The Monk's Tale
The story of Judith and Holofernes is recounted in the Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer. The Monk's Tale introduces the medieval concept of the Wheel of Fortune. The Monk illustrates through a series of episodes how various historical characters were brought low or raised up through the turning of the wheel. The city called "Bethulia," and the narrow and strategic pass into Judea that it occupies may well be fictional settings, although Bethulia has been suggested as a stand-in for the actual location of Meselieh. Holofernes was the Assyrian general whose army was laying siege to the Jewish settlement of Bethulia. Under intense pressure from the enemy, some of the residents voiced their opinion that they should surrender. However a rich widow, Judith, conceived a plan which would save her people.
"Was never capitain under a king,
That regnes more put in subjectioun,
Nor stronger was in field of alle thing
As in his time, nor greater of renown,
Nor more pompous in high presumptioun,
Than HOLOFERNES, whom Fortune aye kiss'd
So lik'rously, and led him up and down,
Till that his head was off ere that he wist.
Not only that this world had of him awe,
For losing of richess and liberty;
But he made every man reny his law.
Nabuchodonosor was God, said he;
None other Godde should honoured be.
Against his hest there dare no wight trespace,
Save in Bethulia, a strong city,
Where Eliachim priest was of that place.
But take keep of the death of Holofern;
Amid his host he drunken lay at night
Within his tente, large as is a bern;
And yet, for all his pomp and all his might,
Judith, a woman, as he lay upright
Sleeping, his head off smote, and from his tent
Full privily she stole from every wight,
And with his head unto her town she went."
The Knight sees fit to interrupt the Monk and halt his tale.