The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Notes to The Miller's Tale

1. Almagest: The book of Ptolemy the astronomer, which formed the canon of astrological science in the middle ages.

2. Astrolabe: "Astrelagour," "astrelabore"; a mathematical instrument for taking the altitude of the sun or stars.

3. "Augrim" is a corruption of algorithm, the Arabian term for numeration; "augrim stones," therefore were probably marked with numerals, and used as counters.

4. Angelus ad virginem: The Angel's salutation to Mary; Luke i. 28. It was the "Ave Maria" of the Catholic Church service.

5. Cato: Though Chaucer may have referred to the famous Censor, more probably the reference is merely to the "Moral Distichs," which go under his name, though written after his time; and in a supplement to which the quoted passage may be found.

6. Barm-cloth: apron; from Anglo-Saxon "barme," bosom or lap.

7. Volupere: Head-gear, kerchief; from French, "envelopper," to wrap up.

8. Popelet: Puppet; but chiefly; young wench.

9. Noble: nobles were gold coins of especial purity and brightness; "Ex auro nobilissimi, unde nobilis vocatus," (made from the noblest (purest) gold, and therefore called nobles) says Vossius.

10. Yern: Shrill, lively; German, "gern," willingly, cheerfully.

11. Braket: bragget, a sweet drink made of honey, spices, &c. In some parts of the country, a drink made from honeycomb, after the honey is extracted, is still called "bragwort."

12. Piggesnie: a fond term, like "my duck;" from Anglo-Saxon, "piga," a young maid; but Tyrwhitt associates it with the Latin, "ocellus," little eye, a fondling term, and suggests that the "pigs- eye," which is very small, was applied in the same sense. Davenport and Butler both use the word pigsnie, the first for "darling," the second literally for "eye;" and Bishop Gardner, "On True Obedience," in his address to the reader, says: "How softly she was wont to chirpe him under the chin, and kiss him; how prettily she could talk to him (how doth my sweet heart, what saith now pig's-eye)."

13. Oseney: A once well-known abbey near Oxford.

14. Trave: travis; a frame in which unruly horses were shod.

15. Harow and Alas: Haro! was an old Norman cry for redress or aid. The "Clameur de Haro" was lately raised, under peculiar circumstances, as the prelude to a legal protest, in Jersey.

16. His shoes were ornamented like the windows of St. Paul's, especially like the old rose-window.

17. Rise: Twig, bush; German, "Reis," a twig; "Reisig," a copse.

18. Chaucer satirises the dancing of Oxford as he did the French of Stratford at Bow.

19. Shot window: A projecting or bow window, whence it was possible shoot at any one approaching the door.

20. Piment: A drink made with wine, honey, and spices.

21. Because she was town-bred, he offered wealth, or money reward, for her love.

22. Parish-clerks, like Absolon, had leading parts in the mysteries or religious plays; Herod was one of these parts, which may have been an object of competition among the amateurs of the period.

23 ."The nighe sly maketh oft time the far lief to be loth": a proverb; the cunning one near at hand oft makes the loving one afar off to be odious.

24. Kyked: Looked; "keek" is still used in some parts in the sense of "peep."

25. Saint Frideswide was the patroness of a considerable priory at Oxford, and held there in high repute.

26. Plato, in his "Theatetus," tells this story of Thales; but it has since appeared in many other forms.

27. Crouche: protect by signing the sign of the cross.

28. Forlore: lost; german, "verloren."

29. Him that harried Hell: Christ who wasted or subdued hell: in the middle ages, some very active exploits against the prince of darkness and his powers were ascribed by the monkish tale- tellers to the saviour after he had "descended into hell."

30. According to the old mysteries, Noah's wife refused to come into the ark, and bade her husband row forth and get him a new wife, because he was leaving her gossips in the town to drown. Shem and his brothers got her shipped by main force; and Noah, coming forward to welcome her, was greeted with a box on the ear.

31. "Him had been lever, I dare well undertake, At thilke time, than all his wethers black, That she had had a ship herself alone." i.e. "At that time he would have given all his black wethers, if she had had an ark to herself."

32. "Clum," like "mum," a note of silence; but otherwise explained as the humming sound made in repeating prayers; from the Anglo-Saxon, "clumian," to mutter, speak in an under- tone, keep silence.

33. Curfew-time: Eight in the evening, when, by the law of William the Conqueror, all people were, on ringing of a bell, to extinguish fire and candle, and go to rest; hence the word curfew, from French, "couvre-feu," cover-fire.

34. Absolon chewed grains: these were grains of Paris, or Paradise; a favourite spice.

35. Under his tongue a true love he bare: some sweet herb; another reading, however, is "a true love-knot," which may have been of the nature of a charm.

36. The two lines within brackets are not in most of the editions: they are taken from Urry; whether he supplied them or not, they serve the purpose of a necessary explanation.

37. Gay girl: As applied to a young woman of light manners, this euphemistic phrase has enjoyed a wonderful vitality.

38. Viretote: Urry reads "meritote," and explains it from Spelman as a game in which children made themselves giddy by whirling on ropes. In French, "virer" means to turn; and the explanation may, therefore, suit either reading. In modern slang parlance, Gerveis would probably have said, "on the rampage," or "on the swing" — not very far from Spelman's rendering.

39. He had more tow on his distaff: a proverbial saying: he was playing a deeper game, had more serious business on hand.

40. Ere: before; German, "eher."

41. Sell: sill of the door, threshold; French, "seuil," Latin, "solum," the ground.

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