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What Chaucer Did to an Orazion in the Filostrato: Calkas’s Speech as Deliberative Oratory

From: The Chaucer Review
Volume 44, Number 4, 2010
pp. 440-460 | 10.1353/cr.0.0050

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The beginning of Book IV of Troilus and Criseyde finds Criseyde’s father Calkas petitioning the Greek lords for a captive Trojan to trade for Criseyde. The success of Calkas’s speech is crucial to the poem’s plot and to its portrayal of Trojan history, for as every reader of the poem knows, the consequent exchange of Antenor for Criseyde and her ensuing separation from Troilus lead not only to the “double sorwe” of the poem’s opening line, but to a double tragedy, one played out in the poem as Criseyde betrays Troilus, and another left for a future beyond the poem’s ending when Antenor’s treachery causes the destruction of Troy.1 Despite its importance, however, the speech has been studied very little, perhaps because Calkas himself has received so little attention.2 Most scholars who have paid attention to the speech have found it wanting, even though the speech accomplishes its purpose and persuades the Greeks to give Calkas a particularly high-ranking prisoner. Thus, while recognizing that the speech’s beginning self-description presents Calkas’s “role as the Greeks’ prevenient war counselor and best ‘deviser,’” Matthew Giancarlo nevertheless finds the opening clumsy, in that it has Calkas “incongruously reintroducing himself to the men he supposedly advises.”3 Stephen Knight also finds the speech to be unimpressive, noting that Calkas “is not shown to be a skilled rhetorician in spite of the complex surface of much of this poetry.”4

These assessments underestimate Chaucer’s artistry in adapting his Italian source. Although Chaucer’s text begins by following Il Filostrato closely (with Chaucer’s changes at this point reflecting the “small . . . touches and emphases” that Barry Windeatt thinks pervade much of Chaucer’s response to Boccaccio), the Middle English version increasingly diverges from the Filostrato until it ends with two stanzas having no counterpart in the Italian.5 These changes have a singular purpose: by the end of the episode Chaucer has created a well-constructed discourse that accords with the classical rhetorical authorities most widely read in the Middle Ages: the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium and Cicero’s De inventione.6 In brief, Calkas’s speech is a traditional classical oration and, as such, is an appropriate form of discourse for Calkas, who is described during his first appearance as a seer and lord “of gret auctorite,/A gret devyn” (I, 65–66).7

Orazion to Deliberative Oration

The speech is central to Calkas’s second appearance in the poem, and Chaucer’s approach to this episode may have been suggested by rubrics in Italian manuscripts of the Filostrato that are reproduced in Vittore Branca’s modern critical edition. These rubrics introduce Calcàs’s speech as an orazion:

Orazion di Calcàs a’ Greci, nella quale spiega loro i suoi meriti e poi domanda alcun prigione per cui riabbia Criseida.

Calchas’s speech to the Greeks in which he pleads his merits to them and then asks for a prisoner, to enable him to regain Criseida.8

“Orazion” surely conjured “oratio,” a form shaped in the medieval understanding by “Ciceronian” rhetorical treatises and perhaps Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria.9 These treatises classify the matter of public oration into three kinds: the judicial, entailing criminal or civil prosecutions; the epideictic, devoted to praise or censure; and the deliberative, which argues for a particular course of action.10 In arguing that the Greeks should enable him to ransom Criseyde by means of a captured Trojan, both the Italian and the Middle English versions of Calkas’s speech fit the criteria for the third of these, the deliberative oration. The seer’s speech even recalls one common example of the kind of questions addressed in deliberative speeches: whether the senate should redeem captives.11

The rubric introducing the speech in Part Four of Boccaccio’s Filostrato indicates that his version has two parts: in the first, “spiega loro i suoi meriti” (he pleads his merit to them); in the second, “poi, domanda alcun prigione per cui riabbia Criseida” (then [he] asks for a prisoner, to enable him to regain Criseida). Thus, the first part covers stanzas 5–8, where Calcàs explains what he...



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