returned into his house, and saw all this mischief, he, like a mad man tearing his clothes, began to weep and cry. Prudence, his wife, insofar as she dared, besought him to stop his weeping. but nevertheless he began to cry and the longer he wept the more he wept. [975]

This noble wife Prudence remembered the saying of Ovid, in his book that is called the Remedy of Love, where he says "He is a fool that stops the mother from weeping on the death of her child until she has wept her fill as for a certain time, and then shall one do his best efforts with amiable words to comfort her, and pray her of her weeping to stint."

For which reason this noble wife Prudence allowed her husband to weep and cry as for a certain amount of time, and when she saw her opportunity, she said to him in this manner: "Alas, my lord," said she, "why do you make yourself to be like a fool? For truly it does not befit a wise man to make such a sorrow. Your daughter, with the grace of God, shall recover and escape. And, even if it were so that she right now were dead, You ought not, for her death, to destroy yourself.

Seneca says: `The wise man shall not take too great discomfort for the death of his children, but, certainly, he should suffer it in patience as well as he abides the death of his own self.'" [985]

This Melibeus answered immediately and said, "What man," said he, "should stint of his weeping who has such a good reason to weep? Jesus Christ, our Lord, himself wept for the death of Lazarus his friend."

Prudence answered: "Certainly, I know well that moderate weeping is in no way forbidden to him who is sorrowful, amongst folk in sorrow, but it is rather granted to him to weep. The Apostle Paul unto the Romans writes, `One shall rejoice with those who make joy and weep with such folk as weep.' But though moderate weeping is granted, excessive weeping certainly is forbidden.

Moderation in weeping should be considered in the light of the lore that Seneca teaches us: `When thy friend is dead,' said he, `let not thine eyes be too moist of tears, nor too much dry; although the tears come to thine eyes, let them not fall; and when thou hast lost thy friend, make an effort to get another friend; and this is more wisdom than to weep for thy friend whom thou hast lost, for therein is no remedy.'

And therefore, if you govern yourself by wisdom, put away sorrow out of your heart. Remember you that Jesus son of Sirach says, `A man that is joyous and glad in heart, it conserves him flourishing in his age; but truly sorrowful heart makes his bones dry.' [995]

He says also thus, that sorrow in heart slays very many a man. Solomon says that just as moths in the sheep's fleece do harm to the clothes, and the small worms to the tree, just so sorrow does harm to the heart. Wherefore we should, as well in the death of our children as in the loss of our other earthly goods, have patience.

Remember the patient Job. When he had lost his children and his earthly property, and in his body endured and received very many a grievous tribulation, yet said he thus: `Our Lord has given it to me; our Lord hath taken it from me; just as our Lord wished, just so it is done; blessed be the name of our Lord!'"

To these foresaid things answered Melibeus unto his wife Prudence: "All thy words," said he, "are true and furthermore beneficial, but truly my heart is troubled with this sorrow so grievously that I know not what to do."

"Have summoned," said Prudence, "all thy true friends and of thy family those that are wise. Tell your case, and hearken what they say in advising, and govern yourself according to their advice."

Then, by the advice of his wife Prudence, this Melibeus had called up a great congregation of folk, such as surgeons, physicians, old folk and young, and some of his old enemies reconciled (as it seemed by their appearance) to his love and into his grace; [1005] and therewithal there came some of his neighbors that did him reverence more for dread than for love, as it often happens.

There came also very many subtle flatterers and wise advocates learned in the law. And when this folk were assembled together, this Melibeus in sorrowful manner showed them his case. And by the manner of his speech it seemed that in heart he bore a cruel anger, ready to do vengeance upon his foes, and desired that the war should begin very soon; but nevertheless, yet he asked their advice upon this matter.

A surgeon, by permission and assent of such as were wise, stood up and to Melibeus said as you can hear: "Sir," said he, "as to us surgeons it is our duty that we do to every person the best that we can, where we are employed, and to our patients that we do no damage, because of which it happens many times and often that when two men have each one wounded the other, one same surgeon heals them both; therefore unto our art it is not fitting to nourish war nor to support warring factions. But certainly, as to the curing of your daughter, although it be so that she is perilously wounded, we shall do such diligent work from day to night that with the grace of God she shall be whole and sound as soon as is possible." [1015]

Almost in just the same way the physicians answered, save that they said a few words more: that just as maladies are cured by their contraries, just so shall men cure war by vengeance.

His neighbors full of envy, his feigned friends that seemed reconciled, and his flatterers made an outward show of weeping, and worsened and much aggravated this matter in praising greatly Melibee of might, of power, of riches, and of friends, despising the power of his adversaries, and said flatly that he immediately should avenge himself on his foes and begin war.

Up rose then an advocate that was wise, by leave and by advice of others that were wise, and said: "Gentlemen, the urgent matter for which we are assembled in this place is a very serious thing and an important matter, because of the wrong and of the wickedness that has been done, and also by reason of the great damages that in time coming are possible to befall for this same cause, and also because of the great riches and power of both the parties, for the which reasons it would be a very great peril to err in this matter. [1025]

Wherefore, Melibeus, this is our opinion: we advise you above all things that right away thou do thy best efforts in keeping of thy own self in such a way that thou not lack any spy nor guard in order to save thy person. And after that, we advise that in thy house thou set sufficient garrison so that they can defend as well thy body as thy house. But certainly, to begin war, or suddenly to do vengeance, we can not decide in so little time that it would be to our advantage.

Therefore we ask leisure and opportunity to have deliberation in this case to judge. For the common proverb says thus: `He that soon judges, soon shall repent.'

And also men say that that judge is wise who soon understands a matter and judges at leisure; for although it be so that all tarrying is bothersome, it is not always to be reproved in giving of judgment nor in vengeance taking, when it is sufficient and reasonable. And that showed our Lord Jesus Christ by example, for when the woman that was taken in adultery was brought in his presence to know what should be done with her person, although it be so that he knew well hmself what he would answer, yet he would not answer suddenly, but he would have deliberation, and in the ground he wrote twice. And by these causes we ask time for deliberation, and we shall then, by the grace of God, advise thee something that shall be beneficial."

Up jumped then the young folk at once, and the most part of that company have scorned this old wise man man, and began to make noise, and said that [1035] just so as while that iron is hot men should smite, just so men should avenge their wrongs while they are fresh and new; and with loud voice they cried "War! War!"

Up rose then one of these old wise men, and with his hand made signal that men should hold themselves still and give him audience. "Gentlemen," said he, "there is very many a man that cries `War, war!' who knows very little what war amounts to. War at its beginning has so big an entryway and so large that every person may enter when he pleases and easily find war; but certainly what end that shall consequently befall, it is not easy to know. For truly, when war is once begun, there is very many a child unborn of his mother that shall die young because of that same war, or else live in sorrow and die in wretchedness. And therefore, ere any war begin, men must have much advice and much deliberation."

And when this old man intended to reinforce his argument by reasons, well nigh all at once they began to rise to interrupt his speech, and very often prayed him to abridge his argument. For truly, he who preaches to those who do not want to hear his words, his sermon annoys them. For Jesus son of Sirach says that "music in weeping is an annoying thing"; this is to say: it as much avails to speak before folk whom his speech annoys as it is to sing before him who weeps. [1045]

And when this wise man saw that he lacked an audience, all shame-fast he set himself down again. For Solomon says: "Where thou can not have any audience, force thyself not to speak."

"I see well," said this wise man, "that the common proverb is true, that `good advice is lacking when it is most needed.'" Yet had this Melibeus among his advisors many folk that secretly in his ear advised him on certain matters, and advised him the contrary in the hearing of all.

When Melibeus had heard that the greatest part of his advisors were agreed that he should make war, immediately he consented to their advice and fully affirmed their opinion.

Then dame Prudence, when she saw how her husband prepared himself to avenge himself on his foes and to begin war, she in very humble manner, when she saw her time, said to him these words: "My lord," said she, "I beseech you, as heartily as I dare and can, do not hasten yourself too fast and, as you hope to prosper, give me a hearing. For Petrus Alphonsus says, `Whoever does to thee either good or harm, hasten thee not to requite it, for in this manner thy friend will abide and thine enemy shall the longer live in dread.' The proverb says, `He hastens well that wisely can abide,' and `in wicked haste is no benefit.'"

This Melibee answered unto his wife Prudence: "I do not intend," said he, "to work according to thy advice, for many causes and reasons. For certainly, every person would hold me then a fool [1055] ; this is to say, if I, for thy advice, would change things that are ordained and affirmed by so many wise men.

Secondly, I say that all women are wicked, and not one good of them all. For `of a thousand men,' says Solomon, `I found one good man, but certainly, of all women, a good woman found I never.' And also, certainly, if I governed myself according to thy advice, it should seem that I had given to thee the mastery over me, and God forbid that it were so! For Jesus son of Sirach says that `if the wife have mastery, she is contrary to her husband.' And Solomon says: `Never in thy life to thy wife, nor to thy child, nor to thy friend give any power over thyself, for it would be better that thy children ask of thy person things that they need than that thou see thyself in the hands of thy children.' And also if I would work according to thy advice, certainly, my counsel must some times be secret, until it were time that it must be known, and this may not be.

When dame Prudence, very debonairly and with great patience, had heard all that her husband was pleased to say, then she asked of him permission to speak, and said in this manner: "My lord," said she, "as to your first reason, certainly it may easily be answered. For I say that it is no folly to change one's plans when the situation is changed, or else when the matter seems other than it was before. [1065] And moreover, I say that though you have sworn and promised to accomplish your undertaking, and nevertheless you abandon performing that same undertaking for a good reason, men should not say therefore that you are a liar nor forsworn. For the book says that `the wise man tells no lie when he turns his inclination to the better.'

And although it be so that your undertaking is established and decided upon by a great multitude of folk, yet you need not carry out that plan unless you want to. For the truth of things and the benefit are rather found in few folk that are wise and full of reason than by a great multitude of folk where every man cries and babbles what he pleases. Truly such a multitude is not honorable.

And as to the second reason, where you say that all women are wicked; with all due respect to you, certainly you despise all women in this manner, and `he who despises all, displeases all,' as says the book. And Seneca says that `whosoever will have wisdom shall no man disparage, but he shall gladly teach the knowledge that he knows without presumption or pride; and such things of which he knows nothing, he should not be ashamed to learn them, and ask for advice from lesser folk than himself.'

And, sir, that there has been many a good woman may easily be proven. For certainly, sir, our Lord Jesus Christ would never have condescended to be born of a woman, if all women had been wicked. And after that, for the great goodness that is in women, our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was risen from death to life, appeared to a woman rather than to his Apostles. [1075] And though Solomon says that he never found a good woman, it follows not therefore that all women are wicked. For though he found no good woman, certainly, many another man has found many a woman very good and true.

Or else, possibly, the intent of Solomon was this: that, in supreme goodness, he found no woman -- this is to say, that there is no creature who has supreme goodness save God alone, as he himself records in his Gospels. For there is no creature so good that he does not lack something of the perfection of God, who is his maker.

Your third reason is this: you say that if you govern yourself by my advice, it should seem that you had given me the mastery and the lordship over your person. Sir, with all due respect to you, it is not so. For if it were true that no man should be advised but only of them that had lordship and mastery of his person, men would not be advised so often. For truly that man who asks advice about a plan, yet has free choice whether he will follow by that advice or non.

And as to your fourth reason, where you say that the gossip of women can hide things that they know not, as who says that a woman can not hide what she knows; sir, these words are understood of women that are gossips and wicked; [1085] of which women men say that three things drive a man out of his house -- that is to say, smoke, dropping of rain, and wicked wives; and of such women says Solomon that `it were better dwell in desert than with a woman that is dissolute.' And sir, by your leave, that am not I, for you have very often tested my great silence and my great patience, and also how well that I can hide and conceal things that men ought secretly to hide.

And truly, as to your fifth reason, where you say that in wicked advice women vanquish men, God knows, that reason has no value here. For understand now, you ask advice to do wickedness; and if you will do wickedness, and your wife restrains that wicked purpose, and overcomes you by reason and by good advice, certainly your wife ought rather to be praised than blamed.

Thus should you understand the philosopher that says, `In wicked advice women vanquish their husbands.' And whereas you blame all women and their reasons, I shall show you by many examples that many a woman has been very good, and yet are, and their advice very wholesome and beneficial. [1095]

Also some men have said that the counsel of women is either too expensive or else too little of price. But although it be so that very many a woman is bad and her advice vile and not worthy, yet have men found very many a good woman, and very discrete and wise in giving counsel.

Lo, Jacob by the good advice of his mother Rebecca won the blessing of Isaac his fader and the lordship over all his brethren.

Judith by her good advice delivered the city of Bethulia, in which she dwelled, out of the hands of Holofernus, who had besieged it and would have entirely destroyed it.

Abigail delivered Nabal her husband from David the king, who would have slain him, and appeased the anger of the king by her wit and by her good advice.

Hester by her good counsel advanced greatly the people of God in the reign of Assuerus the king.

And the same goodness in good advising of many a good woman may men tell.

And moreover, when our Lord had created Adam, our forefather, he said in this manner: `It is not good to be a man alone; let us make for him a helpmate similar to himself.'

Here may you see that if women were not good, and their advice good and beneficial, [1105] our Lord God of heaven would never have made them, nor called them help of man, but rather confusion of man. And there said once a clerk in two verses, `What is better than gold? Jasper.

What is better than jasper? Wisdom.

And what is better than wisdom? Woman.

And what is better than a good woman? Nothing.'

And, sir, by many other reasons may you see that many women are good, and their advice good and beneficial. And therefore, sir, if you will trust to my advice, I shall restore you your daughter whole and sound. And also I will do for you so much that you shall have honor in this undertaking."

When Melibee had heard the words of his wife Prudence, he said thus: "I see well that the word of Solomon is sooth. He says that `words that are spoken discretely and properly are honeycombs, for they give sweetness to the soul and healthfulness to the body.' And, wife, because of thy sweet words, and also because I have tested and proven thy great wisdom and thy great truth, I will govern myself by thy advice in all things."

"Now, sir," said dame Prudence, "and since you consent to be governed by my advice, I will inform you how you shall govern yourself in the choice of your advisors. [1115] You shall first in all your works meekly beseech the high God that he will be your advisor; and prepare yourself with the aim that he give you advice and comfort, as Tobias taught his son: `At all times thou shalt bless God, and pray him to prepare thy ways, and look that all thy counsels are in him for evermore.' Saint James also says: `If any of you have need of wisdom, ask it of God.'

And afterward then shall you take advice in yourself, and examine well your thoughts of such thing as it seems to you best for your advantage. And then shall you drive from your heart three things that are contrary to good advice; that is to say, anger, greed, and haste.

"First, he who asks advice of himself, certainly he must be without anger, for many reasons. The first is this: he who has great anger and wrath in himself, he supposes always that he can do a thing that he can not do.

And secondly, he who is angry and wrathful, he can not well judge; [1125] and he who can not well judge, can not well advise.

The third is this, that he that is angry and wrathful, as says Seneca, can not speak anything but blameworthy things, and with his vicious words he stirs other folk to anger and to ire.

And also, sir, you must drive greed out of your heart. For the Apostle says that greed is root of all harms. And trust well that a greedy man can neither judge nor think anything, except only to fulfill the object of his greed; and certainly, that can never be accomplished, for always the more abundance that he has of riches, the more he desires.

And, sir, you must also drive out of your heart haste; for certainly, you can not judge for the best by a sudden thought that falls in your heart, but you must reflect upon it very often. For, as you heard before this, the common proverb is this, that `he who soon judges, soon repents.' [1135] Sir, you are not always in the same frame of mind; for certainly, something that sometimes seems to you that it is good to do, another time it seems to you the contrary.

"When you have pondered the matter and have judged by good deliberation such thing as seems best to you, then I advise you that you keep it secret. Reveal your plans to no person, but if it so be that you believe truly through your revealing your condition shall be to you the more advantageous. For Jesus son of Sirach says, `Neither to thy foe nor to thy friend discover not thy secret nor thy folly, for they will give you audience and attention and support in thy presence and scorn thee in thine absence.' Another clerk says that `scarcely shalt thou find any person that can keep plans secretly.' The book says, `While thou keepest thy plan in thine heart, thou keepest it in thy prison, and when thou reveal thy plans to any person, he holds thee in his snare.' [1145] And therefore for you it is better to hide your plans in your heart than pray him to whom you have revealed your plans that he will keep it close and still. For Seneca says: `If it so be that thou can not hide thine own plans, how dare thou pray any other person to keep thy advice secretly?'

But nevertheless, if thou believe truly that the revealing of thy plans to a person will make thy condition stand in the better condition, then shalt thou tell him thy plans in this manner.

First thou shalt make no outward sign whether thou would prefer peace or war, or this or that, nor show him not thy will and thine intent. For trust well that commonly these advisors are flatterers, namely the advisors of great lords, for they force themselves always rather to speak pleasant words, inclining to the lord's desire, than words that are true or beneficial. And therefore men say that the rich man has seldom good advice, unless he have it of himself. And after that thou shalt consider thy friends and thine enemies. And as concerning thy friends, thou shalt consider which of them are most faithful and most wise and eldest and most proven in giving advice; [1155] and of them shalt thou ask thy advice, as the case requires.

I say that first you shall call to your council your friends that are true. For Solomon says that `just as the heart of a man delights in taste that is sweet, just so the advice of true friends gives sweetness to the soul.' He says also, `Nothing can be compared to a true friend, for certainly gold nor silver are not worth so much as the good will of a true friend.' And also he says that `a true friend is a strong defense; whoever finds it, certainly he finds a great treasure.'

Then shall you also consider whether your true friends are discrete and wise. For the book says, `Ask always thy advice of those who are wise.' And by this same reason shall you call to your council some of your friends that are of suitably advanced age, such as have seen and are expert in many things and are proven in giving advice. For the book says that `in old men is the wisdom, and in long time the prudence' And Cicero says that `great things are not always accomplished by strength, nor by agility of body, but by good advice, by a person's power to persuade, and by knowledge; the which three things are not enfeebled by age, but certainly they gain strength and increase day by day.' [1165]

And then shall you keep this for a general rule: First you shall call to your council a few of your friends who are particularly esteemed; for Solomon says, `Many friends have thou, but among a thousand chose thyself one to be thy advisor.' For although it be so that thou first tell thy advice only to a few, thou mayst afterward tell it to more folk if it be needed. But look always that thy advisors have those three conditions that I have said before -- that is to say, that they are true, wise, and of old experience. And work not always in every need by one advisor alone; for sometimes it is necessary to be advised by many. For Solomon says, `Salvation of things is where there are many advisors.'

"Now, since I have told you of which folk you should be advised, now I will teach you which advice you ought to shun. First, you shall shun the advice of fools; for Solomon says, `Take no counsel of a fool, for he can not advise except in accordance with his own desire and his inclination.' The book says that `the characteristic of a fool is this: he easily believes harm of every person, and easily believes all goodness in himself.'

Thou shalt also shun the advice of all flatterers, such as exert themselves rather to praise your person by flattery than to tell you the truth of things. [1175] Wherefore Cicero says, `Amongst all the pestilences that are in friendship the greatest is flattery.' And therefore is it more needful that thou shun and dread flatterers than any other people. The book says, `Thou shalt rather dread and flee from the sweet words of flattering praisers than from the sharp words of thy friend who tells thee thy truths.' Solomon says that `the words of a flatterer is a snare with which to catch innocents.' He says also that `he who speaks to his friend words of sweetness and of pleasance sets a net before his feet to catch him.' And therefore says Cicero, `Incline not thine ears to flatterers, and take no advice of the words of flattery.' And Cato says, `Ponder thee well, and shun the words of sweetness and of pleasance.'

And also thou shalt shun the advice of thine old enemies that are reconciled. The book says that `no person returns safely into the good will of his old enemy.' And Aesop says, `Trust not to those with whom thou hast had at some time war or enmity, nor tell them not thy plans.'

And Seneca tells the reason why: `It may not be,' says he, `that where great fire has long time endured, but that there dwells some vapor of warmness.' [1185] And therefore says Solomon, `In thine old foe trust never.' For surely, though thine enemy be reconciled, and makes thee the appearance of humility, and bows to thee with his head, trust him never. For certainly he makes that feigned humility more for his advantage than for any love of thy person, because he supposes to have victory over thy person by such feigned behavior, the which victory he might not have by strife or war. And Petrus Alphnsus says, `Make no fellowship with thine old enemies, for if thou do them goodness, they will pervert it into wickedness.'

And also thou most shun the advice of those who are thy servants and bear thee great reverence, for perhaps they say it more for dread than for love. And therefore says a philosopher in this manner: `There is no person perfectly true to him whom he too sorely dreads.' And Cicero says, `There is no might so great of any emperor that long may endure, unless he has more love of the people than dread.'

Thou shalt also shun the advice of folk that are drunkards, for they nor can hide no plans. For Solomon says, `There is no secrecy where drunkenness reigns.'

You shall also be suspicious of the advice of such folk as advise you one thing privately and counsel you the contrary openly. [1195] For Cassiodorus says that `it is a difficult task to hinder a scheme, when a person appears to do one thing openly and secretly works the contrary.'

Thou shalt also be suspicious of the advice of wicked folk. For the book says, `The advice of wicked folk is always full of fraud.' And David says, `Blissful is that man who has not followed the advice of scoundrels.'

Thou shalt also shun the advice of young folk, for their counsel is not ripe.

"Now, sir, since I have showed you of which folk you shall take your advice and of which folk you shall follow the advice, now will I teach you how you shall examine your advice, according to the doctrine of Cicero.

In the examining then of your advisor you shall consider many things. First of all thou shalt consider that in that thing that thou intendest, and upon which thing thou will have advice, that real truth be said and preserved; this is to say, tell truly thy tale. For he that speaks falsely may not well be advised in that case of which he lies.

And after this thou shalt consider the things that agree with that thou intendest for to act as thy advisors advise, if reason accord thereto, [1205] and also if thy might can attain thereto, and if the larger part and the better part of thy advisors accord thereto, or not.

Then shalt thou consider what thing shall follow from that advice, as hate, peace, war, grace, profit, or damage, and many other things. And in all these things thou shalt chose the best and abandon all other things.

Then shalt thou consider of what root is engendered the matter of thy advice and what fruit it may conceive and engender. Thou shalt also consider all these causes, from whence they are sprung.

And when you have examined your advice, as I have said, and (decided) which part is the better and more beneficial, and have tested it by many wise and old folk, then shalt thou consider if thou can perform it and make of it a good end. For certainly reason will not desire that any man should begin a thing unless he might perform it as he ought to; nor no person should take upon him so heavy a charge that he might not bear it. For the proverb says, `He who too much embraces, keeps little.' [1215] And Cato says, `Try to do such thing as thou hast power to do, lest that the charge oppress thee so sorely that thou art compelled to abandon an undertaking that thou hast begun.'

And if it so be that thou art in doubt about whether thou can perform a thing or not, choose rather to suffer than begin. And Petrus Alphonsus says, `If thou hast might to do a thing of which thou must repent, it is better "nay" than "yea."' This is to say, that for thee it is better hold thy tongue still than to speak. Then may you understand by stronger reasons that if thou hast power to perform a work of which thou shalt repent, then is it better that thou suffer than begin. Well say they who forbid every person to attempt a thing of which he is in doubt whether he can perform it or not. And after, when you have examined your advice, as I have said before, and know well that you can perform your enterprise, prosecute it then diligently until it be at an end.

"Now is it reasonable and time that I show you when and wherefore that you may change your plans without earning dishonor. Truly, a man may change his purpose and his plans if the cause ceases, or when a new case befalls. For the law says that `things that newly befall require new plans.' [1225] And Seneca says, `If thy plan is come to the ears of thine enemy, change thy plan.'

Thou mayst also change thy plan if it so be that thou find that by error, or by other cause, harm or damage may befall. Also if thy plan be unjust, or else comes of dishonest cause, change thy plan. For the laws say that `all promises that are dishonest are of no value'; and also if it so be that it is impossible, or can not goodly be performed or kept. "And take this for a general rule, that every plan that is affirmed so strongly that it may not be changed for any condition that may befall, I say that that plan is wicked."

This Melibeus, when he had heard the doctrine of his wife dame Prudence, answered in this wise: "Dame," said he, "as yet until this time you have well and fittingly taught me as in general how I should govern myself in the choice and in the retention of my advisors. But now would I eagerly desire that you would get down to particulars and tell me how you like it, or what it seems to you, concerning our advisors that we have chosen in our present need." [1235] "My lord," said she, "I beseech you in all humility that you will not willfully reply against my arguments, nor upset your heart, though I speak something that may displease you. For God knows that, in my intent, I speak it for your best, for your honor, and for your benefit also. And truly, I hope that your benignity will take it in patience.

Trust me well," said she, "that your advice in this case should not, to speak properly, be called an advising, but a motion or a moving of folly, in which advice you have erred in many a different way. "First of all, you have erred in the assembling of your advisors. For you should first have called a few folk to your council, and after you might have showed it to more folk, if it had been necessary. But certainly, you have suddenly called to your council a great multitude of people, very burdensome and very annoying to hear.

Also you have erred, for whereas you should only have called to your council your true friends old and wise, you have called foreign folk, young folk, false flatterers, and enemies reconciled, and folk who do you reverence without love. [1245] And also you have erred, for you have brought with you to your council anger, greed, and haste, the which three things are contrary to every council honorable and beneficial; the which three things you have not annihilated or destroyed them, neither in yourself, nor in your advisors, as you ought.

You have erred also, for you have shown to your advisors your desire and your inclination to make war immediately and to do vengeance. They have espied by your words to what thing you are inclined; and therefore have they advised you rather to your inclination than to your advantage. You have erred also, for it seems that to you it suffices to have been advised by these counselors only, and with little consultation, whereas in so great and so urgent a situation it had been necessary to have more advisors and more deliberation to perform your undertaking.

You have erred also, for you have not examined your advice in the foresaid manner, nor in suitable manner, as the case requires. You have erred also, for you have made no division between your advisors -- this is to say, between your true friends and your feigned advisors -- [1255] and you have not known the will of your true friends old and wise, but you have cast all their words in an hodgepodge, and inclined your heart to the larger part and to the greater number, and to that you are yielded. And since you know well that men shall always find a greater number of fools than of wise men, and therefore the counsels that are at gatherings and multitudes of folk, where men pay more attention to the number than to the wisdom of persons, you see well that in such councils fools have the mastery."

Melibeus answered again, and said, "I grant well that I have erred; but whereas thou hast told me before now that he is not to blame who changes his advisors in certain cases and for certain just causes, I am all ready to change my advisors just as thou will devise. The proverb says that `to do sin is human, but certainly to persevere long in sin is work of the devil.'"

To this sentence answered immediately dame Prudence, and said, [1265] "Examine," said she, "your counsel, and let us see the which of them have spoken most reasonably and taught you best advice. And forasmuch as the examination is necessary, let us begin at the surgeons and at the physicians, who first spoke in this matter. I tell you that the surgeons and physicians have spoken to you in counselling you discretely, as they ought, and in their speech said very wisely that to their office it pertains to do to every person honor and profit, and no person to harm, and in accordance with their craft to do great diligence unto the care of those that they have in their governance. And, sir, just as they have answered wisely and discretely, just so I deduce that they are highly and chiefly rewarded for their noble speech, and also for they should do the more diligent effort in the care of your dear daughter. For although it be so that they are your friends, therefore shall you not allow that they serve you for naught, but you ought the rather to reward them and show them your generosity. [1275] And as touching the theory that the physicians developed in this case -- this is to say, that in maladies that one contrary is cured by another contrary -- I would be eager to know how you understand that text, and what is your interpretation."

"Certainly," said Melibeus, "I understand it in this way: that just as they have done me a contrary, right so should I do them another. For just as they have avenged themselves on me and done me wrong, just so shall I avenge myself upon them and do them wrong; and then have I cured one contrary by another."

"Lo, lo," said dame Prudence, "how easily is every man inclined to his own desire and to his own pleasure! Certainly," said she, "the words of the physicians should not have been understood in this way. For certainly, wickedness is not contrary to wickedness, nor vengeance to vengeance, nor wrong to wrong, but they are similar. [1285] And therefore one vengeance is not cured by another vengeance, nor one wrong by another wrong, but each of them increases and aggravates the other. But certainly, the words of the physicians should be understood in this way: for good and wickedness are two contraries, and peace and war, vengeance and forbearance, discord and accord, and many other things ; but certainly, wickedness must be cured by goodness, discord by accord, war by peace, and so forth of other things. And to this Saint Paul the Apostle agrees in many places. He says, `Yield not harm for harm, nor wicked speech for wicked speech, but do well to him that does thee harm and bless him that says to thee harm.' And in many other places he recommends peace and accord.

But now will I speak to you of the advice which was given to you by the men of law and the wise folk, [1295] who said all by unanimous agreement, as you have heard before, that over all things you should do your best effort to guard your person and to garrison your house; and said also that in this case you ought to work very advisedly and with great deliberation. And, sir, as to the first point, that touches on the keeping of your person, you should understand that he who has war should evermore meekly and devoutly pray, before all things, that Jesus Christ of his mercy will have him in his protection and be his best help at his need. For certainly, in this world there is no person that can be advised nor guarded sufficiently without the protection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To this opinion agrees the prophet David, who says, `If God does not guard the city, in vain watches he who guards it.'

Now, sir, then shall you commit the guarding of your person to your true friends that are proven and known, [1305] and of them shall you ask help to guard your person. For Cato says, `If thou hast need of help, ask it of thy friends, for there is no physician so good as thy true friend.'

And after this then shall you keep yourself from all unfamiliar folk, and from liars, and be always suspicious of their company. For Petrus Alphonsus says, `take no company by the way of a strange man, but if it so be that thou have known him of a longer time. And if it so be that he fall into thy company by chance, without thine assent, inquire then as subtly as thou can of his way of life, and of his life before, and feign thy way; say that [thou] wolt thither as thou will not go; and if he bears a spear, hold thyself on the right side, and if he bear a sword, hold thyself on the left side.' And after this then shall you keep yourself wisely from all such manner people as I have said before, and them and their advice shun.

And after this then shall you keep yourself in such manner that, for any confidence in your strength, that you nor despise not, nor account not the might of your adversary so little that you neglect the protection of your person because of your over-confidence, [1315[ for every wise man dreads his enemy. And Solomon says, `Happy is he who of all has dread, for certainly, he who through the hardiness of his heart and through the hardiness of himself has too great self-confidence, to him shall evil befall.'

Then shall you evermore watch out for ambushes and all espionage, For Seneca says that `the wise man who dreads harms, shuns harms, nor does he who shuns perils fall into perils.' And although it be so that it seems that thou art in a safe place, yet shalt thou always do thy best efforts in guarding of thy person; this is to say, be not negligent to guard thy person not only from thy greatest enemies but from thy least enemy. Seneca says, `A man that is well advised, he dreads his least enemy.' Ovid says that `the little weasel will slay the great bull and the wild hart.' [1325] And the book says, `A little thorn may prick a king very sorely, and a hound will bring to bay the wild boar.' But nevertheless, I say not thou should be so cowardly that thou fear where there is no reason for dread. The book says that `some folk have great desire to deceive, but yet they dread themselves to be deceived.'

Yet thou should dread to be poisoned and keep thyself from the company of scoffers. For the book says, `With scorners make no company, but flee their words as venom.' "Now, as to the second point, whereas your wise advisors counseled you to fortify your house with great diligence, I would be eager to know how you understand those words and what is your decision."

Melibeus answered and said, "Certainly, I understand it in this way: That I should fortify my house with towers, such as have castles and other sorts of edifices, and armor, and artillery, by which things I can my person and my house so guard and defend that my enemies shall be in dread to approach my house."

To this sentence answered immediately Prudence: "Fortifying," said she, "of high towers and of great edifices pertains sometimes to pride.[1335] And also men make high towers, [and great edifices] with great expenditures and with great travail, and when that they are accomplished, yet are they not worth a straw, unless they are defended by true friends that are old and wise. And understand well that the greatest and strongest garrison that a rich man may have, as well to keep his person as his goods, is that he is beloved by his subjects and by his neighbors. For thus says Cicero, that `there is a sort of garrison that no man can vanquish nor discomfit, and that is for a lord to be beloved by his citizens and by his people.'

Now, sir, as to the third point, whereas your old and wise advisors said that you ought not suddenly nor hastily proceed in this urgent matter, but that you ought to prepare yourself and get ready in this case with great diligence and great deliberation; truly, I believe that they spoke very wisely and real truth. For Cicero says, `In every urgent matter, ere thou begin it, prepare thyself with great diligence.'

Then say I that in vengeance-taking, in war, in battle, and in fortification, [1345] ere thou begin, I advise that thou prepare thyself for that, and do it with great deliberation. For Cicero says that `long preparation before the battle makes short victory.' And Cassiodorus says, `The protection is stronger when it is long time considered.'

But now let us speak of the advice that was agreed upon by your neighbors, such as do you reverence without love, your old enemies reconciled, your flatterers, that advised you certain things secretly, and openly counseled you the contrary; the young folk also, who advised you to avenge yourself and make war immediately. And certainly, sir, as I have said before, you have greatly erred to have called such sort of folk to your council, which advisors are enough reproved by the reasons spoken earlier.

But nevertheless, let us now descend to the particular details. You should first proceed according to the doctrine of Cicero. [1355] Certainly, the truth of this matter, or of this advice, we need not diligently inquire, for it is well known who they are that have done to you this trespass and villainy, and how many trespassers, and in what manner they have done to you all this wrong and all this villainy.

And after this, then you should examine the second condition which the same Cicero adds in this matter. For Cicero hypothesized a thing which he calls `consenting'; this is to say, who are they, and which are they and how many that consent to thy advice in thy willfulness to do hasty vengeance. And let us consider also who are they, and how many are they, and which are they that consented to your adversaries.

And certainly, as to the first point, it is well known which folk are they that consented to your hasty willfulness, for truly, all those who advised you to make sudden war are not your friends.

Let us now consider which are they that you consider so greatly your friends as to your person. [1365] For although it be so that you are mighty and rich, certainly you are but alone, for certainly you have no child but a daughter, nor do you have neither brethren, nor first cousins, nor any other close relatives, for which your enemies for dread should stop pleading with you or destroying your person. You know also that your riches must be dispended in several parts, and when each person has his part, they will take but little regard to avenging thy death. But thine enemies are three, and they have many children, brethren, cousins, and other close kin. And though it so were that thou haddest slain of them two or three, yet dwell there enough to avenge their death and to slay thy person. And though it so be that your kin are more sure and steadfast than the kin of your adversary, yet nevertheless your kinship is but a far kinship; they are but little related to you, [1375] and the kin of your enemies are close relatives to them.

And certainly, in that respect, their condition is better than yours. Then let us consider also the advice of those who advised you to take sudden vengeance, whether it accord to reason. And certainly, you know well `nay.' For, by justice and reason, there may no man take vengeance on no person but the judge that has the jurisdiction of it, when it is granted to him to take that vengeance hastily or temperately, as the law requires. And yet moreover of that word that Cicero calls `consenting,' thou should consider if thy might and thy power can consent and suffice to thy willfulness and to thy advisors. And certainly thou can well say that `nay.' For truly, strictly speaking, we can do no thing but only such thing as we can do justly.

And certainly in justice must you take no vengeance, as of your own authority. [1385] Then must you see that your power is not consistent, nor accords not, with your willfulness.

"Let us now examine the third point, that Cicero calls `consequent.' Thou shalt understand that the vengeance that thou intendest to take is the consequent; and thereof follows another vengeance, peril, and war, and other damages without number, of which we are not aware, at this time.

And as touching the fourth point, what Cicero calls `engendering,' thou shalt consider that this wrong which is done to thee is engendered by the hate of thine enemies, and by the vengeance-taking thereupon that would engender another vengeance, and much sorrow and wasting of riches, as I said.

"Now, sir, as to the point that Cicero calls `causes,' which is the last point, thou shalt understand that the wrong that thou hast received has certain causes, which clerks call Oriens and Efficiens, and Causa longinqua and Causa propinqua; this is to say, the far cause and the near cause. [1395] The far cause is almighty God, that is cause of all things.

The near cause is thy three enemies. The cause accidental was hate. The cause material are the five wounds of thy daughter. The cause formal is the manner of their working who brought ladders and climbed in at thy windows. The cause final was to slay thy daughter. It did not delay insofar as was in their power.

But to speak of the far cause, as to what end they shall come, or what shall finally happen to them in this case, nor can I judge except by conjecture and by supposing. For we should suppose that they shall come to a wicked end, because the Book of Decrees says, `Seldom, or with great effort, are causes brought to a good end when they are badly begun.' "Now, sir, if men would ask me why God allowed men to do you this villainy, certainly, I can not well answer, with any certainty. [1405] For the apostle says that `the sciences and the judgments of our Lord God almighty are very deep; there can no man comprehend nor study them sufficiently.' Nonetheless, by certain assumptions and conjectures, I hold and believe that God, who is full of justice and of righteousness, has allowed this to happen by just reasonable cause.

"Thy name is Melibee; this is to say, `a man that drinks honey.' Thou hast drunk so much honey of sweet temporal riches, and pleasures and honors of this world that thou art drunk and hast forgotten Jesus Christ thy creator. Thou hast not done to him such honor and reverence as thee ought, nor thou hast not well paid attention to the words of Ovid, who says, `Under the honey of the goods of the body is hid the venom that slays the soul.' [1415] And Solomon says, `If thou hast found honey, eat of it what suffices, for if thou eat of it to excess, thou shalt vomit' and be needy and poor. And perhaps Christ has thee in disdain, and has turned away from thee his face and his ears of mercy, and also he has allowed that thou hast been punished in the manner that thou hast trespassed.

Thou hast done sin again our Lord Christ, for certainly, the three enemies of mankind -- that is to say, the flesh, the fiend, and the world -- thou hast allowed them enter into thine heart willfully 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; this is to say, the deadly sins that are entered into thine heart by thy five senses.

And in the same manner our Lord Christ has willed and allowed that thy three enemies are entered into thine house by the windows [1425] and have wounded thy daughter in the aforesaid manner."

"Certainly," said Melibee, "I see well that you strengthen yourself much by words to overcome me in such a manner that I shall not avenge me on my enemies, showing me the perils and the evils that might fall because of this vengeance. But if amyone would consider in all vengeances the perils and evils that might follow from vengeance-taking, a man would never take vengeance, and that would be a harm; for by the vengeance-taking are the wicked men distinguished from the good men, and they that have will to do wickedness restrain their wicked purpose, when they see the punishing and chastising of the trespassers." And yet say I more, that just as a private person sins in taking vengeance on another man, [1435] just so sins the judge if he do no vengeance on them that have deserved it. For Seneca says thus: `That master,' he says, `is good who reproves scoundrels.' And as Cassiodorus says, `A man dreads to do outrages when he knows and is aware that it displeases the judges and the rulers.' And another says, `The judge that dreads to do justice makes men scoundrels.' And Saint Paul the Apostle says in his Epistle, when he writes unto the Romans, that `the judges do not bear the spear without cause, but they bear it to punish the scoundrels and evildoers and to defend the good men.'

If you will then take vengeance on your enemies, you shall turn to or bring your case to the judge that has the jurisdiction upon them, and he shall punish them as the law asks and requires."

"A," said Melibee, "this vengeance pleases me not at all. I consider now and take heed how Fortune has nourished me from my childhood and has helped me to pass many a difficult situation. [1445] Now will I test her, believing that, with God's help, she shall help me to avenge my shame." "Certainly," said Prudence, "if you will work by my advice, you shall not test Fortune in any way, nor shall you rely on or bow unto her, according to the word of Seneca, for `things that are foolishly done, and that are in hope of Fortune, shall never come to a good end.' And, as the same Seneca says, `The more clear and the more shining that Fortune is, the more brittle and the sooner broken she is.' Trust not in her, for she is not steadfast nor stable, for when thou believest her to be most sure or certain of her help, she will fail thee and deceive thee.

And whereas you say that Fortune has nourished you from your childhood, I say that to that degree should you have the less trust in her and in her wisdom. For Seneca says, `Whatever man that is nourished by Fortune, she makes him a great fool.' [1455]

Now then, since you desire and ask vengeance, and the vengeance that is done according to the law and before the judge pleases you not, and the vengeance that is done in hope of Fortune is perilous and uncertain, then have you no other remedy but to have your recourse unto the Supreme Judge that avenges all villainies and wrongs. And he shall avenge you according to what he himself witnesses, where he says, `Leave the vengeance to me, and I shall do it.'"

Melibee answered, "If I do not avenge myself for the villainy that men have done to me, I summon or announce to them that have done to me that villainy, and all others, to do me another villainy. For it is written, `If thou take no vengeance of an old villainy, thou summonest thine adversaries to do thee a new villainy.' And also for my patience men would do to me so much villainy that I might neither bear nor sustain it, and so should I be put down and considered too humble. [1465] For men say, `In much suffering shall many things happen to thee which thou shalt not be able to endure.'"

"Certainly," said Prudence, "I grant you that over-much patience is not good. But yet it follows not thereof that every person to whom men do villainy should take vengeance for it, for that pertains and belongs entirely only to the judges, for they shall avenge the villainies and injuries. And therefore those two authorities that you have spoken of above are only understood in the judges, for when they allow over-much the wrongs and the villainies to be done without punishing, they summon a man not entirely only to do new wrongs, but they command it. Also a wise man says that `the judge who corrects not the sinner commands and bids him to do sin.' And the judges and rulers might in their land so much tolerate the scoundrels and evildoers that they should, because of such tolerance, by the passage of time grow in such power and might that they should put out the judges and the rulers from their places, [1475] and at the last make them lose their lordships.

"But let us now suppose that you have leave to avenge yourself. I say you are not of might and power right now to avenge yourself, for if you will make comparison unto the might of your adversaries, you shall find in many things that I have showed you ere this that their condition is better than yours. And therefore say I that it is good for now that you suffer and be patient. "Furthermore, you know well that according to the common saying, `it is a madness for a man to strive with a stronger or a more mighty man than he is himself, and to strive with a man of even strength -- that is to say, with as strong a man as he is -- it is perilous, and to strive with a weaker man, it is folly.' And therefore a man should flee striving as much as he might. For Solomon says, `It is a great honor to a man to keep himself from quarrels and strife.' [1485] And if it so befall or happen that a man of greater might and strength than thou art do thee grievance, take pains and busy thyself rather to still the same grievance than to avenge thyself. For Seneca says that `he puts himself in great peril that strives with a greater man than he is himself.' And Cato says, `If a man of higher estate or degree, or more mighty than thou, do thee annoyance or grievance, endure it, for he that once has grieved thee, may another time relieve thee and help.'

Yet I assume (for the sake of argument) you have both might and permission to avenge yourself, I say that there are very many things that should restrain you from vengeance-taking and make you to incline to suffer, and to have patience in the wrongs that have been done to you. First of all, if you will consider the faults that are in your own person, for which faults God has allowed you to have this tribulation, as I have said to you before. [1495] For the poet says that `we ought patiently to take the tribulations that come to us, when we think and consider that we have deserved to have them.' And Saint Gregory says that `when a man considers well the number of his faults and of his sins, the pains and the tribulations that he suffers seem the less unto him; and inasmuch as he thinks his sins more heavy and grievous, insomuch seems his pain the lighter and the easier unto him.'

` Also you ought to incline and bow your heart to adopt the patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, as says Saint Peter in his Epistles. `Jesus Christ,' he says, `has suffered for us and given example to every man to follow and be guided by him, for he did never sin, nor never came there a villainous word out of his mouth. When men cursed him, he cursed them not, and when men beat him, he menaced them not.' Also the great patience which the saints that are in Paradise have had in tribulations that they have suffered, without their deserts or guilt, [1505] ought much stir you to patience.

Furthermore you should force yourself to have patience, considering that the tribulations of this world but little while endure and soon are passed and gone, and the joy that a man seeks to have by patience in tribulations is ever-lasting, according to what the Apostle says in his epistle. `The joy of God,' he says, `is perdurable' -- that is to say, everlasting. Also think and believe steadfastly that he is not well trained, nor well taught, who can not have patience or will not receive patience. For Solomon says that `the doctrine and the wit of a man is known by patience.' And in another place he says that `he that is patient governs himself with great prudence.'

And the same Solomon says, `The angry and wrathful man makes quarrels, and the patient man moderates and stills them.' He says also, `It is more worthy to be patient than to be very strong; [1515] and he that may have 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 of perfection.' " "Certainly," said Melibee, "I grant you, dame Prudence, that patience is a great virtue of perfection; but every man may not have the perfection that you seek; nor am I of the number of very perfect men, for my heart may never be in peace until the time it is avenged. And although it be so that it was great peril to my enemies to do me a villainy in taking vengeance upon me, yet took they no heed of the peril, but fulfilled their wicked will and their desire. And therefore it seems to me men ought not reprove me, though I put myself in a little peril in order to avenge myself, and though I do a great excess; that is to say, that I avenge one outrage by another." [1525] "A," said dame Prudence, "you say your will and as you please, but in no case of the world should a man do outrage nor excess to avenge himself. For Cassiodorus says that `as evil does he that avenges himself by outrage as he that does the outrage.' And therefore you shall avenge yourself after the order of justice; that is to say, by the law and not by excess nor by outrage. And also, if you will avenge yourself of the outrage of your adversaries in other manner than justice commands, you sin. And therefore says Seneca that `a man shall never avenge wickedness by wickedness." And if you say that justice asks a man to fight off violence by violence and fighting by fighting, certainly you say truth, when the defense is done immediately without interval or without tarrying or delay, to defend himself and not to avenge himself.

And it is fitting that a man put so much temperance in his defense [1535] that men have no cause nor matter to reprove him that defends himself from excess and outrage, for otherwise it would be against reason. By God, you know well that you make no defense right now to defend yourself, but to avenge yourself; and so it follows that you have no will to do your deed temperately. And therefore it seems to me that patience is good. For Solomon says that `he that is not patient shall have great harm.'"

"Certainly," said Melibee, "I grant you that when a man is impatient and angry with that which touches him not and which pertains not unto him, though it harm him, it is no wonder. For the law says that `he is guilty that intrudes himself or meddles with such thing as pertains not unto him.' And Solomon says that `he that meddles with the quarrels or strife of another man is like to him that takes an hound by the ears.' For just as he that takes a strange hound by the ears is at another time bitten by the hound, in just the same way it is reasonable that he have harm who by his impatience meddles himself with the quarrels of another man, whereas it pertains not unto him. But you know well that this deed -- that is to say, my grief and my suffering -- touches me very closely. [1545] And therefore, though I am angry and impatient, it is no marvel. And, with all due respect to you, I can not see that it might greatly harm me though I took vengeance. For I am richer and more mighty than my enemies are; and you well know that by money and by having great possessions are all the things of this world governed. And Solomon says that `all things obey to money.'"

When Prudence had heard her husband boast of his riches and of his money, belittling the power of his adversaries, she spoke and said in this manner: "Certainly, dear sir, I grant you that you are rich and mighty and that riches are good to those that have well gotten them and well know how to use them. For just as the body of a man can not live without the soul, no more than it can live without temporal goods. And by riches a man get can himself great friends. [1555] And therefore says Pamphilles: `If a cowherd's daughter,' says he, `is rich, she may choose of a thousand men which she will take to her husband, for, of a thousand men, not one will forsake her nor refuse her.' And this Pamphilles says also, `If thou be very happy -- that is to say, if thou be very rich -- thou shalt find a great number of fellows and friends. And if thy fortune change that thou wax poor, farewell friendship and fellowship, for thou shalt be alone without any company, except if it be the company of poor folk.'

And yet says this Pamphilles moreover that `they that are enslaved and in bondage by birth shall be made worthy and noble by riches.' And just as by riches there come many goods, just so by poverty come there many harms and evils, for great poverty constrains a man to do many evils. And therefore Cassiodorus calls poverty the mother of ruin; that is to say, the mother of overthrowing or falling down. [1565] And therefore says Petrus Alphonsus, `One of the greatest adversities of this world is when a man free by nature or by birth is constrained by poverty to eat the alms of his enemy,' and the same says Innocent in one of his books. He says that `sorrowful and unfortunate is the condition of a poor beggar; for if he does not beg for his food, he dies for hunger; and if be begs, he dies for shame, and yet necessity constrains him to beg.' And says Solomon that `better it is to die than to have such poverty.' And as the same Solomon says, `Better it is to die of bitter death than to live in such a way.'

By these reasons that I have said unto you and by many other reasons that I could say, I grant you that riches are good to them that get them well and to them that well use those riches. And therefore will I show you how you should behave, and how you should bear yourself in gathering of riches, and in what manner you shall use them. [1575] "First, you shall get them without great desire, by good deliberation, slowly and not over-hastily. For a man that is too desiring to get riches devotes himself first to theft, and to all other evils; and therefore says Solomon, `He that hastens him too busily to wax rich shall be no innocent.' He says also that `the riches that hastily come to a man soon and easily go and pass from a man, but those riches that come little by little always grow and multiply.'

And, sir, you shall get riches by your wit and by your travail unto your advantage, and that without doing wrong or harm to any other person. For the law says that `there makes no man himself rich, if he does harm to another person.' This is to say, that nature prohibits and forbids justly that any man make himself rich unto the harm of another person. And Cicero says that `no sorrow, nor no dread of death, nor no thing that may happen to a man, [1585] is so much against nature as for a man to increase his own advantage to the harm of another man. And though the great men and the mighty men get riches more easily than thou, yet thou shalt not be idle nor slow to do thy benefit, for thou shalt in all ways flee idleness.' For Solomon says that `idleness teaches a man to do many evils.' And the same Solomon says that `he that works and busies himself to till his land shall eat bread, but he that is idle and devotes himself to no business nor occupation shall fall into poverty and die for hunger.' And he that is idle and slow can never find suitable time to earn his profit. For there is a versifier who says that `the idle man excuses himself in winter because of the great cold, and in summer by reason of the great heat.' For these causes says Cato, `Wake and incline you not over-much to sleep, for over-much rest nourishes and causes many vices.' And therefore says Saint Jerome, `Do some good deeds that the devil, who is our enemy, not find you unoccupied.' [1595] For the devil takes not easily unto his power such as he finds occupied in good works. "Then thus in getting riches you must flee idleness.

And afterward, you must use the riches which you have gotten by your wit and by your labor in such a manner that men consider you not too niggardly, nor too frugal, nor too foolishly generous -- that is to say, over-generous a spender. For just as men blame an avaricious man because of his niggardliness and miserliness, in the same way is he to blame that spends over-generously. And therefore says Cato: `Use,' he says, `thy riches that thou hast gotten in such a manner that men have no reason nor cause to call thee neither wretch nor miser, 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 gotten, use them by measure;' [1605] that is to say, spend them moderately, for they who foolishly waste and squander the goods that they have, when they have no more property of their own, they devote themselves to taking the goods of another man.

I say then that you must flee avarice, using your riches in such a manner that men say not that your riches are buried but that you have them in your power and in your control. For a wise man reproves the avaricious man, and says thus in two verses: `For what reason and why buries a man his goods by his great avarice, and he knows well that by necessity he must die? For death is the end of every man in this present life.' And for what cause or reason he joins himself or he knits himself so fast unto his goods that all his wits can not separate him or depart him from his goods, [1615] and knows well, or ought know, that when he is dead he shall nothing bear with him out of this world? And therefore says Saint Austin that `the avaricious man is likened unto hell, that the more it swallows the more desire it has to swallow and devour.' And as well as you would shun to be called an avaricious man or miser, as well should you keep yourself and govern yourself in such a way that men do not call you foolishly generous. Therefore says Cicero: `The goods,' he says, `of thine house should not be hidden nor kept so close, but that they might not be opened by pity and graciousness' (that is to say, to give part to them that have great need), `Nor thy goods must not be so open to be every man's goods.'

Afterward, in getting of your riches and in using them you must always have three things in your heart (that is to say, our Lord God, conscience, and good name). [1625] First, you shall have God in your heart, and for no riches you shall do any thing which may in any manner displease God, that is your creator and maker. For after the word of Solomon, `It is better to have a little good with the love of God than to have much good and treasure and lose the love of his Lord God.' And the prophet says that `better it is to be a good man and have little good and treasure than to be held a scoundrel and have great riches.' And yet say I furthermore, that you should always do your business to get yourself riches, providing that you get them with good conscience. And the Apostle says that `there is nothing in this world of which we should have so great joy as when our conscience bears us good witness.' And the wise man says, `The substance of a man is very good, when sin is not in man's conscience.' [1635] Afterward, in getting of your riches and in using of them, you must have great effort and greet diligence that your good name be always kept and conserved.

For Solomon says that `better it is and more it avails a man to have a good name than to have great riches.' And therefore he says in another place, `Do great diligence,' says Solomon, `in keeping of thy friend and of thy good name; for it shall longer abide with thee than any treasure, be it never so precious.' And certainly he should not be called a gentle man who after God and good conscience, all other things left aside, does his best efforts and effort to keep his good name. And Cassiodorus says that `it is sign of a gentle heart when a man loves and desires to have a good name.' And therefore says Saint Austin that `there are two things that are necessary and needful, and that is good conscience and good reputation; that is to say, good conscience to thine own person inward and good reputation for thy neighbor outward.' [1645] And he that trusts himself so much in his good conscience that he displeases, and sets at naught his good name or reputation, and cares not though he keep not his good name, is but a cruel churl.

"Sir, now have I showed you how you shall do in getting riches, and how you shall use them, and I see well that for the trust that you have in your riches you will provoke war and battle. I advise you that you begin no war in trust of your riches, for they do not suffice to maintain wars. And therefore says a philosopher, `That man who desires and will continually have war, shall never have enough, for the richer that he is, the greater expenditures must he make, if he will have worship and victory.' And Solomon says that `the greater riches that a man has, the more spenders he has.' And, dear sir, although it be so that for your riches you can have much folk, yet it is not suitable, nor is it any good, to begin war whereas you can in another manner have peace unto your honor and advantage. [1655] For the victory of battles that are in this world lies not in great number or multitude of the people, nor in the strength of man, but it lies in the will and in the hand of our Lord God Almighty. And therefore Judas Machabeus, who was God's knight, when he had to fight against his adversary who has a greater number and a greater multitude of folk and stronger than was this people of Machabee, yet he comforted his little company, and said exactly in this way: `As easily,' said he, `may our Lord God Almighty give victory to a few folk as to many folk, for the victory of a battle comes not by the great number of people, but it comes from our Lord God of heaven.'

And, dear sir, since there is no man certain if he be worthy that God give him victory . . . or not, according to what Solomon says, therefore every man should greatly dread to begin wars. [1665] And because in battles many perils befall, and happens another time that as soon is the great man slain as the little man; and as it is written in the second Book of Kings, `The deeds of battles are subject to chance and in no way certain, for as easily is one hurt with one spear as another'; and for there is great peril in war, therefore should a man flee and shun war, insomuch as a man may goodly (do so). For Solomon says, `He who loves peril shall fall in peril.'"

After Dame Prudence had spoken in this manner, Melibee answered and said, "I see well, dame Prudence, that by your fair words and by your reasons that you have showed me, that the war not at all pleases you; but I have not yet heard your advice, how I shall act in this urgent matter."

"Certainly," said she, "I advise you that you agree with your adversaries and that you have peace with them. [1675] For Saint James says in his Epistles that `by agreeent and peace the small riches wax great, and by debate and discord the great riches fall down.' And you know well that one of the greatest and most excellent things that is in this world is unity and peace. And therefore said our Lord Jesus Christ to his apostles in this manner: `Well happy and blessed are they that love and bring about peace, for they are called children of God.'"

"A," said Melibee, "now see I well that you love not my honor nor my worthiness. You know well that my adversaries have begun this debate and strife by their outrage, and you see well that they neither require nor pray me for peace, nor they ask not to be reconciled. Will you then that I go and humble myself, and be subject to them, and beg them for mercy? Indeed, that would not be to my honor. [1685] For just as men say that `over-great familiarity engenders contempt,' so fares it by too great humility or meekness."

Then began dame Prudence to make the outward appearance of wrath and said: "Certainly, sir, with all due respect to you, I love your honor and your well-being as I do my own, and ever have done; nor you, nor any other, can say never the contrary. And yet if I had said that you should have brought about the peace and the reconciliation, I had not much mistaken me nor said amiss. For the wise man says, `The dissension begins by another man, And the prophet says, `Flee shrewdness and do goodness; seek peace and follow it, as much as in thee is.'

Yet say I not that you should rather sue to your adversaries for peace than they should (offer peace) to you. For I know well that you are so hard-hearted that you will do nothing for me. [1695] And Solomon says, `He that has over-hard a heart, at the last he shall have bad luck and suffer misfortune.'"

When Melibee had heard dame Prudence make the appearance of wrath, he said in this manner: "Dame, I pray you that you be not displeased by things that I say, for you know well that I am angry and wrathful, and that is no wonder; and they that are wrathful know not well what they do nor what they say. Therefore the prophet says that `troubled eyes have no clear sight.' But say and advise me as you like, for I am ready to do just as you will desire; and if you reprove me for my folly, I am the more obligated to love you and to praise you. For Solomon says that `he that reproves him who does folly, he shall find greater grace than he who deceives him by sweet words.'" [1705]

Then said dame Prudence, "I make no outward appearance of wrath nor anger, but for your great advantage. For Solomon says, `He is more worthy that reproves or chides a fool for his folly, showing him the outward appearance of wrath, than he who supports him and praises him in his misdoing and laughs at his folly.' And this same Solomon says afterward that `by the sorrowful visage of a man' (that is to say by the sorry and heavy countenance of a man) `the fool corrects and amends himself.'"

Then said Melibee, "I shall not know how to answer to so many fair reasons as you set forth and show to me. Say shortly your will and your advice, and I am all ready to fulfill and perform it." Then dame Prudence uncovered all her will to him and said, "I advise you," said she, "above all things , that you make peace between God and you, and are reconciled unto him and to his grace. [1715] For, as I have said to you here before this, God has allowed you to have this tribulation and suffering for your sins. And if you do as I tell you, God will send your adversaries unto you and make them fall at your feet, ready to do your will and your commandments. For Solomon says, `When the condition of man is pleasant and pleasing to God, he changes the hearts of the man's adversaries and constrains them to beseech him for peace and for grace.'

And I pray you let me speak with your adversaries in a private place, for they must not know that it is of your will or of your assent. And then, when I know their will and their intent, I can advise you the more surely."

"Dame," said Melibee, "do your will and your pleasure; for I put me wholly in your disposition and ordinance. [1725] "

Then dame Prudence, when she saw the good will of her husband, considered and pondered in herself, thinking how she might bring this urgent matter unto a good conclusion and to a good end. And when she saw her time, she sent for these adversaries to come unto her into a private place and showed wisely unto them the great goods that come of peace and the great harms and perils that are in war, and said to them in a goodly manner how that they ought to have great repentance for the injury and wrong that they had done to Melibee her lord, and unto her, and to her daughter.

And when they heard the goodly words of dame Prudence, they were so taken and ravished and had such great joy of her that it was a wonder to tell. "A, lady," said they, "you have showed unto us the blessing of sweetness, according to the saying of David the prophet [1735] for the reconciliation which we are not worthy to have in any manner, but we ought to request it with great contrition and humility, that you of your great goodness have presented unto us. Now see we well that the knowledge and the cunning of Solomon is very true. For he says that `sweet words multiply and increase friends and make scoundrels to be gentle and meek.'

"Certainly," said they, "we put our actions and all our matters and cause all wholly in your good will and are ready to obey to the speech and commandment of my lord And therefore, dear and benign lady, we pray you and beseech you as meekly as we know how and are able that it be pleasing unto your great goodness to fulfill in deed your goodly words, for we consider and acknowledge that we have offended and grieved my lord Melibee out of measure, [1745] so far that we are not of power to make his amends. And therefore we pledge and bind us and our friends to do all his will and his commandments. But perhaps he has such heaviness and such wrath toward us because of our offense that he will impose on us such a punishment as we can not bear nor sustain. And therefore, noble lady, we beseech to your womanly pity to take such thought in this urgent matter that we nor our friends are not dispossessed nor destroyed through our folly."

"Certainly," said Prudence, "it is a hard thing and very perilous that a man put himself entirely in the power of decision and judgment, and in the might and power of his enemies. For Solomon says, `Believe me, and give credence to what I shall say: I say,' said he, `you people, folk and governors of holy church, to thy son, to thy wife, to thy friend, nor to thy brother [1755] give thou never power (over) nor mastery of thy body while thou livest.'

Now since he forbids that a man should give to his brother nor to his friend the control of his body, by a stronger reason he prohibits and forbids a man to give himself to his enemy. And nevertheless I advise you that you mistrust not my lord, for I know well and know truly that he is gentle and humble, generous, courteous, and in no way desirous nor covetous of goods nor riches. For there is nothing in this world that he desires, save only worship and honor. Furthermore I know well and am very sure that he shall do nothing in this urgent matter without my advice, and I shall so work in this cause that by the grace of our Lord God you shall be reconciled unto us."

Then said they with one voice, "Worshipful lady, we put us and our goods all fully in your will and power, [1765] and are ready to come, what day that it pleases unto your noblesse to limit us or assign us, to make our pledge and bond as strong as it pleases unto your goodness, that we may fulfill the will of you and of my lord Melibee."

When dame Prudence had heard the answers of these men, she bad them go again secretly; and she returned to her lord Melibee, and told him how she found his adversaries very repentant, acknowledging very lowly their sins and trespass, and how they were ready to suffer any punishment, requesting and praying him of mercy and pity. Then said Melibee: "He is well worthy to have pardon and forgiveness of his sin, who does not excuse his sin but acknowledges it and repents himself, asking indulgence. For Seneca says, `There is the remission and forgiveness, where the confession is,' [1775] for confession is neighbor to innocence.

And he says in another place that `he who has shame of his sin and acknowledges [it is worthy of having remission].' And therefore I assent and resolve myself to have peace; but it is good that we do it not without the assent and will of our friends."

Then was Prudence very glad and joyful and said: "Certainly, sir," said she, "you have well and goodly answered, for just as by the advice, assent, and help of your friends you have been stirred to avenge yourself and make war, just so without their advice shall you not reconcile yourself nor have peace with your adversaries. For the law says, `There is no thing so good in the natural course of events kind as for a thing to be unbound by him who bound it.'

And then dame Prudence without delay or tarrying sent immediately her messages for her kin and for her old friends which that were true and wise, and told them in detail in the presence of Melibee all this matter as it is above expressed and declared, [1785] and prayed them that they would give their counsel and advice what best were to do in this urgent matter. And when Melibee's friends had taken her counsel and deliberation on the foresaid matter, and had examined it by great effort and greet diligence, they gave unqualified advice to have peace and rest, and that Melibee should with good heart receive his adversaries to forgiveness and mercy.

And when dame Prudence had heard the assent of her lord Melibee, and the advice of his friends agree with her will and her intention, she was wonderfully glad in her heart and said: "There is an old proverb," said she, "which says that `the goodness that thou can do this day, do it, and abide not nor delay it not till tomorrow.' [1795] And therefore I advise that you send your messengers, such as are discrete and wise, unto your adversaries, telling them on your behalf that if they will negotiate about peace and about harmony, that they prepare themselves without delay or tarrying to come unto us." Which thing was carried out in deed.

And when these trespassers and folk repenting of their follies -- that is to say, the adversaries of Melibee -- had heard what these messengers said unto them, they were just glad and joyful, and answered very meekly and benignly, yielding thanks and gratitude to their lord Melibee and to all his company, and prepared themselves without delay to go with the messengers and obey to the command of their lord Melibee. [1805] And right away they took their way to the court of Melibee, and took with them some of their true friends to stand surety for them and to be their guarantors.

And when they were come to the presence of Melibee, he said to them these words: "It stands thus," said Melibee, "and true it is, that you, causeless and without logical explanation and reason, have done great injuries and wrongs to me and to my wife Prudence and to my daughter also. For you have entered into my house by violence, and have done such outrage that all men know well that you have deserved the death. And therefore will I know and learn of you whether you will put the punishment and the chastising and the vengeance of this outrage in the power of me and of my wife Prudence, or will you not?" [1815]

Then the wisest of them three answered for them all and said, "Sir," said he, "we know well that we are unworthy to come unto the court of so great a lord and so worthy as you are. For we have so greatly transgressed, and have offended and done wrong in such a way against your high lordship that truly we have deserved the death. But yet, for the great goodness and gentleness that all the world witnesses of your person, we submit ourselves to the excellence and benignity of your gracious lordship, and are ready to obey all your commandments, beseeching you that of your merciful pity you will consider our great repentance and low submission and grant us forgiveness of our outrageous trespass and offense. For well we know that your liberal grace and mercy stretch themselves farther into goodness than do our outrageous guilts and trespass into wickedness, [1825] although it be so that cursedly and damnably we have sinned against your high lordship."

Then Melibee took them up from the ground very benignly, and received their pledges and their bonds by their oaths upon their pledges and guarantors, and assigned them a certain day to return unto his court to accept and receive the sentence and judgment that Melibee would command to be done on them by the causes aforesaid.

Which things arranged, every man returned to his house. And when dame Prudence saw her time, she questioned and asked her lord Melibee what vengeance he thought to take upon his adversaries. To which Melibee answered and said, "Certainly," said he, "I think and purpose me fully to dispossess them of all that ever they have and to put them in exile for ever." [1835]

"Certainly," said dame Prudence, "this would be a cruel sentence and much again reason. For you are rich enough and have no need of other men's wealth, and you might easily in this way get yourself a covetous name, which is a vicious thing, and ought to be shunned by every good man. For according to the saying of the word of the Apostle, `Greed is root of all harms.' And therefore it were better for you to lose so much wealth of your own than to take their wealth in this manner, for better it is to lose wealth with honor than it is to acquire wealth with villainy and shame. And every man ought to do his best efforts and his main concern to get himself a good name. And yet shall he not only busy himself in keeping of his good name, but he shall also strive always to do something by which he may renew his good name. [1845] For it is written that `the old good reputation or good name of a man is soon gone and passed, when it is not renewed nor restored.'

And as touching that you say you will exile your adversaries, that thinks me much against reason and out of measure, considered the power that they have given you upon themselves. And it is written that `he is worthy to lose his privilege that misuses the might and the power that is given him.' And I assume (for the sake of argument) you might impose on them that punishment by justice and by law, which I believe you can not do; I say perhaps you could not put it to execution, and then it would be likely to return to the war as it was before. And therefore, if you want men to do you obedience, you must judge more courteously; [1855] this is to say, you must give more easy sentences and judgments. For it is written that `he who most courteously commands, to him men most obey.' And therefore I pray you that in this necessity and in this urgent matter you endeavor to overcome your heart. For Seneca says that `he that overcomes his heart overcomes twice.' And Cicero says, `There is no thing so commendable in a great lord as when he is gentle and meek, and calms himself easily. And I pray you that you will forbear now to do vengeance, in such a manner that your good name may be kept and conserved, and that men may have cause and matter to praise you for pity and for mercy, and that you have no cause to repent yourself of thing that you do. [1865] For Seneca says, `He overcomes in an evil manner who repents himself of his victory.' Wherefore I pray you, let mercy be in your heart, to the effect and intent that God Almighty have mercy on you in his last judgment. For Saint James says in his Epistle: `Judgment without mercy shall be done to him that has no mercy for another person.'"

When Melibee had heard the great logical arguments and reasons of dame Prudence, and her wise counsels and teachings, his heart began to incline to the will of his wife, considering her true intent, and conformed him immediately and assented fully to work according to her advice, and thanked God, of whom proceeds all virtue and all goodness, that sent him a wife of so great discretion.

And when the day came that his adversaries should appear in his presence, he spoke unto them very goodly, and said in this manner: [1875] "Although it be so that of your pride and high presumption and folly, and of your negligence and ignorance, you have misbehaved yourself and trespassed unto me, yet forasmuch as I see and behold your great humility and that you are sorry and repentant of your guilts, it constrains me to do you grace and mercy.

Wherefore I receive you to my grace and forgive you completely all the offenses, injuries, and wrongs that you have done against me and mine, to this effect and to this end, that God of his endless mercy will at the time of our dying forgive us our guilts that we have trespassed to him in this wretched world. For doubtless, if we are sorry and repentant of the sins and guilts which we have trespassed in the sight of our Lord God, [1885] he is so free and so merciful that he will forgive us our guilts and bring us to the bliss that never has end."

Amen.

Heere is ended Chaucers Tale of Melibee and of Dame Prudence


Last modified: 13 Jan 2006
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Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)