Gower Bibliography

'Of the parfite medicine': Merita Perpetuata in Gower's Vernacular Alchemy

Batkie, Stephanie L. "'Of the parfite medicine': Merita Perpetuata in Gower's Vernacular Alchemy." In Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation, and Tradition. Ed. Dutton, Elisabeth, and Hines, John, and Yeager, R.F. Cambridge: Brewer, 2010, pp. 157-68.

Review

Batkie notes that in Book 4 of CA Gower gives "surprising validation of alchemy as the highest possible form of human labour" (157) – particularly surprising, one might add, to readers familiar with Chaucer's depiction in the Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale. Gower credits the theory, she argues, without necessarily endorsing current practices. Alchemical theorists describe "an abstract system of transformation and unification, the end of which is the miraculous creation of a material so pure that its very perfection is contagious" (158). The first step, however, "involves the purification and perfection of the adept himself, achieved primarily through his own labour over the art and through divine election. . . . The just adept, chosen by God for his wisdom and purity, will complete the work and be rewarded with material proof that can be multiplied again and again. His inner virtue becomes embodied in the Stone, which, in turn, reproduces the same virtue in everything it touches" (159). This "logic of contagious goodness" is illustrated in the tale of Adrian and Bardus. Batkie also sees that alchemical process as a model for the reader's experience, as he or she is "transformed" by CA. Gower begins the process by eliminating the impenetrable obscurity of Latin alchemical writing – by a "vernacular transformation" (163). The "transformative reading" that he counts on is illustrated by Diogenes in the tale of Diogenes and Aristippus. Amans, unfortunately, remains more like Aristippus, bound up in the pursuit of his own desire, but the readers of the poem are invited to look beyond Amans to "assume responsibility for their own understanding" (167) and to "activate the transformative power of textual interpretation for themselves" (166). [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

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

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