Middle English Word of the Moment

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Being Taken In

“Do you think I care if Aslan dooms me to death?” said the King. “That would be nothing, nothing at all. Would it not be better to be dead than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in and longed for? It is as if the sun rose one day and were a black sun.”
“I know,” said Jewel. “Or as if you drank water and it were dry water. You are in the right, Sire. This is the end of all things. Let us go and give ourselves up.”
“There is no need for both of us to go.”
“If ever we loved one another, let me go with you now,” said the Unicorn. If you are dead and if Aslan is not Aslan, what life is left for me?”
They turned and walked back together, shedding bitter tears. (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, 1956. London: Bodley Head, 1972. 31)

The Last Battle is not popular. People who enjoy Lewis’ other Narnia books, who find they can excuse all that Christianity nonsense in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or ignore it in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, tend to find themselves stumped by The Last Battle. Lewis is accused of being heavy-handed, offensive, dreary, of having an axe to grind, of sacrificing plot to religious allegory that is too ponderous to be affecting and too overt, dark or naïve for a childrens’ book.

Well, perhaps. But then why does it still invariably reduce me to tears?

Partly it’s the quality of the prose, pure Lewis. Simple, direct vocabulary, but with a beautifully resonant rhythm that pulls you right in:

The Bear lay on the ground, moving feebly. Then it mumbled in its throaty voice, bewildered to the last, “I – I don’t – understand,” laid its big head down on the grass as quietly as a child going to sleep, and never moved again. (122)

And partly it’s that combined with his ability to state a common experience, simultaneously evoking it in such a way that the moment becomes my defining literary experience or memory of that feeling:

Then Tirian realised that these people could see him; they were staring at him as if they saw a ghost. But he noticed that the king-like one who sat at the old man’s right never moved (though he turned pale) except that he clenched his hand very tight. Then he said:
“Speak, if you’re not a phantom or a dream. You have a Narnian look about you and we are the seven friends of Narnia.”
Tirian was longing to speak, and he tried to cry out aloud that he was Tirian of Narnia, in great need of help. But he found (as I have sometimes found in dreams too) that his voice made no noise at all.
The one who had already spoken to him rose to his feet. “Shadow or spirit or whatever you are,” he said, fixing his eyes full upon Tirian. “If you are from Narnia, I charge you in the name of Aslan, speak to me. I am Peter the High King.” (49-50)

But to a large extent it’s that I love the book, and have done since childhood, and that, of course, affects and informs my experience of reading it now. That love can be rationalised and explained in many ways – the two examples above for a start – but is also in itself also a factor in how I respond to the book. I remember when we were quite young we had a series of audio tapes of several of the Narnia books – not dramatised, just read aloud, with incidental music at appropriate moments. And the score for The Last Battle was so moving, so noble and sad (two of Lewis’ favourite adjectives, of course), that I was always sobbing through the final battle in the stable door. You wouldn’t stop to question the xenophobia, the absolutism, the religious agenda, to mock the pretensions of Peter and Tirian and Jewel, because you didn’t want to. You wanted to believe the story.

"But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash that his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, child?” (166)

Reading the story now, I want it to remain the Narnia I remember and love; and so it does. The elements that made me love it are still there. I have changed, not the book, but I can choose to see it primarily with the eyes of a child, and not any of my sets of adult eyes: the ones I closed and turned away from the priest in Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral when I stood in the choir loft, wondering why the rest of the congregation couldn’t see certain of his words for the propaganda and mass manipulation they were; or the ones with which I would read Chaucer, detached from its emotional context, only to analyse; or the ones with which I would read a Harry Potter book, impatient with Rowling’s inability to notice her own moral grey areas (a group of kids being obnoxious at school does not mean they will all be irrevocably evil and should therefore be ostracised by all right-thinking people for the rest of their lives).

So I can see the shortcomings in Lewis’ writing, and the potential offensiveness of his preaching, but when I read it I choose not to see it. I choose to immerse myself in it and take it at face value, just as I believe in trawþe for Gawain’s sake when I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Not being a Christian, I take ‘Aslan’ purely on his Narnian terms, isolating Lewis’ version of right and wrong from the real world. But others prefer to take a more active approach in their reading.

Most famously, Neil Gaiman wrote a short story in 2004 criticising Lewis’ treatment of Susan, excluded from Aslan’s country for her love of “nylons and lipsticks” (Last Battle 138), left behind in England to mourn all three siblings and her parents. And I’m currently following the writing of a fanfic author, bedlamsbard, who regards The Last Battle as we have it as effectively an Apocalypse myth (and refuses to admit The Magician’s Nephew as canon at all). Her Dust in the Air picks up the story five years after Jill and Eustace are sent to Narnia, with Narnia in Calormene control and resistance reduced to fitful guerilla warfare in the outlying forests. Tirian is perhaps as much a fugitive from the angry Narnians as from the Calormenes, Cair Paravel and the surrounding city are a New Orleans-style melting pot of different cultures, languages and styles, every race and culture and family has its own motivations and opinions which necessitates a good deal more political negotiation than just waving a sword and crying “For Aslan!”, and the Pevensies (all four of them) are rather surprised to be summoned back to Narnia by a dark magic ritual (involving Susan’s horn and the life’s blood of a willing Centaur) performed by a group of religious fanatics who are convinced the kings and queens of old are demigods.

So for this author, reading Lewis provokes the desire both to explore the world farther, and to amend it. Reading Dust, and her simultaneous reflections on writing it, is an exercise in reconsidering points of Lewis’ writing that could have been handled differently if he had chosen to engage with his own world on a deeper, more realistic level, rather than light fantasy and heroism. For example, living back and forth across two worlds, ageing and returning to childhood, has tipped Bedlam’s Pevensies much closer to the edge of sanity than Lewis’ idealised English children. If the world held no interest for her, provoked no love, there would be no motivation to engage with it on that deeper level; but if it were perfect, if she were happy to be entirely that audience Lewis portrays and no more, to take him entirely at face value and let his views shape hers – to be, effectively, constructed by him – she would have no reason to write her own version.

So she constructs him instead - more directly than any critic. She makes her own Narnia, her own Last Battle, writing her own reading of the text.

But she found, a few days ago, that some anonymous reader has been through the fiction she’s posted on her journal over the last two years, and written a series of comments on how she’s ‘got Lewis wrong’.

So this begs the question of which party in the experience of reading ought to be prioritised: the author, or the reader?

It’s not a novel question at all (pun intended after the fact): it’s one that most literary critics have had to grapple with at some point in the process of defining their critical approach in general. For example:

It does not follow for Hirsch [in Validity and Interpretation (1967)] that because the meaning of a work is identical with what the author meant by it at the time of writing, only one interpretation of the text is possible. There may be a number of different valid interpretations, but all of them must move within the ‘system of typical expectations and probabilities’ which the author’s meaning permits. Nor does Hirsch deny that a literary work may ‘mean’ different things to different people at different times. But this, he claims, is more properly a matter of the work’s ‘significance’ rather than its ‘meaning’. The fact that I may produce Macbeth in a way which makes it relevant to nuclear warfare does not alter the fact that this is not what Macbeth, from Shakespeare’s point of view, means. Significances vary through history, whereas meanings remain constant; authors put in meanings, whereas readers assign significances.

This is all well and good, so long as all we want to do with a text is seek the author’s purpose. But it a) presupposes that the author had one (only one?) finite purpose and b) that it can be discovered, which, by its own argument, it can’t: anything I discover about the text is a significance, even if I discover it while in pursuit of meaning. If meanings remain constant, they resist historical change, and sorry, but history has changed. I am not living in Lewis’ world, or Chaucer’s, and more than that, I am not living in their minds. Seeking to construct the author’s thoughts is a futile exercise because, as Hirsch admits, we will never be in a position to know what those thoughts were, even if we do hit on the right meaning. ‘Meaning’ therefore becomes everything general or unarguable that we can deduce about a text, without allowing us to probe further. Or rather, we can – but anything we come up with is automatically subordinated by being assigned the label ‘significance’. Essentially, reader is completely subordinate to author. Or to what we perceive the author to be. It’s a circular argument, and the only way you can get anywhere within it is to decide what is, overall, most likely to be the author’s intention – or submit to the opinion of some great authority on the subject – then make everything else fit that. Which leads eventually to something like this:

“And now there’s another thing you got to learn,” said the Ape. “I hear some of you saying I’m an Ape. Well, I’m not. I’m a Man. If I look like an Ape, that’s because I’m so very old: hundreds and hundreds of years old. And it’s because I’m so old that I’m so wise. And it’s because I’m so wise that I’m the only one Aslan is ever going to speak to. He can’t be bothered talking to a lot of stupid animals. He’ll tell me what you’ve got to do, and I’ll tell the rest of you. And take my advice, and see you do it in double quick time, for He doesn’t mean to stand any nonsense.”
There was dead silence except for the noise of a very young badger crying and its mother trying to make it keep quiet. (35)

And of course, I’d rather have the freedom to do many more things with a text than simply seek the author’s purpose. That has its place, of course, but too much of it and not only do you cease to think for yourself, you cease to enjoy: in fact, you lose the text.

So do we have a third party in this equation – author, reader and the text itself? On either end there is an absolute (more or less) – the author’s intention and the reader’s reception – and in the centre there is the nebulous thing itself. I rather like the analogy of text as performance: actor, audience and that space between them that comes to life. The actor has something he[1] wants to convey, the performance is rarely exactly what he had in his head, and what the audience sees is going to be different again. I went to see The Merchant of Venice some years ago, and there is a terrible moment in the judgement scene when the tables have turned completely on the once-triumphant Shylock, and Antonio asks the Duke to be lenient and spare his life. Just one thing more: “that for this favour, he presently become a Christian”. And that is a line that makes me cringe; but many people in the audience laughed. There was a question and answer session with the cast after the play, and I asked the Antonio what he thought of that moment – did he believe Antonio was trying to be merciful, save Shylock’s soul despite him by forcing his conversion? And he said no – his Antonio was being purely malicious, purely vengeful. So what I saw in that actor’s portrayal of Antonio (which was a moment of horribly wrong-headed nobility) differed from what the actor saw, and from what the rest of the audience saw (which somehow found a way for that to be funny).

So we have at least three interpretations in the theatre – but of course, they were none of the disinterested. The members of the audience who laughed were predisposed to respond with laughter because the rest of the play was acted as a light comedy, even if they appreciated the darkness of that moment. I know the play well and love it, knew that line was coming up, and expected to find it appalling because I always do: and therefore, I did. And the actor has just been up on stage wholely immersed in portraying a man who is about to have his heart cut out and now has a chance to get his own back – it’s hardly surprising that he sees it as Antonio’s revenge and thinks it’s fully justified. And between them all, playing a game of cause and effect with each point of view but being wholly defined by none of them, is that thing called the performance. And I also, in different times and contexts, will respond to that line differently – in the theatre with the gut-wrenching emotional response, in narrating it to a friend with irony and amusement, in writing critically with detached evaluation.

So, thanks but no thanks to that anonymous commenter – there is no right way. My way of reading is not your way and not Lewis’ way and, most of all, I reserve the right to change my way. I want to feel free to say, on some days, “So what on earth do all those leopards and tigers in the Narnian army eat? I hope they’re vegetarians, or some of the herbivores are going to be finding those living conditions in Aslan’s How very cramped. And also, Lewis, I reserve the right to decide that people are not evil just because they spread oil on their bread instead of wholesome English butter”. But on other days I will read The Last Battle, or Pride and Prejudice, or the Odyssey, with whole-hearted emotional immersion, believing in it and living in it. If the text is good, I want to have faith in it, even if I don’t agree with it. It deserves that. And it's as much a challenge as the other, really, because to believe in cultures and ideals that aren't yours is hard work.

I shall let Lewis have the last word, on the condition that he and I agree to disagree to a certain extent, on the subject of How the Dwarfs Refused to be Taken Into the Text.

“Look out!” said one of [the dwarfs] in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going! Don’t walk into our faces!”
“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our heads.”
“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
“In where?” asked Edmund.
“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”
“Are you blind?” said Tirian.
“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.
“But it isn’t dark at all, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”
“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there?”
“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (146-150)

[1] Yes, I know, but I’m using the male pronoun for a reason – or rather, using the fact that I’m about to talk about an example involving male actors as an excuse to avoid that ugly s/he business.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Edward the First, rex Edwardus quartus

It's interesting, while reading Adam Murimuth's account of 1307-09, to see him struggling with the necessity of repeatedly comparing two men, both kings of England named Edward. Though the convention of numbering popes was clearly well-established (he refers to them readily as Bonifacius octavus, Clemente quintus, etc), he doesn't apply this apparently obvious solution to the Edwards. Even referring to Henry III, Edward I's father, he calls him simply "re[x] Henric[us]"- perhaps because there had been a generation neatly separating each Henry from the next, reducing the possibility of confusion. Context also helps Murimuth there: King Edward is "fili[us] regis Henrici", therefore the Henry in question is the one who fathered King Edward, the one in most recent memory. It's possible that in other places, where necessary, the Henrys are distinguished by number at this period.

But the odd "primus" or "secundus" would certainly come in handy for Murimuth when he has to discuss two Edwards at once; so why not use them? Well, the obvious answer is that the convention didn't exist, as it applied to English kings. Even if it was being used for the Henrys (and I'll have to look into that, because I don't know), that's only one precedent, and one point does not make a line. Since the Conquest, there had only been one Matilda, one Geoffrey, one Richard, one John; though there had been two Williams, they were well in the past, and easily distinguished by descriptors: "the Conqueror" and "Rufus".

So someone writing about Edward I and needing to distinguish him from other Edwards (which was, of course, not a necessity at all until his son became king) could have done so by a descriptor - say, Edward Longshanks - or by a number - Edward the First. The problem was, of course, that he wasn't. His namesake, Edward the Confessor, died months before William became the Conqueror; Edward the Martyr was easily confused with him, having similar mutable stories of sainthood and invasion hovering around his mild-mannered, ineffective and above all brief reign in the late 900s; and Edward the Elder had reigned 899-924.

Marc Morris has this to say on the subject, in the preface to his recent biography of Edward I:
At the time of Edward's accession in 1272, even his most recent royal namesake, Edward the Confessor, had been dead for more than two centuries. Everyone in the thirteenth century remembered the Confessor, for by then he had become the patron saint of the English royal family. But when it came to the other King Edwards, people were altogether more hazy. Towards the end of Edward I's reign, for example, some of his subjects felt compelled to chronicle his remarkable deeds, and decided that they needed to distinguish the king by giving him a number. Unfortunately they miscounted, including in their tallies the Confessor ... and also the celebrated tenth-century king, Edward the Elder (899-924), but overlooking entirely the short and unmemorable reign of Edward the Martyr (975-78). For this reason, at least two thirteenth-century writers referred to Edward I as 'Edward the Third'. Had they counted correctly, they would have called him 'Edward the Fourth'.
Fortunately for us, such early and inaccurate numbering schemes did not endure. In general, when his contemporaries wished to distinguish Edward, they called him 'King Edward, son of King Henry'. The need for numbers arose only after his death, when he was succeeded by a son, and then a grandson, both of whom bore his illustrious name. By the middle of the fourteenth century, Englishmen found themselves having to differentiate between three consecutive, identially named kings, and so unsurprisingly they started referring to them as the First, Second and Third. Anyone troubled by the recollection that once upon a time there had been other kings called Edward could salve their historical conscience by adding 'since the Conquest'. Thus the Norman Conquest became the official starting point for the numbering of English kings. [1]
Murimuth should have read that passage, because he uses neither of those methods to distinguish Edward I. Writing some decades later, he must not have noticed - or perhaps chose to disregard - Edward's contemporary chroniclers who did give him a number, and apparently was not writing late enough for the presence of a third Edward to have solidified the need for ordinals. And so far, he's only referred to Edward I as "son of King Henry" once: not to distinguish him from any other Edwards, but simply on his first introduction, on page 2.

So, how does Murimuth refer to Edward I, after the accession of Edward II? He can't call him "rex Angliae" anymore, or "rex Edwardus". He can't call his son "Edwardus de Carnervan" now that he's king; nor can he call the man who was king "Edwardus de Wyntonia". The solution is to refer to him as Edward II's father, handing the title from one to the other in a sentence in which each is referred to by their familial relationship to the other:

Cui successit Edwardus de Carnervan, filius suus, statim post mortem ejusdem patris sui. (11)

The odd thing about the way Murimuth uses "pater suus", however, is that as Edward II takes over the signifiers "rex Angliae" and "rex Edwardus", "pater suus" becomes so closely associated with Edward I that Murimuth will use it in sentences where Edward II, the target of "suus", never actually appears, where grammatically "suus" could refer to Archbishop Robert, to Boniface VIII, to William Langton, Piers Gaveston, Robert Bruce or any of several people named in the course of a convoluted paragraph. And yet, even in the absence of his son, it retains its meaning: Edward I.

It never becomes quite dissociated from its technical meaning, not quite enough to be called a proper noun in its own right; but it does edge in that direction. And at the same time, the meaning of "Edward I" moves - naturally enough - from the actual king and his historical actions to an exemplar of fatherly almost-perfection against which to judge the actions of "filii sui".

Perhaps I'm reading too much if I see hints of "Pater Noster" there; but that is the main traditional use of "pater" as a proper noun, and makes even common-noun "pater" a very laden word; especially, surely, when used of a king.

[1] Morris, Marc. A great and terrible king: Edward I and the forging of Britain. London: Hutchinson, 2008. xv-xvi.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In which the English are not very nice to the Scots, who retaliate with dietary sabotage

Right at this moment, I am tired of subordinate clauses. Really. Adam Murimuth uses them a lot.

It's not that I don't like them. I love the way he can make one sentence last an entire page, range over several years, include brief biographies for several individuals and the background of an English/French peace negotiation, step its way down from one clause level to the next, up two, down three, up one, down one, up three, and end up with perfect clarity back where he started with a verb whose subject we haven't seen for 300 words or so. And it all makes sense, because Latin can do that (and modern English can't, which is why working out how to break those sentences down is probably the hardest part of translating). I love the mathematical precision and the sense of method underlying it all, a language which is a perfect construct for exactly this style of writing and not for, say, sending abusive text messages.

The problem comes when you combine this complexity with manuscript variations, and after two hours in the coffee shop this morning, this is the sentence that dealt the death blow to my brain for the day:
Item [Benedictus XI] restituit regem Franciae ad privilegia quae habuit prius a sede apostolica, quibus papa Bonifacius ipsum sicut filium ingratum privavit; et ipsum regem, non petentem, a >sententia [sententiis], >excommunicationum [excommunicationis], >[quibus?] ex praemissis [quibuscumque expressis] vel aliis causis >vinctum [ligatus erat [invitum?]], absolvit in hebdomada Pentecostes. [1]
Oh, I know what it says, that's not the problem. The difficulty is working out what's going on grammatically when you're trying to hold all the variants in your head at once. Clearly the starting point tomorrow is going to be writing that sentence out in all its possible permutations and translating it sans []s and >s and ?s, and only then debating the merits of the different variants.

So, in the absence of a functioning brain, I turned to investigating the history of the word "rat". According to Murimuth, when the Scots besieged Stirling in 1303, the English inside held out "viriliter" so long as they had food, though they were reduced to eating "equos, canes, coria, mures et ratos"[2] - horses, dogs, leather[3], mice and rats. But no dictionary I consulted (the Oxford Latin dictionary, the Collins, or any of the online ones I sometimes use) listed "ratus" or "rattus" as a noun. Classical Latin for "rat" was the same word as they used for "mouse" (as is still the case in some modern languages, I believe). The word is "mus" (hence "mures" in the accusative plural), which I find inexplicably cute, but which fails to explain the last item on the Stirling menu.

Middle English has "ratte", and modern Italian has "ratto", so it wasn't too much of a leap to assume that a man writing in 14th-century England would use something like "ratus". The Middle English Dictionary has it derive from Old English "raet", and compares it to Old French "rat" or "rate" and Middle Latin "ratus". Old French borrowing from English (via Anglo-Norman?) would make a kind of sense, though it's not terribly convincing because the current of language-sharing usually ran in the other direction, but that wouldn't explain how Italian got hold of it. Unless, of course, it was a parallel development owing something to the continental Germanic languages which had also retained the same word - Italian and French have borrowed plenty from those.

The OED, which you always want to turn to last because it provides all the answers and takes the fun out of it, confirms all this, provides examples in everything from Old High German to Catalan, and adds:
It is uncertain whether the Latin and Romance words are cognate with the Germanic words, or whether they were borrowed from Germanic, or vice versa; in any case the ultimate origin is uncertain; perhaps imitative of the sound of gnawing. None of the Latin and Romance words is attested before the end of the first millennium, and the fact that the German word has not undergone the High German sound shift suggests that the Germanic group is also late (Middle High German ratz, ratze, German regional (chiefly southern) Ratz, Ratze are secondary, perhaps hypocoristic formations). The word was probably spread with the reintroduction of rats to Northern Europe during the Viking Age (for a discussion of the physical evidence compare P. L. Armitage in Antiquity 68 (1994) 231-40).
And, for anyone who wants the vocab to threaten their enemies in Latin: "Hoc anno (1305) fuit tractus, suspensus, et decapitatus Willelmus Waleys apud Londonias" (8).

[1] (Adam Murimuth, Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. Edward Maunde Thompson, (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1889). 6-7)
[2] Murimuth 5. Although one spoilsport manuscript has "porcos" instead of "ratos". I am retaining "ratos" because I think the scribe of the manuscript in question probably substituted a reading of a more expected word for a lesser - "r" could look like a short-stemmed "p", "a" could be read as "o" with a stroke above it to indicate a following "r" and "c" and "t" at this period were often written in such a way as to make them very difficult to distinguish from each other - just ask the Green Knight's alter ego. "Ratos" also makes more sense in context - this is a list of unappetising things that one never wants to be reduced to eating, and though, as a vegetarian, I'd personally include pigs in that list, I suspect Murimuth and his contemporaries wouldn't feel it had the same effect as rats.
[3] When Edward I returns the favour the next year, besieging the Scots now holding Stirling, we are told that he besieged it for twenty days and that in the end the Scots surrended and emerged "discalceati" - unshod. I think that's a lovely little emotive detail in an otherwise fairly straightforward description; and it hints that the Scots were reduced to a similar extremity as the English. Apparently they hadn't had the opportunity to restock the castle well enough to withstand a siege.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

As writ myn auctour called Lollius...

Ebay turns up some delicious little treasures sometime. Just before Christmas, I found a very pretty 1853 edition of the works of Horatius[1], ornately bound and gilded, and rather pretentiously presented entirely in Latin and illustrated with line drawings of Roman works of art (many of them rather risque - I don't want to know what that centaur is doing to the boy with the harp on page 265).

Flicking through it, I found that the ninth song in the fourth book - sorry, liber iv, carmen ix - is entitled "Ad Lollium". And, being currently fond of Troilus and Criseyde, I naturally said "Ha!" to myself[2]. Because Chaucer's poem is a translation (much adapted) of Boccaccio's Filostrato, but he never acknowledges Boccaccio by name. Instead, he refers to other more ancient authorities on the Trojan war, particularly "myn auctour called Lollius" (I.394). Not attributing it to Boccaccio is understandable - after all, a contemporary author isn't much of an "auctoritee" compared to an ancient Roman. But who was the Lollius who got the credit instead?

Many theories have been spun to explain this roundabout attribution to a non-existent classical author, including the possibility that Chaucer was just having a joke at the expense of everyone who searched wildly and often inaccurately for some kind of authority to support their own words (or just fill up space in a line). But according to Horatius, a Lollius did exist, even if he never actually wrote about Troy. Would Chaucer have known the poem? Well, probably, since Horatius was (to the best of my knowledge) reasonably well read in Chaucer's time. But the poem, so far as I can make out, doesn't refer to Lollius as an author, though it includes references to "Homerus" (7), "Helene" (16), "Hector", "Deiphobus" (both 22) and others. So why Lollius, Chaucer, out of the many people to whom Horatius addressed his songs?

The Riverside Chaucer, naturally, solved the question:
The question of Lollius' identity has aroused much speculation.... Kittredge argued that Chaucer erroneously believed that there was a Lollius who was an authority on the Trojan War, and he accepted a suggestion ... that Chaucer had followed some medieval misunderstanding of the opening of Horace, Epist. 1.2.1-2: "Trojani belli scriptorem, Maxime Lolli, / Dum tu declamas Romae, Praeneste relegi" (While you declaim at Rome, Maximus Lollius, I have been reading again at Praeneste the writer of the Trojan War - that is, Homer). Reading "scriptorem" as "scriptorum" (and taking "Maxime" as an adjective rather than a proper noun) would give "Lollius, greatest of authors of the Trojan War".
So imagine my delight when I turned to the epistle in question in this volume of Horatius and found the following lines:
Trojani belli scriptorum, maxime Lolli,
Dum tu declamas Romae, Praeneste relegi;
Not just a mediaeval error, it seems!

Still. Poor Boccaccio should have sued for copyright.

[1] Ed. H. H. Milman (London: John Murray, 1853)
[2] Or possibly aloud. I have been known to do this very loudly in quiet coffee shops. People are usually very kind and pretend nothing happened.