Gower Bibliography

Roger Bacon's Head of Brass

Breeze, Andrew. "Roger Bacon's Head of Brass." Trivium 23 (1988), pp. 35-50.


In CA 4.234-43, under the rubric "Lachesse," Gower tells the story of how Robert Grosseteste lost seven years' worth of work on a magical head of brass because of a single moment of neglect. Macaulay's note to the tale mentions just one analogue (for which he does not provide the date), and notes that similar magical powers were attributed to Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus. Breeze provides a great deal more information about the appearance of tales of talking heads, made of brass and other materials, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The earliest version he cites is from William of Malmesbury, who attributes the magical head to Pope Sylvester II. Other analogues are found in French, Italian, and Spanish, and Breeze collects a number of interesting allusions from Welsh authors. The head is attributed in these stories to Virgil, to Albertus Magnus, and to Stephen of Tours, among several others; the tradition linking it to Roger Bacon seems to have been particularly viable, but only from the mid-sixteenth century on. Among the versions that Breeze describes, Gower's seems to be the earliest to attribute the head to Grosseteste (the analogue Macaulay cites was written c. 1502), and also the first in which the head is destroyed because of the owner's own neglect. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 10.2]

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

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