The Proems to Books III and IV.

The prologues of Books III and IV of Troilus and Criseyde both contain rich apostrophes to the classical gods. The main source of Book III’s prologue is 3.74 – 79 of Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, where it is part of a song sung by Troiolo. The song itself is derived partly from Boethius, perhaps with suggestions of Dante. It sees the narrator appealing to Venus, described variously as ‘blisful light’ (1), ‘Jove’s doughter’ (3) and ‘sonnes lief’ (3). She is therefore shown to be a versatile power; she represents both the cosmic ‘love’ that binds elements of the universe together and more earthly sexual attraction. This prologue leads on directly form the end of the third book. Troilus prays to the god of love, i.e. Venus about the situation. It is the shown to be the first time he has ever appealed to the gods about such matters, which illustrates how serious the situation has become for him. The narrator himself calls to Venus at the start of Book IV, thereby achieving an effective narrative flow from one book to the next.

The start of the fourth book contains another elaborate invocation, this time to a very different set of powers; the malevolent Mars and the three furies, Megera, Alete and Thesiphone. Fortune herself appears as a fickle woman, who has decided to turn her ‘brighte face’ away from Troilus. There is an implicit link here between Criseyde as a character and fortune herself; both are graceful ladies who turn away from Troilus. Fortune is a figurative representation of both herself and Criseyde, who is carrying out her will. This prologue uses the abstract imagery of fortune’s wheel, as well as invocations to the furies and Mars, to foreshadow what is to come in books four and five.

These invocations to higher powers affect the overall tone of the poem, and affect how the reader views Chaucer as poet. He augments the pseudo-historical mode of the poem with these apostrophes, and they form part of the general adaptation that has been made to Chaucer’s most direct source, Boccaccio's Il Filostrato. Astrologizing the gods was common medieval practice, yet in this context it is also a nod towards the original sources of the story Chaucer is retelling, classical and pseudo-classical accounts of the Trojan War from writers such as Dares and Dictys.

He is showing himself to be a learned, authoritative poet who is in touch with the culture from which the story he is retelling sprang. The prologues add a personal dimension to a story that was well known to his audience already; they are a stamp of his individuality as a writer because they are extra-textual. Someone else who knew the story would not be able to execute them in the same way as himself. They also make us aware of the generic considerations of the poet. The calls to the furies, traditionally a source of malignant retribution, imply that Chaucer meant his version to fall more on the side of tragedy than romance. However they also give the poem a hint of the epic, lining the action with details of the gods who control the deeds and in the case of Caliope, invoked alongside Venus, the thoughts of men. These prologues provide contrast to the earthly action that they puncture by being concerned almost exclusively with higher powers. They put the action into a wider frame and therefore add dimension to an already lively and eventful narrative.