Gower Bibliography

The Misfortunes of Philomel

Dingley, R. J.. "The Misfortunes of Philomel." Parergon 4 (1986), pp. 73-86.


Dingley examines the survival of the story of Philomel in medieval and Renaissance English literature, particularly the attempts to reconcile the Ovidian tradition of Philomel's rape and transformation with another tradition, deriving from Provençal verse, in which the nightingale is the harbinger of spring and the wakening of love. Chaucer, in "Legend of Good Women," omits the transformations of Ovid's version, and thus eliminates the association between Philomel and the nightingale, which elsewhere in his work is linked to love and springtime. Gower is the first author that Dingley has found who faces the inconsistency directly and tries to achieve some sort of reconciliation. Gower downplays the vindictive roles of both Philomel and Procne in order to shift all of the blame onto Tereus; and in portraying Philomel as a virtuous victim, he invents an entirely original reason for her silence in winter and her joyful song in spring (CA 5.5985-88): ashamed and unable to hide while the trees are bare, she is joyful that her sorrow is hidden when the leaves return--a paradox that according to the poet recalls the mixed joy and pain of love. Gower ``seems here to be infiltrating elements of the courtly tradition of the nightingale as harbinger of love in order to counterbalance and temper the morally bare conclusion of the Ovidian narrative'' (p. 80). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.1]

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

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