Gower Bibliography

Gower and Ovid: Pygmalion and the (Dis)illusion of the Word.

Bullón-Fernández, María. "Gower and Ovid: Pygmalion and the (Dis)illusion of the Word." In Through a Classical Eye: Transcultural and Transhistorical Visions in Medieval English, Italian and Latin Literature in Honour of Winthrop Wetherbee. Ed. Galloway, Andrew and Yeager, R.F. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, pp. 363-80. ISBN 9780802099174


Pointing out that Gower's "Tale of Pygmalion" (CA IV.37-450) is the only re-telling of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" X.238-97 by a Middle English author, Bullón-Fernández argues that "Gower shares with Ovid a similarly paradoxical view: fundamentally, the Ovidian desire for language to create reality, and the simultaneous awareness of the impossibility of its fulfillment" (364). She traces the major sources, in addition to Ovid, that Gower likely considered in producing his version—"Roman de la Rose," Petrus Berchorius' "Ovidius moralizatus"—to illustrate both the common agency of Venus' power in bringing the statue to life, and also the steady shift from Ovid's "active" Pygmalion, who prominently engages with his creation tactily (so much so, indeed, that we often fail to notice that animation comes via prayer) to a more verbal version in the "Roman" ("Jean's Pygmalion is articulate and seems a better love poet than sculptor," [368]), to an identification in Berchorius of Pygmalion with "preachers who sculpt souls, especially the souls of holy women" (369), and finally to the CA, in which "it . . . seems that it is solely Pygmalion's prayer, his appropriate use of words, which leads Venus, or love more generally, to reward him" (372). Bullón-Fernández points out that CA IV is concerned with Sloth, and that the Pygmalion story offers a counter-example to the sub-sin of Pusillanimity (which she defines as "a lack of courage to use words" [371]), i.e., because Pygmalion continually prays, sending up a never-ending stream of words until "Venus of hire grace herde" (IV.419). Thus, to a hasty reader the word in the CA might appear independently powerful, and encourage interpretations of the tale as Gower's vision of his own poetic art. Berchorius strengthens this reading, to a point, since the connection of Pygmalion with preachers in the "Ovidius moralizatus" gives Gower precedent to link Genius with Pygmalion, and consequently his labor to bring Amans to a better life with the vivification of the sculpture (369). But Bullón-Fernández argues against this, by underscoring the irony inherent in Genius' role as priest of Venus, and also by calling attention to the interchangeability of Venus and Fortune in the tale. While Genius strives to represent the word as responsible for the statue's animation, Gower (like Ovid, mutatis mutandis) on the contrary emphasizes the intervention of Fortune, a goddess arbitrary by nature. Genius' preferred lesson offers "the fantasy of fulfillment of desire" and is "only half the story . . . . Genius allows Gower to express his desire for control, his desire to shape others, evoking the Ovidan melancholic desire for a power that he does not have. At the same time, we can also see in the "Confessio" an Ovidian distancing from that desire and an awareness of the impossibility of its fulfillment. At the end of the poem, Gower becomes the disillusioned lover and the disillusioned writer who in recognizing his lack of amorous power also recognizes the limits of the power he has through writing" (375-76). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 29.2]

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

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