In Chaucer’s “Squire’s Tale,” a knight enters the court of Genghis Khan upon a steed of brass, one of several gifts from “the kyng of Arabe and of Inde”:
This steede of bras, that esily and weel
Kan in the space of o day natureel—
This is to seyn, in foure and twenty houres—
Wher-so yow lyst, in droghte or elles shoures,
Beren youre body into every place
To which youre herte wilneth for to pace,
Withouten wem of yow, thurgh foul or fair;
Or, if yow lyst to fleen as hye in the air
As dooth an egle whan hym list to soore,
This same steede shal bere yow evere moore,
Withouten harm, til ye be ther yow leste,
Though that ye slepen on his bak or reste,
And turne ayeyn with writhyng of a pyn.
He that it wroghte koude ful many a gyn.
At the Tartar court, they’re amazed! Confused! Dazed! Bemused!
Swich wondryng was ther on this hors of bras
That syn the grete sege of Troie was,
Theras men wondreden on an hors also,
Ne was ther swich a wondryng as was tho.
But fynally the kyng axeth this knyght
The vertu of this courser and the myght,
And preyde hym to telle his governaunce.
This hors anoon bigan to trippe and daunce,
Whan that this knyght leyde hand upon his reyne,
And seyde, “Sire, ther is namoore to seyne…”
Yes, you read that right: not only can the brass horse fly, it can also dance.
So why am I all hung up on the dancing brass horse? Because it was one of the first things I thought of when I watched this video of the “Big Dog” from Boston Dynamics.
Of course, Chaucer’s lusty bacheler describes a steed of endless wonders: if you turn a key inside its ear, the horse becomes invisible, too. So when Boston Dynamics releases another, more perplexing video claiming to be showing off its stealth robot horse, you shouldn’t be surprised—even if Chaucer might have been. Life, were it by aventure, or sort, or cas, imitates The Canterbury Tales.