Chaucer and Boethian Tradition in the 'Confessio Amantis'

Wetherbee, Winthrop

Chaucer and Boethian Tradition in the 'Confessio Amantis'

Wetherbee, Winthrop. "Chaucer and Boethian Tradition in the 'Confessio Amantis'." In A Companion to Gower. Ed. Echard, Siân. Cambridge: Brewer, 2004, pp. 181-96.

According to Wetherbee, the essential ambiguity of "naturatus amor" in the opening Latin epigram of Book 1 of CA reflects "fundamental questions about the authoritative role of the Latin tradition in forming [Gower's] literary culture" as well as "larger questions about the relation of human life and history to the natural order" (181-82). The uncertainties about man's relation to nature--whether as a "paradigm of order" or as "a kind of cosmic determinism" (184)--can be traced to Boethius's "Consolation of Philosophy." Boethius's successors--Bernardus Silvestris, Alain de Lille, and Jean de Meun--depict the contradictions that result in different ways. For Jean de Meun they are manifested in an unresolved dialectic between the Latin Boethian tradition and the love-cult of vernacular poetry. The same confrontation is made visible in the framing of Gower's English poem with its Latin apparatus, which fails to either contain or control the English text. It is also embodied in Genius, who partakes both of the Latin and the vernacular. "He is less a spokesman than a mediator--a mediator, moreover, whose own perception of the standards of 'kinde' and 'resoun' which he holds up to Amans preserves unresolved the ambiguous perspective of the Boethian tradition. . . . Genius participates in both worlds, but he can provide no authoritative bases for reconciling the conflicting claims of Nature and courtly idealism" (190). "Skeptical of its own authority," Wetherbee concludes, "the Latin tradition is thus normative for Gower, a stable framework for his questioning of the values of his own world" (196) rather than authoritatively re-affirming them. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 24.1]


Gower Subjects
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis