SAC 40 - Sample Article

Studies in the Age of Chaucer
Volume 40 (2018)

Transmedial Technics in Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe: Translation, Instrumentation, and Scientific Imagination

J. Allan Mitchell
University of Victoria


An astrolabe is a versatile technical medium that rescales and renders aspects of the world at large. Accordingly, I argue that Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe configures perceptions of the environment through varieties of simultaneous translation. As a translated text, the treatise mobilizes knowledge practices drawn from diverse languages and scientific cultures; as a technical object, the accompanying device expresses correspondences among observed phenomena. The result is a technoscientific idealization of a common world propagated by prose instruction and physical instrumentation. Verbal, numerical, geometrical, and material figures are also joined by uncanny metaphors that augment and intensify the astrolabe’s ecological orientation. Affiliated zoomorphic images of the spider, horse, and eagle suggest that the instrument embodies more-than-human sentience and skill, virtually distributing agency across an imagined multispecies spectrum. The essay concludes with Chaucer’s cautious consideration of scientific intermediaries in The Squire’s Tale and The House of FameThe article is presented on this website together with a video clip demonstrating the three-coordinate system mentioned on pp.18-19 (credit

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