The Rhetoric of the Righteous Heathen

  • Frank Grady
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The first parliament of Henry IV’s reign, in October and November 1399, sought to consolidate the new king’s power by overturning the acts of Richard’s revenge parliament of 1397, restoring the lands and titles of those who had survived their condemnation and punishing those who had aided the former king in his “tyranny.” Among this latter group were those who acted as appellants in 1397, bringing charges of treason against Richard’s enemies, and chief targets among the appellants were three of Richard’s newly created dukes, Aumale (Edward of York), Surrey and Norfolk (Richard’s half-brothers, John and Thomas Holand). When the question of the dukes’ fate arose among the lords on Friday, October 17—should they be arrested, as the Commons had petitioned?—the first to speak was Lord Cobham, himself only recently released from the isle of Jersey, where he had been exiled for life by Richard in 1397. Cobham’s speech, delivered in what one historian calls “an atmosphere of near-hysteria generated by the accusations and counter-accusations which the bitterly divided nobles hurled at each other,”1 adapted itself to the heightened rhetorical circumstances through a forceful contrast between the corrupt English and virtuous (if anonymous) pagans.


Pedagogical Relationship Inventive Exploration Romance Convention Single Combat Courtly Love 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Chronicles of the Revolution, 1397–1400:The Reign of Richard II, trans. and ed. Chris Given-Wilson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), p. 200.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    “Dominus de Cobham inprimis, praemisso longo sermone de malitia transacti temporis, dixit inter caetera, quod sub talibus Rege, ducibus, et rec-toribus, conditio Anglorum facta fuit pejor quorumlibet conditionis ethnicorum, qui licet infideles sint ad fidem Christianam, et male creduli inter se, tamen vera loquuntur, vera faciunt, veraque fatentur. Sed Anglici, cum sint Christiani, et professores vertitatis esse debant, et in ipsa perseverare, metu amissionis suae substantiae temporalis, metu detrusionis in exilium, metu denique mortis, qui in constantes etiam posset cadere, nullibi in agendis verum facere vel verum dicere sub talibus gubernatoribus fuerunt ausi….”From Walsingham’s Annales Ricardi Secundi, in Johannis de Trokelowe Anon. Chronica et Annales, ed. H.T. Riley, Rolls Series 28:3 (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866), p. 306. Trans. Given-Wilson, Chronicles of the Revolution, p. 204. John de Cobham inherited his title on his father’s death in 1355 and must have been quite old in 1399;Walsingham says that the king’s decision to banish Cobham rather than execute him was due to his age:“Rex tamen, con-cessa seni, quam non optavit, venia, sive vita, misit eum ad insulam de Gerneseya in exilium” (Ypodigma Neustriae, ed. H.T. Riley, Rolls Series 28: 7 [London: Longman, 1876], p. 379). Cobham had acquired considerable diplomatic and adminstrative experience under Edward III and Richard II, but his service on the commission to which the Lords Appellant brought their charges in 1386–88 made him a target of Richard’s vengeance in 1397, despite the fact that, according to Gower’s Cronica tripertita, he had by this time retired to a Carthusian monastery (Cronica tripertita II: 212–32, in Gower, Complete Works, ed. G.C. Macaulay, 4 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899–1902], iv. 326). After Henry’s accession, Richard’s persecution of Cobham became one more item on the laundry list of the Record and Process composed to justify the Lancastrian usurpation. He died in 1407–08 (possibly close to 100, the DNB speculates); his granddaughter Joan was his heir, and it was by virtue of marriage that her fourth husband (of five), Sir John Oldcastle, was known as Lord Cobham. Cobham was doubtless acquainted with both Chaucer and Gower; he and Chaucer served on the same commission of the peace in Kent between 1385 and 1389, while he and Gower were involved in a the estate-purchase dispute known as the “Septvuans affair” in the previous decade. For Cobham’s life, see DNB IV 611–12 and J.G. Waller, “The Lords of Cobham, their Monuments, and the Church,” Archaeologica Cantiana XI (1877): 49–112, esp. 70–99. On Chaucer’s service as justice of the peace for Kent, see Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), pp. 205–06, andGoogle Scholar
  3. Martin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson, Chaucer Life-Records (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 348ff. Cobham was also involved in the Scrope-Grosvenor controversy in which Chaucer gave testimony in 1386, and was traveling to France for peace and marriage negotiations at the same time Chaucer was doing the same (1377–1381), though no extant documents put them on the same commission; see Life-Records, pp. 360n and 53n. For Gower and Cobham, seeGoogle Scholar
  4. John Fisher, John Gower: Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (New York: New York University Press, 1964), pp. 51–54.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Donaldson takes as given Troilus’s status as a virtuous pagan: “The three stanzas describing Troilus’s afterlife afford him that reward which medieval Christianity allowed to the righteous heathen” (Speaking of Chaucer, p. 96). See also Barry Windeatt, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 211: “Against a background of some controversy in Chaucer’s day over the possibility of salvation for virtuous pagans, it is especially apposite that in the Neoplatonic and Hermetic tradition of the ogdoad souls possessed of gnosis return to the eighth sphere at death, and it may well be that by a reference to the eighth sphere Chaucer intended to invoke the possibility allowed by this tradition of a suitable point to which the soul of Troilus might ascend, although he is careful not to say that this was the permanent resting-place of the hero’s soul.” Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy, pp. 132–36, takes up the question as well, remarking (p. 132) that “We saw that Pandarus once told Troilus, in an ‘applied’ context, ‘Thow shalt be saved by thi feyth in trouthe’ (2.1503), and on another occasion he pointed out to him that if he died a martyr he would go to heaven (4.623).”Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Wetherbee, Chaucer and the Poets: An Essay on Troilus and Criseyde (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 241. See also Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity, pp. 105–07, andGoogle Scholar
  7. T.P. Dunning, “God and Man in Troilus and Criseyde,” in English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. Norman Davis and C.L. Wrenn (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1962), pp. 164–68. Wetherbee compares Troilus to the Thebaid’s Menoeceus and finds him “poised for flight” at the end, a flight that is thus explained if not anticipated. At the same time, though, Wetherbee includes as another analogous figure the Statius imagined by Dante in Purgatorio XXI, who describes how purified souls are “surprised” by the freedom of the will that accompanies the end of their purgation (pp. 228–35). Chaucer may have found in this episode an implicit precedent for his own narrative surprise, given that Dante’s representation of Statius as a pagan who had covertly converted to Christianity was apparently his own creation (and thus comes as a surprise to his readers); moreover Statius himself is surprised to discover that he is in the presence of the Vergil he has just been praising— so surprised, in fact, that he tries to embrace Vergil, forgetting that they are both mere shades. The tableau—a putatively Christian poet trying but failing to embrace a pagan poet he admires—is an undeniably poignant one.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    As Steven Justice has observed, the Nun’s Priest’s brief discussion of “symple necessitee” and “necessitee condicioneel” recapitulates Troilus’s meditations in book 4 (Writing and Rebellion [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994], pp. 219–21). In fact the narrator’s interruption (NPT 3226–66) is full of recollections of Troilus and Criseyde, not only Boece (3242) and the fall of Troy (3228–29) but also the recourse to auctors (3263) and the defusing of a potentially antifeminist moral (3260–66) similar to that attempted at the end of the earlier poem (“Beth war of men, and herkneth what I seye!” [5.1785]). On Chaucer’s likely knowledge of Piers Plowman, see e.g. J.A.W. Bennett, “Chaucer’s Contemporary,”in Piers Plowman: Critical Approaches, ed. Hussey, pp. 310–24; George Kane, Chaucer and Langland: Historical and Textual Approaches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); and my own “Chaucer Reading Langland: The House of Fame,” SAC 18 (1996): 3–23. For Chaucer’s use of Holcot, seeGoogle Scholar
  9. Robert A. Pratt, “Some Latin Sources of the Nonnes Preest on Dreams,” Speculum 52 (1977): 538–70, and for a summary account of these mid-century theological controversies in England see Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity, pp. 55–60, andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Leff, Bradwardine and the Pelagians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Windeatt, Oxford Guides, p. 231. On the topic of conversion in the poem, and the contrast between Troilus’s sudden Pauline volte-face and Criseyde’s more elaborate Augustinian process, see Dabney Anderson Bankert, “Secularizing the Word: Conversion Models in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde,” ChR 37 (2003): 196–218.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    See Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity, esp. pp. 93–100. But note that he too recognizes the virtuous pagan analogy; describing the hymns of book 3, he observes “By rationalizing from his own experience and ‘doing what was in him’, Troilus has transcended the polytheism and fatalism which he espouses elsewhere in the poem” (100). For a more critical assessment of Troilus’s philosophical achievements, see John Fleming, Classical Imitation and Interpretation in Chaucer’s Troilus (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    R.K. Root, in his notes to the poem’s epilogue, also points to these lines in the Parliament, as well as to the Somnium Scipionis see his The Book of Troilus and Criseyde (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1926; repr. 1945), p. 562. Monica McAlpine (The Genre of Troilus and Criseyde [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978], pp. 179–80) cites the Somnium, but argues that the allusion “limits and qualifies the authority of Troilus’s vision” because it ties the episode to a “seriously incomplete” pagan wisdom. On the differences between the narrator of the dream-visions and the narrator of Troilus and Criseyde, seeGoogle Scholar
  14. David Lawton, Chaucer’s Narrators (Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1985), pp. 77–90.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cf. Wetherbee, Chaucer and the Poets, p. 234: “Despite the richness of Chaucer’s account of Troilus’s enlightenment, with its echoes of the Sompnium Scipionis and the Paradiso, we must recognize that he is actually suspended in a spiritual void, that there is no category of religious experience to which we can confidently refer his spiritual journey.” If we think of the righteous heathen context as a literary category as much as a religious one, our confidence in Chaucer’s benign intentions can increase considerably. For a less sanguine reading of this passage in the Parliament, focusing on its hegemonic potential, see Watson, “Visions of Inclusion: Universal Salvation and Vernacular Theology in Pre-Reformation England,” JMEMS 27 (1997): 172–73.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), p. 154.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    The treatment accorded to the ladies is of course considerably more problematic than this, given Criseyde’s virtual absence from the epilogue and the end of the poem generally. She last appears in her own words at 5.1631, prophetically wishing for Troilus that “God have yow in his grace!”; a hundred lines later she is the object of Pandarus’s abiding hate, and a hundred lines after that the object of a preposition: “And thus bigan his lovyng of Criseyde, / As I have told, and in this wise he deyde” (5.1833–34). Progressive erasure, rather than apotheosis, characterizes Criseyde’s final appearances. Slightly more charitably one could say that her apotheosis consists of her replacement by the “mayde and moder” Mary in the last line of the poem; cp. E.T. Donaldson: “The poem has concerned a mortal woman whose power to love has failed, and it ends with the one mortal woman whose power to love is everlasting” (Speaking of Chaucer, pp.100-01). Much more than in the de casibus tradition—which thanks to Boccaccio eventually develops its de claris mulieribus counterpart—the discourse of the virtuous pagan is a masculine one. On Criseyde’s fate see Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 52–64, andGoogle Scholar
  18. Gayle Margherita, Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 100–12.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), p.116.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    All citations of the poem are drawn from Mary Hamel, ed., Morte Arthure: A Critical Edition (New York: Garland Publishing, 1984), here ll. 1, 4–6.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    On the sources of the Morte, see Hamel, pp. 34–53; for the Ferumbras connection, see John Finlayson, “The Alliterative Morte Arthure and Sir Ferumbras,” Anglia 92 (1974): 380–86. The text of Ferumbras was edited by Sidney J. Herrtage, EETS o.s. 34 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner & Co., 1879). As Lee Patterson notes (Negotiating the Past, pp. 220–21) the Alexander tradition is constantly alluded to in the Morte, not only here but in the earlier vowing scene and in the later dream of Fortune; as we have seen, it is a tradition that has its own provocative connections to the discourse of the righteous heathen. Moreover, the embedded nature of the scene recalls Sir John’s conversation with the Sultan, an incident borrowed from one source (Caesarius of Heisterbach) and inserted into a translation of another (the De statu Saracenorum). See chapter two.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Chism, Alliterative Revivals (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p. 221; see also e.g. Heng, Empire of Magic, p. 156, and Morte Arthure, ed. John Finlayson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967), pp.10–11.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    Patterson, Negotiating the Past, p. 220. As many critics have observed, Priamus’s heritage obviously connects him with Arthur, who will soon take his place among the Worthies in his dream of Fortune. Priamus’s particular forbears are the non-Christian Worthies, two of the three pagans ( Julius Caesar being omitted, presumably, so as to minimize Priamus’s connection with Rome) and two of the three Hebrews (David’s absence perhaps being explained by his genealogical connection to Christ, a line of descent into which it would be difficult to fit Priamus). His invented name, of course, also associates him with Troy, and recalls Langland’s adoption of the Latin variant of Trajan’s name, “Troianus.” On that form of the name, see the definitive study by Siegfried Wenzel, “Langland’s Troianus,” YLS 10 (1996): 181–85. Hamel argues that Priamus is not a pagan but rather a Greek Christian who would have been considered schismatic by the Latin Church, and that his reference to “thy Cryste” thus implies difference in doctrine rather than faith; see her edition of the poem, p. 40, and “The ‘Christening’ of Sir Priamus in the Alliterative Morte Arthure,” Viator 13 (1982): 295–307. I find this too literal a reading of the details of Priamus’s heritage. Heng also considers Priamus Christian, though not necessarily a Latin Christian, suggesting that Priamus’s two invocations of St. Peter “would be substantially meaningless for a pagan, Muslim, or Jew” (Empire of Magic, pp. 155–56). But the first of these, “Petire!” (l. 2646), is clearly a commonplace interjection without theological force—Chaucer’s eagle uses it this way in the House of Fame (l. 2000)—and the second reference (“so helpe Seynt Peter!” l.2742) is actually spoken by Gawain, not Priamus.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    Patterson, Negotiating the Past, p. 221, 226. The sacramental gesture in the scene is actually made by Priamus, who offers to heal Gawain’s wound with the contents of a golden vial “þat is full of þe flour of þe four well / Pat flowes oute of Paradice” (2705–06). Malory’s later version of the Priamus scene, adapted from the Morte, offers an instructive contrast, and suggests not only that he specifically recognized the earlier poem’s omission of the conventional conversion but that the situation caused him a certain amount of anxiety. Not only does his Priamus specifically ask for baptism, but Malory also depicts the sacrament itself a few pages later, inventing a scene in which Gawain brings Priamus to Arthur, who “in haste crystynde hym fayre and lette conferme hym Priamus, as he was afore,” making him a knight of the Round Table. See Sir Thomas Malory, Works, ed. Eugène Vinaver, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 137 and 143. The Alliterative Morte and the Winchester text of Malory seem to be the chivalric equivalents of Piers Plowman and St. Erkenwald when it comes to the necessity of baptism.Google Scholar
  25. 28.
    Work that takes note of the structural parallels in these scenes—typically the first and the last—includes Heng, Empire of Magic; Hamel, Morte Arthure; Patterson, Negotiating the Past (esp. p. 225 n.67); George Keiser, “The Theme of Justice in the Alliterative Morte Arthure,” Annuale Medievale 16 (1975): 94–109; Jean Ritze-Rutherford, “Formulaic Macrostructure: The Theme of Battle,” in The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem, ed. Karl Heinz Göller (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1981), pp. 83–95Google Scholar
  26. Jan Ziolkowski, “A Narrative Structure in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, 1–1221 and 3150–4346,” ChR 22 (1988): 234–45Google Scholar
  27. Lesley Johnson, “King Arthur at the Crossroads to Rome,” in Noble and Joyous Histories: English Romances, 1375–1650, ed. Eiléan Ni Cuilleanàin and J.D. Pheifer (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1993), pp. 87–111Google Scholar
  28. Robert Warm, “Arthur and the Giant of Mont St. Michel: The Politics of Empire Building in the Later Middle Ages,” Nottingham Medieval Studies 41 (1997): 57–71; and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), pp. 152–58.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    The battle with the giant combines two such encounters in the sources, while the knight-pilgrim Cradoke’s message is typically delivered by an anonymous and thematically uninteresting messenger. See John Finlayson, “Arthur and the Giant of St. Michael’s Mount,” MAE 33 (1964): 112–20, and Hamel, Morte Arthure, p. 368 n.3509. The details of Arthur’s meeting with Sir Cradoke make it strikingly parallel to Gawain’s with Priamus. Arthur is in Priamus’s position—alone, gaudily dressed, and standing still. He meets someone bound for Rome (as is Gawain, since he is part of Arthur’s army), whom he warns about the troops nearby (an element that’s out of order, it should be noted); the other—Cradoke—is like Gawain defiant that his way out will not be blocked. There is a contrast in the messages delivered, of course; Cradoke’s is to fear the future represented by Mordred and the next generation, while Priamus’s message is that the past need not be feared, since it can be domesticated through an acknowledgment of chivalric continuity.Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    Macaulay, Works II. 515. Citations from the Confessio amantis will be taken from this edition, where it appears in volumes two and three. For a contrary point of view, see R.F. Yeager, John Gower’s Poetic: The Search for a New Arion (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1990), pp. 170–87.Google Scholar
  31. 32.
    Larry Scanlon, Narrative, Authority and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 264–65. Scanlon offers a subtle reading of the tale’s politics on pp. 263–67, drawing for a different purpose on many of the plot details I also use here. On this tale see alsoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Patrick J. Gallacher, Love, the Word and Mercury: A Reading of John Gower’s Confessio amantis (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975), pp. 120–24Google Scholar
  33. J.D. Burnley, Chaucer’s Language and the Philosophers’ Tradition (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1979), pp. 145–47Google Scholar
  34. Kurt Olsson, John Gower and the Structures of Conversion (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1992), pp. 102–06.Google Scholar
  35. 33.
    The parallels continue past the point of Constantine’s cure; whereas earlier (2. 3217–19) he had sent out “with lettres and with seales” his order that the children be collected, after his conversion he “sende anon his lettres oute / And let do crien al aboute / Up peine of deth that noman weyve / That he ne baptesme receive” (2.3467–70). For Gower’s use of the Sylvester story in the late English poem “In Praise of Peace,” see my “The Lancastrian Gower and the Limits of Exemplarity,” Speculum 70 (1995), pp. 568–70. For the resonance of the word,“enformacioun,” and its various cognates in the poem, see James Simpson, Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry: Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus and John Gower’s Confessio amantis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 37.
    Simpson, Sciences and the Self, p. 297; Diane Watt, Amoral Gower: Language, Sex and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), pp. 114–18. The inconsistency charge is made byGoogle Scholar
  37. G.H.V. Bunt in “Exemplum and Tale in John Gower’s ‘Confessio amantis,’ ” in Exemplum et Similitudo: Alexander the Great and other heroes as points of reference in medieval literature, ed. W.J. Aerts and M. Gosman, Mediaevalia Groningana fasc. 8, (Groningen: E. Forsten, 1988), pp.145–57.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    He claims that Gower and Lydgate,“weary of war and of conquerors, represent the last degradation of the material and the attacks used by the philosophers of antiquity” (Medieval Alexander, 257), sentiments that may have as much to do with the postwar genesis of Cary’s thesis as with sensitivity to Gower’s pacifism. On Gower and war, see R.F. Yeager,“Pax Poetica: On the Pacifism of Chaucer and Gower,” SAC 9 (1987): 97–121.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    See Cary, Medieval Alexander, 35–36, and George L. Hamilton, “Studies in the Sources of Gower,” JEGP 26 (1927): 491–500.Google Scholar
  40. F. Pfister, “Auf den Spuren Alexanders des Grossen in der älteren englishen Literatur,” GermanischRomanische Monatsshchrift 16 (1928): 85–86, disputes Hamilton’s claim that Gower used the J2 Historia, arguing instead for the J1 recension; he also suggests Valerius Maximus as the source of the Diogenes tale in Book 3, which was widely known.Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    The Secretum was accepted as both historical and Aristotelian in the Middle Ages and circulated very widely. For Gower’s use of it, see M.A. Manzalaoui, “ ‘Noght in the Registre of Venus’: Gower’s English Mirror for Princes,” in Medieval Studies for J.A.W. Bennett (Aetatis Suae LXX), ed. P.L. Heyworth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), pp. 159–83Google Scholar
  42. George L. Hamilton, “Some Sources of the Seventh Book of Gower’s Confessio amantis,” Modern Philology 9 (1912): 323–46; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. A.H. Gilbert, “Notes on the Influence of the Secretum Secretorum,” Speculum 3 (1928): 84–98. Although it was ultimately based on an eighth-century Arabic source, the Secretum was twice translated into Latin (in the mid-twelfth and early thirteenth centuries) and survives in over 500 manuscripts in that language alone. At least thirteen Middle English versions from the fifteenth century are known, including a rhymed translation begun by John Lydgate (and finished by Benedict Burgh). For a brief description of the history of this text, seeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. M.A. Manzalaoui, ed., Secretum Secretorum: Nine English Versions, EETS o.s. 276 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. ix–xvi; the editor treats the Arabic text and its backgound in “The Pseudo-Aristotelian Kitab Sirr al-Asrar Facts and Problems,” Oriens 23–24 (1974, for 1970–71): 148–257. English versions can be found inGoogle Scholar
  45. Manzalaoui, Secretum Secretorum Robert Steele, ed., Three Prose Versions of the Secreta Secretorum, EETS e.s. 74 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1908); andGoogle Scholar
  46. John Lydgate and Benedict Burgh, Secrees of Old Philosoffres, ed. Steele, EETS o.s. 66 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1894). Steele prints the Latin “vulgate” version in Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi, fasc. 5 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1920). Judith Ferster discusses the various paradoxes of the text and its reception in England and Ireland in Fictions of Advice: The Literature and Politics of Counsel in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), pp. 39–66.Google Scholar
  47. 41.
    On this approach to Gower’s two languages in the Confessio see e.g. R.F. Yeager, “English, Latin, and the Text as ‘Other’:The Page as Sign in the Work of John Gower,” Text 3 (1987): 251–67.Google Scholar
  48. 43.
    Winthrop Wetherbee, “John Gower,” in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 601–02.Google Scholar
  49. 48.
    “Calistre” refers to Callisthenes, believed (mistakenly) in some traditions to have been one of Alexander’s teachers; see T.S. Brown, “Callisthenes and Alexander,” American Journal of Philology 70 (1949): 225–48. Manzalaoui (“ ‘Noght in the Registre,’ ”p. 165–66 n.15) and Hamilton (“Studies in the Sources of Gower,” pp. 509–11) claim that Gower found the name in Latini’s Tresor, where “Calistere” appears as a variant; the interpolated versions of the Historia de Preliis also include him, however, and his name appears as “Castor”at Wars 767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 49.
    The former observation is that of Minnis, in “John Gower, Sapiens in Ethics and Politics,” MAE 49 (1980): 207–29, here p. 216; the latter remark is Manzalaoui?s, from “ ‘Noght in the Registre,’ ” p. 165. The last century of Gower criticism has had much to say about the relationship of book 7 to the rest of the poem. Macaulay, in the first Cambridge History of English Literature deemed it “absolutely irrelevant” to the main subject of the Confessio, C.S. Lewis considered it a large-scale digression, and generations of readers interested in Gower’s exempla have frequently found its matter tedious. For the last several decades, though, critics have (correctly, I think) seen the seventh book as contributing to, rather than detracting from, the Confessions unity; it has been characterized as central to the poem,“the heart of the discussion,” structurally the most important book in the poem, and a recapitulation of the poem’s major themes. For Macaulay’s opinion see his essay on Gower in the Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. 2, The End of the Middle Ages, ed. A.W. Ward and A.P. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), esp. pp. 169, 171–72; for Lewis, see The Allegory of Love (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), pp. 213–14. The other four opinions belong to George R. Coffman,“John Gower in His Most Significant Role,” in Elizabethan studies and Other Essays in Honor of George F. Reynolds, University of Colorado Studies, Series B, 2:4 (Boulder, CO, 1945): 52–61; John H. Fisher, John Gower: Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (New York: New York University Press, 1964), pp. 196–8Google Scholar
  51. Russell A. Peck, Kingship and Common Profit in Gower’s Confessio amantis (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), p. 140Google Scholar
  52. Elizabeth Porter, “Gower’s Ethical Microcosm and Political Macrocosm,” in AJ. Minnis, ed., Gower’s Confessio amantis: Responses and Reassessments (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1983), pp. 153–60. For a useful synopsis of critical opinions about book 7, seeGoogle Scholar
  53. Peter Nicholson, An Annotated Index to the Commentary on Gower’s Confessio amantis, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 62 (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1989), pp. 423–26; more recent summaries can also be found in Yeager, John Gower’s Poetic, pp. 196–201, 207–16. That book 7 has a central role now represents canonical opinion; see the new Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, where Winthrop Wetherbee writes that “Book 7, coherent and often impressive in itself, can be seen to have an integrative function,” and that it seeks to “systematize the linkage of private and public virtue so central to Gower’s project”(p. 604). At the same time, Wetherbee is also careful to acknowledge that while book 7 is integral to the theme of the poem, it is not particularly well integrated into the narrative: it breaks the string of books organized according to particular sins; it interrupts the dialogue of Genius and Amans, who speaks for the first time at line 5408 of its 5438 lines; and of course it requires Genius to go beyond his amatory brief. Compare also Scanlon on the same swing of the critical pendulum: “More recent accounts…have frequently provided philosophical justification for Gower’s rhetorical disjunctions, rightly arguing, for example, that book 7 is central to moral concerns that run through the poem. Nevertheless, the very justice of these accounts threatens to obscure the rhetorical disjunction they are intended to explain. Book 7 is a disruption of the penitential frame, and a rather spectacular one at that. Like the other disruptions, it should not be dismissed, but it should not be explained away either A attempt to impose a single, unified vision on the poem belies its actual rhetorical complexity” (Scanlon, Narrative, Authority, and Power, p.214).Google Scholar
  54. 51.
    On Gower’s relationship with both of these sources, see Simpson, Sciences and the Self, pp. 211–28, and Porter,“Gower’s Ethical Microcosm.” It is worth noting that the correspondence of these two figures was not entirely one-sided in the medieval imagination; the Secretum tradition allegedly preserved Aristotle’s letter to Alexander, but Alexander’s equally famous Epistola ad Aristotelem on the natural and monstrous marvels of India represented aparallel textual tradition, one that we can also see Gower implicitly rejecting at the end of book 6 of the Confessio. This letter, widely known and circulated in Latin and translated into both Old English and Middle English, offers yet another characterization of Alexander—the exotic Alexander or Alexander the curiosus—and Gower enacts a sort of banishment of curiositas in the stories that conclude book 6. There both the well-travelled Ulysses, consorting with sorceresses and obsessing over prophetic dreams, and the foreign necromancer Nectanabus, attracting the attention of Olimpias by virtue of his exotic erotic appeal (“The queene on him hire yhe caste, / And knew that he was strange anon,” 6.1864–65), come to wretched ends. “To conne moche thing it helpeth, / Bot of to mochel noman yelpeth” (6.2391–2), says Genius in summary, implicitly drawing a distinction between the transgressive knowledge that characterizes the practice of sorcery in book 6 and the more ordered philosophical pursuits to be described in book 7, wherein “wisdom, hou that evere it stonde, / To him that can it understonde / Doth gret profit in sondri wise” (6.2421–23). Simultaneously, Gower disengages Alexander from the related and thus potentially suspect Epistola tradition. Alexander’s killing of Nectanabus is therefore doubly (and paradoxically) overdetermined; it fulfills the prophecy of Nectanabus, and also opportunely banishes from the poem the kind of perverse knowledge that makes such prophecy possible. On the role of curiositas in these tales, see Olsson, John Gower and the Structures of Conversion, pp. 182–88, where he writes (p. 182),“The last major tale of [book 6] is linked with the whole of book 7 not merely because each centers on a teacher of Alexander, on Nectanabus and Aristotle respectively, but because these teachers manifest the difference between curiosity and stu-diositas or a ‘controlled devotion to learning.’ ” See chapter 3, n20, above, for the unique Middle English version of the Epistola the Latin versions circulated widely, most often in manuscripts containing the JuliusValerius Epitome of Alexander’s life. Early English interest in the letter is attested by the Anglo-Saxon version contained in the Beowulf MS; see Stanley Rypins, ed., Three old English prose texts in Ms. Cotton Vitellius A XV, EETS o.s. 161 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926; repr. 1987), and Cary, MedievalAlexander, pp. 14–16.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Frank Grady 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Grady

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations