Gower Bibliography

God's Faithfulness and the Lover's Despair: The Theological Framework of the Iphis and Araxarathen Story

Allen, David G.. "God's Faithfulness and the Lover's Despair: The Theological Framework of the Iphis and Araxarathen Story." In John Gower: 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 Michigan University, 1989, pp. 209-23.


Discusses the difference between earthly and spiritual goods in Book 4 of CA, focusing on an episode near the end of Book 4, when Amans, despairing over his lack of rewards in love, points out that a sinner who had prayed to God with half as much bisinesse as he had prayed to his lady "scholde nevere come in Helle" (CA 4.3495). Amans unwittingly alludes to the proper goal of prayer; he also raises a question about the nature of God that was a subject of considerable late medieval theological speculation. The tale of "Iphis and Araxarathen" which follows is enigmatic at best as a counsel on avoiding despair. Allen suggests however that by making Iphis a "kinges Sone" (4.3579), Gower uses Iphis' suicide to recall Christ's sacrifice, echoing a common medieval moralization of Ovid's tale. But where Christ offers hope, Iphis dies in despair. The reminder of Christ's promise of redemption creates a contrast between Christ and Araxarathen, who is unmoved by prayer, that echoes Amans' comment on the difference between God and his lady and that offers a true remedy for despair. "God's favor is predictably attainable while an adored and idealized human's may or may nor be," Allen concludes (p. 214). Amans treats his lady as if she were God, and clearly needs a reorientation. The contrast to the earlier tale of Iphis, in which a lover's prayer does earn a reward, only reinforces the arbitrariness and unreliability of earthly love. The reliability of God, by contrast, as the object of bisinesse and prayer prepares the ending of the poem, when "an old, worn Amans will turn to God for the certainty that he could never find in his lady" (p. 220). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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