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From The Wife of Bath's Tale, lines 1110-1130:
Jesus on the origin of gentility
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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Wife of Bath's Tale
lines 1131-1170: Dante on the origin of gentility


       Wel kan the wise poete of Florence,
That highte Dant, speken in this sentence.
Lo in swich maner rym is Dantes tale:
`Ful selde upriseth by his branches smale
1135Prowesse of man, for God of his goodnesse,
Wole, that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse.'
For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme
But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme.
       Eek every wight woot this as wel as I,
1140If gentillesse were planted natureelly
Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
Pryvee nor apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne
To doon of gentillesse the faire office,
They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
1145       Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
Bitwix this and the mount of Kaukasous,
And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne
As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
1150His office natureel ay wol it holde,
Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
       Heere may ye se wel, how that genterye
Is nat annexed to possessioun,
Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
1155Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde.
For God it woot, men may wel often fynde
A lordes sone do shame and vileynye,
And he that wole han pris of his gentrye,
For he was boren of a gentil hous,
1160And hadde hise eldres noble and vertuous,
And nel hym-selven do no gentil dedis,
Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is,
He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl;
For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl.
1165For gentillesse nys but renomee
Of thyne auncestres for hire heigh bountee,
Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone.
Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace,
1170It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
       Well does that poet wise of great Florence,
Called Dante, speak his mind in this sentence;
Somewhat like this may it translated be:
'Rarely unto the branches of the tree
1135Doth human worth mount up: and so ordains
He who bestows it; to him it pertains.'
For of our fathers may we nothing claim
But temporal things, that man may hurt and maim
       And everyone knows this as well as I,
1140If nobleness were implanted naturally
Within a certain lineage, down the line,
In private and in public, I opine,
The ways of gentleness they'd alway show
And never fall to vice and conduct low.
1145       Take fire and carry it in the darkest house
Between here and the Mount of Caucasus,
And let men shut the doors and from them turn;
Yet will the fire as fairly blaze and burn
As twenty thousand men did it behold;
1150Its nature and its office it will hold,
On peril of my life, until it die.
"From this you see that true gentility
Is not allied to wealth a man may own,
Since folk do not their deeds, as may be shown,
1155As does the fire, according to its kind.
For God knows that men may full often find
A lord's son doing shame and villainy;
And he that prizes his gentility
In being born of some old noble house,
1160With ancestors both noble and virtuous,
But will himself do naught of noble deeds
Nor follow him to whose name he succeeds,
He is not gentle, be he duke or earl;
For acting churlish makes a man a churl.
1165Gentility is not just the renown
Of ancestors who have some greatness shown,
In which you have no portion of your own.
Your own gentility comes from God alone;
Thence comes our true nobility by grace,
1170It was not willed us with our rank and place




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From The Wife of Bath's Prologue, lines 1171-1212:
Reflections on poverty and gentility
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