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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Chapter 27 - Philosophy

from Part IV - Culture, Learning and Disciplines


Though Chaucer seems to have matriculated at neither of England’s medieval universities, his acquaintance with philosophical ideas of the classical and medieval traditions is strikingly evident in his writings. He also had friends at the University of Oxford, including the ‘philosophical’ Strode to whom he dedicates Troilus and Criseyde. His principal textual authority was Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiae, but he also drew on the works of the Neoplatonic poets Alan of Lille and Bernard Silvester. The philosophical themes explored by these writers, which range from the origin and ordering of the universe to the function of nature and the relationship between fate and free will, are addressed in different ways in his literary narratives, perhaps most subtly and successfully in Troilus and Criseyde. Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis, on which the narrator dwells at the beginning of the Parliament of Fowls, was known to Chaucer through the commentary on this text produced by Macrobius, which itself supplied the classification of dreams that confounds the narrator of the House of Fame, and to which Pertelote wisely appeals in the interpretation of his own prophetic dream in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Though not typically remembered as a philosopher, Chaucer was certainly a philosophical poet.

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