Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. III/Treatise on the Astrolabe Critical Notes


As, in the preceding pages which contain the text, the lower portion of each page is occupied with a running commentary, such Critical Notes upon the text as seem to be most necessary are here subjoined.

Title. Tractatus, &c.; adopted from the colophon. MS. F has 'tractatus astrolabii.' A second title, 'Bred and mylk for childeren,' is in MSS. B. and E.

[The MSS. are as follows:—A. Cambridge Univ. Lib. Dd. 3. 53.—B. Bodley, E Museo 54.—C. Rawlinson 1370.—D. Ashmole 391.—E. Bodley 619.—F. Corpus 424.—G. Trin. Coll. Cam. R. 15. 18.—H. Sloane 314.—I. Sloane 261.—K. Rawlinson Misc. 3.—L. Addit. 23002. (B. M.)—M. St. John's Coll. Cam.—N. Digby 72.—O. Ashmole 360.—P. Camb. Univ. Lib. Dd. 12. 51.—Q. Ashmole 393.—R. Egerton 2622 (B. M.).—S. Addit. 29250 (B. M.) See the descriptions of them in the Introduction.]

Prologue. l. 26. thise B; þese C; miswritten this A; see above, ll. 21, 22.

32. curious BC; miswritten curios A.

Many similar very slight alterations of spelling have been silently made in the text, and are not worth specifying here. A complete list of them is given in my edition of this treatise for the Early English Text Society. I give, however, the real variations of reading. Thus, in l. 58, A. has som for sonne; and in l. 64 omits the second the.

Part I. § 1, l. 3. wol B; wolde AC.

§ 2, l. 2. Rowm is here an adjective, meaning large, ample. It is the right reading; we find Rowm AB rowme C; rvm M.

§ 3, l. 1. AB omit the.

§ 9, l. 3. nombre AB; noumbre C; but nombres in old editions.

§ 12, l. 5. The MSS. all[1] read—'vmbra recta or elles vmbra extensa, & the nether partie is cleped the vmbra versa.' This is certainly wrong.

§ 13, l. 2. a certein] so in AB; CM omit a. But Chaucer certainly uses the phrase 'a certain'; cf. 'of unces a certain,' C. T., G 776; and see G 1024.

§ 14, ll. 2, 5. The word halt for holdeth, and the expression to-hepe, together, both occur in Troil. iii. 1764:—

'And lost were al, that Love halt now to-hepe.'

§ 17, l. 1. principal C; tropikal AB; M om. The reading tropikal is absurd, because there are but two such; besides which, see l. 34 below.

17. the nyht (over an erasure) B; thee nyht (over an erasure) A; þe niȝtes C; þe nyȝtes M.

§ 20, l. 4. figure; here (and sometimes elsewhere) miswritten vigur A. Throughout the whole treatise, the scribe has commonly written 'vigur'; in many places, it has been corrected to 'figure.'

§ 21, l. 15. the (before sterres) supplied from BC.

27. where as C; wher AB.

56. ouerkeruyd A; ouerkerued B; ouerkerueth (the latter part of the word over an erasure) C; first time only.

Part II. § 2, l. 8. euer M; euere C; euery (wrongly) AB.

§ 3, ll. 31, 32. A has 12 degres, corrected to 18 degres; B. has 12 degrees; C has 18. The numbers in the MSS. in these propositions are somewhat uncertain; it seems probable that some alteration was made by Chaucer himself.

The readings in MS. B give one set of calculations, which are no doubt the original ones; for in MS. A the same set is again found, but altered throughout, by the scribe who drew the diagrams. The sets of readings are these:—

Ll. 31, 32. 12 degrees B; so in A, but altered to 18; C has 18.

37. passed 9 of the clokke the space of 10 degrees B; so in A, with 9 altered to 8, and 10 altered to 2; C has ij for 9, but agrees with A in the reading 2.

39. fond ther 10 degrees of taurus B; so in A originally, but 10 has been corrected to 23, and libra is written over an erasure. C agrees with neither, having 20 for 10, but agreeing with A as to libra. The later MSS. sometimes vary from all these.

42. an supplied from C; AB omit.

§ 4, l. 5. largest C; largesse AB.

6. upon C; vn (!) AB.

8. forseide degree of his longitude] forseyde same degre of hys longitude C; forseid same gre of his longitude P; forseyde latitude his longitude (sic!) AB.

9. planete ys C; miswritten planetes AB, but is is added in margin of A.

16. For '25 degrees,' all the MSS. have '15 degrees.' The mistake is probably Chaucer's own; the correction was made by Mr. Brae, who remarks that it is a mere translation from the Latin version of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, which has—'Signum ascendentis, quod est a quinque gradibus qui super horizontem ante ipsum ascenderant usque ad viginti quinque qui ad ascendentem remanserint'; Lib. iii. c. 10. In fact, it is clear that 25 must be added to 5 to make up the extent of a 'house,' which was 30 degrees.

16. ys like C; is lik P; miswritten illyk AB.

17. in is supplied from GM; ABC omit it.

23. second the supplied from CP; AB omit.

32. wel supplied from CPM; AB omit.

36. than] þan CM; þenne P; AB omit.

40. The number 10 is supplied from C; AB omit.

42. some folk supplied from CPG; AB omit.

44. yit is] AB wrongly have yit it is; but CPGM omit it.

§ 5, l. 3. by 2 and 2 ACG; by 3 and 3 P; left blank in B. Either reading makes sense, but it is clear that divisions representing three degrees each must have been very awkward.

10. of supplied from CPGM: AB omit.

§ 6, l. 5. est C; west A (which is absurd); west (corrected to est) B.

9. signe CGP; signes ABM.

§ 10, l. 3. than B; þan C; A has & by nyht, which is absurd.

4, 5. A omits day with the howr inequal of the, which is supplied from BCP; the number 30 is also supplied from BCM, as A has a blank space here; see l. 10.

§ 11, l. 12. The number 4 is from CP; AB omit; old edd. fourthe.

13. ther supplied from PM; þere C; AB omit.

§ 12, l. 1. the supplied from BC; A omits.

8. The figure 2 is from BCP; G has secunde; A omits.

§ 14, l. 9, 10. The last clause supplied from B.

§ 15, l. 6. pointe] point P; pointes A; pointz B; poyntes C; but grammar requires the singular.

9. the supplied from CP; AB omit.

§ 16, l. 5. AB wrongly insert the before Cancer; CP omit it.

8. y-lyke] Ilyke G; ilik P; y-like C; ilke AB; see l. 7.

§ 17. Latin rubric; for latitudinem (as in M) read longitudinem. l. 18. heued B; hed ACP; see sect. 16, l. 3. The word 'the' (rightly placed in BCMP) is, in A, wrongly placed before 'Aries' instead of before 'ende.'

23. second the] þe C; AB omit.

§ 19. Latin Rubric; for orizon (as in M) read statio.

§ 20. Latin Rubric; the MS. (M) transposes the words in and a, having a zodiaco in circulo, which contradicts the sense.

§ 22. Latin Rubric; for centri (as in M) read regionis.

§ 23, l. 21. The figure '8' is omitted in AB.

23. than] A omits; thanne inserted afterwards in B.

§ 25, l. 3. first the] supplied from B; AC omit.

15. CP om. and 10 minutes.

16. CP om. and minutes out. For 51 degrees and 50 minutes, C has 52, þan is 52 degrees; and P has 52. Þenne is .52. grees.

19. CP om. as I mighte prove.

20. the supplied from CP; AB om.

27. the firste degree] 10 degrees C; 10 gree P.

28. 58 degrees and 10 minutes] almost 56 C (meaning 56 degrees); almost .56. grees P.

29. almost 20] almost 18 C.

31. thee] C om. and odde Minutes] CP om.

It thus appears that there is a second set of readings, involving a different calculation. The second set supposes the Sun to be in the 10th degree of Leo, his altitude to be 56°, and his declination 18°; the difference, viz. 38°, is the complement of the latitude. Either set of readings suits the sense, but the one in the text agrees best with the former latitude, viz. 51°. 50′.

37. After there, C inserts 38 grees, þat is; and omits the words of the pole, 51 degrees and 50 minutes. But this is a mere repetition of the 'height of the Equinoctial,' and is obviously wrong. After pole, in l. 38, A inserts an that, which is unmeaning, and omitted in B.

§ 26, l. 8. Nearly all the MSS. omit from Fertherover down to right orisonte. The missing clause appears in MS. Bodley 619; I have not found it elsewhere. It is obviously correct, and agrees sufficiently closely with the conjectural addition by Mr. Brae, in his edition of Chaucer's Astrolabe, p. 48.

§ 27, l. 2. second the] supplied from BCPM; A om.

§ 28. Latin Rubric. MS. has in recto circulo; read obliquo.

3. set] sett C; sete P; AB omit.

11. these] þese C; thise B; the A.

23. ende] heed A; heued C. In fact, heed, heued, or hed seems to be the reading of all the MSS. and printed copies, and may have been a slip of the pen in the first instance. The reading ende is, however, amply justified by its previous occurrence, four times over, in lines 10, 13, 16, 18. We thus have

Six Northern signs. From head of Aries to end of Virgo.
Six Southern signs. From head of Libra to end of Pisces.
Six Tortuous signs. From head of Capricorn to end of Gemini.
Six Direct signs. From head of Cancer to end of Sagittarius.

Opposite 'sagittare' is written 'sagittarie' in the margin of A, probably as a correction; but it is left uncorrected in l. 27.

§ 29, l. 3. Turne thanne] Turne þan C; turne the thanne AB.

9. thou] þou C; two AB.

14. rewle] rule CP; miswritten rewles AB; see l. 9.

§ 30. l. 11. wey A; place C. After zodiak C inserts—for on þe morowe wol þe sonne be in a-noþer degre þan þan, et cetera; P inserts—For yn þe morowe wol þe sonne be yn an oþer gree, & norþer or souþer par aventure. Nothing can be plainer than that 'the way of the sun' in this passage means the small circle formed by the sun's apparent path during a day; the text says expressly—'the wey wher as the sonne wente thilke day.' We need not argue about the impossibility of a planet being found in 'the way of the Sun' at midnight at the time of the Summer solstice, because Chaucer makes no assertion whatever here about the relative positions of the sun and planet; indeed, he carefully repeats 'if' three times. He is only concerned with defining the phrase—'the latitude of a planet from the way of the sun'; and in every possible case, it is clear that a planet can be either (1) situate in the small circle called in the Latin rubric cursus solis, or (2) to the north of such a circle, or (3) to the south of such a circle. About this there need be no difficulty at all. It is all copied from Messahala.

§ 31, l. 7. azimut] azymutz ABC; cf. sect. 32, l. 8.

§ 33, l. 2. Azimut] Azymutz ABC; minutis P; the same error as in sect. 31, l. 7; but see sect. 32, l. 8.

3. second in] yn P; ABC omit.

4. the night] so in AB; CP om. the.

§ 34. English Rubric; latitude for] so in CP; latitude and for AB.

6. toucheth] touchiþ P; to which (sic) ABC; see sect. 27, l. 6.

§ 35, l. 15. After west side, AB add & yf he be on the est syde, a mere superfluous repetition; see l. 11.

17. sothly] soþly CP; miswritten he settes (!) AB.

18. hir Episicle] so in CP; by an odd mistake, AB put hire after manere, instead of before Episicle.

§ 37, l. 10. than] þan C; AB omit. is] AS omit; but it is obviously wanted; C varies here.

12. 12 house next] 12 hous next C; howses nex (sic) AB.

13. thanne] þan C; A omits. howse] hous C; howses AB.

17. AB absurdly insert fro before the byginning.

18. first the] þe C; AB omit.

§ 38, l. 1. warpyng MP; werpynge C; weripinge (sic) A.

2. first a CP; AB omit.

3, 4. an euene C; a enene AB (twice).

8. fro the centre; i.e. above the centre. The length of the pin, measured from the centre in which it is inserted, is to be not more than a quarter of the diameter, or half the radius. This would make the ratio of the gnomon to the shadow (or radius) to be one-half, corresponding to an altitude a, where tan a = ½; i.e. to an altitude of about 26½°. As Chaucer talks about the sun's altitude being 25½° at about 9 o'clock, at the time of the equinoxes (sect. 3), there is nothing that is particularly absurd in the text of this section. For Mr. Brae's conjectural emendations, see p. 56 of his edition.

16. tak thanne] so in P; tak me thanne AB; take me þan C. But there seems no sufficient reason for thus inserting me here.

§ 39. At this point MS. A, which has so far, in spite of occasional errors of the scribe, afforded a very fair text, begins to break down; probably because the corrector's hand has not touched the two concluding sections, although section 40 is much less corrupt. The result is worth recording, as it shews what we may expect to find, even in good MSS. of the Astrolabe. The section commences thus (the obvious misreadings being printed in italics):—

'This lyne Meridional ys but a Maner descripcion or the ymagined, that passeth vpon the pooles of þis the world And by the cenyth of owre heued / And hit is the same lyne Meridional / for in what place þat any maner man [omission] any tyme of the yer / whan that the sonne schyneth ony thing of the firmament cometh to his verrey Middel lyne of the place / than is hit verrey Midday, þat we clepen owre noon,' &c.

It seems clear that this apparent trash was produced by a careless scribe, who had a good copy before him; it is therefore not necessary to reject it all as unworthy of consideration, but it is very necessary to correct it by collation with other copies. And this is what I have done.

MS. B has almost exactly the same words; but the section is considerably better, in general sense, in MSS. C and P, for which reason I here quote from the former the whole section.

[Rawl. MS. Misc. 1370, fol. 40 b.]

Descripcioun of þe meridional lyne, of þe longitudes and latitudes of Citees and townes, as wel as of a (sic) clymatz.

39. conclusio. This lyne meridional is but a maner discripcion̄ or lyne ymagyned, þat passeþ upon þe pooles of þis worlde, and by þe Cenith of oure heued. ¶ And yt is cleped þe lyne meridional, for in what place þat any man ys at any time of þe ȝere, whan þat þe sonne by menynge of þe firmament come to his uerrey meridian place / þan is it þe uerrey mydday þat we clepe none, as to þilke man. And þerefore is yt cleped þe lyne of mydday. And nota, þat euermo of any .2. citees or of 2 townes, of which þat oo towne a-procheþ neer þe est þan doþ þe oþer towne, trust wel þat þilke townes han diuerse meridians. Nota also, þat þe arche of þe equinoxial, þat is contened or bownded by-twixe þe two meridians, is cleped þe longitude of þe towne. ¶ & ȝif so be / þat two townes haue I-like meridian or one merydian, ¶ Than ys þe distaunce of hem boþe I-like fer from þe est, & þe contrarye. And in þis maner þei chaunge not her meridyan, but soþly, þei chaungen her almykanteras, For þe enhaunsynge of þe pool / and þe distaunce of þe sonne. ¶ The longitude of a clymate ys a lyne ymagyned fro þe est to þe west, I-like distaunte fro þe equinoxial. ¶ The latitude of a clymat may be cleped þe space of þe erþe fro þe by-gynnynge of þe first clymat unto þe ende of þe same clymat / euene-directe a-ȝens þe pool artyke. ¶ Thus seyn somme auctours / and somme clerkes seyn / þat ȝif men clepen þe latitude of a contrey[2], þe arche mer[i]dian þat is contened or intercept by-twixe þe Cenyth & þe equinoxial; þan sey þei þat þe distaunce fro þe equinoxial unto þe ende of a clymat, euene[3] a-gaynes þe pool artik, is þe latitude off þat climat[3] forsoþe.

The corrections made in this section are here fully described.

1. of lyne P; of a line I; or lyne C; or the AB.

2. this] þis the AB, absurdly; CP omit the, rightly.

3. ycleped the] y-clupid þe P; cleped þe C; the same (sic) AB.

4. is at; supplied from PCI; AB omit.

5. by moeving] by meuynge C; by mevyng PI; schyneth ony thing (sic) A; schyned eny thing B; for the spelling moeving, see sect. 35, l. 5.

6. meridian CP; meridianale I; Middel lyne of the (sic) AB.

8. 2 citees CI; too citees P; any lynes (sic) AB.

9. aprocheth] a-procheþ C; aprochiþ P; miswritten aprochid AB.

more toward] neer C; ner P; neerer I; thoward AB.

11. conteyned I; conteynyd P; contened C; consideered (sic) A; contined B.

13. yf P; ȝif C; if it I; AB omit. N.B. It is best to use the spelling yif, as the word is commonly so spelt in A.

22. same CPI; seconde AB. The reading same is right; for the 'latitude of a climate' means the breadth of a zone of the earth, and the latitude of the first climate (here chosen by way of example) is the breadth as measured along a great circle perpendicular to the equator, from the beginning of the said first climate to the end of the same. The words 'evene-directe agayns the poole Artik' mean in the direction of the North pole; i.e. the latitude of a climate is reckoned from its beginning, or southernmost boundary-line, towards the end of the same, viz. its northern boundary-line.

22. þe poole Artik P; þe pool artyke C; the pole artike I; from north to south AB. Observe that this singular error in A, 'euene directe agayns from north to south,' probably arose from a confusion of the text 'euene directe agayns þe poole Artik' with a gloss upon it, which was 'from north to south.' It is important as throwing light on the meaning of the phrase, and proving that the interpretation of it given above (note to l. 22) is correct.

24. intercept CP; intercepte I; except (over an erasure) AB.

The only reading about which there is any doubt is that in line 18, which may be either 'illike distant by-twene them alle' (A), or 'I-like distaunte fro þe equinoxial' (C). But it is immaterial which reading be adopted, since Illike-distant is here used merely in the sense of parallel, and the boundaries of the climates are parallel both to one another, and to the equinoctial. The climates themselves were of different breadths.

§ 40, l. 4. this samples AB; þese ensamples C.

5. for sothe] miswritten for sonne AB; in general C; yn special P; the reading sonne points to sothe, and makes it very probable that for sothe is the true reading.

6. the longitude] þe longitude C; latitude AB (absurdly); see l. 11.

7. planete; miswritten that A, but corrected to planete in the margin; C has planete, correctly. The figure 6 is omitted in C; so are all the other figures further on. him] hir C.

8. I tok] Than toke I C. 8, 16. 2 degrees A; 3 degrees B.

10. Than tok I] Than toke I C; for tok AB wrongly have stykke, afterwards altered to stokke in A. second the] supplied from C, which has þe; AB omit.

23. the] þe C; AB omit.

27. prikke] prickes C; perhaps prikkes would be a better reading.

29. AB omit the figure 2; but see l. 8.

31. in alle] in al C; A has septentrionalle, an obvious mistake for septentrional in alle, by confusion of the syllable 'al' in the former with 'al' in the latter word; B has septentrional, omitting in alle.

34. signes C] tymes AB (wrongly); see l. 32.

46. Perhaps evene before of should be omitted, as in C. AB have in the ende euene ouer of thee, where euene ouer is repeated from the former part of the line.

47. F endlang] F endlonge C; A euene AB; but see ll. 23, 24.

A omits of and degrees, yet both are required; BC omit of 3 degrees altogether.

49. til] tyl þat C; tho AB (absurdly).

50. saw] sey C; may AB; see l. 28.

56. hir] his ABC. a] ABC omit.

57. At the word houre four of the best MSS. break off, viz. MSS. ABCE, although E adds one more section, viz. sect. 46; others come to a sudden end even sooner, viz. MSS. DFGHK. But MS. P carries us on to the end of sect. 43, and supplies the words—þu shalt do wel ynow, as in the old editions.

§ 41. 7. betwixe] be M (wrongly); betwixe R; by-twyx L.

M inserts & before to þe altitude; a mere slip. For; miswritten Fro M.

8. thridde; miswritten ridde M; þrydde R.

13. LM wrongly place of after the heyȝt instead of before it.

§ 42, l. 2. see] so in LR; miswritten sette M; see sect. 41, l. 4.

3. second I] so L; y R; M omits.

8. M omits as, above, and is þe; L has 12 passethe 6 the.

11. seest] so in LR; miswritten settest M.

12. 60] so in LNR; sexe M.

13. M omits from 10 is to 10 feet, which is supplied from NLPR.

14. For] so in LNR; fro M.

15. For 2, M has 6; so also R. For 3, M has 4.

16. For 2, M has 6; for 6, M has 2; and the words and 3 is 4 partyes of 12 are omitted, though L has—& 4 is the thrid partye of 12.

17. betwen R] by-twene L; bitwixe P; miswritten be M; cf. sect. 41, 7.

19. thre R] 3 LP; miswritten þe M.

§ 43. Rubric in M, Umbra Versa; obviously a mistake for Recta. The error is repeated in l. 1. LPR rightly read Recta.

3. M omits 1, which is supplied from LPR; see l. 5.

11. After heythe (as in M), LNR add to thyn eye. In place of lines 9-11, P has—& so of alleer, &c.

§ 44. From MS. Digby 72 (N). Also in LMOR.

2. fro] so in LO; for M.

3. into] so in L; in M. for] so in O; fro M.

6. ȝeris M; LNO omit.

7. tabelis NO; table M; tables L.

8. where L; qwere O; wheþer N.

9. loke LM; N omits.

11, 2. NM omit from or what to or; supplied from O, which has—or qwat nombre þat euere it be, tyl þe tyme þat þou come to 20, or 40, or 60. I have merely turned qwat into what, as in L, which also has this insertion.

13. wreten N; the alteration to wryte is my own; see l. 23.

under] so in L; vndirneþe M.

14. to-geder] too-geder M; miswritten to 2 degreis N; to the 2 degrees L.

15. hast M; miswritten laste N; last L.

16. that (1); supplied from M; LN omit. For 1 (as in M) LN have 10.

21. to-gedere M; to the degreis N; 2 grees O; to degrees L.

22. that (2); supplied from M; LNO omit.

lasse] passid LNO; M omits. Of course passid is wrong, and equally of course lasse is right; see ll. 5, 6 above, and l. 25 below.

25. that] so in L; þat MO; if hit N.

27. entringe] entre M; entre L. ther] so in M; miswritten the ȝere N; the ȝeer L.

30. merydie LM; merdie N.

32. for LM; fro N (twice).

34. thaȝthe N; have tauȝt M; have tawȝt O; haue tauht L.

36. the (1); supplied from M; LNO omit.

with the] so in M; wyche N; see l. 36.

40. in (2)] in-to N; yn M.

§ 45. From MS. Digby 72 (N); also in LOR; but not in M.

4. that N; the L; þe O (after wryte in l. 3).

6. wrytoun O; Iwyton N. But L has I wold wyttyn; read—I wolde witen precise my rote; cf. ll. 19, 30.

8. 1397] miswritten 1391 LN; O has 1391, corrected to 1397; see l. 3.

11. soȝth N; sowte O; sowthe L; read soghte.

14. vnder N; vndyr-nethe O; vndre-nethe L.

20, 1. oþer in any oþer tyme or monyth N; or any oder tymys or monthys O; or in eny other moneth L.

27. adde] supplied from L; NO omit. There is no doubt about it, for see l. 16.

31. wete the] so in O; wete thi L; miswritten with thy N; see l. 19.

35. and (3)] supplied from LO; N omits.

§ 46, 5, 6. þat same E; þe same S.

10. it S; E omits.

13. þat same (om. tyme) E; þe same tyme S.

16. þou þan esely E; than shallt thou easly S.

17. tyme of E; tyme of the S.

20. S meve (for bringe furþe).

§ 41a. This and the remaining sections are certainly spurious. They occur in LMNR, the first being also found in O. The text of 41a-42b is from M.

3. hast] supplied from LR; M omits.

§ 42a, 1. heyth by þy N; heyth by the L; heythe bi þi R; M om.

4. lyk] lykk M; L. omits. mete] mette M; mett L.

9. is L; miswritten bys M.

§ 43a, 1. nat] not R; nott L; M omits; see the footnote. In the rubric, M has versam; but L has the rubric—Vmbra Recta.

§ 42b, 5. as] so in LR; miswritten & M.

6. 4 is supplied from LR; M omits.

  1. As far as I can ascertain.
  2. Here insert—[they mene]—which CP omit.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The words from euene to climat are added at the bottom of the page in the MS.