Troilus and Cressidaby Geoffrey Chaucer
Often called the first great English novel, Troilus and Cressida, a tragic love story set during the siege of Troy, is Chaucer's masterpiece. Troilus, a valiant warrior, is scornful of love until he catches a glimpse of Cressida. With the help of his friend and her uncle Pandarus, Troilus wins Cressida over. But their happiness is destroyed when, summoned to a Greek… See more details below
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Often called the first great English novel, Troilus and Cressida, a tragic love story set during the siege of Troy, is Chaucer's masterpiece. Troilus, a valiant warrior, is scornful of love until he catches a glimpse of Cressida. With the help of his friend and her uncle Pandarus, Troilus wins Cressida over. But their happiness is destroyed when, summoned to a Greek camp, Cressida seeks the protection of one Diomede and ultimately betrays Troilus.
Read an Excerpt
The Temple Door
The double sorrow of Troilus to tell,
Unhappy son of Priam, king of Troy,
And how he fared, when first in love he fell,
From woe to weal, then back again from joy,
Until we part my time I shall employ.
Tisiphone, now help me to endite
These woful lines, that weep e'en as I write!
On thee I call, Goddess malevolent,
Thou cruel Fury, grieving ever in pain!
Help me, who am the sorrowful instrument10
That lovers use their sorrows to complain;
For truly this is not a saying vain,
A gloomy man should have a gloomy mate,
And faces sad, those who sad tales relate.
For I to serve Love's servants ever try,
Yet dare not seek, for my unlikeliness,
The aid of Love, although for love I die,
So far am I from prospect of success.
But yet if this may make the sorrows less
Of any lover, or may his cause avail,20
The thanks be his and mine this toilsome tale.
But O ye lovers, bathed in bliss always,
If any drops of pity in you be,
Recall the griefs gone by of other days,
And think sometimes upon the adversity
Of other folk, forgetting not that ye
Have felt yourselves Love's power to displease,
Lest ye might win Love's prize with too great ease.
And pray for those who suffer in the plight
Of Troilus, as I shall tell you here,30
Beseeching Love to bring them to delight;
And pray for me as well, to God so dear,
That I may have the skill to make appear,
In this unhappy tale of Troilus,
How dark may be love's ways and treacherous.
And pray for those that dwell in love's despair,
From which they never hope to be restored;
And pray for them who must the burden bear
Of slanderous tongue of lady or of lord;
Pray God that he the faithful may reward,40
And to the hopeless grant a quick release
And bring them from unrest to lasting peace.
And pray for lovers all who are at ease,
That they may still continue to be so,
And pray that they their ladies still may please
And unto Love a reverent honor show;
For thus I trust my soul in truth shall grow,
Praying for those who Love's commands fulfill,
And setting forth their fates in all good will,
With pity and compassion in my heart,50
As though I brother were to lovers all.
Now take, I pray, my story in good part;
Henceforth I shall endeavor to recall
What sorrows once on Troilus must fall
In loving Cressida, who first returned
His love, but for new love this old love spurned.
Well known the story, how the Greeks so strong
In arms, went with a thousand vessels sailing
To Troy, and there the Trojan city long
Besieged, and after ten years' siege prevailing,60
In divers ways, but with one wrath unfailing,
Avenged on Troy the wrong to Helen done
By Paris, when at last great Troy was won.
Now so it chanced that in the Trojan town,
There dwelt a lord of rank and high degree,
A priest named Calchas, of such great renown
And in all science such proficiency,
That he knew what the fate of Troy would be,
For at the shrine at Delphi he had heard
Phoebus Apollo's dire forboding word.70
When Calchas found his priestly computation
Confirmed the oracle Apollo spake,
That with the Greeks came such a mighty nation,
That in the end the city they would take,
He straight resolved the Trojans to forsake;
For by his divinations well he knew
That Troy was doomed, for all that Troy might do.
With stealth to leave the city he prepared,
For cunning plans he knew well to devise;
In secret to the Grecian host he fared,80
Where they received him in most courtly wise,
As one of high distinction in their eyes;
For they had hope that by his priestly skill,
He might ward off their future harm and ill.
Great cry arose when it was first made known
Through all the town, and everywhere was told,
That Calchas had turned traitor and had flown,
And to the Greeks his faithless honor sold;
And every Trojan, both the young and old,
Declared that Calchas, with his wicked kin,90
Deserved to burn alive for this great sin.
Now Calchas left behind him when he fled,
Innocent of this so false and wicked deed,
His daughter, who in grief her life now led,
For mortal fear she felt in her great need,
And had no one in Troy her cause to plead,
For she a widow was without a friend
Who might bear aid and helpful counsel lend.
Cressida was the name this lady bore,
And in the Trojan city, to my mind,100
Was none so fair, for in her beauty more
Angelical she seemed than human kind,
As though a thing immortal were combined
Of all of heaven's gifts of choicest worth,
And sent down here in scorn of our poor earth.
This lady could in no way close her ears
To her own father's evil deed and fame,
And driven near distracted by her fears,
In widow's sober habit dressed, she came
Before great Hector, where she doth proclaim110
Her loyalty with tearful voice and eye,
And pleads for grace and treason doth deny.
Now Hector was a man of kindly heart,
And when he saw how great was her distress,
And then her beauty likewise played a part,
These words of comfort to her did address:
"About your father's wicked deeds, the less
That's said the better! But you yourself in joy
Dwell here with us the while you will in Troy!
"And all respect that men owe unto you,120
As though your father still were dwelling here,
That shall you have, and all regard that's due
Your person, I assure you without fear."
She humbly thanked him for these words of cheer,
And would have thanked him more had he desired,
And took her leave and to her home retired.
And there she dwelt with such a retinue
As fitting was for one of her high station,
And kept good house, as she was wont to do,
Enjoying love and honest reputation130
As much as any in the Trojan nation;
But if she children had, I do not know,
I have not heard, and therefore let it go.
The fates of war were there exemplified
Between the Trojan and the Grecian forces,
For one day those of Troy were sorely tried,
But next the Greeks, for all their great resources,
Must yield; for Fortune hath uncertain courses,
And now her wheel goes up, and now goes down,
And now she wears a smile and now a frown140
But how this town came to its final end
Is not my purpose at this time to tell,
For much too far that lengthy tale would bend
Me from my point, and weary you as well;
But all the Trojan deeds, as there they fell,
Do Homer, Dares and Dictys all narrate,
For future time to read and contemplate.
Now though the Greeks the Trojan city hold,
Emprisoned by a siege set all around,
The Trojans still observe their customs old,150
Honoring their gods with worshipping profound;
And of their relics one the most renowned
Was called Palladion, to which they prayed
In trust of heaven's protection and of aid.
And so it chanced when April heralds Spring,
And clothes the meadows with new pleasant green,
And when fresh flowers, white and red, now bring
Once more their fragrances so pure and clean,
The throngs of Trojan folk might then be seen,
All going forth Palladion's feast to hold,160
According to their rites and customs old.
And to the temple in their very best,
The common folk came in from left and right,
And to Palladion themselves addressed;
And there came also many a lusty knight,
Many a lady fair and maiden bright,
All well arrayed, from greatest unto least,
In honor of the season and the feast.
Among the folk was Cressida that day,
All clothed in black, in widow's proper wise,170
Yet as the alphabet begins with A,
So stood her beauty peerless in men's eyes;
And all folk gazed at her in glad surprise,
To see in her how fair the fairest are,
And under inky cloud, so bright a star
As was fair Cressida, so brightly shone
Her beauty there beneath her widow's weeds,
And yet she stood apart and all alone,
Behind the throng, which she but little heeds,
And by the door through which the crowd proceeds,180
Quite simply dressed, but with the sprightly air
Of one who of herself can take good care.
Now Troilus, the leader of a band
Of youthful knights, went with them up and down
In this great temple, where on every hand
They eyed the beauties of the Trojan town;
For Troilus prized neither smile nor frown
Of one particular, and fancy free,
He praised or criticized impartially.
And as he roamed about, he kept an eye190
On all the members of his retinue,
And if some knight or squire heaved a sigh,
Or longing glances towards some maiden threw,
Then he would smile and make a great ado,
And twit him thus, "God knows she sleepeth blithe,
For all of thee, though thou shalt twist and writhe!
"The fashion of you lovers I have heard,
And heard of all your foolish gaits and ways,
And what great toils to win love are incurred,
In keeping it, what dangers and dismays,200
For when your prey is lost, come woful days!
What fools ye be, and in your folly blind,
Who can no lesson in each other find."
And with that word he lifteth up his brows,
As one should say, "Now is not this well spoken!"
And straight these vaunts the God of Love arouse
To wrath, of which he gives a dreadful token,
For now he shows his bow is far from broken,
And suddenly he hits him fair and full,
And all such peacocks' feathers he can pull.210
O world so blind! O blind all man's contriving!
How often things fall out in ways contrary,
Through vain presumption and conceited striving!
The proud and humble both are caught unwary,
For Troilus, who now mounts up so airy,
Hath little thought of afterward descending;
But folly oft hath unexpected ending.
As Bayard, when he feels his oats, grows proud,
And dances and skips out of the travelled way,
Until the lash upon his flank cracks loud,220
"Although I prance here first," he then doth say,
"A leader in the trace, and fat and gay,
Yet am I but a horse, and by the law
For horses made, I still must pull and draw."
So fared it with this rash and hardy knight,
Who was a king's son of most high degree,
For though he thought that nothing had the might
To curb the heart of such a one as he,
Yet with a look, no longer was he free,
And he who stood but now in pride above230
All men, at once was subject most to Love.
And now I bid you profit by this man,
Ye worthy folk, and wise and proud withal,
And scorn not Love, he who so lightly can
The freedom of rebellious hearts enthral;
For still the common fate on you must fall,
That love, at nature's very heart indwelling,
Shall bind all things by nature's might compelling.
That this is true hath oftentimes been proved,
For well you know, and in wise books may read,240
That men of greatest worth have deepest loved,
And none so powerful in word or deed,
But he the greater power of love must heed,
For all his fame or high nobility;
Thus hath it been and ever shall it be!
And fitting is it that it should be so,
For wisest men have most with love been pleased,
And those that dwelt in sorrow and in woe,
By love have often been consoled and eased,
And cruel wrath by love hath been appeased;250
For love lends lustre to an honorable name,
And saves mankind from wickedness and shame.
And since you may not justly love deny,
Then take it as a virtue of the mind,
Delay not long with loving to comply,
For love at last must all constrain and bind;
And better the rod that bends, by force inclined,
Than one that breaks; and therefore pray take heed
To follow love, that best can guide and lead.
But now to leave attendant thoughts withal,260
And come to Priam's son, of whom I told,
And passing by all things collateral,
My proper tale hereafter I shall hold,
Both of his joy and of his cares so cold,
And all the business of this sad affair,
As I began, I shall to you declare.
Within the fane this knight his wit displayed,
Wandering at will and scattering jokes about,
And idly here, now there, his gazing strayed
On ladies of the town and from without;270
And thus his roving eye, by chance no doubt,
Passed o'er the crowd and reached the very spot
Where Cressida stood, and then no further got.
And suddenly amazement came unbidden,
As more intent he bent on her his eyes.
"O Jupiter," he thought, "where has she hidden,
Whose beauty, shining bright, revealed now lies?"
And then his heart began to swell and rise,
But sighing soft that not a soul could hear,
He straight again began to laugh and jeer.280
Among the small, this lady seemed not small,
She had a figure of proportioned kind,
Yet not the slightest mannish or too tall,
For nature had her frame so well designed,
And all her motions showed so well her mind,
That men could tell, in such there would reside
Honor and dignity and woman's pride.
And Troilus, the more he saw, the more
Was pleased with all her form and features clear,
But still she kept her eyes upon the floor,290
Except she let one scornful glance appear,
As much as "Well, why shouldn't I stand here?"
But soon her eyes again grew soft and bright,
Which seemed to Troilus a goodly sight.
From eyes to heart in Troilus there passed
So great a longing, through this vision bred,
That in his deepest soul, fixed firm and fast,
This lady's image love did now imbed;
And he who once had held so high his head,
Must now draw in his horns and hold him low,300
As one who knows not where to turn or go.
Lo, he who ne'er before had known defeat,
And scorned all who in Love's dominion lie,
He little was aware that love its seat
Hath in the glance and beaming of the eye;
Yet suddenly he felt within him die
All haughtiness of heart, by looking hurt,
And bless'd be love, which can men thus convert!
Thus still he stood, where he could well behold
This one in black, who hath his heart enchained,310
Meet the Author
George Philip Krapp (1872–1934) was a renowned authority on Anglo-Saxon.
Peter G. Beidler is a professor of English at Lehigh University and editor of The Wife of Bath and, with Elizabeth Biebel, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale: An Annotated Bibliography.
Cindy Vitto is a professor of English at Rowan University and author of The Virtuous Pagan in Middle English Literature and the co-editor of The Rusted Hauberk: Feudal Ideals of Order and Their Decline.
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