Gower Bibliography

Literary Artistry and Oral-Formulaic Tradition: The Case of Gower's Appolinus of Tyre

Olsen, Alexandra Hennessey. "Literary Artistry and Oral-Formulaic Tradition: The Case of Gower's Appolinus of Tyre." In Comparative Research on Oral Traditions: A Memorial for Milman Parry. Ed. Foley, John Miles. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1987, pp. 493-509.


Olsen maintains that Gower's descriptions of the hero's eleven sea-voyages in "Apollonius of Tyre" are modeled on a "type-scene" that the poet inherited from English oral poetic tradition. She borrows her description of the "type-scene" from Lee C. Ramsay's essay on "The Sea-Voyages in Beowulf" (NM 72 [1971]): "Beowulf gives an order to his men . . . and explains the purpose of his voyage. . . . He leads the way to the ship, . . . which waits at the shore laden with treasures. . . . The men depart in the ship and sail until they can observe the opposite shore. . . . They moor the ship . . . and are greeted by a coastal guardian. . . . They leave the ship and proceed to the hall." The skeptical reader, perhaps already too familiar with such passages from other works, may ask how else a sea-journey is to be described: one important point seems to be that it is described at all, for Olsen shows that nearly all of the passages she examines in "Apollonius of Tyre" are Gower's additions to a source that gives far less attention to actual journeying. As in Beowulf, she observes, these scenes provide an important transition between episodes, and they also contribute to the characterization of Apollonius as "a hero who matures into a good king" (p. 507). Olsen also claims that Gower "deliberately plays with the expectations of his audience" (p. 500) in departing from the "type-scene" she has defined in his accounts of the voyages of Thaise, the female hero, and of Taliart, the villain. The sea-voyages also function symbolically, suggesting both the overcoming of adversity in life and the journey towards death, both of which Olsen finds significant to the structure of CA as a whole. She concludes that Gower adopted the traditional "type-scene" for deliberate effect, and that we can better appreciate his literary artistry by being aware of his debt to oral-formulaic tradition. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 7.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata