Design a site like this with
Get started

English 10, Lesson 175 – The Pardoner’s Tale

Geoffrey Chaucer was an English writer and poet.  His works were so acclaimed that he was given the title “father of English poetry” or “father of English literature.”  This week in class, I read one of Chaucer’s most popular and praised works: The Canterbury Tales.  In this essay, I am going to talk about one of the stories I read this week called “The Pardoner’s Tale.”

The story started with a man who was pretending to be a pardoner (a person who pardons the sins of people).  He was a con man trying to separate people from their money.  One night, the pardoner was carrying a dead body to its grave and three drunks from a nearby pub spotted him.  They asked the pardoner what happened to the dead man.  The pardoner spun a long and intricate story about how death came and stole the man’s life. 

The three drunks decided to swear an oath to find and kill death and to protect each other like brothers.  When the three drunks set off for their journey, they run into an elderly man.  This man had a hood over his head, obscuring his face from the view of the three drunks.  The man told the drunks that death had refused to take him, which led the drunks to believe that the man knew where death was.  They demanded to know the location of death, and the old man told them to an oak tree.

When the three of them reached the oak, they found bundles of money under the tree.  When they saw this money, they decided to stop at the oak and go no further in their adventure, breaking the oath they made.  Once they made themselves comfortable, they pulled lots to see who should go into town and steal bread and wine.  The youngest of the three was sent into town, but while he was away, the other two plotted a way to kill him so they could split the money two ways instead of three.  Meanwhile, the youngest man was planning to poison the other two men so we could get all the gold for himself.  This is them breaking the second part of their oath, which was to protect each other like brothers.

In the end, all three died and no one got the money.

It seemed that the point of the story was Chaucer trying to show how foolish the practice of pardoners was.

One thing to note, was how random the sudden appearance of the elderly man was.  I have noticed that in stories written during Chaucer’s time (12th and 13th century), that authors would add insignificant characters only to move the story along. 

However, the elderly man did not seem like one of these insignificant characters.  A theory, is that the man was death, hence his hooded face and his comment on how “death will not take him.”  Perhaps death will not take him because he is death.

With the Pardoner’s Tale, Chaucer may have been trying to prove a point, but I feel that it may have gotten lost in how long the story was.  It was an entertaining story to read, but I had more fun trying to figure out who the old man was than trying to understand the meaning of the story.

Thanks for reading!


English 10, Lesson 165 – Boccaccio’s “Gripping” Stories

This week in class, I finished reading The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.  The book is a compilation of stories, split into two parts, which were set during the Black Plague.  In this essay, I am going to talk about which part of The Decameron was more gripping to read.

The first part of The Decameron is a compilation of stories set during the time of the Black Plague.  The passages are short and easy to read.  Historians have even confirmed that some events described in the stories were historically accurate and not completely embellished by Boccaccio.  I would not describe the stories as “gripping”, but they were certainly interesting to read.

However, the second part was less interesting and felt like a poorly executed attempt by of trying to get people to understand Boccaccio’s views through convoluted stories.  Every story mocked or bashed the Christian religion in subtle ways.  The stories felt ridiculous and illogical.  While I understand that Boccaccio was aiming for fictional stories, the stories in the second part of The Decameron felt too senseless to count as good fiction.  However, I have to admit that the pure silliness of some stories were quite entertaining to read through.  Perhaps that was Boccaccio’s goal for the second part of The Decameron.

As you can see, The Decameron was an interesting book to read for the course.  Personally, I did not feel “gripped” by any of the stories.  Some were interesting and entertaining to read, while others felt a little dull.

Thanks for reading!

English 10, Lesson 160 – Boccaccio: Decameron

The Decameron is a book of stories about the Black Plague that was written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century.  Boccaccio supposedly wrote the book to show the effects of the plague, but majority of the stories in the book are from his imagination.  In this essay, I am going to show how a reader could have learned about Boccaccio’s worldview from the stories in the book.

For some background, the book was published in 1353, only a year after the plague ended.  During the plague, it seemed that all morals went out the window.  People would abandon their families so they could live to see another day.  Popes and friars, who were expected to protect the people, abandoned their towns so they could escape the plague.  People lost faith in God.  They no longer felt like God was protecting them.  Christianity started to lose the affect it once had on people.  Even when the plague ended, the faith people once had in Christianity was no longer there.  It was very obvious that Boccaccio was part of the majority who no longer believed in God or Christainity.

The first story starts with seven young women who lived during the Black Plague.  They were in Church together and were complaining to one another about how dreadful home life was because all of their maids or servants had contracted the plague or ran away out of fear.  Together, they decided to spend the day at the abandoned cottage outside of their town with a few of their male friends.

The group decided to tell stories to entertain one another.  The first storyteller told a peculiar story about a crook who lied to a friar on his deathbed, which led to his canonization (made into a saint).  The crook, was described as “the worst man that was ever born.”  He stole, swore, lied, and murdered, but did not confess any of this to the friar on his deathbed.  Instead, he spun a story about how pious he was during his life and how he regretted not being able to do more.  The friar believed the crook, and after his death, told the whole town about the holiness about the man.

At the beginning and end of the story, the narrator called upon God.  I was not sure why the storyteller would do that as it did not seem to have any relevance to the story at the time.  Perhaps it was Boccaccio trying to mock God in an indirect, and confusing, way.

As the book goes on, it is obvious that Boccaccio was not a believer of God.  Almost every story mocks or ridicules God in one way or another.  Many stories blamed incidents on luck or fortune, much like the Greeks would have done.  They gave all credit to luck instead of God.

For example, in one story a pirate is sailing home after his adventures.  When his ship sank because of a storm, he found a floating chest in the water and used it as a buoy.  A poor woman on a nearby island saw the pirate and helped him.  The pirate was despairing over all of the lost treasure that was in the ocean, but he and woman soon discovered that the chest he pirate was using as a buoy was filled with precious gems.

The woman finding him was simply fortune, not the goodwill of God.  The chest being filled with gems was simply luck, not the work of God.

As you can see, Boccaccio wrote the book during a time where God and Christanity was not an idea that would get positive comments from the general public.  From the first story, it was obvious that Boccaccio was not a believer of God when the narrator mocked God’s name.

Thanks for reading!

English 10, Lesson 155 – Little Flowers and Song of Roland

The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi and Song of Roland are two different books written during the medieval period.  They are considered to be classic Christian literature.  But do these books give advice or demonstrate how a Christian should have lived during the medieval period?

Personally, I do not think either book provided any kind of advice for Christians who lived during the medieval years.  Even though both were based on true stories, the authors added so many fictional stories that the factual parts were completely lost or forgotten.

The Song of Roland was based on the First Crusade.  For a book that was based on a war, there was no war propaganda whatsoever.  When I started reading the book, I fully expected there to be passages that promoted the war and ‘fighting for the cause.’  However, not only was there no war propaganda, there was no advice for Christians.

I am not sure why Song of Roland is considered to be a classic in Christian literature.  There were no Bible quotes, lessons to Christians, or anything suggesting that the author was a Christian.  If I did not know any better, I would assume the book is another medieval piece of literature that would not meet today’s standard of writing.

In The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi there were so many ridiculously, fantastical stories that only a fool would read the book and believe any of the stories.  Unlike Song of Roland, the book did give advice, but not advice that a regular Christian could follow.

For example, there were several stories showing how friars and clerics should live.  The book emphasized on living in poverty and humility, as well as suffering like Christ did on the cross.  These stories only applied to those who devoted their whole being to the Church.  Everyday men and women could not follow, the advice given in the book.

The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi also gave Christians a very pessimistic idea of death.  In several chapters, the book talked about purgatory.  For those who do not know, purgatory is a state after death where you suffer to get rid of your sins.

In the book, many friars, despite living holy and pious lives, were stuck in purgatory and were not released.  If a friar could not leave purgatory, what hope did a normal man or woman have?  In some stories, purgatory was only cleansed of the souls after an extremely holy man died.  Did that mean people had to wait until someone pious died for them to be free of the torture?

As you can see, neither books offered advice to the common Christian.  If I was a Christian in the medieval ages, and I read these books, I would not be very pleased with what I spent my time on.  Especially The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi.  That book would have scared more than helped.

Thanks for reading!

English 10, Lesson 150 – Little Flowers: Life Beyond the Grave

This week in class, I finished the section on The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi.  The book told of stories of Saint Francis and his followers.  The principles Saint Francis emphasized to his disciples were very hard for the common man to follow.  For example, the way for people to get into heaven was described as a very gruelling, and not always guaranteed, process. In this essay, I am going to talk about Saint Francis’ version of how to get to heaven and if it was attainable for any common man.

In Saint Francis’ mind, suffering and abject poverty was a huge part of holiness.  For very obvious reasons, every common person could not be in abject poverty, and I doubt anyone would want to suffer all the time.  Many people were unwilling to leave all their progress behind and descend into destitution.  However, Saint Francis was adamant that poverty would guarantee you a spot in heaven.  If I was a common person during this time and I heard Saint Francis say this, I would not have much hope for myself after death.

During the last few chapters that I read, the topic of purgatory was brought up quite a bit.  For those who do not know, purgatory is “an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification.[i]

There were stories of friars who made great sacrifices and worshipped diligently, but still did not make it to purgatory.  For the common baker or blacksmith, who did not make sacrifices and pray daily, this would give them little to no hope.

As you can see, the expectations for heaven were set extremely high.  The common man would have felt like there was no point in trying to aim for that level of comfort after death.  If I lived during the time of Saint Francis, I would not be feeling too optimistic about reaching heaven.

Thanks for reading!

[i] “Purgatory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Sep. 2022.

English 10, Lesson 145 – Little Flowers: How to Attain Eternal Life?

This week in class, I read The Little Flowers of St. Francis, which was a biography of the life of Saint Francis, the creator of the Franciscan order.  The poem came out in the 1300s and described the daily life of those who joined the order and some peculiar things the Saint did (like giving sermons to birds).  In this essay I am going to answer the question, if you had been listening to these stories in 1300, what would you have concluded from them is the way to gain eternal life?

In the book, it is obvious that poverty and suffering is a very large part of being in the order.  Saint Francis emphasized poverty quite a bit throughout his life, and it was reflected in the book.  However, he also emphasized how not everyone can be in poverty, or their society would collapse.  The Saint and his followers lived a life of self-denial as a way to pay for their sins.  It is said that they genuinely enjoyed suffering injustices done to them.

Saint Francis also preached about humility.  He said that being humble is something the common man can be in his daily life, unlike the abject poverty the followers of the Franciscan order subjected themselves to.  He also talked about prayer and virtue, as a way to gain knowledge and protection from God as well as to get closer to Him spiritually.

If I was a reader from the 1300s, I would have concluded that the way to eternal life is to either join a group similar to the Franciscan order, or stay humble and close to God in whatever way I can.  From what is described, I doubt anyone, including me, would be overly keen on starting a life of self-deprivation like the ones the Saint and his followers led.

Thanks for reading!

English 10, Lesson 140 – Song of Roland: Discrepancies

For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading Song of Roland.  It is an epic poem about the battles between Charlemagne, the Frankish king, and the Islamic troops in the Battle of Tours (732 AD).  Throughout the story, there are several discrepancies that make events in the story seem so fantastical that I am completely convinced it is not even a little bit close to the actual event.  As a reader in the 21st century, and a student of Gary North’s English class, these inconsistencies seem to be disturbingly obvious.  But would they be obvious to readers of the typical listener from 11th century?

There are several mistakes throughout the poem that, as an author, irks me.

For example, in the beginning of the story, it is said that Charlemagne’s army outnumbers the Muslims.  So much so, that the Muslims were described as being on the ‘brink of defeat.’  However, in a later part of the poem, the story of Roland and Oliver is told.  What puzzles me in this instance, is if why the Muslims chose to wait so long to reveal their 400,000 men.  Where did this number come from?  Did they always exist, or is it only a detail to make the poem more ‘epic’?

Another example, also during the story of Roland and Oliver, is towards the end of the battle, only two men remain: Roland and Archbishop Turpin.  It is said that the archbishop was shot in the heart four times, but still managed to kill 400 Muslims before dying.  I may not be a doctor, but I have enough common sense to know that that is not humanly possible.

I only listed two examples, but there are many more in the poem where people who were described as dead suddenly came back alive (with no explanation) and exaggerated numbers describing the armies with no hint of where all these men came from.

To answer the question I asked above: judging by how popular this poem was, I would say that people either ignored the mistakes or simply did not notice them.  I can see the appeal and wonder of the story for those who lived during the 11th century, but as a viewer from the 21st century who is an avid reader of books with consistency, this was not an easy read.

Thanks for reading!

Western Civilization 10, Lesson 180, Essay 2 – Revealed Truth: People Never Believed the Earth Was Flat!

Many people, including me, have been told that people in the Middle Ages believed that the world was flat.  This idea was taught to many children when they asked about who Christopher Columbus was.  There is proof now that people in the Middle Age never believed that the Earth was flat.  In fact, no one believed this absurd fact.  If people in the Middle Ages never believed in this, where did the myth come from?

There were two men, Lactantius (c. 245 – 325) and Cosmas Indicopleustes (died 550 AD), who supposedly told people that the Earth was flat.  Historians who were trying to make people believe this myth claimed that everyone listened to these two men.  However, we now know that that was incorrect.

Lactantius was a Christian heretic who converted from Paganism.  He was always quick to refute anything the Pagans said or believed in.  When they said that the Earth was a sphere, Lactantius argued that the Earth was flat.  No one listened to any of Lactantius’ claims, and no one treated him as some great philosopher.

Cosmas was an early 6th century traveler and geographer from Greece.  Unlike Lactantius, he was not trying to make people believe that the Earth was flat.  He created a diagram of the Earth that showed that it was flat, but he did not seem to believe that the Earth was actually flat.  This diagram was used as an excuse to claim that Cosmas believed the world was flat and was trying to make others believe this as well.  There is a fault in this statement though.  Cosmas only wrote in Greek, which was not a language people read during the Middle Ages.  His works were only translated into Latin in 1706, years after Christopher Columbus’ journey “around the world.”

If no one believed the world was flat, where did this myth come from?  American historian Jeffrey Burton Russell believed that Washington Irving (1783 – 1859) and Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787 – 1848) were responsible for the start of this belief.

Irving’s works were often blurred the lines of fact and fiction.  It was difficult for his readers to tell what was real and what was not.  In his work about Christopher Columbus he made up an interaction between Columbus and a council who were supposedly warning him about falling off the edge of the flat Earth.

Letronne received his academic training from men who exaggerated the ignorance of people in the Middle Ages.  In his writings, he gave the people the idea that a vast majority of the population in the Middle Ages believed in this lie.

As you can see, not everything you ae taught is necessarily true.  This myth was started by men who wanted to exaggerate the idiocy of people during the Middle Ages.  You live and you learn, right?

Thanks for reading!