Gower Bibliography

Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts.

Copeland, Rita. "Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts." Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literatures, 11 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991

Review

As her title indicates, Copeland's study is concerned with the relation between medieval translation and the traditional systems of rhetoric and hermeneutics, as they were inherited from classical authors and redefined during the Middle Ages; and with the ways in which vernacular translations appropriated some of the "cultural privilege" of the Latin academic discourse that shaped and informed it. Her opening chapters trace the interaction between rhetoric and hermeneutics as discursive constructs during the late classical and medieval periods; she then examines the vernacular translations of Ovid, Martianus Capella, and Boethius, which grow out of the Latin exegetical tradition but which reveal varying sorts of relationship to the source text. Her final chapter, on "Translation as rhetorical invention," treats Chaucer's Prologue to Legend of Good Women and Gower's Confessio Amantis. CA represents the furthest extreme of the development she describes: Gower adopts the exegetical structure of its predecessors, but that structure becomes so dominant that it accentuates the differences between Gower's text and its sources (hence CA is rarely examined as a "translation"). Gower's debt to the exegetical tradition includes his two "prologues," the marginal commentary, the ordinatio of the text, and the figure of Genius, who functions as a projection of the author, "a disguise for the author's auto-exegesis" -- all of which provide an interpretive framework within which the tales are to be read, and to which they are subordinated. The structure that dominates -- the principal means by which Gower reshapes his inherited material to his own moral purpose -- is the compilatio, with its accompanying divisio and ordinatio. Gower's use of divisio is evident not just in the classification according to the Seven Deadly Sins but also in the structure of Book 7; this book, a survey of human knowledge with emphasis on ethics, provides a hermeneutical key to the entire CA, integrating the poem on several levels while it shifts the thematic focus from the individual sinner to the need for common profit. But while divisio provides both a hermeneutical procedure and an epistemological system, it also used in CA to describe the discord and fragmentation of society, of history, and of language. Gower's own use of the vernacular is implicated, of course, in the fragmentation of language; while Latin culture seeks to contain disorder by an aritificial transcending of time and place, CA provides its own example of the divisioun that it condemns. But Gower adopts the ordering apparatus of divisio textus as a way of healing this divisioun, turning a hermeneutical tool into a form of ethical action, in so doing reconceiving the function of academic discourse and augmenting the value of the vernacular as a vehicle for social reform. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata