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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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In the Prioress' Tale from The Canterbury Tales, what does "Amor Vincit Omnia" mean?

Quick answer:

The phrase “Amor Vincit Omnia” in the Prioress' Tale means "love conquers all" and refers to courtly love as opposed to spiritual love. This is semi-ironic, as the prioress is a spiritual woman utilizing a motto that advocates for carnal love as the highest priority. The misinterpretation of Virgil's writing speaks to her use of the motto as purely superficial and pretentious.

Expert Answers

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The phrase means "love conquers all" in Latin and comes from the Roman poet Virgil.

It refers to amorous or physical love, not spiritual love, and so should not be the motto of a religious womana prioress is a head of convent house of nuns. It was also written by a pagan, not a Christian. It is a phrase associated with courtly love. It could possibly be construed as about God's love, but that is a stretchif the prioress were truly religious she would have found a phrase about love from the Bible.

Nevertheless, on a superficial level, it is of a piece with the prioress's presentation as far more worldly and social climbing than religious. The prioress, for example, has this motto written on a shiny gold brooch, a piece of jewelry that is flashy and worldly rather than spiritual.

The prioress is a very dainty woman who is almost too careful about her manners and appearance. She seems to care more about her dogs than about people. All in all, she comes across as putting on airs and trying to pretend to be more than she isfor example, she mispronounces the French words she tries to speak.

Through her and other religious figures on the pilgrimage, Chaucer critiques those who are in the church for worldly advancement. Though wearing a pretentious Latin motto is typical of her personality, she doesn't seem to be a loving person, so the phrase, even in a worldly context, does not precisely suit her.

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