Medieval English Poetry
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Legend of Good Women
14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.
Geoffrey's 'goddess of the flowery mead' turns out to be Alcestis, who was rescued from the Land of the Dead by Heracles and restored into human form once more.
During a slumber upon a mound of turves in May, waiting for the morning to come and the daisy to open her petals once again, Geoffrey Chaucer dreams a dream. He is in the presence of the god and goddess of the flowery mead, who in this dream appear before him as the god of love and a goddess who is in the shape of a daisy. He asks her to tell him who she really is and she replies that she is Alcestis. Alcestis, who, as the Ancient Greek dramatist Euripides and many others have shown us, died for love and was then rescued from the underworld by Heracles and restored into the human world once more.
And is this good Alceste, the dayesye, and myn owne hertes reste?
It is. And now she is a daisy, opening and closing her petals in a daily cycle of disappearance and restoration.
She instructs him to write a Legend of Good Women and he promises to do so, writing nine verse biographies in all, perhaps inspired by the nine Muses of classical myth.