Gower Bibliography

Did Gower Write Cento?

Yeager, R.F. "Did Gower Write Cento?" In Recent Readings. Papers Presented at the Meetings of the John Gower Society at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, 1983-88. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Studies in Medieval Culture (26). Kalamazoo, MI: Western Micigan University, 1989, pp. 113-32.


Finds that the model for Gower's process of composition in VC was provided by the classical and post-classical cento, the tradition of composing new poems by selecting lines and parts of lines from the works of earlier poets. As practiced by Greek and Roman poets, the art of the cento involved not just borrowing but adapting borrowed phrases to a new context and harmonizing borrowings from different sources. Except for the 10th-century "Ecbasis Captivi," the practice was not otherwise known to have been revived before the Renaissance. It is unlikely that this work circulated in England, nor is Gower likely to have been familiar with most classical examples. The most likely model, Yeager concludes, is the 4th-century Christian poet A. Faltonia Proba. Though Gower does not name her or quote her directly, her works were available in England, sometimes grouped with other works that Gower is known to have used. He may also have known of her second-hand: she is discussed by both Isidore and Boccaccio, ands the account in "De Claris Mulieribus" provides a strikingly apt description of Gower's practice in VC. Yeager says "we can be certain" that Gower had read Boccaccio's work (p. 122), but no one else has ever presented any real evidence that he had. Even if Proba does not provide Gower's actual model, however, the very knowledge that other poets composed such works is interesting in itself, and by providing a point of comparison, suggests that Gower's technique might be examined more closely for what it is rather than being dismissed as mere plagiarism. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis

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