eloquence to the English language (this is the opinion of George Ashby, ca. 1470) prevailed through the tumult of the fteenth century and trumped any Yorkist stain sullying his literal progeny’s reputation. At the demise of Rich-ard III, Henry VII and the Tudor propaganda machine he invented took hold of Chaucer’s English-identi ed legacy. Not only had Chaucer’s iconic reputa-tion survived, but the Tudor monarchy, much in need of good press, took advantage of a new method to promulgate Tudor Chaucer’s icon in Britain. The printing press made its debut at the same time that Henry VII, rst Tudor king and initial Tudor apologist, defeated Richard III at Bosworth. This coin-cidence augmented the royal treatment Chaucer’s icon received as England’s national poet. The press’s arrival happily coincided with, and abetted, the spectacular growth of royal administration: courts had grown since the royal functionary Thomas Hoccleve invoked Chaucer’s fatherhood of English po-etry. Thus the politics and iconic status of Chaucer were shaped to coincide with newly active imperial attitudes and the grandiose visions of the English Tudor monarchy, culminating in the grand success of Elizabeth I (1533–1603, r. 1558–1603). CHAUCER’S WORKS IN PRINT The rst of Chaucer’s works to be printed appeared from the press of England’s rst printer, William Caxton, who published The Canterbury Tales circa 1478. It was, according to some bibliographers, the rst book that Caxton printed in England after his return from Bruges in 1476. He reprinted The Canterbury Tales in 1483 and also printed, at about the same time, Chaucer’s transla-tion of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (1478), Troilus and Criseyde, and Chaucer’s dream vision House of Fame (both 1483). Caxton’s successor, Wynken de Worde, a younger man whom Caxton brought to England from Bruges to help him with his press, also printed the Tales, as did, it seems, rival printer Richard Pynson. De Worde’s 1517 edition, “newly corrected,” became the property of Pynson, who after de Worde’s death virtually simultaneously (circa 1526) printed the Tales, House of Fame, and Troilus and Criseyde. The printer John Rastell published the Tales simultaneously with Pynson. Is this evidence of a Chaucer industry? Maybe. Rastell had gotten caught up through marriage (he was married to Sir Thomas More’s sister) and public prominence in debates about the “Great Matter” of King Henry VIII (1491–1547, r. 1509–47). From Henry’s rst attempts (1525) to divorce Catherine of Aragon, his wife of 16 years, claiming that the marriage was incestuous (she was his brother Henry’s widow), to Henry’s nal severance of church ties to Rome (1533), a public and private debate raged, the victims of which were not only Catherine and her daughter Mary, declared illegitimate once Henry married Anne Boleyn, mother of Elizabeth I, but also Sir Thomas More, who, like Becket before him, was martyred on the altar of church prerogative. Per-haps Rastell, concerned with the chill his association with More might bring,
Geoffrey Chaucer 191thought Chaucer’s work and status as national icon could salvage his reputa-tion. But in the greater scheme of things, these editions of Chaucer were a drop in the bucket. Early English printers published many, many titles (de Worde’s output is estimated at 400 titles in 800 editions), and the best seller to roll off the presses, in de Worde’s case, wasn’t Chaucer but a Latin grammar. Still, the rapidity and consistency with which these printers produced early editions of his poetry testify to Chaucer’s continuing iconic status. Pynson’s edition of The Canterbury Tales provides a nice example of Chau-cer as icon for sixteenth-century readers. Woodcut illustrations grace the title pages for various Tales —his pilgrims have also become icons—and his “pro-heme,” instructing a reader how to understand and appreciate Chaucer, touts the felicity of The Canterbury Tales : Great thanks, laud, and honor ought to be given unto the clerk, poets, and historiographers that have written many noble books of wisdom of the lives, passions, and miracles of holy saints and histories of noble and famous acts and faits [deeds] and of the chronicles since the be-ginning of the creation of the world unto this present time by which we are daily informed and have knowledge of many things of whom we should not have known if that had not left to us their monuments written. Among whom and in especial tofore [before] all other
we ought to give a singular laud unto the noble and great philosopher Geffrey Chaucer, the which for his ornate writing in our tongue may well have the name of a laureate poet, for tofore that he by his labor embellished, ornated and made fair our English in this realm was had rude speech and incongruous as yet it appeareth by old books, which at this day ought not to have place nor be compared among, nor to his beauteous volumes and ornate writings, of whom he made diverse books and treatises of many a noble history, as well in meter as in rhyme and prose. And them so craftily made that he comprehended his matters in short, quick, and high sentences, eschewing prolixity, casting away the chaff of super uity, and showing the picked grain of sentence uttered by crafty and sugared eloquence. Of whom among all other of his books I purpose to imprint by the grace of Jesus the book of the tales of Canterbury in which I nd many a noble history of every state and degree. Chaucer’s identity with the English language and England, with poetry, with nobility, with philosophy, as well as with the “old,” uses the frame that fteenth-century poets and their noble patrons had already provided for Fa-ther Chaucer. But perhaps the most noteworthy feature, in this cascade of clauses, is Chaucer’s reputation for “eschewing prolixity” and “eschewing the chaff of super uity.” These factors remain the centerpiece of English’s best prose style. The value of direct and unaffected prose continues to ring in the modern political sphere’s reliance on simplicity—to a fault, perhaps.
Notice that it is not Chaucer’s ambiguous persona that Pynson lauds: an appreciation for indeterminacy is a trademark of twentieth-century literary studies. Following the resolution of the Great Matter, the 1530s mark Chaucer’s remarkable entry, in a manner of speaking, into the coffee-table book mar-ket of the Tudor court. Beginning with William Thynne’s edition in 1532, printers produced large and expensive black-letter folio editions of Chaucer’s complete works. The handsome and heavy volumes, with illustrations, leather binding, high-quality paper, and voluminous dedications, put together in one book all of Chaucer’s works. Chaucer would have been pleased that a move-ment begun a bit earlier in Italy to preserve the corpus of famous poets like Dante, whose civic and national identity provided a model, had spread west and caught the English poet in its fashionable hold. Like Chaucer’s earlier proponents and printers, folio producer William Thynne (d. 1546), the rst in a series of Renaissance collectors and publish-ers presenting a Chaucerian oeuvre, had royal connections. He was educated at Oxford and attained a prominent position, clerk of the kitchen, in Henry VIII’s court. In his Chaucer folio’s dedication to Henry VIII, Thynne frames his activities on Chaucer’s behalf with the same kind of nationalistic fervor as did Pynson. But his identi cation of King Henry’s brilliance as poet and historian allies antique Chaucer with Tudor royalty. Again publishers deploy Chaucer’s fatherhood of English poetry to recertify English nationalism. The point isn’t Chaucer’s political leanings; rather, the import is Chaucer’s em-bodiment of a burgeoning national consciousness that needs its king to be lettered as much as it needs its venerable poet’s Englishness. The folio editions begin their sequential march through the sixteenth century at the same time that Henry, successful in his break with Rome, begins to tangle with chal-lenges from Martin Luther and a diverse Protestant critique, as well as his own problems concerning progeny, legitimacy, inheritance, the crown, and authority. One could suggest that Chaucer’s iconic status as England’s poet is pressed into the service of Henry’s severely challenged court, the survival of which depends on ever more authoritarian methods of retaining control over recalcitrant subjects. The question of authority, for better or worse, and even to this day, is wrapped up with the presence—or absence—of authors and authentic-ity. Chaucer’s iconic status served to expand his authority. The strength of Thynne’s attributions allowed his canon of Chaucer’s works to be reproduced in every Chaucer edition for two centuries. But modern scholarship contests some of Thynne’s attribution to Chaucer of a number of the folio’s poems. On the face of it, a larger canon—a weightier canon—suggests a more proli c poet. Moreover, the idea of collecting an author’s works in one large volume imitates the burgeoning idea of “bigger is better” in the rst ush of colonial expansionism. Thus Thynne’s folio edition includes a number of poems not previously printed under Chaucer’s name to augment Chaucer’s status, while his gravitational pull as national poet drew recognizably antique texts into
Geoffrey Chaucer 193his orbit. Piling works on Chaucer’s shoulders augmented his reputation, hon-ored his unique status, and af rmed his iconic position. Thynne’s successors reprinted his edition during the short reign of Edward VI (1537–1553, r. 1547–53), Henry’s sickly youngest child. Once on the throne, Edward’s youth made him an easy mark for the more rabid Protestant coun-selors kept under wraps during Henry’s reign. At Edward’s precipitous death, his Catholic sister Mary (1516–1558, r. 1553–58), Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, assumed the throne, despite some last-minute efforts to name the Protestant Lady Jane Gray (1536–1554), great-great-niece of Henry VIII, as queen. Queen Mary’s successor after her short reign was Henry’s second child, Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, who eventually proved an extraordinarily adroit and gifted leader. In the reigns of all three of Henry VIII’s Tudor progeny, folio edi-tions of Chaucer’s works were printed and reprinted. Chaucer continued to be lauded as England’s primordial poet. Ironically, however, because of language shifts in the sixteenth century, Chaucer’s poetry, though lionized, had become dif cult to read. Moreover, the appearance of the poetry itself became iconic: while for “modern” texts the book trade began to use roman typefaces, Chaucer was kept in recognizably antique black letter. More than Chaucer’s words added to his iconic reputation. In the heat of Queen Mary’s Catholic resurgence, Nicholas Brigham erected a canopied tomb for Chaucer’s remains. The tomb, founded in 1556, became the cor-nerstone of Westminster Abbey’s eventual “Poet’s Corner.” This tomb both represents, and solidi es, quite literally, Chaucer’s iconic status. The tomb in-cludes a portrait much like that found in the Hoccleve manuscript—could it have been copied?—and verses pertaining to Chaucer’s origination of English poetry. Its position in London’s parliamentary abbey and its laureation of Chaucer as England’s poet parallels the religious iconography af xed in Cath-olic times to saints and prelates: could it have been an answer to resurgent Catholicism? The similarity of the likeness the tomb displays to those of the Hoccleve and Ellesmere manuscripts demonstrates the durability of Chaucer’s iconic image begun with those fteenth-century manuscript portraits. By the late sixteenth century, portraits of Chaucer were hanging in noble houses, and this practice continued well into the late seventeenth century. Chaucer’s aspi-rations to noble status nd their reward in these iconographic renderings, his image occupying both secular and sacred spaces, the cultural weight of which was changing in response to modernity’s ascendancy. Chaucer’s next editor, John Stow (ca. 1525–1605), produced not only a fat folio Chaucer edition (1561, over 600 pages) but also a series of history books compiled from his extensive personal collection and exhaustive labors in pri-vate archives. Finding unused archives and reestablishing them for antiquarian research were new pastimes for writers and publishers engaged in the process of modernization, which also meant putting the past in its place. After his Chaucer edition, Stow published a Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles (1565, over 1200 pages), Chronicles from Brute to unto the present year (1560; later Annales, 1592, over 1300 pages), and a comprehensive and best-selling Survey
of London (1598, about 500 pages) that continued to be printed, used, and revised by others into the eighteenth century. In its attachment to English his-tory and archival research, Stow’s work exempli es antiquarian re-creation of “Englishness,” verifying its pedigree in a remote, classical (not medieval) past identi ed with Troy and, later, Rome, while simultaneously creating its English moment as “new.” One anonymous 1518 history, printed by Richard Pynson, Caxton’s rival and early printer of Chaucer, locates England’s ancient history in relation not only to Greece and Rome, but also to Israel: “Brute came after the making of the world into the land of Albion in the time that Eli the priest of the law was in the land of Israel. New Troy (that is now called London) was founded by the making of Brute after the making of the world. Rome was founded by Remus and Romulus. Jesus Christ was conceived by the holy ghost in the maid Mary on a Friday.” Chaucer is thus one point on an iconic scale begun with the ancient Brutus. But Chaucer’s icon, identi ed speci cally with English’s original poetic language, shimmers with “Englishness.” Chaucer is, for Edmund Spenser (1552–1599), “the well of English unde l’d.” Unlike their successors intent on de ning modernity and cordoning off the past, people in the “Middle Ages” (a term introduced in 1616) did not see themselves as between eras, bounded on either side by the classical era and the Renaissance. Rather, their self-image was one of continuity with a Trojan and Roman past (even Charlemagne, crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800, wore a toga to the ceremony) and of membership in a universal Christian church. The social, political, and economic changes for which we use the term “Renaissance” re ect the term’s coinage in the mid-sixteenth century by the Italian artist George Vasari (1511–1574) to break with an ostensibly stultify-ing past. “Classic,” which entered the English language in the seventeenth cen-tury, in its original use meant only “best”; its application to Greece and Rome, and to literature, became exclusive only in the eighteenth century. The popular vigor of the term “Renaissance” rises in the nineteenth century, spurred by the work of German historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897) and respond-ing to the pressure of modernity—in science, art, medicine, technology, and Western expansion—to reassert divisions between eras and deny other than quaint antiquarian interest in a medieval past. Like the term “Enlightenment,” “Renaissance” paints its own era positively and its medieval antecedent nega-tively. The use of words like “Renaissance” and “classics” creates that break between epochs because it serves the “new” era’s need to make itself distinct. Such a need was not a feature of medieval thought: instead, an era’s diminu-tion in light of a Golden Past, and a recognition that there was “nothing new under the sun,” epitomizes what we would call medieval ideology. For Karl Marx, modernity’s rage for the new supports a capital economy. Asserting modernity’s superiority over the past assures capitalism’s success. Nevertheless, individuals like Stow and his work in literature (Chaucer), his-tory (annals), and geography (London) enabled adoration of the ancient and remote in England’s language and politics. Those who identi ed, gathered, and then made available antiquarian researches on English history produced
Geoffrey Chaucer 195editions of Chaucer’s works that were keen to solidify an economically, politi-cally, and literarily apt identity for the English nation. The same antiquari-anism and obsessive scholarship characterize the next edition of Chaucer’s works, produced at the end of the sixteenth century during the reign of Eliza-beth I. The folio Thomas Speght published in 1598 and ampli ed in 1602 rati es Chaucer’s iconic status in a fashion especially sympathetic to modern tastes: Speght provides a biography for Chaucer with the help of antiquarian records and manuscript documents, since personal knowledge like Hoccleve’s was no longer available. Biography did not have the cultural weight in the medieval era that it began to have in the Renaissance. Medieval manuscript books frequently list no authors’ names, let alone any information about them. Much that we know about named authors comes from research into legal documents rather than by consulting autobiographies, which essentially did not exist as a speci c genre until later. Chaucer’s rst readers who encountered his name and work in Hoccleve or even Stow expressed no need for biographical information about the poet, perhaps because it was assumed they already knew him: at least, that’s how Chaucer’s contemporary Hoccleve expresses it. The original assumption of personal knowledge isn’t so far-fetched: considering the limited literate audience and scarce production of manuscripts, an early fteenth-century lay reader would likely move in court circles. To identify text with biography in post-medieval books shapes the taste of a readership newly broadened by the printing press. Modern readers take for granted the way a life informs a work, and vice versa. In the opening years of the seventeenth century, the expectations of authorship changed, and the habits of print that include biography certify rmer identity between an individual’s creative work and life story. Perhaps Chaucer’s biography was thought to make up for his poor readability. Through the seventeenth cen-tury, the disused rules of the English language that governed pronunciation of Chaucer’s over 200-year-old verse continued to fade from collective memory. Thus, while the volumes gather hundreds of pages of English poetry, they were little read. Chaucer’s iconic status rested on af rmation of his ancient English character and reputation rather than on appreciation of his verse. THE RIVAL POPULARITIES OF CHAUCER AND GOWER But, even granting a dearth of real readers, Chaucer was not universally admired in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His Canterbury Tales became, for some, a signal of moral degradation. From the middle of the sixteenth century and to its end, Chaucer’s rival for affection and adula-tion as England’s premiere national poet was his contemporary John Gower (ca. 1330–1408). The historical Chaucer and Gower knew each other in their lifetimes; they refer to each other in their poetry. Both Chaucer and Gower were printed by Caxton: Gower’s long English poem, Confessio
amantis , appeared in 1483, the same year Caxton printed Chaucer’s Canter-bury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde . Thomas Berthelet, the self-proclaimed King’s Printer, brought out the Confessio in 1532, the same year that Thynne brought out his works of Chaucer—printed by Berthelet. The Confessio was reprinted, perhaps by other hands, in 1554, as Thynne’s Chaucer edition was reprinted two more times before Stow’s version appeared in 1561. The edi-tions of Gower’s Confessio do not have the weight of contemporary Chau-cer folios: with about 190 leaves, or about 400 pages, they do not have the heft of Chaucer’s well over 500 pages. But despite a reduced number of edi-tions and copies, and despite the fteenth century’s identi cation of Chaucer as England’s literary icon, sixteenth-century Gower gave sixteenth-century Chaucer a run for his money. Gower’s tomb, in London’s Southwark Cathe-dral, predates Chaucer’s in Westminster, but Southwark was smaller than Westminster and was identi ed with the monastic Augustinians rather than having the political foundation Westminster enjoyed: Southwark earned its designation as cathedral in 1905. Gower had a hand in his tomb’s design, al-though its modern version is in large part a reconstruction. Perhaps Gower’s interest in a permanent chantry for his remains says more about his self-opinion and attempts to foster his reputation than it does about his piety. But it is for his piety, especially as foil to Chaucer, that Gower was known in the sixteenth century. In the complicated religious politics of the successive reigns of Henry VIII’s three children, Gower possessed the epithet “moral Gower.” The phrase was used not only to tout his work but to distinguish it from Chaucer’s. In an era riven by sectarian politics and religious foment, reformist mentalities preferred “moral Gower” to his opposing number’s racy Canterbury Tales. Truth be told, a fair number of The Canterbury Tales are naughty: “The Miller’s Tale” is the best-told dirty joke in the English language. YouTube versions of it run a close second to “Pardoner’s Tale” videos. As for the sixteenth century, some writers use the phrase “Canterbury Tale” as a code for scurrility. One drama-tist, Robert Greene (1558–1592), actually constructs a prose dream vision in which Chaucer and Gower visit him as he struggles with his legacy and the immoral books he has produced. The dream’s Chaucer supports Green’s less-than-pious collection of stories as an excellent legacy, but “moral Gower” lectures Green on the error of his ways (with not a joke in sight). Through the intercession of a biblical deus ex machina, King Solomon advises Greene that wisdom and theology should be his only study. Greene credits Gower with showing him the way to repent of his works and immoral behavior, and, when the vision ends, Greene promises to leave all thoughts of love, instead devoting himself to produce fruit of better labors. Besides moral Gower in Greene’s book, other sixteenth- and seventeenth-century references to Chaucer and Gower show that Greene’s opinion had traction. For instance, Sir Philip Sydney’s Apologie for Poetry notes Chaucer’s “great wants.” But in the number of sixteenth-century editions published, Chaucer outshone Gower brightly. Gower’s work saw printing only once in
Geoffrey Chaucer 197the sixteenth century, in 1554, in contrast to the many printings of Chaucer’s works. No seventeenth-century Gower edition exists. Indeed, Gower’s work wasn’t republished until the nineteenth century. Perhaps fame needs a racy edge to reach the height of iconic status. Chaucer’s work, though little read, in-habited sixteenth-century literary history and nationalist narratives and found printers for editions in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The world of narrative literature itself changed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and not just because of the availability of books. Per-haps it was Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth I’s tutor, who praised Chaucer as the English Homer to keep alive Chaucer’s reputation as excellent versi er and epic poet. The attribution seems somewhat forced in light of the dif -culty readers had with Chaucer’s Middle English, pronounced and poetically scanned differently from modern English. Perhaps this dif culty prompted Sir Philip Sydney in his classic Apologie for Poetry (1581) to forgive Chaucer his “great wants,” his de ciencies, because he had in the main “beauti ed our mother tongue.” CHAUCER AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT By the eighteenth century, the winds of taste blew away the ostensible messes Chaucer (and Shakespeare) had made of English literature in order to install a new English classicism. As already noted, “classicism” as both concept and word took off in the eighteenth century. Enlightenment poets concentrated on reviving not English classics but Greek and Latin classics translated into English. Chaucer’s legacy eventually fell into the hands of Alexander Pope and other poets of England’s Enlightenment era. These Augustan poets professed disdain for the quaint relics of the past. They nevertheless paid obeisance to Chaucer’s Ghost, as one work (1672) termed it. But that reverence did not include new editions, only reprints of his work. Speght’s edition was reprinted in 1672, and no new Chaucer edition appeared, nor were old ones reprinted again, before two decades of the eighteenth century had already passed. The seventeenth century transformed Chaucer from an important and original antique voice whose poetry was little read, and even then with dif culty, to a quaint curiosity unenlightened and unadmired but for his (accidental) Englishness. In his God’s Plenty (1700), John Dryden labels Chaucer “a rough diamond” who “mingles trivial things with those of greater moment.” The icon kept standing almost as a curiosity. Still, Pope admired Chaucer’s storytelling ability despite the contemporary taste for Latin- and Greek-sounding poetry. Perhaps it was Pope’s Catholicism that allowed him to admire Chaucer’s works. The historical Chaucer was, of course, Catholic insofar as any fourteenth-century Christian was “catho-lic.” Perhaps Chaucer’s sixteenth-century Protestant editors had ampli ed the non-Chaucerian works in their editions in order to remove the poet’s Catho-lic taint. Certainly their addition of anti-Catholic polemics under Chaucer’s
name was meant to recoup Chaucer as an English Protestant avant la lettre . But despite the need to recreate Chaucer as English Protestant, and also to situate him in the thick of English literary history, not very many readers were doing more than handling Chaucer’s texts in old editions. While Chaucer con-tinued to be referred to as the “father of English poetry,” as he had been for quite some time, his works themselves had little purchase on the reading classes of eighteenth-century England. Schooling may have been slightly more available in the eighteenth century, but higher education concentrated on the Greek and Roman classics and left English literature out in the cold. And, beside the near unreadability of Chaucer’s texts, self-professed English writers like Daniel Defoe thought Chaucer’s lewdness explained the justi able burial of his works. Support for Chaucer’s poetry and iconic status in spite of his supposed scurrility and dif cult language found one interested party at the begin-ning of the eighteenth century, and a new edition of Chaucer’s works nally caught up with this new appreciation. Unlike Speght, who merely included a glossary of “hard words explained,” John Urry in his 1721 edition modern-ized Chaucer’s language and made his verse widely readable. At least now Chaucer’s metrics had been codi ed and the pronunciation of his verse was better understood. Not that Urry neglects a glossary, a feature included in all Chaucer editions to this day. Urry’s readable Chaucer still retains the poet’s original avor and touts his paternity of English letters. The edition’s biography calls Chaucer “a great scholar, a pleasant wit, a candid critic, a sociable companion, a steadfast friend, a grave philosopher, a temperate economist [!] and a pious Christian.” A witty economist Chaucer given to friendship and conviviality re ects the values of eighteenth-century society: protean Chaucer, retaining his iconic status, acquires an eighteenth-century impress that makes him simultaneously venerably revered and contempo-rarily recognizable. The impulse, if not the exact fashion, of modernization persists in YouTube productions of Chaucer. Even when his poetry was little read, Chaucer’s iconic status is veri ed by the fact that admirers and detractors alike had to reckon with his reputation as Father of English Poetry. Even those who lament his lack of decorum—a signal eighteenth-century literary value—still recognized his poetic virtuosity or, as one critic labeled it (Joseph Warton, 1782), “a mine of gold.” Surely eighteenth-century England’s ambivalent attitude toward its poetic icon comes from efforts of poets like Pope not only to nd their poetic voices in classical antecedents but to denigrate as “barbarous” the inescapable Middle English in which Chaucer wrote. But the attraction of Chaucer’s “barbarous” voice and his identity with England’s Celtic and Saxon past gained a foothold in the mid-eighteenth century. A Gothic impulse, still familiar today in the television horror series Tales from the Crypt (1989–96) gave new inspiration to English novels like Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto . An antiquarian interest in and general revival of Scots bards and Welsh poets, even in patent forger-ies like the Ossian poems, makes Chaucer look downright modern even as
Geoffrey Chaucer 199burgeoning Romantic attitudes began to celebrate the awesome and antique as essential and authentic. CHAUCER IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY William Godwin (1756–1836), father of Frankenstein ’s author, Mary Shelley, re ected this new adoration of the Gothic allied with Romantic heroism in his biography of Chaucer (1803). Moving his reader’s imagination further back in time, past the already remote sixteenth century, Godwin pointed to the “times of Chaucer” as more obviously and unquestionably barbaric than the times of that other English barbarian, Shakespeare. Chaucer, unlike Shakespeare, had the “single mind” to effect a restoration of poetry and the Muses to England’s rocky shore by “ x[ing] and naturalis[ing] the genuine art of poetry in our island.” Chaucer thus became the uniquely rugged and effective individual, the man of genius every Romantic heart claimed for its own. In the hands of William Blake, in his engraving of the Canterbury Tales pilgrims, Chaucer becomes the “great poetical observer of men,” as well as master, father, and superior. Chaucer caught the sacred inspiration, according to Shelley. Adora-tion of Chaucer’s realism, aided and abetted by widely readable editions of his work, made him into a gure of his time who was ironically not only capable of transcending it but friendly to his readers in the bargain. What better de -nition of iconic status? Mass production in the nineteenth century enabled an enormous monu-mentalizing of Chaucer’s iconic status. His cause was taken up by the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris, whose Kelmscott Press produced an illustrated Canterbury Tales of enormous popularity. The signal temperament of English nostalgia can be summed up in the phrase “Merrie Olde England,” and Chaucer was made to stand at the head of this nostalgic attitude’s parade. Not unlike the Romantic gestures that certi ed Chaucer’s individual genius in the early part of the nineteenth century, the mid-nineteenth century identi ed him with the beginnings of English literary enterprise in relation to moral truth. John Ruskin, proli c Victorian critic, teacher, and moralizer, considered Chaucer for the English the equal of Virgil for the Latins, teaching the purest theology. This feat could be accomplished, of course, only by leav-ing The Canterbury Tales out of the curriculum. Be that as it may, Chaucer’s iconic identity with the English mind was a mainstay of nineteenth-century appreciations of the poet. Other assessments followed the changing currents of nineteenth-century literary aspirations, such that the literary aesthetics of Chaucer’s poetry began to take primary position. The nineteenth century saw another change in its intellectual landscape that affected the way Chaucer was read and understood. Nineteenth-century philology and linguistics made the recognition and description of a language’s predictable changes in sound a scienti c enterprise. Moreover, manuscript studies in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century professionalized
the reading of Chaucer’s poetry and led to a disconnect between those who read Chaucer for pleasure and those who studied his poetry in the academy. The Modern Language Association fought for the reading of the “modern languages,” such as English and French, alongside classical Greek and Latin, which were the stuff of a college education (in 1900 only 10 percent of the American population pursued a high school education, let alone attended col-lege). Although a nostalgia for “Merrie Olde England” kept a mostly modern-ized form of Chaucer in the public eye, including in children’s books, in the rst part of the twentieth century the professionalization of literary criticism began to take hold. CHAUCER AND THE TWENTIETH AND TWENTY-FIRST CENTURIES Some twentieth-century poets found themselves in Chaucer. Yeats praised Chaucer for his masculinity and vitality. Others praised his re nement; still others, his earthy physicality. His cheerfulness did not match modernism’s seriousness, but among Chaucer’s best twentieth-century readers was Virginia Woolf. She tangled with an iconic Chaucer in her Common Reader , and she discerns Chaucer’s interest in nature (like a Romantic poet) coupled with a keen, realistic eye (like a modern novelist) that helps readers “make out a meaning for ourselves.” This liberal tendency, coupled with an admiration for realism, brought Chaucer’s iconic status into the twentieth century, where, through the wonders of cinema and YouTube, he has persisted in the modern imagination. Even as the Academy claims expertise in Chaucer’s language and tends to denigrate popular culture’s regard for the poet, a healthy cadre of lay readers continue to enjoy Chaucer’s poetry. Perhaps not all contemporary medieval-themed enterprises that employ the icon of Geoffrey Chaucer cave as blatantly to modernization as A Knight’s Tale, but many do. A very funny Chaucer comes to life in the visitor attraction “The Canterbury Tales: Medieval Misadventures,” just minutes from Canter-bury Cathedral in historic Kent (see www.canterburytales.org.uk/home.htm). In the attraction, life-sized gures move à la Disney to enact ve of the Tales, not surprisingly the ve most frequently anthologized: “The Knight’s Tale,” “The Miller’s Tale,” “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” and “The Pardoner’s Tale.” A sound system carries the walk-through narrative and a mostly Modern English reading of selected passages from the Tales . Multilingual audio guides can be had for a price. Still, like all things coded “medieval,” the animatronics remain in semi-darkness, a subtle coding of the earlier “Dark Ages.” Although it’s a stretch to nd anything remotely sub-lime about the poetic icon in the tourist attraction, “The Canterbury Tales” re-certi es for twenty- rst-century tourists not Chaucer’s attachment to the cathedral but the creative engine of his imagination tangling the medieval literal—the pilgrimage and its trudging steps—with the medieval virtual—tale-telling and an in nite variety of stories. Chaucer’s identity as both poet
Geoffrey Chaucer 201and pilgrim, his seemingly bumbling narrator persona, and his constant at-tempts to blur the line between reality and ction serve as continuous features of an iconic Chaucer. YouTube Chaucer videos are amateurish and short. On the other hand, British novelist and screenwriter Jonathan Myerson has written and directed a very slick three-part version of The Canterbury Tales (1998 and 2000) that employs Claymation and other techniques of animation. Joining twentieth-century professionalism with good old-fashioned business sense, Myerson consulted academic Chaucerians for details of his production while also signing up the BBC and HBO as distributors. Several teams of animators, using visually different styles, produced 10 tales in nine episodes (The tales of the Miller and the Reeve are combined). Myerson’s series also includes the frame story of the pilgrimage to Canterbury and a set of links between the tales, and his Chaucer looks as an iconic Chaucer should: hooded eyes, pointed beard, slight paunch. Even Alexander Pope would recognize him. Just like the portraits in the Hoccleve manuscript and everywhere else, though produced with the wonders of animated plasticene, the forked beard, slight pot belly, and hooded eyes are paired with a gentle demeanor that strongly contrasts with the wild and wooly Miller. Myerson originally provided two soundtracks for his videos: one in Middle English, the other modernized. In this, Myerson harks back to a sensibility born in the eighteenth century that, through modernization, encouraged the reading of the Tales, instead of antiquarian or purely iconic admiration. A network television phenomenon that has kept iconic Chaucer in the public eye is a live-action series made for the BBC of six updated Canterbury Tales (2003). Sally Wainwright adapted “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and set it on and behind the stage of a soap opera; Peter Bowker’s “The Miller’s Tale” updates the funniest narrative in English with a pub, karaoke night, and false promises of fame; “The Knight’s Tale,” adapted by Tony Marchant, begins with jail and two prisoners falling in love with their teacher; Avie Luthra’s “The Sea Captain’s [Shipman’s] Tale” concerns a love triangle in an Asian community in Gravesend, Kent, outside London and on the Thames; Roch-ester, east of Gravesend, is the setting for the three drunken rioters of “The Pardoner’s Tale,” adapted by Tony Grounds; and Olivia Hetreed sets her ad-aptation of “The Man of Law’s Tale” in Chatham, just down the road from Gravesend, with an amnesiac yet pious Nigerian lling in for the Christian Constance. The problem with adaptations like this high-budget BBC effort is the re-lentless normalizing of Chaucer’s social world, not to mention his language. The commercial structures of London, Gravesend, Rochester, and Chatham may arguably have their roots in the late Middle Ages, but the triumph of commercialism that controls the modern imagination could not have been envisioned in Chaucer’s time. In addition, regularization and familiarization rob The Canterbury Tales of their alterity and shortchange the audience of an opportunity to grapple with that alterity. Of course, such adaptations of
Chaucer t the long history of his iconic status: reshaped, refolded to t alter-nately others’ Protestant and Catholic, national and provincial, sublime and scurrilous agendas. Can we ever de ne a “real” Geoffrey Chaucer? CONCLUSIONS What is the future of Geoffrey Chaucer? Although in the United States the College Board no longer requires students to recognize Chaucer’s poetry, the number of Canterbury Tales projects on YouTube indicates that Chaucer re-mains protean, funny, rhymed, and mischievously attractive for the twenty- rst century. It’s easy to consider Chaucer’s icon as eternal, having lasted for six hundred years through adaptation, manipulation, and commercial viabil-ity. Chaucer became very quickly a totem for Englishness, at once linguistic, national, and personal. His poetry’s ambiguities in voice, character, plot, and interpretation make his work stand the test of time. But Chaucer’s iconic sta-tus is not all about Chaucer, nor is it under Chaucer’s control. We see in our icons what we project onto them, even as the icons themselves must have a protean nature to survive that amount of projection. The past speaks to us through these icons, and we can get over our obsession with one kind of authenticity if we can accept an icon’s fame as dynamic, rather than static. Moreover, in Chaucer’s case (and maybe that of other poets too, but not other Fathers of English Poetry, for only one exists), the continuity of his iconic status is assured by the pleasing proliferation of YouTube Chaucers. Icons are more than images, and the ease with which Chaucer has entered the Internet age (how many YouTube William Wordsworths are there?) bodes well for his continued iconic presence as England’s medieval poet par excellence . FURTHER READING Editions Benson, Larry D., ed. The Riverside Chaucer . 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mif in, 1987. (This is the edition on which all professional scholars depend.) Ellis, Steve. Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales . London: Longman, 1998. Kolve, V.A., ed. The Canterbury Tales: Nine Tales and the General Prologue . New York: Norton, 1989. Lynch, Kathryn L., ed. Geoffrey Chaucer: Dream Visions & Other Poems. New York: Norton, 2007. Guides Boitani, Piero, and Jill Mann, eds. The Cambridge Chaucer Companion . Cam-bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Bowden, Muriel. A Reader’s Guide to Geoffrey Chaucer. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Uni-versity Press, 2001.
Geoffrey Chaucer 203 Brewer, Derek. An Introduction to Chaucer . London: Longman, 1984. Brewer, Derek. A New Introduction to Chaucer . London: Longman, 1998. Cooper, Helen. The Canterbury Tales . Oxford Guides to Chaucer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Ellis, Steve, ed. Chaucer: An Oxford Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Gray, Douglas, ed. The Oxford Companion to Chaucer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Minnis, Alistair J. The Shorter Poems. Oxford Guides to Chaucer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Rossignol, Rosalyn. Critical Companion to Chaucer: A Literary Reference to His Life and Works. New York: Facts On File, 2007. Windeatt, Barry. Troilus and Criseyde . Oxford Guides to Chaucer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Biography Brewer, Derek. Chaucer in His Time . London: Nelson, 1963. Crow, Martin M., and Claire C. Olson, eds. Chaucer Life Records . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966. Gardner, John. The Life and Times of Chaucer . New York: Knopf, 1977. Howard, Donald. Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World . New York: Dutton, 1987. Pearsall, Derek A. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography . Oxford: Black-well, 1992. Language Burnley, David J. A Guide to Chaucer’s Language . Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. Davis, Norman, Douglas Gray, Patricia Ingham, and Anne Wallace-Hadrill. A Chau-cer Glossary . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979. Dillon, Bert. A Chaucer Dictionary: Proper Names and Allusions. Excluding Place Names . Boston: G. K. Hall, 1974. Reception Barrington, Candace. American Chaucers . New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Boswell, Jackson Campbell, and Sylvia Wallace Holton. Chaucer’s Fame in England: STC Chauceriana 1475–1640 . New York: MLA, 2004. Brewer, Derek. Geoffrey Chaucer: The Critical Heritage . London: Routledge, 1995. Bryan, W. F., and G. Dempster, eds. Sources and Analogues of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Chicago, 1941. (Currently being updated as Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales . Gen. ed. Robert E. Correale; associate gen. ed. Mary Hamel. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, from 2002 [two volumes have appeared].) Dane, Joseph. Who’s Buried in Chaucer’s Tomb? Studies in the Reception of Chaucer’s Book . East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998. Ellis, Steve. Chaucer at Large: The Poet in the Modern Imagination . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Forni, Kathleen. The Chaucerian Apocrypha: A Counterfeit Canon . Gainesville: Uni-versity Press of Florida, 2001.
Prendergast, Thomas A. Chaucer’s Dead Body: from Corpse to Corpus . New York: Routledge, 2004. Prendergast, Thomas A. Rewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400–1602 . Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999. Spurgeon, C.F.E. Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion, 1357–1900 . 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925. Trigg, Stephanie. Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Selected Critical Studies Aers, David. Chaucer, Langland and the Creative Imagination . London: Routledge, 1980. Dinshaw, Carolyn. Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics . Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Gibaldi, Joseph, ed. Approaches to Teaching Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales . New York: MLA,1980. Muscatine, Charles. Chaucer and the French Tradition: A Study in Style and Mean-ing . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957. Strohm, Paul. Social Chaucer . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989. Yearbook and Journal For specialists, Studies in the Age of Chaucer is the annual publication of the New Chaucer Society. The Chaucer Review is another source for up-to-the-minute scholarship on Chaucer. Websites The Geoffrey Chaucer Website Homepage (materials used in Harvard University Chaucer courses): http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/. METRO (Middle English Teaching Resources Online), hosted by Harvard University (a resource for teaching Middle English, with much of the site devoted to Chaucer): http://metro.fas.harvard.edu. The New Chaucer Society: http://artsci.wustl.edu/~chaucer/index.php.
Chinggis Khan (ca. 1167–1227) George Lane Portrait of Chinggis Khan (ink and watercolor on silk), date unknown, Chinese. (National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan/The Bridgeman Art Library)
Chinggis Khan, conqueror of the world, loomed large in the nightmares of medieval Europeans, and his image haunts the conscience if not nightmares of European and American leaders today as they instigate the return of Mongol troops to the ruins of Baghdad in what some see as a rerun of history. The man who became the myth lives on through a legacy that is very much alive and thriving today in many different guises and a multitude of conceptions throughout the lands where he and his immediate descendants rst estab-lished their writ. DNA analysis suggests that the man is literally responsible for as much as 1 percent of the male population of the planet and his legacy is peopling rather than de-peopling the world, the association that has so often been coupled with Eurasia’s greatest hero, Chinggis Khan. Freed from the shackles of Soviet political correctness, Russia’s easterly neighbors have reinstated their most famous ruler to the heroic and some-times even divine status of which he is more deserving than either the dismis-sive or the demonic status he “enjoyed” under Soviet patronage. The demonic Genghis Khan and his “Storm from the East” found himself seated alongside Hitler and Stalin as visitations from hell in the European pantheon of evil. Therefore when the newly liberated former communist states adopted Ching-gis Khan as a role model and national hero and, in the case of Mongolia, as very much the national hero and the embodiment of the state, it shocked much of the world. However, this shock was not universal, and what was also sur-prising was the number of countries that shared, if not the hero worshipping of the Great Khan, certainly a deep respect and admiration for the Mongolian conqueror. China had adopted the Mongol emperors as their own, Turkey had always viewed the horsemen from the East with approval, Iran certainly recognized that the Mongol century represented a golden age in literature and the arts, and Central Asia was in the process of raising Timür Khan onto a pedestal while recognizing their own hero’s debt to the Mongol conqueror. Realizing that some kind of reassessment of history was urgently needed, scholars were quick to dust off the many long-neglected tomes and examine again the many orid words and illustrated manuscripts in a rich array of tongues and from a exotic collection of courts, composed by eyewitnesses and participants in the history of that time. What began as a revisionist trickle has since the year 2000 become an increasingly excited torrent, and today the study of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire is a particularly exciting eld of history in which to be involved. Temüjin (the future Chinggis Khan) was born into the Turco-Mongol world of nomadic pastoralists who inhabited the vast steppes of Eurasia. Much of his early life is obscure and clouded in both mystery and myth. This includes the date of his birth, for which at least three dates are widely cited. The year 1155 is cited by Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318), the historian and grand wazir (the equivalent of prime minister) at the court of the Persian Mongols; 1162 by the Yuan shi , a history of the Mongol Yüan dynasty of China compiled and edited by Ming scholars (1368–1644); and 1167 by various traditions citing direct and indirect evidence. While May 3, 1162, remains his of cial date of birth in
Chinggis Khan 207the Mongolian Republic and 1162 is accepted in China and Russia, it is the last date, 1167, that most Western historians consider most likely and that most logically ties in with later recorded events in the Conqueror’s life. 1 How-ever, de Rachewiltz, in his de nitive edition of the anonymous Secret History of the Mongols , has backed 1162 as the year of Chinggis Khan’s birth, and it is very probable that he will be granted the last word. What all the histories agree is that the infant was born in Del’iun-bolduk on the Onon River, and many embellish this fact with the tradition that tight in his tiny hand he was clutching a clot of blood as big as a knucklebone. 2 Temüjin was related to the Tayichi’ut, a forest tribe of hunters and shers, through his father and was related to the Mongol Onggirat tribe on his mother’s side. The Tatars were the dominant Turco-Mongol tribe at that time and en-joyed the support of the powerful, sedentary Chin dynasty (1115–1234) of the Jurchens from the settled north of China. A symbiotic relationship ex-isted between the steppe and the sown (that is, nomads and agriculturists), and though this association is often portrayed as marked by animosity and incompatibility, the bonds uniting the two were strong and deep. By tradi-tion, the Chins would ally themselves with one of the nomadic steppe tribes to encourage rivalry and thereby increase their own security. Tatars were one of a number of nomadic Turco-Mongolian tribes, but it was their name that became a generic term for all the Turco-Mongol tribes in Europe, possibly because of its resemblance to the Latin Tartar meaning “hell,” and by implica-tion people who emanated from hell. Because it was also a generic term for the Mongol tribes in western Asia, the explanation for this widespread adop-tion of the generic term could simply be that the Tatars were early the most successful, well known, and powerful of the nomadic steppe tribes. However, the identi cation of the Mongols with the mythical Gog and Magog was com-mon throughout the Islamo-Christian world. At that time, these foul monsters were commonly believed to have been imprisoned by Alexander the Great beyond “Alexander’s Gate” (the Derband pass, Daghestan, Russia). Accord-ing to the Book of Revelations, they would be unleashed upon Jerusalem and the world before the Final Judgment, thus the apocalyptic stories circulating about the Mongols seemed to be con rming the veracity of this prophecy. The main literary sources for Chinggis Khan’s early life are the anonymous Secret History of the Mongols and Rashīd al-Dīn’s Compendium of Chronicles 3 ( Ja¯mi c al-Tava¯rīkh ). The former is the only literary text written in Mongolian about the Mongol Empire. It presented historians with some unique problems when it was rst discovered. Because Mongolian was not a written language before the rise of Chinggis Khan, the original History had been written down in an adaptation of the Uyghur script; however, the surviving texts are all cop-ies of painstaking transcriptions into Chinese characters, divorced from their Chinese meaning, that were phonetically equivalent to spoken Mongolian. It was written in the Year of the Rat, which would correspond to either 1228, the year after Chinggis Khan’s death, or 1240, the year before the death of Ögödei, Chinggis’s son and successor. In fact, it seems likely that the original
text might have been completed during Ögödei’s enthronement and certain abridgments and additional material concerning Ögödei’s reign added later, in which case both dates could be correct. In fact it is now believed that substan-tial editorial adjustments and additions were made during Ögödei’s reign. The author or compilers of this unique work remain unknown, and the history’s English translator, Arthur Waley, dismissed it as ction and fable. However, the Secret History has formed the framework of most accounts of Chinggis Khan’s early life, providing the essential chronology and background, and much of what the history relates can be corroborated in a general sense from other primary sources. Corroboration and a test of the Secret History ’s reliability can be gained from a work compiled some 80 or so years later. Rashīd al-Dīn’s Compen-dium of Histories used various Chinese sources for its extensive portrayal of early Mongol and Turkish history. These early Oriental chronicles are no longer extant, and almost the only known description of their content and the sole source providing access to their knowledge is from Grand Wazir Rashīd al-Dīn’s laboriously recorded chronicles. Rashīd al-Dīn, who was among many things a serious historian, had unparalleled access to Mongol and Chi-nese sources, many of which were forbidden to non-Mongols, through his friendship with the Mongol administrator, entrepreneur, cultural broker, and diplomat Bolad Aqa. 4 In particular, Rashīd al-Dīn was able to utilize the Altan Debter , an of cial Mongol history with a strictly restricted circulation, which independently corroborated much of the background and substance of the stories reported in the Secret History . Rashīd al-Dīn was commissioned to write his Compendium of Histories , the Ja¯mi c al-Tava¯rīkh, by Sultan Ghazan Khan, the rst Mongol ruler of Iran to convert to Islam. Ghazan had a deep interest in history and recognized that scholars in the Mongol courts had un-precedented access to the representatives of peoples from all over the world. In these days when, thank God, all corners of the earth are under [Mon-gol] control, and philosophers, astronomers, scholars, and historians of all religions and nations . . . are gathered in droves . . . and each and every one of them possesses copies, stories, and beliefs of their own people . . . the opportunity is at hand, [for] the composition of such a [history] the likes of which no king has ever possessed. 5 Central to Rashīd al-Dīn’s history was of course Chinggis Khan, and the grand wazir and his team had unlimited access to all available, extant sources. Due to the wazir’s friendship with the Yuan ambassador to the Ilkhanid court, the remarkable Mongol courtier and Renaissance man Bolad Aqa Chīnksa¯ nk, he also had access to restricted Mongol documents normally for the eyes of the Mongol nobility only. Much speculation has been offered regarding the authorship of the Secret History , but all that appears certain is that it was written from within the Mongol court and while avoiding too exaggerated panegyrics, its author is
Chinggis Khan 209sympathetic to the image of Temüjin succeeding despite the opposition and treachery of the other khans. Chinggis Khan’s considerable political skills are downplayed while the inevitability of his rise and the defeat of those who sought to oppose him through intrigue and per dy are stressed. Speculation has even extended to the history having been written by a woman, evidenced apparently by inclusion of such anecdotes as Temüjin’s fear of dogs and his childhood murder of his half-brother. The history contains a wealth of detail concerning the minutiae of Mongol camp life, detail that puts to rest the tradi-tional theory that the Mongols had no interest or aptitude for administration and bureaucracy. EARLY LIFE Temüjin’s early life was punctuated by four de ning incidents: the murder of his father and the family’s subsequent fall into near destitution; his murder of Bekhter, his half-brother; his kidnapping by the Tayichi’ut; and the abduction of his bride, Börte Füjin. Though not born into the nobility, Temüjin’s early circumstances were re-spectable, and his father, Yesügei, the son of Bartan-Baghatur, is generally recognized as a minor chieftain though not as a khan. His grandfather, Qabul Khan, was recognized as a khagan, or chieftain, by the Chins. Qabul Khan was a grandson of Qaidu Khan, who is credited with being the rst leader to attempt to unify the Mongol tribes. Temüjin’s mother, Hö’elun, was from the Olkhunut forest tribe; she had been abducted by Yesügei and his brothers from her newlywed husband of the Merkit tribe as she and her husband were traveling back to the Merkit camp. Yesügei then made Hö’elun his chief wife, who would bear his heirs. Though abduction was a common and traditional form of marriage, the custom con-tinued to cause resentment and anger, and it was a common cause of hostility and intertribal warfare. Temüjin’s mother, Hö’elun, bore Yesügei Bahadur 6 three more sons, Khasar, Khajiun, and Temüge, and lastly one daughter, Temulin, born when her oldest was nine. There were also two other brothers, Bekhter and Belgutei, from a second wife. The family had their base by the River Onon, where the children learned riding and archery from an early age. During these years Temüjin formed a close friendship with Jamuka, a son from a neighboring family, with whom he formed a blood-brothership ( anda ) by exchanging knucklebones and arrows. The relationship between andas was often considered stronger than that between blood brothers and could not be lightly set aside. It was also during this time that Temüjin’s father arranged his nine-year-old son’s marriage to Börte Füjin, a daughter of Dei-sechen, from the Boskur tribe, a subgroup of a leading Mongol tribe, the Onggirad. Upon departing from the bride’s father’s camp, leaving his son with his new in-laws, Yesügei Bahadur passed by a group of Tatars who had struck camp to eat. He availed himself
of the ancient nomadic custom of hospitality and was invited to share their meal. However, the Tatars recognized him as an enemy who had previously robbed them—“Yesügei the Kiyan has come” 7 —and so poisoned his food. He died upon reaching home and entrusted the loyal Mönglik with ensuring his eldest son’s safe return. After his father’s murder, Temüjin’s family fortunes declined abruptly, and as eldest son, on whom the responsibility of breadwinner fell, Temüjin was summoned home to provide for his family. His mother famously hoisted her skirts up . . . running upstream on the banks of the Onon, gathering wild pear, fruits of the region, nourishing the bellies and throats of her children . . . digging up roots to nourish her children, she fed them with onions, fed them with garlic, saw how the sons of her belly could ourish. . . . Thus on a diet of seeds they were nourished. 8 This was a harsh and bitterly learned lesson that left a profound impression on his character. The family’s predicament worsened when their relatives de-cided that continued loyalty to a departed leader was strategically prejudicial, politically inopportune, and economically detrimental. Dismissing the nine-year-old Temüjin as too young to lead the clan, Yesügei Bahadur’s Tayichi’ut followers, his nökhöd, deserted the camp, declaring, “The deep water has dried up; the shining stone is worn away. It is over.” 9 It was not only the nökhöd, whose expectations of plunder and martial adventure had now been dashed, who deserted Yesügei’s stricken family, but also less explicably the family’s close relatives. According to steppe tradition, a widow should be taken in marriage and given protection by the youngest brother, in this case, Da’aritai-otchigin. Hö’elun declined, asserting her wish to raise her family alone. However, as Rashīd al-Dīn records that in fact the bereaved family did receive considerable support from family members in-cluding Yesügei’s elder brother, Kuchar, this might well be the Secret History overdramatizing Temüjin’s plight to portray the mounting adversities from which the future world conqueror was so determinedly and remarkably able to extricate himself. What is clear is that times became considerably harder for Hö’elun and her young family, and such lial occupations as horse-rustling became necessities rather than pastimes. The murder, when he was 13 or 14, of his half-brother, Bekhter, is perhaps the most controversial of the four de ning incidents from Temüjin’s early life. It is an incident that gures prominently in the Secret History but appears to have been ignored in the Altan Debter, an of cial history. Ostensibly the reason behind the murder was the theft of a sh and a lark from Temüjin and his brother, Jochi-Kasar, by the two half-brothers, Bekhter and Belgutei, which highlighted a certain rivalry simmering between the two branches of the fam-ily. The of cial history, the Altan Debter, avoids reference to the incident, which undoubtedly besmirches the reputation of Chinggis Khan, whereas the Secret History does not hide Hö’elun’s grief, shock, and anger at her sons, whom she brands murderers and destroyers.
Chinggis Khan 211 In response to Bekhter’s theft of a sh, an incident that followed accusations of the half-brothers’ failure to share their hunting spoils (the division of spoils being a practice sancti ed by Mongol custom and tradition), Temüjin and Kasar confronted the older brother, who, apparently accepting his fate, asked only that his younger brother, Belgutei, be spared. Bekhter was dispatched with horn-tipped arrows, and Belgutei was spared to eventually nd honor and recognition serving his brother’s murderer. Chinggis Khan was later to speak of both brothers, “It is to Belgutei’s strength and Kasar’s prowess as an archer that I owe the conquest of the World Empire.” 10 It seems likely that more was at stake than ownership of a sh to have caused this fratricide. The age of the half-brothers is not explicitly stated in the sources, and there is evidence suggesting that Bekhter might have been older than Temüjin, in which case he could have been perceived as a threat to Temüjin’s leadership of the family. Had Temüjin been the oldest of the boys, such breaches of tradition as the theft and refusal to share hunting spoils could not have occurred, because his status could not have been questioned. Belgutei is reported by Rashīd al-Dīn to have voted in the election of Möngke Qa’an in 1251 before dying in 1255 at the age of 110. While assuming the gure of 110 to be exaggerated but indicative of unusual longevity, it could be that even the younger of the half-brothers was older than Temüjin. However, as the rst son of the rst wife, Temüjin would have regarded Bekhter’s behav-ior as an infringement upon his privileges, almost as insurrection, and would have felt full justi cation in meting out appropriate punishment. Bekhter’s apparent lack of resistance and his brother’s failure to seek revenge suggests that they also understood Temüjin’s response. In the Secret History, Temüjin’s kidnapping and imprisonment by the Tayichi’ut follow immediately after the account of the murder, though no suggestion is made that the two events were linked other than portraying Temüjin’s treatment as that be tting a common criminal. Whether his capture was retribution for the killing or because Tarkutai-Kiriltuk, a leading noble of the Tayichi’ut, considered him a potential rival, or both, is never clari ed, and Rashīd al-Dīn suggests that throughout his youth Temüjin suffered con-tinually at the hands of not only relatives from the Tayichi’ut but also rivals from the Merkits, the Tatars, and other tribes. Such tribulations were hardly uncommon for the young Turco-Mongols, and kidnappings for ransom, for servants, or even for forced ghters were not uncommon, as the many ex-amples mentioned in the Secret History testify. The Secret History recounts how Temüjin cleverly planned and calmly ex-ecuted his escape. He chose to ee on the night of a feast, when he knew his guards would be distracted. Still wearing the wooden cangue his captors had put him in (a sort of collar immobilizing the head and both arms), he plunged into a river. By using the cangue as a otation device, he was able to lie on the bed of the river and keep his head above water. In this manner he bided his time. He was discovered by Sorqan-shira, of the small Suldus tribe, who rather than betraying him assisted the fugitive in his escape. Sorqan-shira, like others who were to follow him, said of Temüjin, “There is a re in his eyes