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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE PHYSICIAN'S TALE

Virginius, a rich, noble knight, has a beautiful daughter, Virginia, whom Nature has blessed with a nearly perfect body. She is the picture of virtue (the Physician here inserts a lecture about bringing up children). An evil judge, Appius, sees Virginia and wants to have her, but knows he must resort to underhandedness to get her. He gets a local scoundrel, Claudius, to say in court that Virginia was actually his servant girl whom Virginius had stolen from his house years before. Before Virginius can protest, Appius announces he will take Virginia as a ward of the court. Rather than submit, Virginius tells his daughter she must die, which she accepts. When Virginius brings his daughter's head to Appius, the judge orders that he be hanged. But a crowd, furious at the judge's treachery, throws him into jail where he hangs himself. Claudius' life is spared only because Virginius pleads for him; instead, he's exiled.


The tale, about "the wages of sin," comes from Livy, the Roman historian. But Chaucer gets it through the French Romance of the Rose, which he translated. The tale is somewhat appropriate to the Physician, who spends a great deal of time describing the way Nature has created Virginia's perfect anatomy, perhaps out of professional interest. (The passage takes the form of a classical statement by the Goddess Nature, who helps God in creation.)

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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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