Gower Bibliography

The Myth of Tereus in Ovid and Gower

Harbert, Bruce. "The Myth of Tereus in Ovid and Gower." Medium AEvum 41 (1972), pp. 208-214.


In the Tale of "Tereus, Procne, and Philomela," Gower "reshapes Ovid's material to his own ends, altering his depiction of character, and the setting and pace of the narrative" (208). He removes most of the horrific elements, as well as the "almost superhuman grandeur of his characters" (208), and stresses instead elements that his own audience could relate to. Some examples include the change from Philomela's cave to a prison, Procne's modern mourning customs, and the detailed picture of domestic affairs that illustrates "the idea of happy married love against which Tereus offends" (209). By making the story less exotic, Gower is able to draw our attention "towards the underlying moral and psychological realities which are his chief concern" (209). Gower’s characterization is therefore also different. Procne becomes "a thoughtful, intelligent woman, not one to waste words, not malicious, but nonetheless firm of purpose" (210). Where Procne is practical, Philomela is philosophical. Philomela is also a weaker character than in Ovid and Gower intensifies the pathos of her rape. While the sisters have committed infanticide, "the greater fault is that of Tereus, whose violence began the evil succession of events" (212). Tereus is not a villain from the beginning (as in Ovid), but he eventually becomes a bestial tyrant, lacking in reason. Gower dwells on the metamorphoses of all three characters to sum up his earlier depiction of their inner thoughts and motivations: "Where Ovid had seen only superficial resemblances between the human characters and the birds into which they are transformed, Gower continues to look more deeply into their minds" (213). [CvD]

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

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