Gower Bibliography

Representing Righteous Heathens in Late Medieval England

Grady, Frank. "Representing Righteous Heathens in Late Medieval England." New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 ISBN 978-1403966995

Review

The salient example of the "righteous heathen" as Grady intends it is the Roman emperor Trajan, whose apparent salvation after having lived and died a pagan comes via the intercession of Gregory the Great--a legend retold many times, and differently, throughout the Middle Ages, and one that caused theologians, Thomas Aquinas among them, no end of headaches explaining. Fortunately, in his introductory chapter, "The Rule of Exceptional Salvations," Grady makes clear, relatively brief work of the history and the problems related to this spiritual "promotion" (1-14). He addresses the CA in his chapter 4 (101-21), "The Rhetoric of the Righteous Heathen," (arguing that this "rhetoric . . . helps to organize the most difficult transition" in the poem: "Alexander's education by Aristotle is the prime example of the pedagogical relationship of ruler and sage on which Gower's idea of court poetry fundamentally depends, and the 'well-tutored Alexander' stands at the center of the 'Confessio' and Gower's conception of him." Yet, Grady notes, there are "several dangers inherent in this late-medieval rhetoric of exemplarity," and Gower, aware of them, "moving from the penitential model of book 6 to the Fürstenspiegel of book 7 . . . draws on the structural resources of the virtuous pagan scene to control these anxieties and to manage the intersection of the amatory and the political in his poem." (15) In his discussion of Books VI-VII, Grady situates Gower between Malory and the Chaucer of Troilus, finding closest comparisons between Troilus' apparent apotheosis at the end of that poem and Gower's use of "the pedagogical relationship between two virtuous pagans" (i.e., Alexander and Aristotle): "Like Chaucer, facing at the end of 'Troilus and Criseyde' a difficult transition from courtly love to Christian prayer, Gower at this point in the 'Confessio' finds the convention of the righteous heathen the means to move from love to politics; if his gesture is less spectacular (and the results less compact) than Troilus's apotheosis, it is just as crucial to the structure of his poem, and just as dependent on the contemporary discourse of the virtuous pagan." (121) In his concluding chapter, "Virtuous Pagans and Virtual Jews" (123-32), Grady takes up the "Tale of the Jew and the Pagan," found in Book VII in six manuscripts of the type Macaulay called "second recension." Grady's approach to the tale employs François Hertog's "rule of the excluded middle, a strategy that permits a narrative trying to represent alterity to handle more than two terms (i.e., self and other) at once." (125) In Grady's reading, "in order to express adequately the alterity of the Jew," Gower transforms the normal triad "Jew-Pagan-Christian" into a duality: "the pagan is temporarily assimilated into the field of Christian ethics, and the middle term--a non-Christian but nevertheless morally admirable paganism--is essentially elided." (125) Grady's conclusion to Gower's solution is highly critical: "But in making an anti-ecumenical ruthlessness a supposed tenet of Jewish law and contrasting it with the laudable mercy of another non-Christian, this noxious little anecdote implies that the praise of pagan virtue is structurally dependent upon the denigration of Jewish vice" (125). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 35.2]

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

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