Iamque domos patrias Scithice post aspera gentis prelia
laurigero &c. Thebaid, xii, 519.

Heere bigynneth the knyghtes tale.

Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.
Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne,
What with his wysdom and his chivalrie;

He conquered al the regne of Femenye,
That whilom was ycleped Scithia,
And weddede the queene Ypolita,
And broghte hir hoom with hym in his contree,
With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee,

And eek hir yonge suster Emelye.
And thus with victorie and with melodye
Lete I this noble duk to Atthenes ryde,
And al his hoost, in armes hym bisyde.
And certes, if it nere to long to heere,

I wolde have toold yow fully the manere
How wonnen was the regne of Femenye
By Theseus, and by his chivalrye,
And of the grete bataille for the nones
Bitwixen Atthenes and Amazones,

And how asseged was Ypolita
The faire hardy queene of Scithia,
And of the feste that was at hir weddynge,
And of the tempest at hir hoom-comynge;
But al the thyng I moot as now forbere,

I have, God woot, a large feeld to ere,
And wayke been the oxen in my plough,
The remenant of the tale is long ynough.
I wol nat letten eek noon of this route,
Lat every felawe telle his tale aboute,

And lat se now who shal the soper wynne;-
And ther I lefte, I wol ayeyn bigynne.
This duc of whom I make mencioun,
Whan he was come almoost unto the toun,
In al his wele and in his mooste pride,

He was war, as he caste his eye aside,
Where that ther kneled in the hye weye
A compaignye of ladyes, tweye and tweye,
Ech after oother, clad in clothes blake;
But swich a cry and swich a wo they make,

That in this world nys creature lyvynge
That herde swich another waymentynge!
And of this cry they nolde nevere stenten,
Til they the reynes of his brydel henten.
'What folk been ye, that at myn hom-comynge

Perturben so my feste with criynge?'
Quod Theseus, 'hav ye so greet envye
Of myn honour, that thus compleyne and crye?
Or who hath yow mysboden or offended?
And telleth me if it may been amended,

And why that ye been clothed thus in blak?'
The eldeste lady of hem alle spak-
Whan she hadde swowned with a deedly cheere,
That it was routhe for to seen and heere-
And seyde, 'Lord, to whom Fortune hath yeven

Victorie, and as a conqueror to lyven,
Nat greveth us youre glorie and youre honour,
But we biseken mercy and socour.
Have mercy on oure wo and oure distresse,
Som drope of pitee thurgh thy gentillesse

Upon us wrecched wommen lat thou falle;
For certes, lord, ther is noon of us alle
That she ne hath been a duchesse or a queene.
Now be we caytyves, as it is wel seene-
Thanked be Fortune, and hir false wheel,

That noon estat assureth to be weel.
And certes, lord, to abyden youre presence,
Heere in the temple of the goddesse Clemence
We han ben waitynge al this fourtenyght;
Now help us, lord, sith it is in thy myght!

I wrecche, which that wepe and waille thus,
Was whilom wyf to kyng Cappaneus,
That starf at Thebes, cursed be that day!
And alle we that been in this array
And maken al this lamentacioun,

We losten alle oure housbondes at that toun,
Whil that the seege theraboute lay.
And yet now the olde Creon, weylaway!
That lord is now of Thebes the Citee,
Fulfild of ire and of iniquitee,

He, for despit and for his tirannye,
To do the dede bodyes vileynye,
Of alle oure lordes, whiche that been slawe,
He hath alle the bodyes on an heep ydrawe,
And wol nat suffren hem, by noon assent,

Neither to been yburyed nor ybrent,
But maketh houndes ete hem in despit.'
And with that word, withouten moore respit,
They fillen gruf, and criden pitously,
'Have on us wrecched wommen som mercy

And lat oure sorwe synken in thyn herte.'
This gentil duk doun from his courser sterte
With herte pitous, whan he herde hem speke;
Hym thoughte that his herte wolde breke,
Whan he saugh hem so pitous and so maat,

That whilom weren of so greet estaat.
And in his armes he hem alle up hente,
And hem conforteth in ful good entente,
And swoor his ooth, as he was trewe knyght,
He solde doon so ferforthyl his myght

Upon the tiraunt Creon hem to wreke,
That all the peple of Grece sholde speke
How Creon was of Theseus yserved,
As he that hadde his deeth ful wel deserved.
And right anoon, withouten moore abood,

His baner he desplayeth, and forth rood
To Thebesward, and al his hoost biside,
No neer Atthenes wolde he go ne ride,
Ne take his ese fully half a day,
But onward on his wey that nyght he lay-

And sente anon Ypolita the queene,
And Emelye, hir yonge suster sheene,
Unto the toun of Atthenes to dwelle-
And forth he rit; ther is namoore to telle.
The rede statue of Mars, with spere and targe,

So shyneth, in his white baner large,
That alle the feeldes gliteren up and doun,
And by his baner gorn is his penoun
Of gold ful riche, in which ther was ybete
The Mynotaur which that he slough in Crete.

Thus rit this duc, thus rit this conquerour,
And in his hoost of chivalrie the flour,
Til that he cam to Thebes, and alighte
Faire in a feeld, ther as he thoughte fighte.
But shortly for to speken of this thyng,

With Creon, which that was of Thebes kyng,
He faught, and slough hym manly as a knyght
In pleyn bataille, and putte the folk to flyght,
And by assaut he wan the citee after,
And rente adoun bothe wall, and sparre, and rafter.

And to the ladyes he sestored agayn
The bones of hir housbondes that weren slayn,
To doon obsequies as was tho the gyse.
But it were al to longe for to devyse
The grete clamour and the waymentynge

That the ladyes made at the brennynge
Of the bodies, and the grete honour
That Theseus, the noble conquerour,
Dooth to the ladyes, whan they from hym wente;
But shortly for to telle is myn entente.

Whan that his worthy duc, this Theseus,
Hath Creon slayn, and wonne Thebes thus,
Stille in that feeld he took al nyght his reste
And dide with al the contree as hym leste.
To ransake in the taas of bodyes dede,

Hem for to strepe of harneys and of wede,
The pilours diden bisynesse and cure,
After the bataille and disconfiture;
And so bifel, that in the taas they founde
Thurgh-girt with many a grevous blody wounde,

Two yonge knyghtes liggynge by and by,
Bothe in oon armes wroght ful richely,
Of whiche two Arcita highte that oon,
And that oother knyght highte Palamon.
Nat fully quyke, ne fully dede they were,

But by here cote-armures, and by hir gere,
The heraudes knewe hem best, in special,
As they that weren of the blood roial
Of Thebes, and of sustren two yborn.
Out of the taas the pilours han hem torn,

And had hem caried softe unto the tente
Of Theseus, and he ful soone hem sente
To Atthenes to dwellen in prisoun
Perpetuelly, he nolde no raunsoun.
And whan this worthy due hath thus ydon,

He took his hoost, and hoom he rood anon,
With laurer crowned, as a conquerour,
And ther he lyveth in joye and in honour

Terme of his lyve, what nedeth wordes mo?
And in a tour, in angwissh and in wo,

Dwellen this Palamon and eek Arcite
For evermoore, ther may no gold hem quite.
This passeth yeer by yeer, and day by day,
Till it fil ones, in a morwe of May,
That Emelye, that fairer was to sene

Than is the lylie upon his stalke grene,
And fressher than the May with floures newe-
For with the rose colour stroof hir hewe,
I noot which was the fairer of hem two-
Er it were day, as was hir wone to do,

She was arisen, and al redy dight-
For May wole have no slogardrie a-nyght;
The sesoun priketh every gentil herte,
And maketh hym out of his slepe to sterte,
And seith, `arys and do thyn observaunce,'

This maked Emelye have remembraunce
To doon honour to May, and for to ryse.
Yclothed was she fressh, for to devyse,
Hir yelow heer was broyde