Gower Bibliography

John Gower, Sapiens in Ethics and Politics

Minnis, A. J. "John Gower, Sapiens in Ethics and Politics." Medium AEvum 49 (1980), pp. 207-229.


Minnis argues that in the CA Gower takes on the role of "sapiens" (wise man) in ethics and politics (two overlapping disciplines), and that "this role enables us to appreciate the essential unity of the diverse materials in his work." Minnis first points out that Gower's debt to the moralized Ovid of the Middle Ages explains the ethical framework of his exempla about love. For instance, from the commentaries on Ovid's Heroides, Gower borrows the idea that "exempla amantium" should juxtapose the fates of good and chaste lovers with the misfortunes of foolish and illicit lovers. By contrast, Chaucer's LGW is unusual in that all the stories figure good women. In his exempla, Gower sometimes widens the moral character of the Medieval Ovid (for instance, in his stories of Penelope and Phyllis, which he uses to illustrate Sloth), and he always treats the virtues and sins of the lover as Christian virtues and sins (214). Gower's role as "sapiens" is also evident in Book 7, which Minnis argues is closely integrated with the surrounding books. For instance, Book 6 introduces Aristotle in the story of Nectanabus, thus providing a smooth segue to an overview of Aristotle's teachings. In addition, Book 7 ends with a discussion of "the political virtue of chastity" (217), which reveals the close connection between kingly rule and self-rule. The relevance of the Prologue to the CA is explained in connection with the medieval classicizing commentaries on the Sapiential Books of the Old Testament. These suggested a significant overlap between Solomonic and Aristotelian wisdom, introduced and organized this wisdom by means of an extrinsic and intrinsic prologue, and distinguished between the various personae of the author. All of these features are evident in the CA's Prologue as well. Thus, Gower's heterogeneous materials "would have been regarded as quite compatible by the learned mediaeval reader" (225). [CvD]

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

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