Gower Bibliography

The Riddle of Incest: John Gower and the Problem of Medieval Sexuality.

Scanlon, Larry. "The Riddle of Incest: John Gower and the Problem of Medieval Sexuality." In Re-visioning Gower. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Charlotte, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998, pp. 93-127.


Scanlon's essay is broadly conceived, incorporating both a history of clerical regulation of endogamy with a close psychoanalytic reading of Gower's version of "Apollonius of Tyre," and it resists any brief summary. Is central methodological principle is to unmask the repressed, which for Scanlon includes the modern failure to recognize the true extent of the medieval poet's confrontation with the nature of incest. Citing its initial marginal gloss, he identifies incest as the central theme of "Apollonius of Tyre," though it occurs explicitly only in the opening episode. Both Athenagoras' and Apollonius' relations with their daughters recapitulate Antiochus' with his. Athenagoras, in arranging the marriage that his daughter desires with Apollonius, also reveals the extent of his own control of her fate. "If the three-way exchange" among them "shows the patriarchal law of exogamy at its most beneficent, . . . [it] also reveals its violent underside. Even the best of good fathers bears this violent stain" (p. 121). Apollonius' situation is more complex. Unknown to him, his daughter has been sold into sexual slavery, which enacts "the guilty pleasure this narrative takes in imagining the possible violation of even this most virtuous of daughters" (p. 121). Apollonius, sharing in Antiochus' guilt, must suffer in order to expiate it, and it is finally Thais herself who redeems him. But "in achieving its resolution the narrative does not demonstrate the essential justice of the patriarchal law of exogamy. On the contrary, the narrative comes to resolution by demonstrating the law's essential injustice, then counterpoising it with the figure of the good daughter, who absorbs this injustice and transcends it" (p. 123). In offering this reading (which must be considered in all its detail), Scanlon is conscious of the possible anachronism of his use of terms drawn from modern psychoanalysis, but he insists that psychoanalytic insight is both anticipated and confirmed in medieval texts, and he credits Gower, in his implication of all patriarchal authority in Antiochus' guilt, with an awareness of the historical and social dimensions of incest which psychoanalysis, "like the rest of modernity," has managed to repress (p. 127). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 18.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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