Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wide Black Nostrils?

Getting acquainted with the Canterbury Pilgrims bothered me. Why were they such a distinctive and assorted group? Certainly they were not random folks the author casually gathered together. 
     So many details were odd, unexpected. For example, a pilgrim has broad shoulders, and can knock a door off its hinges by running into it with his head. He also has a hairy wart on his nose and wide, black nostrils. Are you having difficulty picturing this as the description of a man? One scholar sees it as “a brute of vast strength.” Another refers to the head butt calling it “the grotesque feat of breaking down doors by charging them with his head like a great bull.” 
     That’s the picture Chaucer’s words creates. We just need the courage to admit what we see. The bull is concealed in pilgrim garb as part of Chaucer’s brilliant allegory. Identification of the entire cast of characters wearing pilgrim disguises can be found in Chaucer’s Pilgrims: the Allegory.  See for articles and background that make the pilgrims even more challenging. 

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