Troilus and Criseyde

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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"It Is Nought Good A Sleeping Hound To Wake"

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Last Updated on August 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

Context: The story of Troilus and Criseyde first appeared in Benôit de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie (1184), which was supposed to be based on narratives by Dictys of Crete, author of a fourth century work translated from an earlier Greek original, and from Dares the Phrygian, of at latest the fifth century. During the Middle Ages this pair was generally believed to have been present at the siege of Troy. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) had Benôit in mind in his Il filostrato (c.1335–1345); and Chaucer used both Boccaccio's and Benôit's versions. He even employed the Rima royal of seven-line stanzas that Boccaccio used. The time is the Trojan War in the Bronze Age, perhaps 1200 B.C., but the Chaucerian version fills it with the customs of a medieval court of love. For modern tastes, its five books and more than 8,000 lines make its reading a bit tedious, especially with the long soliloquys, speeches, and digressions. Yet it has been called an almost perfectly constructed narrative poem, full of a strange sweetness characteristic of Chaucer, especially in his second period. It is the only long poem he completed. Troilus, one of the sons of King Priam of Troy–Hector was another–is presented in the first stanza of the "Proem"; then the narrator in the other seven stanzas asks the gods for help in telling his tale. As the story starts, Calchas, the Trojan prophet, foresees that the Greeks will be successful in their siege of Troy, so he flees to the winning side, leaving his widowed daughter, Criseyde. During the spring festival, joining the celebration, where she stood out in beauty, she attracts Troilus's eyes. Smitten with her, yet believing his love hopeless, he goes out to attack the Greeks. However, Pandarus (whose name originated the expression "to pander,") offers to act as go-between, an easy task, since he is Criseyde's uncle. She has seen Troilus riding by on his way from the battlefield. When she learns that he is dying for her, she finds nothing dishonorable in encouraging him. In the third Book, to carry further his scheme, Pandarus invites her to dine with him, assuring her that Troilus is out of Troy. However, when a rain storm forces her to spend the night at the house, he comes into the bedroom by a secret trapdoor. When she suggests she awaken one of her women, Pandarus answers with the fourteenth century equivalent of "Let sleeping dogs lie."

It is nought good a sleping hound to wake,
Ne yive a wight a cause to devyne,
Your women sleepen alle, I undertake,
So that, for hem, the hous men mighte myne;
And sleepen wolen til the sonne shyne.
And whan my tale al brought is to an ende,
Unwist, right as I com, so will I wende.

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