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Chaucer-Cifer-art - 4/18/09


"Geoffrey Chaucer - Literary Genius? Of course, AND he used ciphers in his work" by Seigneur Lucien de La Rochelle.


NOTE: See also the files: Ciphers-art, cryptography-msg, p-espionage-msg, Art-of-Arith-art, Med-Math-Sci-bib, alphabets-msg, scrpt-develop-art, Paleo-Scribes-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



NOTE: Other articles by this author and more information about the history of ciphers and cryptology may be found on his website at: http://www.freewebs.com/crypticallymedieval/


Geoffrey Chaucer

Literary Genius?

Of course, AND he used ciphers in his work.


by Seigneur Lucien de La Rochelle


  "A secret between two people is only safe if one of them is dead". I have no idea who should be credited with this statement, but it holds true for much of history. Since the beginning of the written language, there are those who strive to keep secrets written down and those who strive to learn those secrets. Cryptography, from the Greek words kryptos (hidden) and graphia (writing), is the study of both encryption and decryption of ciphers and codes. Concentrating on ciphers for this work, I will give a brief explanation of how ciphers work and a little history leading up to the Vigenere Cipher used in this work.


  Ciphers have been in use since an unnamed scribe in ancient Egypt enciphered the hieroglyphs on a pharaoh's tomb to add dignity to the writing. Julius Caesar, one of the world's greatest generals, knew of the importance of keeping plans from his enemies and used what is now known as the Caesar Cipher. Encryption of letters is one of the arts that are discussed in the Kama Sutra. Even the Bible has two known and three suspected ciphers in it.


   Secret formulae, diplomatic dispatches, love letters, even some diaries have known the touch of encryptions. The English monk, Roger Bacon, once stated in his "Secret Works of Art and the Nullity of Magic" written about mid-thirteenth century "A man is crazy who writes a secret in any other way than one which will conceal it from the vulgar". He then lists seven ways of using ciphers. Even Geoffrey Chaucer, father of English literature seems to have used encipherment.


  Born in 1343, Geoffrey Chaucer played many roles in his time. Some of them the usual for someone of his station: page, courtier, diplomat, and civil servant, even prisoner of war! But it is his writings they make him famous in these modern times. Known especially for his unfinished "Canterbury Tales", he was the first to prove that the English language could be used for stories, poems, and fables.


  Chaucer was also quick to pursue other studies that took his fancy. In the field of Astronomy, he created a work (for his son) called "Treatise on the Astrolabe"; and is (so far) credited for the work "The Equatorie of the Planetis". Though there is still some dissent in the literary community as to whether or not Chaucer actually wrote "The Equatorie of the Planetis", most of the leading researchers believes that it is written in his hand and seems to be a continuation of the treatise.


  In the Equatorie, there appear several passages that are enciphered. While most of the volume is filled with formulae, the enciphered sections seem to be cheats for not having to use the "long form" of the mathematics involved. As an example, I have reproduced an enciphered section which when deciphered reads:


"This table servith for to entre in to the table of equacion of the mone on either side".


In other words, forget all of the formula that I have just previously given you, place the values you have into this table and it will give you the answer.


  More enciphered passages are written throughout the text, usually following formulae for different equations. No explanation can be found in the writings, but one could conclude that it was given as some form of test, since it is a follow up to the first work.


 Thank you for taking the time to read through this and observe my work. I hope you have enjoyed perusing this as much as I enjoyed creating it.  I have a longer "short" history of codes and ciphers with me at this event. If you wish more information, please feel free to ask. I am always happy to spread the knowledge of historical encryption whenever given the chance (okay, I am just really enamored with the sound of my own voice).



Reproduction created by Lucien de La Rochelle. 




Kahn, David The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing. Macmillan Company, New York, Copyright 1967 (No ISBN) Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-16109.


Singh, Simon The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. Anchor Publishing, 2000 ISBN: 0385495323


The Geoffrey Chaucer Website, maintained by Harvard University. http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/index.html


Chaucer Meta-page, maintained by the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) http://www.unc.edu/depts/chaucer/


Copyright 2006 by Jim Looper. <jimlooper at embarqmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org