Gower Bibliography

Magic and Metaphysics of Gender in Gower's 'Tale of Circe and Ulysses'.

Fanger, Claire. "Magic and Metaphysics of Gender in Gower's 'Tale of Circe and Ulysses'." In Re-visioning. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Charlotte, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998, pp. 203-219.


Fanger compares Gower's version of the tale of Circe and Ulysses (Macaulay's "Ulysses and Telegonus") to his sources in Guido and Benoit in order to explore each author's differing use of the nexus of magic, knowledge, power, and eroticism. Gower's differs from the earlier versions in important ways. His Ulysses is never successfully beguiled by Circe, and his impregnation of her occurs as part of the contest of enchantment by which he contrives his escape, in which he enchants Circe rather than vice versa. The resulting tale is more like Ovid's, but the change is dictated primarily by Gower's intended moral on the dangers of all forms of knowledge when indulged in for their own sake. Gower also alters the dream so that the mysterious figure, who speaks of the fatal consequences of an existing love, alludes more directly to Ulysses' relationship with Circe than to his relationship with Telegonus, an alteration which is further extended in Lydgate. Gower holds Ulysses responsible both for his misuse of Circe and for his failure to interpret the dream, consistent with the emphasis on personal responsibility for one's actions that characterizes the entire poem. Fanger concludes by examining the nature of moral conflicts in the poem. Rather than setting reason against desire in an opposition in which one or the other must prevail, Gower emphasizes the proper and improper uses of reason, either to control desire or to serve it. One consequence is that while Gower is by no means free of contemporary antifeminism, a woman like Circe is never blamed either for her own rape or for the seduction of a man like Ulysses. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 18.1]

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

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