Optical theory and feminine auctoritas within Chaucer's the Tale of Melibee with an English translation of Albertanus of Brescia's Liber consolationis et consilii in full
There is an immediate discrepancy between Chaucer’s the Tale of Melibee and its base text, Albertanus of Brescia’s Liber consolationis et consilii: Sophie’s wounds. Chaucer does not include the eyes in the list of her wounds, whereas Albertanus of Brescia does. This discrepancy is often thought to be a mere scribal error, causing this aspect of the translation to be overlooked. However, evidence shows that this difference in translation is almost certainly not a scribal error. There is only one known French manuscript that replaces the word “yeux” with “piez.” It is both unlikely that Chaucer used this manuscript and that he overlooked this mistake. Therefore, this was a conscious choice of Chaucer’s. This unlocks an entirely new and intricate layer of optical theory and feminine auctoritas within the tale. Allowing the eyes to remain unharmed, Chaucer creates an opportunity for Prudence and her feminine wisdom to take center stage. The story’s predominantly feminine voice is reminiscent of that of Boethius’ Lady Philosophy as well as other female personifications of the time. However, Prudence’s prose is distinct, and one of humanity rather than abstraction. Whereas a female personification like Lady Philosophy speaks in musical verse and empty proverb, Prudence puts meaning behind her words through the innately human quality of deduction. Most importantly, Prudence’s words are presented in prose rather than verse, allowing her speech to act as standard dialogue. It is only the presence of eyes within the tale that allows this strong female figure to own her own voice. Applying medieval optical theory to the Tale of Melibee in this way allows for a deep analysis of Prudence’s wisdom as well as her authoritative role in her medieval marriage.