Gower Bibliography

The Priesthood of Genius: A Study of the Medieval Tradition

Baker, Denise N. "The Priesthood of Genius: A Study of the Medieval Tradition." Speculum 51 (1976), pp. 277-291.


The difficulty with Gower's Genius is his dual role as instructor of both love and virtue. How can Genius be a servant of Venus, and yet repudiate her in his role as orthodox priest? After a review of the criticism (highlighting studies by Knowlton, Lewis, Economou, and Schueler) Baker suggests the need for renewed study of Genius' allegorical meaning. Baker argues that Gower's Genius is "a complex and sophisticated assimilation of his two precursors in the literary tradition" (291) – namely Jean de Meun and Alain de Lille. In Alain de Lille, Genius does not simply embody the procreative (or, more broadly, generative) function, but is also a tutelary spirit who acts as a moral guide to mankind. This moral role (which Baker traces back to Bernardus Silvestris, Apuleius, and Martianus Capella), is subverted by Jean de Meun: "divorced from Raison, Natura and Genius become servants of Venus scelestis" (285). It is Gower, then, who seeks to reconcile the "dual priesthood" (286) of his sources. As "a priest of Venus, Gower's character is similar to Jean's; he is Genius as natural concupiscence, the amoral law of kinde" (287). But Gower's Genius also embodies reason, and Baker shows that the frequent distinction between "kinde" and "reson" in the CA mirrors Genius' dual role. In Book 3, for instance, we gradually see Genius assume his role as priest of reason and demonstrate the limitations of natural lust. For instance, in the tale of "Pyramus and Thisbe," Genius has Thisbe denounce the blindness of love. While early on, in the story of "Canace and Machaire," Genius may be "curiously sympathetic" (288) to the incest that comes about through "kinde," by the time of the story of "Orestes" Genius is willing to reverse his earlier position. Since Climestre's sin of homicide is incited by lust, Genius "teaches Amans that obeying the law of kinde can, paradoxically, lead to unkinde acts; through this tale the priest reveals the inadequacy of the natural law as a moral guide" (290). Gower thus "uses the dual priesthood of Genius to correct the unorthodox position enunciated by the false priest in Jean de Meun's poem and to restore to this figure the moral authority exercised by Alain's true priest" (290). Gower does not condemn all forms of love, for sexuality can be subject to reason. However, at a "psychomachic" (291) level, where the figure of Genius can be seen to represent some aspect of Amans' psychology, Genius is Amans' inner voice of reason, and not of love. [CvD]

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

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