Gower Bibliography

Gower Teaching Ovid and the Classics

Wetherbee, Winthrop. "Gower Teaching Ovid and the Classics." In Approaches to Teaching the Poetry of John Gower. Ed. Yeager, R. F., and Gastle, Brian W. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2011, pp. 172-79. ISBN 9781603290999

Review

Noting that "at least twenty-five of Gower's tales [in the "Confessio Amantis"] can be traced, directly or indirectly, to the 'Metamorphoses'," and "several others are drawn, wholly or in part, from the 'Fasti,' the 'Heroides,' and the 'Ars amatoria'" (172), Wetherbee frames an analysis of Gower's use of those stories by considering in broad terms how the poet deals with Ovid's irony. Gower's own framework--his apparatus of Latin marginalia and head verses, combined with the English text--"produces a continual tension," and "the net effect is finally to make clear how fully Gower shares Ovid's vision of a world rendered chronically unstable by ill-governed human desire" (173). Thus, "if Genius at times appears comically obtuse in seeking to wrestle an Ovidian tale into yielding the moral he needs, it is often possible to hear in the tone of phrasing of his lesson a hint, such as Ovid himself frequently gives, that such a judgment may be beside the point, that a Narcissus, a Canace or Anaxarete, even a Medea, is better viewed with sympathetic understanding" (173). Wetherbee then models an approach that respects this influence by analyzing one of these stories, the tale of Narcissus. Further remarking that "Gower's appropriation of Ovidian fable has affinities with Chaucer's, Wetherbee suggests that here students may "draw comparisons between the two, separate and apart from the more common comparisons of narrative idiosyncrasies" 174). A case in point is how "the comic ineptitude of Genius, so often a foil to Ovidian sympathy, can remind us of the narrator of Chaucer's 'Book of the Duchess,' the grumpy insomniac who whiles away a sleepless night reading a tale from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'" (174). Such examples open an approach, a range of questions and a resource that can help others in the teaching of the "Confessio." In addition to pointing briefly to a few other Ovidian examples from the poem, Wetherbee finally considers two episodes in the "Confessio" that are based upon the "Achilleid" of Statius. These, the poet's "only direct engagements with non-Ovidian classical poetry" (177), he adapts in turn "to his Ovidian concern with aggressive desire" (178). [Kurt Olsson. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

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

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