This essay discusses the fart joke that ends Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Summoner’s Tale.” It argues that the joke uses the language of medieval philosophy to satirize the work of medieval Scholastic philosophers. The essay begins by examining Chaucer’s relationship to philosophy more broadly and the scholarly controversies over Chaucer’s familiarity with this field of knowledge. It focuses on the way Chaucer uses disciplinary-specific jargon from philosophy, and from medieval logic more particularly, in “The Summoner’s Tale.” The language and content of the joke in “The Summoner’s Tale” are a burlesque play on the interests of the Merton Calculators, who used the logical thinking Scholasticism had developed in response to theological problems to investigate problems associated with natural philosophy. Chaucer’s joke reveals the way that the logical work of philosophers like Thomas Aquinas and the Merton Calculators relies on formal qualities more closely associated with literature, namely, character and narrative. In making a case that literature and logic rely on these same formal structures, Chaucer affirms literature’s capacity to present examples, concrete manifestations of philosophical or logical problems. He suggests that logic is attempting to make stories to work out problems, something that literature can do more effectively.

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