Ovid in Chaucer and Gower.

Galloway, Andrew.

Ovid in Chaucer and Gower.

Galloway, Andrew. "Ovid in Chaucer and Gower." In A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid, ed. John F. Miller and Carole E. Newlands (Chichester: Blackwell, 2014), 187-201. ISBN: 9781444339673.

Galloway finds Gower and Chaucer deriving much from "the medieval academic interpretative frameworks and . . . previous literary uses--particularly in French--that shaped . . . late medieval poets' encounters with Ovid," and sees them "anticipating the Ovidian fixation of Renaissance English literature" (187). Gower "likely owned a collected "opera" Ovidii" and made greater use than Chaucer of the "Fasti" and "Heroides." The Confessio Amantis, with its Latin in verse and prose framing each tale, is "much in the style of Metamorphoses manuscripts" (188). He believes both used the "Ovide Moralisé," but only Gower ("on that turf more up to date") knew and used Bersuire's "Ovidius Moralizatus" (189). Both Chaucer and Gower, Galloway argues, fashioned themselves as poets on Ovid's poetic biography--albeit to different degrees and in different ways. Whereas Chaucer follows more often the repentant Ovid of the "Remedia Amoris" (191-92) and presents himself as "a belated heir to an oppressively vast written tradition in which history, 'fame,' and identity are bookish, discursively layered, and all-too-human constructions" (193), Gower--while sharing these traits somewhat--adapts his Ovid "in more intellectual, even 'humanist' forms" (193), and not from the beginning of his career. Ovid is absent from the MO, but Galloway detects Ovidian influence in various balades of the "Traitié pour les amantz marietz" and CB (193), which he treats as early work. Chaucer, in his view, was the "spark" for Gower's turn toward Ovid (193-94). As Gower's heavy use of the "Tristia" and "Ex Ponto" in the VC evinces, Gower's debt to Ovid quickly overtook Chaucer's (194-95). The CA "constitutes a major departure" from Gower's earlier work, its "didactic plan" being simultaneously the fiction of the Amans' love affair and also "the implicit 'higher' ethical points of John Gower the author." "This duality," Galloway asserts, "which skews and refracts moral inquiry, is especially notable in the Ovidian narratives" (196)--and he takes the tale of Hercules, Eolen, and Faunus from Book 5 as an example (196-97), noting especially how "Gower lingers on the tale's playful loosening of gender identity" (197). To this Galloway adds the interesting observation that "Gower's elaboration of the [pleasures of cross-dressing] seems part of his constant concern with protean changes in social identity," motivated perhaps by his own "novel identity as a learned layman"--which in turn "was probably relevant to his pervasively keen response to Ovidian transformation" (197). Ovid's absence from Gower's later work suggests to Galloway "how potent yet potentially troubling Gower found Ovid to be" (198). "Ovid was of no use to Gower when writing more strictly moral or, as later, earnest political poetry . . . . This must be reckoned one of the great costs of the 'revolution' of 1399" (198). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.1.]


Gower Subjects
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations