"In medicine gold is the best cordial" describes what character in Canterbury tales?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This statement describes the Physician. As this quote indicates, he is portrayed as a man who places a great emphasis on wealth and the finer things in life. Despite the fact that he dresses in fine clothing, he very wary, or "chary" of expense, and holds onto his money, as gold is the best "cordial," meaning, in this sense, medicine. Chaucer describes him as a "very good practicioner," who was widely read in a variety of ancient medical texts. But a person could expect no treatment from the Physician if they were not able to pay. The acquisition of wealth, not healing sick people, is his primary motive. Some modern readers may be struck by Chaucer's association between astrology and medical expertise in the description of the Physician:

In all this world was none like him to pick
For talk of medicine and surgery;
For he was grounded in astronomy.
He often kept a patient from the pall
By horoscopes and magic natural.

Chaucer's contemporaries, however, may not have been. Astrology was considered a valid, indeed essential, means of understanding the natural world. A physician may well have consulted the stars in order to understand a patient's malady. The important point is that he is interested in wealth above all else, and he is not above prescribing medicines of dubious healing powers in order to get the patient's money:

Ready he was, with his apothecaries,
To send him drugs and all electuaries;
By mutual aid much gold they'd always won-
Their friendship was a thing not new begun.

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

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