The House of Fame

Contents:
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer  | Date: 1379

Book I

GOD turn every dream to good for us! For to my wit it is wondrous, by the rood, what causes dreams by night or by morrow; and why some be fulfilled and some never, why that is a vision, and this a revelation, why this is one kind of dream, and that another, and not to every man alike; why this one is an illusion and that an oracle. I know not, but whosoever knows the causes of these prodigies better than I, let him divine; for I certainly wot naught thereof, and never think to trouble my wit too arduously to learn their kinds of significance, or the length of time to their fulfilment, or why this is cause of dreams rather than that; as whether folks’ temperaments make them dream of what they have been thinking on; or else, as others say, over-enfeeblement of brain, from sickness or abstinence, imprisonment, frequenting of stews, or great distress; or else disorder of Nature’s customs, as when a man is too zealous in study, or melancholy, or so full of inward fear that no man may offer him relief; or else whether the devoutness and meditation of some often cause such dreams; or be it that the cruel, hard life which these lovers lead, who hope or fear overmuch, so that their mere fancies cause visions; or whether spirits have the power to make folk dream o’ nights; or if the soul from its proper nature be so perfect, as men judge, that it foreknows what is to be, and warns one and all of each of their haps to come, by means of visions or figurings, but our flesh cannot understand these aright, because the warnings are too dark;- I know not what the cause is. Good luck in this to great clerks, who treat of this matter and others! For I will now make note of no opinion, but only pray that the holy cross turn every dream to good for us. For never have I since I was born, nor any man else before me, I firmly believe, dreamed so wonderful a dream as I did the tenth day of December; which, as I can now recall it, I will tell you in full.

But trust well, at my beginning I will anon make invocation, with special devoutness, to the god of sleep, who dwells in a cave of rock by a stream which comes from Lethe, which is a bitter river of hell; hard by a folk called the Cimmerians ever sleeps this mirthless god with his thousand sleepy sons, whose wont is ever to sleep; and this god I tell of I pray to grant me success to tell my dream aright, if every dream be within his power. And may He who is Mover of all that is and was and ever shall be give them that hearken to it joy of all they dream this year; and to stand all in the favor of their loves or in whatever plight they were fainest to stand in, and shield them from poverty and shame and mishap and every ill, and send all their desire to them that receive it well and scorn it not or misjudge it in their minds through malicious intent. And whosoever through presumption or hate or scorn or envy, through spite or mockery or wickedness, may misjudge it,- dream he stockings-on or stockings-off, I pray Jesus God that every ill that any man has had since the beginning of the world may befall him therefor ere he die, and that he may fully deserve it all, lo! with such a fulfilment as had Croesus King of Lydia of his vision, who died upon a high gibbet! This prayer shall he have of me; no more charity have I than this! Now, as I have told you, hearken to what I dreamed ere I awoke.

The tenth day of December, when it was night, I lay down to sleep even where I was wont, and fell asleep wondrous soon, as one who was weary from walking a pilgrimage of two miles to the shrine of Saint Leonard, to make soft what had been troublous.

But as I slept I dreamed I was within a temple of glass, in which were more golden images standing in sundry niches, and more rich tabernacles, and more pinnacles of gemmed work, and more cunning picturings and rare manners of figures in old work than ever I had seen. For verily I knew never where I was, but well I knew, truly, that it was of Venus, this temple; for straightway I saw her figure pictured, floating naked in a sea; and also her rose-garland white and red, perdy, about her brows; and her comb to comb her hair; her doves, and Dan Cupid, her blind son, and Vulcan, full brown of his face.

But as I roamed about, I found a tablet of brass on a wall, where was written: ’I will now sing, if I am able, the arms and eke the man, who, fugitive from Troy-country, first came through his fate into Italy to the Lavinian strand with full great suffering.’ And then anon began the story, as I shall tell you all. First I saw the destruction of Troy, through the Greek Sinon, who with his false oaths and his feigned cheer and his leasings made the horse to be brought into the city, through which the Trojans lost all their happiness. And after this, alas! was graven how Ilium was assailed and won, and King Priam pitilessly slain and also Polites his son, by Sir Pyrrhus.

And next to that I beheld how Venus, when she saw the castle burning, descended from heaven and bade her son Aeneas to flee; and how he fled and escaped from all the press, and took Anchises his father and bare him away on his back, crying, ’Alack and alackaday!’ Which Anchises carried in his hands those gods of the country which were unburned. And next in all this company I saw how Creusa, the wife of Sir Aeneas, whom he loved as his soul, and her young son Iulus, and eke Ascanius also, fled with so heavy looks that it was piteous to see; and how at a turning of a path as they went in the forest Creusa was lost and died, alas!, but I know not in what wise; how he sought her, and how her spirit bade him to flee the host of the Greeks, and said he must to Italy without fail, as was his destiny; so that it was piteous to listen to her words when her spirit appeared to him, and how she prayed him to guard her son. There I saw eke graven how he and his father and his household sailed forth with his ships towards the land of Italy, as straight as they could go.

There, cruel Juno, who art Lord Jupiter’s wife, and hast hated ever all the Trojan blood, I saw thee run as a madwoman, and call on Aeolus, the god of winds, to blow out from all directions so wildly that he should drown lord and lady, serving-man and wench, of the whole Trojan nation without any rescue. There I saw arise such a tempest that every heart might shudder to see it painted on the wall. There, Venus, I saw eke graven how thou, my lady dear, weeping with full woful countenance, prayedest Jupiter on high, because the Trojan Aeneas was thy son, to save and guard his fleet. There saw I Jove kiss Venus and grant abatement of the tempest. There saw I how it ceased, and how Aeneas proceeded with great toil and privily arrived in the country of Carthage; and on the morrow, how he and a knight called Achates met with Venus walking in rare disguise, as she had been an huntress, with the wind blowing through her hair; how Aeneas, when he knew her, began to bewail his sufferings, and that his ships were sunk, or else lost, he knew not where; how she began to comfort him and bade him go to Carthage, where he should find his folk who had been left behind on the sea.

And, to pass over this thing shortly, she put Aeneas so in grace with Dido, queen of that land, that, to tell it briefly, she became his love in heart and body. Why should I speak more artfully or strive to paint my words in speaking of love? It will not be; I know nothing of that craft. And eke to tell the manner in which they became acquainted, it were a long story to tell, and would delay you over-long. There I saw graven how Aeneas told Dido every chance that had happened to him on the sea. And after that was graven how she made of him, in brief and in a word, her life, her love, her joy, her master, and did him all the reverence, and lavished on him all the wealth that any woman could, weening all had been as he had sworn her, and hereby deeming that he was good, for such he seemed. Alas! what evil is wrought by appearance when it is false to the truth of the case! For he was traitor to her, wherefore, alas! she slew herself. Lo! how ill a woman does to love him who is unknown! For lo, by heaven! it is not all gold that shines. For, on my life, many a cursed fault may be covered under goodly seeming; therefore be no wight so foolish as to take a lover only because of aspect, speech or friendly manner; for this every woman shall find, that sometimes a man by his nature will appear outwardly the fairest, till he have gained what he desires, and then he will invent excuses, and swear that she is unkind or false or sly or two-faced. All this I am minded of by Aeneas and Dido, and her foolish inclination, who loved a guest all too soon. Therefore I will say a proverb:

’Who knows the herb right perfectly

May safely lay it to his eye.’

Without doubt this is true.

But let us speak of Aeneas, how he betrayed her and left her full unkindly, alas! So when she utterly perceived that he would fail in his troth to her, and would turn from her to Italy, she began to wring her two hands. ’Alas!’ quoth she, ’alas, woe is me! Is this the troth of every man, that he will have a new one every year (if it will last that long), or else three, peradventure? As thus: of one he would have fame in magnifying his reputation; another, he says, for friendship; and there shall be yet the third, that shall be taken, lo, for delight or some especial advantage.’ In such words Dido bemoaned her great pain, as I dreamed; I cite none other author. ’Alas!’ she said, ’my sweet heart, have pity on my bitter sorrows, and slay me not! Go not away! Ah woful Dido, alas!’ Then she said to herself, ’O Aeneas, what wilt thou do? Ah that neither thy love, nor thy pledge that thou hast sworn with thy right hand, nor my cruel death, may keep thee here with me still! Ah, have pity of my death! Surely, my dear heart, thou knowest full well that never yet, so far as my wit could stretch, have I wronged thee in thought or deed. Ah, have ye men such goodliness in speech, and never a bit of truth? Alas, that ever woman had pity on any man! Now I well see and can tell others that we wretched women have no subtlety; for certainly thus we be served every one, for the more part. However sorely ye men can groan, anon as soon as we have accepted you, in truth we are deceived; for though your love last for a season, watch for the conclusion, how for the more part ye will end. Alack that I was born! For through you my good name is lost, and all my deeds are read and sung over all this land, in every mouth. O Evil Report! for lo, there is nothing so swift as she is. Ah, true it is, everything is known, though it be wrapped deep in mist. And eke, though I might live forever, I can never so retrieve what I have done, that, alas!, I shall not be said to have been shamed through Aeneas, and that it shall not be judged of me thus: "Lo even as she has done, she will of a surety do again." Thus the people say privily.’

But what is done is not yet to do; verily, all her lament and moan availed her not a straw. And when of a truth she knew that he was gone forth unto his ships, she went anon into her chamber and called her sister Anne and lamented to her, and said that she was the cause why she first loved Aeneas, and had counselled her thereto. But what! When this was said and done, she rove herself to the heart and died of the bitter wound. But all the manner of her death and the words she said, whosoever would fain know it, let him read Virgil in the book of the Aeneid, or the epistle in Ovid, which she wrote ere she died. And were it not too long to endite, by heaven I would put it here.

But alack for the harm and pity that have betided from such faithlessness, as men may often read in books, and see it still in deed every day, so that it is dolorous to think on! Lo Demophon, duke of Athens, how he forswore himself full falsely, and wickedly betrayed Phyllis, who was the king’s daughter of Thrace, and falsely tarried past his appointed time; and when she knew he was false, she hanged herself by the neck because he had been so faithless to her. Lo! was not this a woe and a pity? Eke, lo! how false and heedless was Achilles to Briseis, and Paris to Oenone, and Jason to Hypsipyle, and again Jason to Medea, and Hercules to Dejanira (for he left her for Iole, which brought him his death, perdy!). Eke how false was Theseus, who betrayed Ariadne, as the story tells us,- the Devil be his soul’s destruction! For he would have been all devoured, willy-nilly, had it not been for Ariadne. And because she pitied him, she helped him to escape from his death. And he played her a right false trick; for some time after this he left her sleeping alone on a desert isle amid the sea, and stole away and left her to shift for herself; and took her sister Phaedra with him and went to his ship. And yet he had sworn to her by all that ever he could swear upon that, so she saved his life, he would wed her; for, as the book says, of a truth she desired naught else.

But to excuse Aeneas fully for his great trespass, the book says that in truth Mercury bade him go into Italy and leave the region of Africa and Dido and her fair town.

Then I saw graven how Sir Aeneas set sail for Italy; and how there arose a great tempest, and how he lost his steersman, whom the rudder, ere he took heed, smote overboard, lo! as he slept. And also I saw how the Sibyl and Aeneas, hard by an isle, went down into hell to see his father, the noble Anchises; how he found there Palinurus, and Dido, and eke Deiphobus; and he saw every torment of hell, which were long to relate. Which whoever wishes to know, he must read many a line in Virgil or Claudian or Dante, who can tell it.

Then I saw graven all the arrival of Aeneas in Italy, and his treaty with king Latinus, and all the battles that he was in and eke his knights, ere he gained what he would have; and how he took Turnus’ life and won Lavinia in marriage; and all the marvellous portents of the celestial gods; how, maugre Juno and all her arts and fetches, Aeneas achieved all his emprise, for Jupiter took care of him at the petition of Venus,- whom I pray ever to save us and ever ease us of our sorrows!

When I had seen all these sights thus in this noble temple, I thought, ’Ah Lord that madest us! Never yet saw I such magnificence of figures and such wealth as I have seen graven in this church. But I wot not who had them wrought, nor where I am, nor in what land. But now I will go out even to the wicket, and see if I can espy any man stirring anywhere who can tell me where I am.’

When I came out at the doors I gazed about me diligently. Then I saw only a large field as far as I could see, without town or house or tree or bush or grass or plowed ground; for all the field was sand, as fine as men may see yet lying in the desert of Libya. Nor saw I any manner of being that is formed by Nature, to instruct or direct me. ’O Christ, Who reignest in blessedness,’ I thought, ’save me from phantom and illusion!’ And devoutly I cast mine eyes to the heaven. Lo, at the last I was ware then how hard by the sun, as far up as I could discern with mine eye, methought I beheld an eagle soar, only it seemed much greater than any eagle that I had ever seen. But verily this is as true as death,- it was golden, and shone so brilliantly that never man had seen such a sight, unless the heaven had gained another sun all new and of gold; so brightly shone the eagle’s feathers. And then it began somewhat to descend.

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Chicago: Geoffrey Chaucer, "Book I," The House of Fame Original Sources, accessed May 20, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FVLASRH1AVMTAR.

MLA: Chaucer, Geoffrey. "Book I." The House of Fame, Original Sources. 20 May. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FVLASRH1AVMTAR.

Harvard: Chaucer, G, 'Book I' in The House of Fame. Original Sources, retrieved 20 May 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FVLASRH1AVMTAR.