Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

2014 Edition
| Editors: Thomas Hockey, Virginia Trimble, Thomas R. Williams, Katherine Bracher, Richard A. Jarrell, Jordan D. MarchéII, JoAnn Palmeri, Daniel W. E. Green

Chaucer, Geoffrey

  • Alan Baragona
Reference work entry

BornLondon, England, circa1340

DiedLondon, England, 25 October 1400

Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the son of a prosperous wine merchant. Our earliest records, dating from 1357, show him as a page in a royal household and later a soldier and prisoner of war in the 100 Years War. He possibly studied law at the Inns of Court. Nothing else is known of his education, although his works show that he was deeply learned in a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy. By the early 1370s he had begun a career in government, in various positions such as a diplomat, tax auditor, member of parliament, manager of royal properties, and finally, deputy forester.

Some of these appointments, certainly the last, might have been more or less honorary, because he was already a practicing poet by the late 1360s, writing first for Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, and then for Richard II himself. Always a cosmopolitan and international poet, Chaucer began imitating French models, then came under the...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Selected References

  1. Benson, Larry (ed.) (1987). The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (Includes A Treatise on the Astrolabe, John Reidy (ed.), pp. 661–683, 1092–1104.)Google Scholar
  2. Carter, Tom (1982). “Geoffrey Chaucer: Amateur Astronomer?” Sky & Telescope 63, no. 3: 246–247. (Astrolabe and perhaps Equatorie may indicate that Chaucer was an amateur astronomer who made his own astronomical observations.)Google Scholar
  3. Eade, J. C. (1982). “‘We ben to lewed or to slowe’: Chaucer’s Astronomy and Audience Participation.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 4: 53–85. (Discusses what we can learn from Chaucer’s work about his audience’s familiarity with astronomy and how it can clarify passages that seem obscure.)Google Scholar
  4. Eisner, Sigmund (1975). “Building Chaucer’s Astrolabe.” Journal of the British Astronomical Association 86: 18–29, 125–132, 219–227. (How to translate Chaucer’s description of procedure into a modern understanding of the working of the astrolabe.)Google Scholar
  5. — (1985). “Chaucer as a Technical Writer.” Chaucer Review 19 : 179–201. (Argues for Chaucer’s superiority as a technical writer over his contemporaries. Suggests that, if he did not write Equatorie himself, the author was influenced by Chaucer’s method.)Google Scholar
  6. Fisher, John H. (1977). The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. (Includes Treatise on the Astrolabe, pp. 906–934, and Equatorie of the Planetis, pp. 936–948. This is the only complete works of Chaucer that argues for his authorship of the Equatorie.)Google Scholar
  7. Hager, Peter J. and Ronald J. Nelson (1993). “Chaucer’s’A Treatise on the Astrolabe’: A 600-year-old Model for Humanizing Technical Documents.” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 36: 87–94. (Uses Chaucer as a model for good technical writing.)Google Scholar
  8. Laird, Edgar S. (1997). “Astrolabes and the Construction of Time in the Late Middle Ages.” Disputatio 2: 51–69. (Discusses how Chaucer’s Astrolabe and other medieval treatises reflect medieval notions of time.)Google Scholar
  9. Laird, Edgar S. and Donald W. Olson (1990). “Boethius, Boece, and Boötes: A Note on the Chronology of Chaucer’s Astronomical Learning.” Modern Philology 88: 147–149. (Argues from a reference to the constellation Boötes that Chaucer relied on commentaries rather than his own observations for his astronomical knowledge.)Google Scholar
  10. Manzalaoui, Mahmoud (1975). “Chaucer and Science.” In Writers and Their Background: Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by Derek Brewer, pp. 224–261. Athens: Ohio University Press. (Covers Chaucer’s knowledge of medieval sciences and pseudo-sciences, with an emphasis on astronomy and astrology. Argues that compared to his contemporaries, Chaucer is striking for his use of scientific material.)Google Scholar
  11. Mooney, Linne R. (1999). “Chaucer and Interest in Astronomy at the Court of Richard II.” In Chaucer in Perspective: Middle English Essays in Honor of Norman Blake, edited by Geoffrey Lester, pp. 139–160. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. (Connects “specific astronomical references” in Chaucer’s works to events in his life and to the years of Queen Anne’s reign.)Google Scholar
  12. Osborn, Marijane (2002). Time and the Astrolabe in the Canterbury Tales. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ovitt, Jr., George (1987). “History, Technical Style, and Chaucer’s ‘Treatise on the Astrolabe.’” In Creativity and the Imagination: Case Studies from the Classical Age to the Twentieth Century, edited by Mark Amsler, pp. 34–58. Newark: University of Delaware Press. (Chaucer demonstrates comprehension of astronomical principles.)Google Scholar
  14. Smyser, Hamilton M. (1970). “A View of Chaucer’s Astronomy.” Speculum 45: 359–373. (Astronomy is unusually important to Chaucer’s characters for determining things like time and portents.)Google Scholar
  15. Veazie, Walter B. (1939–1940). “Chaucer’s Text-book of Astronomy, Johannes de Sacrobosco.” University of Colorado Studies, ser. B. Studies in the Humanities 1: 169–182. (Examines Chaucer’s debt to Holywood’s De Sphaera.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Virginia Military InstituteLexingtonUSA