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CECILE, CECILIE (saint). Cecilia became the patron saint of music and art, one of the celebrated saints of the Roman Catholic Church, although it is doubtful that she ever lived. She is mentioned neither by the Chronographer of 354, nor by Jerome, nor by Prudentius (NCE IV: 360). Her life is told in Legenda Aurea CLXIX.

The Second Nun tells a Life of St. Cecilia. G.H. Gerould suggests that Chaucer's source may have been a copy of the saint's life fuller than those available to modern scholars. Although Chaucer closely follows the Life in Jacobus de Voragine as far as verse 357, the rest of the story is so different that Gerould posits Chaucer used either a longer version or a different version.

Jacobus de Voragine begins the saint's life with etymologies of her name: "Caecilia quasi coeli lilia cel caecis via vel a coelo et lya. Vel Caecilia quasi caecitate carens. Vel dicitur a coelo et leos, quod est populus." Cecilia comes from coeli lilia, "lily of heaven," or from caecis via, "a way unto the blind," or from coelum, "heaven," and lya, "one who works." Or again, it is the same as caecitate carens, "free from blindness," or comes from coelum, "heaven," and leos, "people." The Second Nun begins her legend similarly, SNP 85-119. The name means "hevenes lilie, SNP 87; "wey to blynde," SNP 92; "hevene and Lia" mean "hoolynesse" and "bisynesse," SNP 94-98; "wantynge of blyndnesse," SNP 100; "hevene of peple," SNP 102-105. Robinson (757) points out that these meanings are all wrong, but Russell Peck shows how appropriate they are to the tale itself. Susan Schibanoff suggests that Cecile is one of the redendenamen or "speaking names" of medieval etymology.

Queen Alceste lists the Lyf of Seinte Cecile among Chaucer's works, LGW F 426, LGW G 416. [Almache: Ambrose: Maxime: Tiburce: Urban: Valerian]

Cecile, Cecilie are variants of Latin Caecilia. Cecile occurs seven times initially, SNP 99, SNT 169, 379, 382, 407, 412, 493; eleven times in medial positions, SNP 92, 94; SNT 120, 176, 194, 222, 275, 284, 319, 422, 450; five times in final rhyming position, SNP 85; SNT 196, 218, 554; LGW 426. Cecilie appears twice medially, SNP 115; SNT 550, and once in final rhyming position, SNP 28. The rhymes show that both forms are pronounced alike.

G.H. Gerould, "The Second Nun's Prologue and Tale." S&A, 664-684; Jacobus de Voragine, GL, trans. Ryan and Ripperger, 689; ibid., LA, ed. Graesse, 771-777; R. Peck, "The Ideas of 'Entente' and Translation in Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale." AnM 8 (1967): 23-25; Riverside Chaucer, ed. L. Benson, 944; S. Schibanoff, "Argus and Argyve: Etymology and Characterization in Chaucer's Troilus." Speculum 51 (1976): 649-658.
Copyright © 1988, 1996 Jacqueline de Weever
Published by Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London.

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