The Talis of the Fyve Bestes
The Talis of the Fyve Bestes: FOOTNOTES
1 Only because of innate fondness for his blood (i.e., because we are related)
2 He that would not be ruled by reason
3 Lines 43–44: Speaking more specifically about this matter, I find that / These two brothers appear in every man
4 Against subjection by [those] of Saxon blood (i.e., the English)
5 Therefore I maintain that his soul reached heaven
6 Lines 123–24: And how much grace the blessed soul gains / though just battle, whoever dies in that way
7 But of that he has had no training in his degree
8 For [his] gown and hood were all of a green cloth made at Lincoln
9 And, failing this (i.e., if I am absent), the benefice goes to another
10 You have only nine miles by the best road [to travel]
11 The night passed by, [but] the friends thought it was not long
12 Don’t you know very well that this clerk should ride from home
13 And so everything they work for is in vain
14 You know little about when my leg was bleeding
15 Lines 238–39: It would be a wonder, madam, if I were to crow / for although my leg appears healed from the outside
16 And saw that the aforementioned church and its dignity would quickly be gone
17 [But which] was utterly destroyed and razed to the ground
18 Lines 299–30: [In response] to this request, and what they would do, / the worthy folk [of Lapsat] were soon advised
19 And with such a cost that no one else could bear
20 To ensure that they recognize his exalted estate
21 He was at that time the best of all worthy clerks
22 Said, “Master, stop, I know why you are here
23 And work with all my power to do the opposite
24 But to stick to the purpose you came for
25 To offer no mercy in razing down the walls
26 In tranquility and peace with freedom still they [the people of Lapsat] maintain sovereignty
27 Better not to speak than speak and then repent
28 His face was in such a bad condition even from a distance
29 Planning to remove this council (i.e., the four other beasts) from the king
30 To these estates of the realm he properly bestowed their titles
31 Lines 379–80: It is impossible to find a sheep for your dinner within ten miles in this country
32 Lines 391–92: No, never at all, even if by doing so I die, / then (i.e., if I did) who would remain and be in my council
33 And through these means is justice bought and sold
The Talis of the Fyve Bestes: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: A: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS 16500 olim Acc. 4243, fols. 229r–35v (the Asloan Manuscript); BKA: Hay, The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour, ed. Cartwright; CT: Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson; DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; Gesta Romanorum: Gesta Romanorum, ed. Herrtage; Henryson: Henryson, The Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. Fox; Kratzmann: Colkelbie Sow and The Talis of the Fyve Bestes, ed. Kratzmann; Poems: Dunbar, Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Bawcutt; Speculum Stultorum: Speculum Stultorum, ed. Mozley and Raymo; Hary’s Wallace: Hary, The Wallace, ed. McDiarmid; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.
[Prologue] A, the sole surviving manuscript witness is defective, and we therefore lack the poem’s beginning. It is likely that the poem opened with a prologue (perhaps in the form of a dream vision) in which a lion-king holds court at some kind of beast-parliament; four royal counselors (a horse, heart, unicorn, and boar) come to offer advice, which they give in the form of a tale. Their tales are followed by the speech of a fifth beast, a wolf. The now acephalous poem begins so far through “The Horsis Tale” — a version of a popular exemplum of two traveling brothers, a wise man and fool, who are deciding between them which of two paths to take to reach their destination. We begin with the words of the wise brother.
The Horsis Tale See Fyve Bestes Introduction for summary.
1-6 And in this . . . . fule furth went. In the Alphabet of Tales (ed. Banks, 2:483–44), the choice between the roads is reversed; the wise man wishes to take the pleasant way, the fool a stony and thorny way.
8 verray effectioun; carnale. Such words and phrases, and others below, including “affectioun naturale” (line 22), “your effectioun . . . Has blyndit us” (lines 31–32), and “effectioun naturale” (line 38) are repeatedly set in opposition to others such as “ressoun” (line 25) and “wit” (line 37). Strikingly similar lexical sets are found in Henryson’s poetry, particularly in the moralitas to Orpheus and Eurydice, where “affection,” linked to “wardly lust” and offered (as here) as an allegory of the body, is repeatedly set against “reson” (passim), or man’s soul (Henryson, p. 153, lines 623–27).
brother. The two travelers are not always brothers. In the Gesta Romanorum they are unrelated knights; in the Meroure of Wyssdome pilgrims.
11 the kingis justice. How the brothers are brought to justice differs across each analogue. In the Gesta Romanorum, for instance, a “domys-man” (p. 21) comes to sit in judgment, whereas no judge is mentioned at all in the Speculum Morale; in some other versions the brothers/travelers are brought before a justice system, including a king in the Alphabet of Tales, and in others still the brothers/travelers are harmed instead by their captors (See Kratzmann, pp. 125–26n11; Mapstone, “Talis of the Fyve Bestes,” p. 243). As Mapstone notes (“Advice to Princes Tradition,” pp. 218–19): “In the horse’s tale it is specifically the ‘kingis Iustice’ who deals with them, and they are not brought before him — he comes, apprehends, and brings them to justice . . . Thus, whereas in most versions where justice is pronounced, it is carried out either by the king or a justice figure, in the horse’s tale judge and king are both included . . . , and there is a strong sense of the justice figure actively bringing criminals to law.”
Although we must be cautious about drawing direct connections to contemporary events, the presentation here of a king actively effecting justice throughout his realm might reflect something of the justice-ayre system in fifteenth-century Scotland (the circuit court of the sovereign’s Justice), and particularly the repeated parliamentary calls for James III to engage in this practice. In 1473, for instance, Parliament exhorted James III to “travel throw his realme and put sic justice and polycy in his awne realme, that the brute and the fame of him mycht pas in uthiris contreis and that he mycht optene the name of sa just a prince and sa vertewsis and sa wele reuland his awne realm in justice, policy and peax, that uthiris princis mycht tak exemple of him and gif him credence” (Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1473/7/9) whilst in 1485 “the lordis forsaid that for the encres of justice and tranquilité in the realme, that oure souveran lord cause his justice airis to be haldin universaly in al partis of his realme” (Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1485/5/10).
27 wit. Although here glossed as wisdom — or reason — this word might also bear connotations of the free will bestowed on mankind by God’s grace (compare line 37). In the subsequent judgment, the wise man is punished for allowing instinct and emotion to triumph over his reason and free will.
31-32 your effectioun . . . Has blyndit us. The metaphorical description of reason (or the soul, in the subsequent moralitas) being “blinded” by the will (or body or appetite) appears commonly throughout Middle English and Older Scots poetry. Compare, for instance, Henryson’s Fables (Henryson, pp. 53, 64, 65, 74, lines 1305, 1606, 1634, 1906) and Orpheus and Eurydice (Henryson, pp. 145, 147, lines 388, 454) and Dunbar’s Goldyn Targe (Poems, 1:190, line 214).
41 deidis. As Kratzmann observes (p. 126n41), this word can mean both “deaths” and “deeds.” Whereas Kratzmann prefers the latter, I here allow both meanings to remain in play in my suggested glosses.
42 straik of baith thar heidis. Mapstone notes (“Advice to Princes Tradition,” p. 219; “Talis of the Fyve Bestes,” p. 243, citing Irvine Smith, “Criminal Procedure,” p. 20) that the beheading is a specifically Scottish detail. In all other accounts the travelers are put to death by hanging, but in medieval Scotland beheading was a set punishment for habitual thieves.
43-56 Moralitas fabule. The exemplum of the two brothers is here allegorized, as elsewhere, to illustrate the dangers the body poses to the soul. This allegory is also represented, as already noted, in Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, and in his “The Paddock and the Mouse.” The ultimate Biblical source of this and other medieval body/soul debates is Galatians 5:17 (“For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would”). As Kratzmann notes (p. 127n49, citing Owst, Literature and Pulpit, p. 106), the figure of thieves as sins occurs frequently in medieval sermons, whilst the allegorization of the difficult way as penance occurs also in the Gesta Romanorum and the Speculum Morale.
58 gentilly commendit. Throughout Chaucer’s CT the pilgrims similarly commend (or criticize) each other’s tales. The same is true of the tale tellers in the Scots The Thre Prestis of Peblis, which also appears in MS A. See The Thre Prestis of Peblis, lines 445–46, 1005–06.
60 polist gold and silver birnist bricht. All of the four beasts are described in this highly visual, stylized manner. As discussed in the Fyve Bestes Introduction, such descriptions are reminiscent of medieval heraldry and may have held some symbolic value now lost to us, rather like the heraldic imagery found in The Buke of the Howlat (lines 334–631), which precedes The Fyve Bestes in MS A.
The Hartis Tale See Fyve Bestes Introduction for summary.
65 William Wallace. William Wallace (d. 1305) was a famous patriot and guardian of Scotland who repeatedly led the Scots to victory against the English during the Wars of Independence. His exploits are recounted in Blind Hary’s The Wallace (c. 1476–78), as well as in Bower’s earlier Scotichronicon. See further ODNB, “Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305).”
66 Saif reverence of the. Compare Hary’s Wallace (12.1208): “sauff reuerence off the croun.”
68-70 He wan all . . . . be rich[t resoun]. Compare Hary’s Wallace (12.1235–37):
Scotland he fred and brocht it off thrillage;In his Scotichronicon, Bower also depicts Wallace as pro fidelitate et patria sua usque ad mortem legitime decertantis, qui numqaum Anglis se submisit vel homagium prestitit (“rightly striving until his death for faithfulness and his native land, a man who never submitted to the English or offered homage”), book 12, chapter 8. 69 Tharfor in hevin is his . . . Compare Hary’s Wallace (12.1288): “Tharfor in hewyn he sall that honour hawe.”
And now in hewin he has his heretage,
As It prewyt be gud experians.
71 sutheren [seid]. Compare “Saxonis blud” (line 114). As Kratzmann notes, “This is more moderate than Hary’s ‘fals Sotherun’ (Wallace XII, 1305)” (p. 127n71).
74 Sanct Edmond and Sanct [Thomas]. Wallace is similarly aligned with Saints Edmund and Thomas (and presented as a martyr) by Hary in Hary’s Wallace (12.1308). St. Edmund (d. 869), king of the Angles, was venerated soon after his death at the hands of the Vikings; St. Thomas is Thomas Becket (?1120–70), archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral church by several of Henry II’s knights. In the centuries after his death in 1170, the martyr Thomas Becket was increasingly associated with miracles and prophecies, and venerated on both sides of the Border. For Scottish devotion to Becket see: Wilson, “Scottish Canterbury Pilgrims” and Penman, “The Bruce Dynasty.”
75 haly heremed. The vision in Hary’s Wallace involves two monks rather than a hermit; there a “monk of Bery” (intriguingly reminiscent of the label used for the poet, John Lydgate, 12.1239) makes a pact with a younger monk to return after death and tell of his experiences of the afterlife. The sanctus heremita of Bower’s Scotichronicon (6:316, book 12, chapter 8) is closer.
76 in autentik writ. It is not clear what source the author has in mind here, and it is possible that the allusion functions as an authorizing device, rather like Chaucer’s use of “Lollius” in Troilus and Criseyde (1:394), Henryson’s “vther quair” in The Testament of Cresseid (Henryson, p. 113, line 61) or Hary’s allusion to his (most probably fictional source) — a “Latyne buk” by one Maister John Blair, written with the assistance of Thomas Gray, “persone off Libertoune” (Hary’s Wallace, 5.540–42); Hary also begins his account of Wallace’s ascent by referring to “Wys clerkys ȝeit It kepis in Remembrans” (12.1238). Nevertheless, as Kratzmann (p. 29) points out, by the beginning of the sixteenth century the story of Wallace’s ascent to heaven was well known. He cites the following example from John Major’s History of Greater Britain:
Our chroniclers here tell a story of how an English hermit was witness of several souls taking their flight from purgatory to heaven, and how one of these was Wallace; and as he marvelled much how this could be, seeing that Wallace had shed man’s blood, he got for answer that it was in a just cause, and when fighting for his country’s freedom, that he had slain others. And indeed I do not forget that it may be lawful to fight when the cause is just . . . (Major, A History of Greater Britain, p. 204).78 Goddis grace. Compare this reference to God’s grace to that in line 37.
79 ane angell. As noted above, the angel does not appear in Hary’s Wallace, although Bower does refer to the removal of souls (along with Wallace’s) per ministerium Angelorum, (“with the help of angels,” 6:316–17, book 12, chapter 8). As McDiarmid (Hary’s Wallace, 2:277n1238–1301) and Mapstone (“Advice to Princes Tradition,” pp. 224–25) further observe, an angel and hermit both appear in the aforementioned fourteenth-century Spanish Libro de Patronio, by Don Juan Manuel. Here a dying hermit is told by an angel that he will be accompanied on his journey to heaven by the soul of Richard I, and — as in the moralization to this tale — the hermit is told by the angel that Richard’s place in heaven is justified, despite his having killed so many, since those he killed were infidels. Mapstone cites too (“Advice to Princes Tradition,” p. 225) an exemplum (in British Library, Arundel MS 506, fol. 57r) in which a hermit is visited by an angel who explains that he has been accompanying the soul of Thomas Becket (mentioned at line 74) to heaven. Although it is unlikely that the author of The Fyve Bestes had direct recourse to either tale, especially the Spanish, he may have come across the angel, hermit, and ‘justified war’ argument in other collections of exempla and supplied these features to the story of Wallace found in Bower and Hary.
79-102 Sa come ane . . . . hevin thai wyn. Literary visions of heaven, hell, and purgatory abound in medieval literature. See Easting, Visions of the Other World in Middle English, and Patch, The Other World. Gavin Douglas aligns the third part of his Palis of Honoure with this literary tradition but his dreamer is only afforded a brief glimpse of Honor (described as “a god armypotent,” line 1921) and then again denied a vision of the judgment or punishment of sinning souls. See Shorter Poems of Gavin Douglas, ed. Bawcutt, p. 119.
89 multitud innomerable. McDiarmid (Hary’s Wallace, 2:277–78n1238–1301) and Kratzmann (p. 127n89) both compare this phrase to Bower’s innumeras animas (“countless souls,” 6:316–17, book 12, chapter 8). However, as Mapstone notes (“Advice to Princes Tradition,” p. 221), the state of the souls in Bower’s account is more favorable than in “The Hart’s Tale”: the hermit vidit quasi innumeras animas de penis purgatorii liberatas, quasi prestolantes aditum regni celestis (“saw practically countless souls freed from the pains of purgatory, who seemed to be awaiting entrance into the kingdom of Heaven,” 6:316–17, book 12, chapter 8).
103-07 [The first that] . . . . for his regioun. Drawing on Craigie, ed. The Asloan Manuscript: A Miscellany in Prose and Verse and The Wallace, McDiarmid (Hary’s Wallace, 2:277–78) reconstructs these lines as follows:
[A haly fad]re to hevyn wp ran,In Hary’s Wallace the three souls seen are Wallace, “a pure preist” (12.1289), and the monk himself.
[Had led a l]yf of religioun.
[A pres]t was the tothir man,
[For d]aly mes and confessioun;
[The t]hrid a lord for his regioun . . .
106 mess and confessioun. Compare Hary’s Wallace (12.1291): “For dayly mes and heryng off confessioun.”
109-10 Wallace with his . . . . at Londoun toune. Wallace’s gruesome (but there pain-free death) is described in Hary’s Wallace, 12.1310–1409.
114 Saxonis. Hary similarly refers to the English as Saxons throughout Hary’s Wallace.
116 to his deid was bocht and sauld. In Hary’s Wallace, Wallace is betrayed by Sir John Menteith for “Thre thowsand pundys off fyn gold” (12.822) and Hary also uses the word “sauld” at 12.1076. Compare also lines 415–16 of Kratzmann where justice is described as “sauld and bocht” by “covatis.”
119-26 Moralitas fabule. Although we still have an eight-line stanza here, the rhyme scheme changes to irregularly decasyllabic couplets. The value of fighting for a just cause is similarly asserted by Douglas in The Palis of Honoure, where the dreamer sees those who “in iust battell wer fundyn maist of name” (line 1968, London text). See also quotation by Major in note to line 76 above.
123 sely saull. Compare line 46 above.
126 gud of pece. Compare line 351 below.
The Unicornis Tale See Fyve Bestes Introduction for summary.
129 so sweit unto my sicht. The narrator says he is present at the court or parliament of beasts, witnessing the tales as they are told.
135 Kentschire. The original story in the Speculum Stultorum, titled “Narratio Arnoldi de filio presbyteri et pullo gallinae,” is set in Apulia. That the setting here is England rather than Scotland ensures that any potential political messages remain non-specific. See Mapstone, “Talis of the Fyve Bestes,” p. 245. Kratzmann (Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, pp. 95–96) also compares these opening lines to those beginning Chaucer’s The Summoner’s Tale (CT III[D] 1709–12). Both authors lead their audience into the narrative “by a mixture of precision and indefiniteness” (p. 96).
136 A bonde. In the Speculum Stultorum (lines 1257–64) the boy is the son of a priest rather than a peasant or serf.
142 litill. As Kratzmann (p. 129n142) notes: “The repetition of litill in lines 145 and 146 and the associated bathos are reminiscent of The Prioress’ Tale (CT VII, 503, 509, 516, etc.), and have no counterpart in [Speculum Stultorum].” DOST also records a relevant definition for the adjective: “Used pregnantly to imply modest depreciation, affection, affectionate or amused disparagement, or the like” (sense 4).
145 litill stone. In the Speculum Stultorum the cock is hurt with a rod (virga) and the boy is mad with anger (line 1281). The change of instrument makes it ironic that Gundulfus later (line 249) meets his downfall after his horse trips on a stone.
149 slane. For gloss as “struck down,” compare the note to line 776 of the Historie of Squyer Meldrum elsewhere in this volume.
150 wepit all the hennis. The weeping of the hens is mock-heroic, recalling the grief of the hens at the capture of Chauntecleer in Chaucer’s Nuns’s Priest’s Tale (CT VII[B2] 3355–73) and also Pertok’s lamentation in Henryson’s “Cock and the Fox” (Henryson, p. 23, lines 495–508).
151-52 in a garding led / Amang thir herbes. The herb garden might be designed to recall in mock-heroic fashion the traditional locus amoenus of medieval love poetry.
157 And Gundulfus with his frendis assent. Kratzmann (p. 130n157) suggests that this line implies Gundulfus received financial support from friends so that he could attend Oxford, adding that this was not uncommon. In the General Prologue of CT, Chaucer’s Clerk (CT I[A]299–300) and Nicholas in The Miller’s Tale (CT I[A]3220) are given such assistance.
158 Oxinfurd. Kratzmann (Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, pp. 94–99) suggests that the English setting of the poem — and additional Chaucerian allusions — are designed to advertise “The Unicornis Tale” as an alternative CT.
162 cruellest of all the cokis. Chaucer similarly describes Chauntecleer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale as a bird who “looketh as it were a grym leoun” (CT VII[B2] 3179).
163 Copok. The hen is named Coppa in the Speculum Stultorum (line 1378). Hens named Coppok appear in Henryson’s “Cock and the Fox” and in the Older Scots Colkelbie Sow (in Kratzmann, line 925).
163-66 he had Copok . . . . ony erdly wicht. The vows exchanged here between the cock and Copok may be a parody of medieval marriage vows.
167-68 apon his perke . . . . nixt him sat. Chauntecleer and Pertelote similarly sit side-by-side in Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale (CT VII[B2] 2883–85).
171-74 So weile he . . . . threttene yeris space. That the cock is here depicted as a kind of ruler fits in with the wider concern of The Fyve Bestes with good governance (both self- and public).
174 threttene yeris. The space of time in the Speculum Stultorum is six years (line 1311).
176-77 Craigie (ed., The Asloan Manuscript: A Miscellany in Prose and Verse, 2:280) and Kratzmann (p. 130n176) both observe that several lines must be missing here, perhaps focusing on Gundulfus’ time at Oxford and announcing his return home.
177 was na master in divinité. The first of many ironic statements about Gundulfus’ skills (or lack thereof). Given that he has been away for thirteen years, Kratzmann (p. 131n177–90) explains that Gundulfus can only have obtained the degree of Master of Arts and not the subsequent Bachelor of Decrees where he would have acquired such theological knowledge. Gundulfus nevertheless pretends (line 178) to be more skilled than he in fact is.
179-80 Weile couth he . . . . of his greis. Gundulfus claims to have knowledge of canon law (the “bukis of decres” are Gratian’s Decretals, a collection on canon law compiled in the twelfth century), but he actually does not have any training in this area. As Kratzmann (Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations, p. 99) notes, the phrase “Weile couth he cast” is another Chaucerian echo of the description of the Physician in the General Prologue (CT I[A]417–18).
182 He was a richt gud syngar in the quir. Gundulfus’ singing may recall that of Nicholas in The Miller’s Tale (CT I[A]3216–18). His singing might also form an ironic counterpart to the crowing of the cock, described at line 161 as “Clerast of voce.”
183 sumpart write and dyte. That Gundulfus can only write “a little” calls his education and literacy into serious question.
184 in his gramer was he wele perfyte. As Kratzmann notes (p. 131n177–90, citing Durkan, “Education in the Century of the Reformation,” p. 151) “perfect grammar” meant only mastery of spoken Latin, a requirement for University entrance.
186 nygramansy. This was a synonym for sorcery, which Helen Cooper (English Romance in Time, p. 161) defines as “magic on the edge of acceptability” deriving from “sources other than God.”
187-88 Of phesik he . . . . seike or hale. Gundulfus’ knowledge of and ability to practice medicine is likely to be as limited as his knowledge of theology and law. Despite such lack of skills we might remember, as Kratzmann observes (p. 131n177–90, citing H. Rashdall, Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 3:329, 353) that “only about a third of matriculants ever actually took out a degree” and “that benefices were frequently held by young men who had no university training at all.”
192 that noble man. The ironic description of Gundulfus as “noble” recalls Chaucer’s mock praise of his flawed pilgrims in the General Prologue in CT. The narrator says of the monk, for instance, “Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat” (CT I[A]204) and the Friar is described as a “worthy lymytour” (CT I[A]269).
206 ony orlage richt. Of Chauntecleer’s crowing, Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest states: “Wel sikerer was his crowyng in his logge / Than is a clokke or an abbey orlogge” (CT VII[B2] 2853–54). The Cock in Henryson’s “Cock and Fox” is also described as “our orlege bell” (Henryson, p. 23, line 498).
209 the farest way. Within the wider context of the poem as a whole this recalls the “fair” and “plesant way” of “The Horsis Tale” (lines 1, 3).
210 Rochister. Rochester is a town in Kent, England and it is in the latter country that the “Unicornis Tale” as a whole is set. Gundulfus’ mother indicates (line 209) that their home is just nine miles away from Rochester. In the Prologue to Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale, the host Harry Bailey exclaims, “Loo, Rouchestre stant heer faste by!” (CT VII[B2] 1926). Interestingly, this tale occurs in Fragment VII/B2 which also contains the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. This adds further support to our sense that the FB author was more widely familiar with the Canterbury Tales as a whole.
214-15 Thai gat to rest . . . . nycht yeid our. The Fyve Bestes author omits the dream of the Speculum Stultorum where Gundulfus has a vision of the Mass celebrated after his ordination in which the cock plays the role of cantor (lines 1385–98).
219-20 And on the . . . . he had none. As Kratzmann (p. 133n219–20) observes, the “And” at the beginning of this line is awkward; the “sense is that the Cock had mynd of his own injury rather than of the clerk’s aspirations.”
222 the cok he held him clos. The cock’s silence in the original Speculum Stultorum has been discussed by Jill Mann (From Aesop to Reynard, pp. 116–21). The cock’s silence, and attempt to silence his wife, contrast with his earlier proud singing and the singing of Gundulfus. It also forms part of the poem’s wider metatextual exploration of the values and ethics of speech and tale-telling, discussed more fully in the Fyve Bestes Introduction.
223 Coppok putis on hir maike. In the Speculum Stultorum, Coppok attempts to wake up the human sleepers herself. See lines 1361–84 for this and the subsequent exchange between the birds.
224-40 Slepe ye schir . . . . at my hart. The rapid and often ill-tempered nature of the exchange between the cock and Coppok recalls that between Chauntecleer and Pertelote in Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale. There, the cock and hen also address each other as “Madame” and “Schir” and Pertelote similarly scolds her husband (CT VII[B2] 2908–21, 2970, 3122, 3158). Furthermore, in Henryson’s “Tale of the Cock and the Fox,” Coppok is the most sanctimonious of the three hens, believing that Chantecleir is damned for his sins.
231 of the tynsall ye sall haf the blame. Coppok suggests that the cock will bear the blame for Gundulfus’ losing his benefice. Her logic is reminiscent of the wise man’s attempt to blame his foolish brother in “The Horsis Tale.” Like the wise man, even though the cock did fail to wake up Gundulfus, the latter is himself to blame for the error of his ways since, in drinking heavily the night before his promotion, he displayed a signal lack of self-governance.
243-44 birdis with ane voce . . . . the dayis sky. Dunbar’s dreaming narrator is similarly awoken by loud birdsong at the end of his Thrissil and the Rose (Poems, 1:168, lines 183–84).
246 Said kirk and worschip fastly war away. My gloss comes from Kratzmann, p. 133. He there suggests that it is also possible “that the line should be direct speech; viz., Said, ‘Kirk and worschipe fastly war away!’ [. . .] If this reading is adopted, war must be an unorthodox spelling of weir, ‘to waste,’ ‘go.’”
246-47 Said kirk and . . . . toune he raid. The Speculum Stultorum contains an account, omitted here, of Gundulfus’ rapid attempt to find his clothes (lines 1425–30).
249 at ane stone. See the note to line 145 above.
251 This hors gat up. The horse is another member of the animal kingdom deserting Gundulfus in his hour of need.
252-62 worthy clerk lay . . . . his legis pane. In the Speculum Stultorum Gundulfus’ parents die and he is subsequently reduced to abject poverty (lines 1495–98). This detail is omitted from Fyve Bestes.
262 quyt. This term runs throughout the fabliaux of Chaucer’s CT, especially in the Miller’s and Reeve’s Tales where the pilgrim-narrators and characters within the tales attempt to better or get revenge on each other.
269-80 Moralitas fabule. The moralitas is surprising for a number of reasons. It differs from its source and the apportioning of blame is somewhat troubling. See Fyve Bestes Introduction for further discussion.
273-74 The tyme may . . . . sic mennis handis. This warning parallels the situation in Henryson’s “Lion and Mouse” where the lion finds himself in need of the assistance of a troop of mice he earlier tyrannized.
284 scheldis. DOST, s(c)held, s(c)heild(e), (n.), sense 7 defines this word as “The thick, tough skin on the sides and flanks of the boar.”
288 I coppyt it. The narrator here presents himself as working with a written source. Compare line 76 and note above.
The Baris Tale See Fyve Bestes Introduction for summary.
289 Gret Alexander, king of Massedoun. Alexander the Great (356–23 BCE) was king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia and famed for a career of conquests that led to the creation of an exceptionally large empire. Legends of Alexander were particularly common in the medieval period and two separate fifteenth-century Older Scots romances about him survive: the Buik of Alexander or Octosyllabic Alexander (a translation of two French Alexander texts, Le Fuerre de Gadres and Les Voeux du Paon, completed by an anonymous Scottish author c. 1438) and Sir Gilbert Hay’s BKA. Three Scottish monarchs were also named Alexander in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It has been suggested that the popularity of Alexander the Great in Older Scots culture was due in no small part to his being Greek, and thus of the same stock as Scotland’s mythological founding father, Gaythelos. See Edington, “Paragons and Patriots,” and also Caughey and Wingfield, “Conquest and Imperialism.” For discussion of the wider Alexander tradition see Cary, The Medieval Alexander, and Stone, From Tyrant to Philosopher-King.
290 nyne nobillis. This detail is unique to “The Baris Tale.” The Nine Worthies comprised of three pagans (Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar); three Jews (Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus); and three Christians (King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon). First formulated in Les Voeux du Paon, an originally independent poem composed c. 1310–12 by Jacques de Longuyon, the Nine Worthies tradition subsequently became increasingly popular across medieval art, drama, and literature, and was used either to represent a chivalric or monarchical ideal, or alternatively as an exemplum of the vanity of all earthly things. For more discussion of the Nine Worthies tradition, see the Fyve Bestes Introduction.
292 Lapsat. The town appears as “Lapsare” and in Caxton and “Lampsascus” in Valerius’ Dictorum et Factorum Memorabilium, but as Lapsat here and also in MS A’s Buke of the Chess (ed. van Buuren, p. 14, line 359) and Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes (line 2304). The spelling in Valerius suggests that the town intended was indeed Lampsacus, an ancient Greek city located on the eastern side of the Hellespont. The former city’s name is echoed in the nearby modern town of Lapseki, Turkey. See further Fyve Bestes Introduction.
294-95 To knaw him . . . . his hie empyr. Alexander demands that the people of Lapsat recognize him as overlord.
296 Tyr. Alexander’s conquest of Tyre is related in several medieval Alexander texts, including the BKA (2.2869–3298), but it is not referred to in any other version of the Lapsat exemplum.
299-308 To this desyr . . . . defend this toune. The response of the citizens is a further unique feature of “The Baris Tale.” In its use of terms such as “fredome,” “subjectioun,” and “querell” it recalls the nationalistic focus of “The Hartis Tale” (with the latter two words recalling lines 114 and 120 of that tale). See further Fyve Bestes Introduction.
309-11 This riall prince . . . . agane is gone. Alexander’s anger and sudden return to the town after it has denied him sovereignty are signs of his tyrannical, intractable behavior, reminiscent of Arthur’s insatiable desire to besiege Golagros’ castle in Golagros and Gawane (ed. Hanna, lines 267–73), such that he hastily completes the pilgrimage he had previously planned to undertake.
312 riallest. Alexander’s host appears to be made up of fellow kings and princes. The horse is similarly described as “riall” (line 57).
320 Ane worthy clerke. Within the context of Older Scots romance, the anonymous clerk who appears to advise Alexander recalls Aristotle in Hay’s BKA and Amytans in Lancelot of the Laik. See further Fyve Bestes Introduction.
325-27 So or this . . . . clerk he saw. The clerk’s approach and Alexander’s cautious recognition of him recalls the approach of Amytans in Lancelot of the Laik (although Arthur’s reception of Amytans is far warmer):
So was he [Arthur] ware thar cummyne to the ost333-34 A kingis word . . . . of lawar degré. The importance of a king’s word was proverbial. See Whiting K48. The clerk’s moral is repeated using almost exactly the same words in the subsequent moralitas (line 354).
O clerk, with whome he was aqwynt befor —
[. . . . ]
The King befor his palyoune one the gren,
That knew hyme well and haith his cummyn senn
Uelcummyt hyme and maid hyme rycht gud chere.
(ed. Lupack, lines 1294–95, 1305–07).
342 tyne the cost. The option of losing money rather than ‘face’ does not appear in other versions of the tale.
345 To counsall yeid. Contemporary advice to princes literature recommended that monarchs regularly seek counsel. That Alexander here does so is a redeeming feature and the same is true of the lion in “The Wolfis Tale.” For further discussion of the poem’s alignment with the advice to princes tradition, see Fyve Bestes Introduction.
348 wald nocht tak the lak. Several characters throughout The Fyve Bestes are keen to avoid taking blame, including the wise man and the cock.
354-56 Ane kyngis word . . . . ony wallit toune. This moral echoes the lesson given to Alexander in the main body of the tale (lines 333–34). It is strikingly similar to the lesson given to Arthur by Amytans in Lancelot of the Laik. See further Fyve Bestes Introduction.
357-59 Richt sad of . . . . in his entent. For the value of remaining silent compare Proverbs 17:28: “Even a fool, if he will hold his peace shall be counted wise: and if he close his lips, a man of understanding.”
359 entent. This is a key term, repeated on several occasions throughout the poem. Compare lines 30, 35, 161, 256, and 315. See further Fyve Bestes Introduction.
361-64 gif a kyng . . . . to be obstinat. These lines — in which the poet places a caveat on the importance of a king sticking to his word — are unique to The Fyve Bestes. See further Fyve Bestes Introduction.
The Wolfis Tale Unlike the other four tales, this is not so much an exemplum as an example of tale-telling for false ends.
369 This wretchit wolf neir by this lyoun lay. Whereas the other beasts approach the lion-king in a respectful manner, the wolf is already lurking nearby in a decidedly threatening manner.
370 habit. This word may — but not necessarily — refer to a clerical garment. Grey habits were worn by Franciscan friars (compare, for instance, “Freir Volff Waitskaith” who wears a “russet coull off gray” in Henryson’s “Fox and the Wolf,” pp. 29–30, lines 667, 679).
371-72 And so evill . . . . than thai war. The wolf’s loathsome appearance makes the other beasts look even fairer by comparison. In the medieval period the practice of physiognomy held that a person’s character or personality could be judged by his or her outer appearance, especially the face. The wolf’s “evill favorit” face is therefore a hint of his inner moral corruption. Compare Henryson’s “Fox and the Wolf” (p. 30, line 680) where the wolf is described as having a “lene cheik” and “paill and pietious face.”
373-74 Thinkand to put . . . . the court inbring. The wolf and his allies represent an alternative faction, a rival to the king’s current body of counselors.
376 staitis. The wolf is here deliberately obsequious. The word “staitis” may refer simply to “ranks” or “conditions of men” or to “estates of the realm” in parliament. I follow Kratzmann (p. 137n376) in adopting the latter reading.
377 fabillis fene. The wolf claims that he will speak truthfully, but his choice of phrase is notably metatextual, disparaging the literal tale-telling of the other beasts.
378 commoun proffet. The wolf claims to be speaking on behalf of the public good, no doubt the commons. Throughout the medieval period, in England and in Scotland, those appealing to, and even rebelling against, the king would frequently claim that they had in mind the “commoun proffet.” As Mapstone (“Talis of the Fyve Bestes,” p. 248) notes, “The protection of the people and the nation has of course featured as a theme in the other tales.”
379-86 In all this . . . . for a yeir. There is the potential for contradiction here. As Kratzmann (p. 137n379–81) observes: “The schepe and nolt are presumably the commons, but the king is hardly to be imagined as eating them: rather, the image expresses the traditional medieval view of the commons as the providers of food for the other orders of society . . . The literal sense of the wolf’s advice would seem to be that the king is to turn his attention away from the commons so that they will be more vulnerable to his own assaults.”
383 store. See DOST store(e, stoir (v.), sense 2a.
385-86 Of venysoun and . . . . for a yeir. The wolf advises in effect that the king should not ‘consume’ his own counselors: the hart and boar are the “venysoun” and “wyld meit,” the horse and unicorn the “gret bestis.”
393-94 Bot with my . . . . nolt ar deid. As with Alexander in the previous tale, it should be seen as a sign of good governance that the lion-king seeks the advice of his counselors.
394-96 Fynd how my . . . . all the land. The king and his counselors here discover that the wolf and his allies are responsible for the destruction of the sheep and cattle. Wolves are depicted as bringing similar destruction in David Lyndsay’s Dreme (Selected Poems, ed. Hadley Williams, pp. 32–33, lines 890–96).
403 That all was gone in twynkling of an E. This phrase appears in Dunbar’s Goldyn Targe (Poems, 1:191, line 235) and Thrissil and the Rose (Poems, 1:165, line 85), suggesting that The Fyve Bestes might itself have been a dream vision.
404 And so gois all this warldis rialté. This reminder of earthly mortality, even for royalty, is reminiscent of the closing lines of the previous moralitas from the “The Baris Tale.”
406 covatis. Given the appearance in “The Hartis Tale” of William Wallace it is interesting to note that Menteith’s betrayal of Wallace in Hary’s poem is blamed on this vice (Hary’s Wallace, 12.835–48).
408-10 The vertuis four . . . . content to be. After the individual moralitates of each tale, the four beasts are here again allegorized as the four Cardinal Virtues which should inhere in a monarch. As Mapstone (“Talis of the Fyve Bestes,” p. 241) observes, “the final rather clever effect is that the beasts who have told the tales and given counsel are allegorized into aspects of the monarch’s wisdom. Thus while the necessity for giving advice has been well established, the image of the monarch as containing all virtue within himself has also been preserved. This is a delicate sleight of hand, and a distinctly diplomatic way of giving advice.” Kratzmann (pp. 33–34) suggests that the individual morals of the “Horsis,” “Hartis,” and “Baris” tales prepare us for their allegorization but he has to work harder (and perhaps less convincingly) to explain the link between the moral of “The Unicornis Tale” and allegorization of the unicorn as magnanimity: “the tale of the cock’s victory over the negligent clerk may be seen as an ingenious definition of magnanimity in terms of its opposite” (p. 34). In Lyndsay’s aforementioned Dreme (Selected Poems, ed. Hadley Williams, p. 38, lines 1065–67), James V is encouraged to follow the Four Virtues.
411-16 The vertew no . . . . sauld and bocht. On the dangers of covetousness compare 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.” The sheep also refers to the “cursit syn of couetice” at line 1300 of Henryson’s “Sheep and the Dog” (Henryson, p. 53).
414 Or yit content had he the hale empyr. The reference to a covetous man’s inability to be satisfied even with a large empire recalls Alexander’s greed in the first half of the “Baris Tale.”
416 sauld and bocht. Compare line 116 and note.
420-22 And for the joye . . . . of every gud. The poem concludes with an appeal to God, as did the moralitas to “The Horsis Tale,” “The Unicornis Tale,” and “The Baris Tale.”
The Talis of the Fyve Bestes: TEXTUAL NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: A: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS 16500 olim Acc. 4243, fols. 229r–35v (the Asloan Manuscript; base manuscript); Craigie: The Asloan Manuscript: A Miscellany in Prose and Verse, ed. Craigie; Kratzmann: Colkelbie Sow and The Talis of the Fyve Bestes, ed. Kratzmann.
Prologue A’s beginning of Fyve Bestes is defective. See the corresponding explanatory note.
7 Richt so. A: Richtso.
14 himself. A: him self.
43-44 In . . . . Thir. The initial I of line 43 is flourished and extends for two lines; the start of line 44 is indented.
48 fleschis. So K. A: flesche. I follow Kratzmann in amending here on grounds of sense and meter.
63-102 I hald in . . . . hevin thai wyn. A number of lines are here missing due to a significant tear that resulted in the loss of much of the top half of fol. 230. I follow Kratzmann in supplying within square brackets words suggested by Craigie to reconstruct the lost text.
63-64 I . . . . That. A two-line gap, with guide letter, is left for the initial I of line 63; line 64 is indented.
112 warldly. A: wardly.
118-19 [Moralitas fabule]. The start of the moral is not signaled in A as it is for the first tale. I have inserted it.
125 quhatever. A: quhat ever.
135-36 Befor . . . . A. A two-line gap, with guide letter, is left for the initial B at the start of line 135; line 136 is indented.
144 grange. A: grangis. The singular form agrees better with “grange” in line 140 above and works better metrically.
163 Copok. A: copyng. “Copok” is the form used for the remainder of the tale and so that is adopted here too.
170 craw. A: crav.
176-77 Craigie and Kratzmann both observe that, based on sense, several lines must be missing here, but neither attempt to reconstruct them. Laing supplies two lines from the Speculum Stultorum (lines 1313–14) as his text’s lines 178–79 (Select Remains, ed. Laing, p. 286n1), but given the changes the Scots poet made to this source it is difficult to be sure how closely he might have followed it at this point. I do not attempt to reconstruct missing material but do discuss what information the missing lines may have contained in the corresponding explanatory note.
185 ane. A: na. I follow Craigie in suggesting that Asloan’s “na” be emended to “ane” since being able to practice sophistry well is in fact a criticism; Gundulfus is by contrast able to practice virtuous pursuits and admirable skills less well.
206 Alswele. A: Als wele.
235 deid. Asloan originally wrote “deidis” (perhaps mistakenly echoing the -is ending of the previous word, “wyfis”) but crossed out the final -is abbreviation upon realizing it did not fit the poem’s rhyme scheme. The plural form, however, interestingly makes better sense.
268-69 [Moralitas fabule]. The start of the moral is not signaled in A. I have inserted it.
269-70 Nowe . . . . Gif. A two-line gap, with guide letter, is left for the initial N of line 269; line 270 is indented.
273 tyme may. A: tymemay.
281-82 It . . . . Of. A two-line gap, with guide letter, is left for the initial I of line 281; line 282 is indented.
282 bur. Asloan miscopies and then deletes the word “bair” before “bur.”
330 I. Asloan miscopies and then deletes “ye” before “I.”
352-53 [Moralitas fabule]. The start of the moral is not signaled by a heading, nor separated spatially from the preceding tale.
353-54 Nowe . . . . Ane. A two-line gap, with guide letter, is left for the initial N at the start of line 353; line 354 is indented.
362 That. Asloan miscopies and then deletes “In” before “That” at the start of the line.
369-70 This . . . . His. A two-line gap, with guide-letter, is left for the initial T of line 369; line 370 is indented.
371 evill. A: weile. This is likely to be an instance of metathesis, a miscopying of “evill” where the scribe has accidentally reversed the letters ew and we.
401-02 [Moralitas fabule]. The concluding moralitas is not distinguished in any way from “The Wolfis Tale” in A.