By Marijane Osborn
Marijane Osborn demonstrates that Chaucer based the Canterbury stories after the astrolabe, an Arabic Islamic time-keeping gadget. Chaucer’s fascination with this gadget additionally money owed for the experience of time and astronomy within the Tales.
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Extra resources for Time and the Astrolabe in the Canterbury Tales
2. This fixed point, stdl called "the first point of Aries" by astronomers, marks the beginning (that is, where the numbering of degrees begins) of both the circles of celestial equator and ecliptic, where they cross in the springtime. But &S point is no longer in the constellation called Aries, which has been "shoved by the wobble of the earth off that sign-space of Aries. Thus, accordmg to the lines quoted above, as the clerk in The Franklin's Tale works with his understandmg of the Moon and its tides to make the coastal rocks of Brittany seem to disappear for a time, he is performing a calculation that takes &o account &; dow drifting of the constellationh i e s with its Moon-associated star Alnath away fiom the "fixed" point of the vernal equinox upon the invisible sphere above i t This "precession of the equinoxesfi is plural because, of course, the autumnal equinox as well as the vernal equinox drifts slowly in relation to the constellations.
Celestial navigation is an ancient art that has not changed substantially since the days of Ptolemy, for the reason alluded to in the epigraph for this chapter: the sky used for navigation is the sky we see, not the sky that modern science describes. It is "an imaginary sphere of infinite radius called the celestial sphere. T h s sphere has its center at the earth's center" (Dutton 1q). CHAUCER'S SKY 19 Since we humans project this imaginary celestial sphere from the earth upon the sky, its equator is on the same plane as the earth's equator, and its poles are an extension of the earth's poles (as shown in fig.
Chaucer's 14 TAKING BEARINGS interest in the astrolabe may have been inspired or reinforced by Dante's references to time in terms of celestial movement, astronomy that an astrolabe can help a reader understand. Chaucer may well have discovered that his astrolabe rendered Dante's astronomy less "unintelligible" than Eliot later found it, and from &S discovery proceeded to use his instrument to increase the structure and meaning of his own pilgrimage frame tale. Yet, for whatever the reason, references to the astrolabe and its b c t i o n s , and most of the related calendrical and horological (clock) references that Chaucer makes in l l e Canterbuy Taks, are not obvious.
Time and the Astrolabe in the Canterbury Tales by Marijane Osborn