Gower Bibliography

Old Words Made New: Medea's Magic and Gower's Textual Healing

Rogers, William. "Old Words Made New: Medea's Magic and Gower's Textual Healing." South Atlantic Review 79.3-4 (2015), pp. 105-117. ISSN 0277-335X


William Rogers approaches his extended analysis of the Medea story in the CA with the understanding that Middle English literature often blurred the boundaries between medicine and magic. For him, this particular text encapsulates the slippages between the two. Looking at the way the Medea story addresses the Confessio's larger question of how to "cure" old age and the paradox of the "senex amans," in particular, Rogers presents Medea's approach in terms of its conflation of "old age and old sources" (106). Rogers clarifies the tale's participation in late medieval medical discourse through extended comparison to the treatise "On Tarrying the Accidents of Age," found in Trinity College MS R.14.52--though he carefully concedes that he cannot prove Gower's familiarity with that specific manuscript. Instead he argues that the resonance between Gower's poem and this particular collection of medical texts foregrounds Gower's thinking on rejuvenation of both the old body and the old book, resulting in a "poetics of rejuvenation" (107) that ultimately works considerably better with books than with bodies. Amans' rejuvenation, Rogers argues, proves no more effective than Eson's within the tale. As Rogers details Medea's story, he argues that Gower's approach to her is relatively sympathetic. He sees her power as a metaphor of sorts for the poet's own narrative method. Calling attention to Gower's reliance on the Middle English verb "newe" in his treatment of renewal and rejuvenation, Rogers notes that the usage is shared by "On Tarrying." The details of Medea's rejuvenation of Eson, then, maintain the same overall focus on "humoral balance and re-ignition of a bodily fire" (111) characterized in the medical text. The grim, violent nature of the tale's ending, wherein Eson is deprived of descendants to cherish, becomes cruelly ironic: Eson's renewed youth provides merely "more time to grieve" (113). Rogers then shifts his focus to the other old man requiring rejuvenation in the CA: Amans, or Gower himself. This shows the limits of the "poetics of rejuvenation," as old-age cures work only with old texts and authorities, not with the actual body. Curing the paradox of the "senex amans" by removing the "amans" side of the term cannot provide a satisfactory solution for the old lover's problem. The poem thus reinforces the idea that age is not really reversible, though old sources can be renewed through a poem like the CA. [RAL. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 35.1.]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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