Traveling with Chaucer

I’m reading a great book by a guy named Chaucer.  He wrote a lot of things first because there’s no writing before his.  This book is called Canterbury Tales, something he never finished.

I was most of the way through this hilarious story about the old carpenter who’d married a gorgeous young thing.  It was funny because she took a liking to this young college student.  He came up with a way to fool the old carpenter into thinking Noah’s flood was returning.  The ending is laugh-out-loud funny, and everything turned out quite happily for the mis-aligned bride.

Page, Butler, Confidant, Bureaucrat, Poet

You’ll have to read it for yourself to get the laughs.  That’s not the reason for today’s post.  There’s another, more subtle laugh involved.

It suddenly dawned on me that this framework of Chaucer’s, this people telling each other stories as they all travel to Canterbury, this is the very first instance of “books on tape.”

Ever been on a long trip and enjoy listening to someone read or tell a story?  It’s one of the most popular travel companions nowadays.  My daughter loves American Life and RadioLab and Moth.

That’s what Chaucer was talking about.  Everyone told a story, and the time passed quickly for everyone.  It’s yet another bit of evidence that what was true then is still true now.  The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve taken the person out of the loop.

So next time you listen to a story on the radio, think about Jeff and his traveling buddies.  They did it, too, some 400 years ago.  Once upon a time …


Drunk on Chaucer

I’m reading a great book by a guy named Chaucer.  He gets credit for writing a lot of stories first because he was the first.  His biggest work came out about the time he died around 1400, called Canterbury Tales.

I had to read it for some class back in the dim times.  Now I’m taking my own sweet time and enjoying the stories for what they are.  Some of them are way too naughty for teaching to high school students.  So why didn’t I get to read them back then?

No crying now, only laughing.  This is some funny stuff.  Here’s a wide smile that also pertains to behavior that I found buried way in the back.  It’s a note from Professor Coghill about drinking, on page 524.

In the middle ages the learned recognized four states or stages of drunkenness, which corresponded to the four “humours” or dispositions of man: lion-drunk, or choleric; ape-drunk, or sanguine; mutton-drunk or phlegmatic; swine-drunk, or melancholy.

I think it’s great that way back then, when most of us think our society is way more sophisticated than the middle ages, they had FOUR different states of drunk.  From lion, ape, to lamb and swine.  What does it all mean?

Page, Butler, Confidant, Bureaucrat, Poet

It doesn’t matter any more.  It’s way more fun than simply saying someone is buzzed, high, blitzed or whatever the terms are nowadays.  Personally, I think we should start a movement to bring back some great terms for scrambling our brains.

Are you with me?  Shall we drink on it?