Geoffery Chaucer

1343 - 1400

Geoffrey Chaucer was an English poet, philosopher, and politician who is famous today for his work The Canterbury Tales. The tales are a collection of stories told by fictional pilgrims on the road to the cathedral at Canterbury. The Canterbury Tales were written in vernacular English.

Below is an example of how Chaucer viewed medieval physicians. His narrator in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales regards doctors of the period as greedy, rich, and unfriendly. His physician is also portrayed as being knowledgeable in astronomy and humor theory, drawing their theories from the ancient (e.g., Asclepius, and Hippocrates) as well as medieval physicians (Avicenna, Averroes).

Chaucer's View of Medieval Medicine

Chaucer: Modern English dialect and spelling (see below for original spellings)


    With us there was a doctor of physic;
    In all this world was none like him to pick 
    For talk of medicine and surgery; 
    For he was grounded in astronomy. 
    He often kept a patient from the pall 
    By horoscopes and magic natural. 
    Well could he tell the fortune ascendent 
    Within the houses for his sick patient. 
    He knew the cause of every malady, 
    Were it of hot or cold, of moist or dry, 
    And where engendered, and of what humor; 
    He was a very good practitioner. 
    The cause being known, down to the deepest root, 
    Anon he gave to the sick man his boot. 
    Ready he was, with his apothecaries, 
    To send him drugs and all electuaries; 
    By mutual aid much gold they'd always won- 
    Their friendship was a thing not new begun. 
    Well read was he in Esculapius, 
    And Deiscorides, and in Rufus, 
    Hippocrates, and Hali, and Galen, 
    Serapion, Rhazes, and Avicen, 
    Averroes, Gilbert, and Constantine, 
    Bernard and Gatisden, and John Damascene. 
    In diet he was measured as could be, 
    Including naught of superfluity, 
    But nourishing and easy. It's no libel 
    To say he read but little in the Bible. 
    In blue and scarlet he went clad, withal, 
    Lined with a taffeta and with sendal; 
    And yet he was right chary of expense; 
    He kept the gold he gained from pestilence. 
    For gold in physic is a fine cordial, 
    And therefore loved he gold exceeding all.

In Medieval English of Chaucer:


411: With us ther was a doctour of phisik;
412: In al this world ne was the noon hym lik,
413: To speke of phisik and of surgerye
414: For he was grounded in astronomye.
415: He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel
416: In houres by his magyk natureel.
417: Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent
418: Of his ymages for his pacient.
419: He knew the cause of everich maladye,
420: Were it of hoot, or coold, or moyste, or drye,
421: And where they engendred, and of what humour.
422: He was a verray, parfit praktisour:
423: The cause yknowe, and of his harm the roote,
424: Anon he yaf the sike man his boote.
425: Ful redy hadde he his apothecaries
426: To sende hym drogges and his letuaries,
427: For ech of hem made oother for to wynne --
428: Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne.
429: Wel knew he the olde esculapius,
430: And deyscorides, and eek rufus,
431: Olde ypocras, haly, and galyen,
432: Serapion, razis, and avycen,
433: Averrois, damascien, and constantyn,
434: Bernard, and gatesden, and gilbertyn.
435: Of his diete mesurable was he,
436: For it was of no superfluitee,
437: But of greet norissyng and digestible.
438: His studie was but litel on the bible.
439: In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al,
440: Lyned with taffata and with sendal;
441: And yet he was but esy of dispence;
442: He kepte that he wan in pestilence.
443: For gold in phisik is a cordial,
444: Therefore he lovede gold in special. Retrieved on January 31, 2010.