The Desolate Palace and the Solitary City: Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Dante
The texts we have studied so far represent desire as a force operating broadly through love and writing. In this final chapter, I focus on a particular moment in which absence and loss pose the demand for plenitude and then disclose the impossibility of desire. The disclosure reveals in this case the limits of desire within history and the endpoint of erotic attachment. My text is Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, a poem whose celebration of passionate, sexual love unfolds simultaneously with a critique of desire. Chaucer’s poem is a detailed and conscious rewriting of Boccaccio’s Filostnito. Boccaccio’s poem in turn revises parts of Dante’s Vita nuova, reading it along the lines we suggested in the previous chapter. In all three texts, Augustinian and Ovidian models of desire are clearly at issue, and they are connected in the poetic figure of an empty city despoiled of love. For medieval readers, such a figure acquired an additional and defining resonance, for it evokes Jerusalem as the solitary city mourned in the Book of Lamentations. The exegetical tradition applied to Lamentations in the Middle Ages reads the figure as a sign of both erotic loss and the promise of repletion. For medieval poets, the figure marks a point where worldly attachments come face to face with transcendence.
KeywordsJewish History Direct Citation Biblical Text Individual Soul Textual Discourse
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