Gower Bibliography

Gower's Latin in the Confessio Amantis

Pearsall, Derek. "Gower's Latin in the Confessio Amantis." In Latin and Vernacular: Studies in Late-Medieval Texts and Manuscripts. Ed. Minnis, A. J.. York Manuscripts Conferences: Proceedings Series., 1 . Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1989, pp. 13-25.


Pearsall divides the Latin apparatus of CA into four different categories: the elegiac verses; the prose commentaries that Macaulay prints in the margins; the speech prefixes and citations of authority; and the colophon and other additions at the end. The systematic nature of this apparatus and its careful integration with the English text are exceptional in a vernacular work: the closest model he can find is Boccaccio's Chiosi to his Teseide; and the consistency with which it is preserved in the MSS indicates strongly that it is Gower's own. The general purpose seems to have been to lend the poem some of the authority of a classical text. Nonetheless, Pearsall argues, the Latin should not be taken as the poet's last word on the poem's meaning, but instead as another "voice" that is meant to be heard alongside that of the very different English text (pp. 15-16). The verse epigrams are characterized by an ostentation of style that strongly differentiates them from the simpler and more straightforward English; where "the English bids for a kind of literalness, . . . the Latin insists always on its own literariness" (p. 19), reflecting some of the differences between an oral culture and a written. The prose passages set themselves off from the English in a different way: when referring to the frame, they sharply diminish the dramatic illusion, and when referring to the tales, they "formalise the exemplary function of the stories in a manner that could be said deliberately to miss their point" (p. 22), denying the mimetic value of the tales and ignoring virtually everything that makes a story a fiction. They must be seen, Pearsall insists, not as summaries, but as "commentaries," "instructions on how to read it according to the conventions of a specific code of reading" (p. 24). The revised colophon, finally, he describes an even greater act of misappropriation. "As a whole," he concludes, "the Latin apparatus of the Confessio has considerable interest in relation to the English poem, and is relevant to it, but its interest and relevance is in its differentness: it cannot be used, in interpretation, without that qualification." [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Confessio Amantis

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