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The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales) (1390)
Geoffrey Chaucer
Highly Rated!

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

Aurelius of Brittany greatly desires Dorigen, a married woman who has not seen her husband, the knight, for some years. Dorigen puts off Aurelius's advances by promising that she will yield when he clears the coast of Brittany of all its rocks. Eventually, a knowledgeable clerk calculates when an unusually high tide is due. Aurelius waits for that day to tell Dorigen he has fulfilled her conditions. Meanwhile, Dorigen's husband has returned.

Leaving the soap opera aspects for the English major, we note that Chaucer (who wrote a treatise on the astrolabe) spells out the astronomical calculation in far more detail than poetry or plot could possibly require.

(quoted from The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales))

His tables tolletanes forth he brought,
Ful wel corrected, ne ther lakked nought,
Neither his collect ne his expans yeeris,
Ne his rootes, ne his othere geeris,
As been his centris and his argumentz
And his proporcioneles convenientz
For his equacions in every thyng.
And by his eighte speere in his wirkyng
He knew ful wel how fer alnath was shove
For the heed of thilke fixe aries above,
That in the ninthe speere considered is;
Ful subtilly he kalkulled al this.
whan he hadde founde his firste mansioun,
He knew the remenaunt by propocioun,
And knew the arisyng of his moone weel,
And in whos face, and terme, and everydeel;
And knew ful weel the moones mansioun
Acordaunt to his operacioun,
And knew also his othere observaunces
For swiche illusiouns and swiche meschaunces

See the April 2000 issue of SKY AND TELESCOPE, where the goal of the calculations is identified, apparently for the first time in 600 years.

For more information about Chaucer, check out Chaucer On-Line at SIU.

Contributed by Harry Lewin

Probably the first work advocating effectively for gender equality among all classes of people. To comprehend the math / astronomy one should understand the rare astronomical configuration of December 1290 SEMICOLON the moon was at perigee while the earth was at perihelion and the three bodies were in a straight line. This results in the maximum high tides that the moon and sun together can generate. The elaborate description outlines the tools and math a medieval astrologer would use to make this calculation.

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Works Similar to The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales)
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Prost, der Faust-Tragödie (-n)ter Teil [Prost: the (-n)th Part of the Faust Tragedy] by Kurd Lasswitz
  2. The Birds by Aristophanes
  3. The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe
  4. Micromegas by François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
  5. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  6. Kavanagh by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  7. Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, The Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  8. Young Archimedes by Aldous Huxley
  9. Mortal Immortal by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  10. The Wild Numbers by Philibert Schogt
Ratings for The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales):
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Mathematical Content:
3.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (3 votes)

MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)