Gower Bibliography

The Latin Verses in the Confessio Amantis: An Annotated Translation.

Echard, Siân, trans., and Fanger, Clare, trans.. "The Latin Verses in the Confessio Amantis: An Annotated Translation." Medieval Texts and Studies, 7 . East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1991

Review

The Latin verses are one of the least well known portions of Confessio Amantis, in large part because of the difficulties that they can pose; through the success of their translations, Echard and Fanger have also demonstrated the importance of these verses to the understanding of Gower's work. Their book presents all 70 Latin epigrams from CA as found in Macaulay's edition, with an facing-page English verse translation and notes on problems of interpretation and on the relation between the Latin verses and Gower's English text. The Preface by A.G. Rigg treats "Gower's Place in Anglo-Latin Literature" and his "Meter and Language." It is brief but well informed: the first part surveys English Latin writing of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and will be very useful to those who are more familiar with literature in English. His notes on the language are limited to what is idiosyncratic to Gower, but will be of help to anyone trying to deal with these verses on his or her own. The translators' introduction is concerned with the importance of what they refer to as the "machinery" of the poem, with the stylistic quality of the Latin verses, and with their relation to the English text. Their comments on the importance of word-play and ambiguity in the verses are an essential supplement to their translations. The value of the translations themselves is revealed by comparing them to the many less successful and occasionally inept attempts that have appeared in the published commentary on CA, which Echard and Fanger are gracious enough not to cite. This book is no mere crib, however: the translators have renounced mere prose translations in favor of their own verse renderings, which, though often strikingly successful both as translations and as poetry, raise some questions regarding the intended audience. The translators justify their choice in their introduction: through verse, they claim, they are better able to preserve the poetic effects, such as the functional ambiguity and paranomasia, of the original, and also to reflect the liveliness and merit of verse that is often thought of as dull. The second justification is certainly consistent with one of the expressed purposes of this book, which is to heighten appreciation of the poet. Prose has its advantages too, however, one being that it makes it easier to retrace the translators' steps back into the Latin, where the real interest of all serious readers must lie; and despite their claim, there are certainly adequate means in prose to describe if not to imitate the effects that they refer to. To give one example, which is not offered as typical, but which illustrates both some of the merits of this book and also the need to keep the Latin original close by, Echard and Fanger render the familiar opening epigram of Book 1 of CA in this way: "Created love to Nature's law subdues / This orb, and causes beasts to share one mind. / For love appears to rule this world as prince, / Whose help by all is needed, rich and poor. / In combat Love and Fortune equal are: / As snares for mankind both revolve blind wheels. / Sick health, vexed rest is love, a warlike peace, / A wound most sweet, fair ill, a pious fault." There is much to commend here, and line 6 in particular is probably the best that can be done with an awkward and difficult passage. A helpful note comments on Gower's "naturatus amor," easing whatever reservations there might be about "created love." Line 2, however, contains a problem: the original reads "et vnanimes concitat esse feras." Which is direct object and which is object complement is not clear. Others, such as Kurt Olsson (1992:27; see JGN 9.2) have taken it the other way around, reading "and incites everyone alike to be wild"; while Winthrop Wetherbee (1991:7; see JGN 11.1), sees a functional ambiguity. Atypically, Echard and Fanger provide no note, and one cannot be sure whether they rejected the alternate reading or simply did not consider it. And in the last two lines, they have silently altered the order of the designations of love, evidently for the sake of meter; in addition to making the translation less useful as a gloss, the translators have also altered the emphasis, however slightly. Some of their other translations are even freer, but the many inevitable quibbles over the most precise choice of word do not outweigh the service that Echard and Fanger have performed in making the most mysterious portion of the poem suddenly so much more accessible, and in so attractive a form. And while future commentators will probably want to work up their own translations, we will all still owe a debt to Echard and Fanger for confronting Gower's Latin verse as a whole and for the many solutions to particular difficulties that they offer. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 2.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Confessio Amantis

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