Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The key to medieval literature was Dante’s statement, “of more senses than one”, for medieval literature must be interpreted “at one and the same time on different levels so closely interrelated that each is corrected by the other and that all are blended into an harmonious whole”. Medieval symbolism used the “symbolisms of the ages”. Furthermore, the medieval authors utilized the bestiaries, lapidaries, and other pseudo-sciences, astrology and alchemy, to symbolize natural objects. Naturally, the philosophers, the prophets, and the theologians of ancient and medieval civilizations were cognizant of number symbolism and of its significance. Aristotle noted: “three is the first number to which . . . ‘all’ has been appropriated”. St. Thomas Aquinas specified: “the Creator is threefold . . . The creature is also threefold, and its triplicity is specifically related to the Trinity”. In his Divina Commedia, Dante structurally maintained: “3 actual divisions of 34, 33, 33 cantos, . . . . Both Beatrice and the Comedy have their basis in the number 3”. Russell Peck observed: “like Dante, Chaucer uses three’s to describe both kinds of love (‘one which ennobles, and one which enthralls; one of light, one of night’).” Dante and Chaucer manipulated the number three to symbolize either the Trinity or the anti-trinity, for the three Fates were the messengers of Divine Providence, whereas the three Furies were the emissaries of Pandemonium. The Fates and Furies were antithetical agents. Russell Peck also asserted: “the three’s in the Troilus generally pertain in some way to the love theme. Their significances range from ironic indication of cupidity to affirmation of the Trinity”. Then, he presented the proper and ultimate purpose of the Chaucerian number three and the theme of love: The climax of the three symbolism occurs in the final stanza of the Troilus, in which the number is specifically associated with the Trinity, the highest expression of love against which all other forms of love should ultimately be judged. In his religious Epilogue, Chaucer concluded with an apostrophe to his readers in which he anathematized the false and pagan “corsed old rites”, as he asked: “all the ‘young fresh folks’ to look up, . . . not on Olympus but on Calvary”.
Copyright 1966 Raymond R. Carnaghi
Carnaghi, Raymond R., "An Interpretation of the Symbolic Significance of the Number Three in Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde" (1966). Master's Theses. 968.