Gower Bibliography

'A Good War Spoiled,' Part Two: Troy in the Late Middle Ages

Kiefer, Lauren. "'A Good War Spoiled,' Part Two: Troy in the Late Middle Ages." In The Spoils of War: The Bright and Bitter Fruits of Human Conflict. Ed. Kleist, Jurgen and Butterfield, Bruce A.. Plattsburgh Studies in the Humanities (5). New York: Peter Lang, 1997, pp. 13-39.


Kiefer's is the second of two essays on the depiction of the Trojan War in this new volume. (The first, by Thomas J. Morrisey, covers Greek literature from Homer to Euripides.) She offers some brief comments on the standard Roman and medieval texts — Ovid, Vergil, Hyginus, Bersuire, Benoit, and Guido — emphasizing the portrayal of Ulysses as a smooth-talking trickster; but as will come as no surprise to those familiar with her other scholarly work, she devotes the bulk of her essay to Gower, who presents the war, she asserts, "as a pervasive, societal evil, rather than as an occasion for individual credulity and guile" (p. 19). Gower saw the war, she argues, as a mirror of his own violent times, and in his tales of Troy he demonstrates "how humans' own violent nature creates the destruction around them, and how, conversely, the institution of war distorts human impulses into duplicity and cruelty" (p. 25). She supports her conclusions with an examination of three tales. In "The Trojan Horse," Gower places blame on the falsity of the Greeks, but also shows that "the Trojan's own violent impulses [the eagerness and intensity with which they tear down their own walls] result in the destruction of the city" (p. 26). In "Nauplus and Ulysses," Gower demonstrates the incompatibility between war and familial love, and depicts the revelation of Ulysses' feigned madness as a cruel act of retribution, as Nauplus fights one ruse with another in order to separate Ulysses from his family. In substituting Nauplus for Palamedes, moreover, Gower draws a link (despite the difference in the spelling of the name) to his own earlier tale of "King Namplus and the Greeks": though he doesn't specify who actually killed Palamedes, Gower relies upon knowledge of the story to suggest that Ulysses killed Namplus' son because Nauplus threatened Ulysses' son, thus completing "the cycle of parental love warped into hatred and violence" (p. 32). Gower emphasizes the link between the Troy story and his own times by setting "Nauplus and Ulysses" within Genius' and Amans' discussion of the crusades. Amans speaks for Gower in this dialogue, echoing the narrator of the Prologue, as he undercuts Genius' enthusiasm for winning glory in battle and condemns the mentality that underlies the crusades. Genius replies with a tale that seems to exalt war over love and over the personal bonds between husband and wife and between father and son. Gower sets the personal against the mob mentality that results in war, Kiefer concludes, and "shows us that by the late fourteenth century, the age of chivalry was already approaching its end, and the rise of the individual was already beginning" (p. 37). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 16.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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