One Word is One Worm

Exploiting an eel’s habits in order to catch this fish as an experienced angler can be read beyond its literal form, because the bait can be compared to the description evil thoughts are given in Philokalia. The Compleat Angler is composed of fishing advice given from an experienced fisherman Piscator. Specifically, eels are said to be the smallest fish included in The Compleat Angler and are disputed in how they procreate and if their meat is healthy to eat. Nevertheless, it is recommended in the book to learn the eel’s habits and target it accordingly. Piscator advises that eels are not actively swimming during the daytime, instead they are found under boards and planks in secluded, dark areas. He recommends placing a small hook between these hiding places on warm day, “leisurely, and as far as you may conveniently: and it is scare to be doubted but that, if there be an Eel within the sight of it, the Eel will bite instantly” (Walton and Cotton, 186). Piscator also says to pull gradually to be sure to not spook the eel in order to ensure definite success. It seems gradual deception is encouraged in fishing as a whole.

Thus, this method of catching an eel is similar to the way Philokalia describes evil thoughts in a person’s mind, as “even a single word can deflect the mind from the memory of God, when the demons are pushing” (Kadloubovsky and Palmer, 403). This is because just one worm or one word, can result in the death of the eel or the death of a human soul. In addition, the way an eel omits from swimming during the day or even during a six month cold front, can be compared to monks separating themselves from society in complete silence and contemplation, where bait symbolizes temptation. ** It seems that the allusion of safety leads to a wandering mind, and a wandering mind leads to a weakness for worldly objects. * Therefore, while seclusion and the silence that comes from being alone, “tames the passions of the soul, they are wont to rage all the more if they are allowed to flare up and become acute, and with redoubled force they lead those, who let this happen, into sin” (Kadloubovsky and Palmer, 403). This is seen by Piscator’s certainty when it comes to saying that if there is an eel where you placed your bait, it will bite. Hence, it is best to be constantly checking in and ensuring that no bad thoughts have entered one’s mind, and a good way to do so is to be consistently reciting psalms. All in all, the advice given relating to catching fish can be interpreted on how to live and prosper as a good human by warning against being deluded by evil.


** Narration or Statement of the facts: imparting a spin to a story, plausibility


1 Page Memo

Preliminary Proposal

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales offers a multitude of topics including virginity, remarriage, and gender power dynamics to analyze in relation to spiritual texts. The Wife of Bath herself is seen misusing Biblical references in order to advance her stance on sex and marriage, and her tale focuses the idea that all women desire the upper hand in a relationship. The Wife of Bath also includes a spiritual-based debate on celibacy and sexual debts involved in a marriage. The idea of marriage can be read in a mystical nonliteral form where God is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. In addition, the cosmic symbolism of marriage (an element of the “Hidden God” tradition) which entails reciprocal service and sacrifice, can be related to the knight and old woman’s marriage. While Philokalia claims that passion and lust stray one away from God and recommend men to avoid women altogether, in Medieval literature rape is casually discussed and rarely punished according to 14th Century laws. In addition, it appears that while celibacy is recommended, marriage is a sacred communion between a man and a woman where sex is considered legal. It becomes apparent that there is a certain negative connotation with women that Chaucer’s Wife of Bath exhibits, such as promiscuity, and yet she can be considered a feminist by the reader simultaneously. I want to explore this idea of Wife of Bath being both a step forward and a step back for women, while including Chaucer’s own history with women. 

Three Outside Scholarly Research Sources:

Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law, by Kathryn Gravdal, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pp. 122–140. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Sept. 2020.

(Insight on rape culture and law)

BLAMIRES, ALCUIN. “Love, Marriage, Sex, Gender.” Chaucer and Religion, edited by HELEN PHILLIPS, NED – New edition ed., Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk;     Rochester, NY, 2010, pp. 3–23. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Sept. 2020.

(Insight on 14th Century Culture, which influenced Chaucer relating to virginity and consent)

Walker, Sue Sheridan. Wife and Widow in Medieval England. University of Michigan Press, 1993.

(Insight on 14th Century Canon Laws on Remarriage and Owning Property)

Planned Close Reading Sections:

  • SCENE 1: Lusty Knight rapes the maiden, and is offered a deal by Queen and ladies of the court: Lines 882-1012
  • SCENE 2: Knight gives power to his wife; she transforms from old to beautiful: Lines: 1207-1256

Draft One-Sentence Thesis: The Wife of Bath’s tale is told by a strong-willed narrator who boldly and imperfectly discusses gender power dynamics in a marriage in addition to, the idea of prized virginity, therefore this female character created by Chaucer is a subtle outlet for depicting misogynistic views in Medieval spiritual texts.


“Fleshy slime” has the Ability to Perform Miracles

The Faerie Queen implies that the perfect characteristics of Belphœbe exist in her because she is untainted by the human flesh, therefore this strong relationship between evil and flesh would be weakened by Gregory Palamus who discusses the possibility of deification of the flesh in Medieval Philosophy: A Multicultural Reader. Belphœbe gifted with chastity, grace, and a gentle nature is only referred to in a positive way throughout the novel. In addition, it appears that Belphœbe and her twin’s never straying good nature can be credited to an extraordinary birth where the stars were aligned in an ideal formation. More specifically, her chaste Mother, named Chrysognee, is impregnated by sun beams, which tend to symbolize the Holy Spirit, while in a deep slumber. Thus it is said that Belphœbe’s birth, “was of the wombe of Morning dew, and her conception of the ioyous Prime, and all her whole creation did her shew pure and vnspotted from all loathly crime, that is ingenerate in fleshly slime” (Spenser, 3, 6, 3). This portrays a common association where sin is rooted in human flesh because it sparks lust in the heart of an individual and causes one to stray away from God. 

While this is an accepted opinion, monk Gregory Palamus would counter that evil is not innate in “fleshy slime,” because the body performs the works of God. Palamus explains, “in a spiritual man, the grace of the Spirit, transmitted to the body through the soul, grants to the body also the experience of things divine, and allows it the same blessed experiences as the soul undergoes” (Foltz, 216). Here Palamus discusses the deification of the flesh that occurs when consistently interacting with divine energies. He also says that it is crass to believe that the body is always motivated by corporeal and material passions because the body has the ability to reject all interactions with evil things (Foltz, 217). Thus, this way of thinking allows an opposite, progressive, uplifting, inspiring, Divine perspective on the human body. * All in all, Edmund Spenser implies that sin is deep-seated in “fleshy slime” in which Belphœbe lacks. Yet, this is not always the case. Palamus’s writing shows that one does not require an exceptional birth to be free from the temptations of human flesh, for the human body does not necessarily equal sin as believed and seen in The Faerie Queen. Palamus depicts the body as a physical vessel for divine energies that is capable of performing miracles. **


**Arrangement: Conclusion/Epilogue


“Deal with Women as if They Were Fire”

The Redcrosse Knight fails to take Una’s warning under advisement when entering “Errours den” because of spiritual texts such as Philokalia that stress the importance of avoiding all types of interaction with women, let alone placing value on their opinions. Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen includes the Redcrosse Knight and Una traveling in the woods only to be caught in a raging storm that forces them to find shelter in the first book. When happening upon a cave, Una immediately urges the Knight that it is dangerous and further expands by claiming it, “breedes dreadfull doubts: Oft fire is without smoke, and perill is without show: therefore your stroke Sir knight with-hold, till further trial made” (Spenser, 44, Book I, Canto I, Stanza 15-17). Nevertheless, Redcrosse Knight briefly replies that they should not turn away from shelter amidst the storm and enters the “Errours den” without a second thought. Here he is attacked and almost strangled by the awful serpent-like beast coined “Errours” hated by both God and man.

Thus, it seems the Knight does not truly listen to Una, and when making decisions feels solely responsible, boldly responsible, immediately responsible. * To give some background, the overall logic behind advising men to avoid all conversation with women is the belief that a man will then completely escape passion in the form of lust (Kadloubovsky, 377). This is because lust is a sin rooted in the human flesh which turns one away from God and all that is otherworldly. In addition, since stopping all conversation with women is extreme, Philokalia advises men to, “deal with women as though they were fire” so that they, “become firmly established in the fear of God” (Kadloubovsky, 377). This specific spiritual text also tells men to not look at women and to limit the length of their conservations, so that way they can minimize the fire of desire in their hearts (Kadloubovsky, 377). Thus, it is difficult to imagine a way to listen and prioritize a woman’s opinion under this way of thinking where women are surrounded in a negative aura. Yet, it is also noted that one should never leave his wife by his own accord, as this is a holy union between a man and a woman and is to be cherished. Therefore, while the Redcrosse Knight could have bypassed an attack from “Errours” by listening to Una, it can be theorized that he was simply following the belief system of unmarried women representing fire and a departure from God. Under this tradition of thinking, the Redcrosse Knight is considered wise for keeping Una at a distance, until the union of marriage. **

*Epistrophe; Farnsworth Book

**Logos: Induction; May Book


Becoming Metaphorically Blind

The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia utilizes light and blindness as metaphors related to the Divine because it has roots in philosophical texts such as Philokalia written around Christian ideals in which describe the level of connectedness to the Holy Spirit through light. Thus, one can be light itself or can suffer from complete loss of sight. “St. Simeon The New Theologian” focuses on a young man named George who finds his way to eternal life despite only following a few simple steps. During prayer George claims that a, “brilliant Divine radiance descended on him from above and filled all the room,” and he, “became wholly dissolved in this transubstantial light and it seemed to him that he himself became light.” (Kadloubovsky, 145-146). Light becomes a metaphor for the “spiritual sun of truth, our Lord Jesus Christ,” and whoever is illuminated by the Holy Spirit is no longer phased by pleasures that tempt the human flesh (Kadloubovsky, 147-148). Thus, an individual does not possess light; it possesses an individual.* In addition, the act of being blind correlates to the lack of the ability for one to see and thus, become light. 

Darkness is the opposite to light, and logically one that is considered metaphorically blind succumbs to sins and is in a constant state of darkness. Arcadia uses this metaphor when the reader is informed of Gynecia’s prison cell. Gynecia lamenting her evil mind is, “suffer[ing] the fire brands of her own thoughts, especially when it grew dark, and had nothing left by her but a little lamp whose small light to a perplexed mind might rather yield fearful shadows than any assured sight” (Sidney, 798). Therefore, despite the small light source, it is made clear that Gynecia does not have the capacity to see. This goes beyond the literal sense of not being able to see in the darkness. Metaphorically Gynecia not being able to see represents her mind and body having been overcome by evil.  Hence, after accidently poisoning her husband Basilius due to her lust and jealousy, Gynecia is the opposite of light and all that is Divine. This is further explored by her dream of Philanax, “haling her by the hair of the head, and having put out her eyes” (Sidney 799). Here she literally envisions herself becoming blinded because of her sins to which she believes will be punished by death. Thus, a pattern is observed in both Arcadia and Philokalia relating the absence of sight to the absence of Divinity. It then can be hypothesized that literary works influenced by Christianity outside of Arcadia will also connect being illuminated by light to being visited by the Holy Spirit. In addition, when the idea of darkness appears in Christian literary works, it can be interpreted as evil. **

*Chiasmus; Farnsworth Book

**Induction; May Book 


Giving Love a Bad Name

Passion in the form of love is given a stark negative connotation in both Philokalia and Arcadia because it has the ability to lead a human being away from solid reasoning and all that is considered Divine. In Philokalia, St. Gregory of Sinai agrees with Theologians who claim the body created in the image of God originated as incorruptible containing a passionless soul. He then continues to compare passions to devouring demons which entice the body to become, “unreasoning and senseless, subject to anger and lust” (Kadloubovsky, 52). Specifically, the tendency of voluptuous passion in a sexually charged relationship is said to be, “the chief cause of lustful burnings, confusion of thoughts and darkening of the soul” (Kadloubovsky, 50). Thus, no saint can know passion; because no saint surrenders to passions without forfeiting a saint’s character. * In addition. St. Gregory asserts that “self-love” is the worst passion of the excitable part (Kadloubovsky, 51). This claim is in slight disagreement when love is brought up by Musidorus in Arcadia who claims loving another is, the “basest and fruitlessness of all passions” (Sidney, 133). 

While there is disagreement between the two works of literature on which type of love is worse, both works of literature are claiming that love is not something one should give into due to all the negative consequences that come along and ultimately eternal damnation. In Arcadia, the evil passion of loving an individual presents itself in multiple scenes. One example where love is explicitly cited as an evil passion is when Musidorus reprimands Pyrcoles in the arbor. Musidorus searched everywhere he could think of for his dear friend Pyrcoles, only to find him disguised as an Amazon woman in efforts to be near the princess of Arcadia, Philoclea, who he loved deeply. Musidorus tells his friend that this “Bastard love” is “engendered betwixt lust and idleness,” which are two evil passions themselves (Sidney, 133). Later it becomes clear that the passion Pyrcoles holds for Philoclea contains sensual pleasure rooted in voluptuous passion as well. This is seen when Pyrcoles reveals his true identity and stopping at a kiss with Philoclea is described as a “great war” (Sidney, 357). Nevertheless, one who disagrees with love being written about in a negative sense might claim that love is all that is good and give the example of loving God. However, this love of the incorporeal God cannot compare to loving oneself or another human composed of flesh. This is because loving God does not include inescapable passions that arise when loving the human body such as lust, jealousy, and anger that cause one to stray away from God. Hence, loving God should be its own separate category. **

*Conduplicatio (of the word saint); Farnsworth Book

** Refutation; May Book


Evil as a Gateway to Eternal Life

Certain evils are considered good because they have the ability to bring an individual closer to God and thus, eternal life. In Medieval Philosophy: A Multicultural Reader, St. Basil of Caesarea makes it explicitly clear that there are two types of evil: one that is created by humanity and the other by a well-meaning God. The latter is considered that which is “toilsome and painful to our sense perception: bodily illness, and blows to the body, and lack of necessities and disgrace, and financial setbacks, and loss of property” (Foltz, 129). St. Basil asserts that God has the capacity to enact punishments in the form of sickness and poverty in order to ensure salvation at the completion of one’s lifetime. Consider a man facing blindness, and weakness, and famine, and shame, and poverty. * This very man does not have the same sight, energy, or financial funds to commit sin when compared to a wealthy noble man in good health. Therefore, the evils that torment his everyday life on Earth have the ability to provide him with eternal life in heaven. This idea of evil breeding a sinless and godly individual comes into play in The Wife of Bath’s Tale in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. In this tale, a knight overcome by lust rapes a woman and is commended to die by King Arthur only to be saved by the ladies of the court who propose a challenge. They claim that the knight will be pardoned if he returns and can answer what women desire the most (Chaucer, 904-905). 

As it so happens, the knight who committed a great sin meets an old woman wise beyond her years who kindly offers her aid on the condition that he completes any favor she asks of him after he lives. The old woman’s answer (sovereignty over a husband) saves the knight’s life and then, she proposes marriage to which the knight begrudgingly agrees (Chaucer 1038-1057). Soon after, this god-fearing woman who saves a life is cast down as less than her husband in social status and class. However, she rebuttals by gently saying, “poverte ful ofte, whan man is lowe, makes him know his God and also himself” (Chaucer 1201-1202). There was nothing prideful, nothing sinful, nothing of injustice inside the woman’s heart, arguably in part because she faced financial setbacks. ** Thus, the concept of evils such as living in poverty being advantageous is included in both The Canterbury Tales and Medieval Philosophy. The old woman who proclaims the way of God is one of great piety who embraces her age in a mild and gracious manner.***

* Polysyndeton, Farnsworth Book

** Anaphora, Farnsworth Book

** Ethos on the old woman, May Book 



Aristotle created the concept of the First Mover who itself cannot be moved in Metaphysics; Book XII included in Medieval Philosophy: A Multicultural Reader. Aristotle begins by saying that if there is always something moving without end in a circular motion, then there needs to be something that moves them (31-32). This makes logical sense to me. He further explains that the First Mover is the source of the rotational movement of the planets. Aristotle also asserts his belief in a First Mover by claiming that a mover which has the ability to move without being moved itself by definition is always eternal and good. Thus, it is implied that the First Mover is a god who is in a better state of being because the god possesses constant intelligence (32). I definitely had to reread this part, as I would get lost mid way through the sentence. The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer, incorporates this concept in “The Knight’s Tale” when Theseus, lord of Athens, explicitly refers to the First Mover in an effort to console Palamon and Emelye who are mourning the death of Arcite many years later (Chaucer, 2987). Theseus explains that there is a noble plan set in place by the First Mover where all things must die, utilizing the life cycle of an oak, and assures the sorrow-filled hearts that each creature dies at the right time (Chaucer, 2994-3017). Theseus likewise describes the First Mover as “stable and eternal” (Chaucer, 3004). Then, Jupiter, king of the gods, is defined as the First Mover (Chaucer, 3035). Therefore, Chaucer expands the idea of the First Mover from the origin of planetary motion to a well-respected and feared deity. This is the direction that I would except after reading about Aristotle’s conceptual First Mover, for an eternal figure with capabilities not possessed by a human beings leads most to think of a god-like figure. Except, it seems that Roman gods like Jupiter and Juno have their flaws and are not always good.

Question #1: Chaucer writes that the month of May wakes up Emelye before the day starts to enjoy its beauty. Also, Arcite feels the need to observe May while in the grove. How strong do you believe is nature’s hold on our actions?

Question #2: Should the Son of God dying by the hands of men be considered a success story?


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