Legend of Hypsipyle & Medea
(Incipit Legenda Ysiphile et Medee, Martirum)
From The Legend of Good Women
c. 1385-1388 CE
Geoffrey Chaucer, best remembered for The Canterbury Tales, composed The Legend of Good Women sometime near the end of the fourteenth century. The poem, the first major English language poem in iambic pentameter, told the stories of nine virtuous women. In the section devoted to Hypsipyle and Medea, Chaucer tells how Duke Jason wronged them both. Chaucer's understanding of the Jason myth derived from Ovid and from the medieval Troy romances rather than the Argonautica of Apollonius or Valerius Flaccus.
PART I. THE LEGEND OF HYPSIPYLE.
Thou rote of false lovers, duk Iasoun!
Thou sly devourer and confusioun
1370 Of gentil-wommen, tender creatures,
Thou madest thy reclaiming and thy lures
To ladies of thy statly apparaunce,
And of thy wordes, farced with plesaunce,
And of thy feyned trouthe and thy manere,
With thyn obeissaunce and thy humble chere,
And with thy counterfeted peyne and wo.
(10) Ther other falsen oon, thou falsest two!
O! ofte swore thou that thou woldest dye
For love, whan thou ne feltest maladye
1380 Save foul delyt, which that thou callest love!
If that I live, thy name shal be shove
In English, that thy sleighte shal be knowe!
Have at thee, Iasoun! now thyn horn is blowe!
But certes, hit is bothe routhe and wo
That love with false loveres werketh so;
For they shul have wel better love and chere
(20) That he that hath aboght his love ful dere,
Or had in armes many a blody box.
For ever as tendre a capoun et the fox,
1390 Thogh he be fals and hath the foul betrayed,
As shal the good-man that ther-for hath payed.
Al have he to the capoun skille and right,
The false fox wol have his part at night.
On Iasoun this ensample is wel y-sene
By Isiphile and Medea the quene.
In Tessalye, as Guido telleth us,
(30) Ther was a king that highte Pelleus,
That had a brother, which that highte Eson;
And, whan for age he mighte unnethes gon,
1400 He yaf to Pelleus the governing
Of al his regne, and made him lord and king.
Of which Eson this Iasoun geten was,
That, in his tyme, in al that lond, ther nas
Nat swich a famous knight of gentilesse,
Of freedom, and of strengthe and lustinesse.
After his fader deeth, he bar him so
(40) That ther was noon that liste been his fo,
Bud dide him al honour and companye;
Of which this Pelleus hath greet envye,
1410 Imagining that Iasoun mighte be
Enhaunsed so, and put in swich degree
With love of lordes of his regioun,
That from his regne he may be put adoun.
And in his wit, a-night, compassed he
How Iasoun mighte best destroyed be
Withoute slaunder of his compasment.
(50) And at the laste he took avisement
To senden him in-to som fer contree
Ther as this Iasoun may destroyed be.
1420 This was his wit; al made he to Iasoun
Gret chere of love and of affeccioun,
For drede lest his lordes hti espyde.
So fil hit so, as fame renneth wyde,
Ther was swich tyding over-al and swich los,
That in an yle that called was Colcos,
Beyonde Troye, estward in the see,
(60) That ther-in was a ram, that men mighte see,
That had a flees of gold, that shoon so brighte,
That no-wher was ther swich an-other sighte;
1430 But hit was kept alway with a dragoun,
And many othere merveils, up and doun,
And with two boles, maked el of bras,
That spitten fyr, and moche thing ther was.
But this wsa eek the tale, nathelees,
That who-so wolde winne thilke flees,
He moste bothe, or he hit winne mighte,
(70) With the boles and the dragoun fighte;
And king Oetes lord was of that yle.
This Pelleus bethoghte upon this wyle;
1440 That he his nevew Iasoun wolde enhorte
To sailen to that lond, him to disporte,
And seide, "nevew, if hit mighte be
That swich a worship mighte fallen thee,
That thou this famous tresor mightest winne,
And bringen hit my regioun with-inne,
Hit were to me gret plesaunce and honour;
(80) Than were I holde to quyte thy labour.
And al the cost I wol my-selven make;
And chees what folk that thou wilt with thee take;
1450 Lat see now, darstow taken this viage?"
Iasoun was yong, and lusty of corage,
And under-took to doon this ilke empryse.
Anoon Argus his shippes gan devyse;
With Iasoun wente the stronge Ercules,
And many an-other that he with him chees.
But who-so axeth who is with him gon,
(90) Lat him go reden Argonauticon,
For he wol telle a tale long y-now.
Philoctetes anoon the sail up-drow,
1460 What that the wind was good, and gan him hye
Out of his contree called Tessalye.
So long he sailed in the salte see
Til in the yle Lemnoun aryved he --
Al be this nat rehersed of Guido,
Yet seith Ovyde in his Epistles so --
And of this yle lady was and quene
(100) The faire yonge Isiphilee, the shene,
That whylom Thoas daughter was, the king.
Isipilee was goon in her playing;
1470 And, roming on the clyves by the see,
Under a banke anoon espyed she
Wher that the ship of Iasoun gan aryve.
Of her goodnesse adoun she sendeth blyve
To witen yif that any straunge wight
With tempest thider were y-blowe a-night,
To doon him socour; as was her usaunce
(110) To forthren every wight, and doon plesaunce
Of veray bountee and of curtesye.
This messagere adoun him gan to hye,
1480 And fond Iasoun, and Ercules also,
That in a cogge to londe were y-go
Hem to refresshen and to take the eyr.
The morwening atempre was and fair;
And in his wey the messagere hem mette.
Ful cunningly thise lordes two he grette,
And dide his message, axing hem anoon
(120) Yif they were broken, or oght wo begoon,
Or hadde nede of lodesmen or vitaile;
For of socour they shulde no-thing faile,
1490 For hit was utterly the quenes wille.
Iasoun answerde, mekely and stille,
"My lady," quod he, "thanke I hertely
Of hir goodnesse; us nedeth, trewely,
No-thing as now, but that we wery be,
And come for to pleye, out of the see,
Til that the wind be better in our weye."
(130) This lady rometh by the clif to pleye,
With her meynee, endelong the stronde,
And fynt this Iasoun and this other stonde,
1500 In spekinge of this thing, as I yow tolde.
This Ercules and Iasoun gan beholde
How that the quene hit was, and faire her grette
Anon-right as they with this lady mette;
And she took heed, and knew, by hir manere,
By hir aray, by wordes and by chere,
That hit were gentil-men, of greet degree.
(140) And to the castel with her ledeth she
Thise straunge folk, and doth hem greet honour,
And axeth him of travail and labour
1510 That they han suffred in the salte see;
So that, within a day, or two, or three,
She knew, by folk that in his shippes be,
That hit was Iasoun, ful of renomee,
And Ercules, that had the grete los,
That soghten the aventures of Colcos;
And dide hem honour more then before,
(150) And with hem deled ever lenger the more,
For they ben worthy folk, with-outen lees.
And namely, most she spak with Ercules;
1520 To him her herte bar, he sholde be
Sad, wys, and trewe, of wordes avisee,
With-outen any other affeccioun
Of love, or evil imaginacioun.
This Ercules hath so this Iasoun preysed,
That to the sonne he hath him up areysed,
That han so trewe a man ther nas of love
(160) Under the cope of heven that is above;
And he was wys, hardy, secree, and riche. --
Of thise three pointes ther nas noon him liche;
1530 Of freedom passed he, and lustihede,
Alle tho that liven or ben dede;
Ther-to so greet a gentil-man was he,
And of Tessalie lykly king to be.
Ther nas no lak, but that he was agast
To love, and for to speke shamefast.
He hadde lever him-self to mordre, and dye
(170) Than that men shulde a lover him espye: --
"As wolde almighty god that I had yive
My blood and flesh, so that I mighte live,
1540 With the nones that he hadde o-wher a wyf
For his estat; for swich a lusty lyf
She sholde lede with this lusty knight!"
And al this was compassed on the night
Betwixe him Iasoun and this Ercules.
Of thise two heer was mad a shrewed lees
To come to hous upon an innocent;
(180) For to be-dote this queen was hir assent.
And Iasoun is as coy as is a maide,
He loketh pitously, but noght he saide,
1550 But frely yaf he to her conseileres
Yiftes grete, and to her officeres.
As wolde god I leiser hadde, and tyme,
By proces al his wowing for to ryme.
But in this hous if any fals lover be,
Right as him-self now doth, right so dide he,
With feyning and with every sotil dede.
(190) Ye gete no more of me, but ye wil rede
Thoriginal, that telleth al the cas.
The somme is this, that Iasoun wedded was
1560 Unto this quene, and took of her substaunce
What-so him liste, unto his purveyaunce;
And upon her begat he children two,
And drow his sail, and saw her never-mo.
A lettre sente she to him certein,
Which were to long to wryten and to sein,
And him repreveth of his grete untrouthe,
(200) And preyeth him on her to have som routhe.
And of his children two, she seide him this,
That they be lyke, of alle thing, y-wis,
1570 To Iasoun, save they coude nat begyle;
And preyed god, or hit were longe whyle,
That she, that had his herte y-raft her fro,
Moste finden him to her untrewe al-so,
And that she moste bothe her children spille,
And alle tho that suffreth him his wille.
And trew to Iasoun was she al her lyf,
(210) And ever kepte her chast, as for his wyf;
Ne never had she Ioye at her herte,
But dyed, for his love, of sorwes smerte.
PART II. THE LEGEND OF MEDEA.
1580 To Colcos comen is this duk Iasoun,
That is of love devourer and dragoun.
As matere appetyteth forme al-wey,
And from forme in-to forme hit passen may,
Or as a welle that were botomlees,
Right so can fals Iasoun have no pees.
For, to desyren, through his appetyt,
(220) To doon with gentil wommen his delyt,
This is his lust and his felicitee.
Iasoun is romed forth to the citee,
1590 That whylom cleped was Iaconitos,
That was the maister-toun of al Colcos,
And hath y-told the cause of his coming
Un-to Oetes, of that contre king,
Preying him that he moste doon his assay
To gete the flees of gold, if that he may;
Of which the king assenteth to his bone,
(230) And doth him honour, as hit is to done,
So ferforth, that his doghter and his eyr,
Medea, which that was so wys and fair
1600 That fairer saw ther never man with ye,
He made her doon to Iasoun companye
At mete, and sitte by him in the halle.
Now was Iasoun a semely man with-alle,
And lyk a lord, and had a greet renoun,
And of his loke as real as leoun,
And goodly of his speche, and famulere,
(240) And coude of love al craft and art plenere
With-oute boke, with everich observaunce.
And, as fortune her oghte a foul meschaunce,
1610 She wex enamoured upon this man.
"Iasoun," quod she, "for ought I see or can,
As of this thing the which ye been aboute,
Ye han your-self y-put in moche doute.
For, who-so wol this aventure acheve,
He may nat wel asterten, as I leve,
With-outen deeth, but I his helpe be.
(250) But natheles, hit is my wille," quod she,
"To forthren yow, so that ye shal nat dye,
But turnen, sound, hoom to your Tessalye."
1620 "My righte lady," quod this Iasoun tho,
"That ye han of my dethe or of my wo
Any reward, and doon me this honour,
I wot wel that my might ne my labour
May nat deserve hit in my lyves day;
God thanke yow, ther I ne can ne may.
Your man am I, and lowly you beseche,
(260) To been my help, with-oute more speche;
But certes, for my deeth shal I nat spare."
Tho gan this Medea to him declare
1630 The peril of this cas, fro point to point,
And of his batail, and in what disioint
He mote stande, of which no creature,
Save only she, ne mighte is lyf assure.
And shortly, to the point right for to go,
They been accorded ful, betwix hem two,
That Iasoun shal her wedde, as trewe knight;
(270) And term y-set, to come sone at night
Unto her chambre, and make ther his ooth,
Upon the goddes, that he, for leef ne looth,
1640 Ne sholde her never falsen, night ne day,
To been her husband, whyl he liven may,
As she that from this deeth him saved here.
And her-upon, at night they mette y-fere,
And doth his ooth, and goth with her to bedde.
And on the morwe, upward he him spedde;
For she hath taught him how he shal nat faile
(280) The flees to winne, and stinten his bataile;
And saved him his lyf and his honour;
And gat him greet name as a conquerour
1650 Right through the sleight of her enchantment.
Now hath Iasoun the flees, and hoom is went
With Medea, and tresor ful gret woon.
But unwist of her fader is she goon
To Tessaly, with duk Iasoun her leef,
That afterward hath broght her to mescheef.
For as a traitour he is from her go,
(290) And with her lafte his yonge children two,
And falsly hath betrayed her, allas!
And ever in love a cheef traitour he was;
1660 And wedded yit the thridde wyf anon,
That was the doghter of the kign Creon.
This is the meed of loving and guerdon
That Medea received of Iasoun
Right for her trouthe and for her kindenesse,
That loved him better than her-self, I gesse,
And lafte her fader and her heritage.
(300) And of Iasoun this is the vassalage,
That, in his dayes, nas ther noon y-founde
So fals a lover going on the grounde.
1670 And therfor in her lettre thus she seyde
First, whan she of his falsnesse him umbreyde,
"Why lyked me thy yelow heer to see
More then the boundes of myn honestee,
Why lyked me thy youthe and thy fairnesse,
And of thy tonge the infinit graciousnesse?
O, haddest thou in thy conquest deed y-be,
(310) Ful mikel untrouthe had ther dyed with thee!"
Wel can Ovyde her lettre in vers endyte,
Which were as now to long for me to wryte.
Explicit Legenda Ysiphile et Medee, Martirum.