Gower Bibliography

'So schalt thou double hele finde': Narrative Medicine in the 'Tale of Constantine and Sylvester'

Yee, Pamela M. "'So schalt thou double hele finde': Narrative Medicine in the 'Tale of Constantine and Sylvester'." South Atlantic Review 79.3-4 (2015), pp. 89-104. ISSN 0277-335X


Pamela M. Yee investigates Gower's use of illness in "The Tale of Constantine and Sylvester" in Book II of the CA, largely through analogy to recent work in the use of narrative formation in the medical diagnostic process. Yee characterizes a shift from seeing physicians as the protagonists in medical narratives toward Rita Charon's model of physicians attending to patients' own narratives of illness and treatment. She uses the work of Glending Olson to connect this relatively recent paradigm to some medieval medical approaches, though she concedes that Charon's model differs from medieval models. Yee then shifts her focus to Gower, by pointing out that the relationship between Genius and Amans parallels this doctor-patient relationship, with sin and redemption taking the role of medical illness and cure. This sets up her analysis of a tale that maps Amans' analysis of sin through narrative to an actual illness: the emperor Constantine's leprosy. After an overview of previous approaches to this tale, she contrasts the medical approaches of Constantine's court clerks and of Pope Sylvester--the court clerks do not model the use of patient-centered medical narrative theorized by Charon, with the result that their proposed cure, bathing in the blood of the innocent, fails to address the underlying cause for Constantine's illness, and also accentuates the "wider social disruption" (92) of the emperor's illness. Sylvester's approach then does manage to listen carefully enough to Constantine, and thus to model the sort of close attention to story advocated by Charon. This allows Sylvester to identify the underlying moral causes for Constantine's illness, and leads to the solution through moral exempla and conversion to Christianity. Yee's analysis extends Gower's metaphor of medicine for spiritual cure through the "ritualized contact between doctor and patient" (97) of Constantine's baptism. Yee goes on to argue, however, that once Constantine has benefitted from such a healthy affiliation with Sylvester, he ironically reverts to the same poor communication model of his court clerks that nearly led to his blood bath. His forcible conversion of his empire and the problematic Donation of Constantine challenge the very compassion that Sylvester modeled in his cure of the emperor. This reading thus extends the medical paradigm of the contrasting treatments of Constantine's leprosy to the emperor's own authoritarianism, and views Constantine as a failed physician. In contrast, when Yee returns her focus to the frame of Amans and Genius, she is able to explain Genius' roundabout narrative response to Amans' confession as a more successful instantiation of this discursive model of medicine. [RAL. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 35.1.]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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