Jenifer Sutherland
T & C Trojan War
Procne Philomela



Chaucer’s Sources for Troilus and Creseyde and the Original Events of the Trojan War

By Michelle Persaud

Poets in ancient Greece relied on memory to tell their stories in the verbal tradition. Because there was no one definitive written account of the Trojan War, it is accepted that Homer’s Iliad covers events up until the death and desecration of Hector. Other events from notable poets have been added to modify the existing story; the general telling of the story ends with the Sack of Troy.
Because poets retold and modified stories continuously, there are several events and outcomes revolving around the characters of the Trojan War. The story of Troilus and Criseyde was only elaborated on much later by Benoît de Sainte- Maure in his Roman de Troie (c. 1155-60). In Homer’s original, Creseyde is named Chryseis, in Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato (1335), which is Chaucer's primary source, and Sainte-Maure’s, she is named Breseyda/Briseida. Sainte-Maure created the story based on texts originally believed to be eyewitness accounts of the war from the texts of Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius. Both translations have since proven to be forgeries, but at Sainte-Maure’s time they were considered more reliable than Homer’s account. Chaucer used Roman de Troie and a paraphrase of Dares Phygius’ De Excidio Troiae by Joseph of Exeter in his writing of Troilus and Criseyde. Old Greek texts were not readily available, so Chaucer, though he knew who Homer was, likely had no access to the Iliad.
According to Homer’s epic, all gods and goddesses were invited to the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis, except for Eris. She disguised herself and threw an apple onto the feast table inscribed with the words "for the most beautiful." Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite each claimed the apple, each believing she was the most beautiful. Zeus sent them with Hermes to visit the mortal Paris. Each goddess pled their case. Hera promised him royal power, Athena promised victory in war, Aphrodite promised him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite.
She took him to Sparta to visit King Menalaus, caused Helen to fall in love with him. The couple returned to Troy. Menelaus called all Aechean kings in on their pact to defend Helen; they congregated and sailed from Aulis under the command of Agamemnon. They stopped at the island of Chryse before they arrived at Troy, they pillaged and took slaves, Agamemnon took Chryseis as bounty and Achilles took Briseis. A snake bit Philoctetes (inheritor of Heracles’s bow and arrow) leg. His wound festered until it stunk so badly that they dropped him off on the island Lemnos where he remained and suffered for ten years.
Chryseis’ father Chryses was a priest of Apollo. Apollo swore to help the Trojans until Chryseis was returned to her father. Agamenon complied, he took Briseis from Achilles to compensate his losses. Achilles angrily responded by withdrawing his troops from the war. His mother Thetis appealed to Zeus for help to avenge her son. Zeus caused the Trojans to advance after Achilles was deprived of his slave.
The armies struck a truce that allowed Menelaus and Paris to fight in single combat. When Paris was losing terribly, Aphrodite carried him Paris away to his bed and called for Helen. She argued with him out of embarrassment. Hector brought him back to the battlefield.
Hector spoke to his wife and son, Andromache and Astynax, at the city walls. He said goodbye before returning to the battle. She begged him not to go. Achilles had already killed her father and her seven brothers. She never saw him alive after this encounter.
Bocaccio’s Il Filostrato would likely pick up at this point in Homer’s tale. Aphrodite wanted to assist the Trojans. She poisoned Chryseis with lust for Diomedes. Aphrodite knew incredible tension would grow between Agamemnon and Diomedes when Agamemnon former slave (who cost them dearly in battle) returned to Diomedes, causing a great setback in the Greek camp. Chryseis knew Cassandra had a soft spot for no one but her brother Troilus. Chryseis wanted to learn of the war prophesies, figuring this information would help her get close to Diomedes. Chryseis seduced Troilus, convinced him to confide in her some of his sister’s prophesies. Chryseis escaped that night to Diomedes’ tent. He was surprised and apprehensive because she was the enemy and she had already caused enough trouble for the Greeks. She bathed him and prepared him for bed and told him two prophesies. First, what began with an apple must end with a horse. Second, that Troilus must be dead by the days’ end if the Greeks were to ever take Troy. Diomedes panicked because the sun had already set, but Chryseis gave him a present of the bloodied knife. She told him how she stabbed Troilus in his back as he kissed her. Diomedes was appalled that she could kill through deception, but she expected that a hardened warrior should be able understand death. She killed out of love for him.
Resuming with Homer’s account, Agamemnon offered to return Briseis to Achilles along with other valuable gifts. Achilles is far too insulted to accept these enticements to rejoin the war. Odysseus, Phoenix and Ajax the greater had visited Achilles as envoys. Odysseus, the great tactician, delivered a speech including a listing of the gifts. Briseis was accompanied by an oath from Agamemnon that he never slept with her. It included the provision that if they got to sack the city after the war, Achilles would choose twenty Trojan woman (except for Helen), and Achilles would marry Agamemnon’s daughter on his return home and receive the largest dowry ever, including seven rich cities. Achilles recognized the bribe and rejected the gifts. The Trojans continued to advance until Hector set fire to the Greek ships. Patroclus, Achilles best friend, insisted that he dress in Achilles armor on the field if Achilles himself refused to join the war. Achilles reluctantly allowed him the armor. Patroclus furiously struck down Trojans on the field, including Sarpedon. Apollo struck Patroclus across the back, Euphorbus speared him, and Hector finally slew him.
Achilles joined the war only to avenge Patroclus, his only goal was to kill Hector. His received all the gifts promised to him, including Briseis. Thetis brought him new armor forged by Hephaestus because Hector had taken the old armor from Patroclus’ dead body. Achilles drove all the Trojans back behind their city wall except for Hector, he alone remained outside. Athena disguised herself as Deiphobus beside him, and when Hector called to his brother for a spear, Athena disappeared, leaving him defenseless against Achilles. Achilles killed Hector and dragged the body behind his chariot around the city walls for each of the twelve days of Patroclus’ funeral. They also sacrificed twelve Trojan prisoners and held athletic games in Patroclus’ honour. Apollo restored Hector’s body after each journey. Priam eventually paid a ransom for the body. Trojans mourned his death for nine days. (This is the end of the Iliad).<to top>
The fighting continued. Achilles killed Penthesilea, leader of the Amazons, and Memnon, leader of the Ethiopians. He fought Aeneas in single combat, but Poseidon carried him away, prophesying that he would become the ruler of future Trojans. Apollo then guided one of Paris’s arrows that fatally struck Achilles in his heel, the only vulnerable area on his body. Ajax the greater brought his body back and they gave him a lavish funeral.
Odysseus captured Helenus who prophesied several conditions for the Greeks before they could take Troy. He said they needed Neoptolemus and that Troy could only be captured with Heracles’s bow and arrow. Odysseus and Diomedes brought Philoctetes back from Lemnos, healed his wound. Philoctetes then shot and killed Paris.

Epeus built the wooden horse hollow and Greek warriors crawled into the belly. They waited for the Trojans to pull it into the city. The rest of the Greeks sailed to Tenedos. The Greek Sinon remained outside, pretending to be abandoned by the army. The Trojans wheeled it in, believing if the gods could not see the horse, the Greeks would face rough times at sea. Cassandra and Laocoon realized the truth, but no Trojan believed them. Laocoon struck the horse’s belly with his spear, but no one heard the clanking of armor. As he later sacrificed to Apollo, two serpents swam form Tenedos, killing him and his two sons.
The Trojans pulled down part of the wall and brought the horse in. Helen imitated the voices of the Greek kings’ wives, calling them by name, but Odysseus stopped them from answering. As the Trojans slept, Sinon unlatched the belly of the horse, and the army returned from Tenedos. The city was sacked, citizens killed, and the city was burned.

Antenor was allowed to live because he opposed the war. Neoptolemus butchered Priam on the steps of the altar. Astyanax was thrown from the city walls. Cassandra hid inside Athena’s temple, but Ajax the lesser dragged her out and raped her, the gods killed him for this on his voyage home. The Trojan women were made slaves to the Greek leaders, Hecuba taken by Odysseus, Neoptolemus took Andromache, and Agamemnon took Cassandra (who foretold her own death). Achilles’ ghost calls for Polyxena to be sacrificed at his tomb. Aeneas escapes and journeys to Rome. This is the starting point of the Aeneid by Virgil.

Works Cited:
Lenardon, Robert J.; Morford, Mark P.O. Classical Mythology, 5th Edition. White Plains: Longman Publishers, 1995.

Homer. The Iliad. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1995.

Troilus and Creseyde; Trojan War I Procne, Philomela I

Procne and Philomela

Prepared by Raji Soni

The principal source of the story is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book Six, lines 410-678. Other notable sources are Philomela by Chretien de Troyes, the Ovide moralisé, and Gower’s Confessio Amantis. Chaucer’s explicit version of the story, "The Legend of Philomela" in The Legend of Good Women, was most influenced by the Ovide moralisé.

Ovid’s macabre narrative in Book Six is characterized by a heightened sense of pathos and by detailed descriptions of the violence carried out by Tereus, Procne, and Philomela. The story begins with a concise portrait of Tereus, Prince of Thrace, which emphasizes his military success and bravery by placing him "among the sons of Fame" (422) and by considering him "From Mars deriv’d" (424). Acting out of honour and political alliance, the aged, frail King Pandion of neighboring Athens betroths his eldest daughter Procne to Tereus. Their wedding is marked by the presence of dismal mythological figures, including Fiends and Furies, and the omen of owls. Procne gives birth to Itys, "the new-born prince" of Thrace (437). After five years of living with Tereus, Procne expresses nostalgia for her family, particularly her younger sister Philomela. She requests either to be sent to Athens or for Philomela to be brought to Thrace. Tereus consents to the latter. Upon reaching Athens and seeing Philomela, whose beauty and purity are said to exceed that of the fairest Nymphs (451), Tereus "with the burning coals of lust was fir’d" (457), signaling the advent of incestuous impulses. <to top>

Pandion agrees to be parted from Philomela on the condition that she is brought home shortly and safely. When the vessel reaches Thrace, Tereus, intoxicated by the "lust of his vicious thoughts" (508) takes Philomela to an isolated lodge and rapes her. Tereus then removes Philomela’s tongue and locks her away. Returning to the palace, Tereus fabricates a story of Philomela’s death and tells it to Procne. A year later, having had a loom at her disposal, Philomela sends a remarkable woven narrative of her rape to Procne. Dismayed, Procne rescues her sister and brings her secretly to the palace. Seeking revenge and no longer able to love Itys because of his father’s transgression, Procne, with the help of Philomela, kills and dismembers him. The sisters then boil his body in a stew and Procne serves it to Tereus. Enraged after being told he has devoured his son, Tereus pursues the sisters. The three figures then metamorphose – Procne into a swallow; Philomela into a nightingale; and Tereus into a lapwing.

Chaucer’s version of this tale in The Legend of Good Women differs significantly from Ovid’s narrative. Chaucer omits the role of Itys entirely. By shifting focus away from characterization, Chaucer lightens the pathos elicited in Ovid’s narrative. The metamorphoses of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela are omitted. Chaucer seems to give a possible reason for these changes in the opening lines of "The Legend of Philomela": in lines 2241-2243, Chaucer labels the tale venomous, capable of infecting the morality of the reader. Likely Chaucer attempted, through his omissions, to censor the violence of mythology. This emendation is consistent with the tradition of the Ovid moralise. <to top>

The appearance of mournful Procne, in her metamorphosed state, at the beginning of Book II of Troilus and Criseyde (lines 64-70) is possibly portentous. Given that the swallow’s song narrates the events leading up to Procne’s transformation (and that Chaucer held the content of the tale to be venomous), it likely signals an inevitable shift toward woeful events at the lower end of the cosmological Wheel. Interestingly, the appearance of Procne’s swallow is balanced by the appearance of the nightingale, which can be construed as symbolic of Philomela, later in Book II (lines 918-924). But the nightingale’s amorous song, sung appropriately before Criseyde falls to sleep, is questionable in the context of the violence endured by Philomela. Why doesn’t Philomela’s nightingale carry the same mournful tone as Procne’s swallow? A possible explanation favours Philomela’s innocent condition before her violation. Perhaps Philomela’s metamorphosis redeems her trauma by yielding an uncorrupted existence (characterized by blissful birdsong) that mirrors her life before reaching Thrace. The subsequent appearance of the eagle is ambiguous (lines 925-931). The seeming violence it inflicts on Criseyde – removing her heart with its talons and inserting its own – might enable its identification with Tereus’ lapwing. But another layer of interpretation, given by Dr. Sutherland, reads the exchange of hearts as indicative of an exchange of love between Troilus and Criseyde. <to top>

Troilus and Creseyde; Trojan War I Procne, Philomela I