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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Monk's Tale
lines 207-254: Hercules


Hercules

       Of Hercules the sovereyn conquerour
Syngen hise werkes laude and heigh renoun;
For in his tyme of strengthe he was the flour.
210He slow and rafte the skyn of the leoun,
He of Centauros leyde the boost adoun,
He Arpies slow, the crueel bryddes felle,
He golden apples refte of the dragoun,
He drow out Cerberus, the hound of helle.
       Of Hercules, the sovereign conquering power,
Sing his deeds' praise and sing his high renown;
For in his time of strength he was the flower.
210He slew, and made a lion's skin his own;
Of centaurs laid he all the boastings down;
He killed the cruel Harpies, those birds fell;
Brought golden apples from the dragon thrown;
And he stole Cerberus, the hound of Hell.

215He slow the crueel tyrant Busirus,
And made his hors to frete hym, flessh and boon;
He slow the firy serpent venymus,
Of Acheloys two hornes, he brak oon.
And he slow Cacus in a Cave of stoon;
220He slow the geaunt Antheus the stronge,
He slow the grisly boor, and that anon,
And bar the hevene on his nekke longe.
215He slew the cruel tyrant Busiris
And made his horses eat him, flesh and bone;
To a fiery, venomous worm he wrote finis;
Achelous had two horns, but he broke one;
Cacus he slew within his cave of stone;
220He slew the giant Anthaeus the strong;
He killed the Erymanthian boar anon;
And bore the heavens upon his shoulders long.

Was nevere wight, sith that this world bigan,
That slow so manye monstres as dide he.
225Thurghout this wyde world his name ran,
What for his strengthe, and for his heigh bountee,
And every reawme wente he for to see.
He was so stroong that no man myghte hym lette;
At bothe the worldes endes, seith Trophee,
230In stide of boundes he a pileer sette.
Was never man, since this old world began,
That slew so many monsters as did he.
225Throughout all earth's wide realms his honour ran,
What of his strength and his high chivalry,
And every kingdom went he out to see.
He was so strong no man could hinder him;
At both ends of the world, as says Trophy,
230In lieu of limits he set pillars grim.

A lemman hadde this noble champioun,
That highte Dianira, fressh as May,
And as thise clerkes maken mencioun,
She hath hym sent a sherte fressh and gay.
235Allas, this sherte, allas, and weylaway!
Envenymed was so subtilly withalle,
That er that he had wered it half a day
It made his flessh al from hise bones falle.
A darling had this noble champion,
Deianira, sweet as is the May;
And as these ancient writers say, each one,
She sent to him a new shirt, fresh and gay.
235las that shirt, alas and welaway!
Envenomed was so cunningly withal
That, before he'd worn the thing but half a day,
It made the flesh from off his bones to fall.

But nathelees somme clerkes hire excusen
240By oon that highte Nessus, that it maked.
Be as be may, I wol hir noght accusen;
But on his bak this sherte he wered al naked,
Til that his flessh was for the venym blaked;
And whan he saugh noon oother remedye,
245In hoote coles he hath hym-selven raked,
For with no venym deigned hym to dye.
Yet are there writers who do her excuse
240Because of Nessus, who the shirt had made;
Howe'er it be, I will not her accuse;
But all his naked back this poison flayed
Until the flesh turned black, and torn, and frayed.
And when he saw no other remedy,
245Upon a pyre of hot brands he was laid,
For of no poison would he deign to die.

Thus starf this worthy myghty Hercules.
Lo, who may truste on Fortune any throwe?
For hym that folweth al this world of prees,
250Er he be war, is ofte yleyd ful lowe.
Ful wys is he that kan hymselven knowe.
Beth war, for whan that Fortune list to glose,
Thanne wayteth she her man to overthrowe,
By swich a wey, as he wolde leest suppose.
Thus died this mighty worthy, Hercules.
Lo, who may trust to Fortune any throw?
And he who seeks on earth for fame and case
250Befor he's aware, he's often brought down low.
Right wise is he that can his own heart know.
Beware, when Fortune may her smile disclose,
She lies in wait her man to overthrow,
And in such wise as he would least suppose.




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