The epigraph to the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale is a bible verse from Timothy's first epistle in the New Testament, 1 Timothy 6:10-- Radix malorum est cupiditas. Ad Thimotheum. In English, it means "greed is the root of all evil." The whole idea behind the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale is that it's the Pardoner's imitation of the sermon he gives as he traipses around the countryside hawking pardons, and medieval sermons usually took one or two specific bible verses as their theme. When the sermon was written down, the scribe might preface it with the verse he took as its theme, just as our scribe has done here.
He tells theother pilgrims that his sermons reflect how money is the root of all evils,"radix malorum est cupiditas." He actually preaches against his own problemsand sins.
The inspiration for the Pardoner's tale is a folk tale well known to many cultures, in which three young men set out to kill Death and come across gold instead. Chaucer may have been familiar with the story from two Italian novelle, or short stories, from a late 13th century Italian work called Il Novellino, orthe Hundred Old Tales. He also likely read Boccaccio's classic Decameron, in which many similar stories are told. Or maybe he watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Anyway, in all the versions of the folk tale, the treasure causes the young men to meet death in a way they weren't expecting, making the point that greed and death are intimately related, or, as the Pardoner quotes from Timothy, radix malorum est cupiditas – greed is the root of all evil. You've heard that one, we're sure.