Mediaeval Medicine and Arcite’s Love Sickeness
By M. Ciavolella
Florilegium, vol. 1 (1979)
Introduction: In The Allegory of Love C. S. Lewis, commenting upon the tendency of critics to read their own ideas into the works of Chaucer, wrote: The stupidest contemporary, we many depend upon it, know certain things about Chaucer’s poetry which modern scholarship will never know; and doubtless the best of us misunderstand Chaucer in many places where the veriest fool among his audience could not have misunderstood.
Since a statement holds especially true when the interpretation of a passage or a concept rests upon the correct interpretation of one word misunderstood or forgotten, as is in the case of the word “Hereos” in Chaucer’s description of Archite’s love for Emilye in The Knight’s Tale:
Whan that Archite to Thebes comen was,
Ful ofte a day he swelte and seyde “Allas!”
For seen his lady shal he nevere mo.
And shortly to concluden al his wo,
So muche sorwe hadde nevere creature
That is, or shal, whil that the world may dure.
His slep, his mete, his drynke, is hym biraft,
That lene he wex and drye as is a shaft;
His eyen holwe, and grisly to biholde,
His hewe falow and pale as asshen colde,
And solitarie he was and evere allone,
And waillynge al the nyght, makynge his mone;
And if he herde song or instrument,
Thanne wolde he wepe, he myghte nat be stent.
So feble eek were his spiritz, and so lowe,
And chaunged so, that no man koude knowe
His speche nor his voys, though men it herde.
And in his geere for al the world he ferde.
Nat oonly like the loveris maladye
Of Hereos, but rather lyk manye,
Engendred of humour malencolik,
Biforen, in his celle fantastik.
And shortly, turned was al up so dowun
Bothe habit and eek disposicioun
Of hym, this woful lovere daun Arcite.