Volume 40, 2019
Ethan K. Smilie
Simon Magus and his Miseri Seguaci
Dante’s Simonists and Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale
In Canto 19 of the Inferno and in the Summoner’s Tale, Dante and Chaucer show a remarkable congruity of thought in regard to simony. The two poets portray the nature and effects of the sin by means of a number of specific correspondent depictions: that of the simonists’ ostensible desire to build up the Church, which is in both cases portrayed physically and in reference to the past work of Peter and the Apostles (as well as to the contemporary thought of the Spiritual Franciscans); that of simony in terms of sexual perversion; that of the “goods” acquired by the simonists as destructive; and, finally, the parodic depiction of sacramental confession alongside the laity’s usurpation of its administration. Ultimately, both authors utilize parodic allusions to demonstrate how the authority of the Church is weakened by simoniacal clergy. Within these congruities, however, there is one significant divergence, which is the poets’ portrayals of friars. Although for both poets the depictions of friars serve largely the same end, the manner in which they are employed differs vastly, a divergence that may be accounted for by the poets’ disparate political and ecclesiastical environments.