Troilus and Criseyde

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Chaucer reciting Troylus and Criseyde: early 15th-century manuscript of the work at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge Chaucer Troilus frontispiece.jpg
Chaucer reciting Troylus and Criseyde: early 15th-century manuscript of the work at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Troilus and Criseyde ( /ˈtrɔɪləs...ˈkrɛsɪdə/ ) is an epic poem by Geoffrey Chaucer which re-tells in Middle English the tragic story of the lovers Troilus and Criseyde set against a backdrop of war during the siege of Troy. It was written in rime royale and probably completed during the mid-1380s. Many Chaucer scholars regard it as the poet's finest work. As a finished long poem it is more self-contained than the better known but ultimately unfinished The Canterbury Tales . This poem is often considered the source of the phrase: "all good things must come to an end" (3.615).


Although Troilus is a character from Ancient Greek literature, the expanded story of him as a lover was of Medieval origin. The first known version is from Benoît de Sainte-Maure's poem Roman de Troie , but Chaucer's principal source appears to have been Boccaccio, who re-wrote the tale in his Il Filostrato . Chaucer attributes the story to a "Lollius" (whom he also mentions in The House of Fame ), although no writer with this name is known. [1] Chaucer's version can be said to reflect a less cynical and less misogynistic world-view than Boccaccio's, casting Criseyde as fearful and sincere rather than simply fickle and having been led astray by the eloquent and perfidious Pandarus. It also inflects the sorrow of the story with humour.

The poem had an important legacy for later writers. Robert Henryson's Scots poem The Testament of Cresseid imagined a tragic fate for Criseyde not given by Chaucer. In historical editions of the English Troilus and Criseyde, Henryson's distinct and separate work was sometimes included without accreditation as an "epilogue" to Chaucer's tale. Other texts, for example John Metham's Amoryus and Cleopes (c. 1449), adapt language and authorship strategies from the famous predecessor poem. [2] Shakespeare's tragedy Troilus and Cressida , although much darker in tone, was also based in part on the material.

Troilus and Criseyde is usually considered to be a courtly romance, although the generic classification is an area of significant debate in most Middle English literature. It is part of the Matter of Rome cycle, a fact which Chaucer emphasizes. [3]



Calchas, a soothsayer, foresees the fall of Troy and abandons the city in favour of the Greeks; his daughter, Criseyde, receives some ill will on account of her father's betrayal. Troilus, a warrior of Troy, publicly mocks love and is punished by the God of Love by being struck with irreconcilable desire for Criseyde, whom he sees passing through the temple. With the help of sly Pandarus, Criseyde's uncle, Troilus and Criseyde begin to exchange letters. Eventually, Pandarus develops a plan to urge the two into bed together; Troilus swoons when he thinks the plan is going amiss, but Pandarus and Criseyde revive him. Pandarus leaves, and Troilus and Criseyde spend a night of bliss together.

Calchas eventually persuades the Greeks to exchange a prisoner of war, Antenor, for his daughter Criseyde. Hector, of Troy, objects; as does Troilus, although he does not voice his concern. Troilus speaks to Criseyde and suggests they elope but she offers a logical argument as to why it would not be practical. Criseyde promises to deceive her father and return to Troy after ten days; Troilus leaves her with a sense of foreboding. Upon arriving in the Greek camp, Criseyde realizes the unlikeliness of her being able to keep her promise to Troilus. She writes dismissively in response to his letters and on the tenth day accepts a meeting with Diomede, and listens to him speak of love. Later, she accepts him as a lover. Pandarus and Troilus wait for Criseyde: Pandarus sees that she will not return and eventually Troilus realizes this as well. Troilus curses Fortune, even more so because he still loves Criseyde; Pandarus offers some condolences. The narrator, with an apology for giving women a bad name, bids farewell to his book, and briefly recounts Troilus's death in battle and his ascent to the eighth sphere, draws a moral about the transience of earthly joys and the inadequacy of paganism, dedicates his poem to John Gower and Strode, asks the protection of the Trinity, and prays that we be worthy of Christ's mercy. [4]


The Canticus Troili is a translation of Petrarch's Sonnet 132 from Il Canzoniere . [5]

Troilus' philosophical monologue in Book IV is from Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy , a book that was extremely influential to Chaucer.

Related Research Articles

Pandarus Character in Troilus and Cressida

Pandarus or Pandar is a Trojan aristocrat who appears in stories about the Trojan War.

According to the medieval poet Jean Bodel, the Matter of Rome is the literary cycle of Greek and Roman mythology, together with episodes from the history of classical antiquity, focusing on military heroes like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Bodel division of literary cycles also included the Matter of Britain and the Matter of France. The Matter of Rome includes the Matter of Troy, consisting of romances and other texts based on the Trojan War and its legacy, including the adventures of Aeneas.

Cressida Character in Troilus and Cressida

Cressida is a character who appears in many Medieval and Renaissance retellings of the story of the Trojan War. She is a Trojan woman, the daughter of Calchas, a Greek seer. She falls in love with Troilus, the youngest son of King Priam, and pledges everlasting love, but when she is sent to the Greeks as part of a hostage exchange, she forms a liaison with the Greek warrior Diomedes. In later culture she becomes an archetype of a faithless lover.

Troilus Mythical prince of Troy in Greek mythology

Troilus is a legendary character associated with the story of the Trojan War. The first surviving reference to him is in Homer's Iliad, which some scholars theorize was composed by "bards" (aoidoi) and sung in the late 9th or 8th century BC.

Ralph Strode, English schoolman, was probably a native of the West Midlands.

In Greek mythology, Antenor was a counselor to King Priam of Troy during the events of the Trojan War.

Il Filostrato Poem by Giovanni Boccaccio

"Il Filostrato" is a poem by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, and the inspiration for Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and, through Chaucer, the Shakespeare play Troilus and Cressida. It is itself loosely based on Le Roman de Troie, by 12th-century poet Benoît de Sainte-Maure.

<i>Troilus and Cressida</i> (opera)

Troilus and Cressida is the first of the two operas by William Walton, and was premiered in 1954. The libretto was by Christopher Hassall, his own first opera libretto, based on Geoffrey Chaucer's poem Troilus and Criseyde. Walton dedicated the score to his wife, Susana.

<i>Roman de Troie</i> Epic poem by Benoît de Sainte-Maure

Le Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Maure, probably written between 1155 and 1160, is a 30,000 line epic poem, a medieval retelling of the theme of the Trojan War. It inspired a body of literature in the genre called the roman antique, loosely assembled by the poet Jean Bodel as the Matter of Rome. The Trojan subject itself, for which de Sainte-Maure provided an impetus, is referred to as the Matter of Troy.

Chaucer's influence on 15th-century Scottish literature began towards the beginning of the century with King James I of Scotland. This first phase of Scottish "Chaucerianism" was followed by a second phase, comprising the works of Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas. At this point, England has recognised Scotland as an independent state following the end of the Wars of Scottish Independence in 1357. Because of Scottish history and the English’s recent involvement in that history, all of these writers are familiar with the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

<i>The Testament of Cresseid</i> Poem written by Robert Henryson

The Testament of Cresseid is a narrative poem of 616 lines in Middle Scots, written by the 15th-century Scottish makar Robert Henryson. It is his best known poem. It imagines a tragic fate for Cressida in the medieval story of Troilus and Criseyde which was left untold in Geoffrey Chaucer's version. Henryson's cogent psychological drama, in which he consciously resists and confronts the routine depiction of Cressida (Cresseid) as simply 'false', is one of the features that has given the poem enduring interest for modern readers and it is one of the most admired works of northern renaissance literature. A modern English translation by Seamus Heaney, which also included seven of Henryson's fables from The Morall Fabillis, was published in 2009.

Robert Kay Gordon (1887–1973) was an English scholar of medieval and early modern English literature and administrator at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Dulcarnon or dulcarnoun is a term used in the Middle English poem Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer, in a line given to Criseyde: "at dulcarnoun, right at my wittes ende". It became proverbial. The etymology is from an Arabic phrase dhū-al-qarnayn meaning "two-horned", and the term was in use in medieval Latin.

Influence of Italian humanism on Chaucer

Contact between Geoffrey Chaucer and the Italian humanists Petrarch or Boccaccio has been proposed by scholars for centuries. More recent scholarship tends to discount these earlier speculations because of lack of evidence. As Leonard Koff remarks, the story of their meeting is "a 'tydying' worthy of Chaucer himself".

Literary nominalism is a paradigm of thought that is interested in the interconnections between certain aspects of nominalist philosophy and theology and works of literature.

<i>Troy Book</i>

Troy Book is a Middle English poem by John Lydgate relating the history of Troy from its foundation through to the end of the Trojan War. It is in five books, comprising 30,117 lines in ten-syllable couplets. The poem's major source is Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae.

Publius Lollius Maximus also known as Lollius Maximus and Maximus Lollius was a Roman soldier who lived in the 1st century BC who served under the first Roman emperor Augustus.

<i>Pamphilus de amore</i>

Pamphilus de amore is a 780-line, 12th-century Latin comedic play, probably composed in France, but possibly Spain. It was "one of the most influential and important of the many pseudo-Ovidian productions concerning the 'arts of Love'" in medieval Europe, and "the most famous and influential of the medieval elegiac comedies, especially in Spain". The protagonists are Pamphilus and Galatea, with Pamphilus seeking to woo her through a procuress.

<i>Troilus and Cressida</i> Play by William Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida is a play by William Shakespeare, probably written in 1602.


  1. Hornstein, Lillian Herlands (1948). "Petrarch's Laelius, Chaucer's Lollius?". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. Modern Language Association. 63 (1): 64–84. doi:10.2307/459407. JSTOR   459407.
  2. Richard Utz, "Writing Alternative Worlds: Rituals of Authorship and Authority in Late Medieval Theological and Literary Discourse." In: Creations: Medieval Rituals, the Arts, and the Concept of Creation. Ed. Sven Rune Havsteen, Nils Holger Petersen, Heinrich W. Schwab, and Eyolf Østrem. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007, pp. 121–38.
  3. C. S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, pp. 30–31, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
  4. Scene outline of Chaucer's Troilus, by Donald R. Howard & James Dean, eds., Signet edition, 1976.
  5. Benson, Larry D. (1987). The Riverside Chaucer (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 1028.

Further reading